2016 September posts x 4

Monday, 5 September 2016

Totally addicted to… Mustard

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: http://ferngladefarm.com.au/2016 Sep 5 – Totally addicted to mustard.mp3

Hope you are all enjoying the podcast. You can either listen to the podcast directly using your Internet browser or you can simply download the file (using the Save Link As option) to listen to later. Enjoy! Let’s get on with the blog…

The dreaded condition known as “Man Flu” struck the human male resident of Fernglade Farm this week. The editor merely had a cold. Man Flu is defined as: “a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms.”

Both the editor and I were sick for most of this week. It was an awful week because coughs, sneezes, and mucus were everywhere. Of course as the editor is of the female of the species, she deftly avoided the worst symptoms of the dread condition of Man Flu. Strong claims were made in the household that the female of the species is tougher than their male counterparts, and unfortunately I totally let down “Team Bloke” in that regard because I can’t deny that I have been a bit whingey. Team Bloke will have to work harder next time to make up for my recent poor performance, I guess, when ultimately another member of that team comes down with the dread condition of Man Flu. But it was a really bad cold! Sorry, that is merely another poor performance on my part for Team Bloke… Ladies, please spare a moment’s thought for the poor editor this week.

Bad colds aside (I did say that it was a really really bad cold!), I discovered a little secret cure-all from the garden when a person has been afflicted with the dread condition of Man Flu: Green and Red mustard leaves. Seriously!

We grow a huge quantity of mustard plants every year. The seeds for those mustard plants are collected at the end of each season for replanting the following season and we have done that process for many years now. The mustard plants are grown because they produce huge quantities of edible leafy green matter from autumn right through until about early summer. And we add those leaves to all manner of food. It is not just the humans that enjoy the mustard leaves, as even Toothy the long haired dachshund will happily graze on fresh mustard leaves.

However, by about this time of the year, the mustard leaves gain an epic heat quality and they will make your eyes water and induce a sense of pain in your brain (I describe that sensation by the technical term: “Brain Pain”). Horseradish, wasabi, and chilli all produce a similar sensation to brain pain. In previous years I have removed the mustard plants and fed them to the chickens because the mustard becomes so hot that it is painful to eat. Incidentally, chickens love the mustard leaves hot or not, and one can only deduce that they don’t seem to suffer from brain pain (edit: they have small heads and perhaps small brains too). Once the mustard plants are removed, I replant the clear raised garden beds with seeds which will produce younger and thus less hot mustard plants.

This year, we have been a bit busy and have neglected to remove the mustard plants. The chickens are a bit angry about this neglect, but they still enjoy plenty of fresh greens all the same. So, whilst I was suffering horribly from my debilitating cold (have I mentioned previously how horrible the cold was?) err, sorry, Man Flu, I snacked upon some green mustard leaves. My brain almost exploded from the epic heat of those mustard leaves. I had a brief vision of myself as existing in a scene from that horrific 1981 Canadian sci-fi horror film, Scanners, where for some strange reason a small group of evil people wanted to make other people’s heads explode and something, something, world domination. Making other people’s heads explode doesn’t sound like a very nice thing to want to do? Anyway, dodgy Canadian sci-fi horror films aside, after the dust settled down in my brain, the resulting explosion had cleared both my sinuses and my headache. And they stayed clear for about half an hour afterwards. Needless to say, that this week I have consumed an epic amount of mustard leaves!

The only real problem became that once the symptoms of the dread condition of Man Flu eased off, I was unable to continue whingeing. This was much to the relief of the long suffering editor who to be fair was also sick this week with a minor cold, obviously it wasn’t the same as the Man Flu!

We grow mustard leaves in really close proximity and from autumn until about early summer the plants grow happily without any pests or diseases. Pest control is usually handled by the hard working Fairy Wrens and Red Breasted Robins that spend all day bouncing through the vegetable beds and garden beds consuming anything and everything that moves.

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One of the many raised garden beds full of mustard plants here

Observant readers will note that in that raised garden bed there are: red mustard; green mustard; annual rocket; and a couple of types of lettuces.

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Another of the raised garden beds with predominantly green mustard

The above photo shows another raised garden bed with predominantly green mustard. Now it is worth mentioning that green mustard is the hottest of the mustard plants. When I mean hot, I mean jalapeño style hot! The green mustard leaves may totally blow your mind Scanners style! The original green mustard plant was a chance gift from a local bloke who had been growing them in the area for over thirty years. It was a truly great gift.

The unfortunate thing about using the mustard leaves to gain a temporary recovery from the dread condition of Man Flu, was that I could no longer claim the benefits of Man Flu which include the awesome skill of skiving off work. Alas, work was soon calling…

Work involved laying another cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch onto the new blackberry and strawberry plant enclosure. Over the next two years, that composted woody mulch will slowly turn into the most beautiful rich black sandy loam. And you can grow anything in that rich black loamy stuff.

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Another cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch was placed in the new strawberry enclosure

The blackberry canes will hopefully be planted over the next week or so in that area in the above photo in rows of rich compost which is yet to be laid down. Before the blackberry canes can be planted I have to consider the wallabies that if given the chance would happily eat all of them.

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A wallaby enjoys the rich pickings at Fernglade Farm whilst I am monitoring the chickens in the orchard

And given that I had temporary relief from the dread condition of Man Flu, I was able to construct a steel (wallaby proof) gate using various chunks of scrap steel that I had to hand. Have I mentioned before how much I love my welder for metalwork? The welder was a gift from a neighbour and the device is clearly about forty years old, but it is the total biz and I must have the only solar powered welding service on the continent! The gate has now been painted with a coat of quality black metal paint and is waiting to be installed.

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A wallaby proof steel gate was constructed this week using scrap metal which I had to hand

Skiving off work sounds nice, but unfortunately now that I had a steel gate ready to be installed I realised that there was no gate post to hang the new steel gate from. After a few mustard leaves, I was fortified to face the task of installing the gate post for the new wallaby proof blackberry enclosure. Whilst I was at it and feeling fighting fit (at least until the symptoms of the Man Flu returned) I also lined the pathway to that blackberry enclosure with a local rock quarried nearby which contains lots of lime. The local rock provides an all-weather, and yet permeable non slip surface. Plus, I hate mud, mustard leaves or not!

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A gate post was installed for the blackberry enclosure and the pathway to the enclosure was lined with a local crushed rock containing good quantities of lime

Discovering the relief from the dread condition of Man Flu that the mustard leaves provided meant that I had enough energy – in between bouts of occasional whingeing – that I was also able to construct another concrete step on the new concrete staircase leading up to the new blackberry and strawberry enclosures.

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Another concrete step on the staircase leading up to the new blackberry and strawberry enclosures was constructed today

The editor has begun painting coats of Tung Oil on the new cabinet which has recently been sanded to remove the walnut stain so as to reveal the natural timber colour. This is an important cabinet as it will be used to hide the multitude of fermenting products from the curious – but also unusually judgemental – eyes of visitors.

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The third coat of Tung Oil was applied to the new cabinet which will hold the many fermenting products out of sight of visitors

Observant readers will note that the previous owners (or manufacturer), not only had the poor taste to stain the unit a walnut colour, but they also managed to use a router to gouge square grooves on the front of each cabinet draw front. These were a nightmare to sand. After a brief discussion, we arrived at the idea of using a small 12V electric rotating grinding stone to remove the stain from those grooves.

Before too long, the stain was removed from the grooves on the draw fronts. However, the process was not without hassles (or whingeing and surprisingly not from me this time) because the electric cord to this device over heated and melted and the device blew the fuse.

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The small 12V electric rotating grinding stone original cable melted (black cable) and the device blew the nearest fuse

As you can see, I opened up the small device which was in otherwise good condition and replaced the original (black) and now melted under-rated electric cord with a more substantial cord (red and black) which will be unlikely to over-heat and melt in the future. I am sometimes gobsmacked by the sheer number of repairs to both small and large appliances that I am forced to do because so many of the original components are inadequate for the day to day purposes of the appliance.

Oh, we started a Swiss Brown mushroom kit this week too.

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We started a Swiss Brown mushroom kit this week

The fruit trees are slowly breaking their winter dormancy and the almonds and the apricots have already produced blossoms. This week however, the plums have started to break their dormancy and produce blossoms.

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The plums are breaking their winter dormancy this week

The bulbs have been multiplying over the past few years and they seem to love wet feet but with full sun. And there are plenty of bunches of daffodils now dotted about the farm.

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There are now plenty of daffodil bunches dotted about the farm

Some of the more unusual bulbs are producing flowers now too and the grape hyacinth is a stunner and has a beautiful scent.

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The grape hyacinth is a stunner

The hellebores are also continuing to produce flowers and I am seeing white, pink, and green flowers in the garden this week.

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A white / pink hellebore produced flowers this week

At this time of year, the succulents can be some of the showiest of all flowers and the bees have been very happy with this plant.

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A succulent produces a showy display of flowers this week

Last autumn, I decided to prune the gooseberry, red currant, and black currant shrubs because they were overgrowing the paths. At the time I decided rather than using the cuttings as compost feed, I would plant the cuttings into the ground. And then I forgot about those cuttings. To my absolute mustard fuelled astonishment, this week, the majority of those cuttings took and are now producing new plants and there are now dozens of them all over the place. Why would anyone buy these plants? Well perhaps having the dread condition of Man Flu might be an acceptable excuse!

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One of the dozens of cuttings of gooseberry, red currant, and black currant beginning to form new plants

The temperature outside now at about 9.15pm is 8.0’C (46.4’F). So far this year there has been 761.2mm (30.0 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 748.0mm (29.4 inches).

Posted by Cherokee Organics at 21:54

Monday, 12 September 2016

Indecision clouds my vision

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: http://ferngladefarm.com.au/2016 Sep 12 – Indecision clouds my vision.mp3

Hope you are all enjoying the podcast. You can either listen to the podcast directly using your Internet browser or you can simply download the file (using the Save Link As option) to listen to later. Enjoy! Let’s get on with the blog…

Some of the projects undertaken here are borne from years of experience. Those years of experience give vision to a project and in such situations I have a reasonably thorough idea as to how the completed project will look whilst also understanding all of the individual steps involved that are required to get that project to the state of completion.

On some other projects though, I absolutely do not have a clue. In those situations I have a vague idea of what I’m trying to achieve, and so I just begin the work and then hope for the best. The alternative rock band “Faith No More” summed up that feeling nicely in their song “Falling to pieces”:

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This week we continued work on the new garden terrace and blackberry enclosure project. We have had only ever had the vaguest of ideas about how the project would eventually look. And this week as the project progressed – despite the heavy rain (more on that later) – inspiration finally struck and the vision for this new garden terrace coalesced into a clear picture.

Firstly before discussing this recent inspiration, we need to travel back in time a few years (that isn’t that hard is it?) where I became rather enamoured with the concept of the “Food Forest”. A Food Forest is a concept borrowed from permaculture which is roughly defined as: “Forest gardening is a low maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans”. In the simplest of terms, a Food Forest replicates a natural forest, but includes predominantly edible and other plants useful to humans. I loved the idea of a Food Forest and I still do. However I have discovered by observation and experience that not all of the concepts of a Food Forest are applicable everywhere and in every situation.

The eucalyptus forest in the Macedon Ranges is dominated by one very huge tree species (Eucalyptus Obliqua) which can grow to a height of about 90m (295ft). Those trees are huge. And there are a whole lot of them in the forest. But the thing I have observed over many years now is that whilst the understory contains a huge diversity of plant species (some of which are also massive like the Acacia Melanoxylon) this eucalyptus forest is really quite an open forest. Plenty of sunlight reaches the ground both in summer and in winter, even if it is only the briefest of dappled sunlight. And in amongst that swarming mass of life that that dappled sunlight provides, orchids turn their delicate flowers so as to capture a brief glimpse of the sun, ferns catch organic matter falling onto their leaves and the tree frogs croak their songs as the sun falls below the horizon and becomes out of reach.

We purchased a cheap large block of land in that forest, and I planned to plant myself a Food Forest. How cool is that? Food forests really are an appealing concept because food from tree crops has the potential to provide so much food.

Perhaps in spirit of over-ambition, I under planted many of the diverse fruit trees here with varieties of berries including the thornless blackberry. The purpose of that under planting was to replicate the ideal Food Forest which has an under story of such plants. The concept of under planting was a good idea, but the concept failed to take into account local climate conditions.

Winters here are very wet and humid and this year is no exception. It is raining outside as I write this and Sir Scruffy who clearly needed to go outside to the toilet, went outside, did his business and promptly turned around and retreated back inside to the warm and dry house.

Summers here can be very hot and sometimes even occasionally quite dry where the humidity can drop below 10% on very extreme occasions. Sir Scruffy definitely enjoys keeping out of the hot sun on such days.

Under either situation berries planted underneath fruit trees are a really bad idea. The winter humidity can lead to fungal diseases in the trees. Over summer the combination of heat and dry means that the berries compete with the fruit tree for minerals and water. And that is not to mention that the rats also enjoy secure access to the fruit trees where they are able to perform acts of rodent mischief in the safety of dense berries without fearing the owls which naturally dine upon them. If we had spent more time observing the structure of the surrounding open forest we may have understood that a dense under story of plants was an idea that would not work in this climate, but most likely unless we had had the experience of observing the system here fail, we honestly would not have noticed!

We do enjoy consuming the berries grown here, but they could no longer be grown underneath the many fruit trees. And this week, we removed all of them.

Unfortunately the wallabies that also live here at the farm are happy to eat any thornless or even the thorny varieties of berries. Those wallabies can be a bit of a nuisance… Fortunately, the new blackberry enclosure had its steel gate installed this week in addition to the heavy duty chicken wire surrounding that enclosure.

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The new blackberry enclosure had the gate hung and the heavy duty chicken wire installed this week

It was at about that moment in time that we finally received inspiration for this new project and our vision coalesced. Over the next week or so (weather permitting), the blackberry enclosure will be extended one further series of treated pine posts than is currently there and an identical steel gate will be hung at the opposite end of that enclosure. Beyond that blackberry enclosure the new garden terrace will include three large steel raised garden beds for growing potatoes.

Motivation for this project soared after our vision became clearer and we rapidly removed about thirty thornless blackberry cultivars from the orchard and planted those in the new blackberry enclosure.

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About thirty thornless blackberry cultivars were removed from the orchard and planted in the blackberry enclosure this week

The thorny varieties of berries will be planted at the soon to be constructed end of the enclosure. A space will be left around those thorny varieties so that we can simply mow or brush-cut the inevitable berry escapees.

The concrete stairs leading up to the far end of this new blackberry enclosure had another step added.

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Another step was added to the new concrete stairs leading up to the new blackberry enclosure

After that step had mostly dried, which requires twenty four hours of rain free curing at this time of year, another concrete step was added.

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Yet another concrete step was added to the new staircase leading up to the new blackberry enclosure

A few weeks back the timber formwork which we have always used to construct every single concrete step on the farm received a “freshen up”. That freshen up task involved dismantling the timber formwork and ensuring that the timber formwork was square and true, plus adding a few more heavy duty screws so as to stop the poor overworked thing from Falling To Pieces!

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A close up of a freshly constructed new concrete step and the timber formwork used to construct that step

The weather here has been crazy wet for spring. Some towns in the south west of the state have even flooded and there is even more heavy rainfall predicted for this week. One evening after a particularly long day of rain, the sky cleared for a brief moment and as I stood in the orchard supervising the chickens I spotted a rainbow which looked as if it originated in the house itself.

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A rainbow appeared to have originated in the house this week after a prolonged day of rain

After photographing the rainbow I rapidly left the chickens to the chances of a possible fox attack and ran into the house to see whether a pot of gold could be found. Unfortunately, all I discovered there was a couple of hungry looking dogs promising to play nicely with the chickens and also a couple of shifty looking leprechauns who were rapidly kicked out of the house and whom had most likely thiefed off with the pot of gold which is apparently found at the bottom of every rainbow. A bit of a shame really.

Regular readers will recall the recent water woes, whereby the garden water system had sprung a mysterious leak, somewhere. This week I began the slow process of replacing the water lines with new and more easily accessible water pipes and connections.

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The water pipes have begun to be slowly replaced with less permanent and more easily inspected and repairable pipes

After many hours of work, the bushfire sprinkler and the first of the many water taps became operational again.

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A bushfire sprinkler and the first of many water taps is now operational again

Both the first of the many water taps as well as the bushfire sprinkler are now mounted on a very solid treated pine posts (the posts had been salvaged from the old chicken pen) whilst the water pipe travels above ground and just behind the rock wall, and as such is easily inspected for leaks. That rock wall, as well as the plants in those garden beds should provide some shading to the water pipes over summer.

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Both the first of the many water taps as well as the bushfire sprinkler are now both mounted on a very solid treated pine posts

Speaking of semi-permanent infrastructure, the final adjustments to the many round steel raised garden beds was made this week. Two of the steel raised garden beds had become very low in the ground as we had built the soil up around them over the past couple of years.

Neither of those round steel raised garden beds were easily lifted because they contained so much soil. I had to dig all of the soil free from the sides of the steel before I was able to even lift them out of the surrounding soil.

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Before the steel round raised garden beds could be lifted, I had to dig all of the soil away from the sides of the steel

Once the round steel raised garden bed had been lifted, I could see exactly how much the soil had been built up around them over the past few years. Observant readers can make a comparison in the photo below, to the garden bed just to the left of the now raised steel garden bed. That comparison will show how much the soil had been built up over the past few years.

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The steel round raised garden bed was lifted to a new height so as to match the other garden beds

All of the round steel raised garden beds now look really good.

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The many round steel raised garden beds now look really good

Some of the other berries in the garden behind the kitchen are now starting to break their dormancy and produce good growth. I’m hoping for a bumper crop of gooseberries, jostaberries, elderberries, Chilean guavas, and red and black currants this year, most of which I’ll attempt to dehydrate and thus preserve.

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The many berries in the kitchen garden are beginning to break their dormancy this week

Thanks for the many people last week who provided correct plant identification for the hyacinth. This week, I reckon this flowering bulb is a proper grape hyacinth.

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A grape hyacinth began to produce flowers this week

Let’s end this weeks blog with another quote from the band Faith No More:

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The temperature outside now at about 9.15pm is 5.9’C (42.6’F). So far this year there has been 808.8mm (31.8 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 761.2mm (30.0 inches).

Posted by Cherokee Organics at 21:51

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Curse of Cherokee

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au/2016 Sep 19 – The Curse of Cherokee.mp3

The Curse of Cherokee is a thing to be feared. It seems as if every time I utilise the bright yellow trailer to bring a full load of composted woody mulch back to the farm with the intent to use it later in the day, the Curse of Cherokee strikes. It appears to me that the combination of 1: a load of composted woody mulch and 2: the intention to use it later; are the triggers for the curse. And when the dreaded curse strikes, the consequences can be as extreme as an unanticipated natural disaster, or as simple as a project mysteriously taking far longer than I had originally anticipated.

This week was no exception because that composted woody mulch sat in the bright yellow trailer teasing me because it must have known that it was waiting to be used later that day, and then the clouds began to slowly deliver epic amounts of rain. And just for good measure, it then rained some more over the next day or so and that composted woody mulch happily sat in the bright yellow trailer staring at me and reminding me as to who had the upper hand here! The Curse of Cherokee had struck yet again!

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A cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch sits in the bright yellow trailer waiting to be used on the farm

The composted woody mulch had been purchased locally and brought back up the hill to the farm so as to provide a solid covering of organic matter for the recent excavations on the new garden terrace. Composted woody mulch is the fancy name for composted green waste which is collected by all the local councils in Melbourne from householders. The collected green waste is then processed at a huge composting facility and at a much later date, resold to the public.

I intended to utilise the mulch by placing it in a thick layer over the exposed clay of any new excavations or garden beds. Eventually the mulch would form a rich black loam soil. That mulch will also slow down the movement of water across the soil surface whenever it rains. If water ever moves across bare soil surfaces, then erosion can occur as it takes the clay particles along with it for the ride. When you live on the side of a mountain and there is a heavy rainfall, erosion can be a serious problem!

This week it rained a lot over the farm, but that rain was gently persistent and over a long period of time, rather than a very heavy rainfall. Regular readers will recall that it has been a very wet winter here already and as such the groundwater table is quite high. Also the water tanks were already full well before this rain. All of that water had to go somewhere and the swale was where all of that excess water ended up here.

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The swale has been full of water here for several days

The purpose of the swale is to collect any excess water and allow it to slowly absorb into the groundwater table rather than simply running across the surface and possibly causing erosion. Observant readers will notice the very healthy looking willows enjoying a nice drink. There is also a sugar maple and a ficus planted into that swale.

For only the second time in about ten years, several natural springs began unexpectedly releasing huge quantities of flowing water as if someone had turned on a tap! And crystal clear water flowed out of those springs for days afterwards.

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Cherokee Mineral Springs – One of a few natural springs began flowing crystal clear water this week as if someone had turned on a tap

Local lore has it that water cannot be held above the ground here in farm dams or ponds because the area is too well drained. Well, for a few days after the rainfall, there were actually pools of water in depressions in the ground. But the interesting thing was that not all depressions in the ground held water, but where it did, the water was again crystal clear.

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One of the depressions in the ground near the orchard which held crystal clear water

The ground must be wet as I even observed this poor earthworm whom had clearly dug its way out of the ground just to get some fresh air!

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This poor earthworm had clearly dug its way out of the ground just to get some fresh air

After a few days of continual rain, I started to regret purchasing that mulch before I was ready to place it over the new excavations (which incidentally had become a mud pit). The Curse of Cherokee had struck again.

Mind you, there were no major disasters here and all of the plants received a good drink and everything is now looking very green and healthy. Unfortunately, all of that rainfall ended up flooding the local Macedon River / Riddell’s Creek (it has two different names for some strange reason) in the valley below. And this is what I could see from my Eagles Eyrie:

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Flooding in Macedon River / Riddell’s Creek in the valley below the mountain range

The flooding was quite extensive, but it must be noted that no houses were inundated  as nobody has ever built in low lying areas, and also the livestock had been moved to higher ground before the rains arrived. Looking back from the floods towards the mountain range provides a good glimpse of how much rainfall in that catchment area the river has to occasionally accommodate:

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Looking back from the flood to the Macedon Ranges

The flood waters were not very far below the main road and/or the bridge deck over the river which leads out of this part of the mountain range. In 2010 during a particularly wet five days (250mm or 10 inches of rainfall) I have seen that main road underwater:

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The floodwaters were not far below the level of the road surface and bridge deck

After a couple of days the floodwaters receded and the paddocks looked very damp indeed. Fortunately for those readers that were concerned about this situation, it will rain again tomorrow night and again next weekend!

One of the strangest things that I observed this week during the recent heavy rain was in the chicken run. The chickens here lead a charmed life as their hen house and attached run is not only completely vermin proof, but it is also covered over completely by a solid steel sheet roof. Don’t ever feel remotely concerned for the welfare of the spoilt chickens here! As the chicken run is an all-weather run, the chickens socialise and get up to their chicken mischief all day long in the deep litter in the chicken run despite the outside conditions. The deep litter is composed of their used sugar cane straw bedding mixed in with their manure. This deep litter is usually dry, but the rain was so heavy and persistent that a bit of rain entered the chicken run and made the deep litter mildly damp. Don’t feel bad for the chickens as this turn of events was barely even noticed by them! However, the combination of a bit of moisture, used bedding straw, and chicken manure increased the bacterial action in that deep litter and the mass soon became warm to the touch. It is worthwhile mentioning that occasionally the chickens will lay an egg into that deep litter. Well here is an egg that I uncovered in the depths of that warm deep litter:

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An egg was hard boiled this week in the chicken run due to the heat from bacterial action

The outside of the egg was quite dirty as it had been buried in the deep litter, so I had decided to feed the egg to the dogs. It was a complete surprise to me to find that the egg had become almost fully hard boiled in the chicken run… I thought at the time that the egg was strangely warm to touch.

We’re tough here at Fernglade farm, however we don’t really like getting wet whilst working in the rain. Finally it stopped raining and in a fit of pent up energy, we decided to bring some very heavy rocks up the hill in the wheelbarrow for the new rock wall near the chicken enclosure. That is some hard work. However that rock wall is now almost complete!

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Some large rocks were brought up the hill in a wheelbarrow for the new rock wall near the chicken enclosure

And yet we still hadn’t managed to get enough of a break in the rain to empty the bright yellow trailer of that load of mulch! So instead we decided to start germinating the summer crops of seedlings. Tomatoes, Capsicum (peppers), Zucchini (courgettes), and Melons were all started inside the house this week.

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The summer crops of seedlings including: Tomatoes; Capsicum (peppers); Zucchini (courgettes); and Melons were started inside the house this week

Even the Swiss Brown mushrooms started producing some fruiting bodies this week.

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The Swiss Brown mushrooms started to produce some fruiting bodies this week

Finally a day dawned when no rain was predicted and the sun shone. Ah, bliss! The excavations for the new garden terrace were then able to be continued and the new terrace has now almost doubled in size. The vision for the blackberry and raspberry bed has also changed and we are going to almost double its current size!

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The rain stopped and we were able to continue excavations on the new terrace for the berry beds

Observant readers may notice how muddy that new garden terrace was. Honestly, we only had to walk a couple of metres in order to gain several inches of height due to all of the muddy clay stuck to our work boots… And the curse hadn’t been lifted yet as the mulch was still sitting in the bright yellow trailer. Oh, that rotten curse and the mulch!

The concrete staircase leading up to that new garden terrace also had two additional steps added this week. A bit of quick thinking meant that we placed a rain shield over the top most step just before the rain drops began to pock mark the not as yet dry cement surface.

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Two new steps were added to the concrete staircase leading up to the new garden terrace

Finally, the Curse of Cherokee was lifted as there was enough of a break in the rain for us to empty the bright yellow trailer of composted woody mulch and place it all on the new terrace.

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A cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch was placed over the newly excavated terrace

Most of the plants have enjoyed the heavy rains. I recently moved an Avocado seedling to a new and much sunnier location and it has produced new growth in only a few days.

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An avocado seedling was moved to a sunnier spot and with the rain it has produced new growth

The local ferns which give this farm its name have gone feral with so much rain. This mother shield fern has produced many new fronds:

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A mother shield fern has produced many new fronds with the heavy rain

The broad beans have also enjoyed the rain, and despite being planted almost two months late they are now looking quite good:

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The broad beans which were planted two months late are looking very healthy

The ornamental cherry trees have started to produce blossoms well before the fruiting tree cherry trees. Those ornamental cherry trees are some of the hardiest trees around and the weeping example in the next photo has been moved almost four times in its life. It is also producing many cherry tree seedlings around it. That tree may well be a Triffid in disguise?

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This ornamental cherry tree is tough as to heat, rain and drought

And I added the next photograph just because I thought the combination of super tough Echium’s, Leucadendron’s, and Irish Strawberry Tree looked good…

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This combination of super tough Echium’s, Leucadenron’s, and Irish Strawberry Tree looks good

The temperature outside now at about 9.30pm is 4.7’C (40.5’F). So far this year there has been 894.6mm (35.2 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 808.8mm (31.8 inches).

Posted by Cherokee Organics at 22:18

Monday, 26 September 2016

Consider the wombat

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au/2016 Sep 26 – Consider the wombat.mp3

Wombats are sensible nocturnal creatures. A wombat could be defined as: “a burrowing plant-eating Australian marsupial which resembles a small bear with short legs and cute little pink feet and ears”. Wombats are sensible creatures because they stay in their burrows when it is raining, just like a proper little hobbit. Here is a photo of a wombat at the farm:

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Wombat with a wallaby friend at Fernglade Farm enjoying the grass and herbage

Unlike the rather pleasant fictional hobbits of Tolkien’s imagination, wombats are rarely friendly, and they mostly keep to themselves as they go about their wombat like business at night on the farm. The dogs as well as the editor and I are all beneath a wombats contempt and they simply ignore us. To be honest though, having wombats in your orchard is like having an armoured tank ploughing its way through whatever obstacles it encounters. If a wombat encounters steel fencing, no worries, it just squashes the fencing to get at whatever tasty morsel of food was behind the fence. And if a wombat has had to wait out the rain in its burrow for a few nights, then I’d have to suggest that their demeanour is not improved with hunger.

There are upsides to having wombats roaming through an orchard at night. The wombats constantly graze all of the grass and herbage and convert it into manure. That wombat manure is then consumed by the birds and soil life and it all helps build fertility in the soil. Well, the soil life and birds don’t quite get all of the wombat manure because I’ve caught the dogs snacking on what can only be described in polite company as: “steaming vegetarian samosas! At least the dogs have the common decency to look ashamed of their horrid choice of food – when they are caught in the act. What was I writing about, oh that’s right, grazing. So the grazing efforts of the wombats save me the hassle of mowing which is something I only have to do once per year.

So, if the wombats suddenly disappeared, I’d miss them. Plus, they’re really cute, when they’re not destroying the infrastructure here. Wombats actually could disappear. You see, wombats live in burrows located in the forest, but there are many large trees competing for sunlight so at ground level there isn’t much in the way of grass and herbage for wombats to eat. So every night, wombats head out of the forest from their burrows in search of their favourite forest clearings. This farm is located in a forest clearing and there are no fences to inhibit the movement of the wombats so I get to enjoy the company of wombats most nights of the year.

People may believe that there are a lot of wombats in the forests in this corner of the world. That impression may possibly have been formed because you inevitably see a lot of wombats dead by the side of the road. Wombats are akin to an armoured tank, but they generally come off second best when they meet a speeding vehicle on a country road at night. And the reason the wombats are anywhere near the country roads at all, is because the sides of roads through forests are to the mind of a wombat just another forest clearing full of fresh green grass and herbage. Better yet, country roadsides are often regularly mown by the local authorities or landowners. Regular mowing is merely a mechanical way to replicate the grazing activities of herbivores. So instead of having manure being deposited onto the soil surface by herbivores you use fossil fuels and end up with chipped and mulched plant material, all of which is food for the soil life. It is a fair thing to say that either side of a road through a forest or rural area can contain a surprising diversity of plants and high levels of soil fertility.

If you are ever lucky enough to ask a wombat as to its preferred landscape, the wombat would look you right in the eye and say: “Mate. I want diversity in the landscape (and just because the average wombat is a grumpy beast), now piss off!” The Aboriginals used to maintain the entire continent as a patchwork of diverse ecosystems and this work benefited them as the ecosystem as a whole became exceedingly fertile and full of life.

Of course in such enlightened times as these, we are far more cleverer (sic), because we prefer to kill wombats with our vehicles whilst simultaneously pursuing forest strategies which starve the wombats of food. Well done us! Earlier this week, I was considering the wombat because the sheer strangeness of beliefs centred around forests and trees was rudely thrust into my awareness. I innocently happened to mention to someone else that I use local trees from the forest in which I live to provide firewood to heat my house. Apparently, because of that act I’m a very bad person / not an environmentalist / and an environmental rapist. I was surprised to learn that I was viewed that way.

I believe that our societies relationship to forests and the trees is dysfunctional and I’d be happy to take criticism from anyone who was living in an un-heated house made from any material other than timber (unlike the person I was speaking with). Regular readers will recall that from time to time on the blog, I’ll show the digital weather station and anyone can see that on some winter mornings, when the snow is falling thickly and the air itself feels frozen, despite the massive insulation in the walls, floor, and ceiling, the inside temperature of the house is about 11.5’C (52.7’F) so as you can see, I’m not over using the local firewood resource. The hypocrisy of the situation would not be lost on the average wombat either, as that intelligent creature would know that the people making the judgement about my behaviour are generally heating their houses with electricity generated from brown coal in one of the dirtiest power stations on the planet. And the grumpy wombat would then probably try and bite their ankles just because it felt good… Ah, I feel much better now!

Enough ranting!

In between the bouts of rain, the sun shone strongly and the editor and I were able to work outside. The excavations for the new garden terrace continued. And we dug and moved a huge quantity of clay by hand.

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The excavations for the new garden terrace continued

As the terrace (a fancy name for flat land cut into the side of a hill) appeared, we decided to increase the size of the new berry enclosure. And the next day, we cemented in the various treated pine posts which the steel fencing will be attached too, and constructed the final cement step leading up to the new garden terrace.

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The berry enclosure was enlarged and the final cement step in the staircase leading up to the new terrace was completed

We’d already moved about thirty thornless blackberry cultivars into the new berry enclosure last week. Now that the enclosure itself was much bigger than previously anticipated, we decided to relocate the many raspberries and marionberries which had become established in the tomato enclosure and had to be moved. I had no idea how prolific these plants were… Fortunately, Scritchy the boss dog was there to assist me in that task.

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I removed about fifty raspberry cultivars from the tomato enclosure this week whilst Scritchy the boss dog assisted

The Curse of Cherokee struck yet again and as I was moving one cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of manure into the new berry enclosure, the heavens opened and it began to rain. What a surprise! After walking all of that manure up the stairs in crates and being rained on, I looked filthy! But at least, the raspberries were all planted out. Unfortunately the marionberries are still in the tomato enclosure.

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Moving a huge quantity of manure combined with heavy rain left the author looking rather dirty

The next day, the sun shone strongly again. The cement surface of the final concrete step had hardened whilst the berries were happily enjoying a combination of the sun, the water and a solid feed from the manure. We’d also finalised the locations for two of the three very large round steel rings which were filled with local soil, manure and seed potatoes. Very observant readers will note that the berries plants have been enclosed with a temporary fence of chicken wire. That temporary fence is not wombat proof (a tough ask of any fence), but it should keep the nosy wallabies off the berries.

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The sun shone on the raspberries and potatoes on the newly excavated garden terrace

Everyone here pitched in on this week’s work. Even Scritchy the boss dog lent a paw with the digging!

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Scritchy the boss dog lent a paw with the excavations this week – and is proud of her efforts

The far side of the berry enclosure requires a gate and over the past few days we cut the steel out of various bits of scrap that we had lying about the place. I hope to be able to weld the gate together over the next few days (if the rain stops and we can capture some electricity via the sun).

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The scrap steel which will end up being turned into a gate for the far end of the new berry enclosure was cut this week

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was considering writing about some of the products that fail here. I’m not sure whether the wombats are working too hard here or the products are just rubbish… Anyway, this week a tyre on an old but favourite wheelbarrow finally failed…

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This week a tyre on one of the wheelbarrows finally failed

I have a special place in my heart for that wheelbarrow as it has faced so much punishment here and still it keeps going. This wheelbarrow is where I mix all of the cement and I have been doing so for over a decade. Yes, it is an unnatural attachment! Did I also mention that the tyre in the above photo was about one year old which is a total product disgrace. Anyway, after a bit of research (i.e. eBay) I found out that for about $10 more than what I paid for the one year old tyre (4 ply) which blew up, I could obtain a 6 ply tyre which will be much stronger.

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A new 6 ply tyre was fitted to my trusty old wheelbarrow this week. Happy times. This must be wheelbarrow love!

Replacing tyres takes about fifteen minutes, but the difference between the old tyre and the new tyre is marked and I expect a lot longer life from this new wheelbarrow tyre.

My recent water woes have been addressed this week too. Regular readers may recall, that a recent failure in the water pipes (somewhere?) caused one of the water pumps to become damaged and fail and wasted a whole lot of stored water in the process. The part on the pump that became damaged and failed was the pressure switch. Fortunately, I keep a few spares for some important things and that pressure switch was a spare part that I had readily to hand. I replaced the pressure switch on the water pump and for some reason, the water pump then produced a lot of water hammer in the water pipes. Water hammer is a fancy name for the pipes making a sort of continuously banging sound. The reason for the water hammer was user error, because I had not calibrated the pressure switch so that it worked properly. Calibrated is a fancy name for just tightening a screw on the pressure switch until the water pump works properly…

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I re-calibrated the pressure switch one of the faulty water pumps this week and the system now works perfectly

Ooo, I better rush… The garden bed behind the kitchen now has dozens of species enjoying the rain and spring sun. The very lush patch of bright green near the top of the garden bed which looks like grass is actually all poppies and it should look pretty cool in a month or two.

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The garden bed behind the kitchen is looking very lush and green and contains dozens of species

We ate out first home grown Swiss brown mushrooms this week on a pizza:

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We ate out first home grown Swiss brown mushrooms this week on a pizza

The tomato seedlings have germinated this week and the tub on the very left is our tomato seeds from last season. The next tub along is commercial tomato seeds. And the other seeds for other plants have not yet germinated.

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The tomato seedlings have germinated this week and the tub on the very left is our tomato seeds from last season

I spotted the first of the blueberry flowers this week:

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I spotted the first of the blueberry flowers this week

The peaches and nectarines have produced blossoms this week:

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The peaches and nectarines have produced blossoms this week

The apricots are appearing to be showing signs of stress from too much water due to the rain…

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All of the apricots are appearing to be showing signs of stress from too much water due to the rain

But the almonds have gone feral and the trees are covered in almond nuts. I may net this particular tree:

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The almonds have gone feral and the trees are covered in almond nuts

And speaking of nuts, Toothy the long haired dachshund assisted me the other day to plant this native nut bearing tree – A bunya nut. It is a very close relative of the Monkey Puzzle tree from South America which were in fashion early last century.

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Toothy the long haired dachshund assisted me the other day to plant this native bunya nut tree

The temperature outside now at about 9.45pm is 3.7’C (38.7’F). So far this year there has been 909.0mm (35.8 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 894.6mm (35.2 inches).

Posted by Cherokee Organics at 22:29