Monday, 2 January 2017
This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au
Some weeks nature can give you a gentle reminder just to show who the boss is here. Other weeks nature gives you a solid kick in the rear and stomps the living daylights out of you! This week was of the latter variety and nature definitely stomped around in this corner of the planet wearing massive size nine heavy duty boots. And oh yeah, we got stomped big time! Ouch, stop it, that stomping hurts!
The night before nature stomped here, the setting sun put on a spectacular show. The old timers used to say: Red sky at night, shepherds delight. Well, if this week’s natures stomping was anything to go by those old timers sure got that old saying wrong, so I’m considering changing that old saying to: Red sky at night, accountants warning. The setting sun that evening did make the sky look good though:
|The setting sun set the sky on fire the night before the big storm hit|
Early the next day, there was a bit of light rain and I remarked to the editor that all this talk in the weather forecast about the risk of heavy rain and localised flooding seemed a bit over the top.
That day had been very hot and humid, as had all of the days and nights since before Christmas day. The editor and I had decided to work that day on the gabion rock walls (see below) and by late afternoon we had finished that work and had packed up our tools. We then sat on the veranda and enjoyed a well deserved coffee and homemade Anzac biscuit.
I’d just managed to scoff an Anzac biscuit down and finish my coffee when we heard a sound approaching as if from a distance. The sound was like a strong wind rustling every single leaf on the huge trees in the surrounding forest, but the sound was much louder and there was no wind to speak of. The sound approached closer from the forest and soon wall of water fell on the house. The editor and I casually remarked that this rain did not bode well. And wow, did it rain that afternoon, or what?
We recorded 85mm (3.3 inches) of rain falling in about 45 minutes. The official weather station which is located on the adjacent mountain and which I defer to, recorded about 65mm (2.6 inches) of rain, but still it is a lot of rain in a very short period of time. There was water everywhere and all of the drains, swales, and hard surfaces soon flooded.
|All of the drains, swales, and hard surfaces flooded when the tropical low pressure system hit the farm|
For the next 45 minutes, I ran around the place wearing only shorts and thongs (the Australian terminology for flip flops) holding an umbrella and doing my very best to clear obstructions from the water tank filters and drainage channels. For me, it was akin to being in a 45 minute game of “whack a mole” in that I’d clear one obstruction and then whilst I was doing that, another obstruction would form elsewhere. And wearing only shorts was because the rain was so heavy! Nature stomped the living daylights out of us with size nine boots!
By the time the rain had finished falling from the sky, I was exhausted and soaked through to the bone. Yes, I acknowledge that nature is the boss here! I was feeling pretty good though as I’d managed to hold my own during the rain against the overwhelming forces of nature and I’d even scored a few home runs for team fluffy! For example, the water tanks are now all completely full, with very clean filters, which is unprecedented at this stage of the summer.
After the rain had finished and I was busily congratulating myself, the editor and I took a walk around the farm and surveyed the damage. Most of the farm was OK, but oh yeah, nature is the boss alright! Behind the house a huge section of steep garden bed had slipped and fallen. I’d never seen or heard of a landslide in this part of the country before, but there was the landslide right in front of me.
|A steep section of garden bed had slipped and fallen in the heavy rain. No Scritchy was harmed in the taking of this photo.|
What caused the landslide was that water from the road above the house had over spilled at a low point and then flowed into that garden bed causing that garden bed to slip down the cutting. About a foot of soil and all of the well established plants fell in that landslide.
The first thing that we did after assessing the damage was go to the pub for dinner that night. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and of course regular readers will be very disturbed to know that the Magical Christmas Unicorns were no longer available. The outrage! The bar tender just laughed at me when I enquired as to its availability. Fortunately, here at Fernglade Farm, we are made of tough stuff and have a flexible disposition so when it comes to such product shortages, we simply adapted. So the editor enjoyed her preferred cider and I enjoyed a hops heavy pale ale.
What were we talking about? Oh that’s right, the next day after the pub, sorry I mean the landslide, we spent hours rescuing the plants:
|About thirty plants were rescued from the recent landslide debacle|
Then it took about eight hours to remove the clay, plant materials and topsoil from that landslide. It was a big job as there was just so much material that we had to remove – using hand tools and wheelbarrow. All that material was taken over to the new garden bed near the chicken enclosure which was about 40m (130ft) away. That new garden bed is looking quite good as it is rapidly getting full of material.
|About three quarters of the way into the job of removing the soil and plants from the landslide debacle|
After the clay, plant material, and top soil were removed, we were then able to place a new layer of mushroom compost onto the steep garden bed. Into that mushroom compost we planted out all of the rescued plants (which hopefully survive the process). Mushroom compost is great for steep garden beds because warm weather combined with water rapidly produces mushroom hyphae which binds the whole lot together.
|The author replanting the steep garden bed that had been subject to the landslide|
The rock wall at the base of the steep garden bed was also rebuilt with much larger rocks. Eventually that job was done and Poopy the Pomeranian (who everyone knows is a Swedish Lapphund) can be seen in the photo below approving (in his own special way) of the new garden bed.
|Poopy the Pomeranian approves of the repairs to the steep garden bed|
That day after nature had won the game of whack a mole and proven who was the boss, the clouds in the valley below looked really strange.
|The day after the big storm, the clouds in the valley below looked really strange|
Over the next week or so, the editor and I will attempt to correct most of the problems that caused the landslide and flood damage.
One of the problems was that a large rock in the driveway had caused the water to spread across the entire driveway rather than be channelled into the drains. Today we spent about half of the day cutting and jackhammering a drainage channel into that very large granite rock. We knew that it was a massive rock because the earthmoving bloke that built the driveway couldn’t move the rock even with a twenty tonne excavator. Fortunately the rock was not equal to industrial diamonds and a solar powered jackhammer, but it was still a very hard job to cut a drain channel through that rock.
|A drain channel was cut through a very large and buried rock in the driveway|
Observant readers will note that in the photo above I am squatting next to a very large chunk of rock which was also removed in today’s activities.
For most of the week, the weather was very hot and very humid, and all of the days leading up to the storm were well over 30’C (86’F). Far out, the humidity made it feel far hotter than it actually was. Anyway, earlier in the week we began filling up the recently constructed rock gabion. Long time readers will recall that we have long since passed Peak Rocks and now have to go ever further afield to find new rocks for the many projects here. And a single large rock gabion requires about six hours of scrounging rocks in order to fill it!
|Sir Scruffy approves of the progress of filling the new rock gabion after the first couple of hours of rock scrounging|
|The next day saw that rock gabion completely filled with rocks and sewn shut with galvanised steel wire|
A smaller rock gabion was then built so as to squeeze in to the gap between the larger rock gabion and the concrete staircase. I look very hot and red in the photo below and that is from the heat rather than any sunburn.
|A smaller rock gabion was made to squeeze in to the gap between the larger rock gabion and the concrete staircase|
The smaller rock gabion was then filled up with scrounged rocks after a couple of hours. This Peak Rock business is a real hassle.
|The smaller rock gabion was filled up with scrounged rocks after a couple of hours|
We purchased a load of 20mm (0.8 inch) granite road base material to fill in the gaps between the rock gabions and the clay wall.
|20mm (0.8 inch) granite road base material was used to fill in the gaps between the rock gabions and the clay wall|
That road base material is strong stuff, and it will have to be, because another rock gabion was constructed today and placed on top of the existing rock gabions. Just for people’s interest, it takes about two hours to bend, cut, and sew together a large sized steel rock gabion. Now all we need to do is find more rocks…
|Another rock gabion was constructed and placed on top of the existing rock gabions|
Despite nature kicking a sized nine boot this way, the paddocks below the house have really enjoyed the huge volumes of water and are full of wildflowers. The soup of marsupials (I just made that up – think of murder of crows, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about) which feast on the rich herbage in that paddocks every night are full up to their eyeballs with quality feed!
|The herbage in the paddock below the house is looking very good with all of the recent rains|
Observant readers may note in the above photo, the bright yellow flowers from a lovage plant as well as a couple of globe artichokes. Both plants are very tasty!
In other plant news: As part of correcting the landslide this week, the editor and I cut back a huge quantity of vegetation away from a walking path near to that landslide. In cutting back the vegetation we discovered a jostaberry full of fruit happily inter-twinned with a bush rose.
|A jostaberry full of fruit was discovered happily inter-twinned with a bush rose|
There was a bit of discussion in the comment section last week about the yarrow plant (Hi Pam!). Yarrow is currently in flower here and we grow white flowered varieties as well as a red variety (which is somewhere about the place…) and they look great and self-seed prolifically!
|White flowered yarrow self-seeds prolifically and produces huge quantities of flowers|
Another two plants that happily self-seed are blue flowered chicory and yellow flowered evening primrose and they are very reliable plants:
|Blue flowered chicory and yellow flowered evening primrose grow here and they are very reliable plants|
But carrots win the award for the most prolific self-seeding plants. I let one go to seed once a few years ago and now carrots turn up everywhere.
|Carrots win the award for the most prolific self-seeding edible plants here|
The hot weather combined with the rain has caused the penstemons and salvias to flower this week! And the honeyeaters love both of these plants for their nectar.
|The hot weather combined with the rain has caused the penstemons and salvias to flower this week|
Even though nature gave me a kick up the backside this week just to remind me who is the boss, it was also very thoughtful of nature to provide the beautiful penstemon and salvia flowers!
The temperature outside now at about 8.15pm is 11’C (52’F). This year there has been 2.4mm (0.1 inches) of rain. Last year there was 1,245.2mm (49.0 inches) which is a pretty wet year in anyone’s language!
Monday, 9 January 2017
This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au
A few days ago I had a bright idea for this week’s blog centred around the 1982 hip hop song “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. I had intended to name this week’s blog “Grandmaster Fluff and the Fluffy Four”. The use of the words “Fluffy Four” in the blog title refers to the canines here. In my mind I felt that that particular blog story would have been quite amusing.
Then I read the lyrics to the hip hop song: “The Message”. I have total respect for Grandmaster Flash and his crew, because that song has some of the darkest lyrics and tells one of the darkest stories that I’ve read for quite a while. I remarked to the editor that there was no way I could do anything even remotely amusing with those lyrics and enquired as to whether she had any ideas. The editor took a look at the lyrics and rapidly came to the same conclusion that I did.
On the other hand, the lyrics in that hip hop song tell an interesting story and it is noticeable that the darkness and problems build for the protagonist in the song and story as the song continues. If a person was to view the lyrics and story as told in the hip hop song through the eyes of an ecologist, that person could sum up the issues raised as: Population Pressures (which I wrote about in Magical Christmas Unicorns, 19th December 2016); Fierce competition for limited resources; and the effects of Pollution. There is nothing even remotely amusing about any of those issues.
The day after quietly shelving that blog idea, the editor and I were repairing the storm damage (see last week’s blog) about the farm. To take my mind off the hot summer conditions whilst I worked, I often have the radio playing quietly in the background. Working out in the summer sun down here is like working under a radiator. Sometimes the summer air temperature can be cool, but despite that the unrelenting sun (with the Extreme UV rays) bakes your skin. And when the sun shows its face from behind the clouds, for some reason, the common house flies dance and dart around your face annoying you.
So, the radio and its music is a good distraction whilst we worked in the hot summer sun. And earlier this week I heard the 2009 song “Underdog” by the band Kasabian. I thought to myself, there is the song for the blog story, but what should this week’s story be about? In a strange coincidence, the ever helpful editor then quipped: “Why don’t you write a story about poo? Everyone loves poo stories!”
Fate had stepped in and this week’s blog story was saved!
Without further ado, here is a story about poo!
Alert readers will recall the earlier reference to the “Fluffy Four” which is a satirical reference to the farm dogs. Those dogs eat a lot of food, most of which I make from scratch. In fact one of them is pestering me for his dinner right now. Can you guess which is the beast that is pestering me? Ha! It is Poopy the Pomeranian (clever readers will by now know that he is actually a Swedish Lapphund) who is pestering me for his dinner.
As is the way of things, food passing through an animal soon becomes poo. And four fluffy’s can generate a lot of poo. In fact each fluffy produces around three poos per day. That’s twelve a day, or eighty four per week or four thousand, three hundred and eighty per year in a non-leap year (for the numerically inclined).
As a bit of a confession about the dog’s poo which may horrify some readers: I haven’t picked up or disposed of any dog poo for well over a decade now, really since moving to the country. In complete contrast to this disregard for the dogs poo here, if I was to do the same thing in a city environment, that would one be the most outrageous and discourteous behaviour to my fellow humans. Imagine for a brief moment the huge mess caused by a city’s dogs inhabitants if lots of people did not bother picking up that dog poo (the technical name for this act is Population Pressure and Pollution)! If that was the case, you certainly wouldn’t be able to walk more than a few metres without stepping on a steamer. I don’t recall that Grandmaster Flash used that particular example of Population Pressure and Pollution in the hip hop song although he did mention other bodily functions. He certainly could have mentioned the outrage of dog poo left on the stairs!
A city may be an interesting place, but when it comes to examining the diversity of life within its boundaries, a city is a very simple ecosystem. In contrast, a farm that encourages a diverse range of wildlife is a very complex ecosystem. And here, many of the diverse species of birds that call this farm home realise that dog poo is an excellent food source.
|One of the crimson rosellas tucking into a fresh dog poo|
A dog poo – or any other animal poo for that matter – will not last more than a day here as many of the diverse bird species that live on the farm are very aware of these “resource patties” and competition for that limited resource is fierce! And the beautiful thing is that the birds in their own time will produce guano (which is the fancy name for bird poo) and deposit that randomly throughout the farm and surrounding forest. And best of all I haven’t had to lift a single finger to encourage this random movement of minerals (which is what poo is in its most basic form) around the farm. It is also worth mentioning that bird poo is a very good soil enhancer and plant food.
Saturday night was the warmest overnight minimum temperature since 1997. It sure is getting hot down here, and when I woke up this morning to a house which was warmer than I can ever recall, the weather station was showing that the inside temperature of the house was the same as the outside temperature at 24’C (75’F).
|Sunday morning was the warmest overnight low temperature that I can recall|
We don’t let a bit of hot weather stop the continuing projects and juggernaut that is Fernglade Farm! However, the storm last week sure did exactly that, and we have spent most of this week repairing that storm damage.
The little dirt rat that is the trusty and now 13 year old Suzuki Vitara has been bringing up many loads of the local crushed rock with lime back up the hill over the past week in order to repair storm damage.
|The little old Suzuki dirt rat has been bringing loads of the local crushed rock with lime back up the hill this week to repair storm damage|
All of the local crushed rock with lime is moved from the trailer by wheelbarrow and then raked flat using a normal garden rake. Once the local crushed rock with lime has been raked flat, water is then sprayed onto that area and the lime quickly sets firm in the hot summer sun. Over the past week we closely observed where the various systems failed during the storm and have used the repairs as an opportunity to correct those failings.
|The local crushed rock with lime is placed over storm damaged areas and then raked flat|
The area around the new rock gabions also received a good coating of the local crushed rock with lime so as to ensure that any future rainfall flows away from that wood shed.
|The local crushed rock with lime was placed around the new rock gabions to ensure that rainfall that collects on the ground flows away from that wood shed|
Earlier in the week, the tree dudes who assist me with work around the farm from time to time were scratching around for paid work one day and so they made a surprise visit here. I got them to cut up a massive fallen branch which took them a couple of hours of work. Observant readers may note in the next photo below that the tree that the massive limb fell from is absolutely huge and may well pre-date European settlement.
|The tree dudes helped by cutting a massive fallen limb into firewood lengths|
The editor made another batch of olive oil soap!
|Another batch of olive oil soap was produced this week|
This summer has been great for the various berries which are grown here. In about ten minutes of work earlier in the week we picked a plate of black currants, jostaberries, gooseberries, and the very first of this seasons blueberries. All of those berries, along with the red currants picked two weeks ago (which were stored in the refrigerator) were converted into fruit wine which should be able to be consumed next summer!
|We picked black currants, jostaberries, gooseberries, and the very first of this seasons blueberries this week|
The older raspberry plants are now producing some very tasty fruit. And readers may be surprised to know that so far this season I have not watered these berry canes at all.
|The raspberries are starting to ripen|
The blueberry crop is also starting to slowly become ripe. Each year brings a slightly bigger crop of tasty blueberries.
|Each year brings slightly more tasty blueberries|
This season, the apple trees seem to be producing a bumper crop. It is a real pleasure to walk around the orchard and watch the apples become larger with each day that passes.
|The apple trees seem to be producing a bumper crop|
The Asian nashi pears are really enjoying the combination of hot weather and regular rainfall and the trees are growing very strongly this year and the pears have also been swelling in size.
|Asian nashi pears are really enjoying the combination of hot weather and regular rainfall this summer|
Today, we cleared a raised bed of broad beans. Originally they were planted almost two months late and that has not seemed to make any difference to the crop. They are an interesting plant in that the plant itself falls over (the fancy word for this is: to lodge) and the large and heavy seeds are scattered ever further away from the original plant. Thus that plant is able to walk across a landscape over successive plant generations.
|We cleared a raised bed of broad bean plants today|
Clearing the broad bean bed was a quick and easy job. Stripping the broad bean plants of their pods and then shelling the pods is not a quick and easy job. We worked through about a third of that shelling job today.
|About a third of the shelling job for the broad beans was done today|
The last of the rocket and green mustard plants were also cleared today and the dry seed capsules were harvested and put aside to dry. In the foreground of the next photo are the cucumber plants, some of which are purchased seedlings, whilst the others were raised from saved seed.
|Mustard seeds were collected today and the cucumbers plants are now growing strongly|
The zucchini (courgette) plants have almost doubled in size over the past week. In the next photo below observant readers will also be able to spot the many basil plants and one rather large coriander plant which is in flower.
|Zucchini (courgette) plants have almost doubled in size over the past week|
The tomatoes have grown massively over the past few weeks and soon I will have to fence them so as to stop the plants from sprawling all over the ground. In the next photo in the lowest row closest to the camera, the sweet Siberian melons are growing. In the middle row you can see the capsicum (peppers) growing. Whilst on the highest row the miniature eggplants are enjoying the hot conditions.
|Tomato cam shows that the tomatoes need to be fenced over the next week, or the vines will sprawl all over the place|
The diversity of life here is quite amazing and a few nights ago I spotted a very small baby Southern Brown Tree frog catching insects on the side of the house.
|A very small baby Southern Brown Tree frog catches insects on the side of the house|
That night there was also a really cool looking brown / green insect wandering around on the veranda.
|A really cool looking brown / green insect was wandering around on the veranda|
Just before we end the blog for this week, I thought that I should chuck in some flower photos from random spots about the farm:
|The herb Feverfew is in full flower this week|
|A ten year old olive tree has an understory of olive herb and ladies bedstraw herb both of which are in flower|
|Hydrangea’s put on a good show of blue flowers as seen through an old and tall fennel plant|
|Who doesn’t like the look of the flowers from the edible globe artichoke plant?|
Some regular commenters are occasionally concerned that the editor and I work too hard. Just to put that concern to rest, I thought that it would be nice to include a photo of me in my regular coffee spot enjoying a latte and a homemade Anzac biscuit in the shade at the end of a work day!
|The author and three fluffy’s enjoying a latte and homemade Anzac biscuit at the end of a hot work day|
The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 26’C (79’F). So far this year there has been 3.8mm (0.1 inches). The half inch of rainfall that hit the farm last week was missed by the official weather station as it was a very localised storm event.
Monday, 16 January 2017
This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au
Life always presents mysteries. Like, the other night Scritchy (the boss dog) and I were walking around the house and I noticed that a tree frog was living under the house. The little eyes of the tree frog were staring at us both from behind the safety of the other side of some seriously tough stainless steel mesh. Alas, for poor Scritchy who has discerning tastes and would have enjoyed eating the tree frog! And after that initial tree frog discovery, I noticed that there was more than just one tree frog living under the house. It was a real mystery to me because the tree frogs were all on the other side of a 23mm (almost one inch thick) fire rated wall. And the tree frog looked to me as if it had been enjoying both second helpings and dessert!
|A Southern Brown Tree Frog is sitting on the inside and looking out|
And whilst we are discussing mysteries, the other evening I heard grunting and rustling sounds just outside the house. What could those noises possibly be? Two wallabies were having a punch up. That is what that sound was! I have seen larger marsupials such as the grey forest kangaroos having a punch up but I have never seen wallabies doing that silly business.
Grey Forest Kangaroos are very social creatures who normally live in large mobs and so the social hierarchy for them is a complex business and fights are a natural part of life in a mob. Wallabies are usually very independent creatures who travel alone and no doubt, the wallabies in this instance were fighting for access to the feed and territory here.
|Two wallabies had a massive punch up just outside the house|
The victor of that wallaby punch up took a minor break to lick its wounds and catch a deep breath. Meanwhile the editor and I got closer to the victorious wallaby so as to take a photo (for research purposes for the blog, of course).
|The victorious wallaby took a minor break to lick its wounds and catch a deep breath|
The victorious wallaby kept a close eye on the editor and I. And whilst the victorious wallaby was suitably distracted, the other wallaby saw opportunity and bounced out of the forest at high speed and jumped onto the victorious wallaby. It was total marsupial mayhem that evening! That also goes to prove that even marsupials adhere to the Klingon saying that: “Revenge is a dish best served cold”.
Unlike the two brawling wallabies I can alter the environment here in various ways so that nature produces different outputs from the outputs of the surrounding forest. And those two wallabies understood that the outputs here were worth fighting over.
Outputs are all well and good, but the question remains as to: How much output are you expecting nature to provide?
What I have realised about outputs from nature is that in order to obtain a reliable output from nature you have to consider the very worst case scenario that nature can throw at you. For example, I like apples, and who doesn’t like apples? Imagine for a second if I had only grown a single apple tree here at the farm and those two brawling wallabies crashed into that single apple tree and destroyed that single apple tree. In order to grow apples again, I would then have to wait many long years until a replacement apple tree had grown old enough before it then produced an adequate amount of apples for my consumption.
And I’ve discovered that every single system that relies on outputs supplied by nature works exactly like that! If you want to grow apple trees because you like eating home grown apples, don’t grow a single apple tree, instead grow as many apple trees as you can physically plant, otherwise sooner or later something will go wrong.
The same rule applies to electricity. If for example, you wanted to power your household using only the sun and photovoltaic (PV) panels, you have to have enough PV panels to get you through the cloudiest, rainiest, snowiest of the worst depths of winter, otherwise you are going to run out of electricity.
Another example is if you wanted to capture and store enough rainwater to supply all of your drinking water, household and garden requirements, then you have to have enough capture and storage to get you through the very hottest, most revolting, and sweatiest drought that you can imagine, otherwise you will eventually be thirsty and smelly.
Of course when I lived in the city, none of that was obvious to me. This may possibly have been because there were no brawling wallabies bouncing through my city garden! However, in the city if I was hungry I could easily walk down to the shops and purchase something to eat. If I wanted light switched on to brighten up a room, all I had to do was flick a switch and then the light switched on. If I felt thirsty and wanted to enjoy a drink of water all I had to do was turn the water tap on and out flowed quality drinking water.
What I have learned from living here is that nature works in ways that are inconceivable to people not used to supplying basic natural outputs for themselves.
The other thing to remember when outputs are limited, is that you don’t want to waste any of them. Indeed most outputs simply don’t go to waste here. Those outputs are generally the inputs for other projects or systems.
This week, the editor and I decided to remove some of the rocks in the paddock below the house that were sticking up out of the ground. What to do with the unwanted rocks?
|Some of the large rocks sticking up out of the ground in the paddock below the house|
It turns out that rocks are rather handy when they are used to fill up the new rock gabion project. Regular readers will recall that this project has been ongoing for the past few weeks. And since the farm has long since passed Peak Rocks (the point where all of the easy to obtain rocks have been reallocated and used in various projects) and we have to go further afield now to obtain new rocks, we thought to ourselves that we can take on these rocks in the paddock!
Six hours of work later involving the electric (solar powered) jackhammer and a rock breaking tip, we managed to remove all of the large rocks in the paddock below the house. Honestly using a jackhammer to break up solid rocks is very hard work (which is probably why rock breaking was used as penance in times past) and for the rest of the afternoon following that work I could still feel the jackhammer pulsing away – like a ghost feeling – in my arms.
|Six hours of work removed all of the large rocks sticking out of the ground in the paddock below the house|
The jackhammer was used to split the rocks into smaller and more manageable sized rocks. We then used a 6 foot long steel house wrecking bar to lever the now smaller rocks out of the ground. Even then some of the rocks were absolutely huge and weighed more than I do.
|The author leans on the jackhammer and surveys some of the large rocks removed from the paddock|
Observant readers will note that I am wearing a bee hat in the above photo. The purpose of that bee hat is not to keep bees off my face, but instead the broad brim of the hat assists with keeping the sun off my face whilst the mesh does the same thing for the pesky flies. It is a well known fact that a person cannot wield a jackhammer and swish flies away from their face at the same time!
The following day, we drove the little dirt rat of a Suzuki and the bright yellow trailer down the hill and into the paddock and used mushroom compost to fill up all of the holes left behind where the rocks once were. All of the rocks were then loaded onto the bright yellow trailer.
At that point we decided to drive the little dirt rat of a Suzuki back up the steep hill only to find that despite four wheel drive and low range gearing, the grass contained so much moisture that the little dirt rat of a Suzuki couldn’t make it back up the hill. The wheels spun on the damp green grass. Two of the largest rocks which we’d valiantly managed to load onto the bright yellow trailer had to be rolled back off the bright yellow trailer. In a pique of unhappiness, we rolled those two large rocks off and away down the hill. Alas poor rocks, I knew them well, but for a brief time.
After the two largest rocks were removed, the little dirt rat of a Suzuki managed to climb back up the hill without further incident. The output from that paddock clearing project (i.e. the rocks) then became the input for the rock gabion wall project.
|The rocks which were removed from the paddock were then placed in the new rock gabion walls|
The ground was quite damp on Friday as a slow storm had rolled over this corner of the continent and dumped some rain. During the storm we had the opportunity to observe how the drains which collect water from the many roofs for storage in water tanks were working. The drain which collects water off the firewood shed roof was allowing some water to fall onto the ground behind the firewood shed. This water was then slowly seeping into the firewood shed. That drain was repaired so that it now functions correctly.
|The drain which collects water from the roof of the firewood shed was repaired|
That firewood shed had been slowly emptied over the previous winter. We observed that the surface that the firewood sat on had also compacted over the past twelve months, possibly also contributing to the water flowing into the firewood shed. If that surface height was increased, it would be less likely that water would enter the firewood shed. We therefore added another half cubic metre (0.4 cubic yards) of the local crushed rock with lime to the surface.
|Inside the firewood shed with the compacted surface prior to additional material being added so that the height would be increased|
Once all of the minor alterations to the firewood shed were complete, we were then able to begin filling that shed with dried and seasoned firewood! One bright yellow trailer load of firewood later and the shed looks like this:
|The firewood shed has now begun to be filled with summer dried and seasoned firewood|
And just in case anyone was concerned, the wood ash from burning the firewood in the future will be added back onto the soil in the orchards (as a form of fertiliser).
I have a new hobby! I am slowly exploring the world of beer making from its very basics. And don’t let anyone tell you that making beer is a complex process because it is a very simple process which has been done by humans for many millennia. One of our first experiments is to make a version of millet beer known in Asia as Tongba!
|We have begun making millet beer this week which is known in Asia as Tongba|
The ongoing humid weather is clearly making the wallabies a bit grumpy, but the berry season has been better than I can recall and so this week we made a couple of demijohns of Strawberry wine. Strawberry wine is superb. Nuff said!
|Strawberry wine is superb! Nuff said! So is pizza.|
With country wines it is always interesting to see the yeasts irrupting (that is a fancy name for yeasts going on a massive sugar binge party) in the first day or so of the wine making process. The strawberry base made that yeast mess look like a strawberry meringue. I wouldn’t advise consuming it though, as that output is a job for the worms in the worm farm!
|The yeasts in strawberry wine go feral and have a massive sugar rave/dance off|
Oh, speaking of feral partying, the carrots have gone completely feral. Many years ago I let a carrot go to seed and now carrots turn up everywhere.
|Carrots have gone completely feral|
Pentstemon’s are producing beautiful flowers and the native blue banded bees and the honeyeaters really appreciate the nectar contained in the flowers.
|Pentstemon’s are also going feral and producing beautiful flowers|
The soapwort herb has just begun producing flowers over the past few days. In the photo below you can also see the white yarrow flowers which are to the left of the soapwort flowers:
|The soapwort herb has just begun producing flowers over the past few days|
Who doesn’t love foxglove flowers? I found this plant somewhere on a get rid of these plants table for a throw out price. Their outputs are my inputs and aren’t the colours superb too?
|Who doesn’t love foxglove flowers?|
The very first of the mint family plants to flower are oregano, and those plants flower their purple flowers for months. Plus the fresh leaves are excellent on pizza. Yum!
|Oregano is now flowering this week|
The award for the most pugnacious thing here at the farm doesn’t go to brawling wallabies, it actually goes to the zucchini / courgette plants who also take out the “Fernglade Farm Annual Triffid Award” (otherwise known as FATA) as they have doubled in size in just one week. Don’t turn your back on those plants or you may become the inputs to stuffed zucchini flowers!
|zucchini / courgette plants who also take out the “Fernglade Farm Annual Triffid Award” (otherwise known as FATA)|
The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 27’C (81’F). So far this year there has been 11.6mm (0.5 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 3.8mm (0.1 inches).
Monday, 23 January 2017
This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au
Who doesn’t love low tech solutions to modern problems? And sometimes low tech solutions have unexpected benefits. On the farm I have a very low tech storm early warning device otherwise known as: Scritchy the boss dog.
Scitchy is infallible in her role of low tech storm warning device. If there is a storm anywhere within a thousand kilometres (about 600 miles) radius of the farm, Scritchy is well onto that business. It is uncanny just how well Scritchy can communicate that storm early warning! And how does Scritchy achieve this feat of accurate weather prediction? Scritchy hides under the bed whenever a storm threatens.
|Scritchy hides under the bed whenever a storm threatens anywhere in the Southern hemisphere!|
Meanwhile, away from the safety of the hiding space underneath the bed, the setting sun put on a spectacular show as storm clouds built up over this part of the world. A storm certainly did threaten.
|The setting sun put on a spectacular show as storm clouds built up over this part of the world|
Earlier that day was very hot at 39’C (102’F). In those hot weather conditions, Scritchy would have shown no sign of her storm early warning alert as she would have much preferred to be out in the hot summer sunshine performing her other trick of: “cooking her brain”. I’ve read that zombies are rather fascinated with the fine art of consuming brains and for them this activity may be a good thing, who really knows but I for one would not stop to ask them? However, if they were to attempt to consume Scritchy’s brain after a day of “cooking her brain” in the sun, well, they may find that her brain was somewhat curdled, and really, who knows whether zombies would even appreciate consuming “cooked” brains?
Anyway, that night was very hot and I slept fitfully knowing that Scritchy (as well as the more reliable Bureau of Meteorology) had predicted heavy rain and localised storms. It was the lightning flashes which proceeded the storm that woke me up at the ungodly hour of 2am. I then lay in bed watching the lightning flashes and waiting on the thunder (Bob Seeger fans around the world one and all rejoice!). And then I enjoyed listening to the rain falling. What a beautiful sound rain makes when it falls on an roof during the summer months.
By 3am the heavy rain continued and in my half drowsy state of mind I’d concluded that there didn’t seem to be anything to worry about and so I went back to sleep.
By 4am, Scritchy had come to the same conclusion as I about the storm, and instead of quietly exiting the bedroom where she had hiding after having been kicked out earlier that evening, she decided that it would be best if she shook her head rather vigorously and bang various body parts on the bed so as to alert me to the fact that the storm wasn’t as severe as she had initially predicted. It was very thoughtful of Scritchy to do that and I wished her well on her way back to her usual sleeping spot with the delightful epitah: “Get the f… (a naughty word that rhymes with the word “truck”) out!” Scritchy obliged me by rapidly trundling off to her usual bed spot.
The next morning I woke up feeling like a zombie. Fortunately the best cure for an infection of the zombie kind is a quality coffee from a proper espresso machine and so in the early wee hours of the morning I toddled off to the local General Store under the guise of collecting the mail, but really I was after a large cappuccino to cure my zombie like state of mind. The cure worked and I recommend it!
It is interesting because I’m not the only person this week to have used naughty words that rhyme with “truck”. The editor was in a car park in Melbourne the other day. It is a nice car park and has a very well laid concrete slab. I like concrete as a material and can respect good concrete work when I see it. And that car park certainly had a good concrete slab laid at some time in the past.
Interestingly enough, a couple of late teenagers also understood the benefits to be had from a good quality concrete slab. Of course earlier that day the editor had parked the little “Dirt Mouse” vehicle which is a 2008 Suzuki Swift on that same concrete slab. As a side story, we call the car a “Dirt Mouse” because the car is small and we live on a dirt road. The dirt road makes it impossible to keep the outside of the car clean and so many long years ago we simply gave up and just accepted the coating of dirt and mud. Despite being really grotty, the car is very well maintained and most excellent.
The late teenagers were using that smooth concrete slab as a skate park. By all accounts the late teenagers were very talented and were jumping fences whilst on their skateboards and zipping around the parked vehicles at high speed. I’m in awe of their skills as to be honest I used to fall off skateboards after only a few seconds!
Anyway, the editor spoke to one of the late teenagers and advised them that she would be reversing the little “Dirt Mouse” and was concerned that she did not want to injure any of them in that process. The late teenager replied by saying: “F…… (a naughty word that rhymes with the word “Trucking”), S… (another naughty word that rhymes with the word “Sit”) car, lady”. When I heard the editor’s account of that colourful interaction many hours later, my heart was genuinely warmed because the late teenagers understood that the editor was a “lady” of distinction and quality, albeit with a dirty car.
Sometimes though, like Scritchy’s early storm warnings, a potty mouthed quip from late teenagers can reveal a much larger truth hidden within their words. Basically, the late teenagers were saying that they wouldn’t steal the “Dirt Mouse” even if they felt so inclined. It is an interesting thing to hear because in Melbourne there has been a recent and very noticeable increase in the incidence of car jackings. A car jacking is the situation where criminals violently steal an occupied car. That is a traumatic situation that I hope all of the readers here are never involved in.
Recently, I read a very thoughtful article written by the veteran crime reporter and author of many books, John Silvester, who suggested that the best way to avoid being car jacked was to own a vehicle with a manual gearbox (that is referred to as a stick shift for people in the US). The logic behind the veteran crime reporters suggestion was that the criminals were basically incapable of driving a vehicle with a manual gearbox! It is perhaps important to note that in Australia, 80% of vehicles are supplied with an automatic gearbox. Perhaps the editor and I are contrarians, but we have never owned a vehicle with an automatic gearbox. The much larger question that John Silvester almost touched upon was: that if most people are following a certain path that leads to increased personal risk, perhaps it may be worth considering taking the less popular path (the path less travelled??)?
Heating one’s home with locally harvested firewood is certainly a less popular path. Scritchy has been warning the editor and I about increasing storm activity of late and we hear her! With those warnings in mind, we have decided to begin bringing in the winter’s store of firewood now. Bringing in locally sourced firewood is hard work under the best conditions, but when the hot summer sun is beating down on your head it feels even harder. And this week, my big shiny new electric log splitter died. Fortunately, I have another and much older, electric log splitter, which is still working well and so we could continue splitting and storing the firewood.
|The seasons firewood is being brought in and stacked on one side of the firewood shed|
|The other side of the firewood shed has also begun to be filled this week|
The new adventures in brewing have also continued! The Australian millet beer has really enjoyed the hot weather this week and it is producing copious amounts of a beer like liquid. In all honesty it tastes to me like a sweet beer, which is quite nice. Perhaps with the addition of vanilla extract it may become a magical millet unicorn!
|The millet beer has continued to produce copious amounts of beer like liquid this week|
Scritchy may like hot weather, but the tomato plants like that hot weather even more! I spotted a few green tomatoes today:
|The tomatoes have produced a few green tomatoes this week|
|Some of the heritage tomatoes have quite strange shapes, but the real test will be: How do they taste?|
The triffid like zucchini (courgette) plants have produced the first of this year’s zucchini monsters! I hope they don’t come and get me, whilst my back is turned…
|The first of the seasons zucchini / courgette appeared this week|
We’re also trialing mini capsicum (peppers) and mini eggplant varieties that hopefully get enough summer heat to fully develop. If either variety produces fruit we’ll definitely save some seeds and sow them next summer.
|We’re trialing mini capsicum (pepper) varieties this summer|
|Mini eggplant varieties are also being trialed this summer|
The Sweet Siberian melon that was accidentally grown last summer is starting to produce trailing vines. We collected the seeds from that one melon that did grow and have planted them out this season. Observant readers will notice in the next photo that there are several yellow flowers bearing what looks like tiny melons! Yay!
|Sweet Siberian melons are producing good trailing vines despite the unfavourable summer conditions|
The blackberries are only about two weeks away from being ready to harvest. The local wild varieties of blackberries also appear to be at about the same stage of ripeness. It should be a bumper season for blackberries.
|The blackberries are only about two weeks away from being ready to harvest|
I’ve often written about the stainless steel bushfire shutters protecting the windows but I don’t believe I’ve ever shown a photo of them actually covering the windows before. The shutters are very strong stainless steel mesh and they really protect the windows from transferring heat to the insides of the house. The windows are double glazed with 10mm (0.4 inches) of toughened glass. We usually have the shutters covering the windows during the months of January through to early March because of the bushfire risk.
|The bushfire shutters cover the windows here from about January to early March|
In breaking plant news, the ferns that were planted into the steep garden bed where the landslide happened a few weeks ago, have all grown prolifically and produced new fronds despite the heat and lack of shade.
|The ferns planted into the repaired landslide area are growing very nicely despite the heat|
And I like to end the blog at this time of the year with some nice flower photos from around the garden:
|Fennel plants produce a good quantity of flowers and a great bee attractant|
|I can’t remember whether this is an orange or a red yarrow!|
|Californian poppy plants love the heat of summers down under|
|Globe artichokes have the most vivid purple flowers but behind those showy plants is a stunning red, pink and white geranium flower|
|But the bush rose produces more showy flowers than any other plant here|
The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 27’C (81’F). So far this year there has been 35.6mm (1.4 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 11.6mm (0.5 inches).
Postscript: Scritchy is currently hiding under the bed as storm clouds threaten!
Monday, 30 January 2017
This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au
Over the course of my life, I’ve been subjected to and also freely subjected myself to a lot of education. I have earned an undergraduate degree as well as achieving post graduate success. All of my education post high school, was done on a part time basis at night and weekends because I had to work a full time job during the day in order to keep a roof over my head and also food on the table. Education has consumed a lot of my life.
As long term readers will know by now, I perform paid work as an accountant.
Way back in the early 1990’s when a co-worker first referred to me as “the accountant” for a particular business that I worked at, I was very pleased. I’d worked hard for that status and I really enjoyed the professional recognition of achieving that status.
Back in those days, the much older accountants told me that they had earned their status of recognition as an accountant through the process of completing an apprenticeship with either a company or a government department. I on the other hand had been required to attend University for many long years at night and at my own considerable expense. Employers offering to pay for tuition fees were like the often spoken about, but rarely seen mythical beast (Magical Christmas Unicorns anyone?).
By the time that I was given the recognised status of an accountant, it had also become a new “professional requirement” to complete a post graduate course. I completed that post graduate course at a cost of both more years of night time study and further personal expense. As a comparison, many of the older accountants received a special concession to achieve that new requirement for “professional” status by paying an initial $50 membership fee to the professional accounting body. To those older accountants that had travelled that particular path, I often remarked jokingly to them that: “they got a good return on that $50 investment”.
Those older accountants had also had more free time than I had, given that they didn’t have to do all of the education that was now a mandatory requirement. I wonder what they did with all of that free time in their youth?
I was aware of many of the above matters and just how much hard work it would be for me when I started out on that long journey of education and professional status seeking all those long years ago. Some people may call my state of mind by the fancy and very technical term: Acceptance (edit: read, no option). And perhaps that is what I feel about the above matter.
Eventually after many long years of day time work and night time study, the education was completed and I received professional status and I became a respectable member of the community (a pillar perhaps!). I’m no slouch and during that time I also got married (edit: to another accountant no less), kept in contact with friends through the old school method of actually visiting them, and in spare moments at night and on weekends I repaired old houses for profit. OK, I admit it, I was very busy.
In the odd moments of quiet, my mind would return to memories of me as a young child helping my grandfather grow vegetables in his large backyard. My grandfather was a wealthy businessman who grew up on a farm. He was a bomber pilot during World War 2 and upon his return he apprenticed as an accountant. I knew him only as an old man, whilst I on the other hand was only a young child.
My grandfather spent one day of every weekend pottering around a large tennis court in his backyard which he’d converted into row upon row of neatly tended and flourishing vegetables. And I was sent over to assist him with that gardening and any other task he put his fertile mind to. He was of an age and disposition that felt that idle hands were the devils workshop. And who can argue with that sort of logic!
The old man made gardening look easy, and no doubts the activity was easy for him as he had a young helper to do all of the running around. Many long years later after he had passed away and I had completed all of that education, I put my mind towards learning the finer arts of growing plants. I thought to myself: how complex could this gardening business be?
As it turns out, this gardening business is actually quite a complex skill. In the early days of gardening, I pretty much killed every single plant that I grew. Everything that could have gone wrong with the plants, actually went wrong and they subsequently died. Who would have thought that plants require: Feeding; Watering; Protection from predation; and they also have to be planted at more or less the exact time of the year for that particular plant and variety. Gardening is a complex business to be sure.
Well over a decade later, I’ve learned a thing or two about gardening and can consider myself fairly handy. If the old man was alive today, no doubt that he’d enjoy what he saw here on the farm, but on the other hand given his disposition and general demeanour he’d be just as likely to point out things that I got wrong. And then he would have berated me (properly too!) for not paying more attention to him when I was a child. Who needs that I ask you? Especially when the person in question has a lot education behind them and is a respected member of the community! The outrage of it all!
Anyway, this gardening business is actually a complex thing and perhaps I may have saved myself a bit of trouble and learned a thing or two from listening more closely to the old man.
The funny thing is that within the past week I found myself talking with a group about the importance of soil in a garden. And as I was speaking with the group I wondered to myself as to whether I’d now become that grumpy old accountant who had enough free time to grow plants? And who wants that?
With summer now half gone, the editor and I have been busily bringing in the firewood for the winter. This job is always best done in high summer because the firewood is dry from the summer sun, and also because it is a good job to split the firewood in the shade on a hot summers afternoon’s. There is a certain rhythm to the seasons that the use of firewood for winter heating fuel imposes on a person and bringing the firewood in over high summer becomes a non negotiable pattern to life.
|The firewood is starting to really stack up in the firewood shed|
|After another day of bringing in firewood, the firewood shed is really filling up|
|After another day of bringing in firewood, the other side of the shed looks like this|
Last year I undertook an experiment to see what happened when the tomato plants were allowed to grow freely in their enclosure. That experiment told me that the tomato vines would happily run everywhere! With that outcomes of last years experiment in mind, the feral tomato jungle was brought into a state of neat order this week as we constrained the rambling tomato vines with heavy duty chicken wire. Now the tomato enclosure has nice and neat contained rows of tomatoes. The neat rows means that we can more easily walk in the tomato enclosure and pick the fruit as it ripens.
|The feral tomato jungle has been tamed with super strong heavy duty chicken wire|
Also in the tomato enclosure, I planted some of the seeds from the single Sweet Siberian Melon that grew here as a freak accident last summer. And today it looks like this:
|The Sweet Siberian Melon has established itself and is enjoying the conditions in the tomato enclosure|
A local bloke with a lovely French accent laughed at me when I mentioned my ambition to grow melons in this part of the world. Laugh no longer, my delightfully accented friend, because today I spotted this little ripening beauty:
|A Sweet Siberian Melon is rapidly growing in size|
The Asian nashi pears have produced an enormous quantity of fruit this summer. I’ve been observing which fruit on the trees that the local birds consume. My views on the world of netting fruit trees is that several hundred years ago, nobody would have been able to net any fruit tree and I have long wondered how the oldies managed to harvest any fruit from those unprotected fruit trees. What I’m observing is that the birds seem unable for some reason to consume the fruit at the extremities of the fruit trees. Of course, there is possibly more to the story than that simple observation and I am also wondering whether in pruning fruit trees so that they are easier for humans to harvest, that pruning process also makes it easier for the birds to harvest the fruit. Time will tell. In the meantime, I have some massive nashi pears which are almost ready to harvest!
|The Asian nashi pears are ready to harvest and enjoy!|
I thought that readers may be interested to see just how thick the trunk of those nashi pear trees have become after almost eight years of growth.
|The trunk of a nashi pear tree after almost eight years of growth|
And the shady orchard is really enjoying the solid rainfall combined with the summer heat.
|The shady orchard is enjoying the solid rainfall combined with the summer heat|
At night time (and during the day) it is hard to walk more than a metre or so without disturbing one of the residents of the farm. The other night I spotted a Southern Brown Tree Frog loitering on the veranda.
|A Southern Brown Tree Frog was loitering on the veranda the other night|
And what was interesting about that frog was that it was about to go head to head with a little scorpion which was also on the veranda enjoying a chunk of biscuit which I’d dropped earlier that evening.
|A scorpion was enjoying a chunk of biscuit which I’d inadvertently dropped earlier that evening|
During the day I’ve spotted several large stick insects which live on the side of the house. I have absolutely no idea what they eat, but there are enough of them, so they must be eating something!
|A stick insect enjoys the shade of the veranda on a hot summers afternoon|
The insects aren’t only on the house, as they are right through the garden. Most of the garden beds enjoy a huge diversity of insects too:
|An insect enjoys these yellow yarrow flowers|
I try hard to encourage as many insects here as possible by planting a huge diversity of flowers and plants, as well as a selection of plants which provide a succession of flowers throughout the year. This provides something for the insects to eat during most seasons of the year. At the moment the agapanthus flowers are looking spectacular – and the honeyeater birds adore them as much as the insects.
|The agapanthus flowers encourage a huge diversity of insects as well as the honeyeater birds|
And, I like to finish the blog with some flower photos:
|The hollyhocks are producing lovely flowers right now|
|The bush rose is looks and smells superb, although sitting can be a spikey experience|
|Geraniums love the summer heat and flower regardless of conditions|
|Oregano which is of the mint family is also a hardy summer flowering plant (as well as being good on pizza)|
|Spot the Toothy!|
Sir Scruffy and I sat in the orchard last night well after sunset. It was a clear and warm night and we watched the stars wheel across the night sky. All around us was the sounds of life as insects made their insect-like sounds, bats zipped across the air, and chunky marsupials with glossy coats crashed through the vegetation on their way to important marsupial business and I thought to myself:
The temperature outside now at about 9.15pm is 19’C (66’F). So far this year there has been 35.6mm (1.4 inches) which is the same as last week’s total of 35.6mm (1.4 inches).