Fluffy business

Tomorrow it’s the King’s birthday public holiday. Long live the King and all that stuff, although the bloke is getting on in years, so we’ll have to see how that works out in reality. Whatever, I appreciate the public holiday. Most people, even the locals in Australia, don’t realise that King Charles III, is actually the head of our government. There’s some power there. His representatives sign each act of Federal and State Parliaments, in effect giving them Royal Assent. In less technical terms, that ol’ Charles giving us the OK to pass laws. And in 1975, the Queens representative sacked the entire Federal Parliament, so the power there is no mere fluffery.

I’ve been thinking about fluffies and power this week. It’s been extraordinarily cloudy, but not yet record breakingly so. There’s been nine consecutive days of thick low cloud, and solar photovoltaic panels produce very little energy in those conditions. To put it mildly, the weather has been rather discouraging for those who may believe in a future industrial civilisation based around renewable energy technologies.

Spot the fluffy. And it’s hard out there for solar PV

Regular readers will recall that the house here uses electricity supplied by an off grid solar power system. Since the first official day of winter, which is the first of June down under, the house batteries have not yet been fully charged from energy derived from the sunlight. Here’s the results from the solar power system converted into minutes per day of peak sunlight:

  • 1st June – 70 minutes
  • 2nd June – 35 minutes
  • 3rd June – 44 minutes
  • 4th June – 43 minutes
  • 5th June – 29 minutes
  • 6th June – 61 minutes
  • 7th June – 14 minutes
  • 8th June – 22 minutes
  • 9th June – 26 minutes

For most of the year we require about on average 84 minutes of peak sunlight to do all the things required to keep the lights on and food upon the table. That’s not always possible during the three weeks either side of the winter solstice when the sun is at it’s lowest in the point in the sky and the winter weather brings thick clouds and storms. In the past nine days, the petrol (gasoline in US parlance) powered generator has made up the difference of about 450 minutes of equivalent peak sunlight.

There’s not much a person can do about the situation. Even doubling the number of installed solar PV panels from 40 to 80, won’t make up the difference between needs and the energy available from the sun. Plus the cost and problems involved with that massive expansion, are just not worth the effort. And it truly would bring some epic technical problems. Sure we could do that work, but realistically it’s a nonsense project. So basically, the system is mostly as good as it’ll ever be. And it’s not good enough, and never will be.

Oh well, at least we’ll have a public holiday tomorrow! Most likely on that day we’ll continue bringing in the firewood for next year. Now that’s a reliable locally derived energy source which keeps us warm on the very worst days during the cold winter months.

It’s cold and damp out there in the orchard

Yup, it’s a public holiday tomorrow, and that means a day off work, unless you work in the hospitality or the retail industries, or you’re like us and are bringing in the firewood for next year. I guess a lot of people must work on public holidays. I’ll bet the politicians aren’t working! Although they must have been working recently because the largest coal fired power station in the country which was due to be shut down next year, has had it’s life extended for a further two years. That’s the Eraring Power Station.

The massive coal generator behemoth is owned and run by a listed company, but after the recently announced $450m government funding, I guess the public is now on the hook for the giant machine. In less polite language, that may well be described as: nationalising. Perhaps it is a preview of the future? At least the numpties in charge are finally thinking about: just what will happen to the electricity grid without all those coal fired power stations? Well, at least you’d hope they were. Renewable energy generation is so intermittent that it is only ever as good as the worst conditions. Trying to explain that concept to true believers in the technology is tiresome. And they usually have little to no practical experience with the stuff, I mean how else could they think and say aloud such crazy thought bubbles?

Anyway, my experience with this renewable energy technology has not been reassuring, but whatever, let’s not worry about that, because it’s a public holiday tomorrow, long live the reigning King and all that stuff.

Speaking of reigning, the dogs have been reined in of late. Regular readers will recall the recent and thoroughly unexpected canine dramas with the psychoactive mushrooms. Well, as you may imagine, we’d had enough of all the tomfoolery. All dog activities are now thoroughly restricted, and they’re supervised at all times. Like politicians, the dogs are not to be trusted. One of the dogs (the name shall be withheld to protect the innocent) is now attending dog obedience school, and the other two are benefiting from the knowledge and skills gained there. It feels powerful exerting bad boss dude energy, and that has put an immediate end to the mischief.

The hard work we’ve done with the dogs over the past couple of months, is not a bad metaphor for the decline of the west. As a civilisation, we don’t seem to be able to put a cap on the mischief, tomfoolery and excesses. And all the while, who’s actually thinking about the future of the very institutions and conditions which keep most of us fed and spared from the worst of the weather? It’s been my experience that if the dogs are not acting responsibly, it is unwise to leave things as is. And just look what we had to do and become (exerting bad boss dude energy), to re-exert control over the situation! A preview for the future, me thinks.

The past week has been very cloudy, but mostly dry and without much in the way of any wind. That’s almost perfect conditions to begin harvesting firewood for use next year. Due to all the forestry activities since the 1850’s, and also the naturally falling trees, we’re simply cutting and splitting timber that is already on the ground.

After the firewood has been split into nicely sized chunks, we load it up into the power wheelbarrows and dump the stuff next to the firewood shed.

The firewood pile for next year begins to grow

By summer the firewood will be toasty dry, and then we’ll store it out of the weather for when it’s needed during the colder months of the year. By the time the stuff gets used, it’ll get down to a moisture content of around 14%, which is a pretty respectable result, and the stuff will burn very cleanly.

Another couple of hours work and the pile grew in size

It’s nice doing the work a day here, or a couple of hours there. If a person had to devote a couple of continuous weeks to the job of processing the seasons firewood, I’d imagine that they’d soon begin to feel overwhelmed. As it is, for us the work is quite meditative with the side benefit of cleaning up the mess left in the forest after over 170 years of an utter lack of care.

The local birds all watch us whilst we do the work. Any juicy wood borer grubs found when splitting the timber are fed to them. The grubs get thrown a respectable distance, and the birds swoop in on the juicy chunk of protein. Hauling the split firewood back uphill with the power wheelbarrows is all part of the work. And once we move away from the processing area, the birds fly to the ground and rifle through the pile of organic matter. They feast upon any insects found, usually termites and the other species of ants. After the firewood has been dumped in the storage area, the birds will again go through that lot as well. No bitey stingy bull ant remains unharmed, and to my mind, that’s a good thing.

We processed quite a bit of firewood this week

Way down at the forest edge, there is a dangerous tree which is leaning over on a precarious angle. Due to the lean, the tree will eventually fall over, and so it has zero chance of ever growing to the usual size and age of this Eucalyptus species. With that outcome in mind I’ve recently begun thinking about the possibilities of milling some timber from the tree for use in projects.

A mound was lowered and the hole next to it was filled

In order to be able to fell the tree safely, I have to have an exit which is at a 45 degree angle to either side of the rear of the tree. Unfortunately there was a mound on the uphill side, and an adjacent depression on the downhill side, both of which were in the 45 degree angle escape path. And the big mound and the big hole were probably also the reason the tree was moving slowly to the horizontal position. Just another strange loggers mystery! I’d have to suggest that decades ago, the loggers used a bulldozer and chain to pull a large tree, roots and all, out of the hole.

We can fix that mess. The scary old rototiller was used to loosen up the soil on the mound. Then I shovelled the soil from the mound into the hole. The soil in that whole area is now flat, although it is far too late for the tree as I do not have the equipment to bring it back to vertical. Still, in weeks to come the tree will produce some very useful building materials.

We’re less than two weeks out from the winter solstice, and some of the more cold hardy plants continue to grow. After a good feed a few weeks ago, the Globe Artichoke plants have put on some size. For plants which look a lot like thistles, they need plenty of water and good soil fertility.

Globe Artichokes are enjoying the well fed and watered soil

We use a lot of lemons in the kitchen, but sometimes the Meyer Lemon out-produces our needs. The tree is full of tasty fruit.

How good are Meyer Lemon trees?

Next Sunday morning, the weather forecast for the area is predicting freezing weather of 0’C / 32’F. Hopefully this blast of cold air encourages the hundreds of Kiwi fruit to produce some sugars. Right now, they’re a bit starchy tasting, which is not what you want.

It seems weird to look forward to a frosty morning, but that’s Kiwi fruits for you

The area where a strong and very localised blast of wind took down a few trees not all that long ago, appears to have had some further troubles this week. An area of the property best avoided for the immediate future. But at least it will provide plenty of firewood.

Despite the lack of wind, there was even more wind related damage this week

Onto the flowers:

The Salvia flowers are stunning
They won’t like the frost later this week, but aren’t they lovely?
Clearly the Roses enjoyed their feed from a few weeks ago

The temperature outside now at about 11am is 5’C (40’F). So far for last year there has been 415.6mm (16.4 inches) which is up from last weeks total of 413.0mm (16.3 inches)