2015 August posts x 5

Monday, 31 August 2015

How much can a Koala Bear?

Last week, the temperature plummeted, the skies darkened with thick heavy cloud and the rain fell liberally for days on end.

All plans for outside garden and orchard activities were abandoned. Fortunately, I have an area that is outside and protected from both the rain and the cold southerly winds blowing up from Antarctica. I store a few days firewood for immediate use in that sheltered spot, and it is also very useful for constructing projects when it is raining or the wind is blowing so hard that it feels as if you are chilled to your very bones.

Sunday was such a day. I was battling the big box store blues (more on this later) in that sheltered spot when Poopy the Pomeranian (the fancy name for his species – in a truly ironic twist to the latter story too – is a Swedish Lapphund) who had been casually lounging around on the front veranda, started making a ruckus.

When dogs communicate with humans it’s usually about a lot of rubbish. Honestly, dogs can be very boring and repetitive. Some of their conversation can include the following forgettable gems:

–          I’m hungry, where is my dinner?

–          I need to go to the toilet, let me out now!

–          Come here!

–          That other dog is infringing upon my perquisites and I’m unhappy about it!

But on this day, as Poopy the Pomeranian started barking differently from his usual rubbish, it is always wise in such circumstances to see exactly what was going on. Poopy was trying to alert me to the fact that a very strange creature had decided to make a visit. So, I went to investigate.

And what I found, completely blew me away. So, the first thing I did was to order Poopy into the house – You, in the house now! And off he trotted obediently into the house, as he didn’t want anything at all to do with this particular creature with its massive claws and wide jaw.

For some reason, a young male Koala Bear had decided that he needed a bit of assistance with his journey in life and decided that the house here was a good place to obtain that help. He did very well making that decision and things have been looking up for him ever since. The Koala followed me around like a dog and honestly there were times that I was thinking: You know what? He’d make a great addition to the household (possible name Krusty the Koala).

The author gives the newest Koala resident a little enjoyable head scratch

From the photo it is very hard to describe just how unpleasant it was outside the house that day. I had so many layers of clothing on that I felt like the Michelin Man and even then I was trying to keep my hands warm as you can see in the photo above. The Koala on the other hand had clearly been on the ground and moving across the country for a few days as he was cold and wet.

Close up of the Koala visitor

The poor little fella had a bit of blood on his ears from a burst tick and there were a few other intact ticks on his ears too which have since been removed. Ticks are an unfortunate part of life here for the wildlife (and dogs) and they were a good indication that the Koala had been on the ground for a few days searching out new territory. The ticks here are reasonably benign.

Dispirited looking Koala with food and energy drink

Koalas are not normally found in this area, so I used the bush telegraph (i.e. known contacts) and contacted people that I knew whom had experience with wildlife. The architect that designed the house here runs a wildlife shelter on his property in the mountain range to the north of here and he recounted to me the possible story of the little lost Koala. In addition to that he put me in contact with the local wildlife rescue people who know far more about Koalas than I do and who eventually came to collect the Koala. In the meantime, I wrapped the little fella in a warm towel and provided him an energy drink of: warm water, dark brown sugar with molasses and also a bit of olive oil.

I’ll recount the story about how the little fella possibly came to be up here. For a start, you can tell the Koala is a male because he has a dark patch on his chest. The dark patch indicates the presence of a gland which secretes hormones on trees for the purpose of marking that tree as that particular Koalas territory.

Unfortunately, young Koala males have to always leave the area that they were born into. This is an excellent survival strategy as it prevents the Koala population from the awful problems of in-breeding. However, it can also mean that a young male Koala may travel off into the wild blue yonder on an adventure only to find himself in a land with no food.

That is probably the most reasonable explanation for the young Koalas presence here. The dominant trees here (Eucalyptus Obliqua or Messmate) aren’t good food for a Koala. They much prefer the Manna gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) which grows along the creek beds and along the swampy and moist main ridges higher up in the mountain range. You see, Koalas don’t have to drink water to survive at all, but instead gain most of their nutrients and fluids from the leaves of the tree species which they prefer. As an interesting side note, the manna gum also produces an edible sap which was often eaten by the Aboriginals and early settlers as a sugar substitute much in the same way that maple sugar comes from Sugar Maple trees.

Koala bears have very small reserves of body fat so are unable to go many days without food. By the time the poor little fella worked his way to my front door he must have been exhausted, cold, wet and hungry. He was certainly dispirited – but still would have made an excellent addition to the household.

The lovely local wildlife rescue person quickly turned up and picked up the poor little Koala and whisked him off to another local carer who specialises in Koalas. A couple of hours in a warm spot with some proper Koala food and a dose of antibiotics and his spirits have improved. I understand that he has now attempted at least one escape and in doing so trashed a bathroom. Well done you, that’s the proper Cherokee spirit! Updates on his progress can be found on this link:

This poor little guy was called in

You can check out their main Facebook page for updates too. Incidentally, the Macedon Ranges Wildlife Network group is a group of locals using their own resources and they receive no funding whatsoever from any other sources. As you are all aware, I do not push – and never will – products or services on this blog, however, if you are feeling touched by this story and can donate some loose change I’m pretty sure it could be put to good use by the wildlife network people who otherwise pay for everything out of their own pockets. Donations – if you want to – can be made via this link here:

Macedon Ranges Wildlife Network donations webpage

There must have been something in the air this week as an endangered and locally very uncommon, Barking Owl (Ninox connivens) also decided to drop by one night for a visit. The owl was totally silent and I only noticed it by sheer accident.

A barking owl decided to make a special guest visit this week

It was a very impressive looking and rare owl, but it isn’t a cute Koala bear is it?

Oh yeah, speaking of Swedish dogs earlier in the blog made me recall that I had a serious case of the big box store blues a few days ago.

The paid business here at the farm was rapidly getting to the point that it was outstripping the paper storage capacity. Many long months ago, a couple of mates had conned me into assisting them with constructing flat pack storage racks for their own business. The racks were a good design, so the editor and I headed off on Thursday night to check out the racks in the big box store.

The box store assaulted my senses as it appeared to be a consumer maze with blaring 1980’s and 90’s disco music. I do respect the musical integrity of those performers but after a while it began to grate on my nerves. When the editor and I finally found the racking, we both looked at it in the cold light of fluorescent and agreed that we wouldn’t pay that much for that particular racking. Instead, we took a different approach and made the racking from scratch. That is what I was doing outside when the Koala bear turned up (Oooo cute Koala!).

The author constructing custom made racking for document storage

Seriously, this stuff cost half the price of the flat pack racking and that cost even includes enough left over materials to construct the experimental Cherokee TM bee hive over the next week or so. Getting back to the racking story though, I coated the pine with a second coat of acrylic protective coating this morning and it is now in place waiting to be filled with files.

The new racking is now in place and ready for use

The racking is good, but it’s not a cute Koala bear is it?

The desk in that office was an interesting purchase many years ago. It is locally handmade, solid European Beech timber and someone wanted to be rid of it for $80 second hand. I said to them: I can help you with that problem!

It is a nice desk, but it’s not a cute Koala bear is it?

Just to give you an idea of how cold it has been down here, when I woke up early on Saturday morning, I thought to myself that it was a bit chilly! The outside temperature was 0.2’C (32.3’F).

The temperature on Saturday morning was a bit chilly

Such days are not conducive to early starts, so I headed off to grab a coffee, a toastie and clear the mail box instead. After a coffee the world was in much clearer focus so I happened to notice that it was snowing.

Snow fell on Mount Macedon on Saturday morning

At least I felt warmer in the snow because of the coffee and toastie! But it isn’t a cute Koala Bear is it?

This winter has recently been declared the coldest winter in 26 years and it certainly feels it to me.

I’ve completely run out of time, space, dry firewood and readers tolerance to talk about house construction, so I promise we’ll get back to it again next week! I can’t promise cute Koala Bears again though!

The temperature outside here at about 9.15pm is 4.2’C degrees Celsius (39.6’F). So far this year there has been 544.0mm (21.4 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 524.8mm (20.7 inches). Oh yeah, some serious rain is forecast to hit here mid this week!

Posted by Cherokee Organics at 21:48 http://img2.blogblog.com/img/icon18_edit_allbkg.gif

Monday, 24 August 2015

Living with consequences

Years ago, I read that the average house in Melbourne (which is the nearest big city to this farm) turns over on average once every four years. That is an astounding statistic and it means that on average at least once every four years any house will be available for sale.

Therefore, it may be a fair thing to say that people move houses quite a lot down here. And I’m as guilty as the next person, although to be fair, many of the house moves were made when I was a child and had no influence on such matters.

There are times however, when I’m reminded that in rural areas, many people don’t move houses very often, and you have to be mindful of other people’s opinions of you. The old timers used to refer to this as your – reputation.

People can have such long memories in these sorts of rural places that it is always worthwhile considering how the occasional social faux pas (which is a fancy name for an embarrassing or tactless act or remark) can be recalled decades after the actual event.

The 1970’s were apparently a time for body shirts, jeans with flares, appalling side burns and moustaches, and generally more relaxed attitudes to sex than previous generations.

A few years ago a story was recounted to me of a local person, who back in the 1970’s, was clearly towards the “hippy” end of the social continuum. The story revolved around the mismatch between his freewheeling attitudes to sex and that of the local prevailing attitude. That young hippy affronted some of the locals by offering his services in the most literal sense to a young couple that were having trouble conceiving a baby.

Three or more decades later, that story was recounted to me via the local grapevine. After hearing that story, I made an internal note to myself: Social faux pas = bad and will be repeated three or more decades later if it is considered to be noteworthy. I won’t even mention the nickname given for the now much older gentleman who still resides in the area (the sperm man).

So what has all this got to do with a blog about living on a small holding? It shows that it is important to understand the social currents that a person lives in. If you have the option to move around from: house to house; city to city; state to state; or even to a different country, then you may be able to walk away from many and varied social faux pas. However, if you plan to live in a particular area for a long time, you have to consider your reputation.

Thursdays are generally the days that I pick up the milk supplies for the week, clear the mail box and enjoy a well earned (edit – in his mind!) feed and coffee at the local general store. It is a nice experience and I look forward to it each week.

For all sorts of reasons, well, actually, Doctors orders (apparently too much coffee is a bad thing!), I have had to reduce my long standing weekly milk order at said local general store. In a rural area this is a delicate matter. Not to mention that local businesses should be supported by local people, otherwise they may disappear.

Last week, as I was enjoying my coffee (purchased coffees don’t count!) and a delicious ham and cheese toastie, a discordant note had intruded upon my otherwise blissful experience (and no it wasn’t a screaming infant, which are usually in plentiful supply). I had a complete mental blank and wondered whether I’d paid for my regular supply of milk or the now reduced supply of milk. What a conundrum! Did I dare risk my reputation of serious integrity on a litre or two of milk?

The simplest solution to my conundrum was to ask the proprietor of the general store the question about what exactly had I paid for? The situation was quickly and cleanly cleared up with many a smile and laugh and we all then moved on with our lives and my reputation remained intact. In the city where people move houses more regularly, the matter may have been transacted upon a completely different basis and I have been pondering this issue ever since.

Spring is fast approaching and in the last week, the bees have been very active and are out and about most days gathering nectar and pollen. Many of the very early fruit trees are now showing off their early blossoms too.

A plumcot which is a hybrid plum and apricot cross produced some early blossoms this week

The firewood shed was not completely filled before the onset of winter due to time constraints and as the weather has allowed over the past week or so, I’ve been cutting and storing more firewood for immediate use. The firewood that is in various piles about the farm has been happily seasoning (which means curing and reducing the tree sugars), but it is not as dry as if it had been stored in the firewood shed. Not being dry means that it does not burn as quickly or with as much energy as if it had been stored properly out of the rain.

At the bottom of each firewood pile are logs that are very moist as they were in contact with the ground. Because of the moisture, those logs won’t burn very well at all. They also have quite a lot of very rich looking black loamy soil firmly attached to their undersides. I decided this week to undertake a new hugelkultur experiment with them and place them in a nearby fern lined dry but natural watercourse and see what happens over the next year or two.

Damp firewood and fungi laden logs placed into a natural fern gully / watercourse

The work this week has been all about trees and the surrounding forest, and I spent a full day cleaning up the surrounding forest and burning off all of the excess flammable materials in preparation for the soon to be here summer. However, I also have begun to make good use of the thousands of eucalyptus saplings and begun constructing a picket fence for the blackberry enclosure.

Eucalyptus saplings were used to fence off the blackberry enclosure

And whilst we are speaking about hippies, the editor was at a nearby hippy farmers market and came across a metal representation of a peacock. That metal artwork was installed onto the door of the new firewood shed and I reckon it looks pretty good.

A new peacock metal artwork adorns the new firewood shed

How did the house get here?

September 2011, meant painting the internal walls. Living in a house that you are also painting at the same time is an interesting exercise in logistics and also requires a whole lot of plastic to protect surfaces from the inevitable paint drops which fall everywhere despite your best intent.

The kitchen is readied for painting

Painting is an activity that you want to do once and properly, so I put three solid coats of quality paint on each and every surface and eventually all of the coats were done. Fortunately, September is a bit warmer than the depths of winter so the paint dried reasonably quickly.

The kitchen was now painted

The fruit trees in the orchard looked so small back in those days:

The orchard was looking small and not very productive back in those days

It wasn’t all about painting back then, as I also planted out the strawberry bed with bare rooted strawberry runners which quickly began producing leaves in the deep soils.

Strawberry runners produce leaves that month

As spring warmed, the new raised vegetable beds began producing some useful greens. Also the diversity of bird life started to increase as constant food, water and shelter became available and I spotted this little red breasted robin enjoying the raised vegetable beds that month.

A little red breasted robin enjoys the new raised vegetable beds

And that month, I also spotted a mum with joey (in the pouch) and her slightly older child approving of the compost fed herbage. Observant readers will note the absolute mess that was left over from the days when timber was harvested from this location. We have been slowly clearing this mess up over the past few years and returning it to a diverse pasture (herbage) which provides excellent feed for the local wildlife.

Mum, joey in pouch and older child kangaroo enjoy the newly established compost fed herbage

The temperature outside here at about 8.30pm is 5.5’C degrees Celsius (41.9’F). So far this year there has been 524.8mm (20.7 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 521.2mm (20.5 inches).

Posted by Cherokee Organics at 21:12 http://img2.blogblog.com/img/icon18_edit_allbkg.gif

Monday, 17 August 2015

Manure happens

Here at Fernglade Farm headquarters (FFHQ), we are on the cutting edge of testing and development of small holding systems (SHS). FFHQ brings to you – the reader – the most up to date information and progress on the various SHS under development here. Constant improvement is the watchword here!

And what we’ve learned so far, is that even after 5 years of living here at FFHQ, we still get things hopelessly wrong. But we’re learning and more importantly, we’re correcting those errors so that the SHS just work!

Now that the brand new chicken house and run (the Chooktopia project) has been mostly completed, I’ve had to contemplate the walking path between the house and Chooktopia. Unfortunately, there were several fruit trees on that future pathway. Something had to give and so those fruit trees had to be moved.

This week I moved quite a few of those fruit trees from that pathway. Fortunately, it is still winter here and those colder weather conditions favour moving fruit trees. That watchword, constant improvement, strikes yet again!

Relocating a hazelnut tree from the site of a future pathway to a different location this week

Soil geek alert! Observant readers will note how black and loamy the soil is around the roots of the hazelnut tree in the photo above. That is the result of applying various composts, manures and mulch over many years in the orchard.

Winter is the time to move fruit trees as many of them here are still deciduous (which is a fancy name for sleepy) and if those fruit trees are small enough they’ll relocate without too much of a shock. The trick with relocating a fruit tree successfully is to obtain as much of the root system and the surrounding soil as possible. The general rule for a well-established and healthy tree is that the root system below ground will be the equivalent mass as the fruit tree above the ground. Once you understand that general rule, you may get an insight into how hard (but certainly not impossible) it may be to relocate advanced trees.

Once the pathway between the house and Chooktopia had been cleared of fruit trees, I could then begin some of the landscaping works around the chicken housing. That work included building up the soil around the front and downhill side of Chooktopia. That newly cleared path was just perfect for using the wheelbarrow to bring soil across to the chicken’s area.

The native birds assist with the supervision of landscaping the chickens enclosure

A family of Kookaburra and Magpie birds also assisted with the landscaping. Actually, the native birds normally follow me around when I’m working because I throw (or uncover) witchetty grubs for them to feast on. As a bit of a fun fact, if I feed too many grubs to the birds they become sluggish and I can then sneak up behind those same birds and grab them! The chickens will also happily eat the grubs and in the photo above a white Silky chicken can be seen just on the inside of Chooktopia front door, willing the door to open using the full force of her fluffy personality.

That additional soil for Chooktopia was recovered from excavations behind the recently constructed wood shed. That landscaping was never quite completed, but after much digging and hauling by hand this week I can now walk completely around that wood shed and water tank – which wasn’t possible before. And there is still much soil to be removed from that area. Soil is a precious thing and it will all be deployed around the farm to good effect. Nothing goes to waste here!

Excavations this week have opened up a pathway behind the wood shed and the new water tank

The above photo shows some interesting things. That dark grey water tank is now completely full and you can see that it is overflowing at the top thanks to the winter rains. There is even a water pump at the base of the tank in a constructed steel cover, ready to be installed. Both of those items require a bit of serious plumbing which will hopefully take place over the next month or so.

Moving the soil was OK, but I was still left with the many fruit trees sitting in containers which had to be replanted somewhere else reasonably quickly.

For some unexplained reason I previously had a reluctance to plant fruit trees in amongst the garden beds with their mixed herbs, flowers and vegetables. I can’t explain why I had that initial reluctance. Then last year an Anzac peach fruit tree became absorbed into one of the garden beds through no fault of its own. If I was being a smarty pants, I would say that it was a deliberate experiment, but alas it was pure chance. And wouldn’t you know it? That Anzac peach fruit tree grew much faster than any other fruit tree and you could almost see that tree growing if you watched closely enough!

So the editor and I decided to plant all of the relocated fruit trees into either existing or new garden beds and we’ll watch what happens this summer.

Relocated fruit trees are planted directly into existing garden beds

I didn’t quite have enough space in the existing garden beds to take all of the relocated fruit trees, so the lower rock wall below the house was extended quite a long way this week.

Relocated fruit trees are planted into new garden beds

Just to make sure those relocated fruit trees get quickly established, I applied two cubic metres (70.6 cubic feet) of manure into those areas in the form of mushroom compost (a fancy name for a mix of horse manure and bedding straw).

In other farm news this week, I officially ran out of firewood in the wood shed. Readers with good memories will recall that the wood shed was only (7/12ths) full just before the serious winter rains and cold weather hit. It is not the end of the world for me as a couple of hours of cutting with the chainsaw produced about another month’s supply of seasoned firewood. The firewood is not as dry as I’ve become used to, but then as the old timers say: beggars cannot be choosers!

In other energy news, the batteries for the house were completely recharged by the solar photovoltaic panels at some point in the afternoon each day this week. This is because the sun is now higher in the sky and you can even occasionally feel its bite. It is a real pleasure to check out the status of the batteries and find the following display (SOC refers to State of Charge):

The house batteries are now fully recharged each day by the solar photovoltaic panels

The solar power system statistics for the week is as follows:

Battery % full at the start of the day – Amount generated by the 4.2kW of PV panels during that day

Tuesday 11th August – 87% full – 6.8kWh

Wednesday 12th August – 88% full – 4.0kWh

Thursday 13th August – 91% full – 4.9kWh

Friday 14th August – 94% full – 4.9kWh

Saturday 15th August – 94% full – 3.8kWh

Sunday 16th August – 94% full – 5.6kWh

Monday 17th August – 94% full – 6.6kWh

From this week onwards, the batteries will generally be full at some point each day until early June (winter) next year. I do hope that readers can take away three messages from these statistics:

         Solar photovoltaic panels provide very little electrical energy during the depths of winter;

         It is possible to live in a modern household and use very little electrical energy; and

         Very large batteries take a long time to become fully charged (think electric vehicle batteries!).

How did the house get here?

Way back long ago, oh well, actually, four years ago this month, I painted the insides of the front half of the house. I like painting so I only ever use a brush (rather than a roller) as it gives such a nice solid finish on the walls. Nowadays, people generally spray paint onto the walls, but I’m a bit old school with such things.

the rooms in the front half of the house were painted

Fortunately, constructing a small house means that painting is finished fairly quickly.

The rear room in the house had all of the plaster joins sanded flat that month. That was a big job as it had to be completed in a single day. All of the sanding was done by hand – rather than machine – and by the end of the day I thought my arm was going to fall off my shoulder! It hurt, and the clean-up of all of the plaster dust took about four to five hours. Still, it looked good and it is very hard to now see where all of the plaster joins are.

The rear half of the house had all of the plaster joins sanded in one day – living room
The rear half of the house had all of the plaster joins sanded in one day – adjoining kitchen

That month, I discovered to my horror, that the very fancy solar hot water system did not work – and had not worked since the day of installation. Yes, I freely admit that I totally cracked the sads about that one as I’d gone through the entire previous summer without any solar hot water benefit! The solar hot water panels looked good though.

The solar hot water panels looked good on the roof doing absolutely nothing

Fortunately it was an easy fix and the suppliers provided a brand new hot water pump and controller. Solar hot water is excellent, but it does pay to ensure that any systems that you install actually do work and don’t assume that people installing systems will actually test them.

A wedge tailed eagle landed on a nearby tree that month and I was lucky enough to have the camera on hand. I often wonder whether the eagle was eyeing off Scritchy the boss dog or the chickens. Either way, the eagles here mean business!

A wedge tail eagle landed in a nearby tree eyeing off the snack potential

The recently planted and fertilised grass and herbage began to grow that month and a couple of small kangaroos were regular visitors to the farm, although they look rather wet and bedraggled in the photo below.

A couple of small kangaroos enjoy the recently sown grass and herbage

Walking around I also spotted a seedling fruit tree which looks as though it may be an apricot. There are a few self-sown fruit trees on the farm and I look forward to seeing how they grow over the next few years. What it says to me is that an orchard can reproduce itself, exactly like a forest, given the right conditions. I often randomly throw seeds and fruit kernels about the outer edges of the orchard and it is surprising what can result from that.

I spied this self-sown apricot fruit tree in the orchard

The temperature outside here at about 9.00pm is 2.2’C degrees Celsius (36.0’F). So far this year there has been 521.2mm (20.5 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 508.8mm (20.0 inches).

Posted by Cherokee Organics at 21:49 http://img2.blogblog.com/img/icon18_edit_allbkg.gif

Monday, 10 August 2015

Power struggle

As a confession, I’m tight with my money. That may be a product of my genetic heritage as I have both highland and lowland Scottish ancestral blood coursing through my veins (this is not based on any real knowledge of the real situation). However, it is probably because many years ago I realised that if a person was to spend less, they wouldn’t have to earn as much and that is OK with me.

It is a simple, but very effective objective. The difficulty with that implementing that objective is that a person has to employ various strategies to achieve it. Here the old timers have many useful, but sadly often neglected, advice on such important matters. The old timer’s strategic advice includes the mantra: Re-use, recycle, and repair.

That old mantra is such good advice that I keep it at the forefront of my mind when constructing a project. And thus, with the recent awesome and now mostly completed – rat proof, well, so far anyway – chicken housing project (codenamed Chooktopia) a fork in the road was reached and the hard question was asked: Do I purchase a brand new water tank to collect rainfall off the roof of the new chook pen?

That particular fork in the road was a tough fork to ponder. In such situations it is good to reach back to the memories of the old timers and ask the question: What would the old timers do in such a situation?

The answer quickly arrived in the form of the mantra: Re-use, repair and recycle.

All answers are obvious from hindsight, aren’t they? Anyway, the first option of the old timer’s mantra is re-use and I thought to myself, well why not?  Re-use it was then!

It just so happened that I had a small water tank (2,100L or 555 gallons) that was available to be moved over to new Chooktopia project from an existing use without a great loss of water storage capacity in that area. That idea also appealed to my general demeanour of tightness and without much further consideration or pondering, that small water storage tank was re-used on the Chooktopia project. However, it left a dogs breakfast (i.e. that is a colloquial term for a real mess) of the area that I repurposed it from.

The dogs breakfast (i.e. mess) left from re-using the water tank from that area

Re-using that water storage tank occurred in a bit of a hurry, so I was left with no working water taps in the lower garden, a large overflow pipe sitting out of the ground, a flat concrete pad where the water storage tank once sat and two hastily disconnected pumps in covers. What a mess! But at least I didn’t have to purchase a brand new water storage tank!

The flip side of any mess is the opportunity to repair the situation or reconfigure that mess so that it just works better. I took the opportunity to make the mess that little bit better and spent a bit of time pondering the problem, and then just got to work.

Trenches were dug to bring the power cables and water pipes closer to the brand new water pump cover

In the photo above, you can see that I had to dig new trenches so that the power cables and water pipes could be brought closer together so that I could combine the two pumps onto one steel pump housing.

Wiring up the two water pumps on the new scrap steel frame

The pump frame and housing was constructed completely out of scrap steel left over from the Chooktopia project and that seems oddly appropriate given that that was where the re-purposed water storage tank ended up.

Observant readers may notice that there are actually two water pumps attached to that steel frame and that they both sit as far back as possible under the cover so as to avoid any exposure to the strong summer sunlight (extreme UV radiation) which may damage the pump housing cases. Each water pump can supply 17L/min (4.5 gallons/min) at a pressure of 60psi (pounds per square inch – whatever that means) which is enough to drive two permanent bushfire sprinklers as well as all of the various garden water taps.

And once the work was completed and everything was in perfect working order and the site was restored, you’d never know what a mess that area was. Even the large white water tank overflow pipe sticking out of the ground had a pit and drain neatly connected up. That hid its original purpose whilst at the same time producing a new useful function. I reckon that entire area now looks much better than before.

The water pumps are now connected and the area was restored to better than its former glory

And now for something completely different – Power struggles!

As many of the regular readers will be aware, the house here is not attached to the mains electricity grid and relies purely on the electrical energy supplied from the sun via the wonder of photovoltaic (PV) panels. Over the past few months, I have been posting the daily statistics for the electrical energy supplied by the 4.2kW solar power PV system because it is winter and truthfully, solar energy is in short supply here.

Over the years I have heard people say that if you don’t have access to much electricity, then it must be like living in a cave.

There are actually caves up in this mountain range, and they were once the haunt of some pretty nasty bushrangers who used this elevated vantage point to attack gold trains heading south from the astoundingly rich pickings in the gold fields to the north of here. Spending winter in a cave in this mountain range would have been a brutal experience, so it is no wonder they had grumpy dispositions and were prone to attacking those gold laden horse drawn carriages.

However, I don’t live in a cave, and I’m pretty certain the editor would strongly object to living in a cave! Neither do visitors to this farm notice any cave dwelling activities in the household here. Or, perhaps those visitors maybe too polite to mention it! Hopefully, I remembered to shave the bit between my eyebrows this month… Ug!

So it has surprised me that over the past month or so, I have drawn a few questions from people and commenters on this blog asking me the hard question: How does the household survive on so little electrical energy per day? It is notable because I utilise welders, drills, steel cutters, jack hammer, ovens, food mixers, vacuum and water pumps. The editor even has an electrical hair dryer and straightener (Ouch! You told me your hair was normally straight!). All of those items consume electricity.

It is a hard question to answer. Also it may be worth pointing out that there are many good bits of advice on the Internet about how to reduce a household’s daily power consumption.

However, an alternative question which I am asking you to consider (I don’t expect an answer) is the rhetorical question: How do you (as a reader of this blog) utilise electrical energy in your household each day?

There is really little point in rehashing the various bits of excellent advice that are already available on the Internet so I will try to show you the world as I see it through my eyes and thoughts in a few small short stories.


With a few notable exceptions, everywhere I visit there are large screen televisions in operation. In people’s houses, restaurants or even businesses there are screens attached to the walls beaming out whatever happens to be shown on them. And it doesn’t even matter whether anyone happens to be watching what is displayed on those screens or not. Often there is not even any volume.

One of the two local banks is my personal offender favourite because they have multiple screens brilliantly located just behind the tellers. Those screens switch between the promotion of happy older couples enjoying their cashed up retirement and the more useful local weather report. At the same time I’m mildly confused because I’m recalling a recent financial planning scandal at that bank. At the back of my mind I’m daring the tellers to ask me if I’d like any assistance with financial planning services!

Even meals at restaurants can be quite distracting because the screens are just so hard to ignore and everything is just so bright and flashy – even without the sound! Woo, look at the pretty pictures rather than the editors nice straight hair.

I’m starting to wonder whether it is just me that notices that all these screens are active and happily consuming copious quantities of electricity?


All of those awesomely cool electrical appliances are on stand-by too, just waiting for their humans to command them. Those appliances are the quiet achievers as they go about their daily business all day displaying a level of patience that is quite beyond my capabilities. I mean why wouldn’t you want to get that important email promoting some rubbish at 3am in the morning?


The quiet is very much like the dark of the night as who knows what may lurk out there? Up here in the forest most of the larger animals wisely hide during the day and then seek out the safety of the night. It is very hard to walk around here at night without disturbing something which may be produce munching, growling, grunting or even blood curdling screams! I know who those characters are and whether to fear them or not merely by their sounds alone.

The dark of the night here is awesome to behold and on a clear night you can look up between the tall trees that are lazily swaying in the slight breeze and witness the arm of the Milky Way galaxy as a smear of light across the sky in amongst that sky of a thousand tiny pin pricks of light. All the while, the marsupial bats and sugar gliders zip across the space between trees hunting out insects, a person may be lucky enough to spot a shooting star. I know the dark here and the dogs usually provide plenty of warning when things are amiss.

However, I’ve assumed that people don’t know or even want to know the night because their dwellings are so bright and there is so much competing noise that the night that is actually just outside their doors is all but drowned out. A little bit of light is a good thing, but does it need to be as bright as it is?


Down Under there is a delightful expression: “Cracking the sads!” If you are wondering what is meant by that expression then imagine a two year old child throwing toys about the place at random, howling or crying at full volume, and possibly even kicking the nearest adult. Some adults have been known to also crack the sads and (the editor forced me to write this next bit) on very rare occasions (???!! – edit) I too have even cracked the sads.

From time to time I’m subjected to commercial radio and I hear advertisements about people who may have cracked the sads after the horror of receiving their energy bills. I’m genetically hardwired not to like any bills so I’m not sure what excuses those people on the radio commercials are using to explain away their behaviour!

Anyway, an alternative course of action is to ask yourself how much energy can you either afford or produce and then live within that limit. This can be a great excuse to not vacuum today whilst at the same time apologising to the editor – with a straight and sincere face of course – because the sun isn’t shining strongly enough today for that activity! The editor is not easily fooled and she may reply to my observation, by commenting that perhaps today is not the day to either crack the sads, or crack out the electric welder.


We’ll continue again with the house construction stuff next week.

The solar power system statistics for the week is as follows:

Battery % full at the start of the day – Amount generated by the 4.2kW of PV panels during that day

Tuesday 4th August – 84% full – 4.7kWh

Wednesday 5th August – 84% full – 5.3kWh

Thursday 6th August – 89% full – 3.9kWh

Friday 7th August – 90% full – 4.1kWh

Saturday 8th August – 90% full – 3.6kWh

Sunday 9th August – 87% full – 5.4kWh

Monday 10th August – 91% full – 5.5kWh

The temperature outside here at about 10.15pm is 4.6’C degrees Celsius (40.3’F). So far this year there has been 508.8mm (20.0 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 497.0mm (19.5 inches).

Posted by Cherokee Organics at 23:05 http://img2.blogblog.com/img/icon18_edit_allbkg.gif

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Monday, 3 August 2015

The Hen House formerly known as

A chicken’s brain is perfectly adequate for the everyday experience of being a chicken. The average chicken displays great curiosity about their world and they also enjoy all of the social banter that goes on in the world of chicken.

However, the world of chicken rarely involves moving to a brand new home and when the average chicken is confronted by such an event, they fall back on old familiar patterns and try and return to their old home.

The chickens have been in their new home (the Chooktopia project) for a bit over a week now and they are enjoying the experience. I’m also enjoying the experience as the rats have failed (so far) to break into the new chicken fortress. That lack of rats is saving me a cup of free range chicken feed per day! And the rats aren’t doing their rodent like fecal business in the chicken’s fresh water supply which is also a bonus.

As the new all-weather enclosure protects the birds from winds at ground level as well as having a proper steel roof, the chickens spend all day in their run mucking around in the deep litter mulch. As they now spend all day in their run, instead of huddling for warmth and shelter in their hen house, the hen house is much cleaner and far quicker to maintain every single day. In fact, I’m now using far less bedding straw than previously, which is an excellent cost saving.

So all up, the chickens are happy with their new housing. There is just one small problem that only time will rectify. When the chickens leave the Chooktopia enclosure in order to free range around the orchard, some of the chickens are unsure about which shed to return too. Chickens are smart creatures because they happily take themselves to bed at night as the sun sets. And, they will also retreat to their hen house for protection if a predator animal is around. However, it is a bit sad to see some of the chickens waiting patiently (or anxiously) to be let back into the old hen house!

The chicken collective exits the brand new chicken run and hen house Chooktopia project

Some of the chickens were more adaptable than others and it may surprise people that one of the Silky chickens, which is a little fluffy white thing, picked up the concept of the new chicken housing straight away. It was a bit like Raiders of the Lost Ark except that fluffy discovered the secret entrance (i.e. the front door) to the new chicken house and boldly traversed the paving!

Boss Plymie draws herself up to her full height and looks into the new chicken enclosure

As an interesting chicken side story, there has been a change of the chicken CEO. One of the Plymouth Rock chickens (aka Boss Plymie) has taken charge of the chicken collective. The former boss chicken – “Rumpole” – who ruled the chicken collective with an iron claw, has not been feeling very well the past few months and handed over the mantle of authority to the only true contender in a recent bloodless coup. Rumpole receives the perquisites of the elder statesman and she is un-hassled in her final few months whilst the other chickens treat her with both dignity and respect.

Boss Plymie is a good looking chicken and you can see her in the photo above pulling herself up to her full height (when she spied fluffy the Silky) and displaying her excellent musculature and plumage. Rumpole on the other hand is to the right of the photo and is sort of hunkered down whilst some of her staunchest supporters attend to her.

Back to the Chooktopia story……

It was a bit of a hassle for me that the chickens didn’t understand exactly which shed to return to at the end of the working day as the sun set. The first day that I let the ladies out of their Chooktopia, I had to grab every single chicken and carry them into the new chicken enclosure. That was hard work and anyone who has ever tried to grab a wary chicken will know exactly what I mean.

After the first night, I thought to myself that grabbing the birds and shoving them into their new building was a total mugs game. The next evening, inspiration in the form of memories of sheep dog trials, took hold and I grabbed two leafy branches in each hand and simply shepherded the chickens into their new house! That was a much easier process for both myself and the chickens and as of this evening, about half of the chickens now know where they live.

Inspired by a sheep dog and using two leafy branches to shepherd the chickens to bed in their new building is much easier than grabbing each of them and placing them in their new house

The farm is located in a natural amphitheatre which is usually protected from fierce winds, but last Thursday the winds howled and the trees shook and swayed. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a problem, but as the local trees are upwards of 50m (164ft) and are swaying with the strong winds, you have to take them seriously! Thursdays are generally fresh milk days when I head off to the local general store to pick up my order of fresh organic milk and that day I thought that it might be wise to take the chainsaw and associated kit with me on that journey! Fortunately, the branches that fell on the road that day were able to be removed without chainsaw assistance and the supplies of fresh organic milk (for latte’s of course) were able to continue. Unfortunately, it did mean that there was a lot of fallen timber around which I burnt off a few days later.

Burning off the fallen timber from this week’s heavy winds

The ashes from the burn off are not lost as they get thinly spread around areas with damaged soil and then a layer of mushroom compost is spread on top of that area. What may be of interest to the soil geeks in the audience (whom I count myself amongst!) is that top soil quickly builds from such a layering technique and previously very hard clay pans can be made porous and pliable through the actions of the various bacteria and fungi.

Observant readers will note that the rock wall behind the recently in-bloom Manchurian Pear was disassembled. In fact, the entire rock wall was rebuilt a few metres (more than several feet) down hill of the original rock wall.

The rock wall below the cantina and machinery sheds was rebuilt this week

Some of those rocks weigh more than I do and required a wrecking bar to move!

I find that if a job or project has not been completed here it is because I’m uncertain about the finer details relating to finishing that particular job. Honestly, and to put it another way, inspiration is completely lacking in those circumstances. Inspiration does eventually come, and it usually involves variations from the original idea. Only at that point in time do I find that it is appropriate to continue with and finish a project.

And that is how it went with the rock walls, as a few weeks back I had the idea of meeting the two lower rock walls up at a much lower point within the existing orchard. That also meant that many orchard fruit trees were now absorbed into the garden beds. Previously (last year) any fruit trees that were incorporated into the garden beds were largely unfussed by that absorption and responded by putting on phenomenal amounts of growth.

Extending the lower rock walls so that they join has taken place in two directions and eventually they will meet. The other side of the lower rock wall was also extended about 10m (33 feet) this week and now has several relocated apricots and the king of all fruits (a quince) planted into it.

The western end of the rock wall extended towards the eastern end this week

If it looks as though I’m rugged up against the winter chill, it is because the farm has been experiencing the coldest winter in 18 years. The plants have struggled on from one light frost to another and yet it is still warmer than the long term average. Strangely, other more northern parts of the continent are experiencing their warmest July on record, and there is even a bushfire raging in the Blue Mountains (approx 1000 km north of here).

That hasn’t stopped the signs of an early spring showing themselves here at the farm, and walking around today I noticed the first bulb flower of the season popping its head out of the ground.

A jonquil braves the cold late winter conditions

With spring fast approaching, I went out today in search of additional asparagus crowns to plant and picked up four of them. Some of the many already established crowns are pushing spears up from the soil!

Four more asparagus crowns were planted today

The week’s weather has seen some very cold days, but also some sunny days and each day the sun climbs that bit higher in the sky. It will not be long before the batteries are mostly full every single day.

Battery % full at the start of the day – Amount generated by the 4.2kW of PV panels during that day

Tuesday 28th July – 78% full – 5.8kWh

Wednesday 29th July – 85% full – 4.9kWh

Thursday 30th July – 80% full – 5.9kWh

Friday 31st July – 87% full – 5.2kWh

Saturday 1st August – 90% full – 2.3kWh

Sunday 2nd August – 85% full – 5.7kWh

Monday 3rd August – 90% full – 4.5kWh

How did the house get here?

Way back in July 2011, the outside of the house was mainly finished and resistant to the winter weather, but that left the inside of the house still to be completed.

Completion of the inside of the house meant that all of the fine details of joining the plaster work and fitting the finishing timber had to be completed. I like very high skirting boards as they give the house an old world feel which you rarely see these days in new homes. Skirting boards are the bits of timber that sit just above the timber floor boards and perform the useful function of stopping drafty air movements (and also rodents) from entering a house.

Really tall skirting boards are very expensive, so I made them up from two separate and much cheaper bits of timber. The top bit of timber contained the Victorian era profile (i.e. the shape) whilst the bottom bit simply raised the height of the profile bit of timber. Once they are joined, no one would ever suspect the reality and it looks every bit as good as that of an old manor house!

The internal plaster was joined that month and the skirting boards were added

The architrave which is the fancy name for the bit of profiled timber around doorways was also added. Also all of the corner joins in the house were joined. I did not use cornice on the plaster, but simply and neatly joined the wall sheets to the ceiling sheets saving money in the process.

Architraves were installed around the doorways in the house

Observant readers will notice the beginnings of a clothes storage area in the walk in robe. That system used some bits of Ikea storage in a truly unconventional way. People refer to this activity as Ikea hacking! Anyway, in a later year I expanded this clothes/shoes storage area for the editor as a birthday present in a project I nicknamed: “The Sarah Jessica-Parker 5000 overdrive project”!

The wet areas in the house had to be tiled and so we did that task. In the photo below, the light fitting was covered in a bag to prevent it from being damaged by the sheer volume of plaster dust which was generated when all of the plaster joins were sanded.

The tiling of the wet areas occurred that month

Oh yeah, I added another couple of extra solar panels that month too. It had become obvious during the depths of winter that I simply had no idea just how many solar panels were required to keep the house adequately supplied with electricity! Much soul searching ensued.

A couple of additional solar panels were added that month

Restoration and improvement of the soil in the immediate area also continued that month. The native birds which call the farm home were only too happy to discover the nutritious compost and seeds at a time in the year when the pickings can be a bit slim.

The native birds gorge themselves on seed and compost used to restore the soils

The temperature outside here at about 9.15pm is -0.2’C degrees Celsius (31.6’F). So far this year there has been 497.0mm (19.5 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 479.6mm (18.9 inches).

PS: The title of this week’s blog is a nod to a song from a well known Australian punk / alternative band. Can anyone guess who the band is?

Posted by Cherokee Organics at 22:12