Monday, 4 April 2016
Did you hear that rustle in the garden? What could possibly be lurking in there? There are plenty of large, overgrown and menacing-looking plants poking their leaves out from that mass of vegetation. And they’re all hungrily seeking out the sun. Hopefully, I never encounter a Triffid (a fictional tall, mobile, prolific and highly venomous plant species) in the peaceful surrounds of Fernglade Farm as they seem to be extremely aggressive and also highly poisonous. A Triffid in the garden would certainly make for very poor company. What was that noise? I’m almost certain that I heard a rustle in that garden bed! What could it be?
Way back in time when I was a very young child, worrying about monsters hiding under the bed or in the cupboards seemed like a reasonable concern. It was worth peering under the bed before the lights went out as you would never quite know if there was an actual monster hiding under the bed. It probably didn’t help that my pet cat used to sleep on my bed and she was constantly up to mischief and certainly wouldn’t have hesitated stashing her latest kill under the bed. That cat also exhibited a certain disdain for computers as I distinctly recall waking up one night to sparks leaping from the power supply for the trusty old Commodore 64 computer, because she had decided to urinate on it! It is worth mentioning that she didn’t try that particular trick a second time.
I was rather fond of that cat and despite all of the mischief and adventures, she lived to a very old age. It wasn’t all fun and games though, as she used to keep her own hours and wouldn’t hesitate waking me up in the middle of the night so that she could have a run around outside and get up to whatever feline mischief cats get up too. She was a little monster herself! That cat was rather fortunate, in that my bedroom in those days was a rather sturdy old shed in the backyard of the house. In the 19th century that shed was most likely the old wash house. Seriously, for me (and the cat) that was the absolute best situation, because I could keep my own hours as well and head off with friends into the night to get up to whatever mischief that teenagers used to do back then. Honestly, from hindsight it appears that I’d been heavily influenced by one very naughty cat!
Nowadays, I’m far more sophisticated. No one seriously believes that there are monsters hiding under the bed. That’s because everyone knows the monsters are hiding in the garden!
The other day, the editor began harvesting the zucchini (also known as a courgette or marrow in other parts of the world). It wasn’t until the editor brought the third arm load of zucchini into the kitchen that I cracked the sads and said: “Not another lot of” (insert choice expletive here) “zucchini!” But the zucchini kept coming in the door. Those fruit are monsters as some of them are 0.7m (2.3 feet) long and they are really quite weighty.
|A dozen massive zucchini (courgette) are now taking up most of the kitchen|
Over the next six months those fruit will be converted into useful things like human, dog and chicken feed. Plus we will save some of the seed for raising new plants next summer. But until that fruit is completely consumed, I have a dozen massive zucchini monsters taking up most of what was left of space in the kitchen!
|Those other monsters, the tomatoes, are continuing to be stored with salt in bottles using a hot water bath|
The other monsters this year seem to be the tomatoes which are now being bottled with a pinch of salt using a hot water bath (also known as canning). Over the next few weeks, we may even try preserving the tomatoes using a similar process to that of jam making.
Anyway, the kitchen has finally reached critical mass and we have completely run out of storage and benchtop space. The solution appears to be to expand the number of the kitchen cupboards and preparation space. That process will begin over the next few days, but til then stay tuned and seriously, be careful people, watch out for monsters!
Regular readers will recall that at the alternative farming expo in late February, I met a guy that manufactures very heavy duty galvanised steel round raised garden beds. I use many raised garden beds here, but some of those are now very old and have been attacked by that monster of steel: Rust! And those rusty garden beds now have almost paper thin steel walls and are displaying many holes and jagged rusty edges in spots. Not good.
Over a previous summer one raised garden bed was located as an experiment in a very shady out of the way location. Unfortunately, combined with the shade, that location was so dry that nothing actually grew in it. The technical description for that circumstance is: Total and absolute failure! This week, I emptied that garden bed of soil and relocated it where it would be used to replace an existing garden bed next to the top of a set of concrete stairs. Unfortunately, that garden bed (which will be repurposed in a few months) also had to be emptied of soil.
|The round raised garden bed next to the concrete stairs was emptied so that it could be replaced|
Observant readers can play the game: Where is that little monster Toothy?
I was amazed at how much soil was stored in both of those raised garden beds. All of the removed soil was spread through the garden beds. Spreading soil through an existing garden bed is a fancy description for simply throwing the soil on top of the existing plants and then washing the soil off the leaves using water from one of the nearby hoses. The replacement raised garden bed was soon put in place.
It was about that time that I noticed that the rear of the highest concrete step was finished very roughly. That rough finish was hardly surprising because that was the very first set of concrete stairs that we had ever constructed.
|The relocated round steel raised garden bed is now in place and the rear of the top concrete stair was looking a bit rough|
It was such an easy thing to fix, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of fixing that concrete stair before? Most likely monsters were involved somehow, and perhaps they were eating all of my spare time? The editor quickly drew a line using a carpenters pencil across that concrete step and then I cut into the concrete using an angle grinder.
|A small angle grinder with a stone cutting blade was used to remove the rough edges from the concrete step|
The stone cutting blade cut through the concrete and various stones set inside the concrete and the whole thing ended up looking like some sort of fancy Terrazzo finish.
|The cut edge of the step ended up looking exactly like a fancy Terrazzo surface|
The relocated steel garden bed was filled with up with many wheelbarrows of mushroom compost. Winter greens (red and green mustard, lettuce and rocket) seeds were thrown onto that mushroom compost and I look forward to enjoying the harvest from those later in the year.
The landing to that concrete stair received a top up of the small rocks and lime (referred to down here by the name “toppings”) and before too long the whole area looked as if it had always been like that. Incidentally, Scritchy the boss dog approves of the work!
|Scritchy the boss dog approves of the newly relocated raised garden bed as well as the correction to the concrete step|
And whilst I had access to a load of “toppings” I repaired the path along the recently planted out citrus path. The path required repairing because the downhill side of the path had settled and slumped slightly. That path is very useful because it descends down through the garden and provides easy all weather access to the very large water storage tank below the house.
|The recently planted out citrus fruit tree lined path to the very large tank below the house was repaired this week|
And the garden bed below that pathway received an enormous quantity of mushroom compost (that is the fancy name for composted horse manure and bedding straw) over the past few days. From memory I believe that three cubic metres (3.9 cubic yards) was thrown onto that existing garden bed. That garden bed had not received fertiliser before and many of the plants in it had struggled through the very hot summer which has only just finished.
|The garden bed below the citrus fruit tree lined pathway was fertilised this week with huge quantities of mushroom compost|
The next photo shows that at a guess, a further four cubic metres (5.2 cubic yards) of manures will be required before that garden bed is completely fertilised.
|At least a further four cubic metres (5.2 cubic yards) of manures will be required before that garden bed is completely fertilised|
The Cape Gooseberry finally produced ripe fruit this week. The ripe fruit forms inside a lantern like papery covering and you can tell when the fruit inside is ripe because the lantern turns yellow. I’ve never tasted that particular fruit before and it is quite sweet and enjoyable. A recent visitor to the farm informed me that the plant is considered to be a weed in some parts of the world, but that the fruit also makes an excellent jam. We’ve collected some seeds from the plant (which is of the Nightshade family and includes potatoes and tomatoes – but also the very similar looking fruit of the native Kangaroo apple which also grows prolifically here).
|The prolific and sweet Cape Gooseberry fruit finally ripened this week for the first time|
In case anyone was concerned, the tomatoes are continuing to ripen this week. However, as autumn progresses the sun is now lower in the sky and the fruit is ripening far more slowly.
|The tomatoes continued to ripen this week|
That steel rust monster has continued its quest to consume further parts of the wood heater. That rust monster is very hungry! Anyway, the baffle that protects the flue (which is a fancy name for the steel chimney) from the fire, rusted this week and fell into the fire! Fortunately, I keep a pair of welders gloves on hand next to the wood heater in case there are any emergencies involving the wood heater. Welders gloves are very good at protecting your fingers, hands and forearms against the serious heat from the burning timber as well as the very hot steel.
I always keep a supply of various chunks of steel for such emergencies and this afternoon I rapidly cut a new and much larger steel baffle and placed it in the firebox.
|A new steel baffle plate was cut and placed in the wood heater today|
I often wonder what the monsters will decide to do next to that wood heater…
The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 13.7’C degrees Celsius (56.7’F). So far this year there has been 115.4mm (4.5 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 114.8mm (4.5 inches).
Monday, 11 April 2016
Magic couch ride
Like an old friend, that green couch and I go way back, and how it came into my life is an interesting story. The title of this week’s blog sounds a bit pervy, doesn’t it? However it is worth mentioning that the green couch in question is a very respectable couch you know!
The idea for purchasing the green couch arose way back in the mid 1990’s. And the idea for the purchase was at the repeated insistence of the local real estate agent. I was trying to sell a house in the middle of a recession and back in those days few people were actually buying houses. The real estate agent simply wanted his commission from the sale of the house and quite politely told me that the existing couch looked as if it had been only recently been removed from a landfill and should be replaced.
The agent was making a reasonable observation because the existing couch was propped up on bricks and additionally had to be covered over with a sheet so as to hide both those bricks and the many holes in the fabric coverings. House mates can be brutal on furniture and that existing couch had witnessed many house mates. Actually, if the couch could have talked, it may possibly have told many entertaining stories. Fortunately, the couch could not tell its story! That old couch was not new when I inherited it as it had lived with many different families over its life and was possibly between three and four decades old. Anyway, it would be a fair thing to say that the existing couch’s best days were behind it and it was probably beyond repair.
The real estate agent was very insistent that the old couch had to go because it did not look good and would discourage potential buyers from considering purchasing the house (the technical description for the old couch was: Eyesore).
So, one dark Friday evening, the editor and I drove my little 1 Litre (all 61 cubic inches) 4 speed Suzuki car the two suburbs over to Brooklyn (that is a suburb of Melbourne). Back then Brooklyn was very gritty as it contained a lot of heavy industries. Mind you, there were refineries and other such inexplicably large industries in the suburb that we were living in at the time, so I didn’t really notice any of that stuff.
One advantage of a suburb with heavy industry, is that there are usually a lot of very large sheds. And Brooklyn contained Sidney’s lounge discounters in one of those very large sheds. These days furniture stores look very flashy to me. However, back then it would be a massive stretch of the imagination to say that Sidney’s was a flashy furniture store. I mean the shop was in an industrial estate, in an over sized shed, in an out of the way suburb and that night we were the only people, other than the sales guy, in the shop. It was quiet, like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s film: Psycho.
Sidney’s did have a serious strategic advantage over other furniture shops though, and that was because they kept their costs down, they were cheap. And way back then, most of the furniture for sale was locally manufactured. Furniture was not cheap back then and that is why we had a couch that was propped up on bricks, covered over with a sheet and full of holes in the first place.
The sales guy at the shop eventually talked the editor and I into purchasing a locally manufactured green plaid two seater couch. And it cost us almost a month’s wages, which we could ill afford. But that real estate agent was very insistent…
And two decades later this is what the green plaid couch looks like:
|The green plaid couch two decades on, looking almost as good as new|
I keep an eye on the zeitgeist and I’ve noticed very recently that in some of the high end designer stores, plaid coverings seem to be making a return to favour. I cannot imagine that the sort of rubbish being sold as furniture today will look as good in two decades time as that locally manufactured green couch.
What I’ve also failed to mention is just how much abuse that green couch has had to suffer in the intervening years. Check this out:
|The green plaid and locally manufactured couch cushions are used on the raw dirt during the construction of the house here back in 2009|
Observant readers will note that on the very right hand side of the photo is a small grey vacuum cleaner that I was using at the time to suck dirt out of the holes. That vacuum cleaner was a hand me down from the editor’s mother and it is still in use today and I even use that vacuum cleaner to suck leaves out of the guttering which collects the rain water!
And I won’t even mention the cat which used to share the house (and green plaid couch). That cat had suffered from cat flu as a kitten and he used to blow snot bubbles which hardened into an almost epoxy resin like substance on any surface of the house and the fabric of that green couch was no exception. Or the dog that used to enjoy sleeping on the couch, but at one stage had some weird skin allergy which smelled like last weeks un-refrigrated casserole. In hindsight, I wish that I had purchased more of those green couches and I often wonder whether the demise of local manufacturing and the shoddy goods supplied to us these days has been a good thing. From my perspective, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Speaking of which, I have recently been searching for a supplier for skivvies (which are a long sleeved t-shirt with a turtle neck). It is very hard to maintain my winter style without skivvies! I used to work as an accountant in both the clothing and footwear manufacturing industries and all that I can observe is that recently the fit and finish of the clothing being supplied to us now is total rubbish. And because a few generations have passed since sewing was considered to be a necessary part of a family’s existence, no one seems to even notice the low quality!
This week, the editor and I finally decided to address the complete lack of storage and preparation space in the kitchen. The recent glut of zucchinis discussed in last week’s blog was the final straw (that broke the proverbial camel’s back). To that end the old stainless steel island bench was replaced with four flat pack cupboards which would make a new island bench.
|Four cupboards replaced the existing stainless steel island bench in the kitchen|
The funny thing was though, the cupboards just didn’t look right. There is a rule of thumb relating to aesthetics which says that in order for rectangular buildings to look correct to the untrained eye, the proportions must adhere to a one third / two thirds basis. Those four island bench cupboards proved that rule of thumb to be true because they just looked so very wrong!
|Two further cupboards were added to the existing island bench in the kitchen|
Two further cupboards were added to the island bench in the kitchen and then all was good, aesthetically speaking of course. It was fortunate that the two cupboards had to be added, because I’d completely stuffed up the location of the feet and in order to correct that problem the entire unit had to be disassembled anyway. Before too long (well, actually after many hours), the doors were added and a few scraps of plywood were included as a temporary benchtop. I use the word temporary because the suppliers of the flat pack cupboards no longer supply benchtops. This was an unexpected occurrence and the editor and I spent a few hours on Friday afternoon meeting benchtop suppliers in strange industrial like suburbs (everything old is new again! Sidney’s benchtop discounters anyone!).
|The new island bench cupboards began to be filled with farm produce today|
The old stainless steel bench was not scrapped. That bench has been relocated outside undercover where it will become the outdoor summer kitchen. I may want to consume freshly baked bread on a 40’C+ (104’F+) degree day, but I seriously don’t want to be using an electric (solar powered) oven inside on such a day. Imagine dehydrating tomatoes on such a hot day too, in the house for 10 hours… And that is where an outdoor kitchen comes into play.
|The stainless steel bench has now been repurposed into an under-cover outdoor kitchen|
Speaking of bright ideas. Lewis, who is a regular commenter here, has spoken in the past about utilising a light in his chicken house. What a good idea. As the days are getting shorter here and winter is looming, I’ve noticed that at around dusk there is enough light from the setting sun to see the chickens heading off to bed. However, once inside the chicken house it is very dark, so I’ve added a magnetic LED battery light to the wall of the steel chicken house. That way the chickens can see what they are doing when they head off to bed. Before that LED light was used, there used to be quite a lot of fighting between the chickens, because in the dark, the late to bed chickens used to jump on top of other already settled-in-for-the-night chickens, who really didn’t seem to appreciate the inconvenience.
|A magnetic battery operated LED provides light to the chickens in their hen house when they go to bed at night|
It rained this week and it was nice to see that forgotten wet stuff falling from the sky. The rain has meant that I’ve been able to stop watering all of the recently installed plants – like the fern gully.
|Poopy inspects the newly planted rainforest gully after a recent rainfall|
The wildlife here is enjoying the moister and greener conditions and a few nights ago, this kangaroo bull decided to enjoy the herbage not 10m (33 feet) from where I was sitting. The chickens didn’t seem to care about the kangaroo.
|A bull kangaroo enjoys the green pick in the orchard whilst the chickens look on|
And speaking of marsupials, I noticed today that Scritchy the boss dog ventured into the old strawberry bed to investigate the damage that the wallabies have caused. The funny thing was that she became stuck in the netting and had to be extracted. Poopy clearly thought that the situation was very amusing!
|Dude, what are you doing? Poopy looks on whilst Scritchy the boss dog became entangled in the netting in the now destroyed strawberry bed|
The cooler conditions and recent rainfall has meant that the raised garden beds have rapidly filled with the many greens that we eat. There are all sorts of plants growing: various lettuces; mustards; rocket; celery; parsley; and onions. Those greens will continue to grow all winter.
|The recent cooler temperatures and rainfall has meant that the greens have grown in the raised garden beds|
Many of the citrus fruit trees will provide fruit over winter too and home grown mandarins are far superior tasting to the store purchased fruit. This poor fruit tree has recovered from a wallaby attack and is now producing a lot of fruit.
|A mandarin fruit tree which is recovering from a wallaby attack is now producing a lot of fruit which should be ripe in a month or two|
I used to feed the dogs toasted muesli which had pumpkin seeds in it. After being baked in the oven and then passing through a dog gut, one very hardy pumpkin seed established itself in the orchard and today it looks like this (and I have not watered the vine once this entire growing season). Given the market for civet coffee, the editor and I are rather excited about the potential new market for civet (poopy?) pumpkins:
|A pumpkin plant has taken hold in the orchard after having the seed consumed by a dog as toasted muesli and then being excreted in the orchard. Civet pumpkins anyone?|
As autumn continues and the daylight hours get shorter, the many deciduous trees are putting on a good display. In the orchard, this nashi (Asian) pear has turned a beautiful yellow colour.
|Autumn continues and the daylight hours slowly reduce. A nashi pear begins to turn colour to a beautiful yellow|
The temperature outside now at about 8.15pm is 11.0’C degrees Celsius (51.8’F). So far this year there has been 128.2mm (5.0 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 115.4mm (4.5 inches).
Monday, 18 April 2016
Winters were always the hardest. The air was cold, the sky was still dark and the rain fell. And I got wet. Some mornings breaking news held up the deliveries. A much younger me was there quietly waiting at the newsagent for the delivery when the news came through that the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up and I received that news before most other people had even woken for that day. Other mornings, I suspect that the printing presses simply broke down. Either way, any delay meant that I was sitting around the local newsagent – reading the latest video game magazines – waiting for the inevitable newspaper supplies so that I could get out on my pushbike and cycle around the suburb delivering the daily newspapers.
As a child it never even concerned me that other children got to sleep in whilst I was traversing the suburb in the early morning delivering newspapers. And back in those days, there used to be an afternoon edition of the newspaper too which had to also be delivered.
Don’t forget the chemist rounds either, where I used to deliver prescription medicines to elderly customers. And on Saturday mornings the chemist staff used to instruct me to burn off all of the cardboard and plastic packaging that they’d accumulated during the week in the incinerator at the back of the shop. Imagine that happening nowadays…
As an interesting side story, one day on the chemist round whilst riding my push bike for a delivery, I hit a particularly nasty hole in the road and one of the prescription medications bounced out of the basket and landed on the road and smashed. Back in those days, chemists used a lot of glass packaging and so the glass bottle smashed all over the road along with an unusual pink coloured liquid spilled which everywhere. Being an idiot, I thought to myself that there is no way I’m putting all that sticky rubbish back into the basket of my pushbike, so I simply (again being a complete idiot) kicked the contents down the nearest drain and that was about where I thought that the matter would end. Au contraire! Upon arrival back at the chemist I naively explained what had happened and then the chemists (note the use of the plural) started grilling me about what had happened, where it happened and was I lying about it. After about a quarter of an hour of that intense grilling, I broke down and burst into tears, and those tears achieved what no amount of truth telling or snivelling could ever have done – they believed my story, which was merely the truth anyway. It never even occurred to me – as a child – that the medications that I was blithely push biking around the suburb had a street value! Who would have thought that? What was even better was that I didn’t lose my job. This was a good thing because Space Invaders was an expensive game to play and without the job, the pinball parlour would be a distant memory, not to mention the fish and chip shop, because with all of that bike riding, I really needed to keep my energy levels up!
Working as a child at that time was not unusual or even noteworthy. Some of my friends did the daily milk deliveries to people’s front doors. Other mates were employed with pamphlet drops, or they worked in the local milk bar. I eventually ended up getting a sweet job working for Tandy Electronics (the now defunct Radio Shack in the US) Friday nights and Saturday mornings and that job was a total blast. One evening the boss made the mistake of allowing me to lock up the shop. That was his mistake, because I invited all of my friends over and we raced the many remote controlled cars up and down the street. Fun times! I didn’t even get sacked for that!
I’ve been thinking about such matters recently because I have noticed that most (but not all) of the visitors to the farm at some point during their visit put on a very serious face and pronounce to me in a doleful tone: “It’s a lot of work”. The actual meaning of that pronouncement is that they themselves could not ever consider undertaking so much physical labour because they clearly don’t need to. And that is fair enough because I understand that physical labour is an unpleasant prospect for people who are unused to such things. I also understand that many people in our society consider that those who undertake – even menial – physical labour are low in social status. I disagree with such a perspective, because whilst I would not dispute the fact that as a child I did some idiot like things, as an adult the converse situation now applies and I hold both an under graduate and a post graduate degree and in one compulsory subject at University I actually achieved the top mark and scored a prize. The editor has even more papers and titles than I. Its also a fair thing to say that we’re not allergic to hard work.
So, I will tell you a little story about dog food. Long term readers will recall that I bake and cook most of the dog food from scratch. Producing dog food from scratch takes a bit of effort every week of the year, but I cannot understate just how much cheaper it is to make your own dog food. Once I worked out that I was working one month of every year in order to pay for purchased dog food, I thought to myself that I must have regressed back to my childhood status of an idiot.
However, I still purchase the occasional box / bag of dog food for times when I’ve been too busy to attend to the task of cooking / baking the dog food. So this week I noticed that the dog food biscuits which used to be $5.30 for 1kg (that is AU$0.53 per 100g or 3.5oz) now have had the box size reduced to 800g costing $5.00 (that is AU$0.625 per 100g or 3.5oz). Maths is not my strong suit, but an 18% increase doesn’t look very good to me. This means that the home made dog food, despite being what some may consider hard work, has become much more valuable by stealth.
Earlier this week the final two fruit trees were planted. Both of the fruit trees were of a type of citrus trees which produce an excellent quantity of fruit through the winter and are also very heat and drought tolerant.
|The final two citrus fruit trees were planted this week|
The Australian round limes here are almost ready to eat fresh from the tree, and over the next few months there will also be lemons, grapefruit and mandarins. Apart from rhubarb, no other type of plant produces sweet tasting goodies for our breakfasts during the depths of winter.
Autumn is a great time to start cuttings as the soil is still warm, it occasionally rains and the sun still shines. This week a large number of cuttings were started in the various garden beds. I have a large number of plants to choose from and many of the cuttings are selected from my favourite plants that I know will take easily.
|Many geranium / pelargonium cuttings were started in the various garden beds|
Hard work I can deal with, but peak rocks has always left me feeling a bit unsettled. Peak rocks, is the dreaded time in which all of the easy to obtain rocks have been used around the farm. Rocks are really useful things and they get utilised in garden beds and many other constructions. You name it, I’ve got a use for rocks. Unfortunately, peak rocks is here and it is a reality that I have to deal with.
|The author using his electric solar powered jack hammer to break large rocks into smaller rocks|
Recently I have been breaking larger rocks into smaller and more easily moved rocks, however after about an hour on the jack hammer trying to break this larger rock into smaller rocks, I admitted defeat. Then in a fit of pique, I rolled the unbroken rock down the hill (and also out of sight).
The editor however, came up with a genius idea to obtain more rocks. The idea was to drive the little Suzuki four wheel drive (in low range gearing) down the hill along with the bright yellow trailer and then bring moveable rocks back up the hill. Thus began an epic task.
|The little Suzuki four wheel drive with the bright yellow trailer was used to bring rocks back up the hill|
The rocks which weighed far more than I do, were loaded onto the trailer using a very strong orange trolley (which you can see in the photo above). From the trailer the rocks were rolled off the back of the yellow trailer and into the trusty old wheelbarrow and then moved into their final destination which was unfortunately uphill.
|The large rocks were rolled off the back of the trailer and into the trusty blue wheelbarrow|
Observant readers will note that the trusty blue wheelbarrow is a full sized builders wheelbarrow. Before too long, and a few bright yellow trailer loads, the many rocks were placed roughly near their final position.
|Before too long, the many rocks were placed roughly near their final position|
The rocks were then embedded into their final place (no small matter given how much they weighed) and a cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of mushroom compost was then deposited onto the new garden beds.
|The rocks were embedded into place and mushroom compost was dumped onto the new garden beds|
One of the benefits of having a flexible work schedule, is that if conditions are optimal the editor and I can head off to far distant places at a moment’s notice. And this week the autumn sun was shining strongly and even more importantly school holidays were over, so we headed off to the beach. We love the beach in winter. There are no crowds at the fish and chip shop, or on the beach and the weather can be warm one day and positively Antarctic the next! Which is what happened as we stayed overnight at a small town along the Great Ocean Road to the South West of the farm.
|The beach was stunning in all its winter glory|
Along the way to that small town on the Great Ocean Road we passed through the town of Wye River which had suffered from the Christmas day bushfire. My understanding is that the bushfire destroyed 118 houses (or about one third of the town), many of which may never be rebuilt.
|The scorched hills to the south of Wye River|
Observant readers will notice in the above photo that the bushfire reached all of the way down to the water’s edge (that is the Ocean). It is also interesting to note the many signs of regrowth in the area. Where the vegetation was particularly dense and thus the fire was very hot, the trees did not survive. However, if you look at the centre of the next photo below you will note that a tree fern has already sprouted new bright green fronds. Many plants respond to the incredible release of minerals following a bushfire and some of them have evolved ways of adapting to such an incredible circumstance.
|The tree fern in the very centre of this photo has produced new bright green fronds whilst the blackened tree to the right looks dead to me|
The carpet of bracken ferns in the above photo are particularly adept at harvesting phosphate, which is lacking in the soil naturally but becomes readily available to plants in the ash.
Where the fire was less intense for all sorts of reasons, the Eucalyptus trees produce epicormic new growth from their trunks and the different Eucalyptus species can be spotted because of the different colours of the juvenile leaf growth.
|The Eucalyptus trees in this gulley are producing epicormic growth following the recent bushfire, in form of juvenile leaves sprouting from their burnt trunks|
From personal observations over the years, I can observe that forests with a greater diversity of species and a lower number of Eucalyptus (and also Pinus) species per acre results in a cooler burn if and when a bushfire does occur. I’m constantly burning off forest fuels here during the winter and whilst it is hard work, I’m not allergic to that.
|A burn off of collected forest fuels this week at the farm|
The temperature outside now at about 8.30pm is 14.0’C (57.2’F). So far this year there has been 136.8mm (5.4 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 128.2mm (5.0 inches).
Monday, 25 April 2016
Three little birds
The Australian accent and language (which is apparently sometimes described as either broad or a drawl) is a useful tool for communicating complex ideas and sentences in as few words as possible. Often you can string various words together in a spoken sentence so that the meaning becomes far greater and deeper than the sum of the words themselves. I experienced the advantages of this communication method the other day.
On the northern end of Melbourne there is a retail shop which specialises in selling solar photovoltaic electrical gear. The guys that work in that shop look as though they’ve only just that morning taken a break from their forest encampment where they have been protesting against the harvesting of old growth forests for the past six months. They’re cool, and what is worse, they know they’re cool. And the shop is full of solar panels in various states of undress (i.e. being removed from their cardboard boxes!) all casually stacked against the walls. Shelves line the walls and are full of all sorts of casually stacked and inexplicable boxes of electronics gear. Did I mention that the green paint job on outside of the the brick shop looks very dodgy? And the large front window and security bars are covered by permanently closed aluminium venetian blinds dating from the 1960’s and are now so old and battered that they’ve achieved true vintage status. Yeah, they’re cool.
And then I walk into the shop. I’m not cool, but I’ve been dealing with these guys for years and so knew exactly what to expect. After the brief discussion with the two guys at the counter detailing my exact requirements, I shared a brief moment of acknowledgement and respect with one of the guys when he said the word: “Nice”. That is actually code word for a much larger idea which can actually be translated into proper English to mean: “Thank you for taking the time to understand and state your exact requirements and I respect your level of organisation.”
The rest of the conversation then followed the same path so it is worth recounting here with proper translations, of course:
Me: “How’s it goin’, mate” – English translation: “I’m concerned for your well-being as you appear to look rather unwell, my friend”.
Reply: “Mate, had a mates going away party last night” – English translation: “Thank you for your concern and I appreciate that. We have now bonded over this matter and I now consider you marginally better than an acquaintance. Last evening a friend of mine was leaving to pursue an adventure elsewhere and to that end our group of friends decided to have a party to celebrate the imminent departure. This party unfortunately continued into the early hours of the morning and so now I feel rather tired. To add to my personal distress, I imbibed rather more alcohol than my normal consumption patterns merely because that seemed to be appropriate given the circumstances. I am however a stoic individual, because this morning I am at work, although feeling rather unwell and so please forgive any and all mistakes”.
Me: “Cool (pause). Respect” – English translation: “I accept your explanation and totally respect and acknowledge your display of heroic stoicism. Further to that, I will endeavour to cross check your work to ensure that any embarrassing errors are corrected without the need to escalate the matter any further”.
It was fortunate for me that I was closely checking the order because he had forgotten to provide one of the components. And true to my word, I quietly let the guy know of the omission and everything was soon corrected and I was on my way home again.
So how did I come to be in the solar shop?
It all began a couple of days earlier when I had an epiphany. An epiphany is a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization. That epiphany gave me an insight into the world of solar photovoltaic power systems. That insight was that these solar power systems are so horrendously complex and are comprised of so many different components that no one actually knows how these things perform in the real world.
This week, for no real reason, I started feeling a bit anxious about the solar power system. It may be due to the fact that winter is just around the corner. I told you that I wasn’t cool!
After a deep breath (well, maybe a few deep breaths, and then some more deep breaths) and a bit of quiet reflection on the matter I applied my tried and tested approach of ‘more is better’ when dealing with natural systems. My approach can be summed up as: If you want to eat home grown apples, don’t just plant one apple tree, plant twenty apple trees.
Every year, I learn more about solar power systems. The frightening thing that I have learned recently is that every year single year that they are in operation, they degrade slightly. That means that every year the photovoltaic panels produce a little less power than the year before. Likewise the batteries store a little less electrical energy. Not to mention that some components corrode, whilst others fail. Even minor failures can be a nuisance, especially during the dark days either side of the winter solstice. So over the next few weeks I’ve decided to undertake a refurbishment of the solar power system using everything that I have learned over the past few years (and haven’t had a chance to implement).
This week, I began construction of a steel pole mount for two additional freestanding solar panels. The construction work involved drilling and painting a scrap steel post. Over the next week or so depending on the weather it will be cemented into the paddock below the house.
|A steel post was painted and drilled so that it can be utilised as a mount for two additional solar photovoltaic panels|
I also realised that I had somehow completely forgotten to paint one of the existing steel freestanding solar panel mounts installed two years ago! This week, the steel, which was showing some signs of rust, received two coats of quality metal paint.
|A steel mount for two solar panels installed two years ago was painted this week|
This week up in the mountain range, it was feral with tourists! I’ve never before seen so many people in the mountain range. It was mildly surreal. The tourists had driven up to see the autumn leaf colour change in the exotic deciduous trees. There were traffic jams on the main road and honestly, I’d never been so grateful to live on a scary dirt road before where tourists dare not come! It was also lovely to see the many couples enjoying the mountain and having their wedding photos in red or white dresses on the cold, but sunny autumn day underneath the falling foliage. The weather was almost perfect for them.
|Traffic on the main road over the mountain range|
Observant readers will note that there don’t seem to be many vehicles parked on the road. That is because most of the vehicles were parked on side roads for hundreds of metres (feet). In the above photo both sides of the road are marked “no standing” zones and they don’t need to be enforced. The reason that the parking zones don’t need to be enforced is because many of the vehicles in the photo are parked on angles which are far less than horizontal. This is because on each side of the road, there are hugely deep “car swallowing” drains. Within only a few minutes I’d seen a Toyota Prius and a Jeep Cherokee both resting on their side doors at unfeasible angles after having slipped off the road. I was thinking to myself that recovery of those (and all of the other unlucky people) would be expensive for the drivers, but a lucrative business for the recovery trucks! Anyway, I left the area in case I was dragged into assisting with the recovery of some of those vehicles.
A few weeks back I mentioned that there was a mystery fruit which had grown here. Over the weekend the mystery fruit was harvested and cut in half. I can now report that the mystery fruit was a watermelon (although with yellow flesh). It was very tasty and the editor harvested seeds from the fruit for planting next year in more favourable conditions. Hopefully the melons will grow to an even larger size next summer.
|The mystery fruit was revealed to be a tasty water melon|
Speaking of feral, the spontaneous pumpkin which originated in the orchard from a pumpkin seed deposited by the actions of one of the dogs has now grown quite a bit. Once that pumpkin is ripe, we will harvest seeds from it and use the flesh to produce roasted dog biscuits. The wheel turns full circle! Hopefully next year that fruit will be even bigger too.
|The feral pumpkin in the orchard has grown in size over the past few weeks|
Tomato cam™ tells no lies and this week we have begun the process of converting the huge harvest of tomatoes which are still ripening on the vine into tomato chutney. This process of producing chutney will continue over the next month or so.
|Tomato chutney has begun to be made this week|
A local farm with a shop specialises in growing and selling bulb plants, and unfortunately the editor and I went feral there and purchased probably far more bulb plants than we actually want to plant. All of the bulbs were planted over the past few days in the orchard and they will hopefully put on a good show of flowers from about August onwards.
|Bulbs were purchased from the nearby farm and shop that specialises in selling bulb plants|
We also went feral this week with manure. That sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? What I actually mean by that statement is that the editor and I applied another cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of mushroom compost to a steep area of the garden that really needed it. Once the compost was applied to the steep hill side, I then climbed up the slope on a ladder and planted the entire area out with cuttings of ultra hardy flowering plants. Hopefully in about another year, it will look really good.
|A steep garden bed was manured and planted out this week with flowering plants|
Despite the autumn conditions, there are still plenty of flowers around and I spotted this bush rose the other day which not only looks good, but has a lovely “old world” rose scent too.
|A bush rose produces a good show of flowers and strong rose scent|
Good rain fell earlier this week. With that rain, the mushrooms have arrived and it is hard to walk around in the orchard without tripping over some new and unidentified mushroom. No one knows whether any of the mushrooms here are edible and more than likely, they are probably very toxic.
|Mushrooms have turned up everywhere after the recent good dump of rain earlier in the week|
If anyone has ever wondered what the rural sport of choice was down here, it surely must be the burning off of organic matter! Forget football, because in the early evenings on weekends, I can look out into the valley below and it appears as if there is some sort of serious volcanic activity going off (all feral-like with the occassional tourist sacrifice!) and the small volcanic flumes are venting their underground pressures into the atmosphere.
|Burn offs are our national rural sport down here|
I owe the title of this week’s blog to Bob Marley who sung the lyrics about three little birds.
As I was worrying about the future of the solar power system earlier in the week, the above lyrics popped into my head, and I knew then that it was time to again be thankful for the solar shop and its delightful staff!
The temperature outside now at about 8.45pm is 13.1’C (55.6’F). So far this year there has been 156.8mm (6.2 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 136.8mm (5.4 inches).