2017 February – posts x 4

Monday, 6 February 2017

Fern Trek 3: The Search for Sir Scruffy

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au

Captain Scritchy walks onto the bridge of the juggernaut ship that is Fernglade Farm. Poopy the Pomeranian howls: “Captain on the bridge”. All other canines stand to attention at their posts. Captain Scritchy stands tall and looks imposing.

Captain Scritchy stands tall and looks imposing

“Anything to report Number one?” Scritchy asks with the practiced voice of authority whilst causally taking her rightful Captains seat on the bean bag. Poopy the Pomeranian who as Number One Poopy is Captain Scritchy’s right paw canine, looks about nervously and in a more quiet tone mentions: “Well Captain, there was the minor matter of the spatial anomaly earlier today”.

The canine spatial anomaly presents itself to the slightly baffled canine crew

Number One Poopy continued “The spatial anomaly was baffling because the crew could see the beef jerky strips, but there was an impenetrable and clear force field surrounding those beef jerky strips. Eventually the beef jerky disappeared completely and there is just no logic to that logic”. “Well spoken Number One Poopy, anything else?” asked Captain Scritchy. “There was also the intruder alert which a security detail responded to” replied Number One Poopy.

“Yes, you lead that security detail, didn’t you, Number One Poopy?” to which Poopy replied: “Yes Captain Scritchy! I lead the security detail and we confronted the intruders on deck one by way of the rear door. Nothing serious to report Captain, as the alien intruders fled before the combined might of the security detail. I did notice that Sir Scruffy chose the flank position rather than the frontal assault. Curious that, and I don’t believe Sir Scruffy has been feeling his best recently”.

The canine assault team confronts an intruder on deck one by way of the rear door

“Yes that is rather curious Number One Poopy. Where is the Doctor?” and Captain Scritchy followed that up by saying more loudly: “Where is Doctor Toothy?”

“Here Captain!” and Doctor Toothy sidled over to where Captain Scritchy and Number One Poopy were engaged in conversation on the bridge. “Be a good canine, Doctor Toothy, and have a look at Sir Scruffy over in engineering”. “Right onto it Captain” and so off went Doctor Toothy to engineering to investigate Sir Scruffy’s health.

When he finally caught up with Sir Scruffy in engineering Doctor Toothy asked “What seems to be the problem Sir Scruffy?” “It’s me ear mate, it sore as” retorted Sir Scruffy and he also added “I don’t know whether I can take it anymore, my ears are going to blow!”

“That sounds rather serious Sir Scruffy. Keep still and let me take a look at your ear” and so Doctor Toothy took a look into Sir Scruffy’s ear and said “There is bacterial and yeast life in your ear, Sir Scruffy, but it’s not life as we know it. Here let me put some cleaning agents into your ear, and then perhaps some anti-tribble medication and voila! You should be feeling better shortly and those pesky alien critters will soon be a distant memory.” Sir Scruffy on the other hand had major objections to Doctor Toothy’s ear cleaning and medicating treatment and he let out a howl and said “You stupid oaf, you’ve hurt my ear, you have” and then suddenly without warning Sir Scruffy took himself away to a quiet location on the Holodeck to sulk his socks off for a wee bit.

As Sir Scruffy went off in a huff, his communicator badge made a beep-beep sound and Captain Scritchy could be heard commanding Sir Scruffy ”Report to engineering at once. Ensign Chris and Ensign Editor are just about to take the smaller dirt mouse shuttle off to investigate the planet Tooborac Brewery (where they apparently have a most excellent gourmet pie shop – true story!)”. Sir Scruffy could not be found and failed to respond to his communicator summons. Captain Scritchy was outraged. This insubordination by Sir Scruffy could not be allowed to continue!

Number One Poopy, having been relieved of duty by Captain Scritchy earlier that day, was enjoying a quiet moment of rest and relaxation when he received the summons.

Number One Poopy enjoys a quiet moment of rest and relaxation

“Number One Poopy! Sir Scruffy has abandoned his engineering post in a gross display of socks sulking off. Go find him!” ordered Captain Scritchy. And so Number One Poopy dropped his bone and headed off on an away mission to go and find the missing Sir Scruffy. Meanwhile Ensign Chris and Ensign Editor traveled off to boldly go where gourmet pies are found.

Number One Poopy explores the vast territory of planet Fernglade looking for the sulking Sir Scruffy (him of the sore ear)

Eventually, Sir Scruffy was found consoling himself with a bone in a remote location and Number One Poopy reported his findings to Captain Scritchy.

Sir Scruffy is later found consoling himself with beef bone

“Well done Number One Poopy. Tell Sir Scruffy that a little suffering is good for the soul and report to the bridge at once” instructed Captain Scritchy. “I should take the bone off him” retorted Number One Poopy, to which Captain Scritchy replied “One of the advantages of being a captain is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it. Go back to your own bone Number One Poopy. Job well done!” “Yes Captain Scritchy!”

Yes, Space the final frontier! I was going to write this week’s blog about how space, time, and quiet are some of life’s true luxuries – because they are – and then the mention of the word “space” started my mind turning over Star Trek spoof stories involving the dogs. Don’t blame me for this descent into the world of parody, blame the: space, time, and quiet which I get to regularly enjoy (as well as the gourmet pies). And those three things (plus the gourmet pies) really are a luxury.

Sir Scruffy unfortunately does have a sore ear and the very humid winter and spring has upset the natural balance of the diverse bacterial and yeast colonies in his ear, so the editor and I have been cleaning and medicating his ear for a few days. I can assure concerned readers that none of us enjoys that process!

We spent another hot day this week bringing in firewood for the winter. We are deliberately extracting all of the hard to get and overly large firewood and most of it has to be split into smaller chunks. The reason for splitting firewood is so that the pieces can fit into the combustion chamber of the wood heater. For anyone that is curious we estimate that the entire job will take about 140 hours of labour. Of course with two people that becomes 70 hours each so it is a big job, but dry seasoned and locally sourced firewood in the depths of winter is a real pleasure to have access too. There are about 6 to 8 days of work left before that job is completed.

The firewood shed is filling up and there is probably about 6 to 8 days work left to fill it completely

Speaking of 8, a few days ago, the solar power system recorded that the house had used 8MWh since the solar power system had been first connected to the house way back in 2010.

The solar power system recorded this week that it had used 8MWh since it was first switched on in 2010

It has been quite hot this week and the sun feels very fierce and we fortunately split the firewood in the shade on those hot summer afternoons. Some creatures here enjoy the hot weather, such as the local reptiles commonly known as “skinks” who are commonly seen basking in the baking heat of the afternoon sun:

A baby skink basks in the heat of the afternoon summer sun

The summer has been very good for berries and I spotted this very tasty gooseberry (and some of its friends, which were quickly consumed):

We consumed a number of tasty gooseberries that we’d previously missed harvesting

The cape gooseberries which are of the nightshade family of plants that includes potatoes and tomatoes will soon ripen and those plants are enormously productive and they produce huge quantities of tasty fruit.

The cape gooseberries will soon ripen in the hot summer sun

The sweet Siberian melon has almost doubled in size this week. Unfortunately, despite the sprawling vine, I only seem to be able to find a single melon.

The sweet Siberian melon has doubled in size this week

And the Chilean guavas are still quite small now, but they seem to also be rapidly gaining size.

Chilean guavas are starting to swell

The tomatoes are yet to ripen, but they are also getting larger in size and will soon be ripe.

The tomatoes are gaining size and will soon be ripe

The apple and pear trees are still too young to produce much fruit, but here and there about the orchard there are signs as to just how productive those trees will be when they finally mature (at about ten years I expect).

A Cox’s Orange Pippin apple ripens on the tree
The Asian nashi pears are very productive trees and they promise to be even more productive in future years

A few years ago we really struggled to find reliable summer greens as the strong sun and summer heat causes most of the varieties that people are used to consuming, to bolt to seed. One of our favourite summer greens has proven to be perennial rocket:

Perennial rocket is a favourite hardy summer green

Vietnamese mint is also a very reliable and hardy summer green

Vietnamese mint is a very reliable and hardy summer green

My dodgy experiment with all manner of beets has produced an extraordinary garden bed of so many different plants that I have honestly lost track of what is what. They are however producing reliable leafy greens and huge quantities of seed some of which we are eating (radish) and some are intended to be identified and saved for next summer – where hopefully, I’ll be a bit more organised!

The dodgy and very prolific experimental garden bed of unknown varieties of beets

The heat is slowly starting to cause the only surviving avocado tree to put on a bit of growth and colour. This plant has survived in a sheltered spot for years and has tolerated everything from droughts and heat waves, to heavy snowfalls so I’m hoping that at some point many years into the future it produces some fruit. Maybe…

This avocado has survived all manner of extreme weather conditions and one day I hope it produces fruit!

And at this time of year I like to end the blog with plenty of flower photos for the enjoyment of people who are freezing away in the northern hemisphere winter.

The yellow fennel flowers looks great with the blue hydrangea flowers behind it
A Southern wood (which tastes like Cola) has a red flowering geranium growing in its foliage
Some of the geranium flowers have spectacular colour
But nothing beats the many bush roses which grow intermingled in among the other plants

The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 10’C (50’F). So far this year there has been 68.6mm (2.7 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 35.6mm (1.4 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 20:12

Monday, 13 February 2017

Yeah, Nah

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au


There are times when I blame the online computer game World of Warcraft. However, I know that blame is misplaced. The blame, I reckon can be placed on decline, pure and simple. You see, when I was a younger man, I used to be one small part of a much larger social group. I was introduced to that larger social group by a friend I had known since primary school. I also introduced friends to that larger social group too and for many years we had a lot of fun times. But slowly over time, the winds of change swept through the social arrangements and after many years of entropy the binds that held the large social group together failed and people were scattered to the many distant corners of the city.

Strangely enough I was one of the first to move to a distant part of the city. After many years of dating appealing young ladies, I met the editor and I knew I was onto a good thing. We promptly got married and wanted to purchase a house to live together and the only house that we could afford was a small early 20th century workers cottage in a very gritty industrial suburb of Melbourne. The fascinating smells emanating from the nearby refinery competed with the sounds of the heavy truck traffic all hours of the night. At night we used to walk the dogs around the suburb and the editor, the dogs and I were the only signs of life anywhere. In a strange coincidence I used to work with a guy that also worked evening shifts at the local pub and he advised me: Not to pick anyone else’s fight at that particular pub (which shall remain nameless). The other pub in the suburb opposite the heavy industries had fallen on hard times and resorted to attracting the nearby student population with local live music as well as hosting the very eccentric and hilarious drag queen revue night.

Back in those days, that suburb was very dark and gritty and after the editor and I moved to that very unfashionable place some people complained to me that they would not want to cross the Westgate bridge and put one foot in that industrial suburb. It was almost as if they would catch some sort of disease! As an interesting side note, not wanting to cross the Westgate bridge as an excuse has some minor credibility as the bridge had actually fallen down during construction killing umpteen people and if you have ever had the uncanny experience of being stopped on a motorbike on a ten lane bridge 55m (181ft) above the water level whilst the bridge deck bounces up and down you’ll appreciate what I’m talking about when I describe the rather queasy feeling that I get deep down in my guts. However, I rather suspect that my friends and family were cheekily casting judgement upon my supposed poor life choices.

Me, being me, I didn’t really let that judgement by both friends and family bother me, and I chose instead to simply visit them instead. And so I visited those friends regularly for at least the next dozen years. As time wore on, those friends met partners and wanted to purchase a house of their own or they were simply and reluctantly pushed ever further out of the city in all directions. The drive for that push were the forces of economics. In Melbourne the price of houses rose faster than incomes year in and year out and still do, so my friends were scattered all over the city and they ended up living in mostly in very far and remote corners. I on the other hand by this stage was living close enough to the city that I could – and did – walk there every single day for work. My friends kept in contact with each other through the game World of Warcraft where they would meet to battle mighty boss creatures for virtual rewards. Other friends started families and they disappeared into those families rarely to be seen again. Some of those friends even had time to start second families.

Eventually tensions came to a head and after many years of waiting around to see whether the situation would change there was an explosion of emotion and a fight occurred between two competing power blocs of friends. It was a make or break moment and unsurprisingly it broke the large social group.

Having had no hand in that explosion matter, I found that my group of friends had dwindled to not much more than a quiet whimper and there was not much to be salvaged from the wreckage. I chose to sulk my socks off for a few months whilst I contemplated the situation. At the end of the prolonged socks sulking off session, I chose to obtain new friends. The unfortunate thing was that over the years I had been asked by several people if I would like to be their friend and because I had such a large group of friends I always replied: “Yeah, nah” and as such all my eggs were in one basket.

One advantage that I did have with making new friends was that the editor and I had not hung around waiting for the inevitable explosion as we had moved to a rural area and set about constructing our own house. Rural areas traditionally have strong community networks and groups and this area was no exception and I enjoyed them immensely.

However, after a few years, many of those community groups imploded too. Those implosions seemed really weird to me and I always had a sort of rabbit in the headlights feeling as they occurred one after the other. The experience of those community group implosions reminded me of nothing so much as my experience with the disappearing act of socialising with work people in the early 1990’s. Before the Australian recession of the early 90’s, drinks on Friday night with work friends was a massive event. In fact there were many Friday lunchtimes we struggled even getting back to work after a few drinks and drunken convivial conversation. Along came the recession and these drinks sessions were the first casualty. I have fond memories of returning to work on Friday afternoons and on several occasions I was instructed by my boss (in a friendly way, of course): “Sit down and shut up for the rest of the afternoon”. To which I always replied: “Yes, boss” which was probably just as well because I didn’t have anything sensible to say in my alcohol addled state!

I sometimes have the strangest feeling that I have seen the end of certain social arrangements. With many of those social arrangements I saw just enough to tantalise me and know that we as a society can do better, but alas, now that we are apparently wealthier, I rather suspect that a certain meanness of spirit has crept into our social lives and so most people have turned inwards. The thing is though, without community, it goes without saying that there is no community.

Did I mention that it has been hot and humid here this week? Thursday morning was the sort of morning you take the chainsaw along with you to the local café.The chainsaw was not required for settling scores like Jason AKA Friday the Thirteenth, but for the more pragmatic reason that the wind gusts blew strongly that morning and in such conditions trees are wont to fall down across the road. I once could not get home in such conditions and had to call a neighbour to come and rescue me. The neighbour, who is a good bloke, brought overalls and gloves that day for me to wear and I spent the next couple of hours hauling fallen timber off the roads whilst trees were crashing around us.

Thursday’s temperatures were hot

The humidity only seemed to increase as a band of rain rolled in from across the valley. At least the rain brought a small amount of relief from the heat.

The humidity increased that day as a band of rain rolled in from across the valley

The next day was still hot, but firewood does not put itself in the firewood shed. The editor and I spent about 5 hours that hot day cutting, splitting and stacking firewood in the heat. We use an electric (solar powered) log splitter to assist with the task of splitting the large rounds but even so it is still hot and heavy work. Fortunately for the editor and I we had a little helper that day who was busily consuming all of the insects which fell out of the various chunks of firewood. By the end of that day the little reptile was very chunky! We had to be very careful at all times not to squash/squish/splat this highly active and hungry assistant.

A little reptile assisted us by eating all of the many insects that fell out of the split logs

The firewood shed is really starting to fill up. This year we have stacked the firewood a lot higher than in the previous year and we suspect that this firewood shed, when full, will be more than enough firewood for the cold parts of the year.

The firewood shed is really starting to fill up

Observant readers will note that we are nothing if not neat! Speaking of neat, I thought that it might be useful for readers to see just how deep the deep litter mulch actually is in the chicken enclosure. Every day the chickens scratch the accumulated pile of used bedding straw and manure down to ground level. It takes me only a minute or two of work to build the pile back up again.

Observant readers will note just how deep the deep litter mulch in the chicken enclosure is

The zucchini (courgette) monsters have produced a few zucchinis and we harvested them before they grew any bigger. And the next photo below also shows a huge harvest of basil and rocket which is to be turned into the most delicious pesto.

Zucchini (courgette) monsters were harvested before they grew any bigger along with a good harvest of basil which is turned into yummy pesto

The blackberries have just begun to ripen. Nuff said!

Blackberries have just begun to ripen. Nuff said!

Tomato cam shows a thick – but well contained – jungle of tomato vines.

Tomato cam shows a thick – but well contained – jungle of tomato vines

And the first ripe tomato was harvested on Saturday. Yum!

The first ripe tomato was harvested on Saturday

The many capsicums (peppers) which we are trialing this summer have begun to produce flowers and the first signs of fruit. I hope that there is enough summer left for them to ripen fully. Time will tell.

The many capsicums (peppers) which we are trialling this summer have begun to produce flowers

The most reliable stone fruit this season has been the plums and the D’Agen variety are only a few weeks away from harvesting.

The D’Agen variety of plums are only a few weeks away from harvesting

The mysterious melon has doubled in size this week! Observant readers will note in the next photo below that the other melon variety flower has pollinated and now has tiny little melons on the sprawling vines.

The mysterious melon has doubled in size this week and the other melon varieties have produced tiny melons

Earlier in the summer I planted out a dozen or so gooseberry cuttings and most of them have taken and are now producing a lot of new growth. Next summer I will definitely try and get more cuttings of this plant to strike.

Most of the dozen or so gooseberry cuttings planted out in early summer have taken and are showing signs of new growth

And I like to finish the blog at this time of year with a few flower photos from about the farm:

This is a proper looking meadow
Who doesn’t love cornflowers?
A yellow yarrow flower mixes it up with a mysterious white flowered plant from the mint family
Tansy looks very happy in this corner of the garden and it grows back every single year
The various salvias love the heat of the summer
Tri-coloured sage (salvia) sits happily among the lavender, gotu kola, and maidens tears
White flowered yarrow and the soapwort enjoy the high heat and humidity

The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 13’C (55’F). So far this year there has been 84.4mm (3.3 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 68.6mm (2.7 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 20:03

Monday, 20 February 2017

Was it worth it?

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au

The process of writing a weekly blog is an interesting experience. A few weeks ago, I received an unsolicited offer asking me if I’d be interested in providing comments on other websites for financial rewards. It is nice to consider that my Internet voice is important enough to attract such a financially rewarding offer. However, I rather suspect that the offer was randomly sent to thousands of other Internet bloggers. And to be honest it is probably best for everyone involved that I don’t take up the offer. The reason for that is that I would soon become distracted and foolishly speak my mind. The mysterious group who had offered me the financial rewards would perhaps then get upset and honestly who wants that situation?


As I type out these words on the computer keyboard, the weather outside the window is a very un-toasty 7’C (44’F) and earlier today the thick clouds dumped hail and rain.

Hail pelted down here this afternoon

Summer in this small corner of the continent has been absent this year. However, not too far north of here, summer has been very noticeable indeed and up there they have smashed long standing weather records due to heat. Further north again and the rainfall from the tropical monsoons has been very intense and unrelenting and some remote communities are now having food dropped in by aircraft as the roads are all but impassable. And the south western corner of Western Australia just enjoyed a record summer rainfall event and subsequent flooding.

I’m not complaining about the absent summer, as I can clearly recall that last summer here was a very different experience and I endured 10 days of air temperatures (recorded in the shade) which were above 40’C (104’F) which was something of a new record for heat.


And in amongst all of those extreme weather related events I receive an offer to provide comments on other websites for financial rewards. If I were to make any comments on other websites I might say something which would embarrass everyone such as: Conservatives don’t know the first thing about conserving; whilst Liberals don’t seem open to new ideas or remotely respectful of opinions that differ from their own. And who wants to read those ironic opinions, let alone pay for them?

The extreme weather over parts of the continent this summer have presented certain challenges to the infrastructure. And this challenge can be seen in the occasional article in the newspapers about failure or potential failure of the infrastructure due to an extreme weather related event. The other day I spotted such an article about the challenges to the infrastructure in a city in another part of the continent which has been having a much hotter and drier summer than the gentle absent summer here. Basically, the newspaper article was suggesting that the extreme heat would create a strain on the mains electricity grid which would perhaps result in supply outages. There was even a polite request for restraint on behalf of households in that city.

The article and the request sounded very civil to me, however I became curious about the public reaction and checked out what people were saying in the comments. And almost the first comment following the article wrote:

“The solar panels are the problem, they attract more sunlight and the panels also get hot.

Coal doesn’t do this, look at England they have been burning coal for hundreds of years and their countryside is lush and green.”

If I’d written that rather entertaining comment, most long term readers would believe that I had gone completely bonkers, or been paid a boatload of mad cash! Unlike the nameless (and possibly well remunerated) commenter, I don’t believe that solar panels are the problem. But neither do I believe that solar panels are the solution. And who wants to read those opinions, let alone pay for them?

As many long term readers will know by now, the house here is not connected to the electricity grid. In the past seven years solar photovoltaic panels have produced most of the electricity requirements for the household. In fact in the past three years, I have only run the backup generator for a few hours at the end of one very cloudy and dark winter’s week. Solar power is a fantastic energy source, however it sets some rather harsh upper limits on a households electricity consumption. And who wants to read those opinions?


On Friday, the editor and I woke up before the sun had even graced the farm with its presence – if it could even shine through the thick layer of fog hanging over the mountain range. The sky was dark, and well, like that commenter mentioned above, I made little sense until I’d enjoyed a strong coffee. Fortunately, a coffee was to be had, and whilst I enjoyed that, the sun finally rose through the thick fog. The editor and I then headed off to a nearby agricultural show: The Seymour Alternative Farming Expo. Who doesn’t love an agricultural show? There were strange machines which I could now identify as manure spreaders (courtesy of the contrary farmer / author Gene Logsdon who wrote a most excellent book on manure titled: Holy Shit!). There were animals for purchase, some of which were heritage breeds. And most importantly there were outstanding charcoal grilled lamb souvlaki’s (can’t do that with solar panels)!

Speaking of heritage animals for sale, we purchased a trio of young Silky chickens. The editor and I couldn’t go past the trio which were: Brown; Black; and Grey coloured. When you purchase animals at an agricultural show you have to then work out how to transport those animals back to your property. Chickens are transported in a ventilated cardboard box which is stowed in the back of the car for transport. I don’t recommend trying that method with a sheep.

By the time the editor and I returned to the farm, I was cool, I mean the air temperature was cool here at only 18’C (64’F) as summer seems to have left the building!

The author displays the cardboard box containing the three new silky chickens

The chickens were then unceremoniously dumped in the chicken enclosure. Other people suggest a slow introduction for the new chickens and perhaps that is a good idea which may be worth considering in the future.

The chickens were then unceremoniously dumped in the chicken enclosure

The new silky chickens quickly proceeded to do what all chickens do naturally – look angry at their new comfy circumstances.

The new silky chickens are rather grumpy about their new comfy circumstances

Despite the continuing cool weather, the tomatoes are slowly starting to ripen.

Despite the continuing cool weather, the tomatoes are slowly starting to ripen

The blackberries in the area are producing enormous quantities of fresh berries. It is rather unfortunate that the local council in their wisdom has also sprayed herbicide onto vast swaths of the blackberries. It was considerate of them to leave signs saying that they had done so. I’m rather uncertain at the goal of the spraying because two years later the plants will have sprouted new canes and berries. Concerned readers can be assured that I am not picking from the sprayed plants.

Frozen blackberries from the local area

There was a bit of concern that the melon vines had not pollinated as there were many flowers but not much in the way of developing fruit. The native blue banded bees which live here have done a sterling job in pollinating the flowers and there are now small melons all over the place. I just hope they get enough sun to ripen.

The native blue banded bees have done a sterling job in pollinating the flowers on the melon vines

And the earliest and largest melon is continuing to grow larger!

And the earliest and largest melon is continuing to grow larger

The zucchini’s (courgettes) are going feral and in only one week a zucchini has grown to this feral size:

The zucchini’s (courgettes) are going feral

Cool weather doesn’t seem to have affected the apples as they are having a very good season:

Apples are having a very good season

The regular supply of rain this summer has meant that the fig trees, which are still very young, have produced some figs.

The young fig trees have produced some figs

All this talk about food started me thinking about what sort of fuel I consume for breakfast on a work day. When I was a child people used to say that: eggs and bacon on toast was the breakfast of champions. I prefer fresh fruit on homemade toasted muesli to fuel me through a long work day. Anything less substantial and by the end of the day I can feel the difference.

My usual breakfast before a long work day

And long work days can indeed be long as the editor and I put away another 5 hours of firewood processing this week. It is in the nick of time too as it has been so cold here over the past two days that we have been running the wood heater today (in summer!).

Another 5 hours of firewood was processed this week

When the winds are still and I step outside of the house, I can smell the scent of honey. The reason for that scent is that in the trees surrounding the farm, the very tall eucalyptus trees (Eucalyptus Obliqua) are in flower. This is the first time in years that the trees have flowered. Incidentally the trees here are the second tallest flowering trees on the planet, which makes the flowers difficult to photograph. Observant readers will note in the next photo that the flowers are small fluffy white blobs, one cluster of which is in the centre of the photo. I am not seeing the same variety of trees flowering in other parts of the forest.

The tall eucalyptus trees surrounding the farm are in flower

And I like to end the blog with some flower photos for the benefit of the people living in the cold Northern hemisphere:

Eggplants produce beautiful flowers
Lavender, geranium and salvia’s produce a colourful display
Agapathus are flowering strongly and the bees enjoy their many hardy flowers
Nasturtium is a reliable summer green for the chickens and it produces huge quantities of insect attracting flowers. It also works well in Vietnamese coleslaw
The mint family of plants produce flowers in high summer as this oregano is doing


The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 13’C (55’F). So far this year there has been 84.4mm (3.3 inches) which is the same as last week’s total of 84.4mm (3.3 inches) – there looks as if there is some sort of error with the official rain gauge as yesterdays rain was not recorded.

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 20:00

Monday, 27 February 2017

Girlie Business

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au

When a person walks through the jungle that is the streets of the city of Melbourne, that person has to keep alert for dangerous animals, as you never know when they’ll bite you.

On weekday afternoons in the streets of the city, the sidewalks can be full of people, whilst just off those sidewalks the bicycle riders zip past the slow moving vehicle traffic. In the centre of the roads, Melbourne’s iconic trams make their way between one stop and the next. All the while in the background there is the constant noise from all of those many people and their activities, the vehicles and the unmistakable sounds of construction. It is a busy and bustling city.

When the wind occasionally blows in the city streets and lanes, dust and pollen can be blown along with that wind. But that same wind also blows the many fine smells of exotic cuisines from far distant lands. Some of the streets are even lined with tall trees competing with the tall buildings to see who can capture the most sunlight.

In order to stay alive in that city, you have to know the law of the jungle. And as I approached the intersection of La Trobe and Elizabeth and Streets on foot one afternoon, my sixth sense alerted me to the dangers of a stealthy predator who was taking a special interest in me. The synthetic green t-shirt, clipboard held casually in one arm, and the lanyard dangling around the neck were all indicators that I was about to be accosted by the most fierce city predator of them all: The Chugger.

The nickname: Chugger; refers to a Charity Mugger. I’m sure you’ve met plenty of them in your time. Chugger’s don’t know that I know the law of the jungle, and I can despatch the average Chugger with a menacing look or a witty retort which few can counter such as: “Piss Off!”

On one particular afternoon though, I was wondering why anyone would be wearing such a bright synthetic green t-shirt and what that all meant, when the Chugger took advantage of my momentary stupefaction and landed the first blow. “Are you aware of the coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef?” BAM! The Chugger landed a solid blow and the champ was against the ropes. I replied with a rather pathetic sounding: “Yeah” as I intellectually staggered from the first blow and tried to recover my wits. It was a low blow too because: who doesn’t love the Great Barrier Reef?

As I was reeling and trying to gather my wits the Chugger went on to identify himself as working for an environmental organisation the name of which begins with “Green” (thus the bizarre shade of synthetic t-shirt) and he began his usual script in an attempt to land further blows and shake me down for money for said organisation.

The Chugger failed to understand that in his attempt to run the usual shake down procedure from a new client he would confront the lessons learned from the maxims of the Ancient Chinese master of war, Sun Tzu. Now Sun Tzu was a smart bloke and he would advocate to seize control of the situation from the enemy and to do the unexpected. And so I ignored the usual script that was being churned out by the Chugger and instead directed his attention to a nearby vehicle and said: “You represent an environmental group. How sustainable do you reckon that vehicle over there is?” BAM! The underdog threw a solid one-two and the Chugger felt the pain but was not giving up the fight just yet.

The Chugger came back with a hard intellectual blow and the words: “Aren’t you concerned about climate change?” It was a dirty tactic as he was trying to recapture the lost initiative. And so I dropped the hammer blow on the Chugger and said: “I live on an organic farm, I produce a fair bit of my own food, collect my own water, and am not even connected to the mains electricity grid. What are you personally doing about climate change and how much of all of this stuff that you see around you is even sustainable!” That was the knock-out blow because as he physically recoiled from me and said: “I feel sorry for you dude.” And unfortunately, I’ve now been left wondering what the guy meant by that rather obscure comment. What did he mean by that?

Anyway, as you may have guessed, I don’t much like Chugger’s. This does not mean that I do not donate money to charities, it is just that I do not like being accosted on the streets. Being a white male, tall and with muscular arms I don’t generally get hassled by Chugger’s or other strange people on the streets. However, the other week I had an unusual experience with Chugger’s which gave me an insight into the female experience of interactions with them.

The editor and I were crossing Elizabeth Street in the city heading towards the Queen Victoria Market. On the other side of the road I noticed that we were approaching a couple of Chugger’s who were accosting people on the street corner. I know the law of the jungle so I positioned myself between the Chugger’s and the editor and I gave the Chugger’s a rather menacing and threatening look. And seeing that menacing look they left both of us alone so that we could get on with our business at the market.

I didn’t think any further about the incident, but it was the editor who brought the matter to my attention and said to me what a different and peaceful experience it was for her by having me around to act like a rooster protecting the hen.

After the editor and I visited the market, we ventured a little bit further out of the city, and over an excellent cappuccino and muffin, she told me of her experiences with Chugger’s. With females,  Chugger’s – who are often males – stand in the path of the females and wave their hands theatrically in a manner that makes it physically difficult to get around the Chugger’s. And the Chugger’s often have  cohorts. And in the interactions between Chugger’s and females, generally the words “No thanks” are treated as a minor obstacle to be gotten around and then they persist with their interactions.

I was aghast at the claims of the editor. To that end we observed the actions of a group of Chugger’s on a street corner and sure enough the claims of the editor were if anything understating the problem.

At the core of the problem the Chugger’s are abusing social niceties. And social niceties are the generally understood code of conduct with which we all interact. Those social niceties are basically in place to stop us from killing each other!

But then I have read articles in the newspapers recently saying that Chugger’s work huge hours in all weather conditions for very little pay. The Chugger’s are also apparently under quite serious pressure to achieve sales / donation targets. I understand that there was a Chugger recently that for whatever reason allegedly committed suicide. After reading all of that I learned that the business of the Chugger appears like a ruthless industry to work in, so it is little wonder that they apparently employ such aggressive collection techniques. The conditions that the Chugger’s work under promote a sense that it is either “them or us” – and I’m uncomfortable with that sort of culture. And I also wondered whether those charities that employ the Chugger’s actually cared that much about the Great Barrier Reef? And I still don’t know – why did the green t-shirt dude feel sorry for me? Perhaps it was because my t-shirt was black, and perhaps was more cool than his snot green one.

On breaking rare bird sighting news… A reasonably rare and endangered pair of Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo’s visited the farm. How cool is that? It is nice to see that rare and endangered wildlife gives this farm the thumbs up (or claw, beak, paw etc.) The cockatoos enjoy meals of the large wood boring grubs which are only found in larger and older eucalyptus trees – which I have here.

One of the reasonably rare and endangered pair of Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo’s visited the farm today

On Friday the weather turned very cold and fortunately we had been busy the day before in the sun putting away more firewood for the winter. There are only about three or four more days before that job is finished for the season.

The firewood shed is rapidly filling up and by my clothes (and Toothy’s) you can see how cold the weather has been here lately.

We are always trying to find new ways to use electricity. The downsides of having solar power but not being connected to the mains electricity grid is that excess electricity that cannot be used or stored in the house batteries simply disappears. So when the editor and I were at the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo last week we spotted a quality electric hedge trimmer. The local farm machine bloke had one on hand and we took it off him and have been putting the ultra sharp machine to good use.

We picked up an electric hedge trimmer and used it to prune all of the many herbs

All of the cuttings are composted by adding them onto a new garden bed. I then throw on top of those cuttings, soiled bedding straw from the chicken enclosure and then let nature do the hard yards by breaking all of the material down into very rich soil. Easy. And the machine has opened up the various paths and stairs that had recently become choked with thick plant growth. It really was getting feral out there and I have to keep an eye out for possible Triffid attack. Alas for the Triffids as I know the law of the jungle.

Scritchy and Toothy enjoy the stairs which are now clear of feral plant growth
Pathways in the garden are now easier to walk around

This has been the first summer that the green furry outer coating on one of the almonds split open. That is usually the indicator to let you know that the nut inside that green casing is ripe. With this in mind I picked all of the remaining almonds. I may leave them ripen off the tree for a few weeks just to see what happens to them as I’ve never harvested almonds before.

One of the green furry outer coatings on an almond split open, so I picked the remaining nuts

I picked some more apples and they taste even better than they look.

I picked some more apples and they taste even better than they look

Whilst I wasn’t looking, the editor harvested the mysterious melon this week and it looks remarkably to us like a cantaloupe. The mysterious melon was a bit under ripe still so we have collected the seeds in order to plant them out next year. We are feeding the melon to the chickens, who are enjoying it.

The mysterious melon was harvested and we believe it may be a cantaloupe

The thornless blackberries which may be the Waldo variety have begun to ripen this week and they are large and superb tasting. (Where’s Waldo? – in my stomach!). We have plans to extend the berry bed over the next few months.

The thornless Waldo blackberries have begun to ripen this week

The olives on the many olive trees are slowly starting to swell in size. Olives are amazingly hardy and productive fruit trees.

The olive on the many olive trees are slowly starting to swell in size

Long term readers may be interested to know that the area that was subject to landslip earlier this year is now full of plants which are slowly becoming established.

The area that was subject to landslip earlier this year is now full of plants which are slowly becoming established

The cool and damp summer has produced excellent growth in the new fern gully which was established to capture water from the road above the gully.

The cool and damp summer has produced excellent growth in the new fern gully

At this time of year the Golden Orb spiders fly in from afar on their webs. They are an interesting spider because when they are small they spin a long single web and any wind takes that spider and its web on a journey to somewhere else. And when the spiders finally land, they spin intricate webs as can be seen on this gorse plant which is up on the road.

Golden Orb spiders spin intricate webs as can be seen on this gorse plant

I like to end the blog with a few flower photos for people up in the cold Northern hemisphere who may enjoy these glimpses into summer:

Chicory produces huge numbers of blue flowers and they are a common plant around these parts
Salvia’s have the most vivid flowers and they love the heat and sun of the summer down under
The best summer flower award goes to the bush roses which produce huge bunches of roses for months

The temperature outside now at about 6.15pm is 29’C (84’F). So far this year there has been 84.6mm (3.3 inches) which is the more or less the same as last week’s total of 84.4mm (3.3 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 18:17