2017 March – posts x 4

Monday, 6 March 2017

Scary Cable Monster

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

Poopy had quite the fright this week as he was confronted by a scary cable monster! A cable was temporarily placed across the veranda and clearly that coaxial cable was a scary monster because Poopy refused to walk or run past the cable. It was almost as if Gandalf himself from Lord of the Rings had laid the cable across the veranda and declared: “You shall not pass!” And Mr Poopy took that message seriously enough that indeed he did not pass the scary cable monster.

Strange Poopy behaviour aside, the important question remains unasked: Why was there a cable temporarily placed across the veranda? The simple answer to that question was that my internet modem abruptly died earlier this week. In a strange coincidence, the modem was supplied on a 24 month plan which had less than a few days left to run its course.

We can deal with adversity here at Fernglade Farm, so one afternoon I jumped onto the train and headed into the big smoke of Melbourne and agreed with the nice internet supplier to accept another 24 month plan. In exchange I received a brand new black, shiny internet modem. We were back on the internet again and all was good with the world. Except for Mr Poopy’s rather strange behaviour about the scary cable monster.

So back to the matter of why there was a cable temporarily placed across the veranda. Now of course the new internet modem is much faster than the old and now deceased internet modem and this is a good thing. However the signal that the new modem transmits throughout the house is much weaker than the old modem used to achieve. So to get around this problem of a weak signal inside the house, I thought to myself that I’d simply move the new modem closer to the computer. However nothing involving computer thingees is ever simple, and so that job required relocating the external internet antenna and running a brand new cable from that antenna to the new modem. Thus the temporary test run of the new cable became the scary cable monster (from Mr Poopy’s point of view). Despite Mr Poopy’s misgivings, at least I could again gain access the internet.

On a dark and misty morn, the external internet antenna was moved earlier this week and a temporary cable run was installed

In order to relocate the internet antenna to its new position, I had to climb onto the roof of the house and undertake some work. Whilst I was on the roof of the house the sun came out and I thought to myself: How nice does the view of the garden look from up here? So for the benefit of the readers of the blog, I climbed back down the ladder, grabbed the camera, and climbed back up again and took a photo (Manual Drone CamTM).

About half of the garden as seen from the roof of the house

I felt very sorry for Mr Poopy’s fears of the scary cable monster on the veranda and to that end, I installed the new cable which runs from the internet antenna, under the house and then to the new internet modem. All was then good with the internet world! In case anyone was interested, Mr Poopy elected to make the following comment for the blog about the scary cable monster situation:

Mr Poopy displays a palpable sense of relief of having endured days of stress in the shadow of the scary cable monster, whilst Scritchy boss dog extraordinaire keeps a close lookout for new incursions

This week has been the first quiet week for me since the beginning of the year and so I threw myself into some serious work around the farm. Hang onto your hats folks as this ride is going to get wild!

Earlier in the week, I fed all three hundred fruit trees on the farm with a goodly dose of manure. What that means in reality is that I threw a crate full of manure in the general direction of every one of the fruit trees. I used the little white Suzuki and bright yellow trailer to drive the manure down into an area more or less close to some parts of the orchard. From that point, I offloaded the manure from the back of the bright yellow trailer into crates, and then used the wheel barrow to take the crates closer to the various fruit trees.

The little white Suzuki and bright yellow trailer is used to take manure down the hill into the orchard

After a while the fruit trees were ever further up the hill from the little white Suzuki. The sun was deadly hot and I had started at the bottom of the orchard and was moving uphill. The effort of pushing the heavily laden wheelbarrow uphill in the hot sun was starting to put a strain on my good mood. To save me from cracking the sads, I simply drove the little white Suzuki a little bit further up the hill and parked at a higher position and recommenced unloading the manure again. Eventually all three hundred fruit trees were enjoying a feed in the hot sun.

We continued recovering rocks to use in various projects around the farm. And occasionally we are able (edit: foolhardy enough) to manually move some very large rocks. Excavators, pah, what are they good for?

Occasionally we are able to manually move very large rocks for use in projects about the place

You may notice in the photo above that I am smiling which means that I am not cracking the sads. The reason for my good cheer was that earlier that day, I received confirmation from the local doctor that an unusual and dark spot on my ear that was removed was not normal skin, but neither was it skin cancer. Did I mention that the sun is very intense in Australia? Observant readers will note that in the photo above my head is covered by a broad brim hat and those hats serve a useful function.

Not cracking the sads is a good thing too, as the editor will no doubt attest, but then so is an all clear from a strange and possibly fatal skin condition. To that end the editor and I headed out that evening to the local pub to celebrate:

The autumn night air was warm and there was not the slightest breath of wind. The editor and I sat outside the pub in the outdoor seating area and I enjoyed a pint of local beer (‘chop shop’ which is a very hop infused ale) whilst the editor had a pint of the tasty local cloudy cider. The pub was quiet – it being a school night and all – and the sky was full of stars as the cooler evening air surrounded us. Even so local people were coming and going into the pub. The outside tables are heavy timber and constructed to withstand the worst of the winter weather and of course the more usual mess left by the pub crowd. There were even a few kids running around the paddock next to the pub. Another couple had two dogs, one of which had a prosthetic foot. For some reason people always bring dogs along to that pub and they are usually well received by the patrons. And after the final rays of light disappeared from the sky, the night closed in, the stars appeared in the sky above, and a local bloke picked up a guitar and started belting out ballads. It was a really lovely and enjoyable night.

As I wrote that description, other local scenes from this week came to mind which I thought that you the readers, may enjoy sharing:

Earlier in the week Mr Poopy and I snuck off to the local general store, which incidentally operates the local post office and an excellent café. As we arrived at the general store with the ostensible purpose and outstanding cover story of checking the mail, I noticed an empty couple of tables near where several tables full of young children were wearing tiaras accompanied by their parents. I was faced with the difficult situation of throwing Mr Poopy into that volatile mix and decided that it would probably not be a relaxing experience, so I checked the mail and took Mr Poopy home again without stopping for my usual coffee and fruit toast.

The local petrol (gas) station is located on a now bypassed section of the old highway. Despite being located in the middle of nowhere with alternating paddocks and forest surrounding it, the petrol station is heavily used by the locals. The other day whilst I was filling up the little white Suzuki with petrol, I noticed a couple of trucks which had trays full of bee hives and wondered where they were taking them. I also wondered what had become of the poor bees that failed to make it back to the hive before the hive boxes were moved.

The sun has been hot this week. Now that my ear is finally beginning to heal (from the removal of the unusual skin spot) I was able to don the chainsaw helmet which has proper ear muffs and begin cutting firewood again. At one point in that early morning, I took the helmet off and sought relief from the sun in shade provided by the little white Suzuki. As I cooled off in the shade and consumed a drink of water, I looked across the paddock and saw a sea of yellow dandelion flowers dancing above the summer dried grass. But flying to and fro just above the flowers were dozens and dozens of orange butterflies all going about their business.

I almost forgot to mention it, but this week I mowed (by hand) almost two thirds of the farm.

This week I mowed by hand almost two thirds of the farm

Mowing involves walking behind a little red Honda push mower. Backwards and forwards you walk up hill and down dale for hours on end. I covered a bit over two and half to possibly three acres this week. Some people may feel that that is hard work, but I find mowing and walking to be a very relaxing activity. The editor and I once walked 130km (81 miles) over five days on the Great South West Walk. When we started the walk we thought that we would have great insights and profound thoughts. Instead we simply discovered that long distance walking is very much like a form of meditation which is very relaxing for the mind.

When you mow by hand you can get to observe the world around you at a slow pace. I often spot seedling fruit trees during those times. Some of those seedling fruit trees I surround with a steel cage in order to protect them from the voracious wallabies. This week I stumbled across a seedling avocado.

This week I stumbled across a seedling avocado

A couple of nights ago as the editor and I were walking up the road to pick some wild blackberries, by sheer chance, we met a neighbour who offered us the opportunity to pick some apples from his old apple tree. Of course we took up that offer and offered some eggs, zucchini and tomatoes in return. However, I have never before seen an apple tree so heavily laden with fruit. Initially we thought that it must have been an old apple tree but upon reflection, we reckon that the tree is perhaps more than thirty years, but less than forty years old. Anyway, we picked 4 bags of apples, and barely made a dent in the vast collection of apples on that tree.

We picked bags of apples from a neighbours apple tree

Earlier in the day we had been picking apples from local wild apple trees. Of course, if a person is faced with a huge glut of apples, then the best thing to do is to make apple wine and apple cider vinegar. The apples are first blitzed in the food processor:

Apples are blitzed in the food processor

We eventually blitzed one third of the apples and ended up with two 20kg (44 pound) buckets of blitzed apples. The blitzed apples are then placed in the fruit press where they are squeezed mercilessly. The apple juice is then collected:

A fruit press mercilessly squeezes any fruit so that the juices can be collected

Apple wine has water, sugar and champagne yeast added into the mix, whilst apple cider vinegar is apple juice and yeast. This stuff is very easy to make.

A batch of apple wine and apple cider vinegar was produced today

Of course, nothing gets wasted here, and the two solid blitzed apple cakes were removed from the fruit press and fed to some very happy chickens:

The now solid blitzed apple cakes were fed to some very happy chickens

The tomatoes have begun to ripen and every couple of days we are collecting a tub full of tomatoes:

The tomatoes have begun to ripen in quantity

Most techniques for a small holding revolve around the concept of preserving natures bounty when it is in season. Nature, I’ve noticed, is rarely considerate about supplying bounty across all of the seasons and so we have to be clever and learn how to preserve that bounty. This applies to firewood; apples; or tomatoes:

We have begun dehydrating tomatoes for consumption later in the year

Cucumbers and zucchini’s (courgettes) are feral – do not ever turn your back on those plants:

Cucumbers and zucchini’s (courgettes) are feral

Medlars which are an old school fruit that tastes strangely like dates. They are also used here to make an excellent wine and it is exciting that the fruit are starting to swell in size.

Medlars which are an old school fruit that tastes strangely like dates are starting to swell in size

As is the new tradition, I’ll end the blog with some nice flower photos for the enjoyment of people living in the cold Northern hemisphere!

Agapanthus flowers form a colourful – and bee attracting – hedge for the lower driveway
I’ve finally managed to get an Echinacea plant growing
Who doesn’t love salvia’s, geraniums, and lavender?
Some of the geraniums have almost iridescent flowers
But the roses steal the show

The temperature outside now at about 8.30pm is 15’C (59’F). So far this year there has been 85.8mm (3.4 inches) which is the more or less the same as last week’s total of 84.6mm (3.3 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 20:31

Monday, 13 March 2017

A brief history of sleep

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

One of my guilty pleasures is falling asleep on the country train into Melbourne. I can’t help falling asleep as the seats are comfy and I do always aim to get a seat on the “quiet carriage”. Hmm, the “quiet carriage” is as you’d expect, quiet, and the sun streams in through the windows, whilst the motion of the train gently puts me to sleep. It is very pleasant and I highly recommend this type of activity.

Of course, the country trains are very good and reliable, but from time to time, buses replace the train. This week was one of those occasions. The government is in the process of replacing level crossings with over passes or under passes for the road traffic. Trains and cars do not make friends. And so it was that I found myself sitting on a near empty bus waiting to start the journey into the big smoke of Melbourne. Being on a near empty bus meant that I scored a window seat. And as I waited for the bus to head off on its journey into the big smoke, another bus turned up and disgorged its passengers onto the bus that I was on. My bus rapidly filled with passengers. This was an unexpected turn of events.

Eventually a scary looking bloke with dirty jeans, a long beard and arms covered in tattoos (the technical term for those tattoos are: sleeves) said to me: “Excuse me, do you mind if I sit next to you?” It was such a polite request that I was momentarily taken aback, before quickly replying with a hand wave at the empty seat next to me: “Not at all, feel free”. It was all very civilised and not at all what I expected from such a character. Perhaps he worked as a hipster barista in a trendy cafe in the big smoke!

Before too long the now full bus got underway and we all headed down the freeway. Needless to say that the sun shone through the windows, the bus gently rocked in its travels, it was quiet, and the seats were comfy. All the boxes were ticked and before I knew it, I was sound asleep. I woke up about half an hour later and quickly checked my fellow passengers for signs of annoyance. One doesn’t want to snore or drool all over the window (or the hipster) in such a circumstance, do they? Fortunately, nobody appeared to want to throttle me, so I assumed my sleep was well behaved – or at least quiet.

When I was a young lad, I could sleep anywhere, anytime. Of course through life we humans pick up cares and stresses and I was not immune to collecting those. And with those additional cares and stresses, a person can find their sleep to be disturbed.

It is worth noting that I function best if I have eight to nine hours of sleep per night. That may sound like a lot of sleep to some people, but, well, I’m a finely tuned machine you know!

I haven’t always enjoyed such a good relationship with my friend “sleep”. There have been times in the past when I’ve worked high stress, high maintenance, corporate gigs, where I could do the work and I did not shy away from the fights that I had to have. During the day I was Mr Cool, but it is in the wee hours of the morning that the truth comes to the fore and that was when the ongoing work fights woke me up and I personally struggled with the contradictory forces of maintaining an income from an organisation where the work gave me considerable stress.

And so for a few years, I wasn’t getting my preferred eight to nine hours sleep per night. Now, I may not be the sharpest tool in the toolbox, but I eventually realised that such a situation was not sustainable for me and so I reorganised my life in such a way that I was not faced with this predicament. And in doing so, I got my eight to nine hours of sleep per night back again. All was good with the world.

There are times however when I encounter a situation that my brain needs to process upon. I call these situations: ‘absorbing new circumstances into my worldview’. As I said, I’m not the sharpest tool in the toolbox and it usually that takes my brain about a week in order to absorb the implications of that new situation. Until, the process of absorbing the new situation into my worldview is complete, my sleep gets disturbed. It is all very unfair and not very nice.

It may surprise some of the long term readers to know that before writing this blog I used to write for many years in the print press and my stock in trade was quirky and enjoyable stories based around the many activities I was doing in my personal life (when you are onto a winner you might as well stick to it!). As many of you may be aware, the advent of the internet has been a bit of a disaster for the print trade and the jobs became fewer and further between, and the increasing demands from the publishers seemed to have a strange and inexplicable inverse relationship to the declining remuneration.

However, I’m adaptable to new circumstances and so I began writing for internet websites. And I discovered that writing on the internet provided the unexpected and delightful opportunity to conduct a dialogue with people who comment on the articles. Except that along with the people who genuinely enjoy dialogue, there are also trolls. The first time I encountered a troll I was completely horrified that people would write such things. And my sleep was affected for about a week whilst I absorbed this new internet troll animal into my worldview. Nowadays, I am simply bored with trolls and they would never dare to say such things to my face on the off chance that I gave them a resounding thump! Take that trolls.

This week has provided me with a new and interesting internet situation which is wrecking my sleep and taking time to absorb into my worldview. The new internet situation is that my favourite blog: The Archdruid Report has simply stopped. Completely dead! I’ve been reading the Archdruid Report for over eight years and I must say that it was a highlight of my week to see what interesting and complex topics and historical characters were discussed. Where else can I go on the Internet to read about historical characters as diverse as: Schopenhauer; Socrates; Aristotle; Nietzsche; and Diogenes (nod to Jo for the introduction). Even better than that, I can form coherent views on these historical characters. One such coherent view would be that: Despite the historical character Socrates performing a minor role on the film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, of all of those historical characters I mentioned previously, Diogenes was the coolest because, well, he had four dogs after all and he did rather seem to be able to casually give the middle finger to all of his betters. How cool is that?

Putting such silliness to the side, I feel the loss of that blog and the grief to me is the equivalent to the loss of a friend or a mentor. I will however absorb these new events into my worldview and I shall carry on.

Lets now discuss more earthy topics. Who doesn’t love manure? This week I brought another cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of manure onto the property. The bright yellow trailer, which to be honest is now looking a little dirty because of all of the manure it carries, makes it easy to unload manure into crates:

The author unloads manure into crates from the back of the bright yellow and now quite dirty trailer

A wheelbarrow is used to move three crates around the farm. Every cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of manure works out to be about ten wheelbarrow loads of three crates each. The crates make it easy for me to move the manure from the trailer to the wheelbarrow to wherever that manure is needed:

The author unloads manure from a crate into a raised garden bed

Today, I headed off into the orchard with the electric brush cutter (some people call that tool a line trimmer) which is powered by the sun, and cut back all of the grass away from some of the fruit trees. Then I applied some of the manure to those fruit trees:

Scritchy looks on approvingly at the weeding and feeding activities around some of the fruit trees in one of the orchards

Oh yeah, the firewood shed is now full. I forgot to take a photo of the firewood shed when it was full and well the next photo shows what it looked like on the morning before another day of cutting, hauling, and splitting firewood. It is nice to have a full shed of firewood and well before winter too!

The firewood shed is now full, although this photo shows the shed the day before it was filled

One of the ‘fun’ side effects of collecting firewood is that many huge and very fast huntsman spiders live in amongst the firewood. These spiders are fast because, they don’t hang around waiting for prey, they actively seek it out (which is why they are called huntsman), and as such they have to be very fast. I took this photo of one of the unwanted large huntsman spiders on the side of the house the other day. Even with disturbed sleep, my day ended better than the huntsman’s!

A huntsman spider lurks on the side of the house seeking easy prey

We have been harvesting a lot of cucumbers recently so we are in the process of trialling a new style of pickling (preserving) which involves: white vinegar; apple cider vinegar; sugar; dill seeds; mustard seeds; and turmeric. The cucumbers and chopped onions are salted and drained, and then the other ingredients are combined and heated and added:

Cucumbers and onions are in the first stage of pickling

We are also harvesting about a medium sized container full of tomatoes every single day now. Of course those tomatoes are also being preserved by dehydrating them.

A medium sized container of ripe tomatoes are being harvested every single day

And this is what some of the preserved cucumbers and tomatoes look like. Yummo!

Pickled cucumbers and dehydrated tomatoes just waiting to be eaten

Observant readers will note that a loaf of bread is slowly rising in the background.

Today we also pressed the remaining apples for their juice and that was converted into apple wine (which is very tasty) that will age for the next twelve months:

The remaining apples were pressed today for their juice

Manure is a good thing to have readily available and I used some of that manure to plant out the first of many flowering tree groves around the property. The trees in this grove include: Blackwood; Sticky Wattle; Coastal Banksia; and Western Glory Callistemon.

A flowering tree grove was planted out today including: Blackwood; Sticky Wattle; Coastal Banksia; and Western Glory Callistemon

March has been warm to hot and dry and the bees are enjoying this now warmer weather:

March has been warm to hot and dry and the bees are enjoying this now warmer weather

Two of the miniature eggplants (a purple variety) are producing fruit:

Two of the miniature eggplants (a purple variety) are producing fruit

The capsicum (pepper) plants have produced some fruit too:

The capsicum (pepper) plants have produced some fruit

There are still some apples on the trees:

There are still some apples on the trees

Cantaloupes are almost as feral as zucchini (courgettes) and there are little melons all over the place. I hope they get enough warm weather to ripen. I had no idea that these plants are that prolific!

Cantaloupes are almost as feral as zucchini (courgettes) and there are little melons all over the place

The olives are getting much bigger as well:

The olives are getting bigger

And as is now traditional at this time of year, I like to chuck in some flower photos to warm the hearts of people living in the cold northern hemisphere:

I managed to get a close up photo of the eucalyptus flowers high up in a 50m tall tree next to the orchard
Basil mint and fuchsia both produce flowers at the hottest and driest times of the year
Geranium flowers are awesome and the hotter and drier it is the more they like it
This geranium looks like a carnation flower
I don’t know what this flower is as it came with a wildflower mixed seed packet. Any ideas anybody?
Yellow evening primrose flowers stand above the purple salvia flowers

The temperature outside now at about 9.15pm is 15’C (59’F). So far this year there has been 87.0mm (3.4 inches) which is the more or less the same as last week’s total of 85.8mm (3.4 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 22:03

Monday, 20 March 2017


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


When I was a kid, I used to believe that summer was a never ending, lazy time, chock full of long hot days. When I think upon summer thoughts, my memories drift back to long hot days spent down at the local swimming pool, mucking around with friends. My mother purchased me an annual pass to the local swimming pool, and most of my friends had one as well, so we could all come and go as we pleased. It was a lot of fun.

The local swimming pool was an outdoor Olympic sized pool at 50m / 164 foot long. They also had a separate and much deeper swimming pool for diving. That deeper pool had two very high 3m / 10 foot diving boards. As a young kid, I was terrified of heights, so the two high diving boards were a source of fear and fascination. In the end I overcame my fear of the high diving boards by simply falling off one of them. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and after noisily splashing into the deep swimming pool, I thought to myself that that wasn’t so bad! And then proceeded to go back for seconds, but with marginally more grace the second time around.

Once I became comfortable with the gentle art of falling off the high diving board, the next challenge became: Could I touch the bottom of the deep swimming pool? For the record, I’m tempted to lie and say that I could touch the bottom of the deep swimming pool, but to be honest: why they constructed a swimming that deep is well beyond me! Back in the day, tall tales were told of people touching the bottom of that deep swimming pool, or someone knew someone who could easily do that. But really I couldn’t personally test the veracity of their claims, so who really knows whether they achieved that awesome feat or not?

As a kid I was a mercenary little capitalist who was up well before the sun had even risen above the horizon. I delivered newspapers to houses who subscribed to that service. And then in the afternoons I delivered the afternoon newspapers. That was until the afternoon newspaper ceased production and I was out of an afternoon job. Fortunately, I lucked into an afternoon chemist round delivering prescription medications to the elderly folk in the suburb. What simple days they were when the local Pharmicist trusted me as a very young child to deliver prescription medications! If only I had known the street value of opiates I would have had even more mad cash.

Anyway, being a mercenary little capitalist meant that after lazy summer days at the local swimming pool ceased to be entertaining, my mates and I would hit the streets on our pushbikes looking for trouble. Now as an interesting side story, it would have been a walk of shame to be driven to the local swimming pool by your mother, so pushbikes were the only acceptable source of transport for young kids and it didn’t matter if there was a 10km / 6 mile pushbike ride just to get from your house via a detour to your mates house and then onto the local swimming pool. No problem.

As a correction to my earlier claim, my friends and I were all dorks so, we weren’t really looking for trouble on our pushbikes, we were actually looking for the local arcade game parlour where much of my hard earned mad cash was spent on Space Invaders and Donkey Kong. Those arcade games were way hard and if you failed in the game you lost your hard earned twenty cents. Not fair!


Yup, those summers and their lazy long hot days spent down at the local swimming pool with friends seemed to go on and on forever.

Time marches on though, and lazy long hot days spent at the local swimming pool are now well into the far and distant past. Nowadays I spend most of the summer trying to preserve the summers bounty for use when the winter inevitably arrives.


Despite it being apparently autumn here, the farm is in the midst of an “Indian Summer”. Most days this March, the skies have been blue and clear. The winds have been still and whilst the sun has been hot, it does not feel as fierce as it does in summer. And the daily temperatures have been hovering around the 30’C / 86’F mark. It has been very pleasant really. And those conditions let you know that sooner rather than later, the weather will change to much cooler winter conditions.

With that in mind, over the past month or so, the editor and I have been busily squirrelling away firewood for use over the winter. Firewood is used here to heat the house and hot water and it also provides an option for cooking in the attached wood heated oven. Firewood is a pretty crucial resource for us, as we have no other way of heating up the house during winter. And a day or so ago, we processed the final load of firewood for the year! Yay!

Using firewood for heating and cooking requires a person to consider that resource for many years into the future. The local trees (Eucalyptus Obliqua) cannot simply be cut down and burnt, because they will not burn (the fancy word for that is “green”). Once a local trees is cut down, it then has to age as logs on the ground for at least two years (and possibly more) so as to “season” correctly (otherwise it will not burn).

Once seasoned, those logs then have to be dried, cut, split, hauled, and stored for use over the winter. It goes without saying that damp or wet firewood does not burn very well and so the process of storing that firewood away during the summer is as important as any other part in the process. And the hot summer sun is the most effective energy source to ensure that all of the firewood is crispy dry. Sourcing firewood in the depths of winter when it is very damp and humid is a foolish idea as that firewood will not burn well.

The second firewood shed is now completely full
The firewood storage area next to the house is also completely full (and overflowing)


Not many plants will grow under a pile of logs ageing for a couple of years. Today, I repaired the area where the logs had been stored for this season. Repairing land refers chopping and dropping any organic matter in that area using my little Honda push mower, and then to spreading around compost over the affected area. Within a year, the land will recover and plants will thrive in that heady mix of organic matter!

The author repairs the area where the logs were stored and processed for this seasons firewood

The ongoing “Indian summer” has meant that the tomatoes have been prolific and this week is no exception. Every single day we have been harvesting containers full of ripe and tasty tomatoes. Preserving the tomato harvest has been a major effort and at present we dehydrate all of the crop (that we can’t consume fresh). Once dehydrated, we store the dried tomato chips in quality olive oil for consumption over the winter.

Tomatoes are continuing to be dehydrated this week

The electric food dehydrator which runs all day long is powered by the off grid solar power system and the other day we almost broke the record for power consumption. 505 amp-hours at about 36V equals 18.2kWh used that day. During that day, we also baked two batches of dog biscuits, a loaf of bread, ran a load of washing, and processed two trailer loads of firewood using the excellent electric log splitter. Plus there was all the usual pumps, refrigeration, lights, computers etc. It was an epic day of power consumption!

This readout says that 505Ah / 18kWh during one day was an epic day of power consumption

My arrangement with a cafe business in Melbourne which involves me taking quantities of their used coffee grounds has meant that the soil in the orchard is now benefitting from being fed used coffee grounds as well as the more usual manure. The fruit trees love the additional feed and have been growing strongly this season. In return for the couple of buckets of coffee grounds they will receive some fresh lemons and ripe Black Russian tomatoes.

The containers used to provide the soil in the orchard with its caffeine hit

All those coffee grounds sometimes means that there is the occasional dry patty of used coffee grounds littered about the orchard. The rain will wash them into the soil. Observant readers will note that in the photo below there are a few spots of mould or fungus on the dry patty.

There is now the occasional dry patty of used coffee grounds littered about the orchard

Over the past week I have been busy removing any grass from around the trunks of some of the fruit trees and then feeding those fruit trees with a good quantity of manure. That should make them grow faster! I reckon I’m about 40% of the way through that job and will continue it over the next few weeks as the weather permits.

Grass has been removed from around the trunks of the fruit trees and the trees were then fed with a good quantity of manure

Well, yeah, the little dirt mouse Suzuki could use a dip in the local swimming pool – although I’m unsure that it would recover from that dip – because the dry March has meant that it is living up to its name of a dirt mouse. Life is too short to spend cleaning cars that will only get dirty again a few minutes later. Plus the sheer volume of dirt scares the folks in Melbourne!

The little dirt mouse Suzuki is living up to its name!

I harvested some Asian nashi pears today and they taste of the summer sun. In the orchard I also discovered a couple of corella (cocktail) pears which I also harvested.

I harvested some Asian nashi pears today

The miniature purple eggplants are putting on some size in the ongoing heat.

The miniature purple eggplants are putting on some size in the ongoing heat

The various olives about the place are also starting to put on some size.

The various olives about the place are also starting to put on some size

In breaking chicken news… The three new silky chickens have more or less forged a place for themselves at the bottom of the pecking order. However, they are also now enjoying the perquisites of the rest of the flock and they enjoy a good run in the orchard most evenings.

The three new silky chickens have more or less forged a place for themselves at the bottom of the pecking order

The rest of the chicken collective are busy most evenings assisting with the gardening efforts. I just wished they wouldn’t dig quite so many holes in the soil in the new garden bed…

The rest of the chicken collective are busy most evenings assisting with the gardening efforts

And is my usual style, I now present some of the flowering plants for the enjoyment of people living in the cold northern hemisphere:

Jerusalem artichokes have begun to flower this week
The geraniums are really putting on a good show in the continuing heat
The geraniums are really putting on a good show in the continuing heat
I keep the nasturtiums as summer greens for the chickens
I spotted a passionfruit flower today and it looks great
The Californian poppies always put on a good show in the heat
The citrus trees have begun flowering which is a good sign for the winter fruit crop


The temperature outside now at about 5.00pm is 27’C (81’F). So far this year there has been 93.8mm (3.7 inches) which is the more or less the same as last week’s total of 87.0mm (3.4 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 16:49

Monday, 27 March 2017

Attack of the killer tomatoes

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

Just under a week ago, the editor and I looked at each other across the divide of the kitchen bench and exchanged a meaningful glance. That glance conveyed so much information, even though words were not spoken. And the message was clear that we had been struck yet again by the pesky “Laser Printer” problem.

Eight years ago now, the editor and I constructed the house here. Construction of the house was a very complex job and we undertook most aspects of construction ourselves excluding the mains electrical and plumbing works. Mains voltage electrical and plumbing works in Australia are legally required to be performed by licensed trades people.

During those heady days the editor and I also started our own accounting/tax business. I have heard people claim that they are busy, and I have wondered what that term means to those people, but way back then, we actually were very busy!

It is no great secret that in an accounting business, most new work comes via way of referral from existing customers. The fancy name for that referral activity is: Word of mouth. The way that “word of mouth” operates is that somebody recommends to someone else that Chris and the Editor are top people and did a great job for them and they’ll look after you too. And more often than not, that “word of mouth” activity results in new client for our accounting business.

However, you never really know when this will happen. So imagine for a moment that:

         you are in the midst of constructing a house yourself and it is not yet sealed to the outside weather;

         winter is fast approaching;

         the landlord for the house that you are renting is messing you around and threatening to kick you out so that they can put that rental house on the market for sale; and

         you are suddenly faced with an influx of unexpected and brand new accounting work.

As a spoiler alert, we managed to address all of those competing matters and moved into the unfinished (and barely weather sealed) house early that Spring. However, one of the new accounting jobs required us to do a considerable amount of printing and scanning. At the time we had a dinky little colour inkjet printer and scanner, which despite being very slow, still works well after a decade of solid service. So, in order to complete the new accounting job quickly we decided to purchase a high speed laser printer and scanner.

The new laser printer and scanner allowed that new job to be completed quickly, however the simple purchase of that laser printer set off a chain of events that boggles the imagination. Without going into detail, that single new item of technology changed every aspect of the way we conducted and ordered our accounting business. Everything changed, from the layout of the office to the quality control systems and filing. It was surreal because we had to adapt ourselves and our practices to the new technology and not the other way around. I also learned that growth tends to not be a smooth trajectory, but rather a series of steps.

Working with nature reminds me of the exact same feeling of the Laser Printer problem. Nature rarely provides consistently. Instead, nature provides in great big splats and then not much. One such great big splat has been the huge load of tomatoes that we have been flooded with over the past few weeks. There sure have been a lot of tomatoes produced by the plants!

The March weather has been far hotter than the long term average and that has been awesome for beach goers and tomatoes. And the well above average heat followed on from a very damp and cool summer. The weather statistics for March taken from the Australian weatherzone website today is as follows:

Weather statistics for March for Melbourne

Observant readers will note that so far for this month, the maximum temperature has been +3.7’C greater than the long term average (and the minimum has been higher again). And the tomatoes are loving the heat.

Last week I noticed that the forthcoming week (which is now) was going to be not only hot, but also rather damp and cloudy. With that weather forecast in mind we undertook a Hurculean effort and completed retrieving, splitting and storing the final load of firewood for the year. But at the same time, we also we continued processing the tomatoes using the electric dehydrator.

Unfortunately, the damp, cloudy and warm weather meant that on most days of the past week we generated very little solar electricity. Sometimes the clouds were spectacularly thick and at a lower altitude than the farm!

The thick clouds hung in the valley below the farm leaving us in bright sunshine

At other times during the week the clouds descended (or is that technically ascended upon?) the farm and the air was thick with moisture:

It has been a very foggy and damp week

On the Wednesday the 5kW solar panels managed to generate a rather sad 2.3kWh (63Ah x 36V) for an entire day. As an interesting side story, in my wanderings on foot through the streets of Melbourne and the (trendy and affluent) inner Northern suburbs I often see placards on the front of houses proclaiming the imminent shift to renewable energy sources. The placards are very nicely printed indeed and they usually have abstract drawings of very attractive looking solar panels on free standing mounts. Those abstract drawings look uncannily like the ones that serve me so well in the paddock below the house. And at those times I consider the very uncomfortable question as to whether that particular household would be able to adapt to an energy availability of only 2.3kWh for an entire day? How long would a plasma TV run on this generation? An hour perhaps?

Wednesdays solar energy production was very sad at only 2.3kWh (63Ah x 36V) for the whole day

Strange renewable energy belief systems aside, the editor and I were faced with the incompatible problems of inconsistent electricity generation and truck loads of tomatoes. In such a situation, you make passata. Passata is an Italian style tomato and vegetable sauce which can be stored in glass jars and used in cooking throughout the year. And making passata uses far less electrical energy than using an electrically powered dehydrator. And this is what about half a year’s worth of stored passata looks like (ignoring the chutney on the extreme right of the photo):

This is what half a year’s worth of passata looks like

And that was when the recurring Laser Printer problem struck. The passata recipe uses far less electricity than dehydrating tomatoes. However, making passata takes about ten times as long to produce for a given volume of tomatoes than simply dehydrating tomatoes. Astute readers will realise that we had simply swapped our time for electrical energy. We had never produced passata in such volumes before and we were basically unprepared for the time that the whole process took. I can write this with a clear conscience because it was not I that cracked the sads in this particular instance…

Moving on … A few days later, the sun shone very strongly and strangely enough, we were just shy of breaking the record here for electricity generation in a single day. That means 20.3kWh (563Ah x 36V) on Saturday. Incidentally, for those who are numerically inclined, the record was 566Ah.

The solar power system almost achieved a record breaking day of production on Saturday

As I have heard said down here on occasion: “Go hard, or go home!” Usually people saying such comments are referring to drinking alcohol, but we chose instead to “go hard” and put through another six trays of tomatoes to dehydrate in the electric dehydrator.

Another six trays of tomatoes were dehydrated in the Fowlers Vacola 4000 Ultimate Dehydrator unit this week

My little red Honda push mower arrived back home from the local mower doctor this week and so I put it to good use and spent an entire day pushing it around the farm and covered a couple of acres. This is what the paddock looked like before mowing.

The paddock below the house before mowing

And this is what the paddock below the house looked like after mowing.

The paddock below the house after mowing

Observant readers will note in the photo above a very frisky looking Scritchy and Toothy frolicking about in the now mown herbage!

Just in case we hadn’t done enough work which may be disturbing for long term readers, we cut back all of the plant growth which had recently taken over all of the access stairs about the farm. In the photo below observant readers will note a sugar maple on the left and a tulip tree on the right. None of the six chock full wheelbarrow loads of cut plant growth goes to waste as we throw it on top of new garden beds as a form of fertiliser and simply let nature sort it all out over time.

Plant growth which had recently taken over the access stairs about the farm was cut back

This week I have also begun removing the steel cages from a few of the taller fruit trees. The steel cages are in place to protect the fruit trees from the unrelenting wallaby activities. The wallabies (a smaller and solitary form of forest dwelling kangaroo) are right little vandals who will happily destroy a fruit tree by pulling it over and snapping the trunk. However once fruit trees are about 5m (16 foot) tall, the trees are fairly impervious to the loving ministrations of the ever helpful and unrelenting wallabies.

A Green Gage Prune was removed from its steel cage this week

The warm and very humid weather has also been paradise for insects and the other evening I spotted this crawling mass of Portuguese millipedes and Slaters (wood lice). Seriously, the ground was oozing with insect activity…

The ground oozed with activity as there was a crawling mass of Portuguese millipedes and Slaters (wood lice)

Fortunately, the insect predators who are the good guys of any orchard were up to the task of sorting out that swarming mass of insects. Praying mantises are one of the good guys in an orchard and I spotted this one:

A praying mantis takes a break from the task of consuming masses of insects

Oh, I have mentioned before that I have continuing problems with the delaminating steel on the wood heater and was sort of hoping that if there were any metallurgists reading the blog (or anyone in the know about steel really) could identify why my wood heater shows signs of a white salt looking product in an amongst the rust. The deterioration of the wood heater is a sad tale and I’m hoping to learn something from that sad story so that I don’t repeat the same mistake with the next expensive replacement wood heater. Anyway, don’t be shy and please posit an opinion on the matter!

Strange white salts are developing in the rust on the top of wood heater. If anyone has any ideas about it, please speak up!

And as is now usual I’ll chuck in some nice flower photos to brighten up the day of anyone living in a cold northern hemisphere climate:

The perennial rocket produces masses of flowers during late summer / early autumn which the bees adore
The Jerusalem artichokes have continued to flower this week and the plants are unable to out-compete the geraniums despite the artichokes ferocious reputation
And I believe these are some sort of African daisy which look superb

The temperature outside now at about 9.45pm is 12’C (53’F). So far this year there has been 120.4mm (4.7 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 93.8mm (3.7 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 22:14