2017 August posts x 4

Monday, 7 August 2017

Big Farmer

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

Early last summer, Sir Scruffy, the scruffy terrier who has a most delightful personality, had an infected foot. Apparently, a very sharp grass seed had become lodged in his foot. A wound then formed on Sir Scruffy foot and he spent about the next week or so licking and opening the wound so that he could remove the grass seed.

If you have ever felt a grass seed, you’ll know that they have tiny barbs along the spines of the seeds which are a cunning adaption for the plant because the seeds become easily lodged in an animals fur. The animals then become the unwitting transport facility for the grass seed which can travel quite a distance from the parent plant.

I tend to allow the animals here enough time to sort out any health related problems themselves. After that period of time I may inflict upon them a visit to the local veterinarian. For simple matters such as a grass seed stuck in a dogs foot, I sort of figure that both the Sir Scruffy breed of terrier, and the grass plants, have been on the planet long enough that they know their own business well enough to remove the grass seed without me needing to intervene.

However, after a period of about a week or so, Sir Scruffy was still licking the open sore on his foot and so I decided that a visit to the veterinarian was possibly the next best option.

The veterinarian examined Sir Scruffy and explained that the dog possibly had a grass seed lodged in his foot. Then the veterinarian explained that surgery was the best option. Because I’m me and I’m not shy about such things, I asked the veterinarian for a quote for the surgery. The veterinarian went away and came back with a quote for $800 for this surgery. The veterinarian then went onto to explain that the surgery came with no guarantees and that on one notable occasion three separate surgeries (at $800 each) had to be undertaken to remove a grass seed from a particular dog. The veterinarian then went onto explain that it was very unlikely that Sir Scruffy would recover without the surgery. The editor and I asked the veterinarian for a few quiet minutes to discuss our options.

Now Sir Scruffy and I share a bond and we are able to communicate and so we had a brief conversation which went something like this:

Chris: Mate, this dude wants $800 to perform surgery on your foot. Now you’re an old dog and that invasive surgery with general anaesthetic is a real risk for you.

Sir Scruffy: Sure, my foot hurts and I’m an old dog, but far out, I don’t want to die over a grass seed. You do realise there are still plenty more bones in the world yet to chew upon, don’t you?

Chris: I hear you bro and it would be an ignoble end to die over complications relating to surgery which is a possibility for an old dog like you.

Sir Scruffy: Yeah, not cool man. Have you asked the veterinarian dude whether there are any other cheaper and less invasive options?

Chris: I never would have thought about asking him about other cheaper and less invasive options. That’s why you are the smartest dog in the household.

Sir Scruffy: What can I say, I’m the dog!

Chris: You are the dog! I’ll ask the veterinarian.

When the veterinarian came back into the room, I asked them about other alternative cheaper and less invasive options than surgery on Sir Scruffy’s foot. Sure enough, the veterinarian suggested that a course of broad spectrum antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory would help the situation, but that it was very unlikely to correct the problem of the grass seed being lodged in Sir Scruffy’s foot. At that point, I suggested that we would go with that option and wait and see what happens.

Sir Scruffy was put on a course of antibiotics for two weeks and the open wound on his foot completely healed in that time and there is no sign of inflammation or internal swelling from a foreign body (i.e. the grass seed). This is Sir Scruffy today in the rainy orchard happily munching upon a choice bone (he looks like a wet sheep, does he not?):

Sir Scruffy in the rainy orchard today happily munching upon a choice bone

Years ago, I’d allowed Old Fluffy the very formidable Pomeranian and previous boss dog here to undergo surgery when she was about sixteen years of age. The surgery was optional for a health issue that was not bothering her, and Old Fluffy died within two months of that surgery. Old Fluffy never really fully recovered from that surgery and I felt that I had done her a disservice. And so I vowed not to repeat that mistake on an old dog.

Scritchy the boss dog and her side kick Toothy supervise the production of sake on the wood heater

Scritchy the fox terrier is the current boss dog and she is getting on in years too. Lewis, who is a regular commenter at the blog here suggested that she may benefit from a regular dose of something called baby aspirin (an excellent suggestion!). However, there is no such thing as baby aspirin as far as I am aware in Australia, instead we call such an medicine by the fancy name of “low dose aspirin”. I only discovered the different name for what is ostensibly the same product after mentioning to the chemist that I intended to use the medication on my old dog. To the pharmacists absolute credit, he didn’t flinch for even one single moment and simply pointed to the low dose aspirin and made no further comment on the subject.

For the past few weeks, I have been administering one third of a low dose aspirin to Scritchy, with the other two thirds going to the much larger Sir Scruffy. The yearly cost of this treatment for both dogs is about $10 for over 350 tablets. And I have been amazed at the difference in both of the older dogs as they are now much more limber than previously. I have never received that advice from a veterinarian and I’m not disputing their skills, which are considerable, but I do wonder at what point in time they collectively chose to put profits ahead of basic care?

Anyway, as I speak canine, I asked the other dogs for their opinions about the older and recently improved Scritchy boss dog:

Toothy: Scritchy is so much more fun. We run around and around all day long and she bites me. Fun!

Sir Scruffy: Scritchy is OK, I just wish she stopped taking my bones.

Poopy: Scritchy. She one mean kitty.

Before administering the regular low dose asprin, I was of the opinion that Scritchy had mellowed into a lovely older dog who just like to plop around the place, whilst occasionally exerting her authority, but no, Scritchy was just old and crunchy. Scritchy is now back and she means business!

Observant readers will note in the photo above that we have recently constructed two custom cut stainless steel cooling trays to sit on top of the wood heater. On those trays we are cooking all sorts of interesting food stuffs such as: Sake (rice wine); Yoghurt; and raising bread dough. There seems little in point not using the energy that you do have, and more importantly who doesn’t like homemade Sake?

Over the past four days a huge storm rolled up from the Southern Ocean and it has dumped huge quantities of rain. It has rained and then it has rained some more. The water tanks are holding as much water as they can hold.

Water pours into the house water tanks during this most recent storm

The swale below the tomato enclosure was full of water at various times over the past few days. That swale captures any overflow from the house water tanks, as well as capturing any water that collects in front of the house.

The swale below the tomato enclosure was full of water at various times over the past few days

I have been considering adding a bushfire sprinkler down the hill and not far at all from that swale in the above photo . The problem that I have had with that arrangement was that in the event of a bushfire, I would not want to venture that far away from the house, and so I have been wondering how to turn a bushfire sprinkler on or off again at that distant location. The answer was obvious in hindsight and today I added a ¾ inch valve that can turn off the water supply at that distant location. A valve is simply a fancy name for a tap that can switch water flow on or off again using a handle at the top of the valve.

A valve was installed so as to be able to turn water on and off again at a distant location down the hill in the event of a bushfire

I recently installed a few treated pine posts so as to be able to attach garden taps, bushfire sprinklers and hang 30m / 100ft garden hoses upon. In another example of product crapification, two of the hose hangars failed and bent under the weight of the garden hoses. I have used this brand before and have never had any problems with them. The photo speaks for itself though:

A garden hose hangar which was installed recently failed as the steel bent

So as not to waste the steel used in the manufacturing of this garden hose holder, I added a strong bracket underneath so as to support the weight of the hose upon the steel hangar. Problem fixed:

A strong steel bracket was placed underneath the garden hose hangar so as to support the weight of the garden hose

The wallabies have been up to their old tricks of destroying fruit trees and I spotted this classic example of wallaby vandalism on a young plum tree in the orchard:

A wallaby broke this large leading branch on a young plum tree

The deer who are very occasional visitors to the farm have also been up to fruit tree destroying tricks and I spotted some deer damage to this loquat tree:

Deer have stripped this loquat tree of much of its leaves

Both trees will probably be set back a year or two in their growth, but they should eventually recover. Before removing any steel cages which protect the many fruit trees here, I have to take a guess as to whether the fruit trees will survive the damage that the wallabies and deer may inflict upon them. Basically the fruit tree has to be pretty large before the steel cages can be removed.

This week, I removed several fruit trees from their cages and released them into the world! Be free.

A large apricot tree had its cage removed this week
A large European pear tree had its cage removed this week

In the photo above for the European pear tree, the wallabies should prune all of the lower growth which is most likely rootstock anyway, so not all of the wallabies actions are negative on the trees.

There is a mystery nectarine tree next to the chicken enclosure. The tree is a mystery because it never goes fully deciduous. A mystery!

This mystery nectarine tree never goes fully deciduous. You can even see new buds forming on the branches

The chickens have mostly ignored the stormy and rainy weather of the past few days. This is because they enjoy an all-weather run which is protected from the worst of the summer and winter weather.

The chickens enjoy an all-weather run which protects them from the worst of the summer and winter weather

At night the chickens are toasty warm and out of the wind in the hen house which is attached to that all-weather run.

The chickens sleep toasty warm in their hen house which is attached to the all-weather run

Spring is almost upon us and I see signs of it everywhere. The Manchurian Pear is just about to produce leaves:

The Manchurian Pear is just about to produce leaves

The second deciduous trees to produce leaves are the almonds and they are always the first to bloom in spring.

The second deciduous trees to produce leaves are the almonds

And I would like to finish the blog with some flower photos from about the farm:

The tree lucerne near the chook enclosure are producing even more flowers this week
Snow drops are the very first flowering bulbs
The alkanet plants are producing lots of flowers
This rosemary produced pink flowers rather than the usual blue flowers

The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 3’C (37’F). So far this year there has been 519.4mm (20.4 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 471.2mm (18.6 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 20:05

Monday, 14 August 2017

White dog fever

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

Scritchy the miniature fox terrier is the boss dog on the farm. Despite her diminutive size and advanced age, Scritchy packs a punch and is full of energy. Recently I have begun adding a third of a low dose aspirin and a teaspoon of fish oil to her breakfast. And Scritchy has responded to these additions to her breakfast by exploding forth with energy, mischief and enthusiasm in equal parts. I spotted Scritchy today on a secret canine mission climbing a steep embankment behind the house:

Scritchy the elder boss dog climbs a steep embankment today

I would have serious trouble climbing that steep embankment, but Scritchy merely powered on up, pursuing whatever secret canine business that she was on. The other dogs have expressed concerns to me about Scritchy’s increased energy, mischief and enthusiasm due to the medication. It is a worry for the other dogs:

Help us! The other dogs express their concerns to me about Scritchy the boss dogs, increased energy, mischief and enthusiasm

Whatever! I blithely ignored the other dogs as Scritchy is a problem for them to deal with. Or so I thought. Scritchy now has become a problem for me. The other day I walked in the front door only to hear a thump sound. That thump sound was then followed by Scritchy exiting the bedroom door. It occurred to me that whilst I was out of the house, Scritchy had made a dog nest on the bed. And she knows that she is not allowed on the bed. Scritchy gave me her most innocent of looks, and then as I seized her to administer swift punishment she then gave me the powerful: Innocent old dog face number three, which to be frank is quite an effective strategy.

The main problem is that I have been suffering hay fever at night for the past few nights and I have been wondering about why that may be. The reality is that because Scritchy had been surreptitiously sneaking onto the bed whenever my back is turned, I had not been suffering from hay fever, instead I’d been suffering and snuffling from white dog fever!

I now have to face the choice of closing the bedroom door whenever I’m out of the house or cutting Scritchy off the supply of low dose aspirin and fish oil. What a decision I have to make. And Scritchy is so old that she no longer cares, and as such she is untrainable.

The funny thing is that I have seen that attitude before. About two decades ago I had an elderly neighbour. That elderly neighbour was quite the character. Despite having smoked for 60+ years, she had outlived her husband by about two decades. Occasionally she used to liven up the neighbourhood and outrage the more conservative neighbours by walking around the streets in what can only be described as an chiffon babydoll outfit (or so the editor described it to me as). Yup, she was quite the character that neighbour.

Being the nice young man that I was back then, I used to help the neighbour with maintenance on her home, and in return the neighbour used to look after our dogs whilst we were away. It was a good arrangement and everyone was happy.

Well, that was until the time that the neighbour was looking after the dogs whilst we were away – and she lost Old Fluffy the former boss dog. Old Fluffy had apparently flown the coop! Old Fluffy was a Pomeranian and as such she was a right pain when she was a young dog. To be fair when the time came to serious things up, Old Fluffy stepped up to take the position of boss dog and she changed almost overnight into a lovely dog, but back in those early days, she was feral.

So when we returned, we found the neighbour in tears because she had lost Old Fluffy. Interestingly, the neighbour mentioned that yet another neighbour had recently found a new dog, except that it was a Foxxy and not a Pomeranian. At this point in the story it should be mentioned that Pomeranian dogs can look a bit fox like (particularly to people unfamiliar with dogs). Anyway, I was immediately suspicious and went post haste to see the other neighbour, and sure enough they had Old Fluffy (the foxxy). After a brief hug to quell the tears, I considered that the case of the missing fluffy was solved and closed!

That neighbour sure was entertaining. I recall another time when Melbourne was in the grip of an extended drought and the percentage of water held in the dams was reported on a daily basis in the newspapers. It even became a topic of polite everyday conversation. During those drought days, watering of gardens was restricted to only certain days and even then only during certain hours. It was a grim time. However, I noticed that the neighbour had accidentally left her garden tap running and there was water everywhere as the garden was flooded. Being the nice neighbour that I was, I turned the garden tap off and alerted the neighbour to the garden flood during that drought situation – in the nicest possible way of course. The neighbour said to me: “This is my new watering technique, I’m just flooding the garden”. I then went on to politely remind her that we were in the middle of a drought. She replied matter of factly: “I’ll be dead soon, so I don’t worry about that”. Bam!

The imagination of the population down here has been captured recently by: The War on Waste. We have no garbage service at all here and as such we produce very little waste. Anyway, few people realise it, but waste is wasted income. And who wants to waste income ?

A few weeks ago I went to the local tip, as I usually do every six months or so, to take my accumulated metal and glass products for recycling. When I got to the tip, I discovered that the metal was still being collected for recycling, but I was directed to put the recyclable glass into the landfill area for disposal in the old quarry. I thought this was odd until I later read that the bottom had apparently fallen out of the commodity market for recycled glass.

Fortunately I produce very little waste – including those items which are intended for recycling. I was put in mind of a story of a very old friend who I haven’t seen for many decades now. That old friend actually introduced the editor and I, whom he also knew. Alas the old friendship did not survive the blossoming new relationship between the editor and I. My old friend had this strange habit where he always used to over order food at a restaurant. This was back in the recession that we apparently had to have during the 1990’s, and both the editor and I were absolutely broke at the time. The funny thing was that both the editor and I independently used to annoy our old friend by taking home whatever quantities of food where left over due to his consistent over ordering. The editor had a good thing going utilising that otherwise wasted restaurant food and her dogs were happily fed many enjoyable feeds. It wasn’t lost on me that my old friend had a sense of pride in his consumption which generated a lot of waste, and to be honest it is not dissimilar from the hedonism displayed by my old neighbour.

From what I’ve seen, waste appears to me to be a cultural phenomenon and that is intricately tied up with social status. From the perspective of both today’s and future generations, being wasteful might make you feel good, but it is not a good look.

The sun has been shining and the weather has been sweet this week. We have been busily extending the tomato enclosure. As part of that project, the drainage channel next to the now much larger enclosure was widened. That drainage channel carries water from in front of the house to the swale below the enclosure. During a heavy rainfall the volume of water in that channel can be massive. Wider channels are less likely to fail during heavy rainfall. This is what it looked like both before and after widening:

A drainage channel was widened this week: Before photo
A drainage channel was widened this week: After photo

The area where the tomato enclosure was being extended was originally covered in grass. That surface vegetation was removed using a mattock. The brown volcanic clay underneath the grass was then broken up and redistributed over that entire area so that the slope in the new area matched the slope in the existing enclosure (which you can’t see but is on the other side of the picket fence in the next photo below).

The area for the new tomato enclosure extension was excavated by hand

After a day of digging the excavation job was only about half complete.

After a day of digging the excavation job was only about half complete

The next day we continued digging and began removing the fencing which was originally at one end of the enclosure but is now in the middle. You can’t have a fence in the middle of an enclosure! All of the sapling pickets and screws were saved and they will be used on the new fencing for the soon to be much larger tomato enclosure.

The next day saw more digging and the original fence was removed

By the end of that day, the excavations were completed and the slope in the new area matched that of the original enclosure. Even Toothy was impressed!

Excavations were completed and the slope in the new area matched that of the original enclosure

Soil geek alert (skip to the next paragraph if you are easily bored!) The brown volcanic clay has to have a layer of mulch and compost applied to it over the next week or so before plants can be grown in it. Even then it will take many months before that mulch and compost turns into excellent soil. As a comparison, the older soil which had been fed with mulch and compost over the past two years looked superb as it was a rich black loam which was full of organic matter, moisture and worms. Good stuff!

The older soil in that enclosure was a rich black loam full of organic matter, moisture and worms

Nothing goes to waste here and even the rocks that we have been uncovering recently in the excavations are put to good use. All excess rocks are now being used to fill rock gabion walls, and I may not have mentioned the gabions for a few months, but the third gabion is now almost full!

The third rock gabion is now almost full

The grass that I removed during the excavations was also not wasted. I placed the grass into a wheelbarrow and then dumped it into the orchard where it was used to fill some of the many holes in the ground. The holes were created many long years in the past (decades ago perhaps) where an old tree may have fallen over taking its root systems with it and leaving a giant hole in the ground to mark its location.

The vegetation and soil life removed from the excavated area was used to fill up holes in ground in the orchard

I would have used the little Honda push mower to flatten out the lumps of soil, but the bees were enjoying the late winter warmth and those holes were a bit too close to the bee hive for my comfort! My first rule of beekeeping is: Don’t annoy the bees.

The bees appear to have over wintered well and were enjoying the late winter warmth today

The other day I noticed a young Crimson Rosella sitting on the weather station:

A young Crimson Rosella was sitting on the weather station

Well of course, that young Crimson Rosella was keeping look out for another Rosella who was on the ground chowing down on a pile of dog manure. I told you nothing goes to waste here. And I have not picked up dog manure for at least a decade as the birds are well onto that gear!

Another Rosella was on the ground chowing down on a pile of dog manure

I’d like to change the tone of the discussion and end the blog on a high brow note by sharing some of the flowers with the readers:

It is hellebore time here – White
It is hellebore time here – Purple or is it Pink, I can’t tell
It is hellebore time here – White with a black centre
This succulent is producing flowers
The lavender has continued to flower all winter
One of the hundreds of broad bean plants looks set to flower

The temperature outside now at about 6.30pm is 11’C (52’F). So far this year there has been 530.6mm (20.9 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 519.4mm (20.4 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 18:21

Monday, 21 August 2017

The Big Jam

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

One of my favourite books is “The Big Short” by the author Michael Lewis. The book is an engrossing view into the dark world of sub-prime US mortgage bonds and that story ends with the very unpleasant Global Financial Crisis in 2008. As a story, The Big Short follows several quirky characters who decide well before the Global Financial Crisis to individually make the unexpected gamble that the US sub-prime mortgage bonds would fail spectacularly at some point in the future (for that gamble is what a “Short” is). And we all know how that sub-prime mortgage bond story ended.

As I mentioned before, the book is engrossing. Once I began reading, I really had a great deal of trouble putting the book down. I fondly recall many pleasurable hours sitting in various cafes (possibly when I should have been working) enjoying a coffee and chuckling to myself at the sheer chicanery of Wall Street and the US bond market. The antics of the quirky few who decided to bet against Wall Street and the US mortgage bond market were also highly entertaining.

Of course that true story did not end well because the Global Financial Crisis wreaked serious havoc on people’s lives. It is also worth mentioning though that whilst a lot of dubious paper wealth was destroyed during that crisis, I don’t recall many physical assets (such as housing) being destroyed. And after that time, people who may have lost a lot of dubious paper wealth, still lived, loved and laughed as people have done through many crises before that one.

The book began with a quote from a long since deceased author: Leo Tolstoy (of War and Peace fame); who is quoted as having written:

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

Bam! – from the long deceased Mr Tolstoy. The editor calls this ‘can’t be told’.

The author of The Big Short is Mr Michael Lewis who has written numerous books over the years. Another of those books again delved into the murky world of high finances. That book is called “Liar’s Poker” and the author tells his own story as a young bond trader. The book is also a worthy, if somewhat disturbing, read. Between the two books I have learned one or two interesting titbits of information about the world of high finance including the following (very alert readers will note that the two concepts are inherently linked):

  • Banks prefer flows of funds rather than piles of cash; and
  • An interest only loan is akin to a rental with debt.

Those two titbits of information alone were quite insightful into illuminating the behaviour of lending institutions. Of course Mr Tolstoy rightly pointed out that many intelligent people have already formed opinions on the subject so they must know how things work. I on the other hand profess to being mildly befuddled by the dark arts of high finance and so I keep both my eyes and mind open. However I did read today that Australia now has an alarmingly high household-debt-to-income ratio of 190 per cent. High finance indeed!

Mortgages and debt: How lending culture is leaving Australians vulnerable

That bloke Mr Tolstoy was sure onto something. The other day I was thinking about the practical implications of his quote in my own life. An example of those implications is that long term readers may recall that the editor and I make most of the jams and preserves that we consume here from scratch. I have not purchased any jams or preserves for years. And the interesting thing is that whenever I discuss jams or preserves with other people, nobody has ever said to me: Far out, you must consume a lot of jams and preserves. Nope, I don’t believe that anybody has said that to me.

The longest term readers of all will recall that the editor and I constructed the house here using only basic tools. We undertook all of the work involved in that house construction too, with the exception of the: excavations; plumbing; and mains electrical works. Constructing the house ourselves wasn’t a bad effort for a pair of accountants (office fauna!). The funny thing is that whenever I mention to people that we constructed the house ourselves, the first question is inevitably: Is the house made of mud brick? What a strange question and Mr Tolstoy may possibly suggest that those opinions come from intelligent folk.

On very rare occasions (now), I may mention to other people that the editor and I produce our supply of country wines and sake (rice wine). Most of those country wines have to be aged for at least twelve months so it is a complex manufacturing and logistical task and we are quite chuffed with our efforts. Unfortunately, the majority of people upon hearing – or seeing – that alcohol production process tend to remark: You must consume a lot of alcohol. That is clearly the opinion of intelligent folk who already have solidly formed opinions (although strangely not about jam and preserves).

To my mind a lot of the beliefs we hold onto are dysfunctional at best, and dangerous at their worst. But the problem becomes that few people want to consider that they are in fact holding onto beliefs that are as tightly held as the most fervent beliefs of a well groomed cult follower! And anyway, who wants to appear to other people as anything less than intelligent?

The singer Peter Gabriel wrote and sang a beautiful song in the late 1970’s about letting go. The song is titled: Solsbury Hill. Let’s hear a bit about the subject of letting go from Mr Gabriel:


One of my personal favourite Mr Tolstoy discussions is the potential for lithium-ion batteries for use in off grid solar power systems. I have absolutely no idea about lithium-ion and have very little experience with those batteries. On this subject I clearly need to get at least a little bit intelligent and so I went to the Wikipedia webpage for the mineral Lithium and under the title “Reserves” read this most recent entry:

“On June 9, 2014, the Financialist stated that demand for lithium was growing at more than 12 percent a year; according to Credit Suisse, this rate exceeds projected availability by 25 percent. The publication compared the 2014 lithium situation with oil”

That latest estimate of the reserves of the mineral Lithium did not make for encouraging reading. It is never a good long term situation when demand outstrips supply (unless you are a supplier).

The bigger problem is that I see and hear a lot of beliefs that appear to me to defy reality. But then the conclusion could also be drawn that I am not very intelligent.


This past week a huge storm rolled up from the Southern Ocean. Every day this past week, we have enjoyed rain, and then some more rain (and a bit more rain!) I quite enjoy a good storm like this and the skies put on a good show.

Yet another storm rolls up over the valley

Even the earth worms were escaping the seriously damp ground by seeking shelter on the veranda. It was very nice of the local birds to clean up all that earth worm business the following morning.

The earth worms were escaping the seriously damp ground by seeking shelter on the veranda

The rain did occasionally cease and that sun thingee (I do remember that sun thing) tenuously poked its head out from behind the clouds. On one such occasion the editor and I went to the local tip shop to pick up some building materials for use in future projects. And we discovered a huge quantity of galvanised steel 10mm x 10mm (just under half inch) RHS (Rectangular Hollow Square) tubes which will be used in the tomato enclosure as garden stakes. The tip shop also had a good quantity of PVC pipes which will be useful for the garden water simplification project (which I may not have previously mentioned). Anyway, the tip shop had good stuff, and we picked up 50 of those galvanised tubes for a throw out price. Winning!

Galvanised RHS tube and PVC pipe was scored at the local tip shop

Incidentally, I reckon that local tip has one of the best views of any tip in the country. You can even see the skyline of Melbourne on the horizon.

The local tip has one of the best views of any tip in the country

Observant readers will note that the vehicle on the sign in the photo above is in fact pointing in the opposite direction to the arrow. Fortunately, not being an intelligent man, I know to follow the arrow and ignore the abstract vehicle drawing. Beliefs may differ in that regard though. (Edit: perhaps you are meant to drive in reverse).

I had to seize breaks in the rain to undertake work this week. During two of those breaks, I brought up two cubic metres (2.6 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch. That composted woody mulch was then placed onto the recently excavated area in the now much expanded tomato enclosure. To be honest, that enclosure is now so huge that it will be hosting many new varieties of vegetables later in the year (hello corn, capsicum and eggplant).

Two cubic metres of composted woody mulch were placed onto the recently excavated and expanded tomato enclosure

After the first cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) was placed onto the excavations, the enclosure looked like this:

The tomato enclosure after a cubic metre of composted woody mulch was applied to the recent excavations

Observant readers may spot in the above photo a Kookaburra (a bird with a big head and brain, but no preconceived ideas about high finance) sitting on the fencing and keeping a close eye open for grubs and insects. After the second cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch was applied to the enclosure it looked like this:

The tomato enclosure after the second cubic metre of composted woody mulch was applied to the recent excavations

I have been reading recently about the experiences of a Buddhist retreat during a bushfire in California in 2008 (Fire Monks – thanks Lewis for the recommendation). As an outcome of that reading, I have been simplifying the water systems here. This week, I added a valve (which is the fancy name for an on / off lever switch for water) and attached that water pipe to one of the recently cemented treated pine posts. That pipe is occasionally used to transfer water from the reserve water tank up to the main house water tanks and the previous connections were a bit dodgy.

The simplification of the water systems is an ongoing project and this week it involved installing a valve and an attaching a pipe to a sturdy treated pine post

I run two off grid solar power systems here. A month or two back I added more solar panels to the smaller of the two off grid solar power systems. That increase in energy generation potential meant that I also had to upgrade the battery charge controller to a more substantial controller. The incredible rain this week provided the perfect opportunity to work indoors and upgrade the controller.

A new battery charge controller was added to the smaller of the two off grid solar power systems here

Spring is almost here and I observed that the Manchurian pear is almost in bloom:

The Manchurian pear is almost in bloom this week

Other spring flowers are almost upon us here too:

Jonquils are beginning to flower as spring rapidly approaches
Almonds are almost about to produce blooms. It may be a very good almond year here
One of the huge variety of herbage plants in the orchard is producing red flowers
The many daffodils are just about to flower in full
Who doesn’t appreciate Pentstemons?

I reckon Mr Gabriel needs to get the final words this week, so here goes:


The temperature outside now at about 9.30pm is 5’C (41’F). So far this year there has been 583.4mm (23.0 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 530.6mm (20.9 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 22:18

Monday, 28 August 2017

Highway to Fluffy

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

Cars and the social status that people attempt to obtain from cars were once an interest of mine. These days I care so little for cars I couldn’t even be bothered wasting the time washing the dirt rat Suzuki car that I do own. And living on a dirt road makes owning a clean car an impossible objective, so why bother worrying about cars in the first place?

The editor and I weren’t always so apathetic about cars, and way back in my corporate days I used to own an old Porsche 911. That car was almost as old as I was, and it was certainly far cooler than I (edit: but not the editor). Driving around that inner city suburb of Melbourne with the roof down, the stereo blaring Triple J and my first Pomeranian (Old Fluffy) hanging out the window, I used to feel as if I was cooler than the character Hank Moody (played by David Duchovny – no point aiming low I feel) on the very naughty television show Californication.

The old 1974 Porsche 911 next to the dirt rat Suzuki

That car was pretty fast for its age, however the uncool owners of much newer cars regularly used to try to drag me off at the lights. I didn’t feel the need to race them because I – unlike them – was feeling cool. Unfortunately, after about five years of ownership I became very uncool about the wallet draining repair bills associated with that car. And so that car and I eventually parted company. Old Fluffy the Pomeranian was very sad about this unexpected turn of events.

Old Fluffy the Pomeranian boss dog enjoying the comforts of a sheepskin lined drivers seat

Old Fluffy is now long gone as is that old Porsche. Nowadays I care very little for cars and I am always looking out for ways to reduce the cost of car ownership.

About two years ago, I came up with a great idea. By sheer chance, I knew of a person in the nearby township who worked very close to a business client who I regularly visited. I thought to myself, how cool – this is an opportunity for car pooling! I knew the local person had a mortgage and was also bemoaning the cost of their recent new vehicle loan. So I offered to come to an arrangement to car pool on those days that were convenient. Car pooling is way cooler than I, because two people instantly reduce the costs of car ownership and the environment wins because one car is regularly taken off the road.

I was so excited about this opportunity. Being that excited about something is perhaps not cool, but I was just so excited! We car pooled for a few trips and then my excitement plummeted because the local person and I had a car pool break up. It is so sad to hear the words: it’s not you, it’s me…

Sadly, it probably was me.

You see I had failed to grasp the concept the local person was not at all interested in either the environment or in reducing their own expenditure so as to reduce their level of indebtedness. This person had a big new shiny car and wanted to be seen in that big shiny new car. And here’s me saying: be driven and seen in my now thirteen year old dirt rat of a Suzuki because it is a good thing to do (and I hope you like Triple J). In boxing terms, it could be said that the contender (me) went down in the first round to the champ “Mr Status”, and Mr Status has a powerful right hook indeed.

The thing is, I am unsure what it means to have status. I have chased status in the past and to me it looks like trying to grasp something that is always out of reach. And it took me quite a long time to realise that the need to achieve status is a story that somebody else put in my head. I hear people talking about a dream house, or a dream wedding, or some other dream rubbish, and I wonder to myself: Who’s dream are you talking about? Why is it never a ‘dream vegetable garden’? Do you have to be asleep at the wheel to believe in these ‘dreams’? So many questions!

This winter week has been very cold. The insulation in the house, which is more than double that required by the Australian construction standards has been proving its worth yet again. At bedtime, I fill up the wood heater and then let it die out over-night. At night during winter, the over-night temperature inside the house only drops a few degrees.

The house only drops a few degrees Celsius over-night due to the massively insulated walls, floor and roof

On Sunday morning it began snowing outside. Fortunately Mr Poopy the Pomeranian (he’s technically a Swedish Lapphund) was outside on the veranda at the time and he alerted the editor and I to the snow. Despite Mr Poopy’s genetic heritage combined with his dreams of herding reindeer he’s actually not that fond of being caught outside in a snow storm.

Mr Poopy demands to be let in as a snow storm sweeps up the valley

The air was soon thick with falling snow and Mr Poopy was safely inside the house dreaming of reindeer!

The air was soon thick with falling snow

When snow falls over the farm it rarely settles, however today it was settling. This could only mean one thing – in the more fashionable end of the mountain range, there would be even better snow! The higher reaches of the mountain range are about 300m / 1,000ft higher than the farm. I was correct – higher up the mountain range it was like a winter wonderland. When the snow is thick enough, the usual colours of the forest gets sucked out of the air. Today, purely for research purposes for this blog, I travelled the short journey up into the higher regions of the mountain range to enjoy the snow (and some local bakery products)!

Higher up in the mountain range there is an old Douglas Fir plantation which looks dark and mysterious when it snows
Mountain Ash forests on Mount Macedon covered in snow. These trees are regrowth from the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires. Note the very uniform growth in the trees and well established under story

In between the cold weather this week, the extension of the tomato enclosure has continued. The drainage channel which runs alongside the enclosure was lined with rocks. A small barbeque grate (which is enormously strong) was placed over the channel for use as a bridge. The barbeque grate was purchased at the tip shop for only a few dollars.

The drainage channel was lined with rocks and a barbeque grate is being used as a bridge

A mate remarked that the tomato enclosure is bigger than some people’s backyards! I see no reason to argue with that observation. The remaining areas inside the enclosure were weeded, and another cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch was placed over the weeded area. In addition to that work, the remaining fence rails were attached to the treated pine posts and the posts were cut down to the correct height.

The remaining area inside the tomato enclosure was weeded and another cubic metre of composted woody mulch was applied

There are many different types of berries growing just outside the enclosure and we weeded them this week and also applied a thick layer of composted woody mulch in their garden bed. In the next photo below you can see Jostaberries and Cape Gooseberries. Inside the enclosure are: Blueberries, Gooseberries, Cape Gooseberries, Chilean Guavas, Maqui berry, Red and Black Currants.

There are many different varieties of berries growing in and around the tomato enclosure and here are Jostaberries and Cape Gooseberries

I was intending to begin the slow process of installing the pickets around that enclosure today, but like Mr Poopy, the snow and the general cold weather has forced me inside the house where I am writing this blog instead! I have good number of pickets ready to install as fencing, but over the next week I will probably have to make some more.

The pickets are waiting for the snow to stop falling so that they can be installed as fencing

Post script: It is true, I really did have plans to install those pickets on the fence Sunday afternoon. That was the plan anyway. Until this happened:

Sunday afternoon the snow fell heavily!

There was no way at all the editor and I were going to work outside in those conditions!

Spare a thought for the chickens – although they do have a roof over their chicken run

One of the stupidest opinions that I have read on the Internet over the past few years, was somebody trying to explain to me that solar panels will generate electricity regardless of snow, rain, clouds, or whatever.

Solar panels don’t generate much electricity in the snow – just sayin…

The bands of clouds that produced the snow kept sweeping over the farm in waves all afternoon. In between one of the snow falls I took Mr Poopy the Pomeranian out for a run in the orchard.

After the snow finished falling, Mr Poopy was happy to run around the orchard

And there is even a video:

We now return to the original blog text: Pest control in the raised garden beds is a job that is outsourced to the many birds that live here. I spotted this magpie in a lettuce bed the other day. At the rear of that raised garden bed is a walnut tree that I am hoping to plant next weekend in its own epic raised rock bed. I have had a lot of trouble getting walnut trees established here and this is my third attempt (or maybe fourth attempt).

The local bird population handles pest control duties in the garden beds

Despite the occasional snow fall and frosty mornings, the many citrus trees are continuing to deliver fresh fruit all winter long.

The many citrus trees are continuing to deliver fruit all winter long

The skies have been very murky this week, but the silver wattle trees provide a great splash of winter colour:

The Silver Wattle trees provide a great splash of winter colour

The many spring flowers are just beginning to show themselves:

Daffodils thumb their petals at the occasional snow fall and frost
The tree lucerne (Tagasaste) flowers are continuing to multiply on the many trees

I have experimented with camellia’s for a few years. My experiments have involved planting them in many different locations around the farm. Then I have been watching how they grow (and die) in those different locations and I believe I have finally found the best spot for those plants. And they are now beginning to produce flowers:

After much trial and error, the camellia’s are beginning to produce flowers
The ever reliable Echium’s show brave colour against the dark winter skies

Years ago I received a free plant from a nursery and in my excitement about receiving the free plant, I completely forgot to ask them what it was. The plant may be known as the mystery early spring white flowering plant. That may work? Can anybody identify what it is?

A mystery early spring white flowering plant

The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 3’C (37’F). So far this year there has been 605.2mm (23.8 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 583.4mm (23.0 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 20:10