2017 October – posts x 5

Monday, 2 October 2017

Into the Great Unknown

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

Tonight, for the first time in many long years of writing, I had no idea what to say. Seriously! That is how writers block sometimes occurs with me. It was a complex situation, because I knew what the subject was that I wanted to write about this week, but I just had no story with which to talk about that particular subject.

As an interesting side story, I am nowhere near short of ideas for the blog, because as I type this essay, I have a whiteboard that shares my desk and it is full of topics and story ideas. It is just that this weeks particular topic is hard to form a story around.

I enjoy telling stories. You know, with the topic I chose to write about this week, instead of telling a story, I could have reeled off a fire breathing sermon and hopefully people would be heard cheering in the pews. But I also know that those same cheering people would then go off and about their lives as if nothing had been heard. The topic I chose to write about is a boring one after all, and a fire breathing sermon is far more entertaining to some people. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of fire breathing sermons in the world, and one more from me would probably only add heat to an already over heated atmosphere.

Yup, I really lacked a story to tell around this boring topic that I had chosen to write about today. With my writers block in mind, I decided instead to sit out in the orchard as the sun set on this early spring evening. At that time, the chickens did what the chickens usually do, which means ransacking garden beds and digging up the orchard. Meanwhile, as the sun set lower on the horizon, a Boobook Owl hooted and the Currawongs sang their mournful cries to mark the end of another day.

So I simply quietened my mind for a while and opened it to the evening sights and sounds of the forest and asked myself the very hard question: How the heck do I write about what is ostensibly a boring but important topic?

The topic arose in the first place because the editor and I were discussing chocolates and the sheer variety that is available to be purchased these days. It can be quite confronting to see firsthand the sheer variety of chocolates available. The packaging is certainly very eye catching and a person may feel warm and fuzzy thoughts about some brands of chocolate and indifference and/or curiosity about other brands.

The funny thing about the sheer diversity of chocolates to be had these days is that when I was a kid, there was only a very limited variety of chocolates, and so you were taught to be loyal to a particular brand. As a kid I probably had endless arguments and fights with my peers about why my chocolate brand was better than their choice.

As a teenager, recurring zits (the technical name for pimples, which are a small hard inflamed spot on the skin) put an end to my love of chocolate. I couldn’t consume a chocolate bar without breaking out into a face full of zits. Actually it probably wasn’t that severe, it is just that teenagers tend to exaggerate otherwise minor matters!

Nowadays, I enjoy a small quantity of dark chocolate in my daily serving of Anzac biscuits – and there are no zits! But of course that may be because I have not purchased a chocolate bar for many long years.

So this evening I was sitting out in the orchard with the ransacking chickens and contemplating chocolate and that boring topic. Chocolate is much better to contemplate! Yum!

Earlier in the day, the editor and I had been working on the new strawberry terrace. I have to admit that I enjoy fresh sun ripened strawberries far more than chocolate because they taste better. As an interesting side note, the strawberry terrace project itself makes no financial sense whatsoever, because so far despite using a huge quantity of sweat equity, existing tools and a whole heap of recycled materials, the project has consumed about $500 of materials, and it is nowhere near completed. Now for that sort of money, I reckon we could purchase about 50kg (110 pounds) of strawberries from a grower or retailer.

The real problem is that the previous strawberry patch and enclosure had been ransacked by the wallabies (a local marsupial which are a bit smaller than a kangaroo, and which were captured on film fighting in my previous entry). Then the local Crimson Rosellas (one of the local parrots) broke into the holes that the wallabies had created and gorged themselves. Even the dogs got in on the thieving act and they consumed plenty of fresh strawberries. Finally, the leeches and millipedes cleaned up all of the remaining fruit. Last summer was a total strawberry disaster, and we didn’t harvest any berries for fresh eating, jam making, or wine making. Nope, less than a cup full of berries for the entire growing season.

And that is why we decided we needed a better strawberry enclosure. In fact making decisions is not hard at all, it just takes practice. For example, making a decision to start any new project is a relatively easy process:

  • Identify a need;
  • Work out a possible design;
  • Identify and accumulate your resources;
  • Work out most (but not all) of the details as to how the project will look; and
  • Then do it (with some possible modification allowance along the way).

The thing is, I don’t know whether any of these projects will work out. Or whether my decisions are the right ones. That is why it is the leap into the great unknown. Making the decision to do something is the easy bit. Acting on the decision and living with the consequences is not as easy. And it is not lost on me that choosing to not make a decision about anything – is actually making a decision, albeit passively! Perhaps that is why people seem to have trouble making decisions. Fortunately, I’m made of stern stuff, and I can stand in front of a display of chocolate bars without feeling dissatisfied, which is how you are programmed and intended to feel. Can you?

Springtime weather is glorious. The air temperatures are cool, and the High UV provides so much energy to the plants that they are all jumping out of the ground and reaching towards the sky. It really is a nice time of year. On the other hand, very hot weather is fast approaching with its Extreme UV. With that deadline in mind we have been ‘flat out like a lizard drinking’, trying to complete the final infrastructure project for the calendar year: The new strawberry terrace.

This week, a cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch was placed onto the recently excavated surface of the new strawberry terrace. Just under half of the treated pine fence posts which form part of the structure were cemented into the ground too. And we hung the recycled screen door off one end of the strawberry enclosure (a tip shop purchase from way back). And just to top it all off, two rows of a beautiful mix of very fine composted woody mulch (not the usual and more coarse woody mulch) and mushroom compost were laid out in the enclosure. By the next blog we are hoping to have at least some strawberry plants in that glorious compost mix.

The new strawberry enclosure progresses and hopefully will be ready to accept some plants over the next week

In the next photo below, Mr Poopy admires the rows of deep compost into which some strawberry plants will be planted over the next week.

Mr Poopy admires the deep beds of compost which hopefully will be planted out next week

Of course access onto the new strawberry terrace was a bit of a minor problem and so we began constructing a concrete staircase leading up to it. Unfortunately, the current access path passes a bull ant colony, and we haven’t been attacked by the bull ants yet but it is only a matter of time. Bull ants are very aggressive insects and not only do they inject formic acid under your skin, they also spray the bite site with the same acid and you end up with chemical burns and swelling and aching in whatever joint happens to be near the bite site. Very unpleasant and aggressive creatures!

Two concrete steps were constructed. The screen is to protect the surface of the curing cement from a sudden rain storm
Another cement step was added this week

In the photo above, you may notice that there is a park bench which is laid down on its’ side. The purpose of this park bench is to discourage the fluffy collective of canines from random acts of graffiti on the surface of the curing cement step. Mr Poopy in particular seems rather fond of leaving his footprint as a permanent calling card. I guess he is saying: “Poopy was ‘ere”!

Unfortunately we were unable to plant strawberries into those nice neat rows of compost because we ran out of time. We also were unable to provide daily doses of water to the transplanted plants and that is a necessity at this time of year, otherwise the plants will go into shock and die. Last week we moved and filled a water tank near to that strawberry terrace, and this week, I began the slow process of installing a water pump so as to provide water to the yet to be transplanted plants.

The author begins the process of constructing a water pump for the strawberry terrace

I have discovered after many years of experience, that small high capacity water pumps require accumulator tanks. An accumulator tank is a small high pressure water tank that stores a small (or large depending on the size of the tank) amount of water at very high pressures. If a water tap is opened, then the water flows out of the accumulator tank at the expected pressure, rather than from the water pump. The whole point of that setup is to stop the water pump from switching on and off again at a very fast rate, because the water pump becomes damaged in that process. Basically, if you want a water pump to last for any length of time, you have to install an accumulator tank after the water pump in the water piping system. There is no alternative that will work as well.

The water pump and accumulator and circuit breaker is connected and is now ready to be installed

I ran out of time to install the water pump and accumulator tank and I’m hoping that by the next blog it is operating well and is being used to water many strawberry plants.

Solar power geek alert (skip to the next paragraph if easily bored!) Enthusiasts of solar power occasionally talk among themselves about the mysterious “Cloud edge effect”. What this means is that you can experience a day when there is a lot of high altitude clouds with sunny breaks in between. On those special days, the sunlight bounces off those high altitude clouds and photons skip all about the planets surface in ways that the local star (The Sun) never quite intended. On those special days, the electricity generated by solar panels can far exceed the expected output. This week, I spotted one of those special days and the solar power system was generating electricity at the maximum continuous rate of 160 Amps (or about 5.8kW). That is a lot of electricity…

High altitude clouds caused a cloud edge effect which produced the maximum amount of electricity from the solar panels this week

After many years of experiments with seed raising, we reckon we have discovered a very good method involving egg cartons and a plastic tray. The photo below shows the results of this experiment after only two weeks!

Egg cartons and a plastic tray were used as an experiment this year with seed raising for summer vegetables

For people who are curious about the thornless blackberry and raspberry enclosure – which sits on a terrace just below the new strawberry terrace and enclosure – I thought that I should add in a photo to show how well the various plants are growing:

Growth in the blackberry and raspberry enclosure is very strong. Poopy expresses his thoughts

The warmer spring weather has brought out the European honey bees and native wasps to forage around the garden beds:

European honey bees and native wasps enjoy the warmer spring weather

Some of the spring flowers are just show offs. Nuff said. Enjoy!

Two flowering cherries. Show offs…
The local Acacia’s (Blackwood’s) are in flower
The prize goes to this red flowering camellia. It is about the size of an outspread hand
Leucodendron’s provide a mass display of heat hardy flowers
We reckon this is some form of African daisy
The Echium’s appear to have hybridised and we are now enjoying pink flowering forms
Succulents are not to be outdone
However, the African daisies have gone feral

The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 7’C (45’F). So far this year there has been 679.8mm (26.8 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 672.4mm (26.5 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 21:22

Monday, 9 October 2017

Breaking them from beyond the grave

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

Over the past few weeks I have been diligently reading a book entitled: “The Good Life” by Helen and Scott Nearing. The book is actually a compendium of two books. The first book was written about their life on a remote Vermont farm, whilst the second was written almost two decades later after they moved to another farm in Maine.

The authors are very competent people and they have achieved an enviable level of self-sufficiency, however sometimes as I read their words, I feel as if I am twelve years old and being lectured at by my betters. This evening as the chickens roamed around the orchard, unconcerned at the brief heavy rainfall, I took shelter from the rain in their chicken enclosure and read the book. And I came across this quote:

“Human beings are persistent planners and record keepers… Successful gardening begins with a survey of the proposed garden spot – an evaluation of its possibilities and limitations. It continues with a freehand outline of the project. Soon after it is put on paper, the freehand sketch is finalized by putting into your garden book a working drawing, still in free hand, but outlining the general garden project.”

I agree with about two thirds of the ideas expressed by the authors and I’m enjoying the books immensely. However, that also means that I disagree with about one third of the ideas expressed by those authors. In the quote above, the authors are expressing an idea that is fundamentally utopian. The word utopian usually refers to ideas that are: “modelled on or aiming for a state in which everything is perfect; idealistic”. Whenever you hear people talking up utopian ideas, think to yourself: they’re talking total rubbish.

The Nearing’s utopian vision of planning a garden is difficult to achieve as a goal at best, and total rubbish at worst. A more realistic vision of planning may be provided by the long since deceased German Field Marshal, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, who can be paraphrased as having written the wise words: “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.”

Planning a garden is subject to hostile forces, as they want to share some of the bounty. So I ignore utopian advice from well-meaning people such as the Nearing’s (who never met a wallaby or wombat), and instead give greater preferences to a bloke (like Helmuth von Moltke the Elder) who had his ideals successfully tested on various battle grounds in Europe in the 19th century.

So, I had plans for the original strawberry enclosure which were implemented. And those plans failed abysmally when they were tested by the main hostile marsupial forces on the farm. I now introduce you to two of those hostile forces of nature: Fatso the wombat and Stumpy the wallaby:

Fatso the wombat and Stumpy the wallaby cruise the paddock dreaming of fresh strawberries

Take a closer look at the unstoppable force of Fatso the wombat who is almost the size of a small sow:

A closer look at the unstoppable force of Fatso the wombat

Fatso and Stumpy are not really hostile forces of nature, but they and their cohorts enjoy free access to the garden and orchard. They actually work quite hard converting a lot of the plant material into manure which is then spread randomly about the farm, paths and surrounding forest. The wildlife are probably not aware of it, but they are actively working towards increasing the fertility of the area.

Anyway, the original strawberry plan was a disaster because Stumpy the wallaby jumped unto the netting which squashed it to the ground. That was the first attack. The next wave of attack came when Stumpy and Fatso managed to rip holes in the netting last summer. From that point onwards we  harvested perhaps one cup of rip sun ripened strawberries (maybe). That original strawberry enclosure was toast!

Plans are nice and all, but sun ripened strawberries are far better, and so over the past few weeks we have been working to construct a new strawberry terrace with a wildlife proof fence. Strawberries are just too tempting for every single creature living on this side of the mountain range…

The concrete staircase leading up to the new strawberry terrace was completed this week:

The concrete staircase leading up to the new strawberry terrace was completed this week

A water pump was connected up to the recently installed water tank located near the strawberry enclosure. The water pump provides pressurised water to a garden tap inside that strawberry enclosure. Given that the spring weather is now quite warm here, plants can only be transplanted successfully if they are able to be regularly watered – thus the need for the water pump and garden tap.

A water pump was temporarily connected up to a garden tap inside the new strawberry enclosure

The electricity for the water pump comes from a small 12V off grid system which is only used for garden lights and garden water pumps. Usually I’m not impressed with many of the latest offerings of gadgets, but occasionally some items are total genius. The sort of fuse boxes that you can purchase nowadays for distributing low voltage DC electricity are genuinely impressive. Many years ago if you wanted such items you had to scour car wreckers and pull such fuse boxes from wrecked vehicles.

The low voltage DC fuse boxes that are able to be purchased these days are amazing quality

After about a days work, the editor and I had constructed the chicken wire and steel fencing around the new strawberry enclosure using scrap materials. I like using scrap materials as I reckon any waste is actually wasted income! Over eighty strawberry plants were then transplanted from the old failed enclosure and mulched in the enclosure. And there are still about eight metres (26.2 feet) of enclosure and terrace yet to be constructed over the next month or so!

Over eighty strawberry plants were planted and mulched in the new strawberry enclosure

I was particularly pleased with the latch arrangement for the door that can be seen in my left hand in the photo above. I hacked a farm gate latch by modifying it so that both sides of the latch lifted in unison. It also had to be modified so that it could work with the narrow width of the door. Originally both sides of the latch operated independently. Such an arrangement may possibly lead to a person being locked inside the strawberry enclosure. (You may go nutty but you wouldn’t be hungry.) Such an outcome is not good as I learned once to my dismay as I was accidentally locked inside the rodent proof chicken enclosure from the outside! (I was both nutty and hungry.)

In the mid spring warmer weather the strawberries in their existing failed enclosure are just beginning to flower. No doubts the forces that are Fatso and Stumpy are well aware of their future meals of luscious organically grown sun ripened strawberries.

Strawberry plants are just beginning to produce flowers in the warmer spring weather

Speaking of the weather, it has been quite tropical this week with mild air temperatures. But humid and moist air makes it feel far hotter than it actually is. And such weather usually brings storms, which means that Scritchy, Storm Detective, has been notifying us of those impending storms. Aren’t we lucky to have such a brave boss dog hiding under the bed at the first hint of troubled weather?

Scritchy Storm Detective advises that a storm may be brewing

Early mornings have brought fog in the valley below:

Early mornings bring fog in the valley below

Stormy skies have loomed over the setting sun.

Stormy skies have loomed over the setting sun

Mr Poopy the Pomeranian (I’ve noticed more than a few Swedish Lapphund’s about Melbourne recently) has been suffering in the much warmer weather of late as he has a double coat of fur. Left out in the summer weather down under, he’d probably die. To avoid an untimely heat related demise for Mr Poopy, we got him groomed this week. The other dogs in the fluffy collective are very unhappy about Mr Poopy’s new do. Meanwhile Mr Poopy looks at them and cheekily says: “You may admire me… Now!”

Mr Poopy sports his new summer outfit, whilst Scritchy and Toothy look on with disbelief at his arrogance

The native wasp in the photo below reminded me that the other day I was in Melbourne and I walked past block after block of terrace houses with gardens sporting beautiful spring flowers. The scent in the air was a heady mix. The thing is, I noticed that despite the profusion of spring flowers, there were very few, if any insects around harvesting the pollen and/or nectar. When the traffic noise died away, it became very quiet. Up here in the mountains north of Melbourne, things are different and there is so much insect activity that when the breeze is still, the buzzing is audible.

A native wasp enjoys the pollen on this Alkanet flower

Those insects on the farm must have been working hard because I noticed the first tiny apricots and almonds for this season:

The first apricots of the season are now developing on the trees
We’re looking forward to a good harvest of almonds early next year

As is usual I’ll finish this weeks blog with some photos of the spring flowers growing about the farm.

The bulbs are continuing to produce flowers:

The daffodils are looking good
The jonquils are not to be outdone by the daffodils
The last remaining tulip bravely produced this flower. The rest of the tulips have been eaten, possibly by the rats
Echiums are a great source of pollen and nectar for the European honey bees and their friends
Cat mint has begun producing flowers and they should flower all summer long
This red nasturtium is a stunner and edible (but not too tasty)
One of the older Japanese maples is producing flowers and I hope that it self seeds as happens in other parts of this mountain range
This mystery plant is a stunner and has gone from strength to strength

The temperature outside now at about 8.30pm is 10’C (50’F). So far this year there has been 683.6mm (26.9 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 679.8mm (26.8 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 20:35

Monday, 16 October 2017

Words as weapons

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

I wasn’t much of a fan of the last recession in Australia during the early 1990’s. The government must have been a fan of that recession though because the Federal treasurer told us that it was: “The recession that we had to have”. I guess we had to have it then. In those naïve days I was forced by redundancy out of my public service reverie into four years of debt collection work. Such work kept a roof over my head and food on the table, whilst some of my friends and associates were among the 10% unemployed.

Collecting debts for a living provides a person with a fascinating insight into the human experience. The tools I used to ply that debt collection trade were: the phone; and the threatening letter. Of course, I was very young at the time, but also a quick study, so I have to admit to a certain terrier-like skill in that area, all of which I learned on the job. I sometimes used to brag to my mates about the people I made cry just by using words, because I knew that the payments would soon be forthcoming.

After a few years I’d heard every excuse under the sun and knew how to counter and respond to people, so as to collect upon the debt. Around that time, the band, Faith No More, had a song titled: We care a lot. I really empathised with the lyrics for that song which remarked that it was “a dirty job, but somebodies gotta do it”, because that is how I felt about the job. On the other hand I could not allow myself to empathise with the people that I was contacting. In fact I managed to compartmentalise my job and my feelings quite well, simply because I had few other options. I treated the task just like the dirty job, that somebody had to do, that it was. And the people that I contacted, well they became clients and were part of the job and not one of my emotional concerns.

All good things come to an end, even recessions, and by the mid to late 1990’s I wanted to work in the area that I had been training for at University (during the evenings after work). I left the world of debt collection and worked in a number of accounting jobs. With each job I progressed up the corporate ladder, one rung at time. Such progression is not a bad idea, because you get to experience the world from the underside, and as such you learn to communicate effectively with people at many different levels. By then, I thought I was pretty good at understanding words and people.

Believing you are good at something may imbue a certain feeling of hubris. Hubris describes a personality quality of extreme or foolish pride, or dangerous overconfidence. The Ancient Greeks used to believe that the behavior itself, challenges the gods, which in turn brings about the downfall, or nemesis, of the perpetrator of hubris. That doesn’t sound very nice at all!

Eventually I came unstuck as I took on a job where during the interview process, they mentioned the interesting word “challenge”. I was deep in the clutches of hubris and failed to even note the danger in that word, other than thinking to myself that: Challenge, I can do that before breakfast! Pah!

The challenge folks on the other hand may have been thinking to themselves: Who would be stupid enough to take on this challenge? Here is our (stupid) man! Welcome aboard the good ship challenge, me matey!

Before I knew what hit me, I was up to my eyeballs in this “challenge” business. The mess was beyond epic, and the disarray was perhaps worse than Napoleon’s retreat from Russia during the winter of 1812. To quote a notable US citizen – it was my own personal Vietnam (certainly no offence intended). It was that bad. My hubris was cured at the altar of an extreme situation.

At the time too, the accounting profession decided that an undergraduate degree was not enough for professional recognition, and a person had to complete an additional five subject (or in these enlightened post-five-subject days, it is now six subjects) post graduate. That meant more part time study, but at least it was by correspondence and so there were no night time classes to attend. Thus my week nights were free, at least that is what I thought.

The “challenge” folks who had created the humongous mess had an edge on me though, because they knew their word crafts better than I. Whilst I was busily restoring order out of the chaos, they were simultaneously praising my efforts and exhorting me to do even more work. I in turn being young and naïve, allowed my ego to accept the simultaneous praise and criticism that I was not doing enough to restore order from the chaos. To that end, I worked harder and longer hours, all because of a few words.

After eighteen months of that challenge, I found that the increasing demands were endless and my energy had limits. At that point I quit the job and took on another job with a better pay and normal working hours. And I have been very careful ever since to never put myself into those circumstances.

Words can be weapons and it still gives me pause, every time I hear the now deceased Michael Hutchence of the the band INXS belt out the lyrics:


The weather this week has been quite nice. There was a day of heavy rain where an inch of rain watered the orchards and gardens. Other days the sun has shone and it was very pleasant.

We had to take a break from constructing the strawberry terrace and enclosure as other projects demanded our attention this week. Over the past few months we’ve been simplifying and correcting some of the problems with the various water systems. One such problem was corrected this week. About two years ago, we installed a 4,000L (1,060 gallon) water tank to collect water from one of the firewood sheds. The water tank was installed too high so the drains on the shed did not flow with enough fall (that is the fancy word used to describe the effect of gravity on water (and other stuff)). The drains on the firewood shed did not flow properly which caused them to block up with leaves very easily.

This 4,000L water tank was too high for the attached drain

The water tank had to be emptied before we could move it. When full, the water tank weighs over 4,000kg (8,800 pounds). It’s heavy and it is a relatively small water tank! We were unable to save the water other than directing it slowly into one of the garden beds (which has appreciated the solid drink of water).

The tank was then moved aside and the area excavated and dropped in height by at least 150mm (6 inches).

Rock crusher dust (which is a quarry waste product and is fine, like sand) was then laid over the excavated area as a bed for the water tank. The water tank was moved into its new position and the drains reconnected. We then refilled the tank from the main house water tanks.

The lowered water tank was reconnected to the drains and refilled with water

The editor came up with a great idea too. We’d spotted an old netball / basketball hoop at the local tip shop. We must have paid at least a dollar for this sturdy chunk of steel. The steel hoop was attached to the shed and is now being used to store the huge pile (3 at this stage) of steel star pickets (this is the Australian term for temporary steel posts).

Star pickets are now stored in a steel basketball hoop attached to the wood shed

After the recent success of adding an accumulator pressure tank to one of the garden water pumps, I added pressure accumulator tanks to the other two garden water pumps. Pressure tanks are a very simple device. They store an amount of water at high pressures so that when a tap is opened anywhere in the system, the water is delivered from the accumulator tank first before the water pump activates. This stops the water pump turning on and off all of the time and thus extends the life of the water pump by a huge factor.

The author adds two accumulator pressure tanks to the garden watering system

Interestingly, the cheaper blue (closer to the edge of the photo) pressure tank works far better than the more expensive smaller black (near the center of the photo) and I am at a complete loss as to the why of that situation.

The two olive trees in the courtyard were given a mighty good pruning. They are some of the oldest fruit trees on the farm and they were purchased at a clearing sale and I reckon they already had about five or six years growth on them.

The two olive trees in the courtyard were given a mighty good pruning

I haven’t mentioned the potatoes on the potato terrace for a while, so I thought that readers would be interested in an update to see how they are growing in their new spot. They were moved to their new terrace only earlier this year.

The potatoes on the potato terrace are doing well in the warm spring conditions

A huge storm rolled through the mountain range on Wednesday night and the frogs and worms all sought shelter under the verandahs. An inch of rain fell and I spotted this Southern brown tree frog grimly hanging onto one of the windows. It is a bit indelicate taking a photo of the undersides of a tree frog, but the frog was in a public space…

A Southern Brown Tree Frog avoids the worst of the storm by clinging to a window under the verandah

Speaking of wildlife, a new bird has arrived on the farm. Meet our new Eastern Spinebill:

An Eastern Spinebill enjoys the nectar from the pineapple sage

Living on the side of a mountain ridge, you get to see an eagles eye view of what is going on around the area. A local farm which appears to undertake ocassional farming experiments, has possibly (but I am not sure) used some sort of herbicide on one paddock and I’m curious to see how their farming practices work out as the season progresses. The paddock is on the left hand side of the photo below. Interestingly, a paddock that was burned off two years ago is on the right hand side of the photo, and the comparison between the two is quite stark.

A tale of three different paddocks

All good things come to an end, even this week’s blog! As is usual, the following photos are of some of the spring flowers growing around the farm:

Bluebells are exceptionally hardy tubers
How good does this apple look poking out from a wormwood?
The chives are just about to flower (ch ch ch chive talkin!).
Tri-coloured sage. Nuff said!
A very complex succulent flower
How did this lone tulip survive the loving ministrations of the rodents?
Rhododendrons are complete show offs and very hardy plants
All of the other plants acknowledge that they’re not worthy of the beautiful camellia’s
The leucodendrons put on a good show
African daisies enjoy this climate

The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 16’C (61’F). So far this year there has been 711.4mm (28.0 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 683.6mm (26.9 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 21:06

Monday, 23 October 2017

Australia Town

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

On Friday, the last mass produced Australian made vehicle rolled off a production line in Adelaide, South Australia. Three years ago the Federal government announced the death blow to the vehicle manufacturing industry in Australia. At that time there were three manufacturers in Australia (Toyota, Ford, and General Motors Holden), all foreign owned. Some folks have argued that withdrawing subsidies for the industry was a coup de grâce (a mercy kill)? I on the other hand wonder what the people who were employed on Friday are now doing on this Monday morning (lattes anyone, a delightful way to start the day)? And I can’t ignore the ugly reality for the many businesses who previously supplied those vehicle manufacturers and their employees.


I have previously worked in the manufacturing industries. In fact as a young bloke I once spent a few happy months employed on a production line which made computer floppy disks. I quite enjoyed the work on the production line and felt as if I were part of a larger team producing quality stuff. However, when the standard computer floppy disk changed from 5.25 inch to the smaller 3.5 inch disks, the company shut down the production line rather than re-tooling. The unspoken aspect of the situation was that the imported product was far cheaper than the locally manufactured product.

As an accountant, a long time ago, I worked for a footwear manufacturer. The business used to manufacture leather shoes and boots. After a while, the same (hard to argue against) claim that it was cheaper to import footwear rather than manufacture it locally, reared its head. That business was also wound up. This time, as an accountant, I managed to see some of the machines which were used by people to make shoes being sold off to overseas businesses. It was very thoughtful of those overseas businesses to recall that the population down here still needed to wear shoes. The factory which had previously produced noise, commotion and footwear, became eerily quiet.

Yesterday, I had to contact the technical support phone number for one of the largest companies in Australia. It is a big company and makes a tidy profit, and it was nice that the helpful employees in what I’m guessing was the Philippines were able to cheerfully assist me with my query.


The main problem with competing against skilled and unskilled labour in other countries is that you can’t. Over my working life, tariffs protecting local manufacturing have been removed. The result of that policy is that local manufacturing has to a large extent, been reduced in size and scale, whilst consumer stuff gets cheaper.

It is worth mentioning that unemployment in this country is relatively low, but youth unemployment and under employment has been rising of late. And as far as I understand the employment statistics, you can be employed for one hour per week and not be considered unemployed (this statistic has an international origin too).


Economic policy down here appears to be reasonably simple. The policy makers appear to me to be pushing policies that maintain or increase certain asset prices (houses, stocks and bonds) whilst at the same time maintaining or lowering prices for consumer stuff. Of course there is a risk for the policy makers that if too many people become unemployed, or under employed, then asset prices (houses, stocks and bonds) won’t be maintained and that in turn will lead to people not being able to afford even the cheap consumer stuff. No single person or group is to blame for this desire, because everyone appears to enjoy cheap stuff. And there is a certain appeal to the concept of unearned wealth that is the result of rising asset prices.


That is all a bit dark isn’t it? The thing is, my experience taught me that during the last recession, I still went out drinking with my mates on weekend evenings whilst listening to angsty music that suited those dark times. As an interesting side note, the alcohol of choice for my friends and I at that time was a very dodgy $2 bottle of port, which we had to mix with cola so as to make it even remotely palatable. Some memories from that time are far stronger than others (possible due to the port, known fondly as ‘two buck chuck’) and I vividly recall a time when I was unable to afford a pair of socks for a couple of months. But then, at that time I also met the editor who had a poo brown 1960’s era Valiant station wagon that would only go forward (and didn’t appear to be going into reverse anytime soon!) Along with the editor came a fat brown dog who loved nothing more than running around the front bench seat of that behemoth of a car. So, even in dark times, people live, love and laugh and generally just get on with their lives. For some folks those times can hit pretty hard, but mostly people lose access to the plentiful supply of cheap consumer stuff. And from what I’ve noticed, some of that stuff is total rubbish.

“Well I’m living here in Allentown
And it’s hard to keep a good man down
But I won’t be getting up today”

Mr Poopy likewise appears to be not getting up for work today

Well, Mr Poopy may have been snoozing away the cloudy and humid the days of the past week, but the editor and I have been as busy as beavers. Earlier in the week I had a phone call from a supplier in Melbourne who advised me that the bee colony that I’d ordered earlier this year was ready to pick up early on Saturday morning. Long term readers will note that I have a revulsion for the concept of early mornings, but that Saturday was different as it found me at the suppliers business taking delivery of a new bee colony. It was lucky for the supplier that I had not yet had a coffee because my brain was slow to react to bee-flation. Bee-flation is an economic term that has remarkable similarities to chook-flation and plant-flation. Of course the official inflation statistics are released by the same government department that is currently handling the marriage equality survey, and those official statistics tell me that official inflation is reasonably low (between 1 to 2%). That low inflation does not explain how a colony of bees which used to cost me $160 per hive, now costs $250. Maybe I expect too much…

The author (darth Chris) returns home with the new bee colony in the back of the white Suzuki dirt rat

It was a relief not to have had a vehicle crash on the way back to the farm. Just imagine for a moment what would happen to a very angry colony of bees who were subjected to a vehicle crash and may have possibly escaped during the incident! Surely there is a horror story in there somewhere?

The new bee colony decamped in a southerly direction towards the custom built bee box
The five new frames of bees were placed into their custom built grand designs home

The weather was less than fluffy optimal for transferring a new bee colony into a new home, but I sort of felt that given that the new digs that the bees were going to enjoy were so good, they just had to deal with the cool and humid weather. Fluffy optimal weather conditions for poking around in bee hives are normally hot and sunny, but given that no such weather conditions appeared on the forecast, I simply got on with the job at hand. The new colony appears to be a very strong and active colony and I did my best to ensure that they were as undisturbed as the situation allowed for.

The original bee colony has now survived three winters and has filled three brood boxes with an exceptionally strong colony

Whilst the editor and I were annoying the new bees, we thought that we’d also check into the status of the original bee colony. As a bit of background, that original bee colony has now survived three winters and is full of three brood boxes. I suspect that the bees may begin the slow process of filling the honey super box (the top fourth box) over the next few months and I may be able to harvest some of their winter food stores.

The strawberry terrace was extended another 2m / 7ft this week. It takes about 4 hours to manually excavate and move that volume of soil. After the excavations, the remainder of the afternoon was spent digging holes for the fence posts. Once the holes were dug, we could mix the cement and then set the treated pine posts firmly in the ground.

The author mixes cement which is used to set treated pine posts for the new strawberry enclosure

Observant readers will note that some of the excavated soil is being used to construct yet another terrace above this one. The editor and I feel that this future terrace will be for vines for table or wine grapes.

Back to the present however – the posts were eventually set into the ground.

The posts for the strawberry enclosure were set into the ground in cement

The next day additional heavy duty steel chicken wire fencing was installed and steel supports were added to the enclosure. The chicken wire is former tree cages which are no longer needed and are being recycled. And additional forty strawberry plants were planted into the enclosure.

Steel fencing was added and an additional forty strawberry plants were planted in the new strawberry enclosure

Spring produces all sorts of interesting harvests and this week we harvested a small quantity of very tasty sugar beets (there are many more yet to harvest):

A small quantity of sugar beets were harvested

The asparagus has gone feral and the spears are reaching heights that I have to look upwards at!

The second year asparagus bed is feral

A few commenters mentioned their concerns about the recent seed germination experiment using cardboard egg crates. The cardboard egg crates have produced an enormous amount of moulds and the capsicum seeds have failed to germinate, but far out everything else is going feral.

Zucchini seeds have germinated in the egg crates and the root systems have all pushed through the holes in the bottom of the crates. Most importantly, the soil surrounding the seeds has not been disturbed
Zucchini seedlings were planted outside this week

Many of the early berries such as currants and jostaberries are also going feral!

Currants and Jostaberries are also going feral

It looks as if it will be an excellent apricot harvest this year.

The apricots are producing strongly this year

The almonds have almost doubled in size over the past week too.

Despite the many technical problems that I have endured with internet connections over the past couple of days, I bring you the Fernglade Farm spring flower collection (it is not really a complete collection, but more of a sampler):

Rhododendrons are the biggest show offs – next to the camellias
Some rhododendrons are a bit more subtle like this one
Crab apples produce an enormous quantity of flowers
These may be zinnias or gerbras
Daisies in the foreground and bluebells in the background!
Clumps of Ixia bulbs are just starting to bloom
This quince didn’t want to be outdone by the smaller flowering plants
Colourful geraniums always put on a good show and the bees love them. There is an alkanet in the background
I don’t recall planting a white echium, but then again I don’t recall planting the pink form either!

The temperature outside now at about 9.30pm is 10’C (50’F). So far this year there has been 715.2mm (28.2 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 711.4mm (28.0 inches).

Total respect to Billy Joel who is the most excellent artist from which the lyrics were ripped for this weeks story. Yes, yes, I was a fan and I saw him live in concert in 1986 or 87.

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 21:59

Monday, 30 October 2017

Time out to reflect

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

Scritchy, who is the boss dog of the fluffy collective has a not-so-secret super power – she can predict storms hours in advance of their arrival. The form that advance warning usually takes is that she hides under the bed. And she is mostly accurate too!

Scritchy storm detective was discovered under the bed again earlier in the week

Scritchy may be upset by the occasional storm, but all the wildlife that shares the farm generally love any rainfall. During the storm, I spotted a frog swimming around in a small pool of water on top of one of the water tanks.

A Southern Brown Tree Frog takes a swim in a pool of water on top of a water tank during a recent storm (plus a bonus worm)

The over night storm earlier in the week dropped about half an inch (12mm) of rain over the farm. Then for the next few days, the clouds were low and thick. On Tuesday, the solar panels failed to generate enough electricity to fully charge the batteries. They generated about 4.1kWh, which is less than one hour of peak sunlight for the entire day. Not a bad effort for a late spring day!

The clouds were thick and low over the farm for much of the week

Readers with very good eyesight (eagle eyed) may note in the photo above, one of the local magpies is attacking a huge wedge tail eagle. They can be seen as two dots in the centre of the photo. For those without good eyesight (not eagle eyed), I zoomed in on the above photo and you can see the magpie attack:

A brave magpie attacks a much larger wedge tail eagle over the valley

The family of magpies that lives on the farm are quite amazing. Last week I was meant to be supervising the chickens whilst they free roamed around the orchard. The words “meant to be supervising”, describe my recalcitrance because what I was actually doing was not supervising the chickens at all. I was mucking around with a water pump on the other side of the farm. Whilst I was doing that work, a magpie attracted my attention by shooting past me at high speed. I thought to myself that that was a strange thing for the bird to do.

I pondered the big questions in life, like ‘why did that bird attract my attention?’ The other residents birds on the farm, started calling to each other. I dropped what I was doing and ran over to the chickens as fast as I could, only to see a fox scampering off into the surrounding forest with a chicken in its maw. Without slowing I veered in a new direction chasing the fox with the chicken into the forest. The fox had Cloey the Australorp chicken. Cloey has been enjoying life here for about five years. Unfortunately for the fox, Cloey is a large bird and was possibly quite a heavy haul, because I rapidly gained on the fox. As I ran, I noted that the magpies were swooping the fox and generally harassing it.

I almost caught up to the fox, and it was at that point the game was up for Mr or Ms foxy, who unceremoniously dropped Cloey and then sped away. Cloey was not in a good way, and by the time that I got her back to the chicken enclosure she was dead.

After that experience I now supervise the chickens properly. The fox still appears, but the magpies give me plenty of early warning. The alarm call that the magpies provide is quite distinctive and I listen closely for that call, whilst usually reading a book. And the birds also tell me exactly where the fox is because they swoop it.

The fox appeared again last night. It might ignore the swooping magpies, but it sure took me seriously as I chased it off the farm yelling at the top of my lungs.

Then a very strange thing occurred. The magpie which had been previously swooping the fox, settled in a nearby tree watching the deranged human chasing off the fox. As I returned back to the chickens, the bird squawked once at me. And for no real reason, I replied to the squawk by saying “chook chook”. The magpie then said “squawk squawk”. That gave me chills, so I thought I’d test the bird and said “chook” and the bird replied “squawk”. Magpies are undeniably intelligent birds, no doubts about it and I am lucky to have a family of them living here permanently.

The long deceased Chinese master of strategy may remark that: The enemy of my enemy, is my friend!

Foxes were not the only problem we faced this week. We have now arrived at the time in the season where we have to plant the next seasons crops and maintain the orchard. And yet, we are still in the process of constructing the new strawberry terrace. The editor and I took the last few days at a slower pace whilst we reflected upon the complexities of this situation.

Many self seeded tomato plants have appeared this week which tells us that we are now running a week behind the season

The interesting thing that we have discovered in this brief period of reflection is that:

  • During spring we plant out the summer crops and maintain the orchard;
  • During summer we bring in the firewood for use over the winter;
  • During autumn we bring in and process the summer harvest; and
  • Winter is the time for repairing and constructing infrastructure. It is also the time for maintaining the surrounding forest.

And so it is that in mid to late spring, we find ourselves facing the complicated situation of continuing winter infrastructure activities whilst having done no forest maintenance at all for the year. The grass is growing faster than the marsupials can consume it, the orchard needs maintenance, and the summer crops are ready to be planted outside. It is a predicament!

The twice yearly job of mowing was begun today

The mid to late spring sun shone strongly today (Sunday) as I began the slow process of mowing the farm. Because of the steep gradient of the property, I mow by hand which involves hours and hours of pushing a little red Honda mower. Purpose built ride on mowers with a very low centre of gravity that wont tip over cost more than a small motor car, so I simply get a lot of walking exercise instead. There are some serious downsides to living on a property that is on an incline! One can but dream of flat land, but until then, I must walk!

I often describe the grass in the paddock using the technical term “herbage”. This is a fancy name that refers to the fact that there simply are a lot of different plant species growing in among the grass. Outside of winter, the herbage is usually full of flowering plants:

The herbage is full of many different species of plants including a huge variety of wildflowers

Close up some of the flowers look like orchids, and the native dichondra kidney bean plant is a good example:

Dichondra flowers look like tiny orchids to me

Anyway, we have undertaken an epic amount of infrastructure work over the past six months, but the time for infrastructure works is rapidly finishing for this year. The strawberry terrace will be the final job this year on that huge and ever expanding list of future projects! On a positive note, it is looking pretty good so far and the strawberries are growing strongly:

The strawberry enclosure sits on a terrace above the raspberry and blackberry enclosure

On Saturday by sheer chance we passed a plant nursery which we’d never noticed before. The reason for not noticing the nursery was that they previously only supplied the wholesale and landscaping market. They had a very good selection of Japanese maples and they were quite affordable and so we purchased two maples: one red; and the other orange.

It is a bit late in the season to be planting new trees. But another reason I don’t like planting trees at this time of the year is because the garden beds are full of insects, and some of those insects (e.g. the bees), don’t much appreciate having humans stomping around disturbing their activities. Anyway, the plants were a bargain and so I risked the wrath of the bees and planted them into the garden bed.

There are about ten Japanese maples in this garden bed now. A red and another orange variety were planted this week

That garden bed which is devoted to the Japanese maples looks like a proper wildflower meadow:

The Japanese maple garden bed looks like a proper wildflower meadow

The weather has been almost perfect for the fruit trees. The cherries are getting larger:

Cherries are getting larger

The almonds are producing more tree this year than nuts, but well, most fruit trees are biennial which means that is what they do (one year fruit and the next year wood). Of course, this means that next year there may be a bumper crop of almonds!

Almonds are also getting larger

It looks as though this year may be an exceptional year for the apricots. At least I hope so:

Apricots are prolific this year

The new bee hive looks like they have become well established and that’s despite the cool and cloudy week. But for some reason one of the wombats keeps marking the area around the bee hive as its territory. Note the many scats in the photo below:

The new bee colony is doing well, but the wombat leaves calling cards marking out the hive as part of its territory

There is a small army of reptiles that live in the rocks that line the garden beds. We call them Skinks and they are like a gecko and can sometimes be quite large. They consume a huge quantity of insects, so they’re alright!

The huge number of Skinks consume a lot of insects in the garden beds

On a warm and sunny day the farm smells of flowers. Enjoy this glimpse into spring:

Pears and apples are producing a great display
Horse chestnuts have a very complex and tall flower
Bees are everywhere and this Echium is a good source of pollen
Californian poppies are as beautiful as they are tough
Ixia bulbs produce beautiful flowers
This tri-coloured Sage is not a flower but it looks great
It is Rhododendron season and they get bigger every year!
A close up of one of the garden beds

The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 5’C (41’F). So far this year there has been 738.4mm (29.1 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 715.2mm (28.2 inches).

Posted by Fernglade Farm at 21:09