Monday, 30 April 2018
This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: http://ferngladefarm.com.au/
The weather here is ever so slowly moving towards winter. The days are shorter and cool, and the nights are even colder. As we head closer to the winter solstice, the sun drops lower in the northern sky. At this time of the year my mind turns to the solar power system.
With the sun lower in the sky, the solar photovoltaic (PV) panels don’t generate as much electricity as we’ve become accustomed to using during the heady carefree days of summer. The past few weeks have been very cloudy, and PV panels don’t produce much energy at all when the skies are full of thick clouds. On one or two days we have used more electricity than we have generated, and the excess is deducted from the batteries. Fortunately, the skies eventually clear to a cobalt blue, and the sun shines again and the batteries get a solid charge. But in about four weeks time, the sun will be even lower in the sky, and we’ll be singing an entirely different tune and then these days will seem very carefree.
Years and years ago (actually it was in the early 1980’s) I heard a radio story about a family in the US who were hosting a celebratory dinner for extended family and friends. I always recall the admonition in that radio story for immediate family members to: ‘Family hold back!’ The concept is simple enough, as the host family asked immediate family members not to eat much of the food so as to maintain appearances for their guests, thus making it appear that they had more food than they could actually put on the table!
Previously we have had to ‘hold back’, but now we have moved to merely being mindful of electricity usage for the three weeks either side of the winter solstice (June 21st for Melbourne). However, it took about eight years of modifications and additions to the off grid solar power system in order to achieve that ‘merely mindful’ outcome. We now have 30 solar PV panels (5.8kW) deployed all around the farm feeding their energy into the batteries.
When we first began our off grid solar powered journey, we began with 8 PV panels. In those naive days I ran into the limitations of solar power during winter. It was an unpleasant wake up call. Upon seeing how the wind was blowing – and that we were rapidly running out of electricity during the winter months – I began the process of adding additional solar PV panels to the system. An ongoing project over the past 8 years.
At first I promised the editor that an additional four PV panels would do the trick. In fact I actually said something stupid and arrogant like: “We’ll just get these extra panels and then we’ll never have to think about the system again”. Well, I rapidly lost any and all credibility. After a while I admitted that I had no idea where this journey would end up. The current thirty panels works for us.
You know, I reckon this renewable energy technology is good, it is just not as good or cheap as the electricity supplied from large scale generators. In fact this renewable energy stuff makes no economic sense at all to me. None.
I noticed the other day that we have used more than 10MWh of electricity generated from the sun in this house over the past nine years. That is Ten Million Watt Hours! That is a lot of electricity, but it works out over the nine years to be about 3.1kWh per day, which frankly is not very much compared to the average household which at a guess will use around about 25kWh per day.
|The house has used 10.137MWh of electricity generated from the sun over the past nine years|
A rule of thumb that I use with all of the systems here that rely on natural systems (like energy from the sun) is that you have to capture slightly more than you will require in order to account for the vagaries of natural systems – anything less than that and you will be stuffed. That rule of thumb relates to water, food, firewood, fruit etc.
I feel that my rule of thumb is a good one, because it works and it is conservative in the old school meaning of that misused word (conservatives these days don’t appear to know how to conserve – just sayin…)
Other people feel differently than I about that rule of thumb, and Melbourne added an additional million people to the city in the past decade. During that decade the Hazelwood coal fired power station was closed. That power station could potentially produce 1,600MW of electricity of every hour of every single day – which was an impressive amount of electricity. Anyway, that power station closed in March 2017.
Now, I’ve noticed that the capital city (Sydney) in the state to the north of here has also added about the same amount of people to the city during the same decade. There was always a bit of friendly rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney, and so not to be outdone, they’ve announced that the Liddell coal fired power station is also to be shut down by 2022 in three stages, one of which has already been completed. They do things bigger up in Sydney, and the Liddell power station at its peak could produce 1,680MWh.
It is a story that makes little to no sense to me. Add more people, check, supply less electrical energy to more people, check. That is where I get stuck at that point in the story. And how are all these ‘wave of future’ electric vehicles meant to get charged? Of course, I have noted over the years, that failure is always a possible outcome of any plan.
The editor and I are both now feeling well after suffering from the dreaded flu for the past few weeks. We continued excavating the garden terraces up above the courtyard and sheds. We usually excavate using hand tools and an electric (solar powered) jack hammer with a clay spade. It is slow work, but the job eventually gets done and all of the excavated soil gets used to make the next higher terrace. That day we excavated about eight feet of flat land.
|Several hours of excavations produced more flat land on the strawberry (but soon to be corn) terrace|
|We tried to break apart this massive rock, but only explosives will do the job!|
This week I also finished feeding each fruit tree in the sunny orchard with a good load of mushroom compost. In the past I’ve fed the trees during the spring, but I have more free time this year, so I was able to feed the trees during autumn which is at the end of the growing season.
|All fruit trees in the sunny orchard have now been fed individually with a load of mushroom compost|
We completed an additional two concrete steps on the staircase that was begun last week. This staircase will correct an overly steep and occasionally slippery walking path.
|Two additional steps were added to the new concrete staircase this week|
Given it is now at the end of the growing season, we removed all of the 90m (almost 300ft) of irrigation hoses from the various garden enclosures. The hoses have to be removed so that we can weed the enclosures and feed the soil without damaging the delicate hoses. In previous years we scrunched all of the hoses into a plastic bin, which in all honesty damages the plastic. However this year we decided to hang them very neatly and without any kinks from a steel hose hanger.
|90m / 300ft of irrigation hoses were neatly stored on this steel hose hanger|
Once the irrigation hoses were removed we could then weed and clear the tomato enclosure. The enclosure is bigger than some peoples backyards and it took several hours to weed it. Here is what it looked like before weeding and clearing:
|The tomato enclosure (with hoses still in place) prior to being weeded and cleared|
After the enclosure was weeded and cleared, we then placed 1 cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch onto the surface. The mulch will suppress weeds and give the soil a feed.
|The tomato enclosure after being cleared and weeded|
It looks pretty good, huh? Next week hopefully we will fill the neat rows with compost which will have several months to work its soil magic before the summer vegetable seeds are directly sown in about September. The vegetable matter which was removed from the enclosure was thrown onto a new garden bed where it will break down over the next few months into top notch soil. The chickens also give that process a bit of help!
|The chickens help break down the vegetation removed from the tomato enclosure|
The editor also purchased some funky looking stainless steel hooks in the shape of a gecko at a recent flea market in the area. We installed those hooks today and will hang hats and bags from them.
|How cool are these hooks in the shape of these two gecko’s climbing up the wall?|
When we cleared the tomato enclosure, there were a lot of capsicums (peppers) half of which have been roasted this afternoon:
|We have been eating capsicums (peppers) for weeks, but today the plants all had to be pulled and this is what was harvested|
In breaking plant news… The asparagus has begun to self seed and we now have quite a lot of new asparagus plants. Cool, self seeding volunteer plants make it look like we know what we are doing!
|The asparagus plants are now self seeding and producing new plants|
Despite the cooler autumn weather, there are still heaps of flowers!
|A very cool looking blue salvia|
|Chrysanthemum just in time for mothers day!|
|Beautiful leaf change is seen in this blueberry|
I like to chew it, chew it!
Ollie, get off the keyboard! OK use the keyboard, just don’t chew it…
It’s Ollie the Australian cattle dog (edit: cuddle dog) here! Just wanted to drop past and show you readers all the fun stuff that I’ve been chewing recently. Chewing is so much fun, and there are so many things to chew.
The other day I got stuck in the strawberry netting:
|Ollie on the wrong side of the old strawberry enclosure|
Fortunately, there was a parrot in there with me and it needed a proper biting:
|A parrot stuck in the old strawberry enclosure with Ollie received an unfortunate and terminal proper biting|
Then, the clothes horse that originally belonged to the editors mum needed a chewing:
|The leg of this old clothes horse was chewed|
Who leaves chunks of timber in the hallway. That timber needed a chewing too, and then so did the repairs:
|A an old timber bracket in the hallway was chewed then repaired with wood filler|
They thought they could repair the timber, but I say it needs to remain now and forever, chewed!
|The repairs were even chewed|
I didn’t chew the hose, because I was chewing a bone. How can I chew the hose when I’m chewing a bone?
|Ollie narrowly avoids accidentally chewing this 30 year lifespan hose|
I didn’t know it was Mr Toothy’s kennel…
|Mr Toothy’s kennel has received a proper biting|
Succulents are yummy, but a bit spikey…
|This succulent has been receiving Ollie’s attention|
I didn’t do this, it was the wallaby:
|The wallaby’s also like to chew things, like all of the onions…|
The temperature outside now at about 8.00am is 7’C (45’F). So far this year there has been 202.4mm (8.0 inches) which is higher than last week’s total of 201.2mm (7.9 inches).
Monday, 23 April 2018
This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: http://ferngladefarm.com.au/
It was a long time ago now, but I once encountered an employer that loved using the ‘big stick’. Of course I’m referring to the metaphor of the person attempting to encourage a reluctant mule into action by dangling a carrot just in front of the mule and keeping it ever so slightly out of reach, whilst simultaneously smacking the mule on the rear with a stick.
As a general social strategy I tend to treat other people as I would like to be treated, and back in those days I guess I was a bit naive, because it never really occurred to me that there would be employers that felt otherwise. The business was a strange place, and I can only suggest that the business was akin to working for a bunch of internet trolls. After eighteen months of negativity, criticism, and general stupid monkey business, I gave them the big stick and told them to ‘shove it’. And I felt better for doing that too.
There was one amusing incident which sticks in my mind to this very day. The general demeanour of the place left me feeling vaguely stressed, and occasionally that upset my stomach. One afternoon with an upset stomach, I had an inescapable need to fart. I shared the office with a couple of co-workers, but that day there was only another co-worker there, and he was sitting diagonally opposite me. Being the boss gives one certain perquisites and so I let rip. Having an upset stomach means that, well, it didn’t smell very nice at all. In fact the putrid stench stuck to the walls.
And wouldn’t you know it? Just at that time, the big boss decides to ask me a question and into the office he walks. He immediately backed out of the office and stood in the doorway, looking basically unimpressed. Quick as a flash I said to my co-worker: “For (a very naughty word beginning with the letter ‘f’ and sounding a lot like the word ‘luck’) sakes (the name has been removed to protect the innocent), that is revolting!” The big boss walked off in disgust, and my co-worker and I just fell to laughing. And we laughed for about fifteen minutes solid. It was hysterical and it was a momentary break from the tension in the place.
Some situations are predicaments, and it is very hard, if not impossible, to change the culture of a business, especially one that is basically very aggressive.
Fortunately I am very employable and I rapidly moved on to another job, with less hours, more money, and a frankly less psychotic culture. I feel that at this point in the story we need some music and so I picked a song for this weeks blog by the Cold War Kids called “Miracle Mile”. It is a great song and it speaks about the singers struggle to make something happen of his life and of his decisions.
The next employer was owned by a nice private equity fund. The business used to make lots of useful stuff that people needed, like shoes (for one example), and it was an interesting place to work and had a great culture, and I enjoyed being part of that team. They employed a group of accountants too, and so we all had the chance to sit around at lunchtime and discuss anything else other than accounting – which can be a rather dull subject. We shared the office with the information technology (computer geeks) people, and I did note at the time that they wanted to speak about computers during lunchtime, so us accountants generally didn’t invite them to Friday lunches at the pub.
A year or two into my employment with that business, the owners began closing various manufacturing businesses, instead focusing on importing the items that we once used manufacture locally. It was all very strange and I got to experience first hand what it means to shut down a manufacturing business.
The editor used to joke to me that during the recession in the early 90’s (which predates this particular blog story), that ‘everything was OK with the business until the cream filled biscuits disappeared from the tea room’. Except that I don’t believe that she was joking.
The employer that I worked for that was shutting down all those manufacturing businesses used to supply packets of really tasty cream filled biscuits in the tea room. In those days I never touched coffee, but of an afternoon, I’d always head into the kitchen area and grab a ‘Tea, Earl Grey, Hot‘ (fans of Captain Jean Luc Picard take note!) and a packet of cream filled biscuits without a care in the world. In my hubris, I even repeated the editors joke to my fellow accountants. We would all have a good laugh! But then one day, the cream filled biscuits disappeared, and I knew that everything would be different from then on.
|Frost settles in the valley below the farm|
How good is that photo? That photo was the first frost of the year which drained all of the cold air from this side of the mountain and concentrated it into the valley below. The night was a cold night and there was even a tiny bit of frost in some of the garden beds here. I took pity on Ollie the short haired cattle dog (who everyone knows is actually a cuddle dog) and let him sleep in front of the wood fire. It is important to note that Ollie is an idiot because he has been very busy tearing up his woollen blankets during the summer because he is a puppy and puppies are normally idiots. He is just not old enough to recall the bone chilling cold of the previous winter.
Despite that one cold night, the days have been strangely warm for this time of year. Both the editor and I have also been recovering from the recent bout of flu. And I took advantage of the editor sitting on the beanbag on the verandah with a dog in her lap, reading a book whilst enjoying the warm autumn sun, to sort out a project that has been annoying me for a very long time – the garden water pumps.
I’d been meaning to get to this overhaul of the garden water pumps, and this week seemed like an auspicious time. The existing arrangement worked, it just wasn’t very good and looked like this:
|The garden water pump system prior to a major overhaul|
What can I say, it was a bit dodgy looking, but it worked – more or less. The first thing I did was remove the steel (and poly-carbonate) cover.
|Mr Toothy inspects the existing garden water pump arrangements and makes suggestions. He has long hair and a short temper.|
Fortunately for me I have Mr Toothy who is knowledgeable in all things water pump related and he made some excellent suggestions:
|Mr Toothy is impressed with the works done on the garden water pump system|
Based on Mr Toothy’s suggestions I added two steel rails underneath the arrangement so as to lift it 50mm (2 inches) higher off the surface. I also relocated the circuit breaker for the pumps and re-wired all of the electricals and protected all exposed wires with plastic conduit.
Then we went with friends to enjoy a comedy show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and latter enjoyed dinner after the show. It was a very funny show. Fortunately no rain was forecast and I could just down tools and return to complete the project the next day.
|The completed garden water pump system|
The next day I worked on the arrangement for several hours. The pumps had to both be moved towards the centre of the arrangement. Then I added flexible half inch braided (pressure rated) hoses onto both the inlet and the outlet connections for both pumps. And finally, the smaller of the two water pumps scored a much larger grey 8 litre (2.1 gallon) pressure accumulator tank.
I then had to connect up the system and test for leaks. There are always one or two leaks in such a system. The leaks were fixed, the system re-tested, and then I cut a new steel cover from scrap steel that I had to hand. All up a job that I believed would take about four hours took about ten hours, and that is how things work out sometimes. It looks good, and now works even better!
|The new garden water pump arrangement looks good and works even better|
The thing I have learned from this experience is that it is not possible to implement a reliable water pumping system on the cheap.
We also commenced constructing the first step in a new concrete staircase. When you live on the side of a hill, stairs make for easy access! Steep ramps suck.
|A new concrete staircase has begun!|
The chickens had been digging away at the path to the secondary woodshed (appetite for destruction!), and so we began foiling their nefarious activities by extending the rock wall to the downhill side of that path:
|We began adding a rock wall to the downhill side of the path to the secondary woodshed|
The warm autumn days have meant that it is easy to continue ripening crops. A month or two back I added a huge load of mushroom compost to the raised potato beds, and over the past week or so, the plants have begun sticking their noses out from the soil:
|The potatoes have begun sticking their noses out from the deep compost|
|Really purple dark capsicums (peppers) are ripening|
|Dark red capsicums are putting on more colour|
|These slim eggplants are strange looking, but very tasty. But so small they probably wont be seen next year.|
|Slim capsicums (peppers) have been the clear winner this season|
|Jalapenos chili are hot, but they’re not that hot…|
Parrots are plentiful here. A large family of Crimson Rosella’s live at the farm. They are equal parts delightful and nuisance, but fortunately we grow more than they can eat.
|A Crimson Rosella acting as a lookout for its fellow flock in an elderberry|
But more excitingly, the pair of King Parrots that live here, appear to have produced three offspring and now five of the parrots live here.
|A girlie King Parrot consumes some of the wormwood|
|A boy King Parrot consumes some of the geraniums|
Despite the incongruity of the nights being cool and the days warm, there are heaps of flowers around. And the bees love having such a long growing season!
|Nasturtiums now climb through many of the garden beds|
|Geraniums are plentiful, diverse, and beautiful here|
|Chrysanthemum’s herald the imminent onset of winter conditions (and mothers day)|
|Our own private leaf change – a Japanese maple|
|Our own private leaf change – a Sugar maple and a shed|
As always the final word of the week should go to the Cold War Kids and their most excellent song – “Miracle Mile”:
The temperature outside now at about 9.30pm is 17’C (63’F). So far this year there has been 201.2mm (7.9 inches) which is higher than last week’s total of 190.2mm (7.5 inches).
Monday, 16 April 2018
This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: http://ferngladefarm.com.au/
What is this thing? I mean, I know what the thing is, but what is the thing doing here all by its lonesome self? To me it looked like a sad lonely little box which was sitting on an asphalt footpath in an inner northern suburb of Melbourne. I took a really good look around the area and I could see that the box had no friends at all. None.
The box was a really well constructed raised garden bed measuring about 1 foot by 3 foot. In the raised garden bed I noted the following plants growing: Nasturtium; Eau de Cologne Mint; Lemon Thyme; Alpine Strawberries; Lavender; and Flat Leafed Parsley. As a stark contrast, all of the small gardens in the surrounding houses were full of ornamental plants. There was not an edible in sight in those front yards – unless of course you’d enjoy a nice rose hip tea?
I like raised garden beds and have over a dozen of them here in constant use and they are great for growing annual vegetables. Did I mention that yields from raised garden beds are exceptionally good? No, I did not. Well they are. In fact, I have plans to obtain more raised garden beds over the next year or so.
So what the heck was this raised garden bed doing stuck out on the footpath, growing a collection of plants that whilst technically edible, are so low maintenance that they probably could have been planted in the drain next to the curb? No doubt they will go to seed and end up there anyway. It just makes no sense whatsoever. In fact I actually made the very witty observation to the editor: “What the (a very family unfriendly word that begins with F, and sounds a lot like the word ‘chuck’) is this?”
|The author stands behind the lonely raised garden bed looking bemused|
The funny thing from my perspective was that any one of those plants has the capacity to take over the entire three square foot of garden space. And I can identify each of those plants and know how they can be consumed or used. However, given the lack of edible gardens in that area, my gut feeling told me that not many people around there would have had the same knowledge. It was even stranger to me that there was no signage telling the locals what these plants actually were. I reckon the only real reason I can see for the existence of that sad lonely little box was that it was used as a display of social values for the residents. The box sort of says to me: “We’re so green, we grow edible plants in raised garden beds on the footpath. Oh my goodness and dearie me, I didn’t say the front yard, I said on the footpath!”
Back in the days when I lived not too far from that street, I actually did dig up the lawn in my front yard and attempt to grow vegetables there. Of course, being naive, I didn’t understand that green leafy vegetables are almost impossible to grow in composted woody mulch. And what do you mean that I have to water them during summer? They’re plants, surely they’d just grow by themselves? Apparently not so. Fortunately, I have learned a thing or two since those heady days. Plants sure are complex.
It doesn’t take too long to notice displays of social value, mostly because being mainly for display purposes, they’re easily seen. Good marketing, I reckon! I’ve encountered a few people recently who have extolled the virtues of electric vehicles. Now, I reckon electric bikes are a great idea, and they make sense to me. Electric cars on the other hand are so expensive and have such limited range that they make little to no economic sense to me.
But electric cars are such a great display of social values. They scream: “We’re so green, we could drive this vehicle and emit no pollution. Oh my goodness and dearie me, of course we charge the vehicle from the mains electricity!” Down here the majority of the communities mains electricity is derived from burning fossil fuels. If you’ve ever taken a look at a brown coal fired power plant, and I have, well, let’s just say that it’s not a pretty sight.
In this instance, people are confusing the potential with the reality. Sure, you could potentially install a solar power system on your roof and use it to charge your electric vehicle – but the system won’t produce enough power to do anything else at all in the household. And that is assuming that the solar power system is big enough in the first place, because most solar power systems that I have seen installed are simply too small to charge an electric vehicle. It is also worth noting that roof designs for houses I see constructed are simply not well thought out enough, or even large enough to support a really huge array of solar panels (my own included). The panels for huge solar power systems, simply won’t fit on most houses with their available roof space.
Fossil fuels are just so good, quick and reliable that we tend to think that all other energy sources are good, quick and reliable too. Unfortunately, they’re not. I know that for sure as solar PV panels won’t produce any power when it is snowing:
|The author with solar PV panels in snow from back in August 2017|
Five years ago I thought that I’d get around those problems with snow, clouds, dark and stuff that bedevil solar PV panels. I installed a wind turbine. That was when I found that you can have snow, clouds, dark and stuff, and it can also be not windy enough. I spent several months of my life trying to get the best out of that wind turbine. I wasted that time, but learned a great deal about wind.
|A dark day for renewable energy. Cloudy and still!|
Fortunately, I’m not one for displays of social value. If I was into that business, I would have kept the wind turbine, and whenever people visited the farm I could have pointed at the wind turbine lazily (and I really mean lazily) spinning in the breeze and make some profound observation like: “Cool!” And that would be about as useful as a sad lonely little raised planter box on an asphalt lined footpath on the hard streets of Melbourne.
This week has been such a strange week of weather for mid Autumn. Earlier in the week, the daytime temperature reached 36’C (97’F) and that was crazy hot for this time of year. But by 11pm that evening the air temperature had cooled down to only 24’C (75’F) and that would have been a hot night for summer, let alone mid Autumn! Note that Autumn in Australia runs 1 March to 31 May, which I believe is different from the spring in Northern Hemisphere countries. How unique are we!
|11pm mid Autumn 24’C / 75’F is simply crazy hot weather|
The long term and short term weather cycle here runs like this: Cold; Cool; Warm; Hot; Really Hot; Wet; and then back to Cold. That sure was the case this week because whilst most of the week has been really hot, on Saturday lunchtime the heavens opened and over an inch of rain fell. Then just as suddenly, the air temperature cooled and we had to begin running the wood heater.
|Over an inch of rain fell over the mountain range beginning Saturday lunchtime|
I’ve still not been feeling well this week due to the lingering effects of the flu, and even worse, the editor succumbed to the dreaded flu virus. I have been ensuring that I get plenty of rest:
|The author and the fluffies crash out one quiet afternoon due to the lingering effects of the flu|
Ollie took advantage of my illness because he knows that he should not have been on the couch, but when you are sound asleep…
Last weekend my friends with the epic shed gave me three point of lay chickens. How nice is that? They breed chickens and supplied us with three very good looking birds. Left to right in the next photo: Light Sussex; Indian Game; and a bird with some Faverolles in its parentage.
|The three new chickens were confronted at the door of the hen house by the toughs|
The oldest chicken in the chicken collective is about eight years old now (the brown Araucana chicken standing on the edge of the concrete in the photo above) and she took a firm line with the newcomers and gave them all ‘what for’. Chickens are brutal, and they adhere to the old adage of ‘go early, and go hard’.
|The brown Araucana chicken gives the newcomers ‘what for?’|
The egg production should pick up once we are past the winter solstice. Until then, all up the sixteen chickens currently produce one to two eggs per day.
Surprisingly enough, despite both being ill, we actually managed to do some work about the farm. We were keen to complete the corrections to one of the concrete staircases that were begun last week. The concrete stairs constructed last week, had all cured during the week. All that remained to be done was to pour in a couple of wheelbarrow loads of crushed rock and lime into the cavity that will form a flat landing between the two sets of concrete staircases.
I carried about nine crate loads (three wheelbarrows worth) of crushed rock and lime down the stairs and dump it into the cavity which will form a landing. Each crate contains eight full shovel loads of crushed rock and lime.
|The author dumps a crate load of crushed rock and lime onto a cavity that will soon form a landing|
The crushed rock was soon smoothed out and formed a nice flat landing between the two sets of concrete stairs.
|The crushed rock was smoothed out and it forms a landing between the two sets of concrete stairs|
We then spread the remainder of the load of local crushed rock and lime around the water tank which was installed last week. The crushed rock makes a great all weather surface which you can comfortably walk on even in the wettest weather.
|Local crushed rock with lime was placed around the water tank that was installed last week|
We had a huge boulder to hand near the new water tank, and so we set that into the upper edge of the garden bed and extended the path a bit further down the hill.
|A large boulder was set into the edge of the garden bed and the path was extended down hill a bit further|
With rain expected on Saturday, I moved several hundred strawberry plants into the new strawberry terrace which was constructed only late last year. The lavender that was planted on the edge of the strawberry terrace has grown prolifically this summer despite the hot and dry conditions and the lack of regular watering. Those plants are tough as.
|Several hundred strawberry plants were planted on the strawberry terrace. How good do the lavender look?|
When I went to harvest the single large pumpkin a few days ago, I discovered a little tree frog sheltering on the pumpkin:
|A tree frog shelters from the sun on this huge pumpkin|
I left the tree frog alone, and went back a day later to harvest the pumpkin plus all of the watermelons. The watermelons taste good too.
|Pumpkin, watermelons, eggplant, and capsicum (peppers)|
Today, I harvested our first ever quince. The mandarins have also become much larger this season as the trees are getting bigger.
|Our first ever quince, and the mandarins are getting bigger this year|
I dug up a few horseradish roots today because I’m gifting them to a friend who expressed an interest in them. Of course I had to try them out first and they are hot as! And they are guaranteed to clear any blocked sinus!
|I dug up a few horseradish roots|
The birds have been enjoying the prolific olives. We have decided not to harvest the fruit this year because our previous experiments with preserving olives have left them tasting overly salty. Clearly further investigative work needs to take place with this fruit. Can anyone suggest any good recipes that they have tried themselves? Or has anyone produced their own olive oil?
|Olives are prolific|
In the past I have killed at least four tea camellia’s that I can recall. No doubt the body count is much higher than that (edit: 8 dead, 1 incoming). However, I am determined to get one of these plants growing here. This week I planted another tea camellia, and lets hope that things go better for this plant. My track record is not good.
|A tea camellia sits between a blueberry and a Chilean guava|
The Poopy-quat (the resting place of Sir Poopy) is doing very well and has even produced tiny little kumquats!
|The Poopy-quat is doing very well|
And onto the flowers!
|With winter fast approaching the many citrus trees are producing fragrant flowers|
|This geranium is a stunner of a colour|
|Geraniums produce a huge diversity of flower colours here|
|I’ve begun to grow nasturtium through the existing garden beds and it is tough as (edit: tough as what?)|
|Looking at this garden bed you wouldn’t know that we went almost ten weeks with hot days and little rain|
The temperature outside now at about 8.00am is 12’C (54’F). So far this year there has been 190.2mm (7.5 inches) which is higher than last week’s total of 158.8mm (6.3 inches).
Monday, 9 April 2018
This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast (which I intend to record if I can actually speak which is a bit of a problem at the moment due to the flu) through the link: http://ferngladefarm.com.au/
Hi everyone! I’m Ollie the six month old Australian cattle dog. I love living here at Fernglade Farm as there is always so much fun stuff going on. Check me out, I look all curious, intelligent, and stuff:
|Ollie the Australian cattle dog looks all curious, intelligent and stuff|
Of course, I am a naturally intelligent dog as my particular breed of dog can list the dingo clan in their family history. Not every dog can say that, but I can! Now of course dingoes are a very old breed of dogs and have lived in this country for a long time and are a coyote equivalent, except we are the better dog. No, I refuse to argue the point, because we are simply better.
Circumstances haven’t always been so rosy for me. Being an intelligent dog with my own opinions means that I enjoy having thoughts on stuff. In the first six months of my life, people were yelling at me, beating me, and locking me in small cages (I’m a big dog, you know). Back then my owners wanted me to chase around cattle all day long. I’ve got thoughts about cattle you know, and I reckon cattle are stupid. There you go, I’ve said it. Do cattle eat bones? No, of course they don’t eat bones. Cattle dogs eat cattle bones, so I rest my case, and my logic is flawless.
Unfortunately, my free thinking ways didn’t impress my former owners as much as it impresses myself. They wanted a cattle dog that chased around stupid cattle all day long, and I had a secret longing for cuddles… One day early in my cattle dog career I was faced with the choice of being shot or put up for adoption at an animal shelter. My former owners were embarrassed about my not so secret desire for cuddles. Cuddles are good aren’t they?
Forget about them, boring. One day I was in the animal shelter after having been through a procession of foster homes, and who walks in? I dunno, who did walk in that day? Oh, that’s right it was Chris and the Editor, and they were looking to take home a new dog. I put on my nicest smile, and the rotters said something unpleasant like: “He’s a bit big don’t you reckon, and didn’t we want a female dog?” Fortunately for me, the other dog there was even bigger, and also a male, and so I used the full force of my fluffy mind powers and it went something like this:
Ollie Wan Kenobi: [with a small wave of his tail] You don’t need a smaller dog.
Stormtroopers Chris and the Editor: We don’t need a smaller dog.
Ollie Wan Kenobi: I am the dog you’re looking for.
Stormtroopers Chris and the Editor: You are the dog we’re looking for.
Ollie Wan Kenobi: You can take me for a walk.
Stormtroopers Chris and the Editor: We can take him for a walk.
Ollie Wan Kenobi: Walkies.
Stormtroopers Chris and the Editor: Walkies… Walkies
Chris and the Editor soon fell under the spell of my fluffy mind powers, but I almost blushed on leaving that adoption centre when the nice person there said that I was very hard work and they offered an extension on the cooling off period. And rather shockingly, a phone number for dog psychiatric / behavioural assistance. An outrageous slur on my good character and distinguished breeding. Whatever!
Fortunately at Fernglade Farm I learned that I only have to occasionally chase off marsupials and deer from the orchard to the property boundary. I have to remember not to annoy Chris and the Editor. And I also kill rats and mice. Easy. And there are no stupid cattle roaming around. Have you ever spoken to cattle? I didn’t think so!
Life is good here, except for thunderstorms. At least Scritchy taught me to hide under the bed whenever there is a thunderstorm. I can barely fit under the bed, but I am nothing if not determined.
|Ollie the cattle dog hides under the bed during a recent thunderstorm|
The first time I went in the car to visit the local cafe and watch Chris consume a coffee and fruit toast, well I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I wet myself on the passenger seat of the car. I thought he was taking me back to the animal shelter like all the other rotten humans. Not so, he was simply getting a coffee and fruit toast. I’ll know better for next time.
The first time I did something really naughty here – and who doesn’t love a bit of naughtiness every now and then? Well, the Editor yelled at me and Chris tapped me gently with a wooden spoon in front of all of the other dogs. I cowered in fear and, well, I wet myself again. I thought for a moment I was back with the scary humans and their boring cattle…
Scritchy is teaching me how to be a proper fluffy. It involves lots of training and she is constantly issuing instructions. I do my best to please Scritchy.
|Scritchy the boss dog teaches young Ollie how to be a proper fluffy|
Scritchy is an old girl, but I love my Scritchy, and she lets me sleep on her green couch.
|I love my Scritchy boss dog, says Ollie|
The other members of the fluffy collective have accepted me. Sir Scruffy takes me on regular foraging romps, and he always seems to know where the best bones are. And Toothy is my constant companion as he is always up for mischief and running around the orchard and playing chase.
|Sir Scruffy, Mr Toothy, and Ollie all enjoy a quiet moment after a hard days work around the farm|
I heard Chris say the other day that I’m now a proper apprentice fluffy as he put a yellow council tag on my brand new leather collar.
PS: I am feeling more confident now and have not wet myself in ages.
Hi everyone! Chris takes back the blogging duties.
I’ve had an unfortunate case of the flu this week, and it is not any old man flu, but the full on hard core flu. And I have not felt good at all. Despite all that suffering, time waits for no man and a water tank that we had had on order for about a month chose this week to arrive at the local irrigation shop. We picked up the water tank and brought it back here using the bright yellow trailer.
|The new water tank sits outside the living room waiting to be moved to its permanent location|
The 4,000L (1,050 gallon) tank fits perfectly onto that bright yellow trailer. Unfortunately, when we pushed the tank off the back of the trailer some of the welds on the rear flap (or gate) of the trailer failed. Fortunately, even in my flu addled state I can wield an arc-welder. The repairs were soon completed.
|My flu addled state did not produce pretty welds, but they sure are functional!|
We moved the large water tank by sliding it around the place with a tarpaulin underneath so as to not damage the surface finish of the tank. In its new location the water tank sits on a compacted bed of rock crusher dust. Rock crusher dust is a very fine form of granite. It is also worth mentioning that the dust is a very good mineral additive to your garden soil too!
|The tank site is excavated so that it is more or less flat and level|
|The rock crusher dust is spread so that it is perfectly flat (screed with a level stick)|
|The new water tank is then placed onto the bed of rock crusher dust|
I pumped several hundred litres of water into the new tank so that it is properly weighted down. A local earth moving bloke enjoyed recounting horror stories of empty water tanks that had blown away in the wind. He enjoyed telling the story because he is usually called upon to retrieve the runaway water tanks using his excavator and a sling. $$$$
Despite the hot and dry autumn, the plant growth has been phenomenal. If you turn your back on some of the garden paths even for a week or so, a jungle rapidly takes them over! The editor has been busy most weeks using her electric (solar powered!) hedge trimmer to hack back at the jungle. All of the cuttings get thrown into either existing or new garden beds. Some of those cuttings even take and start growing in their new locations.
|The editor has been using her electric (solar powered) hedge trimmer to keep the paths open|
We even added an additional fourth (and also last) concrete step to the set of stairs that we have recently begun constructing to correct a very steep path. That path was just too steep.
|A fourth and final step was added to a new staircase which we had begun constructing only recently|
The state government conducted more planned burns in the nearby Wombat State Forest. This is a good thing for them to do as it will improve the fertility, and reduce the likelihood of an even bigger fire running through that area. To be brutally honest, the state government does not do enough planned burns in state forest.
|Planned burn in the nearby Wombat State Forest|
|A planned burn just north of Blue Mountain out of Trentham|
|Smoke from a planned burn in the forest south of Daylesford|
Onto the produce! This week we harvested the melons. Unfortunately, I left the cantaloupes on the vine for about two days too long and the pesky Portuguese millipedes rapidly munched their way through the skins. The chickens were not bothered by the millipedes and the ladies enjoyed feasting upon the tasty melons which would otherwise have ended up in the kitchen. This cantaloupe was untouched and it tasted every bit as good as it smelled!
|Home grown cantaloupe is far superior tasting to the store purchased melons|
Water melon have been a great success here this year and I must have about ten huge cannon ball sized and shaped watermelons. They’re very tasty too.
|Water melon! Tasty as – and so many melons…|
We’ve been inundated with various capsicums (peppers) and eggplants from the garden. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colours.
|Capsicum (peppers) and Eggplant come in all shapes and sizes|
With the exception of the citrus, and olives of course, the only other fruit on the trees now are the medlars. They make a pretty good jam / jelly. I won’t speak too loudly, but one quince (the first grown here) is continuing to ripen on the tree.
|Medlars are some of the last of the summer fruit|
There are still tonnes of flowers growing about the place – and the insects are happy!
|A little wormwood flower hides underneath a comfrey leaf|
|Echiums are confused by the run of hot weather as some are producing flowers|
|A Californian poppy puts on a nice show|
|These varieties of geraniums always produce the finest flowers|
|Another fine geranium flower|
The temperature outside now at about 7.30pm is 15’C (59’F). So far this year there has been 158.8mm (6.3 inches) which is higher than last week’s total of 158.6mm (6.2 inches).
Monday, 2 April 2018
This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au
Property is a complex and difficult topic. Last week I lead a discussion group on the dreaded twin topics of money and property. The audio from that discussion group can be found here: Green Wizards recent discussion regarding Money and Property. When I was a child, my mother always used to admonish me to not discuss the following: Money; Politics; or Religion. That was some good advice, which last weekend at my peril I largely ignored, because I found myself discussing the first of those ‘non-discussable-in-polite-company’ topics.
It is really hard for me to know where to begin such an impolite discussion. Usually I begin by recounting my experiences as a young bloke who was faced with the ‘recession that we had to have’ in the early 1990’s. Back then I experienced what the term LIFO means. LIFO of course is the fancy acronym for: ‘Last In First Out’, and it was originally coined as a method for valuing inventory, where the most recently introduced items are considered to be the first sold. In practical terms how LIFO plays out is that if you were to imagine you are on a sinking ship, and the only way to keep the ship afloat was to eject passengers, well under the LIFO arrangement, the last people on board, would be the first to be thrown overboard. Being a youngster in those days, I was made redundant from my first job, and then had to scramble to find some other form of employment during a period of 10% unemployment. Anyway that’s what LIFO means to me, in purely practical terms.
After sharing my exciting experience of those heady days, I then went on to discuss how much property cost back in those days. Then I compared how the cost of property looks nowadays. The comparison is stark, and it’s one that I take no joy in making.
On the other hand it is a comparison that is worth making because there are folk who want to get dirt under their fingernails, and attempt to grow some produce. That requires land.
The whole ‘back to the land’ story is a narrative in our culture. When I was a kid I watched episodes of the English television show: “The Good Life”. The show was about a couple who chose to convert their back garden to an entirely edible and productive garden. I quite enjoyed the show, and the more conservative neighbours in the show provided a delightful contrast and entertaining foil.
But the story shown in that television show is simply not true. Nobody ever said that television has to tell factual stories. Sometimes though, those stories get repeated elsewhere and the ‘back to the land’ story is one that really annoys me. As part of the discussion I produced an article from the newspaper (I had a physical copy of the article): Survivor’s guide to gardening plots the key to healthy produce.
During the discussion group last week, somebody knew of ‘Kat’ who is the person mentioned in the article. I applaud Kat’s efforts in annually producing 350kg (or 770 pounds) of produce on such a small inner city plot of garden space at 171m2 (or 1,840ft2) because it is an impressive effort. However, it just makes no economic sense whatsoever. The overall land size was another 100m2 larger than the garden. It is a big block of land in the inner city.
From reading the article, I’d have to suggest that the property itself, given the inner city location and land size, probably costs somewhere around or over $2m. Yup, you read that right, I’m suggesting that if you wanted to purchase such a large inner city property in Melbourne, you’ll need to have around two million dollars. How many young people have that sort of money? I sure don’t.
If I were being optimistic, at a guess the 350kg of produce could be sold for about $4 per kg. That equates to an annual income of $1,400 from the garden produce. Now maths is not my strong suit (despite being an accountant – I guess that’s what calculators are for), but I reckon that works out to be an annual return on investment of about 0.07%, which from an economic perspective makes no sense whatsoever.
The article also mentions David Holmgren, who is the co-originator of the permaculture concept. He is a nice bloke, and I’ve met him when I visited his farm in Hepburn Springs – which is a town connected to the nicest town on the planet: Daylesford. David owns a 2¼ acre productive property in Hepburn Springs. He’s in walking distance to cafe’s. It is a really nice property and in a great location, but far out, unless he’s selling a whole lot of courses and books, I reckon he’d struggle affording such a huge tract of property, in such a nice location, nowadays.
It is a real problem this property thing, and it occurred to me today that fertile land in a good location is in rather short supply.
Of course, the alternative is to purchase much more affordable land that is probably not fertile at all, and is most likely in a really rubbish location which is usually far from anywhere (what no cafe!). This story should sound familiar to long term readers, as it is my story! On a more positive note, many of these serious problems can be readily overcome, it is just not realistic to expect that story to make any economic sense whatsoever.
Speaking of not making any economic sense, a few days ago I fed some of the fruit trees in the large mixed orchard one cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of mushroom compost. The editor came up with the bright idea of driving the dirt rat Suzuki and the bright yellow trailer down onto the paddock next to the orchard. That idea saved a huge amount of effort with the wheelbarrow. On the downside, the paddock is reasonably steep, but fortunately dirt rat Suzuki’s is a four wheel drive with low range gearing.
|The dirt rat Suzuki and bright yellow trailer are used to distribute a cubic metre of mushroom compost in the orchard|
The weather has been superb this week. The government recently lit a small planned fire in the nearby ‘Wombat State Forest’. The smoke from that fire drifted across the farm for a few days. It produced the most amazing sunsets.
|Smoke from a nearby planned burn in Wombat State Forest produced superb sunsets|
Late in the afternoon, the smoke produces a yellow / orange hue to the light which gets reflected in the tall trees surrounding the farm.
|Smoke produces a yellow / orange light which gets reflected late afternoon in the tall trees|
Sometimes when we’re in the right mood, the editor and I will clean up the detritus left from over a century or so of logging activities in this forest. This week we were in the right mood, and we used our 18hp stump grinder to convert some of the old tree stumps into sawdust The sawdust rapidly gets eaten by the soil critters and soon becomes top soil. The process is just a lot of work. Some of the tree stumps like the one in the next photo show signs of having been burnt in the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfire and they’re still hard as a rock.
|Ollie stands proudly next to the remains of an old tree stump which the loggers left. The scorching dates from the 1983 fires|
Sometimes the loggers left the butts of huge old trees, which I’m guessing they used a bulldozer and chains to remove.
|The butt of this huge old tree appears to have been dragged to that location for some strange reason which we’ll never know|
We began correcting one of the many concrete staircases which provide access to parts of the garden. Additional steps have to be added because the path below the staircase was too steep and occasionally slippery. Stairs are really important in steep properties as they allow access. And cement is an amazing product because it resists weather, and unlike timber it does not rot in damp conditions.
|The first step was added to the lower part of this existing concrete staircase|
Unfortunately for us, Ollie the Australian cuddle dog who everyone knows masquerades as a cattle dog, decided that he enjoyed nothing more than drawing graffiti in wet cement. We found this disaster an hour or so after pouring the second step (this was actually his second piece of cement artwork. I mistakenly thought he had learned his lesson after the first incident. But no!):
|Take 2: Ollie the cattle dog was in a lot of trouble|
Ollie found out that he could be grounded and that was a salient lesson for him to learn. We still judge him not trustworthy and he now remains confined whenever cement is curing into concrete. We corrected that disaster and the poured a further step the following day:
|Three steps were added to the staircase with possibly another one or two to go|
The internet service at this farm is quite expensive and there is really only one supplier. Over the past few months we have been having troubles with internet connection speeds. So over the weekend I added a second yagi antenna (which I probably should have done in the first place) and connected up the modem. Bam! Lightening fast, if you consider 25Mbps fast, well we think it is.
|A second yagi antenna was added this week for the internet service and the speeds have increased|
In an unfortunate turn of events, we had to purchase two dozen eggs (free range of course, grain fed, and with < 350 chickens per hectare / 2.5 acres). The chickens are on their annual moulting egg strike cycle and we are only getting between one and two eggs per day. That many eggs is better than nothing, but less than we eat! Check out boss Plymie who at least has two good feathers:
|Boss Plymie during her annual moult cycle. At least she has two good feathers!|
The family of magpies that live at the farm appear to have produced two youngsters during the summer. The family can often be seen with mum and dad teaching the young ones how and where to forage.
|The family of magpies teach their young how and where to forage|
I haven’t mentioned the citrus trees in a long while, but they are doing well despite the dry autumn. It looks like by winter I may have a good crop of lemonades and mandarins too.
|Grapefruit hang heavy and tasty on the tree|
|Lemons are plentiful|
The winter greens are just starting to sprout now. The next photo shows the very tasty winter rocket. The plants are grown from saved seed harvested last year.
|The annual rocket which grows over winter has just sprouted from seed this week.|
Onto the flower photos!
|A beautiful rose|
|The bush rose produces ever more flowers as it scrambles through the garden bed|
|Salvia’s are both delightful and real givers in hot weather|
|Lavender is also a giver as this bee can attest|
|Basil mint grows in front of what looks like another mint (oregano) which is strangely red instead of the usual green|
|Geraniums love the sun and heat|
|I’m not sure Mr Toothy is impressed with geraniums|
The temperature outside now at about 10.00pm is 11’C (52’F). So far this year there has been 158.6mm (6.2 inches) which is higher than last week’s total of 157.4mm (6.2 inches).