Lemon to a knife fight

It hasn’t been a warm summer, although some days are actually warm, but mostly the weather this season has been cool. The day in question was an exception however and the sun shone with force. The editor and I had spent the morning splitting, hauling and storing firewood so that when the serious cold weather does arrive later in the year, we won’t be cold.

Anything involving firewood is hot and heavy work, even if you have machines to assist with the job. In point of fact, I’ve long since held the suspicion that if we didn’t have the machines to assist with the job, we’d work at a far slower pace than we now do. Tree logs are cut into rounds. The rounds are manually lifted, then hauled over to the log splitter. The log splitter takes a chunk off the rounds. The chunk falls to the ground. The process of splitting the round into smaller chunks is then repeated over and over again. It is sort of akin to cutting a wheel of cheese into smaller and more manageable sizes for the table. The chunks of firewood are collected from the ground and then placed in the bucket of the powered wheelbarrow. I walk behind the wheelbarrow as it meanders its way up the hill to the shed. The chunks of firewood are then stacked neatly in the shed. The process goes back to the beginning. The job doesn’t take hours to do, it takes days and days of work to complete.

By about 11am that day, whilst lifting the heavy rounds over to the log splitter, the sun was beginning to sting the skin on my arms, and sweat dripped liberally from my forehead. From time to time, I’d have to use the upper arm of my t-shirt to wipe the sweat from my brow. We began early, and worked up until about 2pm when the sun finally became too much to bear, stomachs were rumbling with hunger, and the day’s work was done.

Ordinarily lunch would be prepared, but that day we chose to purchase lunch at the local General Store. Coffee and a pie is not my usual lunch, however they were very tasty so exceptions must sometimes be made. Slices of carrot cake and cheesecake may also have been involved. In between stuffing the food into my mouth, I chanced to take in the surroundings.

The table we sat at, was outside under the shade of a tree. A choice locale on a warm summers day. The lady at the table adjacent to ours was notable because she wore a mask. The mask may have been filtering her choice of perfume, which had been liberally applied and as such I was unwillingly sampling it along with my coffee. It was an odd combination of tastes and is not generally to be commended.

Behind that table, another lady was speaking very loudly into her mobile phone. I could almost, but not quite hear the replies. I’m certain the phone call was very important. And in the far corner sat a group of mothers with their toddlers. The children were banging upon the table, and I’m sure they’ll make fine careers as drummers. Oh no! From that very table, a plate crashed loudly to the ground and smashed into myriad pieces. It has been said elsewhere that ceramic and concrete do not interact well at speed. Anyway, the kids smashing their instruments loudly was all very rock and roll.

Nature is loud. And just to prove it, a young magpie could be heard keening to its parents for attention or food, I know not which. All of this stuff can usually be blotted from my consciousness. Especially when good food and drink is ready to hand. And it’s even easier when my nose is buried deeply in a good book. Currently I’m reading W Somerset Maugham’s fine book: ‘The Summing Up’. The author is writing about his personal philosophy upon the art of writing and learning. And as the young magpie keened nosily in the background, I read the words: ‘I have made sacrifices to unworthy objects because I had not the courage to inflict pain.’

At that very moment it was if the long since deceased author had reached forth from the pages of the book, and smacked me in the head with his words and I metaphorically fell to the ground and waited upon the count to ten. Words are how we humans communicate, but it is their meanings and the subsequent construction of narratives which lends them their power.

During the past week I have been cogitating upon my recent encounter with the second deadliest snake on the planet. The risk of dying from such an encounter is admittedly remote, but then again neither is it impossible. The very long dead military genius Sun Tzu, in this instance would perhaps recommend to: Know thy enemy. And the dead bloke isn’t wrong, so I’ve spent time this week considering how the recent interaction came to be.

Long term readers will recall the valiant and now sadly missed fluffies: Sir Poopy and Sir Scruffy. Both canines earned their titles through services rendered to Fernglade Farm. They efficiently hunted and ate the rabbits which were foolish enough to attempt to set up house on the farm. Until the dogs demise, I’d never seen a rabbit here, unless it was half eaten carcass next to a very contented and well fed dog.

The current batch of fluffies by contrast, are candidly not up to the job. The other day I showed a baby bunny rabbit to Plum the fearless sheep dog, and the dog ran off in terror. I now have a problem with rabbits, and whilst the foxes and owls have reduced their numbers of late, nothing was as effective as the unrelenting forces of Sir Poopy and Sir Scruffy.

You may ask: What have rabbits got to do with deadly snakes? Well, the rabbits dig burrows and warrens where the snakes can then take up residence. Without the rabbits and their excavating activities, there really is little opportunity for snakes to set up home on the farm. It really is that simple, and so now despite my natural disinclination, I’m going to have to hunt and shoot the rabbits – every last one of them. If there were any other way…

The weather this week has been cold for summer. Some days the sun shone, but other days it was an effort for the sun to peer through the gloom.

The mid afternoon sun barely shows through the murk

The humidity this summer has been an impressive thing to experience. One clear morning, thick fog collected in the valley below the farm.

How foggy was my valley? Apparently a lot!

Most of the work on the farm at this time of year revolves around harvesting and storing produce for use in winter and spring. Along with fruit, firewood is merely another resource which is to be harvested and stored for use later. We’ve been tackling a pile of logs which have sat in place for over a dozen years. Due to the ongoing snake risk, it has been an exciting job to undertake.

In order to reduce the level of excitement with that firewood job, we moved a great deal of firewood into a clearer area before then processing it through the log splitter.

Firewood rounds were moved into a clear area away from the pile of logs

We’ve spent a couple of days processing firewood from that old log pile, and after waking up in the middle of the night – possibly due to being over stimulated by the snake risk during the proceeding days – I called it quits on working on that log pile. We’ll come back to it in winter and finish the job when the snakes are less reactionary.

The pile of logs will be processed over winter when it is safer to do so

The birds are my great allies when it comes to snakes. And the snakes live in fear of the birds who will happily kill and dine upon the slithery critters. Part of my obligation to the birds for this service is that I provide them with fresh water with which they can safely drink and bathe over the summer months. Earlier today I cleaned and replenished this reservoir which sits high up on one of the water tanks. The reservoir is actually a fault in the molding of the roof of the water tank, but it’s also convenient.

A clean reservoir for birds to drink and bathe in, sits safely high above the ground on top of one of the water tanks

The firewood shed is rapidly filling up and I estimate that there may be only two more days of work to go before the shed is filled.

The firewood shed is about two thirds filled

Due to the cooler summer, the harvest has been all over the shop. Some crops are producing poorly and others are going off like a frog in a sock. Blackberries are having an amazing season and I have not watered them once all season. Most days we can harvest a colander worth of ripe and juicy berries, and there are uncountable berries left on the canes still to ripen.

An average days harvest of sun ripened and very tasty Blackberries

Most of the berries are made into Jam or Wine, and both are exceptionally tasty products.

Ollie is confounded by the sheer quantity of Blackberries

An old Peach tree of the Anzac variety is a reliable producer of fruit. Each year I pick many trays of ripe tasty peaches. They have one minor problem in that the flesh does not separate from the fruit as it is an old school heritage variety of tree. So I had a few trays of ripe tasty peaches which were going to go off and I had to do something with them. I made them into a very tasty peach jam.

Anzac peaches being converted into jam

Each fruit had to be cut away from the stone and then blitzed. 17 jars of jam took about 4 hours of work, but it is a very tasty jam. We’ve now finished the jam making processes for this season and it is nice to see the dozens of bottles of jam (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and peach) waiting to be opened and slathered on freshly baked bread come the cooler weather. Hopefully in future seasons as the fruit trees become more mature and productive, we hope to add fig and quince jams to that list as they are both worthy jams.

In addition to the jam making we also preserved enough apricot and plums this week for about three quarters of the years needs. We’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen (both indoors and outdoors) this week.

Long term readers will recall that the farm has no services connected to it. Most people living in the city take these services for granted and we have to provide them ourselves, or make do. It’s kind of fun and challenging to live that way, but sometimes it is a right royal pain. The internet connection comes via the mobile (cell) phone network and we have antennas installed on the roof to assist with that connection. In the past week I replaced one of the two very expensive antennas with a real el-cheapo antenna. And it just works better.

An el-cheapo antenna outperforms an expensive Yagi antenna. Go figure

The other day I encountered a very old English Oak tree which had hundreds of seedlings underneath it. I helped myself to a dozen of them, and potted them out and placed the liberated seedlings in the greenhouse. They’re doing very well and are looking forward to being established in their new home.

A dozen Oak seedlings were liberated from the awful fate of being mowed

Summer produce update:

The tomato plants are growing, but only one plant has so far produced some tiny fruit. This is very late in the season and reflects just how cold this summer has been.

Left row: Eggplants and Chilli’s + Middle row: Tomatoes + Right row: Globe Artichokes
This lone tomato plant has produced three tiny fruits

Ordinarily we’d expect about 100kg (220 pounds) of tomatoes, but this outcome may not eventuate this summer.

Despite the cooler weather, many plants are growing strongly due to the plentiful moisture held in the soil. The ten grape vines in the grape / strawberry enclosure are growing well and I’m having fun training the vines to climb along the stainless steel cables.

Not bad for two year old grape vines

A late frost combined with a sudden hail storm during November significantly reduced the apricot harvest to not much fruit at all. But the fruit which survived the harsh conditions looks good and is more importantly, tasty.

The apricots which survived the frost and hail storm are looking good and are tasty

Apples are produced far later than many stone fruits and as such are more reliable producers of fruit. I’ve never seen so many apples on the trees as this year. Sooner or later we will harvest the fruit and convert it into apple cider vinegar and wine. Even if the local parrots take half the fruit, there will still be a lot left to harvest. And the birds help to thin the fruit from the tree and reduce the risk that branches will snap under the weight of the fruit.

Apples, glorious apples!

The first zucchini (courgette) appeared out of nowhere this week.

The first zucchini (courgette) appeared this week

Only once before have we successfully grown peas, and a visiting mate ate them all. This year we appear to have produced a very good harvest of peas. I believe that our lack of success in earlier years was due to planting out the vines at the wrong time of year. Contrary to opinion, winters here are too cold for peas and beans other than the notable exception of broad beans.

Plentiful peas are hanging from the vines

Onto the flowers:

The Roses in the garden terraces are blooming
The Roses make a stunning accompaniment to the vegetables growing on the same terrace
This hedge of Lavender goes from strength to strength and the bees love the flowers
The garden beds are a riot of flowers and colour
Flowers from the culinary mint, Oregano are set against a backdrop of Agapanthus

The temperature outside now at about 9.00am is 11’C (52’F). So far this year there has been 78.8mm (3.1 inches) which is up from last weeks total of 73.6mm (2.9 inches).