Get Inspired

Dame Plum the Kelpie dog rushed up to greet me. You’re not meant to be here, the thought popped into my awareness. Down at the edge of the forest was where the careless dog had consumed some wombat and/or wallaby poop a few weeks ago. And that’s when things went badly for the dog. She had a nasty seizure, but survived. It probably would have killed me, or at least caused seriously internal problems. As everyone knows, wombats are a burrow dwelling marsupial, about the size of a pig, and live in that part of the farm. At night they amble around the orchard consuming the herbage and low hanging vegetation. They’ve been on the continent for so long that they can consume the multitude of toxic mushrooms growing in the forest, possibly without harm. Dame Plum would be wise to avoid their scats for that reason, but no.

Surrounded by the tall trees, the dog just stared up at me looking proud as. Hey boss! I’m here. Let’s do some work! Ooo, is that a juicy wombat poop over there? Dame Plum is 100% supervised nowadays, and the short, sharp, loud command of: “Oi!” will get her attention and stop whatever mischief she was up to. Her report card would read: Mostly well behaved, but sometimes easily distracted.

Fortunately, Sandra had walked the Kelpie down to the forest edge and had been monitoring the unfolding dog situation. I’d been working there cleaning up the century or so of loggers mess. All those pristine logs and half rotten branches were being dealt to. The local tree species here (Eucalyptus Obliqua) is a hardwood with a density of about 750kg/m3. That’s some very tough and heavy timber. And with all of that stuff laying on the wet ground ground, there are a lot of mushrooms growing in that area.

Most, but not all, of the forest materials can be converted into firewood. And we do that processing even if the core and outer edges of the logs are beginning to show signs of decomposing. It’ll dry off and burn as heating fuel just fine. Some of the branches and logs however, are like wet sponges. Those we burn off. The ash produced from the fires is a very good fertiliser for the forest floor in that area.

Ruby the Kelpie inspects some of the logs and branches

The mess has been laying there in the surrounding forest since the saw log recovery efforts following on from the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires and the century of logging before then. That’s what cheap land looks like. They’re now all overgrown by luxuriant plant growth, so it’s hard to even see what is under all that greenery. And in winter it’s a cold, wet and dirty job to extract them. Anyway, the recoverable logs get cut into discs. The discs then get stacked in a neat pile, and in a week or two when hopefully the ground is drier, we’ll split the discs into firewood chunks, then haul the stuff back up the hill. Easy, but hard.

Log discs waiting to be split into firewood chunks

Super observant readers will note that the old tree stump shown in last weeks blog has now been ground up. All the sawdust produced was mixed into the soil and will be a good fertiliser when combined with the ash. Using that stump grinder machine is hard work, but it gets the job done. Funnily enough cutting the tree stump into discs actually broke the chainsaw clutch! Fortunately, I can fix such things:

How to repair the chainsaw clutch when the drum has seized

You know what? It’s a rather sobering moment when you realise that the very wet and half rotten, not to mention covered in soil stuffs burns hot, even in a wet winter. In high summer, those materials would probably burn hotter and quicker than the surface of the sun. Over the years we’ve been lucky so far on that front, although there has been a close call.

The rotten and very damp forest materials burn well, even in winter

Unfortunately one small tree had to be felled and you can see the leaves in the above fire. A hazel pomaderris (Pomaderris aspera) was quite diseased and had somehow pulled out of the ground, leaving it on a funny angle with an exposed root system. That’s not good. Those are rainforest trees, and generally I look after and encourage them, but that one was a falling hazard near to the end of it’s life. And the bonfire was just there…

Back to Dame Plum who was staring intently at me whilst we were both standing at the forest edge. Sandra arrived a minute or two after the dog. Kelpies can run fast when required. Admiring the hard work, Sandra made the friendly suggestion: Instead of hauling all the material to that fire, why don’t you just start another fire over there? Note to self: Try to look cool and in command. Reaching deep inside my brain whilst searching for something particularly manly to say I blurted out: I didn’t think of that!

Sometimes the truth hurts. So admitting it was a good idea, I grabbed a few coals from the existing fire and dumped them in an appropriate spot. Plonked some really wet and green leaves on top. The next layer was some bark. Then I went feral chucking on the most rotten and wet of forest materials. I’d never seen a bonfire produce so much smoke before. But it sure did save me lugging all those materials over to the original fire. Good thinking on my part! (Sandra groaned aloud when she read that last sentence).

The second fire had to deal with a lot of very wet forest materials

It took about half an hour before the flames began to consume the mess. And what happened to Dame Plum? She forgot about the wombat poop and was distracted by the family of magpies which live here.

Dame Plum eyes off a magpie. Her chances of success are zero!

The tall trees growing here are worthy of the hard work.

The local trees are quite a bit bigger than the fruit trees growing in the orchard

In the above photo you can see a bit of sunshine. We’re now beyond the crucial three weeks either side the winter solstice. The sun is getting high enough in the sky each day that the solar panels are just beginning to generate enough electricity to fully charge the house batteries. And on the very day that period of time ended, one of the dozen chickens produced an egg. And it’s blue!

Three weeks after the winter solstice and an Araucana produced this egg

All the same, it is very wet outside and this week is forecast to bring more rain each day.

Water droplets hang off this Japanese Maple

Most weeks we have to spread around the huge quantity of coffee grounds we’ve been bringing back to the farm for fifteen years. They’re a good soil fertiliser, but in the volume we apply them, you have to add some additional minerals. I’ve written about this process previously, but this week we made a short video showing how it’s all done.

Using coffee grounds in the garden and orchard

The coffee ground mixture is also added from time to time in the raised vegetable beds. And how good do these raised beds look for three weeks after the winter solstice?

Green mustards on the edge and kale in the centre
Silverbeet shrugs off the freezing winter weather

Whilst I was working down at the forest edge, Sandra had been busy making Sake (a Japanese rice wine), Olive Oil Soap, and big batch of Kiwifruit wine. That was the second batch of Kiwifruit wine we’ve made this season, and it’ll take a year before it is ready to consume. Even after picking all the fruit for that purpose, plus several trays for the breakfast of home made toasted muesli, yoghurt and mixed fruit, there are still heaps of the kiwifruit on the vines. The local birds and other forest critters need to eat well too.

We’ve got both types of parrots: King Parrots and Crimson Rosella’s

Oh, and here are the trays of fruit waiting to be added into the breakfast fruit mix.

Kiwifruit ready to be added to the breakfast fruit mix

I won’t mention that we eat the skins of those fruits. Oops, broke my own rule there! Many years ago a friend who hailed from New Zealand corrected me in this most controversial of matters, and I haven’t looked back.

It’s still very much winter, and the weather forecast suggests there is a chance of snow down to 800m tomorrow (a higher elevation than the farm). We’ll see how that works out. But there are early signs of the spring which is to come.

Daffodils continue to poke their noses out from the wintry soil in the orchards

Some folks in the readership have an interest in nut trees (hey there Goran!) and I thought this next photo of an Australian nut variety would be interesting. It’s a Bunya Pine / Bunya-Bunya (Araucaria bidwillii). It’s very closely related to the Monkey Puzzle tree, which is hardly surprising given Australia and South America were connected long ago. The Bunya tree is much hardier from what I’ve observed of the two varieties. The huge nuts are roasted up, and were highly prized by the Indigenous folks.

At two metres tall, this Bunya Pine has a long way to grow

We have three hazelnut trees growing, and this winter all three of them have catkins. I do hope that the trees are compatible for the purposes of pollination, because the nuts we’ve grown so far are excellent tasting.

Hazelnut catkins show against a dark winter sky

Onto the flowers:

Alpine heath produce lovely winter flowers
Hakea lissosperma, commonly known as needle bush for good reason!
Cytisus proliferus, tagasaste or tree lucerne is a high protein animal feed
A very sweet looking Hellebore

The temperature outside now at about 9am is 5’C (40’F). So far for last year there has been 512.4mm (20.2 inches) which is up from last weeks total of 472.8mm (18.6 inches)