What the sun gave me

Turns out, the sun didn’t give all that much energy today. And it was less than the day before. That’s how the energy from sunlight rolls for about three weeks either side of the winter solstice. The sun is low in the sky and winter is cloudy, it’s that simple. Smarter people than myself are betting industrial civilisation as we know it, on this energy from sunlight technology. All you can hope is that they know something more about all this stuff, than what my experience suggests. It’s good, but not good enough to meet most peoples present requirements.

Thick low clouds hang over central Victoria

Maybe tomorrow if the sun does another no-show, we might have to drag out the generator and run it for about six hours to get some charge back into the house batteries. That amount of time will require about six litres of petrol (about 1.5 gallons of gasoline). It’s not much fuel really, but the numbers would get worse if we used a whole lot more electricity. Our household needs are modest, but even those occasionally aren’t met by the winter sun.

Long term readers will know that every couple of weeks, Sandra and I will head off on a journey to an hours drive north, and check out some of the old gold mining relics littered around the land. The industrial relics are a solid reminder that few things last indefinitely, and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that ever so slowly, the forest reclaims all.

This week, we visited the ‘Red, White and Blue mine’, which is literally out in the middle of nowhere. Despite being off the beaten track, it was not too hard to find. The deep shaft produced a lot of gold when the mine was worked between the early 1850’s to the 1950’s. Eventually the costs for removing the constant water ingress into the mine, exceeded the benefits from the gold recovered. And as the prescient poem Ozymandias suggested, all good things, no matter how great, come to an end.

All that’s left today from the productive mining activity is the poppet head and several impressive mullock heaps.

An intact poppet head stands over a very deep mine shaft

Standing over the steel grate with the long drop beneath me, kind of made my head swim. The thought: How good are these welds really? popped into my head, and it was at that very moment I decided it would be wiser to view the depths of the mine shaft from more solid ground.

Back in the 1950’s a steam boiler was used to supply the energy to a water pump. The pump sucked water out of the bottom of the mine, which allowed mining activities to continue. In those days, getting diesel fuel, let alone electricity to the remote site would have been a fine joke. Eventually, the water won that battle, and so the mine was abandoned. Presumably the buildings and anything else which could have been recovered, were removed. The poppet head was probably a step too far.

I’d imagine that there’s more gold to extract deep in the quartz veins which lay beneath my feet on that day, but it’s just not economic to extract. Engineering and economic issues killed the mine, not the lack of gold.

However, it was of interest to me to observe just how much the arid Box-Ironbark forests had recovered over the past 70 years. After a century of mining, I doubt those forests had any top soil left to speak of, let alone any interested humans bringing in hundreds of cubic metres of mulches and composts to repair the soils at a remote location. Or perhaps even coffee grounds? Nope, that clearly hadn’t happened at the mine site, but all the same, the forest still had some quite large trees for that particular variety of Eucalypt. One of the Red Ironbark trees had some amazing looking fire resistant thick bark.

The thick bark of a Red Ironbark tree

The old mining dams may have contained who knows what minerals, and yet there was a fair bit of bird life in the area. For them, the water would have been a good resource. Purely for research purposes for the blog, we poked the water with sticks to see whether any leeches were attracted to the movement, but none turned up.

It never ceases to amazes me just how many abandoned mining relics there are scattered about this corner of the country. I believe that there are some active gold mines operating in the state, and why not? If it’s economic to extract the stuff, I say go for it. But few mining operations can operate at an economic loss for very long, so it is hardly a major industry in this state any more. The recently announced continent wide $300 subsidy per household on electricity bills should give people pause for consideration as to what that actually means.

There’s an interesting article on how low grade mineral finds invariably work out, but this time in relation to a uranium discovery north and west of here: We found a uranium mine in the Victorian goldfields

But back to the farm. Whilst we were a bit short of electricity at this wintry time of the year, we aren’t cold. With at least ten thousand trees on the property, most of which grow a metre per year, there’s heaps of firewood.

The fluffies congregate around the wood heater on a cold winters day

Firewood is our cheapest heating fuel, mostly because the resources are local, the equipment is cheap and our time is free. Natural gas is another good heating fuel which we don’t use. In this state demand for gas has either outstripped supply, or will very soon. But also, that energy source isn’t local, so the bottles are very expensive to have delivered here. Electricity can be used for heating as well again which we don’t do. Heating through electricity uses a surprisingly large amount of that energy. But regardless, if the sun doesn’t shine, we have no way to generate a lot of electricity for the usual purposes, let alone heating with the stuff when we’d need it the most.

The funny thing is, the limits we experience with energy, are based on the systems that many folks are championing. I no longer even wonder if those desires are a good or bad idea, I simply wonder how people will cope with the sharp limits forced upon them by their very choices.

A bit of work was done this week cleaning up the various vegetable growing beds and getting them ready for spring. Asparagus dies back over winter, and so the many fronds were fed into the electric chipper chopper.

Asparagus fronds were fed into the electric chipper chopper

Heavy rain was forecast for later that day, so we hauled the chopped up asparagus and stored it out of the weather. It was thrown onto the new garden bed the next day. It looked like the world biggest baggie!

The ever vigilant Dame Plum protects the worlds biggest baggie!

Before the rain hit, there was a trailer load of mushroom compost to distribute, and we were also able to mix up the coffee grounds this time with Agricultural lime + Blood and Bone meal.

Lot’s of yummies for the soil

The three raised asparagus beds were thoroughly weeded. Oxalis for some reason grows in among the spears, and is almost impossible to remove when the plants are growing.

These raised Asparagus beds are getting weeded

Due to the heavy feed of Blood and Bone meal, the coffee ground soil feed mix was a lot lighter than usual, kind of like a Caffè latte colour.

The coffee ground mix went onto many of the raised beds

On top of that already good soil, a thick layer of mushroom compost will protect the asparagus crowns from the worst of the winter weather, and will also then give them a solid feed when they begin growing again next season. In early spring I’ll chuck some rock salt onto the soil surface, but that’s it.

Ruby admires the aroma of mushroom compost

The rest of the mushroom compost was spread over the garden rows in the sapling fenced enclosure. That enclosure has the best and deepest soil on the property. Other than weeding, that area is ready to go for next season.

The sapling fenced enclosure has been very well looked after

Years ago we planted strawberries in the grape vine cage. It’s an actual cage which excludes the parrots, because with only ten vines, those birds would eat all of the grapes. And the vines produced many weeks of very tasty fruit earlier this year. There are plenty of other things for the parrots to eat. Anyway, back to the strawberries. It was a bad idea growing them in the cage, because in the rich soil, all the plants ever did was produce more plants. I now treat the strawberry runners like the weeds they are. All of them are regularly removed with the brush cutter. That job was done this week.

The many strawberry runners were removed from the grape vine cage

In another week or so, I’ll prune the vines to give them a better shape.

Regular readers will recall the recent canine dramas with mushrooms of uncertain toxicity. Anyway, we continued cleaning up the loggers mess in that area this week. With so many logs on the ground, it hardly surprises me that there was a lot of mushroom mischief. Back in the day when the mountain range was logged and most likely after the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires when burnt logs were salvaged, the loggers used bulldozers and chains, and that ripped over many other trees which were never intended to be cut down, and it is those which litter the forest floor providing all the feed for the fungi.

A burn off at the forest edge

Burn off’s are hard work, and we even had to remove yet another upside down stump. It was located next to the seriously leaning tree you can see in the below photo. That job was a bit exciting, and tensions were high, but I can report that nobody was injured in the work.

That’s what hard work looks like

The heavy rain also brought a wind storm. Some alpine parts of the state had near record wind gusts, and I’d not be surprised if that wasn’t the case here as well, but in a very concentrated spot on the farm. One big tree toppled, and took out two other big trees. All of the trees were thrown by the strong wind gust with some considerable force.

A whole lot of wind damage

Trees can sheer and split away from the trunk. It’s almost as if the wind wielded giant chainsaws. The weak point of the tree is usually at a join, and if water gets in, sometimes termites and wood grubs take up residence. Many of the birds around here open up any holes in trees seeking these tasty fat grubs, and that simply makes the tree weaker.

A close up of the termite and wood grub damage

The lighter yellow / orange mud in the above photo is probably termite and grub poop. The trees were big, but the winds must have been bigger that stormy night.

A lot of mess to clean up

Onto the flowers:

Flowers of a different sort, probably very toxic
Salvias are coming to the end of their flower season
A very confused Lavender. The plants self seed here
Leucodendrons love the winter weather
This Escalonia is a very hardy and attractive bush

The temperature outside now at about 11am is 6’C (42’F). So far for last year there has been 413.0mm (16.3 inches) which is up from last weeks total of 377.0mm (14.8 inches)