Walking Under Stars

The world is an amazing place. Sometimes it’s nice to take the time out from a busy life to spend a few moments looking at the world. Never know what you might miss. Right now in the middle of winter it’s cold outside, but far out the stars can put on one heck of a show here. Last night was a moonless sky, whilst the air was crispy clear, if somewhat bracing. That’s what a woollen hat, alpaca fleece scarf and other miscellaneous items of animal derived clothing shield you from. Stars filled the sky to the horizon and you could even see the band of the Milky Way winding it’s way across through galactic space.

The night sky around midnight Saturday night

Living out in the forest, a person is immersed in nature. There’s always something going on. The other day the local family of magpies were mercilessly teasing the hapless Kelpie dog, Ruby.

One of the local magpies keeps well away from the hapless Ruby

I warn the magpies whenever either Dame Plum and/or Ruby are running around the orchards. Those birds hear the call: “Chook, chook, chook”, and they’ll be ready and alert for dog mischief. The two dogs are total athletes who just want to run, so they’ll run, and fast. The magpies usually already know the two Kelpies are running around, but it doesn’t hurt to build upon friendly relations with the birds. In the city, those birds swoop people and cause all manner of distress, but not here. When there’s trouble in the area, the magpies will make their alert call. When the trouble is more than they can handle, they’ll come and get my attention and assistance.

Much of the clean up work we do in the adjacent forest makes it better for many, but perhaps not all, of the forest critters. Humans can be active players in the environment. The thing is, if you make a particular choice, well, it effects something else over there. That’s life. None of us live out lives in a vacuum free from consequence. It’s often forgotten that doing nothing is a choice, and has consequences. The birds in particular love the work we do. When we clean up the century of left over loggers mess, sometimes we’ll discover termite mud tunnels buried deep into an old dead tree. The birds observe Sandra and I whilst we are at our work, and then they happily dine upon juicy termites and wood borer grubs. They fly in pretty close nowadays.

The soil fertility has been slowly improving over the past eighteen years. And after a century of logging, it needed to. Every time a log was ever taken away from this area for processing, minerals were lost. After a century of that activity, the soil fertility became pretty dire. In the early days we used bury our kitchen scraps in the hard baked concrete like volcanic clay. The forest critters dug it all up and ate it. Every single chunk. But then, they’re actions continued the job of aerating the soil and spreading the fertility further afield via their poop.

Over the years we’ve easily brought back six hundred cubic metres of composted woody mulch. It doesn’t go as far as you’d think. After a few years the stuff produces a thin black sandy loam which may be the beginnings of top soil creation. We’ve also brought up various types of compost as well. Then there are the hundreds of tonnes of crushed rock with lime. We’ve probably brought in enough of that stuff to ever so slightly increase the soil pH, in a few areas.

For the past fifteen years the soil has been improved by the addition of coffee grounds from a busy café in Melbourne. We tried using that stuff as-is during the early days. It’s nice to try activities on the cheap to see whether it works. That didn’t work though. With a better understanding nowadays of soil and plant needs, agricultural lime, wood ash and blood and bone meal are all added in. The plants grow and produce.

A King Parrot enjoying some of the Kiwi Fruit crop

A good quantity of the produce goes to the many denizens of the forest who live here. It’s only fair because we share the land with them. Forest critters do a lot of poop too, so they’re enriching the land as well. We’re all working towards that common goal here, which is basically enjoying a decent meal.

The climate is variable enough in this part of the mountain range that I have a great deal of difficulty trying to guess what conditions we’ll experience in a weeks time. What will happen next month is a total mystery! This week is in the middle of winter so of course it has been cold. Sometimes the days were foggy, but for a couple of days the winter sun shone and it was truly glorious. You could feel the suns energy warming your skin. Of course sunny days with clear blue skies in winter, generally result in very cold and near-to-freezing nights.

Dame Plum explores the frosty ground

Most mornings have been frosty, some were colder than others, and in the shadier parts of the farm, the ice has hung around for days. Plenty of the plants we grow can tolerate the sort of frosts we experience.

An early Asparagus spear pokes forth from the frosty soil

If the day is foggy and we’re stuck indoors, we light the wood heater in the morning and then let it burn out over night. Otherwise the wood heater is lit in the evening. I’ve no desire to get up in the middle of the night to add firewood to the wood heater, so the fuel eventually runs out and the heater goes cold. Some mornings the inside temperature of the house falls to as low as 14’C / 57’F. That is a five blanket night. Just like my clothing choices, we utilise only natural fibres such as wool, mohair and cashmere for the blankets. Synthetic materials just don’t keep you as warm, whilst doona’s (European quilts / duvet / comforter) have the underlying assumption that every single night will be the same temperature.

The dogs are smart enough to adjust to their experienced conditions in accordance with the temperatures, and so on cold evenings they decamp to the tiles in front of the wood heater.

The dogs enjoy the winter comfort of the wood heater

I can’t imagine that there are too many locations on the planet where people process the following seasons firewood during the winter months. Maybe I need to get out more? Anyway, during this cold and wet time of the year, we do exactly that work. In summer there is always the minor risk of encountering the third deadliest snake on the planet. Since that species was downgraded from the number two deadliest position, I feel that due to feelings disappointment and inadequacy their temperament may not be all that even.

A couple of days were spent splitting and hauling firewood

The firewood is being sourced from the clean up forestry work. The loggers left a lot of mess to clean up, and that means we have plenty of firewood. In earlier weeks some of the logs were cut into discs. This week we processed the discs on the log splitter into heater sized chunks. To save double handling, the chunks were thrown into the power wheelbarrows which were then driven back up the hill.

The processed firewood is left to dry on contour next to the firewood shed

In five months or so, the heat from the sun will have dried out much of that firewood, then we’ll stack it away out of the weather in the firewood shed. By next winter, the stuff will be super dry at around 14% moisture content, which is almost perfect.

Since the health subject which dares not be named, we spend more time at home. The present firewood shed once held more than enough, but nowadays it is only just big enough to store a years worth of fuel. That’s cutting things too fine for my liking. The plan over the next five or six months is to construct a second, much larger firewood shed. More to come about this project in future weeks!

But for now, the firewood pile grows each week. And it’s better to do this job now, than when the weather is warmer.

Ollie admires the stack of drying firewood

Which gets us to this week’s exciting video. The video includes some interesting footage of the sort of massive loggers mess we’ve been left to deal with!

Splitting and hauling locally sourced firewood

Every now and then I’ll become enthused about removing one of the old loggers tree stumps. Many of the tree stumps have been pulled out of the soil, presumably by bulldozers and chains, but some of the older trees were simply cut with the saw logs being hauled away. That left the dead tree stumps sticking up out of the ground. The thing is, they take many long decades to rot away. Sometimes I just get sick of looking at them.

The external surface of the tree stump is cleaned using a sharp edged shovel

I try to clean the external surface of the tree stump as best as anyone possibly could. The reason for that is because if the chainsaw chain hits dirty timber, the cutting edge quickly blunts. And this was one dirty tree stump. The chain required sharpening five times all up.

The tree stump was full of mud tunnels created by termites

Termites convert the plant cellulose into some sort of orangey-brown mud. You can cut the mud like stuff with a chainsaw, but it will very quickly blunt the chain. This is why loggers leave these stumps.

The mud was mostly removed from the tree stump

Such work doesn’t make much economic sense to do, but I enjoy the aesthetic improvement from getting rid of the eye sores. Plus the huge quantity of saw dust produced gets mixed into the surrounding soil. Even the termite mud is good for the soil, so I dug it out using a shovel.

Eventually the tree stump was reduced to just above the soil level

The timber can be split into very hard and dense firewood, whilst in another day or so, the stump grinder will be used to grind up what remains of the tree stump. It’s all hard work, which is why the stump was left in place. After the job is done and in about two years time, the area will be full of grasses and herbage which the forest critters will happily feast upon. There’s yet another tree stump behind me in the above image!

Observant readers will have noted the earlier photo of the King Parrot dining upon the Kiwi Fruit crop. Well fear not fellow readers, the birds did not get all of them! We picked many buckets of now ripened Kiwi Fruits. Some will be used in breakfast over the next two months, whilst others were used to produce a tasty Kiwi Fruit wine. The fruit is not sweet, but has good flavour and produces a delightful dry wine which should be ready to drink in another year, or so.

In these days of product crapification, we now have to test each batch of wine yeast to ensure that it is still active. You’d be surprised at how short the shelf life of this stuff has become. An inactive (dead) batch of yeast will waste an awful lot of product. Many years ago, the stuff used to last a whole lot longer. Oh well, sometimes a person has to absorb ever more arcane knowledge, and it turns out that it is easy enough to test yeast prior to use.

Testing to see whether this wine yeast is active, and it certainly looks alive to me!

Onto the flowers:

Canary Island Foxgloves are a splash of colour during a cold time of the year
This has been the best year for Vietnamese mint and it’s spicy stuff
I’m surprised this Salvia is in flower, but it was fed a month or so ago
I’m not sure why they call Hellebores ‘the winter rose’?

The temperature outside now at about 9am is 7’C (44’F). So far for last year there has been 472.8mm (18.6 inches) which is up from last weeks total of 465.0mm (18.3 inches)