Monday, 25 September 2017

Surfs Up!

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link:

From my late teenager years onwards, I worked full time and studied an undergraduate degree at University part time, at night. The necessity of paying the rent, keeping food on the table and a roof over my head during a time of 10% unemployment was no joke thus I was unable to afford to attend Uni full time.

Usually, in those night time University classes I was the youngest person in attendance. I vividly recall an experiment that the University undertook with the objective of producing more well-rounded graduates. The experiment involved all students having to undertake a humanities subject which examined some of the larger social issues facing the country. Given that the subjects were compulsory and couldn’t be avoided, I chose to enrol in the intriguingly named : The Generation and Distribution of Wealth in Australia.

One of the memorable highlights of the subject was when the tutor surveyed the class about their aspirations. The results of that particular survey, was that the vast majority of the class wanted to live in a mansion, on a quarter acre parcel of land within five kilometres (3.1 miles) of the CBD. The fact that such an aspiration was unlikely to ever be realised by anyone in the class may be viewed as an indictment of the education process itself, but that irony was possibly lost on the class…

Anyway, the interesting thing about that subject was that there was a guy in the class who I used to go to high school with. The chances of that happening were infinitesimal, but there he was. At high school we’d never spoken to each other, but at University, things were different. We were small fish in a very big and diverse pond. Of course, the reality may have been that he had nobody else to talk too, and there was always the necessity to do group assignments rather than individual work.

Part time study was a strange beast, because people turned up in an evening, did the work required of them, and then went back home after a long day of work and study. If they were anything like me, they were probably feeling rather tired. As an interesting side note, I always laugh when I see movies depicting College student debauchery because that gear just didn’t happen down here with part time students. Come to think of it, I don’t know of any full time students who lived that sort of hedonistic life either. 'Animal House' it was not!

Whatever may be the case, for a year or two afterwards we used to undertake the same subjects and talk rubbish and generally keep each other up to date on what was going on in our lives. Then one year he just dropped off the radar. I on the other hand had taken on a new job and to my absolute horror (I hate early mornings), the new job expected me to be on the first plane (the red eye) to Sydney once a month to work in that office, and then fly back again.

“Estimated time of arrival 9.30 a.m.
Been up before the sun and now I'm tired before I even begin.
(Now you're flying) I got so much work in front of me,
(Really flying) it stretches out far as the eye can see.
I can see.”

The guy who dropped off the radar had led an interesting life, in the true meaning of the apparent ancient apocryphal Chinese curse, which when translated into English states: "May you live in interesting times". Nobody in their right mind wants to live in interesting times! Anyway, the guy had lost both his parents a few years before and given that trauma, he was surprisingly well balanced. However, he did have a keen sense of the fragility and uncertainty of life. On the other hand the trauma left him exceptionally well financed relative to his peers.

In a strange coincidence a year or two after he dropped off the radar, I met him randomly one day in the street in Melbourne. To be honest, he looked more relaxed than I felt at the time, and perhaps he was. He told me that he’d purchased a caravan park up on the north central coast of New South Wales and spent many of his days surfing the excellent surf breaks up there. He invited me up to visit, but I was so busy working that I never got around to taking up the offer.

“Promised to myself someday I'd take the time and try to make sense
Out of all those opportunities I've lost from trying to sit on the fence
(Now you're flying) But right now I've got no time for yesterday
(Really flying) Yesterday's a thousand miles away.
A thousand miles away.”

I was thinking about that guy this week because at the time, he told me that his girlfriend broke up with him because she had no intention of living in such a remote (but astoundingly beautiful and natural resource rich) part of the country. At the time, I was surprised by that break up because they had been together as a couple for many years. However, what brought all this back to my attention earlier this week was that I read a quote from an 1860 Canadian Settlers Guide (C. P. Traill) which was: “If he be by nature indolent, and in temper desponding, easily daunted by difficulties and of a weak frame of body, such a life would not suit him. If his wife be a weakly woman, destitute of mental energy, unable to bear up under the trials of life, she is not fit for a life of hardship – it would be useless cruelty to expose her to it”.


People respond very differently to both my lifestyle and my property here. Some people believe that I am very lucky, and yet others believe that I am selfish for a variety of reasons.  Neither view really sees the full picture of life here. The former tend to see only the beauty and the latter tend not to see the hard work.

How lucky I am that the editor is happy to share this particular adventure with me. Living on a small holding is certainly not for everyone! Ours is a life of balance and there is a mid point which is reached between enjoying the beauty and doing the hard work required to bring that beauty into being.

“Working for yourself sometimes ain't all that it's cracked up to be.
It can be as lonely at the top as at the bottom of that corporate tree
(Now you're flying) I'm told I'm going places - who can say?
(Really flying) I might arrive but I'll be gone the very next day.
I must be on my way
A thousand miles away.”

This week, the weather has been very changeable. One morning fog hung over the valley:
Early morning fog hung over the valley
Some days it was quite cold and the fluffy canine collective were reluctant to chase the wallabies. Instead they dreamed of chasing wallabies:
Sir Scruffy is out cold and dreaming of chasing wallabies
Then on Saturday the September heat records were broken in several locations on the continent: Records smashed under summer-like heat

Hot and cold weather doesn't stop the ongoing work here! This week we added a new 4,020 Litre (1,062 Gallon) water tank to the farm. This new water tank is intended to provide water to a new garden terrace which is currently under construction. A new project!

Fortunately having a bright yellow trailer means that I can pick up the water tank at the supplier in a nearby town. Driving it back to the farm is akin to having a huge sail on the back of the little white Suzuki dirt rat. Driving slowly is the order of the day. Eventually the water tank, dirt rat and trailer made it back to farm without incident. The first thing to do is to push the water tank off the back of the trailer. The the water tank has to be moved out of the wind, because otherwise despite its considerable weight, it may blow away. The local excavator bloke enjoyed sharing many horror stories of empty water tanks ending up other than where they started. Of course such unexpected events provided good work for the excavator bloke...
The new water tank was located out of the prevailing wind as a safety precaution
The water tank was to be located on an 'under construction' terrace for the strawberries. Unfortunately that new terrace is above the house and so the water tank had to be pushed up hill in yet another Sisyphus moment.
The new water tank had to be pushed up hill
In the photo above you can get an idea about how big water tanks are - even a little one like this is quite large and heavy.

A flat spot for the new water tank had to be excavated. We picked a nice spot in among some Musk Daisy bushes (Olearia argophylla).
A nice spot for the new water tank was selected
After a couple of hours of excavations the new - and now flat - spot for the water tank was ready to go. Underneath water tanks I add a quantity of rock crusher dust. Needless to say that stuff is dusty, but it settles beautifully and is a far stronger base than sand.
The new water tank is now in place on a bed of rock crusher dust
As I filled the new water tank with water from the house, I had to empty another existing water tank in a different location. The reason that the existing water tank had to be emptied was because we had inadvertently set it too high. And the only way to lower a heavy tank is to first empty it, otherwise you have no hope of moving it anywhere - even a very strong wind has no chance of moving one full of water!
Another existing water tank had to be emptied so that it could be lowered in height
Then we began excavating the new strawberry terrace.
Breaking Ground - the excavations for the new strawberry terrace began
We use an electric jackhammer with a wide clay spade to dig into the side of the hill. Then a mattock - which is a hand tool used for digging which can be seen in the photo above - to break up the clods of clay. A shovel and rake are used to move the clay so as to cut a flat terrace in the side of the hill.

After a days excavations, about 40% of the new terrace area had been excavated. It is hard work, especially when the sun is shining more strongly than you would expect for this time of year.
Mr Toothy is exhausted after watching so much excavation activities
All that digging unearthed a good quantity of rocks. We love rocks, and every rock has a use on the farm. Mostly! In the photo above you can see just to my right that we unearthed the edge of a huge rock which we cannot move or break. The huge rock has provided us with a corner for the new terrace (and you can't argue location with massive rocks)! However, all of the other unearthed rocks were either: put to one side if they were large enough to be used in a garden bed; or placed in the new rock gabion cage.
A good quantity of rocks were recovered in the process of digging the new strawberry terrace
In breaking wombat news: the wombat removed much of the silt from a concrete drain which the wombat uses as an underground highway. The silt was deposited in last summers heavy rains. If only I could harvest that wombat energy somehow...
A wombat cleared the silt out of this concrete drain which it uses as an underground highway
The wallabies are a bit frisky now that spring is here and the weather is warming. Several male wallabies have been fighting each other in the orchard at night for the attentions of a female wallaby. Needless to say, the female wallaby (like the kangaroos who are also in the orchard) are very nonplussed at the epic wallaby battles.
Male wallabies duke it out for the attentions of a female wallaby

Spare a thought for the poor fruit trees and daffodils who are the real victims here!

One of the two kangaroos who are also in the orchard are completely disregarding the antics of the wallabies
As is my usual wont, I'd like to finish this weeks blog with some flower photos:
An Anzac peach produces huge quantities of pink flowers with a pineapple sage in the foreground
Ornamental cherry tree - Showoff. Nuff said!
A Santa Rosa Plum covered in flowers
The intricate flowers of an Acer Negundo
With special thanks this week to the most excellent band Hoodoo Gurus who provided the song "1,000 miles away" from which I ripped the lyrics to accompany the story. If you've never heard of that band, all I can say is: "Why not?" In my youth I enjoyed many a moshpit whilst being entertained by them. Let's finish the blog with the final lyrics of the outstanding song:

“What was that that you were trying to say ?
I guess I was a thousand miles away.”

The temperature outside now at about 8.30pm is 5’C (41’F). So far this year there has been 672.4mm (26.5 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 665.8mm (26.2 inches).

Monday, 18 September 2017

Ship of Fools

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link:

This week, two chickens have become broody. A broody chicken is a chicken that sits in place for about three weeks. Underneath that hot and sweaty, broody chicken, is a clutch of eggs which the broody chicken is keeping nice and toasty warm. In a chicken enclosure with a rooster, the fertilised eggs would eventually hatch and the broody chicken may take those young chicks under her wing. I do not have a rooster and so the eggs are not fertilised. Chickens still go broody whether the eggs are fertilised or not.
Two broody chickens face off against fluffy head the Silky Australorp cross who wants to lay an egg
In the above photo you can see that the black chicken known as “Fluffy Head” wants to lay an egg. Fluffy Head wants the large grey chicken (Boss Plymie, the Plymouth Rock) and/or the small grey chicken (a Silkie) to keep her egg warm during the three week incubation period. Chickens are quite clever creatures in their own way, because they share the responsibilities involved in raising new chicks.From what I have observed over the years of their behaviour, they seem to have an organised roster system between them all for that purpose.

However, it is not all nice in the world of chicken, as some of the social arrangements of the chickens can be pretty brutal. For example some of the “cool kids” in the chicken enclosure have never gone broody. And I have reports from friends who raise chicks, that some hens will actively harm and/or kill chicks that are not their own. The world of chicken is indeed a complex place full of intrigue.

So in that world of chicken I noticed the other evening, that I have somehow managed to trap a lone mouse into the rodent proof enclosure. How the mouse came to be in the apparently rodent proof enclosure is a sad tale for the mouse.

You see, a few months ago, the local mice were looking for an easy feed and so they burrowed a tunnel under the very thick concrete slab and broke into the chicken enclosure. Those mice enjoyed massive night time parties for a few weeks because they'd hit the food jackpot. The mice enjoyed free access to as much grain and clean water as they could scoff down every night. Of course during the day, the mice were unable to freely roam inside the chicken enclosure because the chickens would kill and eat them (not necessarily in that order). Chickens are most certainly not vegetarians!

“We're setting sail to the place on the map
from which no one has ever returned
Drawn by the promise of the joker and the fool
by the light of the crosses that burned.
Drawn by the promise of the women and the lace
and the gold and the cotton and pearls”

The mice were reasonably canny though, because as the morning sun appeared in the sky, they exited the chicken enclosure via their tunnel. The chickens and the mice were happy with the arrangement, and nobody ever got eaten. Unfortunately, I was not happy with the arrangement as the mice were eating the chicken’s grains, which cost me my hard earned $.

The mouse situation was easily resolved. Many weeks ago, I mixed up cement at the start of a work day and poured it into the tunnel that the mice had dug. Then I poured even more cement over the general area where the mice had managed to get access into the chicken enclosure. The mouse problem was solved, for now.

Little did I realise at that time, that I’d somehow managed to trap a mouse inside the – now once again – rodent proof chicken enclosure.

“It's the place where they keep all the darkness you need.
You sail away from the light of the world on this trip, baby.
You will pay tomorrow
You're gonna pay tomorrow
You will pay tomorrow”

Inside the chicken enclosure there is now one rather nervous mouse! The mouse has plenty to eat and water to drink, but it can’t escape the enclosure and it has to hide from the chickens during the daylight hours. It’s trapped with no immediate possibility of escape.

“Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools. No, no
Oh, save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
I want to run and hide right now”

The brilliant and long since deceased Mark Twain once quipped that: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” In last weeks blog comments, there was a minor discussion about how the future of the electricity grid would look. As a general rule, I don’t put much faith in peoples plans because plans are quite simple to make, but very difficult to implement, and so I dismissed the visions that were being served up to me in the comment section. My reaction was probably baffling for people who are used to being comforted by the thought that someone, somewhere, has a plan about some matter that requires a plan (maybe like the government, or 'they', whoever that is).

I’ve noticed that plans are very soothing to people and they are regularly thrown about in the media. However, as the Australian punk band Regurgitator sung in their modern classic song, Bong In My Eye: “How can I f&*# the system, when I’m sitting on the couch? I'm not a threat, not a danger, when I'm stuck inside the house.” An honest observation from the irreverent band and perhaps more relevant to the story than you would at first think!

The mouse probably has a plan to escape from the rodent proof enclosure, but the question remains, can the mouse implement the plan? Or is it too comfortable on the couch?

“Avarice and greed are gonna drive you over the endless sea
They will leave you drifting in the shallows
or drowning in the oceans of history
Traveling the world, you're in search of no good
but I'm sure you'll build your Sodom like you knew you would
Using all the good people for your galley slaves
as you're little boat struggles through the warning waves, but you don't pay
You will pay tomorrow
You're gonna pay tomorrow
You're gonna pay tomorrow”

With winter on the way out, and spring on the way in, the weather this week has been very changeable. Some days were extra windy, and one night a huge branch fell from a very large tree. It was very thoughtful of the forest to provide us with free firewood!
Big winds dropped the top off this tall tree. I call that free firewood!
The next minute, the spring sunhsine was glorious to behold. Spring sunshine has an almost sparkly glint, and the plants eagerly reach up to the sky to receive that post winter warmth.
Spring sunshine sparkles
Winter means that the insects are absent or in hibernation and their continual droning noise is absent. However by spring, the native and European bees all begin buzzing around the farm enjoying the feed from the early spring blossoms:
A native and European bee enjoy the early spring blossoms of this apricot flower
The dogs are likewise happily cooking their heads in the spring sunshine, even when an ominous storm is lurking in the background.
Toothy cooks his head in the spring warmth whilst an ominous storm builds over the valley
Fortunately the editor and I had completed repairs to the path around the now much larger tomato enclosure before the storm hit. That path took an additional half cubic metre (0.65 cubic yards) of local crushed rock with lime. All weather paths are an invaluable chunk of infrastructure on a farm.
The path around the recently extended tomato enclosure was repaired
Then the spring storm landed. The rain was torrential for about an hour.
A short, sharp and very heavy spring rainfall landed at Fernglade Farm
Most of that heavy rainfall was captured in the soil, and the above rainfall is directed into a swale (the fancy name for a ditch which slows water allowing it to infiltrate into the soil) just below the tomato enclosure.
The run off from the recent very heavy rainfall is directed into the swale below the tomato enclosure
I have not mentioned the rock gabion project - which is located behind the wood shed - for a while now. Rock gabions are a technology for retaining soil on steep embankments, and they are usually constructed from a steel cage which is filled with randomly sized rocks. On the farm we have a combination of steep embankments, lots of rocks, and a need for rock gabions. Some may call that a perfect storm? Whatever, rock gabions are enormously strong and I reckon there is a real beauty in their form. This week we finally filled the fourth rock gabion behind the wood shed.
The fourth rock gabion was filled this week

The editor was joking that sewing up the upper edge of that completed rock gabion with heavy duty steel wire was a good use of the sewing skills that she learned in home economics at school! I certainly had to learn quickly in order to keep up with her.

We then constructed the fifth rock gabion cage from some scrap and a few sheets of welded steel mesh. The two sheets of welded steel mesh were bent using our leg muscles and a straight edge which was provided by the tiles on the fire retardant veranda.
Two sheets of welded steel mesh were used to create a new rock gabion cage
After a couple of hours work (and another change in weather) a brand new fifth rock gabion cage was sitting in place on the ever extending rock gabion wall. All we have to do now is fill that new steel cage with more rocks!
A brand new rock gabion cage awaits to be filled with more rocks
Did I mention that this season we have a lot of lemons? Eighty seven lemons were apparently picked and the lemon trees look the same to me. Fortunately, I have craftily worked out a way to convert lemons into muffins (oh, they're good!) At this time of year, we generally press a whopping great big mass of lemons for their juice which is used in cooking, preserving and wine production for the remainder of the year. This is a good start.
Plenty of lemons for juicing
Juicing huge quantities of fruit is very easy, if you have a quality fruit press. The entire job takes less than half an hour.
A fruit press converts lemons into lemon juice for use in cooking, preserving and wine making
We have again started some of our summer vegetable seeds inside the house. We always use a mix of saved seed and purchased organic seeds as the germination rate of the seeds is very high (at a guess I reckon it is above 80%). This year we are experimenting using egg crates sitting in plastic trays to raise the seeds in. There is one seed per egg holder and each egg holder has a hole for the roots to exit and the water to enter. We figure that as the seedlings grow we can cut apart the egg crate and simply plant the chunk of crate with its seedling outside in the tomato enclosure thus incurring less transplant shock than in previous years. We don't really know how it will turn out and for all we know, it may not work.
Tomatoes and eggplant seeds were started this week
As is usual, I would like to conclude the blog with some photos of the many flowers growing about the farm:
Apricots are beginning to blossom this week. They are second to the almonds which precede them (I appreciate the trees considering the intricacies of alphabetical order!)
This hyacinth bulb is producing beautiful flowers
Respect the hellebore!
Jonquils make up for their diminutive size with sheer mass
Daffodils are in showy clumps all over the farm
The very first rhododendron flowers appeared this week
Can anyone guess what this intricate stunner is?
The final words of the week go to the band “World Party” for their genius and truly outstanding 1987 song “Ship of Fools” from which I borrowed the lyrics from for this weeks blog. Total respect guys!

“Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
Where's it comin' from?
Where's it goin' to now?
It's just a, It's just a ship of fools”

The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 7’C (45’F). So far this year there has been 665.8mm (26.2 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 641.6mm (25.3 inches).