Monday, 5 December 2016

Running on Empty

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

Into the dark night the call went out: “CQ. CQ. Are there any YL’s on channel? Over.”  Way back in the dark days of my early teenage years (well before the Internet) all of my friends used CB (Citizen Band AM 27MHz) radios to talk rubbish with each other at night. The words CQ were used to mean a general call into the radio ether. And of course, YL referred to that most elusive of the human species when one is a young male, for it was the: Young Lady!

Of course, my friends and I were either idiots or completely naive (and possibly both!). At the time, it never occurred to us that Young Ladies used the telephone to talk rubbish to each other at night. Who would have thought that happened? As I later found out, a Young Lady would never be caught dead using a CB radio as that was way uncool because of all of those yucky and uncouth young males talking rubbish to one another and taking up all of the airspace.

Of course, as a teenager I worked for Tandy Electronics (Radio Shack in the US) and so I had a secret advantage over my friends when it came to CB radio nerddom! Every month when the discontinued items list (and thus the very cheap stuff) turned up at the store I used to scour the list for anything relating to CB radios and then all of my pay went into buying that stuff. And eventually the roof of the tiny little shed in the back garden that I lived in as a young teenager, sprouted all manner of aerials both large and small. Inside that tiny shed were also numerous power supplies and various CB radios. The holy grail of my CB radios was the SSB (Single Side Band) 12W unit with which I could talk to people hundreds and sometimes thousands of kilometres away!

Don’t feel bad for me living in a tiny shed in the backyard! I used to be able to jump the back fence and be off and away down the laneway without waking anyone up. The dog of course had to be paid off in treats just to keep quiet, but me and that dog were tight and watched out for each other. And I won’t even mention the crazy night that I awoke to find my very naughty cat, who lived to a ripe and degenerate old age, urinating on one of the power supplies. The noise and sparks woke me up and I have to add that the naughty old cat never tried that particular trick again!

Why am I writing about CB radios, understanding dogs and naughty cats? Well, a few weeks ago I heard an interview on the radio with a very young actor from a television show. I have not watched that television show which is called: Stranger Things. The show is set in the 1980’s and that very young actor was saying that a much older actor in the show who is from my generation (Winona Ryder), had been coaching the much younger actors as to how people used to stay in contact with their friends and also keep themselves entertained prior to smart phones and the internet.

Well, last week, I was rudely plunged into pre-Internet times - Stranger Things indeed!

Regular readers will recall that the production of the recent video which I uploaded to YouTube a few weeks ago destroyed my old computer. The old computer died and no amount of coaxing could ever bring that old computer back to life.

So, I visited my favourite computer shop and purchased enough new components so as to cobble together a working computer comprising both new and old components. I connected the components together and soon the computer was showing signs of life again. Once the computer was actually working, I was then able to install all of the software which I used to have on the old machine. And to my surprise and horror, all of the software upgrades and downloads (and there weren’t that many) used up all of the remaining internet bandwidth for the remainder of the month (I have a fixed allocation of 15Gb per month). I had only just managed to upload the photos and text for last week’s blog when my Internet Service Provider pulled the pin on the capacity to access the internet here. It was a grim time.

However, having grown up in a time before the Internet, we dusted off the old skills of “life before the Internet”. Below is a brief summary of the activities from those grim few nights without access to the Internet:

Monday night: Uploaded the blog and just after that the internet access was rudely cut off.

Tuesday night: Ate a homemade pizza and watched a pre-recorded episode of Grand Designs UK and then we went for a walk.

Wednesday night: The editor and I went to the cinema to watch the very wrong, but oh so enjoyable film: Bad Santa 2. And then we ate gourmet hamburgers in the big smoke.

Thursday night: Still no internet, but fortunately the local pub was an excellent diversion and we availed ourselves of quality local brew and chicken parmigiana.

Friday night: The internet was back! Friends had invited us to have dinner with them and so instead of using the internet we visited them and there was good food and a lot of laughs.

Spare a moment in your day to feel sorry for us, as running on empty and having no access to the internet was a real hardship! However, we are made of tough stuff here at Fernglade Farm and so fortunately we survived the ordeal – only just though!

A few weeks back we picked up a second hand Chinese antique style cabinet. The previous owner no longer wanted the cabinet because it was too big for them. We were happy to oblige them and so we took the cabinet. However they were correct that the cabinet was too big and so we decided to Ikea hack it. An Ikea hack means to modify an existing item of furniture in a way that was not intended by the manufacturer. So, we began cutting the cabinet up into smaller pieces.
The author cuts up a replica Chinese antique style cabinet

Soon that cabinet was much smaller and of a more reasonable depth.
The cabinet was soon cut up into a more reasonable size

The rear of that cabinet was then prepared to be reconnected with the now smaller front of the cabinet.
The rear of that cabinet was then prepared to be reconnected with the front of the cabinet
Once the rear of the cabinet was reattached to the front, a generous coating of walnut stain was painted and then polished onto the cabinet. It looked as good as new (as Sir Scruffy can attest in the photo below!) but the cabinet was now smaller and much more usable. We won’t tell the people we got the cabinet from, shall we?
Sir Scruffy approves of the modifications and finish of the newly modified Chinese style cabinet
In breaking tomato news: Regular readers will be very aware by now just how badly we stuffed up the tomato season. In previous summers, tomatoes have been one of the biggest crops and we usually harvest around 100kg (220 pounds) of the fruit. Not this year though as everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong! However, earlier in the week when a few tomato seedlings popped their brave heads out of the ground. I started to believe that we would harvest at least some tomatoes this year.
Earlier in the week a few tomato seedlings popped their brave heads out of the ground
Alas for the poor tomato seedlings, I knew them well! Jokes aside, a massive population of slaters (also known as pill bugs, wood louse etc.) had established themselves in the tomato enclosure and had been consuming every single tomato seedling at night time. Here is one of the culprits:
A happy and full slater which is one of multitude that have consumed all of the tomato seedlings
I rarely have problems with any pests. The wildlife runs free through the gardens and orchard. However, the tomato enclosure is not open to the wildlife and I have a serious shortage of frogs in that area. The frogs are active at night and they will happily consume all of those pesky slaters. I have to give serious consideration to this problem over the next year and perhaps adapt the tomato enclosure so that it is more frog friendly than it is at present. In the meantime, the local nursery provided me with a pesticide which contains the chemical Bifenthrin which is toxic to the slaters, but is also toxic to the frogs. It is a conundrum and is only ever intended as a short term solution to a long term problem. On a brighter note I was able to source many replacement cherry tomato seedlings at a  local gardening club and I am very grateful to them. They even threw in a few freebies as they felt sorry for me.
The tomato enclosure with the recently planted (for the fifth time) replacement tomato seedlings
Unlike the tomatoes, you can almost see the potatoes growing! It is also worthwhile noting that the potatoes have not been watered at all this season. And as they grow, we have been adding more manure to the raised garden beds which buries the lower parts of the plants.
You can almost see the potatoes growing in their garden beds this year
Observant readers will also note that in the photo above the rather old and large tree stump on the very right hand side of the photo (which you can no longer see in the photo) has been removed in the past few days and all that remains now is a good quantity of mulch (which you can see in the photo).

The editor made a batch of elderberry champagne which is now happily fermenting away in the sun. In the pot the elderberry flowers look very unappealing:
Elderberry flowers are in the pot and a batch of elderberry champagne is being produced
Out in the garden though, the many elderberry plants look superb!
The elderberry flowers look superb in the bright warm sunshine
Speaking of sunshine, the warmer days have caused the many tree ferns in the recently planted (May) fern gully to produce many new fronds. The older fronds die back and fall to the ground below the fern. This build-up of organic matter around the trunk of the ferns helps to build the soil. As new fern fronds grow and unfurl, the tree ferns ever so slowly grow in height.
One of the tree ferns in the fern gully unfurls new fronds in this week’s warmer conditions
The warmer conditions are making the many fruit trees grow too. And some of the fruit trees that were damaged by the wallabies last year are showing huge amounts of growth. Like this persimmon in the next photo:
A persimmon which was damaged last year by a wallaby displays lots of new growth over the past few weeks
Strawberry season is here! Nuff said really.
Strawberry season is now starting to produce lots of fresh sun ripened fruit
A few years back I let a few carrot plants go to seed and they now produce carrot seedlings all over the place. It is truly amazing where carrots turn up. And they look great too, although I note that they produce better roots in looser soil:
Carrots have gone feral here and they turn up everywhere, including the strawberry bed
Here is a photo of one spot in the garden where carrots have happily established themselves.
A spot in the garden where carrots have happily established themselves
The dozen or so fruit on the many apricot trees here are slowly starting to ripen and should be ready to pick in a couple of weeks.
The apricot fruit are slowly starting to ripen and should be ready to pick in a couple of weeks
The plums are also starting to show some good size and I spotted this Crimson Glo plum today:
This Crimson Glo plum is starting to show some good size
The European and native bees are going absolutely feral in the flower gardens in the warmer conditions. When the sun is shining the buzz is quite loud.
The European and native bees are going feral in the flower gardens in the warmer conditions
The roses are producing the most beautiful flowers like this hidden but stunning series of red roses.
The many hidden roses (because of the wallabies) in the flower gardens are producing stunning flowers this week
The temperature outside now at about 7.00pm is 18’C (64’F). So far this year there has been 1,142.0mm (45.0 inches) which is the same as last week’s total of 1,140.8mm (44.9 inches).

Monday, 28 November 2016

Hey Dude, where’s my Ruth?

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

The word “Ruth” can mean many different things. Sometimes it can be a first name, but in this instance I’m thinking of the definition of the word that refers to the feeling of pity. Pity is something that you don’t hear a lot about these days, and because of that general lack of use, it might be worthwhile recalling what that word actually means: “the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the sufferings and misfortunes of others, or a cause for regret or disappointment”. And the opposite of Ruth is where a person is ruthless in that they have no: “pity or compassion for others”.

There is a time for ruth and there is also a time for ruthlessness and it is worth considering that there is also a whole lot of middle ground between those two extremities. And it takes discernment and experience to know when to employ any aspect of those two character traits. I’ve been thinking about this recently as my experiences on the farm over the past few years has permanently changed my perspectives in this matter.

Scritchy who is the boss dog here, has a minor health matter. I like Scritchy and she has a great life here and she is full of energy and spends most of her days instructing the other dogs in what they can and can’t do and where they should be at any one point in time. Scritchy, however, is an old dog at about sixteen years old. The editor and I took Scritchy to the local veterinary clinic to see what could be done about her minor health matter. The local vet really didn’t know what was affecting her. Scritchy was placed on a course of broad spectrum antibiotics and anti-inflammatories which we strictly followed, and now, to be totally honest, she is not better.

Despite the minor health matter, Scritchy is still a very happy dog and she enjoys herself immensely. The local veterinarian (or veterinary surgeon) made me feel like total dirt because I didn’t want to subject Scritchy to a whole raft of tests and observation time so that they could understand what was causing the minor health matter – all at our expense of course. I meekly protested by observing that Scritchy was indeed an old dog and that I wouldn’t be pursuing such options. However, I was still made to feel like dirt for having voiced my unspeakable opinions in this matter.

If that was an isolated incident then I probably would not have thought about the subject again. However, a local doctor recently scoffed at me when I refused to agree to a battery of pathology tests as apparently that is what people who are my age are supposed to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against pathology tests, and those tests can achieve great things, but in this instance, I didn’t feel ill at all – not even remotely - and I was visiting the doctor for the rather pragmatic purpose of getting a chunk of stubborn wax removed from my inner ear (was that too much information? Apologies to the squeamish readers in the audience – I feel as if we have now shared something and have bonded over ear wax!) I was starting to feel as if I was being asked if I: “want fries with that?”

In the past, I’ve subjected older dogs to surgery and from my experience, it is rarely to their benefit. It may extend an older dog’s life, a bit, but they are surely not happy or comfortable about that time.

The thing is though, I know from the experience of living here that a season eventually ends. And then a new season begins. That is life and it can’t be ignored or talked around. Some seasons are far longer than others, and this past winter has extended beyond any winter that I can recall. However, the summer that lead into this winter was also far longer and far hotter on average than any summer in my memory. All I know is that seasons end in their own sweet time.

An old timer once quipped to me that: “if you have livestock, then sooner or later you’ll have deadstock”. And that old timer is not wrong. I have kept chickens for many years now and I know from experience that when any chicken becomes visibly ill she will generally not recover and most likely will soon die and her season will then end. Occasionally in very rare circumstances, a chicken will recover from a visible illness, but that is rare. Nowadays, if I judge that a chicken which has a visible illness, is not recovering and is clearly suffering, then I kill them out of pity for their suffering. On the other hand, I have chickens that are now at least seven years old and they show no signs at all of slowing down.

As to the plants - well, a few weeks back I found myself clearing a perfectly good raised garden bed full of winter and spring vegetables (the chickens enjoyed the greens!). The reason for clearing those winter and spring vegetables was because if I hadn’t done that, then the summer vegetables would not have had the chance to become well established before the serious heat of the summer arrives. Summer vegetables that have not become well established tend to suffer greatly when the day time air temperature in the shade exceeds 40’C (104’F). All I know is that the season for winter and spring vegetables does not extend into the summer down here.
A raised garden bed had recently been cleared of all of the winter and spring vegetables in preparation for the summer
The infrastructure and systems here also get subjected to that ruthlessness. Over the years, I have had to abandon or rework infrastructure and projects because they simply did not work well enough. Walking away from a project that you have invested time, as well as physical and emotional resources, takes a level of clear headedness and just plain old ruthlessness. And I have had to do that many times now as both the editor and I have learned from the very hard school of: “trial and error” that some projects and systems here could be better. It just wasn’t that particular project or system’s season!

One thing that is improving over time as the seasons go on, is the sheer diversity of life here at the farm. This week a brand new never before seen here at the farm, parrot, turned up to make a special guest appearance. The parrot is an Eastern Rosella. The farm is normally home to a family of Crimson Rosella parrots (which are largely red coloured with blue markings). However, the Eastern Rosella is the sort of parrot that would have been created if a bunch of drunk twelve year olds were allowed to go crazy with a colouring in book featuring parrots and a vast collection of different coloured pencils. This parrot has to be seen to be believed. A red head, white beard, yellow guts, dark blue mid-riff and light green under carriage. Well done, that about covers every colour.
An Eastern Rosella made a visit to the farm this week and I was lucky to spot it and ask the hard question: What the?
But that clearly wasn’t enough colour for those twelve year olds because as the parrot flew away (who would have thought that something that looked like that was a shy and retiring creature to take flight at the merest sight of a camera?) I spotted a bright green back with light blue and dark blue spots. It is one impressive looking parrot.
A photo of the Eastern Rosella as it takes flight. A Crimson Rosella is on the right hand side of the photo and to be honest it looks rather pedestrian
The marginally warmer weather has caused many huge Bogong moths to visit the farm and they are attracted to the house and garden lights. Poopy the Pomeranian (who everyone by now knows is a Swedish Lapphund) and his dodgy mate Toothy the long haired Dachshund are enjoying this time of year because they are gorging themselves silly on the hapless moths. Then vomiting. And sometimes re-eating.
A huge Bogong moth is attracted to the house lights
In the ongoing crapification saga, this week not only did my computer die, but so too did the weather station. Now I have to out myself here as a complete weather nerd and the weather station was 100% crucial to this most important hobby of mine (i.e. weather nerd!). Anyway, the computer was fixed at great hassle and expense in both time and money. But, even more importantly a new weather station was installed. Excellent! New weather station! Yay! And even better the outdoor measuring unit thingee looks like the Starship Voyager, or perhaps a tug boat. I’m not sure which one really.
A new weather station / tug boat was installed this week
I took the opportunity to locate the new outdoor measuring unit thingee a bit further and deeper into the garden bed and mounted it on a sturdy treated pine post which was cemented into the ground. Speaking of ruthless, I had to hack away many plants in order to clear a spot for that treated pine post.
The new weather station outdoor unit was located further and deeper into the garden bed
We also installed a run of 12V cable from the current machinery shed up the hill to the next higher terrace where the recently completed berry enclosure and raised potato beds are located. The 12V power will eventually be used on that terrace to power a water pump.
A run of 12V cable from the current machinery shed up the hill to a higher terrace was installed
The cable is protected from damage and water ingress by the orange conduit. However, where the cable runs under a pathway, it is also encased in PVC piping for extra protection.

The cable then runs up the garden bed in a deep trench cut into the side of the hill. We used some steel plant pegs to hold the orange conduit which contains the 12V cable firmly down to the ground.
Steel plant pegs hold the orange conduit which contains the 12V cable firmly down to the ground
Then a cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of mushroom compost was placed onto the side of the garden bed. We even managed to plant a whole lot of chance seedlings into that mushroom compost. In another year the garden bed will look as if it has always been there.
A cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of mushroom compost was placed onto the side of the garden bed
In breaking tomato news… Two new tomato seedlings germinated on the one very hot day last week before a massive storm hit! We now have at least ten tomato plants growing. Yes, things are that bad for the ongoing tomato situation.
Two more tiny tomato plants germinated this week bring the total plants to ten
One year ago and this month, the tomato enclosure looked very different. It is a timely reminder of the differences in each season.
This month and one year ago, the tomato enclosure looked very different
In other plant news, as we had one hot day earlier this week, the citrus responded by suddenly regrowing leaves on the many branches where the wallabies had consumed all of the leaves a few months back.
The citrus responded to a hot day earlier this week by suddenly regrowing leaves on the many branches which had been stripped by the wallabies
The globe artichokes are just about ready to harvest. Globe artichokes are fiddly to eat, but they taste very good. Anyway, these globe artichokes are surrounded by flowers and I reckon it looks quite good!
The globe artichokes are just about ready to harvest
Poppy-gate has become an even more complex scenario this week. Long time readers will recall that Poppy-gate refers to the accidental purchase of a truly epic and quite expensive seed pack of poppy seeds. Anyway, mixed in to all of that riot of colour that is now Poppy-gate, are many vivid blue corn flowers. Go figure that one out. How did they get there?
The poppies are starting to produce abundant and many coloured flowers – along with vivid blue corn flowers
In other areas, the poppies are an almost solid bank of red flowers with the occasional pink flower.
In other areas the poppies are an almost solid bank of red flowers
The temperature outside now at about 8.30pm is 16’C (61’F). So far this year there has been 1,140.8mm (44.9 inches) which is the same as last week’s total of 1,110.6mm (43.7 inches).