Monday, 20 February 2017

Was it worth it?

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

The process of writing a weekly blog is an interesting experience. A few weeks ago, I received an unsolicited offer asking me if I’d be interested in providing comments on other websites for financial rewards. It is nice to consider that my Internet voice is important enough to attract such a financially rewarding offer. However, I rather suspect that the offer was randomly sent to thousands of other Internet bloggers. And to be honest it is probably best for everyone involved that I don’t take up the offer. The reason for that is that I would soon become distracted and foolishly speak my mind. The mysterious group who had offered me the financial rewards would perhaps then get upset and honestly who wants that situation?

“What is the trade off in your life?
What did you pay? what is your price?
What did you weigh it up against?
Was it worth it?”

As I type out these words on the computer keyboard, the weather outside the window is a very un-toasty 7’C (44’F) and earlier today the thick clouds dumped hail and rain.
Hail pelted down here this afternoon
Summer in this small corner of the continent has been absent this year. However, not too far north of here, summer has been very noticeable indeed and up there they have smashed long standing weather records due to heat. Further north again and the rainfall from the tropical monsoons has been very intense and unrelenting and some remote communities are now having food dropped in by aircraft as the roads are all but impassable. And the south western corner of Western Australia just enjoyed a record summer rainfall event and subsequent flooding.

I’m not complaining about the absent summer, as I can clearly recall that last summer here was a very different experience and I endured 10 days of air temperatures (recorded in the shade) which were above 40’C (104’F) which was something of a new record for heat.

“You've gotta stay fed but you've gotta stay friends
What I'd do for that roof over my head
The blood; the sweat; the tears I've shed
What I'd bend for the ends well, that depends
On the prize and the pride of the name I inherited
Dirty hands; clean heart; rose up from the sediment
I ain't trying to build a mansion or expand a settlement
Or be an empty headed guest on Letterman, fire!”

And in amongst all of those extreme weather related events I receive an offer to provide comments on other websites for financial rewards. If I were to make any comments on other websites I might say something which would embarrass everyone such as: Conservatives don’t know the first thing about conserving; whilst Liberals don’t seem open to new ideas or remotely respectful of opinions that differ from their own. And who wants to read those ironic opinions, let alone pay for them?

The extreme weather over parts of the continent this summer have presented certain challenges to the infrastructure. And this challenge can be seen in the occasional article in the newspapers about failure or potential failure of the infrastructure due to an extreme weather related event. The other day I spotted such an article about the challenges to the infrastructure in a city in another part of the continent which has been having a much hotter and drier summer than the gentle absent summer here. Basically, the newspaper article was suggesting that the extreme heat would create a strain on the mains electricity grid which would perhaps result in supply outages. There was even a polite request for restraint on behalf of households in that city.

The article and the request sounded very civil to me, however I became curious about the public reaction and checked out what people were saying in the comments. And almost the first comment following the article wrote:

“The solar panels are the problem, they attract more sunlight and the panels also get hot.
Coal doesn’t do this, look at England they have been burning coal for hundreds of years and their countryside is lush and green.”

If I’d written that rather entertaining comment, most long term readers would believe that I had gone completely bonkers, or been paid a boatload of mad cash! Unlike the nameless (and possibly well remunerated) commenter, I don’t believe that solar panels are the problem. But neither do I believe that solar panels are the solution. And who wants to read those opinions, let alone pay for them?

As many long term readers will know by now, the house here is not connected to the electricity grid. In the past seven years solar photovoltaic panels have produced most of the electricity requirements for the household. In fact in the past three years, I have only run the backup generator for a few hours at the end of one very cloudy and dark winter’s week. Solar power is a fantastic energy source, however it sets some rather harsh upper limits on a households electricity consumption. And who wants to read those opinions?

“You compromise so much that you
Forgot what you want
You are the sum of it all
Is that what you want?”

On Friday, the editor and I woke up before the sun had even graced the farm with its presence – if it could even shine through the thick layer of fog hanging over the mountain range. The sky was dark, and well, like that commenter mentioned above, I made little sense until I’d enjoyed a strong coffee. Fortunately, a coffee was to be had, and whilst I enjoyed that, the sun finally rose through the thick fog. The editor and I then headed off to a nearby agricultural show: The Seymour Alternative Farming Expo. Who doesn’t love an agricultural show? There were strange machines which I could now identify as manure spreaders (courtesy of the contrary farmer / author Gene Logsdon who wrote a most excellent book on manure titled: Holy Shit!). There were animals for purchase, some of which were heritage breeds. And most importantly there were outstanding charcoal grilled lamb souvlaki’s (can't do that with solar panels)!

Speaking of heritage animals for sale, we purchased a trio of young Silky chickens. The editor and I couldn’t go past the trio which were: Brown; Black; and Grey coloured. When you purchase animals at an agricultural show you have to then work out how to transport those animals back to your property. Chickens are transported in a ventilated cardboard box which is stowed in the back of the car for transport. I don’t recommend trying that method with a sheep.

By the time the editor and I returned to the farm, I was cool, I mean the air temperature was cool here at only 18’C (64’F) as summer seems to have left the building!
The author displays the cardboard box containing the three new silky chickens
The chickens were then unceremoniously dumped in the chicken enclosure. Other people suggest a slow introduction for the new chickens and perhaps that is a good idea which may be worth considering in the future.
The chickens were then unceremoniously dumped in the chicken enclosure
The new silky chickens quickly proceeded to do what all chickens do naturally – look angry at their new comfy circumstances.
The new silky chickens are rather grumpy about their new comfy circumstances
Despite the continuing cool weather, the tomatoes are slowly starting to ripen.
Despite the continuing cool weather, the tomatoes are slowly starting to ripen
The blackberries in the area are producing enormous quantities of fresh berries. It is rather unfortunate that the local council in their wisdom has also sprayed herbicide onto vast swaths of the blackberries. It was considerate of them to leave signs saying that they had done so. I’m rather uncertain at the goal of the spraying because two years later the plants will have sprouted new canes and berries. Concerned readers can be assured that I am not picking from the sprayed plants.
Frozen blackberries from the local area
There was a bit of concern that the melon vines had not pollinated as there were many flowers but not much in the way of developing fruit. The native blue banded bees which live here have done a sterling job in pollinating the flowers and there are now small melons all over the place. I just hope they get enough sun to ripen.
The native blue banded bees have done a sterling job in pollinating the flowers on the melon vines
And the earliest and largest melon is continuing to grow larger!
And the earliest and largest melon is continuing to grow larger
The zucchini’s (courgettes) are going feral and in only one week a zucchini has grown to this feral size:
The zucchini’s (courgettes) are going feral
Cool weather doesn’t seem to have affected the apples as they are having a very good season:
Apples are having a very good season
The regular supply of rain this summer has meant that the fig trees, which are still very young, have produced some figs.
The young fig trees have produced some figs
All this talk about food started me thinking about what sort of fuel I consume for breakfast on a work day. When I was a child people used to say that: eggs and bacon on toast was the breakfast of champions. I prefer fresh fruit on homemade toasted muesli to fuel me through a long work day. Anything less substantial and by the end of the day I can feel the difference.
My usual breakfast before a long work day
And long work days can indeed be long as the editor and I put away another 5 hours of firewood processing this week. It is in the nick of time too as it has been so cold here over the past two days that we have been running the wood heater today (in summer!).
Another 5 hours of firewood was processed this week
When the winds are still and I step outside of the house, I can smell the scent of honey. The reason for that scent is that in the trees surrounding the farm, the very tall eucalyptus trees (Eucalyptus Obliqua) are in flower. This is the first time in years that the trees have flowered. Incidentally the trees here are the second tallest flowering trees on the planet, which makes the flowers difficult to photograph. Observant readers will note in the next photo that the flowers are small fluffy white blobs, one cluster of which is in the centre of the photo. I am not seeing the same variety of trees flowering in other parts of the forest.
The tall eucalyptus trees surrounding the farm are in flower
And I like to end the blog with some flower photos for the benefit of the people living in the cold Northern hemisphere:
Eggplants produce beautiful flowers
Lavender, geranium and salvia’s produce a colourful display
Agapathus are flowering strongly and the bees enjoy their many hardy flowers

Nasturtium is a reliable summer green for the chickens and it produces huge quantities of insect attracting flowers. It also works well in Vietnamese coleslaw
The mint family of plants produce flowers in high summer as this oregano is doing
“Once more at a crossroads, looking up at signposts
All of those lies you'll never live and cannot know
So I wonder, will I wander or hold my line”

With respect to the Australian hip hop band the Herd for their thoughtful and excellent song: The sum of it all

The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 13’C (55’F). So far this year there has been 84.4mm (3.3 inches) which is the same as last week’s total of 84.4mm (3.3 inches) - there looks as if there is some sort of error with the official rain gauge as yesterdays rain was not recorded.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Yeah, Nah

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link:
There are times when I blame the online computer game World of Warcraft. However, I know that blame is misplaced. The blame, I reckon can be placed on decline, pure and simple. You see, when I was a younger man, I used to be one small part of a much larger social group. I was introduced to that larger social group by a friend I had known since primary school. I also introduced friends to that larger social group too and for many years we had a lot of fun times. But slowly over time, the winds of change swept through the social arrangements and after many years of entropy the binds that held the large social group together failed and people were scattered to the many distant corners of the city.

Strangely enough I was one of the first to move to a distant part of the city. After many years of dating appealing young ladies, I met the editor and I knew I was onto a good thing. We promptly got married and wanted to purchase a house to live together and the only house that we could afford was a small early 20th century workers cottage in a very gritty industrial suburb of Melbourne. The fascinating smells emanating from the nearby refinery competed with the sounds of the heavy truck traffic all hours of the night. At night we used to walk the dogs around the suburb and the editor, the dogs and I were the only signs of life anywhere. In a strange coincidence I used to work with a guy that also worked evening shifts at the local pub and he advised me: Not to pick anyone else’s fight at that particular pub (which shall remain nameless). The other pub in the suburb opposite the heavy industries had fallen on hard times and resorted to attracting the nearby student population with local live music as well as hosting the very eccentric and hilarious drag queen revue night.

Back in those days, that suburb was very dark and gritty and after the editor and I moved to that very unfashionable place some people complained to me that they would not want to cross the Westgate bridge and put one foot in that industrial suburb. It was almost as if they would catch some sort of disease! As an interesting side note, not wanting to cross the Westgate bridge as an excuse has some minor credibility as the bridge had actually fallen down during construction killing umpteen people and if you have ever had the uncanny experience of being stopped on a motorbike on a ten lane bridge 55m (181ft) above the water level whilst the bridge deck bounces up and down you’ll appreciate what I’m talking about when I describe the rather queasy feeling that I get deep down in my guts. However, I rather suspect that my friends and family were cheekily casting judgement upon my supposed poor life choices.

Me, being me, I didn’t really let that judgement by both friends and family bother me, and I chose instead to simply visit them instead. And so I visited those friends regularly for at least the next dozen years. As time wore on, those friends met partners and wanted to purchase a house of their own or they were simply and reluctantly pushed ever further out of the city in all directions. The drive for that push were the forces of economics. In Melbourne the price of houses rose faster than incomes year in and year out and still do, so my friends were scattered all over the city and they ended up living in mostly in very far and remote corners. I on the other hand by this stage was living close enough to the city that I could – and did – walk there every single day for work. My friends kept in contact with each other through the game World of Warcraft where they would meet to battle mighty boss creatures for virtual rewards. Other friends started families and they disappeared into those families rarely to be seen again. Some of those friends even had time to start second families.

Eventually tensions came to a head and after many years of waiting around to see whether the situation would change there was an explosion of emotion and a fight occurred between two competing power blocs of friends. It was a make or break moment and unsurprisingly it broke the large social group.

Having had no hand in that explosion matter, I found that my group of friends had dwindled to not much more than a quiet whimper and there was not much to be salvaged from the wreckage. I chose to sulk my socks off for a few months whilst I contemplated the situation. At the end of the prolonged socks sulking off session, I chose to obtain new friends. The unfortunate thing was that over the years I had been asked by several people if I would like to be their friend and because I had such a large group of friends I always replied: “Yeah, nah” and as such all my eggs were in one basket.

One advantage that I did have with making new friends was that the editor and I had not hung around waiting for the inevitable explosion as we had moved to a rural area and set about constructing our own house. Rural areas traditionally have strong community networks and groups and this area was no exception and I enjoyed them immensely.

However, after a few years, many of those community groups imploded too. Those implosions seemed really weird to me and I always had a sort of rabbit in the headlights feeling as they occurred one after the other. The experience of those community group implosions reminded me of nothing so much as my experience with the disappearing act of socialising with work people in the early 1990’s. Before the Australian recession of the early 90's, drinks on Friday night with work friends was a massive event. In fact there were many Friday lunchtimes we struggled even getting back to work after a few drinks and drunken convivial conversation. Along came the recession and these drinks sessions were the first casualty. I have fond memories of returning to work on Friday afternoons and on several occasions I was instructed by my boss (in a friendly way, of course): “Sit down and shut up for the rest of the afternoon”. To which I always replied: “Yes, boss” which was probably just as well because I didn’t have anything sensible to say in my alcohol addled state!

I sometimes have the strangest feeling that I have seen the end of certain social arrangements. With many of those social arrangements I saw just enough to tantalise me and know that we as a society can do better, but alas, now that we are apparently wealthier, I rather suspect that a certain meanness of spirit has crept into our social lives and so most people have turned inwards. The thing is though, without community, it goes without saying that there is no community.

Did I mention that it has been hot and humid here this week? Thursday morning was the sort of morning you take the chainsaw along with you to the local café.The chainsaw was not required for settling scores like Jason AKA Friday the Thirteenth, but for the more pragmatic reason that the wind gusts blew strongly that morning and in such conditions trees are wont to fall down across the road. I once could not get home in such conditions and had to call a neighbour to come and rescue me. The neighbour, who is a good bloke, brought overalls and gloves that day for me to wear and I spent the next couple of hours hauling fallen timber off the roads whilst trees were crashing around us.
Thursday's temperatures were hot
The humidity only seemed to increase as a band of rain rolled in from across the valley. At least the rain brought a small amount of relief from the heat.
The humidity increased that day as a band of rain rolled in from across the valley
The next day was still hot, but firewood does not put itself in the firewood shed. The editor and I spent about 5 hours that hot day cutting, splitting and stacking firewood in the heat. We use an electric (solar powered) log splitter to assist with the task of splitting the large rounds but even so it is still hot and heavy work. Fortunately for the editor and I we had a little helper that day who was busily consuming all of the insects which fell out of the various chunks of firewood. By the end of that day the little reptile was very chunky! We had to be very careful at all times not to squash/squish/splat this highly active and hungry assistant.
A little reptile assisted us by eating all of the many insects that fell out of the split logs
The firewood shed is really starting to fill up. This year we have stacked the firewood a lot higher than in the previous year and we suspect that this firewood shed, when full, will be more than enough firewood for the cold parts of the year.
The firewood shed is really starting to fill up
Observant readers will note that we are nothing if not neat! Speaking of neat, I thought that it might be useful for readers to see just how deep the deep litter mulch actually is in the chicken enclosure. Every day the chickens scratch the accumulated pile of used bedding straw and manure down to ground level. It takes me only a minute or two of work to build the pile back up again.
Observant readers will note just how deep the deep litter mulch in the chicken enclosure is
The zucchini (courgette) monsters have produced a few zucchinis and we harvested them before they grew any bigger. And the next photo below also shows a huge harvest of basil and rocket which is to be turned into the most delicious pesto.
Zucchini (courgette) monsters were harvested before they grew any bigger along with a good harvest of basil which is turned into yummy pesto
The blackberries have just begun to ripen. Nuff said!
Blackberries have just begun to ripen. Nuff said!
Tomato cam shows a thick – but well contained – jungle of tomato vines.
Tomato cam shows a thick – but well contained – jungle of tomato vines
And the first ripe tomato was harvested on Saturday. Yum!
The first ripe tomato was harvested on Saturday
The many capsicums (peppers) which we are trialing this summer have begun to produce flowers and the first signs of fruit. I hope that there is enough summer left for them to ripen fully. Time will tell.
The many capsicums (peppers) which we are trialling this summer have begun to produce flowers
The most reliable stone fruit this season has been the plums and the D’Agen variety are only a few weeks away from harvesting.
The D’Agen variety of plums are only a few weeks away from harvesting
The mysterious melon has doubled in size this week! Observant readers will note in the next photo below that the other melon variety flower has pollinated and now has tiny little melons on the sprawling vines.
The mysterious melon has doubled in size this week and the other melon varieties have produced tiny melons
Earlier in the summer I planted out a dozen or so gooseberry cuttings and most of them have taken and are now producing a lot of new growth. Next summer I will definitely try and get more cuttings of this plant to strike.
Most of the dozen or so gooseberry cuttings planted out in early summer have taken and are showing signs of new growth
And I like to finish the blog at this time of year with a few flower photos from about the farm:
This is a proper looking meadow
Who doesn’t love cornflowers?
A yellow yarrow flower mixes it up with a mysterious white flowered plant from the mint family
Tansy looks very happy in this corner of the garden and it grows back every single year
The various salvias love the heat of the summer
Tri-coloured sage (salvia) sits happily among the lavender, gotu kola, and maidens tears

White flowered yarrow and the soapwort enjoy the high heat and humidity
The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 13’C (55’F). So far this year there has been 84.4mm (3.3 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 68.6mm (2.7 inches).