Monday, 16 April 2018

A sad little lonely box

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: http://ferngladefarm.com.au/

What is this thing? I mean, I know what the thing is, but what is the thing doing here all by its lonesome self? To me it looked like a sad lonely little box which was sitting on an asphalt footpath in an inner northern suburb of Melbourne. I took a really good look around the area and I could see that the box had no friends at all. None.

The box was a really well constructed raised garden bed measuring about 1 foot by 3 foot. In the raised garden bed I noted the following plants growing: Nasturtium; Eau de Cologne Mint; Lemon Thyme; Alpine Strawberries; Lavender; and Flat Leafed Parsley. As a stark contrast, all of the small gardens in the surrounding houses were full of ornamental plants. There was not an edible in sight in those front yards - unless of course you'd enjoy a nice rose hip tea?

I like raised garden beds and have over a dozen of them here in constant use and they are great for growing annual vegetables. Did I mention that yields from raised garden beds are exceptionally good? No, I did not. Well they are. In fact, I have plans to obtain more raised garden beds over the next year or so.

So what the heck was this raised garden bed doing stuck out on the footpath, growing a collection of plants that whilst technically edible, are so low maintenance that they probably could have been planted in the drain next to the curb? No doubt they will go to seed and end up there anyway. It just makes no sense whatsoever. In fact I actually made the very witty observation to the editor: "What the (a very family unfriendly word that begins with F, and sounds a lot like the word 'chuck') is this?"
The author stands behind the lonely raised garden bed looking bemused
The funny thing from my perspective was that any one of those plants  has the capacity to take over the entire three square foot of garden space. And I can identify each of those plants and know how they can be consumed or used. However, given the lack of edible gardens in that area, my gut feeling told me that not many people around there would have had the same knowledge. It was even stranger to me that there was no signage telling the locals what these plants actually were. I reckon the only real reason I can see for the existence of that sad lonely little box was that it was used as a display of social values for the residents. The box sort of says to me: "We're so green, we grow edible plants in raised garden beds on the footpath. Oh my goodness and dearie me, I didn't say the front yard, I said on the footpath!"

Back in the days when I lived not too far from that street, I actually did dig up the lawn in my front yard and attempt to grow vegetables there. Of course, being naive, I didn't understand that green leafy vegetables are almost impossible to grow in composted woody mulch. And what do you mean that I have to water them during summer? They're plants, surely they'd just grow by themselves? Apparently not so. Fortunately, I have learned a thing or two since those heady days. Plants sure are complex.

It doesn't take too long to notice displays of social value, mostly because being mainly for display purposes, they're easily seen. Good marketing, I reckon! I've encountered a few people recently who have extolled the virtues of electric vehicles. Now, I reckon electric bikes are a great idea, and they make sense to me. Electric cars on the other hand are so expensive and have such limited range that they make little to no economic sense to me.

But electric cars are such a great display of social values. They scream: "We're so green, we could drive this vehicle and emit no pollution. Oh my goodness and dearie me, of course we charge the vehicle from the mains electricity!" Down here the majority of the communities mains electricity is derived from burning fossil fuels. If you've ever taken a look at a brown coal fired power plant, and I have, well, let's just say that it's not a pretty sight.

In this instance, people are confusing the potential with the reality. Sure, you could potentially install a solar power system on your roof and use it to charge your electric vehicle - but the system won't produce enough power to do anything else at all in the household. And that is assuming that the solar power system is big enough in the first place, because most solar power systems that I have seen installed are simply too small to charge an electric vehicle. It is also worth noting that roof designs for houses I see constructed are simply not well thought out enough, or even large enough to support a really huge array of solar panels (my own included). The panels for huge solar power systems, simply won't fit on most houses with their available roof space.

Fossil fuels are just so good, quick and reliable that we tend to think that all other energy sources are good, quick and reliable too. Unfortunately, they're not. I know that for sure as solar PV panels won't produce any power when it is snowing:
The author with solar PV panels in snow from back in August 2017
Five years ago I thought that I'd get around those problems with snow, clouds, dark and stuff that bedevil solar PV panels. I installed a wind turbine. That was when I found that you can have snow, clouds, dark and stuff, and it can also be not windy enough. I spent several months of my life trying to get the best out of that wind turbine. I wasted that time, but learned a great deal about wind.
A dark day for renewable energy. Cloudy and still!
Fortunately, I'm not one for displays of social value. If I was into that business, I would have kept the wind turbine, and whenever people visited the farm I could have pointed at the wind turbine lazily (and I really mean lazily) spinning in the breeze and make some profound observation like: "Cool!" And that would be about as useful as a sad lonely little raised planter box on an asphalt lined footpath on the hard streets of Melbourne.

This week has been such a strange week of weather for mid Autumn. Earlier in the week, the daytime temperature reached 36'C (97'F) and that was crazy hot for this time of year. But by 11pm that evening the air temperature had cooled down to only 24'C (75'F) and that would have been a hot night for summer, let alone mid Autumn! Note that Autumn in Australia runs 1 March to 31 May, which I believe is different from the spring in Northern Hemisphere countries. How unique are we!
11pm mid Autumn 24'C / 75'F is simply crazy hot weather
The long term and short term weather cycle here runs like this: Cold; Cool; Warm; Hot; Really Hot; Wet; and then back to Cold. That sure was the case this week because whilst most of the week has been really hot, on Saturday lunchtime the heavens opened and over an inch of rain fell. Then just as suddenly, the air temperature cooled and we had to begin running the wood heater.
Over an inch of rain fell over the mountain range beginning Saturday lunchtime
I've still not been feeling well this week due to the lingering effects of the flu, and even worse, the editor succumbed to the dreaded flu virus. I have been ensuring that I get plenty of rest:
The author and the fluffies crash out one quiet afternoon due to the lingering effects of the flu
Ollie took advantage of my illness because he knows that he should not have been on the couch, but when you are sound asleep...

Last weekend my friends with the epic shed gave me three point of lay chickens. How nice is that? They breed chickens and supplied us with three very good looking birds. Left to right in the next photo: Light Sussex; Indian Game; and a bird with some Faverolles in its parentage.
The three new chickens were confronted at the door of the hen house by the toughs
The oldest chicken in the chicken collective is about eight years old now (the brown Araucana chicken standing on the edge of the concrete in the photo above) and she took a firm line with the newcomers and gave them all 'what for'. Chickens are brutal, and they adhere to the old adage of 'go early, and go hard'.
The brown Araucana chicken gives the newcomers 'what for?'
The egg production should pick up once we are past the winter solstice. Until then, all up the sixteen chickens currently produce one to two eggs per day.

Surprisingly enough, despite both being ill, we actually managed to do some work about the farm. We were keen to complete the corrections to one of the concrete staircases that were begun last week. The concrete stairs constructed last week, had all cured during the week. All that remained to be done was to pour in a couple of wheelbarrow loads of crushed rock and lime into the cavity that will form a flat landing between the two sets of concrete staircases.

I carried about nine crate loads (three wheelbarrows worth) of crushed rock and lime down the stairs and dump it into the cavity which will form a landing. Each crate contains eight full shovel loads of crushed rock and lime.
The author dumps a crate load of crushed rock and lime onto a cavity that will soon form a landing
The crushed rock was soon smoothed out and formed a nice flat landing between the two sets of concrete stairs.
The crushed rock was smoothed out and it forms a landing between the two sets of concrete stairs
We then spread the remainder of the load of local crushed rock and lime around the water tank which was installed last week. The crushed rock makes a great all weather surface which you can comfortably walk on even in the wettest weather.
Local crushed rock with lime was placed around the water tank that was installed last week

We had a huge boulder to hand near the new water tank, and so we set that into the upper edge of the garden bed and extended the path a bit further down the hill.
A large boulder was set into the edge of the garden bed and the path was extended down hill a bit further
With rain expected on Saturday, I moved several hundred strawberry plants into the new strawberry terrace which was constructed only late last year. The lavender that was planted on the edge of the strawberry terrace has grown prolifically this summer despite the hot and dry conditions and the lack of regular watering. Those plants are tough as.
Several hundred strawberry plants were planted on the strawberry terrace. How good do the lavender look?
When I went to harvest the single large pumpkin a few days ago, I discovered a little tree frog sheltering on the pumpkin:
A tree frog shelters from the sun on this huge pumpkin
I left the tree frog alone, and went back a day later to harvest the pumpkin plus all of the watermelons. The watermelons taste good too.
Pumpkin, watermelons, eggplant, and capsicum (peppers)
Today, I harvested our first ever quince. The mandarins have also become much larger this season as the trees are getting bigger.
Our first ever quince, and the mandarins are getting bigger this year
I dug up a few horseradish roots today because I'm gifting them to a friend who expressed an interest in them. Of course I had to try them out first and they are hot as! And they are guaranteed to clear any blocked sinus!
I dug up a few horseradish roots
The birds have been enjoying the prolific olives. We have decided not to harvest the fruit this year because our previous experiments with preserving olives have left them tasting overly salty. Clearly further investigative work needs to take place with this fruit. Can anyone suggest any good recipes that they have tried themselves? Or has anyone produced their own olive oil?
Olives are prolific
In the past I have killed at least four tea camellia's that I can recall. No doubt the body count is much higher than that (edit: 8 dead, 1 incoming). However, I am determined to get one of these plants growing here. This week I planted another tea camellia, and lets hope that things go better for this plant. My track record is not good.
A tea camellia sits between a blueberry and a Chilean guava
The Poopy-quat (the resting place of Sir Poopy) is doing very well and has even produced tiny little kumquats!
The Poopy-quat is doing very well
And onto the flowers!
With winter fast approaching the many citrus trees are producing fragrant flowers
This geranium is a stunner of a colour
Geraniums produce a huge diversity of flower colours here
I've begun to grow nasturtium through the existing garden beds and it is tough as (edit: tough as what?)
Looking at this garden bed you wouldn't know that we went almost ten weeks with hot days and little rain
The temperature outside now at about 8.00am is 12’C (54’F). So far this year there has been 190.2mm (7.5 inches) which is higher than last week's total of 158.8mm (6.3 inches).

Monday, 9 April 2018

With a little help from my friends

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast (which I intend to record if I can actually speak which is a bit of a problem at the moment due to the flu) through the link: http://ferngladefarm.com.au/

Hi everyone! I'm Ollie the six month old Australian cattle dog. I love living here at Fernglade Farm as there is always so much fun stuff going on. Check me out, I look all curious, intelligent, and stuff:
Ollie the Australian cattle dog looks all curious, intelligent and stuff
Of course, I am a naturally intelligent dog as my particular breed of dog can list the dingo clan in their family history. Not every dog can say that, but I can! Now of course dingoes are a very old breed of dogs and have lived in this country for a long time and are a coyote equivalent, except we are the better dog. No, I refuse to argue the point, because we are simply better.

Circumstances haven't always been so rosy for me. Being an intelligent dog with my own opinions means that I enjoy having thoughts on stuff. In the first six months of my life, people were yelling at me, beating me, and locking me in small cages (I'm a big dog, you know). Back then my owners wanted me to chase around cattle all day long. I've got thoughts about cattle you know, and I reckon cattle are stupid. There you go, I've said it. Do cattle eat bones? No, of course they don't eat bones. Cattle dogs eat cattle bones, so I rest my case, and my logic is flawless.

Unfortunately, my free thinking ways didn't impress my former owners as much as it impresses myself. They wanted a cattle dog that chased around stupid cattle all day long, and I had a secret longing for cuddles... One day early in my cattle dog career I was faced with the choice of being shot or put up for adoption at an animal shelter. My former owners were embarrassed about my not so secret desire for cuddles. Cuddles are good aren't they?

Forget about them, boring. One day I was in the animal shelter after having been through a procession of foster homes, and who walks in? I dunno, who did walk in that day? Oh, that's right it was Chris and the Editor, and they were looking to take home a new dog. I put on my nicest smile, and the rotters said something unpleasant like: "He's a bit big don't you reckon, and didn't we want a female dog?" Fortunately for me, the other dog there was even bigger, and also a male, and so I used the full force of my fluffy mind powers and it went something like this:

Ollie Wan Kenobi: [with a small wave of his tail] You don't need a smaller dog.
Stormtroopers Chris and the Editor: We don't need a smaller dog.
Ollie Wan Kenobi: I am the dog you're looking for.
Stormtroopers Chris and the Editor: You are the dog we're looking for.
Ollie Wan Kenobi: You can take me for a walk.
Stormtroopers Chris and the Editor: We can take him for a walk.
Ollie Wan Kenobi: Walkies.
Stormtroopers Chris and the Editor: Walkies... Walkies

Chris and the Editor soon fell under the spell of my fluffy mind powers, but I almost blushed on leaving that adoption centre when the nice person there said that I was very hard work and they offered an extension on the cooling off period. And rather shockingly, a phone number for dog psychiatric / behavioural assistance. An outrageous slur on my good character and distinguished breeding. Whatever!

Fortunately at Fernglade Farm I learned that I only have to occasionally chase off marsupials and deer from the orchard to the property boundary. I have to remember not to annoy Chris and the Editor. And I also kill rats and mice. Easy. And there are no stupid cattle roaming around. Have you ever spoken to cattle? I didn't think so!

Life is good here, except for thunderstorms. At least Scritchy taught me to hide under the bed whenever there is a thunderstorm. I can barely fit under the bed, but I am nothing if not determined.
Ollie the cattle dog hides under the bed during a recent thunderstorm
The first time I went in the car to visit the local cafe and watch Chris consume a coffee and fruit toast, well I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I wet myself on the passenger seat of the car. I thought he was taking me back to the animal shelter like all the other rotten humans. Not so, he was simply getting a coffee and fruit toast. I'll know better for next time.

The first time I did something really naughty here - and who doesn't love a bit of naughtiness every now and then? Well, the Editor yelled at me and Chris tapped me gently with a wooden spoon in  front of all of the other dogs. I cowered in fear and, well, I wet myself again. I thought for a moment I was back with the scary humans and their boring cattle...

Scritchy is teaching me how to be a proper fluffy. It involves lots of training and she is constantly issuing instructions. I do my best to please Scritchy.
Scritchy the boss dog teaches young Ollie how to be a proper fluffy
Scritchy is an old girl, but I love my Scritchy, and she lets me sleep on her green couch.
I love my Scritchy boss dog, says Ollie
The other members of the fluffy collective have accepted me. Sir Scruffy takes me on regular foraging romps, and he always seems to know where the best bones are. And Toothy is my constant companion as he is always up for mischief and running around the orchard and playing chase.
Sir Scruffy, Mr Toothy, and Ollie all enjoy a quiet moment after a hard days work around the farm
I heard Chris say the other day that I'm now a proper apprentice fluffy as he put a yellow council tag on my brand new leather collar.

PS: I am feeling more confident now and have not wet myself in ages.

_____________________

Hi everyone! Chris takes back the blogging duties.

I've had an unfortunate case of the flu this week, and it is not any old man flu, but the full on hard core flu. And I have not felt good at all. Despite all that suffering, time waits for no man and a water tank that we had had on order for about a month chose this week to arrive at the local irrigation shop. We picked up the water tank and brought it back here using the bright yellow trailer.
The new water tank sits outside the living room waiting to be moved to its permanent location
The 4,000L (1,050 gallon) tank fits perfectly onto that bright yellow trailer. Unfortunately, when we pushed the tank off the back of the trailer some of the welds on the rear flap (or gate) of the trailer failed. Fortunately, even in my flu addled state I can wield an arc-welder. The repairs were soon completed.
My flu addled state did not produce pretty welds, but they sure are functional!
We moved the large water tank by sliding it around the place with a tarpaulin underneath so as to not damage the surface finish of the tank. In its new location the water tank sits on a compacted bed of rock crusher dust. Rock crusher dust is a very fine form of granite. It is also worth mentioning that the dust is a very good mineral additive to your garden soil too!
The tank site is excavated so that it is more or less flat and level
The rock crusher dust is spread so that it is perfectly flat (screed with a level stick)
The new water tank is then placed onto the bed of rock crusher dust
I pumped several hundred litres of water into the new tank so that it is properly weighted down. A local earth moving bloke enjoyed recounting horror stories of empty water tanks that had blown away in the wind. He enjoyed telling the story because he is usually called upon to retrieve the runaway water tanks using his excavator and a sling. $$$$

Despite the hot and dry autumn, the plant growth has been phenomenal. If you turn your back on some of the garden paths even for a week or so, a jungle rapidly takes them over! The editor has been busy most weeks using her electric (solar powered!) hedge trimmer to hack back at the jungle. All of the cuttings get thrown into either existing or new garden beds. Some of those cuttings even take and start growing in their new locations.
The editor has been using her electric (solar powered) hedge trimmer to keep the paths open
We even added an additional fourth (and also last) concrete step to the set of stairs that we have recently begun constructing to correct a very steep path. That path was just too steep.
A fourth and final step was added to a new staircase which we had begun constructing only recently
The state government conducted more planned burns in the nearby Wombat State Forest. This is a good thing for them to do as it will improve the fertility, and reduce the likelihood of an even bigger fire running through that area. To be brutally honest, the state government does not do enough planned burns in state forest.
Planned burn in the nearby Wombat State Forest
A planned burn just north of Blue Mountain out of Trentham
Smoke from a planned burn in the forest south of Daylesford
Onto the produce! This week we harvested the melons. Unfortunately, I left the cantaloupes on the vine for about two days too long and the pesky Portuguese millipedes rapidly munched their way through the skins. The chickens were not bothered by the millipedes and the ladies enjoyed feasting upon the tasty melons which would otherwise have ended up in the kitchen. This cantaloupe was untouched and it tasted every bit as good as it smelled!
Home grown cantaloupe is far superior tasting to the store purchased melons
Water melon have been a great success here this year and I must have about ten huge cannon ball sized and shaped watermelons. They're very tasty too.
Water melon! Tasty as - and so many melons...
We've been inundated with various capsicums (peppers) and eggplants from the garden. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colours.
Capsicum (peppers) and Eggplant come in all shapes and sizes
With the exception of the citrus, and olives of course, the only other fruit on the trees now are the medlars. They make a pretty good jam / jelly. I won't speak too loudly, but one quince (the first grown here) is continuing to ripen on the tree.
Medlars are some of the last of the summer fruit
There are still tonnes of flowers growing about the place - and the insects are happy!
A little wormwood flower hides underneath a comfrey leaf
Echiums are confused by the run of hot weather as some are producing flowers
A Californian poppy puts on a nice show
These varieties of geraniums always produce the finest flowers
Another fine geranium flower
The temperature outside now at about 7.30pm is 15’C (59’F). So far this year there has been 158.8mm (6.3 inches) which is higher than last week's total of 158.6mm (6.2 inches).