Depending on your point of view, the weather in the Southern hemisphere is upside down – or the right way up. Late January to early February is the hottest part of the year here, so late July to early August is the coldest part of the year
So, it is hardly a surprise when it snowed here again this morning. The snow didn’t settle on the ground, but it did put on a good show whilst it was here. Within half an hour it was merely a memory though.
|Shed with snow falling|
|Dude, let me in NOW!|
Apologies to fans of George RR Martin’s epic and lengthy story, but I couldn’t help myself with the title of the blog this week
The wild weather of the previous week which included strong winds and heavy rain at times, meant that there was a substantial amount of fallen timber on the ground. I’ve since spent 3 of the past 7 days clearing this fallen timber in the orchard and from around the surrounding forest. The branches and trunks are all cut into firewood lengths and stored in neat piles to season for a few years. Seasoning refers to the process of letting the timber dry which in turn also reduces the sugar/sap content. Without seasoning, the freshly cut timber will not burn. All of the smaller branches and leaves were burnt off though
As a fun fact, eucalyptus leaves contain quantities of volatile oils. Those volatile oils can be extracted and as a bonus they are widely used in Australia as both a household cleaner and a disinfectant. Tidy work! The downside to this volatile oil is that the eucalyptus leaves are effective against both bacteria and fungi in the top soil as well as in the household. This is a bad thing because it is those bacteria and fungi which convert organic matter (i.e. the leaves and sticks) into productive top soil. So the leaves can sit on the ground for a few years, happily drying and providing fuel for any forest fires which may pass.
Those leaves and branches sitting on the ground also tend to produce a soil with an acidic ph., which is typical of eucalyptus forests
The combination of poor top soil and high acidity results in an environment where other plant species have difficulty competing with the eucalyptus trees. This can be seen in the clearly defined line between the forest and the orchard.
|Drip line of eucalyptus canopy is in the centre of the photograph|
The left hand side of the photo shows the orchard and there are lush grasses, mosses and herbage as well as the fruit trees. The right hand side of the photo is within the drip line of the eucalyptus trees canopy and you can clearly see that the grasses are struggling
Right in the middle, straddling both ecosystems is a happy Rhododendron that will probably flower over the next month or so. Rhododendrons love acidic soil and they and their Azalea buddies are always a reliable indicator that the soil in that particular location is acidic. There are many examples of these plants up in this mountain range both in gardens and also in the forest which are well over 100 years old.
The orchard on the other hand has grasses and mosses and they are flourishing as these plants prefer soils with a more neutral ph.
As another interesting observation, it is the grasses, mosses and herbage which all of the native animals come to eat at the farm here.
Which gets us right back to the task of burning off the leaves and small branches over the past few days. The wood ash produced by these small fires has a basic ph. The wood ash can be collected and sprinkled over acidic soils and it will raise (Thanks Rich!) the ph. of those soils, provide minerals and produce lush growth and healthy top soil.
I recently read an historical account of the Aboriginal land management practices on this continent. It did not surprise me that according to those accounts, every square metre (square yard) of the continent was subjected to small scale burn offs on a maximum of 15 year cycles. Food producing areas were subjected to that treatment on a 2 to 3 year cycle. It was a truly remarkable undertaking and one that I’d judge is well beyond our culture.
Anyway, enough soil geek talk. As an interesting note, my editor in chief is not here today and has left me alone with the computer. haha! I have an unfortunate habit of banging on about all things soil and probably need to be reined in a bit, but that clearly isn’t possible today!
The citrus trees have all survived the frosts and snow over the past few weeks and are producing prolifically. By Christmas there will be lemonade and pomelo fruit too. Unfortunately, the wallaby ate the mandarins, oranges and grapefruit a year or so ago and all of those fruit trees which should be producing fruit by now are instead slowly recovering.
|Pomelo with fruit|
It is difficult to know what to do with a large quantity of lemons. One of my favourite uses for lemons is to make limoncello which is an Italian liqueur. Yesterday I made a batch of the liqueur which used the lemon zest (finely grated lemon skin) of about 20 lemons. This liqueur will become a handy Christmas present.
|Producing lemon zest and lemon juice|
|Limoncello with coffee mug as a size comparison|
The lemon pulp is not wasted because it is squeezed and the lemon juice is then frozen and used in cooking when needed. If you look at the photo carefully you’ll notice that the two jars of lemon juice are slightly different colours. The jar at the front contains the juice of the meyer lemon tree and I believe that tree is a lemon and orange cross as it has a pleasant taste. The rear jar is much lighter in colour and it contains the juice from a eureka lemon fruit tree which has a strong lemon taste that will knock your socks off!
|Citrus fruit remaining after harvest|
Last spring a self-seeded cherry tomato plant produced an excellent tasting tomato fruit that ripened one full month earlier than every other tomato plant. In June, I saved the seeds from that particular plant and will hopefully see whether the seeds can then reproduce the success of the original plant. I’m currently drying the seeds after having fermented them for a few days in a small jar.
|Seed saving tomato seeds|
It is raining outside right now and I’m grateful to be collecting some of that rainwater for later use during summer. A couple of weeks back I produced a short YouTube video showing the water catchment system for the chicken enclosure. I collect and store rainwater from every roof here at the farm and the shed is no exception. Yesterday, I put together another short YouTube video showing how the shed water collection system works. This water system on the shed is different from the chicken enclosure because it is much bigger, includes several taps, a pump and even a bushfire sprinkler. For those that take the time to watch the short video, I can report that the video camera still works despite my best efforts to destroy it with the bushfire sprinkler!
In breaking chicken news, I’m now receiving 4 eggs per day and Frizz the chicken has made an unexpected full recovery from her sore leg which last week was sticking out at a strange angle from her body.
Of note this past week too, is that the house batteries have been 100% full at some point in the afternoon on most days. This has been the first week that this has occurred since the winter solstice here on the 21st June.
The temperature outside here at about midday is 3.5 degrees Celsius (38.3 F) and so far this year there has been 534mm (21.0 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 531.2mm (20.9 inches).