Some weeks at the farm you feel like you are on top of the world. I mean that literally too. Spring and autumn always bring fog which rolls in from the Southern ocean. The farm sits on a mountain saddle about two thirds of the way up to the top of the ridge. Practically speaking this means that during winter, cloud can hover just above the tree line here for days on end, but below the farm people are experiencing severe frost. I’ve now been told that the recent snow and frost were some of the most severe in the past two decades. Had I known that fact in advance, I probably wouldn’t have complained to the local gardening group that the coffee shrub and babaco which are both tropical plants died here in the recent frosts. Things were much worse elsewhere.
This morning however, I awoke to another fog and the mountains around the local area poked their heads out of the fog like islands in a sea.
|Fog over the Barringo valley|
The deciduous trees are in the slow process of breaking their dormancy. This week the earliest pear which is an ornamental snow pear, started to blossom and put on some leaves.
|Snow pear breaking it's dormancy|
The apricot trees which are now in their second year on the very sunny side of the orchard have put on even more flowers this week. Apricots are one of my favourite stone fruits and they are excellent for both bottling (canning) and for jam making so I look forward to getting harvests as the year’s progress.
|Apricots are continuing to put on more blossoms|
Not every fruit tree operates on the same annual cycle though. Occasionally the conditions favour a particular tree or variety and this year it seems that the almonds have set fruit really early, even whilst other trees are still dormant or only just breaking their dormancy. I have no explanation for this behaviour on the part of these fruit trees other than using it to justify the 300 different fruit trees here on the basis that something has to produce at sometime!
|Almond fruit set|
In other farm news the final post for the blackberry enclosure was cemented into the ground over the past few days. The steel gate which is actually a recycled security door also received a lick of paint. The next step for the enclosure is for me to install the rails and then I’ll screw on the pickets which will be made from local saplings.
|Blackberry enclosure now with all posts in the ground|
The mention of the local saplings brings the conversation around to the actual saw logs which I’d unfortunately stored in the middle of the area which I was using to accumulate fill from the recent excavations for the water tanks and new shed site. The reason that this was unfortunate was because I had to spend half a day sorting out the firewood pile and sapling pile before I could commence further excavations on the new shed site. Honestly the lower rock wall went straight through the middle of both storage piles and I had a groaning feeling that I had to sort out both piles before I could continue with the excavations. Sometimes the hardest thing here is admitting that you’ve stuffed something up and then getting on and fixing it.
|Excavated fill with upper and lower rock walls|
There has been some plant activity here at the farm this week. Fortunately, I live about half an hour away from a seedling farm so I occasionally drop by there to pick up a whole bunch of cheap seedlings. Nowadays, most of the seedlings that I purchase are hardy flower producing plants which attract beneficial insects to the farm. As a funny side story, a few years back I visited a local plant nursery and in the course of the conversation I happened to mention that I enjoyed planting flowers about the place. The nurseryman responded without even hesitating and said, “yeah, it is because you’re getting older!” I didn’t think that I was that old. Perhaps the appropriate response may have been, “yeah, whatever” but I guess I had to act my age.
|New seedlings. Note the very front two plants are native yams|
One of the objectives with plants here at the farm is to get as great a diversity of plants in the ground as possible. The climate here can be exceptionally variable throughout the year and also from year to year so a diversity of plants provides a level of reliability that wouldn’t otherwise be there if I’d concentrated my efforts instead on only a single crop or species. However, sometimes I come across the strangest plant communities (guilds) here which are really hard to explain. The photo below shows a very weird plant guild containing: daffodils; wild brassicas and vetch. It is important to observe how well they are all growing together, and it is such an unexpected surprise.
|Really weird plant guild|
I recently purchased a small quantity of red and black cherry tomato seeds from the Australian Diggers Club which supplies heirloom vegetable / fruit / herb seeds and seedlings. Despite having previously saved the best tomato seeds only a few months back, I thought that it would be prudent to hedge my bets and purchase some additional seeds as well. All of those seeds are now inside the house where it is warm and hopefully they will germinate sometime soon. The common wisdom here with tomato seedlings is to have them outside and in the ground by Melbourne Cup day, which just happens to be the first Tuesday in November. My understanding is that the soil temperature has to be above 15 degrees Celsius (59’F) and there must be at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily onto the garden beds for them to produce fruit. I’ll let you know how the germination progresses. Tomatoes are a reasonable summer / autumn crop here and I usually harvest at least around 50kg (110 pounds) of fruit per year without too much effort.
|Tomato seedlings looking out at the view|
I’d like to put in a warning on the next paragraph for all of the plant lovers out there to simply skip the next paragraph completely. Apologies!
One of the two old olive trees in a raised rock bed in front of the shed had been slowly falling downhill over the past year or so. I wasn’t too worried about the situation until I had to manoeuvre the water tank past that olive tree recently. The water tank simply didn’t fit past the branches of the olive tree. It was at that point that a cunning plan was hatched. The plan involved winching the olive tree over so that it leaned in the opposite direction. The water tank was then able to slide past the branches of the tree and all was good. I then started looking at the olive tree and thinking: how good would it be if the olive tree was vertical again? I then pulled apart the rock wall and stuffed a few more rocks under the lifted roots of the olive tree, packed in a whole lot more soil and then rebuilt the rock wall. After about a week I let the tension out of the nylon winch straps and the tree is now vertical. Remarkably the tree is still looking very healthy, so hopefully it will be vertical still in a few years time!
|Olive tree being winched back to vertical|
On wildlife news, most nights I take my fox terrier out for a walk to see what is going on about the farm with the local wildlife. It doesn’t pay to let the local wildlife get too comfortable because a few days ago, I found a sulphur crested cockatoo eating the skins off ripening fruit on the citrus trees! Grrr! Anyway, last night’s walk was startling because there was a loud coughing sound not very far from me in the dark. At this point it is worth mentioning that not many of the wild animals here have pleasant sounding voices at night and most will produce sounds that send shivers up and down your spine. I grabbed the torch and the camera and the noise was found to be coming from a medium sized wombat ambling up the driveway. I think it was telling me politely to go away and stop bothering it.
|Wombat ambling up the driveway|
This past week has been both a sunny and warm week and temperatures most days were in the very low 20 degrees Celsius (68’F). The temperature outside here at about 9pm is 9.1 degrees Celsius (48.4’F) and so far this year there has been 580.6mm (22.9 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 561.8mm (22.1 inches).