The German Field Marshall, Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, or “Moltke the Elder” to his mates, was attributed with the following quote: “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. This quote is so appropriate when applied to all of the systems (water, firewood, solar etc.) at the farm here. No systems at the farm have actually completely failed, it is just that in the real world none of them actually work like you’d think that they would when you set them up in the first place.
A good example of this sort of failure is that person could read all about firewood, however nothing quite prepares you for the realities of harvesting, storing and then using the stuff.
Firewood is used here to: dry clothes during winter; cook food; heat the house; provide hot water (when the sun isn’t shining); as part of the fermentation process; allowing small dogs to slowly cook their brains; and assisting with germinating seedlings. As you can see firewood has multiple uses and it is a crucial resource.
However, there are so many different opinions about firewood around these parts that it is hard to know what to do and where the truth lies. Some locals advised me that the local trees are rubbish for firewood. The council advised me that it would be better to truck firewood in from the endangered River Red Gum forests up north, where some of those trees can be up to 600 years old and are very slow growing.
Yet on the farm here, there are tens of thousands of trees and they can grow at a rate of 1 metre (3 feet 3 inches) per year and often much more in a wet year. A years worth of firewood can be sourced from as little as four trees.
It is always cheaper and more efficient to use a local resource so over the past four years I have been learning to live with the local firewood as a fuel source. This has meant confronting the realities of the fuel source and adapting the systems here based on what was observed and learnt. Every year I have had to change some aspect of the firewood systems.
After many years of observation and experimentation, I can state that the local trees produce exceptionally good firewood, however, the systems at the farm for firewood were complete rubbish. This is what I’ve learned so far:
· In this corner of the world, there were some eucalyptus species which were able to be burnt green. Green refers to the fact that a tree could be felled, cut and split into firewood logs and then burnt straight away. The pioneers felled these species in preference to all others and burnt them. Those species are now gone and are remembered only in historical accounts.
· So, in order to utilise the remaining eucalyptus species for firewood, firewood logs have to be stored for at least two years. This process is called seasoning the firewood and it allows time to reduce both the sugars and moisture content of the logs. It is those two factors which prevent the timber from burning in the first place. It is the trees natural defence against bushfires. Interestingly too, it seems to make little difference if those firewood logs are left out in the rain during this lengthy process.
· For a few months prior to burning the firewood logs, they should be kept out of the rain so that they are completely dry. Dry old firewood burns more efficiently and hotter, producing less smoke and using far less logs.
· If you want to utilise firewood sourced from your own trees here, you have to plan and act many years in advance.
That’s all very interesting, but what has it got to do with this week’s blog? Over the past few weeks, I’ve mentioned that the farm is on the side of a mountain range and I’ve been excavating a flat site to install a new water tank. Well, that flat site will now include a small shed for firewood storage. The reason for this is that I’ve come to the conclusion that there is not enough storage here for firewood that is out of the rain.
With the excavations, this week was something of a break through!
The break through came towards the end of the excavations a few days ago when a path had been completely dug out behind the existing water tank.
|A breakthrough in the excavations. A new path has been forged.|
The excavations have been an interesting project because when I started it, I only had a vague idea of what I what I was trying to achieve. I knew that I wanted more water storage capacity, a second pump and a shed for storing firewood. However, once I started digging and moving clay – by hand – ideas began to form and the initial plans were quietly ditched. It takes a lot of time to come up with those ideas as to how all of the different systems will be arranged.
Comprises are always part of these sorts of projects and cost is always a consideration. With this project: I’ve reduced the number of new water tanks from two to one; I’ve worked out a way to reduce the small off grid solar electric systems from two to one; two smaller sheds will replace the single larger shed; and the layout of the water tanks has changed so that they are more accessible and do not have soil placing pressure on the walls of those tanks (the soil pressure can potentially tip the tank over).
The site will hopefully look like this:
|A rough plan of the excavated area|
I’ve also had to scrounge around the farm for more rocks with which to build the rock walls for the new garden beds which are a result of all of the soil from the excavations. There is both an upper and lower rock wall which you can see in the photo:
|Upper and lower rock walls showing the excavated fill|
In other farm news, the blackberry enclosure is continuing and a few new posts have been installed. The recycled steel gate has now been correctly installed and a simple latch mechanism keeps the gate shut when required. I’m really interested to see how this fencing system works because I recently caught Stumpy the wallaby sitting on top of a raised garden bed eating all of the vegetables, whilst squashing those that weren’t eaten.
|The blackberry enclosure continues to expand|
This week has been mostly sunny and the first of many daffodil flowers bloomed. Also the echium plants have begun their long flowering cycle. The bees here love the echium flowers, whilst the smaller birds hide during the day in their dense foliage.
|The first daffodil flower of the season|
|Echium flowers which are great food for bees as well as being shelter for smaller birds such as robins and fairy wrens|
The farm is in a thick cloud right now and it has been raining for most of the day. The temperature outside here at about 7pm is 7.5 degrees Celsius (45.5 F) and so far this year there has been 554.8mm (21.8 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 542.2mm (21.3 inches).