The farm has been in the grip of the Antarctic vortex for most of the week. The cold spell across the continent has been so strong that there have even been reports of snow settling on the ground in the mountain ranges of southern Queensland.
Sunday morning dawned cold and clear. In fact Sunday was apparently the coldest morning in 18 years. As I awoke to see what the new day would bring, the outside thermometer was registering -0.6’C (30.9’F) which was as cold as I can remember here. And a heavy frost had descended on the farm too.
Occasionally I display a softer side to my personality and I’d allowed the dogs to sleep inside the house in front of the wood fire earlier that night. By the time that the sun had begun to peek over the horizon the dogs were becoming restless and a bit fidgety. There is no better way to reward such early morning canine exuberance than to kick the little rotters outside into the very cold and frosty world of “outside land” - an unpleasant place at that time.
|Scritchy the boss dog unhappily leads Toothy into the frosty world of that Sunday morning|
Scritchy the boss dog normally sleeps inside the house as she is of an age where such comforts are a perquisite of her position in the pack. It is worthwhile noting that the photo clearly shows every single muscle in Scritchy’s body was taught with the stress of encountering the full fury of the Antarctic vortex in all its frosty glory.
Observant readers will note the small log in the frozen herbage and may wonder about why that log is in that particular position. The reason for that log is that I’ve been watching the movement of the sun and over the next six months or so I’ll install another four solar photovoltaic panels in that general location.
Frosts are very rare at the farm, so I also braved the frozen conditions - purely for research purposes mind you - and took the camera out into the frosty conditions so as to take some interesting photos for this blog. One such photo was the native birds watering well on top of one of the water tanks which had frozen solid overnight!
|The native birds watering reservoir had frozen solid overnight|
The weird thing about frosts is that they wash out the normal colours in an environment and leave a sort of sepia toned perspective. However, some of the citrus fruit trees (limes, lemons and grapefruit) were having none of that and they delivered their usual consistent winter cheer with lots of fruit.
|The citrus trees easily shrug off the heavy frost|
The frost eventually thawed out, but in the meantime I enjoyed the occasional latte or two and kicked back and relaxed. It occurred to me this week that it is actually possible to achieve far more work during summer (despite the excessive afternoon heat) than during the depths of winter, when I have serious reservations about working outside during the frozen conditions.
Nonetheless, work on the new chicken enclosure and chicken run (the chooktopia project) continued apace and a proper drain was glued and cemented in. With the drain, any water that spills from the chicken’s water bucket (which will hang above it) can exit the enclosure without emptying into the chickens deep litter mulch. The new drain also has a wonderful steel grate which will stop rats from climbing up the drain pipe and entering the brand new chicken enclosure (take that you intelligent rodents!). The pipe also has the added advantage of draining onto a walnut tree which will be more than happy with the extra watering come the hot and dry summer conditions.
|A steel pit and drain was installed into the new chicken enclosure this week|
|The steel pit and drain was cemented into the new chicken enclosure|
The upside down bucket with the handle in the photo above is not actually a strange form of very unappealing (and possibly spoiled) grey ice cream. That bucket is actually the formwork for a circular cement stepping stone. The concrete stepping stones are intended to rise above the chickens deep litter mulch which will fill that enclosure later this week.
Before we continue with the story, it is worthwhile mentioning that it took about half an hour of discussions and practice walk throughs before the final location of each individual concrete step was agreed to. This is serious business as we have to live with this stuff every day! And as of today, I have constructed four of the eventual six stepping stones.
|Four of the eventual six concrete steps have been constructed this week|
As a bit of a confession, the chooktopia project is without doubt amongst one of the most complex sheds that I have ever built. The complexities have arisen because I am absolutely determined to foil those cheeky rats, who twitch their noses at me in contempt every single day of the week. Enough is enough, I say!
The front door was hung on the enclosure and the internal chicken shed door also received a solid backing of sheet steel. The black front door to the enclosure was quite the find at the local tip shop for only $25. The reason that the door was such a find was because the original purchasers would have paid many, many hundreds of dollars for it only to throw it out because perhaps it was the wrong colour.
|The front door was hung and additional steel sheeting was installed onto the chicken shed|
It is also worthwhile pointing out that with the exception of the screws and cement products – every single item on this chicken shed and enclosure is either recycled, scrap, seconds or down-graded materials. Architecture that is both beautiful and functional need not cost a life savings.
Today, I commenced installing the roof sheeting. Apparently the weather tomorrow will bring strong winds so it was prudent to install the roof sheeting today when there is less chance of it blowing away and onto the neighbouring properties!
|Most of the steel roof sheets were installed today|
Hopefully by the next blog entry the chickens will be enjoying their new house, enclosure and toys (yes, you read that bit correctly) – although there is much work yet to do with the construction, and rain is forecast again for mid this week!
In other farm news, I was searching through one of the cupboards and came across (ta da!) an empty demijohn. I couldn’t believe it, so that demijohn was quickly pressed into service. Readers with good memories will remember the excellent harvest of medlar fruit from earlier this year. Medlar’s are an interesting fruit because you have to allow them to ripen to an almost unsociable condition before consuming them. For those that are interested, medlar fruit tastes to me like a date. Anyway, I had a whole box of these things and I was wondering what to do with them. Wonder no longer readers, because they have now been converted into a medlar country wine which promises to taste quite interesting!
Last week, peak wine bottles was a bit of a problem. Fortunately, and by a strange coincidence earlier in the week I was miles away from the farm in the big smoke but also just around the corner from a packaging wholesaler which happens to do cash sales (for people like me). So I decided to purchase 100 additional wine bottles (with screw tops) for use at the farm, and wouldn’t you know it? I bump into a local there in the showroom. Like, what is the chance of that happening in a big smoke of 5 million people? It was an extraordinary coincidence, and of course they wanted to know my business too!
|The dreaded peak wine bottles has been averted for now, but who knows the future?|
Well, I guess I’m a bit guilty of wanting to know other people’s business too! Last year a farm in the valley below that runs cattle on very rich river flats undertook an interesting experiment. The farm in question burnt off a paddock just before summer as an experiment. I’ve been watching the paddock with interest (having an eagles eye view helps too!) and the contrast between that paddock and the surrounding paddocks in terms of green pick is quite amazing and the results speak for themselves:
|The results of slash and burn techniques on a farm in the valley below are very interesting|
Observant readers will notice that the trees in the paddock are completely unharmed and that the surrounding paddocks are dotted with many sheep and other cattle.
The Antarctic vortex produced the worst solar electricity generation conditions that I have ever seen. Battery % full at the start of the day - Amount generated by the 4.2kW of PV panels during that day
Tuesday 14th July – 62% full – 3.6kWh
Wednesday 15th July – 63% full – 3.0kWh
Thursday 16th July – 65% full – 3.2kWh
Friday 17th July – 64% full – 1.2kWh
Saturday 18th July – 54% full – 4.9kWh
Sunday 19th July – 58% full – 5.9kWh
Monday 20th July – 61% full – 8.4kWh
How did the house get here?
In May 2011, the strange blue / green waterproofing agent was applied to the very thick fibre-cement veranda decks, whilst the outside of the house was mostly painted before winter set in.
|A strange green / blue water proofing chemical is applied to the veranda|
Strange blue / green veranda decks are just that – strange! No one wants that (including the editor) on a house, so I commenced covering that strangeness with ceramic outdoor (i.e. non slip and non-flammable – unless you happen to be confronted by the same conditions as a Space Shuttle upon re-entry) tiles. There is even a small strip of metal between the bottom of the fibre-cement weatherboards and the fibre cement veranda deck which stops rain water from seeping back under the deck and into the wall.
|Non slip and non-flammable ceramic tiles are laid over the fibre cement decks|
Not all of the house is purely pragmatic, sometimes a hint of whimsy is also to be found. One such example of that is the steel (i.e. non-flammable) staircase which was commissioned from a local artisan blacksmith. Mind you, in days of yore a computer driven plasma cutter would have been not only hard to find and power, but the various moons and leaves the blacksmith cut into the stair stringers (the fancy name for the side bits that hold the staircase together) would have been a very tall order. The steel flowers and leaves that wind through the stairs on a steel vine would have probably been a non-starter too!
|A set of artisan made steel stairs was commissioned and installed|
I even somehow managed to annoy the blacksmith by painting the entire staircase with serviceable metal primer and black gloss metal paint. He may have even used the word "abomination" to describe my metal preservation techniques, but I sort of glossed over (pun intended) that memory. Why anyone would want good steel work to rust into oblivion, by choice, is well beyond me and it was at that point in time that our company parted – despite having need for further sets of steel stairs.
Visitors were well pleased that month too, because I installed internal doors. The photo below shows Poopy the Pomeranian looking into the bathroom and wondering why there is suddenly a need for all of these doors on the bathroom.
|Poopy the Pomeranian checks out the internal doors|
There were scraps of the very thick roofing plywood leftover, so that month all of those scraps were absorbed into a brand new dog house. One side of the roof of that dog house is hinged so that I can either chastise the dogs for making a racket (and attempting to hide in the kennel) or clean out their kennel – either way is fine by me. The kennel is lined with scraps of wool carpet (expensive stuff) and also woollen blankets which the dogs distribute around with the weather conditions as they see fit.
|A dog kennel was constructed from the scrap leftover remains of the roofing plywood|
The temperature outside here at about 10.00pm (working late today!) is 5.9’C degrees Celsius (42.6’F). So far this year there has been 452.6mm (17.8 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total of 422.2mm (16.6 inches).