Monday, 23 February 2015


The blog can be heard in mp3 format here: Sound Cloud - Chookflation

The northern half of Australia was hit this week by not one, but two tropical cyclones (Marcia and Lam). Cyclone Marcia was declared a category five cyclone which is about as strong as a cyclone gets. Both cyclones have caused significant damage with the extent of that damage only becoming clear over the past day or so.

Down here in the south eastern corner of the continent, the mornings this week started hot. By lunchtime the clear blue skies and unrelenting sunshine made it even hotter. And by evening the heat simply carried through into the next day. And that pattern continued for four days in a row. Needless to say that this week has been a total write off for work around the farm. Still, I’m not complaining as I haven’t had to deal with a category five cyclone, which even washed a Great White Shark up onto a beach. Fans of very dodgy B grade horror films would have called this tropical cyclone a “Sharknado” – nuff said.

Dodgy humour aside, the weather really has been hot and humid here this week and the weather station read out says it all: 38.1’C is equal to 100.6’F

Weather station readout yesterday afternoon
The spiders are thoroughly enjoying the continuing hot weather and I captured this photo of a golden orb spider, lurking on her web between two veranda posts with the sun setting in the background:
Golden orb spider with sun setting in the background

Despite the heat, the farm is still looking quite green for this time of year, and as I have plenty of water to spare, the vegetables, herbs and flowers are all growing very strongly:

Blue skies reign supreme over the farm

The house has ceiling fans installed in every room, but no air conditioning. Instead, to keep the temperatures inside the house pleasant on a hot day, the house is very well insulated. The insulation works to resist the transfer of heat from the outside. However, that means that during very hot days, I have to be careful to avoid heating the inside of the house any more than is absolutely necessary. There are plenty of simple things a person can do to achieve this, and one such idea is doing your cooking outside. The photo below shows a tray of biscuits happily baking away outside in a portable electric oven (solar powered, of course) whilst the thermometer next the oven shows the temperature in the shade is 34.9’C (94.8’F).
Biscuits baking in the portable oven whilst the air temperature in the shade is 34,9’C (94.8’F)

The heat has provided a bumper crop of blackberries in this part of the world and the picking this morning produced not only several interesting bites from the very unpleasant march fly insects, but also several kilograms of berries. I’ve been picking blackberries for a few weeks now, freezing them and hopefully by mid-March my order for jam bottles will be available from the supplier and I’ll turn all of that frozen fruit into yummy blackberry jam. I’ve completely run out of glass storage bottles here!

Blackberries picked this morning

It is hardly surprising that this week was hot, because the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo ran from Friday to Sunday. The expo is great for small holders as it has all sorts of things relevant to that type of farming. I’ve been to other farm field days dedicated to broad acre farming and I spent ages walking around going: what does that large green machine do? The Seymour expo on the other hand is just right and I look forward to the event every year. This year was particularly notable as I must have looked like I know what I’m doing because on several different occasions people asked me what my opinion of this or that was. On the downside, that expo is always hot and the sun is unrelenting.

Now, Seymour is a town which is about an hour and half drive north of the farm. If you head north from here, you’re heading inland and as you do that it just gets warmer. So, I’ve devised a sneaky way of dealing with that heat: Get there as the gates open early in the morning and leave before lunchtime.

The other great thing about the expo is that the local poultry association has a chicken sale. You have to get there early to grab the choicest chooks though!

So Friday morning found both my lady and I eagerly waiting at the gates to the expo near the head of the queue in a long line of people. Apparently the organisers were having technical difficulties with their cash registers which were eventually resolved through the use of an extension power cable. You could feel the tension in the air from the people waiting in line as the technical difficulties were being discussed inside the ticket booth. Queue jumpers were politely sent to the back of the long line. And what was really fascinating was that I only spotted a single individual with their head buried deep in an electronic device as everyone else was either quietly waiting or chatting to other people in the queue.

Once inside the expo grounds, we made a bee line to the poultry shed to assess our potential chicken (chook) purchases. What surprised me was that over the past few years there has been chookflation (the technical term for ever increasing prices of chickens). Only five years ago a chicken would cost you around $15 to $20 each. Nowadays, they are upwards of $50 or more per chicken. I’m unsure whether the chookflation is a result of increasing demand for chickens or decreasing supply of chickens because I’ve heard several different theories espoused over the past few days.

Anyway, I picked up two Isa Brown and two Blue Laced Wyandotte chickens. The average cost of those four chickens was $38.75 each. Chookflation indeed!

One of the Isa Brown chickens and two of the Blue Laced Wyandotte chickens

Economics aside, I introduced the new chickens to the flock that same afternoon and to my absolute horror, the two new Isa Brown chickens proceeded to attack the boss chicken and her enforcer sidekick. Both the boss and enforcer were stalked around the enclosure and quickly humbled by the two new Isa Brown interlopers. This was not a good situation. The two new chickens then started systematically picking fights with every other chicken in the enclosure and won. It looked as though a new order would soon be established in the chicken collective!

The new interlopers hadn’t counted on Big Plymie, the very large Plymouth Rock chicken who normally has a very pleasant disposition. Unfortunately for them, she was having none of that foolishness from the newbies. Big Plymie simply stalked out into the centre of the chicken enclosure – looking very angry that her important chicken business had been interrupted and took on all four new chickens at once – and won by fighting and pecking them into submission. At one point she even jumped on top of the new Isa Browns and grabbed their head in her beak. Honestly, Jackie Chan could not have done better and harmony was quickly established in the chicken collective. Big Plymie having assured all the other chickens of her superiority, simply went back to her chicken business.
Big Plymie brooks no nonsense from the new comers

Just in case anyone is in the area next Saturday 28th February, I’ll be at the Macedon Ranges Sustainability Festival in Woodend between 10am and 4pm. It is held in the park opposite Bourkies Bakery (which does the best vanilla slices in the state, and not a bad Moroccan Lamb pie!) and I’ll be representing the Riddells Creek Seed Savers group. Come and say hello! Also on that day in the area the Macedon CFA is holding its annual flea market at nearby Macedon which is a big event. Strangely enough, the 70/80's rock band 'The Eagles' are also playing at nearby Hanging Rock. There must be something in the water? The forecast for the day is 31’C (87.7’F) and sunny with late showers!

How did I get here?

Designing and building a house that was constructed to resist damage from fire would be a daunting prospect for most builders. Fortunately, I had an ace up my sleeve.

In early September 1666, a fire broke out in Pudding Lane in London, which over a few short days destroyed 13,500 houses and displaced more than 200,000 people of all ranks and stations, such was the destructive force of the Great fire of London. The heat was so great during that firestorm that it melted metals which required temperatures of between 1,100 °C (2,000 F) and 1,650 °C (3000 F) in order to melt.

In the aftermath, the authorities decided that buildings should be constructed with walls made of brick and stone and not wood. Thus our cultural preference for brick buildings was born. And that was also the beginnings of the new profession of surveyors. It is interesting to note that in the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires, I saw roadside guard rails which are made of very strong steel twisted as if they were merely ribbons.

Anyway, having built and repaired houses in the inner city, I understood the issues relating to maintaining fire rated walls between your house and the neighbour’s house. So, I set out to work within the regulations and design a house that utilised the sort of fire rated walls that normally divide apartments.

Unfortunately, no one had actually designed and tested either windows or a roof that met the exacting new bushfire design standards – which is a kind of weird situation, so I was able to build only so much of the house before having to ask the awful question: what now?

To be continued…

The temperature outside here at about 8.00pm is 12.3 degrees Celsius (54.1’F) at 99% humidity. So far this year there has been 105.6mm (4.1 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total of 104.2mm (4.1 inches).