Monday, 26 October 2015

THE EDITOR STRIKES BACK



A long time ago in a mountain range far, far away….

Well, to be totally honest it was only a few weeks back, but it does seem like a long time ago that the new chicken enclosure “Chooktopia” project was completed. The completion of the new chicken enclosure was a real setback for the Rebel Rodent Forces (Rattus rattus or otherwise known as the common black rat or RRF!). The Imperial Troops (myself, the editor and the dogs) then drove those rebels from their hidden base and pursued them across the farm and into the depths of the forest. It was a dark time for the rebel forces.

We still haven’t yet decided which of the Imperial forces here is Darth Vader and who is the Evil Emperor. For all we know, maybe Scritchy the boss dog is actually the Evil Emperor. Poopy the Pomeranian (who is actually a Swedish Lapphund) is probably just a regular Storm Trooper (or perhaps a very evil Chewbacca) as he does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to chasing unwanted wildlife off the farm. It is worth noting that in such situations, Scritchy the boss dog is usually to be found at the rear issuing instructions to the storm troopers. Therefore given Scritchy’s hands on nature (but at a respectably safe distance from the wildlife) she is probably more of a Darth Vader character. That then leaves the unanswered question: who is the Evil Emperor here?

The rebel rodent forces enlisted some unexpected assistance this week – perhaps they used the Force? The assistance attacked the very pride of the Imperial fleet which was assaulted in a daring and audacious move that the brilliant and long dead Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu would have approved of.

Friday night, the rebel forces employed their heaviest battleships (i.e. deer) and assaulted the death star (aka some eight year old fruit trees). The damage to the bark of the death star – oops, sorry, the eight year old fruit trees – was severe. Darth Vader, aka Scritchy the boss dog is less than impressed by the actions of the new augmented rebel forces (i.e. deer).
Darth Vader (aka Scritchy the boss dog) reviews the damage to the Death Star (aka the eight year old Jonathon Apple Tree) in the orchard
Bite marks on the trunk are further apparent deer damage to this Nashi Pear fruit tree

More deer damage on a Fuji apple tree
At the moment, I am in the process of urinating randomly (using my light saber?) all over the orchard to mark this as territory for the Imperial forces. Hopefully, that does the trick. However, I still have the option of putting loose fitting chicken wire around each of the fruit tree trunks and that will permanently sort out the deer / rodent rebel forces.

On a serious note, I'm interested in hearing from anyone with experience with this sort of damage as it is unsustainable and the deer could possibly destroy the established orchard within a few short weeks. I am also considering painting house paint onto the damaged trunks, and would appreciate feedback on that option.

Deer are loose in this mountain range (coincidentally there used to be a deer farm below this property), however I have never seen deer on the farm before. The reason for this is because maybe whilst rainfall in the mountain range this year has been reasonable, elsewhere it has been very dry. Nothing eats deer in the mountain range, so perhaps the deer are ranging ever higher in elevation than before to enjoy a bit of green fodder. Poopy the Pomeranian and Sir Scruffy both of whom are the Storm Troopers (nuff said really) have their work cut out for them this summer.

The smoke and particulates from the recent and very early bush fires are causing the most amazing sunsets:
Smoke and particulates from the recent and very early bush fires are causing the most amazing sunsets
Plus there is the Gigantor El Nino this year which means that the spring weather has been way beyond the average warmth. Even the European honey bees are starting to feel the heat early in the season as they exit their hive on hot days to get a bit of fresh air:
European honey bees exit their hive on hot days this week to get a bit of fresh air
Despite the hot weather, we planted even more tomato seedlings this week in the new berry enclosure. That berry enclosure, which is temporarily also being used for tomatoes this season,  received another cubic metre (cubic yard) of mushroom compost this week too.
Even more tomato seedlings were planted this week in the new berry bed
Alright, I didn’t want to say it, but the editor is the Evil Emperor (edit – totally incorrect as I have much better skin!) and thought that it might be worth writing a few paragraphs about how we co-operatively manage all of the projects here.

Firstly, most of the projects so far have been driven by pure necessity. The editor (who isn’t really an Evil Emperor and is actually quite nice) and I discuss and decide which projects have to be completed because they are necessary to easily live in this area. The very close bushfires in the summer of 2014, when we were evacuated from the area, provided us with insights as to the shortcomings of many of the systems here at the farm. And ever since then we have attempted to adapt to the serious and ongoing risk of bushfire.

Other project implementations and deadlines are driven by nature. Some food crops can only be planted at a certain time of the year, such as the tomatoes or the berries. Therefore any projects relating to the tomatoes and berries have to be completed by a certain time, regardless of opinions. The firewood shed which was only just completed before the really wet winter weather set in earlier this year was another of those projects affected by the inflexible deadlines of nature.

Sometimes, systems we’d previously implemented just go wrong unexpectedly and have to be rebuilt utilising what we have learned from those failures. The previous chicken shed and run was a good example of that problem as that earlier chicken run was simply too wet and the chickens health was seriously impacted by that.

Projects can also unfold as unexpected opportunities and new skills are learned or new ideas are explored and can possibly be implemented. Sometimes we have no idea as to how to proceed with a system or area and so we do nothing and wait until inspiration strikes. Sometimes that inspiration comes from the most unlikely of sources. I really enjoy visiting other people’s gardens as they provide many ideas as to how other people have addressed certain difficulties. Many of those ideas are the feedstock for the projects here.

Lastly, any and all ideas are captured on paper. Once an idea is written down on paper it is hard to forget that idea! The editor and I are then able at leisure to discuss the relative merits of each of the ideas and we can categorise them into wants versus needs and then provide them with a ranking of relative importance.

And that is how the Evil Emperor/Editor and I decide which project gets done, when and how it will look.

Darth Vader didn’t seem to be particularly careful with the Empires resources, I mean that Death Star would have cost a whole lot of resources which don’t materialise out of thin air you know! By way of contrast, I’m notoriously tight with money and energy and this week I had a couple of bright ideas to utilise the huge amounts of electricity that unfortunately disappears here for most of the year because the sun is shining and the house batteries are full.

It is always a challenge to come up with new and interesting ways to use electricity over the summer and this week I picked up a quality electric brush cutter and an electric food dehydrator. I have it on good authority from my off grid contacts that this local brand (Fowlers Vacola) produces excellent food dehydrators. The Evil Emperor/Editor is already dreaming of preserving tomatoes in the new-to-me second hand food dehydrator:
A quality second hand food dehydrator was purchased this week
Speaking of produce, I thought that you all may enjoy seeing some of the slowly ripening fruit as it appears to me today:
Jonathon apples are slowly ripening on the tree

Johnsons Prolific almonds are slowly ripening on the tree
King Billy plums are slowly ripening on the tree
Early Moorpark apricots are slowly ripening on the tree

And just in case anyone was concerned that the rebel forces had an impact on the flowers at the farm, they needn’t overly concern themselves as the imperial forces know a thing or two about flowers and there are now even more this week as the geraniums and bearded irises add to the riot of colour which is only going to get more feral as the season progresses!
There are even more flowers this week as the geraniums and bearded irises add to the riot of colour
Long live the Empire!

The temperature outside here at about 8.30pm is 6.6’C degrees Celsius (43.9’F). So far this year there has been 623.0mm (24.5 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total 614.6mm (24.2 inches).

And now for something completely different! The YouTube video below provides a walk through of the new chicken housing project. Enjoy and feel free to ask questions.


Monday, 19 October 2015

Scrapping


Toothy the long haired dachshund is a feisty little character. He has a quick temper and loves a bit of scrapping. Scrapping is the act of fighting, normally hand to hand – but in the case of a dog – claw to teeth fighting. Despite his diminutive stature (dachshunds are a little bit height challenged) he’ll happily chase birds all day long. And despite years of attempts and his lightning speed and quick reflexes, Toothy hasn’t caught a single bird! The birds here know his traits well and mercilessly tease him by always staying just out of reach of those teeth.

Being close to the ground gives Toothy some serious strategic advantages in the rough and tumble world of being a dog here.

Remember that Toothy is an expert in scrapping. If Toothy decides to steal some of Poopy the Pomeranian’s breakfast (Poopy is actually a Swedish Lapphund), then that thought is quickly followed up by a bit of Toothy growling to announce his intentions. That Toothy growling then escalates to some close range threatening teeth action. Poopy starts looking quite nervous about the possibility of losing his breakfast.

In the days of myths and legends of the far past, Dragons were said to have a weak spot on their underbellies and the knights of yore who were stupid enough to even consider battling a dragon always attempted to attack that weak spot. Poopy the Pomeranian is sort of like a dragon as normally he would have no reason to fear the much smaller Toothy, but Poopy is unfortunately long of leg and even longer of tail and his underbelly bits are seriously exposed. Toothy knows that every dragon has a weak spot on their underbelly and he deals with Poopy on that basis. And Poopy lives in fear of losing his breakfast (and other bits) and has learned to eat very quickly indeed.

And that is how Toothy earned his name.

Dragons look like very large birds to me. Toothy the dachshund has an unhealthy obsession with all things bird, so he’d probably even try a bit of scrapping with a dragon – who knows? Fortunately, for all of us here at the farm, dragons seem to be a very unlikely problem! However, I do actually keep birds here (chickens) and Toothy would love nothing better than to take on the chickens with a bit of scrapping action and I wrote about his obsession in the previous blog entry: All day I dream about chickens.

Anyway, my tolerance for the obsessive Toothy has come to an end because I felt that sooner or later one of the chickens would accidentally be let out of the chicken enclosure whilst the dogs were roaming around and then we’d all find out who was tougher: Toothy, or the unfortunate chicken. I say unfortunate chicken, because I reckon Toothy would win that particular scrap.
Construction on the new chicken vestibule commenced this week
This week, both Toothy and Sir Scruffy assisted me with the construction of a steel lined vestibule entrance to the chicken enclosure. In the above photo the obsession that Toothy displays for the chickens is almost palpable. Sir Scruffy is the other scrappy looking dog in the photo and he is a sophisticated older gentleman and as such is above those obsessions – you can see the look of disdain on his face in the photo above.

The idea behind the vestibule is if one of the chickens accidentally sneaks out of the open door to their enclosure, they are safely trapped within the steel lined vestibule and I can quickly herd that naughty chicken back into their enclosure without very real possibility of Toothy trying to eat them.
The vestibule for the chicken enclosure is almost complete
A brief and very heavy rain storm interrupted (it was a very welcome interruption!) construction on the vestibule. It is worthwhile mentioning that like a lot of projects here, the vestibule was constructed entirely of scrap materials that I had ready to hand. This may be another useful definition of the word scrapping?
The vestibule for the chicken enclosure is now complete and more importantly Toothy proof
With a little bit of extra work once the rain had ceased, the vestibule to the chicken enclosure was soon complete and I could breathe a big sigh of relief as there had been some very close encounters of the Toothy kind between the chickens and the dogs and this new vestibule will put an end to that.

Longer term I’m intending to construct a purpose built enclosure for the tomato plants (with mustard plants being grown in the off / winter season). The tomato plants are an important crop here because they are very prolific producers of fruit from about February until early June. I’ve been selecting the seeds from cherry tomato plants for the past four years now and with each passing year, the plants are producing fruit slightly earlier in the year and they seem much hardier to both the soil and climactic conditions. Anyway, such desires for a new tomato enclosure are good in theory, but difficult to achieve in practice because I have completely run out of time to construct the purpose built enclosure this year.

However, the new berry enclosure has only just been fenced off and partially planted out a week or two back, so I thought to myself, why not? I’ll simply plant the many cherry tomato seedlings into that berry enclosure.

Nothing is ever simple though. That newly constructed berry enclosure is too steep to be useful for tomatoes and I’d always intended to reduce the steepness by removing some of the soil at the higher end of that enclosure. So, I began digging and moving soil early in the cool of the morning.
Digging soil to reduce the steepness of the new berry enclosure
As the day wore on the sun rose higher and higher in the sky and despite the cool mountain air, that sun burned with the fierceness of a dragon’s breath. And I got hotter and hotter as the day wore on and by late afternoon, well early evening really, I was wishing that the digging would just be over. The excess soil was used to fill up a hole which had been left over when long ago a very large tree had fallen over taking its roots and all. It was a big hole and is now a reasonably flat surface.

Eventually the digging was complete and I’d dropped the soil level by about 0.5m (about a foot and a half) across the entire enclosure.
The berry bed had now been excavated and was looking good
The next day, I moved placed a couple of cubic metres (cubic yards) of mushroom compost into the berry beds.
A couple of cubic metres of mushroom compost was brought into the new berry enclosure
Hopefully, tomorrow evening – weather permitting, I’ll plant the many tomato seedlings which are growing strongly, into that berry enclosure. It is predicted to be too hot to plant them during that day.

The plants are thoroughly enjoying the recent warm to hot conditions and the strong UV (which is now rated as Very High) from the sun is simply making them grow faster. Many of the plants are producing flowers in abundance and you can smell the many different floral scents in the air when you move from one point on the farm to another.
The strong sunlight and warm conditions are producing massive plant growth here
Some of the many flowering plants here at the farm
Observant readers will note that in the very centre of the above photo is a dark blob which is a happy wallaby enjoying the lush plant growth of this time of the year.

Some of the showiest flowers here are the Rhododendrons. Many long years ago during an intense drought a local plant nursery had to sell off a huge variety of Rhododendron plants and out of respect for the poor and also very sunburnt plants, I took the trailer and bought all of them – every single one of those plants. The nursery owner was certainly happy to find a buyer for them during such a difficult year. I brought all of the Rhododendrons back to the farm here, planted them in cooling mulches and healthy composts, watered them and they have thrived. One of my favourites is this one:

An almost iridescent red Rhododendron is flowering this week with more buds to come
Other flowers are enjoying the sunlight too and this member of the borage family produces flowers for almost the entire year. There are tens of dozens of this borage family plant here and the chickens love the leaves, whilst the bees love the flowers:
Anchusa Semperivens producing a reliable flower display which the bees adore
Speaking of dragon’s, the local parrots (Crimson Rosella’s) have been hanging around recently because they can smell that the strawberry plants are producing some early (as yet unripe) berries. Everything here eats strawberries – even the dogs - and I have never seen a plant that suffers from so much predation as a strawberry plant. Next winter I’ll be constructing a purpose built anti-everything strawberry enclosure, but until then the parrots dream of strawberries.
A local parrot – Crimson Rosella – is dreaming of consuming luscious and fresh strawberry fruit
I’d like to see Toothy try a bit of scrapping action with one of the local wedge tail eagles. They are massive and the smart money in that fight would be on the wedge tail eagle (an adults wing span can be around 3 metres (10 feet) across). They are always soaring above the forest, but recently with the warmer to hot conditions they have been enjoying themselves soaring around on the thermals and unlike Toothy, they really are the King of the Forest.
A wedge tail eagle confidently soars overhead in the strong thermal currents brought about by the warm to hot conditions over the farm
The temperature outside here at about 8.30m is 16.7’C degrees Celsius (62.0’F). So far this year there has been 614.6mm (24.2 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total of 611.0mm (24.0 inches).

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Fernglade Farm Open Garden Sunday 18th October 2015 2pm to 5pm

The garden here at Fernglade Farm will open this Sunday the 18th October 2015 between 2pm and 5pm!

I rarely open the garden to visitors, but the weather here this Sunday is going to be truly spectacular (forecast to be 20'C and sunny) so we've completely taken leave of our senses and decided to open the garden to readers for that afternoon!

 

Come up and have a chat, say hello and also enjoy a snoop around. I will conduct a tour from 2pm where you can ask questions.

 

Now here are the boring but still very important bits about the tour that anyone who visits the open garden are deemed to have agreed to:

  • Entry to the property is at your own risk and you are responsible for your own actions and safety whilst visiting the garden;
  • Children are welcome to visit, but parents must supervise them at all times and are also responsible for the safety of those children;
  • We reserve the right to refuse entry to the property;
  • Anyone displaying unruly or risky behaviour (to themselves or others) will be asked to leave the property and we retain that right to evict them for any other reason as well;
  • Sturdy footwear is recommended;
  • The house will not be opened under any circumstance;
  • Public toilets will not be available here so make sure you go before you visit the garden;
  • There are bees on the farm so please be respectful of the bees and if you are allergic to bee stings (which is unlikely, but a possibility) please be aware of that possibility and take appropriate precautions; and
  • There are no facilities for rubbish (of any sort) so please respect the garden and take your rubbish home with you;

 

To obtain a map of how to get to the open garden please leave a comment on this blog post (the comment will not be published) with the following details

  • Name;
  • Phone number (I will contact you with details as to how to get here); and
  • Email address

Otherwise to get here, from the Cherokee CFA shed on Gap Road head back towards Gisborne and Riddells Creek 2km. At the short dead end road on the right hand side (if you are heading from the CFA shed towards Gisborne and Riddells Creek on Gap Road) turn right and the house is about 400m down the road. I'll park the little white Suzuki at the top of the driveway just off the road so you can park there and walk down the driveway. 

Look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, 12 October 2015

Strange days indeed



What a strange couple of weeks it has been here at the farm.

Within the past two weeks, there were two nights where the overnight temperature was the freezing point for water. The night air was dark, crisp and clear and the stars put on a great show, and Poopy the Pomeranian especially enjoyed them because I took pity on him and allowed him to sleep inside the house snuggled up in front of the wood fire. Happy days for Poopy!

The cool nights soon gave way to an unprecedented heat wave. The winds blew in from the centre of this very hot and dry continent and with them came temperatures day after day that have not been seen before this early in recorded history (weather records go back to about 1870). It was certainly hot and sunny and during the day I opened the house and let the hot air in, whilst at night the cooler night air gently breezed through the house. The European honey bees were all over every single flower, and the unprecedented heat wave produced flowers in profusion.
An Apple Jonathon revels in the heat wave and puts on a great flower show
All of the plants here were jumping out of the ground to capture the early extreme summer temperatures and if you were to watch them closely, I’m sure you could see them growing.
The cottage garden below the house reached for the sky in the unprecedented heat wave
However, there really is no such thing as a free lunch. The farm is on the southern (and thus much cooler) side of the mountain range. Over on the northern (and much hotter) side of the mountain range it was a very different story this week.

That story commenced earlier in the prior week with a small government burn off in the Cobaw Ranges forest. Much of that mountain range is owned and controlled by the state government so it really is their responsibility to manage it. However, one thing lead to another and the very small burn off  of 80 hectares soon increased in size with the hot weather conditions to over 3,000 hectares (7,500 acres) and so far it has appeared to threaten one nearby township (Lancefield) and has actually destroyed three houses. Even today, the authorities are reporting that the fire is still burning (but mostly contained) and that fire is consuming a huge quantity of volunteer resources.
View of the recent fire from the very top of the Macedon Ranges looking towards the adjacent Cobaw Ranges
With all of these recent strange events in mind, I decided to take a week off the regular blogging and instead talk about trees. Way below this discussion about trees, I’ll continue with a regular update of the activities at the farm which you can jump too if you are so inclined!

What is a tree? That question is not as easy to answer as you’d think and the reason for that is because the word “tree” is actually an abstract concept. What am I talking about? Well, an abstract concept is a sort of dumbed down version of reality and we use such abstract concepts to allow us to communicate ideas with one another. If you asked a child (or me) to draw a tree it would probably look like this:
Drawing of a tree
Strangely enough, the drawing doesn’t look anything at all like a Eucalyptus species tree – in fact, I reckon my drawing looks more like an oak or maybe even an elm. But, what other information can we tell from the above drawing? There are no lower branches for a start. This indicates to me that herbivores such as deer may have eaten all of those lower branches and the tree was forced to grow upwards to get past that predation. Also you can see that the tree shows signs of buttressing (that is the fancy name for the bits that stick out near the ground) which means that it is an old tree and it needs that buttressing to avoid falling over in strong winds. The tree also has an expansive canopy and this indicates that it provides extensive shading to the ground below the tree.

The dominant tree species in the forests here are Eucalyptus species. They share some of the attributes of that abstract tree, but certainly not all of them. And many attributes they do have can’t even be deduced from the abstract drawing of the tree. For example, the leaves in Eucalyptus species are low in certain minerals but very high in volatile oils.

As an owner of a forested property Down Under, I would like to manage the forest that I own in a way that is in the best interests of the trees, soil and wildlife. However the laws are such that outside of a small zone of several metres around my house and I am unable to legally perform any management functions within the surrounding forest.

In contrast, the state government manages its forests by performing burn offs within its state owned land. By and large this is a good thing, however sometimes the results of those actions can be seen where the fires can occasionally escape and get much bigger than was ever was originally intended. No one seriously wants to burn huge tracts of land, but the reality is that it is an expensive, complex, difficult and arduous task. Years ago, I spoke with one of the local state politicians who reported to me that residents used to complain regularly about government burn offs and some of the more memorable complaints were: “I have my washing out on the line” or “It’s my sons 21st birthday party and can you please do the burn on another day?”.

This has lead to a situation whereby 'doing nothing' is a preferable option for the authorities. This 'doing nothing' option is also forced upon private land owners. Not managing the forests is certainly the less confrontational way to approach the issue. However, in this corner of the continent, we have suffered from wild fires on an alarmingly regular basis over our history here. A wild fire is like a bushfire on steroids and it is almost impossible to stop. It is not a good outcome for anyone or anything and those wild fires have occurred as far back as 1851, when over a quarter of the entire state burned over only a few days.

Once the Europeans settled this state in 1834 over 90% of the Aboriginal population died very rapidly due to exposure to European diseases. The further introduction of sheep and the displacement of the surviving Aboriginal population from their lands forever changed the ecology of this corner of the continent.

I know what the land looks like today because from this vantage point there is almost unbroken forest right to the horizon. And yet, I’ve noticed that the various wombats, wallabies and kangaroos all turn up here to the farm to eat at night, rather than eating in the forest. I’ve wondered about this situation for a long time and it appears to me that the forest provides plenty of sheltered and protected places to sleep, but not much in the way of food. The farm is the exact opposite situation as it provides plenty to eat, but not much in the way of shelter (plus it has Poopy and friends).

The word forest is also an abstract concept. For most people it means a place of many trees (which is an abstract concept in itself). But what does that even mean and how do we even know what a forest is meant to look like? When I was at the top of the mountain range the other day taking the photo of the adjacent range I noticed that one side of the track to the peak was more exposed to the sun and prevailing winds and as such it was a hard environment and it looked like this:
Snow gums, rushes and grasses dominate the northern and more sunny and wind exposed side of the mountain range
And yet only a few short paces away on the southern and more protected (from wind and sun) side of the mountain ridge it looked like this:
Wattles and a broad leaf understory with ferns and soft grasses dominate the southern and more protected side of the mountain range
 So given the differences between those two forests which are only several metres (feet) apart the questions have to be asked: How do we even know what is meant by the term forest and should all forests be managed in the same way?

The laws here certainly suggest that a forest is basically an unmanaged collection of trees where nothing ever happens and no management techniques outside of the sort of mass burn offs that the government undertakes can ever be tried. And yet, decade after decade we have these pesky wild fires. The last one in February of 2009 killed 173 people, mostly on a single night. It also managed to burn 450,000 hectares (1,100,000 acres) and destroyed over 3,500 structures. Few people even seem to consider the serious impact those fires have on the wildlife and soil life. And yet some how we expect those wild fires not to reoccur. It is strange.

I’d also like to suggest an unpalatable truth and please feel free to ignore me if you disagree. The environmental movement appears to me to have failed to secure significant wins since about the early 1980’s because despite a few notable exceptions, they fail to walk the talk. People are alert to hypocrisy and a good example of this is that the Greens political party down here has consistently derided planned burns of forests. The party also has a strong stand on global warming / climate change. So given that every single tree is precious how is it they can not understand that wildfires such as what happened in 2009 harm and kill huge numbers and diversity of wildlife and release as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as a major volcanic eruption – certainly you can see a big wildfire from space!

And yet, the farm this week went through a period of an unprecedented heat wave for this time of the year. Global warming has clearly already happened. 

Records actually remain which indicate what the forests and this area looked like at the time of European settlement.

Some are written accounts such as that of Major Mitchell the Surveyor General who trekked overland and surveyed much of the country down here and in 1839 wrote of this mountain range: “Southeast to Mt Macedon, crossing from granite to basalt. The forest was denser, but again north slopes were more open than south, and both were more open than now. South of the mount found both thick forest and downs of park like scenery”. On the north face of the mountain range it was said that the forest was open enough to ride a horse through. 

Looking at the photo of the northern forests above you can see that it would be very unlikely for a person on a horse to be able to ride through that dense thicket of trees which has arisen after the wild fires of January 1983.

Paintings and depictions from around that time also indicate what the forests looked like and to me they look nothing like the unbroken expanse of forest that you can see today. A painting from 1820 shows how Aborigines used fire to hunt kangaroos.
Joseph Lycett 1820 Aborigines using fire to hunt kangaroos - Taken from Bill Gammage's book The Greatest Estate on Earth
Some of the things that I immediately notice in the above painting is that the wind is blowing the fire away from the edge of the forest (where it was presumably lit) and into a grassland where it can be easily extinguished. The other thing that jumps out is that the grasslands actually border the forests and it is worth noting that the forests here will take over any grasslands if given the opportunity to do so. That fact in itself suggests that the grasslands were managed by the Aborigines over a very long period of time. It is quite awesome to contemplate. That is quite a different take on the forests than what I’m allowed to manage or what our society expects, which is some sort of wilderness that never actually existed.

The unfortunate thing is that all I know is that if we repeat our societies current management of the forests then sooner or later, the history books and my own experience show me that we will have another wildfire and I reckon the world will be a lesser place without Fatso the wombat, Stumpy the wallaby and Big daddy roo. It is a bit sad really and it would be nice to at least be able to try something different.

Back to the farm activities
Not only was there an unprecedented heat wave, but that climate weirdness was quickly followed by four days of successive monsoon storms. They were impressive to behold and brought strong winds, heavy rain and hail stones:
Heavy monsoonal rains fell onto the farm and this one was silhouetted in the red smoke affected skies

Large hail fell onto the raised garden beds with the monsoonal storms

At some points during the storms I had to grab the editors pink umbrella and head out into the deluge to clean out any organic muck that had washed into the inlet filters on the water tanks. It was a dirty and very wet job and I was grateful for the pink umbrella!
Cleaning out the water tank inlet filters during a heavy storm
I added a water tap to the treated pine post that was cemented into the new garden bed last week and the hose is also now hung up off the ground.
A garden tap was installed this week onto the recently cemented in treated pine post and the garden hose now sits off the ground
And then I was able to complete the rock wall and back fill the brand new garden beds with a few cubic metres (cubic yards) of organic material.
The rock wall has now been completed and a new garden bed is in place
Oh yeah, I found a good use for all of the excess lemons and over about half an hour I squeezed at least 100 lemons and used some of the juice to prepare another batch of lemon wine and froze the rest for later use.

The author proudly holding the juice from at least 100 lemons
The temperature outside here at about 10.15pm is 6.4’C degrees Celsius (43.5’F). So far this year there has been 611.0mm (24.0 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total of 600.4mm (23.6 inches).

Monday, 5 October 2015

All day I dream about chickens


Unintended consequences are always a reality. They can’t be ignored or dismissed out of mind. For example: some readers may believe that this week’s blog title is a secret nod to the very dark 90's band KoЯn. Other people may believe that the blog title is some sort of homage to athletic footwear of a variety that is wholly inappropriate outside of an urban area – just saying that nothing beats quality leather boots when the going gets tough and rural.

But no, the blog title is actually a nod to Toothy the long haired dachshund who spends his days battling the local wildlife which seem to ignore his authority. Toothy may lack height, but he makes up for it in speed and woe betide the lazy marsupial that ignores his early warning bark!

Anyway, I’m sad to confess that Toothy the long haired dachshund has a bit of a problem. He is obsessive about the chickens and that is why he is the real story behind this week’s blog title.

The recently completed chicken enclosure is working really well. The chickens are healthier and happier in the drier all weather conditions of the new “Chooktopia” chicken shed and run. The chickens spend all day long scratching around in their deep litter mulch and can even enjoy a dust bath in the depths of winter because their new enclosure has been fully covered over with a proper steel roof. In their old enclosure, the chickens used to huddle in their shed on cold wet days (and also for much of the winter) because their enclosure was open to the rain and wind. As a bonus, 
the new chicken enclosure even seems to have excluded (for now anyway) the pesky rodents that used to eat at least one third of the chicken feed every single day. Take that you rodents!

However, I discovered an unintended feature of the new chicken enclosure which was the perforated steel mesh screen security door installed onto the front of the building. I picked up the security door at the tip shop for $25 and was very excited about that particular find because they are well over $500 when new. It is a very strong security door, with very thick perforated sheet steel. The unintended feature with the door though is that the chickens can look out from their enclosure, whilst the Toothy the long haired dachshund can also look in. And that was Toothy’s undoing, because now all day he really does dream about the chickens. The funny thing that the innocent Toothy doesn’t realise is that the chickens in their turn dream all day about eating Toothy – if only he knew the dark truth of the matter!
Toothy the long haired dachshund dreams about chickens
The simple answer to the whole chicken / Toothy problem is to construct a vestibule on the front of the new chicken enclosure. I have been putting that particular project off for quite a while now because just in front of the chicken enclosure was a very large and very old tree stump which had a diameter of over 1 metre (a bit over 3 feet).

Removing stumps is no easy job without a stump grinder, but on Friday, I manned up and started the long slow process of cutting up and axing out the large old tree stump by hand. It is worthwhile noting that over the weekend a historically unprecedented heat wave descended over the farm – as it also did over the whole eastern half of the continent: Southeastern Australia's heat even unusual for summer.

Eventually, after many hours and a few naughy words, the old tree stump was removed and I was then able to landscape the entire upper slope of the chicken enclosure. Later on I vaguely recall enjoying a cool soaking bath with the doors flung open so that cool evening air blew over me, some good food and then an early night where I enjoyed the long deep sleep of the truly exhausted.
A white silky chicken stands exactly where a very large tree stump was removed
The next afternoon found me digging holes for the steel posts for the vestibule and it is worthwhile mentioning that it was still hot! Eventually the steel posts were cemented into the ground (and you can see them in the first photo with Toothy above).
Digging holes by hand for the steel posts for the new chicken vestibule
Did I mention that it was still hot that day? The heat was a bit of a bonus because it meant that the cement was setting very quickly. To take advantage of that heat, the same afternoon I also began constructing an additional few steps to the existing staircase under the cantina shed. And then that job was completed the following day:
Additional concrete steps were added below the cantina shed
The reason for the new steps was pretty simple. The landing for the bottom step was still too steep and I’d even slipped over on one or two occasions! Soil geek alert (skip this next bit if you find soil geek stuff disturbing!) – If you look carefully at the above photo you’ll notice just how much moisture is retained in the excavated soil and that is despite the current heat wave. Also the excavated soil which I’d casually thrown around the new concrete stairs has a rich dark brown chocolate texture which indicates the presence of much organic matter which is exactly what you’d expect to find in a loam. That loam is the result of many years of additions of composted woody mulches and manures to that area. It is good stuff. (We now resume regular programming!)

Speaking of soil, on a farm in the valley below there is a paddock (which I mentioned a few weeks ago) which had been burnt off last summer. A few weeks back, that paddock was looking really lush and dark green. The owners of that farm have now ploughed all of that rich organic matter back into the soil. To me, it looks as though it may possibly be one giant double dug garden bed! Observant readers will also note in the photo below that the soil in the paddock is drying out in this heat wave from the edges of the paddocks.
The paddock in the valley below that was burnt off last summer has now been ploughed
The combination of heat and good soil moisture is causing the plants here to grow like Triffids on steroids! Most of the fruit trees broke their dormancy this week and produced blossoms, fruit and/or leaves all over a few days.
Most of the fruit trees broke their dormancy this week in the heat wave
The tomato seedlings have also grown massively this week and I made this comparative photo below:
The growth of the tomato seedlings over one week
Very few plants have grown as fast as the asparagus though and they truly are Triffids (don't turn your back on them or you'll become plant food):
The growth of the asparagus over only a few days
The air has become drier this week with the heat, and the entire farm smells of a vast array of unique floral scents. I even spotted a few tulips that have somehow managed the unbelievable feat of not being eaten!
The last remaining tulip bulbs bravely show their stunning faces to the hot sun
The huge quantity of flowers are also being enjoyed by the many and varied insects. The European honey bees are enjoying themselves in the warmth, but their native compatriots are also out in force and I caught a photo of this little lady enjoying a borage flower (Anchusa Sempervirens):
Native bee about to enjoy a borage flower
The plants really are shooting towards the sky and I spotted this fig fruit and emerging leaves where last week there was only this sad looking stick thing huddled up for warmth and not showing any signs of life.
The fig trees have been enjoying the unseasonable warmth
The additional plant growth has been a real boon for the native animals too and it has been hard to keep them away from the farm even during the daylight hours – that’s despite having Toothy and his friends to call upon too!
A baby wombat with a very glossy looking coat happily wanders around the farm and enjoys the compost fed herbage
A small mob of kangaroos have also been regular visitors to the farm over the past couple of weeks. Kangaroos are great to have in the orchard because they leave the trees alone and crop the herbage instead. They’re sort of like having an unpaid mowing service on call, but instead of using fuel, they turn the herbage into manure. Observant readers will note that the kangaroo in the centre of the photo has a very low hanging pouch which means that she has a very large joey (baby kangaroo) in her pouch. Female kangaroos are amazing creatures because not only can they survive on a diet on 85% bracken fern (which is toxic to western grazing animals), but they can also shut down their reproductive systems at will if they consider that the coming summer will be too harsh to raise a joey. With the heat wave over the continent at the moment, I can only hope that she knows what she is doing.
A small mob of kangaroos have been regular visitors over the past few weeks
How did the house get here?
By very early December 2011, the house had been completed. The final inspection took place and I received the occupancy certificate. I believe that I took a few days off any and all work to celebrate that milestone.
By December 2011 the house was completed and signed off by the building surveyor
Even today, I believe that this house is one of only a very small handful of houses on the entire continent that have been constructed to the highest standards as set out in the bushfire building standard (AS3959-2009).

Well, after a few days of well-deserved rest (but not too many!), I commenced demolishing the shed that had been constructed next to the house. Believe it or not, the council had ordered the demolition of that shed because it was slightly too large and also too close to the new house.
Demolition of the existing shed commenced because the council had ordered its demolition upon completion of the house
I saved every single scrap of building materials from that shed, even including the very small stuff like the nails and screws.
The shed was actually quite a sturdy design and incorporated fibro cement sheets over structural grade plywood
Every day, there was less and less of that shed, and I must say that it is much easier and quicker to demolish a building than it is to construct it in the first place!
The old shed is nearing the end of the road
Oh yeah, summer is the time that you can spot Echidna’s and I took a photo of this little Echidna happily walking around here and enjoying itself. Echidnas are very special animals because they lay eggs and then suckle live young in a pouch. Their only living relative is the platypus which lives in rivers and streams.
An echidna was spotted that month
The temperature outside here at about 9.30pm is 23.9’C degrees Celsius (75.0’F). So far this year there has been 600.4mm (23.6 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total of 600.2mm (23.6 inches).

Oops, this is not good...