This summer has been hot. For a while now, the only rain has been that of the dry, dead leaves floating through to the ground as they are driven from the arms of the tall trees by even the lightest of breezes. Those leaves gather on the ground and as you step through them, your footsteps echo with the sound of crunching and the unmistakable smell of eucalyptus oil. During the middle of the day the cicadas loudly call to one another from their burrows, other insects buzz around and the birds are silent. The air smells dry and dust is gathering everywhere. It’s hot.
With about half of summer left to go, the editor and I have been conserving our water resources carefully and despite having to water the various plants, my best guess is that I still have about 75% of the total water capacity remaining.
The orchard has mostly struggled through the summer with no additional watering, as have most of the herbs. The annual, short lived plants that don’t have the deep root systems of longer lived plants have required most of the watering. Of those annual plants grown, none are thirstier than the tomatoes. But I do love eating fresh tomatoes as nothing beats fresh home grown tomatoes for taste. Every week as summer gets longer and hotter, I’ve spent more time every day watering the tomatoes, so last week I installed a sprinkler to assist with that job.
The sprinkler proved to be such a good idea that earlier this week I also added a permanent standard garden tap on the inside of the berry and tomato enclosure. Adding a new garden tap means a lot of digging in the hot sun. It’s hot. Firstly, you have to find the original water pipe line and then dig a trench from that existing water pipe to the location of the new garden tap.
|A new water pipe has been connected up from the existing water pipes to a brand new garden tap in the berry enclosure|
Observant readers will note just how dry the soil is in that garden bed. That garden bed is less than a year old and I’ve observed that it usually takes about two to three years and a huge amount of organic matter before the soil is good enough that most plants will thrive during even the hottest and driest summers.
The new water pipe travels under a walking path, so that water pipe sits inside another much larger 50mm (2 inch) diameter pipe so that walking traffic on the path does not damage the water pipe.
By early afternoon the new garden tap was connected up.
|The new garden tap had been connected up to the water system and was ready to be tested for leaks|
The garden tap was permanently fixed to the treated pine timber post. I then connected the sprinkler up to that new garden tap using a short length of hose and tested all of the connections for leaks. By late afternoon, I was feeling pretty chuffed with my ingenuity because now all I know had to do to water the tomatoes was turn on the tap and (and also remember to turn it off a few minutes later).
I thought to myself: How clever am I?
Alas, all good things come to a swift end – including my self-congratulatory frame of mind because the sprinkler decided that my ego was too fluffy optimal and the sprinkler promptly fell apart. No matter how many times I reassembled the sprinkler, it fell apart again. And just to convince me what a bad idea the sprinkler was the ratchet mechanism decided to stop working too. I’m trying hard to keep this blog family friendly so I won’t share the highly expressive and very colourful language that I used to describe the now dead sprinkler.
|A sad day for the two week old and now completely broken sprinkler|
And I didn't have a receipt for the rotten thing because I had paid cash and left the store with the foolish belief that there was no probability that such a simple machine could possibly break. Oh well, back to hand watering.
The tomatoes hardly seem to notice whether they are hand watered or watered by the sprinkler, because they are growing very strongly.
|Tomato Cam™ tells no lies and the tomatoes have grown massively in the past week and are full of ripening fruit|
The gremlins must certainly have worked their way into the water systems this week because I also experimented with a soaker hose on the raised vegetable beds. Truth is stranger than fiction because the soaker hose worked for at least five minutes and then the seal at the end of the pipe broke:
|The seal at the very end of the soaker pipe broke and the strawberries celebrated because of all of the extra watering|
At least I was smart enough this time to obtain a receipt, so that soaker hose will shortly be returned to the retailer.
You’d think that the plastic water gremlins stopped there, but alas no! During summer, I test the bushfire sprinklers every week. Most of the bushfire sprinklers are metal, but there are a couple that are plastic. This week, two of the plastic bushfire sprinklers seized up and failed. I’m a little bit in awe of those gremlins as they seem to be wreaking havoc.
|This plastic bushfire sprinkler seized up this week|
Confrontations can't be avoided and gremlins have to be dealt too. After an extensive investigation, I’ve discovered that brass and stainless steel are fatal to their tricksy gremlin ways (edit: gremlin kryptonite perhaps?). The plastic sprinkler heads were replaced with solid brass sprinklers with stainless steel components. All was then good – apart from the other plastic rubbish that had failed and has yet to be replaced.
|Brass and stainless steel bushfire sprinklers have now replaced the dodgy plastic sprinklers|
Overseas readers may not be aware, but in the state of Western Australia there is a huge bushfire raging: WA fires: Conditions ease in blaze which claimed two lives, razed Yarloop
With the ongoing threat of large scale bushfires, the editor and I have been this week doubling our efforts and we have chopped and dropped a large cleared area around the house. The interesting thing to note is that the chop and drop process produces a fine layer of mulch and you can see the retained soil moisture - despite the lack of rain - by simply scratching away the surface of the mulch. Six years ago, the area in the photo below was a solid clay pan with no organic matter where any rainfall ran over the ground. The other interesting thing to note is the very large tree in the centre of the photo with the impressive buttressing still bears the scars of the January 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires.
|The editor and I have chopped and dropped a lot of vegetation this week due to the extreme bushfire risk|
During that time, we stumbled across this tiny Pin Oak seedling. It received a cage to protect it from the wallabies as well as a decent feed of manure (and a bit of water too):
|We came across this tiny Pin Oak seedling this week and decided to protect it from the wallabies|
Observant readers will note just how much fallen dry leaf litter there is on the ground prior to the chop and drop mulching process. It is sort of funny, but leaf fall here is high summer, rather than the more expected autumn. Autumn is the time when all of the native trees are rapidly growing and setting down strong root systems instead!
There are all sorts of surprises to be found in the surrounding forest as I spotted a very large white brain like fungi growing high up in one of the oldest trees on the farm. I was going to call this week’s blog “Tree brains” or "Brain forest", but what with all of the gremlins, I can’t really afford to attract any zombies as well.
|A huge white brain like fungus is growing high up on the side of one of the oldest trees here|
It has been so hot and still this week that I thought that it was time I took a look inside the experimental bee hive to see what was going on. I’ve been keeping a close eye on them every few days through the observation pane on the hive, but conditions were fluffy optimal to open the very young hive so…
|This week I opened up the experimental hive to check on the progress of the young European honey bee colony|
The European honey bees have to heat their hive to quite a warm temperature and I’d been a bit overly optimistic at how fast the young colony would expand into their new hive, so I reduced the size of the hive by about four frames which were empty anyway. Reducing the size of the experimental hive is as simple as moving the thick follower boards on each side of the occupied frames in the hive. A smaller hive allows the bees to keep that smaller area more easily warm for raising brood which means that they will use less energy, which means they will be less stressed.
|The young hive now occupies a much smaller area in the experimental bee hive|
You can see the two follower boards in the above photo because they sit up above the height of the many frames on either side of the occupied frames. The colony now has a spare empty frame on each side of the occupied frames. From observing various bee hives over the past few years, my gut feeling is that a lot of the problems that we inflict on the European honey bee are a result of over harvesting of the honey. We simply have too great of an expectation of the European honey bees productive output and that places the species under considerable stress.
|The healthy looking but still very young experimental bee hive|
A number of commenters have asked me about the sort of flowers that the European honey bees enjoy at the farm. Rather than repeating that information here and there amongst the various blog entries, I have added a page on this blog devoted specifically to that subject. If anyone has any suggestions regarding that page, please drop me a comment. The page can be found on the right hand side of the blog by clicking on the text: Flowers that European Honey Bees like at the Farm.
The fruit trees this week have just started to produce ripe plums. Not only are plum trees the hardiest fruit trees around, they also produce delicious stone fruit. This week I picked the Angelina plums:
|Angelina plums became ready to pick for fresh eating this week|
Tonight a storm rolled through the Victorian central highlands and after a day where the temperature in the shade was just shy of 37’C (100’F), the temperature outside now at about 8.30pm is an enjoyable, overcast and very cool 17.3'C degrees Celsius (63.1’F). The house is wide open to receive that cool evening air and the birds are singing to each other outside! So far this year there has been 1.8mm (0.1 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total of 0.0mm (0.0 inches). Hey, don’t laugh I really enjoyed that small amount of rainfall when it arrived, but I've become so used to the heat that I'm starting to shiver now in the cooler night air!