Friday was feral hot. In Melbourne the maximum temperature reached 33’C (91.4’F) in the shade. I woke up to the smell of dust in the air. Indeed, the entire house smelled of dust. That dust was the top soils blowing away with the wind from some unknown source far from here. And in some cosmic joke the maximum temperature here on the same day – in these supposedly cool mountains - reached 36’C (96.8’F) by late afternoon before rapidly cooling down again for the evening.
There was talk that day of plans to continue filling the firewood shed with cut and split timber. Nature has done a great job of drying the firewood this year, so it does seem a bit of waste not to store it away for the winter! The realities of the weather intervened and those plans were shelved, and so the editor and I headed off the mountain range to undertake a whole series of errands that are required to be completed in order to keep the smooth sailing ship that is Fernglade Farm afloat! At this point I do feel it necessary to disclose that one of those errands did involve ice coffees which are an important part of adaption to hot weather.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all fun though as one of the errands involved picking up replacement glass – which had been on order - for the glass window in the wood fire box. The bloke in the local glass shop made the laconic observation to me that: “it was a strange day to be repairing a wood heater”. No doubt that he is correct in that observation.
To get an idea about just how strange the autumn weather has been I ripped a few statistics off my favourite Internet local weather site: Weatherzone Melbourne
March Minimum Temperature
Lowest This Month 16.5°C (61.7’F) 4th
Lowest On Record 2.8°C (37.0’F) 17th 1884
Average This Month 17.9°C (64.2’F) which is +4.7°C over average (+8.5’F)
Long-term Average 13.2°C (55.7’F)
March Maximum Temperature
Highest This Month 34.7°C (94.5’F) 2nd
Highest On Record 41.7°C (107.0’F) 11th 1940
Average This Month 28.0°C (82.4’F) which is +4.1°C over average (+7.4’F)
Long-term Average 23.9°C (75.0’F)
And it is worth noting for those that are numerically inclined, that for the next week not one single day is predicted to be below the long term average temperature.
Later that day it was a wise option to work in the shade that day and so I did. Long term readers will recall that about a year ago I undertook repairs to the wood heater. Most of the repairs have worked well, however some new items of maintenance were required before the wood heater could be used this winter. I mean, it may actually cool down here? Maybe?
|The combustion chamber of the wood heater received a bit of maintenance this week|
Observant readers will note that in the photo above there has been an application of some black goo which is a very high temperature putty. That putty was used to replace the high temperature cement that I used last year which had since collapsed in some sections. I’m trialling the putty to see which material has the longest life in such a harsh environment. You can also see that the fire bricks on the left hand side are only a year old and looking quite good, whilst the more crumbly fire bricks on the right hand side are about six years old now and will probably have to be replaced next year along with the steel that holds them in place which is also showing quite a bit of damage.
The glass in the door to the fire box had also cracked and a small section was in danger of falling out. In addition to that damage the fibreglass rope which seals the door and stops exhaust gases from escaping into the living room had broken and was in need of repair. Stopping exhaust gases from a firebox from leaking into a living room is probably a good thing!
|The door to the combustion chamber of the fire box was showing considerable damage to the glass and fibreglass door seals|
Despite the hot day – and only a single large ice coffee to fuel me – I commenced repairs to the door to the firebox. All of the fibreglass ropes were replaced. At this point I should confess that the damage to the fibreglass ropes was my fault because on my previous repair, I had not realised that a very high temperature glue was required to hold the fibreglass ropes into place in the steel channels. Many things are obvious from hindsight!
|The author undertaking repairs to the door of the wood heater - having only had a single ice coffee!|
The steel that holds the glass against the door had shown considerable damage in just one year and that was part of the reason why the glass actually cracked. Some people may believe that glass is a very cheap product, but this high temperature glass is very expensive at almost $1,000 per square metre (10.7 sq ft)! You can tell that you are being supplied with the correct glass because if you look down any side of that glass it will show a pink hue rather than a green hue.
Regular readers will know by now that I’m as tight as when it comes to unwanted and unnecessary expenditure and I was really annoyed by how quickly the glass broke (one year). A little bit of Internet research then took place into steel. And who would have thought it but apparently not all steels are the same.
So, I replaced the chunks of steel holding the glass against the door with what is technically known as 316 Stainless Steel flats. Apparently that stuff is very resistant to high temperatures and the steel seriously distinguished itself in my presence by destroying umpteen number of drill bits (even cobalt bits). Whatever, it impressed me as being a very hardy material and I shall check back in another year and see how it has progressed in the harsh world of the fire chamber! Hopefully the weather cools enough one day in the far future (maybe in a galaxy far, far, away) so that the wood heater can actually be used and the repairs get tested?
|The repairs to the wood heater were now complete and the unit is now waiting for cooler weather|
The six months of endless summer conditions haven’t been all bad news. I’m having the best tomato season this year that I have ever known! It is hard to explain, but every couple of days, I’m harvesting this many tomatoes:
|Every couple of days, I’m harvesting this many tomatoes|
Observant readers will also spot the feral zucchini which had to be harvested or else it may have mutated into a human eating Triffid…
Long time readers will recall that the tomatoes were planted into the berry bed because, well, the tomato bed – despite best intentions – hadn’t yet been constructed. This is a good thing because the berry bed is such a great location for growing tomatoes that the berries have been given the boot to the soon to be constructed spot that the tomatoes would have been grown in! It was a sheer accident that has yielded a significant increase in the number of tomatoes harvested and we believe that the difference is due to an additional few hours of strong sunlight per day compared to where they were planted in previous years. Plus a much better watering regime as well (five to ten minutes per day of overhead watering across the entire enclosure).
|Tomato Cam™ - The tomato enclosure today during a brief late afternoon fog this afternoon|
A close up of a representative patch of that tomato enclosure shows you just how much fruit is still yet to be picked over the next few weeks:
|Tomato Cam™ - A close up photo shows just how much fruit is still yet to be picked|
We can’t possibly eat that many tomatoes, so each weekend the dehydrator has been running hard with at least six trays of ripe tomatoes which are then stored in olive oil for use later in the year. The olive oil doesn’t go to waste either as it will be used in cooking once the tomatoes are consumed.
|Trays of tomatoes are being dehydrated every week and then stored in olive oil|
As the tomatoes are harvested, some of the seed is processed and saved for raising as seedlings when August (February for northern hemisphere folk) rolls around later this year. Processing tomato seed is very simple. I scoop the seeds into a glass jar with water where they sit for one to three days. In those days the natural yeasts tend to kill off any nasties that may spoil the seed and it also breaks down the furry outer coating of the seeds. Once some bubbles appear at the top of the water, it is drained and the seeds are left to dry on paper or a paper towel. Once the seeds are dry, they can be stored in an envelope. The tomatoes here are in their fifth season and they rock!
|Red cherry and black Russian tomato seeds ferment in a glass jar for one to three days|
The improved (and more efficient) watering system of a dripper hose for about ten minutes per day in the raised garden beds has yielded incredible results over these past few months.
|The dripper hose providing 10 minutes per day to the raised garden beds has yielded outstanding results this year|
From right to left the raised beds include: Asparagus; Scritchy; Nasturtium; Perennial Spinach; Perennial Rocket; Tomatoes; and herbs.
Despite the heat, we have continued to fill the original firewood shed with seasoned, cut, split, and dried firewood. It is really hard and hot work when the sun is beating down on your head, but it has to be done too. I have a suspicious feeling that autumn will be non-existent this year and we will progress from summer to winter with no in-between season.
|The original firewood shed continues to be filled up this week with seasoned, cut, split, and dried firewood|
Now, I must say that I appreciate the many comments I have received over the years supporting the fact that I am tight with money and hate waste. I appreciate all of your encouragement as I really do hate waste – it annoys me! And so in recent months my rage against the machine has been focused on smoke alarms.
Smoke alarms are wonderful devices and they have probably saved countless lives blah, blah, blah. However, like the good fictional people at the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation who are described as: “a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes” so too are the good people who designed smoke alarms. You see my beef with smoke alarms is that I’m required to have two of them installed in my house. Fair enough too, the devices save lives – I mean who can argue with that? Except the little rotters require replacement 9V batteries which only last about half a year. So every year, I have to replace four batteries for the life of the smoke alarm and that seems an extraordinary amount of waste to me. The smoke alarm devices in most new houses are connected up to the mains electricity grid so an in built electronic circuit for a rechargeable battery seems like a no brainer to me. But do any smoke alarms actually perform that function? No.
Anyway, I thought to myself, I can outsmart this waste and a few months back I purchased a rechargeable battery only to find that it was 7.2V (not 9V) and the smoke alarm device kept beeping at me just to let me know that the battery was apparently flat because the voltage was low. However, with a bit of hunting around and assistance, I came across a company that produces rechargeable batteries that are long lasting and rated to 9.6V. Once installed into that pesky and stupidly designed device, all is now quiet!
|A true 9.6V NiMh rechargeable battery and charger was purchased for the two smoke alarms in the house|
The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 17.1'C degrees Celsius (62.8'F). So far this year there has been 61.8mm (2.4 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total 57.8mm (2.3 inches).