Living with the wildlife here can sometimes be like co-existing with a band of marauding barbarians! The defences for the various plants are constantly tested for vulnerabilities. Any weaknesses in those plant defences are ruthlessly exploited by the wildlife. And the wallabies are the most ruthless of all of the wildlife here. Honestly, the average wallaby could teach Alaric I (who is famous for sacking Rome in 410 AD) a trick or two about breaching defences!
Wallabies are like a slightly smaller kangaroo but with darker fur and a more stout build. They also differ from kangaroos in that they are generally lone creatures, whereas kangaroos hang around in groups (called mobs). Most nights there are a couple of wallabies bouncing through the orchard and garden enjoying safe access to feed and water.
The rains and cooler weather have returned after the seemingly never ending hot and dry summer. In a few weeks there should be green growth everywhere. Autumn is similar to spring but usually much shorter and cooler. However until the green growth returns in abundance, the garden and orchard are the primary source of feed for the wildlife living here. Sometimes however, it can be a bit difficult for me to reconcile the cute, and mostly harmless wallabies with the sheer amount of damage they can achieve in the garden and orchard in only a single evening! Every day this week, I’ve discovered new and ever more ingenious outrages that the wallabies have committed in their quest for access to the best feed!
Over the years, many people have advised me that hoop houses are a great idea. A hoop house according to Wikipedia is “is a tunnel made of polyethylene, usually semi-circular, square or elongated in shape” that contains garden beds. They certainly sound like a good idea, and down under the hoops that hold the roof vertical in a semi-circular state, are generally made from very strong polyethylene piping.
I did have a hoop house over the strawberry bed but instead of the plastic covering, I used very heavy duty black bird proof netting to keep out the pesky parrots and other creatures from stealing the strawberries. It is worth mentioning that over the years I have discovered to my horror that everyone (including visitors) and everything else loves strawberries, even the dogs, whom are technically meant to be on my side, but if given the opportunity, will steal the strawberries from that garden bed.
This week however, the wallabies finally breached the outer defences of the strawberry bed and completely ransacked the strawberries! Alaric I would have been proud of the wallabies ransacking efforts!
|The wallabies totally ransacked the strawberry bed|
The wallabies cunning plan for ransacking the strawberry fruit and plants involved jumping onto (remember they can bounce exactly like a kangaroo) and squashing the polyethylene pipes flat to the ground. Once the pipes were on the ground, the wallabies then proceeded to rip holes through the supposedly heavy duty bird netting so that they could consume the autumn strawberry fruit as well as most of the plants. The strawberry enclosure fell to the marauding invaders this week much as Rome fell to Alaric I and his band of marauding wallabies – sorry, I meant Visigoths – way back in 410!
I like strawberries but clearly if I’d like to grow and consume that fruit, something needs to change. So, over the next few months, a brand new, all steel galvanised strawberry enclosure will be constructed. Until then, I will take you, the reader, on a virtual tour of the devastation caused by wallabies at the farm this week…
Marsupial animals whether they be kangaroos, wombats, or wallabies all enjoy the plant French Sorrel. French Sorrel is among the more reliable summer greens and the plant shrugs off the worst of the hot and dry conditions which are a normal part of the summer weather here. Unfortunately, the various marsupials enjoy that plant so much – wherever it is grown on the farm – that I rarely get to consume any of the leaves.
|A wallaby has completely decimated this French Sorrel plant and even left a calling card just to say that Alaric the wallaby was ‘ere|
The wallabies even developed a taste for succulent plants and to the editor’s utter horror a wallaby had left twin foot depressions in the soil of one of the succulent plant beds.
|A wallaby has left twin foot depressions in the soil of one of the succulent plant beds|
And not to mention that the editor’s favourite spikey cactus had been consumed…
|The editor’s favourite cactus had been consumed|
Even the onions are not safe as the wallabies have been eating the very top of those onions. Fortunately the plants will regrow! Maybe the wallabies were after a solid dose of Vitamin C from the onion leaves?
|The wallabies have been consuming the tops of many of the onion plants this week|
Even the unpalatable fruit trees aren’t safe at this time of year. Usually no animal can stomach citrus leaves, but a hungry wallaby will happily undertake the experiment and thus even lemon trees are not safe!
|A wallaby has consumed some of the lower leaves on this Eureka Lemon tree|
Fortunately, the wallabies are no longer able to enter the tomato enclosure because I’m reasonably certain they would eat the tomato plants and fruit and it is worth mentioning that the average wallaby can survive on a diet comprised of 85% bracken fern. That diet would poison and kill most livestock! Wallabies are formidable beasties!
What were we talking about? Oh, that’s right, tomatoes. It has been the best year for tomatoes that I have ever experienced. We managed to get everything exactly correct this year for the tomatoes, from fertilising, the positioning of the plants for maximum sun, and even the watering cycle. The quantity of tomato fruit we are picking this year is so far beyond our expectations that it is a fair thing to say that we are drowning in tomato fruit.
This week we have dehydrated 12 trays over two long days of tomatoes and still we have fruit left over! All of the dehydrated tomatoes are stored in quality olive oil for consumption later in the year.
|Some of the tomatoes that we have harvested this week before and after processing in the dehydrator before storing in quality olive oil|
A regular commenter last week raised the concern that the dehydrated tomatoes stored in olive oil poses a very real risk of contamination by the bacteria: Clostridium botulinum. As a general note, it is not the bacteria that makes people quite ill (or it can also be fatal - seriously), but the neurotoxin botulinum which is produced by the bacteria. It is no laughing matter because according to Wikipedia that neurotoxin is the most potent toxin known to humankind, natural or synthetic, with a lethal dose of 1.3–2.1 ng/kg in humans. That is some seriously scary business. However, as an interesting side note that neurotoxin is the same rubbish that some people have injected into their faces to smooth wrinkles and deaden facial nerves under the common name “botox”! I once knew of a lady that had that stuff injected into her face and her face became so immobile and incapable of expression that apparently a joke was told that you could tell that she was angry because she blinked a lot!
Preserving foodstuffs always carries risk whether it is done at home or via the industrial food system and Clostridium botulinum is even sneakier than most bacteria because it does not require oxygen (contact with the air) in order to do its thing (the fancy name for this is anaerobic).
However, Clostridium botulinum is not active in acidic environments with a pH below 4.6. Most food preserving techniques aim to store fruit and vegetables in an acidic environment below this level and thus they usually include quantities of sugar and/or vinegar for that very purpose. In our tomato preserving technique to allay any possible concerns the editor decided to put our supply of litmus paper (used to test pH) to the test. The results are as follows:
- The Olive Oil that we use has a pH of 5.0 and so clearly the bacteria (if present in the olive oil itself which is very unlikely) could survive in that environment;
- The Red Cherry tomatoes when dehydrated had a pH of 4.0 which means that the bacteria even if present would not be active on that fruit; and
- The dehydrated Black Russian tomatoes were even more acidic with a pH of 3.0.
The important thing that I take away from this experiment is that not all tomatoes have the same pH and perhaps it would be wise for an individual to know whether the particular tomato variety is a high or low acid variety before attempting any preservation. It is also worth noting that many of the varieties of fruit and vegetables grown these days are not very acidic, but I have read anecdotal accounts that just because a fruit is labelled “heirloom” or “heritage” does not necessarily mean that it is an acidic variety either. I believe that it is also important to recognise the risk and understand the contributing factors to that risk and then choose to accept that risk.
The rains this week brought two days with very low temperatures where the maximum day time temperature barely reached 12’C (53.6’F) with even cooler night time temperatures. By the second day of those conditions, we had decided to light the wood heater for the very first time this year. And after all of the recent repairs to the wood heater, as well as the major cleaning of the flue (the fancy name for the steel chimney), the heater worked brilliantly and the house was warm, the quince fruit were poached to perfection, the bread was baked, the water was heated, and Poopy the Pomeranian (who for the pedantically minded is actually a Swedish Lapphund) started complaining about all that heat in the house!
|The wood heater was started this week and worked brilliantly after the recent repairs and major clean|
The editor and I have used firewood for heating and cooking during winter for almost half a decade now. Even after all of that real world experience we have absolutely no idea at all how much firewood we use in a year. The reason for that lack of understanding is that each year we have been slowly altering/improving our firewood systems so that they actually work given the weather conditions that prevail at the farm. Last year we completed the first of the firewood sheds. Earlier this year we converted the old chicken shed into a super dooper firewood shed. And this week, after a huge effort, both firewood sheds are now completely full with cut, split, seasoned and dried firewood ready to use. It is very exciting to have access to so much ready to use firewood and in another eight or nine months I should be able to tell you – the readers – exactly how much firewood I use in this year.
|The second and much larger firewood shed was finally filled this week|
It is a bit of a relief to have that job almost finished and I’m secretly hoping that I have one and half years firewood stored under cover and out of the weather in those two sheds.
The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 12.2'C degrees Celsius (54.0'F). So far this year there has been 110.6mm (4.4 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total 80.4mm (3.2 inches).