As I write this, I can look out the window and see, well, not much at all of anything, really! The clouds have dropped low over the farm bringing with them a thick mist which has hung around all day long. The wind is blowing strongly and outside is just wet. Winter is officially here! About 50mm (two inches) of rain has fallen this week over the farm and the water tanks are about 95% full as of today. All things considered it was a good week to become ill and spend a few quiet days asleep in front of the wood fire. And that is what I did!
So without further ado, we shall take a sneak peek into the backrooms and quiet activity of life here.
I’m not the only one at the farm who has spent their days asleep in front of the wood fire. Scritchy the boss dog has decided for herself that the weather is sub optimal for the usual outside activities of: patrolling the borders; harassing the other dogs; issuing instructions to the other dogs; and generally harassing the wildlife. Instead Scritchy the boss dog this week was to be found in front of the wood heater, toasting her head. Scritchy’s other favourite sleeping spot is the old vinyl bean bag which is conveniently located close to the wood heater.
|Scritchy and the bean bag|
That old bean bag is made from marine grade vinyl and it is over a decade old. Unfortunately for the bean bag, Scritchy is much like the princess in the story of the Princess and the Pea. That story is about a rather demanding and eccentric young lady who proved her princess credentials whilst at the same time earning the hand of a prince in marriage by complaining about a pea which was deliberately hidden (as a test) underneath 20 mattresses. Nice work! Now as an objective outsider to that Princess and the Pea story, I’d have to suggest that the young lady in question would probably be very hard work, and whilst I don’t generally provide advice to the readers of this blog, I would have to suggest that the young princess would make a poor choice for a partner, if on the first evening the young lady felt comfortable enough to commence complaining about the quality of bedding. If I was to put on my Agony Aunt hat, then I would also suggest that this complaint would be the first of many!
Back to Scritchy and the beans. So every time Scritchy wants to sleep on the bean bag, she jumps up and prior to settling herself in for a solid sleep, the boss dog digs and scratches at the vinyl of the bean bag until it is just right. This technique of Scritchy's can take quite a long time and it is slowly damaging the vinyl of the bean bag. A few weeks ago, the occasional bean escaped from the confines of the bean bag. Since then, it has rapidly became a rout and there are now beans everywhere.
The editor came to the rescue this week and rather than disposing of Scritchy’s favourite bean bag, the editor sewed up a double layer internal bladder made from old painting drop cloths. The bladder was then filled with the beans from the old bean bag and then that internal bladder was stuffed back into the old bean bag. There were smiles all around as we were no longer having to contend with escapee beans everywhere, and Scritchy could continue with her destructive tendencies.
That isn’t the only place that Scritchy sleeps on cold winters days. The tiled hearth in front of the wood fire retains a huge amount of heat and that dog can toast both her stomach and her back all in one sitting!
|Scritchy the boss dog enjoys the wood heater on a cold wet winters day|
In the photo above, the wood heater is on its lowest setting and slowly burning the firewood. It has taken six years of experimentation in order to understand the entire process of firewood from taking the living trees to burning the firewood in the wood heater. The main lessons that we have learned over that period of time are:
- Cutting down trees is a dangerous business and not one for the inexperienced;
- Store fallen trees as saw logs because that reduces the surface area of the timber and slows the process of fungi turning those logs into rich black loam;
- Store logs for at least 24 months as this reduces the moisture and sugars in the logs which would otherwise cause the log to burn slowly and very inefficiently;
- Cut and split firewood from those logs so that they are of a size so that they can be readily and easily inserted into your wood heater; and
- Store that cut and split firewood in an area that is not subject to rainfall and/or ambient moisture.
Firewood is an excellent resource so if you are going to burn firewood to produce heat, you may as well use that heat for as many different purposes as possible. In the above photo, Scritchy the boss dog is enjoying the heat from the wood heater, however observant readers may also notice that there is a glass pyrex dish of muesli baking away in the oven as well. And just in case anyone has forgotten the recipe for this simple breakfast meal the next photo shows: rolled oats (4.5 cups); pumpkin seeds/pepitas (2 cups); roasted unsalted peanuts (1 cup); and some honey.
|Toasted muesli prior to mixing and baking|
The wood heater also provides heat to the entire household and the combustion chamber also has an 8kW wet back cast iron water jacket. The water jacket keeps the hot water supply for the house toasty warm over winter when the solar hot water panels on the roof produce absolutely no heat at all.
Then in the photo above of the wood heater there is also a mysterious glass jar with the metallic lid which Scritchy is keeping a close (yet apparently soundly asleep) eye upon. Inside that glass jar is a rather unappealing and very strange looking white substance which is a close match in colour to Scritchy’s hair. Alas, we had not considered the benefits of converting Scritchy’s excess hair into wine, although that is technically possible, but probably not very pleasant tasting. What is actually slowly bubbling and brewing away in that glass jar is our second attempt at making rice wine which is otherwise known as: Sake. Honestly, the contents of the jar sure look disgusting to me, but the contents smells like proper sake which has a slightly sweet and banana flavoured aroma.
Despite feeling ill, the editor convinced me to assist with moving the newly sanded and oiled dining table into place this week. I reckon it looks pretty good and I challenge anyone to obtain a better table for the $100 we paid for that one.
|The new dining table is in place and in use this week|
I actually enjoy extreme weather conditions such as this wet week because I can test many of the systems that are implemented here to see how they actually operate in the real world when conditions are less than optimal. Despite receiving two inches of rainfall this week, the chickens who have been in their new housing for less than a year, still enjoy playing around in their dry and all weather run for most of each day. Last year at this time, the chickens would have been huddling out of the weather and looking very miserable in their hen house whilst in the previous chicken housing project.
|The chickens enjoy their all-weather run despite the recent heavy rainfall|
To the right hand side of that chicken enclosure, observant readers may spot a very leafy large shrub or small tree. That tree is a Tagasaste (or Tree Lucerne) and the leaves are great animal feed as they provide about 20% protein. The tree is also one of the fastest growing trees here and it is a very drought and heat hardy. You can tell that the tree is clearly used to a tough environment as it produces flowers in the depths of winter. The local honeyeater birds have discovered this source of winter nectar and they love these trees.
|The Tagasaste or Tree Lucerne is currently flowering. The leaves are excellent animal feed as they are very high in protein|
The cold and wet has just about finished off the tomatoes and I will soon clear out this bed by simply mowing and mulching the organic material flat to the ground. Once that has occurred we will then place woody mulch over the resulting mess. Over the next few months, we will then bring in more manure and plant the next seasons tomato crop which will be started from seed inside the house in late August. Next summer, we will also experiment with eggplant, capsicum and chilli plants in that tomato enclosure. It may also be worth mentioning that the dehydrated tomatoes stored in olive oil from last summer were a total success, but now almost totally consumed and we have been considering ways to increase the volume of that stored produce in future summers.
|Tomato Cam™ reveals a sad tomato story as the winter solstice nears|
The weather here can be confusing for the fruit trees. Almonds are one of the very first fruit trees to produce buds and leaves. It is still way too early to produce leaves and blossoms for next spring and I spotted this poor confused tree this week.
|A confused almond tree produces new leaves and buds during the depths of winter|
On the other hand, some fruit trees don’t even notice the winter conditions and this five year old loquat tree shrugs off the worst conditions that winter can throw at it. Loquat fruit is a tasty treat. Many years ago, I once owned a dog that consumed far more of that fruit than was good for her. The editor and I then took this greedy dog for a long walk. During the walk we stopped to watch a local real estate auction which was being held on the sidewalk. At an appropriately quiet moment during the tense auction, the greedy dog proceeded to vomit up the entire contents of her stomach which unfortunately smelled strongly of the tasty loquat fruit.
|A young loquat tree shrugs off the cold and wet winter conditions here|
As winter deepens, the many citrus fruit trees also shrug off the worst of the winter conditions and produce ripe fruit. Home grown citrus is the only way to go as many citrus fruit on sale today has very little taste to me.
|A mandarin citrus tree has slowly ripening and very tasty fruit|
Despite the occasional light frost, there are still many fresh greens to be picked every single day. It is hard to see in the photo below, but some of those raised garden beds are being cleared in readiness for replacement of the currently rusty steel rings which provide them with structure. As part of the purchase of the new steel raised garden beds, we will be assisting some friends with constructing a half rounded steel house for their two piggies!
|The raised garden beds are producing many greens despite the occasional light frost|
Regular readers will recall the production of soap many months ago. The soap has long since dried and became usable and it is now slowly curing to a white colour.
|The home-made olive oil soap is slowly curing to a white colour|
Winter conditions are a total disaster for generating electricity from the solar photovoltaics and today the 4.6kW system produced about the equivalent of a very loud mouse fart!
|Some of the many solar panels look sad and forlorn at midday in the misty winter conditions|
And at the time of the above photo which was about midday when the system should have been at peak production, the 4.6kW of solar photovoltaic panels here were producing about 5.2A which is approximately 187.2W, which is about enough electricity to run a few lightbulbs.
|The 4.6kW of PV panels produced enough electricity at midday today to run a few lightbulbs|
My main source of energy at this time of year is actually firewood – which itself is a form of stored sunlight – and fortunately the firewood sheds are still absolutely full of the stuff. Those sheds have also become full of rats too which for some strange reason prefer the toasty dry conditions inside the shed to the outside world. Fortunately, Toothy willingly provides me with a hand and will happily hunt rats for hours if given the chance.
|Toothy lends a hand by hunting rats who are over wintering in the firewood shed|
And those are some of the many activities that go on each week in the background! Hope you enjoyed the tour.
The temperature outside now at about 7.15pm is 6.7’C (44.0’F). So far this year there has been 400.6mm (15.8 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 350.8mm (13.8 inches).
Solar PV Statistics (from 4.6kW of installed PV panels)
Tuesday - 14th June Batteries started at 82% full and 7.6kW was generated that day
Wednesday - 15th June Batteries started at 82% full and 7.6kW was generated that day
Thursday - 16th June Batteries started at 81% full and 5.9kW was generated that day
Friday - 17th June Batteries started at 88% full and 3.6kW was generated that day
Saturday - 18th June Batteries started at 85% full and 1.4kW was generated that day
Sunday - 19th June Batteries started at 81% full and 6.3kW was generated that day
Monday- 20th June Batteries started at 78% full and 1.1kW was generated that day