Last Thursday during the day both the editor and I worked in the big smoke of Melbourne. The evening was warm for this time of year and the sky was clear. As we were already in the big smoke, we headed out to our favourite stomping grounds of the inner northern suburbs of Carlton and Collingwood and walked to various spots where we enjoyed a well-deserved coffee and much later a delightful Po’ boy dinner of 12 hour slow cooked pork in a tasty spicy gravy over a bed of chips (fries).
The great thing about being winter down here is that only the true die-hards can sit outside on the street at the tables provided by restaurants and consume their meals. Most people in Melbourne consider the winter weather to be too cold for their comfort to sit outside at night and so they seek the warmer spaces inside the restaurants. As the editor and I have acclimatised to a much colder environment up here in Hillbilly country, Melbourne feels positively toasty to us!
So we sat outside on the street and enjoyed our most excellent food and watched the spectacle of the human condition pass us by. The inner northern suburbs of Melbourne can be a real mixed bag. The food is usually very good and affordable. The hipsters mix with the high stress folk who have come down for the secret thrill of eating out with the commoners. The young are heading out to wine bars and pubs with their friends. One cheeky bar even advertised itself as being the perfect place to take your failed tinder date (whatever that meant)! And amongst all of those people, the beggars, homeless and what appears to me to be junkies all cruise up and down the long streets trying to score a buck or two. As I said, it is a real mixed bag of people.
We live in the forest, and it is a quiet life by all accounts, but we always remember to not forget the social currents of the big smoke, and so we regularly immerse ourselves in them. And at the same time we can enjoy some good coffee and even better food.
So on the long walk back through the streets which are filled with the old Victorian era housing, which have so much character and charm, I happened to look up into the clear night sky in between the neat rows of those historic houses. And I marvelled at what I saw there. I could only count about a dozen stars in the entire clear night sky.
It was quite the shock to my senses, as for years if I was to walk outside at night up here in cold Hillbilly country, I could see the stream of light that is the Milky Way and the sky is full of stars. Yet, in Melbourne those stars were much diminished and less than a dozen were visible.
One of the benefits of having a night time sky full of stars is that you quickly realise that there are a lot of shooting stars. Shooting stars, is really the fanciful name for rocks and other space junk falling through the atmosphere towards the Earth’s surface. Woosh, a small bright light quickly speeds randomly across the night time sky before completely disappearing. Some are much faster than others as if they were somehow in a hurry to burn themselves up completely in the friction generated by the dense atmosphere of the planet. I doubt very much that shooting stars are even visible in Melbourne.
Winter always produces the clearest night skies here. Some nights I stare up into the sky hoping to catch a glimpse of one of those shooting stars. In the old days people used to say that spotting a shooting star would bring the viewer good luck. In today’s more enlightened times I certainly don’t believe such superstitious nonsense, well maybe I don’t… Whatever! The problem is that shooting stars skip to their own dance and they rarely appear when convenient. Some nights are full of shooting stars whilst other nights they will be elsewhere and nary a one will be seen.
Energy from the sun is a lot like a shooting star. It can be intermittent and unpredictable. Some seasons, the sun supplies too much energy down here, whilst at other times of the year, the sun can be low in the sky and the clouds and mist can move in and it can feel as if the sun is elsewhere. Winter is rapidly closing in on the farm and the sun is getting lower in the sky and some days you can’t even feel its slight warmth.
Some mornings you can awake to find that the cold air has dropped from these mountain heights overnight and has settled in the valley below.
|A thick layer of frost forms in the valley below the farm|
Sometimes clouds blanket the mountain range here and the orchard looks very eerie in its winter nakedness and the humidity rises to 99%.
|A thick cloud descended over the farm this week|
Long term readers will recall that the house is supplied with electricity entirely from 4.2kW of photo-voltaic (PV) solar panels. At this latitude of 37.5’S, there is generally enough electricity generation to supply on average at least one full hour of strong sunlight on average per day. What that means in practice is that on average, I can rely on 4.2kWh per day for about 3 weeks either side of the winter solstice (June 21st 2016) from the 4.2kW of installed solar PV panels. That isn’t a large amount of electricity per day, but with a bit of care, living in comfort with that limitation is very achievable. In fact, most people who visit the house at this time of year really wouldn’t notice the minimal use of electricity.
An unusual feature of photo-voltaic panels is that over a very long period of time the glass understandably abrades in the weather and the output slowly drops.
With that concern in mind, I added an additional two x 200W PV solar panels to the system this week.
|Two additional 200W PV solar panels were added to the house system this week|
Observant readers will note that the trench for the electric cable revealed the most beautiful chocolate brown volcanic loam. The soil was absolutely full of witchetty grubs blinking in the unfamiliar light of that day. Most of those grubs were reburied in the cable trench. The local birds on the other hand were not shy about cashing in on an opportunity and the Kookaburra’s and Magpies have taken to using the solar panels as a grub look-out spot!
|The Kookaburra’s and Magpies have taken to using the solar panels as a grub look-out opportunity spot|
This week the new concrete stairs gained another step before the very wet weather moved in and put an end to that project. Concrete will still cure in the cold winter conditions here, however the very real problem is that the rain can pock mark an otherwise smooth concrete surface.
|The new concrete staircase gained another step this week before the rain moved in and put an end to further excavations|
The getting of culture
Sometimes, I’m completely unaware that I should be considering a project or system on the farm. At other times, I’m aware that the system is not working as well as it could be and don’t yet have either the ideas or resources to deal with the problem. But at rare times, conditions change for some other reason and I begin to consider the problems that have arisen.
For years, we have been making yoghurt. Before that time, I used to purchase tubs of yoghurt which were inevitably sweet and very tasty. I stopped purchasing the tubs of yoghurt because they started becoming ever more expensive. Thus began our journey of the getting of culture and making yoghurt from culture sachets. It is a very simple process that just involves a few basic ingredients, time and heat.
Recently the cost of the culture sachets increased and we started wondering about making yoghurt using even more basic materials. That is when we made the horrific discovery that 97% of the culture sachets were comprised of milk powder. Oh the horror of discovering that we had been paying good dollars for many years on a product that was mostly milk powder! The sachets produced 4kg (8.8 pounds) of yoghurt for about $5.
Something had to be done to avert this dastardly situation! So we researched how yoghurt is made and then bought a bulk supply of culture which was enough to produce 100kg (220 pounds) of yoghurt for about $15.
|This week we purchased a bulk supply of yoghurt culture|
This week we produced our first 1kg (2.2 pounds) batch of yoghurt. That’s winning, that is!
|Our first batch of now much cheaper yoghurt was produced this week|
With the now colder winter weather, the citrus has really started to ripen on the fruit trees this week. Most mornings we are enjoying fresh limes, mandarins and grapefruit. Not to forget the many lemons which we will soon juice and then freeze for use over the next summer.
|The many citrus fruits are starting to ripen this week as the weather turns colder|
Tufty head is the chicken who was featured in last weeks blog as she had a late moult. She wants to send everyone a big thank you for their concerns over her rather un-ladylike appearance last week. Tufty head also wanted me to add an update this week to let all who were concerned at her plight know that she is now rapidly regrowing her feathers!
|Tufty head the chicken is now rapidly re-growing her feathers after a recent late season moult|
Solar PV Statistics
Tuesday - 31st May Batteries started at 78% full and 9.0kW was generated that day
Wednesday - 1st June Batteries started at 79% full and 7.4kW was generated that day
Thursday - 2nd June Batteries started at 85% full and 5.7kW was generated that day
Friday - 3rd June Batteries started at 91% full and 4.4kW was generated that day
Saturday - 4th June Batteries started at 96% full and 2.3kW was generated that day
Sunday - 5th June Batteries started at 92% full and 4.8kW was generated that day
Monday- 6th June Batteries started at 89% full and 2.7kW was generated that day