Summer storms roll in quickly. Thick clouds scud across the sky. If the storm is big enough, the clouds will hover and scrape just above the land and they can certainly get stuck in the mountains here where they swirl and form fog and mist. And just before those clouds deliver their precious rain, a strong wind usually blows the hot air trapped under those clouds to somewhere else. And that is exactly what happened this week.
Earlier this week, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a once in a decade alignment of five of the planets. The night sky is usually quite clear and it would have looked very cool. However, that night thick clouds built up over the farm. The clouds were the tail end of a tropical storm which stretched all the way down from its origins in the oceans to the north west of the continent. The clouds did look cool though as the moon peeked through:
|The moon peeks through the thick clouds building up over the farm|
The moon is always interesting to see here during summer because the pollution in the air from the frequent bushfires creates an orange and/or red circle at a slight distance away from the moon. Part of that circle can be seen in the photo below the moon.
I breathed a small sigh of relief this week as those dark clouds brought with them a little bit of rain. What was even better about the rain was that it fell very slowly and was spread over a number of days. Those rainy days can be described as: 'It rained a lot, but we didn’t get much rain!'
Slow rain is always the best type of rain during long hot summers because the water has a chance to infiltrate into the ground. On really hot and dry summers, the soil can become water repellent (or technically speaking hydrophobic). With hydrophobic soils water will run over the top of the soil and roll away as if it were liquid mercury. It can be quite a common problem in Australia and is treated through the application of mulches, composts and manures or even deep ripping of the soil.
Anyway, after a few days of rain cold and mists, Poopy the Pomeranian (yes we all now know he is a Swedish Lapphund, but don’t tell him about his ancestry as he may start taking on airs and graces!) had decided that the outside conditions were a bit sub fluffy optimal:
|Poopy the Pomeranian declares that the weather is now sub fluffy optimal|
It takes a bit more than a slow summer storm to derail the juggernaut that is Fernglade Farm, and so this week the new firewood shed was completely filled with cut and split timber, ready for serious cold weather – not merely this temporary cooler weather aberration!
And it was whilst I was splitting and storing the seasoned firewood this week that I had the realisation that I had become the Accidental Hugelkultur dude. Seriously!
For the readers that have no idea what I’m talking about: Hugelkultur is the art and science of turning timber into soil. The concept is really that simple and the next photo shows the process of converting timber into soil.
|A view into the guts of the firewood pile that was left to season for three years|
Ordinarily, timber and leaves from Eucalyptus species takes an inordinate amount of time for them to break down into fine soil. The difference here in the firewood pile was that the logs were cut into firewood lengths which increased the surface area of the timber. Also those firewood lengths were then placed onto a plastic tarp (which is the blue tarp in the above photo). My original thinking was that the blue tarp would reduce the amount of moisture in the seasoning firewood by acting as a moisture barrier. Instead the tarp had the opposite effect in that it trapped moisture and so the bottom layers of seasoning firewood were actually far wetter than they would otherwise be if they were just sitting on the soil. The increased moisture in the seasoning firewood meant that every fungi and insect in this area turned the bottom layers of stored seasoning firewood into quality soil. The trapped moisture means that despite the hot weather this year you don’t even need clouds and rain to keep that firewood pile damp!
|Close up photo of the rapid conversion of firewood sized logs into top quality soil|
I recovered all of the firewood that I possibly could for storage in the two firewood sheds and then distributed the newly developing soil over a large area that had previously had the seasoning firewood sitting on it. The editor has decided to plant a new garden bed in the slight incline behind that now cleared area. A very large rock was levered into position as the very first rock in that new rock wall. It is all starting to look neat:
|The area that contained the stored firewood has now been cleaned up and the very first large rock has been placed into a future rock wall and garden bed|
Every evening since then the chickens have been happily rummaging through that distributed soil looking for all manner of unmentionable yet tasty things.
|The chickens work their way towards the distributed soil from the firewood pile|
Splitting the timber in the seasoning firewood pile produces a lot of bark and sawdust, which I collect and place in natural depressions in the orchard (edit: filling up holes). In the photo below you can see a Plumcot fruit tree enjoying the additional organic matter placed into a depression next to it.
|The detritus from the firewood splitting process is placed into a depression in the orchard as feed for a Plumcot fruit tree|
The new firewood shed has now been completely filled and I’ve now commenced filling the original firewood shed with the remaining split timber from that firewood pile.
The next task was to place rock toppings from a local limestone quarry around the newly commissioned firewood shed. The toppings provide an all-weather surface, but really, I just don’t like mud!
|Rock toppings from a local quarry were placed around the new firewood shed|
The toppings provide for an all-weather walkway around the new firewood shed.
|Rock toppings provide for an all-weather walkway around the new firewood shed|
It wasn’t only Poopy the Pomeranian who decided that the recent cooler and damper weather was sub fluffy optimal, because Stumpy the Wallaby also became rather annoyed by the weather and decided the best way to display her annoyance was to assist with an impromptu pruning job on a four year old apple tree. I had only removed the apple tree from its wallaby proof cage a few months earlier too! Fortunately Stumpy the Wallaby hasn’t taken out the main trunk of the fruit tree.
|Stumpy the Wallaby assists with pruning the lower branches of this four year old apple tree|
Despite the clouds and rain, the flowers are putting on a good display with the mints (Oregano in the photo below) and the long flowering Agapanthus all providing a huge quantity of feed for the bees:
|The Oregano and Agapanthus are putting on a good flower display this summer and providing plenty of feed for the bees|
And whilst we are discussing the European honey bees, the new young colony in the experimental hive is doing well and ever so slowly expanding. Now that I can observe a young bee colony, I can see just how long it takes for the colony to become established. It is a slow process.
|The new young European bee colony in the experimental hive is doing well and ever so slowly expanding|
I couldn’t resist adding in the next photo of swelling apples on a young apple tree, just after the rain. There are 26 varieties of apple trees in the orchard and they are the hardiest and most reliable of all of the fruit trees. It seems as if every year there is more produce from these apple trees.
|Swelling apples on a young apple tree, just after the rain|
Lately with the extreme hot weather, the gremlins have been wreaking havoc with many tools and appliances here. The now much cooler and cloudy weather has had me breathing a sigh of relief on that front. But that was not before my trusty and much loved outside portable electric oven died. Honestly, the death notice hadn’t even been placed in the newspaper before the locals had begun inspecting the real estate and I spotted this praying-mantis checking the dead oven out as a potential new home:
|A praying-mantis checks out the recently deceased portable oven as a potential new home|
In order to extend the life of the various bits of technology that I use on the farm, the editor and I have developed a maintenance list of what tasks are required to be undertaken in each particular month of the year. Water pumps are one item of technology that are invaluable and the maintenance schedule had them listed for inspection and cleaning this month.
|The water pumps were all inspected this week and the stainless steel mesh filters were all cleaned|
Observant readers will note that the above photo of the stainless steel mesh filters for one of the water pumps is covered in algae. The mesh is worthwhile cleaning as a regular maintenance item because as the algae increases in coverage and thickness on the water pump mesh filter, it slows the flow of water through the pump (the fancy technical name for that part of the pump is the diaphragm chamber) and it increases the amount of work that the pump has to perform which will inevitably reduce its lifespan by burning out the motor.
There was a bit of discussion last week in the comments section about the Australian designed steel star picket – which is used for fencing, amongst other uses. A star picket is a Y shaped steel post which a person can bang into the ground using a hammer or mallet. It is quite a clever design because the steel post has holes in it to thread steel fencing wire. The other benefit of the star picket is that it can produce quite durable and cheap fencing which is also quick to establish.
Star pickets are designed and constructed to resist the pressures that large animals can place on them, and I find them almost impossible to remove from the ground. However, I have a very heavy duty tool which can grab onto the star picket and lever it up and out of the ground and I demonstrate its use in the photo below:
|The author showing a star picket removal tool in action|
It is a clever tool, is it not?
Oh yeah, just quickly and this has absolutely nothing at all to do with the blog, but it is a long standing personal interest of mine. As some of the regular readers may now know I’m something of a music nerd.
And tomorrow is Australia day which celebrates the landing of the First Fleet at Port Jackson way back in 1788 on January 26. They arrived during the midst of a drought.
The First Fleet was actually a convoy of ships which were sent by the English to set up an off shore penal colony for unwanted citizens. Seriously, the continent was settled by the Europeans as a prison. In those days it would have been akin to a one way ticket to Mars!
Some people reflect on Australia Day as Invasion day as it marks the point at which 90% of the indigenous population died through disease, murder and destruction of culture resulting from lack of access to their traditional lands. I understand their point of view.
On an altogether different and perhaps irreverent note, Australia day for me has long meant Triple J’s hottest 100 day. Triple J is the government national youth commercial free radio station and it is awesome. Every year since 1992, I’ve been enjoying the Hottest 100 songs of the previous year every Australia Day. It is important to note that the radio station – unlike most radio stations in the country – has a quota for Australian music and I also suspect that they have a quota for Female vocalists too.
Anyway, I thought I’d chuck in my predictions for tomorrows vote (warning some of the songs may contain adult themes and naughty words):
- The winner will be from the stoner rock category: Tame Impala – The Less I know the better, which is a song of unrequited love from the very talented Kevin Parker;
- From the pop song category, there is another song of unrequited love: Jarryd James – Do you Remember. There definitely must be something in the water for so many potent songs of unrequited love to be gaining airplay? I reckon it will score well;
- I reckon a prediction for the hip hop crowd: Illy - Swear Jar. Illy has a law degree and he’s up to his fifth album and I suspect he is now just grumpy, no doubt about it;
- For the ladies I can’t work out which band will achieve high ranking status between the bands and performers: Courtney Barnett; Alpine; Tkay Maidza; Chvrches; Meg Mac and Alison Wonderland – all excellent performers and I hope they all do well; and
- And one for the hardcore and metal heads: Bring Me The Horizon - True Friends. How can you ignore the lyrics: “Cos I’ll forget but I’ll never forgive you”… “True friends stab you in the front”. Powerful and slightly scary stuff, I hope I don't meet them.
Anyway, you heard my predictions here first and the countdown can be streamed from midday (local time) tommorow over the internet at: http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/
The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is a cool 13.0'C degrees Celsius (55.4’F). So far this year there has been 23.8mm (0.9 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total 7.8mm (0.3 inches).