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People living in urban areas enjoy ready access to services such as: electricity; natural gas; made roads; water; and sewerage. I enjoy living on a property which has none of those services and I’m starting to wonder if that means that I'm slightly perverse? The word perverse is defined as: “the quality of being contrary to accepted standards or practice; unreasonableness”. I guess by that definition I must be a bit perverse. Is being perverse a bad thing? Maybe not!
Perverse or not, living in the unfashionable end of the mountain range, there is one service that I am particularly happy not to have access too: a made road (i.e. a Macadamised road). The editor and I have not always agreed about the benefits of living on an unmade dirt road (with downsides of a dirty car and dusty house), however in recent times the editor has come on board with my opinion.
About a decade ago when I lived in the inner city of Melbourne, I returned a high volume water pump which had been loaned to me by a friend who lived on a house on acreage with an orchard. I borrowed the water pump because Melbourne had been hit by a super cell. A super cell is a massive and very localised storm which can dump up to 100mm (4 inches) of rain in an hour. It was an impressive storm to experience. Of course, during that storm - which hit during the middle of the night – I had the unfortunate situation where most of my kitchen was stored in the backyard and it got very wet in the incredibly heavy rain. At that time I was constructing an extension to the house and so the backyard was also full of very deep stump holes which rapidly filled up with water when it flooded – and that water had to be pumped out into the nearest lane-way because it was doing nothing other than breeding mosquitoes for days after the intense rain. As an interesting side note, the extension was replacing the original rear rooms of the house which had been constructed many long years in the past from what looked to me like packing crates. I was impressed that the original buildings, walls and roof were still standing despite their humble origins.
Once I had finished pumping all of the excess water from the flooding rain, I returned the now very clean and fully fuelled pump to the lovely person that had loaned it to me (with a bottle of wine to say thanks, of course). My mate lived in the township of Monbulk which is to the south east of Melbourne in the beautiful Dandenong mountain ranges. It really is a beautiful part of the world, and I once heard a cheeky wag suggest that over there you could put a stick in the ground and it would grow!
Of course, I am a sticky nose and so I also enjoyed a tour of the orchard and my mate was happy to show off the property. However, my mate lived on a made road and during the tour of his property there was a surprising procession of cars, motorbikes and pushbikes swishing past the front gate at unusually high speeds. My mate appeared to me to be resigned to the constant procession of people and vehicles, but I felt that it was a jarring experience.
And at this time of year, I often think about my mate living over there in the Dandenong Ranges.
In the more fashionable western end of this particular mountain range, they are (un)fortunate enough to have made roads. Along some of those made roads, trees were planted in neat orderly rows in remembrance of soldiers from the surrounding areas who had died in WWI and WWII. The avenues of honour are a lovely tradition and the trees are usually oaks or elms and are all now very old. The tree canopies completely cover the road and every autumn, the colours of the leaves turn to beautiful yellows, oranges and reds. It is quite the sight to see the leaf turn in this part of the world especially as the surrounding evergreen eucalyptus forests provide such a strong contrast.
As recently as three years ago, very few people visited the area to see the change in the leaf colour. The trees in those avenues of honour weren’t offended at all if only a few people came to witness their leaf display as the trees simply and gracefully went about the business of being a deciduous tree. I’d seen the occasional bride posing for photos on an empty road under the colourful canopy of the deciduous trees and it always looked great.
This mountain range is a very un-populated and very quiet part of the world. However, a few years ago, something changed and hordes of people began turning up every weekend to witness for themselves the leaves changing colours. This event seemed to be gaining momentum each year and the chaos and mayhem of last year finally spurred some of the more heavyweight locals into taking action. A committee was formed and controls were put into place in the fashionable end of the mountain range!
I was curious to see how all of the traffic control measures which were implemented this year were working. For research purposes for this blog, the editor and I travelled over to the more fashionable end of the mountain range on Sunday (and also availed ourselves of a very excellent award winning vanilla slice on the other side!) and I can report that indeed there were still hordes of people in what is usually a very sleepy location, but that by and large the influx of people seemed better managed than the chaos and mayhem in past years. I must add though that I am used to seeing the area as a sleepy and very quiet part of the world, so for me it was quite the jarring experience.
Over here in the middle of the unfashionable end of the mountain range, both the editor and I are quietly grateful for the unmade roads through the scary forest that separate us from the unrelenting hordes.
|The traffic bringing people into the mountain range to witness the leaf change seemed much better managed this year|
|Honour Avenue had very strict controls placed on the tourists which seemed to work well|
This week has been a week for correcting past errors. This week we finally replaced the failing wood heater.
Regular readers will recall that the previous wood heater no longer worked because the damage to the mechanism was such that the wood heater burnt a lot of firewood but produced very little heat. In addition to that lack of heat, the function of the cooking oven was not working either.
Long term readers will recall that two years ago, I had already replaced sections of plate steel inside the combustion chamber of the wood heater, but the damage this time was so extensive that it was beyond my abilities to repair. From hindsight, I can see that much of the damage to the previous wood heater was caused through inappropriate usage of that wood heater by the editor and I. We simply asked more output from that wood heater than it was designed to provide. Incidentally, it is also worth noting that these days, wood heaters are considered to be a disposable item with a lifespan equivalent to that of an average new vehicle (10 years on average)! When first I used a wood heater, I assumed that the sturdy steel construction of the unit would mean that the heater would have a very long lifespan (30-40 years). This is not so! And after much consideration and soul searching, this week we purchased a new wood heater to replace the old and no longer functioning wood heater.
|The bright yellow trailer is used to deliver a new wood heater to the farm this week|
A considerable amount of thought and energy went into the decision, as to which wood heater would be purchased to replace the no longer functioning wood heater. Over the past few weeks the editor and I have spent many boring hours talking to salespeople and inspecting replacement units. We also had to have the discussion between ourselves as to why the original wood heater became so damaged in the first place. And finally, we have sought many different opinions about wood heaters. To those people who addressed this most important matter in the comment section, you have our thanks and appreciation. The local plumber who installed the original wood heater and hot water system here many years ago provided a recommendation based on his experience and we went with that recommendation.
Of course, nothing is ever simple and that recommended replacement wood heater works very differently to the original wood heater. The new wood heater has a very large 15kW stainless steel hot water jacket inside the combustion chamber. That hot water jacket can be used to either direct heat into the existing hydronic radiator system (which never worked properly with the previous wood heater to the extent that we were thinking of removing part of the radiator system) or into the hot water system (or it can send heat to both systems). In addition to that, the combustion chamber in the new wood heater is almost 50% larger again than the old wood heater. This means that I can insert more firewood than previously – or take a more sensible approach and simply not run the wood heater as hard as we had been doing previously. And the difference between the two wood heaters has been extraordinary - for the same volume of firewood, the new wood heater produces a much greater heat output than I can recall in the past. In addition to this, I was concerned with longevity of the new wood heater and the replaceable steel components in the new heater are almost twice as thick as the previous unit. The lesson learned for us here is that not all wood heaters are the same, and as such they do not (and cannot be expected to) perform the same functions. Firewood is not an energy source for the careless.
|The new wood heater takes pride of place in the main room of the house|
The new wood heater utilised the existing steel triple skinned 150mm / 6 inch flue (which is the fancy name for the steel chimney) and so that was a savings of sorts. However the existing flue didn’t meet up with the outlet for the new wood heater and the plumbers had to move the flue 80mm / 3.25 inches further into the room. This job involved a lot of cutting of the plaster in the ceiling and also cutting into the 30 minute bushfire rated steel roof.
The editor and I have been cleaning up the hole in the ceiling plaster inside the main room over the past few days. Repairs to plaster always take a few days as the plaster has to dry between various coats. Firstly, I cut a section of marine grade plywood and inserted it behind the plaster (which was done from inside the roof cavity).
|The author begins the repair process for the plaster inside the main room due to the flue being relocated|
Then I cut a section of plasterboard to fit the hole which left a little gap between the plaster and the steel flue. That section of plasterboard was then screwed onto the plywood.
|A section of plasterboard was then screwed onto the plywood leaving a gap between the plaster and the steel flue|
Then we began the slow process of joining the two plasterboard sheets using filler.
|The two sheets of plasterboard were then joined using filler|
The plumbers also moved one of the existing hydronic (i.e. hot water) radiators to a nearby wall. I’ve since begun repairing the timber skirting board and filling the holes in the floorboards.
|A radiator was moved and the author has begun repairing the holes in the floor and the skirting board|
Observant readers will note that the skirting boards are made from two timber sections, rather than one very large (almost 200mm / 8 inches) section of timber. The reason for doing so is because it is simply cheaper to use two pieces of timber. I learned that trick because I noted that that is how they constructed large skirting boards in 19th century houses which I had owned in the past. In the photo above on the finished wall, no join between the two bits of timber is visible.
We brought in a cubic metre / 1.3 cubic yards of composted woody mulch to feed the many rhododendrons which produce great flower displays in spring. We also brought in another cubic metre of mushroom compost as we began repairing the rock wall around one of the oldest fruit trees on the farm (a 15 year old olive tree).
|Toothy inspects the failing rock wall around a mature olive tree|
That rock wall was falling over as the original rocks were too small. We had been collecting much bigger rocks over the past few weeks and decided to pull the existing rock wall apart and rebuild it with the much larger rocks.
|The rock wall around a mature olive tree was corrected this week by using much larger rocks|
It has been a massive week for produce:
|The tomatoes are still producing massive quantities of fruit|
As an addendum to the passata which we had been making over the past few weeks: One jar of passata which we opened appeared to be contaminated with a mould. We were unsure whether the seal on the lid of the jar had failed or that the recipe was at fault (it has a pH of 3.5). To this end, we started the process of opening all of the remaining jars of passata and re-cooking the contents and then ran the jars through a hot water bath, just to be safe.
|The first potatoes were dug, capsicums and eggplants were harvested|
|Zucchini, heritage round cucumbers and more potatoes were harvested|
|The first ever ripe cantaloupe was harvested here – and it was very tasty|
And, there are plenty of flowers around the farm, but there is also the leaf colour change (tourist free)!
|Leaf change for the many deciduous trees are putting on a good show|
|This Manchurian Pear produces a great display of autumn colour|
|Nothing quite rivals the rich red of a Crepe Myrtle|