Monday, 14 August 2017

White dog fever

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au

Scritchy the miniature fox terrier is the boss dog on the farm. Despite her diminutive size and advanced age, Scritchy packs a punch and is full of energy. Recently I have begun adding a third of a low dose aspirin and a teaspoon of fish oil to her breakfast. And Scritchy has responded to these additions to her breakfast by exploding forth with energy, mischief and enthusiasm in equal parts. I spotted Scritchy today on a secret canine mission climbing a steep embankment behind the house:
Scritchy the elder boss dog climbs a steep embankment today

I would have serious trouble climbing that steep embankment, but Scritchy merely powered on up, pursuing whatever secret canine business that she was on. The other dogs have expressed concerns to me about Scritchy’s increased energy, mischief and enthusiasm due to the medication. It is a worry for the other dogs:
Help us! The other dogs express their concerns to me about Scritchy the boss dogs, increased energy, mischief and enthusiasm
Whatever! I blithely ignored the other dogs as Scritchy is a problem for them to deal with. Or so I thought. Scritchy now has become a problem for me. The other day I walked in the front door only to hear a thump sound. That thump sound was then followed by Scritchy exiting the bedroom door. It occurred to me that whilst I was out of the house, Scritchy had made a dog nest on the bed. And she knows that she is not allowed on the bed. Scritchy gave me her most innocent of looks, and then as I seized her to administer swift punishment she then gave me the powerful: Innocent old dog face number three, which to be frank is quite an effective strategy.

The main problem is that I have been suffering hay fever at night for the past few nights and I have been wondering about why that may be. The reality is that because Scritchy had been surreptitiously sneaking onto the bed whenever my back is turned, I had not been suffering from hay fever, instead I’d been suffering and snuffling from white dog fever!

I now have to face the choice of closing the bedroom door whenever I’m out of the house or cutting Scritchy off the supply of low dose aspirin and fish oil. What a decision I have to make. And Scritchy is so old that she no longer cares, and as such she is untrainable.

The funny thing is that I have seen that attitude before. About two decades ago I had an elderly neighbour. That elderly neighbour was quite the character. Despite having smoked for 60+ years, she had outlived her husband by about two decades. Occasionally she used to liven up the neighbourhood and outrage the more conservative neighbours by walking around the streets in what can only be described as an chiffon babydoll outfit (or so the editor described it to me as). Yup, she was quite the character that neighbour.

Being the nice young man that I was back then, I used to help the neighbour with maintenance on her home, and in return the neighbour used to look after our dogs whilst we were away. It was a good arrangement and everyone was happy.

Well, that was until the time that the neighbour was looking after the dogs whilst we were away – and she lost Old Fluffy the former boss dog. Old Fluffy had apparently flown the coop! Old Fluffy was a Pomeranian and as such she was a right pain when she was a young dog. To be fair when the time came to serious things up, Old Fluffy stepped up to take the position of boss dog and she changed almost overnight into a lovely dog, but back in those early days, she was feral.

So when we returned, we found the neighbour in tears because she had lost Old Fluffy. Interestingly, the neighbour mentioned that yet another neighbour had recently found a new dog, except that it was a Foxxy and not a Pomeranian. At this point in the story it should be mentioned that Pomeranian dogs can look a bit fox like (particularly to people unfamiliar with dogs). Anyway, I was immediately suspicious and went post haste to see the other neighbour, and sure enough they had Old Fluffy (the foxxy). After a brief hug to quell the tears, I considered that the case of the missing fluffy was solved and closed!

That neighbour sure was entertaining. I recall another time when Melbourne was in the grip of an extended drought and the percentage of water held in the dams was reported on a daily basis in the newspapers. It even became a topic of polite everyday conversation. During those drought days, watering of gardens was restricted to only certain days and even then only during certain hours. It was a grim time. However, I noticed that the neighbour had accidentally left her garden tap running and there was water everywhere as the garden was flooded. Being the nice neighbour that I was, I turned the garden tap off and alerted the neighbour to the garden flood during that drought situation – in the nicest possible way of course. The neighbour said to me: “This is my new watering technique, I’m just flooding the garden”. I then went on to politely remind her that we were in the middle of a drought. She replied matter of factly: “I’ll be dead soon, so I don’t worry about that”. Bam!

The imagination of the population down here has been captured recently by: The War on Waste. We have no garbage service at all here and as such we produce very little waste. Anyway, few people realise it, but waste is wasted income. And who wants to waste income ? 

A few weeks ago I went to the local tip, as I usually do every six months or so, to take my accumulated metal and glass products for recycling. When I got to the tip, I discovered that the metal was still being collected for recycling, but I was directed to put the recyclable glass into the landfill area for disposal in the old quarry. I thought this was odd until I later read that the bottom had apparently fallen out of the commodity market for recycled glass.

Fortunately I produce very little waste – including those items which are intended for recycling. I was put in mind of a story of a very old friend who I haven’t seen for many decades now. That old friend actually introduced the editor and I, whom he also knew. Alas the old friendship did not survive the blossoming new relationship between the editor and I. My old friend had this strange habit where he always used to over order food at a restaurant. This was back in the recession that we apparently had to have during the 1990’s, and both the editor and I were absolutely broke at the time. The funny thing was that both the editor and I independently used to annoy our old friend by taking home whatever quantities of food where left over due to his consistent over ordering. The editor had a good thing going utilising that otherwise wasted restaurant food and her dogs were happily fed many enjoyable feeds. It wasn’t lost on me that my old friend had a sense of pride in his consumption which generated a lot of waste, and to be honest it is not dissimilar from the hedonism displayed by my old neighbour.

From what I’ve seen, waste appears to me to be a cultural phenomenon and that is intricately tied up with social status. From the perspective of both today’s and future generations, being wasteful might make you feel good, but it is not a good look.

The sun has been shining and the weather has been sweet this week. We have been busily extending the tomato enclosure. As part of that project, the drainage channel next to the now much larger enclosure was widened. That drainage channel carries water from in front of the house to the swale below the enclosure. During a heavy rainfall the volume of water in that channel can be massive. Wider channels are less likely to fail during heavy rainfall. This is what it looked like both before and after widening:
A drainage channel was widened this week: Before photo
A drainage channel was widened this week: After photo
The area where the tomato enclosure was being extended was originally covered in grass. That surface vegetation was removed using a mattock. The brown volcanic clay underneath the grass was then broken up and redistributed over that entire area so that the slope in the new area matched the slope in the existing enclosure (which you can't see but is on the other side of the picket fence in the next photo below).
The area for the new tomato enclosure extension was excavated by hand
After a day of digging the excavation job was only about half complete.
After a day of digging the excavation job was only about half complete
The next day we continued digging and began removing the fencing which was originally at one end of the enclosure but is now in the middle. You can’t have a fence in the middle of an enclosure! All of the sapling pickets and screws were saved and they will be used on the new fencing for the soon to be much larger tomato enclosure.
The next day saw more digging and the original fence was removed
By the end of that day, the excavations were completed and the slope in the new area matched that of the original enclosure. Even Toothy was impressed!
Excavations were completed and the slope in the new area matched that of the original enclosure
Soil geek alert (skip to the next paragraph if you are easily bored!) The brown volcanic clay has to have a layer of mulch and compost applied to it over the next week or so before plants can be grown in it. Even then it will take many months before that mulch and compost turns into excellent soil. As a comparison, the older soil which had been fed with mulch and compost over the past two years looked superb as it was a rich black loam which was full of organic matter, moisture and worms. Good stuff!
The older soil in that enclosure was a rich black loam full of organic matter, moisture and worms
Nothing goes to waste here and even the rocks that we have been uncovering recently in the excavations are put to good use. All excess rocks are now being used to fill rock gabion walls, and I may not have mentioned the gabions for a few months, but the third gabion is now almost full!
The third rock gabion is now almost full
The grass that I removed during the excavations was also not wasted. I placed the grass into a wheelbarrow and then dumped it into the orchard where it was used to fill some of the many holes in the ground. The holes were created many long years in the past (decades ago perhaps) where an old tree may have fallen over taking its root systems with it and leaving a giant hole in the ground to mark its location.
The vegetation and soil life removed from the excavated area was used to fill up holes in ground in the orchard
I would have used the little Honda push mower to flatten out the lumps of soil, but the bees were enjoying the late winter warmth and those holes were a bit too close to the bee hive for my comfort! My first rule of beekeeping is: Don’t annoy the bees.
The bees appear to have over wintered well and were enjoying the late winter warmth today
The other day I noticed a young Crimson Rosella sitting on the weather station:
A young Crimson Rosella was sitting on the weather station
Well of course, that young Crimson Rosella was keeping look out for another Rosella who was on the ground chowing down on a pile of dog manure. I told you nothing goes to waste here. And I have not picked up dog manure for at least a decade as the birds are well onto that gear!
Another Rosella was on the ground chowing down on a pile of dog manure
I’d like to change the tone of the discussion and end the blog on a high brow note by sharing some of the flowers with the readers:
It is hellebore time here – White
It is hellebore time here – Purple or is it Pink, I can’t tell
It is hellebore time here – White with a black centre
This succulent is producing flowers
The lavender has continued to flower all winter
One of the hundreds of broad bean plants looks set to flower
The temperature outside now at about 6.30pm is 11’C (52’F). So far this year there has been 530.6mm (20.9 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 519.4mm (20.4 inches).

Monday, 7 August 2017

Big Farmer

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au

Early last summer, Sir Scruffy, the scruffy terrier who has a most delightful personality, had an infected foot. Apparently, a very sharp grass seed had become lodged in his foot. A wound then formed on Sir Scruffy foot and he spent about the next week or so licking and opening the wound so that he could remove the grass seed.

If you have ever felt a grass seed, you’ll know that they have tiny barbs along the spines of the seeds which are a cunning adaption for the plant because the seeds become easily lodged in an animals fur. The animals then become the unwitting transport facility for the grass seed which can travel quite a distance from the parent plant.

I tend to allow the animals here enough time to sort out any health related problems themselves. After that period of time I may inflict upon them a visit to the local veterinarian. For simple matters such as a grass seed stuck in a dogs foot, I sort of figure that both the Sir Scruffy breed of terrier, and the grass plants, have been on the planet long enough that they know their own business well enough to remove the grass seed without me needing to intervene.

However, after a period of about a week or so, Sir Scruffy was still licking the open sore on his foot and so I decided that a visit to the veterinarian was possibly the next best option.

The veterinarian examined Sir Scruffy and explained that the dog possibly had a grass seed lodged in his foot. Then the veterinarian explained that surgery was the best option. Because I’m me and I'm not shy about such things, I asked the veterinarian for a quote for the surgery. The veterinarian went away and came back with a quote for $800 for this surgery. The veterinarian then went onto to explain that the surgery came with no guarantees and that on one notable occasion three separate surgeries (at $800 each) had to be undertaken to remove a grass seed from a particular dog. The veterinarian then went onto explain that it was very unlikely that Sir Scruffy would recover without the surgery. The editor and I asked the veterinarian for a few quiet minutes to discuss our options.

Now Sir Scruffy and I share a bond and we are able to communicate and so we had a brief conversation which went something like this:

Chris: Mate, this dude wants $800 to perform surgery on your foot. Now you’re an old dog and that invasive surgery with general anaesthetic is a real risk for you. 

Sir Scruffy: Sure, my foot hurts and I’m an old dog, but far out, I don’t want to die over a grass seed. You do realise there are still plenty more bones in the world yet to chew upon, don’t you?

Chris: I hear you bro and it would be an ignoble end to die over complications relating to surgery which is a possibility for an old dog like you.

Sir Scruffy: Yeah, not cool man. Have you asked the veterinarian dude whether there are any other cheaper and less invasive options?

Chris: I never would have thought about asking him about other cheaper and less invasive options. That’s why you are the smartest dog in the household.

Sir Scruffy: What can I say, I’m the dog!

Chris: You are the dog! I’ll ask the veterinarian.

When the veterinarian came back into the room, I asked them about other alternative cheaper and less invasive options than surgery on Sir Scruffy’s foot. Sure enough, the veterinarian suggested that a course of broad spectrum antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory would help the situation, but that it was very unlikely to correct the problem of the grass seed being lodged in Sir Scruffy’s foot. At that point, I suggested that we would go with that option and wait and see what happens.

Sir Scruffy was put on a course of antibiotics for two weeks and the open wound on his foot completely healed in that time and there is no sign of inflammation or internal swelling from a foreign body (i.e. the grass seed). This is Sir Scruffy today in the rainy orchard happily munching upon a choice bone (he looks like a wet sheep, does he not?):
Sir Scruffy in the rainy orchard today happily munching upon a choice bone
Years ago, I’d allowed Old Fluffy the very formidable Pomeranian and previous boss dog here to undergo surgery when she was about sixteen years of age. The surgery was optional for a health issue that was not bothering her, and Old Fluffy died within two months of that surgery. Old Fluffy never really fully recovered from that surgery and I felt that I had done her a disservice. And so I vowed not to repeat that mistake on an old dog.
Scritchy the boss dog and her side kick Toothy supervise the production of sake on the wood heater
Scritchy the fox terrier is the current boss dog and she is getting on in years too. Lewis, who is a regular commenter at the blog here suggested that she may benefit from a regular dose of something called baby aspirin (an excellent suggestion!). However, there is no such thing as baby aspirin as far as I am aware in Australia, instead we call such an medicine by the fancy name of “low dose aspirin”. I only discovered the different name for what is ostensibly the same product after mentioning to the chemist that I intended to use the medication on my old dog. To the pharmacists absolute credit, he didn’t flinch for even one single moment and simply pointed to the low dose aspirin and made no further comment on the subject.

For the past few weeks, I have been administering one third of a low dose aspirin to Scritchy, with the other two thirds going to the much larger Sir Scruffy. The yearly cost of this treatment for both dogs is about $10 for over 350 tablets. And I have been amazed at the difference in both of the older dogs as they are now much more limber than previously. I have never received that advice from a veterinarian and I’m not disputing their skills, which are considerable, but I do wonder at what point in time they collectively chose to put profits ahead of basic care?

Anyway, as I speak canine, I asked the other dogs for their opinions about the older and recently improved Scritchy boss dog:

Toothy: Scritchy is so much more fun. We run around and around all day long and she bites me. Fun!

Sir Scruffy: Scritchy is OK, I just wish she stopped taking my bones.

Poopy: Scritchy. She one mean kitty.

Before administering the regular low dose asprin, I was of the opinion that Scritchy had mellowed into a lovely older dog who just like to plop around the place, whilst occasionally exerting her authority, but no, Scritchy was just old and crunchy. Scritchy is now back and she means business!

Observant readers will note in the photo above that we have recently constructed two custom cut stainless steel cooling trays to sit on top of the wood heater. On those trays we are cooking all sorts of interesting food stuffs such as: Sake (rice wine); Yoghurt; and raising bread dough. There seems little in point not using the energy that you do have, and more importantly who doesn’t like homemade Sake?

Over the past four days a huge storm rolled up from the Southern Ocean and it has dumped huge quantities of rain. It has rained and then it has rained some more. The water tanks are holding as much water as they can hold.
Water pours into the house water tanks during this most recent storm
The swale below the tomato enclosure was full of water at various times over the past few days. That swale captures any overflow from the house water tanks, as well as capturing any water that collects in front of the house.
The swale below the tomato enclosure was full of water at various times over the past few days
I have been considering adding a bushfire sprinkler down the hill and not far at all from that swale in the above photo . The problem that I have had with that arrangement was that in the event of a bushfire, I would not want to venture that far away from the house, and so I have been wondering how to turn a bushfire sprinkler on or off again at that distant location. The answer was obvious in hindsight and today I added a ¾ inch valve that can turn off the water supply at that distant location. A valve is simply a fancy name for a tap that can switch water flow on or off again using a handle at the top of the valve.
A valve was installed so as to be able to turn water on and off again at a distant location down the hill in the event of a bushfire
I recently installed a few treated pine posts so as to be able to attach garden taps, bushfire sprinklers and hang 30m / 100ft garden hoses upon. In another example of product crapification, two of the hose hangars failed and bent under the weight of the garden hoses. I have used this brand before and have never had any problems with them. The photo speaks for itself though:
A garden hose hangar which was installed recently failed as the steel bent
So as not to waste the steel used in the manufacturing of this garden hose holder, I added a strong bracket underneath so as to support the weight of the hose upon the steel hangar. Problem fixed:
A strong steel bracket was placed underneath the garden hose hangar so as to support the weight of the garden hose
The wallabies have been up to their old tricks of destroying fruit trees and I spotted this classic example of wallaby vandalism on a young plum tree in the orchard:
A wallaby broke this large leading branch on a young plum tree
The deer who are very occasional visitors to the farm have also been up to fruit tree destroying tricks and I spotted some deer damage to this loquat tree:
Deer have stripped this loquat tree of much of its leaves
Both trees will probably be set back a year or two in their growth, but they should eventually recover. Before removing any steel cages which protect the many fruit trees here, I have to take a guess as to whether the fruit trees will survive the damage that the wallabies and deer may inflict upon them. Basically the fruit tree has to be pretty large before the steel cages can be removed.

This week, I removed several fruit trees from their cages and released them into the world! Be free.
A large apricot tree had its cage removed this week
A large European pear tree had its cage removed this week
In the photo above for the European pear tree, the wallabies should prune all of the lower growth which is most likely rootstock anyway, so not all of the wallabies actions are negative on the trees.

There is a mystery nectarine tree next to the chicken enclosure. The tree is a mystery because it never goes fully deciduous. A mystery!
This mystery nectarine tree never goes fully deciduous. You can even see new buds forming on the branches
The chickens have mostly ignored the stormy and rainy weather of the past few days. This is because they enjoy an all-weather run which is protected from the worst of the summer and winter weather.
The chickens enjoy an all-weather run which protects them from the worst of the summer and winter weather
At night the chickens are toasty warm and out of the wind in the hen house which is attached to that all-weather run.
The chickens sleep toasty warm in their hen house which is attached to the all-weather run
Spring is almost upon us and I see signs of it everywhere. The Manchurian Pear is just about to produce leaves:
The Manchurian Pear is just about to produce leaves
The second deciduous trees to produce leaves are the almonds and they are always the first to bloom in spring.
The second deciduous trees to produce leaves are the almonds
And I would like to finish the blog with some flower photos from about the farm:
The tree lucerne near the chook enclosure are producing even more flowers this week
Snow drops are the very first flowering bulbs
The alkanet plants are producing lots of flowers
This rosemary produced pink flowers rather than the usual blue flowers
The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 3’C (37’F). So far this year there has been 519.4mm (20.4 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 471.2mm (18.6 inches).