Monday, 7 July 2014

Time is passing

Very occasionally I feel the passing of time more strongly than at other times. This past week was one of those weeks. At the farm this translates to: more work, less fun.

Maybe the weather was just conducive to working as the winter rain eased off. However, there was one night when the wind howled through the forest and rattled the windows on the house. The wind even brought down a 15m (about 50 feet) tree smack into the middle of the lower orchard. On its way crashing down to Earth, the tree bent over a 3m (about 10 foot) Medlar (Nottingham variety) fruit tree which fortunately wasn’t terminal for the fruit tree.  I bet there aren’t too many orchards on the planet that have to deal with the occasional large tree going splat into its midst!

At least the fallen tree will make good firewood.

After the storm, I spent an hour or two picking up fallen branches and moving them to a pile. 

Eucalyptus forests are funny places because the trees themselves hang onto so many dead branches only to lose them when they are good and ready, which may be when you least expect it! Still, it must be a strategy that works because some of the trees here can live for hundreds of years.

One old tree here has, I believe, an Aboriginal canoe scar. The Aboriginals used stone axes and knives mined from the nearby Mount William quarry to cut canoes out of the living trees. It damages the tree, but certainly doesn’t kill them. You can see that this big old tree has a bit of fire damage in its heartwood from the 1983 Ash Wednesday (or perhaps even the 1939, or even 1851) wildfires. 

I suspect that the tree escaped the loggers because the tree itself had lost the top half in the past. No one will ever know why the top fell off, it just did. The canopy however, is still very impressive and the tree is very much alive and has a long way to go yet.

Looking at the photo you can get a feel for just how big the tree was originally.

So, my mind has been dwelling on the risk of bushfires of late – even though it is still only winter here. The house was built with bushfires in mind and most of the external surfaces are non-combustible and the gaps are sealed with either steel or mineral rock wool or a combination of the both (which was no easy feat). Yet for some reason, the front door was timber, which is very combustible. Please don’t ask me why. The timber door was covered when required by a roller shutter, but I kept thinking, what might happen if I were unable to lower the roller shutter, I wasn't there when the fire passed or the shutter suffered some sort of mechanical failure (which actually happened)? A long time back I purchased a replacement door with toughened double glazing and over the past couple of days I spent installing it.

 The funny thing was that I thought that it would be a simple half day job, but it ended up taking up most of two days. The lesson learned here is that doors are complex beasts to both remove and install!

Excavations for the water tank site have continued too during this week and are not even close to being finished, but are moving along at a nice pace.

 The chicken enclosure public beautification project has also progressed in the past few days and I’ve installed part of a new rock wall and planted a few sad looking rhododendrons into the new garden bed. No other plant enjoys the joys of chicken manure like rhododendrons and the more established plants grow better and flower more strongly than anywhere else on the farm.

 Right now outside it is 6.4 degrees Celsius (43.5F) at about 7pm. So far this year the farm has received 440.8mm (17.4 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 424.6mm (16.7 inches).

Over the past half year from time to time I’ve heard the strangest sound. Cheep, cheep, cheep, a bird calls from high up above the tree line. It sounds like a chick calling for its mother hen. The source of the calls is a baby wedge tail eagle. All day the single chick soars under the watchful eye of mum and dad. The wedge tail eagles are a constant companion here and it means that the chickens have to be supervised at all times when they are free ranging. Seriously, I occasionally worry about my miniature fox terrier being taken by the eagles. Fortunately the eagles have a ready source of protein in the form of rabbits in the valley below. It is a bit brutal, but they’ll grab an unsuspecting rabbit, fly off and drop the rabbit from a height only to then dine at their leisure.

Bad Joke Spoiler alert! The eagle has landed...

The wedge tail eagles don’t get the freedom to do whatever they want, whenever they want though, because the family of magpies that live at the farm will actually fly up and attack the eagles. The magpies will call out and surprisingly even the chickens stop to check out what is going on around them. It is an awe inspiring thing to see a small bird fly up to confront another bird that is literally four to five times its size. The eagles on the other hand show a carefully crafted cool disdain for the magpies and pretend that they aren’t bothered. However, most times it does move the eagles along. I’ve always taken it as a good sign that there is enough food in the area to sustain a growing family of eagles.


Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Nice blog. Have added you to my blogroll and will be checking regularly.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Added your site to my "reading list." Now, it's easy to find.

Last week I responded to your question about the "books" in my handle. Didn't see it show up in comments. Disappeared into cyberspace? More likely you've been so busy that tending the blog falls far down the "to do" list. Good grief, you're productive! I managed to fill in my new asparagus trench a little bit more and finally get two tomato plants out of their pots and into the ground. While my back was turned, I discovered one of them has put out 7 small green fruits! I'll be saving seed from that one and starting my own inside, next spring. But you're right. Everything takes longer than planned.

Those hanging dead limbs that come down when you least expect it? Over here in the Pacific Northwest, those are called "Widow Makers." I noticed one on one of my apple trees. Luckily, low down and not very long. Will be easy to take out.

Our indigenous people (aka Indians) here in the Northwest also made canoes. They'd cut a cedar log to length and then burn out the inside with a slow, green fire. Final shaping with an adze. Some of the canoes were enormous and highly decorated. Some of the coastal tribes hunted whales in them. Recently, a couple of the tribes have been able to hunt a small number of whales, in the traditional manner. Lew

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Adrian. Thanks for the comment. Expect more content weekly! There is always something going on around here. Cheers.

Hi Lewis. A blogger ate your comment. Seriously, it disappeared. Completely. Who knows where? This is the second mystery of today. They say good things come in three's...

Lewis, I always have time for people who make the effort to comment on this blog. I respect that effort.

Thanks. Things move along here at a crisp pace, fortunately so, as it provides something to write about. If I’m having a slack week, the wildlife most certainly won’t be!!!

Nice to hear about your asparagus. What is the trench? I've read of potatoes grown in compost trenches, but not asparagus. I plant it here in about a foot deep compost. Asparagus is a really long lived plant. Just out of interest are they seedlings or transplanted crowns? A local guy was telling me that either the male or female plant produces larger spears, but if you buy the plants as crowns, you'll only get one variety. He said the reason for this is that the crowns come from the commercial growers who get rid of the lower yielding gender. However, seedlings can be either male or female plants. I just can't remember which, but one of them produces small round berries, which I've seen, whilst the other gender doesn't. Having both genders means that they'll set seed without any work on your part and eventually go native. Or so the story goes... It'll be interesting to see how they grow in your area - which is probably perfect for asparagus. Your part of the world is a good paddock.

hehe! Yeah, they call them widow makers here too. A lady in Adelaide in South Australia was struck by a falling tree whilst in her car on the way to work today... Driver pinned by tree in windy weather. It has been crazy windy here of late. Apparently the south of Japan is bracing for a Super Typhoon, so I can’t complain, although the tornado that hit here years back was serious business....

It is great to hear that traditional skills are being maintained and tested too. Hunting a whale in a canoe without all of the advantages of modern harpoons and engines would be a very difficult and dangerous task.

Regards. Chris

Stacey Armstrong said...

Hi Chris,

It's always nice if the wind does some of the decision making around firewood collection! We recently had a wind storm from the north that brought down a sizeable maple branch that was quite welcome for this coming winter.

Are your magpies similar to our crows or ravens? I am more and more interested in birds and their habits. We have a small grouping of ravens in our area who I often leave small offerings for on the compost pile. They loudly encouraged an eagle to move on a couple of weeks ago. I was just as glad as the eagle was watching the goings on in the chicken yard with keen interest!

Have you had any fruits from your medlar yet? I have read about them but haven't seen one in real life.

My comment was lost last week as well. I assumed it was my error as I am just getting used to commenting on line. As to your comment about muddling along. I think this is a fairly apt description of what I am doing too. I started reading homesteading books soon after I learned to read and those are the accounts I still read with a lot of enthusiasm. They didn't prepare me for how humbling this work was going to be!
I planted my asparagus from seed and it is starting to reseed itself. I am going to try moving some crowns this fall to see if I can enlarge the patch. Lewis, have you divided crowns with success? Any tips?

All for now. Stacey

LewisLucanBooks said...

Maybe I forgot to do the "prove you're not a robot" part. Probably, "my bad." Let's see if I can do a short form of an explanation of the "books" part of my handle. Well, most of my "job" life has revolved around books. I started working in libraries when I was 14. Driving a book mobile at 16. Was going to go for my library degree, but the 60s happened and I never got around to it.

But, as a clerical, I've worked in .... let's see, 5 different library systems. The most recent as for our regional system (5 counties, 27 branches) for 12 years. That last was a good job. Other than 3 years in one branch as a "real" employee, I spent the rest of the time going from branch to branch covering sick leaves and vacations. In the big, urban branches, it was pretty much check 'em in and check 'em out. But, in the small, rural branches I got to do a lot of reference work and reader's advisory. Occasionally, I was even the "in charge" person. Since I have no life :-) and was always available, I managed to cobble together full time work. Even made it out with a small State retirement. Human Resources didn't like that :-). A Levy failed and all the substitutes were terminated.

I also worked for one of the large chain stores in the early 70s for 8 years. Managing stores. In the early 80s I worked for the other chain for 12 years, also managing stores. I had my own used book store for about three years. It was a bust. For reasons that still make me rather bitter, angry and resentful. But I try not to dwell on that. That got me to retirement and overall, I'm very happy with where I've ended up. I'm gearing up to sell books on Amazon.

Besides all the "book" employment, well, I've never been unemployed for more than 2 weeks in my life. In between, I've taken a lot of other jobs. Janitor, made wooden shoes, lots of food and drink waiting, bartender, id checker, slung a lot of hash in small dinners, antique dealer, furniture refinisher, worked in a large department store ... even a short stint as an exotic dancer :-).

Asparagus. The received wisdom here is that you dig a trench 12-18" deep. When the fronds begin to appear, you start filling in the trench, a few inches at a time with good, well rotted compost. I didn't know that about crowns vs seed. I started with crowns. I think I'll pick up some seed next time I'm at the feed / garden store and toss them in before the trench gets too shallow.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Stacey. The wind does a great job of pruning the dead wood from trees! Nice work with the maple. Maples can get really massive. Sycamore trees are a bit of an exotic pest (although I think they look quite nice) up here. In the mountain ash forest (eucalyptus regnans) they grow as an under story tree so they must be really hardy too.

Yeah, the magpies are similar to ravens and crows (and probably in the same ecological niche too?) but are a little bit smaller than those two. I'll include them in next week’s blog.

You're very lucky if the birds are scratching in the compost and scaring the eagles away too. A lovely author on all things organic garden and self-sufficiency related (Jackie French) also stated that a family of native birds can be a massive contributor of manure and a good clean-up crew too.

Yeah, the Medlar has produced a handful or so of fruit. It is a hard fruit to eat because not only do they look really weird, but you have to let it get really mushy and soft otherwise they are inedible. When they are ripe they taste exactly like a dried date (from the date palm) and they're actually really nice. They seem to be very hardy trees too.

No it wasn't your error. Blogger ate your comment as well, which is a shame. It is usually very good, but about a year ago, the entire system crashed and was restored to an earlier point in time.

Thanks. I find it to be quite humbling too as there are so many different layers of complexity. Plus I learn through the many mistakes too.

When I've purchased asparagus crowns they had only a smallish root system, so you may be able to just lift them out of the ground. Some plants with similar root systems are really easy like rhubarb, comfrey and borage which you can just put the shovel through to divide them up into entirely new plants. I'm always reluctant to experiment with them until I have adequate stock though. Nice to hear that your lot is self-seeding!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis. 1 maybe, but 2 is definitely not a coincidence! Thanks for the background. It is must have been nice to have worked in so many different workplaces; I'll bet that you learned heaps of interesting things about people along the way!

Good to see that you managed to stick it to HR too. I've always had the sneaking suspicion that HR is there to protect the employer, not the employee, but I could be wrong...

The big chain book stores would have been interesting to work in too. They had a really massive one just out of the CBD here in the tourist area and it was a great place to while away an hour or two. Unfortunately, it was like a consumer trap because I'd always walk out with something. They've closed up now and all that is left are small independent stores and by and large, they are struggling. Second hand book stores – of which there are quite a lot in this country – are also struggling.

You've had an interesting life. Sorry to hear that the store went belly up. Small business can be brutal. My dad who I met years back for a brief period of time, used to run a second hand book store but it too went belly up. The stock was bought by someone who sold it all off individually on-line. It always reminded me of one of those asset stripping corporate take overs that used to happen in the 1980's when Gordon Gecko was riding high.

Thanks for the asparagus tip too.

Here, I throw compost on top of the plants in the raised beds annually and slightly bury them. It is kind of weird because every year in the raised garden beds, the soil level drops as the plants convert soil into plant material I guess? Plus maybe it compacts a bit too? I don't know, but it would be interesting to do a time-lapse photography on it.

heather said...

Hi Chris- I found you through ADR and have long enjoyed reading your comments there. Pleased to be able to follow your work here.

I live in Northern Califirnia at about 38.8 deg N latitude and 1000 ft altitude. From what I have pieced together from your posts, our climates sound fairly similar, though of course with the seasons reversed. Here is CA we are in the third year of a very serious drought, and live in fear of wildfires. It was so scary when our winter rains just didn't come this year. I am thus becoming a bit obsessed with water and am very interested in how you manage water on your place, and I second a commenter on an earlier post of yours in requesting that you share your strategies. I am particularly interested in your above ground tanks- how big, how refilled, how purified (if), etc. On my 10 acres here we have a 5gpm well for drinking water, which I fear may go dry if the drought goes on much longer and our lucky crack in the granite no longer reaches the groundwater. We receive irrigation water through the local irrigation district's system of canals directing meltwater from the Sierra Nevada snowpack, also of course endangered via drought. I'm sorry to say that folks in this area are crossing their fingers for a strong El Niño this winter, since it would likely mean water, and lots of it, for us. I feel a bit bad hoping for that, knowing that it would be a hardship for those like you who would suffer from the effects of an El Niño. Since we can't share the water between us, perhaps we can at least share water strategies, information, and encouragement. I'm working to convince dh that we need some kind of rainwater cistern to collect and store water when we do get rain, but need to do more research.
Thank you for making the time to blog about your work. It's both inspiration and practical help to me.
All the best to you-
--Heather in CA

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Heather. Nice to hear that you are enjoying the blog. Thanks. The farm here is at about 37.5 S latitude, so the climate is really similar to California (cool moist winters and hot dry summers). You'll be happy to know that the weather bureau here is giving El Nino a 70% probability for our summer coming up, so that is probably good news for you. It is not always bad news here (but mostly is) so they aren't providing any details yet about the forward rainfall predictions. If the winter rains failed here, I would not leave any fuel on the ground within about 100m (about 300 feet) of the house. Wild-fires are a problem here too. Summer is a week by week thing here.

I'd be happy to discuss the water systems over the next month or so. It will cover a lot of ground though so it may take a few weeks. Please feel free to ask questions and make suggestions too as I can only talk about what systems are implemented here. I should be able to add photos as well. Water is critical here, because I have no backup supplies should the onsite supplies run out. Cheers!