Monday, 11 August 2014

A song of water and fire

Depending on your point of view, the weather in the Southern hemisphere is upside down – or the right way up. Late January to early February is the hottest part of the year here, so late July to early August is the coldest part of the year

So, it is hardly a surprise when it snowed here again this morning. The snow didn’t settle on the ground, but it did put on a good show whilst it was here. Within half an hour it was merely a memory though.

Shed with snow falling
Dude, let me in NOW!
Apologies to fans of George RR Martin’s epic and lengthy story, but I couldn’t help myself with the title of the blog this week

The wild weather of the previous week which included strong winds and heavy rain at times, meant that there was a substantial amount of fallen timber on the ground. I’ve since spent 3 of the past 7 days clearing this fallen timber in the orchard and from around the surrounding forest. The branches and trunks are all cut into firewood lengths and stored in neat piles to season for a few years. Seasoning refers to the process of letting the timber dry which in turn also reduces the sugar/sap content. Without seasoning, the freshly cut timber will not burn. All of the smaller branches and leaves were burnt off though

As a fun fact, eucalyptus leaves contain quantities of volatile oils. Those volatile oils can be extracted and as a bonus they are widely used in Australia as both a household cleaner and a disinfectant. Tidy work! The downside to this volatile oil is that the eucalyptus leaves are effective against both bacteria and fungi in the top soil as well as in the household. This is a bad thing because it is those bacteria and fungi which convert organic matter (i.e. the leaves and sticks) into productive top soil. So the leaves can sit on the ground for a few years, happily drying and providing fuel for any forest fires which may pass.

Those leaves and branches sitting on the ground also tend to produce a soil with an acidic ph., which is typical of eucalyptus forests

The combination of poor top soil and high acidity results in an environment where other plant species have difficulty competing with the eucalyptus trees. This can be seen in the clearly defined line between the forest and the orchard.

Drip line of eucalyptus canopy is in the centre of the photograph
The left hand side of the photo shows the orchard and there are lush grasses, mosses and herbage as well as the fruit trees. The right hand side of the photo is within the drip line of the eucalyptus trees canopy and you can clearly see that the grasses are struggling

Right in the middle, straddling both ecosystems is a happy Rhododendron that will probably flower over the next month or so. Rhododendrons love acidic soil and they and their Azalea buddies are always a reliable indicator that the soil in that particular location is acidic. There are many examples of these plants up in this mountain range both in gardens and also in the forest which are well over 100 years old.

The orchard on the other hand has grasses and mosses and they are flourishing as these plants prefer soils with a more neutral ph.

As another interesting observation, it is the grasses, mosses and herbage which all of the native animals come to eat at the farm here.

Which gets us right back to the task of burning off the leaves and small branches over the past few days. The wood ash produced by these small fires has a basic ph. The wood ash can be collected and sprinkled over acidic soils and it will raise (Thanks Rich!) the ph. of those soils, provide minerals and produce lush growth and healthy top soil. 

I recently read an historical account of the Aboriginal land management practices on this continent. It did not surprise me that according to those accounts, every square metre (square yard) of the continent was subjected to small scale burn offs on a maximum of 15 year cycles. Food producing areas were subjected to that treatment on a 2 to 3 year cycle. It was a truly remarkable undertaking and one that I’d judge is well beyond our culture.

Anyway, enough soil geek talk. As an interesting note, my editor in chief is not here today and has left me alone with the computer. haha! I have an unfortunate habit of banging on about all things soil and probably need to be reined in a bit, but that clearly isn’t possible today!

The citrus trees have all survived the frosts and snow over the past few weeks and are producing prolifically. By Christmas there will be lemonade and pomelo fruit too. Unfortunately, the wallaby ate the mandarins, oranges and grapefruit a year or so ago and all of those fruit trees which should be producing fruit by now are instead slowly recovering.

Pomelo with fruit
It is difficult to know what to do with a large quantity of lemons. One of my favourite uses for lemons is to make limoncello which is an Italian liqueur. Yesterday I made a batch of the liqueur which used the lemon zest (finely grated lemon skin) of about 20 lemons. This liqueur will become a handy Christmas present.
Producing lemon zest and lemon juice
Limoncello with coffee mug as a size comparison
The lemon pulp is not wasted because it is squeezed and the lemon juice is then frozen and used in cooking when needed. If you look at the photo carefully you’ll notice that the two jars of lemon juice are slightly different colours. The jar at the front contains the juice of the meyer lemon tree and I believe that tree is a lemon and orange cross as it has a pleasant taste. The rear jar is much lighter in colour and it contains the juice from a eureka lemon fruit tree which has a strong lemon taste that will knock your socks off!
Citrus fruit remaining after harvest
Last spring a self-seeded cherry tomato plant produced an excellent tasting tomato fruit that ripened one full month earlier than every other tomato plant. In June, I saved the seeds from that particular plant and will hopefully see whether the seeds can then reproduce the success of the original plant. I’m currently drying the seeds after having fermented them for a few days in a small jar.
Seed saving tomato seeds
It is raining outside right now and I’m grateful to be collecting some of that rainwater for later use during summer. A couple of weeks back I produced a short YouTube video showing the water catchment system for the chicken enclosure. I collect and store rainwater from every roof here at the farm and the shed is no exception. Yesterday, I put together another short YouTube video showing how the shed water collection system works. This water system on the shed is different from the chicken enclosure because it is much bigger, includes several taps, a pump and even a bushfire sprinkler. For those that take the time to watch the short video, I can report that the video camera still works despite my best efforts to destroy it with the bushfire sprinkler!

In breaking chicken news, I’m now receiving 4 eggs per day and Frizz the chicken has made an unexpected full recovery from her sore leg which last week was sticking out at a strange angle from her body.

Of note this past week too, is that the house batteries have been 100% full at some point in the afternoon on most days. This has been the first week that this has occurred since the winter solstice here on the 21st June.

The temperature outside here at about midday is 3.5 degrees Celsius (38.3 F) and so far this year there has been 534mm (21.0 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 531.2mm (20.9 inches).


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Stacey,

Many thanks for the information on mustard. The house wallaby has taken a bit of a liking to it recently. Grrr.

Hi Lewis,

No worries. I like those old names too. Many years ago, I misspelled weather as wether and everyone had a pretty good laugh at my expense. It is amazing how boundaries and names can change over the years. People think of them as static fixtures, but they do change. This area used to be called the Parish of Kerrie.

Thanks about the wheat info. Over here they irradiate seeds coming into the country unless they go through an expensive quarantine process, so there is zero chance of obtaining some.

Yeah, the animals can be a bit extreme at times. I've read that deer can be a bit of a nuisance. Rabbits ring bark trees here which kills the tree just to eat the bark. I don't have rabbits here because the dogs and the eagles will eat them, fortunately.

Oh yeah, the good stuff is never found in easy to get to places. If you get a chance, check out some photos of Coober Pedy as it is the major opal mining area, but is so hot for most of the year the locals all live underground. They have a solar desalination plant though so the tap water was actually pretty good for that part of the country.

Thanks for the film recommendation.

Good luck with the heat. I won't consider a trade as summer is hot enough here already. Hope you enjoy the snow photos.



Morgenfrue said...

I'm surprised that your citrus trees are doing so well, I thought cold was killing for citrus. Or has it not actually been frost?

Do you have blueberries? I am sure they would love the acidic soil.

Thanks for your blog, I really enjoy it.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Morgenfrue,

A couple of weeks back the ground froze for two days, but it was probably a very light frost. The heavy frosts occur in the valley below - as the cold air falls downhill. It can often be up to 5 degrees Celsius cooler than here.

The lowest temperature I have seen here at the farm this year is -0.1 degrees Celsius (31.82F), which I thought was cold, but relative to other parts of the world would probably be considered to be quite mild.

The citrus trees cruised through the frost with no damage. Incidentally, the avocado trees also sailed through. The coffee and babaco both have died. The almond trees were in flower at the time, so I’m waiting to see whether the blossoms drop off the tree. There aren’t many pollinating insects around at the moment either, but will be in a couple of weeks.

Yeah, blueberries are a great idea and I have a few of them. The problem with them here has been the heat stress during summer, so I'm trying to find the best location for them at the farm here. Do you have any suggestions about that as I'd appreciate them?



Morgenfrue said...

Hm, I'm a totally novice gardener, and I live in Denmark. I grew up in northern inland California, though, and I think that climate is sort of similar to yours, and some pick-your-own farms had blueberries so it must be possible! Perhaps there are varieties that are more heat/drought-tolerant? I'm sure you've already thought of anything I could suggest - plant them on your Swales? Mulch a lot until they are established? Sorry I can't be of more help!

Rich Brereton said...

Hi Chris,
I continue to love what you're doing here with the blog. Especially dig the water system videos. You really explain them well, and how they fit into the larger water cycle at Fernglade.

Question about the tomato seed-saving. Why do you ferment the seeds first? Any handy references on seed-saving you care to recommend?

Small correction from one soil geek to another: surely you meant that the wood ash would raise, not lower, the pH of your acidic soil?
Keep it up,

LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris; I planted two varieties of heritage tomatoes this year. One isn't doing much of anything and the other is going great guns. If it tastes good, I'm going to save seeds. Saw you're book in the photo. I have "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Seed Saving and Starting." :-). I'll have to see what it says about tomatoes.

We have quit a blueberry industry in this county. I bought and froze up about 9 quarts. On the list for next year is establishing some blueberries. Just 4 plants or so. I plan on tucking a couple of tea plants in behind (to the north) of the blueberries. From what I've read, they need similar soil, but a little more shade. In this part of the country, the blueberries can take full sun.

The rise and crash of the rabbit population here is interesting to observe. I'll see a lot of rabbits, and then they all disappear. I don't know if they get periodically cleaned out by coyotes, cougars or just the cats. We do have eagles around but their pretty cautious and don't come in too close to the place.

I had heard about Coober Pedy and the underground life. Read something a few years back about a North African Roman town. Forget the name. At first, the archaeologists couldn't figure out where the domestic parts of the town were. Not much sign at ground level. Then they discovered that the Romans had build DOWN. As much as four levels. Quit posh. Large open courtyard / light wells. Fountains. Lots of mosaics and wall paintings. To me, pretty fascinating. Lew

PS: All that Eucalyptus oil. Hard to extract? Sounds like it might make a good spot weed killer. But, I suppose a high acid vinegar would work as well and be cheaper.

Rich Brereton said...

Ha! Read Lew's comment and went back to your post. If I had looked at that photo for another moment I might have seen the answer to my question about seed-saving reference books.

artinnature said...

Hi Chris, I had 20 blueberry plants at the last garden, 14 different varieties. They are my favorite fruit. I have three here so far and many many more planned.

Every type I've tried here in Cascadia has produced well (northern, southern-doesn't matter) but planting "low chill" cultivars may be important for your climate, you don't seem to get much winter chilling. Varieties described as being derived from "Southern Highbush" (south=warmer here) lineage have lower chilling requirements. these are the types often grown in California, also a low chill climate.

I don't know if you have access to all the same cultivars as us but here are a few low chill types: Misty, Southmoon, Sunshine Blue, Legacy, Star. You perhaps have researched chill requirements, etc. already.

Of course you may know that blueberry development seems to be ongoing down under as well. Brigitta is a popular cultivar up here that was developed in Australia.

They like a lot of water, in my experience right on the edge of being poorly drained. Although "they" say truly saturated soil will do them in, I've never been able to kill one with too much water. I think of them as being "super-ericaceous" in their requirements, if you know what I mean.

My wife made the ginger beer, so good...and (sorry LLB) it packs quite a punch!

Cheers from Cascadia

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Morgenfrue,

Good pickup! Inland Northern California is a very close equivalent with respect to the climate here.

Thanks for the tips. The blueberries are heavily mulched, but I hadn't considered planting them on the swale. That is an interesting suggestion. The blackberries are intended to be planted into that location, but I could chuck the blueberries in with them too.

Hi Rich,

Thanks Rich. Yeah, I started trying to explain the water systems using text and gave up as it was in the too hard basket so shot the videos instead. Capturing and utilising every drop of rainwater is the number one thing to do on a property Down Under.

For your info, the water tanks are 98% full right now and I'm aiming to get the additional 2 water tanks in before about mid-September. The water systems here have taken literally years of trial and error to get my head around, so it is a pleasure to share the information.

That book is the seed saving go to manual. The explanations are very thorough and simple too and backed by years of hands on experience. The couple that wrote the book set up the seed savers exchange in Australia.

The beneficial fermentation is caused by the bacteria Geotrichum candidum which acts in the sticky gel that surrounds the tomato seeds. The sticky gel is a germination inhibitor, I assume. I hope that helps?

The book also suggests a simpler method if you have no time for the fermentation process. It says to: soak the jelly surrounding the seeds off on a slice of bread, shake the seeds off onto a bit of newspaper, dry the seeds and sheets.

I’ve heard that some people plant out the seeds on the newspaper and that works fine.

haha! Good pickup on the error and of course you are correct.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

Saving the seeds is like money in the bank, although truthfully I have no idea how the tomato seed experiment will go as it is the first year for that plant. Please let me know how your lot goes too?

I have always enjoyed and been drawn to the title of that particular book series too, as it sounds no-nonsense. There are just so many things to know.

Now I'm jealous! Blueberries are one of the few fruits that freeze well. Yum, fresh blueberries! Yeah, like strawberries, you can never have too many. Enjoy.

The tea plants are growing really well here – this time around. One is in danger of being overtaken by a borage companion plant, but otherwise the tea camellia looks healthy enough so I won't interfere. I killed the last lot as the summer sun was just too intense, so here's hoping for the future. They are in the shade.

The rabbits are an interesting population to watch. The CSIRO (government science body) regularly releases rabbit specific diseases here, but because the breeding cycle of that species is quite rapid, they adapt over a few generations. I wonder if your government does the same? My money would be on cats and dogs taking out the rabbit population, although I have no experience of coyotes and cougars. So many things here are deadly already that I really can't imagine having large predators freely roaming around the forest as well! Hehe! In the southern part of Australia, there are no land based large predators – other than people. Have you seen either near your place?

The eagles are reasonably fearless here but the local family of magpies will attack them on sight. It is like a David and Goliath air battle which happens most days. The eagles simply shrug them off and move along.

Wasn't there a guy in California (or maybe Arizona?) who built an underground house similar to the Roman constructions? I saw photos of it recently and it looked amazing.

Extracting the eucalyptus oil is as simple as boiling the green leaves in water. The oil and water is an emulsion so it is easy to extract as the oil sits on top of the water. I'd never thought of using the oil as a weed killer. You may just have made your millions with that idea!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Klark,

Nice to hear of your good work with the blueberries. Yes, they are excellent fruit.

Of all of those cultivars, Brigitta is obviously the only variety freely available here. I also grow the Northland variety and haven't noticed much difference between the two varieties.

Their like of lots of summer watering is the downfall here as summer rainfall is really unpredictable, whilst heat is predictable and water storage is limited. I'm still working out the finer details of water here.

Excellent work with the ginger beer, I salute you and your wife!

There is a batch of ginger beer which is a month or two away from maturity here, so you have lifted my expectations. If it is rubbish, I'd appreciate obtaining your recipe.



LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Klark - Nice to see another Cascadian, here. In general, where are you? I'm just south of Chehalis, Washington.

Well, we'll try this again. I had written out a genius post, probably never to be replicated, when the internet went down. For 12 hours. JMG has this weeks post up at ADR, but my post on the outage (and, attendant weather) is the very last post of last week's ADR. I mean I was just about to click "publish your comment" and it went down. Such timing :-).

Any-who. Coyotes. I've only seen them twice in the two and a half years I've been here. But I often hear them. In fact, they're down in the woods whooping it up, tonight. And, it was the coyotes who killed off most of my chicken flock.

Lots of deer around, this year. Had a doe and two twin fawns in my front yard, the other day. Of course, I'll be cursing them if they take too many apples or get at the veg. I'd rather deal with them then a 6 foot tall kangaroo with an attitude :-).

My neighbor saw ("the largest cougar I have ever seen.") a cougar sashaying across the road not far from here, a few months back. There's also a story about a cougar nursing her kits on my front lawn from quit a few years ago. So far, no sightings on my part.

Then, there's the black bears. No sightings, either. But, another story from years ago. one of my five dwarf apple trees is quit stunted. Pity, it's got the best apples of the five. They are all different varieties. It's stunted because it was mauled by a bear.

Then there's the semi-mythical Grizzly Bears. If they are around, they are very shy of people. The Mt. Rainier website, in their wildlife section, mentions the possibilities of Grizzlies on the south slope. Which isn't far from here. My neighbor, who is an outdoor kind of a guy and knows his wildlife says he saw one a few years back, grazing in a meadow. With their different color and distinctive hump (not to mention the greater size), they are hard to confuse with a Black Bear.

And then, there's Big Foot ... :-).

Well, I'm sure this post isn't nearly as good as the "lost" post :-). But here it is. Lew

PS: I really like that black and blue tile in your kitchen. Very nice.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

hehe! I hear you man. I gotta run but, the email has been down here for 3 full days - and it was all my fault! Had to laugh and end up paying tech support to sort it all out...

Cheers. Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

Blogger eats comments when it is hungry. The better the comment, the more likely it is to be eaten.

I remember about a year ago on the ADR when blogger crashed completely and they must have restored from a backup as stuff simply disappeared. When you think about it though, the blogger system is amazingly reliable.

Of course, yeah, I remember when the coyotes got into your chicken pen. From memory, you had a survivor, how did she end up? I bet she went off the lay...

Did you have to increase the walls and/or security of the chicken enclosure?

The rosella's (a local parrot) were getting into the chicken enclosure here through holes that the rats had made, so I covered the entire enclosure in welded mesh which put an end to that nonsense. I wasn't so worried about the rosella's eating the food, as much as the dogs trying to kill them on their exit from the chicken enclosure. After a few days of that, the dogs were getting into a frenzied blood lust sort of mindset, which made them a bit edgy and not very useful around the farm. It has all settled down now, thankfully.

Yeah, deers are like goats in that they'll browse everything. Do they break any branches of the trees or simply strip the leaves?

The kangaroos will happily fight each other and you can hear them doing that at night and it sounds like a deep sort of coughing sound. The night here is full of all sorts of sounds.

But bears... Yikes! Those things maul and kill people... Plus they're both smart and cunning. Don't mess with their business.

Not to mention the cougars.

Are they all people shy or does it depend on the season, how hungry they are and whether there is any of their progeny around?

Hopefully you have the camera around if Bigfoot ever drops by! ;-)

Thanks about the tiles. There is a funny story about them too. I bought them at a (I think you call them big box stores) as the tiles were a discontinued item. They came in three colours across three separate boxes. The lovely lady at the checkout scanned the box and charged me the cost of one tile for each box. I smiled at her and she smiled at me, I paid the $3 and happily and casually walked out of the store enjoying the score! In such a situation it pays to act casual and think about parsnips! Hehe! Occasionally things work out in your favour, not often, but sometimes.

PS: It was a good comment after all!



LewisLucanBooks said...

Yeah, there was one survivor from the Barnevelders. She is the crop bound one. I think she survived because she was in the henhouse feeling poorly. She didn't lay, but I think that was because of the crop. The two hens I took in from the neighbor's coyote ravished flock never stopped laying. When I put the chicks out with the older hens, she started laying, again! Also, I got a tip from the feed store. I tried a number of home remedies that didn't help. Now I'm feeding her a bit of bacon grease and that seems to be helping. But, she's perky, just waddling around looking like she needs a breast reduction.

Yes, I did a lot of reinforcing with more wire. I need to do more....

The deer just pretty much clean up the apple falls. No leaf or branch damage. I'm surprised they bother with my apples, as there's a whole abandoned orchard across the road.

Bears and cougars can be unpredictable. But, there's things to remember and do if you run across one. Look a cougar in the eye. Never look a bear in the eye. Back off slowly and spread your arms to look bigger. Or, pick up a limb.

Bears with cubs are VERY unpredictable. I used to be a security guard at a dam. Fishing was allowed below the dam. On the other side of the stream was a bear with two cubs. I had to tell every fisherman that passed my checkpoint to NOT fish on the other side of the stream. Only once did she charge across at some fisherman, but it was more of a feint, than serious intent.

Well, I think we had a visit by Big Food this last spring. I know of two people, who I think highly of,who have told me of sightings. One, quite close.

My house is pretty soundproof. But, one evening, I heard this awful kind of howling noise coming from the woods across from my place. I had left the porch light on and stepped out to listen. Like nothing I had ever heard, before. I thought maybe it was a coyote caught in an illegal trap. So, I shut off the light. A few minutes later, it started up again, right in my front yard. I switched on the light and it was like flipping a switch. Total silence.

Odd that my old dog Beau did not make a peep through the entire thing. And, he'll bark at everything from birds to bunnies. The same night, up at a neighbors, a small ornamental wishing well was destroyed and the bumper ripped off a truck. His dogs also did not raise an alarm.

For no particular reason, I have a theory. Bob the Bachelor Farmer who died in January? He was one of the people who had seen Big Foot. Bob was also very good with all kinds of animals. He had quit the collection. I think he had some kind of a good connection with Big Foot. I think they either migrate through or hibernate in the winter. When they came back through in March, they somehow knew Bob had died and were ... expressing some kind of wild grief? That's my theory.

I also think that some of the Big Foot sightings may be "Bush Vets." You hear stories. After the Viet Nam War, a lot of the guys came back so psychologically damaged that they took to the woods and have little or no contact with people. Those guys are getting pretty old, by now. But, with the Mid East Wars, sadly, I suppose there will be a whole new crop. Lew

artinnature said...

Hi LewisLucanBooks,

My wife and I are "making our stand" in Edmonds, WA. We used to take trips to the coast of Oregon via I-5 and when we'd pass through Chehalis I would always say "an Archdruid Report reader lives here" and she would roll her eyes. These days we've developed an allergy to I-5 and almost always take 101 along the coast. Now that we bought this place it may be a while before we take another one of those trips.

I was just outside splitting firewood, something I haven't done for many years, it's so satisfying when those pieces fly left and right! Very humid today though, I was saturated in 1/2 hour.

Hi Chris,
Our neighbors ginger beer recipe is a modern, quick version made with actual ginger and it only takes a week to brew. Are you perhaps making the historical version using "Ginger Beer Plant" (SCOBY) and no actual ginger? I wouldn't know about any of this if it weren't for my neighbor.

You or the other Cascadians here may be interested in her (and her husbands) blog:, it has a decidedly "urban homestead" bent because that's what they are are we. She is currently writing a book and the ginger beer recipe and related lore will be in there, so she has forbid me from sharing any of the details for now. We are actually testing recipes for her so she an fine tune them before publishing her book. You can read about the recipe testing on the blog and volunteer if you like...shes also a chef.

Time to go out again and split some more wood. I've been digging a pond that's been bone dry all summer but with our 1.6 inches of rain on Wednesday it's now holding water!

Cheers from Cascadia

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis and Klark,

Just to let you know that I'll reply to your comments with tomorrows blog. I've run out of time to reply today as I've been out recording video footage for tomorrow's blog entry. Plus there is an egg mystery for you too, which you'll hear all about tomorrow.