Monday, 20 October 2014

Trying to smile

It has been an eventful week here at Fernglade Farm: It has both rained and the sun is shining with unmistakeable warmth. Sunburn is now a serious possibility after about 11.30am most days. The plants and trees are all growing strongly too. Plus today was something of a smashing record breaker (more on that later)!

Spring is an awesome time of year here: Warm days, cool nights, plentiful rain (normally) which equals lots of plant growth. It has been interesting because there has been a bit of talk over at the ADR about insects as food source and I thought that it may be worth mentioning that the Aboriginals used to travel across various tribal areas and up into the mountainous areas of the Australian continent every year in order to catch and eat the plentiful supply of Bogong moths. A similar gathering took place around the time of harvest for the very yummy Macadamia nuts - although that was a long way north of here. Both of these foods were traditionally outstanding and reliable sources of protein and I have both the Macadamia trees and Bogong moths here. Mind you, I haven’t tried eating a moth because years ago I read of a park ranger that had partaken in an Aboriginal ceremony of catching and cooking (over coals) of the Bogong moths and he stated that they tasted like eating moths. Perhaps I’m only being a bit choosy?

Bogong moth
 The moth is about the size of my hand and there is certainly a lot of meat on the body of that moth.

Incidentally, if you were of the persuasion that is inclined towards eating insects, the excavations here have shown to me that there is no shortage of grubs to eat buried in the volcanic clay. The Kookaburra’s and magpies often follow me around as I occasionally feed them the grubs that I excavate out of the ground. One day, a Kookaburra here had eaten so many grubs that I was able to sneak up on it and grab it twice!

Oh yeah, and stage one of the excavations is now complete. Yay! I’m quietly grateful about this turn of events as I’m unsure whether I’d be up for yet another day of digging and hauling soil anytime soon. The enjoyable part of this project will be building the first steel shed. All being well this shed construction phase should start in about two weeks as I have to obtain some more materials first.

Before we continue the blog though, it may be worthwhile mentioning that it is sometimes very difficult for me to estimate how long projects will actually take here. Most of the time I have no idea how long things will take as every task is so different from any task that I’d ever previously undertaken. People always ask me: How long do you reckon that project might take? The simple answer is: I’ll tell you when the job is completed!

This week was no exception to that reply as I’d both assumed and stated on the record that there would only be about two hours of digging to complete the first stage of excavations this week. You know how it goes though with estimating a project: I thought that it would actually be about an hour so I doubled that time estimate just to provide a bit of leeway. Ten hours later that day though, I can only admit that I had no idea at all! Fortunately, the excavation day was both cloudy and windy, which made it feel much cooler than it actually was. Incidentally, I’m now having to wake up at sunrise in order to avoid working in the heat of the afternoon, but there was little respite that final excavation day.

As they say, a camera doesn’t lie, so I captured a moment in time on that final day of excavations when I found a giant rock in the midst of all that clay. In the photo below, I’m really trying hard to smile whilst "Toothy" - so named because he likes biting people - the long haired Dachshund looks down on both me and the rock only to say “Bummer dude, I’d like to help you with that rock, but it’s just not in my job description”.

A very large floater rock found during excavations
As a bit of soil geek information, those rocks are called “floaters” here because they literally float through the local clay and will slowly move through that medium over a long period of time.

With projects here, it is fascinating to look back in time because you never quite know what you are signing up for when you start!

Anyway, I thought that it would be worth travelling down memory lane over the next few weeks and looking at the farm using before and now photos. The before and now photos are interesting because you can see how I’ve had to overcome certain site problems over the course of only a few years. As an interesting side note, I have found that it was extraordinarily difficult obtaining ideas from people on how to develop a complex site like this.

Being on the side of a mountain in order to get any flat land I’ve always had to excavate into the mountain itself . For years I’d asked people from around the area how they dealt with all of the fill (left over soil) left over from the excavations. Anytime it rained heavily, the clay washed down hill and you can see how this happened in the photo below from this time four years ago. The rain that drained off the clay created small erosion channels.

House and fill October 2010
It took a lot of experimentation and observation of some of the oldest gardens in the area, but nothing held the soil in place as well as established vegetation.

House and fill October 2014
The very green and upper layer of vegetation is now two years old and very well established. The lower level which looks sort of grey with sparse vegetation and was established only last summer. I’ve found that woody mulch requires about two years of composting before it will grow any plant well. You’ll also notice in the above photo that I’ve installed concrete access stairs which are heavily used. Plus the herbage on the slope below the house is very well established now, whereas four years ago it was very sparse.

Behind the house I had a similar problem as the house site was cut into the side of the mountain using an excavator. Every time it rained, silt would wash down the face of the cutting and build up on the flat area next to the house. Two years ago this month, I installed a rock wall on the flat area and placed so many cubic metres (yards) of woody mulch and mushroom compost mix against the cutting that I’ve now forgotten the total tally.

Behind the house October 2012
Today, two years later the plants have literally taken over this cutting.

Behind the house October 2014
Hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane!

Oh yeah, the smashed record. Today after much thought, I've smashed all previous records for electricity consumption. This sounds mildly dodgy, but the solar power system is very inefficient in that it supplies so much more energy than I can consume most of the year. The reason for this deliberate over supply is that during the serious depths of winter for three weeks either side of the winter solstice, the solar panels make just enough energy for me to get by so that I don't have to rely on a fossil fuel powered generator. Just enough to get by is equal to about 150Ah (amp-hours) at about 27.7V (volts) which is equal to about 4.155kWh.

Today however, there was so much sunlight I used the solar power in as many different ways as I could imagine and used 421Ah (amp-hours) at about 27.4V (volts) which is equal to about 11.535kWh. I believe the average household here uses about 25kWh/day.

Record day of solar electricity production + the batteries are 100% full
Warm air has been blowing south from the centre of the continent this week. It is interesting to note that this week Australia’s hottest town (Marble Bar in Western Australia) has recorded an average maximum temperature for the month of October so far of 40 degrees Celsius (104’F). Even though it is on the other side of the continent and a very long way up in the North West, that is where the warm air here comes from! Fortunately, cold moist air also drifts up from the Southern Ocean too and the weather here swings between the two extremes. The temperature outside here at about 9.00pm is 8.7 degrees Celsius (47.4’F) and so far this year there has been 655.0mm (25.8 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 639.0mm (25.2 inches).


LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris; The Bogong Moths? Being palatable is probably all in the spices ... or, sauces :-) .

Yeah, I often ask my cat or dog if they want to help out on a task. Total disinterest. Oh, well. The cat hunts down rodents and the dog is a good guard dog, so I guess they hold up their part of the bargain.

It must give you a feeling of accomplishment to look at those before and after pictures. I once looked at an old house that was for sale. Built on a cut out like yours, on a slope. It didn't look very stable. And, the "land above" belonged to someone else and was in pasture.

Speaking of solar, I've been looking at a tool catalog (I'll be getting some of their rechargeable battery tools) and noticed they have a solar power kit, 80 watt. $400. Maybe enough to run the freezer and the light in the chicken house.

Of course, I've got to ask myself if I'd actually get it set up and use it? Or, will it sit in the box? Am I ready to commit to another pet about the place :-)
I figure if I picked up "The Dummies Guide to Solar" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Solar" I'd figure it out an do ok.

Heck, I'm still contemplating water catchment. At our local Absolutely Huge, Big Box Hardware Store, they've got a water catchment system that's basically 4 garbage cans hooked together. 500 gallons, which I was thinking of. Seemed pricey. I think I'd be better off just getting one 500 gallon tank. Fewer moving part :-). Lew

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

Thanks for the art history education as it isn't really an area I know much about.

1852, they may well have been heading out for the gold rush. The couple in the painting would almost certainly have made it out to this part of the world. Interestingly too, by that time, the shipping was fairly safe and they had very few ship wrecks or deaths on the voyage.

Yeah, it is unsettling to read of warmer weather up your way. Having said that though a more moderate winter would be an exceptionally good thing for your part of the world. Interestingly too, there are no migratory birds here - refugees from the fires in 2009 to the east and south of here are the exception.

What is an old farmers almanac? The bureau of meteorology prepares the long term forecasts here and they reckon that there is a 50% chance of an El Nino event happening here this summer. Any given year has a 25% probability anyway. That event equates to a hotter and drier summer. I think this also has parallels to weather activity on your part of the western coast line?

hehe! Yeah, the really big flies here require a few smacks to squash. The European wasp is a real nuisance here. Are these similar to your lot? The nests drowned here during a wet summer a few years back, so they are in the area, but not on the farm.

Free wood chips. Wow! I'm amazed by that. Composted wood chips here are about $35 for a cubic metre (approximately a cubic yard). Go hard, you can't go wrong.

hehe! Yeah, a good sauce may actually help a barbequed moth - not sure much else would. I can imagine trying to eat a moth whilst thinking of pork belly instead. I'm not convinced it would work. Actually I tried a cajun restaurant in the big smoke a week or two back. It was good stuff. The meat was slow cooked over about 24 hours - or so they told me. They also had this frozen solid lemon tart. The stuff was like a rock, but tasted like lemon tart.

Yeah, how can we tap into that energy? I asked the dogs if they were amenable to leather harnesses Yeah, the dogs and cat all help in their own way I guess. I've often wondered about getting a cat here as they seem to be very useful on the rodent front.

Yeah, the kit sounds like good value depending on the battery. If you can hold off for a bit we'll talk about solar - once the shed is up and you can ask a million questions. As a secret, I've made quite a nuisance of myself on the renewable energy forums Down Under, but they all keep helping which I really appreciate.

PS: I'd probably go for the 500 gallon tank as it is probably better made and less likely to freeze during winter due to the larger thermal mass...



LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris; Ah, ok. What you call European Wasps, we call Yellow Jackets. Yup. I have those. Doesn't seem to be too many. Have never found a nest. What I do have a lot of are these ...

They build nests up in the eaves on the south side of the house ... right where my back door, back deck and hummingbird feeders, are. Knock on wood (if I can find any) I haven't been stung ... yet.

No migratory birds? I can't imagine. It's a constantly changing cast of characters, around here. As an example, hummingbirds show up in early March and are gone by the end of July.

Old Farmer's Almanac ...

What it is, is so diverse and complicated, I'll just go with the link. Some people swear by it. I'm a little skeptical, but it's just choke full of so much stuff. It's fun to dip into.

Oh, yes. Cajun food. For awhile, we had a little cafe here run by a retired Black master sergeant from Louisiana and his Chinese wife. Half the menu was Cajun, half Chinese. It saved a lot of time if I could decide if my mouth was set for Cajun or Chinese, BEFORE I got to the cafe. Sad. Didn't last long. Too conservative of an area to support it.

Now I'm not what I'd really call a "musical" guy. But, I have my favorites. I have several cds of Cajun music. That stuff will perk you right up and put a bounce in you're step! :-) .

I'm surprised you don't have a cat. Oh, well. There's cat people and dog people. I'm both. If it wasn't for the cat, I think I'd be over run with mice. Hard to know if a cat would integrate into you're current lot. Might talk to neighbors that have cats, how that goes. My cat steers well clear of the dog. She never bothers the chickens and even follows me into the chicken yard. The chickens aren't frightened of the cat. There seems to be a lot of mutual curiosity. I don't think I'd trust her around chicks. They're too much like the birds she occasionally nails.

Enough. A sun spot between rain showers and I'm going to take advantage of it! Lew

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

Yeah, great name for the European wasps. Up this way they are a nuisance around food and drink as they are all too happy to help you eat it.

A couple of years back I picked some feral apples only to put my hand onto about 5 of them munching away on the back of the apple. Fortunately they didn't sting me. Everything else seems to!

Hey, speaking of insects I scored another bee colony which I'll pick up over the next few days. Better luck this time...

Thanks for the link, those wasps look quite large! Glad to hear that you haven't been stung... yet!

Yeah, all of the characters here stick around all year but have large areas of the forest for territory. There are constant fights between the different species for dominance of an area, but mostly they get along well together.

Winter would be a bit hard up your way. It is the summer here that is the difficulty and most animals sleep through it. A hot summers day is a very quiet experience here.

The almanac sounds like it is interesting stuff with a long history. Not many publications can display such a pedigree. Change would come slowly and carefully in that business. Novelty would be discarded. Still, they must know their stuff if they've published for so long. You realise Australia was only settled in 1788!

The restaurant sounds awesome. Shame it didn't continue.

Cajun food is pretty special stuff. There is a long history of Chinese cuisine in Melbourne and so many great places to go.

I used to have a cat, but the dogs used to eat the cat scats and it used to drive me insane. Dogs can be disgusting sometimes. cats on the other hand a very clean and careful creatures. Glad to hear that yours is good with the chickens. That is really good.



LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris; We have a magazine here called "Countryside and Small Stock Journal." It's like what Mother Earth News used to be like before it got all yupped out. :-). They are starting a series on bee keeping. It's to run several months.

We have another atmospheric river cranking up. The rain woke me up several times last night. We may get some wind over the weekend. But, our local weather guru states that it won't be a record breaking event. But, it's still warm. Overnight lows in the 50s F. Lew

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

Yeah, those magazines can get fixated on trying to broaden their appeal so as to increase circulation. I reckon in doing so they lose something of what made them special in the first place. It happens here too.

Plus, this will be a shock to you... I had a strange conversation the other day about peoples writing skills declining and the general consensus was that young uns (are we sounding like grumpy old uns? hehe!) don't read as much anymore. This was a surprise to me.

Fortunately, people reading this blog would rarely suffer that deficiency as they are actually reading!

There isn't much better time to be had than sticking your head into a good book and tuning out the world. I've travelled a bit, but books have taken me to places and times other than those real world destinations.

Wow. It is 28'C here today (82.4'F) and the chickens are out scratching under the fruit trees. Someone (or nature) down below just dropped a massive tree. You can't mistake that massive crash sound. Hope nobody was underneath it.

Have I mentioned that I like heading out to see the films? I went to see "Gone, girl" last night and really enjoyed it. The book was meant to be exceptionally good too. The film/book was about a psychopath that faked their own death and stitched up their partner for the deed in the process. Good stuff. My advice for what it is worth: Don’t annoy her!

Atmospheric river sounds like a record breaker to me! How much rain did you eventually get? Do you get rain during most of the year?

The really stormy weather here is during spring and summer and the downpours can be very intense almost tropical. Autumn and winter are very gentle in contrast.

It is really smoky here as the state government has continued to do some serious burn offs. You can tell that a state election is coming up here next month as they usually don't start this early in the season. Still, it is never as much as should be burnt off, but it is better than nothing at all.

I have a large water feeder for the native birds here and a white sulphur crested cockatoo just landed in it for a big drink. They make the most raucous calls.

It is getting dark and the chooks are now off to bed.

Did you have a think about the water tank? It is a bit hard when it is raining heavily to consider water tanks though.



Andy Brown said...

Well, naturally, I had to come by and see what bugs you might be eating. Bogong moths, hmmm. Yeah, I might not be ready for that. I do have a second batch of the grasshoppers chilling in the freezer. A flock of thrushes came through and were harvesting them pretty thoroughly I think (finally). That might conclude the season here.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Andy,

No worries. There is a very long history of eating grasshoppers in SE Asia. I've seen street vendors frying them up in large woks and they both looked and smelled alright. How are you cooking them?

The native birds clean up most of the insects here, otherwise I'd give the grasshoppers a go too. Mind you, I wouldn't hesitate eating one of the local parrots as the little buggers try to get into the chicken enclosure...

The dogs are very handy at catching and eating the Bogong moths and I always try and observe the dogs to see what their current supplement of choice is. It changes with the seasons and they all teach each other what's good and what isn't.

How did the thrushes end up tasting? I have a far and distant memory of an early Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall supping on a thrush pie, but this memory may be incorrect? Of course, you've probably not heard of him before as he's English? Dunno.

Do you preserve to get through the winter? Rhode Island is quite far north. I'm thinking of either building or purchasing a dehydrator. I've noticed that the prune tree (D'Agen) is now in fruit for the first time.

PS: Speaking of insects, I picked up my new bee colony this morning... More on this on the next blog.



Stacey Armstrong said...

Morning Chris,

A very rainy week here in Cascadia. By my jar in the garden well over four inches! You briefly talked about ways of minding your slope in a previous post, but the before and after photos are inspiring.

I am going to give it a try on my less gruesome slope to the north of the drive. We are fortunate enough to share a half descent chipper with our neighbours. It will make a good weekend afternoon date!

You probably are not keen to turn this blog into a recipe sharing destination but I am wondering if you have preserved any quince? I have more than four this year and all ready at the same time.

I would totally recommend a dehydrator for all that extra electricity you are generating. I dehydrated the last of the cherry tomatoes and some kale chips in mine yesterday.


LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris; Well, our forecast for this evening is for sustained winds of 20-35 mph with gusts up to 55. But it looks like the highest winds will be north of us. I've noticed that the wind has come up, quit a bit, in the last hour. It's around noon. Might loose the power, tonight. No big deal. Never lasts for long. I've got the candles handy and can always toddle off to bed, early.

All the following is in inches. Sorry :-). Our yearly average rainfall is 47.49. Although one website said 52.6". As of the end of September, we're at 46.20". Octobers average is 4.33". We are at 4.39". So, already above average for rainfall. Depending on the website you look at. Can we get a straight answer, around here? :-) .

There was a small tornado, south of here about 45 miles, on Thursday. Damaged some buildings and blew out some windows. Rare, but not unheard of in this part of the world. There was a tornado in Vancouver, Washington in 1972. Killed 6 and insured over 300. My folks lived in the area where it hit. I was living in Seattle. I spent a pretty nervous afternoon and evening as all the phones were out.–Vancouver_tornado

I could wax long and lyrical about the decline in writing and reading skills. Also, cursive writing is in decline, from what I've read. Some schools in this country are not even teaching it, anymore. My handwriting has always been very poor. Might be a motor muscular thing. So, anything I write for human consumption, I usually print in big block letters. That's why I taught myself how to type when I was about 10.

Oh, well. I need to remember that English is a very flexible language and is in constant change.

Oh, yes. Crashing trees. This last summer there's been logging going on down on the highway where they are going to do some work next year. Also, my neighbor / landlord / friend has had some logging done back behind me, down in a kind of canyon. Can't really hear those trees when they come down. Don't know why. Some strange acoustics and the lay of the land, I guess.

Haven't done much research into where to buy a water tank, locally. Well, I just did. Internet search turned up a company in Centralia that seems to be pretty well stocked. I should also check our local farm store. And, talk to me friend the Chicken Wisdom Goddess Debbie. Even though they moved to Idaho, they farmed here. She'll probably have some observations on water tanks.

We also had an eclipse here on Thursday. Per usual, anytime anything happens in the sky, we're socked in. It wasn't a total. But I was surprised that I couldn't even detect a lessening of the light during the time it was happening. Lew

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Stacey,

Oh my 4 inches of rain in a week is a huge amount of rain. How is your place coping with all of the water?

There is only one path here now - the one to the chicken enclosure from the house - that isn't sealed with rocks and/or screenings and it struggles during that sort of weather. It becomes a bit slippery.

Many thanks. Yeah it just works, but it is one thing talking about it and another seeing the before and after photos. On the steeper inclines I caked mushroom compost over the clay like someone would do to a mud rendered wall. The mushroom compost is full of fungi which thread through the mixture and hold it all together. I haven't quite worked out how to add compost over the now established plants yet - it is on the to do list (which is quite long!).

Happy chipping with your neighbour! I'm rally jealous of your chipper too. Chippers here are hopeless because the Eucalyptus trees produce such hard timber.

No worries. Cooking is one of lifes joys. There are two recipes: Candied quince and stewed quince. Do you prefer the candied (which is easier) or the stewed? Or both recipes?

Awesome, thanks for the recommendation. What are kale chips?



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

Man, I'm excited as I transferred the bees to their new home and didn't get stung. I once stirred them up a bit when some very unpleasant visitors turned up here. They're alright the bees - as long as they don't sting me.

How did you go with the storm? 55mph is pretty strong gusts here too. Did you keep the power on? With those winds here, the really tall trees bend more than I'm comfortable hanging around and watching!

No apology necessary. In rural areas here, people talk about rainfall in inches and measurements in feet. In urban areas it's all millimetres this and metres that so I'm good with both. I find myself talking about rainfall in inches now!

Mind you just to confuse everything when you are talking about buildings or building materials, it's all in metric - unless you are talking about ceiling heights when it suddenly switches back to feet. Most land is advertised in both acres and hectares (2.5ac = 1ha).

Man, that's a lot of rain in one year. It would certainly keep the place green. The most rain in a year I've seen is 56.5 inches and that was more water than I've ever seen before and every single rainfall system here was tested.

Wow, I didn't know tornado's travelled that far north as Washington. Yeah, they're pretty destructive here too although they usually turn up in remote locations so few people are affected and usually no one dies as the building codes are pretty strict in relation to roofs. The roof here is tied to the ground with steel and all of the walls are braced with steel.

Which is a good thing because 3 years ago I got a Christmas present of a direct hit by a tornado. It was weird because the day leading up to that was quite warm and still (being summer).

Having said that Christmas here is just weird with all of the scenes of snow and cold and people huddling around fires. If you light a fire here at that time of year the police or local volunteer fire brigade will come and investigate. They'll be pretty annoyed too if it's Christmas day.

Glad to hear that you were safe. The power drops out here regularly, but the phone lines are under ground, so they're meant to be quite reliable - although I'm not connected to the copper network.

Yeah, me too. They don't teach cursive script here anymore either. Still, I was taught typing - which is a funny story involving weird management fads - many years ago and can type much faster than I write by hand.

Yeah acoustics can be weird. Sometimes it depends on the wind direction. I can sometimes hear the trains down below and other times not. Trees crashing make a big sound though, but in a canyon you never know.

Yeah local advice is the way to go, plus you find out whether the supplier is any good or not.

Yeah, that happens here too. There was a blood moon a few weeks back.

Cheers. Chris

LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris; Well, the storm, here, was pretty much of a non-event. Where I live. It was supposed to arrive in the evening, but here, it was pretty wild all afternoon and then went dead calm about 8pm.

My lights didn't even flicker, but there were some power outages scattered around the county. Our highest gust was 37 mph. Further north was a different story. Lots of power outages and trees down around Seattle. Oh, well. Without giving in to hysteria, it's always best to be prepared.

Yeah, that tornado in Vancouver, Washington was something. Let's see if I can describe the lay of the land. There's the Columbia River which in that area is pretty much east/west. On the north bank is Vancouver. From the city, running east along the bank is a ridge of land, called "The Heights." It's all houses, shopping centers, etc.. The tornado formed over the Columbia River, moved due north. It scrapped a path across the Heights (right through a shopping center) and then dropped down behind the heights and hit a school. The fatalities were at the shopping center. One of those tip-up concrete slab grocery stores collapsed. The path of the tornado was actually quit short.

And now for today's art history lesson :-). This is a painting by John Stewart Curry. He was one of the "regionalists." Active mostly in the 1930's and 40's. Other regionalists were Grant Wood (you would recognize his "American Gothic". It's been parodied enough.) and Thomas Hart Benton. This is a tornado painting by Curry...

Hmmm. Another one of my all time favorite paintings is "The Great Wave" by Hokusai. Guess when it comes to paintings, I'm just a disaster junkie :-).

Yeah, it can get pretty wet here. But, some of our summers and early falls can be pretty dry. Everything turns brown, dry and gray. So it goes. Lew