Monday, 16 October 2017

Words as weapons

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link:

I wasn’t much of a fan of the last recession in Australia during the early 1990’s. The government must have been a fan of that recession though because the Federal treasurer told us that it was: “The recession that we had to have”. I guess we had to have it then. In those naïve days I was forced by redundancy out of my public service reverie into four years of debt collection work. Such work kept a roof over my head and food on the table, whilst some of my friends and associates were among the 10% unemployed.

Collecting debts for a living provides a person with a fascinating insight into the human experience. The tools I used to ply that debt collection trade were: the phone; and the threatening letter. Of course, I was very young at the time, but also a quick study, so I have to admit to a certain terrier-like skill in that area, all of which I learned on the job. I sometimes used to brag to my mates about the people I made cry just by using words, because I knew that the payments would soon be forthcoming.

After a few years I’d heard every excuse under the sun and knew how to counter and respond to people, so as to collect upon the debt. Around that time, the band, Faith No More, had a song titled: We care a lot. I really empathised with the lyrics for that song which remarked that it was “a dirty job, but somebodies gotta do it”, because that is how I felt about the job. On the other hand I could not allow myself to empathise with the people that I was contacting. In fact I managed to compartmentalise my job and my feelings quite well, simply because I had few other options. I treated the task just like the dirty job, that somebody had to do, that it was. And the people that I contacted, well they became clients and were part of the job and not one of my emotional concerns.

All good things come to an end, even recessions, and by the mid to late 1990’s I wanted to work in the area that I had been training for at University (during the evenings after work). I left the world of debt collection and worked in a number of accounting jobs. With each job I progressed up the corporate ladder, one rung at time. Such progression is not a bad idea, because you get to experience the world from the underside, and as such you learn to communicate effectively with people at many different levels. By then, I thought I was pretty good at understanding words and people.

Believing you are good at something may imbue a certain feeling of hubris. Hubris describes a personality quality of extreme or foolish pride, or dangerous overconfidence. The Ancient Greeks used to believe that the behavior itself, challenges the gods, which in turn brings about the downfall, or nemesis, of the perpetrator of hubris. That doesn’t sound very nice at all!

Eventually I came unstuck as I took on a job where during the interview process, they mentioned the interesting word “challenge”. I was deep in the clutches of hubris and failed to even note the danger in that word, other than thinking to myself that: Challenge, I can do that before breakfast! Pah!

The challenge folks on the other hand may have been thinking to themselves: Who would be stupid enough to take on this challenge? Here is our (stupid) man! Welcome aboard the good ship challenge, me matey!

Before I knew what hit me, I was up to my eyeballs in this “challenge” business. The mess was beyond epic, and the disarray was perhaps worse than Napoleon’s retreat from Russia during the winter of 1812. To quote a notable US citizen - it was my own personal Vietnam (certainly no offence intended). It was that bad. My hubris was cured at the altar of an extreme situation.

At the time too, the accounting profession decided that an undergraduate degree was not enough for professional recognition, and a person had to complete an additional five subject (or in these enlightened post-five-subject days, it is now six subjects) post graduate. That meant more part time study, but at least it was by correspondence and so there were no night time classes to attend. Thus my week nights were free, at least that is what I thought.

The “challenge” folks who had created the humongous mess had an edge on me though, because they knew their word crafts better than I. Whilst I was busily restoring order out of the chaos, they were simultaneously praising my efforts and exhorting me to do even more work. I in turn being young and naïve, allowed my ego to accept the simultaneous praise and criticism that I was not doing enough to restore order from the chaos. To that end, I worked harder and longer hours, all because of a few words.

After eighteen months of that challenge, I found that the increasing demands were endless and my energy had limits. At that point I quit the job and took on another job with a better pay and normal working hours. And I have been very careful ever since to never put myself into those circumstances.

Words can be weapons and it still gives me pause, every time I hear the now deceased Michael Hutchence of the the band INXS belt out the lyrics:

“Words as weapons
Sharper than knives”

The weather this week has been quite nice. There was a day of heavy rain where an inch of rain watered the orchards and gardens. Other days the sun has shone and it was very pleasant.

We had to take a break from constructing the strawberry terrace and enclosure as other projects demanded our attention this week. Over the past few months we've been simplifying and correcting some of the problems with the various water systems. One such problem was corrected this week. About two years ago, we installed a 4,000L (1,060 gallon) water tank to collect water from one of the firewood sheds. The water tank was installed too high so the drains on the shed did not flow with enough fall (that is the fancy word used to describe the effect of gravity on water (and other stuff)). The drains on the firewood shed did not flow properly which caused them to block up with leaves very easily.
This 4,000L water tank was too high for the attached drain
The water tank had to be emptied before we could move it. When full, the water tank weighs over 4,000kg (8,800 pounds). It's heavy and it is a relatively small water tank! We were unable to save the water other than directing it slowly into one of the garden beds (which has appreciated the solid drink of water).

The tank was then moved aside and the area excavated and dropped in height by at least 150mm (6 inches).

Rock crusher dust (which is a quarry waste product and is fine, like sand) was then laid over the excavated area as a bed for the water tank. The water tank was moved into its new position and the drains reconnected. We then refilled the tank from the main house water tanks.
The lowered water tank was reconnected to the drains and refilled with water
The editor came up with a great idea too. We'd spotted an old netball / basketball hoop at the local tip shop. We must have paid at least a dollar for this sturdy chunk of steel. The steel hoop was attached to the shed and is now being used to store the huge pile (3 at this stage) of steel star pickets (this is the Australian term for temporary steel posts).
Star pickets are now stored in a steel basketball hoop attached to the wood shed
After the recent success of adding an accumulator pressure tank to one of the garden water pumps, I added pressure accumulator tanks to the other two garden water pumps. Pressure tanks are a very simple device. They store an amount of water at high pressures so that when a tap is opened anywhere in the system, the water is delivered from the accumulator tank first before the water pump activates. This stops the water pump turning on and off all of the time and thus extends the life of the water pump by a huge factor.
The author adds two accumulator pressure tanks to the garden watering system
Interestingly, the cheaper blue (closer to the edge of the photo) pressure tank works far better than the more expensive smaller black (near the center of the photo) and I am at a complete loss as to the why of that situation.

The two olive trees in the courtyard were given a mighty good pruning. They are some of the oldest fruit trees on the farm and they were purchased at a clearing sale and I reckon they already had about five or six years growth on them.
The two olive trees in the courtyard were given a mighty good pruning
I haven't mentioned the potatoes on the potato terrace for a while, so I thought that readers would be interested in an update to see how they are growing in their new spot. They were moved to their new terrace only earlier this year.
The potatoes on the potato terrace are doing well in the warm spring conditions
A huge storm rolled through the mountain range on Wednesday night and the frogs and worms all sought shelter under the verandahs. An inch of rain fell and I spotted this Southern brown tree frog grimly hanging onto one of the windows. It is a bit indelicate taking a photo of the undersides of a tree frog, but the frog was in a public space...
A Southern Brown Tree Frog avoids the worst of the storm by clinging to a window under the verandah
 Speaking of wildlife, a new bird has arrived on the farm. Meet our new Eastern Spinebill:
An Eastern Spinebill enjoys the nectar from the pineapple sage
Living on the side of a mountain ridge, you get to see an eagles eye view of what is going on around the area. A local farm which appears to undertake ocassional farming experiments, has possibly (but I am not sure) used some sort of herbicide on one paddock and I'm curious to see how their farming practices work out as the season progresses. The paddock is on the left hand side of the photo below. Interestingly, a paddock that was burned off two years ago is on the right hand side of the photo, and the comparison between the two is quite stark.
A tale of three different paddocks
All good things come to an end, even this week's blog! As is usual, the following photos are of some of the spring flowers growing around the farm:
Bluebells are exceptionally hardy tubers
How good does this apple look poking out from a wormwood?
The chives are just about to flower (ch ch ch chive talkin!).
Tri-coloured sage. Nuff said!
A very complex succulent flower
How did this lone tulip survive the loving ministrations of the rodents?
Rhododendrons are complete show offs and very hardy plants
All of the other plants acknowledge that they're not worthy of the beautiful camellia's
The leucodendrons put on a good show
African daisies enjoy this climate
The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 16’C (61’F). So far this year there has been 711.4mm (28.0 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 683.6mm (26.9 inches).

Monday, 9 October 2017

Breaking them from beyond the grave

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link:

Over the past few weeks I have been diligently reading a book entitled: “The Good Life” by Helen and Scott Nearing. The book is actually a compendium of two books. The first book was written about their life on a remote Vermont farm, whilst the second was written almost two decades later after they moved to another farm in Maine.

The authors are very competent people and they have achieved an enviable level of self-sufficiency, however sometimes as I read their words, I feel as if I am twelve years old and being lectured at by my betters. This evening as the chickens roamed around the orchard, unconcerned at the brief heavy rainfall, I took shelter from the rain in their chicken enclosure and read the book. And I came across this quote:

“Human beings are persistent planners and record keepers… Successful gardening begins with a survey of the proposed garden spot – an evaluation of its possibilities and limitations. It continues with a freehand outline of the project. Soon after it is put on paper, the freehand sketch is finalized by putting into your garden book a working drawing, still in free hand, but outlining the general garden project.”

I agree with about two thirds of the ideas expressed by the authors and I’m enjoying the books immensely. However, that also means that I disagree with about one third of the ideas expressed by those authors. In the quote above, the authors are expressing an idea that is fundamentally utopian. The word utopian usually refers to ideas that are: “modelled on or aiming for a state in which everything is perfect; idealistic”. Whenever you hear people talking up utopian ideas, think to yourself: they’re talking total rubbish.

The Nearing’s utopian vision of planning a garden is difficult to achieve as a goal at best, and total rubbish at worst. A more realistic vision of planning may be provided by the long since deceased German Field Marshal, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, who can be paraphrased as having written the wise words: “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.”

Planning a garden is subject to hostile forces, as they want to share some of the bounty. So I ignore utopian advice from well-meaning people such as the Nearing’s (who never met a wallaby or wombat), and instead give greater preferences to a bloke (like Helmuth von Moltke the Elder) who had his ideals successfully tested on various battle grounds in Europe in the 19th century.

So, I had plans for the original strawberry enclosure which were implemented. And those plans failed abysmally when they were tested by the main hostile marsupial forces on the farm. I now introduce you to two of those hostile forces of nature: Fatso the wombat and Stumpy the wallaby:
Fatso the wombat and Stumpy the wallaby cruise the paddock dreaming of fresh strawberries
Take a closer look at the unstoppable force of Fatso the wombat who is almost the size of a small sow:
A closer look at the unstoppable force of Fatso the wombat
Fatso and Stumpy are not really hostile forces of nature, but they and their cohorts enjoy free access to the garden and orchard. They actually work quite hard converting a lot of the plant material into manure which is then spread randomly about the farm, paths and surrounding forest. The wildlife are probably not aware of it, but they are actively working towards increasing the fertility of the area.

Anyway, the original strawberry plan was a disaster because Stumpy the wallaby jumped unto the netting which squashed it to the ground. That was the first attack. The next wave of attack came when Stumpy and Fatso managed to rip holes in the netting last summer. From that point onwards we  harvested perhaps one cup of rip sun ripened strawberries (maybe). That original strawberry enclosure was toast!

Plans are nice and all, but sun ripened strawberries are far better, and so over the past few weeks we have been working to construct a new strawberry terrace with a wildlife proof fence. Strawberries are just too tempting for every single creature living on this side of the mountain range…

The concrete staircase leading up to the new strawberry terrace was completed this week:
The concrete staircase leading up to the new strawberry terrace was completed this week
A water pump was connected up to the recently installed water tank located near the strawberry enclosure. The water pump provides pressurised water to a garden tap inside that strawberry enclosure. Given that the spring weather is now quite warm here, plants can only be transplanted successfully if they are able to be regularly watered – thus the need for the water pump and garden tap.
A water pump was temporarily connected up to a garden tap inside the new strawberry enclosure
The electricity for the water pump comes from a small 12V off grid system which is only used for garden lights and garden water pumps. Usually I’m not impressed with many of the latest offerings of gadgets, but occasionally some items are total genius. The sort of fuse boxes that you can purchase nowadays for distributing low voltage DC electricity are genuinely impressive. Many years ago if you wanted such items you had to scour car wreckers and pull such fuse boxes from wrecked vehicles.
The low voltage DC fuse boxes that are able to be purchased these days are amazing quality
After about a days work, the editor and I had constructed the chicken wire and steel fencing around the new strawberry enclosure using scrap materials. I like using scrap materials as I reckon any waste is actually wasted income! Over eighty strawberry plants were then transplanted from the old failed enclosure and mulched in the enclosure. And there are still about eight metres (26.2 feet) of enclosure and terrace yet to be constructed over the next month or so!
Over eighty strawberry plants were planted and mulched in the new strawberry enclosure
I was particularly pleased with the latch arrangement for the door that can be seen in my left hand in the photo above. I hacked a farm gate latch by modifying it so that both sides of the latch lifted in unison. It also had to be modified so that it could work with the narrow width of the door. Originally both sides of the latch operated independently. Such an arrangement may possibly lead to a person being locked inside the strawberry enclosure. (You may go nutty but you wouldn't be hungry.) Such an outcome is not good as I learned once to my dismay as I was accidentally locked inside the rodent proof chicken enclosure from the outside! (I was both nutty and hungry.)

In the mid spring warmer weather the strawberries in their existing failed enclosure are just beginning to flower. No doubts the forces that are Fatso and Stumpy are well aware of their future meals of luscious organically grown sun ripened strawberries.
Strawberry plants are just beginning to produce flowers in the warmer spring weather
Speaking of the weather, it has been quite tropical this week with mild air temperatures. But humid and moist air makes it feel far hotter than it actually is. And such weather usually brings storms, which means that Scritchy, Storm Detective, has been notifying us of those impending storms. Aren’t we lucky to have such a brave boss dog hiding under the bed at the first hint of troubled weather?
Scritchy Storm Detective advises that a storm may be brewing
Early mornings have brought fog in the valley below:
Early mornings bring fog in the valley below
Stormy skies have loomed over the setting sun.
Stormy skies have loomed over the setting sun
Mr Poopy the Pomeranian (I’ve noticed more than a few Swedish Lapphund’s about Melbourne recently) has been suffering in the much warmer weather of late as he has a double coat of fur. Left out in the summer weather down under, he’d probably die. To avoid an untimely heat related demise for Mr Poopy, we got him groomed this week. The other dogs in the fluffy collective are very unhappy about Mr Poopy’s new do. Meanwhile Mr Poopy looks at them and cheekily says: “You may admire me… Now!”
Mr Poopy sports his new summer outfit, whilst Scritchy and Toothy look on with disbelief at his arrogance
The native wasp in the photo below reminded me that the other day I was in Melbourne and I walked past block after block of terrace houses with gardens sporting beautiful spring flowers. The scent in the air was a heady mix. The thing is, I noticed that despite the profusion of spring flowers, there were very few, if any insects around harvesting the pollen and/or nectar. When the traffic noise died away, it became very quiet. Up here in the mountains north of Melbourne, things are different and there is so much insect activity that when the breeze is still, the buzzing is audible.
A native wasp enjoys the pollen on this Alkanet flower
Those insects on the farm must have been working hard because I noticed the first tiny apricots and almonds for this season:
The first apricots of the season are now developing on the trees
We're looking forward to a good harvest of almonds early next year
As is usual I'll finish this weeks blog with some photos of the spring flowers growing about the farm.

The bulbs are continuing to produce flowers:
The daffodils are looking good
The jonquils are not to be outdone by the daffodils
The last remaining tulip bravely produced this flower. The rest of the tulips have been eaten, possibly by the rats

Echiums are a great source of pollen and nectar for the European honey bees and their friends
Cat mint has begun producing flowers and they should flower all summer long
This red nasturtium is a stunner and edible (but not too tasty)
One of the older Japanese maples is producing flowers and I hope that it self seeds as happens in other parts of this mountain range
This mystery plant is a stunner and has gone from strength to strength

The temperature outside now at about 8.30pm is 10’C (50’F). So far this year there has been 683.6mm (26.9 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 679.8mm (26.8 inches).