Monday, 24 July 2017

Low water mark

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

I am rarely alarmed by news items. However, occasionally an article will jump out at me from the newspaper and I then find myself for some days later considering the implications of whatever small chunk of information is contained in that article. Often it is those small chunks of information that can tell you a much larger story. And this week I spotted an interesting statistic in an article in a local newspaper:

The statistic in the article was that (and you can confirm this by reading the above article) Melbourne’s dams are currently 62% full after an apparently dry June. I agree with the authors that June was dry, but I was particularly curious because April’s rainfall was at least three times higher than the long term average and the remainder of the year was more or less about what you would reasonably expect here.

Upon being alarmed by that article I had to make sure of my own water storage reserves.Therefore, I undertook a scientific analysis of the water storage here. That analysis involved me walking around the farm and checking the level of water held in the various water tanks. I discovered that the water tanks were about 99% full (if not completely full). Why then are Melbourne’s dams currently at 62% full? It made no sense at all to me, and the article made it clear that the average litres of water used per person per day had declined recently to about 162 Litres (42.6 gallons) per person per day.

I‘m not the sharpest tool in the tool box and mathematics is certainly not my forte, so it took me a while to recall that the city of Melbourne is apparently adding an additional 100,000 people to the population every single year. The increased water demands makes sense from that perspective, because even though the average water demands of individuals are declining, if the population itself increases in size then overall demand for water increases in line with that population growth – every single year.

As an interesting side story, I used to work for the big water supply authority as a wee young lad before being made redundant during the recession in the early 1990’s. Way back in those days I recall working with a team of engineers who were doing some sort of work on the Thomson Dam. That dam is huge and quite impressive to see, and it holds a volume of water that is beyond my understanding. This of course may be possibly due to my limited mathematical skills! I mean who even understands what: 14,170 × 103 m3 (500 × 106 cu ft) of water means? I guess it is a lot of water, that's for sure. Back in those days I heard the claim made that the Thomson dam would drought proof Melbourne. Nowadays however, in these more enlightened and higher populated times, we now have a desalination plant (that is the fancy name for a big machine which converts sea water into fresh drinking water) to supplement the drinking water requirements of Melburnians. And with the dams down to the low 60% full range, that desalination plant looks about set to be switched on.

Houses are not immune to the laws of supply and demand. By now, most people down here realise that an increase in the population leads to an increase in the demand for housing. Increased demand for housing in turn leads to an increase in the market value (the less fancy name for this is: prices, and the more fancy name is: economic scarcity) of the existing stock of housing. And of course, increased demand for housing means that there are jobs for people who are involved with constructing new houses.

The downsides to this arrangement is that whilst the ever increasing population leads to increased house prices, some of that increased population can no longer afford to purchase a home. Those particular people have the options of either renting a home or being homeless. Someone mentioned to me recently that in Australia, couch surfing is covered under the definition of homeless.

As another interesting side story, I have noticed that the same newspapers seem to be running semi-regular articles involving very appealing looking young ladies and their even more delightful canine companions living in tiny houses and/or vans on other peoples properties. The funny thing is that those same newspapers also decry homeless people living in vehicles in public places.

For this week’s blog I borrowed the lyrics from the very talented band “Talking Heads” and their outstanding song “Once In A Lifetime”. Without further ado, let’s get into some great music:

“And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself
Well...How did I get here?”

How did we get here is a fascinating question indeed. I thought that it might be useful for readers if I provided some data points from my own life:

When I was a child, which was way back in the 1970’s, my mother, who was a single mother with three children, was able to purchase a family home on a single full time income. She was also able to attend University part time free of charge and put all three of us kids through private secondary school.

During the mid 1990’s the editor and I jointly purchased a small inner city workers cottage of modest size in poor condition which needed repairs for about three times our joint full time incomes. Both the editor and I also enjoyed the privilege of studying at University but had to pay off some student debt.

Nowadays in these more enlightened times, you would be hard pressed to purchase the same three bedroom inner city workers cottage for less than about $1.3m, which is no longer anywhere near three times our joint full time incomes. And University fees have climbed considerably since the days that I had my nose buried deeply into serious and learned text books.

“Letting the days go by
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by
Water flowing underground
Into the blue again
After the money's gone
Once in a lifetime
Water flowing underground”

What happened was that population pressures influenced house prices. However, you can also see in the apparent increasing population that demand for drinking water which is a finite resource is also under pressure. Who knows where we will be in another ten years with yet another million people in the city. And I wonder what will become of those people who are excluded from being able to purchase a house?

“And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife”

How do I work this is another fascinating question. The funny thing about houses and property is that people inevitably ask me for my opinion as to their options. Usually the people are considering replicating some aspect of the farm here. And the advice I provide is to purchase a property that few other people are competing for. Low demand I’ve often noticed, equates to lower prices. The problem with low demand is that often it looks like the biggest dump in an otherwise nice area, and generally involves a lot of hard work. To sum the situation up, that option generally looks unappealing. The only other option that I am aware of is: wait and see.

The thing is, a persons life also only covers a finite span of time. And nobody knows how long the current state of affairs will continue.

The editor and I have only ever pursued the dump option where we have been able to undertake the repairs ourselves. And all of the houses that we have ever purchased have needed (usually major) repairs. For example, we lived in a 1890’s workers cottage that initially had only a single power point, a repaired floor in a single room, and unidentified chunks used to flow out of the cold water tap. And throughout that time we worked full time and occasionally studied part time. I just don’t know any other property story as they all look like speculation or wasted time to me.

“Letting the days go by
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by
Water flowing underground
Into the blue again
After the money's gone
Once in a lifetime
Water flowing underground”

I went to bed last night feeling fine after having written the above. This morning I woke feeling sick as I had come down like a dirty mongrel with a head cold. These things happen.

Earlier in the week when I was feeling much healthier, I repaired the coffee machine. The repairs involved replacing the water pump, which from hindsight we believe may or may not have failed. Whatever may be the case, we were struck down hard by the "third filter theory" as we discovered yet another blocked filter on that coffee machine. The blocked filter was cleared and cleaning fluids were left inside the workings of the coffee machine overnight. I can quite proudly state that the coffee machine is now working well and despite my cold we are in latte heaven again!
The author replaces the water pump on the coffee machine and discovered yet another blocked filter
We have been busy cementing two more treated pine posts into the ground this week. Both posts will be used to mount a garden water tap and hang a hose from.
One of two treated pine posts cemented into the ground this week
The berry enclosure has also now been extended and planted out! Earlier this week a garden bed full of tasty potatoes had to be removed from that berry enclosure to make way for berries.
A raised garden bed of tasty home grown potatoes was removed from the berry enclosure

 That raised potato garden bed produced a huge amount of fresh home grown potatoes.
A huge quantity of tasty home grown potatoes were harvested

The fencing for the berry enclosure was then extended.
The fencing for the berry enclosure was extended
The fencing was soon completed. The gate was relocated to the new extended front of the berry enclosure and the now superfluous two original gate posts were recovered.
The berry extension - Done!
Of course we then had to plant out the berry enclosure. We discovered about thirty thornless blackberrry plants dotted about the farm. All of those were relocated into the new section of the berry enclosure.
The now extended berry enclosure was planted out with a further thirty thornless blackberry plants
From the terrace down below the new berry enclosure looks great!
From the terrace down below the new berry enclosure looks great!
And just as the editor and I had completed watering the berries, a huge storm rolled up the valley.
A huge storm rolled up the valley
I managed to take a photo of the lavender flowers with the ominous storm in the background.
Lavender flowers anticipating a good drink of water from the approaching storm
At this time of year the wildlife always moves in closer to the house. The reason for that is because the plants surrounding the house have more nutritional content than in the surrounding forest. This is a seasonal occurrence and every year I'm scaring some animal away from the garden.
A kangaroo just outside the house asks the hard questions: What me worry?
As the weather warms up, a lot of new birds are passing through the farm.
A couple of Galah's sit high up in a tree and undertake a survey of the farm
Sometimes the birds can attempt unwise acts like this very heavy rosella on an English walnut tree
As long as bones are not involved the fluffy collective prefer being inside the house in cold winter weather.
Let us in - NOW!
The asparagus spears are just starting to appear from the soil.
Asparagus spears are just starting to appear from the soil.
Fortunately for my cold I can enjoy plenty of fresh citrus. The grapefruit are almost ripe:
The grapefruit are almost ripe
The broadbeans were planted late this year, however those plants are now beginning to push their way out of the soil:
The broadbeans were planted late this year however those plants are now beginning to push their way out of the soil
In the berry enclosure I discovered this very confused raspberry plant which appears to be producing flowers in late winter.
In the berry enclosure I discovered this very confused raspberry plant which appears to be producing flowers in late winter
The many daisy plants on the farm add a splash of winter colour:
The many daisy plants on the farm add a splash of winter colour
This geranium flower almost looks like an orchid:
This geranium flower almost looks like an orchid
Many respects to the band Talking Heads for the lyrics from their song “Once In A Lifetime”. Let's finish the blog with a few words of wisdom from that band:

"And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?...Am I wrong?
And you may say to yourself yourself
My God!...What have I done?!"

The temperature outside now at about 7.00pm is 7’C (45’F). So far this year there has been 462.4mm (18.2 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 441.2mm (17.4 inches).

Monday, 17 July 2017

Third filter theory

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

Long term readers will recall my sordid love affair with the coffee beverage. Well, sad times have hit Fernglade farm because today the espresso coffee machine died. This is a total latte disaster. Now in such situations some people may fall into a funk. I am not one of those people. Instead I say, let’s get funky! And so this week I’ve shamelessly borrowed lyrics from the most excellent English modern soul musical collective band: Jungle, with their song: Busy Earnin'. Without further ado, let’s get funky.

“So you come a long way (Huh, woo-hoo)
But you'll never have me
Never have things for a normal life
It's time to busy earnin'
You can't get enough”

The government run broadcaster in Australia recently aired a three part television series called: “The war on waste”. This particular three part series has been enormously influential and it has certainly captured the imagination of the public. I have been surprised at the sheer number and diversity of people who have discussed this program with me. Of course, I try not to produce any waste at all here as waste appears to me to be a form of wasted income. And who would seriously waste income?

“You think that all your time is used
Too busy earnin'
You can't get enough”

Anyway, the editor and I were at a friends house a few weeks ago and we were all discussing the war on waste series. As part of that discussion an amusing story about an almost electrocution incident involving a vacuum cleaner was told. The vacuum cleaner had apparently suddenly and rather catastrophically failed.

Our friends mentioned that they were now using another machine. Apparently this other machine was no longer performing as well it used to.

Now I know a thing or two about small appliance repairs. And for the record, I too have destroyed a decade old high quality vacuum cleaner. I call the lessons learned from my particular vacuum cleaner incident: The third filter theory.

The third filter theory states that: “for any machine that moves air or fluids, there are always more filters than a reasonable person would expect”.

As an interesting side note, I believe that part of the greater waste problem (which we are now at war with) arises because as a society we fail to maintain the stuff that we actually do have. I am very diligent about maintaining the stuff here because to me waste is wasted income. As a caveat though, I have to be aware that things actually need to be maintained. And sometimes I am blissfully unaware that maintenance is required on an item of stuff here at the farm.

My first brush with the third filter theory was that years ago I had a very high end vacuum cleaner (which I alluded too earlier). I diligently maintained two filters on that machine. I was not aware of the third filter, and after a decade of use of that machine, that third mystery filter was completely blocked. Eventually the motor in the machine overheated due to the blocked filter which caused black smoke and a rather unusual acrid smell to arise from the now very deceased vacuum cleaner. And I had created expensive waste.

So, when my friends told me about problems with their vacuum cleaner, I suavely mentioned my third filter theory and said that I’d be happy to have a look at their machine. Sure enough after a brief inspection of the machine, I discovered a filter which was almost completely blocked. A quick clean of the filter and the machine was working as good as new. That created no waste, except for the rather intriguing gunk in the blocked filter which for health and safety reasons, I didn’t examine too closely!

That was my good deed for the week and I rather felt that the Universe now owed me some bonus points as a result. Apparently not so!

“And I get always
But I bet it won't change, no
Damn, that's a boring life
It's quite busy earnin'
You can't get enough”

A few days ago, I noticed that the espresso coffee machine sounded differently than what I was used to hearing. Then I noticed that the extraction process (that is a fancy term for pushing pressurised water through compressed coffee grounds) was much slower than it had been in the past. I thought to myself, I can do small appliance repairs, and so I took a look at the parts and components diagram supplied with the coffee machine (note that these diagrams are a rare item these days). I noticed that after the water pump there was a part labelled as a “shower head”. Well less abstruse language would possibly describe a shower head by another less technical name which is a: “filter”. Filters of course need to be cleaned from time to time and this machine has been in constant operation for at least a decade without cleaning that filter / shower head.

I removed the filter only to discover this horror (squeamish folks are recommended to move past the photograph immediately below, because serious dirt is coming at you – you were warned!)
The shower head or filter in my coffee machine was thoroughly blocked
I should note that the instructions supplied with the machine implicitly stated that the shower head was to be regularly cleaned. Alas for my poor reading comprehension, because the blockage in the shower head caused the water pump inside the coffee machine to fail. The third filter theory strikes yet again!

Fortunately I have averted creating too much waste because I was able to track down a new water pump today and hopefully I should be able to install the pump within the week. On a less positive note, the editor and I are left bereft without morning coffee for one whole week (and can’t get enough coffee!) – and I for one am most certainly not a morning person!

“You think that all your time is used
Too busy earnin'
You can't get enough”

There must be something in the water (algae?), because this past week I replaced another faulty water pump which was used for garden taps and a bushfire sprinkler. Over the past few years we have been experimenting with water pumps and whilst the third filter theory always applies, my other general observation with water pumps is that you get what you pay for. Cheap water pumps appear to not work for very long without failing without warning, even those that have regularly cleaned filters.
Toothy assists with replacing a faulty water pump used for garden taps and sprinklers
Whilst I was replacing the faulty water pump, I also decided to replace the ¾ inch water pipes leading away from that water pump. The reason for replacing that water pipe is that in recent years I have been ensuring that the infrastructure here is easily inspected, maintained and repaired.

The original water pipe was buried so deeply that if it had leaked anywhere or any join had failed, then I would not be able to easily identify the cause of the failure – and that situation makes things much harder to repair and possibly also creates a lot of waste in the process.
The author lays a new water pipe in a shallow trench. Note that the water pipe is protected by the much larger and stronger pipes
Part of that simplification process also involves moving garden taps and sprinklers away from walking paths where they can by accidentally knocked into. In addition to that, I have been mounting garden taps and bushfire sprinklers on very sturdy treated pine posts which are cemented into the garden beds. The posts are expected to have a very long lifespan in those conditions. I finished the job as the sun set this evening.
The garden tap and bushfire sprinkler prior to relocation into a garden bed
The garden tap and bushfire sprinkler are now anchored to sturdy treated pine posts which are cemented into the garden bed
Observant readers will note that in the above photo the 30m / 100ft garden hose is now hanging from a sturdy steel hanger off the treated pine post instead of laying around on the ground.

Speaking of treated pine posts, this week we cemented into the ground, the many treated pine posts which will be used to hold fencing so that we can increase the size of the tomato enclosure. We plan to use the additional growing space in that tomato enclosure to grow capsicums (peppers), eggplants, and various berries.
Many treated pine posts were cemented into the ground this week so as to begin the process of increasing the size of the tomato enclosure
Other garden taps which currently sit in the paths will be moved over the next few months (or when the pipes fail). Firstly we have to install the treated pine posts which the garden tap and hose hangar will eventually be anchored to.
Another garden tap and hose hangar may eventually be moved to this treated pine post
A mum and bubs pair of kangaroos have more or less adopted us and the farm. The pair have been regular visitors ever since the joey (a fancy name for a baby kangaroo) was in the mums pouch. Kangaroos normally live in mobs (a fancy name for a large-ish number of kangaroos) so there must be a story behind why these two don’t. In the meantime the kangaroos are enjoying the facilities.
A pair of kangaroos have adopted the farm as their own
We are currently enjoying lots of fresh Cape Gooseberries as well as the usual citrus and winter vegetables. Cape Gooseberries are an interesting plant as the fruit grows in little paper lanterns. This plant is several years old now and very productive.
A ripe Cape Gooseberry
Fortunately the flowers here are not subject to either a war on flowers (fancy that!) or the third filter theory. Some of the winter flowers currently here are:
A pink and white salvia shows off
I noticed the first echium flower today. These are awesome bee food and they flower for months
An Irish strawberry tree has produced a few hanging flowers
A purple Pentstemon produces great winter colour
This one is not a flower, but the tips of the leucadendron plant are as attractive as any flower
I reckon we need to get funky one more time, so thanks and respects to the band Jungle and their funky song Busy earnin’ who provided the lyrics used in this weeks blog.

“You think that all your time is used
Too busy earnin'
You can't get enough”

The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 5’C (41’F). So far this year there has been 441.2mm (17.4 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 432.0mm (17.0 inches).