Monday, 11 December 2017

A day in a life

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au

Sunday morning, and the alarm is demanding to be attended to. The time is 7.40am and I'm never at my finest in the mornings. One of my favourite authors, Jack Vance, wrote a scene in a pulp fiction book from 1973, which had three characters interacting in the early morning. Two of the characters were squabbling, whilst the third character dryly observed, that it was too early for squabbling as his mind was not yet clear. I like that sentiment and have pinched that witty line for use on many occasions.

Still, the alarm could not be blithely ignored. The editor poked me in the ribs, and informed me that it was time to get up. I sorted the alarm by using my top secret, Commodore 64 users trick (if you know what I'm talking about, you just know) of pushing any and all buttons in the hope that something happens. Fortunately the trick has mostly paid off with complicated technologies like alarms, and the machine lapsed into silence.

I have to admit that I was feeling a bit more blurry than usual on that fine sunny summers morning. The previous day, the editor and I had been mowing the farm (the editor on the mower and me on the brush cutter) in the hot summers sun. Then because we hadn't worked enough, we decided to get out the stump grinder (a truly dangerous and awesome piece of equipment) and grind up some old tree stumps in the afternoon sun. There are always tree stumps here that need grinding out because of the simple fact that the area has been logged since the 1860's and no reasonable eucalyptus stump ever wants to degrade into soil. And the loggers were clearly busy with the more profitable dropping, cutting and hauling trees business and had no time to remove the dead tree stumps.
Approximately 80% of the farm has now been mowed

After all that work in the hot summer sun on the previous day, by the time 9.30pm rolled around, I had just enough time to reply to comments on the blog, because the editor and I then crashed out and were ready for bed. We sure know how to party like rock stars here at Fernglade Farm!

I woke up with a mild headache which was most likely due to dehydration and heat issues, but possibly could also be remedied by a hit of coffee. The editor and I headed out to visit the local General Store and enjoyed a breakfast of large coffees and scrambled eggs on toast, all served on washable porcelain and consumed with proper knives and forks. The General Store is a delightful business and they also host the local post office. I was able to purchase the newspaper and check on my mail. In my pre-coffee state, I was thrilled to discover several large bills. For some reason, bills tend to arrive at Christmas time. How does that work: "Merry Christmas, and oh and by the way, here are some bills"?

On the way back from the General Store, we were now in a more alert caffeine fueled state and so we picked up some more fuel at the local petrol station. As well as the little dirt mouse Suzuki, we also filled up a jerrycan of fuel which we use to provide energy for the chainsaw, mower and stump grinder. It was fortunate that I did get up early because about half an hour after I left the petrol station, an unfortunate push bike rider was killed in an apparent encounter with a motor vehicle just near to that petrol station.

When we did get back to the farm, the unfed canines were clamouring for their breakfast meals. The dogs were lucky that I had now enjoyed a (large) coffee, as I was able to easily deal with their breakfast issues with aplomb!

After the dogs were fed, the editor and I decided to enjoy a stroll through the farm to observe what work we had completed the previous day. We also patted each other on the back and remarked upon a job well done. Part of the walk was along the road, and so (spare a thought for the hard done by and usually well behaved) Scritchy the boss dog, who was taken on a lead.

A neighbour also just happened to be passing by promenading along the road with his dog, and as such things go in the country, we stopped to have a chat (and the dogs to have a sniff). The neighbour expressed interest in the most recent project (the strawberry terrace) which is visible from the road, and so we all enjoyed a minor tour and enjoyed a general neighbourly yik-yak.

The canines aren't the only animals demanding to be fed on the farm. The chickens had to be fed their greens and grains, the worms were also fed any kitchen scraps that the dogs and chickens would not eat. Whilst I was on my rounds attending to the various animals living here, all of the garden beds had to be watered. It is summer after all, and minor watering does tend to make plants thrive!

Back into the kitchen and two loaves of bread had to be made. After many years of buying supplies direct from the grumpy-bakery-products-ladies, who suddenly closed up shop one day a few years back, I now have a really excellent supplier of bakery products. They send me whatever I need in the mail. Spare a thought for the poor folks at the Post Office who have to deal with the large boxes of flour and other bakery goodies that I regularly order! Whilst my bakery hat was on, I also baked in the electric (and solar powered) oven, a batch of home made dog biscuits for the dogs future dinners. The dog biscuits are very good, and occasionally I enjoy a few of them myself as a snack.

Scrambled eggs on toast and a large coffee is not enough to feed me for breakfast, so I stopped working at that point and enjoyed a small mug of home made muesli mixed with home made yoghurt (it is good). The yoghurt is a Bavarian and Greek yoghurt mix. I also read and posted any comments that had been placed on this blog.

Dog biscuits do not make themselves, and neither does the very tasty dog breakfast mix. I spent about forty five minutes making up this coming weeks batch of dog food. I keep both of those items in the refrigerator, and every couple of days, I bake another batch of dog biscuits. The fluffy collective have told me in no uncertain terms that they will only consume freshly baked dog biscuits. Who am I to argue with those canines?
Freshly baked loaves, dog breakfast food, dog biscuit mix, and lemon booze all await!
The editor (who is also chief brew-mistress) decided today to brew up a couple of demijohns of lemon wine. Lemon wine is an absolute favourite of mine. However firstly, the lemons have to be picked from the trees:
Picking lemons for lemon wine (and freezing for future cooking projects)
Then the lemons have to be pressed for their juice. We have a very old school fruit press and it is a beautiful piece of equipment. I knew I wanted it, the moment my eyes spotted that fruit press. True love is a glorious thing:
The manual fruit press turns lemons into lemon juice
In the photo above, I am sporting my new sun hat from a specialty hat seller in Melbourne. I feel that the cool hat has lent me more mojo (edit: and musician vibes) than the average hetman enjoyed from his tribal fetish!

We grow a few different varieties of lemon trees here and the difference in the amount of juice recovered from the same volume of different species was quite interesting:
The juice from an equivalent volume of lemons. Left Eureka Lemons; and Right Meyer Lemons
The house then had to be vacuumed of dust, which is one of my weekly jobs. Vacuuming falls into the boring, but important, category.

Lunch was then enjoyed. Fortunately, I had already baked a loaf of fresh bread, and so we enjoyed the loaf with a soup of curried pumpkin mixed with fresh garden greens. It was very tasty, and the fresh bread was enjoyed slathered with home made jams and peanut butter. Yum! I felt sad when lunch had been fully consumed....... still, dinner is never far away!

Immediately after lunch we stewed up a small batch of pears which are to be consumed with muesli over the course of the week. Stewed pears are a very tasty fruit, and I look at the fruit trees in the orchard and think to myself, I must not count the multitude of pears before they are harvested!

Unfortunately, with the joys of lunch behind me, I had no choice but to perform about an hour and half of accounting work. Phooey!

As the editor and I had learned the previous day, it is not wise to work outside in the hot afternoon summers sun, so I spent another hour writing out Christmas cards (the Twelve Strays of Christmas cards, purchased from the Lost Dogs Home charity) to send in the post the following day. I am very old school in some respects and the last thing that I want to receive is an e-Christmas card that may possibly have been sent by a robot. You could say that this is my attempt to keep it real, one Christmas card at a time!

A few days before, I had removed a huge number of sugar beets (which contain 20% sugar) and a single lovage plant from a raised garden bed. The beets are so hardy and prolific that they do not require the extra attention that they receive in a raised garden bed. I replanted all of the beets and lovage into a new permanent and much larger garden bed.

The previous night in my heat addled state, I spotted a fox lurking near to the impenetrable chicken fortress. Alas, I was talking rubbish because the field mice recently burrowed a new tunnel under the extensive steel and concrete foundations and managed to break into the apparently rodent proof chicken enclosure. I admit defeat as the mice are clearly more resourceful and intelligent than I! Anyway, I mixed up a batch of concrete and poured it into the tunnels that the naughty rodents had created. That should stop them for a couple of weeks at least...

The editor and I then enjoyed a coffee and a couple of home made Anzac biscuits in the late afternoon sun.

And that was my day off (phew)!

Earlier in the week we managed to harvest a few strawberries.
Earlier in the week we managed to harvest a few strawberries
Unfortunately, some mornings, the local parrots (Crimson Rosella's) sit on the fencing around the new strawberry enclosure and watch for anything that vaguely resembles a strawberry. Then they consume that berry. We purchased a quantity of steel which will be used to form a long lasting and bird proof roof over the strawberry enclosure.
A quantity of steel was purchased to form a roof frame over the strawberry enclosure in coming weeks
On one of the concrete steps leading up to the strawberry terrace, I spotted this rather comfy looking skink (gecko equivalent) enjoying the sunshine. The reptile has clearly also been enjoying more than a few insects.
A very fat looking skink enjoys the hot summer afternoon sun
Summer fruit update:
Another two weeks in the hot sun and these apricots should be ready to harvest
The almonds have reached full size and now, and I only have to wait until the fuzzy green skins split open
This quince is months away from being ready, but it is getting bigger
As are the apples!
Anzac peaches need only a few more weeks in the sun to ripen
This raspberry is ripe, right now!
We pick the various currants and other assorted berries and make mixed berry wine which is a favourite!
Summer flower update:
Olives are flowering and up close they smell like a combination of daphne mixed with citrus. Note the bee!
Bush roses are so beautiful
Pyrethrum is going feral as can be seen in this garden bed
The local shiny cassinia is in full flower
This is the flower from a tall fringe lily
The dandelions are spectacular and the bees are enjoying them this season
The usually unpleasant prickly tea tree produces copious flowers
The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 17’C (63’F). So far this year there has been 896.6mm (35.3 inches) which is nothing like last week’s total of 924.0mm (36.4 inches)! The official Melbourne Water rain gauge has recommenced providing data for the mountain range and so this week is a correction.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Little Curl

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au

The American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, once penned a short poem about a rather naughty young lady, who had a little curl in the middle of her forehead. As a child, I’d always believed that the poem was a nursery rhyme and not something written by a celebrated poet.

The first stanza of the poem is as follows:

“There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good
She was very very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid”

It is not only little girls with little curls that can act horridly. Lately, there seems to be an awful lot of high profile men in the media (both here in Australia and also in other countries like the US) who have been apparently behaving rather horridly.

In my life I have encountered many people who have acted horridly in a range of ways. And generally most of those people were known to me. The weird thing is that when I was a young kid, people were obsessed by “stranger danger”. There was this inference that strangers (people who are unknown to you) were clearly bad people, not to be trusted, and avoided at all costs. Now as far as I understand human relationships, the average person can cope with knowing about 150 other people. There are about 7 billion people on the planet. Some rough maths tells me that 7 billion minus 150, means that there are a lot of strangers on this planet. Clearly anyone who feared so many other people would be suffering from a state of high anxiety.

Many long years ago, I did come across a horrid person, who was also my boss. As such he was not a stranger! The job interview should have rung alarm bells, particularly when the interviewer stressed that the job would be challenging. Of course I was young and dumb, and wanted to make my name and so I replied enthusiastically that I was indeed looking for a challenge. I could see thoughts churning away in their mind which more or less said: “This is our man / sucker!”

It goes without saying that challenges are indeed challenging, and this business was in a real mess. The mess was of truly epic proportions and I had never seen anything like it before or since, and hope never to see such a thing again in my life.

Slowly, however I restored order from the chaos.

The boss was an odd bird in that he would equally praise me and then criticise my work whilst imploring me to better efforts. The criticisms were often profound and remarkably insultingly personal. I had never had exposure to such a verbal technique before, and because I was young and dumb, I tried harder and worked ever longer hours. The hours extended into late nights and soon weekends. The work was unrelenting and so too were the ongoing criticisms.

Eventually, the editor broke the spell by asking the simple question: “What the (naughty word beginning with F that rhymes with the word truck) is going on?” I could not adequately explain the situation, and given that there appeared to be no end point in sight we decided that it would be best if I walked away from that job. It is worth remembering that things could always get worse!

I scored another job pretty much straight away, and I was shocked to my core by how normal and nice the new employment situation felt. I was like the frog in the slowly boiling water in that I had not realised how hot the water I was in had become. The strangest thing of all is that the entire experience had been created through the misuse of words.

Some people are bound to repeat situations. Others learn from past mistakes and then go on to make new and different mistakes. That is part of life! After that experience I spent time trying to learn about and understand the motivations of these horrid people. For example, they may or may not have little curls, but they certainly tend to use a few verbal and physical techniques.

My belief in this situation is that prevention is better than a cure. I would have appreciated it, if as a child, adults in my life had warned me to beware of horrid people, doing horrid things, and prepared me on how to respond to those people. Instead they were all about 'stranger danger', and so I had to learn my lessons the hard way. My reading of the recent media accounts appears also to be the same surprising journey that a lot of other people have taken.

The week began with some very hot weather. Most days the temperature exceeded 35'C (95'F). The Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe weather warning for the area for a storm beginning on Friday and extending through into Sunday. The weather went from stonking hot to really wet over a few short days.

With the severe weather warning in mind, the editor and I began ensuring that all of the drains were cleared of any detritus. Water collects on hard surfaces such as roads, and huge volumes of water can cause a lot of damage. The farm uses drains to collect water from the road and then channels the water into swales where it can infiltrate into the soil. We began ensuring that the drains worked by clearing them of any and all detritus:
A concrete pipe along the road channels water into a swale at the top of the shady orchard
This is the other side of the above drain. The swale slows water giving it time to infiltrate into the soil
Along the road at the very top of the sunny orchard a channel along the road directs water into a pit. That channel was widened and cleared to ensure that it worked during heavy rain.
A channel along the road directs water into a concrete pit
Even the fern lined concrete pit is sort of attractive!
The concrete pit links to a pipe that takes water under the road. That water then exits into the fern gully at the very top of the property above the sunny orchard. The plants and soil in the fern gully serve to slow the movement of water and allow it to infiltrate into the ground.
A pipe from the pit directs water under the road and into the fern gully
The fern gully is really starting to get well established this season and it is as beautiful as it is as functional.
The plants and soil in the fern gully slows water allowing it to infiltrate into the soil
Water can do a lot of damage very quickly. Last January the drain along the road (the first two photos above) failed - i.e. filled up with a detritus dam causing water to flow where it doesn't normally flow. The huge volume of water then washed away part of the steep garden bed behind the house. We had never experienced a landslide here before and have now made many changes to ensure that this does no occur again. One of those changes is depositing a huge quantity of composted woody mulch above the steep garden bed. Into that mulch we have planted a hedge of Agapanthus and other plants. Agapanthus have very thick and complex root systems and hedges of the plants have held together well in other parts of the garden.
An Agapanthus hedge has been planted above the house in very deep composted woody mulch
In very hot weather, I added a half cubic metre (0.65 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch into the recently planted vegetable / tomato enclosure. The mulch will assist with stabilising the soil and absorbing water during the heavy rain.
A half cubic metre (0.65 cubic yards) of composted woody mulch into the recently planted vegetable / tomato enclosure
I also began mowing the shady orchard. After a couple of hours and many litres (gallons) of sweat, the mower broke down and could not be restarted. I have to admit to a mild feeling of relief when the mower broke down.
Mowing the shady orchard began this week
In case I hadn't worked enough this week, the tree dudes arrived and I got them to cut a huge fallen branch into firewood lengths. The branch had fallen many months ago and I hadn't got around to that job. Despite the rain over the past few days, the leaves all burned off rapidly and with great heat.
A massive fallen branch was cut into firewood lengths by the tree dudes

Then on Friday, the rain arrived. At times the air was still hot and the torrential rain had me feeling as if I lived in a tropical rainforest.
The rain on Friday was torrential and the heat reminded me of the experience of a tropical rainforest
Even Mr Poopy had had enough of the rain and just wanted back inside the house!
Let me in! NOW!
On Friday afternoon, the rain ceased for a brief while. Then thick cloud rolled in over the mountain range. Then the rain began in earnest and it just continued raining all day Saturday and into early Sunday. It was an impressive storm!
Thick cloud rolled in from the south
On Sunday, the rain was no longer continuous. This time, the rain came in waves and we'd get a brief respite before the next wave of rain arrived.
On Sunday, the rain arrived in successive waves
Fortunately, it appears that so far, not much of the fruit is showing damage. Here is a sample of some of the produce from this week:
Cherries. It is a race to harvest the fruit before the birds get them!
Blueberries are ripening rapidly
The thornless blackberries in the enclosure are prolific. Don't count the blackberry jam before the harvest!
We've begun turning the broadbeans into bean salad. Tasty stuff!
The technical word as to the interaction between heavy rain and flowers is: Squooshed. However, never fear! There are still plenty of flowers for the blog photos:
The herb bed is looking good and this yellow flower on a huge stem has a few friends and they're putting on a good show

The mysterious Canary Island plant is now surrounded by feral carrots and onions
How amazing is this passionflower?
A bit of rain can't keep a good Pyretherum down
The Poppies have also responded well to the rain
The temperature outside now at about 8.15pm is 9’C (48’F). So far this year there has been 924.0mm (36.4 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 840.8mm (33.1 inches).