Monday, 19 February 2018

Edge of Town

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

It is a nice thing living on the edge of town. I can use the amenities of the nearby townships. And the big smoke of Melbourne is only ever an hour away. But the forest and the quiet living up here always calls me back. It wasn't always that way, as I did grow up in the big smoke and previously lived an urban experience with a multitude of cafes on various street corners. One cannot argue against the logic of a quality coffee!

Working hard has never bothered me either, because I've always worked hard. In Melbourne I'd previously repaired, restored, and sometimes even rebuilt century old houses, all the while working full time jobs and studying part time. In addition, I have always kept up relationships with friends and (of course) the editor! Hard work is a way of life for both of us.

As an interesting side story, the other day I happened to travel past a house that the editor and I had largely restored from a brick shell. On the front steel Victorian era replica fence that we had laboriously welded from raw materials to original specifications, there was a board proclaiming that a builder was in the process of undertaking works within the house. I was rather upset and alarmed at the thought that a builder was tearing down all of the work that we had so carefully done. Around the back of the house I ventured into the old cobblestone alley way (for the old horse drawn night soil carts). I peered through a gap in the rear gate and to my relief the works being done seemed quite minor. Interestingly to me, I noticed that in the many years since our departure the new owners appear not to have performed much basic maintenance.

Maintenance is just one aspect of land. And you know, a person can live in a rural area without doing all of the hard work that the editor and I put into this farm. Plenty of people do exactly that every single day. Maintaining or extending infrastructure has a cost which can be either physical and/or economic. And the question that pops into my mind is: maintenance can be ignored for a while, but for how long? Often overdue maintenance seems to be a reason that people move on.

The author John Steinbeck wrote the fictional book: "Of Mice And Men", in the dark days of the Great Depression. One the characters, who to put it mildly - 'was a bit thick' - was always banging on about living off the fat of the land. Fat land is a fictional concept, because unlike hard work, it doesn't exist. And if it does exist, then I'm guessing that most people can't afford it.

Hard work is a good tool as it provides the opportunity to live comfortably on leaner (low-fat, fat-free but not low-carb) land. However, if you want to achieve a small surplus from land, then a person has to physically wrest that surplus from the land. Keep in mind that the activity may make absolutely no economic sense relative to what can be earned with your time from other sources. 

So when people ask me for my opinion about living in a rural area, all I have to offer them is that it is a beautiful and special experience, but it is also a lot of hard work and can be expensive.

I feel that the lyrics of the beautiful song "Edge of Town" written and performed by local band "Middle Kids" would be soothing to people fearful of all this talk about hard work!

"I cannot remember
Anything you say
When the streets are talking
Yeah, they call my name
And I walk a little further
I could go all day
And the trees are reaching
Pointing out the way"

Speaking of hard work, early Sunday morning we took the small white dirt rat Suzuki and the bright yellow trailer down into the bottom paddock in order to retrieve the final few loads of firewood.
The dirt rat Suzuki and bright yellow trailer head down the hill in order to retrieve the final few loads of firewood
Firewood collection has now been completed for the season! Yay! We have never before completed this task so early in the year nor have we ever put away so much firewood. This week we filled the firewood bay next to the house. That firewood bay is the sub-sub-agency branch of the CBF(TM) (Cherokee Bank of Firewood).
The author enjoys a quiet moment having completed the firewood activities for this year
Some people have all sorts of strange opinions about firewood and I always tend to ask those people: How is that brown coal used in electricity generators working for them? And I would never dare mention coal seam gas (the Australian version of fracking) in polite company as gentle folk may take serious offence.  I guess being able to manage and harvest our own energy resource can sound a bit too much like hard work for folks used to flicking a switch to warm their houses.

This time of year is all about the harvest. Firewood is just one form of harvest. The tomatoes have also begun ripening in quantity this week. We use a six tray (Fowlers Vacola) food dehydrator to dry the tomatoes and then store them in olive oil. Some of the tomatoes are eaten fresh though!
A collection of freshly picked heritage tomatoes for lunch
Before tomatoes are dehydrated, they are washed and dried the night before, and then cut into thirds in the morning and placed on the dehydrator trays. The process of dehydrating can take up to 14 hours, so we like to utilise the electricity generated by the solar panels.
A tray of freshly picked tomatoes which were in the process of being cut into thirds prior to dehydrating
About one and a third trays (in the photo above) of tomatoes once dehydrated almost fills up a large glass jar. We consume the tomatoes throughout the year, and the olive oil is used in cooking. Nothing goes to waste and the glass jars and lids are cleaned and used again the following year.
Six trays of dehydrated tomatoes almost fills up a large glass bottle
Observant readers will note the twelve bottles of blackberry jam that were also produced this week (blackberries are another harvest). And in the photo above on the right hand side is our very fancy yoghurt cooker which is happily keeping its contents warm at a steady 43'C / 109'F for twelve hours.

Speaking of fermenting and blackberries - The editor who is the brew-mistress here at Fernglade farm, produced three demijohns of blackberry wine to add to other flavours of wine and vinegars already fermenting. The dozen demijohns looked really cool bubbling away in the hot afternoon summer sun.
The dozen demijohns look really cool as they bubble away in the hot afternoon summer sun
The editor who is a general whizz in the kitchen, has also been pickling our huge supply of cucumbers (yet another harvest) in a mixture of white vinegar and home made apple cider vinegar (apples are also being harvested right now and one of the demijohns in the photo above is making apple cider vinegar). Dill seeds are used as flavouring (yet another harvest) for the pickles and they are very tasty!
Cucumbers and onions happily pickle away in white vinegar!
Far out, even I'm starting to feel that harvest time is full of hard work. I reckon we should take a quick intermission and check back in on the Middle Kids song:

"I got all muddled up and journeyed to the edge of town
And then the road cracked open
Sucked me in, then I went down
Now standing face to face
With the king of the underground
Some things just don’t add up
I’m upside down
I’m inside out"

Weren't those lyrics soothing? Long readers will recall that the new puppy - Ollie, who may or may not be a cattle dog, although it seems rather unlikely based in his behaviour - chomped through the spray hose for the dozen or so raised vegetable beds. The beds were unable to be watered and of course that coincided with a few dry and hot weeks. Last week I installed a new and very fancy, but ultimately repairable in the event of a chomp situation, watering system for the raised garden beds. It is an awesome system! But my favourite salad herb (Vietnamese mint) at the very end of the line was no longer being watered. This week I extended the watering system so that my fave plant can now receive daily watering.

If anyone is concerned that the plants here are overly watered, then it is worth remembering that this house has only tank water and those vegetable beds receive only ten minutes of water per day regardless of the insane summer temperatures. And that is it. Neither orchard is irrigated.
The Vietnamese mint now receives daily watering as the sprinkler system was extended
The garden tap system also received a major overhaul this week. The 12 Volt pump that was being used to provide pressure in that system is very good, but it has only a twenty minute duty cycle. A duty cycle is the fancy name to describe how long the device should be used. After twenty minutes, the pressure drops away because the pump heats up. This week I replaced that water pump with a much better 12 Volt water pump. And I also added a huge accumulator pressure tank. The pressure tank is 24 Litres / 6.3 gallons and it stores water at pressure and when a tap (spigot) is turned on water flows from the pressure tank and this saves the pump from having to switch on - that is until the pressure tank completely empties.

The author dismantles the existing garden water pump system
The new water pump and huge accumulator pressure tank is added to the garden water pump system
The author runs out of time and installs a dodgy quick fix to protect the pressure tank and pump from rain and sun
Oh yeah, we also harvested some of the almonds as they had begun splitting open on the tree. Fresh almonds are beyond good and they are one tasty nut. As an interesting side note, we're considering purchasing a three legged ladder which are usually used in commercial orchards so that we can pick the higher fruit.
Almonds were harvested this week
It is not all hard work here, although a lot of that gear does go on. For those who fear hard work, well...

"I came a little closer
To the truth that day
I heard it’s call
In the alleyway
And the one resounding answer
That I could take
Is that I don’t know nothing
And I got no way"

Scritchy the boss dog doesn't fear hard work and she appears to be winning over the new Fluffy Collective recruit:
Scritchy appears to be winning over the newest member of the Fluffy Collective - Ollie, via a Vulcan mind-bum meld
In other breaking animal (I mean insect) news, we managed to get a photo of the elusive blue banded bees who are hard at work harvesting nectar and pollen:
A blue banded bee harvests pollen and nectar from this lemon balm
And onto the flowers... They rarely grow without lashings of hard work!
Geraniums have bounced back over the past week or so as UV levels have decreased to merely VERY HIGH
Stunning lilies. I just can't ever remember planting this variety
Californian poppies make quite the splash
A silver banksia enjoys the sun and warmth
Agapanthus are ever reliable
Penstemon are likewise reliable
The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 15’C (59’F). So far this year there has been 106.6mm (4.2 inches) which is up from last week's total of 104.6mm (4.1 inches).

Monday, 12 February 2018

Man's not hot

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

Way back when I was a kid, some nefarious prankster stole my push bike. Back in those days, push bikes were expensive items and so they were clearly worth stealing. Having my push bike stolen was quite a set back for my shamefully capitalistic ways. You see, not only was my push bike used for transport between my house and everywhere else, it was also the source of my income, and this was a problem for me because income was not forthcoming from anywhere else.

Some people say that I work hard nowadays, but back then as a kid, at times I had three jobs in addition to school. That meant, two newspaper rounds in the morning and a chemist round in the evening. I particularly enjoyed the chemist round job as it involved delivering prescription medications to the elderly, and they were usually grateful enough to tip me. It was a well paid gig. Perhaps on the other hand, those elderly folks thought that I needed a bit of feeding up and so they gave me the tips so that I could purchase more food? Similar to my bakery superpower today perhaps?

Having three jobs at times, meant that food was always available. The local fish and chip shop used to sell tasty potato cakes, pickled onions, and dim sims. On the other hand, the local fish and chip shop was something of a 'den of iniquity' as it had a Space Invaders machine, and a lot of my hard earned cash was spent learning how to defeat marauding aliens. Anyway, the food always kept my energy levels up because I had to do a lot of riding around on my push bike.

But then some rotten person stole my push bike and ruined a good thing. The bike was locked up at the time, but I learned the hard lesson that bolt cutters could produce a return on investment for the purchaser!

Me, being me, I decided rather than purchasing a new push bike from scratch, which would have put a dent in my savings (and Space Invaders entertainment budget), I'd simply go to various bike shops around the area and haggle over prices for various components that made up a bike. Then I'd put the new bike together myself. And in a matter of days, I had a new push bike, and could continue my capitalistic ways.

In these enlightened times, adults now deliver newspapers and those newspapers are individually wrapped in plastic and thrown from a moving vehicle. As a comparison, when I delivered newspapers as a kid, and the sun had yet to make an appearance, and the rain was sometimes falling, I placed a households newspaper on the shelter of their front veranda. And I ask you, do pharmacies get children to burn off their packaging and rubbish in a backyard incinerator these days? Ah, fun times.

These days we're much more enlightened and push bikes are used in vastly different ways. In rural areas, push bikes have become a dirty word that provokes ire.

You'd think that issues such as: pollution; guns; arson; and/or restrictive local government would generate a lot of rural heat? Well they do, but nothing really pushes the rural hot button and unites country folk like: push bikes.

Now for the record, I am reasonably apathetic about the subject and take a live and let live approach. But then I also live on a dirt road, off another dirt road, and so no bike rider in their right mind would ever venture into this unfashionable end of the mountain range.

On the other hand, the more fashionable end of the mountain range has a nice sealed road leading up and over the mountain, and that road features a fourteen degree incline. Riders can challenge themselves on the long sweaty ride up to the mountain plateau, and then they can challenge themselves again at vastly higher speeds on the way back downhill to their vehicles again.

The problem as I see it is an expression of the larger problem of  'population pressure'. Population pressure has been defined as: "the sum of the factors within a population that reduce the ability of an environment to support the population". To put that definition into context, there are just too many weekend bike riders for the infrastructure in the more fashionable end of the mountain range to easily support them.

Unfortunately, there also seems to be something rather strange about that bike culture. From an outsiders perspective it can occasionally express itself to the locals as a highly competitive and aggressive culture, which does not win friends in rural areas. I have occasionally been unfairly abused by highly emotive push bike riders, and I tend to remark to the editor that: "Oh my! That one appears to be exhibiting 'roid rage (steroid use), don't you feel?"

There really is no easy answer to the problems of population pressure in this mountain range - and long term readers may recall that the hordes of 'leaf change' tourists will soon make an appearance now that Autumn is almost here.

Anyway, when I used to ride around on my push bike it was always for a practical purpose. As a contrast, every weekend a lot of energy gets used riding up and over the more fashionable end of the mountain range, and I'd love to put that energy to use hauling rocks or firewood! Alas, that is the very nature of a predicament!

Speaking of firewood, we've been cutting, hauling, splitting, and stacking firewood this week! And the daytime temperatures have been in the mid thirties Celsius (86'F), so every morning for the past few days we have been getting up at day break and putting in a few hours on that most important of farm tasks. One night, the overnight temperature didn't go below 27'C (81'F) but we're made of tough stuff and just got on with the job:
Far out, 6.43am and the outside temperature is 27'C / 81'F and the sun is barely above the horizon!
Two days of cutting and hauling seasoned firewood produced a tidy heap next to the already full main firewood shed - the CBF (Cherokee Bank of Firewood) flagship branch!
Two days of cutting and hauling seasoned firewood produced a tidy heap
The next day after another six and half hours work splitting, hauling, and stacking firewood without a break, the secondary firewood shed (the CBF sub branch) was full up to its eyeballs (and mine too):
The secondary firewood shed is now full
Harvesting firewood is now almost complete for the season. This is a good thing because the weather turned ugly that final day and a rain storm moved in across the valley. Wet firewood is not much good.
Just as the door to the full CBF Sub branch / firewood shed was closed, a rain storm moved in over the valley
The editor and I picked two huge bags of apples from a wild apple tree. The bags we collected the apples in are also used for our shopping at the supermarket. The bright primary colours have not faded after almost two decades of top hauling work!
The author shows off one of the two shopping bags full of wild apples which we picked this week
At these times the free song comes to my mind and as we picked those wild apples I was humming to myself: "If it's free, it's for me, and I'll have three!" Of course we broke our three rule as we harvested dozens and dozens of the apples. And of course as all right thinking people know, free apples means: Apple wine and apple cider vinegar!
The author smiles as he contemplates apple wine and apple cider vinegar using the free apples
Last week, the new dog, Ollie chewed right through the soaker hoses used to water the raised vegetable beds. Well done him. I'd long since been planning to replace those soaker hoses with a system that is durable and perhaps more importantly, repairable. Last week, I rushed down to the local irrigation shop and on a Saturday morning with the shop full of customers (who unfortunately arrived after me and were looking rather distressed at the waiting time), the bloke walked me through all the different options. And I repaid that patience by following his advice. This week I installed the new and much fancier irrigation system, and for the absolute life of me, I have no idea why I wasn't using this gear before. The system is now the whole next level of awesomeness!
Each raised garden bed now has its own individual irrigation sprayer which can be endlessly modified.
A close up of the individual irrigation sprayer in action
And Scritchy the boss dog has taken a firm paw with Ollie and is training him to be meek and obedient. I ask you, would you dare defy Scritchy pulling 'Angry boss dog face number three'?
Scritchy the boss dog gives the much larger puppy Ollie 'what for'!
The other evening I spotted this formidable creature on the back verandah. Ollie eventually killed the creature, but it went down fighting and managed to bite Ollie several times before its eventual demise.
A formidable creature appeared on the back verandah
I must get a wriggle on, but this is harvest time and there are just so many yummy food stuffs on offer. Here is a sample of some of the produce:
We leave the thousands of elderberries for the birds and they love them
JalapeƱo chili's. I'm honestly a bit frightened about these...
Long capsicum (peppers). Total 100% yummo!

Eggplants. I'm hoping they put on some serious size before autumn
A pumpkin over a watermelon. How often is that seen?

Corn on the cob. Next season I hope to replant some of this seed
The mid sized tomatoes are just beginning to ripen. How tasty do these look?
The birds appear to have missed these plums
An almost perfect European pear
The Asian pears refuse to be outdone and are just as tasty
The recent heavy rain and only Very High UV (down from Extreme ratings) has meant that the flowers have bounced back with a vengeance!
Geraniums and Nasturtiums make for a colourful display
Globe artichokes are the coolest colour flower
More Geraniums. I've nicknamed this variety: Stinky Red
Honey bees are enjoying the copious and hardy Agapanthus
The mint family of plants are flowering and the bee here is enjoying the Oregano
As a general rule I don't purchase cut flowers, and neither do I plant Eucalyptus trees near to the house (due to the fire risk). That is actually two rules. Anyway, with Valentines Day closing in upon us I planted a stunning Eucalyptus Ficifolia close to the house for the editors enjoyment and pleasure.
We planted a pink flowering form of Eucalyptus Ficifolia this week
Before we close out the blog, I just wanted to give a shout out to the excellent English rapper Big Shaq for his song: "Man's not hot" from which I ripped the title for this week's blog. An awesome song and total respect. Who can deny the sheer cleverness of the lyrics: "Two plus two is four
Minus one that's three, quick maths"?

The temperature outside now at about 8.45pm is 15’C (59’F). So far this year there has been 104.6mm (4.1 inches) which is up from last week's total of 103.8mm (4.1 inches).