Monday, 22 May 2017

What, me worry?

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

Alfred E Neuman of Mad Magazine fame is a good source of sage advice. Here is one such example of his sage advice:
Alfred E Neuman of Mad Magazine fame provides sage advice*
Alfred’s catchphrase line is: “What, me worry?” And in uncertain times such as these, such a personal philosophy as espoused by Mr Neuman, is I reckon quite useful.

There have been times in my life when I have been in sore need of plain old good advice. And sometimes that good advice is not to be found anywhere. In those circumstances, not worrying and simply getting on with the job at hand and/or squaring up to the problem seems to work well for me. I reckon that Alfred E Neuman is onto something.

I don’t really know why good advice is hard for us to find, but I have rather suspected for a long time now that good advice is hard for us to obtain because the editor and I are not following the dominant narrative.

The dominant narrative is a collection of stories which people tell themselves which seeks to define the majority cultural practices of a society. Incidentally, those stories may be true or otherwise. The editor and I are hardly that far from the dominant narrative, yet we are far enough from it because we confuse the stuffing out of other people.

The confusion in other people about our lives most often expresses itself in the form of an interview which is conducted by other people. And the questions posed in that interview are remarkably similar regardless of the person asking them. In fact it is a fair thing to say that the questions that are asked of me regularly are identical. This identical questioning by different people cannot be a coincidence. I have already covered one of these questions in a previous blog essay (It costs a lot to live this cheap). That question is always asked: “So, how many days per week do you work?” I always answer that question honestly and then slowly guide the conversation around to how my situation is possible. If the person asking that question takes the time to understand how I achieved this income situation, they may be able to apply the lessons told to their own life and that is generally an excellent outcome for them.

However, this week I wanted to discuss another question that is regularly asked of me (but interestingly never to the editor). That question is: What will you do when you can no longer perform the physical work which is required around the farm?

For a start it is worth noting that underlying this question is a much deeper assumption which more or less says that the dominant narrative provides a useful role for people who are no longer able or prepared to perform work (i.e. retirement and going on cruises), which may not be available to me here at the farm (maybe because of the lack of boats nearby). And their expectation is that this situation will continue into the far distant future. I’d like to address that issue because it is important.

Recently, down here in the land of Oz, the retirement age for persons of my generation and younger was lifted to the age of 70. I feel that the unstated objective of that policy is that I may be unable to receive a pension before that retirement age. Therefore I will have to work until the age of 70, whether I am physically able to or not. Using Alfred E Neuman’s philosophy of not overly worrying, I have long since accepted this fate.

On the other hand, as time progresses, the knowledge of producing foodstuffs appears to me to be dwindling in the general population (following the dominant narrative). I also feel that the foodstuffs that are generally offered to the general populace is declining in quality.

So in answer to the question posed to me, my obscure and mysterious answer is: that I will be useful as long as I am useful. After that point, all bets are off! Until then, I will take a leaf out of Alfred E Neuman's book and 'why worry'?

Autumn is a time of harvesting and preserving the summer produce. It is a very busy time for us as long term readers of the blog will note, this year has been no exception. Winter on the other hand is a time of building or repairing infrastructure. This week, we have been working on the infrastructure.

The walkway above the rock gabion wall looked like this at the beginning of the week:
The walkway above the rock gabion wall looked like this at the beginning of the week
A day of excavations reshaped the garden bed which falls down to that upper walkway above the rock gabion wall. We didn’t excavate too far in one day because we uncovered a huge old tree stump. We’re becoming quite adept at removing tree stumps and in this instance we used a combination of the chainsaw and wedges to break apart the old tree stump. That job of removing the tree stump from the future walkway took several hours.
The path above the rock gabions was excavated this week
Then we began the long slow process of excavating soil so as to extend the rock gabion retaining wall. This is what the soil face looked like just prior to further excavations:
The clay wall ready to be excavated
After a couple of hours of further excavations, a whole lot of clay was removed from the excavation site.
A further couple of hours removed a whole lot of clay
A new rock gabion cage was constructed. For those who are curious, these rock gabion cages take us about two and a half hours to construct from three flat welded mesh sheets.
A new rock gabion cage was constructed
Then further excavations took place. This time I didn’t find any old tree stumps. Instead I found a huge floating rock. Geologists and engineers call these rocks by the technical name of “Floater” because they float in the clay. It took me a while to remove this floater and I used a combination of the electric jack hammer (solar powered, of course)  and hand tools to remove it from the clay. Alert readers will already understand that the floater will make an excellent addition to a rock wall!
A huge floating rock was uncovered in the further excavations
Eventually, the excavations were completed and I was exhausted, however I was able to place the new rock gabion cage in place. That rock gabion cage is now only waiting to be filled with rocks. It is fortunate that during all of those excavations that I unearthed a plethora of rocks.
The newly constructed rock gabion cage was placed into the newly excavated site
Fans of symmetry and order will note in the photo above that the rock gabion cage aligns perfectly with the existing rock gabion wall! This is one of the benefits of performing excavations slowly by hand.

A huge storm rolled over the mountain range this week. The large Bogong moths took refuge under the house verandas during the heavy rain, and so too did the stick insects. There are both huge brown and green stick insects and the other day I rescued this large green stick insect from the loving ministrations of the fluffy canine collective.
The author rescues a bright green stick insect from the jaws of the dogs
One of the reasons for all of the excavation works is that we intend to move the raised potato beds to that new flat terrace above the rock gabion walls. The potatoes in the raised garden beds have been a phenomenal success and over the past few weeks we have been harvesting tasty potato tubers as often as we need them.
We have been harvesting very tasty potato tubers from the raised potato beds
The autumn leaf change for the deciduous trees is almost done. This week the smoke bush put on a beautiful display of colour.
The red smoke bush puts on a great autumn display of leaf colour
As I was excavating soil this afternoon I couldn’t but help notice that the autumn sun caught this lone cosmos plant and the flowers were almost glowing with energy!
The autumn sun was captured by this lone cosmos plant with its many pink flowers
The temperature outside now at about 9.30pm is 11’C (52’F). So far this year there has been 360.2mm (14.2 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 344.0mm (13.5 inches).

* The image for Alfred E Neuman was lifted from the following URL:

Monday, 15 May 2017

Sympathy for Smaug

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

It is a truth universally acknowledged that dragons accumulate gold. A dragon is a mythical fire-breathing monster which is sort of like a giant flying reptile. Why a dragon would want to accumulate gold is a motivation that is beyond my understanding. However, dragons are mythical creatures after all and as such they don’t have to worry about the nitty gritty little details of life such as eating, finding shelter and paying taxes.

The author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a story of high adventure about a lone Hobbit (a mythical creature) who joined a band of dwarves (another type of mythical creature) who set out on a quest to plunder the accumulated gold which was being hoarded by a dragon who had the unlikely name: Smaug. The dwarves were motivated to set out on this adventure by a desire to reclaim lost property. You see, Smaug the dragon had allegedly misappropriated the dwarves stash of mad cash (gold). Of course we have to remember that Smaug was a dragon, and as such he could fly around causing mayhem whilst breathing fire, which brought unpleasant circumstances for those unprepared for such an eventuality. The friends and relatives of the dwarves had suffered this fate at the claws and fire breathing mouth of the dragon.

The hobbit was a more complex character because he hadn’t actually lost any gold to the dragon. In fact neither he nor his friends and relatives had even encountered a dragon before. As such his motivations for joining the band were a bit obscure. Perhaps the hobbit in question was bored or he was at a loose end one day and the opportunity for adventure arose, who knows?

Whatever the case may be, the merry band of dwarves and one hobbit headed off into the wilds and through many adventures and by dint of good luck, the band eventually arrive at the Lonely mountain and confront the dragon. Smaug was in no mood to hand over the gold. To cut a long story short, Smaug the dragon became annoyed at the audacious dwarves. Smaug  then flew out to destroy a nearby human settlement (as you do), where after much mayhem and destruction Smaug was killed by a champion bowman.

Shortly thereafter, every nearby community realised that the hoarded gold was no longer defended by the dragon and so they all sent any person, who could bear arms, off to get some loot.

The forest elves were one of the nearby communities lured by the prospect of all that unprotected gold. Of course the forest elves also helped the human settlement that was almost wiped out by the annoyed dragon (note to self: don’t annoy dragons) and that was a noble act. A separate army of dwarves headed out of the nearby Iron hills to help the small band of dwarves and hobbit adventurers who faced the awful prospect of facing a large forest elf/human army who wanted a share of the gold. The whole situation was a sticky mess and needless to say there was an inevitable clash where the surrounding land was again laid waste. The victors distributed the gold as they saw fit. Perhaps the meek don't inherit the gold. The funny thing is that prior to Smaug's demise, the forest elves, humans and dwarves all got along just fine.

Alert readers with a keen understanding of economics may realise that the sudden increase in the gold supply in those surrounding communities would have an inflationary effect. Gold would clearly not have been worth what it used to be!

To me it all seemed like a lot of hard work and serious discomfit, all for a bit of gold. Our society is much smarter than Tolkien’s fictional world because instead of using gold as a medium of exchange, we use money. And people are always concerned for my welfare in that regard because they occasionally offer helpful hints as to how I can obtain more money. It is very nice of the people to provide those helpful hints which have included: “you should offer accommodation”; “you should sell some of the produce at the local farmers market”; “you should run tours”; and "you should sub-divide your land".

Those suggested activities will indeed provide me with more money. However, if I were to spend my time pursuing those suggested activities I would have less time with which to pursue the projects that we do undertake at the farm, and which I take great pleasure in. The quiet enjoyment of the farm would also be lost.

It is at these times that I recall the words that were attributed to Alanis Obomsawin who wisely said: “When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.” I wonder if the dwarves holed up with Smaug’s accumulated gold after the demise of the dragon realised their dilemma.
Smoke haze in the air produced the most stunning sun rises this week
Smoke haze from large scale burn offs produced the most spectacular sun rise this week. The peaks of Mount Bullengarook which is in the middle of the above photo and Mount Blackwood which is to the right are just sticking their heads above the smoke haze. The clouds which settled in the lower parts of the valley are patches of very cold and very moist air which accumulated in all of the low lying spots.
Given the cold nights, it is a pleasure that the new wood heater is continuing to work well. We have almost completed the many repairs associated with that project. A cowl (a fancy word for a metal cover plate used with chimneys) now covers the rough plaster work where the wood heaters flue enters the roof space.
A white painted cowl now covers the plaster work where the wood heater flue passes into the roof space
The repairs are now complete to the wall where a hydronic radiator was previously located.
The repairs are now complete to the wall where a hydronic radiator was previously located
It may be cold outside, but it is toasty warm in the house. Anyway, cold weather has some undocumented benefits. Now that the days are colder, I am able to mow around that part of the orchard which is very close to the bee hive. Even still, the bees ventured from their toasty hive to check out what I was up to. Fortunately, I was not stung by the bees, and the mowing was able to be completed.
Cold weather allows me to mow around the bee hive without getting stung
Speaking of bees, the agapanthus flowers make great drought hardy nectar and pollen supplies for the bees. And I have huge numbers of these plants which the bees are very happy about. However, at this time of year the long stalks which the flowers sit atop tend to fall over and become a serious trip hazard!
Agapanthus flowers produce reliable and drought hardy sources of nectar and pollen for bees
As you can see in the above photo, the plants produce a lot of flower stalks. Using an electric hedge trimmer, we cut hundreds of flower stalks from all of the agapanthus plants. We then collected all of the flower stalks into many wheelbarrow loads. The wheelbarrow loads were then dumped into two slight depressions in the paddock. I then ran over the entire mass of flowering stalks with the mower. Chopping up the flower stalks has the effect of increasing the surface area of all of that organic matter. That should give the life in the soil a jolly good feed.
The flowering stalks from the agapanthus plants were run over with the mower
Last week we began repairing one of the tables which we’d originally coated with a surface treatment that basically made the table look orange. To be honest, the table looked a bit weird. So, last week that table was sanded back to raw timber, and the table has now had five coats of Tung Oil applied to the surface. I am typing this week’s blog on this desk and I reckon it now looks pretty good.
Five coats of Tung Oil were applied to the table that was sanded back to raw timber last week
Over the past few weeks I have been attempting to learn more about firewood and the science of heating with firewood. It is a complex matter and one which I have not yet mastered despite many long years of experience. Fortunately I received a recommendation from a commenter (kudos to Claire!) for a book on the subject written by Dirk Thomas who has had many longer years of experience as a chimney sweep. A chimney sweep is a person who is paid to maintain wood heating devices. The book is titled: “The Woodburner’s Companion: Practical ways of heating with wood”.

In the long distant past, I knew that it was a bad idea to attempt to burn unseasoned or damp firewood. I just didn't realise just how bad an idea it was, because the combination of steam, noxious gases, and low temperatures inside the combustion chamber are a total disaster for steel. The book provided many valuable insights, one of which was a quote from the US National Chimney Sweep Guild for a recommendation for using firewood with a moisture content of 15-20%. A fine recommendation! However, my next thought was: how the heck can you measure the moisture content of firewood? Well, wonder no longer my friends, because manufacturers produce these little digital devices which are able to measure the moisture content in timber (and it can be used for other materials too). I had to obtain one of those devices, and this is what I measured:
Score 35%: Green timber which had been sitting out in the rain
Score 31%: A disc of timber which had been cut from a stump a few months ago
Score 14%: A log of timber which is elevated off the ground, but still located in the rain, which was from a tree that had been felled over five years ago
Interestingly, most of my stored firewood was in the 15% to 16% range which makes for some very good quality firewood. The occasional piece of stored firewood measured 23%, and what was notable about those particular chunks of firewood was that the firewood displayed signs of previous termite damage. Clearly termite manure and the tunnels that the insects make, hold a lot of water. The driest item of timber was the dining table which scored 11% (kiln dried timber). Even the very old timber in the clothes washing horse which constantly sits in front of the wood fire scored 12%.

The core message which I now understand about firewood, is that if you want to use it as a heat source you have to have appropriate systems in place at every single step in the process, from tree to heat. Near enough is not good enough.

The wild birds here are forever mucking around and getting up to mischief. The other morning I spotted a Kookaburra sitting on the whirly gig which sticks up out of the worm farm sewage system. The Kookaburra was enjoying being spun around and around as the whirly gig caught the occasional breeze.
Kookaburra sits on the old (gum tree!) worm farm sewage system whirly gig
A neighbour with an old Medlar tree donated a huge batch of Medlar’s to us which we are slowly bletting (that is a fancy name for rotting / or more correctly fermenting) on every available flat surface of Fernglade Farm. Once the fruit has bletted, we will make a batch of tasty Medlar wine and another batch of Medlar jam. Yum!
A neighbour donated a huge batch of Medlar’s which we are slowly bletting and will eventually be turned into wine and jam
The autumn months are full of colour here and the deciduous trees are slowly doing their thing and they really are putting on a spectacular show:
A Japanese maple puts on a good show at the autumn leaf change
A smoke bush and sugar maple are also showing their true colours
Many of the trees in the orchard are now starting to lose their leaves in preparation for the winter months. Note the plentiful citrus
The orchard autumn colours are really quite lovely
There are still plenty of flowers around as can be seen by these newly planted salvia and alyssum plants
The bees even make a special guest appearance when the sun shines, albeit weakly
Who doesn’t love the very weird chrysanthemum flowers? Such a delight.
And lastly, the fungi are going feral and are all over the orchard
Fungi love nothing better than consuming timber
The temperature outside now at about 8.30pm is 9’C (48’F). So far this year there has been 344.0mm (13.5 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 339.0mm (13.3 inches).