Monday, 26 June 2017

Rodents the conqueror of nature

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If I had to use a word to describe the particular housing estate that the editor and I found ourselves in, I feel that that word would be: aspirational. Honestly from the street, you could smell the debt. The editor and I had parked the little three door dirt rat Suzuki vehicle in front of a huge two story house. That house was just one of many huge houses in an outer suburban housing estate. Of course if anyone chanced to miss the little dirt rat Suzuki, the neighbours certainly wouldn’t have failed to notice the bright yellow trailer.

Perhaps it would have helped matters if I’d dressed for the occasion. But I hadn't. Then again perhaps not, as even the dullest rats know that status is earned by not caring about status.

The editor and I sauntered up to the door and I pressed the buzzer so as to notify the residents of our presence. The door to the over-sized house opened and the owner took stock of the two people standing on his doorstep.

The very long dead Chinese master of strategy, Sun Tzu, recommends taking the initiative in uncertain circumstances. So I took the initiative and said in my most masculine and rural voice: “G’day mate. We’re here to pick up the water tank”.

The owner was clearly uncomfortable with the concept of selling his water tank because, rather than directly responding to me, he looked past me and about the streetscape as if taking in the scenario and checking to see whether the neighbours were observing this transaction. It was all very strange and uncomfortable.

He quickly recovered his wits and without introductions or even a handshake, he instructed the editor and I to meet him at the garage (of course we were not regarded as being worthy of a welcome into the house). The man quickly retreated into the house and the front door closed. The editor and I were unperturbed and we casually walked to the garage door and waited as instructed.

The whirring noise of a motor announced that garage door was soon to be raised to its full height. As the garage door was raised the editor and I could see the water tank that we had agreed to purchase from the man. The editor and I were happy with the water tank as it was in excellent condition and most importantly, very cheap. As the agreed $200 price changed hands, the man then said to us almost apologetically: “My wife wanted to sell the water tank”. I was acutely uncomfortable at the man’s shame at having to sell something and so the only reasonable reply that came to my lips was: “Right”. Whatever that means!

The editor and I decided without communicating the fact, to take charge of the situation, and as we moved to take physical possession of the water tank, the man said: “Do you need a hand with that?” Fortunately I’d already had time to assess the man’s capabilities in that regard: “Nah mate, we’re right from here. See ya round!” The man then closed the garage door and that was the last we saw of him. The water tank was easily manhandled and secured onto the bright yellow trailer and away we went with a second hand water tank for about a third the cost of a brand new water tank.

I was surprised that the man was so concerned about his loss of status at having to sell an unwanted item. Who cares about status? I certainly don’t and I’ve observed that rats, mice and other rodents are shrewd creatures because they couldn’t give a fig for status, and only tend to concern themselves with outcomes.

There is much truth in the saying “rat cunning”. This week I have been pondering the audaciousness of our rodent friends because they have managed to yet again to break into the supposedly rodent proof chicken enclosure. When that chicken enclosure was constructed two years ago, the editor and I went to extreme lengths to ensure that the rodents would be forever kept out. Steel and concrete were used in all sorts of cunning (or so we thought) ways in the construction. However, despite our best efforts, the rodents have outwitted us yet again and have simply burrowed a tunnel around a very deep concrete lined trench and after that feat, they then navigated under a very thick concrete slab. It is a very impressive feat.
Our rodent friends have yet again broken into the rodent proof chicken enclosure
It has been a while since I posted a photo of the happy chickens enjoying their deep litter mulch in the supposedly rodent proof enclosure. Anyway, here goes:
Happy chickens enjoying their deep litter mulch in the supposedly rodent proof enclosure
Neither the editor nor I have the slightest shame in selling any item here on the farm that serves no purpose. Everything is up for regular review (note to self: I must remember to keep working hard!). I imagined that we really didn’t have much on the farm that wasn’t being used. Anyway, sometimes things are so large and in front of your nose that you don’t notice them anymore. And such was the case with the old small wood heater in the cantina shed.

That small wood heater was taking up a huge amount of floor space and we’d only used it two or three times in about seven years. It was the sharp eyed editor who actually noticed the small wood heater and suggested removing and selling it.
A small wood heater was removed from the cantina shed
The flue (a triple layered steel chimney) which protruded through the roof of the cantina shed left a giant hole in the steel roof sheeting which had to be repaired. Fortunately we had a spare sheet of grey roof sheeting to hand and that was used to cover the hole in the roof. In the photo below observant readers will note that the replacement sheet is a slightly different colour than the original steel corrugated roof sheets. The strong UV sunlight over summer tends to fade colour paint on any steel corrugated roof sheets.
The roof of the cantina shed was repaired where the flue from the wood heater used to be
Of course, removing the flue for the wood heater also left a hole in the plaster inside the cantina shed ceiling.
Removing the flue for the wood heater also left a hole in the plaster inside the cantina shed
Observant readers will note in the photo above that just underneath the corrugated steel roof sheeting that there is a very thick fire blanket. This is a commercial product and not usually seen on domestic buildings. I was originally able to cover the entire roof of that cantina shed with a fire blanket because I had a left over roll of the stuff from the construction of the house, and that left over stuff was enough to do the entire roof of the cantina shed. It is also a very good insulating material. There is also a layer of wool insulation batts between the plaster and the underside of the fire blanket.

To repair the hole in the plaster I screwed in a small section of marine grade plywood.
To repair the hole in the plaster I screwed in a small section of marine grade plywood
Then a repair section of plaster was screwed onto the plywood and the joins were soon filled with plaster bog. Plaster bog as long term readers may know, hides a multitude of sins!
A repair section of plaster was screwed onto the plywood and the joins were soon filled with plaster bog
We also dug more holes this week with the hand auger. The holes will be used for treated pine fence posts so as to extend the tomato enclosure. Of course as the case may be, sometimes when digging holes you can hit a floating rock which has to be broken up, if you want any depth to that hole.
Sometimes you find rocks when digging post holes and they can be broken up
Soon all of the holes were dug. However we ran out of time to cement the treated pine posts into the holes and that will have to happen shortly.
Soon all of the holes required to extend the tomato enclosure were dug
Most of the fruit trees have now gone deciduous and they are all enjoying plenty of chilling hours. Chilling hours are defined as air temperatures below 7’C / 44.6’F. If fruit trees don’t get enough chilling hours, then they will happily grow, but they may not set fruit. And every fruit tree has different requirements as to chilling hours.It is also important to note that the chilling hours do not have to be consecutive.

I have observed that if some fruit trees have been put under considerable stress during the summer, they may not go deciduous. Walking around the orchard this evening I noticed an apple tree (in the next photo below) which had been severely punished by a very naughty wallaby. That apple tree has failed to go deciduous. Past experience has shown me that such fruit trees will generally not produce any fruit the following summer.
This apple tree has failed to go deciduous
Oh! The native birds here are very well fed and generally pretty happy with the conditions. I spotted this Kookaburra the other day. The laughing call of the Kookaburra is unmistakable and the bird in the next photo below was sitting on a kiwi fruit support keeping an eye out for any grubs or other insects.
I spotted this Kookaburra bird the other day
The mandarin trees are recovering from a wallaby attack a few years ago, but despite that, they have produced some very tasty fruit:
The mandarin trees are producing some very tasty fruit
Nothing beats the lemon trees for fruit at this time of year. Two of the lemon trees (Eureka and Meyer) are almost a decade old now and they are producing huge quantities of fruit. In previous years I have really struggled to know what to do with the huge glut of lemons (they were converted to lemon wine). In recent months I have been trading the lemons with a café in Melbourne for huge quantities of their used coffee grounds and the occasional coffee or lemon and coconut muffin. That is what I call rat cunning!
The lemon trees are producing vast quantities of fruit
I am using the huge supply of used coffee grounds as a fertiliser in the orchard. I simply throw the coffee grounds onto the ground in the orchard, and any trace of them disappears within two weeks.

Walking about the farm I notice that despite just having had the shortest day of the year this past week, there are still plenty of flowers to enjoy:
Tagasaste or Tree Lucerne are in flower
Some of the earlier rocket is producing flowers – and yummy leaves. I stagger the planting of that annual
Rosemary is still in flower and the blue flowers look great
This buddleia has escaped the vandalism of the wallabies and is producing great smelling flowers
The nicest flower of all is a Toothy flower
The temperature outside now at about 6.00pm is 6’C (43’F). So far this year there has been 400.2mm (15.8 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 397.0mm (15.6 inches).

Monday, 19 June 2017

Bring me my Chariot of fire

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Continuing my previous school tales:- The more English than the English high school, where I was unceremoniously transferred as a teenager, practiced compulsory sports for all students. Since I enjoyed distance running anyway, I joined the schools distance running team. The running team trained after school two nights per week and then competed all over the countryside on Saturdays. That school managed to consume a lot of my previously “free” time. Fortunately that loss of free time did not hinder my little capitalist ways, and I was able to continue working paid jobs. Unfortunately that meant that I had to get up earlier in the mornings for the daily newspaper rounds, and I hate early mornings!

Back in those days marketing was less sophisticated than it is today. A good example of that is that 'Way Back Then', adults used to lie to kids and tell them that they could 'Do Anything'. Competing in the sport of running, proves just how preposterous that lie is because there is always someone who is faster, or who can run further, than you. And it just doesn't matter what you or your parents may believe about potential running performance because every single week the placement results gave you a reality smack in the head!

Fortunately, such concerns were far from my mind because I was the second fastest runner in the school. The kid that was the fastest runner in the school was marginally faster than I was, but I knew deep down that he was just a better runner. Being a better runner, he never had any serious concerns about his hard won status as the best runner in the school. However for me, I discovered that being second best in anything is a cool place to be, because there is absolutely no pressure to constantly perform at your best. And who performs at their best all of the time? Especially first thing in the morning.

My favourite distance to run was 10km (6.2 miles) but I also occasionally ran 20km (12.4 miles). Over such distances, you get to enjoy a lot of free time in your own mind. Sometimes I used to sing songs in my mind that set a good cadence, and to me the experience is a lot like meditation. As a minor digression, in later years I was rather fond of the artist Moby's song, Bodyrock which had a thumping dance beat which suited my running pace. I have heard that some people struggle with that lack of noise when they are running (and swimmers too), but I am quite comfortable with the quiet of my own mind. As another interesting side story, the editor and I once walked a 130km (80 mile) forest walk over five days in the south west of this state carrying all our own gear on our backs. We headed off on that long walk with great expectations that we’d somehow have awesome thoughts and insights, but no, nothing materialised. Mostly I was thinking about when the next chocolate snack would be. And more importantly which chocolate snack would it be (edit: Chris always got the Turkish Delight because I didn't like it, but I told him that I saved it especially for him as a treat!) I reckon my time would have been better spent down at the local pub enjoying a tasty meal and a full pint of dessert stout! 

Some cheeky wag penned a story many long years ago about an anthromorphised tortoise racing an anthromorphised hare. The tortoise won that race against the much faster hare in what was an unlikely outcome. Clearly the author knew a thing or two about distance running, because a runner has to pace themselves and take into account their abilities and limitations. Over the long years of running, I knew many runners who like the hare, bolted away from the start line early and hard. However, after a short while, those hares were surprisingly easy for me to chase down as they ran out of puff (usually very early on). The tortoise’s strategy however, produces consistently good results. It is a bit of a shame that few people these days want to be identified as a tortoise. I'd be happy to be known as the little tortoise that could (clearly a pint of very excellent dessert stout may assist that imagery)!

Anyway, the more English than the English school trained me well for the workplace because a lot of big organisations have surprisingly competitive cultures. And many of those workplaces have lunchtime running teams which compete against other workplaces. I have spent many lunchtimes running around Melbourne’s botanic gardens. Some people may know Melbourne’s botanical gardens as a delightful historical garden with which to spend a few pleasant hours. I on the hand recall that botanical garden as being surrounded by a gruelling and fast paced running track (with an steep incline at one point) where corporate folks compete against each other for bragging rights. One year, the team that I was running for won. Just saying... (not that I'm competitive. Whatever!)

Over the years, I began running with older people (easier to win!!!) as part of the corporate world so I got to know plenty of them pretty well. I also noticed that a lot of them were showing signs of wear and tear from all that running, and it started me thinking about the process of entropy, and I was forced to consider my own future response to all of that wear and tear.

So it was that one day many years later, I found myself in the physiotherapists clinic seeking help for knee problems. That event was a turning point in my life, and I knew I had to let the sport of running go before it consumed me.

This week we have begun the process of expanding the berry and tomato enclosures. Wallabies are a local marsupial akin to a slightly smaller kangaroo and they love to eat all of the plants in those enclosures. Keeping them out requires some heavy duty fencing materials as they are quite shifty. Heavy duty fencing support materials means in this case, large treated pine posts cemented into the ground. Anything lesser than those posts and the wallabies can push the fencing over. They are a truly fearsome beast!
We sourced treated pine posts and cement which will be used to expand the berry and tomato enclosures
Installing the treated pine posts which are cemented into the ground means digging holes where the posts will be located. I use my hand auger for digging holes in the clay, and that tool produces a surprisingly clean and deep hole. Of course turning the hand auger takes a fair bit of effort on my part, but I find the physical work to be quite rewarding.
A hand auger is used to dig nice round deep holes for the treated pine posts
The hand auger also cleverly compacts the clay soil inside the auger where it can be lifted cleanly from the hole and relocated elsewhere. I usually dump the clay into a crate which I then carry to another location to use as fill.
The hand auger can also be used to cleverly lift the clay from the hole
Six of the treated pine posts were placed in the holes next to the berry enclosure and then they were cemented into place. Observant readers will note in the next photo that the treated pine posts are a lot higher than they need to be. These posts will be cut down to a height which is consistent with the other fence posts in the future. Readers concerned about any potential waste will be pleased to learn that nothing goes to waste here and we have a future project in mind for those treated pine off cuts.
Six of the treated pine posts were then placed in the holes and the cemented into place
Another two posts were placed into holes and cemented into a garden bed today. One of the posts will be used to relocate a garden tap which is currently located in the walking path. The other post will be used to anchor a bushfire sprinkler. Incidentally the post that has the garden tap will also have a hose hanger to get the 30m / 100ft hose / trip hazard, off the walking path.
Two other posts were cemented into a garden bed so as to remove a water tap from the path and also to anchor a bushfire sprinkler
Unfortunately, the 12 Volt water pump which is used to pump water to that particular garden tap and bushfire sprinkler failed today without warning. So far I have tried about five different types of 12 Volt water pumps and other than one particular water pump which is performing very well, I am reasonably unimpressed with the other types of 12 Volt water pumps in terms of their quality and longevity. The water pump story is quite a frightening one, because every time I upgrade a water pump, the cost doubles over that of the previous water pump. On the other hand, if the water pumps don't work, they are a complete waste of money.

We adjusted the rocks in the garden bed below the berry enclosure and next to the machinery shed. The reason for that adjustment is that some of the soil had been washing off the garden bed and flowing over the rocks holding back that soil. The original rock wall was placed too close to the sloping garden bed to be effective in holding the soil in place. All of the rocks were moved away from the slope of the garden bed by about 25cm / 10 inches so that a more defined lip would catch any falling soil.
The rocks in the rock wall below the berry enclosure were moved further away from the slop to provide a more defined lip
A good dose of composted woody mulch was then applied to that steep garden bed. Previously we had applied a layer of mushroom compost. However over time, we observed that composted woody mulch is a much better material for a steep garden beds as it initially produces a waxy substance which binds the composted woody mulch together. This waxy substance stops the top soil from sliding off a steep garden bed. Mushroom compost on the other hand produces fines which get washed downhill, only to end up on the walking path.
A good dose of composted woody mulch was then applied to that steep garden bed
Water is everything here and I noticed that a garden hose which was 30m / 100ft long had developed cracks and was in danger of failing. Anticipating that this may have had unpredictable and very wet consequences for the editor who may have been using the hose at the time, I took action! This is not a good situation for me and so the failing hose was replaced. It is interesting to me that the original hose was only slightly more than ten years old, but the UV in the summer sun here is quite extreme and it breaks materials down very quickly. Anyway, as hoses have been failing over time, I have been replacing them with more durable hoses that can be expected to have a much longer life than ten years.
A failing hose was replaced with a more durable hose this week
Observant readers will note that in the photo way way way above of the expanding the berry bed, a raised potato bed was in the process of being dismantled. And that means fresh home grown potatoes were harvested from the soon to be completely dismantled raised garden bed. Yum!
We have been harvesting home grown potatoes (and baking bread)
The citrus trees produce well during the winter here although they have been very slow to ripen for some reason this year. The first grapefruit for the season is almost ripe, and look at how many more fruit are on that tree.
The first grapefruit for the season is almost ripe
And I leave you with some lovely winter flower photos from about the farm:
African daisies put on a good show
I believe this is some sort of native fireweed which a daisy (Senecio)
The temperature outside now at about 8.30pm is 9’C (48’F). So far this year there has been 397.0mm (15.6 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 394.8mm (15.5 inches).