Monday, 18 September 2017

Ship of Fools

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This week, two chickens have become broody. A broody chicken is a chicken that sits in place for about three weeks. Underneath that hot and sweaty, broody chicken, is a clutch of eggs which the broody chicken is keeping nice and toasty warm. In a chicken enclosure with a rooster, the fertilised eggs would eventually hatch and the broody chicken may take those young chicks under her wing. I do not have a rooster and so the eggs are not fertilised. Chickens still go broody whether the eggs are fertilised or not.
Two broody chickens face off against fluffy head the Silky Australorp cross who wants to lay an egg
In the above photo you can see that the black chicken known as “Fluffy Head” wants to lay an egg. Fluffy Head wants the large grey chicken (Boss Plymie, the Plymouth Rock) and/or the small grey chicken (a Silkie) to keep her egg warm during the three week incubation period. Chickens are quite clever creatures in their own way, because they share the responsibilities involved in raising new chicks.From what I have observed over the years of their behaviour, they seem to have an organised roster system between them all for that purpose.

However, it is not all nice in the world of chicken, as some of the social arrangements of the chickens can be pretty brutal. For example some of the “cool kids” in the chicken enclosure have never gone broody. And I have reports from friends who raise chicks, that some hens will actively harm and/or kill chicks that are not their own. The world of chicken is indeed a complex place full of intrigue.

So in that world of chicken I noticed the other evening, that I have somehow managed to trap a lone mouse into the rodent proof enclosure. How the mouse came to be in the apparently rodent proof enclosure is a sad tale for the mouse.

You see, a few months ago, the local mice were looking for an easy feed and so they burrowed a tunnel under the very thick concrete slab and broke into the chicken enclosure. Those mice enjoyed massive night time parties for a few weeks because they'd hit the food jackpot. The mice enjoyed free access to as much grain and clean water as they could scoff down every night. Of course during the day, the mice were unable to freely roam inside the chicken enclosure because the chickens would kill and eat them (not necessarily in that order). Chickens are most certainly not vegetarians!

“We're setting sail to the place on the map
from which no one has ever returned
Drawn by the promise of the joker and the fool
by the light of the crosses that burned.
Drawn by the promise of the women and the lace
and the gold and the cotton and pearls”

The mice were reasonably canny though, because as the morning sun appeared in the sky, they exited the chicken enclosure via their tunnel. The chickens and the mice were happy with the arrangement, and nobody ever got eaten. Unfortunately, I was not happy with the arrangement as the mice were eating the chicken’s grains, which cost me my hard earned $.

The mouse situation was easily resolved. Many weeks ago, I mixed up cement at the start of a work day and poured it into the tunnel that the mice had dug. Then I poured even more cement over the general area where the mice had managed to get access into the chicken enclosure. The mouse problem was solved, for now.

Little did I realise at that time, that I’d somehow managed to trap a mouse inside the – now once again – rodent proof chicken enclosure.

“It's the place where they keep all the darkness you need.
You sail away from the light of the world on this trip, baby.
You will pay tomorrow
You're gonna pay tomorrow
You will pay tomorrow”

Inside the chicken enclosure there is now one rather nervous mouse! The mouse has plenty to eat and water to drink, but it can’t escape the enclosure and it has to hide from the chickens during the daylight hours. It’s trapped with no immediate possibility of escape.

“Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools. No, no
Oh, save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
I want to run and hide right now”

The brilliant and long since deceased Mark Twain once quipped that: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” In last weeks blog comments, there was a minor discussion about how the future of the electricity grid would look. As a general rule, I don’t put much faith in peoples plans because plans are quite simple to make, but very difficult to implement, and so I dismissed the visions that were being served up to me in the comment section. My reaction was probably baffling for people who are used to being comforted by the thought that someone, somewhere, has a plan about some matter that requires a plan (maybe like the government, or 'they', whoever that is).

I’ve noticed that plans are very soothing to people and they are regularly thrown about in the media. However, as the Australian punk band Regurgitator sung in their modern classic song, Bong In My Eye: “How can I f&*# the system, when I’m sitting on the couch? I'm not a threat, not a danger, when I'm stuck inside the house.” An honest observation from the irreverent band and perhaps more relevant to the story than you would at first think!

The mouse probably has a plan to escape from the rodent proof enclosure, but the question remains, can the mouse implement the plan? Or is it too comfortable on the couch?

“Avarice and greed are gonna drive you over the endless sea
They will leave you drifting in the shallows
or drowning in the oceans of history
Traveling the world, you're in search of no good
but I'm sure you'll build your Sodom like you knew you would
Using all the good people for your galley slaves
as you're little boat struggles through the warning waves, but you don't pay
You will pay tomorrow
You're gonna pay tomorrow
You're gonna pay tomorrow”

With winter on the way out, and spring on the way in, the weather this week has been very changeable. Some days were extra windy, and one night a huge branch fell from a very large tree. It was very thoughtful of the forest to provide us with free firewood!
Big winds dropped the top off this tall tree. I call that free firewood!
The next minute, the spring sunhsine was glorious to behold. Spring sunshine has an almost sparkly glint, and the plants eagerly reach up to the sky to receive that post winter warmth.
Spring sunshine sparkles
Winter means that the insects are absent or in hibernation and their continual droning noise is absent. However by spring, the native and European bees all begin buzzing around the farm enjoying the feed from the early spring blossoms:
A native and European bee enjoy the early spring blossoms of this apricot flower
The dogs are likewise happily cooking their heads in the spring sunshine, even when an ominous storm is lurking in the background.
Toothy cooks his head in the spring warmth whilst an ominous storm builds over the valley
Fortunately the editor and I had completed repairs to the path around the now much larger tomato enclosure before the storm hit. That path took an additional half cubic metre (0.65 cubic yards) of local crushed rock with lime. All weather paths are an invaluable chunk of infrastructure on a farm.
The path around the recently extended tomato enclosure was repaired
Then the spring storm landed. The rain was torrential for about an hour.
A short, sharp and very heavy spring rainfall landed at Fernglade Farm
Most of that heavy rainfall was captured in the soil, and the above rainfall is directed into a swale (the fancy name for a ditch which slows water allowing it to infiltrate into the soil) just below the tomato enclosure.
The run off from the recent very heavy rainfall is directed into the swale below the tomato enclosure
I have not mentioned the rock gabion project - which is located behind the wood shed - for a while now. Rock gabions are a technology for retaining soil on steep embankments, and they are usually constructed from a steel cage which is filled with randomly sized rocks. On the farm we have a combination of steep embankments, lots of rocks, and a need for rock gabions. Some may call that a perfect storm? Whatever, rock gabions are enormously strong and I reckon there is a real beauty in their form. This week we finally filled the fourth rock gabion behind the wood shed.
The fourth rock gabion was filled this week

The editor was joking that sewing up the upper edge of that completed rock gabion with heavy duty steel wire was a good use of the sewing skills that she learned in home economics at school! I certainly had to learn quickly in order to keep up with her.

We then constructed the fifth rock gabion cage from some scrap and a few sheets of welded steel mesh. The two sheets of welded steel mesh were bent using our leg muscles and a straight edge which was provided by the tiles on the fire retardant veranda.
Two sheets of welded steel mesh were used to create a new rock gabion cage
After a couple of hours work (and another change in weather) a brand new fifth rock gabion cage was sitting in place on the ever extending rock gabion wall. All we have to do now is fill that new steel cage with more rocks!
A brand new rock gabion cage awaits to be filled with more rocks
Did I mention that this season we have a lot of lemons? Eighty seven lemons were apparently picked and the lemon trees look the same to me. Fortunately, I have craftily worked out a way to convert lemons into muffins (oh, they're good!) At this time of year, we generally press a whopping great big mass of lemons for their juice which is used in cooking, preserving and wine production for the remainder of the year. This is a good start.
Plenty of lemons for juicing
Juicing huge quantities of fruit is very easy, if you have a quality fruit press. The entire job takes less than half an hour.
A fruit press converts lemons into lemon juice for use in cooking, preserving and wine making
We have again started some of our summer vegetable seeds inside the house. We always use a mix of saved seed and purchased organic seeds as the germination rate of the seeds is very high (at a guess I reckon it is above 80%). This year we are experimenting using egg crates sitting in plastic trays to raise the seeds in. There is one seed per egg holder and each egg holder has a hole for the roots to exit and the water to enter. We figure that as the seedlings grow we can cut apart the egg crate and simply plant the chunk of crate with its seedling outside in the tomato enclosure thus incurring less transplant shock than in previous years. We don't really know how it will turn out and for all we know, it may not work.
Tomatoes and eggplant seeds were started this week
As is usual, I would like to conclude the blog with some photos of the many flowers growing about the farm:
Apricots are beginning to blossom this week. They are second to the almonds which precede them (I appreciate the trees considering the intricacies of alphabetical order!)
This hyacinth bulb is producing beautiful flowers
Respect the hellebore!
Jonquils make up for their diminutive size with sheer mass
Daffodils are in showy clumps all over the farm
The very first rhododendron flowers appeared this week
Can anyone guess what this intricate stunner is?
The final words of the week go to the band “World Party” for their genius and truly outstanding 1987 song “Ship of Fools” from which I borrowed the lyrics from for this weeks blog. Total respect guys!

“Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
Where's it comin' from?
Where's it goin' to now?
It's just a, It's just a ship of fools”

The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 7’C (45’F). So far this year there has been 665.8mm (26.2 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 641.6mm (25.3 inches).

Monday, 11 September 2017

Forward to the Past

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

The rooms in the hotel had a faded glory as if their best days were far behind them, but they were still clean and orderly. The building was constructed in the 19th century and it was holding its age well. And underneath all those years was a certain understated elegance and civility. That business could not be faulted upon as the service was smart and impeccable. And yet behind the reception desk where a person who wore a smart uniform and assisted foreign travellers with their small concerns, there was a sheet of paper which notified guests of the various times when load shedding was to be expected.

The time was late last century, when the editor and I were travelling in the city of Kathmandu in Nepal. The hotel was a very elegant and lovely old establishment which had clearly been catering to foreign tourists for at least a century. It was obvious to me that the establishment was very comfortable in its skin. And yet here was this mysterious memo stuck to the wall behind the reception notifying guests of impending and regular acts of load shedding. This load shedding business was all rather a mystery to the editor and I.

Fortunately for the editor and I, the staff at the hotel were used to dealing with foreign travellers, and as the The Eagles song “Hotel California” belts out, the staff were: “programmed to receive”. We politely asked the simple question: “Excuse me, but can you please explain to me what is load shedding?” Such a simple question was responded to with an even simpler answer: "Ah, this means that the electricity is cut at certain times and on certain days, sir."

All was now clear as mud. The editor and I were travelling in a third world country, albeit a very beautiful country with breathtaking scenery. We were intending to walk around in that country for a couple of weeks, and it appeared that the local authorities regularly cut the power off to parts of the city. The possibility was quite unfathomable to us! And the question remained: How could anyone even think that we were a load to be shed? But then we were a load to be shed because the memo said so, and the unthinkable became the thinkable! We were shed on schedule!

Fortunately the load shedding didn’t affect the excellent food to be found in Kathmandu, and I can state for the record that the Himalaya mountain range did not get any smaller.

Nepal had other surprises for me. Coming from Australia, which is a relatively flat continent, it never occurred to me that a person could walk uphill continuously for six hours. Far out! Strangely enough you could also purchase sugary soft drinks and chocolate bars in the most remote corners of that country (Yay for donkey freight!). Fortunately the load shedding didn't impact upon the availability of chocolate bars.

Of course the editor and I comforted ourselves that we lived in a first world country (in the worlds most liveable city no less) and inconveniences such as having the electricity supply regularly cut off should not be expected in a first world country.
I noted earlier this year, that the powers-that-be decommissioned a coal fired power plant (Hazelwood) which apparently generated 25% of the states electricity. Well done. In about five years time, the state to the north of here is planning to also shut down their third largest coal fired power station (Liddell). If I had to give the governing powers a score card for this strategy I’d score them 10 out of 10 for environmental impact but 1 out of 10 for power supply resilience.

The main problem for resilience is that electricity demand by the population continues to increase because each of these two states are adding by way of immigration approximately an additional 100,000 people each year to the capital cities (Melbourne and Sydney). And those people will probably want to use electricity.

The local electricity story does not end there. In 2016, the state to the west of here had the electricity linkage (South Australia interconnector) to us severed, due to a severe wind storm which toppled the electricity pylons. It was a most impressive wind storm (but no match for Irma). And strangely enough just before the end of 2015, the state to the south of us had the undersea cable (Basslink interconnector) severed for unknown reasons and those repairs took about six months. Needless to say, Bass Strait is one of the roughest stretches of water on the planet. Spare a thought for the poor folks living in that state to south because they rely on Hydro generators for their electricity and were in the midst of a drought and their dams got very low indeed.
Oops! The South Australian interconnector in 2016 was not looking so healthy. Source ABC
People must be taking notice of these changes because I have read articles suggesting that “load shedding” is now a distinct possibility in Australia, and that is despite living in a first world country.

I won’t even mention other articles suggesting that the simplest way to save money on your electricity bill is not to use electricity in the first place (actually yes I will).

Woman, 32, cuts $5,400 from her annual power bill - and reveals her tips for how YOU can do it too

I have not lived in a house connected to the electricity grid since 2010. The house here has a small off grid electricity system that utilises batteries which are charged entirely from the sun using solar photovoltaic panels. It has taken about seven years of tweaks, alterations and additions to our off grid system to make the most of that system. In addition, we have had to modify our behaviour to live optimally with this system.

An off grid solar power system makes no financial sense whatsoever, because I reckon for the small amount of electricity we do use (which is substantially less than most people), we pay about $0.85 per kWh. People connected to the mains electricity grid pay around about $0.31 per kWh and enjoy access to substantially more electricity supply (unless they are a load to shed). But from a resiliency perspective and an environmental perspective an off grid solar power system makes a whole lot of sense. And at least I’m yet to see any notices stuck on the kitchen wall proclaiming regular load shedding for this here household. Of course that does not mean that there will be no outages should anything go wrong!

The weather earlier this week was been feral cold. There have been more incidents of snow falling last week and I reckon over this past fortnight I've seen more snow falling here regularly than I can previously recall. Nature puts on such a good show when storms roll up the valley from the south:
Nature puts on a good show when storms roll up the valley from the south
What is it snowing again? I started to get a bit blasé about snow. Actually that is an outright lie! I loved the snow, and it was so exciting to see snow fall even when there was work that I should have been doing. What can I say, life is short and snow here is rare!
Seriously, how good does this snow fall look?
With the regular snow falls I got stuck into some work which kept me out of the freezing weather conditions. One such project was correcting a minor problem inside the chicken enclosure. When I constructed the chicken enclosure I attached a hook to the wall. From that hook I hung a crate which I intended to use for the purpose of removing soiled bedding straw from the chicken enclosure.
Inside the chicken enclosure there is a crate hanging from the wall which is used to remove soiled bedding straw
The chickens however, had other plans in store for that crate. The naughty chickens decided to roost at night on the crate. Sleeping chickens tend to deposit a lot of manure into their bedding straw. The crate was continually covered in soiled bedding straw and manure, and from my perspective it was remarkably unappealing to use for its intended purpose, and so it became an unofficial chicken roost. 

I decided to formalise the chickens arrangement.
A steel bracket with a plywood base was constructed out of scrap materials
A more formal roost was constructed out of scrap steel and plywood. The arrangement was then installed inside the chickens enclosure. The fluffy chicken collective approve of their new roost and the crate is now not covered in chicken manure and soiled bedding.
The fluffy chicken collective approve of their new roost
As the weekend arrived, the sun shone and the weather warmed and we were able to get outside to do some other work around the farm. 

When the house site was cut into the side of the mountain, we asked the excavator driver to push some of the many large rocks down the hill. One such collection of jumbled rocks presented an opportunity to create a round raised garden bed all the way down below the house. Now I have to mention that these rocks were huge, and a twenty tonne excavator can flick them around with ease. However, all the editor and I had to use was a six foot steel wrecking bar and some chocks to lever the rocks into place. Now a clever and long dead bloke by the name of Archimedes apparently said: "Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the earth". That dead dude knew what he was talking about! Unfortunately my reality is closer to that of Sisyphus.
Give me a place to stand, and I shall move some huge rocks
The new rock garden bed took 1 cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of a 50/50 mix of mushroom compost and composted woody mulch. And into that new rock garden bed I planted a bare rooted common walnut and some hardy geraniums. Intriguingly, I also discovered by sheer chance another similarly sized stone circle nearby, although this one I had no hand in building...

I reckon the time for planting has almost come to a close and so we planted out a huge variety of cuttings and new plants this past week. In addition to that planting, we also moved a number of plants that were badly sited:
A number of blueberries were planted inside the tomato enclosure
A few gooseberries and cuttings were planted inside the tomato enclosure
A hedge of Chilean guavas were planted inside the tomato enclosure
Plantflation has struck down under! Recently I decided to add several Japanese maples into a large garden bed. However, I discovered to my utter horror that these plants now retail for far more than I had ever intended to pay for them. So I limited myself to the purchase of only three additional Japanese maples and they were planted out a few days ago.
An overstory of Japanese maples was planted into a garden bed this week
Every year, the farm teems with life as more birds, insects and animals turn up for a feed. The sheer variety of bird life on the farm never ceases to amaze me. This week I spotted a pair of Eastern Rosella's which are about as colourful a parrot as you're ever likely to find:
A pair of Eastern Rosella's in flight
But Eastern Rosella's are not King Parrot's are they, and I've been told that it is good to be the King...
A pair of King Parrot's in flight
Despite the recent snow, spring must be here because the flowers are really starting to bloom:
The beautiful smelling Daphne is now in flower
Daisy's are producing lots of blooms
The editor spotted this early Grape Hyacinth
Sweet colts foot which is apparently a herb used in herbal tobacco is in flower
The Hellebore's always put on a good display
The summer heat hardy geraniums are beginning to produce more flowers
And I reckon one of the best flowers of all is this rare and very useful Yellowus Ferngladeii trailer
 me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.
Read more at:
Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.
Read more at:
Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world
Read more at:
The temperature outside now at about 8.30pm is 10’C (50’F). So far this year there has been 641.6mm (25.3 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 620.6mm (24.4 inches).