Monday, 17 July 2017

Third filter theory

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Long term readers will recall my sordid love affair with the coffee beverage. Well, sad times have hit Fernglade farm because today the espresso coffee machine died. This is a total latte disaster. Now in such situations some people may fall into a funk. I am not one of those people. Instead I say, let’s get funky! And so this week I’ve shamelessly borrowed lyrics from the most excellent English modern soul musical collective band: Jungle, with their song: Busy Earnin'. Without further ado, let’s get funky.

“So you come a long way (Huh, woo-hoo)
But you'll never have me
Never have things for a normal life
It's time to busy earnin'
You can't get enough”

The government run broadcaster in Australia recently aired a three part television series called: “The war on waste”. This particular three part series has been enormously influential and it has certainly captured the imagination of the public. I have been surprised at the sheer number and diversity of people who have discussed this program with me. Of course, I try not to produce any waste at all here as waste appears to me to be a form of wasted income. And who would seriously waste income?

“You think that all your time is used
Too busy earnin'
You can't get enough”

Anyway, the editor and I were at a friends house a few weeks ago and we were all discussing the war on waste series. As part of that discussion an amusing story about an almost electrocution incident involving a vacuum cleaner was told. The vacuum cleaner had apparently suddenly and rather catastrophically failed.

Our friends mentioned that they were now using another machine. Apparently this other machine was no longer performing as well it used to.

Now I know a thing or two about small appliance repairs. And for the record, I too have destroyed a decade old high quality vacuum cleaner. I call the lessons learned from my particular vacuum cleaner incident: The third filter theory.

The third filter theory states that: “for any machine that moves air or fluids, there are always more filters than a reasonable person would expect”.

As an interesting side note, I believe that part of the greater waste problem (which we are now at war with) arises because as a society we fail to maintain the stuff that we actually do have. I am very diligent about maintaining the stuff here because to me waste is wasted income. As a caveat though, I have to be aware that things actually need to be maintained. And sometimes I am blissfully unaware that maintenance is required on an item of stuff here at the farm.

My first brush with the third filter theory was that years ago I had a very high end vacuum cleaner (which I alluded too earlier). I diligently maintained two filters on that machine. I was not aware of the third filter, and after a decade of use of that machine, that third mystery filter was completely blocked. Eventually the motor in the machine overheated due to the blocked filter which caused black smoke and a rather unusual acrid smell to arise from the now very deceased vacuum cleaner. And I had created expensive waste.

So, when my friends told me about problems with their vacuum cleaner, I suavely mentioned my third filter theory and said that I’d be happy to have a look at their machine. Sure enough after a brief inspection of the machine, I discovered a filter which was almost completely blocked. A quick clean of the filter and the machine was working as good as new. That created no waste, except for the rather intriguing gunk in the blocked filter which for health and safety reasons, I didn’t examine too closely!

That was my good deed for the week and I rather felt that the Universe now owed me some bonus points as a result. Apparently not so!

“And I get always
But I bet it won't change, no
Damn, that's a boring life
It's quite busy earnin'
You can't get enough”

A few days ago, I noticed that the espresso coffee machine sounded differently than what I was used to hearing. Then I noticed that the extraction process (that is a fancy term for pushing pressurised water through compressed coffee grounds) was much slower than it had been in the past. I thought to myself, I can do small appliance repairs, and so I took a look at the parts and components diagram supplied with the coffee machine (note that these diagrams are a rare item these days). I noticed that after the water pump there was a part labelled as a “shower head”. Well less abstruse language would possibly describe a shower head by another less technical name which is a: “filter”. Filters of course need to be cleaned from time to time and this machine has been in constant operation for at least a decade without cleaning that filter / shower head.

I removed the filter only to discover this horror (squeamish folks are recommended to move past the photograph immediately below, because serious dirt is coming at you – you were warned!)
The shower head or filter in my coffee machine was thoroughly blocked
I should note that the instructions supplied with the machine implicitly stated that the shower head was to be regularly cleaned. Alas for my poor reading comprehension, because the blockage in the shower head caused the water pump inside the coffee machine to fail. The third filter theory strikes yet again!

Fortunately I have averted creating too much waste because I was able to track down a new water pump today and hopefully I should be able to install the pump within the week. On a less positive note, the editor and I are left bereft without morning coffee for one whole week (and can’t get enough coffee!) – and I for one am most certainly not a morning person!

“You think that all your time is used
Too busy earnin'
You can't get enough”

There must be something in the water (algae?), because this past week I replaced another faulty water pump which was used for garden taps and a bushfire sprinkler. Over the past few years we have been experimenting with water pumps and whilst the third filter theory always applies, my other general observation with water pumps is that you get what you pay for. Cheap water pumps appear to not work for very long without failing without warning, even those that have regularly cleaned filters.
Toothy assists with replacing a faulty water pump used for garden taps and sprinklers
Whilst I was replacing the faulty water pump, I also decided to replace the ¾ inch water pipes leading away from that water pump. The reason for replacing that water pipe is that in recent years I have been ensuring that the infrastructure here is easily inspected, maintained and repaired.

The original water pipe was buried so deeply that if it had leaked anywhere or any join had failed, then I would not be able to easily identify the cause of the failure – and that situation makes things much harder to repair and possibly also creates a lot of waste in the process.
The author lays a new water pipe in a shallow trench. Note that the water pipe is protected by the much larger and stronger pipes
Part of that simplification process also involves moving garden taps and sprinklers away from walking paths where they can by accidentally knocked into. In addition to that, I have been mounting garden taps and bushfire sprinklers on very sturdy treated pine posts which are cemented into the garden beds. The posts are expected to have a very long lifespan in those conditions. I finished the job as the sun set this evening.
The garden tap and bushfire sprinkler prior to relocation into a garden bed
The garden tap and bushfire sprinkler are now anchored to sturdy treated pine posts which are cemented into the garden bed
Observant readers will note that in the above photo the 30m / 100ft garden hose is now hanging from a sturdy steel hanger off the treated pine post instead of laying around on the ground.

Speaking of treated pine posts, this week we cemented into the ground, the many treated pine posts which will be used to hold fencing so that we can increase the size of the tomato enclosure. We plan to use the additional growing space in that tomato enclosure to grow capsicums (peppers), eggplants, and various berries.
Many treated pine posts were cemented into the ground this week so as to begin the process of increasing the size of the tomato enclosure
Other garden taps which currently sit in the paths will be moved over the next few months (or when the pipes fail). Firstly we have to install the treated pine posts which the garden tap and hose hangar will eventually be anchored to.
Another garden tap and hose hangar may eventually be moved to this treated pine post
A mum and bubs pair of kangaroos have more or less adopted us and the farm. The pair have been regular visitors ever since the joey (a fancy name for a baby kangaroo) was in the mums pouch. Kangaroos normally live in mobs (a fancy name for a large-ish number of kangaroos) so there must be a story behind why these two don’t. In the meantime the kangaroos are enjoying the facilities.
A pair of kangaroos have adopted the farm as their own
We are currently enjoying lots of fresh Cape Gooseberries as well as the usual citrus and winter vegetables. Cape Gooseberries are an interesting plant as the fruit grows in little paper lanterns. This plant is several years old now and very productive.
A ripe Cape Gooseberry
Fortunately the flowers here are not subject to either a war on flowers (fancy that!) or the third filter theory. Some of the winter flowers currently here are:
A pink and white salvia shows off
I noticed the first echium flower today. These are awesome bee food and they flower for months
An Irish strawberry tree has produced a few hanging flowers
A purple Pentstemon produces great winter colour
This one is not a flower, but the tips of the leucadendron plant are as attractive as any flower
I reckon we need to get funky one more time, so thanks and respects to the band Jungle and their funky song Busy earnin’ who provided the lyrics used in this weeks blog.

“You think that all your time is used
Too busy earnin'
You can't get enough”

The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 5’C (41’F). So far this year there has been 441.2mm (17.4 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 432.0mm (17.0 inches).

Monday, 10 July 2017

Weekly notes from a very impressive shed

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

Black truffles are a mysterious black fungus which grow symbiotically with infected oak trees. They’re a high end delicacy and growing them is a big, although secretive, business. About a decade ago the editor and I attended a truffle day held by a local agricultural society. The truffle day involved a talk about the complexities relating to growing black truffles in our area. After the talk, the group retired to a local pub for a lunch, which I feel is always a good addition to an agricultural day. The lunch itself contained black truffles in its many guises. I’m not convinced that I’m much of a fan of that mysterious black fungus, but tastes apparently vary.

Anyway, the lunch was held in a local pub which was being restored. It is a beautiful old timber Victorian era pub which had unfortunately succumbed to a fire at some stage in its history and the building had long been derelict. The restoration works on the pub were nowhere near complete at that time, and so lunch was held in the old stables. The fungi infused food was prepared in a separate food van, whilst the insides of the stables were dark and quite cold. It was almost a medieval scene as the winter cold radiated from the floor and the lights along the walls sat in sconces. Long tables were lined in cloth and benches were provided to sit upon.

The editor and I knew nobody at the truffle day, and so we chose an empty bench and table to sit at. The dining hall soon filled up with hungry people. Two gentleman eventually sat opposite the editor and I. Introductions were made and pleasantries were exchanged. And we have been good friends ever since.

In a strange coincidence, our new friends were also beginning to set up a small holding not too far away from where we are. However, to this day I am in absolute awe of what they have achieved. Their vision is nothing short of epic. And their house is a truly original design.

Last weekend the editor and I visited their farm and assisted with planting 150 (of 240) tree lucerne (Tagasaste) plants. Our friends intend to use the trees as cattle fodder in future years. This is a good thing as that tree is one of the richest sources of protein in the plant world. More importantly, that tree will provide green feed during a hot summer when the paddock forage is yellow and dry. I’d never planted more than 30 trees before on a single day before. It was an epic challenge.

The editor and I are both used to a hard day of physical work, but after six hours of drilling planting holes and hammering in metal stakes (we call them star pickets) I was exhausted. I jokingly (maybe!) remarked to one of the gentleman that: “Mate. I don’t work this hard for myself!” Of course that is not entirely true as long term readers will be aware. Eventually the 150 trees were planted and the sun had yet to set. The neat rows of new trees looked fantastic in the setting sun.
The neat rows of the many tree lucerne plants that we’d planted last week looked great
Of course, the job was made particularly difficult as the new seedlings had to be protected from the local population of rabbits and kangaroos, both of which require different types of tree protection. A closer photo shows the various tree guards placed around every single tree.
A slightly closer photo shows the various types of tree guards placed around every single tree
I almost forgot to mention it, but our friends live in a shed. The word shed is perhaps a misnomer as the shed in question is not just any old shed. The shed is the size of an aircraft hangar, except maybe bigger. It really is an impressive shed and it has a footprint of about 1,000 square metres or 10,760 square feet. And they live in a beautiful home created at one end of that immense shed.
The sun sets over the very impressive shed
Inside the shed are all weather growing spaces that I can only dream about. The rate of growth for the plants grown inside that shed is at least five times what I observe here.
A view of about two thirds of the inside of the shed from a high vantage point
Observant readers will note in the photo above, that to the immediate left of the view, there is a rather large avocado tree which was planted at about the same time as the avocado tree here, but is about five times as large as the one here!

There are many beautiful and thoughtful places inside that shed too which makes a delightful place to while away a few hours drinking wine and talking rubbish with good friends. Some of those places are also used to store their produce.
There are many beautiful and thoughtful places inside that shed and it makes a delightful place to while away a few hours drinking wine and talking rubbish
The location of that farm on top of an extinct volcano ensures that they receive more winter sunlight than the farm here. The extensive vegetable parterre soaks up that additional sunlight and I have to add that their vegetables – like here – also enjoy a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside.
The extensive vegetable parterre also enjoys a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside
The farm has a diverse collection of farm animals and that means lots of animal manure and the vegetables in those garden beds reflect the good soil health.
The vegetables in those garden beds reflect good soil health from extensive applications of diverse animal manures
The cauliflowers in particular were huge and I witnessed the cows greedily munching away on a particularly choice bit of cauliflower.
The cauliflowers in particular were huge
Surrounding that vegetable garden is a large number of mature olive trees that were rescued from an olive grove. I used the word rescued because the owner was intending to rip out all of the olive trees. I’m impressed at how many of those relocated olive trees actually survived the process.
Surrounding the vegetable garden are a large number of relocated mature olive trees
Of course, they have to grow a lot more vegetables than I am used to seeing because they raise and process a lot of their own meat. They recently added ducks to the menagerie.
Ducks were a recent addition to the farm
At the other end of the shed away from the house, live milking cows and chickens. The cows are surprisingly inquisitive creatures and they are always checking out everything that goes on about the place.
At the other end of the shed away from the house, live milking cows and chickens
Both cows have bred calves.
Both cows have bred calves
However, the award for the most inquisitive farm animal there has to go to the pigs. The two sows are huge and pigs have a sort of suction cup face which snuffles anything and everything. Nothing is left un-snuffled by those suction cup faces. In the next photo you can see the two sows enjoying left over whey from the most recent round of cheese making.
Two sows enjoy left over whey from the most recent round of cheese making
It is a relief to see that their canine collection is as motley a collection of canines as my lot here. Of course that description excludes the working maremma farm dog which earns its keep and avoids most of the sillier canine activities.
It is a relief to see that their canine collection is as motley a collection of canines as my lot here
I hope you all enjoyed the brief trip away from Fernglade Farm!

Also many thanks to our friends for allowing me to write about their lovely farm.

Now back to Fernglade Farm…

Just in case anyone was unaware of what a five year old tree lucerne plant looks like, here is one of the species behind the chicken enclosure - look for the tallish tree with white winter flowers:
A five year old tree lucerne plant is located just behind the entrance to the chicken enclosure here
This week I began upgrading the small 12 Volt off grid solar power system (we’ll call it the 12V system from here on). I originally set up that small 12V system so as to test the feasibility of solar power at this farm. The system seemed to work, and nowadays that 12V system runs garden lights and water pumps for part of the garden.

The upgrade came about because when I went to the solar stuff shop the other week, I noticed that they had a special clearance on 12V solar panels. I thought that I would help myself to one of those ultra cheap 12V solar panels. Unfortunately, once you purchase a solar panel, you sort of have to then do something with it because solar panels are not small and I am not allowed to stockpile stuff.

With that in mind, the editor and I constructed a custom made solar panel racking so as to hold three 12V solar panels on the wood shed roof. That wood shed roof faces west which is not optimal for solar in the southern hemisphere. Of course, a west facing roof is not a problem for us clever types who can construct their own customised racking for the three solar panels. A prototype of the racking was constructed.
A custom rack to hold three 12V solar panels on a west facing roof was constructed
The custom rack was then mounted onto the roof of that west facing wood shed. The solar panels were lifted onto the racking and then bolted into place.
The custom rack was then mounted onto the roof of that west facing wood shed and the panels were bolted into place
Then we watched the sun move across the panels and discovered to our absolute horror, that each solar panel threw shade over the solar panel behind them. Any shading at all on a solar panel will stop the panel from producing useful electricity. So, as well as being not so clever as I thought - and you can ask the editor about this - I was apparently very grumpy to boot. The whole construction had to be pulled apart and the solar panels again lowered to the ground.

After a huge amount of hours, the racking was then adapted so that the three 12V solar panels now faced west. This means that they will only charge with the afternoon sun. I don’t believe that this will be a problem for the 12V system which requires very little electricity to operate, but time may inform me otherwise.
The racking was modified and the three solar panels now face west for the afternoon sun
As usual, I then had to dig a trench in which to lay the cables connecting up the solar panels to the batteries. For some strange reason, I always seem to be digging somewhere about the farm.
A trench had to be dug so as to connect up the 12V solar panels and the battery
As you can see in the photo below, the sun was shining strongly that day and even though it is only less than three weeks past the winter solstice, those 12V solar panels were producing plenty of power!
Less than three weeks out from the winter solstice and the 12V solar panels were producing plenty of power
Best of all, the house solar panels that same day produced their best ever July winter output of 11.4kWh for that day. That result is the culmination of seven years of trial and error testing and a huge amount of work every single year. And you know what? Over winter there will be days that won't achieve even 10% of that result. Solar power is a very sobering energy source.
The house solar panels that same day produced their best ever July winter output of 11.4kWh for that day
And I would like to finish the blog with some flower photos:
This penstemon flower was sheltering from the frost underneath a pungent mint geranium
The African daisy's are enjoying the occasional rain storm
Chrysanthemum's look like the sort of flower that an alien would develop
The shade loving hellebore's are about to produce their winter flowers
The temperature outside now at about 10.00pm is 7’C (45’F). So far this year there has been 432.0mm (17.0 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 401.6mm (15.8 inches).