Monday, 20 November 2017

No Light

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I was asked a serious question the other week , "Do you have a filter for your water supply?" Whenever anyone discovers that the editor and I drink rainwater, that question is inevitably the very first one that is asked. Unsurprisingly, the person who asked the question was very dubious about the safety of the water when I replied that we don't have a filter on the water system.

How did we as a society, get to the point where people believe that water which falls for free out of the sky as rain and stored, is somehow worse for your health than water that comes out of the municipal water supply? In order to believe such a thing, I've long suspected that humans in industrial societies have somehow fallen out of touch, and indeed perhaps even out of love, with the natural world.

For this blog story, I feel that we need the awesome and commanding vocals of Florence Welch of the band Florence and the Machine who penned a song about lost love titled, "No light, No light":

"You are the hole in my head 
You are the space in my bed 
You are the silence in between 
What I thought and what I said 
You are the night-time fear 
You are the morning when it's clear 
When it's over, you're the start 
 You're my head and you're my heart"

It is frankly strange to me that someone can consider that a product that contains the additives of chloride and fluoride, can possibly be considered safer to consume than the same product without those chemicals. There are good reasons that those chemicals are added to municipal water supplies and I'm not arguing with that. However, what I find strange is that some people believe that in all other circumstances, water must have those chemicals, otherwise it is somehow not safe for human consumption.

The question about the lack of a filter states an implicit assumption that unfiltered rain water is somehow unsafe. That to me reflects a fear of the natural world.

I have been considering nature recently because when it comes to water, I get to use only whatever rainfall I can catch and store. Water can be purchased and trucked here, but it is enormously expensive (edit: although cheaper than buying a new water tank). I therefore have a serious incentive to catch every single drop of rain that nature supplies and then use it wisely. By contrast, people living the city of Melbourne do not have to consider nature because there is a backup plan by way of a desalination plant. If that plant is switched on, it can produce an enormous quantity of fresh water from otherwise undrinkable and very salty sea water. The plant is an extraordinary facility, the downside of which is that it uses a huge quantity of energy and I have no idea what happens to the salt which is removed from the sea water. Mind you, it is possibly a better option than the city running out of water during a prolonged drought.

It rained a lot this week, and despite the ongoing heat and humidity, I am very happy to have all of the water tanks full to the brim. The water tanks store about 110,000 Litres (28,950 Gallons).

Anyway, despite not having a filter, nature this week has been very bountiful.

"No light, no light
In your bright blue eyes
I never knew daylight could be so violent
A revelation in the light of day
You can't choose what stays and what fades away
And I'd do anything to make you stay
No light, no light
Tell me what you want me to say"

Clouds gathered over the central highlands and despite the heat, heavy rain fell - and was also stored!
From time to time, nature can teach harsh lessons, and so I can understand why people would want to put some distance between themselves and nature. Over the past year or so, the editor and I have been having problems with batches of homemade yoghurt (spelled yogurt in other places). Yoghurt is the Turkish name for a fermented milk product with its origins in South Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. We've been making yoghurt for over a decade, but lately something has been going wrong and batches have been failing to set. A mates parents once amusingly informed him when he spoke with them about complexities of growing tomatoes: "It is probably better to buy them from the shop". They may well be correct!

I'm not daunted by this challenge because whenever the word "fermented" is used, I think of Sandor Katz and his masterpiece "The Art of Fermentation". Sandor is clearly in love with nature, and he writes about his 17 years in a rural community: "Like the spring water and garden vegetables, the fresh milk was deeply compelling to me and was part of the allure of the change of life, rural community living offered." I'm not sure why, but he eventually moved down the road from that community into a place of his own.

"Through the crowd I was crying out and
In your place there were a thousand other faces
I was disappearing in plain sight
Heaven help me, I need to make it right"

That bloke Sandor, is onto something with fermentation and so I turned to the book for advice with the yoghurt problem. Sandor describes the history and fundamentals of yoghurt making and those lessons have been very valuable. The editor is also no slouch with microbiology, and we have now eliminated most of the variables in the yogurt making process and feel that the problem may be either:
  • The very expensive pasteurised milk (raw is not easily available in this country) that we purchase has somehow changed - perhaps it has a higher water content than in previous times; and/or
  • The inoculum (bacterial culture) that we are using to begin the yogurt making process is derived from a laboratory culture and it is possible that a bacteriophage (a virus that kills bacteria) has evolved in our kitchen. More diverse bacterial cultures are less likely to succumb to this fate.
Time and further experimentation will sort that mess out, but in the meantime it is worth considering Sandor's warning that: "If the existing US milk supply were to suddenly cease to be pasteurized, it would be a terrible disaster. The milk industry as we know it excels at mass production of cheap milk. In order to accomplish this, land per animal is minimized, and extraordinary means are employed ... unfortunately, these methods compromise the milk's quality and safety". Strong words from someone who intimately knows his way around an udder.

Yoghurt problems aside, the rain fell quite heavily this week and under the verandas a number of frogs took shelter from the storm.
A Southern Brown Tree Frog consumes what appears to be a cockroach
Proving that frogs are possibly smarter than dogs, Toothy got very wet during the storm:
Toothy the long haired dachshund got very wet during the recent storm!
Heavy rain delayed the completion of stage 1 of the new strawberry enclosure. Eventually however the rain stopped and the clouds parted and the hot and humid weather began. So did the work! On a positive note, we were able to install the remaining chicken wire around the strawberry enclosure. About 2/3rds of a cubic metre (0.86 cubic yards) of compost were placed in nice neat rows inside the enclosure.
Chicken wire was installed around the strawberry enclosure and compost was placed in neat rows
The chicken wire used on the fence surrounding the enclosure was recycled from cages that previously surrounded fruit trees. It was a very fiddly and time consuming job to produce a solid fence utilising all of the very differently sized chicken cages but I love finding new uses for items that are no longer required!

The heavy duty steel chicken wire cages are very effective at stopping wallaby damage to young fruit trees. Those marsupials are expert pruners and they ensure that every lower branch is removed from every single fruit tree (as can be seen in the next photo). The job of the wallabies in the forest is to ensure that the forest remains open at ground level - and they're very good at that job!
Expert pruning performed by the local marsupials on a couple of apple trees
After another couple of hours work, a further 130 odd strawberry runners were planted into the new strawberry enclosure. I even spotted a few unripe strawberries.
A further 130 odd strawberry runners were planted into the new enclosure
Observant readers may be able to spot the 25 lavender bushes planted just on the other side of the downhill fence. Over time, the plants will attract pollinating insects, but honestly, the lavender will just look and smell nice on a hot summers day!
25 lavender seedlings were planted next to the strawberry enclosure
You may be interested to see the blackberry and raspberry enclosure that sits below the strawberry terrace. It is looking great and I spotted some unripe early varieties of raspberry.
An update on the growth in the blackberry and raspberry enclosure!
The egg crate experiment for raising seedlings hasn't been a complete and utter total disaster, however you could almost smell the total disaster (it smells like mould) because the seedlings for fast growing plants such as tomatoes died on their first outing in great outdoors. The slower growing plants such as capsicum (peppers) and eggplants are doing far better, but next year we plant to sow directly into the soil and avoid all of this hassle (and smell). In this warm climate raising most seedlings indoors is a waste of time, and in all honesty I have no idea why I am even doing it.
The egg crate seed raising experiment was initially a great success and then a dismal failure
This week we planted out the many cucumber and zucchini (courgette) seedlings (purchased from a non-mouldy smelling place).
Cucumber and zucchini (courgette) seedlings were planted out
The original strawberry enclosure received a temporary stay of execution! We weeded that massive garden bed and then mulched the entire area with sugar cane mulch. If you've ever wondered why strawberries are so named, it is because without the straw, every single insect under the sun will consume the ripe berries!
The original strawberry enclosure received a temporary stay of execution
Mowing continued this week and as a matter of sheer desperation, I had to cut a path through the long grass to the chicken enclosure. The path had disappeared completely in the feral spring growth - even the delightful, but incredibly sedentary Mr Poopy was getting lost in the long grass!
Mr Poopy enjoys the newly mown pathway leading to the chicken enclosure

Late Spring Produce Update!
Someone told me that a picture tells a thousands words - so who am I to argue with them?
We have hundreds of pods of broad beans - and may have to work out suitable recipes!
Apples are getting biggerer!
I'm embarrassed to admit that I have not previously harvested the huge quantity of mulberries
The many fig trees are still young, but fruit is developing on the oldest trees
As the years go on, I suspect that plums will be a staple and prolific fruit
This years award for feral quantities of fruit goes to... Apricots!
Late Spring Garden Update
Whenever I travel into Melbourne, I take note of the insect and bird activity in the many gardens that I walk past during my travels. Those gardens are quiet places and it is surprising to see even a lone insect hovering over a flower. As a contrast, the incessant drone from the insects in the garden beds here reminds me that they are a bit scary to venture into (be prepared to be stung or bitten!) As a backdrop to the sound of the drone from the insects is the constant chatter of the birds.
The Japanese maple garden bed supports a huge variety of insect life
Best eva! Nuff said! Smells good too (not like mould)

Rhododendron's are show offs!

Another variety of Bearded Iris has produced flowers after the heavy rains earlier this week
The editor spotted the first of the Penstemon flowers
Sage is feral and also a useful medicinal herb (sorts mouth ulcers right out)

The final (almost) word this week should go to Florence Welch who really does have a truly amazing voice!

"You want a revelation
You want to get right
But it's a conversation
I just can't have tonight
You want a revelation
Some kind of resolution
You want a revelation"

The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 21’C (70’F). So far this year there has been 823.0mm (32.4 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 761.2mm (30.0 inches).

Monday, 13 November 2017

Decline of Western Civilization, Part I: Dishwashers

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

A couple of decades ago some mates owned a rather amusingly titled video: The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years. The film was apparently a documentary about heavy metal music. I never watched the film, or even discovered what Part I was all about. However, the amusing title, of an otherwise serious documentary video about heavy metal music caught my imagination.
Back in those days, there was no Internet. Therefore you couldn't just type a question into an internet search engine and get a reply from a database. Nope, before the internet, a person was left with mysteries such as: What was The Decline of Western Civilization, Part I; all about? It seems like a rather important question to be left hanging in the air all uncertain and stuff. Back then, people learned to live their lives carrying around these little mysteries.

Anyway, for all I know, Part I of the documentary series, may have been a serious documentary about the banking industry. The documentary may have explored the darker sides of Collateralized Debt Obligation's (financial instruments employed by the banking industry and which had such a large role to play in the 2008 Global Financial Crisis). 

Given that Part II covered the topic of heavy metal music, then perhaps Part I of the series was most likely to have had a music theme. On a positive note for the film makers, they neatly avoided the complexities of thinking about CDO's and the darker sides of the banking industry.

Hmm. Music theme. Well if I had to vote for a particular style of music that may positively point towards the Decline of Western Civilization, then I feel compelled to vote for the genre of "Progressive Rock". It is not that I have any particular issue with that genre, it is just that the other day I was in the local supermarket. Over the audio system, someone had decided to play a recording from the progressive rock band The Alan Parson's Project. The band were singing their hit from the 1970's: "Eye in sky". I imagine that management felt that such songs were soothing? Anyway, I didn't feel particularly soothed. Frankly I was left wondering whether the song was a subtle reference to the many hidden cameras on the ceiling of the establishment? Who knows. I'd be much more comfortable if management decided to play, say, Sydney metal-core band: Polaris; with their song Dusk to Day, which is a lyrical account (heavy metal style of course) about one of the band members painful struggles with insomnia. Insomnia being a more relevant concern to a lot of people these days than  eye's in the sky (although drones are becoming cheaper and more available).

From time to time, I amuse myself with attempts to imagine the most absurd title for the unknown Part I of the documentary series. It is a fun game and can keep me amused for hours. As an amusing offering, I nominate: dishwashers (the automatic machine type, not the grumpy human type).

A while back someone asked me why I don't have a dishwasher. Being a bit of a smarty pants, I replied, we do have a dishwasher - It is called Chris. That reply did not appear to satisfy the persons curiosity, so I pulled out "fluffy non-dishwasher-machine owning excuse, number six" and said: "Look mate. It's just the solar power system here can't run one. And it's a bit of hassle, but, you know, we live with that hassle". And that was that, excuse number six is a very big gun and it always brings positive results as the questions stop, and people sort of feel sorry for the editor and I.

Now, of course the solar power system can run a dishwasher. I just don't want to install and run a dishwasher. To me those machines appear to be an inordinately expensive and polluting way to do a really simple task. Plus you can't put crystal etc in the dishwasher. To quote the disaster film Sharknado: Nuff Said!

Here is a batch of dishes that I washed up by hand in the kitchen sink this morning:
Washing up this lot by hand must have taken me at least two minutes
I've been washing up (and cooking and cleaning) since about the age of twelve. You see, my mum was a single mum, and so she was pretty busy. At that young age, one sad evening I casually sauntered into the kitchen and perhaps arrogantly dumped my soiled plates on the kitchen bench after dinner. It was at that point that I made the serious "fluffy error" of not being fast enough on my exit strategy. I got nabbed by my mum and frogmarched back towards the kitchen sink. Then after a very brief lesson, I found myself thenceforth washing dishes.

I've heard stories about being too busy to wash up dishes by hand, but as you can see in the story of my younger self above, that simply doesn't match my own experience.

Back in those days, actual soap was used in the dish washing process. A normal bar of soap was placed in a wire cage with a steel handle. To create froth in the hot water, the cage was vigorously shaken for only a few moments. Alert readers will realise that this is a form of exercise! Anyway, in no time at all the water was full to bursting with bubbles and froth. With the hot soapy water available, I got to the task at hand of washing the evenings dishes and have never looked back.

In millennia to come, learned people may ponder the various reasons for the Decline of Western Civilisation and maybe one of those learned people may remark to their peers: "Here are the words of some gentleman, who writes that something called dishwashers were responsible". And if they're really smart then someone else may reply: "What is this dreaded dishwasher thing?"

It has been a hot and humid week and on some mornings fog has completely filled the valley
The weather has been hot and humid this week. The heat combined with the high humidity has meant that the orchard has grown a lot in only a single week. Late spring is always an exciting time of the year for plant growth.
The view of the house and the sunny orchard from the bottom of the paddock
The many rhododendrons surrounding the shady orchard are producing a beautiful mass display of flowers
The editor and I set ourselves the task this week of completing the excavations and structure for the new strawberry terrace. We didn't quite achieve that goal, but the strawberry enclosure and terrace is looking really good and over the next few days we'll begin the task of planting out another maybe 140 strawberry runners. Have I mentioned that we really like strawberries?

The first days excavations created another 4m (13.2ft) of terrace into the side of the hill.
The first days excavations created another 4m (13.2ft) of terrace into the side of the hill
The second day of excavations completed that part of the job as we created a further 3m (9.9ft) of terrace.
The second day of excavations completed that part of the job as we created a further 3m (9.9ft) of terrace
Observant readers will note in the above photo that our trusty timber stair-making-form-work makes a special guest appearance. Also, you should be able to see that the soil which was excavated over the couple of days has been used to create the beginnings of yet another terrace above this strawberry terrace. We hope to plant table grape vines on that terrace sometime in late autumn next year.

Later that afternoon, we excavated soil for the path and stair form-work, and then poured the first  concrete step.
The existing path was widened and the first of two concrete steps was poured
After yet another days of hot work, the remaining seven treated pine fence posts for the strawberry enclosure were cemented into the ground. And, the second step leading up to that terrace was also poured. It is looking pretty good. Oh yeah, the door to the enclosure was also hung on one of the posts. The door came from the local tip shop. Why anyone would throw out perfectly good security doors is a mystery to me.
The second concrete step was poured and the remaining seven posts for the strawberry enclosure were set in the ground
In the photo above, you can see that the series of terraces are in a very good location because the plant growth in the more established blackberry enclosure and terrace has been explosive in the past few weeks!

In the photos above, it is hard to see how the excavated soil from the strawberry terrace was used to begin the process of constructing yet another future terrace for table grapes above the strawberry terrace. So the next photo gives a clear idea of just how much soil has been moved by hand and compacted by foot over this past week.
Even Mr Poopy approves of the beginning stages of construction for the future table grape terrace
As an unrelated side note, Mr Poopy is now on a serious diet which involves controlling his intake of food. His love of all things food was finally beginning to take a toll on his health. Putting him on a diet is not an easy task for a dog that is an expert forager, but hopefully forcing him to forage for his additional snacks will increase the amount of activity that he does. He is a very nice, but exceptionally lazy dog.

The serious increase in heat this week has brought out the insects. During the day, the hum and buzz from the gardens and orchard is quite loud and I have for the moment deftly avoided being stung. At night the various insects sing their night time summer chorus. All that life is a very soothing sound.

The air about the farm is full of moths and butterflies during both the night and the day:
The nighttime is ruled by the Bogong moths which are attracted to the house lights and gardens. They are one meaty moth (and edible too, although I have not tried this as apparently they taste like 'moth')!
During the day, moths and butterflies enjoy the many flowers
The editor rediscovered a forgotten experiment involving Japanese maple seeds! We had placed a few seeds for those plants into one of the raised vegetable beds, and then simply forgot about them. Then the other day, the editor discovered about a dozen seedlings all happily growing without any assistance - or watering - on our part!
A dozen forgotten Japanese maple seedlings were discovered in a raised garden bed
It is really hard to know this week where to start with the late spring flower photos, however below is a small sample:
Gazania's are really hardy and cheery!
A purple Granny's Bonnet is found deep in among a Southern Wormwood and Elderberry
This bush rose smells even more beautiful than it looks
Californian poppies with a background of Catmint
More Gazania's and Geraniums
Nasturtiums are very hardy to heat - and a toothy salad vegetable

The temperature outside now at about 8.45pm is 19’C (66’F). So far this year there has been 761.2mm (30.0 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 755.2mm (29.7 inches).