Monday, 19 March 2018

Party Machine

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Nowadays, everyone seems to have an opinion on politics. With that in mind, I thought to myself, I better get one of those opinion things too, otherwise readers may believe that I'm some sort of intellectual lightweight. And who wants to be identified as the dumb kid in the class?

Sometimes the best opinions are other peoples opinions, so in order to learn what opinions were out there, I fired up my favourite internet browser and went to a news website to check out what political opinions were being offered up to the public for consumption. Well, we have had a fun time down here, although perhaps it was more fun for some than others. A notable family values politician down here appears to have liked families so much that he couldn't stick to just one family at a time.

Oh! Other countries appear to have much more complicated politics than ours. Certainly there were more than a few articles about the President of the USA, and something to do with US intelligence agencies and Russia. I don't know much about any of that stuff and it all sounds a bit complicated to me, but I do want to sound as if I have an opinion, so I better form one based on what I read. Here goes: How come so many intelligence agencies couldn't detect Russian meddling as it was happening? By way of contrast, if Ollie the Australian cattle dog couldn't chase off a band of rampaging marsupials out of the orchard before they ran amok, then I'd wonder if he was worth his breakfast.

As for Russia, I don't really know much about them at all. Although to be fair, I was sitting in the pub a few weeks back and enjoying a pint of locally brewed 'Russian Imperial Stout', and I can confirm that it was an exceptionally good dark ale. I feel that it is important here to clarify that this dark ale should not be confused with the outstanding 'Rye Imperial Stout', which is nothing short of astounding. This brew is the work of a co-operative effort between the local Black Dog brewery and the US Eel River brewery. It is a heady brew, and just goes to prove that co-operation between nations is a better strategy than whingeing about something or other in the news.

As I was consuming that excellent dark ale, my mind clarified a bit and I recalled a titbit from Australia's early history. You see way back in 1866, the Colony of Victoria, as this state was then known, feared a Russian attack. The city of Melbourne in the Colony of Victoria had an epic gold rush, and rapidly became the second wealthiest city on the planet, after London, of course. And we were unfortunately a very long way away from the UK.

In those days, the ruling elite didn't waste time whingeing in the newspapers about Russia, they simply constructed shore-based fortifications of Port Philip Bay, and ordered the battleship HMVS Cerberus from the Royal Navy. In short order we had an iron clad battleship with ten inch main guns patrolling the bay. The ship had fore and aft turrets which at the time the was considered superior to any other warship operating in the Australasian region. It was a lethal bit of kit.

The public on the other hand were less than impressed with the expense, and the ship was nicknamed the: 'Floating Gasometer'. That was not a compliment and it was referring to the sad fact that the ship could only sail for ten days before requiring refuelling. Incidentally, the ship never fired a shot in anger, and at one point the entire crew had to be detained in quarantine because one of the ship's company began to show symptoms of the bubonic plague. By 1924, the ship was sold for scrap, and by 1926 the remains were scuttled at Half Moon Bay to serve as a breakwater for the Black Rock Yacht Club. And there it sits today performing a useful function.

The Russians never appeared, which may have had something to do with them losing a goodly chunk of their navy to the Japanese. Instead of the Russians, on the morning of 29 August 1908, sixteen white-hulled battleships (part of the Great White Fleet) carrying fourteen thousand sailors and marines of the United States Atlantic Fleet docked at Melbourne. Only a few years earlier the Colony of Victoria had joined with the other colonies on the continent to form a state of the newly minted country of Australia.

There was no whingeing in the newspapers of the time about a foreign force docking at the wealthiest city on the continent. In fact the exact opposite took place and apparently: 'Melburnians laid out the red, white and blue welcome mat for the new Pacific sea power. The records describe months of preparations by state and city officials to celebrate the visit'. 

'Fleet week' as it was known was no doubt an epic occasion for the sailors and marines and I read all sorts of accounts of the entertainments that week including an intriguing reference to sailors ‘with a girl on each arm’. No doubt more than a few glasses of locally brewed 'Russian Imperial Stout' were consumed, although for obvious reasons I am unable to confirm this.

Anyway, the US sailors and marines eventually departed after declaring Melbourne the ‘best port of call’ in their 14-month, 20-port call, round-the-world, two-women-in-every-port voyage. We must have partied the sailors and marines pretty hard, because 221 deserters jumped ship in Melbourne, and whilst half of those deserters were eventually recovered, the other half weren't. Which all just goes to show that we know how to do politics and partying properly down here!

There wasn't much partying here this week. The weather was cool to warm and sunny for most of the week. We continued the job of excavating soil from the area below the potato terrace. The soil was used to correct the too-steep-slope around the nearby firewood shed. The soil excavations took another days labour following on from last weeks efforts.

After that job was complete, we were able to begin constructing a new steel rock gabion cage. The rock gabion is to be eventually filled with rocks and it is used to physically retain the soil on the potato terrace from sliding downhill. I reckon rock gabions look great.
The author constructs a new steel rock gabion cage
The rock gabion cage is constructed from flat 1200mm x 2400mm (4 feet by 8 feet) welded steel sheets. We bend, cut and sew the sheets together to form the cage that can be seen in the photo above. Concerned readers should also note that Mr Toothy has not been squashed by the cage, although it appears that way in the above photo!

Once the cage was completed we placed it in position and put some rocks in it. The rocks help weigh it down.
The rock gabion cage is in place and is perfectly level
As mentioned previously, the excavated soil was used to correct a too-steep-slope next to the firewood shed. Onto that soil we placed one cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of the local crushed rock with lime. The crushed rock will provide an all weather surface.
Local crushed rock with lime was placed over the excavated soil and will provide an all weather surface
Observant readers will note that in the above photo, the space adjacent to the existing dark grey water tank has been left uncovered. A new water tank will be placed in that location. Also in the photo above you can see that we have placed many large boulders as a rock wall for the new garden bed. And that garden bed also received a good dose of mushroom compost over the bare soil.

Since late January, very little rain has fallen. Over the past few days, I took the opportunity to climb up onto the roof of the house and use a very old, but very reliable vacuum cleaner to remove any organic matter from the roof and/or guttering. It was a very dirty job and I was rapidly covered in a thick coating of black dust.
The author uses an old vacuum cleaner to remove any organic matter from the roof and/or guttering
The roof is now squeaky clean, as am I! I was impressed at the sheer quantity of identified and unidentified organic matter that I removed from the roof using the trusty old vacuum cleaner.
Ollie is also impressed by the amount of gunk removed from the roof and/or guttering
We have been harvesting some very tasty vegetables from the garden! Yum!
Some of the very tasty vegetables that we have harvested this week
The corn is an open pollinated variety and it appears to provide two cobs per plant. Interestingly, whilst I had the correct spacing between the plants, I planted the rows too close together and the smaller cobs in the photo above came from the rear row of corn. Today, I removed the stalks and husks and spread them on the ground for the wallabies, wombats, kangaroos and Ollie to feast upon. Based on prior years experience, the stalks won't last long.
The corn stalks and husks were spread on the ground for the wombats, wallabies, and kangaroos to feast upon
I gave a few cobs to the chickens and it was absolute mayhem in the chicken enclosure as one chicken fought off another rival chicken to get at the juiciest corn kernels. Maybe they could have used a Russian Imperial Stout to chill out a bit?

On Saturday evening the weather turned and a storm threatened. I knew the storm was serious because Scritchy the Storm Detective was hiding under the bed. The sky looked great too:
On Saturday night a storm threatened
The storm mostly bypassed the farm and mountain range. It produced a lot of wind, and a minor drizzle of rain, but that was about it. Elsewhere in the state, lightning strikes appear to have set off serious bushfires which are still burning out of control as I write this.

In case anyone reading this underestimates the sheer mischief that wallabies (which are a mid-sized forest kangaroo) perform, it is worth contrasting these two Mop Top trees which were planted on exactly the same day.
Mop top number one!
Mop top number two was planted on exactly the same day!
I don't begrudge the forest critters their share of the produce. In such dry weather the forest critters flock here because I leave them a few sources of water which I always keep topped up. The birds and insects do it particularly tough as they have to travel far from their territories in order to source water.
The birds and insects enjoy this pool of water safely high up on one of the water tanks
There are plenty of pollen and nectar producing flowers for the birds and insects to feast upon too:
A European honey bee seeks pollen and/or nectar from this rosemary flower
Geraniums are a reliable summer flower for the bees
Geraniums are a reliable summer flower for the bees
A small red ladybird enjoys this cluster of flowers on a curry plant
Despite the hot and dry weather there are still plenty of flowers:
Gazania's are tough as
A local indigenous wax wildflower
Feverfew flowers growing among the rosemary
Buddleia flowers look and smell great
Salvia and mint scented geranium
Basil mint is hardy as and the bees love the flowers
This week's blog title is a nod to The Bennies, who are an Australian melodic punk/ska/reggae band from Melbourne. I really wanted to use the lyrics to their fun and excellent song: "Party Machine", but the lyrics were really hard to adapt to this format whilst keeping things family friendly. Anyway, go ahead and give them a listen, maybe just not at work in an uptight office environment! They released another song recently titled, "Detroit Rock Ciggies" and that one is fun too.

The temperature outside now at about 6.00pm is 21’C (70’F). So far this year there has been 112.2mm (4.4 inches) which is slightly higher than last week's total of 109.8mm (4.3 inches).

Monday, 12 March 2018


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

Mottainai is a Japanese term conveying a sense of regret concerning waste. The expression "Mottainai!" can be uttered alone as an exclamation when something useful, such as food or time, is wasted. Long term readers will know by now that if there is one thing that I hate, it is waste. Very few things are wasted here, and that my dear readers, is a lifestyle choice. Rarely will you hear me utter "

Away from this farm, our society conducts itself very differently. Recently a visitor attempted to leave a heavy duty plastic bag here. It was a very nice plastic bag after all, but neither the editor or I wanted it, so we firmly asked the visitor to take it back with them. The visitor looked confused and perplexed by the request, but they did take the plastic bag with them.

Waste has been on my mind of late, because one of Australia's major trading partners - China - no longer accepts our recycling waste. We used to send huge volumes of waste (600,000 tonnes every year) to China to be apparently recycled. That act made us all feel really good and it was cheap. However, now that the recycling waste is no longer accepted there, we appear to be at a complete loss as to what to do about it. Some states of Australia have come up with what appear to be ingenious strategies to dump waste interstate, which could have been treated locally. I read about one such scheme the other day: Duped at the dump: Recycling rort as the truth is buried. This is probably not a good use of technology. I hope the people involved are exclaiming "Mottainai!" as they pull that trick? Perhaps not...

The story gets more exciting, because I happen to live in one of two shires that has had their recycling collections suspended: Waste collection suspended in two Victorian shires as recycling crisis deepens. How exciting is that! To be honest, because I do not use those services I haven't really noticed any difference, but I do feel that it is only a matter of time before people in the surrounding townships decide to dump their rubbish up here in the forest. That is not a good thing, and I doubt very much whether those cheeky scamps will be uttering "Mottainai!" as an apology to the forest as they dump their rubbish from a moving vehicle in the dark of the night.

As it stands, the recycling system as we knew it is now over. As the band Crowded House sang in a break up song: "Don't dream, it's over". Brutal words, but so true. I tend to feel that a more appropriate song may be: Alex Lahey's genius song, 'I haven't been taking care of myself'. The word in the newspapers is that the local council rates will have to be substantially increased in order to cover the additional costs for doing something (although I have no idea what that is) with all of this recycling waste material. At the moment, I believe they are storing the stuff and just hoping for the best. Such strategies are sure to work! Maybe.

In all of the newspaper reports about this subject there was only the vaguest reference as to why the Chinese have stopped accepting our 600,000 tonnes of recycling waste materials every year. I'd have to suggest that they probably don't want all that rubbish in their backyards, but the one minor mention in the newspaper reports was that our waste streams are not particularly pure. In less technical terms that means that we mix up rubbish types together in our recycling streams, so that it becomes very difficult to make any practical use of the waste materials. And so now we are going to pay a lot of mad cash just to feel good about recycling.

Everyone needs an ancient and long dead military genius to focus their minds on strategy. I happen to be a fan of Sun Tzu who wrote the treatise 'The Art of War'. It is a good book, and I thoroughly recommend it. Sun Tzu was tough as nails, sharp as a tack, and utterly ruthless. With the recycling debacle, I can't help but hear his words whispering in my mind from down the millennia. And those words implore the reader to:

"If the enemy be at rest in comfortable quarters, harass him; if he be living in plenty, cut of his supplies; if sitting composedly awaiting attack, cause him to move."

From my perspective, it looks as if we are soon to be paying for the full costs (and then some) for handling our waste materials. Of course, I'd be more hopeful about the situation if I heard anyone at all suggesting that we have to change our ways utterly so that we do not produce, or do not accept this waste in the first place. That won't happen, but it sounds good doesn't it?

When I was a kid, I remember clearly that milk was delivered in glass bottles. Those glass bottles were returned, cleaned, refilled with milk, and then delivered again. My mind is telling me that the only way to move forward with this waste situation is to look backwards and see what worked in the past. Until then, I only hope that locals from nearby townships don't dump too much rubbish up here in the forest. At least they may proclaim "Mottainai!" as they do so. Maybe...

The past six weeks here have been sunny and dry. Despite the lack of rain, we still have plenty of water stored (60% full) and the vegetables still get their daily ten minutes of watering. Those sorts of weather conditions are perfect for tomatoes and we are now almost finished dehydrating a years supply of tomatoes in olive oil. Yum!
We are almost finished dehydrating the years supply of tomatoes which we store in olive oil
The tomato harvest has been epic as we process about 100kg / 220 pounds of fruit. Some of the tomatoes are dehydrated, whilst others get bottled as a passata (tomato pasta sauce) and yet others are turned into tomato wine for cooking. Over the years we have learned how much to process, based on how much we can eat of the stuff during a year.

We began excavating out a site to place yet another rock gabion. The rock gabions are used to retain the soil on the terrace used to grow potatoes in steel round raised garden beds. You can see a steel rock gabion cage in the next photo (behind Mr Toothy).
Before the excavations. That tree is huge compared to Mr Toothy!
Half a day of excavations by hand using the solar powered electric jack hammer, moved about half of the area for a new rock gabion.
About half of the space required for a new rock gabion cage was excavated
The soil is being used to create a flat spot next to the existing water tank. We plan to install another water tank of the same size (4,000L / 1,050 gallons) on that flat spot.

We also used some of the soil to correct the slope on the path in front of the wood shed. As we were loading firewood into the wood shed it became obvious that the slope was too severe and it would have to be corrected.
The path in front of the wood shed was corrected with soil relocated from the rock gabion excavation site
All of those huge rocks in the above photo were moved and placed by hand. Some of them weighed more than I do!

Speaking of correcting things, we added an additional concrete step to one of the existing staircases in the garden. This staircase finished next to the 'Poopy-quat' fruit tree. Long term readers will know what I mean by that!
An additional concrete step was added to the staircase which finishes next to the Poopy-quat
Other produce is also bottled (canned) and we have a good supply of pickles and onions in white vinegar. We have grown so many cucumbers that the chickens have been enjoying two every day for the past few weeks. Chickens love cucumber!
The last of the cucumbers.
The bright yellow trailer is being used to bring up mushroom compost (horse manure and stable straw) which is used to refill the many raised vegetable beds.
The bright yellow trailer brings up a cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards) of mushroom compost
The cucumber bed was cleared this week, and it now sports broccoli seedlings.
The cucumber bed was cleared this week, and it now sports broccoli seedlings
Mottainai! No, seriously. Long term readers will recall that I replaced the very dodgy 'leather' (that was not quite leather as you know it) couch with a bright red serviceable and locally made couch which we picked up on eBay because someone else no longer wanted it. Well, the original leather couch was a manufacturing abomination. It might even be possible to suggest that the thing was broken from the factory because the 'leather' cracked and then continued to crack further, and then to add insult to injury, underneath the leather was not leather, but a synthetic backing. The leather in this instance was made from scraps of leather which are somehow joined and attached to a synthetic backing.

The reason I exclaimed: Mottainai! is because you cannot give these things away once the cracking has begun in earnest. We sought quotes to reupholster the couch, but that process costs more than a new replacement couch. What to do with the couch? Well, we have been dismantling it and reusing parts of it. It looks a bit worse for wear:
The manufacturing abomination is now being dismantled
The foam has been very useful for Ollie the cattle dog who seems to want to destroy his bedding. We insert the foam into hessian sacks which are a waste product from a business that I know. When combined, they make great dog beds, and I can get enough hessian sacks for free, that surely Ollie cannot destroy all of them? Maybe?
Ollie's new recycled bedding
I discovered the other day that it is a very unwise decision to have an afternoon nap, after a hot mornings work, on the floor in the living room. As I was asleep, the editor sneakily took these photos of the dogs activity:
Three fluffies!
Mr Toothy the interceptor adds yet another Fluffy!
Scritchy the boss dog checks out what all the fuss is about!
The continuing dry weather is bringing a huge diversity of wildlife onto the farm for a feed and a drink of water. The other day I spotted this young kangaroo:
A young kangaroo drops by for a feed and a drink of water
It is getting late! Onto the flowers:
Caryopteris 'Worcester Gold' - I had to look that one up!
A Gaillardia I planted a week or two ago (despite the heat and dry weather)
Gaillardia 'Burgundy'
Salvia + Lavender + Geranium - all flowering without water
This cactus was attacked by a wallaby a long time ago, but the cactus is fighting on
Check out the honey eater in this silver banksia
The temperature outside now at about 10.00pm is 12’C (54’F). So far this year there has been 109.8mm (4.3 inches) which is the same as last week's total of 109.8mm (4.3 inches).