Monday, 13 February 2017

Yeah, Nah

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There are times when I blame the online computer game World of Warcraft. However, I know that blame is misplaced. The blame, I reckon can be placed on decline, pure and simple. You see, when I was a younger man, I used to be one small part of a much larger social group. I was introduced to that larger social group by a friend I had known since primary school. I also introduced friends to that larger social group too and for many years we had a lot of fun times. But slowly over time, the winds of change swept through the social arrangements and after many years of entropy the binds that held the large social group together failed and people were scattered to the many distant corners of the city.

Strangely enough I was one of the first to move to a distant part of the city. After many years of dating appealing young ladies, I met the editor and I knew I was onto a good thing. We promptly got married and wanted to purchase a house to live together and the only house that we could afford was a small early 20th century workers cottage in a very gritty industrial suburb of Melbourne. The fascinating smells emanating from the nearby refinery competed with the sounds of the heavy truck traffic all hours of the night. At night we used to walk the dogs around the suburb and the editor, the dogs and I were the only signs of life anywhere. In a strange coincidence I used to work with a guy that also worked evening shifts at the local pub and he advised me: Not to pick anyone else’s fight at that particular pub (which shall remain nameless). The other pub in the suburb opposite the heavy industries had fallen on hard times and resorted to attracting the nearby student population with local live music as well as hosting the very eccentric and hilarious drag queen revue night.

Back in those days, that suburb was very dark and gritty and after the editor and I moved to that very unfashionable place some people complained to me that they would not want to cross the Westgate bridge and put one foot in that industrial suburb. It was almost as if they would catch some sort of disease! As an interesting side note, not wanting to cross the Westgate bridge as an excuse has some minor credibility as the bridge had actually fallen down during construction killing umpteen people and if you have ever had the uncanny experience of being stopped on a motorbike on a ten lane bridge 55m (181ft) above the water level whilst the bridge deck bounces up and down you’ll appreciate what I’m talking about when I describe the rather queasy feeling that I get deep down in my guts. However, I rather suspect that my friends and family were cheekily casting judgement upon my supposed poor life choices.

Me, being me, I didn’t really let that judgement by both friends and family bother me, and I chose instead to simply visit them instead. And so I visited those friends regularly for at least the next dozen years. As time wore on, those friends met partners and wanted to purchase a house of their own or they were simply and reluctantly pushed ever further out of the city in all directions. The drive for that push were the forces of economics. In Melbourne the price of houses rose faster than incomes year in and year out and still do, so my friends were scattered all over the city and they ended up living in mostly in very far and remote corners. I on the other hand by this stage was living close enough to the city that I could – and did – walk there every single day for work. My friends kept in contact with each other through the game World of Warcraft where they would meet to battle mighty boss creatures for virtual rewards. Other friends started families and they disappeared into those families rarely to be seen again. Some of those friends even had time to start second families.

Eventually tensions came to a head and after many years of waiting around to see whether the situation would change there was an explosion of emotion and a fight occurred between two competing power blocs of friends. It was a make or break moment and unsurprisingly it broke the large social group.

Having had no hand in that explosion matter, I found that my group of friends had dwindled to not much more than a quiet whimper and there was not much to be salvaged from the wreckage. I chose to sulk my socks off for a few months whilst I contemplated the situation. At the end of the prolonged socks sulking off session, I chose to obtain new friends. The unfortunate thing was that over the years I had been asked by several people if I would like to be their friend and because I had such a large group of friends I always replied: “Yeah, nah” and as such all my eggs were in one basket.

One advantage that I did have with making new friends was that the editor and I had not hung around waiting for the inevitable explosion as we had moved to a rural area and set about constructing our own house. Rural areas traditionally have strong community networks and groups and this area was no exception and I enjoyed them immensely.

However, after a few years, many of those community groups imploded too. Those implosions seemed really weird to me and I always had a sort of rabbit in the headlights feeling as they occurred one after the other. The experience of those community group implosions reminded me of nothing so much as my experience with the disappearing act of socialising with work people in the early 1990’s. Before the Australian recession of the early 90's, drinks on Friday night with work friends was a massive event. In fact there were many Friday lunchtimes we struggled even getting back to work after a few drinks and drunken convivial conversation. Along came the recession and these drinks sessions were the first casualty. I have fond memories of returning to work on Friday afternoons and on several occasions I was instructed by my boss (in a friendly way, of course): “Sit down and shut up for the rest of the afternoon”. To which I always replied: “Yes, boss” which was probably just as well because I didn’t have anything sensible to say in my alcohol addled state!

I sometimes have the strangest feeling that I have seen the end of certain social arrangements. With many of those social arrangements I saw just enough to tantalise me and know that we as a society can do better, but alas, now that we are apparently wealthier, I rather suspect that a certain meanness of spirit has crept into our social lives and so most people have turned inwards. The thing is though, without community, it goes without saying that there is no community.

Did I mention that it has been hot and humid here this week? Thursday morning was the sort of morning you take the chainsaw along with you to the local café.The chainsaw was not required for settling scores like Jason AKA Friday the Thirteenth, but for the more pragmatic reason that the wind gusts blew strongly that morning and in such conditions trees are wont to fall down across the road. I once could not get home in such conditions and had to call a neighbour to come and rescue me. The neighbour, who is a good bloke, brought overalls and gloves that day for me to wear and I spent the next couple of hours hauling fallen timber off the roads whilst trees were crashing around us.
Thursday's temperatures were hot
The humidity only seemed to increase as a band of rain rolled in from across the valley. At least the rain brought a small amount of relief from the heat.
The humidity increased that day as a band of rain rolled in from across the valley
The next day was still hot, but firewood does not put itself in the firewood shed. The editor and I spent about 5 hours that hot day cutting, splitting and stacking firewood in the heat. We use an electric (solar powered) log splitter to assist with the task of splitting the large rounds but even so it is still hot and heavy work. Fortunately for the editor and I we had a little helper that day who was busily consuming all of the insects which fell out of the various chunks of firewood. By the end of that day the little reptile was very chunky! We had to be very careful at all times not to squash/squish/splat this highly active and hungry assistant.
A little reptile assisted us by eating all of the many insects that fell out of the split logs
The firewood shed is really starting to fill up. This year we have stacked the firewood a lot higher than in the previous year and we suspect that this firewood shed, when full, will be more than enough firewood for the cold parts of the year.
The firewood shed is really starting to fill up
Observant readers will note that we are nothing if not neat! Speaking of neat, I thought that it might be useful for readers to see just how deep the deep litter mulch actually is in the chicken enclosure. Every day the chickens scratch the accumulated pile of used bedding straw and manure down to ground level. It takes me only a minute or two of work to build the pile back up again.
Observant readers will note just how deep the deep litter mulch in the chicken enclosure is
The zucchini (courgette) monsters have produced a few zucchinis and we harvested them before they grew any bigger. And the next photo below also shows a huge harvest of basil and rocket which is to be turned into the most delicious pesto.
Zucchini (courgette) monsters were harvested before they grew any bigger along with a good harvest of basil which is turned into yummy pesto
The blackberries have just begun to ripen. Nuff said!
Blackberries have just begun to ripen. Nuff said!
Tomato cam shows a thick – but well contained – jungle of tomato vines.
Tomato cam shows a thick – but well contained – jungle of tomato vines
And the first ripe tomato was harvested on Saturday. Yum!
The first ripe tomato was harvested on Saturday
The many capsicums (peppers) which we are trialing this summer have begun to produce flowers and the first signs of fruit. I hope that there is enough summer left for them to ripen fully. Time will tell.
The many capsicums (peppers) which we are trialling this summer have begun to produce flowers
The most reliable stone fruit this season has been the plums and the D’Agen variety are only a few weeks away from harvesting.
The D’Agen variety of plums are only a few weeks away from harvesting
The mysterious melon has doubled in size this week! Observant readers will note in the next photo below that the other melon variety flower has pollinated and now has tiny little melons on the sprawling vines.
The mysterious melon has doubled in size this week and the other melon varieties have produced tiny melons
Earlier in the summer I planted out a dozen or so gooseberry cuttings and most of them have taken and are now producing a lot of new growth. Next summer I will definitely try and get more cuttings of this plant to strike.
Most of the dozen or so gooseberry cuttings planted out in early summer have taken and are showing signs of new growth
And I like to finish the blog at this time of year with a few flower photos from about the farm:
This is a proper looking meadow
Who doesn’t love cornflowers?
A yellow yarrow flower mixes it up with a mysterious white flowered plant from the mint family
Tansy looks very happy in this corner of the garden and it grows back every single year
The various salvias love the heat of the summer
Tri-coloured sage (salvia) sits happily among the lavender, gotu kola, and maidens tears

White flowered yarrow and the soapwort enjoy the high heat and humidity
The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 13’C (55’F). So far this year there has been 84.4mm (3.3 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 68.6mm (2.7 inches).

Monday, 6 February 2017

Fern Trek 3: The Search for Sir Scruffy

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

Captain Scritchy walks onto the bridge of the juggernaut ship that is Fernglade Farm. Poopy the Pomeranian howls: “Captain on the bridge”. All other canines stand to attention at their posts. Captain Scritchy stands tall and looks imposing.
Captain Scritchy stands tall and looks imposing

“Anything to report Number one?” Scritchy asks with the practiced voice of authority whilst causally taking her rightful Captains seat on the bean bag. Poopy the Pomeranian who as Number One Poopy is Captain Scritchy’s right paw canine, looks about nervously and in a more quiet tone mentions: “Well Captain, there was the minor matter of the spatial anomaly earlier today”.
The canine spatial anomaly presents itself to the slightly baffled canine crew
Number One Poopy continued “The spatial anomaly was baffling because the crew could see the beef jerky strips, but there was an impenetrable and clear force field surrounding those beef jerky strips. Eventually the beef jerky disappeared completely and there is just no logic to that logic”. “Well spoken Number One Poopy, anything else?” asked Captain Scritchy. “There was also the intruder alert which a security detail responded to” replied Number One Poopy.

“Yes, you lead that security detail, didn’t you, Number One Poopy?” to which Poopy replied: “Yes Captain Scritchy! I lead the security detail and we confronted the intruders on deck one by way of the rear door. Nothing serious to report Captain, as the alien intruders fled before the combined might of the security detail. I did notice that Sir Scruffy chose the flank position rather than the frontal assault. Curious that, and I don’t believe Sir Scruffy has been feeling his best recently”.
The canine assault team confronts an intruder on deck one by way of the rear door
“Yes that is rather curious Number One Poopy. Where is the Doctor?” and Captain Scritchy followed that up by saying more loudly: “Where is Doctor Toothy?”

“Here Captain!” and Doctor Toothy sidled over to where Captain Scritchy and Number One Poopy were engaged in conversation on the bridge. “Be a good canine, Doctor Toothy, and have a look at Sir Scruffy over in engineering”. “Right onto it Captain” and so off went Doctor Toothy to engineering to investigate Sir Scruffy’s health.

When he finally caught up with Sir Scruffy in engineering Doctor Toothy asked “What seems to be the problem Sir Scruffy?” “It’s me ear mate, it sore as” retorted Sir Scruffy and he also added “I don’t know whether I can take it anymore, my ears are going to blow!”

“That sounds rather serious Sir Scruffy. Keep still and let me take a look at your ear” and so Doctor Toothy took a look into Sir Scruffy’s ear and said “There is bacterial and yeast life in your ear, Sir Scruffy, but it’s not life as we know it. Here let me put some cleaning agents into your ear, and then perhaps some anti-tribble medication and voila! You should be feeling better shortly and those pesky alien critters will soon be a distant memory.” Sir Scruffy on the other hand had major objections to Doctor Toothy’s ear cleaning and medicating treatment and he let out a howl and said “You stupid oaf, you’ve hurt my ear, you have” and then suddenly without warning Sir Scruffy took himself away to a quiet location on the Holodeck to sulk his socks off for a wee bit.

As Sir Scruffy went off in a huff, his communicator badge made a beep-beep sound and Captain Scritchy could be heard commanding Sir Scruffy ”Report to engineering at once. Ensign Chris and Ensign Editor are just about to take the smaller dirt mouse shuttle off to investigate the planet Tooborac Brewery (where they apparently have a most excellent gourmet pie shop – true story!)”. Sir Scruffy could not be found and failed to respond to his communicator summons. Captain Scritchy was outraged. This insubordination by Sir Scruffy could not be allowed to continue!

Number One Poopy, having been relieved of duty by Captain Scritchy earlier that day, was enjoying a quiet moment of rest and relaxation when he received the summons.
Number One Poopy enjoys a quiet moment of rest and relaxation
“Number One Poopy! Sir Scruffy has abandoned his engineering post in a gross display of socks sulking off. Go find him!” ordered Captain Scritchy. And so Number One Poopy dropped his bone and headed off on an away mission to go and find the missing Sir Scruffy. Meanwhile Ensign Chris and Ensign Editor traveled off to boldly go where gourmet pies are found.
Number One Poopy explores the vast territory of planet Fernglade looking for the sulking Sir Scruffy (him of the sore ear)
Eventually, Sir Scruffy was found consoling himself with a bone in a remote location and Number One Poopy reported his findings to Captain Scritchy.
Sir Scruffy is later found consoling himself with beef bone
“Well done Number One Poopy. Tell Sir Scruffy that a little suffering is good for the soul and report to the bridge at once” instructed Captain Scritchy. “I should take the bone off him” retorted Number One Poopy, to which Captain Scritchy replied “One of the advantages of being a captain is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it. Go back to your own bone Number One Poopy. Job well done!” “Yes Captain Scritchy!”

Yes, Space the final frontier! I was going to write this week’s blog about how space, time, and quiet are some of life’s true luxuries – because they are – and then the mention of the word "space" started my mind turning over Star Trek spoof stories involving the dogs. Don't blame me for this descent into the world of parody, blame the: space, time, and quiet which I get to regularly enjoy (as well as the gourmet pies). And those three things (plus the gourmet pies) really are a luxury.

Sir Scruffy unfortunately does have a sore ear and the very humid winter and spring has upset the natural balance of the diverse bacterial and yeast colonies in his ear, so the editor and I have been cleaning and medicating his ear for a few days. I can assure concerned readers that none of us enjoys that process!

We spent another hot day this week bringing in firewood for the winter. We are deliberately extracting all of the hard to get and overly large firewood and most of it has to be split into smaller chunks. The reason for splitting firewood is so that the pieces can fit into the combustion chamber of the wood heater. For anyone that is curious we estimate that the entire job will take about 140 hours of labour. Of course with two people that becomes 70 hours each so it is a big job, but dry seasoned and locally sourced firewood in the depths of winter is a real pleasure to have access too. There are about 6 to 8 days of work left before that job is completed.
The firewood shed is filling up and there is probably about 6 to 8 days work left to fill it completely
Speaking of 8, a few days ago, the solar power system recorded that the house had used 8MWh since the solar power system had been first connected to the house way back in 2010.
The solar power system recorded this week that it had used 8MWh since it was first switched on in 2010
It has been quite hot this week and the sun feels very fierce and we fortunately split the firewood in the shade on those hot summer afternoons. Some creatures here enjoy the hot weather, such as the local reptiles commonly known as "skinks" who are commonly seen basking in the baking heat of the afternoon sun:
A baby skink basks in the heat of the afternoon summer sun
The summer has been very good for berries and I spotted this very tasty gooseberry (and some of its friends, which were quickly consumed):
We consumed a number of tasty gooseberries that we'd previously missed harvesting
The cape gooseberries which are of the nightshade family of plants that includes potatoes and tomatoes will soon ripen and those plants are enormously productive and they produce huge quantities of tasty fruit.
The cape gooseberries will soon ripen in the hot summer sun
The sweet Siberian melon has almost doubled in size this week. Unfortunately, despite the sprawling vine, I only seem to be able to find a single melon.
The sweet Siberian melon has doubled in size this week
And the Chilean guavas are still quite small now, but they seem to also be rapidly gaining size.
Chilean guavas are starting to swell
The tomatoes are yet to ripen, but they are also getting larger in size and will soon be ripe.
The tomatoes are gaining size and will soon be ripe
The apple and pear trees are still too young to produce much fruit, but here and there about the orchard there are signs as to just how productive those trees will be when they finally mature (at about ten years I expect).
A Cox's Orange Pippin apple ripens on the tree
The Asian nashi pears are very productive trees and they promise to be even more productive in future years
A few years ago we really struggled to find reliable summer greens as the strong sun and summer heat causes most of the varieties that people are used to consuming, to bolt to seed. One of our favourite summer greens has proven to be perennial rocket:
Perennial rocket is a favourite hardy summer green
Vietnamese mint is also a very reliable and hardy summer green
Vietnamese mint is a very reliable and hardy summer green
My dodgy experiment with all manner of beets has produced an extraordinary garden bed of so many different plants that I have honestly lost track of what is what. They are however producing reliable leafy greens and huge quantities of seed some of which we are eating (radish) and some are intended to be identified and saved for next summer - where hopefully, I'll be a bit more organised!
The dodgy and very prolific experimental garden bed of unknown varieties of beets
The heat is slowly starting to cause the only surviving avocado tree to put on a bit of growth and colour. This plant has survived in a sheltered spot for years and has tolerated everything from droughts and heat waves, to heavy snowfalls so I'm hoping that at some point many years into the future it produces some fruit. Maybe...
This avocado has survived all manner of extreme weather conditions and one day I hope it produces fruit!
And at this time of year I like to end the blog with plenty of flower photos for the enjoyment of people who are freezing away in the northern hemisphere winter.
The yellow fennel flowers looks great with the blue hydrangea flowers behind it

A Southern wood (which tastes like Cola) has a red flowering geranium growing in its foliage
Some of the geranium flowers have spectacular colour
But nothing beats the many bush roses which grow intermingled in among the other plants
The temperature outside now at about 8.00pm is 10’C (50’F). So far this year there has been 68.6mm (2.7 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 35.6mm (1.4 inches).