Monday, 24 October 2016

Saturday Night (Hay) Fever

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

The farm is surrounded by dense forest and the dominant local tree here is: Eucalyptus Obliqua, or Messmate as they are more commonly known. These eucalyptus trees grow very tall and can eventually reach a height of 90m (just shy of 300ft) and live for around 400 years. They are not the tallest tree down under, and they are not even the tallest eucalyptus tree growing in this mountain range. The award for the tallest tree in this mountain range goes to: Eucalyptus Regnans, or Mountain Ash, and those trees can reach in excess of 100m (just shy of 330ft). In fact Mountain Ash is the tallest flowering plant on the planet.

Very occasionally the messmate trees on the farm (and indeed in the surrounding forest) decide to produce flowers. It is rare event when they do produce flowers as it is only once every couple of years. During those flowering times, the entire mountain range smells of honey. The buzz of insects harvesting the pollen and nectar during the day is almost deafening but the smell is beautiful.

However, the inner urban areas of Melbourne smell very different to me and sometimes it can be a bit of a shock to leave the pleasant smelling forest here. The other day I was in Melbourne on business and I noted that the many London Plane Trees (Platanus × acerifolia) were growing strongly because of the very wet winter. London Plane Trees are a popular urban roadside tree as they are not only drought and heat tolerant, but they are also very tolerant of atmospheric pollution and root compaction. They are just like Scritchy the boss dog, one tough customer!

Every year those London Plane trees drop short, stiff hairs which are shed by the young leaves and the dispersing seeds. Those hairs are my kryptonite, as they are a total irritant if I breath them in! And that is exactly what happened that day. I was inside a building and somehow happened to accidentally breathe one of the hairs in and I ended up having a massive coughing fit which soon passed (thankfully). It was very distressing and it was also very lucky for the offending trees that I did not have my chainsaw ready to hand… Why anyone would plant those particular trees is well beyond my understanding? And surely there would be better species with which to line the urban mono-culture with? Pah! We are not friends those trees and I!

Speaking of chainsaws, long term readers will recall that I semi-regularly employ some local blokes to assist with managing the forest here and have done so for years. The relationship between those blokes and the editor and I has not always been smooth sailing, but I have long since come to the conclusion that: they need the work and I need the assistance; and so everyone benefits from that arrangement. Problems become water under the bridge in such circumstances when the realities of both sides are faced. They can do the work and I want the work to be done and so what is the price? It is all a very pragmatic arrangement and that is part of living in a community.

So, as this year has been the year of strong winds, I employed the blokes to assist with cutting up the many fallen trees into firewood lengths and also to assist with cleaning up the old logging leftovers. Logging leftovers are plentiful here, and in this case I refer to the old tree stumps left sitting out of the ground. You see, the tree stumps don’t tend to rot which is why the trees themselves can live for so many hundreds of years. I wish that they actually did rot and turn into good soil, but they do not. The blokes cut the tree stumps to almost ground level and over the next few months, I will grind the stumps into sawdust and hopefully that sawdust will then turn into good top soil over the following year or two. Well that is the plan anyway…
Tiny but brave Toothy poses next to one of the very old and very huge tree stumps cut down to ground level
Grinding a tree stump is a huge job and requires a specialised machine. However once the tree stump is converted to a fine saw dust by the machine, that saw dust is then mixed with the surrounding clay and top soil and ultimately raked flat. The increased surface area of all of that organic matter is a true heaven for earthworms and they digest the contents and convert that to worm manure. Soil organisms then feed on the worm manure. Those soil organisms then provide minerals to the plant root systems in return for the sugars produced from photosynthesis on the sunlight falling onto the plant leaves. The plant leaves are also eaten by the many animals who in their turn produce manure for the soil organisms to eat and around and around the soil fertility cycle goes!
The soil surface comprising sawdust, clay and top soil after a tree stump was ground up
Last week, the editor and I planted out over one hundred tomato seedlings into the tomato enclosure. Well that night a very heavy rain storm knocked all of the tomato seedlings flat to the ground. Then a few days later on Wednesday morning, a light frost hit the farm and only three tomato seedlings survived! It was an impressive set of weather circumstances and it is very fortunate that we grow many more tomato seedlings than we actually require.
A light frost hit here on Wednesday morning
Observant readers will note that the outside temperature was 1.7’C (35’F) whilst the inside temperature was 13.6’C (56.5’F)! I know of so many people who have trouble sleeping and have for many years wondered whether they are over heating their houses and have speculated as to whether that is the cause for their insomnia.

The weather again deteriorated on Friday as two massive storms joined forces. One warm and tropical storm originated from the Indian Ocean to the north west of the continent whilst the cold and Antarctic storm originated from the south west of the continent. And over this part of the world is where they decided to join forces. The extent of the storm was quite impressive and this rainfall forecast map shows just how big it was:
Rainfall forecast map for Friday 21st October over Australia
Once the warmer tropical storm moved on, in only a matter of hours the cold storm brought snow above 900m (3,000ft). I couldn’t believe it, and it was the last straw for the poor tomato seedlings. At this slightly lower elevation the weather alternated between rain, hail and then sleet, but higher up the mountain range, this is what it looked like:
Snow fell in the higher reaches of the Macedon Ranges this week
Mind you, the wet winter and heavy rains have had some serious benefits. The nearby waterfall at Trentham looks awesome and I took this photo a few days ago:
The nearby waterfall at Trentham is absolutely rocking due to the very wet winter
This year and the last year have been particularly cloudy. Nothing shows that unusual cloudiness more than the statistics for the past five and a bit years for the off grid solar power system:
A graph showing the statistics for the off grid solar power system for the past five and a bit years
Yes, tech nerds of the world unite and go feral with that graph above! Everyone else can skip this paragraph! The blue line shows the battery storage state of charge at the beginning of each day. As you can clearly see it drops down low every winter – but some winters are lower than other winters. The red graph shows the usage of the petrol generator. And the green graph shows how much solar electricity I have generated and used. Observant tech nerds will note that in the past few years, I have barely used the generator, and am also slowly learning how to get the most out of the solar electricity that is produced, particularly in summer.

The newly planted fern gully is thoroughly enjoying the very wet conditions this year.
The newly planted fern gully is thoroughly enjoying the very wet conditions this year
I have completely given up on getting any apricot or mulberry fruit this year as the wet and cold conditions do not suit those fruit trees at all. Not all of the fruit trees are suffering though and the many citrus trees here are producing endless quantities of fruit:
The many citrus trees here are producing endless quantities of fruit in the very wet weather
Almonds don’t seem to be bothered by the wet or cold conditions either and the nuts are swelling on the trees. I will attempt to net this particular tree before the local birds crack all of the almond nuts open and eat the contents.
Almonds don’t seem to be bothered by either wet or cold conditions and the nuts are swelling on the trees
The cold and wet conditions have meant that the late flowering fruit trees have fared much better than the earlier flowering fruit trees. The quince trees continued to flower this week, but now the medlar fruit trees have also produced blossoms this week.
The medlar fruit trees have also produced blossoms this week
In breaking chicken news: Earlier this week one of the chickens produced a freaky large egg:
Earlier this week one of the chickens produced a freaky large egg
Which weighed in on the scales at 110g (3.88oz). Ouch!
The freaky large egg weighed in at 110g (3.88oz)
That poor chicken. Anyway, the freaky large egg ended up having a double yolk!
The freaky large egg ended up having a double yolk
The rhododendrons have started producing their flowers this week and I reckon they look great.
The rhododendrons have started producing their flowers this week
The rhododendrons have started producing their flowers this week
The Echium flowers are still continuing to provide food for the bees who have been unable to fly from their hive every day as they probably need to, because of the continuing cold and wet conditions.
The Echium flowers are still continuing to provide food for the bees
The bluebells are showing off their flowers this week too, and the next photo has a bluebell surrounded by sage leaves and an evening primrose.
A bluebell flower surrounded by sage leaves and an evening primrose
By sheer accident (as often happens here) I purchased a huge bulk pack of poppy seeds. As I walked out of the nursery, I thought to myself that that was an expensive purchase, not realising that the nursery charged me $30 for a small packet (which contained 1,000 tiny seeds). Anyway, I had 1,000 (!) poppy seeds and thought that that might have been a bit of overkill, as no doubt that it was. I threw some of the poppy seeds over one of the steep garden beds, and it now looks as if most of the seeds have taken…. Triffid alert!!! Run for your lives!!!!
Poppies have taken over this steep garden bed
Anyway, I enjoy densely planted garden beds as this next photo of another garden bed shows:
I plant garden beds very densely
I made a recording the other night whilst I was out supervising the chickens in the orchard of the bird songs and bird calls here. The recording goes for about 15 minutes and it has not been edited. I hope you enjoy the recording. It can be found at the clickable link here:

The temperature outside now at about 8.45pm is 4.9’C (40.8’F). So far this year there has been 1,060.8mm (41.8 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 1,040.8mm (41.0 inches).

Monday, 17 October 2016

Winding your way down on Scruffy Street

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

I’d like to introduce a new member to our group – Bones Anonymous – tonight and was hoping that everyone can make Sir Scruffy, who is on his first meeting, feel very welcome here.

Everyone: Hi, Sir Scruffy!

Can you tell everyone something about why you are here tonight? The moderator then hands the talking stick to Sir Scruffy who accepts it with good grace.

Thanks everyone for making me feel welcome as I’m a bit nervous as this is my first meeting and all. By the way, we can drop the whole “Sir” thing here as it is just Scruffy.

Everyone again: Hi Scruffy!

Yeah, thanks again. Um, well, I’ve always had this problem with bones and the enjoyment is no longer there for me. I see a bone and it becomes a personal challenge and I turn into a horrid monster. Yes, thanks, I appreciate the disbelief, but here I feel I must keep it real and tell it like it is. Yes, that's right: horrid monster. It all came to a bit of a head about two weeks ago when I was enjoying the Spring sunshine and totally destroying, sorry I meant enjoying, a quiet chew of my beef bone when Poopy the Pomeranian (he is technically a Swedish Lapphund, but let’s not give him airs and graces shall we?) walked way too close to my bone. Not fair, it was my bone, I tell you. Oh sorry, there I go again. And anyway, Poopy copped a good, well deserved and proper biting from me and our dog fight extended for quite a distance into the orchard. Who would have thought that Poopy would have put up such a good fight? Not I! He is pretty handy in a scrap.
Sir Scruffy enjoys a good chunk of bone
Anyway, that is when things turned really ugly. My owner Chris, had to break up the dog fight which I would have won. Chris grabbed me by my collar and dragged me back into the house. Poopy got the bone too. What was worse was that Chris looked me in the eye and said: “You used to be the best dog in the household! What has become of you?” At those words, I felt shame, although technically I still was the best dog in the household, merely because no other dog had seized that title. I had to admit though I do have a problem with bones and I was the major contributor to the ongoing canine Bone Wars. Yes, I freely admit that I have a problem with bones.

“Winding your way down on Scruffy Street
Light in your head and dead on your paws
Well, another crazy day
You'll munch the night away
And forget about everything”

I used to be the best behaved dog, before the bones. Well, technically, I still am the best behaved dog amongst a very motely pack; surely my owners understand that I’m still the same dog underneath it all? It will all blow over in time, maybe.

Anyway, I’m here tonight because, well, I want to find a way back to that unquestioned best behaved dog status. It was a good thing being the best dog ever, as I got to sleep on the floor in the bedroom. I acted as the interpreter for the outside dogs too during the night. For example: Are those fools barking at another boring wombat (unless it was wombat bones… Mmmm wombat bones!) or are they barking at something that needs human attention, like the when the drunks drove down the driveway late one night. How good am I?
Sir Scruffy enjoys his perquisite of sleeping in the bedroom and acting as interpreter for the other dogs
Look, my problem began because I just never had bones as a puppy. None! No bones, anywhere. Not even wombat bones. And bones are the best ever! Look at my bright shiny teeth. Yup, I just can’t control my feelings towards the bones. So, I’m here tonight looking for a canine sponsor to help me control my bones compulsion. As long as it is not Poopy. Who'd want Poopy as a sponsor? Look, the other day he was posing for a photo beside the rapidly growing broad beans.
Poopy poses for a photo beside the broad beans
What a showbag that dog is, he looks good on the outside, but is totally full of rubbish on the inside. And he wants my bones. Oh no, do I have to make amends with Poopy?

Someone in the Group: Yes, Scruffy, it probably isn’t a bad idea to make amends for your past behaviour with Poopy.

What! Well, perhaps I better make amends with Poopy. You don’t know what sort of week I’ve had. It has been one tough week.

Moderator of the Group: Tell us about your week Scruffy, but don’t rubbish on too much or I’ll call it time on you.

“And it's taken you so long
To find out you were wrong
When you thought it held everything”

Oh, well, OK, I can do that. Well, this week it has been waaaaay windy! Do you know how hard it is to look cool when the wind is blowing so strongly that a dog looks exactly like a shag pile carpet from the 1970’s! Yeah, and not like that carpet looked back in the 1970’s when it was new, but as the same carpet would look today. Honestly, it is enough to send any best behaved dog in any household back off the wagon and onto the bones.
Sir Scruffy struggles to stay looking cool in the strong winds this week
Earlier in the week, I wasn’t able to enjoy bones because it was cold. Really cold, so I stayed inside the house as much as possible and practiced my next best gift: Sleeping. And I’m really good at sleeping. I can sleep in the hallway, which has a very nifty in built library, although none of the books have anything useful to say on the subject of bones. Hang on, is that an anatomy book? Oh, interesting!
Sir Scruffy practices sleeping in the hallway / library
But my other favourite spot to explore my gift of sleep is in my sleeping basket. That basket is mine and when I see Poopy sleeping in it, the first thing I do is dob on Poopy! And Poopy always gets evicted, because I was the best behaved dog in the household. So there! Best of all, the sleeping basket is near the wood heater and I feel toasty warm at night, when other lesser canines have to sleep outside.
Sir Scruffy practices sleeping in his sleeping basket
Observant listeners will notice that I look less than impressed in the above photo. Well, there is a good reason for that bad attitude. That’s because the wood heater has been quite smoky this week and hasn’t been putting out much heat. Anyway, on the first dry sunny day, I sent Chris up onto the roof to clear out the wood heater flue. He is very clever and can climb up onto the roof. You would not see me up there.
Chris cleans out the wood heater flue with an extendable brush
Apparently the extendable brush was pushed a long way down into the flue of that wood heater. It is a very clever idea, and I certainly would have come up with such a clever idea if anyone had bothered to ask my opinion.
The extendable brush can be pushed a long way down the wood heater flue
Not much soot fell out of the wood heater flue that day. What actually happened was that a whole lot of steel from inside the combustion chamber had delaminated and blocked up the flue. As I am a sophisticated and intelligent canine of noble breeding, I will not recount the exact words used by Chris to express his dissatisfaction with the wood heater as they included a number of extraordinary and inventive expletives. Who cares anyway as the heater is now burning strongly again. Chris probably needed a nice bone to calm him down. Bones aren’t the problem, they are the solution! Ooops, can I say that here? Sorry for the slip up. Yes, bones are bad.
A large quantity of delaminated steel and a small quantity of soot blocked up the flue in the wood heater this week
Chris was clearly a glutton for punishment this week as he dug up various sections of the gardens watering system today and laid the pipes over the surface. Of course, on a recent dog walk in a local botanical garden I happened to point out to Chris, that those clever gardening people also place their water pipes on the surface and how come we don’t too? Well, I did get a rather withering look from Chris, so I shall keep my opinions to myself in future. One doesn't want to buy more trouble.
Sections of the watering system were dug up, checked for leaks and placed on the soil surface
Who knows what things humans are doing all the time with their constant tinkering and digging. Pah for that! The only digging should be when you are digging up previously buried bones, that’s proper digging that is! Sorry, it’s the bones you see… I just can’t help it!

“You used to think that it was so easy
You used to say that it was so easy
But you're trying, you're trying now”

Then they were mucking around with lovely smelling manure and some plants. Chris said something about the water had to be connected before the tomato seedlings could be planted and so the water pump had to also be replaced as well for some strange reason. There was lots of huffing and puffing in between some rather unsavoury talk. Humans! Anyway, eventually all of the tomato seedlings were planted out. And I said to them: What are you going to do with the rest of the tomato seedlings. And they looked at me and said: Get lost! No wonder, I have to find comfort where I can. Poor Sir Scruffy...
The tomato seedlings were all planted out today just before a couple of solid days of rain were forecast
Given the humans didn’t want me around, I thought I’d do a show and tell for the group and take you on a quick tour showing how everything is going!

“Another year and then you'd be happy
Just one more year and then you'd be happy”

I noticed today that they put some sticks into the two asparagus beds. I don’t know what they’re doing and no doubt, they don’t know what they’re doing either! Still, they must know something, mustn’t they?
The asparagus beds have now had timber supports placed in them so as to stop the spears from falling over
Then I spotted this mysterious flowering bulb. No doubt someone at this meeting will hopefully be able to tell me what it is. Anyone? Then I can show those humans just how smart I am? Well, I was the best behaved dog after all.
The mysterious flowering bulb which produced flowers
Flowers, flowers and more flowers! Can you eat them, that’s what I want to know? I can’t even reach the quince flowers either, but I’m told that they are very attractive.
The quince fruit trees are flowering this week
Yeah, yeah, more flowering bulbs. Blue bells this time.
Bluebells are sporting flowers all over the place
And don’t forget that I was once the best behaved dog in the household! Oh yeah, it is not about me is it, because the next flowers are forget me nots (Haha! How good was that joke, I told you that I was a clever dog!).
Forget me nots are very hardy and reliable flowering plants and even a little bit weedy
The flowers on the pear trees are again out of my reach. I only wanted a taste of them. How unfair! Anyway, there are a lot of unreachable pear flowers this week.
The Asian and European pear trees are flowering
Dogs like chips and I am no exception. Of course being an intelligent dog, I realise that chips come from potatoes so it is very good that Chris planted a lot of them this year. And best of all they seem to be growing well!
The first of the potatoes produced leaves this week
The radishes have also germinated earlier this week. Seriously, what sort of dog eats radishes? What do you mean that you put white radish into my dog biscuit mix. Yuk!
The many radishes and beets have germinated this week in the sunshine
I like bones, but I also like strawberries and it is a total disgrace and a major chunk of unfair that Chris and the editor put layers of bird netting over the many strawberry plants just to keep me out. Not fair at all I tell you!
Several layers of bird netting were placed over the many strawberry plants to protect the fruit and plants from pretty much everything!
Being an old dog, you kind of remember the past and stuff. So I wanted to show a before and after shot to show what is possible for a reasonably neglected garden bed in four years which was the time between the first photo and the second.
Making a garden bed on a steep slope 2012
The same slope in 2016

“He's got this dream about buying some land
He's gonna give up the bones and the one-dog nights
And then he'll settle down
In some quiet little town
And forget about everything”

Thanks for listening to my story and with your support and sponsorship I promise to be better behaved in the future. Woof! Woof!

And also serious apologies to Gerry Rafferty for destroying his most excellent song Baker Street. Dogs will be dogs!

The temperature outside now at about 8.15pm is 8.3’C (46.9’F). So far this year there has been 1,040.8mm (41.0 inches) which is up from last week’s total of 1,020.2mm (40.2 inches).