Monday, 24 November 2014

A tale of two tomatoes

The ancient Aboriginals believed that the spirits of the country would be wrathful if the correct ceremonies and rituals were not performed at exactly the right time and in the right location. Their culture revolved around care of the land (country). What I would consider to be work on the farm, they would consider a ritual. Before those rituals were done by the Aboriginals, signs from the landscape were sought and the proper ceremonies were conducted. If the signs were wrong, then the ceremony and ritual didn’t get started.

In an environment that has a great deal of variability in the weather, it probably is a very good idea to seek signs in the landscape to guide your farming practices.

Tomatoes are a late summer / autumn crop at the farm. The small area I set aside for that fruit can yield more than 50kg (110 pounds) per season. In this part of the world there is an unwritten - but often quoted - rule that tomato seedlings should be planted outside on or around Melbourne Cup Day (the first Tuesday in November). Incidentally, Melbourne Cup Day refers to the public holiday for an annual horse race.

This year spring has felt warmer and drier than last year, so I planted out half of the tomato seedlings in mid-October. Here’s what they look like today:

Tomato seedlings planted in mid-October
The second bed of tomato seedlings were planted out in early November. Here’s what they look like today:
Tomato seedlings planted in early November
The difference between the two tomato beds is quite stark, especially given that all plants were germinated at the same time and from the same seed. No seedlings died in the October tomato bed. However, at least half of all seedlings planted in the November tomato bed died and I have since used all of my available seedlings making up for the loss in that garden bed. The entire exercise has shown me that I initially read the signs correctly and then failed to plant all of the tomato seedlings at that time.

It will be interesting to note the differences between the two tomato beds as the season progresses.

To give an indication of just how variable the climate is here, I read in the diary that only two years ago yesterday, I was planting out tomato seedlings!

This week has been quite warm and sunny, however today a tropical storm dumped about 12mm (just under half an inch) of rain and also provided a good lightning and thunder show. For every 1mm (0.04 inch) of rainfall here, 300 litres (79.2 gallons) of water is stored in the main house water tanks. The good news is that with today’s rain, all of the water tanks are now full. The flow of water from the roof into the water tanks is split into two separate pipes and two water tanks so the system is not overwhelmed by serious storms. As they say, a picture tells a thousand words, so here is what the water flowing into just one water tank looked like today:

rainwater collecting into one of the main house water tanks
A few weeks back, I was asked about how the birds which live on the farm have access to a constant supply of water. The answer is that the overflow reserve tank has a flat roof which shouldn't but does collect and store water (it is not mingled with the tank water). As the roof of that water tank is well off the ground, it is a safe spot for all of the birds to land on and have both a drink and a splash around in (they’ll often have a cooling bath in that water during summer). For most of the year the water on the roof of that tank is supplied and cleaned by rainfall, but as the summer gets hotter and drier, I have to pump water onto the roof to keep the birds happy.

sulphur crested cockatoo having a drink on top of the water tank
In breaking rock news (sorry, bad joke alert!): The new stairs have had rocks placed alongside each step. These rocks were put in place because they stop all of the animals and birds on the farm kicking mulch out of the garden beds and onto the steps. A great deal of woody composted mulch was also placed onto the garden beds on either side of the concrete stairs. Observant readers will note just how deeply I mound mulch here - if they look closely at the garden bed on the left hand side of the stairs. Those garden beds are intended to be a summer flowering garden bed. I’ve planted directly into the mulch with very hardy plants: salvia’s, geraniums and daisies and they all seem to be doing well. The rock wall to the right of the stairs is now complete too. Some of those rocks were so big and heavy that they’ve bent the steel wheelbarrow out of shape.

New stairs with rock walls and summer flowering plants

Mowing services are usually provided by the native animals. Stumpy the wallaby and co. do a great job keeping the herbage down. However, usually once per year they are overwhelmed and I have to get the Honda 19 inch push mower out and start walking around. It usually takes about three days of walking to cover the entire farm area. Usually, I start this job in December, but the season here is both warmer and drier, so the signs are suggesting an earlier mowing date would be wise.

The slope of the land at the farm is too steep for a conventional ride on mower as it would tip over and seriously injure me. Even a quad bike feels unsafe due to the slope, and I commuted on a motorcycle for about a decade. It isn’t cost effective to purchase a small four wheel drive tractor as it would only be operated for a few days per year. I’d be interested in hearing about peoples experiences with mowing in these sorts of conditions? When I first moved up here to the farm, I asked many of the locals and the general consensus was that an expensive tractor would do the job – but this is an uneconomical solution.

It would be optimal to keep the herbage long (about 1m or 3 foot in height) over summer.  Longer herbage provides for shading of the soil from the hot sun, which reduces evaporation of water in the soil. This would stop the herbage from dying off and also further reduces the water stress on the fruit trees and forest. However, this is not possible because I cannot rule out the possibility of arson and higher herbage burns much hotter than low herbage.

Mowing the herbage has begun
The shed frame has now been completed:

the shed frame is now complete
A couple of days later, I started cladding the new shed with the old iron that I picked up from the tip a few weeks back. By the time that the job is finished, it will look like the shed was there for a 100 years!

cladding the shed has begun

I’m not really excited by the warmer weather, but the bee garden is and the garden is growing strongly in the warmer conditions:

Bee garden enjoying the warmer conditions

I grow a huge variety of onions at the farm and the bees are really enjoying all of the flowers. During the middle of the day, you can actually hear the buzzing noise generated from all of the insect activity:

Bee enjoying an onion flower
One of the more unusual onions which I grow at the farm is the Egyptian walking (or tree) onion. The plant produces either one or two lots of bulbils which can be broken up and planted. Each bulbil will produce a whole new plant, so I’ve been spreading them all across the farm and each year there are more of these wonderful plants. The old timers used to pickle the onions for later consumption.

Egyptian tree onions doing their thing

The warmer sun has accelerated the brewing activities here. On hot sunny days, I leave the 5 litre (1.32 gallon) demijohns in the hot afternoon sun and it truly turbocharges the fermenting activities. The photo below shows mead, lemon wine and ginger wine all happily bubbling away:

Demijohns making use of the hot sun

Berries have also been ripening in the warmer conditions and both gooseberries and jostaberries look as if they are only a few weeks away from being eaten:

Gooseberries are ripening

But, the winner is… strawberries. The berries went feral this week and after a quick harvest of only a quarter of the area, I ended up with the following:

Strawberries from the farm

Unfortunately, the strawberry plants have overgrown the path that I put into the strawberry bed and I can’t see it anymore! I spotted a really good idea for the strawberry beds and intend to change the entire arrangement over summer when I get a bit more free time.

The temperature outside here at about 8.00pm is 8.7 degrees Celsius (47.7’F). So far this year there has been 717.2mm (28.2 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 712.4mm (28.0 inches). Please note that today’s rainfall is not included in that total.


LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris; Here, the saying goes, "Don't plant you're peas before General Washington's birthday or they will rot in the ground." That's celebrated on the third Monday in February. The actual date is February 22.

Your shed is really looking good. Ditto the new stairway with attendant rock and mulch.

I looked it up. Ground Hogs are not native to this area. Mostly east coast, Canada and up into Alaska. Also called the Wood Chuck. "How much wood, would a Wood Chuck chuck, if a Wood Chuck could chuck wood?" :-).

I'd been kind of wondering what kinds of onions I should plant. Those Walking Onions look pretty interesting. Are they good keepers?

Those strawberries look really yummy! I'll be looking forward to your comments on how to keep a strawberry patch looking good. I plan to put in one, this spring. The patch over at my neighbors abandoned farm is pretty overgrown and probably won't produce much next year. Sad. Lew

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey Lewis,

I'm trying the first of the ginger wine this evening. It is quite good!

I have to confess that much of the dramas that I've had with the firewood is of my own making. Originally, I had very seasoned timber and then tried - unsuccessfully - burning the greener timber. It just doesn't burn well as it needs 24 months of seasoning. The low combustion temperatures also increase the corrosion on the steel due to - I think - volatile chemicals (I sound all knowledgeable, but really have no idea and am only parroting back what others have told me), so it is a job for the summer to rebuild the combustion chamber in the wood box...

The upshot is don't burn unseasoned firewood!!! An expensive error.

I'm going to try the salt next autumn. Sounds like an awesome experiment to make. The flue is pretty clean though.

Too funny, what was St Francis the patron saint of? Losing the head may be relevant to the guy’s story?

Haha! I always joke and tell people in the city that people around here know my business better than I do! Honestly, I was anonymous in the city, but out here everyone knows my business. I suspect a few even read this blog - although how they know about it is beyond me. Watch out for the post lady and make sure to keep on her good side.

I had (well, actually my lady had) a falling out with the postal dude - who has now moved on - and I swear every package was slightly torn as if he was vetting the contents. Honestly, there is very little of interest going on with my mail!

The moles and gophers are probably an important part of the ecology - aerating the soil and turning it over. Do you get dung beetles? I reckon they may work together? Unfortunately, my memory of gophers is Bill Murray's battle with the gopher in the 1980's classic film Caddyshack.

Glad to hear that you are enjoying the show. Yeah, I've known a few quite wealthy people and they think differently. They're not evil, they're just better resourced and perhaps a touch more narcissistic? I reckon people work harder now than in previous eras. It is almost embarrassing how little work is involved in the orchard during the year.

No stress, down here they call that verbal diarrhoea! Unfortunately I've asked awkward questions which are usually left unsaid too. You're in good company!

I had to interrupt the reply because a rat just tried to run past me to get into the chicken enclosure. The absolute cheek of the animal. I have a wood pile close to the chickens and they live under and in the pile. It provides the dogs with hours of entertainment. Lucky I looked too because the chickens had just started to dig up the driveway... Some nights...

Too funny. I'll have to check that series out. Did you just slip in a recommendation under the radar? Hehe!

Exactly, people are very adaptable to new and interesting situations. You have an observant eye; I'd be looking for those sorts of things too. I often wonder whether I should obtain a well-made hand pump with 1 inch connections just in case - you never know. Incidentally, all of the plumbing bits for rural pipes are in imperial measurements...

Yeah, Bob Seeger sang in his song "Night Moves":
And oh the wonder
Felt the lightning
And we waited on the thunder
Waited on the thunder
I woke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off I sat and wondered

I'm probably showing my age, but I still recall virtually every word of that song. It is funny what you remember.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

General Washington's birthday sounds a little less dodgy than a mere horse race, but they take such things seriously down here.

Ahh, the third Monday of February would be late winter for you. Yeah, that probably would be a bit early for peas, although broad beans might just be the exception in temperate areas.

Some public holidays are moved around to either a Monday or Friday here too. Unfortunately during the recession of the early 1990's the government of the day stipulated that to improve labour productivity, all but a few of them that fall on a weekend are now lost. We even used to get a public holiday for the agricultural show, but alas no longer. Slim pickings.

Actually, this is a fascinating topic (sorry, I digress, but then you are a bad influence in such matters! hehe!) when I was a wee lad, the shops all used to close at midday on Saturday. I mean, everything closed. I have a guilty memory of when I used to work as a lad in a Tandy electronics shop (how geeky is that?) and the boss forced me to tell a customer that we couldn't serve them after midday one Saturday morning. I remember as a young adult, that the pubs also had last drinks which was a dodgy occasion as you'd have to buy multiple rounds if you wanted to continue enjoying a quiet pale ale after a certain hour.

I digress. Sorry. Thanks man, really appreciate it. The shed is really exciting, but I'm not sure that I have enough steel sheet to finish cladding it next weekend and they’re predicting rain on Monday (at this stage anyway). I may have to visit the tip shop again (seriously, I really don't need the excuse).

That is definitely a tongue twister!

Wombats and echidnas do a fair bit of digging here, but nothing like any of those animals. There has been unusual scratching’s from the wombat in the orchard of late. Who knows what they were digging for, but I often find witchetty grubs in the ground. They're very common and a good source of protein, but I haven't tasted them yet - directly. The chickens are always excited by the grubs.

Yeah, the walking onions require very little thought or watering. They seriously just multiply. I'm sure if the bulbils were dried, they'd keep, but I can't confirm that as I keep replanting them about the place.

Thanks. They're really tasty and a great early fruit crop. I was down to rhubarb and apricots for fruit, so the strawberries are really welcome. Hopefully the strawberry beds get fixed up over summer. I ripped off a really good idea for the beds and am just waiting for the time to build them - the best ideas are often other peoples!



LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris; I'd Google around on that salt idea. It worked fine for me and my brick chimney, but I wonder if it wouldn't just corrode metal?

St. Francis (of Assisi) was one of those 11th century rich boys who gave it all up to become a religious hermit in the wilderness. He attracted quit a following and ended up establishing a men's order and a women's order. Lots of signs, miracles and wonders involving animals in his story. Some places have a "blessing of the animals" on his feast day. Here in the good ol' U.S. of A., religion being kind of a smorgasboard these days, you see a lot of his statues around gardens, even in non-Catholic households.

My little statue is pretty corroded, but I think there's a small deer and bird. The current Pope,Francis I, picked his papal name in honor of St. Francis. But more because of his work with the poor. So endeth our Epistle for today. :-) .

Yeah, the Post Lady is pretty crusty. It was a long campaign charming her. I had a lot of boxes come, yesterday, and she ACTUALLY drove into the yard and honked. Instead of leaving the dreaded pink slips that I would have to shlep to the post office.
I gave her a carton of 18 eggs. Not the first time.

Oh, the tv series was pretty good. There was always a surly teenager or two drug along on this adventure. Imagine. No Atari or social media for a year! The horror! What was fun about it was that sooner or later, someone would go over the top and off the deep end. A real melt down, usually over some small thing. I remember the mother on "1910 House" ... her breaking point was the discovery that shampoo wasn't invented until 1927. And, the 10 year old boy would only eat cheese and bread ... the only thing he recognized as edible.

My memory is pretty crap, but it's funny the things I do remember. Several of which I wish I could dump. I'm looking into "mindfulness".

Oh, I remember the Tandy stores. Before electronics, at least in the US, they were leather stores. One of the many manias I had as a youngster was leather "tooling." Many trips to the downtown Portland Tandy store to pick up a new carving tool.

Retail hours are a whole can of worms. I remember reading several articles about the impact American big box stores had on European traditional store hours. I think it all boils down to a lot of people having lost the ability to plan more than 10 minutes in the future.

Well, we're gearing up for our big Thanksgiving holiday, this Thursday. It supposedly commemorates the Pilgrims first Thanksgiving. Actually, it's pretty much an entirely Victorian construct. Me, I prefer to spend the holidays by myself. Being kind of a hermit and almost an orphan :-). I've been invited a couple of places but gracefully declined.

But, I hit the high points. Turkey, dressing (stuffing), cranberries and pumpkin pie. Sounds like a lot of work, but I take the easy way out. The turkey is a frozen loaf in a pan, the jellied cranberries come out of a can, I buy the pumpkin pie. Maybe next year I'll feel inspired to do an actual bird and make a pie from scratch.

Those strawberries ... any strawberry / rhubarb pie in your future? Or crisp? (Forget what you call it there). Jam? Hard to put by any of the first berry crop. Lew

Stacey Armstrong said...

Hey Chris, (and Lew)

You have asked some questions about my woodstove that made me go and actually examine it more closely! It looks like it is welded plate steel. The inside of the stove is lined with fire bricks which we have replaced once in seven winters.

As for fire starting. We are happily in possession of a great deal of dry cedar at the moment. It make the best kindling and splits easily with the hatchet. Wasn't it you Chris, who was celebrating the existence of matches at the ADR? I tend to agree with you, and I have three winter's worth stockpiled. My goal is to get the fire started by only using one match. I think of it as an "appropriate challenge." So the stick and paper triangular structure I build inside the stove in the morning can be quite elaborate. I do have a small person helping me crumple the paper and passing me more sticks!

I can't even imagine mowing for three days with a push mower. I had a summer job mowing a couple of grave yards when I was a teenager and those took a whole day; there were a lot of corners.

I will be quite interested to see if your smaller tomatoe plants catch up with the others and fruit at the same time.


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

You're probably right and it probably isn't worth the experiment. I think the inner tube of the flue here is stainless steel as it is quite a glassy finish. The fires tend to run quite hot because the firewood is so dense (if it is seasoned too! ;-)), so the flue stays reasonably clean.

An old timer told me that the glass on a wood stove is a good indicator of the condition of the flue.

He sounds alright! Thanks for the history lesson too as it is quite interesting. Religion doesn't get much air time down here, although the mormons turned up the other day. Came down the driveway, past the keep out sign, in their big four wheel drives too. They got a surprise though, because the big pomeranian was running around on patrol duties and he spotted them. I managed to catch him before he got too close and said to the people, "You better leave, he's not good with children". Meanwhile the dog is looking all crazy eyed for some weird reason - sometimes he takes a dislike to people and you just never know who it may be. The previous owners used to beat and yell at him a lot. He requires a gentle hand to win his trust. The mormons sprinted back into their cars and left. Poopy got a dog treat. Nice work too. I wonder if St Francis would have approved?

haha! I'd loan you poopy if I could and he'd sort the crusty postal lady out. Not sure you'd get your mail after that though. Possibly your strategy is more successful in the long run. My mother used to say: "You catch more flies with honey, than vinegar". No doubt that she was correct. I'm generally very polite with people that I have an ongoing relationship with. Courtesy doesn't cost much, but people remember it.

That would be too funny! What a laugh. It may be possible that she had not seen a bath before either? We make our own olive oil soap - which is a true soap and not a detergent. That is what they used to use on their hair. Mind you, a of photos from those days show a fair bit of greasy slicked back / plastered to the scalp sort of hair, so who knows?

Mate, that kid would possibly starve here! I took it as a compliment when a friend once said that the pantry here scared them as they didn't know what most of the stuff was.

Rosemary is an excellent herb for memory, although I know a local guy that swears by fish oil.

Yeah some memories, I wish I could dump too. I hear you.

No way! Seriously. Wow. I had no idea. I wonder why the stores changed so dramatically? Down Under we only ever got a subset of what was sold in the US and they'd send us the US catalogs anyway. There was some good stuff in them. One night, the boss left me to lock up the shop. So as you do, when you're young and dumb, I invited my mates down and we filled up the remote control cars with all of the batteries from behind the counter and took them off racing up and down the street. Good fun. Surprisingly, I didn't get in trouble or sacked for that.

Oh yeah, planning is a lost art here too. They're probably right.

Yeah, the big family thing around holidays is not for me either as it kind of brings me down. Life deals everyone different cards and things are pretty good - no complaints here - except it can get a bit too hot (did I just slip in a complaint?). I like the quiet life too. Everyone ends up an orphan at the end anyway, that's life.

It actually sounds pretty yum. What do you do with the cranberries? They're not sweet at all, I grow them here, but am just left wondering about them.

Yeah, jam and fresh eating. Although I have to fess up and say that the last years batch of strawberry and rhubarb jam has turned a strange baby vomit colour (like a grey / brown). It tastes OK, but the colour is really not exciting me. I'm wondering whether I put enough citrus in the mix? Dunno. It isn't good though. The best mix was blackberry and rhubarb. That was awesome.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Stacey,

Yeah, welded plate steel is the go here too. They used to make them out of cast iron and I'm wondering if they'll last longer in that material? Yeah, there are fire bricks here too, but it is the exposed metal near the top sides (left and right) of the combustion chamber that seem to be peeling away.

The old timer units were made from cast iron and the literally went for decades, but who knows? I'll ask around and see what people come up with.

I'm going to cut some 5mm or 6mm (that's 0.2 inch) steel plate and fit into the chamber during summer when the unit isn't required (in case I completely stuff the whole job up is my thinking ;-)!) and hope that fixes it.

Cedar is a great tree. Very hardy. The timber is meant to be quite fragrant. Many of the species here have quite distinctive and usually pleasant smells.

I grow a Norwegian spruce which I use as a Christmas tree, although it is usually quite warm here at that time of year, so I stick with the tinsel and maybe some dodgy flashing colour LED's.

You have an excellent memory. Oh yeah, matches are good - really good. I have a flint and steel - in fact several, but matches make things so much easier. The pyramid shape is excellent and I use the exact same structure when outdoors for the burn-offs here too. Nothing beats it. Nice to hear that you've put your little helper to work. It is an excellent education and they get to see how complex things can be when you can't just flick a switch. True appreciation!

Incidentally, I've been experimenting with what is the easiest form of kindling for the flint and steel. The two contenders are: Dry shredded bark - the trees here are quite fibrous; and dried organic matter that had previously been damp and then compacted.

Graveyard! Yikes, did you get a bad vibe from the place or was it a peaceful place? Oh yeah, the corners.

I find that the job has to be done a few hours at a time. The afternoons are a killer because of the sun.

Yeah, I suspect they will be a few weeks later. The first tomato bed is growing strongly now, but won't fruit until mid to late Feb.



Rich Brereton said...

Hi Chris,

It's been a pleasure and a trip to watch your farm spring back into bloom while things settle down for a cozy winter nap around here. Looking at those strawberries I'm not sure if I'm feeling reflection and nostalgia for the season gone by, or getting psyched for the next one. :) Probably a bit of both. Nothing beats a strawberry rhubarb pie still warm from the oven.

That shed is looking good! Does it get to be a million degrees in a steel shed in that powerful Oz sunshine you guys have down there?

Mowing, man, I feel you. My first steady job was working for a landscaping company, pushing a push mower up and down street medians and small grass patches. I found that when you're getting paid by the hour it's not so bad, kind of meditative actually! As long as it's not in the heat of midday. But running a farm I imagine you have to consider more than just how pleasant or onerous a task is; you probably need to do things in a time-efficient manner with a million other claims on your time. (Though your comment about how little work the orchard requires in summer seems to say otherwise.) One way or another that grass has to get shortened. You said you can't rule out arson - that's a huge bummer, sorry that you have to keep that on your radar, but you strike me as a keen observer of human nature.

Woodstoves are fantastic, but they are finicky beasts, more than I realized. My family and I are living for the first time in a house with a woodstove for primary heat and it is an educational experience. There are no benefits to burning green wood, other than it keeps the house warm in a pinch! ;)

I'll be around, in lurking mode if not commenting! Keep up the great blog!


onething said...

1. It would be nice if you could choose a darker font as light grey on white is hard on my eyes.

2. How big is that round tomato bed? I am confused. I found that tomato plants become quite huge and I would think one plant is enough for that container, unless it is much bigger than I realize. And two, are you going to stake them?

3. Is that basil growing near the water pipe in your picture?
4. I admire your rocks. Ours tend to all be gray.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris; Well, I made my weekly trip to the "Little Smoke", yesterday. Madness, madness, all is madness. The Holidays have officially begun. Any little errand takes twice as long as every one else is nuts. :-). Glad I'm an old retired guy who can just lay low, for the most part, until sanity is restored along about January 2d.

Well, I got curious about Tandy and did a couple of Wikipedia searches. Yes, Tandy Leather and Tandy electronics did spring from the same roots. But the whole story is pretty convoluted with lots of mergers, buyouts and sell offs. It sounds like Tandy always looked at itself as a hobby and crafts kind of company. Back in 1963 they bought Radio Shack. When I think of it, back then, electronics was more of a hobby field. More hands on tinkering. Building crystal sets and all of that.

I've had pretty much of a ringside seat as to the history of retail in the 20th century. The rise and fall of the Malls. Let's see ... in my checkered job career, I've worked in at least ... 8 malls. And, I might have missed a couple. I remember when we started doing Sunday openings. At first, if you worked a Sunday, you got time and a half pay. That was the standard for 2 or 3 years until everyone got used to the idea and then it was phased out.

As far as planning ahead goes, I'm the kind of neurotic that wants to make things as easy for other people as possible. As a small example, if I go grocery shopping and don't have much ready cash, I write out the check before hand ... everything except the amount. I mean, I know I'm going to the store, I know I'm going to be writing a check. Just a little forethought.

You grow cranberries? Here, they are a coastal crop grown in bogs. Washington State used to produce quit a lot of cranberries. Out on the coast. It pretty much collapsed a few years ago due to, wait for it, globalization.

Oh, I just pick myself up a can of "Jellied Cranberry Sauce." It's loaded with high fructose corn syrup, which I usually avoid. But, it's one can, once a year.

Don't know what to tell you about the color of your strawberry / rhubarb jam. Of course, modern food has been so tinkered with, as far as colors and dyes go. I won't forget the time I made catsup from scratch and it turned out pink! Nothing like the fire engine red you get from the store.

Too funny about your friend being frightened by your pantry. A bad case of forgetting where our food (real food) comes from. Lew

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Rich,

Thanks mate. It is a pleasure to share the place. The strawberry and rhubarb pie sounds really good and you've got me checking out recipes (a strawberry and rhubarb cobbler sounds interesting too). An excellent use for all that solar power which is going to waste! ;-)

Many thanks. Yeah, the hottest I've seen is 45.6 degrees Celsius (114'F) in the shade. That day was crazy. Everything gets hot. By mid-January to mid-February, I'll take a photo of the weather station digital readings showing just how hot it can get - should make quite the contrast to your winter weather?

The shed has a high ceiling so it shouldn't be too much warmer inside than the outside air temperature - but I may just open the doors up on those days and let the air circulate. The house has 250mm (10 inches) thick walls stuffed full of insulation with fire rated wall cladding inside and out, so it stays relatively cool.

Yeah, mowing is like meditation, plus it is nice to be outside - before mid-afternoon though. It would have been a very pleasant job?

Mowing is a once a year activity here - depending on summer rainfall.

I wasn't kidding about the orchard being low maintenance. There are four jobs to do:
- Mow the herbage;
- Remove grass from around the trunks of the trees
- Feed the trees a mulch/compost combination; and
- Water just before any prolonged heatwave hits.

That really is all they require. I don't spray. Rarely prune - only the dead wood. Fruit picking is a pleasure, so it hardly counts as work.

It is setting up, adjusting and maintaining the infrastructure here that takes 90% of my time.

Yeah, arsonists are a nuisance and indirectly affect the way I run this place. I'm literally many years away from being able to completely disregard their nefarious activities... Hopefully I'll get there though, but you can't count your chickens before they're hatched as they say and every summer is risky – not just from them, but from stupid activities too. You are only as good as the weakest link here.

Great to hear about the wood stove. Excellent work. Firewood is the most sustainable fuel by a long margin, but wow, what a learning experience. Yeah, green timber, what a nuisance (but you can chuck it in once the fire is really hot) ;-)!

Nice photo on your avatar too!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi onething,

Very organised, I approve!

1: No worries, I'll have a look into it. Blogger is still a bit of a mystery to me though.

2: The bed is at least 2m (7 foot) in diameter. The summer here has high temperatures and low humidity, so the risk of fungal diseases is quite low. Close spacing of the plants also reduces evaporation and increases the shading of the plants. Tomatoes require heat - not light in order to ripen. But in humid places, they require air flow to avoid the fungal diseases.

If you look at the photos of the bee garden, you'll see just how closely things can be planted here. The orchard is the same too and I'll have trees growing closely together and they will eventually form a closed canopy. It wasn't that long ago that the continent supported almost one third of its land mass as a giant rainforest. Interestingly too, many of those local rainforest species - which are still around and waiting for their day in the sun again - are very, very drought adapted. The eucalyptus trees succeeded because they are fire adapted, but dense stands of local rainforest trees can form a barrier to fire – although the outer edges get sacrificed in the process and eucalyptus trees may move in again.

An outstanding observation!

3: You've got a sharp eye. I grow basil over summer to have with the tomatoes. However, the plant that you are looking at in the photo is actually basil mint, which people reckon tastes like basil, but I reckon it tastes like basil mint.

I use mint as a very hardy and weedy pioneering plant to get areas started for later planting. Mint is weedy, but it has yet to take over any area here and many other species simply give it a good kick.

4: What sort of rock is grey? The rocks here are all of volcanic origin as the mountain range is a volcanic massif. The rocks support all sorts of life too: reptiles; frogs; insects; spiders and scorpions. It is interesting to move them and see what is living under or on them. All that life speeds up the various systems here. It is really interesting to watch. Mind you, a lot of them bite and sting which can be a real nuisance, but they keep all of the garden beds happily growing.

Thanks for the great questions and fascinating observations.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

hehe! Got side-tracked as I was volunteered for strawberry picking between replying to comments. About 4 pounds just then and we only got through a third of the bed. Lots of strawberries!

No way! Ahh, that is where the radio shack came from. In the mid 80's their product was still labelled with radio shack. It was a bit of a geeky field of employment which was fun. They sold components in those days, but not kits or anything like that. I used to send customers off to more specialist stores when they were after something more complex. Never hurts and builds loyalty I guess - well no one ever stopped me.

Crystal sets were a lot of fun and easy to build. Back before FM stereo radio kicked off here, they started mucking around with better quality AM radio and even stereo, but it never took off. I even remember an AM radio that didn't require batteries, but it needed a huge antenna.

Wow 8 malls. The Sunday pay thing is rough. They're trying to eliminate penalty rates here now. I assume you worked in book shops? That would have been interesting and also a constant temptation to buy the product.

Books are very expensive here, so there is a big trade in second hand books. I read Bill Bryson's travel stories when he visited Down Under and he was quite surprised by that. Do you have much of a market for second hand books up your way?

That is very thoughtful in being prepared. Incidentally, the stores here rarely accept cheques nowadays as it is mostly cash or credit card. Incidentally a lot of businesses ask for cash and: "do you want a receipt with that?" I can't imagine why? hehe

Oh no. When it is all over we'll sit down over a quiet ale and say globalisation was a bad thing - in the long run. Yeah, Claire was a bit surprised about the cranberries too and the red and black currants. But they all happily grow without too much extra water. They may have done selective breeding for local varieties though, you never know.

Yeah, once a year is not going to kill you! hehe. ;-) There has to be special occasions to enjoy.

The strawberry / rhubarb jam culprit has now been discovered at lunchtime today. It has discoloured a bit, but it isn't off. My lady's olive oil butter substitute rubbish thingee was actually off. We've decided to ditch that particular product as the inside of the container went a bit mouldy. Anyway, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.

Unfortunately, we'd fed a big bottle of strawberry and rhubarb jam to the worms. They probably won't appreciate it either given what they normally eat.

Too funny!

Catsup is that ketchup or tomato sauce as we call it? Yeah, pink food sets off alarm bells for sure! hehe!

I make green tomato chutney which is really nice but it is really green...

I like giving people the blue eggs from here as they always look cool. Actually I reckon people will be getting strawberries in the near future.

Yeah, it'll be like that kid in the show. They did have cheese and bread back then, it just probably looked and tasted differently.

I listened to the Kunstler podcast too and it was very enjoyable thanks. I had to laugh when they started talking and making jokes about cheese doodles whatever they are. It doesn't translate well into common speech Down Under for various reasons. Probably why we've never seen them here.

Incidentally too, the book by Sue is very enjoyable. She is like an observational scientist, although the book reads like a blog, in that each chapter is separate but joined to the previous. She leads an interesting life.



LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris; Before I forget, again :-). Rosemary for remembrance, indeed. You asked about rooting the Rosemary. Over at the old farm, there's a Rosemary bush that's 4' high and 6' across. I cut off about 12" branches. You strip the bark off of the lower 6". I plopped those in a jar of water in the kitchen window. I'm glad I read on the Net that they take a looong time to root. And, they do. I gave them a shot of worm juice, too. Oh, and you're supposed to change the water, every once in awhile. I finally got them in the ground ... not long before the big freeze. I've been afraid to look at them, but checked them today and they look fine.

Yeah, I worked mostly in bookstores, in malls. S. California, Portland, Olympia, here. I did one stint in a mall department store. I worked in the kitchen gadget section, which was really a lot of fun.

Yes, books are really expensive. I occasionally get something from the library that I might want to purchase for myself. There's a real nice herb book. It's an oversized paperback with lots of color. $27.50.

I ran a second hand bookstore, here, the last three years before I retired. I'd rather not dwell on it. It left me with a very bitter taste in my mouth as far as the locals go. I kept a lot of the good stuff when I closed out. I have an Amazon account set up, but haven't got around to selling a lot from it.

Hmmm. Dry land cranberries? How novel. Well, I've heard of dry land rice. But I don't know if it's some GMO horror, or selective breeding.

Catsup. This stuff ... the Heinz. Ooops! The URL ran to 5 lines. Don't think we'll go there. Google "Catsup Images." When I was a kid growing up, about the only condiments were this catsup and, what passes for mustard, in America. Oh, yeah. Mayo. And some really awful stuff called "sandwich spread" that my Dad was partial too.

Of course, now there's all kinds of relishes, chutneys, tomato sauces, pasta sauces, etc. Available in the stores.

I haven't had a cheese doodle since I was a kid. They come in different sized plastic bags. They are about 3" long and gnarly. Highly salted. Puffed something or other. An orange / yellow color never seen in nature. One of those snack foods that you could mindlessly eat your way through without even thinking about it, sitting in front of a tv or computer.

Glad you like the Hubbard book. I'm almost through "Extra Virgin." Funny how the guy who becomes her boyfriend in the second book keeps popping in and out of the first book, and she doesn't have a clue :-).

I can't quit ... verbalize it, but it's interesting how she keeps bouncing off the traditions of the area. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "set in their ways." But, as she finds out, there's sometimes real concrete value to the "folkways."

Well, I guess I'll go pick at the remains of my holiday feast. Something I'll be doing for quit a few days. Lew

Angus Wallace said...

Thanks Chris,

Great post! It really makes me realise just how far we have to go (we've been at it at our place for 18 months, and are starting to get some of the human-built systems towards what I want, but the garden has a looong way to go :-)

I perticularly loved the strawberries, path, tanks and onions.

We planted two batches of garlic, which we recently harvested. The first did well, despite intermittent watering, but the second was too late and had a very small yield. We got about 2 kg of garlic, which was still fairly satisfying but we could have had 5 kg if we got it right!

Our biggest tomatoes are not 50 cm tall and starting to fruit -- but I'm sure it's warmer here ;) The smallest are still in the propagation tray -- we'll see how they go when it's 45 degrees!

Cheers, Angus

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

What were we talking about, I forget? ;-)!

Oh yeah, rosemary is an ancient assistance to memory. Thanks for the info too as I've been buying in seedlings for rosemary as it grows so well. I'll try that when the farm heads back into autumn (which is the planting time). There are so many hints and tricks to all of these plants, sometimes I run out of time and energy to learn them all.

Nice to hear that your rosemary cuttings are taking.

Speaking of which, the local seed savers group convinced me to plant some cuttings of wormwood and they're taking far more easily than I would have imagined. One of my favourites is Southern Wood which has a cola flavour. It is much slower growing than all of the other wormwood's.

It would help that you like cooking too! Kitchen gadgets can be quite good. A mate is a serious foodie and I always get lessons on cooking various things. He taught me how to make pasta from scratch. It is worth the effort and it does taste much better than the dried stuff. Haven't tried gnocchi though - which is a potato based pasta.

Speaking of kitchen gadgets have you ever used a micro plane? Good stuff, but very sharp - like most things in the kitchen.

Ahh, that is a little bit cheaper than what we'd pay here. For some reason I always thought that it would be much cheaper in the US? For some weird reason, it is cheaper to get books online from the UK - delivered to my post office - than purchase from either a local bricks and mortar or online store. I tend to purchase from the local stores - they need the support.

As a bit of a confession, I miss the big Borders book stores though. They had everything - it was huge - and I could while away a few hours in one and always end up buying something. Oh well.

Yeah, locals have to support bricks and mortar stores or they disappear. There are quite a few second hand book shops Down Under and they do a brisk trade. Some of them are disorganised though and it is hard to find anything at all - even though what you are looking for may be there. I picked up much of the more obscure Jack Vance books at one of the local bookshops. I've read some of the stories so many times that the bindings are getting a bit sad.

No, I believe Master Fukuyama - of the one straw revolution fame - grew dry land rice. It is a grass after all. I'll see whether I can dig up a YouTube clip...

Natural Farming with Masanobu Fukuoka

The funny thing is that the guy plants lots of nitrogen fixing trees from around my area. It is really weird to see that in Japan. My understanding is that his book "The one straw revolution" is a bit esoteric, but that is a reflection of the culture he comes from.

Sandwich spread sounds a bit dodgy, but I'll tell ya, when I was a wee lad, they used to have this stuff called sandwich meat. I aint stupid - as they say - but that stuff didn't look like any meat that I'd ever seen! hehe. I remember steak and kidney pie used to be served up from a can too...

Cherokee Organics said...


Hot English mustard is awesome! I'm partial to the cooler French mustard too. The stuff from the US tastes a bit sweet for my liking and is rather strikingly yellow coloured. Dijon mustard is really good too.

Many thanks, all is now explained. We call them twisties as the US name doesn't translate well here, they’re a bit smaller too at about one inch.

Yeah, it is funny. I reckon you probably read the books in the right order too. I always liked Salvatore’s observation that: "land is there to save you money, not earn it". He was a wise gentleman and had much to say about Australian culture in the 1950's. It wasn't good either, but the criticism was earned! Incidentally, every time I go past a field of those weedy chokes he was talking about, I look at them and wonder. The old timer Greek and Italian dudes used to go picking weeds for Spanakopita pie. They were onto something good.

Too true, I often wondered whether the locals real fear of the second coffee was a system by which they reduced the overall consumption of coffee. It is a fascinating way to set upper limits on a resource? Dunno, really.

I wish you well and hope that you enjoy your holiday feast! Turkey is good. I heard a news report that two turkeys were given a Presidential pardon this year?



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Angus,

Many thanks! I've had a bit of a head start though. ;-)!

An old timer told me that the time to plant fruit trees was yesterday! Too funny.

Strawberries and onions are both givers in that once you set the beds up, they just happily grow and multiply and also importantly - spread. They're both very sun hardy too as strawberries have huge root systems, whilst onions have bulbs. They're really massive and deep. The strawberries were planted into a few cubic metres of woody composted mulch too - as they're originally forest plants like most berries, so they don't require quite so much nutrition.

Well done, garlic is a hard crop to get right, so even 2kg is a good outcome. Check out what people pay for locally grown garlic - as most is imported these days. People tell me that Down Under, autumn is the time to get the cloves in the ground, although some people get them going in early winter. Dunno though.

How are you going for water? There's meant to be some reasonable storms passing by over the next week or so.

Nice work. Half a metre for your tomatoes! They're only about 15cm here (3/5 inch). I look forward to hearing about your early harvest. The plants are very hardy to heat. They are the thirstiest crop here though - and on those 45'C (114'F) days they'll get a good drink at nighttime (before and after that weather). The heat does bring on the ripening fruit though. Sometimes if it is out of control hot, I'll water them at lunchtime too, but on the compost not the leaves as the water and sun combo may burn them.

One year it rained too much and the tomato fruit started splitting which was a nuisance.

If you're getting 45'C one day, I'll be getting 43'C the next. I hear you!

Keep up the good work. Cheers. Chris

LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris; Our first snow, this morning! For three hours or so. Just a light dusting. Suns out now and it will probably be gone by afternoon. The animals were too funny. Usually, when I open the chicken coop, it's like rush hour. This morning they all hung back, just checking out this strange stuff falling out of the sky. The dog Beau just looked grumpy. Nell the cat thought it was old hat.

Yeah, it's hard to keep up with all the tips and tricks to gardening. I have a pretty extensive library. Funny you should mention "One Straw Revolution." I have a copy but will probably weed it out and sell it on Amazon, sooner or later. I enjoyed it, but don't think I'll be referring back to it.

I think I may have a micro plane around. I've always had a lot of gadgets, but when my neighbors died, I REALLY gained a lot of stuff for the kitchen. After about a year, I should really go through it and weed out the stuff I just don't use.

As far as book stores go, of course, we have Powell's in Portland. I remember when old Mr. Powell just had a hole in the wall across from the main branch of the Portland Public Library. Now, it covers a city block. I always liked that they shelve the new and used books together. You get to decide if you want to pay a bit less for, maybe, something not in sterling condition. Back in the old days, I used to go to Powell's and if I couldn't find what I was looking for, always felt like it was there somewhere, I just overlooked it. Now, everything is on computer. Since my Uncle Larry died, I don't have a reason to visit Portland. So, haven't been to Powell's in years. I did some serious economic damage there.

There was a section in "Ripe for the Harvest" where she learned to make potato Gnocchi from her boyfriend. Something I'd like to try. I like a good sharp mustard. I usually buy a small company brand that has a bit of horseradish in it.

Oh, yes, I know what "sandwich meat" is. We certainly have enough of it in the stores, here. I thought it was pretty nasty when I was a kid, and still do. I don't eat much meat, but when I do, I want it to be clearly identifiable as coming from one animal or another.

We also have weenies or "hot dogs" here, whose sources are pretty unidentifiable. Luckily, we still have people and companies turning out "real" sausages. I must confess about once a year I get a craving for "fish sticks." They are finger shaped, ground fish of who knows what variety. Breaded. They come frozen and you bake them. Sigh, I do like them in a sandwich with some good tartar sauce and maybe some melted cheese. My yearly mania is upon me and I'm just waiting for them to go on sale.

The whole presidential turkey pardon is fairly recent. The first president Bush, I think. So silly. Just another media distraction from the serious stuff that goes on. Lew

thecrowandsheep said...

Hi Chris,

This all looks fanastic. I have a (possibly impertinent, sorry) broader question. Any reason(s) why you choose the farm location and topography where you did?


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Lewis,

Nice to hear about your snow. Is that early for the season?

Haha! Nell is young and the young don't feel the cold - lucky them. Poor Beau, he's probably all crunchy from the cold temperatures (the older dogs love the hot weather here). Bet the chooks are grateful for the light in their hen house?

Too true, and so much is dependent on your exact piece of land. A mile or two away with a different elevation and aspect to the sun and it can be a whole different world. I've read about people making some reasonable cash selling second hand books - which they picked up in bulk - on Amazon. Was Master Fukuyama's book worth reading?

In the video he comes across as a bit of a crotchety old thing, but then I'd probably be that grumpy at that age too. hehe! Although at other times he showed great patience and interest in his surroundings. Still he achieved dry land rice crops which is an impressive feat.

Kitchen gadgets can be quite useful and you never know how useful until you're shown how to use them properly. As a caveat though, I reckon there is an inverse relationship between price and usefulness. What I mean is that as the price of the gadget goes up, the usefulness drops - but there is increased status for the purchaser. But then, I'm probably a bit cynical for my age... ;-)!

Serious economic damage - that is a keeper! Nice work. Shelving the new and used books together is a really interesting idea, which I've never seen here as the shops are always new or used, but not both. A city block is huge for a book shop! Unfortunately, there is no money in books or writing Down Under. A local author who wrote an international best seller The Slap about contemporary life and culture in Melbourne is a truly amazing and intense read (yeah, yeah, I slipped in a recommendation - but it is a good read, really, really good) - but such heights doesn't quite fund you to retirement. PS: The ABC produced an 8 part television series based on the book and it is fairly true to the spirit of the book (oh no, another recommendation!). ;-)!

Does Portland have other reasons to visit the city? Sometimes I find that I've been hiding and enjoying myself up in the mountains and forest for a few days and haven't noticed that the world has passed me by. The ADR is a good wakeup call from time to time.

Yeah that is the spirit. Horseradish is indestructible here and I eat the leaves as a summer green. They actually substitute horseradish roots for wasabi here (plus a bit of green food dye) and the stuff is explosive. I call it brain pain! hehe!

Actually, my softer side hasn't quite managed to pluck up the courage to dig up the plants in autumn, cut up all of the roots and then spread the plant all over the place. It is a real survivor - much like rhubarb.


Cherokee Organics said...

Yeah, mustard can give you some serious brain pain too! I respect your dedication to the mustard cause.

Nuff said about the sandwich meat. Any meat that looks like a cereal product mixed with offal and tastes weird is probably not good for your health. What do they say in the original Star Trek: "its life Jim, but not as we know it!"

Ahh, we call fish sticks, fish fingers and they are pretty much as you describe. Still fish and tartar sauce is good stuff.

I'm quite partial to yabbies which are a land based crustacean and they can live underground for many years only to surface when the conditions are just right. many years ago, I found a carcass from one of them in the orchard - it was a complete mystery! It is sort of weird having drought adapted crustaceans... Wow, do they taste good though.

Many thanks. It was weird hearing a serious news story about the turkeys all the way down here at the bottom of the world.

Wow, I'd swap for some of your snow. It reached 37'C degrees (98.6'F) here today and I worked outside in the sun up until about 2pm when I had to call it quits. Don't feel too bad because, by 3pm I was consuming an iced coffee and egg and bacon toasted Turkish bread at the local general store. By 4.30pm, I was enjoying what the Spanish describe as a siesta! Honestly, I couldn't keep my eyes open for another minute. I wasn't sure whether it was the sun or the bacon, it was probably the bacon though! hehe!

I'm seriously over summer already. Mustn’t grumble though.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi crowandsheep,

Many thanks for the comment. The question isn't impertinent and I may just have a surprise for you over the next few weeks by discussing this very question.



LewisLucanBooks said...

Yo, Chris; It's not too unusual to have a little snow at this time of the year. But, it's January and February when we get "serious" snow.

"One Straw Revolution" was an interesting read (as I remember) but can't say it really applies to my situation. But, I've always been interested in Japan, and his biography is interesting.

Powell's not only covers an entire city block, it is also 4 stories high. They also have several specialty satellite stores scattered around the city. For instance, there's a gardening / cooking store out in the SE of Portland. A tech store out in the W. of the city.

Oh, plenty to see and do in Portland. It's just when Uncle Larry was alive, I had a free, comfortable and familiar place to stay. And, he loved company. I'd spend 3 or 4 days down there, almost every month. If I had to live in a big city again, it would be Portland. If you have the time, maybe next winter, check out "Portlandia" on YouTube. It's a comedy sketch show that lampoons the city and the people who live there. Portland can also laugh at itself.

Didn't know you could eat the horseradish leaves,which I'll try next year. I have to move some out of the chicken run. They avoid the fennel and lemon balm but LOVE the horseradish leaves.

Oh, I do like a good sharp mustard. My sandwich spread of choice (say, on an egg sandwich with cheese) is a dollop of plane non-fat yogurt, a few sunflower seeds for a crunch and a splash of horseradish mustard. Yum! My more conservative friends wrinkle their noses at such culinary experimentation. :-).

Here we have something similar. called a crawdad, crayfish, or crafish. They can get quit large. I've had them, usually with butter and garlic. There's supposed to be quit a few of them in my "back 40". Across the pasture, through the woods and down in the canyon. I've never been down there. Inertia, I guess. There's been some logging, down there. Not a good time to go. And, I don't feel comfortable going to far into the woods by myself.

Got down to 21F, last night. Clear and sunny today, but cold. 31F. But, this is a short cold snap. Supposed to be over by Wednesday night. Lew