Here at Fernglade Farm headquarters (FFHQ), we are on the cutting edge of testing and development of small holding systems (SHS). FFHQ brings to you – the reader – the most up to date information and progress on the various SHS under development here. Constant improvement is the watchword here!
And what we’ve learned so far, is that even after 5 years of living here at FFHQ, we still get things hopelessly wrong. But we’re learning and more importantly, we’re correcting those errors so that the SHS just work!
Now that the brand new chicken house and run (the Chooktopia project) has been mostly completed, I’ve had to contemplate the walking path between the house and Chooktopia. Unfortunately, there were several fruit trees on that future pathway. Something had to give and so those fruit trees had to be moved.
This week I moved quite a few of those fruit trees from that pathway. Fortunately, it is still winter here and those colder weather conditions favour moving fruit trees. That watchword, constant improvement, strikes yet again!
|Relocating a hazelnut tree from the site of a future pathway to a different location this week|
Winter is the time to move fruit trees as many of them here are still deciduous (which is a fancy name for sleepy) and if those fruit trees are small enough they’ll relocate without too much of a shock. The trick with relocating a fruit tree successfully is to obtain as much of the root system and the surrounding soil as possible. The general rule for a well-established and healthy tree is that the root system below ground will be the equivalent mass as the fruit tree above the ground. Once you understand that general rule, you may get an insight into how hard (but certainly not impossible) it may be to relocate advanced trees.
Once the pathway between the house and Chooktopia had been cleared of fruit trees, I could then begin some of the landscaping works around the chicken housing. That work included building up the soil around the front and downhill side of Chooktopia. That newly cleared path was just perfect for using the wheelbarrow to bring soil across to the chicken’s area.
|The native birds assist with the supervision of landscaping the chickens enclosure|
A family of Kookaburra and Magpie birds also assisted with the landscaping. Actually, the native birds normally follow me around when I’m working because I throw (or uncover) witchetty grubs for them to feast on. As a bit of a fun fact, if I feed too many grubs to the birds they become sluggish and I can then sneak up behind those same birds and grab them! The chickens will also happily eat the grubs and in the photo above a white Silky chicken can be seen just on the inside of Chooktopia front door, willing the door to open using the full force of her fluffy personality.
That additional soil for Chooktopia was recovered from excavations behind the recently constructed wood shed. That landscaping was never quite completed, but after much digging and hauling by hand this week I can now walk completely around that wood shed and water tank – which wasn’t possible before. And there is still much soil to be removed from that area. Soil is a precious thing and it will all be deployed around the farm to good effect. Nothing goes to waste here!
|Excavations this week have opened up a pathway behind the wood shed and the new water tank|
The above photo shows some interesting things. That dark grey water tank is now completely full and you can see that it is overflowing at the top thanks to the winter rains. There is even a water pump at the base of the tank in a constructed steel cover, ready to be installed. Both of those items require a bit of serious plumbing which will hopefully take place over the next month or so.
Moving the soil was OK, but I was still left with the many fruit trees sitting in containers which had to be replanted somewhere else reasonably quickly.
For some unexplained reason I previously had a reluctance to plant fruit trees in amongst the garden beds with their mixed herbs, flowers and vegetables. I can’t explain why I had that initial reluctance. Then last year an Anzac peach fruit tree became absorbed into one of the garden beds through no fault of its own. If I was being a smarty pants, I would say that it was a deliberate experiment, but alas it was pure chance. And wouldn't you know it? That Anzac peach fruit tree grew much faster than any other fruit tree and you could almost see that tree growing if you watched closely enough!
So the editor and I decided to plant all of the relocated fruit trees into either existing or new garden beds and we’ll watch what happens this summer.
|Relocated fruit trees are planted directly into existing garden beds|
I didn’t quite have enough space in the existing garden beds to take all of the relocated fruit trees, so the lower rock wall below the house was extended quite a long way this week.
|Relocated fruit trees are planted into new garden beds|
Just to make sure those relocated fruit trees get quickly established, I applied two cubic metres (70.6 cubic feet) of manure into those areas in the form of mushroom compost (a fancy name for a mix of horse manure and bedding straw).
In other farm news this week, I officially ran out of firewood in the wood shed. Readers with good memories will recall that the wood shed was only (7/12ths) full just before the serious winter rains and cold weather hit. It is not the end of the world for me as a couple of hours of cutting with the chainsaw produced about another month’s supply of seasoned firewood. The firewood is not as dry as I’ve become used to, but then as the old timers say: beggars cannot be choosers!
In other energy news, the batteries for the house were completely recharged by the solar photovoltaic panels at some point in the afternoon each day this week. This is because the sun is now higher in the sky and you can even occasionally feel its bite. It is a real pleasure to check out the status of the batteries and find the following display (SOC refers to State of Charge):
|The house batteries are now fully recharged each day by the solar photovoltaic panels|
The solar power system statistics for the week is as follows:
Battery % full at the start of the day - Amount generated by the 4.2kW of PV panels during that day
Tuesday 11th August – 87% full – 6.8kWh
Wednesday 12th August – 88% full – 4.0kWh
Thursday 13th August – 91% full – 4.9kWh
Friday 14th August – 94% full – 4.9kWh
Saturday 15th August – 94% full – 3.8kWh
Sunday 16th August – 94% full – 5.6kWh
Monday 17th August – 94% full – 6.6kWh
From this week onwards, the batteries will generally be full at some point each day until early June (winter) next year. I do hope that readers can take away three messages from these statistics:
· Solar photovoltaic panels provide very little electrical energy during the depths of winter;
· It is possible to live in a modern household and use very little electrical energy; and
· Very large batteries take a long time to become fully charged (think electric vehicle batteries!).
How did the house get here?
Way back long ago, oh well, actually, four years ago this month, I painted the insides of the front half of the house. I like painting so I only ever use a brush (rather than a roller) as it gives such a nice solid finish on the walls. Nowadays, people generally spray paint onto the walls, but I'm a bit old school with such things.
|the rooms in the front half of the house were painted|
Fortunately, constructing a small house means that painting is finished fairly quickly.
The rear room in the house had all of the plaster joins sanded flat that month. That was a big job as it had to be completed in a single day. All of the sanding was done by hand – rather than machine – and by the end of the day I thought my arm was going to fall off my shoulder! It hurt, and the clean-up of all of the plaster dust took about four to five hours. Still, it looked good and it is very hard to now see where all of the plaster joins are.
|The rear half of the house had all of the plaster joins sanded in one day – living room|
|The rear half of the house had all of the plaster joins sanded in one day - adjoining kitchen|
That month, I discovered to my horror, that the very fancy solar hot water system did not work – and had not worked since the day of installation. Yes, I freely admit that I totally cracked the sads about that one as I’d gone through the entire previous summer without any solar hot water benefit! The solar hot water panels looked good though.
|The solar hot water panels looked good on the roof doing absolutely nothing|
Fortunately it was an easy fix and the suppliers provided a brand new hot water pump and controller. Solar hot water is excellent, but it does pay to ensure that any systems that you install actually do work and don't assume that people installing systems will actually test them.
A wedge tailed eagle landed on a nearby tree that month and I was lucky enough to have the camera on hand. I often wonder whether the eagle was eyeing off Scritchy the boss dog or the chickens. Either way, the eagles here mean business!
|A wedge tail eagle landed in a nearby tree eyeing off the snack potential|
The recently planted and fertilised grass and herbage began to grow that month and a couple of small kangaroos were regular visitors to the farm, although they look rather wet and bedraggled in the photo below.
|A couple of small kangaroos enjoy the recently sown grass and herbage|
Walking around I also spotted a seedling fruit tree which looks as though it may be an apricot. There are a few self-sown fruit trees on the farm and I look forward to seeing how they grow over the next few years. What it says to me is that an orchard can reproduce itself, exactly like a forest, given the right conditions. I often randomly throw seeds and fruit kernels about the outer edges of the orchard and it is surprising what can result from that.
|I spied this self-sown apricot fruit tree in the orchard|
The temperature outside here at about 9.00pm is 2.2’C degrees Celsius (36.0’F). So far this year there has been 521.2mm (20.5 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total of 508.8mm (20.0 inches).