|A happy European honey bee is set to land on a blue Echium flower|
The Echium plants were a chance gift from a nearby neighbour. In the early days at the farm, those first Echiums were a very unimpressive set of specimens and to be honest they looked a bit sad. But I really appreciate gifts of plants, and so I planted the original gift plants in a well fed garden bed. And the plants just grew. And then they grew some more - and self seeded. I had no idea at the time just how big these plants can get. Those original Echium plants were like Triffids in that they just kept growing – it was a bit scary. The Echium plants have shrugged off frosts, heat waves, drought, dogs, wallabies – you name it, but at the same time those plants also produce copious flowers for most of the year.
I mentioned wallabies and Echium plants because occasionally, a wallaby will bounce into the middle of an Echium plant just to see what is in there. In the process of jumping into the middle of the plant, the wallaby will destroy branches and leave a gaping hole in the middle of the plant. Does an Echium plant worry about such damaging marsupial action? No, because a couple of months later, the Echium plant simply regrows all of the damaged branches, flowers and leaves.
Where we we, ah yes, the sun was shining very strongly over the past few days and in fact on Sunday whilst I was working outside in the full sun on the new picket fence (see below), I unfortunately scored a minor case of sunburn on my skin – despite the fact that the UV is only rated as moderate (edit - serves you right, I told you to put on sunscreen).
Fortunately, the strong sunlight has produced excellent hot water (very toasty too!) via the solar hot water panels as well as excellent electricity via the solar photovoltaic panels. Today, I had a great deal of trouble trying to work out what exactly to do with all of the excess electricity generated by the sun. Fortunately, there is always the task of baking dog food in the electric oven, so I went a bit feral and produced well over 140 oven baked dog biscuits this afternoon. The dogs were excessively helpful with that cooking task too! As an interesting side story only Poopy the Pomeranian (who is technically a Swedish Lapphund) was clamouring for more food this evening, but he does have an unfortunate and unmentionable relationship with food. I could see it in his eyes that he was trying to tell me that: “food is not the problem, food is the solution!” In his particular case, portion control seems to me to be the solution, although Poopy and I have learned to agree to disagree on such matters.
Anyway, the solar photovoltaics (PV) were producing a stupendous quantity of electricity at about lunchtime. Just for the techno geeks out there, I thought that it might be worth talking about PV solar panels for a little bit (everyone else who is not interested in such matters or doesn’t identify themselves as a techno geek can skip to the next paragraph or so – look for the welcome back everyone message in italics below!).
We now prepare ourselves to enter the world of the techno geek: The dodgiest thing about solar PV is that a solar panel will only ever produce the rated output under absolutely perfect conditions. Perfect conditions means installing that panel at the equator, facing exactly north, at about the summer solstice and hopefully it’s not too hot. Therefore, in the real world, you can expect about 80% of the rated output of a solar panel. So a 190W panel will produce – in the real world – 152W which is 80% of the rated output. Will you occasionally get more output from that panel? – sure, but don’t expect that output much of the time!
Today, as I was struggling to work out what to do with all of this excess electricity, I spotted this reading on the monitor display:
|The Amps generated by the solar PV panels at about lunchtime today|
What that display means is that the 4.2kW of solar PV panels were producing 111A (A stands for Amps) at that point in time. With a bit of maths magic we can convert that reading to kW to understand what the reading actually means and the formula for that conversion is A x V = W (or Amps x Volts = Watts). So 111A x 29V (because that was the voltage of the batteries at the time of the reading) = 3.219kW. And, if we use some more maths magic we can divide that reading by 80% to equal 4.023kW (which is not far from the actual rated output of the 4.2kW of panels albeit at 80%). The formula for that calculation is 3.219kW / 0.80 = 4.023kW. Enough techno geek stuff as I can see that some of you are now falling asleep – I did warn you to skip this bit!
Welcome back everyone - for everyone else who is not a techno geek, we now resume regular programming:
With the strong sun over the past couple of days, many of the deciduous trees have broken their dormancy. I spotted this advanced Japanese maple sending out the first of its leaves today in amongst a garden bed of borage (note the blue flowers) and daffodils. The borage is an excellent feed for the chickens all year around, great food for the bees and there are many dozens of these plants all about the farm.
|Japanese maple broke its dormancy this week|
The citrus fruit trees have also been producing strongly over the past few weeks and in the photo below there are lemons, limes and grapefruit. I also have many other types of citrus fruit trees growing here, but a few years back over a very hot summer, the wallaby decided that it was hungry enough to eat the citrus fruit trees and they are now only slowly regaining their former glory. Observant readers will note that the Australian round lime in the centre right of the photo has suffered considerable damage over the past few weeks from the many house wallabies here at the farm. I’m very annoyed with the wallabies, but they have been unsympathetic to my complaints. Hopefully, sooner or later the fruit tree will outgrow the reach of those dastardly marsupials.
|The citrus fruit trees have been producing strongly over the past few weeks|
The construction of the berry enclosure has continued apace this week and I have now installed over 200 pickets around the enclosure. There are still about 120 pickets to go before the area is entirely closed off from all of the curious herbivores here (take that wallabies). As well as the many berries that will be planted into that area over the next week or so, I’m also considering planting all of the tomato plants in there just for this season.
|Many more pickets on the berry bed were installed over the past few days|
The construction on the Cherokee new wave TM bee hive continued this week and metal leg stands were added. Movable plywood boards were added so that the bee colony could be restricted to a smaller area in either its early days (only 5 frames are delivered with a purchased bee nucleus hive) or if the colony is having troubles and cannot support a larger area – this saves them energy in having to heat a larger area than necessary. The heat is required by the bees to raise brood. Also the editor suggested two aluminium angles at the top rear of the hive box which make for easier positioning of the roof (a good thing when you may be covered by angry bees and in a bit of a hurry to put the roof back onto the hive box!).
|The new design hive box is almost complete|
Three round hive entry holes were drilled into the thick hardwood today and it is intended that two of them will be easily closed to reduce heat loss over the winter. I haven’t quite worked out the details relating to that entrance closing system yet. I also purchased some super nifty metal clips that secure the roof to the hive box and these were installed onto the hive today.
|The other side of the new design hive box with roof in place and secured by some super nifty metal clips|
All that is left to be done now is to: wait for the roof plywood to fully dry over the next week or so; construct a plywood flap over the Perspex double glazed observation port; and then give the whole hive construction a good lick of quality paint.
Spring is such a great time to walk around and observe the orchard and garden. And it is amazing what you can sometimes see on those walks.
|A tale of two otherwise identical Jonathon Apple Trees|
Many years ago, I planted these two Jonathon apple trees which were sourced from the same supplier on the same day. One of those two apple trees was planted into a well fed garden bed, whilst the other was planted not too far away in the orchard proper. The apple planted into the well fed garden bed now has a trunk that is almost twice as thick as that of the apple tree in the orchard. What I have learned from observing that difference is that well fed fruit trees will grow much faster than those that are not as well fed.
How did the house get here?
It’s been a few weeks since weeks since I wrote about house construction stuff, so this week’s blog will take us back to October 2011, where I installed two sets of galvanised steel steps. Because of the building regulations relating to bush fires, timber stairs were not an option as they are combustible. Steel stairs are normally seen in apartment blocks and commercial buildings and I had to obtain a quote from a commercial supplier. Fortunately, the supplier was quiet, so they whipped up the stairs in no time flat at a reasonable price.
I unfortunately had no idea just how heavy these steel stairs would be, but as they craned the steel stairs onto the trusty old trailer, which made a resounding thud sound on impact, I was starting to get a bit nervous.
Anyway, with a bit of farm engineering, I tipped the stairs off the back of the trailer and then proceeded to use a sledgehammer to slide them along the concrete towards their final position. The sledgehammer did not leave a single mark on the stairs! I literally could not move, budge or lift the bigger of the two sets of steel stairs any other way. To lift the stairs to the appropriate height, I simply put a bottle jack underneath it and slowly lifted the steel stairs into their final spot.
|A large and very heavy set of steel stairs were installed onto the house|
Even the dogs had to get their own set of fortunately much smaller and lighter steel stairs.
|Steel stairs for the exclusive use of the dogs in their enclosure|
Much of that month was spent painting the inside surfaces of the house.
|The author up a ladder with a brush painting the ceiling of the house|
And then one day the inside painting was done.
|The hallway painting was now complete. Hmmm, nice bookshelves!|
|The orchard in its younger days|
The temperature outside here at about 9.45pm is 15.2’C degrees Celsius (59.4’F). So far this year there has been 575.6mm (22.7 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total of 569.4mm (22.4 inches). Apparently there is a big storm due to hit here much later tonight!