Summer has arrived. The air is hot, dry and dusty. The trees are still green, the ground is turning yellow and brown, and the vegetation is drying. A eucalyptus haze hangs over the mountain. You can smell the trees. Grass now crunches beneath my feet and bidgee widgee burrs stick to my shoes (also Sir Scruffy). The drone of insects buzzing around flowers evokes memories of hot summer days as the birds are wisely quiet during the heat of the afternoon. When the heat is intense enough the cicadas sing their summer song in the mid-afternoon slump.
And so you may wonder what I’ve been up to in those hot mid-afternoons? Well, the early heat wave this week has forced me to rise early in the morning and stop all outside work by about 1pm. It is just so hot that working in the full sun is not an option. Summer is a time of lazy afternoons and the editor thought that the regular commenters may appreciate seeing the exact conditions under which I labour replying to the many lovely comments to this blog:
|The author hard at work on a hot lazy summer afternoon replying to comments on the blog|
No, I won’t argue with you, it is a hardship which I’ll stoically endure…
Unfortunately, it isn’t all just lazing around on long hot summer afternoons. Those lazy afternoons are the perfect time to begin the continuing process of preserving the summer goodies so that in the depths of winter a person (me) can enjoy a brief recollection of those long lazy summer afternoons.
This week was my first foray into the world of preservation of fruit by the process of dehydration. I recently purchased a second hand Fowlers Vacola (Ultimate 4000 dehydrator) electric food dehydrator and am today using it for the very first time here preserving apricots and cherries. The entire drying process can take between 10 and 16 hours and it is a great use of solar electricity that would otherwise have gone to waste.
I have previously wondered why lemon trees were so popular in old gardens down under. In the older inner urban areas of Melbourne, it seems as if every single household used to have a century old lemon tree which produced huge quantities of fruit every single year – without a care or thought by the owners of the property. As a child, I can distinctly recall the feel and smell of climbing in the very old lemon tree that my Grandmother had. In more recent years however, no one seemed to ever know what to do with the lemons.
Over the past year or so I started having to contend with the realities of what to do with several hundred lemons per year from the fruit trees here. And the answer finally popped into my head this morning. Lemons provide a cheap and easily available form of citric acid which was traditionally used for preserving. If you are making jam – you can use lemons to provide the acid which assists with the preserving process. Most other preserving processes use lemons to provide enough acid to ensure that nasty bugs don’t make you sick later on or that the preserve spoils (or even dares change colour!). Plus don’t forget the many varieties of wines, all of which require lemon. I’ll tell ya what, I can’t get enough of them lemons and look forward to the day when all of the trees are producing strongly. Go the lemon!
|The author squeezes about 20 lemons to obtain enough juice to process the apricots in prior to the dehydrating process|
So, I had to squeeze the juice from about 20 lemons this morning in order to get enough lemon juice, which you may recall is absolutely full of citric acid, for part of the dehydrating process. The apricot halves which I was about to dehydrate had to be immersed in that squeezed lemon juice for about 5 minutes as part of the dehydration process.
I also halved an additional two dehydrating trays full of cherries and they are also now in the dehydrator happily dehydrating away. What was interesting was that the instructions (which are from a local supplier) stated that the cherries did not have to be immersed in the lemon juice, and were OK to use as is. Perhaps you could assume from the instructions that the cherries have a high enough acid content? The fruit halves are then placed on the dehydrator trays and the lemon juice is bottled up in glass jars and chucked in the freezer for later use (hmmm, more lemon wine?).
|The fruit on the tray just prior to being placed in the dehydrator and the lemon juice waiting to be bottled and frozen for later use|
And after three and a half hours of cooking (the entire dehydrating process may take between 10 and 16 hours all up) the fruit looks like this:
|The apricots and cherries after three and a half hours of dehydrating|
I tasted one of the cherries after almost six hours of dehydrating and I can say that it tastes good – but the process still has a long way to go yet.
The bees have been enjoying the lazy hot summer afternoons and they are very active and making quite a lot of noise in amongst the flowers. The drone can be almost deafening by the afternoon.
|Bee Cam ™ shows that the bees are particularly active on hot summer afternoons|
The prize for enjoying lazy hot summer afternoons the most goes to… The tomatoes:
|Tomato Cam ™ shows that the tomatoes have grown significantly over the past week|
Poopy the Pomeranian (who by now, we all know is technically a Swedish Lapphund) wins the prize for enjoying lazy hot summer afternoons the least due to the sheer thickness of his double coat which is possibly more suited to Swedish summers than a down under heat wave. Fortunately for Poopy, he had a haircut in the past few days. The haircut had been booked in months ago and it was lucky for him that was the case as he would have struggled with the early heat wave even more than he did.
|Poopy the Pomeranian sports a stylish new do|
Poopy was a little devil to take a photo of this morning as he refused to sit still and co-operate for the camera. Now that Poopy is much cooler due to the recent haircut, he is far more active than previously, and in the end I simply kicked him outside into the early morning heat (it was about 25’C 77’F at 7.30am this morning) and took the photo through the glass door. That glass door by the way has 10mm (0.39 inch) toughened glass and he knows he has no chance whatsoever of getting back into the house unless he quietly sits down whilst I took that photo. Take that Poopy!
It may be hot and dry here, but compared to the surrounding country this mountain range is a paradise. There is a permanent source of safe and clean water for the many birds to drink and wash themselves in here. What this means is that every few days I’m spotting new bird species at the farm. Yesterday for only the second time that I can recall, I spotted a falcon attacking several galahs and so I had to carefully supervise the chickens whilst they were free ranging out in the orchard during that early evening. Even the King Parrot brought a friend up to visit the farm yesterday so now there are two of them.
|A local rosella enjoying the safe and clean water that I maintain for all of the birds here to drink and bathe in|
The local wildlife – whether it be marsupials or even foxes – get to enjoy the permanent water that I leave out for them too. A couple of nights back, the editor spotted three wombats and (this is no exaggeration) fifteen wallabies in the orchard below the house. I’m a little bit fearful for the safety of the fruit trees this summer season! I spotted this wallaby appreciating the many and varied (and also yummy!) flowers in the garden below the house yesterday.
|A wallaby expresses appreciation for the many and varied flowers in the garden below the house|
Last week whilst enjoying a coffee at the local café / general store / post office, I noticed that the road had been partially blocked off by a huge travel tower with two guys in the bucket. Driving away from the travel tower was the local electrical supplier van. That van is hard to miss because for some strange reason the company in question had decided to go with a bright pink colour scheme so the shops and van really stand out. Anyway, who knows what electrical mischief the guys in the travel tower were up to – and to be honest, I didn’t think about that mystery again. Then a couple of nights later, I was returning home along the freeway, all was dark, and I spotted a very bright light up on the mountainside – from more than 20km (12.5 miles) away. It may have been even further away. And I thought to myself, that’s a bright light up there, so two nights ago, I popped over to check out what was going on only to find this:
|Christmas lights installed on a massive tree opposite the Mount Macedon pub|
Honestly, that tree is so large that it is possibly on the heritage register for large and significant exotic trees! It is planted in the garden of the one-time Governor Generals summer retreat which is coincidentally opposite the local pub.
On the previous Thursday, the orchard had herbage which looked like this:
|The herbage underneath the orchard looked quite green and lush only a few days ago|
With the onset of the early heatwave, I made the tough decision (because of the fire risk) to chop and drop the entire herbage as mulch and continue the huge process of feeding 300 fruit trees with manure and so part of the orchard now looks like this:
|After only a few days of a protracted heatwave, the orchard looks quite dry|
A few regular commenters have requested details about the type and quantity of flowers here for the bees and I may produce a separate video on that subject over the next few weeks. In the meantime, the lambs tongues, various herbs and agapanthus have commenced flowering this week and will provide lots of bee food in the immediate future.
|Lambs tongue, olive herb, thyme and agapanthus provide lots of food for the bees despite the heatwave this week|
A small amount of rain is predicted for this evening and tomorrow, so I have continued planting out the many spare tomato seedlings and hopefully they will survive the summer and produce fruit?
|Today, despite the heatwave I continued planting out tomato seedlings which may or may not produce fruit|
And whilst I was planting out the tomato seedlings, this little fella was nosing around the soil:
|An echidna was nosing about the soil whilst I was planting out the tomato seedlings in the heat of the afternoon today|
The lazy hot summer afternoons are ripening the fruit here and despite the birds best efforts at a free and easy feed, there is still plenty of fruit on the trees:
|Jonathon apples are ripening in the warm conditions|
|Cherries are also continuing to ripen in the warm conditions|
|Mulberries are a delicious fruit that you will probably never see for sale. Yum!|
|The jostaberries are one full month early this year|
The temperature outside today reached over 33’C (91.4’F) but the temperature has turned cooler now with a possible storm approaching and at about 6.45pm has fallen to 21.1’C degrees Celsius (70’F). So far this year there has been 694.0mm (27.3 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total 689.4mm (27.1 inches).