Last Wednesday the 9th March produced yet another record breaking temperature. This time, the weather delivered the warmest overnight low temperature for March in Melbourne in recorded history. Well done! At 7.30am on that Wednesday morning in Melbourne the night time air finally cooled to a low of 29.1’C (84.3’F) and it was strangely humid too.
|A screen shot of the weather website showing the temperature early Wednesday morning 9th March. It was feral hot!|
Fortunately, the air temperature here was a bit cooler as I'm up in the forested mountains north of Melbourne. The farm is about 700m (2,300ft) above sea level so it is usually much cooler than Melbourne, although occasionally it can also be hotter when Melbourne is enjoying a sea breeze which lacks the strength to penetrate this far in land.
|The weather station here showing that the outside temperature for that morning was 22.4’C (72.3’F)|
The European honey bees have been enjoying this hot summer and on that hot Wednesday morning there were plenty of worker bees enjoying the cooler air on the outside of the hive. It was probably quite warm to hot inside the hive boxes! Bees are very clever insects and they are able to maintain a constant temperature inside the hive by co-ordinating their activities, so in all likelihood the bees on the outside of the hive box were probably fanning fresh cooler air into the centre of the hive.
|That hot morning, the bees on the outside of the hive box were fanning fresh cooler air into the centre of the hive|
The rest of the Wednesday was hot too. By Wednesday evening, the air temperature cooled down a bit. And by Thursday, a gentle rain fell for the entire day and then every day since then a little bit of rain has fallen. It looks as though the endless summer has finally left the building! And the wildlife that lives on the farm spent much of that Thursday enjoying the rain rather than sheltering from it, as they usually would (with the notable exception of the kangaroos which seem to enjoy being drenched with the rain).
|A Kookaburra enjoying the rainfall whilst keeping an eye out for passing snacks|
The recent rain has coincided with the Jerusalem artichokes producing their flowers and they now look to me like giant daisy flowers.
|The recent rain has coincided with the Jerusalem artichokes finally producing their yellow flowers|
Observant readers will note that the Medlar fruit tree which is slightly to the right and behind the Jerusalem artichoke plant is producing some orangey-brown fruit which will be harvested in a month or so. Also to the left and below the Jerusalem artichoke there is a large patch of basil mint in flower which the bees have been busily harvesting the pollen from recently.
The abrupt change of the seasons has also brought increased humidity across the mountain range and valley below and that has meant that most mornings I’m greeted with an eagle’s eye view of the fog collecting in the valley below.
|The humidity has increased and that affords me an eagle’s eye view of the fog collecting in the valley below each morning|
The long hot summer has produced the best and earliest yields of tomatoes that I have ever experienced. Every couple of days I am harvesting this many tomatoes:
|The long hot summer has produced the best and earliest yields of tomatoes that I have ever experienced|
There are only so many home grown, tasty, sun ripened tomatoes that a person consume. It’s a real problem! So in addition to eating and giving away fresh tasty tomatoes, the editor and I have also been dehydrating the fruit and then storing them in olive oil for consumption later in the year. The food dehydrator has been getting a serious workout over these past few weeks. I estimate that so far we have preserved at least 20kg (44 pounds) and should easily double or even triple that over the next few weeks. I feel compelled to add that the dehydrated tomatoes added to an Ortolana sauce (Ortolana refers to seasonable vegetables) and gnocchi tastes superb! The olive oil will eventually be used in cooking too – perhaps drizzled on freshly baked bread? YUM!
|Our modest collection of dehydrated tomatoes stored in olive oil - so far!|
We underestimated the quantity of big jars required for this preserving process and will correct that over the next week or so. In fact, it is also worthwhile mentioning that the kitchen is now full to bursting with preserved and bulk goods. My office which I work from now has racks full of slowly ageing wines as well as bottles of jams and chutneys. There is even a large bin full of organic rolled oats behind me as I write this entry. The preserving activities have even extended to the shed closest to the house where bottles and jars are stored as well as other goodies. I suspect that something will have to change in the kitchen over the next few months. It is also worth noting that I am in total awe at the sheer complexity as to how these processes must have been managed on a small holding as recently as a century or two ago.
With the return of the rains and the abrupt switch to cooler weather, the editor and I have been considering ways to get even more rainfall to infiltrate the soil.
Over at the western end of the farm, a swale at the very top of that orchard collects any rainfall from the road into a swale. A swale is a fancy name for a ditch which collects water and allows it to infiltrate into the ground slowly. Once water is stored in the ground it is less likely to evaporate in the hot sun and it becomes available to all of the trees below the swale. And more importantly, water takes a very long time to slowly move through soil.
The editor discovered recently that on the eastern end of the farm, there is concrete drain under the road (the technical name for this is a culvert) that we’d never noticed before. The reason that we’d never noticed the drain was because it was completely covered in the invasive Cane Needlegrass (or for the more learned amongst the readers here: Nassella hyaline).
Tell-tale signs of the drain and possible underground water were there to be seen in that area too as many broadleaf understory and moisture loving species of plants were present downhill of that drain.
|Toothy strikes a pose next to a blanket leaf (Bedfordia Aborescens) with a musk daisy bush (Olearia Argophylla) behind|
The editor and I decided to plant a rainforest gully downhill of the recently discovered drain. The plants in the rainforest gully will ensure that any water that exits the drain is quickly infiltrated into the soil instead of running over the land and ending up elsewhere - plus a fern gully just looks nice! Did I mention that the drain is also located uphill of the more sun drenched of the two orchards here?
|One of the largest mosses in the world (Dawsonia Superba) was uncovered in the run off from the drain although it is a very small plant as it is only young|
Before we could begin the task of planting out the rainforest gully, we had to first spend an entire day chopping and dropping every chunk of invasive plant in that huge area. That was a massive day of work, but at long last it was finished. There were already a couple of large rocks near the drain however we also rolled a few more rocks into that area which were placed into the possible flow of water as well as with aesthetics in mind. The rocks perform the function of slowing any water that moves across the land which increases the possibility that it will be quickly absorbed into the soil.
|All vegetation in the newly imagined rainforest gully was chopped and dropped and additional rocks were rolled into place|
Observant readers will note that the damaged bark at the base of the messmate trees (Eucalyptus Obliqua) which shows just how invasive that needle grass was.
The following day involved breaking quite solid clay and planting out the first of the many local rainforest species into the flow of water from the drain. The local plant nursery supplied many of the tree ferns which were planted into a mix of the local clay and composted manure. As a funny side note, the local nursery had decided to distinguish between the thinner and thicker species of tree ferns by using the very politically incorrect terms: Fatties and skinnies. I believed the slightly more expensive “fatties” to be a more drought hardy and resilient species and so opted for those.
|We’ve begun to plant out the rainforest gully so as to allow more rainfall to infiltrate into the soil above the sunnier orchard|
Tree ferns are a very old and interesting species of plant. I noted that the fronds of the plant grow so that they collect and direct falling organic matter into the core of the trunk for consumption by the plant. Also, I noticed that when watering the tree ferns on top of the plant, the water disappeared into the core of the trunk which is clearly an excellent drought survival strategy in that the trunk works in a similar way to a sponge.
|A close up of some of the tree ferns planted into the newly established rainforest gully|
Autumn, I have observed is the time to plant new trees in a temperate climate such as here. The ground still retains some of the summer warmth and hopefully the regular rains have returned. Many of the fruit trees that I relocated in the depths of winter last year died over this astoundingly hot and dry summer and so the next few weeks are crucial to getting new trees into the ground and/or relocated from elsewhere. By winter it will be too late for new trees to get established well enough to survive a brutal summer.
With that concern in mind, over the next few weeks, we will continue to plant out additional over story and under story species into the rainforest gully and hopefully they will be well established and hardy enough to get through the next killer summer – which for now seems to have thankfully gone elsewhere (for the moment anyway).
|The author enjoying a break after the very hard work of establishing a new rainforest gully on the eastern end of the farm|