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Naïve. Yes, that is perhaps the correct description for what I was, when long ago, I lived in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne. The reason that I considered myself naïve was because I whinged a lot about the unrelenting bills that were sent to me every month by the nice utility companies. Even when the editor and I lived in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne, we used very little of the supplies provided by the nice utility companies. And I may add that I begrudged the nice utility companies every single cent that we had to pay, particularly the service fee component.
Nowadays, I have very few bills. For me, one of the appealing aspects of living in this remote corner of the planet on a property which has absolutely no services connected to it at all is that the nice utility companies can’t levy a charge on my property, because they provide me with no services whatsoever. Take that suckers!
Well, except we do have to pay the compulsory water bill. It is outrageous! The water utility would be very hard pressed to cut off our supply, but they have other means of extracting money for their coffers. The systems on the farm which we have paid for, have to provide all of our own drinking water as well as processes all of our own sewage (returning those nutrients to the soil, no less). And we also have to manage all of the drainage from the sometimes massively heavy rainfall! And despite all that we still get a water bill. Well done them. Unfortunately for us, one of the better connected and much better financed locals took the nice water utility company to court only to find that they still had to pay the water bill. And so we pay the water bill each year.
The other bill that is compulsory is the council rates, which is a form of land tax paid to the local government.
Anyway, council rates and water bills aside, living here is a reasonably bill free existence. However, I did apply the word “naïve” to myself at the start of this essay. The reason? Because providing and maintaining your own infrastructure is a complex and expensive situation. When the editor and I began this adventure over a decade ago, we had absolutely no idea just how complex and expensive that adventure would be. In contrast to this experience, I can assure the readers that paying bills from the nice utility companies is dirt cheap. A bargain at twice the price in fact!
By now, I expect that some readers may believe that I am chucking an epic internet whinge. No so! This is simply not true at all. The reason that I am writing about this subject at all is that the other day I read an article in the newspaper: The rise of the ‘low-bills’ lifestyle
One thing that sort of annoyed me about the article was that the video footage displayed an off grid commune which looked really unappealing to me. What actually really annoyed me was that not one single person in the article mentioned that pursuing a “low bill lifestyle” would actually improve the quality of their lives. Now I do realise that the article was written for the finance section of the newspaper, so the financial aspect would be a major theme.
However, I have noticed that when people discuss matters such as a “low bill lifestyle” which is usually achieved by providing your own infrastructure, they will inevitably mention "pay back periods" or "feed in tariffs". I am yet to meet anyone who has suggested that they intended to install a solar power system so as to reduce their personal impact on global warming. For me, the matter of quality was far more important than considerations of cost (economics). My resources are limited therefore the supply from own infrastructure is likewise limited. I accept this compromise.
Astute readers of the blog will realise that the editor and I spend most of our time finessing the infrastructure here on the farm. The reason for that time spent is to ensure that the infrastructure simply works in the highly variable conditions experienced here. And also it is important that the infrastructure is productive. A mate of mine has remarked to me on several occasions that he likes this farm because it doesn’t look like his expectations. Those expectations are remarkably similar to the video footage of the off grid commune in the article above. I loved hearing that compliment.
I have been pondering the issue of quality over economics this week. The reason for that pondering is because our yoghurt making process has failed in recent months.
The editor and I have been making yoghurt from scratch for about a decade. For the past several months the yoghurt making process has been failing. The volume of whey (a very watery substance) in each batch has been slowly increasing and the yoghurt has been failing to set. We enjoy eating homemade yoghurt with fruit from the orchard on top of homemade toasted muesli. It has been very distressing to face the prospect of slowly losing yoghurt from our diet!
Of course the editor and I may have been occasionally naïve, but we are no fools. We approached the problem by learning about the yoghurt making process from start to finish through reading the most excellent book by an author: Sandor Katz and his book: The Art of Fermentation. Over the course of the past few months we have adjusted and/or replaced every variable in the fermentation process in a most scientific manner. We now appear to have identified the problematic factor!
To produce the exact same yoghurt that we previously enjoyed, we now find ourselves having to spend just under $4 per litre (3.8 litres to the gallon) for quality milk. It appears from this experience that in order for producers to maintain low prices for in demand products supplied to us all, I am strongly inclined to believe that there has been a recent shift downwards in terms of quality for some of those products.
As another example, I have estimated that we at Fernglade Farm have to spend an estimated $0.80/kWh to supply our off grid electricity powered by the solar photovoltaic panels and stored in batteries. By contrast the average household pays approximately $0.30/kWh for electricity supplied by the nice utility company. In the state that I live in, for whatever reason, one of the older and very large coal fired power stations was mothballed very recently. That power station produced, I believe, 25% of the states electricity supply. Mothballing the plant put about 900 workers out of a job. I don’t recall reading or hearing any announcements to the affect that because of the closure of that coal fired power station and the now reduced electricity supply, that we’d all have to somehow use less electricity from now on. I may have missed those announcements, it is possible! But I wonder what happens to the people who were using the electricity produced by that now mothballed coal fired power plant? 25% of the supply is no small amount. Surely the electricity produced by that power plant wasn’t all wasted?
So many things appear to me to be like those two examples: The costs are apparently kept down, but the quality is dropping noticeably. And so I say to you the reader: It costs a lot to live with that declining quality.
I now jump off my soap box and will resume the regular programming!
It has been another wet week here at the farm. Wet weather usually produces a special guest appearance by the small mob of three kangaroos who call this farm home.
|Two of the small mob of three kangaroos who live here enjoy a bit of peace and quiet during a recent heavy rain|
The plumbers finalised some minor details of the installation of the new wood heater on a very wet day this week. They also stoically installed a garden tap in a garden bed during heavy rain. The garden tap had previously been located in the middle of a garden path which made it very awkward to use both the path and the tap.
|The plumbers stoically installed a garden tap in a garden bed during heavy rain|
The rock wall around that garden bed was also repaired and all of the smaller rocks were removed and replaced with much larger rocks. Replacement of smaller rocks continued further along the garden beds as those smaller rocks were failing to hold back the soil in the garden beds.
|Rock walls constructed using smaller rocks were dismantled and larger rocks were then placed in their stead|
All of those smaller rocks which were liberated from the failing rock walls, were used to completely fill the rock gabions behind the firewood shed. And with the second and higher rock gabion now full of rocks we sewed it shut with steel wire.
|All of those smaller rocks which were liberated from the failing rock walls were used to completely fill the rock gabions|
The deep hole behind the rock gabion was filled with rocks and covered over with local crushed rock that contains a goodly quantity of lime. The surface of crushed rock can be, and is intended to be, walked on as a path which will form part of a future project which will unfold over the next few months.
|The deep hole behind the rock gabion was filled with rocks and covered over with local crushed rock that contains a goodly quantity of lime|
I also used the local crushed rock with lime to repair the garden path where the plumbers had been working. A treated pine post was also cemented into the garden bed and a green bracket was placed high up on the post from which I intend to hang the 30m / 100ft garden hose (which currently lives on the path like a 30m / 100ft trip hazard).
|The local crushed rock with lime to repair the garden path where the plumbers had been working and a post was installed to hang a garden hose from|
Readers may be curious to see how the area that was subject to the landslide in January is recovering. The growth in that garden bed has been phenomenal and even Poopy is unsure where the landslide was!
|The area subject to the landslide in January has now more or less recovered|
Occasionally I mention working in the surrounding forest. Some people have rather unusual feelings when it comes to chainsaws, but they can be put to very good and unexpected uses. In the surrounding forest, I tend to regularly remove older dead growth from the many understory trees using the chainsaw and the results can be quite staggering:
|A blanket leaf understory tree has recovered beautifully from a recent pruning combined with a feeding of manure|
|A small thicket of musk daisy bushes has also recovered beautifully from a recent pruning combined with a feeding of manure|
We’re still harvesting tomatoes, although the tomato vines are now looking very sad. The many jars of passata have also all been opened, inspected, re-cooked and preserved using a hot water bath! And because the editor and I needed a pick me up after all of the hard work with the correcting the passata disaster, we baked some yummy cinnamon scrolls.
|Tomatoes are still being harvested. The passata disaster has now been corrected and all jars have been processed using a hot water bath. And we baked some yummy cinnamon scrolls|
With the coming of winter, the many varieties of citrus fruit are slowly ripening on the trees.
|Australian round limes and Eureka lemons are almost ripe|
|The pomelo tree which is a form of grapefruit has produced even more fruit this season|
Chilean guava’s are also ripe and hugely delicious! We have saved the seeds from some of the fruit and hope to grow many more shrubs next year.
|Chilean guava’s are also ripe and hugely delicious!|
The potato vines have now all died and that is a sure sign that the tubers are almost ready to harvest. My understanding is that once the vines have yellowed and died, you have to leave the tubers in the ground for about three weeks in order that the skins harden and then the tubers can be lifted.
|The potato vines have now all died and that is a sure sign that the tubers are ready to harvest|
For some reason, this season I have had numerous avocado seedlings grow randomly next to the chicken enclosure where the stones must have escaped with the kitchen scraps fed to the chickens.
|Numerous avocado seedlings have grown randomly next to the chickens enclosure this season|
The leaf colours are continuing to put on a good show this week:
|The leaf colours are continuing to put on a good show this week|
And speaking of the changing leaf colours for deciduous trees, I noticed that on one weekend afternoon many of the land owners near to the hugely popular leaf change tourism area that I mentioned last week, appear to have perhaps collectively decided to take advantage of the easing of restrictions on burn offs.
|The burn off restrictions in the mountain range have been lifted this week|
The nasturtiums are producing a good show of colour and have huge numbers of flowers which the bees adore. The bees are only now making an appearance only when the sun shines strongly (which is now much rarer as we head ever closer to winter).
|Nasturtiums are producing a good show of colour and huge numbers of flowers which the bees adore|
Many of the herbs are still producing lots of colour in the garden like this rosemary:
|Many of the herbs are still producing lots of colour in the garden like this rosemary|
|But when I look at the shady orchard, I can see that winter is indeed coming!|