Monday, 27 November 2017

Dumb ways to die

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The old washing machine died last week. The appliance was over 15 years old, and in its day it had provided sterling service, but alas it has now passed on. Passing on, in this instance, means that the machine will most likely be shipped off to a far distant country where any usable components are recovered and the remainder will end up in landfill.

On Friday afternoon, the editor and I visited a huge warehouse shop in a nearby town that sells appliances. Apparently that day was also "Black Friday", whatever that is, and retailers were making a big song and dance about the fact. Black Friday is a strange name for a celebration of all things consumerism. To me that name brings to mind wildfires. Down here there was the disastrous 1939 Black Friday fire which burnt 4,942,000 acres (or 2,000,000 ha) of land. Of course there was also the more recent 2009 Black Saturday wildfires, which I recall rather vividly, which burned 1,100,000 acres (or 450,000 ha). However, both of those fires pale in comparison to the notorious 1851 Black Thursday wildfire which burned a quarter of the land mass of this state at approximately 12,000,000 acres (or 5,000,000ha). Yes, you read those numbers correctly.

As a side note, retailers concerned about growth and a bigger impact, may want to consider re-branding the shopping frenzy day to Black Thursday?

So the retailers talk about Black Friday does not float my boat (nor did we get anymore than a token discount). The introduction of this marketing concept down here is a fairly recent initiative. Anyway I can't gauge the effect of all that marketing because, the large warehouse shop didn't seem particularly busy to me as we were served straight away. This was a good thing for two reasons: Firstly, we had no idea why there were such discrepancies in the prices for a replacement machine; and Secondly, I'm not a fan of shopping and I like to know what I'll buy and then get out again as quickly as possible. However, in this particular instance (the first reason) we had no idea, and that meant that the editor and I had to discuss washing machines with the friendly staff.

The question that we posed to the friendly staff was: "What's good and what's gonna last?" Alert readers will note that in the question, I swapped the words "going to" for the more base word "gonna". This is a deliberate ruse on my part because I'd prefer that the friendly staff believed that I was a bit thick and a bit broke. If they form this desired opinion of me, then it does me no harm, and there can sometimes be embarrassing disclosures such as: "we get a lot of returns with brand X"; and more importantly, they also tend to feel sorry for myself (and especially for the editor who plays along with the game of having a really stupid husband) and they sometimes provide good discounts.

After further discussion we decided upon a brand and then looked at two nearly identical models of washing machine for that brand. The models were the same capacity, but one was $200 cheaper than the other model. In keeping with my blunt and difficult persona, I asked what was the difference between the two? The difference in price related to the country of manufacture. All was now as clear as mud.

I do recall the days when white good appliances were manufactured in Australia, but alas such situations are much like the heard about but rarely seen: Magical Christmas Unicorns (hopefully more on that topic next week!) So, we took a gamble and purchased the model that was manufactured in Germany. We hope to get at least 15 years from this purchase.

I installed the washing machine on Saturday afternoon. As expected from a German machine, the instruction manual was quite thorough. However I don't know whether something was lost in translation or not, but the sheer number of warnings rather alarmed me! Apparently this washing machine is lethal as.

Purely for research purposes for this blog I quantified the serious risk that owing this washing machine presents to myself and the editor. The instruction manual contained:
  • 8 x Warning: Risk of death!
  • 1 x Warning: Risk of suffocation!
  • 4 x Warning: Risk of poisoning!
  • 1 x Warning: Risk of burns!
  • 3 x Warning: Eye/skin irritation!
  • 9 x Warning: Risk of electric shock/fire/material damage/damage to the appliance!
  • 6 x Warning: Risk of injury!
  • 1 x Warning: Risk of explosions/fire!
  • 4 x Warning: Risk of scalding!
Achtung baby indeed! They added the exclamation marks to the warnings, so don't blame me!

It amused me that apparently just using the washing machine for its intended purpose presents a risk of death:
Yes, you read this correctly and were warned!
I'm not suggesting that the warnings are idiotic and unnecessary, it is just that as a reasonable person who occasionally exercises a modicum of common sense, they sure look extreme to me. And who knows, maybe the manufacturer was taking an holistic approach and considering the carbon dioxide released (from the electricity used) into the atmosphere which directly impacts upon the global climate? Possibly not...

In work around the farm I use tools that genuinely present the risk of serious injury and/or death. Those tools are to be treated with respect. They also come with much better warnings, such as this one on a tree stump grinder:
Again you were warned! Use of almost any product could cause serious injury or death
The next time you use your toothbrush, I recommend that you ponder that all encompassing warning!

Speaking of using tools, death and flies and stuff, and also to prove that love is indeed a battleground, the editor spotted a massive female huntsman spider consuming its now deceased male friend. Perhaps the male spider should have heeded the warnings?
A female huntsman spider consumes its now deceased male mate
The heat has been extreme this week with most days over 32'C (90'F). The heat was combined with high humidity. In order to get some work done around the place, the editor and I have been getting up just after sunrise, starting work and then finishing around lunchtime.

After a couple of early morning mowing sessions, almost 60% of the farm has now been mowed. The prevailing weather conditions mean that the grass which was mowed a few weeks ago is now almost ready to be mowed again!
About 60% of the farm is now mowed for the summer
Observant readers will be able to spot in the above photo, not only the little red Honda push mower, but also on the middle right hand side there is a rock circle containing a first year walnut tree. I'd given up hope on that walnut tree, but the heat combined with the humidity has caused the tree to break dormancy. It is very late in the season for a deciduous tree to break dormancy, but nature tends to ignore risks and warnings, and instead focuses its energy on producing life.
The walnut has broken its dormancy. The pin oak will have to be relocated
Whilst I was mowing, the editor was trimming all of the garden beds along the various paths and concrete staircases. Triffid alert! Several paths and staircases were unable to be used as the plant growth had completely overtaken them. We use an electric hedge trimmer which is of course powered by the solar. The trimmer is also German, but comes with less warnings, ironically.
The garden beds on either side of pathways and concrete staircases were cut back
Even Mr Poopy, who is sadly on a diet, now enjoys easier access to the many paths!
Mr Poopy enjoys the now easily accessible paths
All of the prunings are moved by hand and dumped into a developing garden bed. The prunings eventually compost down into a fine rich black soil which is perfect for garden beds. Some of the more hardy plant varieties even take root and grow as the other less hardy plants compost into soil.
Prunings are unceremoniously dumped into a developing garden bed
Just to the left of the garden bed in the above photo, the longer established garden bed looks like this:
A second year garden bed which is grown on composted prunings
We also spent one very hot afternoon planting out the remainder of the summer vegetables in the tomato enclosure. In the next photo below, you can see that there was no reason at all for us to raise any tomato seedlings because nature had already taken care of that job with no effort at all on our part. Also in that enclosure are: Blueberries; Gooseberries; Chilean Guavas; Capsicum (Peppers); Chili (Jalapeno); Eggplants; Pumpkin; Melons; Corn; Beans; and Horseradish. Yum!
The tomato enclosure was planted out with summer vegetables
The many fruit trees are slowly producing ripening fruit and the next few photos are a sample:
Apricots are plentiful as long as the wallabies don't first destroy the branches that are hanging heavy and within reach
This is my first summer with fruit from the slow growing European pears and I'm looking forward to tasting them
Asian nashi pears are prolific and the birds will do a good job at thinning the excess fruit
The many horse chestnut flowers have turned into buckeyes which are used to produce a valuable and gentle soap
Homegrown almonds are very tasty
Blueberries are very slow growing here and this example is only a couple of weeks away from becoming sun ripened
I picked and ate my first ripe mulberry today! Yum!
The tastiest fruit at the moment are the cherries. I better get onto harvesting the early ones before the birds notice them!
With the ongoing heat and high humidity, the triffid warning above is to be taken more seriously than any "death by washing machine". If you don't believe me, then check out these flower photos:
Blue cornflowers are now found in the pasture below the house
The flowers for this tri-coloured sage are attractive
Salvia's are as delightful as they are heat and drought tough
The foliage on this Japanese maple is really stunning
Massed daisies. Nuff said!
This foxglove comes back in the same spot in the garden every single year
Geraniums and Elderberry are a delightful and heat hardy combination
Poppies, Pyrethrum and Granny's Bonnets make an attractive display
This is a plant from the Canary Islands but I am unsure what the name is. Does anyone have any ideas?
The temperature outside now at about 8.15pm is 13’C (55’F). So far this year there has been 840.8mm (33.1 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 823.0mm (32.4 inches).

Monday, 20 November 2017

No Light

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link:

I was asked a serious question the other week , "Do you have a filter for your water supply?" Whenever anyone discovers that the editor and I drink rainwater, that question is inevitably the very first one that is asked. Unsurprisingly, the person who asked the question was very dubious about the safety of the water when I replied that we don't have a filter on the water system.

How did we as a society, get to the point where people believe that water which falls for free out of the sky as rain and stored, is somehow worse for your health than water that comes out of the municipal water supply? In order to believe such a thing, I've long suspected that humans in industrial societies have somehow fallen out of touch, and indeed perhaps even out of love, with the natural world.

For this blog story, I feel that we need the awesome and commanding vocals of Florence Welch of the band Florence and the Machine who penned a song about lost love titled, "No light, No light":

"You are the hole in my head 
You are the space in my bed 
You are the silence in between 
What I thought and what I said 
You are the night-time fear 
You are the morning when it's clear 
When it's over, you're the start 
 You're my head and you're my heart"

It is frankly strange to me that someone can consider that a product that contains the additives of chloride and fluoride, can possibly be considered safer to consume than the same product without those chemicals. There are good reasons that those chemicals are added to municipal water supplies and I'm not arguing with that. However, what I find strange is that some people believe that in all other circumstances, water must have those chemicals, otherwise it is somehow not safe for human consumption.

The question about the lack of a filter states an implicit assumption that unfiltered rain water is somehow unsafe. That to me reflects a fear of the natural world.

I have been considering nature recently because when it comes to water, I get to use only whatever rainfall I can catch and store. Water can be purchased and trucked here, but it is enormously expensive (edit: although cheaper than buying a new water tank). I therefore have a serious incentive to catch every single drop of rain that nature supplies and then use it wisely. By contrast, people living the city of Melbourne do not have to consider nature because there is a backup plan by way of a desalination plant. If that plant is switched on, it can produce an enormous quantity of fresh water from otherwise undrinkable and very salty sea water. The plant is an extraordinary facility, the downside of which is that it uses a huge quantity of energy and I have no idea what happens to the salt which is removed from the sea water. Mind you, it is possibly a better option than the city running out of water during a prolonged drought.

It rained a lot this week, and despite the ongoing heat and humidity, I am very happy to have all of the water tanks full to the brim. The water tanks store about 110,000 Litres (28,950 Gallons).

Anyway, despite not having a filter, nature this week has been very bountiful.

"No light, no light
In your bright blue eyes
I never knew daylight could be so violent
A revelation in the light of day
You can't choose what stays and what fades away
And I'd do anything to make you stay
No light, no light
Tell me what you want me to say"

Clouds gathered over the central highlands and despite the heat, heavy rain fell - and was also stored!
From time to time, nature can teach harsh lessons, and so I can understand why people would want to put some distance between themselves and nature. Over the past year or so, the editor and I have been having problems with batches of homemade yoghurt (spelled yogurt in other places). Yoghurt is the Turkish name for a fermented milk product with its origins in South Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. We've been making yoghurt for over a decade, but lately something has been going wrong and batches have been failing to set. A mates parents once amusingly informed him when he spoke with them about complexities of growing tomatoes: "It is probably better to buy them from the shop". They may well be correct!

I'm not daunted by this challenge because whenever the word "fermented" is used, I think of Sandor Katz and his masterpiece "The Art of Fermentation". Sandor is clearly in love with nature, and he writes about his 17 years in a rural community: "Like the spring water and garden vegetables, the fresh milk was deeply compelling to me and was part of the allure of the change of life, rural community living offered." I'm not sure why, but he eventually moved down the road from that community into a place of his own.

"Through the crowd I was crying out and
In your place there were a thousand other faces
I was disappearing in plain sight
Heaven help me, I need to make it right"

That bloke Sandor, is onto something with fermentation and so I turned to the book for advice with the yoghurt problem. Sandor describes the history and fundamentals of yoghurt making and those lessons have been very valuable. The editor is also no slouch with microbiology, and we have now eliminated most of the variables in the yogurt making process and feel that the problem may be either:
  • The very expensive pasteurised milk (raw is not easily available in this country) that we purchase has somehow changed - perhaps it has a higher water content than in previous times; and/or
  • The inoculum (bacterial culture) that we are using to begin the yogurt making process is derived from a laboratory culture and it is possible that a bacteriophage (a virus that kills bacteria) has evolved in our kitchen. More diverse bacterial cultures are less likely to succumb to this fate.
Time and further experimentation will sort that mess out, but in the meantime it is worth considering Sandor's warning that: "If the existing US milk supply were to suddenly cease to be pasteurized, it would be a terrible disaster. The milk industry as we know it excels at mass production of cheap milk. In order to accomplish this, land per animal is minimized, and extraordinary means are employed ... unfortunately, these methods compromise the milk's quality and safety". Strong words from someone who intimately knows his way around an udder.

Yoghurt problems aside, the rain fell quite heavily this week and under the verandas a number of frogs took shelter from the storm.
A Southern Brown Tree Frog consumes what appears to be a cockroach
Proving that frogs are possibly smarter than dogs, Toothy got very wet during the storm:
Toothy the long haired dachshund got very wet during the recent storm!
Heavy rain delayed the completion of stage 1 of the new strawberry enclosure. Eventually however the rain stopped and the clouds parted and the hot and humid weather began. So did the work! On a positive note, we were able to install the remaining chicken wire around the strawberry enclosure. About 2/3rds of a cubic metre (0.86 cubic yards) of compost were placed in nice neat rows inside the enclosure.
Chicken wire was installed around the strawberry enclosure and compost was placed in neat rows
The chicken wire used on the fence surrounding the enclosure was recycled from cages that previously surrounded fruit trees. It was a very fiddly and time consuming job to produce a solid fence utilising all of the very differently sized chicken cages but I love finding new uses for items that are no longer required!

The heavy duty steel chicken wire cages are very effective at stopping wallaby damage to young fruit trees. Those marsupials are expert pruners and they ensure that every lower branch is removed from every single fruit tree (as can be seen in the next photo). The job of the wallabies in the forest is to ensure that the forest remains open at ground level - and they're very good at that job!
Expert pruning performed by the local marsupials on a couple of apple trees
After another couple of hours work, a further 130 odd strawberry runners were planted into the new strawberry enclosure. I even spotted a few unripe strawberries.
A further 130 odd strawberry runners were planted into the new enclosure
Observant readers may be able to spot the 25 lavender bushes planted just on the other side of the downhill fence. Over time, the plants will attract pollinating insects, but honestly, the lavender will just look and smell nice on a hot summers day!
25 lavender seedlings were planted next to the strawberry enclosure
You may be interested to see the blackberry and raspberry enclosure that sits below the strawberry terrace. It is looking great and I spotted some unripe early varieties of raspberry.
An update on the growth in the blackberry and raspberry enclosure!
The egg crate experiment for raising seedlings hasn't been a complete and utter total disaster, however you could almost smell the total disaster (it smells like mould) because the seedlings for fast growing plants such as tomatoes died on their first outing in great outdoors. The slower growing plants such as capsicum (peppers) and eggplants are doing far better, but next year we plant to sow directly into the soil and avoid all of this hassle (and smell). In this warm climate raising most seedlings indoors is a waste of time, and in all honesty I have no idea why I am even doing it.
The egg crate seed raising experiment was initially a great success and then a dismal failure
This week we planted out the many cucumber and zucchini (courgette) seedlings (purchased from a non-mouldy smelling place).
Cucumber and zucchini (courgette) seedlings were planted out
The original strawberry enclosure received a temporary stay of execution! We weeded that massive garden bed and then mulched the entire area with sugar cane mulch. If you've ever wondered why strawberries are so named, it is because without the straw, every single insect under the sun will consume the ripe berries!
The original strawberry enclosure received a temporary stay of execution
Mowing continued this week and as a matter of sheer desperation, I had to cut a path through the long grass to the chicken enclosure. The path had disappeared completely in the feral spring growth - even the delightful, but incredibly sedentary Mr Poopy was getting lost in the long grass!
Mr Poopy enjoys the newly mown pathway leading to the chicken enclosure

Late Spring Produce Update!
Someone told me that a picture tells a thousands words - so who am I to argue with them?
We have hundreds of pods of broad beans - and may have to work out suitable recipes!
Apples are getting biggerer!
I'm embarrassed to admit that I have not previously harvested the huge quantity of mulberries
The many fig trees are still young, but fruit is developing on the oldest trees
As the years go on, I suspect that plums will be a staple and prolific fruit
This years award for feral quantities of fruit goes to... Apricots!
Late Spring Garden Update
Whenever I travel into Melbourne, I take note of the insect and bird activity in the many gardens that I walk past during my travels. Those gardens are quiet places and it is surprising to see even a lone insect hovering over a flower. As a contrast, the incessant drone from the insects in the garden beds here reminds me that they are a bit scary to venture into (be prepared to be stung or bitten!) As a backdrop to the sound of the drone from the insects is the constant chatter of the birds.
The Japanese maple garden bed supports a huge variety of insect life
Best eva! Nuff said! Smells good too (not like mould)

Rhododendron's are show offs!

Another variety of Bearded Iris has produced flowers after the heavy rains earlier this week
The editor spotted the first of the Penstemon flowers
Sage is feral and also a useful medicinal herb (sorts mouth ulcers right out)

The final (almost) word this week should go to Florence Welch who really does have a truly amazing voice!

"You want a revelation
You want to get right
But it's a conversation
I just can't have tonight
You want a revelation
Some kind of resolution
You want a revelation"

The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 21’C (70’F). So far this year there has been 823.0mm (32.4 inches) which is more than last week’s total of 761.2mm (30.0 inches).