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Monday, September 30, 2013

Activities for the day, Motivation


This wasn't an idle day.

  • Started the pumps on the dam to maintain a steady supply of water in order to finish giving all the fruit trees a drink.
  • Put on a 10 litre batch of yogurt
  • Moved the 14 sprinklers twice and finishing off with just three by nightfall. Wound up all the hoses and put away the spray units
  • Made up the sugar/water mix for the bees and placed the feeder in the hive
  • The parmesan that was made the day before came out of the press and placed in a brine solution
  • Harvested some more ripe coffee berries, popped out the pips and put them in a bowl of water to ferment off the remaining pulp. Spent some time husking some more of the dried coffee beans
  • Finished mulching the last of the foliage from the trees felled the other week and used the mulch around various trees. Four big barrow loads in this last lot.
  • Made three trips across the river to move the irrigator and conducted some running repairs on said irrigator, moved the cattle and silage feeder
  • Fed our cattle some hay
  • Refuelled our dam pumps and gave then another run
  • Picked Mulberries and Mandarin for tonight's dessert
  • Picked and shelled a batch of Broad Beans for Bruschetta (with Garlic and oil)
  • Got down to the pool for a few laps. The schedule called for 26 laps i.e. increase by two each day until we reach 40 or one kilometre. The pool manager changed the plan and we did 30 laps. 3 x 100 metres every 2 minutes 30, 5 x 50 metres on one minute 15, 6 x 25 metres on 40 seconds, finishing with one lap on 30 seconds and a final lap on 25 seconds. Will sleep well tonight.
  • And this was a fast day with the only food being a big milky latte at 5.30 am

Stuff just has to get done or it builds up in the background and the pile becomes insurmountable. What choice do you have? Pack it all in and live in an apartment and eat take away? Cut down on the made here items? What would you give up, the wine, the vegetables, the chooks, the cheese, the fruit, the outdoor life, the maintenance?

At no point did I feel like dragging the chipper/mulcher down to the pile of foliage but it had to be done and the incentive was it would be the last pile.

Dragging hoses about setting up sprinklers just had to be done or the trees would suffer and possibly shed blossoms and potential food would be lost.

Going without food all day wasn't too bad except around those times which may be construed as meal times or when the parmesan came out of the press and needed a little trimming. The trimmings went to the dogs - only just. But fasting a couple of days in each seven seems to be very good for the body's IGF-1. At the very least we have both experienced a slight weight loss over the four months. About 5%. We still eat a comprehensive evening meal on fast days. It seems that it is the average calorie intake over seven days that has gone down. The change in waist line is noticed as clothing that was a bit tight is not so any longer.

Going to the pool on  a fast day is not a very attractive endeavour but exercising when not eating forces the body to use up more of that body fat reserve accumulated over the years. It really was hard to get down there but with a training partner (who was not fasting) encouraging me to greater heights it went quickly enough and after a while it's not all that bad especially when you get down to the last few laps.

So tonight we had a great meal starting with our creamy Blue cheese using slices of carrot instead of bread or biscuits. Then the Broad Bean bruschetta. Followed by a selection of dishes from Yotam Ottolenghi's book Plenty. Pretty much vegetarian fair today but all fresh from the garden and tasty.

And celebrated the day with an extra glass or two of wine.

What happened to the motivation for moderation?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bees and watering


Bee club meeting today. Very well attended with all seats taken and lots of newcomers. These meetings are always interesting. Fortunately they are well run and reasonably brief 1-2 hours before we descend on the apiary for hands on.

There is always lots of new and interesting information transacted during the meeting.
  • It appears we may be in for another bad season as nectar seems to be in short supply and everyone is experiencing a slow build up of honey.
  • There is a shortage of queens for sale making it difficult for the club to perform its annual queen replacement and also to prepare nucs to supply orders.
  • One of the members is preparing to do a PhD on Honeybees as bio indicators of environmental health and to track plant species through pollen.
  • The clubs training program has commenced with 18 participants.
  • There is a big demand for fully established hives by people wanting to get into bee keeping easily. I'm not sure this is the best idea. Sounds too much like instant bee keeping without the commitment to learn.
  • We had a guest speaker who as well as being a queen breeder sells apiary supplies. He is incredibly knowledgeable and never fails to entertain and inform on the subject of bees. All sorts of little titbits.
    • The proper ways to prepare bee boxes
    • Thermo Wood boxes are easier to prepare
    • Plastic queen excluders don't have crevices for the SHB to hide
    • When harvesting wax keep it in a molten state for 24 hours for impurities to settle out as well as the extended molten period killing any AFB (American Foul Brood) spores.
    • Old frames should be destroyed and are not suitable for wax harvest
    • AFB can survive in foundation wax for 30-40 years. Best not buy old hives without provenance.
    • A solid dissertation on identifying AFB including that it has a distinctive odour
    • AFB will effect almost everyone sooner or later as it is spread easily by robber bees from wild hives.
    • Some plant species will produce nectar which when converted to honey will crystalize extremely rapidly (almost before your eyes) e.g. Canola and if left on the frame too long will be near impossible to extract.
    • Organic honey is extremely difficult to produce with any certainty because of the distance bees travel to collect pollen and nectar. The hives would have to be located in sites surrounded by native bush in all directions for 5 kilometres.
After getting home it was time to attend to our own bees. They received a new super with 10 frames. Two frames of brood were lifted into the new super and fresh foundation frames replaced them in the bottom box. The hive looks very healthy and there is lots of activity.

Hose and spray mounted on a block of wood


Our inspection of the orchard today showed that the trees are starting to feel the hot dry weather. Flowering and fruit set is excellent but some drooping of foliage is starting. Out came the spray nozzles and hoses and we have commenced a watering program whereby each tree will receive two hours of fine spray at its base. We have a tick sheet to keep track of the trees completed. Rather than water sequentially we pick and choose depending on the state of the tree and its crop value.

We find this method very effective in slowly wetting the soil and penetrating into the ground without run off. In all about 12 -14 trees can be watered simultaneously.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Heat, Wind, Bees

The wind is back drying out everything and it is hot.

The bees love it. The hive is extremely active. The inspection showed that they have almost finished drawing out the last foundation wax. Tomorrow we'll put another super on with 10 new foundations.

Having read on another blog that the blogger was not bothering with a queen excluder it seemed worth the experiment to go without one. The queen is marked and easy to find and it is easy enough to put in an excluder later and any brood in the upper super will hatch within 5 weeks. Giving her access means that she has more space to lay should she be prolific and run out of brood space. The alternative would be to move some brood up to the top super and put in a queen excluder. We will move the two frames of brood up any way but I'm curious as to what will happen if the queen gets free range of the hive.

Opening the hive drives Small Hive Beetles down into the trap in the base which is a good thing. After checking the hive I pulled out the trap and there were about a dozen SHB running around. After stirring the diatomaceous earth in the trap it was reinstalled. We've found that if there is a good depth of diatomaceous earth then all it needs is a stir to freshen it up and make sure it is soft and fluffy and the SHB get a good coating and can't get out. In high humidity or wet weather the diatomaceous earth tends to form a crust may need to be replaced with soapy water. Soapy water is fine but it starts to stink in just a few days requiring more regular cleaning.

Despite all the hot wind we ran the mulcher for a couple of hours and managed to process the bulk of the foliage from the eucalypts that we remove a couple of weeks ago. Five barrow loads of mulch was put around various fruit trees in the house garden where it is less likely to be spread by active chooks.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Cattle Happiness, Spending Management

Cattle Happiness

Do cattle experience happiness?

Our cattle were let into a fresh paddock today. They began leaping about kicking their rear legs into the air twisting and turning and running from green tuft to green tuft. A good time for us to stand back and out of reach of their hind quarters.

Is this a sign of their pure joy? It has to be. We've watched this occur in different herds many times. Sometimes you wonder how 400+ kilogram animal can be so flexible. It's a joy for us to see it when it happens. And then there is that rip rip rip as they tear mouthfuls of fresh grass. This is one of the most pleasant sounds in the world.

One day someone will podcast a catalogue of the loveliest sounds in the world. The morning carolling of the magpies. Jean's uncontrolled laughter at something silly I've said or done.

And then there are the scents. That unique smell cows exude when on fresh pasture, The first Jasmine flours of Spring. Grapes fermenting. How will we catalogue and share these?

Spending Management

One of the best ways we found to restrict our spending urges was to discuss every expenditure with each other. And this is not just the big items but everything that may be classed as discretional. Every dollar saved is still a dollar saved. We both feel the same way about spending money and therefore this consultative approach comes naturally.

The small expenditures are probably the most insidious. You know the ones, that inexpensive tool on special for only a few dollars - a nice to have but how often will it get used? A little trinket or bauble that looks pretty but will it find its way into a drawer and be forgotten. That book that looks good but turns out to be disappointing. We used to buy books at the drop of a hat and accumulated many that eventually had to be passed on to op shops. Book acquisitions are now controlled. We borrow the book from a library first to see if we want to add it to our collection.

Another good method for control is the "research and leave". Especially useful for larger more expensive items such as electrical goods. Research the item thoroughly, visit it in the shop, touch it, ask a lot of questions and then go away for week and think about it. If you still feel the need to have it go back and visit again and maybe buy it.

Finally the prepaid mobile telephone or internet access. All so simple to top up as it begins to run out and before you know it you've just spent $100 in two weeks. Each time you finish using it write down how much is remaining to remind yourself  what you have just done.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Financial preparedness, Cattle

Things are a bit tight for the cattle with the hot and dry weather continuing. Most days they are getting their bale of Lucerne which they devour quickly. They are maintaining condition. So it seems that between the slim pickings in the paddock which would now be mainly just roughage and the Lucerne they are getting enough. Today was one of those horrendous windy days with temperatures at 37 degrees C. Great bush fire weather in early Spring.

Hector on the left and Warren on the right, Hector never speaks. Warren is known as whinging Warren. They are never apart.

Martinique the prettiest heifer. Always keeps her eye on the two boys. They always do as she says and she loves and protects them


One important aspect of preparedness is money. If you rely on employment to keep life ticking over it is important to examine what your situation would be should that employment end suddenly. Can you survive for 6 months or a year? Do you have a back up income earning option?

Throughout our lives we have always been conservative in the finance side of things and never taken out too large a house loan and worked towards paying off the mortgage as quickly as possible. We always kept substantial savings to enable us to replace the car on short notice without borrowing and enough money to live frugally for a year should we both be unemployed. Non of that ever happened but we never ever experienced worry about the future.

Even with investments we maintained a conservative approach never borrowing excessively for investment property. Keeping superannuation balanced between shares, property and cash. Even the shares were spread across different sectors. Never ever followed the investments offering those big returns. A nice steady rate of return in highly dependable areas.

This approach never made us millionaires. It did not lead us to lose our life savings in some dubious scheme. It did allow us to cease full time work a lot earlier and be financially but frugally independent. We still work part time but that time is at our choosing and at the intensity that suits us and the money just builds our savings.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Are you prepared? Another NZ compost finished, Swimming

Preparedness i.e. Self Sufficiency

While plugging away at a maintenance task the mind turned to self sufficiency because the podcast playing was about in the event of a disaster not becoming a victim and depending on outside help when outside help may be preoccupied with others.

If there is a bad flood, fire or storm are we capable of continuing on without dependence on outside help for at least a couple of weeks?

The generator is fuelled and ready and has been tested in the last month. The extension leads are all lined up with power boards and there is adequate stored fuel for some weeks. There is one spare large gas bottle for the stove as well as the BBQ and bottle.

The garden is bursting with produce, the pantry has more than adequate supplies for months to come and the freezers have long term supplies. There is enough variety so that it does not become boring. We can even feed the neighbours.

The water tanks are near full and two have been turned off. The dam is near full. When a potential event is approaching we fill up lots of water containers and the bath tub.

Well there is the house, La Cave, and a choice of sheds on the property. In the  event of a major fire there is a neighbours dairy cottage, the studio and house across the river and a close friends unoccupied granny flat. Adequate options. We are too high up to be affected by flood waters. We have adequate room to assist others.

There are first aid kits in the bathroom, in the workshop and in one of the work bags. CPR refresh is up to date. No one is taking any medications so all that is needed is some pain killers in the first aid kit.

The chainsaw is stored fuelled and sharpened. There are a number of tarpaulins in storage, the ropes and tie downs bag is handy, the vehicles are fuelled and serviced. When fire season starts we organise our backpacks with items for an extended absence and the financials are always in a carry bag.

NZ Compost

Finished off the NZ compost that was started a few days ago. Most of the Broccoli and a Kale had finished and gone to seed. The leaves were chucked into the bin whole and the stems run through the chipper side of the mulcher. Because they are so green they block the output grill if it isn't removed first. As we had acquired some more Lettuce seedlings a section of garden bed was also weeded and the Plumbago trimmed. All this provided some more layers along with mulch hay, some bio char and the bedding from an earlier compost. There was still some room remaining and so out came the mower and some mown clover finished the job. The calendar was marked for a complete turning in five weeks.
The latest NX compost bin
Freshly planted Lettuce


After resetting the irrigator across the river a swim finished the day off. The pool manager was coaxed into the pool and we did 20 (25 metre) laps on 4o seconds. Much better to do this with some one else so that you aren't tempted to give up early. After a hot sweaty day what a pleasure to dunk into the cool water and of course a sense of achievement after some enforced exercise.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Feeding Grapevines, planting out more Spring seedlings and not getting it right every time

Now that all the grapevines have flowered and set fruit it was a good time to give them a light feed of fish emulsion. We had picked up a few 5 litre containers of the emulsion at the last Tocal Field Days event at a good price. Not wanting to overdo it only one container was poured into the holding tank which contained 3-5000 litres. One pump was started on the dam to get the water splashing into the tank and mix the emulsion then the drip irrigation system was started for the 150 vines. There has been no rain for two weeks and the vines have not been watered for three weeks. The idea is to add some nutrients into the soil for the vines but to over stimulate the growth and possibly get a crop of grapes that that do not have sufficient intensity of flavour. Grape vines seem to produce their best wine fruit when under a little bit of stress and working hard. By watering heavily today it is hoped the moisture and nutrients  will spread deeply into the rocky underlay and encourage the roots deeper.

The timing worked out perfectly. returned from over the river after two hours to find the water was just running out and the vines could be turned off. Topped the fuel in the pumps and started both to fill the tank overnight.

Had a good strike of corn seedlings for a second planting. Out went some Cucurbits and a Watermelon seedling that friends have left us as well as another Okra. Still outstanding is the Bitter Melon a great addition to stir fry, Zucchini, more beans and some other varieties of Rockmelon and Watermelon. Well maybe this can be classed as succession planting rather than germination failure.

One particular podcast Episode 1210 from was playing as work progressed during the morning. Worth listening to for all those attempting a self sufficient lifestyle. All does not go according to plan every time. Conditions change (we are dealing with nature after all) and sometimes you need to step back and review what is being done. A lot of things we do are automatic based on prior experience and occasionally we get a surprise when it doesn't work.

Rarely to we talk about our failures. Do we believe people don't want to hear about our failures? Are they only interested in out successes so that they can replicate them?  Should we also mention our disasters and demonstrate out fallibility? Use the failures to demonstrate how to recover from a problem?

Having presided over more disasters than you can poke a stick at we could flood the ether with our stories.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Swimming season starts, One more trip for the tractor

It's official swimming season has commenced. The local pool always opens sometime in September. It all depends on when school holidays commence. In the month or so leading up to opening the pool the manager and his offsider spend their days getting it all ready with painting and cleaning. Every year I call past during the maintenance month to buy our season ticket. This year they were closed each time I went past. Today they were there. They were there because the pool opened on Saturday. I'm two days late.

Never mind it was such a warm and sunny afternoon and being late couldn't be helped. I raced home to tell Jean but she was mid stride into organising dinner. I grabbed the swimming bag and enjoyed a few laps in the 24 degree C water on my own. Refreshed and a sense of achievement got me home to spend a little time reading.

Proof of the commencement of swimming season

Stepping backwards to the morning. Today was the day to finish the slashing job down the road at the property which is studded with booby traps for both the tractor and slasher. Well another lucky day. Only collected a little fencing wire but spotted all the hidden chicken wire tree guards (with trees long gone) and unused fence posts lying in deep grass. Four hours later with cash in hand it was all over without an incident. The cosmos can be benevolent at times.

Did manage to make some progress towards self sufficiency. In the cold frame some seeds still haven't germinated. All these were replanted again. Never quite sure why this is so. Sometimes it is because the seed packet is past its use by date but that only means germination percentage will drop so if enough seeds are planted there should be some result - theoretically. Other times it could be that seed tray just dried out or didn't get enough water one day. Anyway it doesn't matter that much as it enforces a staggered planting.

While sitting in the kitchen looking out on the garden with drinks and left over Taramasalata and toasted sourdough we discussed how good the garden looked after our hectic few days of mowing and trimming. It always does look good after so much effort but is that only because it looked so bad before and that the contrast is greater?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Spring is really at full steam

With visitors arriving this afternoon for drinks the house cleaning is all done and the yard and gardens almost finished. All looking good.

The peacock staying out of the sun and out of the way of the machinery
The lawn clippings are being combined with other materials into yet another NZ compost.

A work in progress
The beautiful sunny day is ideal for drying the next batch of coffee pips which have been soaking to get off the remaining flesh.

Drying coffee beans
With visitors on the way a fresh loaf of sourdough is rising in the sun. Having sat overnight it needs that last little finishing lift.

Sourdough in the background
Garden looking tidy (for once) with the Artichokes well advanced 
We had our first artichokes last night. The plants all look healthy and we are looking forward to a bumper year. All this hot dry weather is keeping any pests and diseases at bay.

Tomorrow nights Broad Bean Bruschetta awaiting harvest
Some Broad Beans are awaiting harvest, Again the hot dry weather has kept them very healthy.

It was a fabulous day with all the jobs done. How very satisfying to have gotten up early and steadily worked away washing, cleaning, mowing, pruning, edging, composting and making food. These are those deeply satisfying days when you finally sit down there is this amazing sense of achievement and progress.

And we finally did sit down at 4 with our visitors and celebrated the day and their company with home made wine (2012 Sparkling Semillon, 2013 un-oaked Semillon, 2012 Tannat) and food (Taramasalata, Greek meat balls with Oregano and Mint, Socca, Silverbeet and Radicchio Quiche and two cheeses Provolone and Havarti with freshly made biscuits). After sunset there were farewells, a quick clean-up and restful sleep.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Another good day at home, Saving Energy, Coffee, Cheese Making Community, Insurance

We are having visitors tomorrow for afternoon drinks. Sounds good? Yes and no. Time to get the place looking respectable. Lots of house cleaning and the lawns need doing. Still having visitors is a good incentive to have a general clean up around the place. Good to get it done very now and then.

Saving Energy
The electricity bill arrived yesterday. Another reduction in usage. This is the second bill in a row showing a reduction in usage prior to that it had shot up. An all time low compared to this time last year.

The cause of the original increase was the upright freezer. It wasn't that old and had a reasonable energy rating for an upright but we'd noticed it running fairly regularly.

A few years ago the operating temperature of all the fridges and freezers had been checked and adjusted. Then a meter was put on one in turn to measure consumption. All were fine.

As there was an opportunity to consolidate frozen storage about the time we received the big energy bill we defrosted each in turn and cleaned them finishing with the upright being turned off. Two months of no upright showed a huge reduction in electricity usage. This current bill reflects all three months of savings and as well our old analogue TV started to play up and was replaced with a more energy efficient digital reducing our usage a little more.

Only goes to show that major appliances need to be checked regularly for performance.

Having harvested the best beans from the broken Coffee tree branches the pips were popped out and are soaking to get the flesh off. The earlier harvest had been cleaned and was sun dried and today over coffee the paper shell was removed and the beans are ready for roasting. After the next batch is done there will be enough to warrant a roasting session.

Soaking off the remaining pulp

Ready for roasting

The updated insurance policy arrived this week. When the reminder came the other week we made a few changes to it via telephone. Both the Building and the Contents Basic excesses were increased. We looked at a couple of options before settling on the final amount which reflected our financial position and ability to cover the excesses as well as the risk factors. In the end we ended up with a reduction in premium of 30%.

Always worth reviewing not only the coverage amounts but the Basic Excess every year for all insurance policies. Such as house and vehicles.

Cheese Making Community
The cheese community continues to grow. When we commenced collecting milk from our current supplier we would often leave them a sample of the end products as they were made from their milk. Cheeses, Butter and Yogurt.

The daughter-in-law of the dairy farmer had sampled some of these and was motivated to complete a cheeses making course. And today she brought us a sample of her work in the form of a Camembert. Absolutely delicious! An excellent creamy wonderfully smelly cheese.

Many years ago when we first started making cheese we were lucky enough to meet Richard Thomas in Milawa an Australian cheese maker famous for developing so many different and well known cheeses. He encouraged us to keep on with the cheese making not only providing references to reading  material but also sending us off with rennet and starter culture. He had the view that the more people who became involved in home cheese making the more the market  for good cheeses would expand as tastes changes and expanded.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Of irrigators and dentists

The irrigator across the river has been out of action for a week now. After a false start i.e. wrong part being sent the completely new spray nozzle arrived except... It was sent as a bare unit i.e. no jets. No problem as this is a complete replica of the ancient spray which is broken and all the jets can be transferred across. No such luck. It all looks the same but the threads are different. After endless fiddling, trying different adaptors and even giving thought to cutting new thread it boiled down to just removing the new clapper from the spray and putting it on the old spray gun. And too much surprise it all worked.

The clapper with the broken end and the cause of a lot of grief. Just as well there was 20 mm of rain this week to take the pressure of making grass grow.
The spray unit
Just as an aside while all this fiddling was going on a large number of small rocks were discovered in the barrel of the old spray. I wonder how long they had been there. Better make sure the irrigator hoses are blown clear before any future connection and it won't hurt to dismantle and service the irrigator from time to time.

So after 3 hours of fiddling about it was time to go off to the dentist ( a 2 hour round trip) and see about a tooth with a crumbling filling.

While making the appointment with the receptionist:

John "Should I make an extended appointment in case it requires a crown?"

Receptionist "No, doctor will make time if it's needed and we can fit you in this Friday"

Dentist (on Friday) "It will need a crown"

John "Lets start now"

Dentist "I don't have enough time now, you will have to come back for a one hour session but it will be in the next week or two"

John "grunt"

Dentist "I'll put in a temporary filling until then to make it comfortable"

John (visions of $200 with wings)  "Don't worry about the filling its not bothering me"

Dentist " It needs to be protected from further damage"

John "grunt"

Receptionist (later) "I'm sorry we can't fit you in for three weeks"

John "That will do. How much do I owe for this visit?"

Receptionist " It says no charge, that can't be right let me go and check"

Receptionist (later) " No that is right doctor says no charge"

So, not a bad Friday after all. And the irrigator ran fine all day. Sat outside and watched the sun set with sparkling wine and smoked Salmon.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Coffee Tree(s), Maintenance and Generators

Today started well with both of us down behind the tanks loading up the cut down trees into the trailer and taking it down to the hayshed storage area for a 2 year dry out. With two working it was a speedy task. All that is remaining is the mulching of the foliage.

While the tractor was out and about yet another load of rocks was removed from around The Orchard. This seems an almost endless task but I'm sure it isn't. One day it will be done.

The other tractor job was to level out an area adjacent the workshop. Originally this was set up as a garden bed to grow some tropical fruit but it just never took off. Over time it became a storage ground for timber and firewood. The chooks would scratch around and gradually dirt built up against the metal sheeting of the workshop. This is not an ideal situation. Soil and metal don't work well together.

As part of the ongoing maintenance program this potential damage to the workshop needed addressing. Over the last couple of weeks all the timber has been relocated and today we used the 4 in 1 bucket to scrape the site. The job was finished off with a shovel. The metal cladding was showing some signs of rust and after a bit of wire brushing a rust converter was applied. A coat of paint tomorrow will finish the job.

Eventually this site will make a good level pad for some alternative use. Level sites are rare on Home Hill Farm.

Our Coffee tree is experiencing some trauma. A month ago a large branch snapped off. Last week another came off. Today we found 4 central branches broken. originally we surmised that it was the action of wind on fruit heavy branches but not any longer. The possible suspect is now a possum. The tree looks a bit battered but the fruit on the broken stems is salvageable and the tree will recover.

We would have preferred last years problem which was rodents eating the berries and spitting out the pips on the ground which we were able to harvest removing one step from the process.

We planted a second tree in a different location after having some success making our own coffee but it is some time away from producing a viable crop.

The damaged Coffee
The recovered foliage
The dried beans from the earlier broken branches partially processed

While working today I was listening to TSP ( The podcast was an older one related to choosing and using generators. I have to say it was a great listen explain the different types of generators and how to decide which is the best for you. Especially good was the method to calculate your usage. Part 2 of the program explained how to incorporate the output into your house. Some methods were dangerous and illegal while other options very useful. The other excellent section was on ways to increase the running time of the unit with either extension tanks or converting the unit to duel fuel usage i.e. Petrol/Propane gas. Petrol has a limited shelf life unless additives are used to increase its storage properties. Propane on the other hand has an unlimited storage life and most importantly we always have a full 45 KG backup tank for our gas stove making this an attractive conversion option.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cutting the trees down was the easy part

The clean up that follows downing some trees is the time consuming part of the program. Already the trees had been cut up into various lengths. This morning foliage was stacked ready for mulching and chipping and the firewood sized pieces carried up to the wood pile and stacked. The trees downed behind the water tanks were just too far away from the wood pile to do entirely by hand but have had the foliage stacked and tomorrow the firewood will be brought up with the tractor and trailer.

A view from the south of the water storage facility. 4 concrete tanks totalling 100,000 litres.
To make room for storing the new firewood the previous seasons wood had to be removed. The larger pieces had already been cut to size with the chainsaw but the rest had to be processed before it was stored in the firewood shelter. The quickest and easiest way was to carry the light weight saw bench up to the wood pile and suitably dressed in protective clothing cut each to length.

Triton saw bench
As soon as a chain saw or saw bench is started the chooks run over. They love scratching about for what ever falls out of the bark form the aged pieces of wood.

It is always satisfying to think that nothing was wasted from the tree felling operation. Wood for the fire and mulch for the garden which will in turn reduce our watering requirement.

After a few hours paid work across the river harrowing paddocks and trying to finish off a piece of fencing that has been started but constantly put to one side as other priorities intervene.

It was after 4 before we arrived back home and commenced the afternoon chores. I made a quick pass through the vineyard to inspect the vines progress. They are still bud bursting and setting flower but the bulk have finished and there were very little pruning of excess bunches needed on this pass. It was surprising to see how quickly the bunches which flowered earlier have grown.

One of the early bunches with a rose in the background. Despite what is generally said the roses are only there for show.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Getting Ready for Summer (and Winter)

Most of today was spent cutting down (and up) the last of the trees that were too close to the house. When saying the last i.e. the last that had been marked for removal. It was more an exercise in thinning out the regrowth.

Safely on the ground

The thinning will allow the tractor through that area for slashing and reduce the fuel load around the house. Only one large tree was removed because it was right beside the water tanks and there was a risk of it cracking one of the concrete tanks or just as bad falling on the tanks in a bad southerly.

The first few metres of this one to be kept for some woodworking project with the ends painted to prevent cracking

There were some trees left behind. One in particular is a Spotted Gum that looks like it has been there for hundreds of years. The others left untouched seem to be favoured by the local Koalas.

A very old Spotted Gum with some damage after a limb came down

Making sure the trees didn't drop onto fences or water tanks involved ropes and straps tensioned to encourage the right direction for the fall. All went well without any damage to property.

Once everything was on the ground the thicker parts of the trunk were cut into firewood and the thinner limbs into longer pieces (just laziness). These will dry over this Summer and next and should be ready for use the following Winter.

The only chainsaw on hand (and working) is the big saw and after several hours of waving it about the arms and shoulders felt the effort. Looking forward to the swimming season commencing soon to build up the strength after a lazy Winter.

A very powerful chainsaw but not suitable to cutting smaller pieces for firewood

Tomorrow we will start stacking the firewood on pallets for drying and the foliage will be stacked ready to be run through the mulcher/chipper and used around the garden.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Outside Work

The new tractor performed exceptionally well in a challenging environment and received 5 hours paid work. Yesterday's preparation paid off and no mechanical problems were experienced.

The job was to slash as much of this 7 acre farm as possible. No grass had been cut for some years. First of course the owner walked me around and showed me where all the not buried poly pipes were laid from various tanks and watering points. Why bother following fence lines when you can traverse a paddock above ground? Then there were the known unknowns i.e. piles of building rubble, discarded tree trunks, old fence posts, roofing iron and poly pipe. All strategically placed to maximise the number turns or backing in and out. The concept of a central dumping spot did not exist here. The odd post hole dug years ago but unused presented no problem as some were marked with bright orange witches hats and the others didn't bother the tractor anyway. Just as well this is a small tractor as nothing larger would have been up to the task.

Then of course there were the unknown unknowns. The 20 metre long piece of fencing wire which presented no challenge to the slasher, The small quantity of chicken wire was also only a brief noise. The 5 metre length of 1" poly pipe did get me out of the seat to pull it clear of the slasher which was fortuitous (and seriously lucky) as it led to the discovery of the two piles of flattened pig netting which definitely would have caused serious grief. The 4 in 1 bucket came into its own with the pig netting enabling me to wrench it free of the metre high Kikuyu and stack it elsewhere.

The owner was concerned about snakes which is why the sudden desire to slash came about. No snakes were seen as they had left long ago. Just too many Occupational Health and Safety issues for their liking.

After 5 hours of operation at 2500 RPMs, covered in thick grassy dust and slightly damp from the arriving rain we (the tractor and I) retreated to return later in the week to finish off and perform some touch ups. Home to wash off the vehicle and owner and spend an hour with bolt cutters removing a relatively small quantity of fencing wire from around the slasher blade shaft.

This would have to go down as one of the luckiest days. With all those obstacles and impossible thick grass forcing driving at the lowest gear settings we did not come unstuck.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday means getting ready for the week

Every year we plant 2-3 spare tomato seeds for every variety we grow just in case there are germination issues. For the first time ever there were no germination issues and as well all the seeds grew into the best seedlings we have ever raised. Not being able to bear the thought of tossing them out we started to offer them to friends and neighbours and also put some outside the front gate for passer-by traffic. The passer-by loved it. Problem solved.

Tomorrow the tractor gets a drive down the road to perform some paid work. When it was purchased we had it registered for public road travel in the hope of getting some outside work and thus defraying some of the costs of acquisition such as Goods and Services Tax (GST) and even some depreciation against income. Having put flyers in the letterboxes of nearby properties we only had one taker a few months ago and now a second. Every little bit counts.

Just too make sure all goes smoothly with the paid work a basic service was performed this morning on the slasher. Top up the gear box and grease the PTO. It was obvious this hadn't been done for while. So much for our "keep your gear in good order". The one hour turned to two but at least everything is now in tip top shape.

The bees needed their 7-10 day inspection. Brood looks good. Very little Small Hive Beetle. The foundation we inserted when the nuc was placed into the 10 frame hive is very very slowly being drawn out. Just to continue with the helping hand some more sugared water is added to the feeder.

The Tomato Bed is pretty much complete now and only some mounds require mulch hay biscuits. These are going on in unison with the planting out of various vines. Some Rockmelon and Watermelon are in and starting to grow their second leaves.

Some of the earliest fruit trees to flower have started to form fruit. We suffer badly from fruit fly and now is the time to protect the young fruit with exclusion bags. It sounds like an onerous task but fortunately only a couple of trees at a time need bagging and we limit ourselves to protecting only a small quantity of fruit to eat. A different matter with Pears and Apples where we will need bulk quantities for Coder and Perry.

Tropical Nectarine with the Tropical Peach in the background

The Coffee plant has started its fruit ripening. Some of the fruit looks like a decent size this year. This is one of those progressive tasks which will span months. Picking a few of the most ripe berries and squeezing out the pips for fermentation and drying before removing the outer paper and roasting.

On Friday we collected a couple of hundred kilograms of chicken feed. Separate quantities of Wheat, Corn, Black Sunflower and Sorghum. Pressed for time these were dumped on the verandah until today when we barrowed them down to the workshop. The small quantities of remaining grain were transferred to lidded buckets and the plastic 200 litre drums were cleaned out to make sure no weevils or their eggs were left behind for the fresh grain.

Jean gave away some surplus eggs the other week and received a rave review about taste and colour and a request to purchase on a regular basis any surplus. Our deduction as to the taste and colour is that it is the access to the natural environment. The girls are let out fairly early in the morning and not locked up until dark. Each pod of rooster and his girls travel to different parts of The Orchard. They don't return until the afternoon when we put out their evening feed of grain which is usually soaked in whey.

The morning rush to find fresh green matter

The Orchard is quite large and has a diverse vegetation profile and lots of insects and grubs. The amount of green material they eat is quite noticeable especially in dry weather when the regrowth is slower. The pasture looks as if it has been mown. We also observe that when let out in the morning the first action is to run around and pick at any freshly grown blades. Having chooks in this free range environment results in a lot of pot holes in The Orchard but I can't imagine ever restricting them to a pen where they couldn't get their fill of green salad.

One of the many pot holes created by dirt bathing
When having pasta we tend to make fresh egg pasta by mixing the dough in the bread maker and using an old manual Pasta Maker to roll out the shape we want. At first it seemed like quite a chore but after doing it so many times it becomes second nature and the process very speedy. Of course we always keep some shop bought pasta in the freezer just in case we are running late and can't be bothered. The trick is not to be lazy. Freshly made pasta from todays eggs and just ground flour is so much tastier.

Rolled sheets

The final product

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Relaxing Saturday

Well almost a relaxing Saturday. We were invited to lunch with friends about 40 minutes drive away in another valley but that didn't mean we couldn't do a few chores before hand.

One of the problems with our outdoor eating area is that in Summer until the sun moves well past midday the sun shines at an angle under the shade cloth making it unpleasant to sit on one side of the table. On those days a tarpaulin has been dragged up on the roof and draped over the pergola to provide shade. This solution can't be made permanent as there are garden beds which would not appreciate the long term shade.

Recently at the recycling shop at Dungog dump we came across a 3 metre wide wind up awning. The awning was no good but the aluminium cylinder with its spring loaded retracting mechanism was working perfectly. A good buy at $5. This week we visited the hardware store and acquired a 3 metre x 3 metres UV stabilised Tarpaulin and consequently this morning some time was devoted to affixing it to the cylinder and testing.

Well that was the easy bit. After an examination of the pergola it was obvious that age and weather had taken its toll some refurbishment work would need to be performed. And then of course the end supports would need to be fabricated. So with end supports designed, a materials list was completed and that will sit until another visit to the metal merchant. A review of the pergola and a reconstruction plan was devised and again that was put aside until another visit to the hardware store.

Next task was to shower and change and head off to our lunch via a quick visit to the supermarket to collect some dog and cat food which was in short supply.

Well lunch was marvellous. Just the two of us, our two friends one of their mothers aged 91 (and in good shape). Things started well with Mumm champagne and smoked Salmon and only got better with a lavishly expensive and aged red wine and a series of dishes designed to address both vegetarians and carnivores. Finishing off with two of our raw milk cheeses. Lots of wide ranging discussions and plenty of laughter. Living the good life. Should be more of it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Roadside Rubbish

After writing yesterday's blog about rubbish, recycling bins and garbage collections my thoughts turned to roadside rubbish. When Riding a pushbike to work across the river (a trip of about 7-8 kilometres) the relatively slow progress and proximity to the ground allows for easy observation. Because it's a lot safer to travel close to the verge your eyes take in not only the foliage on the roadside but the contents of it and the table drain.

The build up of humanity sourced rubbish is incredible. I don't know how long it takes for some of the more perishable items to break down or discolour so that they disappear into the background or are overgrown but there seems to be such a mass of freshly discarded material. These roads aren't that busy which means a hell of a lot of people are tossing material out of their vehicles on a regular basis.

Over the decades there have been numerous campaigns to stop or reduce litter and yet rather than the occasional yobbo tossing it seems like a plague. There are some categories of litter that stand out than most:

Cigarette packets
Alcohol containers
Soft Drink containers
Fast food containers

I wonder if that tells us something about the mental state of the litter bugs? Does the intake of smoke, alcohol, sugar and fat befuddle and confuse the mind?

I'm in two minds about the Clean Up Australia campaign. On one hand if it wasn't there we would be swallowed up in a mountain of discarded junk. And of course it does bring the issue to the headlines and possibly encourage responsible behaviour. On the other hand does it encourage the tossers to think that some one else will clean it up? Or is it that there is a percentage of the population that just cannot change their behaviour?

One thought was to bring about a police state where the councils employed rangers to aggressively target Tossers. The fines could pay for the rangers salaries and as well as fines the guilty would receive a mandatory number of hours community service and forced to clean up a certain number of metres of roadside. Successive offenses would escalate the number of hours.

But that's just a dream.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Getting Up Early

There is something about Spring that stirs the mind and body. For weeks now I've been busting to wake up early. Sometimes I'll wake at 3 or 4 am and look at the bedside clock and think "Bugger too early" and go back to sleep. Then when the clock gets to 5 am and the first signs of daylight are just appearing I'll leap out of bed to make coffee and feed the two cats who run into the laundry and wait by their food dish. If you don't feed them immediately they harass your legs until you do.

Morning coffee is a latte made entirely on milk. Very filling which allows breakfast to be put off until mid morning and on fast days gets you through the day with only a few thoughts of food at meal times. The routine of fasting on Mondays and Thursdays has become second nature and nowhere as difficult as it was at first.

Rather than count sheep after turning off the light at night the mind turns to planning the next day. What jobs have to be done over the river at our paid work and then the endless (and enjoyable) list of tasks to be completed at home. As well as maintaining our personal lists (on scraps of paper scattered in the kitchen there is the mental review of changing priorities and added tasks. One job often leads to or has a precursor task such as making the latest compost meant the pile of pruning's that had  been sitting around for weeks could be put through the mulcher. I suppose a lot of normal people would not enjoy this daily work load but I love it.

This is the breather hole in the latest compost pile. Every now and then a huge wisp of warm steam wafts out. Unfortunately it requires better photography skills to capture the moment. 
In the cold frame another batch of seeds have germinated. Some dry pumpkin and more Rockmelon and Watermelon. All these will be in the ground in the next 24 hours. The weather forecast looks promising with some showers of rain promised over the next 1-4 days.

The garbage collection in our area is every Thursday morning about 4 am. In terms of measuring consumption and waste it was pleasing to note that the recycling bin which is collected every two weeks was only 2/3 full after a month. And the general rubbish bin collected every week was 1/3 full and hasn't been put out for at least 6 weeks. I wonder how long it will be before councils put barcodes on our rubbish bins and start charging for usage. I suppose never. The collection contractors wouldn't be happy with the reduction in income and it might encourage householders to dispose of their waste inappropriately. Reducing landfill costs might not be that high in the priorities. Easier to slip in some more costs in the annual rates rather than address behaviours.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

More Seedlings Planted Out and Being Prepared.

The cold frame is producing good results. Planted out today were Cucumbers (two varieties), Beans (two varieties) and Corn. Looking forward to some wonderful vegetables. The Dill and Basil seedlings purchase earlier finally found their way into the ground. Most of the Basil went into the big Tomato bed amongst the Tomato seedlings. Supposedly to ward off the fruit fly. The remainder will be planted close to the kitchen. Some dill went into the Cucumber mounds and some into a pot near the kitchen.

Over the river (our paid workplace) the Travelling Irrigator experienced a disaster when it rolled onto its side. A poly threaded joiner on the spray head stripped its thread. Spent a lot of time trying to find a replacement but there were no spares to be found in the collection of poly fittings. Being after 5 that was the end of irrigation for the day. A good topic for preparedness.


When our watering system was set up many years ago we put taps at regularly spaced intervals to make it easier to access water from any point in The Orchard and garden. The original thought was it would make it easier to attend to a grass fire but in fact the real benefit had been to allow individual trees to be hand watered when they are in need. During dry spells not all the trees suffer. Some either have found somewhere to put their roots to obtain moisture or are just resilient. Others  need more attention.

Gradually over the years we have collected inexpensive but good quality hoses which are kept at each tap (well almost each tap). With so many projects on the go efficiency was achieved by not dragging hoses about and also allowing multiple points to be watered simultaneously.

Being prepared for a break or breakdown makes a lot of sense. For the want of a backup spare the entire day's work can collapse into chaos. A good example is our watering system which is split into three parts enabling the isolation of all or one part should there be a problem such as a burst ot broken pipe. The entire water distribution system consists of 1" poly pipe. There are two spare parts kept. One is a 1" poly joiner for big breaks. The second is a stainless steel hose clip in a suitable size for 1'' pipe for small holes.

Part of preparedness is thinking about most likely scenarios and having a plan (and a part) at hand. Just like having a spare set of mower blades. Lowering the dependence on outside help is part of preparedness.

One important item is organisation. If it can't be found because the storage system has no methodology then it is a complete waste of time. Whether that be tools or parts. Nothing more frustrating than scrabbling about in bins or shelves looking for something you think you might have and not being able to lay your hand on it quickly.

Trying to be self sufficient and live life simply involves a lot of work and time is a precious commodity. Planting, watering, harvesting and many other tasks are time critical and cannot be put off indefinitely.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Spring Continues

We collected milk on Sunday night then things got a bit busy on Monday and it didn't get bottled until today. The stock of blue cheese was running low and so it seemed a good time to make another. Having recently tried a Stilton it became the nominated form. The recipe in the Cheeselinks book is a bit different than the process observed in Will Studd's Cheese Slices series. At the time of watching we scrawled some notes in our book. The difference is really minor but it may help us achieve the coarser texture desired. Rather than pressing the cheese it is allowed to settle under its own weight.

Stilton draining

In a bit of a clean up in the garden there were 3 small cabbages harvested. While in the kitchen with the cheese they were converted to Sauerkraut. The Caraway seed version is our favourite and the quickest to make.

We had a bit of a disaster with the incubator. After 21 days (and a half) no chicks emerged. Of the 6 eggs 4 were infertile and two had fully formed deceased chicks. The problem occurred on day 18/19. Needing to raise the humidity from 60% to 70 % hot water was put into the water trays. Not a good idea as the trays are just below the eggs and too close to the eggs. The temperature went up briefly to 39 degrees C. Not long but it seems long enough.  We will try again with a modification being added to the incubator. Two brackets have been inserted just above the lights where we can put in an extra tray on day 18/19. The heat from the globes should be enough to warm the water and increase evaporation. The deceased chicks were buried in our compost heap.


We have 4 concrete rain water storage tanks. 2 x 5000 gallons and 2 x 6000 gallons. As a precaution against losing the lot to a burst pipe two of these tanks have the gate valve turned off and are not supplying water to the pressure pump. To ensure a freshening of the water occurs the catchment system feeds water into these two disconnected tanks and the overflow pipes from these then feed into the two tanks servicing the pressure pump.

Sometimes it's not a good idea to have the rainwater washing over the roof and into the tanks. The two occasions in mind are when the chimney has been cleaned and debris has been left on the roof and when there have been some serious bushfires nearby which have left a heavy fall of ash.

All our down pipes have a gap. In the gap is a leaf filter. This gap also allows us to place plastic bags over the down pipe forcing the water onto the ground. 30 minutes after the rain has commenced the bags are removed.  This is our rough and ready first flush system. We have used it a few times and found it quick and effective.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Getting Ready for Summer

A lot of things happened today but nothing worth recording as its just the usual cycle of watering, weeding etc.


With Summer on the way (yes it is only the second week of Spring) and conditions dry and hot the mind turns to getting ready.

Part of living in the country is the usual annual threat of fire. With that comes The Plan. After much discussion and review last year our plan is to evacuate. We looked at the possibility of staying and defending but it didn't look at all as if it would be successful without a major expenditure.

The first part of the plan was to decide which conditions would trigger an evacuation and to where. And of course the backup (survival) plan if we failed to leave early.

After the decision to leave was made we quickly adjusted mentally to losing all our possessions

Who will do what at the time of leaving is written in large letters on a checklist  to make sure that there is no confusion and we both complete our necessary tasks.

The escape route i.e. getting out of the property needed some work and will need to be reviewed again and some clean up work performed. Once off the property the escape route depends on the direction and proximity of the fire. We documented several scenarios.

Then we looked at what we could take with us. A backpack each with some essentials for a few days or week at an evacuation centre. A bag containing financial papers and computer backups. Another bag with photographs. And the cats and dogs.

Rather than get caught taking too much we would look at a treasured possession and say to ourselves "Can I acquire that thing again somewhere?"

All the insurance is up to date and the decision to rebuild or move to be made later. As well as our own costing's we worked with the insurance company to ensure we were adequately covered. Everything has been photographed. Each room and building from different angles, each wall and contents of cupboards. Digital cameras are so handy to build a collection of hundreds of photographs.

A post catastrophe plan is also in place i.e. where to live both short and medium term.

The clean up work around the house and sheds became an ongoing all year program with the only task now left was the felling of some regrowth trees near the house - next on the list after Spring plantings.

One of the strange observations we've made in our lives is that whenever we have prepared thoroughly for a particular circumstance we have never needed to implement that plan.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Spring is one of the busiest times of year

A few of the fruit trees needed water today. Still no rain and the Avocado tree has flowered and looking a bit limp. Out came a hose and one of our many watering stands. The shallower rooted trees such as Citrus all received a water.  Rather than water all the trees with the central irrigation system we chose only those trees absolutely in need. With these selective watering's we use a 360 degree spray which applies the water gently over a couple of hours and over a large area.

Steady progress all day weeding and mulching and planting. Used the accumulation of weeded material to start a new compost. This year we made 4 composts and all bar one have been used. Number 5 is underway. When the weeding's have been used any additional green mater can be collected with the push mower and catcher. There was plenty of dry material, We cleaned up the hay shed when the Lucerne was stacked and also the loose material from where the cattle were feeding.

Bin of  portable watering sprays

Portable watering spray


I don't know if anyone else has experienced the following. Sometimes when shopping for groceries we'll come across a product which is really good. For example Coconut Cream which is just Coconut material with none of the other additives such as water, emulsifiers or thickeners. You buy a couple and then the next time you need some it has disappeared - no longer stocked or just out of stock for a couple of months. So annoying.

Well our solution has been to buy a few extra of any really good products which we use frequently and keep a stock of them. This worked out well with Anchovies in Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Only one brand had the larger most economical 375 gram jar. We always kept 3 or 4 jars in the pantry. It went out of stock everywhere when it was substituted by an alternative brand with Sunflower Oil. Only the small very expensive jars of EVOO were on offer. Luckily we had plenty in stock and then 3 months later our preferred product re-appeared.

The pantry in the La Cave  is a mix of home bottled and bulk bought items (as well as equipment)