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Monday, March 31, 2014

Little Visitors have left Home - Termites

The pest man visited to check his baits in the Cave and pronounced us pest free. The little visitors have left. Well really they had a problem as the bait contained a product which stopped them shedding their outer shell. Something they need to do on a regular basis and if they can't they don't survive.

Now the works starts. Over the years we built garden beds around the Cave. Right up to the edge of the concrete slab. This provides a nice wet connection to the Cave for termites. Not seeing the slab edge also prevents seeing the termite tunnels being built. Early intervention is a good thing. Moisture was another issue. A couple of spots in the guttering leak a small amount of water especially condensation during the drier periods. Perfect for termites. And another culprit was the dam water holding tank whose overflow is badly positioned and allows water to pool around the slab edge.

Today saw the excavation of a trench beginning around the Cave. There only needs to be about 75-100 mm of slab exposed but at the moment it's a bit deeper to allow for some fall back. Gradually it will be landscaped into shape so it isn't as ugly. Just making a start. Managed the completion of two sides in one day.

The rear side which is nearest the Termite damage involved removing the metal siding to inspect the extent of the damage for the first time. The concern was how much structural damage needed attention. It was astounding to discover almost no structural damage just a little superficial chewing in one location. It seems they didn't like the pine frame and limited themselves to consuming the recycled pallet timber shelving inside. Because of good luck in discovering their existence early the shelving although chewed quite a bit is structurally sound and the damage not visible.

The next tasks are to complete the excavation work which shouldn't take too long now that a start had been made. Hopefully with a sunny day the gutter will dry out and some silicone can be inserted into any leaky sections. And finally the overflow outlet relocated to drain away from the Cave. The new position is marked on the tank and tomorrow with the aid of a concrete drill bit a suitably sized hole will be cut and a new outlet inserted and cemented in place.

So an expensive exercise at nearly $2000 for the pest work. The upside is we have a better understanding of termites and hopefully will not have them visit again. The pest people have a new annual customer for their inspection service.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The last of the Summer Wine (Cider and Perry)

According to our Orchard map which contains the layout of the trees with their details including when to harvest, the Williams Pear was due in February. So much for relying on memory and thinking it was March. Consequently the fruit was well advanced and soft and much of it was rotten. This is a side effect of bagging fruit i.e. it is not possible to see the progress without removing a bag. But then the Packham which is due in March was in peak condition and the combined yield provided almost two 20 litre buckets. Some was put aside for eating and the rest went towards Perry.

While out in the Orchard with the barrow and buckets it seemed wise to check the Cider Apples and the two eating apples Rich Red and Cox's Orange Pippen. Neither of the two eating apples had much good fruit. Just a season that wasn't productive for these two. In other years the Rich Red offers up some delicious produce.

The Cider Apples are Sweet Alford, Stokes Red, Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black and Bulmers Norman. Non of these produced well this year, leaving us with just under two 9 litre buckets of mostly miserable small fruit. One or two pieces of fruit did come to full size and the Sweet Alford was magnificent. These are mostly due to ripen in April/May but all were ready now and wouldn't last on the tree much longer.

The Harvest

Some of the pears were extremely large

Rather than muck around with small quantities of Apples it was easier to chuck the whole lot into the Scratter and make a Perry/Cider blend.

The scratter in action

Our guide for Cider and Perry recommends a Potential Alcohol of no less than 9% for good keeping qualities. The sugar levels when measured after pressing came in at about Brix 15.5 which is just under 9%. Our climate just won't allow the fruit to ripen any more, mostly due to the wet conditions arriving at the final stage of ripening. To get the desired result a little sugar was added to the juice to lift the potential alcohol level.

The pH was not ideal at around 5 and a little Tartaric Acid solved that problem. And so the scratting went quickly and the pressing carried on all night with a yield of a little over 12 litres which is fine. The juice has had CL23 yeast added and when the fermentation really kicks in it will go into a chilling unit at 10 C. A long slow cool fermentation really brings out the fruit nose in the final product.

As usual a big clean up afterwards. That is the last use of the Basket press for the year. After it dries out it will get a light sanding and a coat of non toxic paint before being put to bed. It has worked hard this harvest with over 400 KG of grapes and close to 100 KG of Apples and Pears.

The cake after pressing. Something for the chickens to enjoy

We have been keeping back more fruit for eating fresh and enjoying the quality of the home grown product. Next year the objective is to keep more product on the tree after the main harvest to see if we can improve the length of time it can keep. This is hard in our temperate climate. If we were further south I'm sure it would keep for a few more months especially something like the Beurre Bosc.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pond Up and Running

The Pond has been functioning perfectly for a week. The cement patching and waterproof paint had plenty of time to dry before the rain appeared and it didn't take long using a couple of hoses to refill. The fish were extremely happy to get some space after a week in the confinement tank.

Someone enjoys the bare pond surface

Obtaining drinking water is a little more difficult

While the pond was almost completely empty a lot of thought was given to the pump which resides in the bottom of the pond. It's sole purpose is to push water up into the flow forms and provide a gentle water sound.

We spent some time fiddling with the pump inlet to set up a filter to exclude debris. Over the years we've tried all sort of ways to stop the pump from blocking with algae, leaves and sludge but found that we were standing in the pond every few days unblocking the inlets.

The problem being that the pump sucks water and creates turbulence which disturbs the water around it stirring up debris. Elevating the pump as high as possible from the bottom of the pond worked for a while until the algae in the water eventually builds up and blocks the pump.

Because the pond is almost empty and most of the debris removed and almost no algae is present it seemed like a good time to innovate. If the purpose of the flow form was to aerate the water would it be possible to run it right from the start keeping the algae to a minimum and concentrate on a solution which excludes leaves and other debris.

The idea that came to mind was to enclose the pump inlet in a large container to firstly restrict the turbulence to the container and secondly to separate the pump from the main water body. By placing a piece of shade cloth over the top of the container the water that would enter to supply the pump could only come from above and be filtered across a broad surface. By having the top of the container a sufficient distance from the surface of the water, floating debris would not be attracted leaving only algal growth with which to contend. Using as large a surface area for the inlet and starting and maintain the flow forms from when the pond has minimal algae may reduce the cleaning intervals.

There was an old stainless steel 15 litre discarded cheese pot which had a small corrosion hole in the base. It pays not to throw things away too soon. It was wide enough to provide plenty of space for the pump and tall enough so as to have the top just below the maximum water level in the pond. As we always keep shade cloth offcuts handy it meant the solution was cost free. Well so far it seems to have worked as the water is still flowing efficiently.

The next problem is the noise level of flowing water. A fully functioning set of flow forms creates a background noise equivalent to a passing train. Hardly a meditative outcome. The original sump pump was replaced a long time ago with a much lower volume aquarium pump. The next problem was the swishing sound of the flow forms is extremely discordant. Lots and lots of fiddling with rocks and splash panels eventually created a gentle background noise similar to a gently running brook. This probably means the flow forms are not performing their original function but at least the sound is pleasing.

Breaking the water fall sound with rocks

Reducing the swishing

Minimising turbulence and associated sound

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Red Winemaking Progress

A little over 40 days ago the first of the red wines were pressed and placed in demijohns under an air lock. Oak chips had been added to the demijohns. The Chambourcin had American Oak chips added at the rate of 3 grams per litre. In addition some American Oak dust had been placed in the must during fermentation. The Pinot Noir pressed a couple of days later had 3 grams each of American and French Oak added.

American Oak imparts a sweeter flavour and is higher in Oak aromas and adds more vanillin flavour.

French Oak imparts more subtle and spicy flavours.

Now 40 days later the wine has settled out a lot of sludge which is a mix of dead yeast cells, small pieces of pulp and grape skin and other bits suspended in the wine. This first racking is designed to take the wine off this sludge called, gross lees, so that it doesn't impart any bad flavours from this debris. After this racking the wine will continue to settle suspended particles but these fine lees are unlikely to be detrimental to the wine. Usually I don't rack again unless there is a significant build of lees. Most other winemakers rack every few months but my preference is minimum intervention.

This week is ideal for racking because the Bio Dynamic calendar shows the moon in the correct place for this type of work. It is the period where the moon is in descending or waning. During this period there is the least amount of turbulence in the wine.

Racking is merely siphoning the wine into a fresh demijohn using  food grade tubing with an attachment which sits in the bottom of the demijohn keeping the tube away from the lees.

The end result is a little less volume of liquid than in the input demijohn. This is where the extra small containers of topping up wine come in handy. They are handled gently to ensure none of their sludge enters the fresh demijohn. This first racking leaves behind a significant amount of sludge.

As part of this process the wine is sampled and tasted. I add some French Oak chips at 3 grams per litre to the Chambourcin to balance the wine but the Pinot Noir is excellent even at this early stage.

In future I'll use French and American Oak in a 50/50 mix as standard practice as it seems to provide the best result with the least amount of fussing.

Both these wines are in the only two 34 litre demijohns we own. There is just on 40 litres of Chambourcin in total when the topping up demijohns are included. The decision here is to transfer it to two 20 litre demijohns and reduce the number of containers from 5 to two.

I'm strapped for enough topping up material for the Pinot Noir and am faced with a dilemma. Use smaller containers and have a several batches or add another wine to the Pinot to top up the single large demijohn which is the former Chambourcin 34 litre which is now empty and cleaned.

I opt for using some Merlot in the Pinot. It is only a small percentage and Merlot and Pinot make a good combination. The 8% adulteration will not have negative consequences and having a single large container will make later handling simpler.

As usual there is plenty of cleaning after the event but it is satisfying to know that these wines are progressing nicely and early indications are that it will be one of the best vintages to date. The experimentation over the years is paying off with various techniques and practices becoming standardised as a preferred flavour and style evolves.

The remaining red wines were pressed two weeks after these and will now be racked in April during the appropriate moon cycle.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Some days nothing progresses. At HHF it happens to each of us occasionally but most of the time it is a fleeting event lasting a day although it has been known to go longer. We were discussing this yesterday while we drove into Newcastle to perform some shopping.

The conclusion was that inertia comes about when the sum total of jobs to be performed become overwhelming. To the point where there are so many that it's difficult or impossible to discern a starting point. And so nothing gets done which adds to the situation and another days chores are added to the mix compounding the problem. Escape is difficult. You could read a book but you feel guilty because the incomplete work hangs over you head. Sometimes a little internet research extents into a few lost hours and this again worsens your position.

Stay away from the computer.

Solutions are really just good time management strategies but first breaking the cycle is necessary.


Yep, it doesn't;t matter which task it matters that one is completed. It can be the most difficult or the easiest, that is not important. Just do one task.

And then do another. By the time you have done three things you are on a roll and confident and can start to set some priorities.

Once you are under way and forward progress is being made it's time to set priorities. It's not possible to do only things we enjoy. Reward for doing an onerous task is to get to do one that you enjoy, of similar elapsed time, no cheating. Reward is not that piece of chocolate. This is a like for like program. Tough job, easy job. Food rewards are a path to hell.

All the time management advisors have a program of techniques to manage time effectively and set priorities. But lets just look at a few concepts.

  1. Start with a clean slate. Sometimes my workshop gets untidy and there are a swag of repairs and projects that need doing. The first thing is a big clean up with everything put away and stacked neatly and the floor swept. An amazing thing happens. The clean area inspires and I feel motivated to get on with the repairs and projects and before I realise they are all done.
  2. If you touch it do it. Lets say you are cleaning up your work area which has become messy. Pick up something and put it away in the correct place. Don't put it somewhere else to put away later. This applies to everything during the day. When you finish a task put everything away before moving onto the next task. No exceptions. I wash up cooking utensils as I go. This frees up work space and lessens the end of cooking work. And keeps the sink clear. Amazing how much time is saved by not tripping over all the stuff that hasn't been put away or losing time as you try and remember where you last used an item which didn't get put away.
  3. Each night make a list of jobs that you need to complete the next day You only have so much time each day and so it is not possible to do everything. The list of jobs that you compile should be realistic and contain two types of tasks. The 'A' list and the 'B' list. The 'A' list is the things that really need doing that day like feeding the chooks. The 'B' list could be changing the nesting material. Write these two lists out and put beside them how long each will take. If you plan to set 8 hours aside for jobs then your 'A' list should add up to no more than 6 hours i.e. about 75%. This provides an allowance for tasks that are underestimated and for interruptions. If at the end of the 'A' list there is still heaps of time remaining then get stuck into the 'B' list. Each night the 'A' and 'B' list alter depending on the next days urgencies. And remember an 'A' is something that is absolutely critical and needs doing that day.
  4. If you can get this far then the next tip is to start planning your week in advance and refining the daily tasks the night before.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March Bee Club Meeting

Not a huge number of attendees. Was that because the AGM was scheduled to follow the normal procedures? Or just a coincidence.

There still seems to be a huge interest in bees both Australian Native and European. The clubs education program is fully subscribed and proceeding well driving up membership.

Half the club's hives are offsite and the remaining hives at the Botanical Gardens are OK but not that flush with honey reserves for Winter (but enough). Strangely one hive is doing particularly well. Curious?

Overwintering in this area means each hive needs a full size box of honey at least half full While at Walcha where it is much cooler they need a full box.

A few bits of information came forth during the Q&A session. Drones get killed off leading into Winter i.e. they don't get fed by the bees and starve. Typical blokes can't feed themselves. And bees do sleep. Sperm collection for artificial insemination is conducted by wringing the drones neck. The insect world is a tough place.

The AGM went quickly and all positions in the club filled.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Cuisine Club

This meeting of our Williams Valley Cuisine Club had Egypt as its menu theme.

There was a 25% increase in membership as a new couple joined the group raising the number of attendees to eight.

A massive amount of food spread through the host's kitchen as we shared drinks and chatted before seating for the banquet. An array of dishes gave representation to the cultural background of Egypt. A few fez's sat atop heads and Jean, wearing a borrowed black wig, gave a brief interpretation of Cleopatra (minus the Asp) walking like an Egyptian. Richard Burton would have been proud of my Mark Antony even though I wasn't in costume.

The dynamics of the evening changed with the larger number. It seems that 8-10 results in a broader discussion and a higher level of buzz in the room. The plan is to find an additional couple to lift the numbers to the maximum seating capacity of the host's dining table.

The new couple had recently been to Egypt and as well as a commercial DVD on Egypt we were treated to a well edited photographic tour with accompanying music and commentary.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Valley Readers

Jean is toying with the idea of starting a book club. There is at least one book club in the area but it is fully subscribed with 12 members.

Book clubs tend to follow a common format of meeting each month and discussing a single scheduled book that has been chosen by a participants at the previous meeting. Many libraries support book clubs by acquiring multiple copies of the book in advance. In return they ask the club to donate at least one or more batches of books during the year.

The advantage of this format is that it encourages the club members to read more widely and exposes them to different genres. This can be both fun and challenging. Especially challenging if confronted with a tome of epic proportions that is not to your liking.

Hence Jean's concept change for the proposed club.

Recently while visiting a friend she found the friend engrossed in a book and taking copious notes. After some enquiry Jean obtained a copy from the local library and is now also engrossed in its contents.

So why not a reading club where the participants bring along a book they have recently read and take a few minutes to describe its contents. An opportunity to hear about different books, examine the book and share some community time.

Does anyone out there attend a book club? Any other suggestions?

The Pond Repair that Failed

It only took a few millimetres of rain overnight to undo all the hard work.

The flexible filler that was used to seal the many cracks needed a period of dry weather to harden off but the rain soaked the concrete pond both wetting the filling compound and adding moisture to the concrete. The filler became soft especially where it was quite thick. A couple of sections exposed to the previous afternoons sunshine were fine as they had dried and cured but the rest was a mush.

Starting all over again an angle sander with a wire brush attachment was used to clean out all the cracks. Then coarse sandpaper attached to the sander removed multiple layers of bituminous waterproofing exposed raw concrete edge around all the cracks.

With a clean working surface exposed Portland cement was mixed with a little water and a waterproofing cement additive then worked into the cracks and trowelled over forming a good binding patch.  An overnight curing was all that was required. The beauty of cement is that a little moisture doesn't interfere with the setting process. Finally two coats of bituminous paint and 24 hours of dry weather allowed plenty of drying time.

Just waiting for a few showers to rinse the pond's surface before a final draining and refill.

Finally finished. Should have used cement in the first place.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Pond Shows Itself

The Pond drained a little bit more and exposed a few extra cracks. Time to take matters in hand and in went a small pump and long hose and out came more water.


At that point the fish were struggling because the remaining water was just too muddy and the pump clogged with litter continually. More water (mud and leaves) was bucketed out. A delicate task as each bucket contained a fish or two. These were popped into buckets of clean water.

Eventually the water level fell below the last crack and the extent of the damage exposed. Seeing as how we now had a job that would extend over a number of days the fish were transferred into an unused wine fermentation vat which made them happy especially when they were fed in the larger space.

The first step was to dry the cracks with a paint stripping heat gun then gouge out the loose material with a screw driver and buff up and remove mossy growth with a wire brush.

The problem is obvious. The pond is splitting open like a newly opening flower on the unsupported sides and wherever it is attached to the pergola uprights. This is going to be an ongoing problem.

In the short term a few patches will stem the flow of water and allow us time to conjure a permanent solution.

In the Shed of Inventions some filler is found. Two different tubes of products (in two different colours) which according to the blurb on the back are suitable - at least in the short term. And fortunately there is just enough to do all the cracks. This doesn't take long but then there is the threat of a thunder storm and various pieces of plastic are found to cover the drying compounds.

The next stage, tomorrow, is to apply a number of coats of sealing compound and refill the pond, weather permitting. From memory every time we have commenced work on the pond rain has arrived.

Over a cup of Green Tea we discuss various final solutions including dramatically re-landscaping the entire side of the house. Green Tea does that.  But eventually common sense prevails and a economical solution comes forth. A little research on the net confirms it's feasibility and minimal cost.

We will use the concrete pond as a mould and line it with fibreglass matting and resin forming a new pond. The fibreglass will not be adhered to the concrete securely and being more flexible will tolerate the movements. In addition a binding ring of reinforced cement will be placed around the outer edge to limit the splitting activity.

All the rock edging will be removed to accommodate the work which will provide an opportunity to redo the landscaping around the pond. The earlier design looked good initially but became excessively high maintenance as weeds invaded. We will incorporate some spare pavers and bury pots in the ground to hold plants and reduce the weed problem.

The best time to do the fibre glassing is July/August when theoretically there is little rains - huh! Between now and then the fish can stay in the repaired pond while we remove the rock border and complete the ground work for the fibre glass coating.

And of course it rained overnight and more water needed removal.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Pond

After the storm the other day our pond seemed to be devouring more water than usual. It was already consuming water on a regular basis which indicated a leak. We've been stalling the inevitable draining and cleaning to assess the problem.


The task is enormous. Pull out all the pants, rehouse the fish, drain the water and clean out all the debris. Then allow time to dry and grind back the coating in the sections which are leaking and finally apply several coats of special sealant. This all takes a number of elapsed weeks.

The ideal time to do all this is July/August when the rain is minimal allowing plenty of drying and curing time.

But today it was becoming annoying having the pump kicking in and out so often and so we made a start.

The water supply to the pond's ball valve which allows automatic refilling was turned off. On with the waders and into the pond to commence the task. The initial job is to reduce the amount of foliage growing in the pond. Two plants in particular are doing very well.

The Mint planted in the edge garden has found the water and is loving it forming a matted mass on the northern edge. This all came out.

Then there was the Blue Pickerel Rush which decided the container in which it was planted wasn't large enough. From a very plant we had a massive root structure occupying about half the pond area. Slowly with a pruning saw all but a small piece still located in the original container was removed.


Without draining the entire pond it's not possible to find the leak but by feeling around under the water we tried to locate any major cracks - without success. Then Jean commented that the Lavender plant on the eastern side always looks pretty good so we trimmed back the overhang and look under the rock lined edging to find  a small crack.

Then we spotted a substantial crack on the northern side and its corresponding one on the southern side. It seems the pond has sunk on one side.

The main crack after cleaning away the debris

We intend leaving the water supply off for a few days to see how low the water level falls. If the cracks are not extensive we may be able to perform some patching without a full draining. That would be nice.

Removing a large amount of foliage in the pond has really made it look better. As the growth has slowly over taken the water it has reduced the volume of water visible and made the feature look much smaller. Now it looks like a pond again.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Permaculture Sectors at HHF

Sectors are more site specific issues of sun, light. view, wind, rain, wildfire and water flow.

As for every one else the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Our house is facing South East which means the other side of the house gets that hot Summer sun. With verandas and the addition of pergolas with vines over them we have been able to eliminate the worst effects of heat. There is the fortunate placement of the Cave (with its own shield of Bananas and Kiwi fruit) which shields the house and of course lots of insulation in the roof and walls. Overall the result isn't all that bad but the design of our house does not facilitate the cross flow of air which would be the ideal solution to the heat build up of a hot day. Not perfect but not too far off the mark.

The vegetable beds get the full benefit of the sun with some protection form the western heat. Zone 2 used for the Summer tomato/Vine bed is well placed for a constant rain of sunlight.

An issue for our squat house. Plenty of windows but with the verandas we do suffer from dim lighting internally. The roof design prevents the use of sky lights and so we live with LED lighting 'on' in any occupied room during the day. Usually this is only the kitchen which seems to be the heart of all activity.

This style of window opening is not suitable to direct breezes

The real value in HHF is the view over the valley. At least they got this right when the house was built. But we get a double benefit as the vista from the rear and north of the house is spectacular in its own right as it is an expanse of the hill. (see the about me photograph)

Being nestled into the base of the hill while still being high and overlooking a valley seems to generate its own energy.

A pond beside the lounge room is a pleasant feeling

Having experienced the negative effects this last weekend we know how destructive it can be but also how beneficial. Cooling breezes are the usual Summer experience. Fortunately, with the well established wind breaks of Casuarinas (suitable for both dry and wet conditions and doubling as drought fodder) to the West and natural forest to the South we are now well sheltered.

Part of the vegetable garden with the backdrop of Casuarinas

If we could make the house experience the same effects as the carport which has a steady cross breeze on most days we would have a perfect situation.

We have two collection systems. Zone 4/5 is our large dam fed by a significant catchment area. This does use energy in the form of fossil fuel to deliver the proceeds to the house holding tank. We are working on a solar solution.

The second collection system is all roof area feeding our potable water storage which is four concrete tanks. Two of these are kept turned off from the pressure system as a safety against line breakage. 100,000 litres insures against even the worst drought.

The holding tank for dam water kept cool with vines

This is the weak spot of HHF. Being on a ridge surrounded by forest we have limited options to protect against wild fire. Although we keep the areas close to the house clear of debris unless we remove the native trees we are open to flame attack from the south. Removing the native forest would expose us once again to strong southerly winds and destroy the habitat of a large number of native fauna.Our solution is to insure well and evacuate early.

The southern forest

Water Flow
The greater part of our property is native forest and there are no plans to alter that situation. We have examined the possibility of adding swales to some sections such as the orchard but retrofitting these presents a very difficult challenge. We are still examining how this might be effected without removing the current fences and damaging established trees.

The south

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Mini-Cyclone

This post was planned to be about HHF Sectors in Permaculture but the 100 km wind ruined our afternoon by knocking out the power and internet link for the next 24 hours.

So it seems appropriate to examine the preparedness of HHF in this mini disaster.

We were laying about reading but realised it was a pretty series storm by the horizontal water. Fortunately, it came from our west which meant the temporarily stored bags of chicken grain on the eastern side didn't get wet and because there is a tarpaulin stored in the carport for emergencies it only took a second to throw it over the bags.

The next problem was discouraging Jean from getting up on the roof to clear the gutters. It was a thunder storm and being a vegetarian I explained I couldn't eat fried Jean for dinner.

One large terracotta pot was blown over and broke into pieces. A shame but that was the sum of it.

Kaffir Lime replanted

The wind breaks on the Western side reduced the intensity enough to leave us almost untouched.

Just over the hill there was carnage with the power lines but that had little effect on us as well. Being daylight saving there was plenty of light and we were planning a BBQ that evening anyway. There was a loaf of bread just ready to go in the oven but being gas that didn't stop proceedings.

When the Heat Pump Hot Water system was installed it wasn't hard wired as normally is the case. Instead it has a 15 amp plug enabling us to plug into the generator if needed.

We always keep plenty of water bottles about the house for drinking but decided to activate the generator and start the house water system so as to be able to wash the vegetables and take a shower. But rather than lay out leads for the house lighting and TV we made it a reading only night. There were two newly acquired LED torches for reading lamps and they were amazingly good.

Best lighting source ever

Not knowing the full extent of the damage to power infrastructure we assumed that it would be reconnected with 4-6 hours and decided to leave the fridges and freezers alone. But by 6am they went onto the generator for a couple of hours.

So no big deal and the generator received its monthly test  firing.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Zones at Home Hill Farm

This is a look at our Zones and how they work for us.

The thing with Zones is they seem like common sense (in most cases) but sometimes it's possible to get them wrong. Unless it is a major infrastructure it is possible to rectify the situation in most cases after the event.

We wrote in a previous post about looking at another property further north in an area which appealed to us for a number of reasons. In the end the location of the buildings in inappropriate zones made the property unworkable. So it is possible to get it so wrong it is un-correctable.

Zone 0 is the house as it would be for everyone. Having the double garage just outside the back door made it an ideal conversion to a Cave used for wine making, cheese storage, extended pantry and a dozen other things. It works really well. We go into the Cave a number of times each day. Having it any further away would be frustrating. At one time we had the shade house where we raised seedlings just that little too far away which meant they got overlooked i.e. not watered. It was moved closer and into a spot that we had to walk past every day. That location has proved to be ideal. A small change with a big return.

Potting bench and seedling shade house at the back of the Cave with hot and cold water and wash tubs. You have to walks past it every day.

Back door to Cave about three steps

Front of the Cave has a paved area under cover ideal for drying and or pressing grapes

The western side of the Cave has Bananas for shade and hopefully some Kiwi vines shortly. The water tank for holding dam water and the pressure pump for the watering system are all here.

Zone 1 is the house yard. Within this are a few fruit trees but mainly it contains our fixed vegetable beds. This is also our living space and contains ornamentals. They gladden the heart. The yard is fully fenced in netting and a top electric wire to keep predators out and our dogs inside. Because of the dogs we keep some expanses of lawn for them to roll about and play. Probably the only draw back of our Zone 1 is the grass which needs mowing. We found out how important grassed areas are when Nikki had a bout of diarrhoea. After a while he had to spend most of his time looking for a clean spot. Fussy bugger is Nikki. We now make sure we also take the dogs into Zone 2 each morning when letting out the chooks. This gives then that chance to find a clean spot for toilet duty.

Compost and vegetable beds

Zone 2 Is our Orchard. It contains the chicken run and the girls have access to the entire area. We do mow it every now and then which is important to encourage the girls to wander to the extremities. It also looks great seeing the flocks moving about amongst the trees. This zone contains my workshop, the house water tanks and as close as possible to Zone 1 is the wood pile. This zone on the Eastern side is where the bee hive is located within easy reach and within sight of our outdoor entertainment area. No effort to keep an eye on the honey gathering activity and spot any early warning signs. Zone 2 is fully fenced with heavy duty netting and an electric wire to protect the poultry.

Outdoor eating and bees in the background

In zone 1 looking over to the workshop and chook yard

Vegetable beds edged onto the orchard

Zone 3 is where we set up a bed to grow Tomatoes and vine crops each Spring. Planted in September this bed commences yielding food in November right through to April/May before we let the cattle in to clean up. That bed is electrically fenced to keep the cattle out in the interim as Zone 3 forms part of the area allocated to cattle. Zone 3 also contains our western and southern wind break trees. Now that Zone 2 fruit trees have matured they also add to the wind break which has created a micro climate in zone 1. Amazing how a little protection from high winds improves crop yields. A bit like the walled garden concept. We also have our hayshed/tractor shed in this zone. Only because it was the only spot in which it would fit without being in the way and with all weather access. It works fine as we don't access the tractor that often nor the hay. The paddocks are designed to be accessed from that shed by vehicle and cloven hoof. A good central hand feeding spot.

Zone 4 & 5 contains our 7 mega litre (life saving) dam and a few historically cleared patches enclosed by native bush. Once or twice a year these patches are slashed to freshen the grass for the cattle. The wooded areas supply wood for our Winter heating. These zones are split into paddocks using a single electric wire and can be easily divided up even further with portable fencing if needed.

The light forestation

The kids coming for a walk to the dam

The dam with the seasonal azolla smattering

Probably one of the most important things to keep in mind is access. It's easier to put in lots of gates at the beginning rather than walk that extra distance every time. Access also means vehicle access especially for bringing in firewood or mulch hay. This adds a little complexity in making sure there is a cleared pathway. Our big mistake was in the Orchard with trees planted on a 5 metres grid. Now they are mature the path we originally designed for the tractor is overgrown. Fortunately there is an alternative route. In hindsight a 10 metre track would have been ideal. That is why sometimes I think you need to spend a decade building up a property to practise all the mistakes and then move onto a fresh canvass with that experience in hand.

But of course you get attached and in most cases a little rework is good for the soul.

Friday, March 14, 2014

More Milk!!

There I was this morning just about to write about the use of Zones at HHF and instead I glanced at the email Inbox. Big mistake leading to a change in topic.

Loren Cordain had sent out an email about The Paleo Diet and in particular an article he wrote on Dairy: Milking for all it's Worth
I won't refer to this as a long article as it really qualifies as a book. Anyway the tome writes off milk and milk products as the cause of a large number of health problems. Based on loads of research, studies and statistics there is an overwhelming case against milk it is difficult to argue against the arguments.
A good summary of findings is in Q&A

In a comment elsewhere the author in responding to a question in Dairy and Saturated Fats said “I suspect that raw milk would elicit a similar response”.

If you give this a bit of thought you might come to the same conclusion as I do and that is the vast majority of people drink pasteurised and processed milk and its by-products and the research provides a cloud over its food value and its health benefits.

So what about raw milk? Well you may want to take it on trust as I do that being an unadulterated product it is probably not too bad for you especially if you come from a gene pool that has an affection for the product.

And so we make our own decisions on this.

But just on diets lets make some observations:

Paleo (Loren Cordain) is High Animal Protein, Low Carbohydrate

The China Study (T. Colin Campbell) is No animal Protein

Joel Fuhrman is some Animal Protein but mainly Plant Based

Atkins (not so popular) is High Animal Protein Low Carbohydrate

Leslie Kenton (decades ahead in nutrition) High Animal Protein, Low Carbohydrate

Bernstein (Diabetes) are Low Carbohydrate, High protein

CSIRO is High Protein, Low Carbohydrate

Low GI laps over everywhere

And finally the Traditional Mediterranean is balanced.
In all contradictory advice I'll take the middle road.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Function Stacking

This is one of the concepts within Permaculture that really appeals. Whether it be incorporated in a simple task like compost making or whether it is embedded in the design of the property. For us it fits into our everyday activities as often as possible e.g. the cloths washing waste water onto the garden, I never head off to the workshop empty handed or come back empty handed. It's a built in desire to be as efficient as possible with every activity.

The reason compost making is enjoyable is because of the function stacking angle. Pruning and weeding are regular garden activities for us. What a pleasure it is to combine those outputs into a NZ compost and gain the output of that process for feeding the soil. By timing the pruning and weeding and coinciding it with compost making all double handling can be eliminated.

The chicken run is designed to be accessed by a trailer so that the build up manure can be easily removed and reprocessed in compost making. Kitchen scraps are put into the chicken run so that whatever is not consumed by chickens is scratched over and mixed with the bedding material. The cleanout is combined with compost making and building our annual Tomato bed.

Bees are kept not just for the honey but also to increase the quality of pollination in our Orchard. The Orchard contains a number of Apple trees. Some are for eating and some are pollinators for the eating Apples. The pollinators just happen to be very good Cider making Apples.

Some years ago we were forced to vermin proof the roof cavity as the rat population was in biblical proportions. Off came the roofing iron in sections, the old rat eaten insulation removed, the rat droppings vacuumed out, damaged battens replaced, joists repaired sheeting installed over the veranda, rat proof mesh installed in any access points, new glass fibre insulation installed in every space, even over the veranda, new vapour barrier installed and the roofing iron replaced and sealed. A massive effort taking four weeks but done once and done well.

The simplest function stack is motor vehicle movement. Going anywhere is prefixed with "What else has to be done?" Shopping in Raymond Terrace is a long round trip to the Post Office, Library, Fuel, Shopping, Bill paying,  collecting fresh Oysters, picking up milk for drinking and cheese making and often dropping in on our work place across the river to knock over a job or two.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Loving the Present or Fearing the Future

What about embracing sustainability because we love the things we love about the present, not because we fear the future?”

What he said set me thinking. Maybe there is something in that statement.

At HHF we grow our own food, not because food in the shops will suddenly run out, but because we like the taste and the nutritional freshness of home grown. We know what went into growing the food and we know it is free of anything that can hurt us.

We incorporate Permaculture design methods and thinking as well as other practical planning and management processes because they make sense and make us more efficient in getting all those things done that we enjoy doing. Without good planning and execution it just isn't possible to fully achieve our goals. Things like Function Stacking and using Zones appropriately build both short and long term efficiency to everyday activities freeing up time for other tasks (such as reading).

Frugality and waste reduction leads to saving money and to independence. It is, surprisingly, a more efficient way to operate.

Why are Jean and I so frugal and hate waste?
Its not because we want to save the planet. For Jean it's very simple. Somebody put some energy, love, tenderness and care into creating that object. It now has its own aura. To throw it away without having used it to its fullest is disrespectful to both the person who was its creator as well as to the object and to the source of the material of which it is constructed. And it's a waste of money.

Isn't it good to hear the point of few of others such as Larry Santoyo to stimulate the mind and think more deeply?
It doesn't even matter if you agree with them. It is the review of your own thinking that is important.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What is in the Pantry that should not be there

I opened a pantry door (we have more than one pantry) and spotted something. In fact I spotted two things and then looked further and then went and looked in the other pantries.

The first thing noticed was the castor sugar. Then there was(were) the jam(s)

It turned out that the jams are there for visitors. Some like sugared fruit on toast in the morning. Fair enough we all have our own poison. Some years ago we gave up jams and composted the bulk of our sugared fruit supplies and just kept a few varieties for the odd visitor.

The castor sugar? That was a left over from the days when we used sugar in cooking according to the pastry chef Jean. We now use either honey, Stevia or rarely Dextrose. The castor sugar will find a new home in the Cave and used as priming sugar for bottling beer, cider and sparkling wines.

I see a half empty jar of treacle. That was from making Worcestershire sauce some years ago. It was such a tedious recipe and really wasn't worth the effort. A compost candidate.

Vegemite, mmmm. Well maybe that better stay. The ingredients list isn't that bad and we only have it every month or two. Lovely on toast with lashings of butter. Vitamin B as well to make up for the colour and preservative.

Out in the Cave there are a few jars of  jams and pickles. Gifts from friends and visitors. A bit sugary. Most have been composted and these few remainders are now well past used by date.

So that is about it.

Over the last few years we have gradually eliminated rubbishy foods from our diets especially the sugary kind. We have even cut down on the home made oven roasted olive oiled chips on Fridays. Now its not every Friday. Moderation.

What do you do with a bountiful harvest. Too much of a particular fruit? Freeze some, give it away or talk to the chickens about it.

Juice seems to be a another popular end product. But what about the vitamins and minerals in the skin  and pips. Citrus pith has all the bioflavonoids which work well with the acidic juice and fibre in the pulp.

We enjoy watching cooking shows but not Master Chef and My Kitchen Rules with their annoying pauses in speech. The things that really annoy us in any cooking show or book are when a fruit or vegetable is adulterated to make the dish pretty. No concern is apparent as to the nutritional value being discarded. It often seems that looks override or that flavour must be extracted and concentrated rather than the entire product valued for its different beneficial features. Sometimes just too much over cooking.

There have to be some treats in life but as much as possible rubbishy food should be the exception. Treats now are the first home grown Tomatoes or the first Asparagus. Freshly shucked oysters from Karuah, home made chocolate with honey as the mild sweetener, fresh fruit from the garden with yogurt, that glass of your own wine or cider. Even just trying a new recipe which innovates the way a vegetable is prepared or cooked. The palate does change. And it can't be all that bad for your health.

What is in your pantry that should not be there?

Are you maximising the nutritional value of the fruit and vegetables you use?

They say it's best not to try and change everything at once as that will lead to failure. Get in the habit of adding something good to your diet or removing something bad (not both) one thing every 40 days or so and change your diet and your health.