We used to say the first ypungberries of the summer, but over the years of global heating progressing apace and nobody in government prepared to admit it or do anything to cut carbon emissions, we are almost certainly heading for a difficult future.
You can’t fix a problem, until you admit that you have one. The carbon industries through their financial leverage on both political parties and continued deceptive advertising have brought us to this critical point and show no signs of letting up.
So now we have to say the first young berries of the season, because it’s nearly all over in the late spring. We only have to put put one net up this year, as all the other fruit trees are either burnt , or badly damaged and cut back very hard to remove the damaged wood, so there will be no cherries or peaches, no apples, pears or plums, no avocados. Just the youngberries. They survived the fire because they were directly behind the house. I am grateful for what I have.
Youngberries are so special, just the right balance of sugar and acid. Unlike the mulberries that we have been feasting on for the past few weeks that have a mild sweetness, but with virtually no acid. They need lemon juice and zest to give them a bit of a kick. See previous recipes.
These berries are so nice, that we will be just eating them fresh off the canes for the first few days, until the crop overwhelms us and then we start to bottle them for later in the winter. We’re pretty lucky to have something so simple and so special fresh from the garden.
Our new ‘Tree Change’ Chickens Gladys and Edna have landed.
We have been given a couple of young pullets. This was a nice surprise for us, as I was missing Hillary’s presence in and around the garden these last few weeks. She always kept me company whenever I was working outside – which was often. We had intended to get another coupe of chooks in the fullness of time. I had gone in and cleaned out the chicken house pretty thoroughly, then limed the soil to sweeten it. I took the laying box out into the sun and cleaned it pretty well and left it to bake in the sun to help clean it of any mould or fungus etc. I locked the house up and left it to sit. I thought that that would be it for some time. As we are flat out busy, The thought of getting new chickens was quite low on my agenda.
Last week, our very good friends Warren and Trudie asked us if we were interested in some more chickens, as one of Warrens clients had two to give away. They were living in a small hutch in a carport in Balmain. A small, densely populated, inner city suburb. I gather that their life was largely spent on concrete. We said yes, the time was right for us and they arrived here serendipitously on the weekend. We put them in their new house and they seemed to settle in straight away. They didn’t even explore their new surroundings. The first thing that they did was scratch at the earth floor, start to excavate a small hole, scratch out a few worms, which they ate with gusto, eat some soil and then take a dust bath, laying on their side and flicking dirt all over themselves and each other.They knew they were chooks and this is what chooks are programmed to do.
We brought them snails from the vegetable garden, which they fought over and snaffled down without hesitation. We also brought them a load of chickweed, lettuce leaves, spinach and cabbage leaves, which they torn to bits and downed feverishly. They weren’t very interested in the dried feed ‘layer Pellets’ and scratch mix of grains that we had in there for them. They seem to be very happy with the dirt. I hope so.
We will have to wean them off their inner city Balmain diet of sipping Chardonnay and eating smashed avocado on organic sour dough rye. From now on it’s going to be snails, worms and free range weeds and grasses and whatever else they can find for themselves. The move doesn’t seem to have bothered them one bit. They have both laid an egg a day, without interruption since they arrived. Going from a small inner city flat to 7 acres of garden, orchards and grassland bordered by bush will give them plenty of scope to live out a more ‘natural’ chooks life.
I’ve shown my self to be very shallow and fickle. These chooks have completely taken my mind off missing Hillary and I am now quite happy with the ‘transference’ of emotion. Welcome to your change of trees Gladys and Edna! Happy scratching.
Zucchinis come on so quickly. I planted all the new summer vegetables together at the one time back on 12th of September, then six weeks later, we had or first pick of new season fruit on the 22nd of Oct.
All the other summer vegetables are still growing a frame work of structure but not even flowering just yet, However, the earliest tomatoes are just starting to flower, but they are still a long way of having edible fruit. Due to Global Heating, in the last few years, we have been able to pick our first few ripe tomatoes just be fore Xmas.
I decided to pick the small fruit with the flowers still on and stuff the flowers with cottage cheese seasoned with a few chopped olives, capers and an anchovie. I fried them in a little olive oil for a minute or 3 and then added a little white wine and put the lid on to steam them for a further couple of minutes. The delicate flowers collapse around the seasoned cheese stuffing, while the fruit remains firm, but heated through. The flavour is very delicate and the texture matches perfectly. Our first of many such meals this season.
If I were Italian, I’d probably batter them and deep fry them, or in Paris they might cook them with a lot more butter. But I’m me, so I don’t use any salt, except that in the olives and anchovie, and I only use olive oil and then only a dash of that. This is meant to be healthy, fresh, organic, nurishing food. But not boring. I’d actually love to be writing about building the pottery, and better still about making and firing pots, but alas, all this rain has put back the builders start date another few weeks. I’m starting to be resigned to the fact that we won’t be making anything meaningful in the pottery till this time next year. Disapointing, but it is what it is.
In keeping with my philosophy of self reliance, we eat as much as we can from our own property, using whatever there is in the garden. This week the mulberries are on. The season will last a month and the birds will get the bigger share of the crop. We have a bowerbird that survived the fire somehow and a new arrival of a wattle bird. They spend the day in the foliage cackling, croaking, clicking and chirping. It must be beautiful for them in there with such abundance.
When we moved here in 1976, kookaburras were the only birds around. As we slowly developed the place digging dams for water storage, mowing the weeds to create some lawn and planting native shrubs all around the edges. We created a small paradise. Over the following years we had thousands of smaller birds move it to colonise the ‘new’ territory. It made it very hard to harvest any fruit from the newly developing orchard. It sort of proved the old saying ‘If you build it they will come’. The fire cleaned out all the shrub dwelling passerines, as they went to low dense cover to hide. This part of the forest burnt fast and fierce. However, we have started to see some migration of the smaller insect eaters back into the garden from territory farther afield.
We currently have 2 nascent populations of just a few individuals of superb wrens and fire tails. They are very busy nesting in the 4 remaining established native hypericifolia shrubs in our garden. These small trees were part of a much larger, longer hedge and somehow survived the catastrophe. Which is good for the small birds. I hope that they have a good breeding season and that their numbers recover quickly. We have been having some nice rain lately, so it could be a good summer for them. Back in the noisey mulberry tree, it only takes a few minutes to pick a bowl full of plump, ripe fruit at this stage with so many ripe berries to choose from, but picking isn’t the slow part. What takes time is snipping off the hard little stalks. These stalks are very firm and spoil the mouth feel of the soft, luscious and sweet, juicy fruit. You don’t have to de-stem, but the resultant pie is so much nicer without the annoying little hard stalks getting stuck in your teeth.
I use a recipe that I got off the internet. I like it because it’s so easy. However I have adapted it to suit myself. Most puddings and cake recipes I read seem to me to have way too much sugar in them. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I halve the quantity of sugar in most recipes, to no noticeable ill effect. Fruit recipes often call for equal parts of sugar and fruit, or half the weight of fruit as sugar. I have reduced this to a 1/4. Then I also add a squeeze of lemon or grated zest to give a little bit of tartness to cut through the bland sweetness.
I’m too lazy to make my own pastry, I’m always busy, so it’s amazing that I can make time to cook anything from scratch. So I buy frozen pastry packs in a dozen sheets at a time and they last half the year. Clearly, I don’t make a lot of pies. It’s not that I’m keen on home made fancy deserts, it’s more to do with the fact that I hate to see waste, and I can’t eat all the fruit raw!
In the early years here , we used to bottle the mulberries and vacuum seal them in ‘Fowler’ jars. but as soon as the youngberries were planted and came in to full production, we forgot about the mulberries, as the youngberries are just so much better in every way. So these days we eat the mulberries for a couple of weeks until the youngberries come on, then we leave the rest of the mulberries to the birds. We have to net the youngberries to keep the birds off, other wise we wouldn’t get hardly any.
Once the mulberries are de-stemmed, I mix 400g of the berries with 100g of sugar in a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons (approx.) of flour, the juice of 1 small or 1/2 of a large lemon, I also add in the pulp off the glass juicer. A squeeze of vanilla essence and a dusting of cinnamon powder.
I pre bake the base @ 180oC for 15 mins filled with a glass jar full of dried, home grown, baking beans that I keep in the pantry for exactly this purpose.
Hint – Put crumpled up, non-waxed, plain lunch wrap paper in the pie first, so that the beans don’t stick to the ‘pricked’ pastry base during cooking. Remove the beans and paper and continue cooking for another 5 mins until golden. If the base lifts up, just press it down again after it cools a bit, don’t burn your fingers. Pour all the ingredients into the pie crust and if you have some left over pastry, lay a few strips over the top as decoration, or you can lay another whole sheet over the top and prick holes in it to let the steam out. Bake @180 for about 15 to 20 mins, or until it looks done.
The smell of this pie when it emerges from the oven fills the room. It is enough to melt the Heart of the Knave and induce him to steal. My mother always said that the way to a mans heart was through his stomach! So, as I live with The King, and don’t want to be ‘beaten full score’, I surrender the tart to my King and we enjoy it en-concorde.
A nice seasonal desert, or afternoon tea. To be savoured and enjoyed in late spring, and then anticipated for the rest of the year.
We are now half way through spring, and have been harvesting broad beans for a couple of weeks now. We start with the early little beans eaten raw to savour that unique broaden flavour that we haven’t tasted for 11 months. Broad beans have a short season, but that makes them all the more special. We pick the small immature bean pods and cook them whole, then as they mature, we pick the larger pods and shell them for the beans inside. They are really delicious at every stage.
We use broad beans in many ways, but they best in my opinion just lightly fried very quickly in olive oil, so that they are just warmed through and sprinkled with dried sweet basil and some cracked pepper. I take them off the heat as soon as the outer shell starts to split open.
I served them with a few fish cakes that Janine made.
We also made a broad bean risotto with Mushrooms, garlic and chilli.
I add the broad beans late in the cooking so that they don’t over cook.
We had a visit from some old friends for lunch. People who hadn’t been here since before the fire, so I cooked a small batch of Flatolli for them. Flatolli is my lazy flat version of Italian Canolli, without the deep-fried pastry tubes, hard boiled in lard. The filling is the same however. Ricotta and/or mascarpone filled with dried fruits soaked in liqueur.
I pre-baked the little pastry sections with beans to weigh them down, then filled them with a creamy desert filling. Easy! And very yummy.
I also attempted to make a pear, ricotta and almond flan or tart. I pre-simmered the quartered pear sections in a sugar syrup with a cinnamon stick, then placed the finely sliced poached sections on the almond/ricotta filling. This turned out very well indeed.
No one complained!
I’m trying to find ways to be useful and creative while we wait for our eternally slow builders to turn up. After we finalise our plans in June, paid our deposit on the first of August, we originally thought that we would have the building up to ‘lock-up’ stage by the end of September. Three months for a tin shed didn’t seem too unrealistic. But now we learn that the builders are saying end of November, from our current experience with them, we will most likely get to lock-up by mid December or even Xmas.I certainly hope that it is done in this calendar year!It’s a challenge to stay positive. In the meantime Janine and I are working on the gabian wall. I hope to finish that job by the weekend. We had a small group of our ex pottery students – who have become good friends, turn up to help finish the tall metal framework in front of the house and start to fill the gabian enclosure with crushed, recycled, concrete building material.
In a small personal sacrifice, I smashed up the last of our broken terracotta garden pots. It’s somehow comforting to get to find a positive and creative use for all these ‘dead’ terracotta planters. I couldn’t just trash them. So this down-sizeing to rubble, but up-scaleing to art is a suitable solution. Turning this disaster into something positive is a constant challenge. The final terracotta pot to go into the wall was a large cylindrical pot that was a ‘second’ grade reject from the Parliament House project in Canberra that I worked on with Cam Williams back in 1986. This pot was the very first piece made for the parliament and was fired here in Balmoral in our old kiln to test the body, slip and firing technique that we planned to use to do the rest of the job. As 250 pots were commissioned in total, we needed to rent a factory space and set up a very big kiln to get the job done on time. This first pot was the big test. It sat next to the old wood kiln chimney for the past 34 years, As it was broken into several pieces, it no longer had any real value, other than sentimental. It did however represent one year of my creative life. I thought that it was best up-cycled into the last bit of our new wall. Now, I will always know where it is.
We still have two other examples of these big cylindrical pots in our garden, just 2nds with minor cracks that happened during the 2 year project. One is still intact, but the other was smashed by the tree loppers when they were clearing up the mess here in our yard straight after the fire. One of the workers drove into it with the bobcat loader.Janine and I re-constructed it with wire strapping just to preserve it until I have the time to do a full kintsugi repair. It will take a lot of gold!
We also have 1 of the 5 massive, extra-large pots made for the New Parliament House Building out in our garden. There were only 4 of these 1.5 dia x 1.5 metre high monsters ordered for the project. The first one that we fired got a hair line crack, so we had to make another one. I got to keep the ‘spare’ one in the garden.
From black to green, from down to up, from negative to positive, from rubble to art. Nothing lasts, nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect. I’m grateful to be still alive to be able to re-build a creative and beautiful environment.
It’s the first week of spring. We have just harvested our last tomatoes off the last self seeded plant that germinated after the fire. We are also about to plant our first tomatoes seedlings to get an early start on the spring growing season. We have never had tomatoes this late in the year before. It’s quite unbelievable. I would never have expected it. But here we are still eating fresh tomatoes while planting out next years crop. We really are in the throws of a racing-ahead global warming event, with very few frosts over winter and those that we did have were really quite mild, just minus one or two degrees. Where will this all end?
We are entering what the old-times used to call the hungry gap. This is when most of the winter vegetables are finishing up, but the new spring/summer crops haven’t started producing yet. We have celery, lettuce, tomatoes, raddish and asparagus from the garden for our lunch today, so we are still managing OK. The weather is suitably balmy for early spring just now. Last week and the week before were quite hot, up into the high 20’s. I joked to Janine that we had gone straight from winter to summer, with only 2 weeks of spring! But the weather has evened out a little now. In fact today is somewhat cooler with a little rain. It’s rather nice. I’m in no hurry for the dry heat of summer to set in and burn off all the fresh green spring growth.I have lashed out and bought 10 packets of flower seeds when they were on special at Aldi recently for just $1.20 per packet. I’m hoping that this summer might be a little bit wetter than the last 4 years of drought. I will plant the seeds anyway and hope for better times. I have started on the last 30 metre section of our front fence. This last bit will be 1.8 metres high to give extra fire protection to the house in the next fire event. At the moment it looks pretty awful just a row of steel posts, something like a detention centre. All it needs is some rolls of razor wire on top. I’m hoping that it will settle down visually when we get the stones in the mesh so that it flows on from the existing lower fence line on either side.
Where I dug out the old almond trees in the vegetable garden, I have spread some compost and dug it all in ready to plant this years spring/summer crops this weekend. I have made 15 new garden beds. About 1500mm x 900mm each in size. I have planted just 2 zucchini plants in each bed, so as to allow them some room to spread out as they mature, I have done this with the cucumbers and pumpkins as well. With the tomatoes, capsicums and egg plants have allowed 4 plants per bed, as they don’t spread as much.
As the shadows lengthen and the sun starts to set, I finally get the last of the seedlings planted. It’s been a long day in the garden. 24 metres of new garden beds. It’s a fitting replacement for the dozen almond trees that had outgrown their available space in this part of the veggie patch.
Planting anything with the expectation of it growing and thriving is an act of optimism. Planting a new summer vegetable garden is such an act. I live in hope that I will be able to water these tiny plants and watch them thrive and mature. I will weed them and mulch them with home made compost. Water them and finally pick them or their fruits to sustain us. By the time the rewards of harvest come around, I’ll be digging up the other veggie rows to plant the winter garden, such is the cycle of the seasons and life itself. I am so grateful to be able to live this grounded, positive, creative, harmonic life.
The lawn is green with a new spring flush of growth outside the kitchen window with its view into the new orchard and the dense cove of green clover. It’s nice, and very rewarding. Quite relaxing to look at. Of course, what we are really looking at here is a massive amount of hard physical work. So the rewards are all that much sweeter.
We have been continuing to work on our ceramic wall along the front of our property. We have 120 metres of frontage to the street. It’s my intention to replace the old fence with something that is more fire proof for when the next fire comes, sometime in the next decade? The original fence was the old style post and lintel, but being timber and being 127 years old, there were only 3 substancial morticed posts left in the ground when we arrived here in 1976. We know from these relics that it was a 3 rail fence. The very last post burnt in this last fire and smouldered all the way down into the ground leaving a perfectly round hole where it once stood. This new fence is designed to be as fire resistant as possible, hence the steel posts welded in pairs to seperate the front hot face from the back cooler side, to stop the metal bending over in the heat. I have also filled each post with sand and rammed it solid to give the post a solid thermal mass, so that it wont heat up to deformation temperature in the short time that a fire front passes. I looked at all the ruined fences around here, post fire, and timber completely disapears, it’s also very expensive. Cliplok metal fence systems just buckle and collapse and arn’t cheap. Full masonary walls are OK, but are the most expensive in both labour and material. There is also the drawback that a masonary wall needs an engineered footing of reinfored concrete and steel, all more expense. I have been trying to think of very cheap/cost effective solutions to all our rebuilding problems/opportunities, solutions that we can live with aesthetically and also aford. As well as this, everything has to be as fire resistant as is possible. I decided on my poor man’s imitation gabian wall idea, as it met all my requirements of cost and fire resistance. I also need everything that we do to be as beautiful, or at least as interesting as possible. To this end, I decided to fill the gabian sections with re-cycled building agregate in a moving wave pattern, as this is the cheapest ceramic fill available and this makes up about 50% of the wall. We also used 30% of black ballast rock for contrast, as this is also relatively cheap at $70 per tonne. The black wave runs as a countrepoint to the grey concrete wave. We crushed up some old terra cotta to make a colour change and a bit of detail. This is about 5% of the wall and is free, but took some time as we smashed it all up by hand with hammers, as all my rock crushers were burnt in the fire. The terra cotta is placed in ‘lenses’ in some parts of the wall, to hint at a sedimentary reference in the landscape here at the edge of the Sydney sandstone basin. To finish off the wall, we bought a small amout of round, water-worn pebbles to fill up the last 10 to 15% of the wall volume, to cap off the wall. These pebbles are the most expensive part of the wall at $90 a tonne, but we limited our use of these to just a few tonnes to minimise the cost. These pale pebbles accomodate the sweeping wave of energy in the wall pattern and bring it back to equilibrium and tranquility. The dark energy sweeps and undulates through the stoney medium, it represents my dark times, it’s always there, but rarely breaks the surface, the steady, even, bright whiteness nearly alway prevails over the dakness.
We have now completed all the 1200mm high wall sections, about 90 metres, at a cost of $1200 for the fill, this was possible because the steel yard where I have bought all my steel for the past 40 years, donated $2000 of credit into our account to help us in our re-building. We now have 90 metres of interesting and fire resistant fence. The real cost is in the labour that we, and a lot of friends, have put in to make it happen. One very good thing about building such a fence as this is that we can turn up and do a bit when ever we have a day ‘off’, and time to spare. The last 30 metre section of the wall will be built 1800mm high in front of the house to give us extra protection from the ground fire in the next fire event. We have also planted a lilli-pilli hedge all the way along the wall to give somewhere for the little birds to live. Lillipillis are reasonably fire tollerant. They don’t add to the spread of flme. They have small leathery leaves that tend to just shrivel instead of burning. We hope that they will act as an ember filter in the next fire event, as well as acting as a safe bird habitat in the mean time.
Other than that, we have been continuing to burn off the piles of burn trees, twisted branches and clayey root balls that are left over from the 16 truck loads of fire debris that we dumped on our spare block next door. This is where we used to stack all our fire wood, well away from the house. We very good strategy as it turned out, as all 50 tonnes of wood that we had stock piled ready for the kiln and house use in the coming years was all destroyed in the fire. Not one stick of wood was left on our land after the fire had pased through. As we cleaned up after the fire, we cut any straight sections of tree trunks into kiln sized lengths and stacked them. All the twisted, forked and nasty bits have been burnt in 10 tonne piles over the winter. Each pile left a few ugly root balls that didn’t burn, so the last time we had the excavator here, we had Ross collect all these remnant bits together and make a new, last pile. We needed to get this burnt before the spring and the new fire restrictions period begin. We lit it last week and it burnt for 3 days. We now have only two ugly clay and stone packed root balls that didn’t burn. I may be able to knock them about with the tractor to shake off some of the soil and rocks to get them seperated, so that they can be burnt at some later date. It has been a mamoth task to get all these piles burnt and cleared away over the winter, while also getting the orchard built and planted before bud burst. We have run to a tight schedule.
Everything is starting to come together now. We have a delivery date from the steel rolling company for delivery of our steel shed frames on the 19th of September, so just 3 weeks left for us to finish all the fences and garden. before the building work commences. I have worn through 4 pairs of heavy leather gloves, two pairs of light gardening gloves, ruined one straw hat and worn though 3 pairs of jeans, patched the knees and worn through those patches and re-patched them from thigh to knee, ready for the next onslaught of hard work. I hate to throw out anything that still has life left in it. I like to get at least 5 years of hard wear out of a pair of jeans before thay are relagated to kiln factory rags. I am very grateful to be able to live this life of frugal creativity.Nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect and nothing lasts.
We have put in a couple of very long weeks lately. The result being that the new orchard netting frame and cover is now complete and the trees are now planted. Three of the 30 trees had already bud-burst and started to flower by the time we got to plant them. But they are now safely planted and watered in. It’s a very good feeling to see them under cover and starting to grow.
44 years ago this month, I was out there digging holes, wheel barrowing compost and planting bare rooted whip sticks. I had put in some very long hours back then too. Getting a dam built, installing a pump, laying 100 metres of poly pipe across the block and fencing off the orchard paddock before I could think of planting my fruit trees.
I did all of this work on weekends, as I was working 4 days and 2 nights, doing 3 different part time jobs teaching Ceramics in Sydney. 2 1/2 days at East Sydney Tech, two days at Alexander Mackie College (COFA) and one night at St George TAFE. It left me quite tired on the weekends, as I had to catch the 6 am bus to get into Sydney and didn’t get home till 11pm at night after the 2 night classes.
Not much has changed over the 44 years. Except my back! The little grafted sticks are so small that you cannot make them out. I had to work hard to keep up the 23% mortgage interest payments that was common at that time. I was determined to get the orchard planted before the winter was over that first year. Not too different from the situation I find myself in now, while I wait for the metal kit frames to turn up for the new pottery building. As it has turned out it’s veggie garden first, then orchard, and finally pottery shed, in that order each time we have a catastrophe and start to make a recovery. Garden beds are quick to plant out, orchards take longer and must be planted in the winter. Finally, pottery buildings need a lot more money, time, planning and Council Approval before they can be built. It fits the same pattern. Everything has to done in a particular sequence for it to work out smoothly. For instance, I had to get the front fence built, as the orchard is up against it, then a metal frame had to be built to hold up the bird proof netting. I was very lucky to be able to buy a truck load of 100mm. dia. irrigation pipes and was also extreemely lucky to be gifted a lot of galvanised wire mesh fencing and also a couple of very large pieces of nylon bird proof orchard netting, along with a lot of other usefull materials from a couple from up north who had de-commissioned their back yard orchard. Thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way with this by actually turning up and lending a hand, or by donating money into our ‘Go-fund-me’ account. We wouldn’t be here now in this much better place, if it wasn’t for you!
The sequence of jobs that brought us here now involved ordering the new frut trees way back in February and March from 3 different suppliers. Then digging out the old burnt out orchard trees. A very emotionally difficult decision at the time, as we had raised those trees from tiny bare rooted whip sticks, watered, mulched, pruned, tended and nurished those plants for 2/3 of my life. The soil from the old orchard site was trucked across the drive into the former front garden area to improve the soil for the new trees. I found one spare evening to seed the area with both red and white clover, plus poppy and other cottage garden seeds, then plough the soil and wait for rain, which did eventually come while there was still some warth in the soil. The clover has been improving the soil structure and adding nitrogen while we have been waiting.
Now all the required steps along the way are complete, so we can pull it all together and finally step back and admire our handiwork. We had our son Geordie and our friend Warren here over the weekend for the big final effort to drag the huge 30 metre x 20 metre spinnaker of netting up and over the frames, then tie it all down to the wire mesh, A huge job. We used over 3000 metal ring clips and all ended up with blisters on our hands.
This time, the orchard trees are being planted into better prepared soil.
24 trees were planted in one mamoth effort on Monday. They are all in neat orderly rows and well mulched and watered. They are so small that you can hardly notice them, except for the mulch and the plastic tags that show where they are.
I managed to shread 3 pairs of jeans over the past two weeks. I tore the bum out of one pair and tore through and around last months repairs and patches on the other two.
This will keep me busy for the next few evenings.
My last job on this new orchard cover, is to weld up a couple of metal framed gates to keep everything secure from all the critters that like to eat fruit trees, kangaroos, wallabys, rabbits, wombats, cockatoos, etc.
Someone recently told us that we shouldn’t be climbing up ladders after we turned 60!!!!!That was 8 years ago. I re-roofed the old pottery and re-guttered the barn, both shortly before they burnt in December.The barn is now re-roofed and re-guttered. I’ve spent a lot of time up ladders since then, cleaning gutters and doing all the various maintenance jobs.I own a lot of ladders. Different lengths and formats for different jobs, ranging from one to six metres long. I’m up and down all day. Good thing that I was only just told that I should have stopped all this almost a decade ago.
Recently I have been building a metal frame to hold up the 2nd hand and recycled, plastic, bird-proof netting, that was donated to us for the new orchard cover. This involved burying 100mm dia. metal posts in the ground to 600 mm deep and then installing cross-members between them, also 100mm. dia. I bought a truck load of 40 second hand metal pipes, 5.5m long that were recovered from the HMAS Melbourne before it was scrapped. They had been used as irrigation pipes before I got them. I only needed to cut off the thick reinforcing rings off the end of each pipe to get the joints to fit on the pipes.
Warren suggested that we should get orchard framing made into an olympic demonstration sport! I could see that these old pipes would work OK for my purposes, as they came with an assortment of 90 degree elbows and some ‘Tee’ section joints.The last part was to lift up 8m long galvanised steel beams, 100mm x 50mm. These were quite heavy and unwieldy. Because I’m cautious. I went out of my way to buy yet another ladder, this time a 3mm tall step ladder, so that I wouldn’t have to stand on the last top step of my biggest 2.4m. step ladder, to get those heavy beams up on top of the 3.5m. high pipework frame.
I thought that I was doing quite well for an old guy. This higher ladder gave me a much better and safer working position while I screwed all the beams down to the frame securely.Of course I didn’t attempt do this on my own. I had my best friend Warren here to help me.We got all the beams up in one day! I’m very leased with my new tall ladder. So much safer than standing on the top step of the shorter one.
Yesterday, while moving a little short step ladder in my workshop. I bumped a gas bottle and knocked a steel beam off a tall shelf.It came down on my head, splitting it open with lots of bright red sauce. I saw stars, but remained conscious on the floor. I managed to get myself to the house and Janine drove me to Emergency where I got 10 stitches in my head.Ladders are so dangerous! Especially those little short plastic ones.
Dawn breaks clear and rosey pink, a few scuds drift over and the days graft begins cold and clear. We sweat and toil till dusk and the day rewards us with a fiery sunset reminding us of our overworked muscles.
Such is our current ‘new’ life. One remarkable thing that happened today was that we saw a plane fly over.
It was a bit of a surprise, as we used to see and hear them many times a day in our previous life. There were so many that we didn’t bother to look. In fact we didn’t really notice them at all. They were omnipresent. Now they are a novelty.
6 months ago we had them thundering slowly overhead at low altitude, flaps down and roaring, just above a stall speed to deliver their pink fire retardant all around us. But that was then and this is now, so this solitary plane was a notable surprise.
A lovely event this week was the appearance of a clutch of baby wood ducks grazing in the Chekov orchard. For decades, we had wood ducks breeding here in the cherry orchard and on the dams. At that time we had a big eucalyptus tree with a hollow branch hanging over one of the the dams. A perfect breeding site that was used every season by many generations of wood ducks. Tragically, that tree blew over in a huge storm 10 years ago. Since then, the wood ducks haven’t bred here. They are apparently quite choosy about where they nest. Since the catastrophic fire. All the old trees with dead, hollow branches considered suitable by wood ducks as a nesting site have been burnt. Their choices are very limited now. The fire removed all the forest around here. There is no under growth or shrubby nesting sites for small birds, and no hollow branches considered suitable by wood ducks to breed in. So they are not so choosy any more. This pair seem to have lowered their expectations and managed to raise this batch of babies somewhere closer to the ground.
They usually hatch about a dozen little ones, but they loose almost one baby duck per day to predators in the early days. These ducklings seem to be about 3 weeks old and are now too big to be taken by curawongs, but hawks, powerful owls or a fox could still take them. So they are still very cautious.
At the moment, we have seven survivors grazing each morning. They are particularly shy of people, even after over 40 generations of breeding here on this little farm holding. You’d think that they would have got used to us by now, as we always keep our distance and never chase them. Once their kids have fledged and gone their own way, the parents will be a lot more tolerant of us walking around in their orchards, amongst their cherry trees and on their dam banks, or walking on their grass.
It’s nice to see them back. I can only suppose that, because of the total loss of grass and suitable sites due to the fire, our grassy orchards and partially full dams are now the best option for them to breed in again. We keep out of their way and give them plenty of space to graze peacefully, as we want them to return permanently. These pictures were taken through our bedroom window, as we can’t get close enough to them to photograph them outside.
When I get a bit of time and energy, I should look into what kind of nesting box wood ducks prefer, then get a couple set up in trees somewhere near the dams. Then hope they like it.
Life goes on. But in the mean time, I have a pottery to build and a new orchard to plant, and so we graft from dawn till dusk.