New Orchard

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.

A pile of rotted chicken manure dumped on the original orchard site a few months before planting, then allowed to weather and rot down, back in 1976


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.

Digging in manure and compost into each fruit tree hole in 1976. Every hole dug by hand back then, just as we did yesterday. 


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.

I laid out string lines to set the planting distance between each tree.

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.

And So We Graft from Dawn Till Dusk

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.

Solstice to Solstice

It is half a year now since the fire on the 21st December, right on the solstice. We have been in clean-up mode ever since. All the black from around the house is now cleaned up and dead with. Be that cutting up into suitable lengths for fire wood for later, or piling up and burning in bonfires. We have almost finished the burn piles. We started with 16 big tip truck loads of stumps, twisted branches and blackened gnarly undergrowth, all too difficult to deal with in my damaged and exhausted PSD state.

The house is now clear and no longer dangerous to walk around, as we were always wary of falling dead and burnt branches. We haven’t even thought about dealing with the burnt bush further from the house. It will have to wait. I have a couple of years work ahead of me just around the house here. We just won’t go there without a hard hat.

So now it is the solstice again. The winter solstice this time and we have passed from high summer through into deepest winter. Something to look forward to is that the days will now start to get longer, although the coldest days (and nights) are yet to come. A full six months has passed, half a year, I have been working hard every day, but not much seems to have been achieved. We still don’t have a pottery. I guessed, with no real evidence or insight, only the past two bush fire events that burned our previous potteries down, that it would take at least a year to rebuild. That was based solely on past experience. but I was a lot younger then and had so much more energy. Now i’m so much older, I can’t keep up the pace I want to achieve. I’m smart enough to know when to knock off. No more working with torches or under lights. At least not very often!

These last few weeks we have insulated the new car port walls with earth wool insulation and then lined the walls with fibre cement sheeting (fibro). I installed it back to front with the textured side out and left it untouched with it’s slightly pink mottled face as the finished surface. It looks OK. I have been trying to make this brand spanking shiney new industrial shed look somehow slightly softened and more comfortable in these rustic surroundings. I think that it’s working. I’m trying to do it without spending very much money either. That’s a challenge.

The wall cavity has been stuffed with 100mm of recycled beer bottles as brown fibreglass.

Since lining the carport I have been working with my friend Colin the environmental builder. We have dismantled the burnt-out north western corner of the barn and rebuilt it with my new square peg post and another recycled one that Col had in his yard.

We removed the roof and walls and replace all the timbers with new ones that we milled from one of the old stringy bark eucalypt trees when we hired the portable saw mill a few months back. It’s a very rewarding feeling to be able to rebuild this old barn using timber grown here on-site and personally milled and adzed into shape. I really like the concept of embedding something of the old native plant garden into the new shed. it’s all good quality hard wood, so theoretically it should last a hundred years. as long as we can keep the next fires at bay.

We removed the two burnt out posts, then placed the new adzed post in position. I lifted it with the little crane that I have on my truck and raised it up to about 45 degrees, then pulled the post up into place using my chain block.

I will reinstate the 4 water sprinklers on the western walls once the building is finished next week. I only need to install the guttering and replace the polycarbonate. Then I’m done. This old barn now has it’s own 2 new water tanks and will have it’s own high pressure fire pump to run the sprinklers. I decided to reuse all the old burnt corrugated galvanised iron wall sheets. They look suitably rustic and appropriate. The new gal roof sheets look a bit too shiney just now, but as they are old fashioned galvanised zinc coated, they will age to a dull grey, non-reflective surface, just like the old sheets that are next to them.

The half dozen burnt roofing sheets will be re-used on the new pottery workshop walls where it won’t matter if they have a little damage, as they won’t need to be totally waterproof.

On Friday, we got our DA approval for our plans for the new pottery building from the Council – with 9 pages of conditions attached! It seems like a lot of fiddle and extra work, but I’m pleased that we have approval to get going with the new building. This is a big step in the right direction. And after only 6 months! I had a few discussions with the inspector who kept asking for more detail. I eventually had to redraw the plans and colour them in, with a colour code ‘key’, to show all the different materials that I intended to use.

Everyone that I have had to deal with at the council has been incredibly helpful and supportive. We are so lucky!

The trees are just starting to make new shoots since the rain, but half of the rees are dead and will need to be taken down for safety – sometime in the future.

Squaring the round peg

Over the last month I’ve been slowly working away at squaring up a big stringy back log that was burnt in the catastrophic fire that swept through here in December.

Our barn was badly burnt in that fire and we lost one corner, completely burnt out. As I stayed to defend our property from the flames. I was able to put out the flames after the fire swept through and I managed to save the barn. God knows how! The immense energy of the flames from the fire burnt everything in its path, but the roof and wall sprinklers on the barn were just enough to keep the building from bursting into flames, However embers lodged in the corner of the tin walls and set fire to the massive 300 x 300 mm. hard wood bridge timbers that I used as uprights.

It’s more or less impossible to set fire to a 300mm. square old hardwood timber post in any usual circumstance. However, if you have a once in a lifetime catastrophic fire fanned by 70 to 80 km/hr winds from the dry north, at 50 to 60oC , then anything is possible. The main fire front swept through burning almost everything in it’s path, I had taken refuse in my kiln for safety and didn’t dare emerge until after the main fire front had passed by. The yard and all the garden was ablaze. Every tree was on fire, thick smoke was everywhere. I come out of my kiln-like bunker. It took me some minutes standing under the house’s roof and wall sprinklers spray to cool off sufficiently to get my thoughts back in order. I realised that both the railway station and barn were both on fire fanned by the roaring wind.

I hosed out the station fire for the first time and ran to the barn carrying buckets of water, as the pump delivering water to the wall sprinklers on the barn had stopped working. There was no other pump or hose system over there on the opposite side of the property to use, so my immediate thought was to run there carrying buckets of tank water from the station tank. Each time I returned to the station, it was back on fire, as the insane wind had fanned the remaining embedded embers back into flames. I would put it out, then return to bucketing water to the barn. This cycle went on for an hour or two, until the station was well and truely out and although the barn was still smouldering, I had stopped the fire from spreading to the whole building. I eventually got it out, but the big corner posts, were almost completely reduced to charcoal.

So one of my on-going jobs over the past couple of months has been to set aside a large stringy bark tree trunk. I cut it to length and start to square it up to make a replacement square post for the corner of the barn. I got one face done, then I fell into the electrical cable trench and sprained my leg. That was the end of my timber milling efforts for a month or so,

I’m mostly well again now and this week I have come back to the job of squaring off the massive hardwood post. Extracting the square post from the curved, round log. I can only manage just one face each day, as It’s hard on my ageing back and shoulders.

Today I finished the last face. It’s pretty ugly, not exactly square, or smooth, but I don’t have the luxury of unlimited time to get it perfect. I have left most of the chainsaw depth cuts in the surface, as this indicates how it was made and is an honest surface for such a huge square post extracted from a curved round log.

While I was working today, adzing the final surface mostly flat. I was drawn to think of the timber cutters that worked these ridges and gullies 150 yers ago. I’m not a pimple on the arse of one of these hardy pioneers. They really knew how to work hard. My wimpy efforts are an embarrassment compared to the excellent quality of the sleepers that were snagged out of the Bargo gully behind us here in the 1850’s. All of their beautiful handiwork is gone. The last of the hand-cut sleepers have been replaced with steel sleepers now. The white ants and time took their toll. But what an achievement, these 50 kms of hand-hewn sleeper-laid train tracks that were felled, cut, adzed and broad axed into perfectly square clean shapes are just a memory. The snigging tracks that wound down into the gullies are all over grown and lost to memory now. But I remember them, Janine and I walked them in the 70’s when some of them were still visible, simply because some of the older locals still used them to get down into the creek.

My efforts don’t compare in any way, but hewing this square post into existence with just a small salute to the past has been a rewarding effort. The new corner post will hopefully tell someone in another generations time of the way in which it was made.

I have booked my friend, the local carpenter and environmentalist, Col McNeill to help me with the rebuilding. It will be a big effort for us to man-handle this massively heavy post into place, but that is next weeks job.

16 tonnes and what do you get?

It’s been a busy week! Last Friday we spent the day digging two trenches to act as footings for our planned stone walls. The first will be to support a stone retaining wall to level out the new pottery site which is being built over the old orchard. With the trench dug, I ordered 9 tonnes of gravel to fill it back in. Crushed gravel cost $35 a tonne plus $50 delivery, the delivery charge works out to be $11 per tonne from Tahmoor, just 15 kms. away. I needed 2 truck loads. I spent the weekend shovelling and wheel borrowing the 9 tonnes of gravel back into the hole in 75mm. layers. Intermittently stomping, compacting and watering the layers, until I got back to ground level, to make sure that all the material was packed down very firmly. I finished that job on Monday. It seems that I’m OK with shovelling about 4 tonnes per day, before I run out of steam. I finished the last tonne on Monday. The soil that we removed went to ‘top-dress’ the old ruined pottery site, which was just a mess of rubble and broken pots and bricks.

Having considered all the options available to us and canvassed a few opinions, we have decided to raise the level at the back of the new pottery building site up 1 metre to bring it to level with the front driveway. I had originally thought that I could save money by lowering the front down and doing what is called ‘cut and fill’, where half of the site is dug down and lowered, and the soil that is removed is used to build up the back of the site. All very economical. However, this would make the front of the building below ground level and prone to flooding in extreme storms, unless we had very good perimeter drainage. I asked my friend Dave the engineer, he told me that such drainage eventually always fails.

The old pottery was built this way with the front of the building 600mm. below natural ground level. I made a contour drain out in front with a 200 mm embankment then an ‘agg’ drain below the stone retaining wall to deal with any seepage. The pottery flooded twice in its 36 years! There are rain storms big enough to override any drain and small embankment. Or so it seems.

The person that I trust most in these matters is Ross, the plant operator who is doing all the earth works for us here. He has been really helpful, fitting us in, in-between his other jobs. When I suggested the cheaper ‘cut-and-fill’ option, He shook his head and simply said to get it up above ground level. You won’t regret it.

That left me with a problem. Where would I get all the fill? I considered de-constructing the wall of the largest dam and using all that material, but I don’t really want to do that. My construction certificate says that if I bring in fill, it must be certified ‘clean’ natural material from a registered and certified quarry. So I was snookered.

I did a quick calculation that the site is 25m. x 15m. so to raise it up 1 metre at the back, would take around 300 to 400 tonnes of gravel fill. The unbelievably resourceful Ross rang around his contacts for me. Beyond belief, he managed to find a batch of 400 tonnes of ‘sub-prime’ road base, crushed gravel from a quarry. I could get the 3 to 400 tonnes for free, but I would need to pay for the cartage. Such amazing synchronicity! It’s a huge number of truck loads. The cartage will take around 4 to 5 days to complete. I’m being charged $16 per tonne delivery from the quarry, about 70 kms away. I can’t believe our luck. It’s a really good deal. I just paid $46 per tonne for the local gravel yard to bring in 2 loads of much the same thing last Saturday.

When we built the last pottery, we decided to make it out of mud bricks. The soil onsite here is very good for mud bricks, but we didn’t need or want a 100 tonne hole across our land. We hunted around and found a local small quarry that was mining sand and gravel, but there was an overburden of clay that they needed to get rid of. We could have it for free, but had to pay for the cartage. Same story, just separated 35 years in time.

So we are on our way and the site is being filled and compacted to a level just above the natural. So now I will not have to worry about flooding in extreme wet weather events. I even get a certificate from the quarry for the council inspector, guaranteeing that our fill is natural clean crushed stone as specified on our construction certificate.

Up until last week, I could never have imagined trucking 400 tonnes of anything onto this block. It still seems surreal. On Tuesday the trucks started arriving and the they are huge!


They keep on coming 3 to 4 per day over the week until on Friday, at the end of the week we have 370 tonnes in the ground and are almost there, up to ‘natural’ ground level across the site.

On Thursday, the 30 tonnes of stones arrived just after dawn. We spent all day Thursday and half of Friday lifting and lowering the huge 1.2 tonne stones into position to make the retaining wall. These stone blocks are 2 metres long by 500mm. sq. I have managed to find some ‘C’ grade seconds rejects for just over 100 dollars each. They work out to be the same cost as those huge concrete blocks that are cast using all the left-over concrete returned to the mixing plant. I tried to buy some of these, but there is a waiting list of 2 months, and then ,no guarantee that there will be any or enough of them available on the day, as it all depends on the amount of returned excess concrete that makes it’s way back to the mixing plant, and needs to be gotten rid of. By Friday afternoon the stone wall is almost complete and the ‘crushed granite fill’ that has been delivered at the rate of three x 30 tonne truck loads per day, the gravel was spread and compacted as it was delivered, in-between placing the load of large stones. Ross and I wrangle them into position over the compacted gravel trench footing. The site is almost full. We will need just another 60 tonnes to make the site completely level. That material is ordered for Monday morning.


In just one week we have completely changed the nature of our block of ground, from a sloping orchard site into a level building site with a substantial stone retaining wall.

So, after 16 tonnes, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt, or so the song goes. In this case it’s 400 tonnes and I get the satisfaction of seeing the site of the new pottery becoming a reality. Luckily I’m not in debt, but it has cost me about $12,000 to get back to our new elevated ground level, money well spent on this occasion.

A big thank you to Claudia Citton and Rochelle Johnson who organised the GoFundMe page that has allowed us to get going on this project while the insurance company sat on their hands.

Back of the black

I think that we are seeing the last days of the blackened, burnt trees and foliage here. Since it started raining this last week, it has washed a lot of the carbon and ash into the ground and in some cases down into the dam. It has occurred to me that there will now be a record of this catastrophic event permanently laid down in the sedimentary strata of this black event on our land.

The rains have washed a lot of the ground clean. I must say that it won’t be soon enough for me to see the bare earth covered with a coating of green again. Over the past 6 or 7 weeks that we’ve been clearing up all this burnt rubbish that was once our garden and workshop. I have become acutely sensitive to the smell of black carbon, charcoal dust and black ash. I’ll be very pleased to see the back of the black and start to work on things that are not covered in charcoal.

Yesterday I had my friends Colin and Denis come over to help me do what I had hoped would be the last of the chainsawing of the blacked and dead trees from the fire. We didn’t quite finish the job, so there is still one more day in it for me to get it all cleared away.

It’s dirty work and I’m over it.

As a token gesture to the start of the cleaner phase of the clean-up. I bought 12 tonnes of crushed gravel for the driveway. the drive way in had become a dirty squishy, quagmire since the rains with all the heavy machinery and a few trucks coming and going over it, making it a slippery black mess. Two truck loads of gravel have started to fixed that.

Things are starting look better. Everything has started to have a more optimistic look about it. It’s certainly a lot less black.

The rain has finally come. We didn’t get the record levels of rainfall that other places got, thankfully! But it was quite enough for us. 190mm. It filled all 4 dams to overflowing and filled most of our rainwater tanks. The reason that the two biggest tanks didn’t fill, is because the two large roofs that used to feed them are now gone!

It’s nice to see the dams full again, pitty that the water is a rather black/brown colour. This will eventually be diluted and washed out, or settle into the sediment.

We got a surprise phone call from our friends Andy and Cintia last week, to say that they had 4 hours spare and could they give us a hand. We fixed up my blacksmiths vice, anvil and swage block, outside the garden shed. Then we pulled down the last two kiln chimneys . A great surprise and a lot of work achieved. Many hands etc.

Its not a real garden shed, now its a forgery!

Electric car review – 12 months

Janine and I have owned our Hyundai Ioniq hybred, plug-in electric car for one year now.We just got our latest owner statistics down-loaded from the onboard computer.We have driven almost exactly 12,000 kms. over the year.We managed to drive 503 km per litre of fuel used in the last month.500 km to the litre is pretty impressive fuel efficiency by anyones standards!I’m very pleased to see these results come through.The expected Hyundai official results for this model car, by the average driver should be around 22.4 km/litre
Dec. 2019

 My average503.16 km/ℓ
 Official22.4 km/ℓ
Results of this month’s 400 km trip, the results are shown below;
IONIQ plug-in official fuel consumption should have been; 17.857 litres
My fuel consumption   0.79 litres

Our CO2 emissions : We generated about 1 gram of CO2 per km.

* Driving standard per 1km
IONIQ plug-in Official CO2 emission 26 g.
My average emission CO2 this month1 g

Over the past year, we have filled the petrol tank 4 times, but the fuel tank is still almost half full.So we spent about $170 on petrol this year, to travel 12,000 kms. over the 12 months.We could only achieve these results because we are actively involved in living a ‘green’, low carbon, small foot print life.Up until last month, we could charge the car from our excess solar power. These last 30 days, since the fire, we dont have any more solar PV. So now we are using green power from the grid, and will have to continue to do so for the next few months, until we can get a new building approved by council and built, then have new PV installed. It’s going to take quite a while to get back our energy independance..But the car will still be driving us around very economically and cleanly.
Best wishes
Steve

Finally, some good news!

The electrical power was re-connected after 5 days. A massive effort by the power crews, they almost got in finished before Xmas, but not quite. So we were back connected to the grid the day after Xmas holiday. We were not totally without power, as after a couple of days in the dark, a friend dropped by with a small generator. So we could run the fridge and save everything in the freezer compartment.

So many people have offered to give us a hand with a days labour in the coming weeks and months. We have already had my best friends Len Smith and Warren Hogden here a couple of times to get us started. Thank you guys!!! You got us up and working, dragging me out of my lethargy and shock.

We started the epic journey of the clean-up. Janine and I had begun raking and scraping up bits of the massive load of charcoal, rubble, ash and dead, burnt shrubs and small trees. We worked and worked, with little impact. However, after a couple of days, my friend Ross, who works in earth moving and has an excavator and tip truck, turned up one evening. He told me that he would be working with the excavator for the next week, so he had brought his ‘bobcat’ skid steer loader for me to borrow until he needed it.

I had borrowed one of his bobcats some years ago to do a bit of earth moving, to create our new expanded vegetable garden. So I knew a little bit about working with these amazing machines. Once you get used to the various levers and buttons, it starts to become 2nd nature. I was up to speed by the second day. Two levers, one for each hand, each with 5 functions, plus two foot pedals. It’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, but by the end of that first week we had made some sort of impression.

More friends have turned up for a day or two here and there and Ross came back with his tip truck and did a lot of heavy digging and lifting. So now after two weeks of pretty intensive work, we have the front yard looking pretty clean now – although devastated.

The front garden along the street.
The back yard, where the wood shed once stood and the twenty tonnes of cut, split and stacked wood for the kiln, now just ash. What remains of the new hydraulic wood splitter still stands in total defiance, like monty Pythons wounded knight. “Come on, it’s only a flash wound”!

I don’t have a flesh wound.
The new ‘clean’ front yard, waiting for some creative reconstruction

Transhumance of water

The transhumance is usually applied to the seasonal movement of livestock in Europe following good the pasture from lowland to highland in the spring for example. Janine and I have been in Europe on two occasions and witnessed a small part of this seasonal, ancient, ritual passage of people and animals. It was a beautiful experience, to witness this event, watching the farmer, his family and their dogs walking the herd of cows down the mountain pass, back to the safety of the lowland farm and its barn with its stocks of hay and silage to sustain the animals through the cold winter.

For Janine and I here on our few acres, we ‘husband’ the passage of water back up hill from the lower dams, up to the higher ‘house’ dam for safe storage over the coming hot dry summer. Back when the weather was more reliable, the winter rains would flow into the upper dam and it would overflow down into the next dam, and then from there, when the 2nd dam filled, it would over flow down into the next dam, etc. etc. We have created what is known as a ‘keyline’ system of dames, so that nothing is wasted. That was of course when it used to rain.

These days it doesn’t rain enough to fill all the dams, but they do have a small amount in each of the 2 lower dams. The big top dam, ‘Max Like’, is totally dry. but it is worth harvesting the water from the two lower dams and collecting it all in one place to minimise evaporation. The surface area is essentially the same, but the water storage is 3 times deeper.

So today I started the water-transhumance for this year. The water is supposed to flow down in the winter and be pumped back in the summer. I don’t have much to work with, but in this way I can get the best out of what I have.

I pumped the bottom dam down to a level that gave me most of the water, but left a little bit for the locals.

My next job is to move the pump up to the 2nd dam and start shifting it up to the top dam. By the end of the day we should have moved most of the water. There is a big rock in the top dam, when we can see the rock, it means that we are almost out of water. By the time I’ve pumped all this water up to the top dam, the rock will disappear.

Mission accomplished. The home dam is filled sufficiently to cover the rock. That means that we now have over 600mm. deep storage, all in one spot, which minimises the evaporation in there coming hotter weather.

While the water was pumping up by itself. I only need to check it every 15 mins to make sure that all is going well. In the mean time I finish filling in the syphon guttering trench and I make new guttering for the western side of the barn. I was quoted $110 per meter for a professional guttering job. I manage to do it in 3 hours for $147! I just saved myself over $1,000! This is how we can manage to live here on such a small income. Independence through frugal self reliance.

I have spent this long week doing repair and maintenance jobs, from replacing the tin roof on the pottery, renewing the syphon gutter and digging trenches through hard packed dirt, making gutters and down spouts, now shifting water.

Every step I’ve taken this week was involved in water in some way. You never miss your water till your well runs dry!

I’m hoping that I won’t miss any water and that my tanks won’t run dry.

Rainwater catchment

As the weather has slowly dried out over the four and a bit decades that we have lived here, the dams that we dug when we arrived here in 1976, and worked so well for 20 years, are now all dried out. We haven’t had significant rain fall to saturate the ground and flow down the gutters and channels into those dams. So we find ourselves towards the end of spring now with virtually no water in the dams. This is the 3rd year with no significant flows into the dams and the 2nd decade where the dams don’t fill to overflowing. i can’t remember a time when they were all full.

It is quite shocking to me to have to start the year with just 500mm. of water in our main dam. That will only last a couple of hours in a fire situation – if it came today! But there won’t be this much water left in there in a month or twos time, at the height of summer – if any! Evaporation will see an end to that little bit of water that is left.

Our biggest dam, built specially to irrigate the vineyard, we called Max Lake! It is now bone dry since last week, the final little puddles evaporated away in the heat and the wind. No water flowed into it for at least 3 years. It was once a glorious swimming hole in years past. Particularly when our son was young, we had a lot of fun swimming in there over summer. 2 metres deep of serious fun filled water. Now home to just a few dried out reeds.

We used to rely on the dams for our irrigation water and fire fighting reserves. But no more. We have to think differently now. This is now the new normal. We have managed to get through the past few summers using our tank water storage. We have put a lot of effort into installing water tanks on every roof on our land. This has worked very well up until now, But this year we are not quite through spring and we have almost emptied one of our two large water tanks, mostly through watering the garden and orchards. With the global crisis deepening, I can see a time when we will run out of water before the end of summer in coming years.

The most pressing question on my mind right now is what will we use to fight bush fires in late summer and autumn. I guess that we will have to buy water and have it trucked in. Not a happy thought. In particular because when disaster strikes, every one will be wanting water delivered and only the regular customers will be getting service. I know how it works. We have never bought water for 40 years. We don’t even know who sells it these days. So we shouldn’t be relying on that to save us. In a funny quirk of fate, those of us in this village who are poorly prepared and always buy water, will get it, as they must, because they are the most needy. We, on the other hand, have spent our lives trying to be prepared as best that we can be, and are almost totally self-reliant, We will be the the ones to be left to fend for ourselves – as we always have.

Water storage is very finite and with every roof already having a water tank connected to it. Our options are limited. We have purchased a new, smaller sized, water tank every year now for the past 4 years. Installing those tanks on all the smaller tin roofs on the little sheds, and even the little railway station building has two. Just so that there isn’t any water allowed to be wasted. Once caught and held, then we can use it later at our discretion.

Having thought through the possibilities. We decided to up-grade to a much larger water tank on the barn. The barn has a huge roof, but only a relatively small 1,000 gallon/4,500 litre water tank that we put on there almost 20 years ago when we built the barn, to satisfy the local council building inspectors. We don’t use it for the garden at all. It is there with it’s own independent pump to supply the roof and wall sprinklers that I fitted to the building specifically for fire fighting. As it’s only been used twice in its life. It remains constantly full. However, when it rains and the tank overflows, I have the overflow connected into the plumbing system that delivers the water from all 3 big sheds into the 120,000 litre concrete water tank at the bottom of our block. This is the tank that is now almost empty. I can connect the new proposed tank in parallel with the old one. That way, I only need to do a bit of plumbing.

I realise that I can add a 7,500 gallon/35,000 litre water tank on the other side of the building. This is a significant exercise, cutting a 4.5 metre diameter level base through the top soil and placing 2 cubic metres of fine basalt dust, then spreading it and compacting it to make a solid base for the tank to sit on. I’ve been at this job since Friday last week. The base is done now, so I have turned my attention to the roof plumbing. I need to put in a syphon gutter system to take the water to the other side of the shed.

I wonder why it is that I seem to end up doing these jobs in such hot weather. Answer. every day is hot these days. Summer starts 3 months earlier and goes on for another 3 months longer. We are having 9 months of summer these past few years.

The old saying goes, When is the best time to plant a tree? The answer is, 20 years ago! That is also the answer to when I should have put in this larger tank, but I was already fully committed 20 years ago to installing the water tanks that we already do have now. So now is the best time for this new tank! When it rains again, as it most certainly will. We will fill this tank with rain water and be better off in the future. This is just forward planning!

So, today I’m digging this trench into rock hard dirt that is as tough as concrete. I end up having to use a crow bar and a pick to penetrate the soil. I give up pretty quickly and go and get the tractor to try ripping a groove into the hard packed, baked soil. I end up bending parts of the the tractor and need to go to the toy shop, formally known as the kiln factory, to put the bent and broken parts under the hydraulic press and bend them back into shape. If nothing else, I get to spend a few minutes out of the full sun, in the shade, in the shed, making good the repairs. I love the toy shop! I can fix almost anything in there – one way or another.

By the end of the day, I’m pretty rats, but the hole is dug and the pipes are laid and blue-glued together. The new lengths of guttering should be delivered tomorrow?! I should have it all back together by the day after. It can rain by the end of the week and I’ll be OK with that.

As for the new water tank, well, I haven’t even ordered that as yet. First things first. Watch this space !

At the end of this days tough work, I go to the garden and find that I can pick the first of this years crop of tomatoes. 3 red tomatoes, It’s the 26th of November. I can’t remember an earlier date for the first red tomato of the season. We can usually get a few before Xmas, but this is a whole month earlier than Xmas. If global warming is a communist plot to disrupt Western economies, as Donald Trump claimed, then, thank you to the Chinese Communist Party for these unseasonably early red tomatoes here in Australia. I wonder how they do it?

Maybe every dark cloud has a silver lining? I’d be happy just to see some clouds! Dark or otherwise.