Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Our world tilted slightly on it's axis on Thursday morning. Sara was at the wrong place at the wrong time and was struck by a car as she waited to cross a busy road in Camberwell. The good news is that she will be ok. She will need a while to recover from her injuries. She fractured her back in 4 places and ruptured her right glute. She is making wonderful progress. Once she gets discharged from hospital she will go to rehab for a little while. Then she'll come home to the farm to heal completely.

Workers repair a traffic light that fell and pinned a woman after a two car crash. Picture: Josie Hayden

Workers repair a traffic light that fell and pinned a woman after a two car crash. Picture: Josie Hayden
UPDATE 11.55am: Workmen are restoring traffic lights that fell on a pedestrian after a crash in Camberwell today.
The traffic light unit fell from the pole after the two car crash, pinning a woman to the ground and leaving her with head and back injuries.
The 20-year-old pedestrian was struck after two cars collided at the corner of Burke and Rathmines roads at 6.25am.
Ambulance Victoria spokesman Paul Bentley said the woman was briefly pinned under the light and was taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in a stable condition.
He said both drivers had also been taken to hospital, one to Box Hill and the other to The Alfred.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Earthy delights

It is early Saturday morning as I sit and write this week’s update. There has been thunder and lightning since around 5.30am. The rain started in the early hours of this morning. Yesterday was an oppressively hot and humid day, so the rain is a welcome relief. What is even better is that Frans mowed the lawns yesterday, so the rain is most welcome.

Sunrise earlier this week. No orange sky this morning.... just grey clouds speckled with lightning

Frans took this pic on one of his early morning walks

My week began with digging. And digging. My garden motto at the moment is “trial and error”. In September, when I first dug over the garden bed in that held last season’s potatoes, I pulled out all the potatoes that I could see and planted a variety of pumpkins, squashes and zucchinis. They all sprouted beautifully and started to grow. Then up came the potatoes again. I thought I could leave them and that the zucchinis and pumpkins would grow in between them. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the potatoes smothered everything. So I decided to start again. I really don’t want so many potatoes at the expense of the other vegies I would prefer to grow. So three days later, I finally had the garden bed cleared. I started by carefully working around any surviving plants I had planted, but it took too long. So in the end I just pulled out everything I could see. In the process I gathered over 10kgs of lovely new potatoes. I was then able to replant some corn, rockmelon, cucumber, zucchini, gem squash and pumpkin. Hopefully I can now keep the bed under control. If any potatoes show themselves, they’ll be coming right out!
The garden bed denuded of potatoes. I've left a few garlic stalks

This potato was enormous! But we didn't eat it. It was gnarled by a bush rat and would have been too watery as it was last season's seed.

Growing around the garden beds under the bird netting are clusters of garlic. I’ve not identified the variety yet, but I believe the garlic is “Russian Garlic”. This variety has single purply bulbs, not a cluster of cloves as we would usually buy in the supermarkets. The aroma is strong and heady.

This is what the garlic looks like when just pulled from the ground
My garlic plaiting skills leave much to be desired and I obviously need more practise. I'll have to see if there is a tutorial on Youtube!

The garlic planting guide is quite specific. Plant garlic before the longest night of the year, and harvest it before the shortest night. Well, it’s not yet December, and I’ve started pulling some garlic out of the ground. I figure if I can see the bulbs poking out of the soil, and the top growth is starting to wilt, then it must be ok. So there is the “trial and error” philosophy coming into play. I have pulled out a bunch of garlic and have plaited up a few hanks. They will need to dry for a week or two before the garlic will be just right. I refuse to buy imported garlic. To buy organic Australian garlic costs a fortune.  Why can’t Australians grow garlic?  I am more than happy to have our own supply of chemical free, farm grown garlic. We cannot use the term ‘Organic’ as we are not certified. In other words, we have not paid some organisation hundreds of dollars for the right to put a little sticker on our produce to say that we have complied with the principals of organic farming. Ridiculous. In the mean time, we will continue to practise organic farming methods. Ie. We will not use chemicals or artificial fertilisers. And we will not grow any genetically modified seeds.

If you are interested in Genetic Modification and the effects of this practise, then I recommend you watch a video by Vandana Shiva.
In the garden this week

And finally, the few evenings that I've made it to the lounge and watched a bit of telly, I've picked up my needles and have started another baby blanket. This one is being made using 100% cotton. I just love the candy stripes.

The pattern is very simple. Cast on 2 stitches. Knit a row. Then cast on one stitch on each end every two rows until you have used up 5 balls of yarn. Then simply start decreasing one stitch on every alternate row until you end up with 2 stitches again. This little blanket is great if you're knitting blankets for charity. All it takes is 10 balls of yarn. Depending on the yarn thickness, the size of the blanket will obviously be different. You can of course use any amount of balls you choose. Give it a try. I've made a couple of these blankets and they're great to knit as there is no 'purl' and you can almost knit it in the dark!

From green to blue in 300 easy steps!

When we bought this property, I was delighted that we would have a swimming pool. Now it’s not much to write home about, but it has water in it that will cool us down on a hot summer’s day! Our problem or challenge is that we know nothing about swimming pools. What’s more, Frans has never wanted one. Too much work to maintain he says. And he is probably right. But I am more of a cup half full person, and I’m optimistic about the pleasure we (and our visitors) will gain from this large lump of concrete resting in our front garden. Summer has begun and a few weeks ago the temperature changed quickly and we had a good dousing of rain. What does this do to a pool? Well, it turned ours from blue to green very quickly. Frans was not happy. Many hours (and quite a few dollars) were spent trying to get rid of the algae and get the pool back to its sparkling self. One of the necessary requirements was to keep the water level topped up so the filter would work properly. The only problem is that we are on tank water. The tank that feeds the pool had a blocked pipe underground and the water was not topping up the pool. So Frans had to somehow attach a tap to the bottom of the tank and then run a garden hose directly into the pool. Our friend John came over to witness “Operation Pool Fix”. He brought his camera. He was certain that he would get a shot of Frans being showered when he broke the seal on the tank. Sadly, there was no gushing water. Frans was too quick and he hardly got wet at all. Disappointing for all of us watching him from a distance! The upshot of this saga is that Frans has successfully restored the water to what it should be. It is once again a lovely clear sparkly blue. And yesterday we had our first swim, the first of many I hope.
Top left to bottom right: John at the ready waiting for a gush of water, Frans attaching a tap with only a little spray, the pool as it was and finally the pool at sunrise a few mornings ago. Crystal clear and blue.

 Beside the workshop shed we have a small paddock. The previous owners used it as their tip. They burned rubbish here and threw all sorts of metal bits into the grass. They also allowed their cows to graze in this area which meant the area was very uneven with great big holes in the ground from the hoof imprints made by the cattle. We’re not sure what we are going to do with this area yet. I’m thinking about turning it into more vegie beds. But in the meantime, in order for Frans to be able to keep this spot neat, he needs to mow it and that is difficult because of the unevenness of the ground.  Our friendly neighbour Graham offered to level the area with his tractor. He has a thingamajig on the back of his old tractor that tills the soil quite finely. So he came across and over a few hours he levelled the area for us.
Graham on his old tractor
The process took a while as he had to make repairs to his tractor a number of times. He kept catching his rotor blades on metal bits hiding in the ground. Frans walked the area constantly to pick up the rubbish he could see, but there were obviously hidden surprises in the ground. Eventually the area was tilled and the old tractor escaped without too much damage!
Just some of the rubbish Frans collected in the paddock
A few quite beers were all Graham would accept as payment. Frans will help him when he’s ready to do a ‘2 man’ task on his property. We now have a nice flat spot. It is ready for planting.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chicken Palace Cleanup

One of the big jobs we have been putting off for a while now is cleaning out the chook palace. This is a task that needs to be done properly at least twice a year. All the old straw and chicken droppings have to be removed and lime has to be sprinkled over the dirt before a new layer of straw or hay can be laid down. The lime serves as a deodoriser and also kills off any mites that may bother the chooks. The stuff that gets removed is added to the compost heap. This stuff is pure gold. In a few months our vegies will benefit from the rich compost that will be created from this animal waste. The main challenge with cleaning out the chook shed is that the dust that is stirred up is a health hazard, and breathing masks have to be worn. So we bit the bullet and got to it! It was hot and dirty work. Between every load of muck, we had to escape outside to take in gulps of fresh air.
Frans shovelling...

While we were creating a sandstorm inside the chook pen, one of the hens was sitting in her brood box. She’d become clucky. She had been sitting in that box for nearly 2 days. Frans had removed an egg from under her the day before, but she’d not moved. The dust and the banging of our spades and forks did not seem to phase her. She just eyed us from her little window.

No amount of discomfort was going to move this hen out of her brood box.

Many, many wheel burrows later, we finally shovelled the last spade of old floor matter out of the chook house. All that was left was for me to load up a few burrow loads of new, fresh hay. I love scooping or peeling off the hay from the big roll that sits in the yard. It’s like peeling layers off an onion, except you’re using a garden fork and the peels are wads of grass. I know why the term ‘hay fever’ is used. Tiny dust particles fly around your face as you load up on the fresh stuff. It smells good. But it makes you sneeze. For days! The chook palace has now got a lovely fresh layer of hay in it.

New hay. Clean house.

Nala always close to the action

We had an ‘over the fence’ chat with Graham from next door while we were busy in the yard. We mentioned our broody chook. He said to come over and get some fertilised eggs and to let her sit on them. We don’t have a rooster, so our eggs will never become little chicks. So we wandered over to Graham and Lorraine for a drink and a chat. A while later we came home with a carton of fertilised eggs. I drew little smiley faces on them so we would not confuse them with any of the regular eggs that could potentially end up in the same brood box. 

Could these twelve eggs improve our production statistics?

As it was dark when we stepped into the chook palace, we had to use a torch to fumble our way about. It was funny to see three chooks sitting high up on the perches with their heads pointing towards the wall. It was as if they were in the ‘naughty corner’.

Chooks high up on the perches after dark

Our broody hen, Roast, was still in the box. So Frans carefully placed the twelve eggs into a straw lined box, then gingerly manoeuvred the hen from the box she was sitting in onto her new potential family of chicks!

Smiley eggs... Smiley chicks?

Frans coaxing Roast out of the box she'd been sitting in

Roast sitting on her new clutch of 12 eggs

We were reminded by Graham not to count our chickens before they hatched! But gee, it will be so great if Roast manages to be a good surrogate mum and keep those little babies warm for the next 20 days. In the meantime, we need to ensure that she leaves the box once a day for 30 minutes or so to eat and drink. The eggs also need to cool down occasionally. If these eggs do hatch, then we (I mean Frans) will have more work to do. A separate enclosure needs to be constructed as the chicks and the hen need to be separated from the rest of the brood for around six weeks. Only then will the chicks be ready to be introduced to the rest of the gang. I still can’t help myself from counting our chickens…. We could be going from four to sixteen…. But we will wait and see!

Our text books are being thumbed through constantly. Lunch times are spent researching answers to our bucolic challenges! Next we will be looking at designs for moblie chicken coops....

Snake Tales

There are times when a chore has to be done that you weren’t planning on doing any time soon. Circumstances force your hand into action. My case in point is the wood pile that has been sitting just inside the back yard next to the duck pen for the past few weeks. It’s been drying there until we were ready to move it to a sheltered spot under cover. However, there are many tasks on the ‘to do’ list, and this task was not at the top of the list. Yet.

This little tale has two parts to it. So I’ll start at the beginning….

Living in the country has its own quirks and challenges. In the city we took for granted that every Monday morning, the council would send along a dump truck to collect our rubbish and recycling. Not so in our rural patch of paradise, West of Melbourne. We have to save our rubbish and take it to the refuse station ourselves. Now you have to be organised to do this as the station is not even open every day. The drop off days are every three or four weeks. You go the council and purchase a booklet of tickets. You need one ticket for every bin of regular rubbish you want to dispose of. A ticket costs $4. If you want to dispose of your recycling (glass bottles, plastic and paper) it’s free. Nice of them!  

Frans has done a rubbish ‘run’ once since we moved here. He took the main roads and it took him forever to get there and back. When he mentioned this to our neighbour Graham, he found out that there was a short cut. So I decided to go with him this time. He was going to go through the State Forest and needed my ‘expert’ navigation skills. Frans loaded the trailer with three big bins (one rubbish and two recycling). We were just about ready to hop into the car when out of the corner of his eye he spotted a snake on the wood pile. (I told you there were two parts to this story… here comes the second part). He bolted into action. (pun intended!) I was instructed to keep an eye on the woodpile while he rushed into the house to get his rifle. Yeah right. I stood at what I thought was a safe distance from the pile and kept a vigilant eye on it, hoping I wouldn’t see any movement! The hunter was back in a few minutes (he’d had to unlock the house and retrieve his weapon) and his adrenalin button switched on. He took aim and let off two shots in quick succession. Got the tail. He thinks. Great. Not the head which would give us a sense of safe relief, but the tail. He then hurriedly passed the rifle to me and told me to keep watching the pile and he manically started throwing cut wood blocks away from the heap. Wood was flying in all directions.
A very scattered wood pile before we started sorting it

He was hoping that he had injured the snake and that it would still be somewhere in the middle of the pile. Did I mention that it was a tiger snake? Oh.. well… yes. One of the most deadly snakes in Australia.  So I stood guard in my turquoise linen shirt, with a rifle held tightly in front of me, barrel pointing to the sky (safety has to be observed at all times even when you may need to aim at a snake in a flash..) How surreal my life had become at that point. Well, we never saw the snake, and the rubbish had to be driven through the forest before the refuse station closed. So we turned our backs on the snake and headed down the farm driveway.

We headed down to the refuse station through the forest and through some of the prettiest countryside in the district. The hills are lush and green after all the winter and spring rains. We drove around 15kms to the refuse point. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what we arrived at. Refuse stations in the city are large, sophisticated set ups with many areas designated for different items of disposal. There are usually a number of bulldozers shovelling piles of rubbish together and the stench is usually quite aromatic! There is also usually a queue of cars and a fair bit of noise. But we were no longer in the city. Silly me. We drove up to the local oval in the village of Gellibrand. The sign at the turnoff indicated “Refuse Station”. The station turned out to be a dump truck parked beside the footy oval. Next to the truck was a wire cage the size of our duck pen, in other words, not very big. And that was it. It was quiet and we were the only customers.  The rubbish contractor was a friendly enough fellow. He was dressed for the occasion of receiving trash. He wore a grey singlet (wife beater) over a pair of stained grey trackie dacks. To finish off his ensemble, he wore a good pair of steel capped work boots and a brown woollen beanie. He had no upper teeth, but then it was Sunday, so he was probably in a relaxed frame of mind. Frans and Mr Brown Beanie sorted the rubbish. It took a while. We had not separated our recycling, so this had to be done beside the truck.  Eventually the job was done and we bid the man farewell and we were on our way again.

So back to the snake…. The next morning, we started sorting out the wood that was now lying scattered across a larger area of the yard. We had no option but to stack the wood that had been home to a creepy crawly for who knows how long. It was a task we took to tentatively. Thick leather gloves, workboots and sunnies were donned . Frans made sure the rifle was ready for quick action.
Rifle at the ready....
We passed and stacked wood, working like an experienced chain gang.  All the while we were careful when disturbing another piece of wood on the pile. An hour or so later, we completed the task of creating a new wood stack. And no snake. Nada. Nothing. Zip. But, the upside is that the woodpile looks like an art installation and the ducks are safer for it. There is nothing prettier than a wood stack that you have stacked yourself!

Even the ducks approve of the new wood stack!

There are all sorts of dangers in the country....
This fellow made himself at home in Frans' car!

Then there are the dangers you create for yourself! Frans cut some of the branches that fell down onto the chook shed. We've called a contractor to come and remove some of the tree branches to make the area safer. But he still hasn't turned up. This is aparently a common theme in the country. Good tradies are hard to come by!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fire season is here

We live in the Otways. Fire danger is a real threat. So preparing for the fire season is a task that every landowner needs to undertake. It means clearing long grass and generally getting your farm debris free. A big job. One of the challenges that rural folk face during the fire season is electricity cuts. Fires may rage 20 kms away, but if a power line is down that you get your supply from, then you have no power. No power means you cannot run water. Water is driven to the tap by a pump which runs on electricity. It means your fridges and freezers are no longer functioning. You cannot flush the toilet. The pump won’t work to refill the toilet cistern. So as a backup precaution, a generator is required. We bought a new ‘you beaut’ little number. The next task was to make sure that the process of switching from grid fed power to our generator worked seamlessly. This is where Stephen comes into his own. Give the man a screwdriver and some live wires and he’s in his element. He rigged up new switches, fixed some flickering lights and generally made the house more ‘electricity safe’. He did the same at our friends John and Norma’s place. Rigged up their generator for easy use and fixed an outdoor sensor light. It’s the old saying, “it’s not what you know, but WHO you know”! Thanks Stephen. Good job! You have four happy customers.

Frans burning off a small pile of rubbish. A still day with no wind is needed for this job. And then don't walk away till it's all done.

Stephen and his apprentice! We're now all set with our backup power source.

Long weekends....

It was a long weekend in Melbourne to celebrate Melbourne Cup on the 1st of November. Alan (Frans’ nephew) and his lovely wife Sonja and their little girl Amelie came down on Saturday. Sara and Stephen arrived in time for dinner. We had a lovely weekend together. Amelie exhaustd herself running after Nala, the ducks and chooks. Sunday was a lazy day. The boys went off to a woodwork exhibition in the morning while the girls did some net damage repair. We also potted up some herb cuttings for Sonja to take back to the city. It was cold and rainy. So we lit a fire and ‘hung out’ in the lounge room.

The garden is showing us different colours every week

Spring is the time for new life. Frans found this little bird in his shed. The mum was hovering close by.

Sonja fixing the netting

Sonja has a new hobby! She's on a roll....

What do you do after Sunday lunch? Veg out in front of the fire. Bliss.

Yep, I'm shovelling.... Hay for the cattle.

Happy beasts. Eileen and Agnus with their little ones.

Stephen checking on his ducks.

And then there were four.....

As any farmer knows, keeping your flock safe is a major consideration. We had not yet experienced the loss of any of our small menagerie. So this past weekend when Sara noticed the chickens running for their little feathered lives, she knew something was up. She went outside to see what had scared them and couldn’t find anything. But she did count four chickens instead of five. Frans went looking and found the missing chook. She’d become fox food. Bugger. It was Stir Fry, the little white bum feathered hen.

Having one less laying hen has meant our egg production is down by 20%. A big loss by any account. We will need to replace our dearly departed chook soon. In the meantime, Frans is on the hunt!
Watch out Mr Fox!

I posted a pic of our super dooper big bum buster egg last week. Well, I finally decided I'd crack it. And what a cracker it is!

Can you guess which was the big egg?