"We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependant on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do."
—Wendell Berry

Thursday, 27 September 2012


It is with a heavy heart that I say Maximus, my faithful dog, is dead.
Yesterday he and I went for our morning walk about the property as we do every day. At eleven I discovered him fitting violently and bleeding from the mouth. Sometime that morning he had been bitten by a snake and was in the final death throes. I called the vet who agreed with me that there was almost no hope of saving him.
Then I killed my beautiful dog to end his suffering as quickly as I could. I shot him through the head. It tore my heart out.
Max was not the best dog I have ever had, nor was he the worst. He was a good mate and stayed by me through thick and thin. He was always a quiet companion and trusted me absolutely. He loved doing whatever I was doing and just liked being with me. He was a good dog.
We buried him in the orchard by the apple trees. I don't mind telling you I cried like a child. I have a lot more love for a good dog than I have for the vast bulk of humanity.

Late that afternoon, Alessa our other dog, came down with tremors and vomiting. She had been bitten sometime in the afternoon but was still in the early stages of the venom. I rushed her to the vet in town where she was given antivenene. The vet then sent me home and promised to call with an update. He warned me the situation was not good though. He called later that night and said there had been a small improvement. This morning he called early to say she had survived the night and appeared to be getting better but was definitely not out of the woods yet.

I now have the problem that I apparently have a large and aggressive venomous snake somewhere about the property that I am going to have to deal with. I don't really blame the snake to be fair. It was only defending itself form a threat. But if it decides my wife or son is a threat? Unfortunately I have decided that I must kill it should the opportunity present itself.
I don't really know why I am even writing this all here except that I suppose the good comes with the bad and so, in a way, you have a right to know. This is the life we have chosen to live and therefore it is part of the whole story.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Ham and bacon- finally

Well I couldn't wait any longer for the cold room to be ready. It's not. So I have had to make do and slaughter one of the remaining Baconers anyway. They are just getting too big and will soon be too large to handle. As it was I estimate the one we did today was around one hundred and fifty kilos. Big pig.
Slowly pouring the scalding water on.
This allows the bristles and outer layer of skin to be removed.

The scald went well this time. I have had a bit of advice from an ex-butcher friend. He recommended pouring the hot water on rather than dipping the pig. It is a lot easier even if it does take a bit longer. Also he said to use a shovel for the scrape. It allows you to cover the big sides easily and quickly which is a big help when you have to do the whole thing on your own, as I was. We used the tractor to move the pig from where it was killed to the slaughter area and to haul up the pig on the gambrel. Afterwards I cut the carcasse into forequarters, bacon sides and hams. I then put it all into the freezer to cool down for a few hours.
Well I weigh around 120kg, so I can assure you the pig was a LOT heavier!

Later in the afternoon I made up a curing mix of coarse salt, brown sugar and saltpetre. I then took the hams from the freezer where they had cooled but not frozen (frozen is bad if you want to cure the meat) and trimmed them up to look a little more presentable. In fact I had to remove the top of the hams containing the H bone so they would fit into the fridge I was to use. So we ended up with a couple of extra roasts. The hams were then well rubbed and packed with the mix before each being laid on a shelf of the fridge. Then the bacon sides were likewise trimmed up and salted before being packed two to a shelf- the weight helps them cure. They will be re-packed every so often to ensure they all cure evenly. The fridge itself has been turned down to about three degrees which is the optimum temperature for curing ham.
The top two shelves are bacon slabs.
Ham on the bottom two shelves.

With the remaining forequarters and all of the leftover odds and bobs I will be making salami (Italian style and Chorizo) and sausages. In the kitchen is a great big bubbling pot of odd trimmings from the bacon sides. Salted and spiced, it will be kept boiling for about a day before being poured into pans and cooled to make Brawn. Sort of like a gelatinous meatloaf, it is absolutely delicious between two slices of bread and is very good for you.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Hot sweaty and satisfying

As ever, the work goes on.
There is always plenty to do on the farm. When we took over the place it was pretty run down and there is a lot of work needed just to bring it up to working order. Then there is the work needed to build everything we need to be able to make it do what we want. So when we first moved in we spent six months planning the layout needed and facilities we would have to install. We revisit this list each year and make necessary adjustments. I would guess we are about halfway through the planned improvements and mostly through the renovations.

View from mid-orchard looking towards the creek.
These last few days we have been clearing unwanted regrowth in the orchard. I first cleared the orchard area about five years ago. It was rank with regrowth and weeds of all sorts. It is sited on a southerly slope towards the creek and gets good midday and afternoon sun. A poor area for grazing but would be ideal for an orchard. First though I needed clear the area and although I did most of the work I was unable to finish before the wet season came. Somehow I never really managed to get back to it until now. We had to cut out several big trees, something I never like doing I must admit, but there would be too much shade cast and root competition for fruit trees to grow otherwise. I did leave one bleeding heart for now as there is a Currawong nesting in it at the moment.
A Currawong nest really just looks like a pile of sticks.
You can just see the Mums head silhouetted.

The work was certainly hard but very satisfying. We removed the temporary fence between the orchard and the house yard allowing us to plant an even larger area out. I must admit I like the more open area.
View from mid-orchard back towards the house.

We will be planting a selection of citrus (lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit etc- which grow like weeds in this area), tropical variety stone fruit, apples, pears, figs and a variety of tropical fruit such as sapote, bananas and carambola.

A while back I found a turkey nest in a rather poorly chosen location near the road. So I pinched the eggs and placed them under a broody hen on the off chance they might still be fertile. The turkey hen apparently got the idea and started a new nest in a much better location. The duck, not to be left out also started a nest in the cows paddock. There were too many eggs laid for her to sit so I stole some of them too and put them under another broody hen. Yesterday both broodies managed to hatch out their clutches of stolen eggs. Good girls.
Unlikely siblings, one of the ducklings and one poult.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Snake summer

It looks like we will have a snake summer this year. Already had several encounters and the weather has not even warmed up yet. Had to kill a Taipan in the house yesterday. I didn't really want to but they are just too damn dangerous to muck about with. I felt quite sorry for the little fellow, he was about 120 centimetres, so not really big but unfortunately he was well and truly large enough to be lethal and I have a child in the house. So I donged him and removed him from the house.
This is a file photo.
I had other worries than taking pictures at the time!

Last week we had a red bellied black snake hanging around the back veranda. They are poisonous sure but are usually quite placid and unlikely to kill an adult but could possibly be fatal to a child. So this time I gently trapped him and released him in the rain forest at the bottom of the orchard. I thought he took it rather well actually.
I had two encounters with some largish scrub pythons in the month before. I don't mind them around though because they will keep vermin down. Once they get large enough to eat a chook I bag them up and let them go out in the bush well away from man. There are always plenty of smaller ones around to take their place.
Lastly I caught a brief glimpse of something large and fast near the chook shed last week. Don't know what it was but it does make us keep a wary eye out.
Snake summer.
Some years you hardly see one and the next you are dodging them weekly.

Monday, 10 September 2012


Spring here is really beautiful. The weather is still a little chilly at night and the days are just right to do heavy jobs out in the sun without getting cooked. The pink cedars are blooming with huge sprays of creamy white flowers and are heavy with bees. The whole tree hums when you walk beneath it.

The cement water tank is complete. Thanks Jim for your very useful advice! Made the job a lot easier I can tell you. I still have to make a new top for the whole affair but it can wait for now. I managed to blow the motor on the cement mixer. I was busily mixing cement when great clouds of smoke came billowing out all in a rush. Bad language and disappointment. The electrician quoted me $400 for a new motor! How &^%*$#! much??? I could almost buy a whole new cement mixer for that. I used to use old washing machine motors for this sort of thing but as the Child bride would most likely get upset if I took it from the current machine I had to look elsewhere. My workshop yielded a motor of the correct specifications from a spare Chinese made planer and after I shelled out to have the switch wired in and a new pulley bored out to suit the drive shaft, I had a running mixer again. Nowhere near the $400 quoted. No job ever goes exactly to plan.

Having finished the tank I moved on to some of the many other jobs I have queued.

Planting out more trees in the orchard. A Lisbon lemon and a Kaffir lime. We already have several Macadamias, a grapefruit, two black sapote, one carambola, three apples and three tropical variety stonefruit which from memory are peaches and nectarines. I have a small bamboo at the bottom of the orchard to supply canes for trellises in the veggie garden and I did plant out a half dozen Arabica coffee bushes but I think the forest pademelons like them and they have mostly been eaten.

For a break I picked up a tonne of sawn timber from a farm near Mareeba down in the dry lands. Yellow stringybark, Ironbark and Bluegum mostly. Good timber for building with. Most of it will go into the wall frames in the new chook pens. While rainforest timbers can yield some lovely cabinet timber they are no good for use in building, so down to the dry lands I go.

I have also been cleaning up the veggie garden ready for the excavator to move in and terrace it out so I can erect the hot-house. I took the opportunity to pot up some of the plants I really don't want to lose. Comfrey which is finally coming good after sulking for a year, some horseradish and a dozen grape vine canes I heeled in last year. They were a kind present from the father in law. They are all unknown old heritage varieties still grown by some of the old Italian and Spanish families down Brisbane way. Apparently they make good wine. I planted them to see which would thrive in our climate and today I dug up the survivors. Getting them out was no mean feat, those roots went deep. One day they will cover the trellis over our pergola where the bread oven is to go.

Plenty more to do besides! Before the wet season I need to replace a stump under the house and possibly re-sheet the weather side roof on the house, put up the hot house and get the veggie garden going. Fun and hard work, which is also fun.


Don't come any closer, this turkey is loaded!

I was doing the last coat of render in the water tank when we had a visit from our local evangelical terrorists. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against anyone having their own beliefs as long as they will accept a polite "no thank you" as an answer when invited to join their church/ coven/ blood sacrifice ritual/ political party. It's just that the buggers always turn up when I have my hands full.

This lot consisted of three elderly ladies in a giant four wheel drive. They were very polite and accepted defeat with good grace when an echoing voice from inside the water tank might have said "either roll yer sleeves up and get stuck in or else piss off yer pack of bloody itinerants...". The child bride, bless her, translated my vague directions as; "He said no thank-you" or possibly claimed it was the frogs in the tank having a chorus. I couldn't quite hear.

Meanwhile the erstwhile Gobbles, self appointed guard bird and anti-salesman defence system, had been girding his loins and was even now entering battle with an interloper that the invaders had unwittingly brought with them. For there, strutting up and down in the shiny new city-clean car, was a large and obviously belligerent tom turkey... So the invaders thought they could fight fire with fire did they? Clearly they had not encountered this particular bird before. Nevertheless Gobbles had to admit this bird had all of the moves. Each peck and thrust was met with a perfectly timed counter thrust, each wing beat was met instantly with the same. Even his puffed up displays, looking like a beach-ball sized feather duster, were faced with an identical display from the enemy.

So as the three old dears loaded up the child bride with copies of magazines such as "The users guide to the pop-up Karma Sutra", "Modern Pagan sacrifice techniques" and "Watchtower" that they hoped would convert the heathens but will ultimately end up as firelighters, they gradually became aware that their vehicle was now under siege as a sad example of mentally deranged poultry did battle with its reflection. Pausing only to drench the turkey with holy water they beat a hasty retreat to the vehicle and locked themselves in as Gobbles lurched across the farmyard screaming "It burns, it burns....".
The last I saw of their big shiny four wheel drive was a cloud of dust with an enraged turkey in hot pursuit. One tough turkey. Gobbles 1, Holy rollers 0.
Gobbles the victorious.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Jims missing post

I managed to retrieve Jims missing post and have pasted it here. Thanks Jim- this information is far too good to leave out.

Jim has left a new comment on your post "On rendering a water tank":

Ulf that is a lot of hard work but at the end of it you will be happy because you have been able to recycle something and there is nothing better than drinking water stored in a concrete tank.
I have rendered 5 tanks and cut my teeth on another three.
The first tank I was knowingly involved with was when I was about 6 or 7 by which time Dad had already done 2 others only a couple or so years before hand (I just don't remember them but have photos to show I was around from about age 3). His first two were 2,000 gallons each and the next was 1,000 gallons. I was involved with 2 other 1,000 gallon tanks during my teens.
Move on to nearly 30 and my wife and I had just moved to a new job and "new" home. The water setup was terrible and the first holiday I had was christmas day and we prepared to render a 1,000 gallon tank. It was very hot and exhausting but we got the job done in the day, even carrying sand and cement up a bank and mixing it by hand on a sheet of flattened iron. Over the next 15 years I rendered another four 1,000 gallon tanks.
We never used chicken wire to reinforce the inside and only made the render 25mm deep on top of the rungs.
I painted bondcrete (or cemstik which is only pva glue) inside the tank on the iron surface a day or two beforehand then mixed about 5 drops into the render mix. Also in the render mix which was in the ratio of 3:1 sand and cement were 2 drops of liquid detergent. I have never used lime but a lot of mixes do recommend it.
As you say start at the bottom and move up working on 3 or 4 rungs at a time. A trick I worked out was I would fill in the valley all way around then follow up with the top coat finishing it off before moving up to the next 3-4 rungs.
Once it starts going off mist a little water on the lower surface so it doesn't dry too much. After the job is completed I always misted water over the walls every couple of hours during sunup to prevent over drying too quickly because it is only a thin coat of render and the galvanised tank too picks up a lot of heat.
On one tank we had some cracks develop (probably slight slumping) and I painted over the fine cracks with a cement/water paste.
After about 5 days I would fill the tank.
As far as I know the tanks I did some 15 to 30 years ago are still going and I am sure the ones done 50+ years ago are still serviceable too.