Mon Abri MkII update

16 06 2018

It’s been busy here for the past month or so since we started coming out of the ground… As I type, the masonry work is as good as finished, weather permitting will be so next Monday. So on a rainy weekend – and I have to say we’ve been so lucky weather-wise – I’ve decided to update you all on the progress.

I started with 24 pallets of blocks, and it looks like we’ll have almost three left over, even after the numerous broken ones found beneath the plastic wrap around the pallets. Beats me how everything is plastic wrapped now, even concrete blocks…

Mark the Irish block layer has done a wonderful job….. he may be six years younger than me, but us old farts can sure work when the pressure’s on!

Having fitted the electrics on top of the first course, it occurred to me that dropping

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Marking blocks for cutting

concrete from a great height onto the plastic conduit spanning almost 400mm between the block webs might not be a good idea, so I filled the bottom course by hand to support all that hard work. Didn’t want to find out after the core filling that my power cables didn’t work anymore! 

Then I had to cut all corner specials with my father in law’s 40 year old 9″ angle grinder that still works as good as new. Lots of dust and noise and concentration to ensure it’s all cut right, but after a couple of days it was all done, ready for Mark’s craftsmanship. Originally, I thought I’d need Caleb’s young muscles to move blocks, but in the end I managed to keep up with Mark, and we worked really well as a team. I’m now an experienced bricky’s labourer…..

It’s amazing just how much weight is in all this stuff. 400kg of cement alone; 2 tonnes of sand; and that’s before you add in the 27 tonnes of blocks, all the steel inside the blocks, and the (guessing, haven’t done the maths yet) ~20 tonnes of concrete we’ll need to core fill the walls. It might all seem unsustainable, but I remind myself that this house contains a mere fraction of the concrete in a wind turbine’s foundation… and it won’t need any energy whatsoever to keep us warm.

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We got great quality timber from the last five logs

Then out of the blue, the sawmillers came back to finish cutting the five remaining logs that have been waiting eighteen months for their appointment with the blade… the mill itself was supposed to be gone by now, but sadly Pete’s partner had a cerebral haemorrhage on the very last day they worked here, and last I heard she was still with us but on life support. Between that and my 93 year old mother in law taking a fall and breaking her wrist and cracking her pelvis, I now take every day I wake up in the morning as a bonus. Life sure is full of surprises, and some are not pleasant at all….. hopefully everyone will get better.

 

I unloaded Pete’s old truck on my own, let me tell you I’m getting fit…..

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Only the two eastern internal walls to go…

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Electrics ready for the next course of blocks

Now the walls are up, a feeling for the way the house flows is becoming obvious, and as we are virtually at the winter solstice, it’s great to see how my design embraces that solar gain we get when the sun does its trick….. every single room gets bathed in sunlight.

 

All the electrics from the power station and sundry power cables disappearing below the slab are now ready for the eventual joining together in a switchboard, once the roof is up and they can’t get rained on……

There were two regrets at my last build….. not having enough thermal mass inside, and not cutting the tops of the walls to follow the raked ceilings. Both those things have been corrected with this house….. it means even more block cutting, but years down the road I will have forgotten all about it!

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The ‘stink pipe’ for both compost toilets have been fitted, and there’s even a starter threaded bar sticking out of the top of the wall to hold down and fasten the horizontal beams that will one day support the roof above what I call ‘the pointy bit’ that reaches into the hill… lots to think about, can’t afford to forget any details when you cast your design in concrete!  Now all I need is the right weather to pump some concrete in those blocks…….

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Tie down bar…..

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….in situ, with the whole column core filled

 

 

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Finally…… out of the ground.

25 04 2018

Since pouring the house slab, almost six weeks ago, quite a bit has happened on the Fanny Farm. To start with, the concrete suppliers came to the party regarding that last load that went off as soon as it was poured….  they knew they’d screwed up, there were no arguments, and the rep asked me what I wanted, and I told him, and he said OK. So I’m not paying for that load, and they supplied self levelling concrete to rectify the wonky end of the house, which I will do once the walls are up……  frustrating all the same.

My daughter and I harvested 400kg of Geeveston Fannies, which were taken next door and turned into almost 200 litres of Cider. I have such a bumper crop this year, I’m afraid that due to other pressures, like building, a lot of my apples will simply go to waste….. I just can’t do everything.

IMG_20180415_090227It even snowed on Hartz. I took my Belgian wwoofer Nelle up the hill to show her Australian Alpine landscape, and she was amazed at how different it looks compared to Europe. When it snows there, it rains down on the farm, and threeIMG_20180414_133644 days went by with virtually nothing happening…. very frustrating….. though Nelle did finish braiding my garlic for me, now hanging decoratively from the shed rafters…. and hopefully keeping vampires away!

With the weather improving, we started moving blocks onto the slab in preparation for Mark the blocklayer’s arrival. He has now laid the first course of every block wall in the house, and it’s my task to install the first fit of wiring and plumbing.

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Because an entire pallet of half blocks – conveniently behind the huge stack of blocks – had collapsed towards the dam, I decided to move them all, and the three pallets in front of it…  I started this process with a wheelbarrow, but quickly realised this was the slow way to do things, and ended up using the ute – what would I do without a ute? – which could shift six wheelbarrow loads at a time, with the blocks at a convenient height for unloading….. four down, twenty to go. Caleb will have to come back!

Thanks to the stuff up with the last load of concrete at the end of the big pour which meant I was not there for a full hour to supervise the finishing, the surface where the blocks had to go was less than perfect, and so it took Mark two days to

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One of the many cut blocks that will make this wall a reality….

lay the first course. he did a fine job though, and the rest of the work will be a breeze, he tells me, after I’ve cut all the corner ones to fit, a noisy dusty job if ever there was one.

Nelle quickly picked up the skills required to become a bricky’s labourer, mixing mud for Mark and barrowing it onto his mud boards while I was cutting.

Now that all the masonry walls are laid out with only the front stud wall as yet not visible, the entire layout of the house is becoming more obvious, and I like the way it flows….

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The next step was for me to lay out the wiring for all the power points in the house, and put in the connections to the power station once the wall is high enough.

A lot of thought prior to the pour went into this, because once done, it’s all cast in concrete, never to be altered! Do it once, do it properly……

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Simple power point connection

The connections to the underslab wiring to the bathrooms was a bit tricky, because there wasn’t much room for three bell connectors inside the T shaped junction boxes. It was all tested for continuity, and once it’s all cast in concrete when the blocks are core filled, those wires will never move!

I have to add I don’t recommend ANYONE do their own wiring like this unless they know exactly what they are doing…. not a job for rank amateurs…….

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Not a lot of room to maneuvre… nothing a little silicone can’t fix.

Next job is the bathroom plumbing, but that won’t take long, and Mark can come back and lay more courses on top of this one so we can start building the house’s backbone…… it’s actually starting to get quite exciting!





On Electro Magnetic Pulses

6 04 2018

In between visits from my better half and children, wwoofers helping on the Fanny Farm, I tend to spend a lot of time on my own, often working away alone for days and hours. One way I keep myself entertained and fend loneliness, is by listening to podcasts I download onto my smart phone. Last year, I discovered Radio Ecoshock….  I highly recommend it for realists like me interested in keeping up with the latest news on energy, climate change, peak oil, the failing economy, etc etc etc……

I don’t agree with everything some interviewees come up with, but then again, neither does Alex Smith, the owner of the site……. he has interviewed John Michael Greer, Nicole Foss, Raul Illargi, Richard Heinberg, and many other luminary futurists I follow. I highly recomend it.

Dr Peter Pry

A couple of weeks ago, I downloaded a file in which Dr  Peter Pry who is Director of the U.S. Task Force on National and Homeland Security; you’d have to give him the benefit of the doubt that he does know what he’s talking about!

Now I had heard of Electro Magnetic Pulses, but only on the occasional prepper TV show I might have inadvertently come across. Because I had only ever heard about these from preppers, whom I frankly think are nutcases, I dismissed the whole idea as a crank conspiracy theory…… but now, I’m not so sure.

EMPs of the non nuclear types are not things you can do anything about, unlike the list of man made disasters mentioned above; I will therefore not lose any sleep over a sudden solar burst that takes out civilisation, que sera sera.

However having listened to this podcast, I started wondering what would happen to my solar power station. After all, the electronics that keep my batteries going and the inverter that turns the energy into something useful are crammed full of fragile electronics that could potentially be taken out by an EMP.

What I discovered blew me away……. for starters, EMPs will not damage solar panels. Tick. nor the batteries. Tick.  The electronics, however, are highly vulnerable, and would stop working. Untick.

Because Dr Pry mentioned that one way of protecting your electronics is by storing them in a Faraday Cage, I then began investigating how effective a shipping container might be as such a device; and lo and behold, it turns out that if properly grounded, containers are very effective indeed…. I might just add another grounding rod just to make sure.

Putting my power station in a shipping container may well turn out to have been an inadvertent stroke of genius…. I’m just putting this info out there for anyone else to consider. What do you have to lose?

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Faraday Cage at the end of the Rainbow

 





The UFO has landed…….

18 03 2018

Mon Abri Mk II has often been described as, due to its unusual footprint, something that could fly, and then on the slab day my mate Phil called it a UFO, so I think that will sort of stick now…

Pouring the slab has been twelve months in the making, with humungous earthworks and footings that ensure this house will never move even in an earthquake, it’s been a real labour of love. Well, lots of labour anyway. I never thought it would take this long, but here I’m at the mercy of the weather and Tasmanian laid back attitudes….  I now go with the flow, I’m too old to start fights!

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My daughter Claire’s been here for well over a week, and we prepared for the epic pour by first cleaning off all the mud and organic matter and other crap that since the footings were done was blown into the area by the frequent windy weather. Lots of pressure cleaning, and then wet vacuuming all the mud out, in some attempt at ensuring the new concrete would stick to the old. Two days work there, and I don’t even know if it was actually necessary, but it made me feel better, and I needed that to destress…. that little job took 1200 litres of water (from the dam) and was entirely powered from the power station that worked like a charm…..  I could not be more pleased with my off grid system.

It might have been an omen, but the pour day didn’t exactly start as planned. Since my first winter here, when the temperature outside my bedroom can often go down to zero or less, I’ve been using a bucket full of sawdust to pee in so that I don’t have to get all dressed up and go outside. This works great, doesn’t smell, and makes great additions to my compost system. Until that is, the handle rusts off the bucket at 4:45AM , and it all gets spilled on the bloody carpet! Fortunately for Claire, she had woken up herself for a toilet break, because I had no other option than to use up the next half hour sucking it all up with the vacuum cleaner luckily still in wet mode. Needless to say, I wasn’t going back to sleep, which was just as well, because the pump turned up half an hour early, in the pitch dark….. Panic station started early.

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Pouring at dawn was a new experience

All my helpers weren’t due to arrive until 7AM, and the concrete fifteen minutes later. We started with the pointy bit that sticks into the hillside, because I knew it was the hardest part, and once done we would have the opportunity to screed from edge to edge

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That last missing bit……

on the skinny part of the house. The trouble was of course that my crew were completely inexperienced, and as soon as Robbie Page who owned the pump realised what was going on, he expressed his utter dismay that I had not accepted his [unaffordable] quote to do the job…… once the first truckload of 7m³ was disgorged from the pump, his offsider thankfully stepped in and gave the guys a quick lesson on how to screed…. which they fortunately quickly picked up. Screeding this job was easier than any I’d done before (because I didn’t do any!) as it was all pumped and vibrated, something I now really wish we’d done in Qld. Regardless, screeding was still necessary, and the two young guys at the ends of the tool did a sterling job under the circumstances…….

All went basically well, until right at the end when we were just short of finishing. The deal struck with the concrete suppliers was that I ordered 24m³ plus. Which means that after the 24m³ are poured, a quick evaluation is made of how much more is needed, and the last truck is sent from the depot. The missing bit in the photo was guesstimated by Robbie (who is very experienced) and I at roughly 0.4m³, and we thought ‘order 0.6, just in case’, which we IMG_20180317_130227did. While waiting for this last truckload, I began ‘helicoptering’ the slab in an attempt to get it as smooth as possible; and frankly, I’m quite pleased with the result, it’s ‘good enough’.

Except that the missing bit immediately turned into a problem; Duggan’s sent me a load of shit concrete that started going off right in front of our eyes, and there wasn’t enough….. no way did 0.6m³ come out of that truck, and nor was it fresh. When I dropped the vibrator into it, it hardly slumped at all, and while I was still floating water off concrete laid an hour earlier, I was unable to float this at all…….

The boys screeded it as fast as possible before it went rock hard and there were ravines in the surface that looked impossible to fill by moving what should normally have been workable material into them to fill them up……  I was beside myself, and really really pissed off.

With the local hardware store now no longer opening on weekends, I was faced with a desperate and frantic 50km return drive to Huonville to buy premixed-just add water concrete in bags in an attempt to salvage the situation. One hour later, on my return, I was amazed to discover that Claire – who obviously has a vested interest in this project – had whipped the crew into frantic labour to save the surface of our bedroom floor. I honestly don’t know how they managed it. It was bordering on a miracle, and it was just as well they did manage it, because the one bag I mixed in the wheelbarrow could not be pressed into the last bit in the corner, so hard had it already set. The resulting surface is worse than what a total novice would achieve.

All I can say is that it’s lucky that pointy bit will only be turned into a storage cupboard, because I would never live it down had this load of crap ended up in the middle of our bedroom. You can rest assured there will be a very stern complaint call to the supplier first thing tomorrow morning……  you’d think afer spending over $6000 on the day (and a similar amount on past pours) they would look after me…. I’ll probably get over it, but honestly……

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All done. Everyone’s left, and all the beer’s been drunk!

We eventually broke the beer open, and celebrated a job well done under difficult circumstances. We did our best, and that’s all you can do. I reckon I’ve saved twenty grand by doing it this way, and that’s money I just don’t have to throw away – especially now I’ve spent most of it!

I can’t thank the crew enough….. Phil, who kept morale up among the youngsters, and Claire tells me, was largely responsible for repairing the bedroom floor while I was gone, Caleb, Martin, and of course my daughter Claire. Jack from Page’s concreting gets a deserved mention for screeding the hard bit for us. I won’t mention Duggan’s……..

Since pouring the concrete, it’s been raining for three days…. which is great for the still curing concrete. It’s a big step getting out of the ground, but really, all the hard work starts now. Watch this space.





On falling on my feet….

21 02 2018

The formwork for the slab is finished, and I frankly can’t believe it….. sometimes the way things turn out has me baffled, even when things go all wrong…..

Lately, I’ve had cumulative problems that inevitably consist of spending money I had not planned to spend; although in the process I managed to get bargains. Like my Makita cordless drill blowing up. I thought it was out of warranty, but it turns out these things have two years warranty, not one…. which I discovered after replacing it with a better (brushless) unit for 60 to 80 dollars less than the shops sell them for, on eBay. Not only that, at the time of this purchase, I discovered you could buy (aftermarket) 6mAh batteries for less than half the price of a genuine Makita 3mAh battery. So I spent the dough…..

Then Ute II started overheating on me, driving back from Hobart with 1.3 m³ of compost in the back. I quickly established that it was all down to the thermostat, so I replaced that; only to discover that half the radiator was blocked as well! I don’t know why I even thought of looking on eBay, but I did, and there I found a brand new radiator for $130 delivered. I could have spent the money better, but the car is fixed. I still can’t believe how cheap it was.

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The dilemma…..  the bottom of each board had to be cut to conform to the profile of now hard concrete footings.

But the real corker was the arrival of my four Danish wwoofers. They’d booked ages ago, last year in fact, and because I’ve had an unbelievable number of requests so far this year, the old brain got a bit confused. I was expecting four young whipper snappers (as usual) arriving in a camper van. Instead I got four middle class grey nomads in a hired posh Commodore Station Wagon! Luckily, Matt next door came to the rescue again, and let me have his wwoofer caravan for three days…..

Talk about an interesting bunch though……  it turns out one couple were permies who live on an island in the Baltic Sea, and the other basically city slickers (my assessment…) this was even evident from their luggage……  two suitcases, and two back packs!

The really important part of this story is that the two men were very experienced,

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Kurt and Jens, problem solving…

cunning, and capable carpenters, and they saved my bacon. Because you see, when Caleb and I poured the house footings way back in June last year (already…..?), I forgot to engage my brain, and they were not even close to level or flat making the construction of the formwork, errrrr…..  difficult!

To cut to the chase, Kurt and Jens were shown the predicament I was in, and after much hahing and harring in Danish – making me concerned they thought the whole job could not be done I add – they got stuck in, and in their first afternoon had two boards up.

While they were doing that, their two wives assisted me in moving loads of long dead Macrocarpa branches cut two years ago to the market garden where more biochar was made. They all seemed to really enjoy themselves I might add……

By mid afternoon the next day, all the necessary formwork boards were up……  all scribed and cut millimetre perfect. I was truly gobsmacked at how clever and efficient these two oldies were (I can even call them that, because at least one was older than me it turned out….!)

Because the memory card in my phone must have got dislodged somehow, none of the photos bar one that I took of all this ended up being stored, and even then I only have it because I sent to Glenda as a MMS…. A real pity too.

The following day, the two city slickers went sightseeing, while the permies insisted they’d rather do manual labour……  can you believe it?

 

The three of us moved I don’t know how many ute loads of branches, and now the entire western side of the market garden has been biocharred. And the huge pile of dead branches has been reduced to a mere quarter of its original size, which means I’ll now just burn what’s left in situ once the bushfire season is over.

The good news is that I inspired Kurt and Dora to have a go at biochar on their own farm in Denmark, and that makes me most pleased.

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On their last day, I treated them to roast leg of lamb and veggies, all from the farm….terrible picture I know, but it’s the only memory I have of them unfortunately

Then yesterday, Caleb was back, and we straightened all the bowing boards and pinned them into place, making a 32m long dead straight, dead level, and dead plumb formwork ready for pouring in a couple of weeks once I’ve organised everything that that job entails. With any luck, I’ll have a slab for my birthday……. and it’s all down to Kurt and Jens, to whom I will be forever grateful….  I cannot thank them enough.

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Finished, ready for pouring……





More soil building on the Fanny Farm

26 01 2018

I always try to source my materials as close to home as possible, and sometimes that can be frustrating…….! My ever so knowledgeable neighbour told me some months ago that Dolomite was locally available, and dirt cheap at that. Of course, he has about seven times as much land as I do, and when he buys some, he gets, well…  seven times as much as I need.. and it comes by truck of course, and all I wanted was one ute load. So I rang the guy who runs this enterprise, and the dolomite saga began…

When I first rang him, it was “next Monday”. Luckily I rang first, and I got “sorry, there’s no one there today, but on Wednesday…”  Sounds like Tasmania all over.

Anyhow, I eventually got my Dolomite. The depot is inside Ta An’s ‘sustainable’ plywood factory (!) whose trucks drive past my shed at least four or five times a day, and who knows how many during the night. The place never seems to stop with logging trucks going in the forest, as well as out. Don’t ask, I don’t know, and it could only occur in Tassie!

I had been on that road once before with Glenda many years ago while we were still investigating which part of the Huon we might choose. We only had a tourist map, and we somehow got lost in among the forestry roads that criss cross this logging area, and they weren’t on the tourist map, and I still didn’t have a GPS. We eventually saw signs pointing to Geeveston, and at least I knew where that was! We even drove right past this place, not realising of course that one day we’d own it…. The poor little hire car took a pounding on the incredibly rough roads, the sort that shake the fillings from your teeth. So I knew what I was in for, except that an unloaded ute with 65psi in its tyres was even worse….

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3m high mountain of Dolomite

I eventually found the mountain of Dolomite waiting for me, and the biggest front end loader I’ve ever seen, designed to fill trucks for Matt’s place, not a one ton ute! The machine has a weighing facility, so the operator knew how much he was serving me, and I got 1400kg for fifty bucks…… which in the shops might buy three or four 20kg bags. Let me tell you, I’m getting my money’s worth out of those old utes…

Rather than going back the same way with a now overloaded ute (they’re

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Ouch……!

only rated 1300kg max) I opted to do the loop back through Huonville which is farther, but with way less than half the distance of rough gravel road. By the time I got home, I had less than 1400kg anyway, because even at just 60 km/h, I was donating acid rectification material to the whole Huon Valley as it flew out the back..! It’s just like flour in texture, and any wind will blow it away. Nonetheless, the car still looked way down on its haunches by the time I had it parked in the middle of the next half of the market garden.

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My wwoofer Nathan and I spread the entire load over the area to be worked, and now it just needs more compost to be worked in to finish the job, if the job ever gets finished….

Dolomite is an anhydrous carbonate mineral composed of calcium magnesium carbonate, ideally CaMg(CO3)2. It’s used to modify the pH of acidic soils like we have everywhere (mostly) throughout Australia, but here in particular. It’s why apples and cherries do so well here, they love acid soils, as do most berries like strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. The problem with acid soils is that they dissolve the nutrients you want in your veggies, and until you rectify the pH back to normal, adding those nutrients is a waste of effort……  but we’ll get there.

Rome wasn’t built in one day, and neither was the Fanny farm.

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My new pump in action, watering in preparation for the three day heat wave about to hit Tasmania





Turning marginal land into fertile soil

20 01 2018

Since having my soil epiphany brought on from doing the NRM Small Farm Planning Course, I have been arguing with people who keep banging on about how we have to abandon meat eating to ‘save the planet’….. I disagree.  It’s just another silver bullet, as far as I am concerned, and they simply don’t exist…….  sure, most people might eat too much meat, but for anyone to tell me that marginal land can be turned into crop land, and easily at that, just riles me up……  they obviously have no idea what they’re talking about, nor do they have any experience at doing this.

As I have said before, it took me ten years at my last project to convert that marginal land into something capable of feeding two to three people. Making compost by hand, even when using your own humanure, takes years. And while you are waiting for the soil to improve, you have to buy food from some unsustainable source or other….

From where I sit, we probably have a couple of years of relatively ‘normal’ times left.

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Matt smoothing out the terrain

2020 is when things will get suddenly worse, never to improve again. Even if I’m out by as much as five years, it makes no difference at all. The scale of the problem we face is totally out of control.

My current wwoofer, a vegetarian Frenchman who eats non stop (I liken it to livestock eating all day long because grass is useless food…) believes likewise. Even though I am teaching him the hard way how much work is involved!

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Unloading another tonne and a quarter of compost

When Glenda was still here, I took her to Hobart to pick up a load of compost (about 1250kg, they are very generous cubic metres down there!) and on the way back, I suspect, the thermostat started playing up making ute I overheat on the big hills between here and there….  I could not even get my market garden close to finished without fossil fuels. Certainly in the time constraint I am feeling every day, as I get older, and 2020 gets closer as the clock ticks away….

I even had to get my neighbour to come back with the excavator to level off the soil we moved at the last Permablitz last year. There’s no way my back would have handled doing it by hand with a shovel. As I keep saying……  the power of fossil fuels.

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Adding sheep manure

The soil on the second half of the garden, without the advantage of all that black stuff full of decomposed cow manure we scraped off the drive 18 months ago, was even more marginal than what I started with on the first half. I’ll have to get another four loads – five tonnes – to finish the middle section that still needs doing. Plus I will have to drive god knows how far to get another tonne of Calcium rock to amend the pH of the soil to something veggies will grow in…….

To be sure, the feeding of grain to livestock is pure madness and only done to maximise

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Tilling it all in with chickens and the rotary hoe

profits. The meat derived therefrom is not even healthy, as it’s full of Omega 6 fatty acids that cause chronic inflamation.  Is it any wonder so many people are sick with diets like that which all the shops supply to unsuspecting consumers……

George Monbiot’s latest effort is what got me started on this – even though I feel the need to chronicle the improvements happening on the Fanny farm. Monbiot writes

When we feed animals on crops, we greatly reduce the number of people that an area of cropland can support. This is because, on average, around two-thirds of the food value of the crops fed to livestock is lost in conversion from plant to animal.

Of course he’s right….  we should not be feeding crops to animals that are perfectly happy to eat grass! The problem is industrial agriculture, not meat eating. And he’s wrong calling his article “Eating the Earth”, because what we are in fact doing, is eating fossil fuels, and that’s not even close to the same predicament.

And finally, here’s a short video of what two of my neighbours have achieved after attending the above mentioned Small Farm Planing course.