I couldn’t resist showing you the alpaca-possum-bird-proof enclosure the Offspring and I built for the apple tree:
This poor little tree almost died a couple of years ago…now look at it, 3 different grafted apples, all fruiting like crazy. We also have 4 different kinds of peaches, a quince tree and a couple of fejoia that look as if they’re going to have a bumper crop too.
If you want to see more luscious photos of home grown produce, check out my friend Dale’s post. She and her partner live in NSW where the weather is more tropical. She also has a green thumb, and it shows. 🙂
For newcomers to my blog, I live on 1.6 acres in Warrandyte, a hilly, tree-covered, fringe suburb of Melbourne [Australia]. It’s a glorious place to live, in winter. Over summer, not so much. Eucalyptus trees burn, and we have an awful lot of them.
The potential fire danger in Warrandyte has been a recurring theme almost from the moment I first started this blog. In fact, one of the very first posts I ever wrote is called ‘2012 – practical tips to protect life and property from bushfires‘. This year’s post is going to be a visual treatise on why mowing is vital to reduce fire danger.
I’ll start with the area directly behind the house. It faces northish, pretty much on the top of a hill, and is the most likely direction for a bushfire. I have a roughly 15 metre space between the house and the trees:
This is how every inch of my block should look. Now for the reality check:
This shot is of the next terrace down. You can see exactly where the mowing stopped.
Some of you may recognize this area from the blog banner, or the cover of Miira. In the foreground is a gently sloping terrace held back by large field stones. The next terrace down is half mowed, and again, you can see the dividing line between mowed and not mowed.
In this screenshot you can see the same area from the side:
The unmowed grass is so tall, it makes the slope on the left of the pic look ‘flat’. It’s not. About a metre further down the terrace drops to another level.
So why is the mowing taking so long? And why am I soooo exhausted? Well, I’m mowing every inch of this block with an Ozito battery driven lawn mower:
I LOVE my Ozito. This little mower is not supposed to mow blocks like mine. It’s supposed to be a lightweight solution for little old ladies mowing pocket handkerchief lawns. You know what I mean, the pretty ones that have real grass instead of field grasses and weeds. And yet, this amazing little mower is getting through grass that’s almost knee high.
In my own defence, I have to say that I started mowing as soon as I finished burning off the piles of dead wood that had accumulated over winter. Unfortunately, I’d barely done half of the front of the block when we had a massive storm that dropped some very big branches and a shitload of smaller ones. I paid to have the big ones cut up and carted away, but I had to deal with the little ones myself. [Little as in under 2 metres long].
As a result of that storm, mowing had to stop while I walked up and down 1.6 acres picking up dead wood, putting it into piles – roughly 8 – and burning it all off again.
But it’s Spring, right? So while I was busy doing other things, the grass was busy growing. So here we are, Ozi and me, desperately trying to catch up because once that grass dries out, it will be like kindling to any fire that decides to come through.
Warrandyte is a wonderful place to live, but enjoying the ‘serenity’ is not enough. We have to maintain our properties so that they will be less likely to burn when the inevitable happens. And on that note I’d better grab the batteries and get out there.
I’m so excited! I saw about five of these amazing birds…in my garden this morning!
The one that caught my attention was making a loud, insistent, hoarse sound, similar to the noise made by magpie fledglings as they wait for their parent to place food in their beak.
The young? cockatoo allowed me to get quite close – maybe just a couple of metres – so I could see the distinctive yellow patch on its cheek quite clearly. The colour of its feathers, and those of the four adults, was a much deep black though. The bird in the image above looks almost brown whereas my birds were definitely black-black. Maybe their feathers change colour with the seasons or something.
I’ve never been wild about the avian species and know very little about them, but since moving to Warrandyte I’ve grown to appreciate at least some of our local birds, including the resident magpies and kookaburras. I’ll now add black cockatoos to my welcome list. I just hope I manage to save some of the fruit on the trees from their all-you-can-eat smorgasbord. lol
By rights, I should be delighted that the power outage scheduled from 9am till 4pm is not going ahead today. Trust me, on any other day I would be. Today, however, I’m really ticked off because Ausnet Services, the electricity wholesaler that supplies electricity to a huge chunk of Melbourne, didn’t think to let us know the outage had been cancelled.
To be fair, we’ve had ferocious winds since Sunday, so a lot of areas have been without power…in an unscheduled way. Clearly, getting power to them has to be a first priority. But…it’s not the guys who go out and actually fix things that send us texts and letters about our electricity supply. It is…ta dah…the office types who do that. And…ta dah no. 2…not one of those office types had the mental capacity to go…”oh, hang on, didn’t we schedule a power outage for Tuesday? Maybe we should send a text out…”
Now it may well be that as a wholesaler, Ausnet Services only has the phone numbers of people like me – i.e. people who ring up and complain. So, still to be fair, maybe Ausnet Services doesn’t have the phone number of every person they supply. But. They must know who the retailers are in their area. Right?
How hard would it have been to ring up a few retailers and let them know? Then at least there would have been the possibility that the retailers could have diverted some resources to letting us know.
Or…! Failing all else, someone at Ausnet Services could have changed the automated message you get when you ring them about outages. You know, the one where you have to pick dinky numbers that never match the reason for your call…-cough-
Because I was expecting an outage today, I haven’t checked Twitter to see if Ausnet Services left a notice there. If you’ve seen such a notice, I’d love to hear about it in comments. Whether they did or didn’t though, I’d just like to point out that not everyone is on Twitter, or Facebook [makes the sign to ward off evil]. In fact, there are probably a lot of people who are on neither. So where does a large corporation’s responsibility end?
I could go on about how corporate culture has killed the concept of customer service, but I have to go mop the laundry floor again. Why? Because I was stupid. Thinking the power would be off any moment, I decided to fill the washing machine via a hose. While it was filling I thought I’d check with Ausnet Services because it was closer to 10am than 9am and we still had power. The rest I’m sure you can work out for yourselves.
p.s. has anyone else noticed that WordPress is distorting images from the Media Library when you insert them into a post?
SP Ausnet had a planned power outage today from about 8:30am to 3:30pm, and it was not pleasant. The weather was grey and drizzly but thankfully not super cold otherwise I have no idea how we would have coped. It seems that electricity is needed for absolutely everything.
Did you know that without electricity the solar hotwater doesn’t work? Yup, because a small pump sends the water up to the solar thingie on the roof. No pump, no circulation, no hot water.
And heating is no better. We have gas heating but…a fan is required to blow the hot air around, and also to stop the heater from overheating. So again, no power, no heat.
But wait, there’s more! I knew the electric oven wouldn’t work, but I forgot that the gas cooktop has piezo electric ignition. Thank heavens I had matches! Actually, that’s one of the good things about living in Warrandyte; we have unplanned outages a lot so candles and matches are staples.
And finally, there are the solar panels on my roof. Great investment for my old age except…when the power goes out, they’re automatically switched off because we ‘feed in’ to the grid. I swear, if I ever win tattslotto, I am buying a battery and hooking the solar panels up to that so we have power even when we don’t have power.
But today wasn’t all doom and gloom. The Offspring and I got stuck into garden stuff. Still a work in progress, but we both feel super righteous. 🙂
The hail storm that ravaged Melbourne, and in particular, Warrandyte, was so furious, it literally stripped the branches on the exposed side of the gum trees and piled the debris all over everything. That debris, which is highly flammable, now carpets my block and that of all my neighbours. Cleaning it up is a nightmare.
These are the in-progress pics of the Great Clean Up and the fresh green grass that’s growing up from underneath. Clearing the area directly around the house and the fire fighting pumps has been my first priority:
There’s a bit of green pretty much everywhere, but the lushest green is on the terraces near the house where grey water from the laundry has soaked in, keeping the grass from completely drying out. The melted hail, and the good rain that came after, did the rest.
The largest terrace was created from the clay and rock excavated for the site cut. The site cut is literally a flat spot dug out of the slope of the hill to make space for the house.
The pic below shows the set of field stone steps leading down from the top terrace to the ‘orchard’ area. Much of the debris came from the steps themselves and the banks on either side:
And finally, a close up of the ‘bin’ we made out of star pickets and left-over corrugated iron sheets.
The inside measurement of the ‘bin’ is 1.5 x just under 3 metres, so it’s big. Even so, it’s about 1/3 full already and may not be big enough to contain all the debris from the house area, let alone the rest of the block. We can make it a bit bigger, but I don’t want to bring such a huge heap of flammable material any closer to the trees [in case a bushfire goes through and turns it into a bbq].
Once the bin is full, I’ll close off the front, plant a sprinkler on top and keep everything moist until the fire season is over. Gum leaves don’t compost very well so I may have to burn them off in bits over winter. Joy.
Thanks to my neighbour’s house acting like a shield, the hail didn’t cause as much damage in the front as in the back. If we’re lucky, and nothing bad happens before Easter, I may be able to get rid of most of the debris in front via the weekly green bin. It’s not very big, but as I don’t have a trailer or even a car that could tow a trailer, I have no other way of getting rid of the green waste.
Thanks for your great generosity, Nillumbik Shire Council. <<biting sarcasm>> One of the richest shires in Victoria gave us one extra green bin collection to help us reduce our fuel load. I’m sure it bled their coffers dry.
Anyway, time to take up my trusty rake and get back to work.
Warrandyte was hit by the mother of all hail storms yesterday afternoon [January 19th, 2020], and I have to admit, we were scared. The roof is corrugated iron, and the hail stones, some as big as golf balls, sounded like machine gun bullets trying to smash their way in. And that’s without the thunder and lightning adding their bit. And it just wouldn’t stop.
Mogi [dog] was shivering like a leaf and Golli [cat] was yowling in terror. The Offspring and I just stood in the kitchen, peering out at the devastation and muttering ‘I don’t believe this’.
These are some of the photos I took once the worst of the storm had eased:
As odd as it may sound, the humidity after the hail storm was intense, and the temperature was actually warm, so the layer of icy hail stones created a mist that became heavier as it flowed up the hill towards the house. Very strange.
Just realised that some of the hail was bigger than your average golf ball! Those are full sized bricks on the side of the last picture, yet look at the size of some of those hail stones by comparison!
We never get snow, but I found myself having to shovel hail stones off the deck as if they were snow. And this, in the middle of one of our hottest summers…wtf?
We’ve since learned that Warrandyte was pretty much at the epicentre of yesterday’s storm and suffered quite a bit of damage. In low lying areas, some of the houses suffered broken windows and flooding. And every car left out in the open, is now pockmarked with dents.
Personally, we took very little damage. The Offspring’s car is dented, and one small tile broke on the small side deck, but other than that, we came through the storm surprisingly well. It’ll take me forever to rake up the carpet of shredded leaves and branches covering the ground, but my baby apples survived, and I’d harvested most of the apricots already, so I think we’ve been very lucky.
On that note, I’ll leave you with a pic of the apricot cake I made two days ago. It’s garnished with apricot compote, and all the apricots came from my own tree. Can’t complain. 🙂
Eyes may be the windows to the soul, but windows are the weakest link in our homes. Because they’re fragile. Because they break.
It seems like such an obvious thing now, but I remember how shocked I was when an expert pointed out that the inside of our homes is the driest place on earth. Once a window breaks, even one ember is enough to burn the house down from the inside out.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Yet how many of us have adequate protection for our windows?
When I built my house in Warrandyte, I had to put metal mesh screens over all the windows that could be opened. But my house has double barrel windows where the top pane opens but the bottom pane is fixed. The top pane is protected by the required metal screen [basically an ordinary fly wire screen but made of metal]. The bottom pane is not.
Now, imagine a bushfire scenario. The wind is howling, and the gums are dropping branches large and small. One of those branches is blown towards the house and slams into one of my windows. The top pane may remain intact, but what of the bottom pane?
I solved my window problem by investing in fire resistant shutters. These shutters cover the entire window area, top pane, bottom pane and the wooden frame. They look like this:
The shutters roll up and down inside the frame [like vertical sliding doors] and are rated to protect the windows for about 20 minutes. That’s the length of time it usually takes the fire front to pass.
The regulations have been tightened up a lot since Black Saturday, and I believe that new houses in fire prone areas must have toughened glass instead of ordinary glass. But what of existing houses? As far as I know, there are no regulations about retrofitting toughened glass to houses built before 2009.
Does that mean there is no danger to those houses? Of course not.
If you live in a bushfire prone area, please think hard about your windows, and what you can do to protect them.
It’s officially 43 C in Melbourne, and my air conditioner died yesterday, yet the inside of the house is a relatively comfortable 26 C :
My office is a fair bit warmer because it’s a small room, and the desktop computer puts out quite a lot of heat [AMD processor], but it’s still bearable.
Magic? No, fire resistant shutters.
I wrote about my fire resistant shutters back in this post. They’ve never been tested in a bushfire situation, but by god they keep ordinary heat out!
The following pics were all taken from inside the house to show the shutters at work:
Almost every door, verandah and window in my house has been fitted with these fire resistant shutters. They weren’t cheap, but every winter since then, they’ve kept the warmth in, saving me money in heating costs. And in summer they keep the heat out, with or without the air conditioner. 🙂
Much as I love my shutters, however, I have to say that on their own they would not have been enough. Part of the reason they work as well as they do is that I insisted on having an insulating foam applied behind the door and window frames. The foam fills up all the gaps in construction conveniently hidden by the frames. A small thing, perhaps, but the foam has stopped those elusive draughts from leaching the heat from the house.
Apart from the shutters and the foam, two more things helped keep us from melting today. The first was the weather overnight. The temperature dropped to 14 C which allowed the cross ventilation in the house to cool everything down before the heat climbed again. If it had been hot overnight, we would have been in trouble.
The second thing is that orange towel shown in the last picture. And no, it’s not my washing. :p
That humble towel is wet, and it’s hanging in front of an oscillating fan. As the water in the towel evaporates, it cools the air. The fan then circulates that cooler air around the small family room and into the kitchen.
My jerry-rigged evaporative cooling is probably good enough for some light cooking but…bugger it, we’re having take away! Ahem. I deserve it.
If you’re an Aussie, I hope you stayed cool and safe today. If you’re from the northern climes, I hope you stayed warm and toasty.