Saturday, 31 March 2012

Shed number two

Well here I am back from gallivanting in the eastern states, where we attended a family wedding and ate oysters two hours out of the water - so plump, so creamy ...

I thought I'd tell you about shed no 2.  This one is a superior shed.  Architect designed, insulated and high ceiling ed.  It's primary purpose is to house the press and harvesting gear, plus the filled drums of oil and the bottles and labels.  It has a separate, so called commercial kitchen (which had to be approved by the local council) which is where we wash and  brine the pickling olives, and a nominal office (which is where we keep all the bee keeping stuff.)  This shed cost four times as much as the machinery shed.  We finished the floor with a two pack sealant which is supposedly able to stand up to all the hosing and scrubbing it is exposed to.  In the picture of the interior, you can see the little press, which will be asked to work hard in a few weeks time, the leaf blower (the stainless steel thing with the neck like a giraffe) and the harvesting umbrella, which is folded up but opens up to embrace the tree trunks when we are harvesting.  You will see how it all works when I take photos during the harvest.  I am very worried about the little press.  It is called an Olio Mio - made in Italy.  It is just a baby press and only does 50 kilos an hour at best.  Lately it has been getting hot, and I don't know why.  Nor does anyone else who has looked at it.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Murphy's Grove...

When we were first setting up our grove we used to laughingly refer to it as 'Murphy's Grove' because it seemed to us that whatever could go wrong absolutely would.  We would run over equipment with the tractor, inevitably buy the wrong size fitting for whatever it was, inadvertently leave valves open that should be shut - it was a never ending litany of ineptitude.  I think we are getting better, or maybe it is just because we have settled into a routine.  But we had a little flash back this week.  The crows (or magpies, or galahs - anyway some creative and mischievous birds), have been assiduously picking at the wiring on one of the solonoids that controls the water to one of the zones, and that zone has not been working, meaning that the pump is under pressure and the water has no where to go.  I had to get a water sample for the Water Corporation (it is a condition of our bore licence that we have our water tested annually) and had to go into the pump shed where the controls for the system are located.  It was soaking!  Everything was wet, and any container which could hold water was full.  I turned the system on to manual to see what was going on and a flood of water squirted from an electronic control device which turns the flushing system on and off at timed intervals.  My heart sank.  We have not been lucky finding a local irrigation fixer who was comfortable with our size operation, most in our area being happier with domestic systems.  So I looked in the 'Local Link' directory and found someone promising who could come straight away.  When he arrived he inspired confidence.  He saw what the problem was immediately, took the part out, pointed out where it was broken and promised to be back as soon as he had the replacement. In the meantime the system had to be turned off.  I wasn't too happy - it is too soon to turn the irrigation off - that usually happens mid April - but accepted that we couldn't run the system with bits missing.  Anyway yesterday the confidence inspiring man said he would be there mid afternoon.  No show, so I rang again.  He said he was sending his son in law with the part and he'd be there any minute.  Well, he did turn up, but wasn't quite as confidence inspiring as the other chap.  Of course he had the wrong part.  And it will take days to get the right one.  In the mean time the irrigation stays off, and we have some very stressed looking heavily fruit laden trees.  Nothing will happen for over a week, because we are off to Canberra to go to a family wedding. (He did however fix the broken wires the birds had chewed. Let us be grateful.)
 Rain is forecast for the weekend.  Please let it happen!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A history of sheds. Shed Number One.

Original shed

Machinery storage

Living quarters

When we started at the olive grove it was a blank canvas, and we obviously needed a shed.  So we had one constructed by a well known company - two thirds of the shed for machinery and general storage, one third for living quarters.  I guess it is a fairly basic shed. I think, 12 years ago, that it cost about $18000.  There is a big rain water tank attached, which cost extra. The shed is unlined, has a cement floor, big double sliding doors into the machinery section and a personal entry door into the living quarters.  The living quarters are pretty modest - a shower and toilet tucked into one corner (but it does have a hot water system!), a small sink and a pot belly stove.  It is furnished with left overs from old holiday houses, elderly parental homes, and even cast off office furniture. It has been where we have slept when we have needed to stay down at the grove.  Oh how it rattles and groans in the slightest wind. It is stinking hot in summer and very chilly in winter. It is constantly full of mice, no matter how many traps and baits are laid.  Giant swags of cobwebs swing from every surface, the ones on the ceiling too high to reach with any broom.  Strangely, I could sleep well there, and it was fun for a while to put together a meal with only a microwave and an electric frypan.  The pot belly gave almost no heat , but looked cheerful, and the old telly had surprisingly good reception, at least until the galahs took up acrobatics on the aerial. Since mid last year we have had a transportable house on the grove - oh the luxury! So now the living quarters are surplus to requirements.  The machinery section is chockers.  I would like to knock a hole through, somehow, to make the best use of the space, but cant work out how to do this.  Maybe just replace the personal door with a single sliding garage door?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Hello you little bees!

Yesterday I went to Midland to the bee shop to collect a nucleus.  A nucleus is a box with 4 or 5 frames  containing honey, pollen, bee babies, workers, and most importantly, a queen.  It cost $120, and I was assured that the bees within were sweet tempered.  I drove directly to the grove and placed the nucleus next to the new brood box I had ready - all assembled and painted white, marked with my registered bee keeper code.  Then I opened the door to the nucleus and a bunch of disgruntled bees pushed their way out - no doubt fed up with being locked up so long.  I had been advised that I shouldn't attempt to transfer the frames into the new box too quickly.  Ideally they should be left for a day or so to get used to the new location, but being a bit impatient, I gave them about 3 hours.  I suited up, opened up the brood box and moved the frames over.  There were a lot of bees in there and they were not very happy!  I didn't spend time inspecting the frames for the queen, which I should have done - I never have any luck finding queens anyway, unless they are marked.  They are not HUGELY different from workers - just a bigger abdomen. ( I can pick drones - they have bigger eyes.)  So I shifted the frames over, putting them along side the new foundation I had already in the new box, and whacked the lid on.  There were still stacks of bees inside the nucleus box.  I shook it upside down, brushed it out with my bee brush, and still couldn't persuade them to leave.  So I have left it sitting in front of the new box, hoping that they will move in to be with their queen (if she is indeed in there, and I didn't squash her during the transfer), and their colleagues.  I left a basin of water nearby (with some twigs in it so they can get out), crossed my fingers and departed.  I just hope there is enough food around for the bees.  The Marri is in flower still, and so are the Ilyarrie, but it all is a bit touch and go.  I need to plant more good bee forage species.  I'll be down at the grove again tomorrow, but I won't look inside until next week.  I will be wanting to see signs of egg laying.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Foiled by a fang ...

Here we are, in the middle of our eighth heat wave for the season (that's 3 days over 35 degrees).  I believe it is a record.  I am feeling quite anxious about the little replant trees I told you about the other day.  I can't get down to the grove to water because our old cranky cat bit me on the forearm last Monday.  It wasn't really his fault, I was brushing him and hit a sore spot, so he swung around and sunk his long tooth in up to the hilt.  It didn't really hurt to start with, but that night it started to ache and I kept waking up.  So off to the doctor for a tetanus needle and a course of antibiotics.  I felt really seedy for a few days, and had to cancel all my engagements, including a meeting of my organic certifying body (NASAA) down in Denmark, which also meant I didn't get to see the Denmark family.  My arm is only now returning to its normal colour.  So, a word to the wise!  Keep your tetanus shots up to date, especially if you are a farmer. See your Doctor if you have a cat bite.  Cats have even more gruesome bacteria on their teeth than dogs.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

After the Lake Clifton fire

In January 2011, a big bush fire swept through the Lake Clifton area.  Some people lost their homes. The fire entered the south west corner of our property but thanks to the efforts of the fire fighters, volunteer and professional, using helicopter water bombers and bulldozers, a containment line was cut through part of the grove and the fire stopped after burning through 80 of our youngest trees.  We have been fussing over these trees since, giving them extra water and seaweed tonic, and some did indeed resprout.  However our very hot dry summer has proved too much of a challenge for some.  It is not surprising, considering the fire was so hot it melted the tree guards around the trunks, and the trees were almost ringbarked. I have replanted some trees, though not with the very expensive grafted Kalamata which were there previously.  I had a collection of random seedlings in pots collected by someone else from an ancient tree in one of the early pioneer suburbs.  My plan to fill the other gaps is to dig up the little seedlings which pop up around the irrigated trees and see how they go.  Free trees!  It will be years before they bear, but who is in a hurry? 

Set up and waiting for the first customer

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Peel Farmer's Market

I take oil and table olives to the market in Mandurah once a month.  These markets have had a chequered history.  They initially started in Pinjarra, then a secondary market started under the same umbrella on the western foreshore at Mandurah - a great venue, with trees, water views and lots of passing traffic.  But no winter cover and a long walk to toilets!  The Pinjarra market got smaller and smaller, and eventually disappeared entirely.  Then negotiations with the Mandurah City Council over the foreshore site got bogged down.  The proposed rent got higher to the extent the stall holders could not cover it.  The Council suggested another venue which combined the Farmer's Market with a general market, but for various reasons such as inability to leave our vehicles at the stalls, this fell through.  We ended up at the Peel education campus on the fringes of town.  Great shelter, no rent, free electricity, and good vehicle access (and toilets!)  Trouble was only the most dedicated of our regular foodies could find us. Now we are located at Dolphin Quays, in a pedestrian mall surrounded by cafes and boutiques, next to a Marina.  Lots of people come there for breakfast and coffees.  And a lot of them have disposable income, so we are hoping that we will build up a customer base.  It is really difficult to attract stall holders though.  Our brief is that we have to be producers, and local.  If you have been working on your property all week it is hard to get up early, drive, set up and stand on your feet for 4 hours talking to customers on Sunday!  There is also a lot of competition among markets now.  In Perth there are at least 6, some very big.  Some of our stallholders also go to one or other of these.  The very nature of Farmer's Markets means that they are seasonal.  Yesterday we had a macadamia producer, but he will disappear soon, so will the vegetable growers when their summer crops finish and the winter ones aren't ready.  The blueberry people have gone already.  If you fall below a certain number of stalls, the customers sniff the smell of failure...  So Farmer's Markets - great principle, difficult actuality

Friday, 2 March 2012

Romantic vision of Koroneiki at sunset - December 2011

Thinking about the harvest

When I was at the grove yesterday, I noticed the first signs of colour on some of the fruit - the pendolino particularly.  It is usually one of the first to colour up.  Colour, of course, is not a fail proof method of judging readiness for harvesting.  Especially in our climate, fruit will superficially turn  pink and purple but be quite hard and green inside.  In previous years we have had a first pick around Anzac day.  A visiting expert told me once that given our location, around the second week in May should be a good time to harvest.  But in actuality over the years we have dragged out harvest until mid August, doing batches of different varieties as they seemed ready.  Our press is small and can only handle about 250 kilos a day when everything goes well. (And it often doesn't!) We have an added complication this year - we are going on holidays for 3 weeks in June. That is a big chunk out of our harvest time. I have started to think about getting a contract harvester and presser and taking off a lot of fruit in one go.  It is expensive, but so is paying hand pickers.  The variety I think might be best to try is the Koroneiki.  They have a good lot of fruit this year, and the crop is uniform from tree to tree.  There are 368 trees, which I think is a day's worth of work for the contractor I am thinking of hiring. The problem is that Koroneiki are notoriously difficult to machine harvest - the fruit is small and doesn't detach easily.  We have started to 'skirt' the trees already, taking off the lower branches so the machine can get in.  I wonder if I am making a mistake.