Tuesday, 23 July 2013

A brief hello

After quite an absence I'm trying to blog again. I have acquired an iPad, and it is taking me forever to learn what buttons to push. So before I press some wrong arrow, I'll quickly update you. Health wise I am still rubbish, not able to drive and having intermittent chemo. Mick Ryan came and finished the harvesting of the olives he wanted. He didn't take quite as much fruit as he had initially planned, but we got a bit of income from it. This weekend we are going down to show a lady from SA our few Moraiolo. She wants to take some cuttings. It breaks my heart to see our beautiful grove full of unharvested fruit, and me so helpless.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

First harvest at the Grove

On April 28th, as planned, Mick Ryan came up from Donnybrook to harvest the first tranche of the Leccino.  It only took him till lunchtime to get 4 1/2 tonnes off 160 trees, but the loading of the bins was slow - he had to use his crane rather than the forks on our tractor.  In our own inimitable style, we managed to stuff things up.  That's why our grove has the nickname 'Murphy's Grove'.  (Murphy's Law.  That which can go wrong, will go wrong)  Our lovely neighbour John Tetlow came over and showed us how to change the bucket on the tractor over to the forks - it was quite easy once we'd been show how.  And then we discovered that the forks were set too far apart to slip under the bins.  Great if we were unloading giant hay bales.  John is going to do a bit of adjusting for us, and move one of the steel prongs in a little next week.  But in the meantime it slowed Mick Ryan down a lot.  I rang him later in the week and he said he'd got about 16% yield.  That isn't particularly high for Leccino, but ok considering it was probably a little early to pick.
Daryl had a good look around the grove and announced we had loads of fruit, and what were we going to do about it!  Exactly.  I should be down there now, organising picking and pressing of our beautiful new seasons oils.  I should also be attending the markets to sell off my end of 2012 stock.  But I'm not.  I'm sitting around home feeling weak and weebly and frustrated!  Please God I can bounce back soon

Friday, 19 April 2013

Chipper at work

We are in a bit of a race against time trying to get all these 400 Leccino cleaned up before Preston Valley grove comes to harvest.  Mick has changed the day to Sunday the 28th April.  He says he'll only do half the trees on that day, and come back a bit later for the rest.  I have had Simon the gardener working for two days, using the bigger chipper while Tania and her husband have done a few hours with the smaller chipper.  ( The problem with that unit
seems to have been a slipping belt.  It has been tightened up a bit, so is working a little better.  Probably really needs a new belt.) Tania has also been shifting the prunings which are bigger and more dried out on to our burning piles. I hate doing that with good mulching material.  Mick, and Dave, his manager, came during the week and quickly tidied up the rest of the trees, fortunately taking off much less, so it should be easier going when we mulch those prunings.  Simon the gardener says he is happy to come down this Anzac day to do more chipping.  I feel it is sort of morally wrong to work on Anzac Day, which is just about sacred here, but I am torn about getting this job done.  Due to my chemo and radiation commitments I don't have any other free days this week
Here is Simon feeding prunings into the chipper.  Although it wasn't too hot, it was incredibly humid, and working conditions were awful!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

A new chipper to clear all the prunings

The other day I noticed an email announcement from the WA Olive Council executive officer.  Someone was selling a Hansa chipper with a 20hp motor.  The chipper we have is a Hansa, but it only has a 9 hp motor, and it has been struggling.  We have thought for some time that the unit we bought was underpowered, and have been kicking ourselves for not spending the extra and getting a larger one.  Anyway, I got down to the grove last week to find that our chipper was in bits.  Tania had rung to tell me that it just wasn't chopping the prunings.  Her husband took it apart to see what might be the matter.  I went down hoping it just needed a good clean, but when I saw it I realised it was some fundamental problem that was beyond my powers of curing.  I took a precipitate decision.  I rang the seller of the bigger unit, who is someone I know who has ripped out all their trees and is trying to sell their property, and in an hours time he was over with the new chipper - identical to ours, except for a few refinements.  It's mounted on a licenced trailer and has a battery start, and the bigger motor.   Agreed selling price was $5000.  Tania and I tried it out a few days later.  Sadly, I can't say it is perfect.  It doesn't pull the branches through as quickly, and got jammed with chippings ( perhaps because the chute can't be angled upwards as much)  But we need a working chipper!  Dave from Preston Valley Grove has done one day skirting, and there are prunings everywhere that we need to get rid of before they come to harvest the Leccino, which is ripening fast.  The weather has been so unseasonally hot - the hottest ever start to April - that the fruit is ripening ahead of the usual schedule, and the ground around the trees needs to be clear to allow the harvester access.  Tania promised that she would come down and do some more chipping before I'm down again.  I'll also try and get Simon - who does gardening for us in the city - to come down for a day.  He works fast and can get a lot done.  I'm useless.  I nearly passed out when I was working with Tania.  Partly the heat, but this chemo is making me so feeble.  I hate feeling so weak.

Friday, 22 March 2013

harvest plans

I haven't written for a while.  I am a bit shell shocked by the news that I have a big flair up of my old cancer problems - 'numb chin syndrome', a growth over my collarbone, and spots on the liver.  I have started some more chemo, with only a 20% chance of response, and am booked in for some radiation treatment.  I don't feel too bad at present, but I am having to think about what I can realistically expect to be capable of over the next few months, and what will happen to the grove without me around to run things? But today, at least, things looked promising.  Mick Ryan, from Preston Valley Grove, came out to look at our trees and work out what he would like to buy from us.  He has a big order from a WA company, and doesn't have enough fruit to fill it.  So he wants to buy 10 to 15 tonnes from us.  He will harvest, and pay us $250 Tonne, plus provide his manager for free to do any skirting necessary to prepare the trees for mechanical harvest.  Plus he will give us some free harvesting as well. He looked around the grove and decided that the Picual, the
Corregiola and the Leccino were what he was interested in.  I wished he'd been interested in the Coratina, which is dripping with fruit.  I don't much like the oil it produces, as it is so bitter, but it is ok in blends. Anyway, the Leccino will need skirting.  Tania is prepared to start that next Monday.  I'll come down on Tuesday and help with chipping the prunings.  Mick's manager, Dave, will come some time after Easter to do some skirting as well. The harvesting will probably be done in two batches, as the fruit will ripen at different times.  I thought the first week in May would be the time to start.  All very exciting!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Here comes autumn...

Well, it is March now. Technically it is autumn.  But it is still beastly hot.  In Australia the weather bureau announces that we have had the hottest summer ever.  I would agree. We have just had a few days holiday on Rottnest island, off the coast of Perth.  Usually Rottnest is considerably cooler than Perth, but it  wasn't this time.  No sea breezes, just hot easterlies.  None the less, we enjoyed our break - swimming, fishing, talking, eating, drinking ...watching the sun go down. Back to routine now.  I have a market tomorrow, and will go down to the grove on Monday.  I hope Tania has been able to go over and water my garden, though I am sure the peaches and rockmelons will all have fallen off or got overripe. I trust the guinea fowl are doing well, and worry that the bees are getting overcrowded - can I persuade my husband to come down and do a 'robbing'? (The last time he was badly stung.  He may be unenthusiastic)
Our new tractor should be ready to collect soon.  I have plans for work for it! I don't think I mentioned to you that I had a call from the people who did our contract harvesting last July.  They have asked if they can buy  some of our fruit.  I would be delighted!  They will take up to 15 tonnes.  That means we wont have to worry about dealing with the massive crop we have this year.  The deal is they will come and pick, and pay us $250 a tonne, plus give us a free day harvesting.  Anyway, they will come and look at the trees some time this month.  It will be our job to have them ready to harvest, which means pruned ready for machine harvesting. And stake free. We have done some of the trees, but a lot look very untidy.  And we have a big problem with stakes still next to the trees.  They should have been pulled out a long time ago.  So once the buyer decides which trees he wants to harvest, we must get them ready.  Usually we can pull out the old stakes next to the trees using the tractor, but I am afraid that many of them have become embedded in the trunks.  So I need to find an alternative way of getting them out.  I believe you can get a battery operated angle grinder which will do the job.  Haven't found one yet, but will start looking seriously.  I wish I felt more energetic.  The long hot summer, and problems with my health have reduced my ability to get things done.  Isn't it frustrating!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Guinea fowl settling in

Two of the babies following the old man

The usual method of introducing guinea fowl to their new home is to keep them locked up for three weeks, then let a few out, and then several days later release the remainder. On Monday my neighbour and I released 3.  They were very unhappy.  They cried and cried and tried to get back into the cage.  The ones inside the cage cried too. Very appropriately female guinea fowl have a two part cry that sounds like 'come back, come back' However after several hours the outside ones stopped running around and around the pen and ventured out a little.  The old solitary guinea fowl had kept a close eye on proceedings.  I was pleased to see that the little ones had started to follow him around a little, picking at grass, and nervously venturing a little further from their mates.  Tonight my good neighbour will release the others.  They will need to have water and food left out for them for a while, till they learn to catch grasshoppers and eat seed, and find (or are shown, by the old fellow) where the water trough is.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Migratory butterflies

Butterfly in the rockmelon patch
It was difficult to catch a photograph of this butterfly, though at this time of year I feel I am being bombarded with them.  They are a non-native species, apparently introduced, I think from the US, in the late 19th century.  They are 'Wanderer' or 'Monarch' butterflies.  Big and spectacular, I feel a little bit uncertain about them,
a) because they are toxic, adult and caterpillar, and make animals who try to eat them sick, and
b) because the plant they breed on is a noxious weed and should be pulled out.
 But they are beautiful, and even the weed the caterpillars rely on is an interesting plant.  So, depending how vicious I am feeling, sometimes I leave the weed, and sometimes I pull it out.

New Tractor imminent

Daryl and I tried out the tractor over the long weekend.  Daryl rather sniffily complained that it 'was just as unstable feeling and uncomfortable as the old one'  I had a go at a bit of earth moving, practicing making a track near the blue house.  I dug out some limestone boulders, and filled in some hollows with dirt, and just about got the hang of using the bucket.  After John the neighbour finishes installing a few new parts, we'll take delivery and we'll be able to do some stake pulling - the stakes that were put in when the trees were planted should have been removed years ago.  Now the trees have embraced them, and they are -almost- impossilbe to get out.  But very satisfying, like popping blackheads ...

Friday, 25 January 2013

Tractors and guinea fowl

Things are moving this week at the grove.  Our neighbours - a semi retired diesel mechanic and his wife, John and Janice, have provided us with a bit of excitement.  On Monday Janice and I brought 12 Guinea fowl babies up from their place to our old pen. Janice's guinea fowl laid a lot of eggs, and she hatched them under a chook (Guinea fowl are useless mothers.  Probably forget where they have laid their eggs) One escaped during the transfer, but John and Janice cunningly caught him the next morning.)  I worry about foxes, and even my other neighbour's staffy, who might fancy a little gf for morning tea. Please God they make it through their compulsory incarceration.  The one surviving original guinea fowl we have is hanging around the pen.  I hope he will want to be a mentor, and not peck them to bits.  He has been so lonely since his 3 buddies disappeared a couple of months ago. Janice has offered to check the chicks daily re water and food, which is a great relief.  Tania, my usual helper, has gone off the radar a bit since her kids are on school holidays and her husband is incapacitated - he had a serious accident hitting a kangaroo on his quad bike, and is in a brace due to fractured vertibrae.
Part two of the excitement is the possibility of a new tractor.  John and Janice have a Kubota - a reputable brand- which they think might suit us. It is newer, and smaller than our old Same (which they are trying to sell for us, a difficult job when the tractor has a busted clutch and  replacements are impossible to source.) I had a drive yesterday.  It felt fine, though I couldn't manage smooth gear changes.  Anyway, we are being lent the tractor for the weekend to try out, so once our baby sitting duties are over, we'll head down to the grove and see if we can dig out rocks, pull out stakes and generally cope with something completely different.  Wish us luck!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Amazingly tough and hard working

No, I'm certainly not talking about myself.  Summer is tough at the grove.  Although it is fractionally cooler than where we live in the city, and being close to the coast always gets whatever sea breeze is going (sometimes that's a gale!) it looks very dry and barren.  The little grass dries up and blows away, grasshoppers eat anything green and my few poor fruit trees shrivel. BUT I have some ornamental plants which do amazingly well and look cheerful on no fertiliser and no water.  Here they are.
At this point I had intended to add some photos which I took yesterday.  But my blogger dashboard has changed and it wont allow me to 'browse' and load photos from my desktop!!! ARGH.  It is probably my fault and relates to something I have inadvertently clicked.  So I'll just give you a boring list.
To clarify, these are all exotics, and not native
  1. Bougainvillea.  I have five big plants, at the moment smothered in colour.  Real stand outs with hot cheerful colour.  Apart from the white one at the gate, which looks white and cool, not hot at all.
  2. Ground cover lantana.  This is a toughy.  It is isn't the noxious weed one which causes so much trouble in the eastern states.  It is bright yellow and ground hugging,and flowers for months.
  3. Oleander.  They get bad press because they are poisonous, but so are lots of plants, including daffodils and no one hates them.  I saw oleanders growing in Italy as spectacular features and resolved to resurrect their reputation a little bit. Mine are pink, and are looking very stylish.
  4. Rosemary.  What is not to like about rosemary?  It smells good, you can use it in cooking, the bees love it, and it is so tough
  5. Lavender.  Ditto for lavender, though I don't think it is terribly useful for cooking.  I have infused some olive oil with it, having plans to make some soothing ointment with oil and beeswax.
  6. Lagestroemia. 'Crepe Myrtle' is the common name, and it is easier to spell. When we originally planned the grove, it was suggested that we plant almond trees along the drive. I took a unilateral decision and planted crepe myrtle instead.  I thought this was the all round super ornamental shrub.  It flowers with a profusion of blossom in summer, the leaves develop autumn colour, and the trunks, as the plant matures, are gorgeously shiny and patterned.  To be honest, they have struggled a bit, and after 10 years are no where as tall as I had hoped, but they are starting to make the sort of display I had hoped for.
  7. Plumbago.  This one also hasn't been quite as tough as I had hoped.  It is an old fashioned plant that Nannas used to grow as a hedge.  I like it for its mass of blue flowers in summer.  One cultivar has amazing ink blue flowers.  I have put two near the blue house, but sadly something is eating them.  Either the kangaroos or rabbits like them, or it is the grasshoppers.  I'll try a tree guard, though that wont fix the grasshopper issue. 
Hooray.  The system has relented and is letting me put photos in!
Bi colour bouganivillaea

golden lantana

bougainvillaea, rosemary, lavender, plumbago


Crepe myrtle

White Bougainvillaea
I wish I could have shown you the photographs! (And now I can!)

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Robbing the bees

Here we are at the beginning of a new year.  We spent a few days after Christmas with our son and daughter in law, down on the beautiful south coast, and had a look at their bees, which they had just moved from an apple orchard to sort of hippy commune.  It made me realise we really ought to check our bees.  When I robbed ( I dont like that expression - I'd prefer to say 'harvested' honey.  But to be honest, we do rob the bees of their honey, their hard work.  I believe every worker bee, in their short life time, only gathers about a teaspoon of honey.  And some die every time you open and check the hive, no matter how careful you are)  Any way, when I robbed the hive last time, I did it by myself, and it was very hard, so this time I prevailed upon my husband to help.  Our grove, where the bees live, is 100 kilometres south of home in the city.  Husband had a physio appointment to go to (bursitis in the knee) so didn't get there until lunch time.  It went quite smoothly.  It took about 3 !/2 hours to rob and then extract the honey, and clean up.  We got about 12.5 kilos of excellent flavoured honey, and each got stung only once.  Mine was minor, but poor husband got stung near the eye, and it swelled dreadfully. He doesn't look happy, does he?