Runts & hairy mammoths

Today, trees which remained unbudded, met the chain-saw.


Several weeks after leaf burst, unbudded rootstock assumes one of two forms; each equally as irritating as you drive about the orchard cursing that you had not acted earlier to be rid of these eye-sores.

Runts fail to thrive. Their contorted structures from several failed budding attempts mock.

Hairy mammoths are rootstock that have been chopped back to ground level to allow one shoot to be primed for budding. The base throws up many other shoots and in leaf the original budded branch is hidden or fails.

Chain-sawing removes most traces of these budding failures.

Rose arch

The rose arch defines the outer limit of the home garden; beyond here, there be dragons. Well, sheep droppings, attack weeks, dust and orchard work.


This arch matches one at the entry to the house. We buy them from Sam, local supplier, ex-fencer and current country & western performer with a new CD. Gossip holds that the arches are built at the local prison, bursting at the seams with guests of the present one term coalition hard-on-crime government. We will never forget erecting the first arch.


The trouble occurred when we tried placing the arch into the four metal pipes at the base. It was too heavy and awkward. We dropped it. Ruth would say I dropped it. It bounced back and one end struck her in the left temple, severing her facial artery. That necessitated a frantic dash to the emergency department for stitches.

So, we approached the task of situating the rose arch today with some trepidation. Our son and his wife were here. We needed their help but did not wish to place them in harm’s way.

Bringing the painted arch from the shed to its erection site was uneventful. We placed the arch into position and spray painted the location for drilling. My son and I hand augured the holes. The shaft of the augur snapped as the fourth and final hole was dug. We placed the metal pipe into the holes, check the tops were level and tapped one or two in.

I reversed the ute back under the arch. We jumped on the tray. One side went in easily. The other was tricky but Kim, our son’s wife, claimed that her actions were central to our success.


A lick of paint to the four supporting pipes and leading the climbing ‘iceberg’ runners to its home; and the garden perimeter will be secured.

Shed gridlock

Walnut trees are waking. There are catkins. Soon leaves will appear. Once the leaves form into a ‘praying ‘ form, its time to spray copper to curb blight. I went looking for the sprayer yesterday to check it was functioning. It has sat at the back of the shed since last December. I found it wedged behind the harvester, the shaker, the lawn mower, a bin trailer and the fan for the new drying bins.

I think it is important to risk boring you with the tedious tale of how I overcame these obstacles.

All of these barriers to the simple extraction of the sprayers should not have posed a problem. That is not my experience of commencing any new task – one step forward and five steps back.

The shaker and the forklift to shift the fan had flat batteries. The shaker had lain dormant for months and the voltage has seeped away. The forklift reflects a more insidious concern which it shares with our tractor. If I leave the key in the ignition overnight in the off position, as is normal practice in the country, though we do lock doors and windows at night, but not in the day, the battery flattens. A flat battery is a minor irritant now that we have the superconductor jumper leads from our local legitimate auto-electrician ‘Hotwire’.

With the forklift jump started I moved the fan. The bin trailer, I attached the rusty chain, bought at the local farmers’ market recently, to the forklift and dragged it away for later attention.

I used the jumper leads on the shaker. Its cummins engine growled to life. A joy stick lifts the grappling arm into the air. Forward and reverse is a see-saw accelerator. Left down is forward: right down back. Or is it? In a tight shed, the difference matters. I reversed it out and out of the way.

That left the harvester obstructing the sprayer by millimetres. Rather than attempting to squeeze by, I took the safe option. Moving the harvester requires attaching a very heavy metal collar to the lifting forks at the back of the tractors. That done, the collar must be lined up with the linkage of the harvester, by gently reversing the tractor and a bolt dropped into place at the appropriate time. Its a two person job. But pulling the harvester out of the shed I noted that the front wheels did not always clear the undulating ground. Correcting that could wait till I finished with the sprayer.

The sprayer was now accessible, but the tractor still had the collar in place behind. Rather than disconnecting it from the harvester, I tried delinking it from the tractor. I would need to come back for the harvester and put it back in the shed, so leaving the collar with it made sense. The process proved simple. Now, to move the sprayer requires the connection of a tow-bar to the tractor. The mechanical link was established, the jockey wheel raised and the electronic wiring connected. The sprayer was pulled clear of the shed and the PTO engaged. When the switches on the control box were flicked on, fine spray shot from each of the nozzles at the rear of the sprayer. Success. I returned the sprayer to an empty shed and reversed into its own bay, not to be blocked during its months of use till December.

Running the shaker’s engine for thirty minutes had recharged the battery. It took its place at the back of the shed, not needed till April next year.

The harvester posed two problems. I could ignore one but chose to not. I needed to adjust the tractor’s lifting forks so that the front wheels of the harvester would clear the ground easily. The mechanisms on the threaded supporting arms of the forks exhibited revered Japanese asymmetry. One could be adjusted easily. The other required the removal of a bolt distally. I tried to calculate if shortening or lengthening the arm would produce the desired result, knowing that once the collar was connected to the harvester, adjustment would prove difficult, especially the distal adjustment on the left arm. I chose lengthening and reconnected the collar to the tractor with difficulty. Needless to say, I had made the wrong decision. The arm needed shortening. The right arm was easy. I could not now access the distal bolt on the left arm as it occluded by the collar. There was a proximal bolt, untouched in years, moderately rusted, that eventually agreed. Shortening did the job by centimetres.

Next, I removed the flat tyre on bin trailer, took it to the repairer; and now, today, I am off to collect it before the AFL Grand-Final between Sydney and Hawthorn.



Each of our neighbours grows outstanding citrus. On our farm citrus perishes; that is, apart from the one squat kumquat tree by the back verandah which annually produces sunny, bursting fruit.


The kumquat does not back onto a north facing brick wall. It is largely un-nourished. Its diet is of spent tealeaves, coffee grounds, blue wren droppings, toenail clippings and windblown newspapers. No need for a composter.

As I type, the fruit is being sliced thinly and pipped for marmalade. The tangy aroma wafts from the kitchen. In other years we have plopped the kumquats into brandy with copious sugar to create a zesty liqueur perfect with ice-cream on a sticky summer evening.

Highway 61

I first heard Bob Dylan as a fourteen year old while lying on the bare boards of the lounge room of a fibro public housing home on the south coast of NSW. His relentless nasal poetic mix of uncertainty, rebellion and hope, lodged. For one who picked guitar and hitchhiked, Dylan posed questions and answers to the imponderables of youth.

Living in a rural setting, happy, active and engaged, was a vague dream of adolescence. There were the necessary prerequisites of school and university to come. Through these times Dylan circled in the background, mocking.

Today I live on a farm. The imponderables have faded. I am living the answers. Odd now, listening to Dylan and typing on a computer. So much has moved on. The farm is about to become self-sufficient. Our family merges humour with purpose. Meeting are rare events, comic, insightful, astute and sensitive.

The next generation is almost at hand. The farm is an asset yet to reveal its full value for us all.

Water is free from God

Local water authorities quell criticism by maintaining that water is free. Their considerable bills reflect the cost of storing our water in dams and the upkeep of channels to bring it to us. They are our waterlords, like any innkeeper toting up our usages.

A lumbering bureaucracy oversees water, magically carving liquid into tangible billable categories. Permanent water has till recently been inextricably linked to the land it irrigates. Temporary water has always been bought and sold at short notice. Now permanent water may be sold from its land. Beware the buyer who believes her land purchase comes with water. The waterlord will come looking for the formidable costs of potential storage and transport of the flown asset.

Bureaucrats divide water into high and low reliability. They link these divisions to the complex concept of ‘spill’. I have not yet met anyone who can explain ‘spill’ to me. My wife, who worked in water for years, understands completely. She has tried to explain it to me many times. After about thirty seconds, my thoughts drift off. I see her earnest expressions and know her intonations but her words circle. Knowing and understanding these issues is crucial to dabbling in the water market, even for managing farm resources and allocations.

Water is a commodity that is bought and sold, like the stock market or real estate. Prices for water fluctuate widely. In the drought, water costs bankrupted many. Last year prices bottomed but are currently back up.

Water is political. The present government is disregarding the fact that over 75% of water users have less than 100 mgs of water. The master of the house wines and dines the top 5% of water users. Water may be free but its accommodation isn’t.

Garden slave

When jobs in the orchard diminish briefly I sleep-in. When I rise I need swift responses to pointed demands from my wife obsessed with her plants and trees, like, ‘Are you my garden slave?’

‘Slavery was abolished in the nineteenth century.’

‘Not in this postcode.’

I accepted the challenge of rationalising the irrigation system in the home orchard. For a person gifted with such design abilities I am repeatedly staggered by my wife’s spatial orientation abyss. Several years ago, travelling on the autostrada outside Milan at 140 km/hr with a fuel tanker in the rear vision mirror, a Fellini extra in the left lane and Michael Schumacher in the right, I realised that Ruth did not understand maps. How far to our turn-off was a total mystery. The plan for the irrigation system poses similar challenges.

We agreed on a new design for the home orchard watering. It involved running poly to hoses that were attached to taps. Controlling watering manually proved tangible and acceptable.

Next, was a final orchard task before leaf burst. This entailed the deeply black yet satisfying job of removing rootstock that had not yet been successfully budded, after several attempts. I performed the termination with a chain-saw. Ruth applied a herbicide to ensure finality. It was with regret that I cut into the moist flesh of those black walnut trunks but the logic was irresistible. Buds had failed to take repeatedly. The neighbouring trees were budded and could use the space and sunlight. Rootstock could harbour blight and nuts from black walnuts were larger and harder. If collected, they damage the huller at harvest time. We stopped after thirty five rows of trees. The chain-saw refused to start and our neighbour was spraying with a breeze that could bring the cloud in our direction.

We decided to light our last pile of prunings. It has been lit two weeks before but failed to ignite. In this bushfire prone land it is reassuring that live walnut trees are poorly combustible. However, dried walnuts burn famously. We added newspaper, cardboard, fallen gum tree branches, marine ply off-cuts and diesel. The fire started well then hesitated. We found more dry eucalyt branches: such perfect accelerants. The fire zoomed.

Leaf burst is imminent. It brings orchard tasks to break these chains.