Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose
Photo: Journey Worker Productions, CC SA 3.0 (C)

Friday, 21 February 2014

A little known fact about the economic impact of the Protestant Reformation

From Father Ray Blake in the UK:

Dr Rock that great nineteenth century Southwark priest, antiquarian and one of the founders of the V & A, makes a point somewhere of the disastrous impact of the Protestant Reformation on bee-keepers. Before the Reformation they were concerned more about the wax than the honey. He tells of great Paschal candles weighing several hundred-weight that that were kept alight from Easter to Ascension, they were so tall that they had to be lit from clerestory.

See the complete story at:

Candles and Candlemass

We like Bees at Companions of Saint Ambrose Melbourne...can you discover why?

Monday, 17 February 2014

The water tank, and precious water

We water the plants where I am using a water tank, a large one. But last week it went dry. Between the veggie garden and the gardens proper, the tank went effectively dead about a week ago. 
I'd foreseen it but hadn't done much about it, hoping for a deus ex machina I suppose. 

Last Friday, I went and bought a second hand, ex-wine barrel from a suburb north of here. It holds, I would guess, 180 L . I noted that the car parks of my apartment have no connection to any water tank, so I could augment water from there with the barrel. I also started greywatering pretty heavily. It seems to be OK. 

Tonight, for the first time in a week of hot weather, we had 0.6 mm of water. This has been the January pattern - a hot week, followed by a break, and a few mm of rain (two periods of 5 or 6 mm, and 2 of 1-2 mm. So only 4 rain days, with some very hot spells of +40 deg for 5 days (4 of these consecutive), and about 1/3 of the month above 30 deg. So there hasn't been much water around to harvest, and lots of heat to evaporate it.

So the tank emptied. On asking, it turns out the tank only diverts half the rainwater into the tank, because it was filling too quickly! So the body corporate are considering putting in a flexy system for tank water capture, and putting in a flexy divert system for the car port water.

Great. But I should have seen this earlier.

And today it rained, and I had a barrel, and no way to capture the rain, because I couldn't open the piping and grab it. And there were no places with a run off stream I could grab. So a place that will be completely dry again for a week naturally had a good concrete and metal soak, and all that water was wasted.

And, I'll have to water with grey/scheme water.

Really frustrating.

Especially when I realised there were no run offs, or inconvenient ledges for pedestrians with a streamlets off any roof, or anything that wasn't twee, and neat and controlled, to bring the water from where it landed to put it in the gutter in the ground. No natural puddles or anything. 

And, suddenly I saw the whole picture - we have domesticated water and made it invisible, and it is now something that arrives in a tap. From somewhere. Whenever we want; forever. We trust.

Ok, you are thinking: whats wrong with scheme water? For plants it is not optimal because, the story goes, it is purified with chlorine. Chlorine is bad for microbes in soil, and bacteria (thats the point of adding it to drinking water), so it is bad for plants. (Hmmm...that explains why they keep dying on my--Rick.) It is also just stupid to water with scheme when *with a bit of planning* I could have fresh rainwater.

One is also keeping a nasty big corporate engineering firm in business. (I have no idea whether they are nasty - I have no idea who Melbourne Water uses to run its water schemes - probably some engineering/infrastructure conglomerate aggregated from various 19th century public works quangos, with a few johnnies privatised in the last 30 years). (Cal, did you talk with our solicitor about this before we posted your rant?) The point is not the who but the what - it isn't subsidiarity to let rain go and rely for your garden on Water Corp.

Don't get me started on the ridiculous desalination plant our city built. Crony macrocapitalism of the sort that is so common it is dreary.

Then there's my suspicion about chlorine. I haven't looked this up yet, but I have no doubt about what I'll find. So I haven't. (That's very open minded of you Cal.) The problem is that I am prepared to bet without looking that they don't just use chlorine in the water to kill the bugs but much nastier stuff now. (And, you say that I'm paranoid...and, I am.) But the water comes out dandy for drinking, and that's all we care about. (I like it for showering as well.)

My father had the experience of going to a swimming pool, and noticing that they were using Ozone (O3) and some bromine thing to purify the municipal pool water. He then asked the techies about this, and asked about the addition of (now redundant) chlorine. They confirmed that yes, the chlorine had stopped effectively killing bugs in the 1980s-1990s due to microbial adaptation, and now they'd fallen back to O3 and bromine, but they still added the chlorine so everyone could have the experience of chlorine in the pool water, so they would all feel safe, and no one would feel like there was a really nasty environmental problem behind their consuming the 'pool experience'. So long as tradition was held up, and things looked and felt like they did 15 years ago, then everything would be happy. Whatever the little tech-elves did in the background to make that experience happen, was OK and worth it.

I know that if I look into the situation of mains water here, I will have the same experience of peeling back the shiny floor-linoleum of the results of corporate organisation, and will see the cockroaches and mould of reality behind things. 

I already know from a bit of looking into this years ago, there's a mild(?) issue with xenoestrogens, and with residual neurological agents  (eg people's kidney- excreted prozac) and reproductive agents (eg contraceptive pill residues), and other endocrine disruptors in the mains (Sounds like an Aliens movie). I don't want to think about them. And the politico-eco-conversational dynamic will be the same - everyone will say its fine, no worries, we've sorted it out, there are no creeping or catastrophic consequences of the system we have built up. 

And, like the gay marriage debate - the establishment will never declare one of two sides of an exhaustive truth: either the establishment know all outcomes that will result from its policies, and all are benevolent or at least worth suffering for the policy outcomes, or there are possible unforeseen outcomes they haven't put into their calculations.  In simpler terms, they won't complicate things by talking about the as-yet-unknown-unknowns (hmmm...this sound Rumsfeldian), the stuff that we get intimations and glimpses of but not enough info on to be able to make an argument that's not just an appeal to ignorance. 

So, just keep consuming at the Green logo supermarket or the Red logo supermarket, and vote for the Red logo or the Blue logo party and everything will continue to be wonderful.

I didn't want to think about this stuff, and go through the same patterns of argument, so I'd ignored it. 

But, the rainwater depletion has left me with no choice but to realise this action of holding it in abeyance is exactly what I'm doing.

I hate having this drawn to my attention. I hate that I knew this in December and didn't do anything.


(Here I go, postscripting, can't let it go - I mean, people all used to have water tanks here, until the Govt made everyone remove them to make mains water a viable proposition in terms of dropping the price per user down by increasing load share. There is no water crisis, if we got rainwater tanks, and didn't farm using techniques that are basically land-energy-nutrient-mining, using a plant-crop's reproductive cycle as the mining tool. I think I will stop typing before I go semi-insane).

[Dear Reader, please remember that the bloggers are Catholic and guilt is a big part of our ethos. If it is too much for you, take the blogs in stages. I have visited our contributor and can confirm that he has survived his water self-torture treatment. RH]

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Ollas for watering the garden in a more efficient way

We've had a minor water crisis (water tank is empty, before the hottest month of the year). I will write that up soon. This prompted me to look again at water efficiency and from there to discover this concept of Ollas. 

What is an Olla you ask?

A beginners' short What-are-Ollas video

Ollas (pronounced “oy-yahs”) are unglazed clay/terra-cotta pots buried with neck above ground, filled with water to irrigate plants by directly watering their roots. It is an ancient method, a very efficient use of water. It is claimed that it allows for good management of weeds (I'm dubious - nature doesn't recognise the weed/useful plant distinction; that's a humanism). 'm going to give Ollas a go and see how it goes.

This Australian site has systems for connecting ollas to a rainwater tank, and lots of little bits of irrigation equipment - eg. hoses to water vertical gardens etc. Very intriguing indeed.

An excellent guide to making ollas:

The site has all sorts of sustainability stuff on it - a couple in Sydney who have been doing sustainability for years.

Other things that I've discovered and want to track down:

Self Sufficiency in a Flat – Joy O. I. Spoczynska – Wildwood House Ltd (UK) 1980 ISBN 0 7045 0214 3 – 
The Australian Self Sufficiency Bible – Ken Fin Books (AUS) 1999 ISBN 0 7343 0111 1 – This big book is a collection of articles originally printed in Earth Garden Magazine 1972 to 1991.

The Potters’ Alternative – Harry Davis –Methuen (AUS) 1987 – ISBN 0 454 0113 X

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Notes on hardwoods and organic wood sealers

Public Domain

I was recently visiting the family home, and talking to my father, who has been experimenting with wood sealers and repellents. We got to discussing Western Australian hardwoods, and he showed me a copy of a reference work, shown to the left.

This text from 1906, abridged 1917, is one of the industry's standard reference works for such timbers.

Up to now, I've been using Jarrah for projects. I like its strength, hardness, colour and its anti-fungal properties; I also like to get woods from my home state of WA. But, it would also be nice to find an alternative to some Casuarinas that I also wish to try out at some stage. 

Anyway, the book, pretty short, had the following points of detail (Cal, you are not kidding about the details; and, as a forestry technician in a previous life, I'm with you on this one--but readers should hear about your patented process for weather proofing wood sometime):

First, the author is concerned to establish scientific testing procedures for hardness and tensionability (real word) and so forth. Testing methods are given and sample sizes are in the 100s or 1000s. (The statistical side is otherwise a bit average, literally: only averages are given, no Standard Deviations and no Medians). 

What comes through, from the choices of examples and illustrations of use, is that the impetus for this science is to regiment, 'resource-ify' and organise timber harvesting for railroad sleepers. If one thinks about it, a house builder can work around timber to a certain extent; he or she can pick and choose stock. But, a railroad builder needs 1000's of homogeneous sleepers with no surprises and little variation from an established 'spec'. (So do the railway passengers.)

So, the railroads pushed the wood industry into getting seriously scientific. The Department of Railways supported the work. The other industries that needed wood reliability were communications (telegraph/telephone poles), shipbuilding, and - more sporadically but urgently - the mining industry which needed bracing during expansion booms.

Second, the work mentions that it is modelled on Johnson's Materials of Construction, which did the science on US timbers. It also rebuts Sydney researchers, who early on put down WA timbers as unsuitable for use (p.14). One wonders if this earlier literature might have saved, for a time any way, certain WA forests from plundering for trade. 

However, there is evidence that all types of the timbers were being in use already on the railways. Jarrah had been used as far away as Newcastle for some 20 years (p.47). There was at least an established trade in hardwoods from the eastern states of Australia to California in the 19th century ( 

Third, I discovered a wood I'd seen but didn't know the name of, Yate. It is one of the really hard scrub eucalypts. It is recorded in the text as having a hardness of 7500 PSI, compared to Jarrah at 4500. (I'm not sure how meaningfully accurate  these numbers are). 

However, it is difficult to dry and takes a much longer time to drop down to the standard 12% moisture. There are also brittleness issues. Still, I'd like to find some and try it, even if for a small bookshelf. Looking around, it doesn't seem to be sold anywhere. 

Has anyone heard of it or know where to find it?

In any case, it is good sometimes to stumble on to these old books. They can give you a bit of perspective.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Why a picture is not always worth a thousand or two may suffice

There are numerous examples of how even farming can have weird and wacky dimensions that need to be left in the dustbin of history. This one is infuriating enough to make someone contemplate voting Green while they see Red, Yellow and Black:

A photo of a Wedge Tailed Eagle
CC BY-NC Fir0002/Flagstafffotos
The irrational hatred of [Wedge-tailed] eagles by some farmers was unbounded. In a letter to the The Australasian of 22 April 1939, a Mrs P----- R------, of C-------, Victoria, wrote of ‘very handsome but extremely cruel’ eagles tearing the throat from lambs and preferring the warm blood of ‘the largest and strongest’. She enclosed three photographs of an eagle caught in the act of killing ‘a healthy young lamb’. In a reply published in April, well-known naturalist-author David Fleay questioned the ‘badly tattered and frayed’ plumage, odd juxtaposition of predator and prey, and closeness of the photographer to the subject. Unrepentant, Mrs Russell replied on 6 May, that the photos were indeed faked—an eagle was shot and posed over a [dying] lamb—but claimed that her actions were warranted as ‘propaganda’ against the eagle, because the images were visually educational!
Adapted from Penny Olsen, WEDGE-TAILED EAGLE, Melbourne: CSIRO, 2005, pg. 90. (We removed the name and location of the letter writer to protect her progeny.)

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

What does the grim reaper have that you can buy too?

A painting of a farmer sharpening scythe.
Pekke Halonen, Niittomiehet (1891 PD)
While in Perth recently, I found myself also reading up on scythes. When growing up, from about the ages of 12-14, I lived for about 2 years on a property that was wild and overgrown with 4 foot high grass. There was a dumpy old house that we demolished it and rebuilt. But in the old house, there was an old shed with a rusted old sickle. With it, I would play at cutting the grass. 

I got to thinking of that old place, and the sickle. It made me wonder how scythes worked. (Yes, Rick; there is a 'c' after the 's' as in scissors). I was particularly interested in whether they'd be a realistic alternative to mowers. 

So, I did some poking around to look for sickles  (Cal, how come its not scykles?) and scythes. I was hoping to see whether anyone had recognised them as a 'convivial technology'. Turns out there was quite a movement. 

Actually, they are more efficient than I'd imagined.

Here is a video of mad English people showing technique (remember, these are English people...don't try to do this at the video and you will see what I mean): 
There's a question of why one would have grass rather than food forest in the first place (ahem, Rick...). But, if one is not stuck, as I am, in rental concrete-ocean horror and one has to maintain grass (i.e. guilty property investors...renters etc), better this than the dreadful whippersnipper or sit-on-lawnmower (however you may choose to spell the word, Rick).

If you want to buy one in Australia, look here:

I didn't go far enough to see how precise a cut it enables. My impression or guess is that it is a bit like shaving; one can do a rough job, or do a smoother one.  The end result depends on the surface and developing some skill. But, perhaps there are set limits to how fine/smooth a grass-cut one can get.

So, you too can have a stylish accessory just like the Grim Reaper. If you try balancing one of these on your chin as the mad Englishman did in the video above, you may just meet Mr. Black sooner than you had anticipated.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Help needed with mystery mould

Recently, I planted some Daikon seeds from last crop, and began to replant carrots, transplanting them from a small-diameter pot across 20 or so other little pots. I do this rather than cull and kill which everyone advises with carrots. 

Mysterious Mould--CL--CCSA3
I have some new PURPLE/BLACK carrots that I'm quite pleased I've obtained. 

Anyway, I will write something on carrot transplanting later. It fades into the background compared to what I found when inspecting the 20 or so little pots for transplant - some sort of water-crystals, slime or jelly. The little pots (about 6 in high, 4 in wide, black plastic ones, on a bookshelf in the garden) were filled with soil on shortly before. 

A few slime mould links:

I'm pretty sure it isn't a slime mould; it could be a jelly fungus, it could be water-retaining crystals in the fertiliser that were accidentally in a clump and not distributed. 

I don't think that it isn't frogspawn. Whatever it is, it has coagulated, because the compost was sieved to 3-4 mm before going in the pots. It was in the middle pot of the top row, at the back away from the sunlight (i.e., probably the least exposed and most temperate position in the whole bookshelf). 

For comparison the brown granules are wet tea leaves. This stuff appeared before I put the tea leaves on. I can't work it out. Any help?