Story THE MULBERRY TREE

Bidadisndat

Contributing Member
When Dirk’s parents returned to the city on the Monday afternoon it was after having seen the town and the village plus a good deal of the surrounding countryside, and had met many of the friends he and Sally had made, all of whom had left a very good impression. Bjorn had also helped his son put corrugated sheets of clear Alsynite on top of the pergola over the front deck, and suggested that perhaps sometime in the future it could be enclosed with clear plastic roll-up café curtains, thus turning it into a sun-room of sorts.

There was some discussion about where the generator should be sited so that it could supply power to both the workshop and the cottage without the sound of its running being intrusive to either, however it was decided to leave it where it was for the time being.

The workshop would need to be enlarged, said Rob, and it wouldn’t need to be triangular as suggested some time before by Sally, because he’d enrolled to do a Small Engine Maintenance and Repair Course at the TAFE College, and would eventually need a workbench of his own. He had done this after learning that the mower repair man in town wanted to retire and for some time had been looking for someone to buy out his business, but so far without success.

“I find that rather surprising,” he added, “because he always seems to be busy and has lots of customers lined up with machines that need to be attended to. Not just lawn mowers but also whipper-snippers, brush-cutters, chainsaws, log-splitters, generators and Lord knows what else. You’d think there’d be quite a few people wanting to take it on and be their own boss, wouldn’t you?”

“That’s because he wants to sell the building along with the business and his asking price is considered by most to be way too high,” said Dirk. “Frank and I were over there last week to have the post-hole digger looked at - gear box is stuffed - and were asked if we knew anyone who might be interested. Mind you, he’s apparently being saying that he’d like to retire for the past ten years, so maybe no one’s taking him seriously.”

“How much does he want for it, did he say?”

“He told me he’s hoping to get around $32,000 for the whole shebang. It’s well known that he always pays all his bills on time so his accounts payable would be minimal, but as he usually gets paid promptly for the work he does his accounts receivable wouldn’t amount to much if anything either. From what I understand he doesn’t keep much in the way of saleable stock other than spare parts, and if you take out that, plus any equipment that goes with the sale, and the market value of the premises, I think his asking price is probably based a lot on goodwill.”

“$32,000 is way more than I’d want to pay even if I did have the cash. Just out of curiosity, what do you think the building’s worth?”

“No idea, but I suppose I could find out for you if you really want to know.”

“Nah. I haven’t even started the TAFE course yet and I reckon you’d need quite a bit of experience in the field before approaching a bank for a loan, and I’m not thinking of getting into that business anyway. I’m doing the course mainly because I’m concerned about having nobody around here to repair our machines if they break down after he finally does retire, though admittedly it might also be way to earn a bit of pocket money further down the track.”

“It’s a good idea, but if somebody did want you to work on something it’d be best if they dropped it off and picked it up at the recycling centre rather than have them come here.”

“Oh, that’s for sure,” said Rob who in truth hadn’t given any thought to that aspect until now but would in future be careful to keep it in mind.

With the days now noticeably shorter and cooler there was less call for Dirk to assist Frank with fencing jobs, which meant more time could be devoted to projects around the farm, and all agreed that work on the veggie garden plus establishing a productive food forest of fruit and nut trees would take priority.

Close behind that of course was the construction of the fishing shack with the intention of having it ready for occupation by next summer, giving them a good six months during which they would all work like Billy-o to complete the build.

A greenhouse was a structure that would need to be put up soon and to that end Dirk and Sally drove into town a couple of days later and purchased the HDPE pipe and star pickets to be used for the arches supporting its shadecloth covering. Whilst not selling either product themselves the staff at the irrigation shop advised them that they should also use polycarbonate film in combination with the shadecloth to help retain heat, and they were fortunate to find that it could be purchased in wide rolls at the hardware store where they were buying the shadecloth.

Rob had taken it upon himself to visit the person who he knew had the type of greenhouse that Dirk wanted, and after spending some time examining it and talking to the owner was able to provide some sound advice when the group’s own was erected on the following Sunday. He turned up at the greenhouse site early that morning with a large stack of pre-drilled wooden battens and all the nuts and bolts needed to attach them lengthways between the arches, both to make the structure more rigid and to help prevent its cover from sagging.

Oriented so that its length ran North-South, a perimeter of 2” x 6” treated pine sleepers was laid down and would be used to secure the shadecloth around the base as well as contain a thick bed of coarse woodchips for the floor. A full truckload of chips was to be delivered FOC by Dave’s mate Charlie who had contracts with the local council and the power company to do tree trimming, and until he’d met Dave had had problems trying to offload the chips and mulch produced by his big machine. Dave had offered him the use of his farm to dump some of the stuff with the idea of using it himself, but without realising just how much there would be... And there was literally tons of it.

Measuring four metres by ten it wasn’t an overly large greenhouse, but it would not only be sufficient to begin raising the many seedlings they needed for later transplanting but also house plants that didn’t grow well in the full sun of a hot Australian summer. During that time the polycarbonate film covering could be removed to turn it into a shade-house, although it was later agreed that the more practical suggestion made by Reb after the fun of putting the film on in the first place was shared by all, a second structure should be built for that sole purpose. Ventilation, needed to lessen high humidity within would at this time be achieved by simply rolling up the covers at each end, although Dirk’s plan was that sometime in the future the end covers would be replaced by doors and flaps that could be opened would be placed between the arches along the length of each side. He’d also have to knock up several trestles that would support long planks running the full length of the southern side to be used as a potting bench and to hold seed trays, leaving space on the opposite side clear for pots containing advanced seedlings.

Charlie turned up with the woodchips and his two sons, Adam and Troy, on the Tuesday just before noon, and with all wielding mulching forks and rakes it took less than a half hour to have the entire truckload spread evenly throughout the length of the greenhouse. Whilst they were doing that, and despite Charlie saying it wasn’t necessary, Sally had prepared a large plate of sandwiches and big mugs of hot soup for them and as they all sat around the table for lunch Dirk told Charlie that if he ever had more woodchips and mulch than Dave could handle he’d be welcome to offload it right here.

“I’m sure Dave won’t have a problem with that at the moment,” replied Charlie with a laugh. “I don’t think he had any idea how much our chipper turns out each week so I’d be happy to bring it here until he decides he needs more than he’s got already. But what are you going to do with it?”

“Just let it rot,” said Dirk, and then laughed at the look on Charlies face. “No, seriously, Charlie, that’s what I intend to do, though maybe I should have said compost it. You’ve seen our veggie garden and to you it probably looks good, but believe me, it took a lot of work to get it to where it’s at now. The soil here is really sandy and we had to add lots of grass clippings, horse poop, loam and store-bought compost to begin turning it into relatively good gardening soil. I figure it’d be easier if we were able to make our own compost on site, and that’s where you come in: If we make a long pile of woodchips and add grass clippings, horse poop and blood and bone meal it’ll eventually decompose into a good additive we can mix with the dirt here.”

“Sounds like a very long-term plan, Dirk.”

“We don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon Charlie, and I think if we do it right we could be using some of the compost as early as next autumn.”

“The chips I delivered are quite big because they came from the old machine we use now, but the new model we’re getting at the end of next month turns out much finer mulch which will probably be even better for what you want.”

“Actually the coarse chips can be put to good use Charlie, and we’d be happy to take all you can deliver until you switch to your new machine.”

“That’ll be no problem ‘coz we’ve got quite a lot of work lined up at the moment. How soon can we start bringing it in?”

“Just as soon as you like. I’ll mark out an area alongside the chicken run where you can offload, though you’ll have to remember to leave a bit of clear space around the gate on the side so I can get my wheelbarrow through.”

“You said you also used grass clippings. Where’d you get those?”

“The grass here was pretty long when we first arrived and that gave us a good start, but unfortunately the beautifully manicured field of weeds spread before you now isn’t going to yield nearly as much, so I don’t mind at all if you want to add your own lawn clippings to the mulch.”

“Not so much mine: A guy I know has a lawn mowing business and he pays me to take bales of the stuff off his hands on a regular basis. I toss them in with the loads I take to the council’s tip where I have to pay a fee for the service, so if you want them it’d save me a few dollars. A win-win arrangement if ever there was one I reckon. Well, apart from the council that is, but they’re already losing out because Dave’s taking the mulch off my hands.”

It was an arrangement that Dirk and Sally were quite happy to agree with.

“Where’d you get the horseshit?” asked Troy, earning a glare of disapproval from his father for speaking, to his mind, indelicately in front of a lady.

“We get it free from a woman who runs horses on the other side of town,” Dirk told him. “We’d like to get a lot more than she can give us but at a dollar fifty a bag from most places around here it’d work out to be too expensive.”

“Why not see if you can get manure from the stock sales yards at Maitland or Singleton?” said Adam, but emphasising the word manure with a cheeky grin at his father and a sidelong look at his brother.

“We didn’t think of that. Brilliant suggestion, Adam,” said Dirk.

“Yes, especially as it’d be mostly cow manure, which I’ve read is even better for growing fruit and vegetables than horseshit,” added Sally, and the emphasis she’d placed on the last word set the two boys to laughing so hard that even Charlie had to join in.

“I don’t think I’d put cow or horse manure on my strawberries though,” she added when the sound died down.

“Oh really? What would you put on them?” Troy asked innocently, and her answer of “Cream” sent both boys into another paroxysm of laughter.
 

Bidadisndat

Contributing Member
Having been pointed out the area where the woodchips were to be dumped Charlie drove off saying that the first load would probably be delivered early Friday, which was much sooner than Dirk and Sally expected but nevertheless good news.

“Do you remember telling me how you wanted to use those free pallets you got from the hardware store to build bays for making compost?” asked Sally. “I thought then that it’d be quite a job turning material over from one bay to the next, but how do you propose to turn over the amount of mulch than Charlie will bring?”

“I was thinking that we might be able to get Richard to do it once every two months or so with the bucket on his tractor.”

“That’d work, I guess. At least in the short term. In the long term though, we might have to think seriously about getting our own tractor now.”

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking that for a while. We’ll see how it goes. When the finer mulch starts coming we could barrow a lot into the run where the chooks would enjoy turning it over in search of worms and grubs… Not that there’ll be many of those, to begin with anyway.”

“Aha! Chicken tractors! Yeah, I know that’s not what’s normally meant by chicken tractors, but it’s a good idea. And we could dump all our kitchen scraps in there too.”

“No: Now that we have a generator to power it I’m going to set up the insinkerator to grind our own plus Rob and Reb’s scraps for our worm farm.”

“We don’t have a worm farm.”

“We will by this time tomorrow: I’m going to use those two old bathtubs to build one in the chook run, alongside the coop.”

“I thought that’s where you were going to put the compost bays.”

“It was, or rather, still is: The worms are just an addition to my grand plan. Of course I’ll need to buy a box of compost worms from the hardware store to get the system going, but I can do that tomorrow morning.”

“I know where you might be able to get plenty, and probably for free.”

“Really? And where would that be?”

“At one of the Primary schools in town. I heard a couple of mothers talking about a big compost bin that the kids have to put their uneaten food scraps in, and one of them said that there are so many worms in it that dozens of them are crawling out from under the lid and down the sides looking for more food. She was hoping that the school would clean it out soon because to her it was rather disgusting. If they haven’t done so already maybe we could drop in and offer to do the job for them.”

“Do you know which school? There are two that I know of.”

“There are three actually, but I think the one she was talking about is the big one on Lakeside Road. Maybe you should check them all out in case they each have one. I can go with you and help, though depending on what’s available we might have to get some large plastic garbage bins to put the contents in first.”

“Sounds like a plan. We’ll check out the schools first thing in the morning but if you can give me a hand we can at least put the bathtubs in place now.”

Working together it didn’t take them very long to have the two bathtubs set up side by side and supported at a convenient working height by a well braced frame of treated pine 4” x 4” that Dirk cut to size and put together on site. At the same time the old pallets he’d scored were used to form the compost bays he wanted, and despite it being an ad hoc effort the completed structure looked as if it had been well designed and carefully built. Sally never ceased to be amazed by his being able to work from go to whoa and get a project done in double quick time, especially when he was all fired up as he was now, and with each one completed felt more and more confident that their aim of becoming self-sufficient would be realised sooner than later.

In this respect they were well ahead of Dave and Bron, although to be fair that couple did have paying jobs that took up much of their time, so Sally suggested that perhaps she and Dirk they could give them a hand establishing their vegetable gardens. Knowing that the extent of their friends’ work so far in that direction had been somewhat limited, and being in full agreement, Dirk said that when he went over to the village for training with the brigade next Saturday he’d put the offer to them.

“Why not call in on them tomorrow on the way back from the schools in town? We could also check out the school in the village and see what they do with the kids’ food scraps.”

“That’s a good idea. I’d better call in and see Frank too, just in case he’s got something coming up.”

“Strange isn’t it? Not having regular jobs means we get to work harder.”

“Yeah, but I reckon the level of satisfaction we get by working for ourselves the way we do is way higher than any we’d get from any regular job.”

“And helping others. What do you think it’d be like if everyone was able to do the same as us?”

Everyone? Thankfully that’d never happen. Think about it: Who’d be there to serve you when you went shopping, for example? In fact, who’d manufacture all the goods that are sold, and which we need? And going back even further, who’d produce the materials needed to manufacture goods? To quote Thoreau, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” and in a way we have to be thankful that most accept their lot and try to make themselves content with it as best they can. If everyone did as we’re doing, the world as we know it would probably grind to a halt.”

“You seem to have given that a bit of thought. What do you think makes people accept their lot?”

“Tradition; old habits; indoctrination. Parents telling their children they must go to school, study hard and get good jobs, followed by an education system that reinforces the concept, and then by big and small businesses that employ them to keep the money rolling in. And that’s not being cynical: It’s just the way it is, and I can accept that, knowing that at least in this country I’m free to choose another path if I want to.”

“And that’s a path we’re both taking. You mentioned Thoreau: I’m rather surprised because most Australians would never have heard of him, let alone be able to quote any of his works. Did he have any influence on your dropping out of mainstream society?”

“Not really. Well, perhaps he may have touched a chord but I couldn’t really say his work influenced me a lot. I used to read books that my English teacher at high school recommended, probably because he understood that studying Shakespeare wouldn’t appeal to me at all, and Thoreau’s Walden just happened to be among them.”

“Hmm… My English teacher had a thing for Francis Scott Fitzgerald and because none of his novels were in the curriculum she went out and bought some for the class to read. She was admonished by the headmistress for doing that but as she’d used her own money to buy them the matter was dropped, though she was told to stick strictly to the curriculum. She was a real sweetie, and the class decided that each of us who wanted to keep a book would buy it from her. Not everyone wanted one though, and I ended up with copies of his first three novels, each of which I still have.”

“I’ve read The Great Gatsby which I know was his third, and you probably have that one. What are the others you have?”

This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and the Damned, which were his first and second. I’d like to get a copy of Tender is the Night which was his fourth and final but it always seems to slip my mind when I’m in a book store.”

“That happens to me too. Not so much with books but mostly with hardware stores. I’ve should get into the habit of writing everything down, but ten to one if I did that I’d get to the store and find I’d forgotten to bring my list.”

“Maybe you should do what Dave does and always carry a small notebook and pencil in your shirt pocket.”

“Good idea: I’ll try to remember to get one the next time we’re in town.”

* * *
 

Bidadisndat

Contributing Member
“Told you we’d have a worm farm by this time today, didn’t I?” said Dirk as he laid a piece of old carpet over the first bathtub they’d filled with the contents of the primary school’s compost bins they’d managed to secure.

“Never doubted you for a moment,” Sally replied in all honesty, though she had been surprised by the large amount of worms that inhabited the contents.

A quick trip to the shopping centre to buy three large plastic garbage bins had followed an agreement made at the school on Lakeside Drive: The mother she’d overheard telling a friend that there were dozens of worms crawling out of the school’s big black plastic compost bin hadn’t been exaggerating much, and fortunately Dirk’s and Sally’s offer to clean it out had been gratefully accepted by the principal. It had taken them about forty five minutes to do the job, which including washing out the bin and cleaning up the area where it was installed, however that was nothing compared to the dollars they would’ve had to pay for same number of worms purchased from the hardware store or garden centre. Impressed by what they had done the principal even asked if they’d be able to do the same at the end of each term, and before Dirk could reply Sally told him of course they could.

The second school they approached had no such bin and were quite OK with having their student’s scraps put in the bins collected by council each week, and the third school already had arrangement in place to deal with theirs, however the primary school at Brocklesbury yielded something entirely different: That school not only had a compost bin in place, but it also had a worm farm and a number of vegetable garden beds.

Unfortunately the teacher who had encouraged the school to install what the students had once described as their mini-farm had been transferred to a school in the city, and without her encouragement it was slowly falling into disuse. Sally somewhat impulsively volunteered to take over where the teacher had left off, at least as far as the gardening was concerned, and before he knew it Dirk was also roped in to help. It would only be temporary, Sally told him on their way to visit Dave and Bron, as she had an idea that might keep a number of people very happy but wanted to talk to their friends first. Whilst Dirk was a little dubious at the moment he decided he’d go along with her plan “If it was a sensible one”… Which of course meant one that he felt wouldn’t interfere with the plans they already had for their own farm!

Checking at the hotel to find that neither of their friends was working a shift they proceeded to McKenzie’s Farm where they received a warm welcome and a lunch consisting of cottage pie topped with sweet potato, followed by another of Bron’s experimental cakes. The first topic broached in the conversation that accompanied the meal was gardening, and their offer to help establish the raised vegetable garden beds that so far Dave and Bron hadn’t had a lot of time to do themselves was gladly accepted. That also reminded Dave that he hadn’t gotten around to having Frank install the chain link fencing, for which job he’d given Dave a quote, and after some discussion agreed with Dirk that that job should be left until after the garden beds were put in place.

That wouldn’t be difficult or take long either, Dave told them, as he had previously turned over the soil with a rotary hoe he’d hired and, as Mondays were the only day that he, Dirk and Sally could get together, the next one was decided upon to begin the job.

A description of what they were doing with their own gardens, and getting a good laugh from Bron when she told her that that morning they’d been out collecting worms, led Sally to explain her idea regarding the Primary School’s now neglected mini farm.

“I don’t suppose you know of any retired people around here who are into gardening do you?” she asked them. “Vegetable gardening I mean.”

“I do,” said Bron. “Two of my regulars are pretty keen: At least they spend a lot of time talking about their gardens, and I believe they help each other from time to time. I reckon they come to the pub more for company than anything else because they don’t drink much, and sometimes I think that without the pub, the darts club and gardening to keep their minds occupied they’d probably feel quite lonely. It’s a pity really because they’re both very nice old codgers.”

“They sound just like the type of people I have in mind.”

“And in this case I think I can read your mind, Sally: Correct me if wrong, but are you thinking they might be interested in taking on the job of getting the school’s little farm going again, and teaching the kids a bit about gardening?”

“Spot on, Bron! I’ll have to go back to the school and talk it over with the principal, and the P&C Committee will probably have to be advised, but it would be to the benefit of the school and the two men. Do you know their names?”

“Of course I do: Barmaids at the Cock & Bull are renowned for knowing all the regular patron’s names, and more often than not the names of their spouses and children too. In this case the men you are looking for are Pete Brady and Don Maguire. Way too early for them to be fronting the bar at the moment but they seem to have a ritual of meeting there at seven on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and if you drop by one of those nights around then I can introduce you to them.”

Sally didn’t know if Dirk was simply relieved by not having to commit himself to hours of free labour for the school or if he was suddenly and genuinely enthused by her plan, but she figured it was more likely the former when he suggested that maybe the P&C committee could organise a parents’ working bee to get the garden beds rebuilt instead of them doing it. But either way she was confident that the school’s students would soon be growing and enjoying not the fruits but the vegetables of their labour, and even Dirk seemed to be amused by that one when she told him.

“You know, I thought worms would be rather slimy things but after handling them I found they’re actually not,” said Sally as Dirk was putting carpet on the second bath-tub. “I bet Reb will say they’re repulsive though.”

“If she thinks that, wait till I start breeding Black Soldier Fly Larvae,” Dirk replied with an almost malicious looking grin.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask: Is this something I really need to know about?”

“Maybe eventually, but for now I just want to grow the worms because their

castings and the liquid they produce will benefit the garden beds. The books I have don’t have much information about Soldier Flies, though I did read about them when I was back in the city, and I want to learn more before beginning another project. And of course there are also Meal Worms to consider.”

“Not another word! I want to enjoy the dinner you’re about to help me with.”

Preparing meals was something they now often did together, though Sally had ordained that when she did the cooking Dirk had to wash and dry the dishes by himself… And on those occasions when he did the cooking Dirk had to wash and dry the dishes by himself. He wasn’t quite sure how he’d been suckered into that arrangement but with only the two of them to dirty the dishes in the first place it wasn’t an onerous task and he never complained. At least not after Sally told him that it was no use him complaining about anything at all unless someone was prepared to listen, and she certainly wasn’t going to be that someone.



©

To be continued….
 

Bidadisndat

Contributing Member
Hi ya Bid! Glad to see your still kickin! Was worried about you. An old friend from shtfmovement times. Good to see your stories here on TB2.
Thanks Mate. You wouldn't believe why I had to cut away from the old shtfovement site.
(When I was doing my security clearances a S.O. on base decided it was potentially some sort of security risk because it was named shtfmilitia.)
 
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