And the winner is … Judbury

Judbury leads Tasmania's soil dryness in late January 2024
Judbury leads Tasmania’s soil dryness in late January 2024

I am told people used to make fun of the Huon Valley because it was so cold and damp everything went moldy.

Maybe that is true, I don’t know.

What I do know is that it is the driest I have seen it on the farm in our 12 years in Judbury, and the weather bureau is backing up my observation.

According to the bureau’s soil dryness index, Judbury had the driest soil in the state on January 25, 2024.

That’s right – not the dry midlands, not the dry east coast – part of the “cold and damp” Huon Valley was bone dry.

There is no data for neighbouring Glen Huon or Lonnavale, but the available figures show Huonville’s soil is far less dry.

We have had a couple of 40C days during our 12 years here.

But overall the climate has been mild, with a drying trend.

Twelve years ago we had to wear gumboots outside in winter and spring because the paddocks were boggy.

Not any more.

So we aren’t going moldy. Far from it.

What is in store next year?

Dry as a bone

The spring fed dam is dry mid January
Our top dam mid January 2024 … as dry as I’ve seen it

The once reliable sorta-spring-fed dam in our gully is bone dry.

Yes, it is summer, but I don’t recall the dam drying out like this before in our 12 years here.

It has only emptied when a pipe burst or when I was irrigating too much and it drained out.

The dam was only half full during the winter and the soil has no moisture to top it up.

Our first five years here this dam was always over two thirds full.

Goodbye Aussie tomato paste

Leggo’s tomato paste, which until recently was labelled an Australian product, is now labelled as having less than 10% Australian ingredients.

It doesn’t say on the jar where the other 90% comes from.

At Huonville Woolworths in southern Tassie a 500g jar of Leggo’s tomato paste was $4.80 (Nov 2023), while a 500g jar of generic tomato past labelled “Produced in China” was $1.40.

Looking further, I found that all processed garlic products in jars at our local Woolworths are from China.

I could not find garlic products from other sources other than fresh garlic cloves.

Given how polluted Chinese water sources are (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-36022538 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8631815/), and that highly toxic pesticides have been found in Chinese produce, including tomatoes (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0147651321005406), one wonders about the risk of Chinese food products being tainted.

And with tomato paste and crushed garlic products, it appears our only choices are to buy Chinese or from unknown sources, or stop using them.

It is not just potential heavy metal and pesticide contamination that is a concern.

In frozen imported goods such as berries, pathogens such as hepatitis have been imported in Chinese food in the past (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-16/how-did-frozen-berries-become-contaminated-with-hepatitis-a/6120872).

Is Leggo’s tomato paste now made from Chinese-grown tomatoes? Or do they use Italian or other tomatoes? And are Australian authorities on the ball enough to detect tainted imported food?

I put questions about their tomato paste to Leggo’s, they replied promptly but did not say where their tomatoes now come from. Leggo’s’ response, in part: Thank you for your email regarding the country of origin of the Leggo’s tomato paste. Leggo’s has been made in Australia with quality ingredients for over 100 years. We make our sauces and tomato pastes with love and care, sourcing our ingredients from local farmers and communities where possible. At the heart of our operations is Echuca, Victoria, where we make our delicious sauces. Unfortunately, due to extreme weather events in Victoria, there is currently a shortage of locally sourced tomatoes. As a temporary measure, we have partnered with trusted overseas suppliers to ensure you, our valued customers, can continue to enjoy our quality sauces with absolute confidence. Where possible, we continue to use Australian tomatoes in our products and look forward to returning in full to Australian grown tomatoes next season. Despite these difficult times, we continue to manufacture our delicious sauces at our Echuca site in regional Victoria to support local manufacturing.

I hope they revert back to Aussie tomatoes as soon as possible.

Australia’s food labelling laws appear to be woeful, allowing such horrors as “Made from Local and Imported Ingredients”, which is about as cynical as the sales slogan “Buy Now and Save”.

Lastly, below is a screenshot taken from the Leggo’s website today (30/11/2023).

Someone lose a magpie?

I have had some weird experiences on our Huon Valley farm over the years.

Today, while bent over to tend the vegie patch, a magpie crash-landed on my back.

I’ve been dive-bombed by magpies before but this felt a bit different.

Rather than fly off the magpie hopped onto a short fence just 2m away and stood there looking at me.

I politely told it off for being so cheeky as to attack me, and it just kept staring back.

So – as you do – I started warbling at it like I was a magpie.

It took a keen interest in this performance, and then – knock me over with a feather – it jumped down at my feet and started pecking around for insects.

I kneeled down and pushed bits of debris aside so it could grab worms, which it did, in some cases from my hand.

This went on for a couple of minutes, and I had to walk a few steps to find more debris and worms.

Then our bloody cat came along and started lining up the magpie as a prey item.

I hate cats, but that’s another story.

I shooed the cat away, but the magpie got a fright and jumped back on the fence.

Then a curious thing happened.

Two other magpies came flying in fast, very vocal too, and they started chasing my new mate.

They were extremely aggressive, and as the three flew off I felt that the tame magpie was going to be killed.

Perhaps it was someone’s handraised bird, and the other magpies knew it was odd?

Dunno, but I might have had a new mate around the farm if it wasn’t for the bloody cat.

Dunno what its story was, but I was sad to see the bird go.

Accessing river water during the El Nino

Global sea temperatures are going up and Antarctic ice is cover going down ... fast!
Global sea temperatures are going up and Antarctic ice is cover going down … fast!

It is likely we will have hot summers with severe bushfires in the Huon Valley this year and next.

The predicted El Nino is likely to be a strong one, with record temperatures already being recorded across the globe.

Canada is having an all-time record wildfire season, Hawaii has burned like never before, and bushfires are making news across Europe.

What can the Huon Valley do to prepare?

Apart from the obvious, like removing potential fuel from around our homes, cleaning gutters and having a fire pump handy, Huonites need easy access to river water.

While we have several potable water suppliers in the valley, landowners are likely to need river access this summer or next to fill fire and stockwater tanks.

Dams are likely to dry out and buying potable water for stock is not viable in an extended drought.

(Our partially spring fed dam is already half empty and it is winter.)

It shouldn’t be too hard to cut landings into the river bank, much like an unsealed boat ramp, where people can back trailers down to fill tanks.

Not everyone is friends with a landholder who has river frontage.

Potable water suppliers may resist the idea but this is an urgent matter, potentially saving property and livestock.

The access points could be limited to being used only during summer, or drought. The landings could also double as canoe launching spots.

If access points can’t be created, alternatively, acreage holders could be given summer access to fire hydrants via a permit scheme?

The Huon River is a perennial river, we have no shortage of water, just a shortage of access.

Something for the Huon Valley Council to consider?

A spring fed dam in Judbury during a dry spell in winter 2020 - it is at much the same level this winter.
A spring fed dam in Judbury during a dry spell in winter 2020.

Another sound in the night

One of my hobbies is to record the sounds of the night around my farm, and also in wild country further west.

I recorded this sound a few months ago.

It is not a sound I have heard before, and I have been recording audio for several years now.

I suspect it is an owl or other bird, but I have not matched the sound to any online bird recordings.

The owl commonly found in this area is the boobook, which sounds very different from this.

This sound happened only once that night, and did not repeat on nights either side of the recording date.

I am keen to know – any ideas?

EDIT: I have since been told it is one of the sounds made by the boobook owl.

The ultimate huntsman spider experience

A few years ago I ran bee hives on my farm.

A couple of the hives failed during a dry summer, and it was a year or so before I retrieved the empty hives.

I put the hives in the back of my 4WD wagon, where they sat for two or three days before I unloaded them into the shed.

A week later my family decided it was a nice day for a drive to the beach.

There were two things my young daughters hated at the time.

One was my old 4WD, and the other was spiders.

My youngest daughter wanted to take our Corolla, but I insisted on taking the old 4WD so we could carry extra picnic and snorkelling gear.

On the way to beachside bliss, not far from our house, a huge huntsman spider climbed up the windscreen in front of my wife.

My cranky daughter, already moaning about the car, became furious.

“I hate this car! I want to go home!”

We got rid of the spider and I assured everyone that everything would be OK.

Off we went.

Another 2km later and another huge spider crawled up the window on the passenger side.

My youngest daughter was now approaching apoplexy.

I said: “I’ll get rid of it, don’t worry! There will be no more!”

Turns out, about 10 huge huntsman spiders crawled out into the open that day, up the back of seats, up the sides of doors, and even on the ceiling, one by one, a few kilometres apart, as we drove.

And that’s just the spiders we saw.

Might have been more under the seats.

One of our several emergency stops on the rural road was next to a lone residence.

At this stage, both my daughters were almost foaming at the mouth.

My wife had also become animated.

I too was contemplating the likely prospect of a huge huntsman spider running up my leg while I was driving.

There were screams within the car, and I saw a curtain move to one side at the nearby home as I barked orders.

We made it to a service station in Huonville where I bought a tin of insect spray.

I fumigated the car.

“There will be no more spiders,” I said again, but all trust and joy was lost.

We had to return home.

To the people in that residence, I apologise for disturbing your peace that day.

I wasn’t killing my family … honest!

I minted an NFT

NOTE: I don’t want to encourage anyone into NFTs or crypto coins. While fortunes have been made and some NFTs sold for thousands of dollars, I am inclined to believe this guy is right … https://www.news.com.au/finance/money/investing/crypto-expert-says-mumanddad-investors-are-going-to-get-absolutely-wrecked/news-story/540f7f6e40be322726ae866ba617ae4b

The pursuit of the thylacine has taken me to strange places, both physically and mentally.

Subtle eye rolls and outright guffaws are expected responses to one’s belief that the thylacine still exists, but thankfully the older I get the less I care.

Regardless, knowing the animals are still here makes one resilient to the most passionate assertions of the extinction mantra.

More recently, a strange place I have visited is a thing called the NFT market, where digital tokens are made and sold, or more correctly, minted and traded.

NFTs are related to the cryptocurrency market.

I can’t quite get my head around it all, but I did learn enough to make an NFT, recently listed here … https://explorer.solana.com/address/Gy5y53ukMQb64zYLPFf28zjmoAKaXuZCsuHq52u6it4J

Surely a unique clip of a Tassie devil balking at a thylacine cutout is worth something, right?

Or, like the thylacine hunt (so far), am I on another possibly futile pursuit?

What I can assure is that if the NFT sells, some of the cash will be reinvested into extending my network of cameras, and into aerial surveys.

Be careful where you camp

The Eiffel Tower ... beware burned out trees in the upper Huon Valley
The Eiffel Tower … ready to fall

Bushfires leave a legacy of burned out trees.

Trees that are burned through at the base like the Eiffel Tower wannabe above are common wherever there have been forest fires.

Many such trees are just hanging on to life. Others are dead. All are dropping limbs.

Be careful where you put your swag or tent, or park your 4WD.

This applies to the upper Huon Valley and anywhere else that has burned in recent years.

The burned areas from 2019 look ripe to burn again, with dried piles of timber everywhere and huge fallen trees lying next to new eucalyptus growth.

The good news is that the hollowed out trees provide homes for the wildlife that didn’t get fried in the fire.

Tasmanian Life