OCTOBER – NOVEMBER 2022: Water, water everywhere

This post, for reasons that will become obvious, is both very brief, and very late. October for us at Greatrakes was pretty much non-existent, due to the fact that we boarded a plane on the 6th of the month and jetted out to Prague for the start of a nearly month-long sabbatical in Europe. We left the house and dogs in the capable hands of my mum during that time, and only returned to Axedale in the early hours of November 3rd, having missed some of the wildest and wettest weather ever to have hit the region.

More rain

The big wet, as you will have seen from our previous posts, had actually been going for several months already, and with each downpour the flooding had been a little worse, so with a few days to go before our trip began, the last thing we wanted to see was another huge frontal system heading down from the north.

As October began, the floods from the 27th and 28th of September had finally started to recede, leaving behind them piles of debris stacked up against the fences of the lower section of our paddocks, with the fences completely pushed over in several places.

Luckily, with the help of a neighbour and a four-wheel drive, I was able to straighten them sufficiently to keep the sheep and alpaca confined, and to restore the electric fence along the creek line to working order, a day before we were set to leave the country.

The creek levels dropped before we left for our holiday – but for how long?

Fast forward to just over a week later, and in the early hours of the morning of the 14th of October, we were waking up on the Danube River in Austria to news that the rains back at home had reached biblical proportions, with dumps of over 200mm overnight throughout the catchments of Axe Creek and the Campaspe River. Lake Eppalock, which had been sitting at around 47% capacity when we moved to Axedale in late May, was now around 133% capacity, with water levels above 1.8 metres flowing across both spillways. In fact, so ferocious was the flow on the second spillway, that it had washed away the road below it. Of course, all that water was heading into the Campaspe River, and the first chance it had to escape its banks was at the McIvor Highway crossing at Axedale, which not only resulted in the road between Heathcote and Bendigo being cut, but also removed the entire road surface from a section just above the bridge, images of which were now making news across the globe.

The water levels reached to well above the dam, the highest since the house was built in 2015

We checked in throughout the day and night with mum to monitor the conditions, and despite the fact that the water levels had reached halfway up the final rise before the house’s ground level, plus the fact that the house was now literally cut off from all road access in and out, she seemed to be handling it quite stoically. The sheep and alpaca were all securely locked up in the top paddock, out of harm’s way, and the house was still very much high and dry, so she resigned herself to a couple of days indoors and soldiered on.

The sheep were certainly not in any danger of running out of food during October and November

Pastures aplenty, but fences – not so much

When we finally returned in early November, most (but not all) of the rain had cleared, and we were faced with the sight of paddocks towering with pasture. Unfortunately, the floods had completely destroyed around a third of our fencing, meaning that the livestock had to be confined to the top paddock until such time as I could erect a temporary electric fence across the main paddock to keep them from straying into the creek or the neighbouring properties.

Rosie surveys the acres of fresh pasture after all the rain.

Even then, the amount of pasture in the top paddock was way beyond the scope of the small flock of sheep that we had to keep down to a manageable level, and after sorting out the issue of getting them all shorn before the impending summer (if and when it finally arrived), we ended up enlisting the help of another Axedale local to come and slash the main paddock for us.

Picking & planting

In the meantime, the vegetable garden was finally starting to offer up some excellent produce, with rows of healthy cauliflowers and cabbages ready to pick, along with radishes, lettuces and carrots. A lot of the radishes, cauliflowers and cabbages ended up in various forms of pickled produce, such as piccalilli and sauerkraut, although I ended up having to throw most of the sauerkraut out a couple of weeks later due to it drying out (I’ll explain why in a moment).

The first of many cauliflowers from the garden.
Several of the cauliflowers ended up as delicious piccalilli

After harvesting the vegetables that were ready to pick, the most important job in the vegetable garden was to transplant all of the tomatoes from the glasshouse into the garden, as well as replacing the lettuce that had gone to seed with some fresh summer herbs. The tomatoes that I had experimented with planting out early were also doing well, as despite the rain and the cold days, there had been no frosts during our time away. I potted some of the seedlings up and planted the rest into raised garden beds, before refilling the planter box in the glasshouse with potting mix and a light top dressing of seed raising mix and sowing a bunch of different varieties of Basil and Dill. Little did I know it, but this simple action of emptying the remains of a bag of potting mix that had sat for a month in the glasshouse into a planter box would have a profound effect on the next two months of my life.

A bunch of radishes destined for the pickling jar
A big hearty Iceberg lettuce

Struggling to breathe

By the Tuesday afternoon of the week following our return to Australia, I started to develop severe asthma – or so I thought. Having been hit with bouts of it off and on throughout our European trip, I suspected it was just a return bout, and given that I had a journey into the office in Melbourne planned for the Wednesday anyway, I made an appointment to see my doctor in the city before work. He prescribed me another inhaler and a preventer and sent me on my way, but on returning to the office it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to do much, so I hopped back in the car and drove the two hour journey back home to bed.

The next day I felt worse and stayed in bed all day – by the afternoon I’d started to get hot and cold sweats. Given the wave of COVID 19 sweeping the state again, I took a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) and expected the worst, however after a few minutes it came back as negative. The following morning my fever was running at 40 degrees, and I was struggling to even breathe lightly, so we called an ambulance. After testing negative on another RAT, and despite the advice of the ambos and the doctor on the virtual ED call that it was COVID and I should just wait it out at home, I insisted on making the trip into the emergency department. After passing yet another RAT and then lying in the waiting room for an hour, dripping with sweat and gasping for air, I was finally taken in for a chest x-ray before being sent back to the waiting room again. It wasn’t long however before the nurse came back in to inform me that I had a severe bout of what they suspected was pneumonia, and that I was being admitted to hospital immediately.

Things take a turn for the worse

Over the next two days my condition continued to worsen, despite the copious amounts of antibiotics I was being administered, until one of the doctors suggested they switch to treating me for Legionnaire’s Disease, given my recent history of working in a confined space with potting mix. Sure enough, within hours of the change in medicine, I started to come good, and I was finally able to go home on the Monday afternoon. The recovery from Legionnaire’s though is a very slow process, and the rest of November (and much of December) was pretty much a write off for me, both work wise and gardening as well.

We’ve all read the label hundreds of times, but how many people actually wear gloves and a mask when using potting mix?

A hearty drop

One thing that we were able to do during November was to finish bottling our own wine, thanks to the wonderful people at Shiraz Republic and their Rent-a-Row program. Given my lack of energy, I wasn’t able to do much myself other than stick labels on bottles, but Vanessa and our friends Jarrod & Aleisha did all of the heavy lifting to clean, fill, cork and seal 72 bottles of lovely Shiraz. I did manage to stick the labels on the bottles however – labels that I had designed myself based on an oil painting I had completed of a red gum by the roadside just near our house. As a tribute to our new home and location, we’ve named the wine “Sugarloaf Road Shiraz”. It’s drinking nicely already, but it should really start to peak over the next 5-7 years. If we can make it last that long…

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