When Paul the-farmer-down-the-lane asked whether we could accommodate his 23 calves for a week we were happy to oblige. After the recent wet summer we have grass to spare, and calves make for adorable paddock ornaments don’t you think?
Gratuitous photo of the cute calves currently adorning our paddock
Then, while I sat in the paddock waiting for the troughs to top up yesterday, I noticed a disturbing similarity between cattle and a certain predatory race encountered by the Tenth Doctor.
A strange thing happened a week or two ago. I arrived home from my yoga class to find Favorite Stepson had loaded up the kitchen table with several large paper bags bearing labels such as: ‘These are a mixture: daffodil, erlicheer, jonquils‘, ‘Crocus — purple‘ and ‘Freesia – white old fashioned‘.
‘Someone drove up and dropped them off’ he said nonplussed, ‘She didn’t get out of the car, but she said they are for you’. Curiouser and curiouser! Is some fanatical gardener randomly distributing flower bulbs in far-flung Northland settlements? Or were the bulbs just a cover for more sinister activity? After all, I hear Helsinki is wonderful this time of year.
Bulb planting time
It took me a a while to remember a conversation I’d had at a staff Christmas dinner last year. It was (co-incidentally) my very last day working in Auckland, and I had got chatting about gardens with a co-worker called Barbara. What with her being a casual contractor and me only on-site one day a fortnight, our paths had hardly ever crossed. Never mind, gardeners form instant alliances, and by the time we were tucking into dessert Barbara had taken my address and promised me some bulbs when she lifted hers in autumn.
I had all but forgotten, and assumed that she had too. But no, Barbara, true to her word, had delivered. When I called her to say thank you (after bothering my old workplace for her number), she said she’d been rushing to visit her daughter who lives near Kaitaia and was sorry she’d missed me. Oh, and could I use some bearded irises, she was about to divide them. You know there really is nothing to match the generosity that springs up between gardeners.
So, I’ve been planting bulbs. The ‘daffodil, erlicheer, jonquil’ selection have gone in under the magnolia at the end of the veggie garden. The purple crocuses are snug in a pot which will be moved to a prime position in the English garden come spring. The freesias will bed down near the roses. And I think I’d better grub up a few calla lilies to put into paper bags and deliver to Barbara next time I’m in Auckland.
The fig post generated a bit of a fig-fueled frenzy of correspondence.
Darling Mira sent me this photo taken last weekend. She was at the farmlet with her son and daughter-in-law who are visiting NZ from Belgrade. We all ate figs and local cheese off a wooden platter and felt suitably rustic. The weekend also included whole a lot of bonding with ponies, some sharp shooting at the gun club, and an epic op shop outing. Something for everyone!
Still life with figs (photo by Mira)
Another lovely friend sent through this recipe which sounds yummy if you can just be disciplined enough not eat all your figs straight away. Mark me down as a likely fail on that score.
Annabel Langbein’s Figs in Ginger Syrup
This is a big recipe because it’s a great way to deal with prolific but less flavoursome fig varieties, but it’s easily halved if you have less fruit. I love to have a few jars of these on hand in the pantry to bring out for winter desserts.
Ready in 3¼ hours
Makes 4 large jars or 10 medium jars
3 lemons, halved and finely sliced
5 cups water
1½ cups malt vinegar
¼ cup coarsely chopped crystallised ginger
Trim figs and cut in half if large. Combine sugar, lemons, water, vinegar and ginger in a large pot and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Add figs and simmer gently until soft (3 hours).
Divide figs and syrup between sterilised preserving jars, fill jars to overflowing with a little syrup or boiling water and seal with sterilised lids. They will keep for months in a cool, dark place.
Figs for winter desserts. What could be better than that then?
We are sharing our crop with fantails, bees, and our chickens. Accessing figs is a great chicken exercise opportunity as they spring into the air to peck at just-above-chicken-height fruit. It’s as well we have more than one fig tree. Plenty for everyone.
Figs are so photogenic.
I take mine on crackers with blue cheese. Well at least that’s what I do with the ones that make it back to the house. Most of them I eat right there under the tree. Delicious.
What’s your favorite way to eat figs?
It turns out that a big factor in the art of farming is keeping animals in somewhere (their paddock, pen, run) or out of somewhere else (the veggie garden, the fruit trees, some other animal’s paddock, the neighbour’s rabbit hutch).
We have already had a few fails on this score. Notably the curious incident of the hoofbeats in the night, and more recently some rogue visits by the young dog to our neighbour’s block. Much as the phrase ‘Have you seen the black dog?’ sounds like something your local spy contact should counter with ‘No, but I hear Helsinki is wonderful this time of year’; around here it is a straight question. Oft asked with a nervous glance around for said black dog which only serves to strengthen the impression of a covert operation.
Over time we’ve solved the various escape problems. Ponies are now contained after our most recent fencing extravaganza — I call it an extravaganza because it cost us at least as much as a day hire on a couple of elephants and a troupe of go-go dancers — and the black dog has been deterred by some crafty gate macrame. What you didn’t know that macrame was an essential farming skill? Shame on you.
Craft projects with Chrissy B #1. Gate Macrame
The difficulty is that each animal we add to the menagerie comes with its own set of escape techniques. Case in point, those kunekune pigs. One night last week the Forebearing Husband was on his way to the barn on an important manly mission involving a bucket and an electric fan (don’t ask). It was very dark so when he heard a snuffling and grunting in the grass alongside the driveway he thought heffalump and deftly moved the bucket and fan into a helmet and quarterstaff arrangement (no pictures, it was very dark remember). Poised to defend the compound he waited. Nervously. Enter Nell, ‘Hi human, is that food you have there in your bucket?’.
At ease soldier. Pulse rate returns to baseline. Pig is returned to her assigned area.
Nell and Fig. ‘Hi human, is that food in your bucket’. A pig’s enthusiasm for breakfast is beautiful to behold
Turns out the pigs can dig under the new fences. Turns out they can manage this even when we think we’ve blocked potential egress points with roofing iron. Dammit! As Deborah said later, it’s our reasoning power vs the food drive of those pigs. Surely the humans will prevail?
Wish us luck!
Yesterday I went out to do some weeding in a thicket of black nightshade that has sprung up down by the barn. There I was, toiling away pulling out plant after plant, when it suddenly occurred to me that instead of weeding I could call this harvesting. Funny how just that one word change transformed my feelings about the task.
Goodness that’s a sh**load of weeds.
But wait, I’m not weeding, I’m harvesting.
What a lov-er-ly lot of biomass for my compost heap.
Thank goodness the farmlet has oodles more weedy biomass for me to harvest? How very fortunate.
How do you approach weeding? With loathing or joy? Or possibly just a few sharp implements.
I know you’ve all been hanging out for cute piggy pics, so here they are. I am in the process of writing a longer pig post, but it’s not quite coming together, so consider this a little something to keep you going.
Here they are; Fig and Nell, who made the most of a wet summer by lying in muddy patches as often as possible. Photos by Stephen.
A mud bath. Much more fun than a regular bath…
and so very good for the complexion.
Since I don’t have much to say just now, I thought we could finish with a song. This was one our Grandma used to like to sing on muddy occasions (growing up in England one encounters plenty of muddy occasions). I’ll start and you join in. If you’re not sure of the tune you can listen here; the first chorus is at 37s. Off we go!
Mud, mud, glorious mud.
There’s nothing quite like it for cooling the blood,
So follow me, follow,
Down to the hollow,
And there let us wallow,
in Glorious Mud.
From The Hippopotomus Song by Flanders and Swann, 1957.
Tap, tap. Is this thing on? … Ah, hello? [clears throat and peers out into the darkness]. Anyone still there?
Yup, I’ve been gone a lot longer than I expected. Stuff happened — some good, some bad. Stuff that got in the way of writing. Then, as the weeks went by, it got harder and harder to figure out how to break the silence. A bit like when you owe someone an email and the longer you put it off the guiltier you feel, and the harder it is to start.
It’s okay though. I had another stern negotiation session with my brain, and we agreed I would just write something. Anything. Therefore consider this your official warning. I’m Back.
So, could we turn those light on again now?
P.S. My brain’s says no-one is reading this anyway. If you want to challenge her you know what to do.
It’s been a sobering year for our family and there may be a few tears today amongst the joyful moments. We send our love to all of you and hope for a less eventful 2018.
Now run away and hug the ones you love. x
Happy Christmas from the farmlet
Thanks for waiting. Now we can get on to talking about the sheep.
The same weekend we acquired kune kune pigs we also bought two ewes, one with a set of twins, and one with a single lamb, from a neighbour who farms Wiltshire sheep. The Wiltshire breed shed their wool in spring which makes them a good choice for amateurs like us who don’t
want to have a clue how to shear.
Two of the lambs are wethers (that’s farmer-speak for neutered boys), who, when they reach about a year old, are destined for the freezer. In autumn we plan to send the girls for some sexy-time with our neighbour’s ram, and if all goes well we could be raising farmlet-born lambs by next spring.
For obvious reasons I’m going to keep the Forbearing Husband well away from the cute little lambies. Fortunately for our culinary hopes, our sheep show no signs whatsoever of wanting to interact with us, so perhaps the Forbearing Husband and I really will manage to eat those lads. If not Stephen and Deborah will just have to find it in them to mop up any excess meat. I’ve already decided that if I can’t bring myself to eat our home reared animals I’m going to embrace vegetarianism.
All in all it’s feeling rather pastoral around here.