Stranded

After raining most of yesterday, it continued to rain all through last night. Not just a gentle sprinkling either, rather the sort of torrential rain you wouldn’t believe could possibly keep bucketing down hour after hour.

Early this morning Stephen of House Kragbol took this photo of the end of our lane where it meets the main road. It probably goes without saying that having driven out there planning to go to work, he very quickly decided to abandon that idea. A wise choice, those little lumps sticking out of the water are the very tips of fenceposts.

Those are standard farm fence posts. They sit around a metre high. That’s a lot of water.

So here we are — Deborah and Stephen, The Forbearing Husband, Favorite Stepson, myself, and the others in the handful of properties on our street — all stranded by floodwaters worthy of a diminutive ark. Fortunately the big wet sits several hundred yards away from our place, and although the stream around the Seven Acre Wood is running as high as we’ve ever seen it, there is still a goodly way to go before that breaks its banks.

Mind you, the rain hasn’t stopped yet so there’s no saying my next post won’t be typed from a kayak.

Happy Winter!

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Please remain seated

(I wrote this post a few weeks ago, but for some reason never got around to hitting publish. Here it is, for what it’s worth).

 

This summer was busy. One of the Forbearing Husband’s projects came to fruition in a most satisfying way, which meant more than the usual number of trips away from home for both of us.

Because of all the excitement it’s been a bit harder than usual to keep up with a regular riding schedule. I’ve been trying to get out every chance I can though, and this afternoon, riding bareback on a rather grumpy pony during duck shooting season (she hates the random gun shots sounding out from various neighbourhood properties), I rode through a spook that would have unseated me just a few months ago.

It’s so cool when practice starts to pay off don’t you think?  I’m still a very novice rider. Summer, bless her, kindly puts up with a whole lot of human error, but after every ride I figure a few more things out and — slowly, slowly — I’m moving closer to being the rider I’d one day like to be.

This is my inspiration, Stacey Westfall and Whizard’s Baby Doll (aka Roxy) at the 2006 American Quarter Horse Congress — it makes me smile every time I watch it. If only I had enough practice hours left in my lifetime!

 

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The Nom-Nom lawn

We’re starting with a pretty picture of a rose because links in Facebook insist on featuring the first picture shown in a blog post. Last week it was an ugly fly-swat and I feel the need to up my aesthetic game. As you probably know, social media doesn’t reward reality unless it is either visually attractive, or downright shocking.

Charles Rennie MacIntosh rose

The beautifully fragrant R. ‘Charles Rennie MacIntosh’, kindly bought for my English Garden by Deborah

Ok, on to the actual reason for this update.

When I first posted about the English Garden last spring, I finished with this un-Facebook-worthy-but-honest shot of the pretty bits surrounded by a veritable wilderness of long grass (you can see why I stooped to the gratuitous use of that photogenic rose).

Weeds around English Garden

Weeds around English Garden

On our arrival at the farmlet the grass around the English Garden became part of an unfenced paddock. Whenever the ponies grazed there electric fencing had to be put up, and then moved with them to the next location. It was a lot of work and the grass would grow to  jungle-like proportions between grazing rotations. Still, I called the area my Nominal Lawn. Because every English Garden needs a lawn, even if it exists in name only.

All hail to the fencing crew though, because after Phil the Fencer and his lads completed a second round of fencing late last year (the round I call our fencing extravaganza, for reasons outlined previously) the English Garden gained an actual lawn.

What used to look like this:

Horse and electric fencing

Previous solar-charged electric fence. The same fence the horses once escaped through at 2am. Note Summer’s yoga pose* as she reaches under the tape for a mouthful of extra yummy grass

Now looks like this! You may just be able to make out that the tree behind Summer’s backside in the first photo is the same one that’s in line with the gatepost below.

Fence and horse

New post and rail fence. No more escapes and an ACTUAL lawn!

After it became real, rather than nominal, we started calling the new lawn the Nom-Nom Lawn. It seems co-incidentally extra appropriate because there is usually at least one old bone lying around on the grass ready to be nommed by one or other of the dogs.

The long grass I showed you at the top of the page has gradually been tamed. And because the kunekune pigs, contrary to their advertised qualities as grass-eaters and not diggers, actually dig like billy-o, we are mowing. Yup, it was a fine plan to go mower-free, but in lesson number 4021 of my farming education I’ve learned that petrol mowers are more easily controlled than animal mowers. And anyway Favorite Stepson is open to bribes.

Garden with roses

Grass near the English Garden looking marginally closer to something Vita would recognise as lawn.

So now I have an English Garden with a Nom-Nom Lawn and a fence for the ponies to hang their necks over; all is right with the world. Rule Britannia, and pass the cucumber sandwiches.

* She’s doing a pretty good impression of Trikonasana, the Triangle Pose. It’s obviously a bit harder with four legs.

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Professional

Last year I was an amateur swat-a-holic. This year I’ve moved my game up a notch or two. Behold my professional-level fly swat.

Fly swat

Pictured in as-new condition prior to entering battle

I found it in New World on Willis Street during last year’s winter Wellington trip. It was languishing on a shelf, on special for $2 (I guess there’s not much call for a fly swat in a Wellington winter). Imagine my excitement in finding the instrument of death some of The Readership referred to after my post on The Great Northland Fly Plague of 2017.

Those of you in step with interior design trends will sympathise when I tell you the only two colours available were fluorescent yellow or fluorescent green. Picture me reluctantly setting aside my ambition to create the restrained neutral-with-an-industrial-vibe decor featured in all the recent shelter magazines, and buying the fluro yellow one. Such are the sacrifices one must make.

Natural / industrial kitchen

The people who own this kitchen probably wouldn’t buy a fluro yellow plastic fly swat

Mind you, given that my previous swatting implement was a rolled up Supercheap Auto flyer I probably can’t afford to get too precious about aesthetics.

Thankfully the advantages of this new model outweigh the brutal colour. It boasts minimal drag, a flexible handle to add flick to those delicate edge-of-the-fruit-bowl shots, it’s fully washable and has little fringy bits on the front to sweep up the corpses. After a full and busy fly season, during which it sustained minor damage to one corner after a particularly enthusiastic swipe, it is still dispatching those nasty little visitors.

yellow fluro flyswat

For those who requested an after-battle shot.

Two dollars well spent I say! Anyone else upgraded their anti-vermin arsenal recently?

 

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I’m Spinning

One of the things I appreciate about living on the farmlet is all the resource on my doorstep.

Need a Christmas tree? No problem, head out to The Strip and chainsaw down one of the stunted pines on the west boundary.
Biomass for the compost heap? We grow great weeds.
Didn’t get to Mitre 10 to buy hooks for your homemade coat rack? It took me a while, but eventually I figured out I could just raid the Seven Acre Wood for some hook-like sticks.

Coat rack with natural timber hooks

After all, weren’t the very first hooks just sticks?

The arrival of the sheep got me excited about a new resource. Those self-shedders leave cute little tufts of wool all around the paddock. Now how cool is that? Visions of hand dyed, home knitted socks and jerseys danced in my head. Naturally I shared my ambition with my friend, and inveterate sock-knitter, Nurse Jenny, and after we’d jumped up and down a little bit in excitement and Googled how to dye wool with lichen and onion skins (we got a bit ahead of ourselves), she suggested something wonderful.

Castle spinning wheel

Jenny’s spinning wheel

A few weekends later Jenny and her Auntie Cynthia arrived at the farmlet with this spinning wheel which once belonged to Jenny’s mum. It’s a beauty, and they are very kindly letting me have it on long term loan so that I can teach myself to spin. That’s right people, I’m going to spin that cute fluffy sheep wool into yarn. Eventually (just as well it’s a long term loan).

Learning to spin is a bit like my memories of learning to drive; there are multiple physical and cognitive tasks involved, all of which need to happen simultaneously, continuously, and at speed. Thankfully the worst consequences of a brain freeze during spinning are lumpy wool and colourful language (yup, I’ve been talking in all the colours). The process is a sobering reminder of the effort that was involved in keeping yourself clothed until just a few hundred years ago. It makes me very grateful that I’m creating yarn from raw wool for fun, and that I still get to buy my undies at Kmart.

Homespun raw lamb's wool

Homespun raw lamb’s wool.

As you can see, my early attempts are considerably more ‘textured’ than is desirable, (let’s just be kind and label it bouclé?), but I’m sure that eventually the wheel and I will come to an arrangement. After all driving soon became second nature, and even though I once thought I’d never manage to ride Summer bareback at a trot (she’s got a very bouncy trot) I eventually mastered that too. It’s all about practice.

And once I get going I will be able spin yarn to knit into all sorts of things. Well, all sorts of very, very small things anyway. Anyone need an egg cosy?

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Playing Statues

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?

Frisian calves

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.

Cattle NZ

One…

Two…

Three…

Boo.

Don’t blink!

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Bags of Bulbs!

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.

flower bulbs

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.

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More About Figs

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!

Figs and crackers

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

Ingredients:
6kg figs
3kg sugar
3 lemons, halved and finely sliced
5 cups water
1½ cups malt vinegar
¼ cup coarsely chopped crystallised ginger

Method:
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?

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It’s Fig Season

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 and cheese

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?

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Ins and Outs

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.

Gate with electric tape

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.

Kunekune pigs

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!

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