Planting Our Orchard

Posted by Nick  | 01 Oct 2015  | 0 comments

An orchard is one of those endeavours whose rewards take time. A long-term investment, if you will. That’s why we decided to make a start on one fairly soon after moving. Apart from planting up more native shelter belt and specimen trees, creating an orchard has been our main goal over this cold season.

First of all, here’s a flashback to when we planted a shelter belt for the orchard – you can see standards erected where we intended to plant our fruit trees:

We ordered a variety of trees from an online nursery which had a broad and comprehensive selection. Some of the varieties were bare-rooted, and came packed in damp straw.

Bare-root trees should be replanted as soon as possible. So naturally, the day they arrived it was, of course, raining. Despite getting saturated ourselves, the wet weather was probably a good thing for the trees’ exposed roots.

We separated the varieties, putting the citrus aside for the moment – they could be planted another day, since they came potted. These included varieties of lemon, lime, mandarin, orange, and a couple of non-citrus like mulberry and pomegranate.

We initially focused on planting out the bare-rooted trees, which included varieties of apple, cherry, peach, apricot, and nectarine. (Yum!)

There were also a couple of potted plants of ours that we’d been carrying with us for years, knowing someday we’d plant them on “our farm”. Here’s our seven-year-old olive, poor thing:

I somehow fell into the role of digger, as usual.

I’d excavate and shape the holes while Char followed behind with a bucket of fertiliser and a boxful of weed mats, transplanting the awkward-shaped roots into their fertile new homes.

It was tough work in the rain and the dwindling light, but our excitement to finally see our orchard come to life pulled us through.

As we neared the end of the day and I had finished digging all the holes, I began erecting the stakes and guards to protect the trees from the sheep we’d eventually let in to graze. We barely finished by dusk. I remember hammering in those last few stakes with Char in near-darkness.

A couple of weekends later we had some friends over. As well as tagging sheep and lighting a bonfire, we had them help with planting out the citrus trees. Many hands do indeed make light work!

After we’d erected the guards around those, too, the orchard was finally starting to look like a real place.

Try to imagine five metre tall nectarine trees here, their canopy edges brushing one another in the wind, dropping succulent fruit… and being mauled by possums.

With the shelter belt planted at the south and the west, these fruit trees should have adequate protection when they grow up a bit.

The final aspect of our orchard this year is to build a post-and-rail fence bordering the shelter belt, to allow sheep to freely graze around the fruit trees. This project has already started, and it’s going faster than expected, so stay tuned!

Now that spring is here, the signs of a successful planting are becoming apparent.

It seems the cherries and nectarines bloom first, and we’ve also noticed that the guards act as miniature greenhouses, encouraging early growth at the lower parts of the tree where it’s insulated from the cold.

Char’s like a giddy little school girl when she sees the blossums and leaves unfurling from their buds. Okay, I won’t hide it, I’m like a giddy little school girl too.

Bring on the noms!

What a Load of Shiitake

Posted by Nick  | 19 Sep 2015  | 1 comment

Right from the start our dream of homesteading was nourished by the simple yet exciting prospect of growing and making things. Years of flatting and renting in Auckland saw minimal yard spaces fully occupied by veggie gardens and potted trees, compost heaps and worm farms. Kitchens became laboratories for home-made soaps, cheeses, and even hard candies. One thing we always had on our agenda to try, but for some reason never did, was cultivating mushrooms.

Mushroom spawn is easy to come by – you can order it online. We’ve actually had a bunch in our fridge for a couple of months, but other tasks have taken priority since upgrading to this high-maintenance forty-two acre “back yard”. Last weekend we finally found a bit of time to inoculate some logs. The spores are impregnated in these little wooden dowels:

The idea is to find some hardwood logs (softwoods usually contain too much resin which retards fungal growth). We used branches from our plum trees which we pruned last autumn. Ideally you want thicker logs between ten and thirty centimetres. Ours were on the skinnier side.

Scraping the lichen from the logs prevents species competition.

A drill bit matching the size of the dowels ensures a snug fit. A strip of duct tape wrapped around the drill bit at the length of the dowel prevents you from drilling too deep.

We drilled four holes in a ring around the circumference of the logs five centimetres from one end, then drilled consecutive rings every ten centimetres. Each log swallowed about forty to fifty dowels.

We got two varieties of mushroom. I took care of the shiitake and Char handled the oyster.

We penned “S” for shiitake or “O” for oyster on the ends of each respective log for reference.

The most satisfying part of this was hammering in the dowels. They were so snug and flush.

After all two hundred holes were plugged, we lit a candle as an offering to the deity of fungus.

Actually, the candle was for sealing the holes with wax. This is to keep insects out and to encourage the mycelium (fungal threads) to spread through the matrix of the wood.

This was kind of painstaking because we were exposed to the wind, and only had a rotten tree stump for shelter.

Stacked and ready to bloom! Well, in nine to eighteen months, that is. Yeah, they take a while. But! When they do start fruiting, they’ll continue to do so for six to eight years.

This lot is stacked on the south side of the barn, so they’ll always be in the shade and hopefully stay moist.

Bring on the mushroom bonanza!

A Surprise Treasure Hunt

Posted by Nick  | 10 Sep 2015  | 3 comments

This past weekend we had a few friends down for an overdue catchup and some pastoral shenanigans. One of our friends, Dingus (who seems to be a regular character on this blog), had his big thirtieth birthday coincide with this visit. I took the opportunity to scheme a treasure hunt for everyone, with the “treasure” being a wee present for dear Dingus.

After a hefty breakfast of bacon and (truly free-range) eggs, I pretended to find a note under my plate, which instructed the others to look under theirs. Each plate had a clue taped to the bottom.

The four clues were (degree coordinates have been altered for security reasons):

  • A crucial treasure hunting device hides… Ben Eat Htth Eta Ble!
  • The energy you seek… Smub Of Nured Wot Ofur Uryo!
  • S 84 25.- – -‘ The first missing digit is the first numeral of the decade in which you were all born. The two remaining missing digits are comprised of the year Carl Sagan’s atoms returned to the cosmos from which he sprung.
  • E 231 66.- – -‘ Neo, Deadly Sins, Octopus.

Can you figure them out?

With the first answer the group discovered a GPS navigation device taped “Beneath the table!”. “Under two of your four bums!” revealed the batteries for the device taped under their chairs. “896” gave the group their GPS coordinates for South, and “178” for East.

Everyone put on their boots and set out for the first stop, unaware of the amount of walking ahead of them…

Arriving at the hay barn, it didn’t take the gang long to spot the first container I’d hidden amidst the hay.

It was balanced precariously on a beam behind the hay and it was knocked off when they tried to grab it. I cringed, thinking we’d have to remove all the bales in order to retrieve the container! I raced back to the toolshed and fetched a hand extension thingamajig for them to use.

After a few attempts they extracted their booty in no time.

This first container enclosed the next clue and some chocolate fudges as necessary sustenance for the hike ahead. The clue read:

  • South: The first digit is the number of Gus Brothers. The second two digits are the year of birth of the eldest. East: CXVI

Solved, the group programmed “785” and “116” into the device, and then they were off!

Crossing a couple of paddocks, they had the stock water tanks in their sights, with the GPS counting down their approach.

“Do we have to climb over the fence?” Yes, yes you do.

By this stage, Char was in full treasure hunter mode. Lifting some scrap wood revealed the next clue.

  • From where are these tanks filled?

Off to the riverside pump!

Over the fence and into the bush…

Dingus, this hunt is for you, can your chivalry! “M’lady.”

This is the old pump house down by the river, which supplies water to our stock tank, in turn filling the troughs. Follow Char’s line of sight – her hawk eyes spotted the hidden container instantly. She gave the others a chance.

When they spotted it, I think the phrase was “Please don’t be spiders…”

  • South: Swans a-swimming, Never divide by this number, Cat lives. East: Mono, Greek Classical Elements, Third decimal place of the Golden Ratio.

“709” and “148” sent the group up the road along the river. The GPS was sending them as-the-crow-flies, but with a little hint from me they stayed on the road.

The next stop was our little hidden waterfall down the back of the farm. A perfect a place as any to search for clues!

With a five metre accuracy on the GPS, it could be anywhere around here…

With everyone safely across the slippery little stream, they decided a group of boulders was a likely hiding place.

Hmm, wherever could it be? Under a rock? Up a tree?

They casually searched nooks and crannies until Dingus decided to take a second peak at a conspicuous crevasse…

That’s it, just a little bit further…

Success! And more chocolate fudge. Ooo, what does the clue say?

  • One of these baas is not like the other… Multiply this baa with the total number of baas. Discard the first two digits and reverse the last three. Add CCXLV for South. Subtract CCCXLI for East.

Obviously this had something to do with sheep. So it was off to the other side of the farm, again! Sorry, folks. But as one of the treasure hunters remarked, “It’s a great way to show newcomers the property.” True that!

Arriving at the paddock the sheep were grazing, it was pretty obvious which “baa” was not like the other fifteen.

I had sprayed it with bright orange stock marker, but having had no experience with the spray I didn’t realise how fast it came out! It’s unlike a spray paint can, as I was expecting. I intended to give the sheep an inconspicuous little dot on its back, but instead the poor thing looks like the victim of artless graffiti.

After acquiring the sheep’s ear-tag number (1046), the clue required a bit of maths. Dingus attempted the problem by hand, but the other cheaters had smartphones, so it was effortlessly solved in no time. I don’t blame them – the problem was more annoying than difficult.

“882” and “296” sent the group in the direction of some nearby concrete ruins, where perhaps once stood a milking shed.

“You’re going to have to really get in there,” I said. “It’s buried.”

After a short time of stuffing fists between slabs of concrete, booyah.

But there was something different about this clue. There were two of them…

One was sealed, addressed “For female eyes only.” I instructed Dingus to look away. At this point in time I expected he would catch on that the treasure hunt had something to do with his birthday, but instead he remarked, “Oh, it’s probably because I might guess the answer too easily.” Oh Dingus, your innocence amuses me. The note for the girls read:

  • Amidst nearby charred boughs you will find together three items, one for each of you to conceal until the opening of the treasure chest by the birthday boy. At that time, you will know what to do. Until then, resume the hunt!

Char was the only one willing to get dirty amongst the twigs and mud, victoriously retrieving a cache of party poppers. The girls pocketed these to surprise Dingus with upon the “opening of the treasure chest by the birthday boy”.

The other clue found amidst the concrete ruins, intended for all eyes, read:

  • Which of these might you find in an orchard? Autumnbaum Hasselhoff, Peasgood Nonsuch, Hairyseed Applebottom, Benedict Cumberbatch.

The team set course for the orchard, in another corner of the farm, where they sought an odd-named variety of apple, Peasgood Nonsuch. (I’m not sure what a “Hairyseed Applebottom” might taste like, but I’d definitely have a second helping of “Benedict Cumberbatch”. Am I right, guys?)

It was a difficult task finding which newly-planted fruit tree was Peasgood Nonsuch, since the labels were halfway down the guards and printed on tags in a small faint font. I might add that I had to do this myself when planning the hunt, since I’d forgotten which was which. These guys had four times the manpower, so they get no sympathy from me.

At first they thought they were smart, peaking down into each tree guard without looking at the labels, expecting to spot a container at the bottom. But I was more devious than that.

Beneath the weed mat of Peasgood Nonsuch our posse of treasure hunters discovered a little card that read:

  • It’s going to be an inferno.

Everyone simultaneously turned to the great big pile of sticks and branches in the adjacent paddock and let out a collective groan. A huge burn pile (which we’re due to light sometime before the weather warms up) was the obvious hiding place of the next clue. They beelined for the towering stack.

Feeling sorry for them, I hinted with “warmer, colder” until they were in the correct vicinity.

That’s my girl, rough and tumble.

Char has a lot of practice, since she gets treasure hunts on her own birthday.

This package looks interesting. What’s in it?

Some lengths of twine…?

A garden trowel…?

Ooo, and a map of the farm, with “X” marks the spot! And, curiously, a picture of a bottle top and “x 4” written next to it. Very curious indeed…

“Isn’t that where the burnt cow is?” Good on ya, Lauren, you’re getting to know the farm layout pretty quick! (And yes, there are the remains of a burnt cow on our farm. The local who’s grazing our land unfortunately lost one of his herd to some kind of illness. Being such large beasts, the easiest and safest way to dispose of a carcass is to set it on fire.)

“Go upwind a bit, guys, you’re getting the stink end of it.”

When they arrived at the area marked on the map, they began discovering blue bottle tops hidden here and there, nailed to batons and dead tree trunks. Whatever could they be for?

Before all four bottle tops had been found, the group resolved that the twine must be used to mark the “X”.

They linked the first two bottle tops, but needed all four to cross the two lengths of twine in the correct location.

When they linked all four bottle caps, a suspicious patch of ground confirmed the burial site where the twines marked “X”. (I had dug multiple patches in the area to disguise it.)

Something’s down there…


The treasure hunters gathered around, curious about where they’d be sent next. By this stage they were probably hoping for the end! Almost there, guys.

This time the clue was simply a photograph of our empty gun cabinet back at the cottage.

Off they went, likely eager for a drink and a bit of a sit down.

Back at the cottage the group filed into our storage room (which happens to double as a makeshift guest room for now). There in the corner stood the gun cabinet. But it was locked…

Taped to the back of the cabinet was a flash drive, which the gang plugged into my computer. A gallery of pictures opened up, wherein they had to find the odd one out. It was a picture of a Game of Thrones novel. They found the book on a shelf and discovered a key hidden within the pages.

Dingus insisted on letting someone else open the safe, still completely oblivious that the treasure hunt was for his birthday. Peer pressure got him opening the safe himself, in which the girls timed their party poppers perfectly.

Unfortunately, I was caught up in the action and didn’t get a shot of the poppers going off or of Dingus discovering the treasure. But here he is opening it at the dining table:

A can filled with sweets, and…

Happy birthday, Dingus! Yep, that’s a cartoon I drew of him in the style of Matt Groening’s Futurama. (We’re fans of the show and are fascinated by transhumanism, hence the preserved head on Bender’s robotic body.) Wear it with pride, you magnificent weirdo.

The girls gave him a couple of other little gifts, which widened the smile on his face.

After scoffing our faces with chocolate cake (my very first attempt, which was expertly-baked in my not-so-humble opinion), we had a wee rest before setting out on a few more farm adventures.

We love sharing experiences with our guests on the farm, notably feeding the animals, which people seem to get a lot of joy out of.

We fed the chickens and collected their many eggs from their shared nest.

Then we took a bucket of “sheep nuts” to our friendly lambs, which we’ve trained to eat from our hands.

Whomever holds the bucket gets all the love.

Char took great joy in pulling out the loose wool from our self-shedding Wiltshires.

The weather’s warming up already, so the wool comes out with ease.

After the sheep had guzzled their treats, we all piled onto our newly-acquired quad bike and headed down the forestry road for a bit of fun.

Stopping on the way to visit the torrential waterfall. It’s a decent hike down through thick bush and across slippery river rocks, but the scenery is oh so worth it.

What a day! We ended it by sinking our teeth into some juicy “coma burgers” and playing through a hoard of board games until the early hours.

Come back soon, guys, this was too much fun!