Bushing Up the Roadside

Posted by Nick  | 15 Jun 2017  | 2 comments

Although we hillbillies-at-heart are reclusive enough by nature to covet the isolation of where we’ve chosen to live, it’s still not as secluded as we had envisioned. Our little farmhouse is unfortunately as close to the road as any found in suburbia. A shame, since there are forty-plus acres of excellent house sites for the settlers to have chosen from, well away from the road.

We gather that when this hovel was erected a century ago the “road” was little more than a dirt track, so its horse-and-cart proximity would have been of little concern back then. Nowadays, although it’s a fairly dead road most of the time, there’s still the odd thundering stock-truck, house-shaking tractor, or lingering motorbike which more than make up for the infrequency of, albeit quieter, soccer-mom minivans.

Additionally, our house is regretfully overlooked by the neighbouring community hall, giving us little privacy when a couple dozen folk turn up every so often. I like my privacy as much as the next person, but perhaps need it a little more; I yearn to dance naked around my yard and let free the inappropriateness of my, ahem, creative nature.

So, what’s a couple of crazy recluses seeking optimal seclusion to do in this instance? Our answer: Bush the fuck out of the roadside.

Above you can barely see the meagre efforts of our first year to the right of the gate. A couple of rows of tiny wee saplings. Not enough. Needs more bush. So, with the ideal of having a home nested in forest, we set out to begin some epic planting. Having learnt all about the uncontrollable nature of grass and weeds in planting up the roadside of our home paddock and orchard, we chose to fork out for some weedmat and mulch to save ourselves future labour. If we didn’t, we reasoned, it’d inevitably become an eyesore of saplings lost in a sea of seedheads and thistle, just as our previous efforts have.

We found some extra thick stuff at a pretty good price from a local supplier (local being an hour twenty away).

First job: Weedmat around the already planted trees. This was tricky, as we had to manoeuvre the heavy rolls around each tree and pin it in place. As you can see, I’m hard at work.

After some learning, we’d finished the most difficult part. The rest would be easy… right?

A brief break to admire our efforts and to play the cardboard roll like a didgeridoo.

Some hid from the sounds of my beautiful playing.

We continued laying the mat, hammering in pegs every half-meter or so. It was pretty smooth sailing until we encountered a bunch of large stones – excess fill from the driveway which had obviously been dumped and spread there back when the driveway had been laid. The previous owners strike again!

Fifteen by fifteen meters is the area we intended to cover, up to the base of our towering hundred-year-old pear tree.

The final part was to follow the edge of the driveway at an angle, which took some tricky thinking. Lucky Char was with me. A string-line helped, too.

Above you can see the aforementioned hall directly across the road. Pervy, huh?

And, after a couple afternoon’s worth of effort, viola!

Looks really out of place, we know, but it’s the beginnings of something beautiful.

A boot and trailer load of plants later, and we were ready to once again get our hands dirty.

First, placement:

We decided on types of trees which had proved to be well-suited to our climate; a mix of natives and exotics including blue cedar, holly oak, red robin, kowhai, pittosporum, ake ake, ribbonwood, laurel, and a mix of others. There are a variety of heights which should create an attractive dense bush.

The next step was an arduous one. Digging a lot of holes. It would have taken a quarter of the time if it weren’t for those damn stones hiding under the grass.

As well as cutting holes, digging holes, and planting trees, I also had to shovel off all the soil I’d dug out, otherwise the weedmat was for nought.

But no part of the project was as toilsome as MOVING MULCH. Oh em gee.

Twenty five cubic meters, every bit laboriously shovelled, forked, barrowed, and raked.

And someone kept wanting to shit in it.

I moved about a third myself until my faithful slave, Dingus, drove down to help a brother out. I love you, Dingus.

Here are my efforts before Dingus joined:

And after a couple of days with his help, we were finally done. Done! DOOONE!

It’s sweet, huh? Looks a little weird with grass on either side and in front, but that will all be filled in with bush at a later date when we sort out connecting it to the orchard and widening our driveway.

And here it is a year later, after a friggin’ excellent growing season:

And those original plantings at the roadside from our first year are really starting to fill out now. It excites us. A lot.

Already the few hundred trees we’ve planted around the farm are bringing in more birdlife, which is so fulfilling to see (and hear). If living out here weren’t also a money game, I’d have my way and restore the whole place into a forest wilderness. Aww yeeah.

Here is looking at our cottage from the far corner of the mulched bush patch.

And here’s a before and after for comparison:

Because this is only the beginning of turning this place into a wild jungle, we decided it would be cost-effective to buy a mulcher attachment for our tractor, so we can process our own in the future. Buying mulch is f-ing expensive; it cost almost a grand for that original twenty five cubic meters – and that was a good price apparently!

So, even though it was a bit of an investment, we think the chipper will pay itself off in no time. Especially with all the labour that’s saved; weeding, mowing, spraying, etc. We’ve already chipped a trailer’s worth of mulch from some branches that came down in a recent storm, and we’re really pleased with the beast’s performance. But that’s a post for another time…

Shiitake Happens

Posted by Nick  | 16 Apr 2017  | 4 comments

One-and-a-half years ago we inoculated logs of plum wood with some special fungus; the spawn of shiitake and oyster mushrooms, to be exact. It’s a waiting game. You have to give the mycelium enough time to fully impregnate the logs. After nine to eighteen months, to trigger fruiting you submerge the logs in water for forty-eight hours. Our farm came equipped with an old bathtub perfect for the job, which fills with rainwater from the adjacent shed.

We started with just four of our twelve logs as a trial, weighed down by bricks.

A couple of days later we pulled them out, propped them out of reach from the sheep’s exploratory gobs, and waited again for another couple of weeks.

We were giddy when we spotted a couple of mature shrooms which had suddenly emerged from one of the logs inoculated with shiitake.

Only two caps had sprouted, but soon, hopefully, these logs will be inundated.

Eager to fry up a sample of our very first homegrown mushrooms, we harvested the fruiting bodies from their woody abode.

Sauteed in butter and garlic is a must. Shiitake is known as a meaty mushroom, and we were surprised to find the texture quite similar to meat indeed. The taste wasn’t strong, but it was pleasant. There wasn’t enough! Here’s hoping many more pop up in the coming weeks, so we can make a proper meal of them.

Around the Farm: Part IV

Posted by Nick  | 15 Apr 2017  | 1 comment

What! The previous part in this “Around the Farm” series was posted a year-and-a-half ago, when we were going into winter in 2015! Goes to show how slack we’ve (I’ve) been with keeping on top of posts. So much has happened that we haven’t journalled about over the past year-and-a-half. So here’s yet another part in this series where I dump a whole bunch of photos (in no particular order) in an attempt to redeem our (my) procrastination. This one’ll be a whopper…

Let’s start with the pile of wood we had split from the trees we had felled in order to gain internet access. This was the beginning of 2016 in summer. We finally finished splitting all those rounds and used the tractor to transport the wood into the woodsheds.

A few friends helped us out. Here’s Dingus learning how to use the tractor’s hydraulics, which he took to like a pro.

This city boy knows how to tractor, and looks stylish doing it.

There was a lot to move, and in the heat of summer to boot.

Two ample woodsheds were filled, which should last us a few years worth of heat. And there’s plenty more where that came from.

We also split and collected some rounds that had been piled up against the trunks of old trees from the previous owner.

And moved a bunch of messy wood to the burn pile.

Also prior to the summer of 2016 our Wiltshire ewes were looking a little tatty, having shed for the first time that spring. A few hadn’t shed fully and we were bothered by the tufts of wool still stubbornly adhering to their chops, so Char took some hand shears to them. Their coats looked stifling, so we were doing them a favour, right? We penned up the barn and goaded them all in.

Oh, that’s my make-shift shepherd’s crook Char’s holding, which worked about as well as trying to catch fish with a spoon. Nevertheless, after much chasing and tackling, falling and sprawling, these newbie shepherds caught (most of) their flock and gave them a good trimming.

Woolly Wiltshires tend to shed better after their first year. We didn’t pay the high price for superior genes for our first flock.

A couple of the ewes had an absurd amount of wool still on them. Char took to it like a natural. I tried it, but nicked a sheep, and then almost cried because I felt so bad.

Here’s what we were left with after the woolly half of the flock had been shorn:

We’re very glad in retrospect that we don’t have to do this every year, and our ladies now shed almost fully (save one or two).

Speaking of shearing, our alpacas, Alpacino and Pacman, had their first haircuts here at the beginning of the summer just past. It’s a ridiculous ordeal for the poor things, but it keeps them cool in the hot months. As you can see, they were heavily cloaked, their fringes obscuring their views.

We constructed a make-shift pen from old gates in our carport and ushered the nervous camelids inside, ready for the shearers.

The shearers were a couple of American/Canadian guys who come over to NZ in the springtime for all the shearing work. Poor Pacman was up first. The shearers were seasoned pros, grappling and flooring the flighty animals with prowess.

It looks brutal, but they aren’t in pain, just restrained. Nooses are looped around each ankle and the alpacas are stretched out via pulleys.

This allows the shearers to access all parts of the alpacas. They also trimmed their toenails while they were at it.

There’s so much luxurious fibre by the end of it. We’ve bagged it all up for now, not quite sure what to do with it, but reluctant to throw it away. If we don’t end up using it ourselves, we may just give it away to some felting hobbyists in town.

As you can see, once the haircut drama is over, we are equal parts fabulous and ridiculous.

In no time the boys were back to their usual antics… which sometimes includes some eyebrow-raising “brotherly love”…

Alpachino’s gagging for it.

Ah, they’re such good lawn ornaments, alpacas.

So many laughs, and they’re a hit with visitors.

You’re doing well to get through this lengthy post. Here’s an intermission with bacon, pancakes, and ice-cream for your efforts. (I think I made this for Char’s birthday breakfast, because there’s a balloon on the floor in the background.)

A couple of summers ago we finally got on top of our little veggie patch.

Future plans are to construct a larger garden and greenhouse elsewhere as we attempt to grow all our own food, but this little patch keeps our thumbs green in the meantime.

Our compost is great – all food scraps go there and it seems to decompose before ever overflowing, always remaining at the same height.

Under the fresh top layer, a delicious dark humus develops beneath, alive with tiger worms, which must have migrated from our leftover worm farm compost we brought with us when we moved.

We’ve been seed saving our peas every year since we moved here, and it’s surprising how just a couple of generations of selecting from the healthiest plants results in a stronger crop each subsequent season. One day we may be doing that with most of our produce. You can see the peas on the left, which are from a new packet, are considerably smaller than those on the right, which we selected from the previous season’s strongest crop. Both planted at the same time.

We usually have lettuce coming out of our ears. We need to eat more of it.

This batch of home-grown strawbs was super flavourful due in part to a regular feeding with a good fertiliser. Makes all the difference.

We went blueberry picking on a plantation about forty-five minutes from where we live.

Picked about four kilos. I’m not too much of a fan of the sandy textured bland berry, but they are an excellent ingredient in baking.

We froze a whole bunch to bake into multiple batches of blueberry muffins, to sustain our fat deposits over the long winter… They turned out pretty delicious, especially with their cream cheese filling…

Sometimes in the country after a storm, when trees come down over rarely-accessed roads, it’s up to you to deal with the mess. In this case, especially, where one of the trees at the edge of our property bordering a gravel road came down.

For this reason, among a hundred others, a chainsaw is a necessity in the country.

Our crappy old letterbox looked pretty sad when we moved here. One weekend Char decided she’d fix ‘er up.

First she ground the rust down with a brass brush drill attachment.

Then she sprayed it with a primer.

She trimmed the flag.

Then painted it red.

She ground the rust from the old Y post out front.

Primed that, too.

Then spray-painted it black.

And viola! (Pic is actually from more than a year later, hence the slight rust.)

Much less of an eyesore in the meantime until we build a new fence and letterbox to match!

Another minor project we tackled was replacing our crappy hot and cold kitchen faucets with a proper mixer tap. We’d put up with the inconvenience for so long because we expected we’d be renovating in stages, but have since decided to put renovations on hold and do it all at once. So, we resolved that in the mean time we might as well install a proper mixer tap to save ourselves the daily frustration of washing hands and dishes with two taps, one blisteringly hot and the other icy cold.

Naturally, due to the “she’ll be right” attitude of the previous owners (and most lackadaisical kiwis), the fittings inside the wall were mismatched, hodgepodge, make-do, and… well… perfectly suited to the motif of the rest of the cottage and farm at large. This, unsurprisingly, resulted in multiple trips to hardware and plumbing stores after discovering odd-sized couplings, flanges, and piping were necessary for the job.

It took various attempts at fitting, unfitting, and refitting.

Until finally we had a non-leaking, working mixer tap to see us through until proper renovations begin.

To close, what follows is an assortment of around-the-farm pics that can speak for themselves, taken over the past couple of years.

You made it! I’d better get on top of all the other posts on my list, or else the next in the series of “Around the Farm” will be just as big!