Around the Farm: Part III

Posted by Nick  | 13 Oct 2015  | 7 comments

Winter has felt long and harsh. Harsh by our wimpy standards, anyway. It’s been a busy season for us, though, so lots has gone amiss on this humble wee blog. There’s a fair few posts on the back-burner, but here are some extra titbits of country living as consolation…

Our four feathered ladies are all grown up and each producing an egg a day. More than we can eat!

They each have distinct personalities and as any chook owner knows, they provide much entertainment.

It’s a great joy seeing them roam freely, dust bathing, sunbathing, foraging for grubs, and racing around like lunatics because… well, because they’re crazy. They’re also pretty.

Crooked-tail Lady Rose is certainly the boss.

Our fattest most heavily-set chicken, Lady Edith, has become broody. She sits on a nest in the bush all day long (sometimes on top of other chickens), despite our efforts to thwart her.

We sometimes pick her up and take her down to where her food is, so she doesn’t lose condition. Fancy a bucket-o’-chicken?

After a small snack, she’ll beeline straight back for nest, going berserk en route. After a couple of nights locked in the coop, she may well be breaking free of those hormones. We’ll see. At least the other ladies have started laying in the nesting boxes I built!

Our Wiltshire sheep are happy, too, going through the short winter grass like mad.

We’ve had to feed out hay regularly to keep up with their voracious appetites. They’re mischievous things.

As you can see, they’re beginning to shed nicely, too, now that the weather’s warming up.

The ground is littered with fluffy clumps and wisps of wool, and you can always tell when someone’s had a good scratch.

Now that spring has arrived they can barely keep up with the pasture’s growth. They prance and frolic whenever they’re let into a new paddock.

Over winter there was a bit of harvesting from our garden. Not much, since we put minimal effort into last summer’s garden, but we yanked up a bunch of onions.

And carrots, too!

Chunky mofos.

New Zealand doesn’t have much wildlife compared to more exotic locations, but its countryside certainly has more than the suburbia from which we fled. Kingfishers, for example, were a rare sight in the middle of Auckland, even in the parks. Here, however, they’re spotted in pairs daily.

Earlier in the year, when winter was approaching, skeins of Canadian geese were spotted migrating north (update: apparently they are “dispersive” in NZ, not migratory), making a honking racket overhead as they passed.

I came across a walking twig recently, too; a species I haven’t seen since childhood. Creepy to most people, but I find them charming.

It’s a good thing there’s a bunch of wildlife out here, because our little Mica eats half of it. We pulled this darling fantail from her grasp, hoping to save it, but it died of shock in Char’s hands. If only you could train your cat to prey exclusively on invasive species.

Who knows what else she gets up to, but we haven’t seen any of her rodent kills lately. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trapping them all in the tool shed.

Speaking of the minx, this post wouldn’t be complete without a shot of her majesty.

We actually had an encounter with a stray earlier in the year, didn’t we Mickey-Jay? One night we heard a cat fight outside, so went to investigate. Mica was pinned to the ground being attacked by a black tom. We shooed it off, but it kept coming back. Mica had a puncture wound from the fight, which became infected. We put some food out for it for a few nights, hoping to befriend it. It must have once been someone’s pet, because it seemed all right with coming up to the door. We nicknamed it “Batman”.

That story quickly came to an end when a neighbour trapped Batman and killed him. Fair enough, I guess. Not worth your own pets being upset and injured. Especially if they have to go through the indignity of wearing unfashionable head cones…

More planting of our native boundary this year. Will it ever end? Probably not.

A whole bunch of colourful youngsters, ready for delicious ash soil.

When planting them out, I am mesmerised by their root structures.

The hares started taking chunks out of our young plants, so I tried my own concoction of repellent. Cayenne pepper, chilli powder, egg, and yep – urine.

I used our knapsack sprayer to dowse all of our beloved saplings.

Didn’t seem to repel the bunnies as much as the shop-bought stuff, though. Either that or my urine is actually quite tasty (my teenage self on a particularly disgusting dare would contest this hypothesis).

Whilst we’re on the topic of bodily excretions, I might as well slip in that we had our septic tank emptied recently. We had no idea how full it was from the previous owner, so we thought it might be a good idea before things started… overflowing. We also had no idea where the septic tank was, but our guess turned out to be pretty accurate.

The dude poked around with a metal rod until he hit concrete, then dug up the lid with a shovel. Then he proceeded to suck up our poo. Surprisingly, it didn’t smell at all. Here’s a picture, because I know you’re curious.

Good news all around – it was fairly empty, the questionable home built system was in good working order, and all the signs pointed to healthy bacteria. Excellent, we really didn’t feel like forking out fifteen grand for a new system.

Even though the septic system is in working order, other parts of this old place continue to break and malfunction. Here’s me messing around with our pain-in-the-arse kitchen taps:

The washers were bung, and being a long drive from the nearest hardware store, we had to make do with just swapping the internal parts between the two taps, which seemed to work.

We’re just going to have to put up with this until we renovate.

Waiting for the right time/finances to renovate means a bit of temporary work to make life more comfortable in the interim. Here’s Char installing more draft stopping strips around the gappy window frames. I wish I could enjoy this type of work as much as she seems to be:

With things as temporary as they are, it’s important to stay sane by keeping stuff ordered. Luckily we have a shed to house our tools, which I found gratifying to organise.

It’s been fun learning how to use farm equipment. We had the opportunity to learn how to drive a clunky sixty-year-old Ferguson tractor, an icon of rural New Zealand. This resulted in my defining masculinity.

Having driven tractors before, Char was unsurprisingly a natural.

It’s a cumbersome diesel-coughing beast, but solid as a rock and a testament to how much better things were built in those days.

We sampled some soil from around the farm and sent it away for chemical analysis. The core-sampling auger was kind of fun.

Turns out we’re short on potassium, so we’ll have to remedy that eventually. That also might explain why our garden didn’t do so good last summer, because despite adding fertiliser and compost, none of it had potassium.

It rained graupel the other day. What’s graupel? This is graupel:

Not quite hail, not quite snow – somewhere in between.

We heard from our Auckland friends and family that it had happened there recently, too. It’s a strange phenomenon, like slush falling from the sky.

It may be chilly to the bone and raining graupel, but at least our waterfall is pretty during the wet season:

The brook is full, too.

Glorious kereru are returning with the change of seasons. They’re such majestic birds, don’t you think?

They’re a frequent ornament to our blossoming plum trees and the heavy whoosh whoosh whoosh of their beating wings overhead is becoming a common sound.

Spring is definitely here…

Evident not only by the fewer clothes one must adorn when going outside, but also by the vibrant new coats donned by our recently planted fruit trees.

Bring on the sunshine!

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!