Tag Archives: farm

Something’s bugging me

Literally .

Although not just something . I know exactly what it (they) is (are).

There were a few things that failed to make it on to the property particulars when we moved to Marlborough and, more specifically, to Paradise.

One was the wind in late spring / early summer. Although we had visited the area many many times, we must have just hit lucky on avoiding the wind. Windy Wellington – your more beautiful and slightly wine addled neighbour across the Strait can most certainly give you a run for your money on the wind front – at least for part of the year.

But that’s not it.

What’s bugging me is bugs.

Not affecting me personally, but there’s most certainly a fleeting possibility of threat for our precious babies budding out in the vineyard.

At a certain time of year (now) , the brown beetles or May bugs ( creatively named after their annual appearance in the northern hemisphere ) awaken from neighbouring paddocks to strike fear into the hearts and pockets of grape growers. The bugs choose to burst into life as the sun sets on beautiful days and, from nearby paddocks, aim for the moon and land on the vines. If they get their chance they will then happily procreate and eat their way through the leaves and buds, potentially causing damage.

My first reaction on hearing about our unknown challenge  was confidence that there must be something that could deter them ( or more accurately blitz them into oblivion). But being organic, with a karma-esque attitude to living things, we have found our options are limited.

So, our ritual now is an enforced walk of the vineyard every night as darkness creeps in. Torches in hand, we inspect the leaves and flick the bugs to the ground, where they can no longer do any damage.

No matter how many times we are told by those who have considerable experience in this : “ you’ll know when you have a problem” – ( thankfully, we haven’t found out so far) – we still spend our time cursing the little bug(ger)s and counting how many we knock off. Although a swarm in the thousands is what we are told will indicate an issue (?!) , we still feel the overwhelming need to protect our babies and that’s where it gets compulsive. We are the equivalent of first-time parents. Anxious to do the right thing but no experience yet to give us any real perspective. Being told that we are probably the only growers paying such attention is little comfort.

Although small numbers of bugs will not cause damage, the very fact they are there ‘bugs’ M & I . So we currently spend our evenings knocking as many off leaves as we can, while acknowledging nightly that we can’t get around every single vine.

But we still try.

A good friend who is born and bred in both the area and the industry and therefore experienced in such matters, not so reassuringly said to me, “ you really don’t have a problem until they’re mating on your eyeballs….” .

Now there’s a less than comforting thought to hold for the next few weeks…..

But. 

And there’s always a but!

This has given us the pleasure of having a nightly walk together under glorious inky skies. The doodles happily chase hedgehogs and whatever else they pick up a scent on. We talk. We appreciate our surroundings. We count blessings.

Welcome to Paradise !

Yours (hopefully) bug free,

Fi

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The little                  brown bug(ger)s!
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Sheep may (not) safely graze….

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Who’ll blink first….

This used to be one of my favourite pieces of music.

No more.

Sheep are my friends no longer and I care not whether they graze safely or otherwise.

I have started a blog 3 times today and each time I have suffered ‘ovis interruptus’ or put another way, rampaging sheep through every part of the property they shouldn’t be.

Whoever said sheep were stupid? Well they’re not, and they’re quite athletic – managing to hurdle fences at will.

After all these years watching Country Calendar, you would think I would have picked up something about mustering. But no, nothing , not at all.

However I may not be able to tell you what to do , but I can certainly share a few pointers on what not to do.

  1. Having a bad cough is not conducive to mustering sheep. It makes them crazy and also makes them run. Fast.
  2. Waving your arms does little – except amuse neighbouring vineyard workers
  3. Swearing only benefits yourself. Temporarily.

3 times they have been returned and 4 times they have escaped.

They have won.

I, have temporarily admitted defeat.

The farmer, who owns these athletic and smart sheep has now been summoned and he can take it from here. In fact he can take them from here.

I for one am both sheeped and shagged out.

Lamb for dinner anyone……..?!

F

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No you may not safely graze in my garden……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing cows

After a busy day, it was time for the fire to be lit, wine to be poured and feet to be lifted.

My favourite time of day.

I’ve gotten very used to the incredible peace and quiet of Paradise, even though we have assorted animals sharing the space.

However, you know that feeling when something just doesn’t quite stack up? I can never usually hear our three Belties ( Oreo, Tollhouse and Anzac) from their paddock, but this time it felt like they were just outside. Funny that – as that’s exactly where they were.

Now until you have eye balled a one tonne Beltie outside your front door, you just haven’t passed your ‘ I survived the country’ test…. I can also now say I’ve played ( and lost) a game of ‘who’ll blink first’ with Tollhouse.

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Who’ll blink first…..?

As I feared, three one tonne cows can cause quite a lot of damage to a garden however my positive side welcomes the natural fertiliser I now have in abundance.

An urgent call to M (who conveniently was on another island) advised me not to panic them ( them??!!) and then added that at least it gave me more material for my next blog…..( thoughtful !)

While waiting for a helping hand from neighbour T ( who helped last time I thought I had lost all 3 cows : see previous blog ), I decided to take action and well and truly earned my cattle wrangling 101 badge.

Single handedly, over a period of an hour ‘steering’ them through gardens, cars, vineyard, paddocks, stream and bonfire ( which, incidentally is still going 10 days on ! – see other previous blog), I managed to coerce them back to their own corner of Paradise – none the worse for their adventure.

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Back behind bars……

What I’ve learned:

  • cows can run – really fast.
  • cows dont respond like dogs. Actually our dogs don’t respond at all so no help there.
  • gates are usually shut for good reason.
  • Belties are REALLY big when you’re standing a metre away from them.
  • Belties have beautiful eyelashes.
  • you really can do things you never thought you would ever have to, if you have to.

 

Fun time over.

Back to the fire.

Pass the bottle !

Fi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light my fire…

I’ve never been a fan of bonfires.

One of my earliest memories was of a Scottish winter night at the local bonfire celebrating the burning of the Guy on 5th November. It was cold, very cold. The smoke was strong and I didn’t feel safe, although I absolutely was. The only redeeming factor was the sparklers – which again I have to say I wasn’t a huge fan of, for fear of sparks causing me to catch fire and become the sacrificial offering. No shortage of drama queen moments in my childhood……

However, fast forward a  few bonfire-less years and we now have more grown up demands being made of us on the fire front. We inherited a bonfire waiting to happen when we bought Paradise. It had started after the “great flood of 2008” when several large trees came sailing down the local stream and landed with us. No one had ever got around to burning them and we, through new developments in the vineyard, started adding to it. When the pile started resembling a medium sized house, we knew we had to take action.

After much procrastinating about what potential damage we could do to neighbouring vineyards should we mis-manage the event, I called our (very) friendly rural fire officer explaining the magnitude of the bonfire facing us and he offered to come and take a look. Setting fire to New Zealand’s premiere wine region was not something we were keen to be remembered for. On reflection, I couldn’t have sounded more ‘ towny’ if I’d tried , but still there’s a time for trying to act knowledgeable and this was not one.

When he arrived at the door, he had a oddly huge and sympathetic smile – which was nice , but confusing. You see , on his way into the property  he had seen our pile of recently cut plane tree ( not in itself small , but nothing like our bigger issue to hand) and took to understand that this was what I was talking about. As he started reassuring me that this pile couldn’t in any way cause any concerns and would probably burn out within minutes, I twigged ( pun intended ) what he was on about and beckoned him around the corner where our bonfire behemoth was looming in the distance.

“Ah’, he said. “Indeed “, I said.

We tramped across fields to see it close up and thankfully ( for my pride anyway) he agreed that it was good to have called and that this was indeed a very large pile.

After offering many tips and tricks of the trade he wished us luck and told me to put his number on speed dial….”just in case”.

As a parting thought he said , ” Just be mindful of small animals running alit from the pile as they can act like mini fireballs ” and he was gone, with that thought indelibly etched in my mind forever.

So D day came, a still day with wind unlikely to pick up, blanket neighbours and set fire to many hectares of prime Sauvignon. Off we went, Lucifers and matches in hand.

I have to be honest. It was quite thrilling setting fire to it. No fear. Hours passed quickly just watching the destruction it caused weaving its own powerful way through the pile. It was intense and fierce. There were (thankfully) no animals affected.

We only had one minor ‘moment’ , when we tried to assist the fire get to an area that stubbornly refused to burn. Let’s just say, even the smallest amount of fuel can cause very big flames and a very loud explosion that can be heard from very far away….but that’s another story…

It took 3 days to go out.

Mission accomplished and yet more lessons learned.

Roll on 5th November……

Fi

 

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All my own work !

 

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Anyone else sees a dragon breathing smoke….???

 

 

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Day 3 and nearly out…

 

 

The real heart of home

Maybe it was my early years reading ‘Little House on the Prairie‘ that did it, but I have always had a hankering for a stove in the kitchen.

In previous lives, I have been lucky enough to have owned a temperamental baby blue coal fired Aga in my first house – a 300 year old ‘Weavers Cottage’ in the North Yorkshire Moors.Then came a second hand cream coloured oil fired Rayburn – inherited from my stove loving then Mother in Law. However my ‘I’ve finally made it ‘moment was the purchase of a gleaming British racing car green gas Aga in my first house build. It was perfect. The house hugged around it and dogs, children, visitors all gravitated towards this new heart of a new home. It was also almost impossible to set fire to anything. The chicken I once left in overnight, when found, was simply dust 🙂

How I missed her when we moved.

Fast forward 15 years.

We moved to Paradise in late ( southern hemisphere) Spring so we are now knowledgeable about the heat and Marlborough summer winds and how the house / we cope with those, but the winter cold is a new one. ( Apologies to those living in real cold – I’m only talking currently of lows at 0/1c or 32F !). Yesterday however felt so cold that it was time to attempt to light the stove we have inherited which has been somewhat neglected so far in the kitchen.

She’s a beauty but she’s very old – a brown Shacklock Orion . So it was with a little trepidation that we set about lighting.

It’s fair to say the first few times entailed more smoke than fire, but after a little practice we’ve got it sussed and I’m so thrilled with the result. She’s actually a really easy starter – a few minutes and a little maintenance and we have a warm toasty addition to the kitchen. And what a difference it has made. Visitors have started gravitating to her and there is much warming of hands and bums as well as being a great conversation piece ! The Doodles spend a lot of time just lingering and are thrilled with the new heat source in their ‘bedroom’ :). And I now have another oven to use which gives far better results than a gas or electric equivalent and I must admit I do get a thrill from knowing that there is no cost to us except a quick trudge to the wood stack ( which M has valiantly produced from fallen branches and surplus trees around the patch).

It’s definitely my current happy place . Roll on winter 🙂

Fi

 

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Beautiful Orion in all her glory

Belties devastate 2016 grape harvest….

I could see the above as the headline screaming from the local Marlborough paper as I searched , increasingly manically, for our three temporary bovine guests ; Oreo, Anzac and Tollhouse.

You can’t just lose these animals. They’re huge.

The cows ( or to be specific, Belties to us country folk….ahem..)  have already caused me enough stress this week ( see previous blog) but after a busy desk bound morning , I thought the responsible thing to do was to have a walk around the patch to see if everything was ok after last nights stormy weather (I’ve heard that this is the type of behaviour consistent with owning land in the country and it was about time I made it part of my routine. Especially with M away).

No cows. Anywhere.

No cows in paddock, or at usual shade tree, not at watering areas, not even at their favourite pear tree.

Now, we are surrounded by vineyards groaning with the promise of the imminent 2016 harvest. And cows like grapes. It would not take 3 , one tonne Belties long to make some serious damage to said crops.

Thankfully, help was at hand quickly to start the search party from our ever helpful neighbour T, who I already suspect finds most of our ‘potential crises’ amusing.

I was beginning to start crisis planning for upset neighbours, ruined vines  or worse, when T appeared, smiling. Not usually a signal of imminent disaster .

Our 3 girls were safe , enclosed and had happily decided to lie flat in the creek out of normal sight.

Panic over. Headlines averted. Harvest safe.

This week’s score (so far)  : Belties 2 : Fi  0

I see a cow free future ahead.

 

Fi

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Is that a smirk I detect…..

A taste for pears

Beautiful Oreo

We have a beautiful pear tree that has never been harvested. It is laden but I have plans . One friend is making pear cider . Another is taking some for horse feed. And I am looking to ripen as many as I can to enjoy and make delicious things with .

There are still hundreds left .

So I thought they would be a welcome treat for the three beautiful Belties * that are temporarily  living with us. They loved them .
What I failed to take into account is that a wire fence is no barrier between fully grown and very heavy Belties and their newfavourite food .

It took a loss in water pressure to start an urgent search around the property as that could only mean one thing – a leak in our our much needed water system .

Luckily we didn’t need to look far . A fountain had appeared where our pear smitten Belties had trodden on pipes , broken through fence and trampled their trough .

How happy were they . Belties in pear heaven .

Me , I’ll take it as yet another lesson in country living . I’m truly not in Kansas anymore.

Fi

*Beltie : The Belted Galloway is a heritage beef breed of cattle originating from Galloway in the west side of southern Scotland, adapted to living on the poor upland pastures and windswept moorlands of the region. The exact origin of the breed is unclear although it is often surmised that the white belt that distinguishes these cattle from the native black Galloway cattle may be as a result of cross breeding with Dutch Lakenvelder belted cattle. It is the belt that gives them their name.

Feed the birds…

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Netting on a perfect day

We would happily pay “tuppence a bag” to stop the wretched things gorging on everything ripe !

Today was netting day – and I think we got the timing spot on . The grapes are turning colour ( veraison) and the birds have not done any damage. Nets are not pretty but they do the job. We are on the final push towards harvest and our babies are now hopefully safe.

It’s an odd situation. I take great pleasure in putting out wild bird seed and ensuring there is plenty of water to look after our wonderful bird families who in return give us the most fantastic bird song.

In addition to the many various types of bird around us, we have doves. How cool is that! They are calm and friendly. They sit and wait as we feed our hens and then happily get stuck in to the hen feeder with them. They provide a stunning white feathered escort alongside the cars everytime we drive home.

They’re great.

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Beautiful turtle dove

However, when you have precious vine babies and other produce waiting to burst into life, you can’t help but get protective.

On one hand I’m feeding the birds to protect and nurture them but when they become vine and fruit enemy #1, it’s all on.

If anyone has any ideas for protecting nature’s spoils from our feathered friends I would love to hear them. Everything we have tried doesn’t seem to work. Nets it is then.

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Useless bird scarers providing  fiesta atmosphere for the birds’ feasting….

Saying that, as I type I’m listening to them.

I wouldn’t swop this glorious birdsong for anything.

Fi

 

 

 

Sunrise on a bountiful day

Today began with the most beautiful sunrise – almost Hotel California album cover colour hues, for those that remember.

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It was an absolute joy to be doing M’s 6am airport drop off as it made me enjoy more hours of  this wonderful day – something I’ve been too guilty of missing in the past. We joked at the traffic issues on the way – three cars, one truck and an enthusiastic cyclist.

The vineyard was already buzzing when I got back. Grape thinning was today’s activity as we race towards harvest. Although I find it heart-breaking to see our beautiful babies ( pinot noir grapes) being discarded , I understand the reason behind it is to develop the quality of those left to grow. That’s so important for the integrity of the pinot noir we produce.  Note to self : learn to make Verjuice *

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It’s netting day tomorrow so my first task today was to buy 25,000 biodegradable net ties. I had clear instructions and let’s face it , how difficult could it be? As it happens , very. Who knew there were so many styles, types and qualities. I do now. PGG Wrightson is another world . I know I’ve changed when I catch myself admiring the new Swanndri fleeces and commenting on how comfortable and durable they will be ……so sad…!

Today’s bounty included finding uses for the forest of rhubarb – crumble, jam and fruit paste for cheese match – not sure about the last one but it’s worth a try.

My other challenge at the moment is what to do with our laden 100+ year old pear tree. It has never been harvested in the past – lucky cattle enjoyed the feed! What I’ve learned is that pears don’t ripen on the tree. If they are ripe on picking they will be soft and mushy and not at their best. You pick when giving slightly at the neck and then refrigerate for quite a few weeks and then at room temperature. However one slight limitation is that my fridge is a normal size and by my calculations will probably chill only about 30 of the hundreds on the tree so I’m putting my best bartering skills to the test and doing some swops with friendly local folk. One friend who is incredibly handy, is going to make pear cider (yum!) and another will swop for locally caught venison ( again, yum!). I’m currently on the look out for milk ( goats/ jersey for cheese making ), limes ( for Margaritas ) tomatoes ( because we seem to eat our body weight in them each week) so if you’re keen to swop, get in touch 🙂

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Just some of the beauties from the pear tree – thanks to Mum and Dad for providing the perspective on its size 🙂

Cheers ,

Fi

Verjuice (/ˈvɜːrˌs/ vur-jooss; from Middle French vertjus “green juice”) is a highly acidic juice made by pressing unripe grapes, crab-apples or other sour fruit.[

Great recipe. I’ll try and share the results !

http://honest-food.net/2015/07/22/how-to-make-verjuice/

 

 

“..paradise is where I am”

Dreams are good.

Acting on dreams is also good.

Surviving the aftermath of following said dreams ….can make for tall tales best shared over a glass or two.

Welcome to our search for the good life. Cheers!

We’ve all done it haven’t we ? Shared dreams, talked about what we will do when we have enough time, money, energy, freedom and so on and so on…. often over another bottle of wine and usually during those moments of downtime when everything seems to be that little bit more possible .

Usually reality kicks in before we take any action but the comfort of dreaming keeps us going until the next time.

For years, M and I had been allowing ourselves to dream about a lifestyle neither of us knew but both of us wanted. We had lived in some beautiful areas of New Zealand but they were always within city limits – a necessity for work and schools.

Our last home was our most daring step yet towards our piece of ‘God’s Own’. It started as an acre of virgin paddock and became a stunning home overlooking a valley that had , since our arrival, changed from a sea of darkness when the sun went down to a mass of twinkly lights from the increasing city urban sprawl. We were happy there. We planted a small orchard, talked of chickens and enrolled in the Ponsonby Chicken Keepers course ( yes , that’s a thing) and had several attempts at avocados. All small stuff, but there was no substituting the joy we got from picking the few peaches the birds left us and sharing them all over Facebook.

The week that our first avocado was picked was the week we left our acre behind.

We started the gut wrenching process of selling up several months earlier with nothing to go to but a very strong desire to settle in Marlborough, our original plan after moving to New Zealand. With an excellent agent on our side, we weathered the process and never looked back.

We had driven a car full to bursting with ‘precious’ things southwards the week before our move so on departure day, it was M and I, two labradoodles,4 cases and a massive amount of new found respect for Air New Zealand staff. If you were travelling that day and heard the sounds of two very vocal dogs reverberating through domestic terminal , sorry. Our stress levels didn’t improve much when we saw only one of the dogs being boarded – after much urgent remonstration, and M’s one man tarmac stand off, said missing dog was found still doing the circuits on the luggage conveyor belt …none the worst for wear.

Being homeless or, more correctly, in transit, had many advantages. Life was simpler. We were lucky to find a delightful homestay to rent during their quiet season. We lived smaller. Used fewer things. Enjoyed the lack of clutter. It also strongly united us in our new task of finding a new home to match the new life we had committed to –  similar to the feeling when we migrated to New Zealand many years ago. It’s energising to have such a major common goal.

We had been looking at properties on and off for a few years but could not commit to any until ours was sold. This was a double-edged sword. We learned massive amounts about the property market, areas and lifestyles but it was also sad and frustrating when we found what we thought was ‘the one’ and missed out. It’s scary how much you emotionally invest in a property way before any financial commitment. We lived a lifetime in each house we fell in love with, day and night dreaming, sketching and planning – only to swallow hard and move on as each became someone else’s. So, we knew the only way to go was to be ready to act immediately.

Our main focus, apart from finding the house and lifestyle of our dreams was ensuring we were not buying a problem or being naive. Enter the lawyers, inspectors and agents . 3 of M’s least favourite professions. M is smart, tenacious, meticulous and a fast learner so he quickly started to advise the advisors – let’s just say, in a charming way we were the clients from (not quite) hell, but somewhere fairly close by.

We learned what it is like to be part of a small community. Everyone really does know everyone and their business, and their history and pretty much everything else. That’s great when you are part of it, it’s slightly more challenging being the interloper.Suffice to say, we had a few dramas and dark moments  but the piece of advice that sticks with me, given by our wise and worldly estate agent upon losing out on yet another dream was , “whatever you get, you will never imagine being anywhere else”.

He was right. And then we found paradise.

It was not completely love at first sight.Or to be fair, the house wasn’t.The land however enchanted us from the first look and our love for it continues to grow as every day passes. It is Paradise ( and yes I’ve programmed that into my GPS to remind me every day when I have to leave).The house will grow with us, and I am already loving its quirks and history – a stark contrast from the ultra modern home we left behind

Our piece of paradise includes an organic vineyard, a 100 year old walnut grove, orchards with plums, pears, apricots,strawberries,damsons, grapefruit, figs and chestnuts, chickens, geese, bee hives ,cows and a soon to be established cheese and jam making room plus a 5000 bottle capacity underground wine cellar. The last item on the list will provide the sustenance to survive all of the others.

We have no experience in any of the above. Except wine. Drinking wine. I have a fair bit of experience in that. I think that will hold me in good stead for what is to come.

A bit about us : we are seriously enthusiastic amateurs with a shared passion for nurturing our little corner of the world, of being in a place where we can eat good food and drink good wine (and beer) that’s produced in our neighbourhood , cultivate our own produce for ourselves and to share with others and enjoy the bounty of a simpler life. A good life.

We both have careers and businesses that are light years from this and our backstory is more city than it ever was country.Old habits die hard ( if at all). By way of example, today before mowing the paddock, I did my usual getting dressed routine including makeup, hair wash, dry and straighten and also a splash of Chanel Allure. Seriously. I actually stopped to look in the mirror and laughed out loud as I donned my Swandrii and pulled on my Red Bands  – my baby blue Hunter’s and Barbour that were , until recently, my city contribution to being ‘country’ just won’t cut it !

As you’ll see, we also don’t take ourselves too seriously. We laugh at our inexperience but are thankful for strong wifi and a very useful internet, which fills in many of the gaps.

It’s early days but we truly love it, and it shows. M has found a new  happiness for fixing things ( which is very lucky as there’s lots of fixing to be done) and is learning all there is to know about everything .He loves the sporadic respite from challenging clients and allows the pure air to unclutter his mind .He now owns a tractor. Every boys dream.

I am happy and relaxed, daunted but unbowed. Life will never be dull. We already have stories that keep our family and friends amused and horrified in equal measure.

Our journey in search of the good life is only just beginning.

Cheers,

Fi

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The Doodles joining us on the search