Spring kids

The weather has definitely warmed, and we even had over a week with no rain! (It’s been a wet winter). And to welcome spring in cuteness, our three older does all kidded within three days.

The process has taken two years, from the time we took our first three does from their wild mums and raised them, bought three more Anglo Nubian does and a buck then got all of them in kid.

The first doe to kid this week had a longer than normal labour, resulting in her first born being still born and the second one only just making it (more on that in a future post).

Sadly, we lost another doe a week ago. She had an early labour which resulted in both her and the kid dying. Losing an animal you are close to is never easy, doesn’t get any easier and always prompts questioning… Last week I was ready to throw the towel in and give up on my ambitions to have milking goats. Accepting that life and death are intertwined is one of the hardest concepts I grapple with, having many animals we are never far from one or the other. Obviously new life is always a delight, so I am learning to come to terms with death. All cultures have customs related to both life and death, over time I have implemented my own, including ways of honouring the departed souls… being present with the animal if possible, a karakia (prayer), a tree planted over a grave.

The two others thankfully had straight forward births and all kids are healthy, so I am feeling on a little cloud again and feeling like I can keep going. Now I need to figure out how the milking is going to happen. I am reluctant to separate kids from mums, for the same reason I don’t separate the calf from our milking cow until it is almost a year old. So far one of the does stays put when I milk her, the other are more hesitant… It’s going to take a bit of work and getting systems in place but I am confident I will work something out.

It’s been a while

Autumn is almost behind us, we had our first light frost this morning and I haven’t written in this spaces for a few months. Life hasn’t been busier than usual but I have been less inclined to sit in front of a screen and more inclined to make the most of our beautiful weather.

During my off screen time, I gardened (of course), planting winter veges and harvesting the last of the summer crops. There was a good share of preserving, the root cellar is looking gorgeously filled, some animal husbandry including milking Alzina every few days (always love milking in the mornings). And after the third good rain, some joyful planting of natives and fruit/ nut trees, now that the ground is well hydrated.

I’ve also spent more time doing crafty things, which I have really enjoyed. I joined the local pottery group, I am still going with my eco printing (getting mixed results still, but some nice surprises. Sometimes), surfing more and even rock climbing on real rock (the highlight of autumn!).

Life is good, I won’t deny it, even though it feels over busy at times, it is definitely not the kind of busy where you feel like will drown if you take two seconds to stop and breathe.

I harvested our hue (gourds) and had another go at carving one of them. It’s pretty but I can’t see any practical use for it… A lampshade?

We will be celebrating the winter solstice by planting 1000 manuka trees again this year. I look forward to seeing all these trees grown up and bushy.

Harvest time

It’s officially autumn here in the southern hemisphere, meaning it’s time to harvest the abundance of fruit and vegetables that grew all through summer and are reaching their peak of flavourfulness.

Maybe it’s because I don’t want summer to end, I always seem to get caught by surprise. Boxes of fruit and veggies stack up in the kitchen and empty jars are hard to come by. The cooler weather, increased rainfall and shorter day lengths make it easier to spend more time in the kitchen.

It’s a daunting but satisfying task, and I really treasure this knowledge, knowing I can feed our family with what growing around us, preserve food for the leaner winter months (even though our weather here means there is always food of some kind growing).

I am focusing more and more on growing enough food for our needs, in particular beans for drying that we can store and cook during winter.

Preserving is also a good way to use not only the glut of produce but the one with imperfections (or partly eaten by others, such as birds and rats). Around the garden, rats have been especially ruthless, eating unripe capsicums, climbing tomato vines and peach trees to get at the fruit. There is so food around that trapping them with various contraptions have been very unsuccessful.

We also harvested our first honey from our own hive. It was all done by hand, with Josh and Miro scraping the frames into a sieve, then into a pot, then through a finer mesh sieve into jars.

We could have borrowed a spinning drum, which would have made it less messy and left the cells intact, but Josh wanted to try it this way and also believes it is important to let the bees work to clean and rebuild their frames. It means less of a honey harvest for us but is closer to what the bees would do in nature.

Eco prints on wool

Eco printing on wool is the most satisfying process. No need to prepare the fabric, just lay your leaves and steam or simmer, with the right leaves the results are stunning.

Cotinus leaves on wool

I have been experimenting with wool and cellulose fabrics on and off, learning from more experienced eco printers and randomly putting bundles together. I have a tendency not to take notes and try too many things at once, so I have perhaps been slower at understanding how to get good results. I am happy to live with mistakes and surprises, I know that eventually my understanding will allow me to predict results better. There are so many variables, the possibilities are endless.

Welcome swallow

I have always had this image in my mind of a swallow’s nest in a old barn being a symbol of a homey place. Maybe I got this idea after my only holiday spent on a farm, playing in the old barn, chasing and catching the wild kittens and watching the swallows zoom in and out, feeding their chicks and going out again to get more food. I loved that old barn, it felt so cosy, peaceful. Since we moved into our shed four years ago, I have been watching the swallows get more familiar with it, and this year one was bold enough to venture in and perch high up, watch our daily business. No nest yet but I still have hope that some day I will have my own swallow’s nest in my own shed. Barn.

A great year for onions!

I find it hard to predict what will grow well in the garden. Some things, like courgettes, seem to always do well and provide us with bountiful amounts of food. Last year they were a total flop (I suspect it was due to the horse manure I had sourced…). I have been growing onion for the past few years, with relative success. This year the onions are ginormous, the reds doing better than the browns, and I can’t quite pinpoint why it should be any different to the previous years. Better compost? Different compost? More sun? Less rain? I am sure with time I will gain more experience, but there seems to always be some level of unknown in growing crops. Some pest or fungus might decimate a crop and the rats or birds could well make a dent or totally eat another crop before you even get at it (it is happening right now with our capsicums…). I am glad to be growing a rainbow of vegetable and gradually increasing the amount I grow too to take into account the potential loss to one thing or another. Is this the way our forebears planned their growing season? Considering they mostly would have relied on themselves (no convenience store or supermarket) and their community, it would have been a real bummer to get a crop so wrong you had no food to put on the table.

Every year I get something right and something wrong. This year I got great onions but I don’t feel like I can quite claim the success to my skills alone! Working alongside nature is a humbling adventure…

Holidays close to home

We live in a beautiful part of the country, a beautiful part of the world. This has been brought home more strongly in light of the current events.

I have always thought we should be exploring our local surroundings more. This summer we chose to spend 3 nights camping in Mahia, an hour away from Gisborne. There are two freedom camping sites there, where you can camp up to 3 days. They are both right on the beach and have good basic facilities (i.e. toilets!).

We drove our caravan there and explored the coast, it was just stunning and so relaxed. Even the boys, who will usually sit in the car and read while Josh and I surf and Kuihi plays on the beach, spent most of their time in the water, with Miro being ready in wetsuit for his first swim by 7am.

Josh and the boys paddled down from the river mouth to the sea on their surfboards, we ate shellfish gathered in the lagoon right be the second campground, had a great time and delicious food with good friends and got home feeling relaxed and content.

Allium

Leek flowers. The leeks I was hoping to eat didn’t grow well and went to flower rather than growing big and fat. I wasn’t going to save them for seed but the flower is so beautiful (the purple shade in the picture, the white ones are carrot flowers, pretty too, and I am saving the seeds of these)…

The shallots grew very well this year and I harvested a great bunch, which will see us through until we harvest the brown and red onions.

The surrogate calf

In nature not everything goes to plan, not always. Alzina our house cow calved the day after she was due. Sadly, the calf was still born.

Now I had a sad, confused cow who couldn’t understand why her calf was not responding to her gentle mooing and an udder full of milk. Luckily, she is an awesome cow and trusts me. She calmly ate her feed while I milked her, twice a day, looked at me searchingly every time I came to check on her, wondering if I would bring her calf to life.

Finding a bobby calf (week old calf) is not easy in Gisborne, as there are not many dairy farms (most bobby calves come from dairy farms as they area burden to the farmers who only want the milk from the mothers) and calving generally happens around spring time. So I wasn’t starting lucky. A few phone calls confirmed my gut feeling that it might be really tricky to find a surrogate calf for Alzina.

But as luck would have it, a friend who runs beef cows had one calf unexpectedly and wasn’t so keen to keep the calf as the mother was quite young. It was 2 weeks old and fairly wild but that was pretty much my only option unless I wanted to wait longer.

The first day the calf was wild and feral, behaving like a bull in a rodeo, jumping around and running in circles in the cow shed. He was very jumpy and skittish. In that state, there was no way he was even thinking about how hungry he might be. We had kept the still born calf’s skin and attached it to the surrogate calf, hoping to fool Alzina into thinking it might be her calf. I’m not sure we quite succeeded but it helped.

Next day, same thing. I tried to bring him close to the teats, flicked a bit of milk at his nose and placed the teat to his mouth (Alzina was ever so patient, not kicking a fuss and only turning round to see what was going on every now and again). No. Way.

Josh bottle fed him, and after some initial reluctance, the calf gulped it down.

Day 3. I am milking in the shed, the calf is free to roam next to us and he seems calmer, he is taking the time to sniff around and nibble bits and pieces. I put him by Alzina’s teats again and this time, after a few seconds, he grabbed one and suckled. From that moment the deal was sealed. Alzina was a bit shifty, but she was making her lovely soft mooing sounds again and I encouraged her, stood by her and patted her while the calf fed. She relaxed. In that moment, it all unfolded and they adopted each other. Wonderful.

It only took three days, I expected to be at it for a week. I am always so amazed at how well things can click together when you let the flow guide you. And I am so happy that my precious house cow is a happy mum once again.