Thistle While You Work

30 August - 27 September, 2006.

Hi everyone,

Sorry for the long gap between letters (3 months has flown by!) It's been a hard month since we moved in, but I'm now to the point where I can take time to sit down and write this letter and laugh about having to cook for a week with only 1 cheap Le Creuset rip-off, a paring knife and the serving spoons from the 'best' dinner cutlery service...

As I make breakfast in the mornings I look out at the dairy farm across the gully, Mt Pirongia in the background, and every morning a line of black and white cows come trudging patiently through the gap in the hedge, keeping a regulation one-and-a-half cow lengths apart, and disappear off to be milked or eat grass or something. It makes me smile every time I see them appear around the corner. I keep photographing the changing views of Mt Pirongia, shrouded with rain clouds like a volcano, lit by slanting afternoon light, even pink in the sunset like Uluru.

This morning I found a dead mouse in the trap I bought only yesterday and loaded with peanut butter, which really is the most effective bait. In Santa Rosa I had one of those 'humane' mouse traps - you know, where you catch the little mousie alive and let it go outside someone else's house? But here, if you let it go outside, your house is still the closest one. Besides, I'm a farmer's wife now - I have to catch them and cut off their heads with a carving knife... Jonathan of course would say most emphatically that I am not a farmer's wife; I am a Professor's wife who has chosen to toy with farming on a "lifestyle block".

1 month and 2 horrible colds later...

What makes me happy at the moment is doing jobs around this lovely piece of land, and seeing all the spring babies everywhere. Even the hard work gives the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile, and has the added bonus of being outdoors in the fresh air. So far I have mended fences, secured the wire and installed a new door for the chicken coop (thereby helping the chooks protect their 15 (!) new offspring from predators), put wire cages around fruit tree trunks in anticipation of nibbly sheep due to arrive next weekend, spent 7 hours digging up Scottish thistles (the other farmers at Jonathan's work nearly fell off their chairs laughing when they heard this), and sprayed 18 litres of glyphosphate on the abundant blackberry vines threatening to take over our gully slopes. Aside from our own chicks, there are ducklings in the ponds, and all around the district there are lambs, calves and foals frolicking in the spring sunshine.

Every time I dug up a thistle (vicious buggers which will stab you easily through heavy gardening gloves - the secret is to pick them up by the roots) I marvelled at the quality of the soil here. It's gardener's heaven! It's a rich, dark sandy loam, and all the locals say you can plant anything and it grows like crazy. I'm really looking forward to having a fantastic vege garden next year. I have big plans! This year I may just have to settle for a few tomato plants and basil in the very neglected vege garden space. The plum trees have all finished flowering and the apples are just coming in to bloom, the grape vines are budding, and the berry bushes (redcurrant and raspberry we think) are leafing out, so at least the fruit situation is already taken care of. Although I'm already considering the addition of cape gooseberries, kiwifruit, passionfruit...

I may have to learn how to install fences. The previous owner cut them all down for some reason, the property was originally divided into sensible paddocks suitable for horses and sheep (flat bits for horses, steep for sheep), and I want to restore that. Jonathan of course is of the "let them go and nature will take care of the rest" school. Right. I really want my lambs to drown in the creek and Merinda's expensive pony (no we haven't got one yet but it's bound to happen) to impale itself on an old metal fencepost or break its leg falling down the gully. Fortunately he has just read the fence recommendations in "Practical Small Farming in New Zealand" by Trisha Fisk, which I bought yesterday, and is coming around to my (or Trisha's) way of thinking. The real question is, do it yourself, or pay someone to do it? It's pretty hard work and you have to buy equipment to get started, which may not be cost-effective for a small acreage like this.

It's all spend, spend, spend at the moment and no save, save, save, which understandably makes Jonathan very nervous. You would think that with no mortgage and a high-paying job, we should have no money issues. We have planned an addition to the house which I'm sure is going to severely overcapitalise this property (which wouldn't be a problem if we were planning to spend the rest of our lives here, but I doubt Jonathan will want to) and will no doubt exceed the rest of our savings, which we are already whittling away with kitchen and bathroom renovations, demolishing sheds, building fences, etc, etc. I just hope that when all our initial expenses to get the house and property the way we want them are done, we can start saving for nice things like holidays. I'm a bit sad because the kids and I were supposed to be spending this week and next (they're on school hols) visiting my Dad in Sydney and celebrating my 40th birthday there with a party at Warwick's harbourside apartment, but I really felt I couldn't ask Jonathan to cope with the arrival of sheep, and chook feeding, and kitchen counter renovations, on top of working full time in a job that's very demanding at the moment, and I also felt I couldn't really justify the expense. I need to start earning my own money to pay for the stuff I want to do!

I miss you all and I hope you're all well.
Bye for now. Lotsa love,

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