We have just completed a long, glorious, typical Wairarapa summer - day after day of cloudless skies, hot sunshine, and grass rapidly changing from lush green to crackly brown. Lovely stuff if you're not a farmer. Lawn mowing just didn't happen and pasture disappeared. Passing landscapes on the highway became dusty fields of brown earth and yellow stalks, bereft of grazing animals. At Fossils Retreat, we suffered, having to resort, yet again, to grazing the long acre on our dead-end road when we were able. No hay was able to be made, and we had to buy in hay and baleage. We had hoped to sell our lovely 1 year old bull calf, Paddy, and our heifer calf Dawn, as well as Clarissa, who we are pretty sure is in calf, but there wasn't much point as nobody had any grazing and everybody was offloading stock left, right and centre. The Wairarapa region was officially classified as a drought region. Towards the beginning of April, we got hooked up with a flutter spinner and a long alkathene hose, which enabled us to water two of our paddocks and keep up the grass growth. As the long, hot days continued, but the nights became cooler and we started to get a dew, we started to get field mushrooms, and boy oh boy, did they come up over the next few weeks. Then some rain, with more fine days. We had mushrooms coming out of our ears, basket upon basket of them every day. We made soups, sauces, ate them cooked in butter every second night, and traded them for fresh figs, lemons, other produce and pig food. We have just had our second frost, so that's just the end of them now.
Yummy field mushrooms and a bountiful supply of our free range eggs
The Patricias and the rest of the hens were finally established in their new house, complete with run, which has been located in the paddock where our barn is (a long way from the vege garden!). They get let out after they have laid their daily eggs to have a forage round and literally 'free range'.
Finally - the new chook house. A long time in the making. I doubt this one will blow over in a gale. Still to be painted
Our vegetable harvest was not nearly as prolific as the previous year. This year, no doubt due to the drought, our potato yield was perhaps one third of the year before. The Patricias did not help though, as they still managed to find their way over and scratch and take dust baths in the beds. We got a tremendous flavoursome yield of onions and garlic and lots and lots of basil, which we used to make copious quantities of pesto. We have found that it freezes successfully, so we are hoping to have enough to last us well into the year.
We lost a few shelter belt trees due to the drought. Funny, several in a row and then a dead one. Our feijoa hedge is coming along, although a bit higgeldy-piggeldy as we have had to replace the odd one or two. We had an inspection the other day, and it looks like we can look forward to a few dozen feijoas this season. Friends have already started donating some to us.
Denise pulling down willow branches for Paddy and Walter to munch on during the drought. Note the scarcity of green grass
Our three pigs - Milly, Molly and Mandy - are thriving. These are really nice little pigs. They will be with us for another 5-6 weeks. They get let out of their yard to free range, dig up the paddocks and investigate along the river bank, and come running home back to their pen each night to be fed as soon as they catch sight of you with the feed bucket. We have been very lucky with friends contributing towards their welfare in great style - surplus apples, squash, pumpkins, figs and a huge drop-off of acorns, all of which have been gratefully received. We are at the stage now of finishing them off and packing them full of good food, so it will be interesting to see whether the acorns have any effect on the taste of the pork. It has just got cold enough to start lighting a fire each night (we've had two frosts to date) so their tucker in the morning consists of warm peas and crushed grains which have been cooked in the stock pot and left all night on the wood burner.
Mandy, Milly and Molly rooting around in the mud on the bank of the water race a few weeks ago
So, it has been a busy year - it's always a busy time. We are upgrading our driveway, putting down permanent paths and edging around the vegetable gardens, thinking of new ways of Patricia-proofing our summer beds, attending to ongoing maintenance, setting up and taking down electric fences, pruning back willow tree branches, splitting and chopping firewood, keeping the woodshed stocked, lawns, line trimming, ongoing sheep maintenance, feeding out hay and baleage to two lots of cattle twice a day - we don't need to join a gym! And there is exterior house painting to be done as well; garden beds to plan and prepare. When winter really sets in and the nights draw in (it's pretty much dark now by 5.45pm) we have lots and lots of scraping and painting to do indoors! Will we ever be able to get our deck done? Will we ever have time to sit on a deck with nothing better to do than enjoy a gin and tonic in the evening? But we love our lifestyle - wouldn't swap it for worlds. There is something immensely satisfying in coming inside each night (to a fire already lit!) to a warm house, with all animals fed with full stomachs, taken care of and settled for the night.