If you're visiting Muntanui for the first time because of the feature in last weekend's Nelson Mail
(or this weekend's edition of The Christchurch Press), hello and welcome! We hope you'll stop by often. If you're a regular, hello and welcome to you too. Farmer Wan and I, thanks to the afore-mentioned feature, are currently enjoying 15 seconds of fame. Feel free to follow the link, read the story, be mightily inspired and then send us money or something.
We've been beavering away on two major projects over the last few weeks:
- kitting out the Polytunnel of Love so that we can actually grow stuff in there
- designing and planting out the knot garden and small bank behind the house
Because both involve raised beds and there was no way we could fill them with the compost we're making ourselves, we forked out for 12 cubic metres of the yummy, black stuff. So far, I've loaded about a quarter of it into wheelbarrows and trundled it around the place. This is a very satisfying process, physically speaking. Sandflies now require oxygen when scaling my biceps.
Each project will get its own post, with lots of pics, in the near future. In the meantime, here's a sampling of images to show why we love Muntanui in the springtime.
Coming soon: Compost: the agony and the ecstasy. No, just make that the agony.
Posted by Farmer Nik
Pansy "Jolly Joker". Very blue, very hardy, very cute. Bursting with pansy gorgeousness.
If last year's anything to go by, we won't get daffodils until mid-October, so I thought I'd celebrate the first day of Spring by introducing you to these guys. They spent most of June under snow, they've been frosted solid more times than I care to count and yet they've bloomed constantly since January. They're tough little plants and those wee "kitten" faces crack me up. Viva Jolly Jokers! You're wonderful, even though you're naughty old hybrids with useless seed.
Today was balmy and mild, just the way an early spring day should be. The weather's meant to turn to custard tomorrow but it should be mostly fine by Wednesday, which is when our first lambs are due. There'll probably be blow-by-blow accounts of birthing and lots of photos. Be warned.
Our first anniversary at Muntanui has already passed (27 August). I deferred all the feasting and merriment until Farmer Wan gets home for his next R&R break. He's due back on Monday. We'll no doubt spend some time reflecting on everything that's happened in the past year, but to be honest, I'm more interested in the year to come. There are some serious projects on the horizon that will change Muntanui forever -- and, we think, for the better.
Still, we can't pass up an opportunity to drink bubbles and make fulsome toasts because, hey! We actually made it through our first year! We managed not to kill off all our animals -- or each other. And we're more in love with this place than ever. Thanks to everyone who has helped us in any way. You've written yourselves into the Muntanui story and we appreciate your support. Slainte! Kia ora!
One year on and no regrets ... well, apart from the shingles episode. That was a bugger.
Posted by Farmer Nik
I’d been looking forward to winter at Muntanui: the natural slowing down that comes with short days and cold weather. Stick-to-your-ribs soups. More time to work on very important projects, like daydreaming about next summer’s vegie garden or how to set up a fully-functional Polytunnel of Love.
With Farmer Wan away for a few weeks, I made ready to implement Operation Reverie. I put together a routine of animal feeding, domestic chores, garden maintenance and trips to town for supplies. I revelled in slow-cooked dinners and sat in cosy snugness every evening while the log burner glowed and the temperature outside plummeted. In short, I lived the winter dream.
Until last Wednesday, that is...
At midday. There were still "Yay!"s to be heard.
Last Wednesday brought frigid easterly gales flinging copious amounts of snow everywhere. Snow! I thought at 9am, when it began to settle on the ground. Yay!
I was still Yay!-ing at midday as the wind hurled snow horizontally over the tree-tops.
At 3pm, when I had to go outside and push a hay-laden wheelbarrow up a slope to get to the back paddock where the cows were sheltering, I quietly put the Yay!s back in their box. Twenty minutes later, when the electricity went off, I padlocked the Yay! box and resolved not to open it again until Farmer Wan returned home.
The power situation wasn’t really a problem – I could heat a pot of soup on the log burner, the candles lent a romantic ambience and our emergency plug-in phone (as opposed to our standard cordless, electricity-reliant phone) meant I could still have contact with the outside world. Besides, the service was restored just under six hours later. The real bummer was when the water went off. In the middle of my shower. On the coldest day of the year. Terrific.
Yeah, it's lovely. Now on to the water situation. Focus, people.
I knew what the problem was: one of the water filters was blocked. I knew how to fix it: next morning, walk up the slope to the tank. Dig through the snow to uncover the pit where the filters are located. Turn off the supply to the tank and the house. Use a hammer and wedge of wood to unscrew the filter housing. Clean filter. Return to housing and screw back on. Turn supply back on. Do the I’m So Capable! dance.
There were some things I didn’t allow for, like turning off the wrong valves. Or watching while freezing water spilled out the top of the tank and flooded the filter pit. Or having to run up and down the slope in knee-deep snow to make four increasingly panicked phone calls to Farmer Wan.
The Raglan Range with Recumbent Dog.
I got everything fixed in the end but was a little too winded for the Capability dance. Anyway, there were still the tiny matters of digging out paths and excavating our front gate.
I knew that winters here are long and harsh. I knew that they damage infrastructure and shut down services. But, despite knowing all of this, I didn’t really understand the implications. This is our first full winter at Muntanui and Farmer Wan will be away for most of it. I knew this would be the time when any weaknesses in our system would most likely be exposed and that our water supply would probably be the culprit.
In hindsight, I was wrong. The problem wasn’t our water system, which only needs regular maintenance to be trouble-free. The problem was my ignorance of how it works. I’d watched Farmer Wan checking the filters but obviously hadn’t paid much attention. Last week’s experience hit home to us both that I need to learn how to do things he’s traditionally taken care of. He’s home for a week, so yesterday’s lesson was how to fit snow chains to our 4WD. In another, improbable universe, it's possible I could even master reversing a trailer.
I’ll get to do that Capability dance yet. And I continue to hope that before the winter’s out, having mastered everything there is to master about the blokier side of farming, maybe there’ll still be some time for daydreaming in front of the fire too.
Posted by Farmer Nik
Part of the Permculture ethos is community and I thought it a good idea to demonstrate commitment to our new community by joining the local volunteer fire service. A simple way of helping out and demonstrating to others that we are here for the long haul.
I joined up in late November and within the first six weeks I was called out five times. Luckily, only one of those was in the middle of the night. However, given where we live, I was always last to arrive at the fire station in the village and every time I got there the engines had already left. That was until this morning at 06:05 when my pager went off. This time I made it and joined the crew in the larger of the two engines leaving the fire station. Off we went.
It was reported as a scrub fire, deep in the back country valleys full of pine plantations, about 45 mins drive from the village. When we got there we found several fires in various locations already going, so it was pretty much a matter of find a fire and start work. It is very dense forest with a thick undergrowth of gorse, so not easy to move around and drag heavy hoses. We were only able to get in so far before the helicopters came and did their job spectacularly well. At one point there were 3 helicopters with monsoon buckets working on the fire directly in front of us. Once we came down off the hills there was lots of standing around waiting to be told what would happen next and soon we were sent home. In this instance, luckily, there was no wind and it was overcast and there had been recent rains. If conditions had not been so kind the outcome could have been quite different. I'm glad I was able to fight my first fire today and not at the end of summer when everything is tinder dry. A worthwhile way to spend six hours on a Saturday morning.
Unfortunately, there was evidence that all of these fires had been deliberately lit, unbelievable stupidity.
Posted by Farmer Wan
So, we've been here exactly five months today, what have we done?
The veggie garden has gone from this in 2010/11 To this in 2012
Our first livestock (worms from Farmer Bob, an organic worm farmer in Nelson) were purchased and are now living happily in the custom built Wormstead, enjoying all of the sawdust/compost/kitchen scraps/grass clippings and blood & bone they can eat.
The Polytunnel of Love was covered in September with much-appreciated assistance from Davidsons, Foxs, Moriartys and Davidson-Foxs
In October, 'No-Gate Paddock' got a new name and a new gate thanks to the tremendous efforts of the Howards, who came all the way from Australia to celebrate the All Blacks winning the Rugby World Cup.
J & M were also instrumental in moving (dragging/hauling/lifting) the old chook house from the pond area to its new home in the recently re-christened 'Chook Paddock' where renovations commenced immediately in preparation for our next new arrivals.
Cinderella and the Three Amigos arrived in early November to great hopes of eggs by Christmas (a little bit optimistic, perhaps). Construction then commenced on the new chook run, closely followed by the new Palais des Poulets
, an opulent chook house in the style of Rennie Mackintosh
(not the architect Charles; his fictitious brother, Arthur, the chicken farmer). There is plenty of room for future flock expansion.
All the hard work paid off and we had our first egg on 6th January 2012. The shriek of delight from Farmer Nik on discovering the first egg could be heard far and wide.
We are now enjoying the delights of our own produce, including potatoes, broad beans, green beans, pak choy, rocket, shallots, radishes, lettuce (various varieties), snow peas, garden peas, raspberries, strawberries, red currants, black currants and gooseberries with more to come.
Hay cutting (by hand with scythes) took place around Christmas, followed by trials of the soon-to-be-patented Muntanui Baling Machine (commonly known to others as a 'cardboard box with some string'). Unfortunately the day after the rustic haycocks were built we had 110mm of rain. We were able to salvage enough dry hay for a dozen micro-bales, let's hope our animals appreciate it when the they're hungry in the winter.
By the end of the Christmas/New Year period we were "Covered in Bees!!!
" and loving it.
All these things we've achieved, along with raising vegetables and plants from seed in the polytunnel, building compost heaps, fixing holes in rabbit-proof fences, repairing fences, building gates and windbreaks, mulching, weeding, pruning, scything acres of grass, pulling up wilding douglas fir trees, cutting firewood, helping out with organising the inaugural local festival, having a stall at the local festival, joining the local volunteer fire service and fixing the water supply.
Plus there's been the arrival of our largest livestock, young Hamish, (see below) with more to follow in the next couple of weeks. Keep checking in for more updates on the ewes, cows, calves and the ram.
In 2012 we are looking forward to planting, growing and harvesting our first saffron crop; remediation of our pasture to encourage healthy, happy new livestock in the spring; increasing our water storage options; investing in alternative power sources; meeting new people and welcoming old friends.
Thanks to all who have come and visited in our first five months and contributed to the results we see today. And to all those following our progress: please come and see us, there's lots to do!
Posted by Farmer Wan
As promised, Bee Boss Alex turned up between Christmas and New Year with bees, approximately 100,000 of them in two hives, and set them up in one of the paddocks facing all the soon-to-be flowering manuka.
Soon, the bees were well settled in and the serious business of making honey was started once more. There are two queens in the hive on the left and heaps of honey boxes at the top of both hives.
We look forward to tasting the fruits of their labours very soon.
Posted by Farmer Wan
Go the Mighty All Blacks!
Posted by Farmer Wan