SCENE: the Muntanui kitchen at breakfast time this morning. FARMER WAN and his parents, MARGARET and DAVID are seated at the dining room table. Enter FARMER NIK.
FARMER NIK: You know those two saffron plants we've got in the raised beds?
FARMER NIK: Turns out they're not actually saffron plants at all...
MARGARET: Are they weeds?
FARMER NIK: Er... no. They're pea plants. From the pea staw.
ALL: (general merriment)
FARMER WAN: So, are you going to put a retraction on the blog?
FARMER NIK: I could just delete that photo from the slideshow...
FARMER WAN: Guess this is why we're doing that Horticulture course, eh?
fARMER NIK: (smiles ruefully and prepares to start typing)
Posted by Famer Nik
This innocuous little autumn-flowering crocus produces saffron, the world’s most expensive spice.
Saffron is what you get when you detach the stigmas and dry them. (Stigmas are the sticky ends of a flower’s reproductive girly parts.) Harvesting takes place over a six week period in mid-late autumn. The flowers are picked early in the morning so they don’t get a chance to open and the stigmas stay protected.
Then, assuming your extremities haven’t turned black and gangrenous from that 15-degree frost you’ve just been working in for the last hour or so, you take the flowers inside, extract the tiny stigmas (keeping them attached to each other, naturally), dry them to the correct standard, weigh them and proudly admire your morning’s work: half a gram of finished product.
That’s why saffron’s so expensive.
Farmer Wan and I, being suckers for this sort of punishment, decided it was about time we took a crash course on a cash crop and so we recently acquired 1,000 C.sativus corms. We wanted to give them the best possible chance of producing highest-grade saffron, so we went to a fair bit of trouble to ensure they’d flourish.
After calculating that we’d need 20m2 of growing space, Farmer Wan knocked up eight raised beds from untreated eucalyptus. You can follow what we did next by viewing the slideshow below.
Posted by Farmer Nik
In those two long years between buying Muntanui and moving here permanently, we watched a lot of TV. Specifically, we watched everything that featured people like us who were attempting to carve out some sort of existence on the land.
But they weren’t really like us*. Of course they weren’t. They were already well-known (Te Radar and Matthew Evans) or they had famous friends (Jimmy Doherty). Some were trained chefs, well-versed in adding value to their farming produce (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall or Matthew Evans again). And all of them had cameras stuck in their faces.
It’s amazing how many people are willing to put themselves out and be your friend when there’s a boom operator trailing along behind you. (If you've just had a random thought about how much fun it would be to operate a boom and you'd like to know more about this as a possible career path, see below.)
We’re not famous. We can’t boast of having nekkid chef superstars as mates. We don’t know any boom operators (although if you’re reading this and you are one, feel free to trail along in our general vicinity whenever you want). Like most people, we have to make our own personal and professional connections from scratch and it’s a daunting prospect. But luckily, we’ve so far managed to be in the right places at the right times and have met some great people as a result.
Farmer Bob, organic worm farmer: what a legend. Alex, our Bee Boss: top bloke. Jan and Robbie from the local village: awesome pair. Helen, our neighbour: so damned good to us. And then there’s Mike and Shirley.
Mike and Shirley were fellow stall-holders at last month’s Festival Nelson Lakes. Both came over at different times and introduced themselves. We chewed the organic/permaculture/foodie/writing fat. Mike emailed us a couple of days later and invited us to a party at their block, just over an hour's drive south-west of here. And last weekend, leaving Muntanui in the capable hands of Farmer Wan’s visiting folks, we went.
One of these is a hottie
It was the first time we’d had a night away since we got here and it wasn’t until we hit the road that we realised how much we needed it. Oh, the fun we had! The food was sensational. The bonfire was the biggest I’ve ever seen. We got to use our tent again. There were drinks and a guitar and lots of waiata (songs) – a quintessentially Kiwi party. And the people were lovely: friendly, interested, chatty. After meeting a couple who are also farming Highland cattle, we even tentatively arranged a “bull swap” for the day when (our) Hamish and (their) Haggis have exhausted all the possible permutations in their respective local gene pools.
Yep, connections. Despite the absence of TV cameras in our faces we do seem to be making them, and very good ones at that. I don’t know how long the televised friendships last once the series has gone to air but we're hoping our new Muntanui mates will stay mates for the duration.
* My Dream Farm with British farming and horticulture doyen, Monty Don, is the exception -- and it was very sobering stuff.
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
About Ewan and Niki
Scottish mechanical engineer with a deep and abiding passion for good food. Outstanding cook. Builder of lots of stuff. Cattle whisperer. Connoisseur of beer. A lover rather than a fighter.
Kiwi writer and broadcaster who hates cabbage, even though she knows it's good for her. Chook wrangler. Grower of food and flowers. Maker of fine preserves. Lover of dancing and wine. Definitely a fighter.