Listing slightly to port there, birches.
Muntanui, being situated at the top of a mountain pass, can get a bit breezy at times. Winter's the best season to see the evidence of this. Without all their leaves, it's noticeable how hammered our deciduous trees are by the prevailing westerlies.
We also get smashed by freezing easterlies. And southerlies. The northerlies would probably have a go too, if all those hills weren't in the way.
View from the other end of the diveway
"Bracing!" we said to each other when we first saw the special note on our official house and land information report: "Wind Zone: VERY HIGH".
"How interesting!" we exclaimed when locals fell over themselves to inform us that our property was known around these parts as "Pleurisy Point". Apparently, sheep drovers used to graze their animals here before taking them over the Rainbow Road through to Canterbury. The sheep died of exposure by the score.
And finally, at the risk of labouring the point about the ferocity of our turbulent air, this winter we've had four,10 metre-high eucalyptus trees uprooted by gales. Eucalypts aren't deep-rooted trees, it's true, but the woodlot is situated on one of the more sheltered parts of the property.
Botanical bullies have a hard time too
Previous owners of Muntanui planted shelter belts around the house and orchard. Most of them struggled and continue to struggle because of ... yeah, you've guessed it ... the wind. Even Leyland Cypress, a thug of a tree if ever there was one, has a dismal growth rate in the more exposed areas.
Apart from sculpting our trees into Pisa-like formations, wind causes problems here because of its chilling and drying effects. These stunt the growth rate of our pasture -- with shelter, the grass grows long, lush and green. Without it, grass growth is painfully slow.
The obvious solution is to have more shelter belts so, back in April, we planted what we hope will be one of many. It was a huge step for us because it was the first, big alteration we've made to the landscape.
There were plenty of good reasons to plant a shelter belt composed purely of natives:
Although I've been propagating native plants for a year now, none of them were big enough to survive in our most exposed paddock. We wanted something a decent size and preferably eco-sourced. Enter Bevan and Rachael from Hill Top Native Nursery in Wakefield -- lovely folks who supplied us with 10 varieties of stunningly healthy native plants which, at 70cm high, were big enough to stand a half-decent chance of surviving at Muntanui.
Given the seriousness of our wind situation, we'd asked Bevan to draw us up a planting plan for a shelter belt three rows deep. The toughest and fastest-growing plants -- flax and kanuka -- would face the prevailing westerlies. A couple more varieties would be added to those two to stare down the easterlies. The middle row would contain the climax species -- mountain beech, totara, kowhai, etc.
With permanent fencing to protect the plantings from stock, rabbits and hares, we'd be losing 840m2 (less than quarter of an acre) from the paddock. It's a fair bit of land to take out of grazing but we know the increased pasture growth will balance it out.
In the ground and staked
Marking, digging, planting
We spent a day over Easter measuring and marking out the 200 planting holes. Then Farmer Wan hired a Bobcat with an auger and spent two days happily digging.
Planting had to wait until a couple of weeks later, when we knew we were due for some rain. With help, we managed to get the lot done in half a day.
Farmer Wan had plenty of opportunity to hone his fence-building skills after that. With the fence complete, he then had to rabbit-proof it. And lastly, he hewed over a hundred manuka stakes, using only his mighty hands. And a small chainsaw.
So far, the trees have endured gales, snow, driving rain and last week's swarm of earthquakes. A few of the pittosporums are showing signs of leaf burn but it's nothing too serious. Soon, we'll have an additional 600 native trees and plants that we've propagated ourselves as part of a horticulture course we're both doing. So expect further posts about shelter belts over the next couple of years. And if you want to come and help us dig holes and plant out, all offers of assistance will be gratefully accepted!
Posted by Farmer Nik
Thanks, as always, to our generous helpers: Ciaran for measuring and marking out, Jan and Robbie for planting, and wee Nat for lots of hand-watering.
Muntanui and some of its residents have been experiencing a noticeable growth spurt over the last three months. Take young Flora McFauna, for instance: nine months old and looking like a proper wee heifer.
Although they're not very apparent from the image above, her horns have started growing, too:
Yours Truly also seems to be experiencing a growth spurt, if all those suddenly teeny-tiny clothes hanging uselessly in the wardrobe are anything to go by. This isn't anything to celebrate and will be dealt with over the next three months, once the weather warms up a little and I don't need quite so much chocolate.
There'll be more on the subject of growth spurts soon. Right now, though, it's snowing and the whole house is shaking with the force of the gales we're getting. I've lit the fire. Farmer Wan has moved the cattle. Time to hunker down with a good book -- that's what lazy, cosy, winter Sundays are for, right?
Posted by Farmer Nik
Yesterday, we received the verdict on this year's saffron harvest:
Just a quick note to let you know that your 2013 saffron consignment arrived safely . . . Wow! It has to be the most vibrant looking saffron I've received this season. It really is stunning!
We're still doing the happy dance. The 5,887 flowers we picked this year yielded a total volume of 40.95 grams of saffron, an increase of just under four times last year's harvest (10.4 grams). Mark, the guy we grow for and author of yesterday's email, had been hoping for more but said that it was probably a good result, given the regional weather conditions over the last six months.
We'd been worried that we'd over-dried half of it. He said if anything, it was very slightly under-dried but near enough to spot-on.
He finished with:
Thank you for the excellent product you produced this year.
It's a huge relief for us. Not only are we going to be paid but Mark's talking about popping down for a visit. It'll be nice to meet him, as we've only communicated by phone and email so far.
Needless to say, I'm very motivated to take extra-special care of our plants for the next season. With flowering over, the beds are full of foliage. This will die off in early summer, feeding the production of new corms, so now is the time to give the plants some extra tucker. I'll start with a bit of delicious worm wee and move on to comfrey tea in mid-spring. That'll make the little darlings' eyes water.
Still on the subject of harvests, despite the drought conditions over summer and early autumn, our soil had improved enough in the vege garden to give us a small surplus of some veges to freeze: 1.5 kilos of bush beans, a couple of kilos of broccoli and rhubarb and 2.5 kilos of tomato pulp. The star, though, was this year's raspberry harvest: 13.8 kilos!
If I could give any advice to a new grower, it would be this: count and weigh everything and keep records. It's the most tangible way of measuring your progress. And it'll remind you why you felt compelled to pay a small fortune for a bloody great chest freezer, just like we recently did.
Posted by Farmer Nik
Thanks to everyone who helped with harvesting and processing saffron (and raspberries!) this year. You made our lives a little easier and we love you for it. x
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.