It was Thursday 13 December and stinking hot. Farmer Wan and I were making our first cut of hay in the orchard. Our orchard is approximately one quarter of an acre in size, which equates to 1,011.71 square metres or .101171 of a hectare. I’d just like to say that it feels a hell of a lot bigger than that when you’re cutting it with a scythe.
In order to forestall my breaking down and sobbing bitterly when contemplating the enormity of our task, I made up a song – a little scything, hay-making song – and sang it very loudly and off-key (on purpose, of course, for comic effect). It’s sung to the tune of We Are The World, a composition that was considered very worthy for all of about ten minutes, way back last century:
We are the world
We are the farmers
We are the people gonna grow your food
So you’d better not harm us
We are the world
We are the growers
So you’d better come to Muntanui
And get to know us
Farmer Wan came up with the last two lines, so we’re both to blame for the end result. As for the bit about growing everyone's food, well, I'll get back to you once I've managed to grow our own.
The hay crew (image courtesy of Cat Davidson)
After two days of scything, a further two days of diligent turning with a pitch-fork, and one could-have-been-but-wasn’t case of heat stroke, the weather turned. The hay was beautiful but still not dry enough to bale. Fortunately, we had help in the form of Clan Davidson, dear friends who were visiting from Scotland and Oz. They helped us rake the hay and stash it under the Biggest Tarp in the World. A few days later it was ready. But we weren’t. Not by a long shot.
The problem was, how to bale hay when you:
a) don’t have a baling machine
b) don’t have enough hay to interest a contractor
c) are trying to come up with solutions that don’t involve large amounts of fossil fuel and cash.
Solution Mark 1 was based around the idea of a wool press:
After four hours of very hot, scratchy and tiring work, we had 30 micro-bales – probably enough to feed our cattle for a week. Although we’re not afraid of hard work, we concluded that this method was just too labour-intensive and therefore, unsustainable.
We made the second hay cut at the end of January/early February. Solution Mark II to the baling problem was the Hay Sack, basically a great big bag stitched out of bird netting with a strong tie threaded through the top. It’s rodent-proof, it lets air circulate and it’s sort-of stackable.
Fun factor and sculptural qualities notwithstanding, we know our Hay Sacks aren’t really a solution either. They're not practical for the amount of hay our cows will need over winter.
We still think it’s worth the effort to cut as much hay as we can ourselves because the orchard stuff is the best grass we've got – weed-free and full of yummy clover. And it doesn't cost anything except time. But we always knew we'd have to get in more and, given that we were teetering on the verge of drought for eight weeks, we were worried that no-one would have any to spare, and if they did, that it would cost a fortune.
Enter the wonderful Gary and Kirsten from nearby Waireka Downs farm. They'd contacted one of our absentee neighbours about mowing his paddocks and asked us if we'd like some. So we now have 141 bales in our shed, it only cost us what it cost Gary to operate his equipment and we're set for winter ... we hope. And while the bovines are happily munching hay in the snow, we can plan how to increase our own hay cuts next year.
Posted by Farmer Nik
Huge thanks also to the Shaw family who transported Gary's hay to us and helped stack it.
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
Farmer Wan becomes Fireman Wan
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
Our biggest weekend yet
OK, it wasn't quite as dramatic as that ill-fated camping trip in remote West Australia when we spent eight hours trying to dig our 4WD out of a river while an electrical storm raged overhead, and Farmer Wan had to walk out the next morning to call for help from friends in Karratha, 100km away... but it was still pretty big.
Firstly, we had guests in the form of BLT, dear friends from Oz who we hadn't seen in six years. Their gorgeous little girl quickly made Buddy the Dog her willing slave.
Then, on Saturday, we launched Muntanui onto an unsuspecting public at Festival Nelson Lakes.
The Viva Muntanui! stall featured a select range of produce, mostly donated by kind souls who'd heard me moaning that I didn't have anything to put on it.
My unique sales patter ("Welcome to the Muntanui Festival! I don't know what all these other people are doing here but feel free to check out what we've got!") seemed to strike the right kind of note. Farmer Wan's more subtle approach was a huge hit as well. Meaning, people actually bought things.
After taking out the cost of the stall hire and the money owed to friends on whose behalf we'd sold stuff, we made a grand total of $30. Factor in the time we spent in the lead-up, not to mention the cost of the promotional material we had printed, and we're deeply in the red. So we're not going to do that 'factoring in' thang. At least, not for our very first market stall. We prefer to bask in the thought that we made 30 bucks. Yay!
The absolute wonderfulness of the weekend culminated in the arrival of a handsome, hairy, red-haired Scotsman called Hamish.
We've arranged for two Highland cows and their calves (a steer and a heifer) to join him in early February. We're also getting ten Wiltshire ewes, with a complimentary ram thrown in.
2012 is the year of livestock at Muntanui. It's the year we become proper farmers, rather than the glorified gardeners we've been over the last five months. This year, it gets serious.
Posted by Farmer Nik
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.