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skiddingtowardsretirement

semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living

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country life

Rhythms

Life on our land follows a relaxed rhythm year in, year out.

In July, the lambs were born. Always cute and fun to watch, our relationship with them has been short and sweet this time round – indeed, six weeks after their birth, we wished them au revoir when they were moved with the flock to a neighbour’s piece of land with more grass.

A few weeks ago the man began to source wood from the block for next year’s supply. As I will be retired next winter, the fire place will be used more throughout the day so the woodpile will need to be a considerably bigger than in the past. Luckily, the man enjoys the process of collecting, cutting and stacking wood. It does help that he has great tools for the job with his trusty, newly-serviced chainsaw, and his bow saw, plus all the PPE.

Marmalade making has also begun. This year, I am freezing the fruit so I can make small batches throughout the year.* I have been making marmalade so long that I can make it by eye, rather than by following a recipe – I have come a long way since my first batch many years ago where I boiled it to the point that it had both the look and consistency of toffee. The young me proudly gave the man’s mum a jar or two which she politely thanked me for and never mentioned again!

The spring weather is inspiring us to make long-overdue changes to the orchard and garden. Two apple trees which are past their best are going to be removed, as is a persimmon which has inedible fruit (a mouthful of cotton wool, anyone?). Two other sad excuses for fruit trees will be taken out in the next few weeks. These non-performers are going to be replaced with new trees including the Wilson’s Early plum which we planted yesterday.

The gardens are also having work done on them. The vegetable garden which was all, but abandoned, is relocating to just beside the house. A sunny spot, this should be a more workable location. We will start off smaller than the original one, but will expand it if needed, The worm farm which has been a success from the get-go, will also move closer to the house – again it will be considerably more convenient in this new spot.

This only leaves the compost bin. To date, we have never sorted out how to compost properly. The intention is to move this closer to the house too, and use it as it should be used. Yes, getting a handle on composting is one of the many things on the retirement list.

Lastly: With eight pays to go until I retire, everything is falling into place. Savings are going to plan, and the things I wanted completed are being ticked off one at a time. This month we saved more than we had projected we would, and ticked the three-yearly septic tank clean off the list. I also started an audit on what we are paying for bills – but that is for another blog.

Early retirement: I can’t wait.

*Wash whole fruit, cut into quarters and freeze in batch lots

Ride-on Hassles

For the last few months, the man and our ride-on mower haven’t been getting on. We blame this entirely on the machine which mostly refused to start and when it did start, refused to run for long.

The man would then spend the next few hours coaxing it to go long enough to do our lawn. Our frustration levels, meanwhile, went through the roof and our tolerance plummeted. Wrangling with a recalcitrant ride-on was not how we envisaged life in the country, we both secretly thought.

Which is why we needed to do a rethink about this lawn mowing thing. So we did. And we came up with two options.

Option A was to purchase a brand new mower and continue to do the lawns. The price of a new machine was between $8,000 -$12000. In addition to this, there were the ongoing running costs of petrol, oil, and everyday maintenance to factor in. At some stage in the distant future, this new mower would no longer be new and we would be up for a replacement one too or be back to where we were now – fighting with the mower to get it going. We tucked this (awful) thought into the back of our minds.

Option B was to out-source the task to a lawn-mowing contractor with his own machine. The quote was $100 per cut. We did the math. We could get 80 – 120 cuts for the price of a new ride on. Factoring in the additional running costs of petrol, oil and the maintenance costs and hassles, it made even more sense. At a cut averaging once every 4 weeks, that would be a fair few years taken care of.

Needless to say the winner was Option B. It was way more cost effective, removed the hassle of maintaining a machine and gave us some time back which we can use more productively on the property. It is money well spent.

Meanwhile, we have gifted our old ride-on to a local mower mechanic. It is been used for parts in reconditioned ride-ons.

Retirement date

Yesterday I gave my boss the news I was retiring. I also gave her my leaving date: 7 January 2022. Yes, I will do the honorable thing and cover the Christmas break as I’d agreed to a couple of months back.

I am feeling happy and content with this decision; it is completely the right one for us.

Meanwhile, the man and I are mulling over the next phase of our lives. At this stage, we have a fair idea of what we want to spend our time on – family and friends’, travel (within NZ while Covid rages, overseas when it has been tamed), hobbies (some old, some new), pottering around our lifestyle block, and giving back to the community. We don’t, of course, know every detail or how it will pan out, but that’s OK, we will be flexible and allow things to evolve.

What we do know is that our retirement is going to be busy and satisfying, and the man and I intend to enjoy every single moment of it.

Roll on 4.30 pm, 7 January 2022.

Tractor goes

This post could be called a fingers crossed post.

Our tractor is now starting. It also sounds like something that would be at home on a battlefield.

We know, however, that with a bit of adjustment to the distributor (an nth of degree, apparently), it should/will be running sweetly again.

So how did the man get it sorted? The answer was through my last blog post ‘Tractor Woes’ which resulted in two readers who were mechanics shaking their heads in disbelief at our ‘replace likely stuffed parts until it goes’ approach. And not only did they shake their heads and roll their eyes, they decided to give us some advice on how to diagnose the problem a wee bit more efficiently!

And damn me, using these experts’ expertise was the key, and we now have a tractor that is showing signs of life!

Thank you, guys!

Tractor Woes

Our trusty Fergie has stopped working.

And we are are missing it. A tractor is, after all, a must- have item for townies new to country life, along with the ride on mower and a chainsaw.

The man and I did our research when we bought it – those new-fangled tractors looked just the ticket, but realistically they were for proper farming folks, not pretend ones like us. And besides, new heavy duty farm machinery was a tad overkill for our three acre block, not to mention the eye-watering price tag for those magnificent machines being way beyond our purse!

After much looking around, the man decided on a Massey Ferguson 35. Circa 1960, this model had a reputation for being a reliable machine and was perfectly priced for our budget – read cheap here.

We duly purchased one. It was the required red – the colour of most tractors in children’s picture books! It also had the ubiquitous PTO. It didn’t have the front end loader blade which the man had wanted, but he was willing to compromise and this one had a hydraulic tray which was a win too in his eyes.

Four years on, we can honestly say that the tractor has been an asset around the property. Sure, we don’t use it daily, but it is handy for all measures of lifestyle block requirements such as pulling out old tree stumps, shifting firewood, and towing old logs around, plus playing on (carefully) when our city friends visit.

Recently we made the decision to start looking around to buy a mower attachment for it. The reason being that we need to keep our paddocks in check, as there are no livestock grazing on the land at present.

So when the tractor failed to start, the man decided it must be fixed. Yes, he and Mr Google are on the case. They are taking a systematic approach to tractor repair- this involves systematically replacing pieces until it starts. So far and in no particular order, we have purchased new spark plugs, distributor cap, and high tension leads. Today we bought a new solenoid, and, still it doesn’t start!

Our tractor

The next thing on the list is an ignition switch. And maybe a Massey Ferguson 35 workshop manual, which could prove mighty handy at times like this.

I know this is a bit of a hit and miss approach to mechanics, but one day in the not too distant future, this approach will work and the tractor will splutter into life again and with all its new parts, it should be sweet for another few years!

The Garden plot

This morning the man and I dismantled what was left of our vegetable plot. With another summer season of virtually no rain, plus the possums, rabbits, rats and a variety of other pests destroying our plants at every opportunity, it was time to wave the white flag of surrender.

The garden will be converted back to grass and I will buy all my vegetables in this season. Fortunately, there is a local gardener who sells their surplus, and an amazing farmer’s market on a Saturday morning in Whangarei to buy from. I have no doubt these alternatives will be more cost effective too.

I haven’t given up completely on growing vegetables though. I do intend to twist the man’s arm and get him to build me a small raised vegetable garden closer to the house in autumn. This bijou garden will only have things that flourish and that we like to eat. I am over wasting my time, money, and precious water on plants that don’t meet this criteria!

I might have lost the war with vegetables this season, but it looks like I am winning the battle with a lemon tree. This citrus tree was planted about three years ago and became a pathetic, stick-like thing with one or two leaves.

About 8 weeks ago, I dug around it and threw in some worm farm compost and citrus fertiliser in a last ditch effort to save it; or, possibly, kill it. Once I had added the fertiliser, I put the soil back, and watered the tree well. I then put mulch around the base, and left it to its own devices. Today I am happy to report, my once sad lemon is looking healthy with a lovely lot of new growth on it.

Sometimes my gardening efforts pay dividends; other times, they simply don’t.

Steering ahead

One of the things the man and I have derived great enjoyment out of is the birth of the lambs in spring. The drought, however, put paid to this happening this year.

Yes, the ram had done his thing and the ewes were pregnant, but, sadly, the lack of rain meant that by August we were fast running out of grass, so our tame farm manager made the decision to move the flock to (another person’s) greener fields.

When we metaphorically waved goodbye to the sheep that day, we thought they would be back as soon as the grass had recovered. This didn’t happen, and instead the grass grew longer and longer, and, if that wasn’t enough, the blasted carrot weed decided to make an unwelcome reappearance too.

However, all was not lost. A couple of weeks ago, our tame farm manager turned up with two steers and a ram. These have settled into our paddocks well and are munching their way through the grass and carrot weed with dedicated enthusiasm.

Of course, the steers are nowhere near as cute as the lambs, but they also don’t escape through the fences at every opportunity either!

As for the ram, well, he is best mate’s with the steers – in fact, there is a good chance he thinks he is one!

Paying the price

One of the past owners of our land used to keep a house cow which he milked every day.

I think this is very impressive. I also think keeping a house cow is not for us, no matter how amazing the milk tastes.

All is not lost though as our local shop now sells Bella Vacca milk*. This product tastes and looks like milk did when I was a kid. It also is sold in recyclable glass bottles. A total win, right?

Yes, it is expensive, but the man and I think it is absolutely worth it.

*http://www.bellavacca.co.nz

Olives

When we moved onto the land we were delighted to discover that there were six rather straggly olive trees growing beyond the shelter belt on our property.

I would like to say that from the get-go we harvested and processed the crop in the true spirit of self-sufficiency. This, however, would be totally untrue. The first year they fruited, we did absolutely nothing with the olives.

We have since worked on our attitudes and each year we pick enough fruit for about a dozen and a half jars of olives*. This meets our household’s olive-eating needs, with enough jars left over to gift to family and friends. Perfect.

After harvesting this year, the man decided to finally sort out the trees which had become way too tall. He consulted Mr Google and then with possibly misguided confidence, he reduced their height. We are pleased with the result:

The crop next year, however, will be the true measure of whether his pruning efforts were a success or not! Fingers crossed.

*I use a very simple brine recipe from ‘ The spruce eats’ (https://www.thespruceeats.com/brining-and-curing-olives-1808582.) I leave the stones in and haven’t tried stuffing the olives to date.

Our olives in brine – the evidence!

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