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skiddingtowardsretirement

semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living

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country life

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!

Foraging – Part 2

Content warning: this post is continuing the foraging theme I began in my blog about blackberries so if you didn’t enjoy that, stop now!

For my readers brave enough, or foolish enough to not heed the content warning, read on.

During the ten weeks I was working from home this year, the man and I would break up the day – and yeah, work the lockdown eating off – by walking up and down the length of the road we live on.

Often we would see the herd manager working on the farm across the road and stop to have a yarn with him. Yes, we discussed the lofty subjects of the weather, the lockdown, and, you know, just general stuff about putting the world to right.

It was during one of these talks that he told us that mushrooms were growing wild in the fields. My ears pricked up: I love mushrooms. The man? Not at all!

Except I didn’t follow up and go picking wild mushrooms. Why? There are lots of types of fungi growing around here, and I wasn’t confident enough to determine what were safe-to-eat mushrooms and which were their deadly doppelgangers . Foraging is not for the feint-hearted.

Next year. Well, next year, I will go picking with someone who knows what’s what mushroom-wise. And to be doubly sure they know their stuff, I will let them eat them first too.

Covid permitting, of course

Food for thought

Driving home from work I saw two women busy picking watercress growing by the side of the road.

Although I have never picked watercress, I have picked blackberries that grew wild beside rural roads in New Zealand. This was back in the day – blackberries growing beside rural roads is as rare as rocking horse poo now as the plant is removed by local councils when spotted.

This could be the end of the story. The end of making blackberry jam. The end of baking blackberry and apple pies. The end of eating the odd juicy blackberry while picking.

Except it isn’t. Blackberries are both grown commercially and by the home gardener in NZ. And these blackberries taste almost as good.

Almost as good? Yes, there was something extra special about eating blackberries foraged from the side of a dusty, rural road. They tasted nicer.

And as I passed those two women busy picking watercress at the side of the road, I knew their watercress would taste nicer too.

Water play

The vegetable garden has been neglected since last summer when an eight or so month drought played havoc with our capacity to water the plants.

This lack of rain had been exacerbated by a connection on one of our tanks failing in mid-winter 2019 while we were overseas. This resulted in the loss of every drop of water in that one tank. Our available water was halved.

Luckily our tame herd manager came to the rescue in our absence, reconnected the hose and kindly ordered a load of water for us. The price of this 10,000 litres was eye-watering high, but hey, we thought spring is around the corner and it always rains in spring and our water problems will be solved.

Spring 2019 was rain-free.

As spring turned into summer, the drought bit and economic or miserly us, depending on your world view, made a pact to conserve water, rather than buy it in. Our tight approach was fashionably in line with the council request to go easy on usage – sad losers, we are not!

Over the summer of 2019/20 we honed our conservation skills. Recycling became our buzz word. We limited flushing the toilet to only when absolutely necessary. We abandoned the dishwasher in favour of washing the dishes in a bucket in the sink. We then popped the used water onto the plants. We caught the first water from the shower while it was heating up and used this too in the garden. We tried collecting the water from the washing machine, but due to reading the litres the machine used incorrectly, I flooded the hall carpet. At that point I gave up that idea.

Our efforts to keep the plants alive over this period weren’t successful. We got a few tomatoes, some potatoes, half-formed corn and some bitter tasting lettuce. With the drought still continuing, I let the garden go to seed.

After lockdown ended we finally had rain. These two events were enough to inspire me to make an half-ass attempt to plant a few winter crops. I planted spinach, cabbage, cauliflower and beetroot. In the depths of winter, I lost the will to tend them.

Subsequently, many of the cabbages and cauliflowers fell victim to vermin and didn’t survive or didn’t survive to look pretty. The spinach flourished and is presently threatening to go to seed. I am not sure why I planted it; the truth is we aren’t overly keen on spinach except when it is used in the occasional spanakopita.

The beetroot.. well, the beetroot is my success story. Today I picked two good specimens. I will boil them, slice them up and pop in vinegar following the Edmonds Cookbook recipe, just like my mother and grandmother did before me.

Beetroot is the perfect accompaniment for a salad, and let’s not forget, hamburgers – beetroot is the absolute making of a homemade hamburger.

Today I planted more beetroot. And tomatoes. And capsicum. And lettuce. And chillis. And courgettes. And cucumber.

I gave the spinach a miss.

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