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.
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.
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.
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.
Before I begin the guts of this blog, I need to write an explanation for those of my readers overseas. Northland, New Zealand, where I live has not had a case of Covid-19 since April. We have had only one Level 4 lockdown which was the one the whole of NZ went into on March 26. This lasted for 5 weeks here. I work in a non-medical role in a hospital and continued to work from home until 7 June. I have been back at work since then
Onto the blog..
The decision to go into Lockdown happened very quickly in Aotearoa – one day life was trucking along as normal, albeit we were aware that the Covid numbers were on the rise, the next we were told we would be in Lockdown in less than two days.
Like most places in the world news of Lockdown brought with it a run on toilet paper (TP), flour and yeast. Must-haves in life, apparently. Go figure?
I might laugh at this, but we weren’t exempt from our TP moment either. The man decided that to save us from (imminent) famine, he needed to plant the vegetable garden.
Like TP, bread and yeast, there had been a run on seed purchases and so our famine slaying option was limited to the packet of carrot seeds he found lurking at the back of the laundry cupboard. There was going to be a lack of diversity in our famine diet.
He duly planted these seeds and tended the garden religiously.
Three or so months after Lockdown ended we harvested our carrots.
Our kitchen sports an avocado benchtop. Dating back to the construction of the house in the early 80s, it is in pristine condition.
Perfect condition it may be, but it doesn’t work. It is design of the benchtop, rather than its colour which is the main issue. It intrudes on the room. Takes up way too much space. It has to go.
I am studiously ignoring my lack of green ethics in replacing a benchtop that is in tip top condition. Same with the existing overhead cupboards – although they may yet be recycled in the old pantry space, thanks to the clever man.
The underbench cupboards are a mixed bag – some will go due to either the change in design of the kitchen and/or condition. Others will stay. There will be new ones installed too. Even some drawers. Thank you, Marie Kondo.
Redesigning the benchtop means I need to make a decision about the hob. It goes well, but as it, too, is 35 years or more old, for how much longer? It is sensible to upgrade it when I replace the benches. And feel free to judge me, I think I am going to splash out on an induction one!
Which brings me to the double oven – the oven is not as old, but it must have had a hard life, so there is no question a new one is the way to go. Luckily the cabinetry it sits in works well and is in excellent condition. It can stay.
The same can’t be said for the pantry. It is huge – not 2020 scullery huge, but large, nonetheless. It is also shabby and not in a cute, chic way.
The need for bench space usurps the ‘not cute, shabby chic pantry’. The pantry will be replaced by (possibly) recycled cupboards above and new cabinety below a bench top.
Lastly, the fridge – there’s probably a few more years left in our fridge. It will stay.
My maternal grandmother, Emily Elizabeth Biddick, was born in 1902. In her 83 years she lived through World War I, the Depression that followed and World War II; times of great economic challenge. I would be lying if I said she was hard up – she wasn’t. Regardless, like most of her generation, she bought what she needed and replaced things only when they couldn’t be repaired anymore.
I guess marketing wasn’t so persuasive back in those days, and planned obsolescence hadn’t become an art form.
Which brings me to a phone call I received during lockdown from the nice woman at the bank. Turns out there was $1300 sitting in an account I had forgotten about.
I decided I would spend this windfall replacing my sewing machine. Now to be truthful, this 36 year old machine has languished in my cupboard unused for about 15 years, but the itch to sew was there again. And to scratch that itch I needed a new machine, didn’t I? And the old one? Well, the dump, of course!
I allocated $600-700 for my new toy, figuring I would get a basic machine suitable to my (limited) talents. A bit of internet research confirmed my budget was right. It also threw up the fact that new sewing machines at this price point have plastic casings.
Plastic! My old one had a sturdy metal one.
Meh, I thought.
Perhaps I should buy second hand? But why would I replace my 36 year old sewing machine with a second hand one that I did not know the history of?
Meh. Again. I thought
So I got my old West German-made sewing machine out. I opened up the case. It was like meeting at an old friend.The man and I spent the next hour pulling it to bits and oiling its parts. I then threaded it up and gave it a spin. It went perfectly.
That day I ordered material and a pattern online. When the items arrived, I sewed my granddaughter a skirt. It goes with the jumper I knitted her in lockdown.
When we first arrived here the paddocks had not had stock on them for a while and the fields were covered in knee high carrot weed.
This was a bit of a surprise as the former owner had offered to mow it for us, but this had not transpired.
To city refugees, such as ourselves, how we were going to get the paddocks sorted and what to do with them was quite a headache. Yes, we had no idea. Luckily, new neighbours put us right, ” Just put a sign up that says grazing available, and whomever takes the land on will sort it,” they said.
And that is exactly what happened. A local herd manager took it on: hay was made and sheep were delivered. Three years on and this arrangement is going well.
And us? We are quite the pros. No longer do we run around like headless chooks when a lamb breaches the fence. We know it won’t stray far from its mum. And we can get it back into the paddock with (limited) drama.
It is June now. The ewes are pregnant. We know this as we have been party to Mr Ram’s amorous attempts to have his way with his ladies in February/March.
This year he had a keen as adolescent ram to contend with. That young ram didn’t get a look in.
But his jealousy wasn’t just reserved for the young ram.
The man dared to wander into the paddock. The ram charged, stopping short a few inches from the man. His message loud and clear ‘Nobody, but nobody, comes near my ladies!’.
He is forgiven. In a month or two, we will have his lambs playing in our fields. And they are gorgeous.