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skiddingtowardsretirement

semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living

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self-sufficiency

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.

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.

Beating Famine

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.

Here it is.. all that he reaped.

No judgement.

Winter fires

Outside the wind is raging and the rain is falling. Thunder and lightning are forecast later today. Regardless, we are pleased. The drought which has been our constant companion since late last year is over. The grass is greening up and our water tanks are filling up nicely.

I am sitting at the dining table writing this. A fire* is roaring in the hearth warming our home, and I can hear the kettle whistling in the kitchen. It is a good life.

This fire was in situ when we bought the house, and is our only source of heating*.* Throughout the year any (unusable) scrap of wood from the man’s workshop gets added to the woodshed to be used through the coming winter.

Over a couple of weekends each year the man will don his chainsaw chaps, ear muffs, and eye googles and spend each day chainsawing branches and felling surplus trees on our property. The trees are a mix of gum, cypress, and manuka. This serves a dual purpose of cleaning up the block and providing fire wood.

At day’s end the tractor will be used to bring the wood up to the shed. Here the man cuts it into sizes suitable for the fire. This wood needs to dry, so will be stored in a separate pile until it is ready to be used the following year.

The man is in his element and we are sorted wood-wise for the coming winter and beyond.

Come the cold weather, the man will light the fire every day we are home.

Hunkering down in front of a roaring fire? Nothing comes close!

  • *Fires have featured in most of our homes. These have included models which you can cook on and have wetbacks which make them very cost effective. These type are our ideal. . And we recently discovered these beauties of fireplace that do everything which are manufactured just down the road —– homewoodstoves. co.nz. With regards to energy cost, bearing in mind our firewood is free, our winter power bills are $125 per month. In summer when the rate is cheaper, they are $90 per month. This includes running the workshop.
  • **A heat transfer system combined with this fire would heat our home more efficiently. It is on the wish list.

Blogging, R Day and mice

Two years ago I mothballed my blog. The man and I had made the changes we needed to have the life we wanted. On achieving this lofty goal, it was time to put my musings to bed, and let my readers get on with their own lives.

I did miss you though. And I did miss writing.

Two years on our life is (slightly) different from where it was then. I will explain later in this blog. There is also a major reset on the horizon, so it is time to blog again.

So what has happened since we left you? The man and I are still living on our plot of land. Three and half years into this life, we are still in love with our lifestyle; indeed, in truth, even more so. It has turned out to be the perfect fit for who we are and how we want to live our life. Even if we had an uninvited guest living with us over the last week!

Flatmate

Income wise, things have changed for both of us.

I had a back to the future moment. In October last year I landed a job at the local district health board library. To do this, I swapped my dream working part time scenario to being a 40 hour per week employee. It was a big decision, but the job is a fixed term contract of 18 months and it felt right. And it is right.

In summer we opened our bottom paddock to self-contained camper vans. We can have two on our property at a time and at $20 per night per vehicle, we view it as a chance to meet people as opposed to a cash making venture.

The man has also pivoted his woodworking business. Three Fish Woodworks now has an event hire division. This summer season it took off. Well, until that crazy killer virus hit! Over the period of a week, New Zealand went in fast forward through the Alert Levels into Lockdown, and we went from a healthy number of advanced event bookings to zip! Zero. Nil. It is what it is.

So what is the reset I am talking about? As I previously mentioned, my job is a fixed term. It finishes in May 2021.* Two months before this, the man becomes eligible for superannuation.

At the end of this contract I will join him in retirement (R day!). It is our time to do as we want. The man will get superannuation. I won’t. We don’t want to go into our retirement savings.

We will have to be clever to achieve this goal. Our cunning plan is to do this two ways : streamline our spending from now on to save as much as possible before R day, and put things in place to be more self-sufficient when we retire.

Our intention is that this journey to R day and beyond will be fun. We will explore options and experiment. And we won’t compromise the quality of our lifestyle. Please join us as we play with ideas and put everything in place for a great retirement.

  • My planning hinges on the fixed term contract coming to an end. If an extension was offered and in a post-Covid world, I don’t think this is likely, I would only want to work 16 hours per week. Work/life balance is all.

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