Building, Design, Green fingers

BIG changes

Fernlea is about to get a face lift, she will have a whole new look. Over the next few weeks there will be blokes doing landscaping, the mud, the uneven surfaces, the rough garden edges will be all gone. WooHoo!

Because organising these big changes will take up most of our time, I won’t be blogging again till November, when I will post some before and after shots. If you can’t wait and would like to see what’s happening day by day please join us on the Fernlea Facebook page, where you will get to see the changes in real time.

To join us on the Fernlea Facebook page (if you haven’t already) CLICK HERE.

Up till now we have created temporary pathways using post peel (see photo) and have done our best 217912_10151426764569874_1621916520_nto tame the weeds and Kikuyu grass. This organic approach has meant we could change our minds relatively easily about how we want the area to look and be used, it has certainly been a creative journey.

We are now more than ready to make the spaces permanent with hard pathways, an archway, screens, flower bed edging, and retainer walls.

The photos below have been my inspiration.

The landscaping will be carefully planned to ensure for good drainage and forward  thinking, like laying pipes we will need for upcoming projects such as an outdoor bath.

We are also very excited about upgrading our front gate and signs, at the same time. The temporary sign we have now, see the photo on the left will be replaced by the signs on the right, classy.

Next time I blog I will be able to share the major makeover Fernlea has had, I am looking forward to that blog.

Back again in November.

Building, Coffee time, Food

Neighbours are so under rated.

What a busy weekend.

Late Friday afternoon we moved our cows onto the neighbour’s property. As we have very little grass at the moment on our property for our cows, it is a glennlife saver to be able to put them on Tim’s property for the weekends, it gives them a good feed, means we only have to supplement their feed during the week, and it gives our grass a chance to regrow.

The Hobbit was up early on Saturday morning and went to buy wood for the piles for the guest cabins which we have ordered and will be delivered in November.

On the way home he stopped into cuppa teaMorris’ for a cuppa. Morris is a Kaiwaka local who has lived in the area all his life, and he has a wealth of local knowledge. He owns a post rammer and has helped the Hobbit before to ram posts into the ground for fencing so the Hobbit popped in to ask Morris if he would be able to help with ramming piles for the cabin foundations. After solving the world’s problems, a cuppa often gives the drinkers that capability, the pile requirements were discussed and Morris said he would happily help the Hobbit next week end. The photo below shows four piles (there will be 16 in total) the Hobbit has put in place and Morris will ram them into the ground up to the pink mark. cabin piles

Before coming home the Hobbit stopped at another neighbour, a retired lady who had asked him previously to help her dispatch her cockerels. She had purchased chickens and to her dismay most of them turned out to be cockerels and they had become very aggressive, attacking her legs. She was very grateful for his help.

coffee-eggs-bacon-500While the Hobbit was out, I was at Fernlea having a little sleep in and then got brunch ready for his return.

We had just finished eating when we got a surprise drop-in visit from Rebecca, yet another awesome neighbour. She has a blog called Chick in Nature, if you want to read her blog CLICK HERE. We hadn’t seen her for awhile and as the coffee pot was warm she joined us for a coffee and we a fabulous catch up chat.

The day wasn’t over, we had a BBQ planned with our adjacent neighbours, Paul and Sharon. We have cadac-braaimaxx-0003 recently bought a new BBQ called the Braaimaxx and have been keen to give it a go and decided to make a pork roast for our first effort.

At three thirty the Hobbit prepped the meat with herbs and seasoning and then put it in a roasting tin and on the Braaimaxx. The controls on this BBQ are very sensitive and so the temperature can be kept constant, he set it for 150 degrees Celsius and left it for a couple of hours while he went off do continue working on the cabin piles.

I prepped the vegetables and set the table. In the second hood we roasted pumpkin and potatoes, cranking up the temperature to get them well caramelised. The dinner was fabulous, the pork succulent and we all cleared our plates. We asked our neighbours to rate the dinner, Sharon gave us a ten and Paul a one because we managed to burn the garlic bread, he scratched his score on the back of the burnt bread. There was much laughter, and drinking!

On Sunday the Hobbit went to collect roofing material, and he borrowed our neighbour’s (Paul) trailer as our wasn’t big enough for the long sheets, and later in the afternoon Paul popped over and 22255115_826108084229155_85261435148575405_ohelped the Hobbit move heavy wood at Fernlea because it was a two man job.

Country neighbours are pretty special, they will lend a hand, tools or equipment. There is always time for a cuppa, and time to ‘chew the fat’ and support and encourage each other. Most importantly there is always time to party.

We couldn’t achieve what we have without our neighbours.

Food, Fur and feathers

Food, glorious food.

I have volunteered to feed our cows their ‘breakfast’ every morning, yes you read correctly …. I  volunteered. This is extremely brave of me, because the Hobbit looks after our cows all of the time, and to be honest they intimidate me a little.

Who am I kidding, they scare me a whole lot.

mudWe have had so much rain the paddocks are muddy and with the grass growing slowly our little herd (four cows, one steer and two calves) simply doesn’t have enough food. The Hobbit and I don’t want them to be hungry or loose condition so we have to supplement their feed, hence the whole ‘volunteering thing’.

On the first morning, when I went to give the cows their ‘breakfast’, I got to the paddock and could see only one cow (the one we call Holy Cow) standing at a distance and I couldn’t see the others. I felt relieved and pretty confident I would get the pellets into the trough without the cows being near me.

I put the 25 kg bag in the wheelbarrow, pushed it as far as I could to the electric wire, disconnected the battery, ducked under the wire and dragged the bag about 3 metres to the trough. As I started filling the trough with the pellets I heard Holy Cow moo a couple of times while running towards me, and then from around the corner the other six came pounding down at speed.

Bearing in mind the mud I was standing in was sticky it meant that a speedy escape would not be possible, plus as an average cow weighs 720 kg, you can understand why I felt anxious, and consequently motivated to empty the bag of pellets post haste.  In my hurry to get out of the paddock I abandoned the wheel barrow and bag.

Standing from behind the safety of the electric wire (I reconnected the battery as fast as I could) watching the cows eating their ‘breakfast’ and later chewing their cud, I felt a bit of a rush. I thought the feeling was probably the same one would get from participating in an extreme sport! As I  avoid extreme sports at all costs, I can only imagine it is a similar feeling.
Cows eating

Day two, and shock and horror, as I rounded the corner to the paddock I saw the cows standing quietly, waiting for their breakfast. Clearly I wasn’t going to get the pellets into the trough without them crowding around me, pushing and shoving.

Helga, Megaloo and Ronald waiting for breakfast. Holy Cow in the distance.

I have now fed the cows for four mornings and I have become very clever at distracting them with some of the food while I trudge through the mud, dragging the bag behind me, to fill the trough as quickly as possible. Day by day my confidence has grown, even though I have shocked myself on the electric fence wire a couple of times while making my escape.

We will keep feeding the cows for as long as it takes, and I am anticipating doing the ‘breakfast run’ for most of October.  I am proud of my efforts to date and rapidly getting the nickname of cowgirl.

Somehow though, I doubt there will be a rodeo in my future!rodeo

Little visitors

For the kid in all of us

We often get little, but important visitors at Fernlea and the Hobbit and I like to make their stay special and memorable. In the beginning, when the property was just land and gorse, there was not much for our little visitors to do, and it was something we wanted to remedy early on.

It so happens we have many Tōtara trees on Fernlea. These trees grow pretty big, have hard wood and in summer produce edible little red berries. totara berryIt also so happens that the Hobbit always keeps used timber just in case it is needed. So putting two and two together – trees and spare wood – it isn’t hard to get to TREE HOUSE.

We chose a Tōtara tree growing close to the Love Shack to build a tree house for our little guests.

Friends popped over and gave us a hand to build the platform and then we went to our local hardware store, Bunnings, and a bought rope ladder, hanging rings, spy glasses and steering wheel which we added for extra fun.

The truth is the Hobbit and I are just kids at heart and very soon we got carried away with the little project. 1534462_10152369894644874_1063077610_n (1)He found a pole and attached it to the tree so the children could slide down it like firemen.

I went to toy shops and found fairies, gnomes and novelties to hide in and around the tree house…. and then we got very ambitious and thought hey, why not make a swing out of a tyre, but not just any tyre swing – a horse tyre swing.

Making a swing out of an old tyre is very difficult and the Hobbit had a real challenge cutting through the tyre wall, as there is steel in the rubber. In true Hobbit style he persevered and only occasionally made a few mutterings under his breath.

I bought a cheap black handbag with a chain and we used it to fashion the ears, bridle and reigns. A mop proved perfect for a mane, and the saddle was made from some soft leatherette material I had. The result was effective.

So the tree house got a twist of fantasy for our little visitors and we are pleased to say when they come over they play in the old fashioned way, climbing, swinging and using their imaginations. IMG_1563


Fur and feathers


SCOOBY AND BASIL have very  important jobs at Fernlea and from the minute they wake up they are ‘on duty’.

First up is guard duty, and Basil is particularly good at this job – he lies on the driveway facing the direction of the entrance to the property, alerting us as soon as he hears someone arriving. Then they have the chickens to watch over, cows to round up and on raining days a duty to keep warm under blankets.

But above all and their most important duty is hunting for possums. Possums were introduced into New Zealand by the early settlers and because they have no natural enemies their population has exploded.

It is estimated that there are 10 million possums in Northland (the part of the country Fernlea is located), which is about 72 possums per person. The average adult possum weighs 2-3 kilogrammes, and lives for about seven to nine years, often breeding twice every year.

Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) and NZ Pigeon/Kereru (Hemiphaga n
Possum scavenges an egg at a NZ Pigeon nest.

Northland possums eat nearly three tonnes of leaves, twigs and berries every night, stripping native forests of fruit, flowers and leaves which are vital food sources for birds. They also eat the eggs and chicks of native birds.

I don’t know how, but Scooby and Basil have learnt that the chickens, ducks, and cows are to be protected and possums are the number one enemy.

Every weekend they decide when it is time to hunt for possums and off they go. They don’t stick to Fernlea’s perimeter either, their range is extensive and over several properties. When they find a possum they will start barking incessantly, and then at some point Basil will come back to get the Hobbit. He acts quite edgy, wagging his tail and bouncing up and down, trying to communicate with the Hobbit  and if he could talk he would be saying, “get your gun, we have found a possum and we need your help.”  The Hobbit will eventually get his gun and follow Basil, often across paddocks, through gorse and into the bush to where Scooby has the possum cornered.

Over the past seven years we estimate that Scooby and Basil have hunted and with the help of the Hobbit  dispatched (humanely) well over 200 possums.  Not bad considering that they are not much bigger than the possums and their hunting skills are self taught.

They are both great companions and loyal, and give the Hobbit and I much enjoyment and we are very proud to think that in a small way they are contributing to New Zealand’s aspirational goal of making the country predator free by 2050. To read more about this goal CLICK HERE.

Scooby and Basil just being Scooby and Basil ….

Fur and feathers

Springs here, yeh right!

THIS WEEKEND WAS SOOOO COLD, and it rained and hailed, I am not sure who said it was the start of spring but they were telling porkies!

In case the weather gods don’t know we have milestones to meet and the constant rain makes achieving our deadlines a bit of a pipe dream, sigh. I checked the metservice and the rainfall in Kaiwaka for March, April and August is almost double the average for these months.

No wander our  paddocks are like a sponge and the grass is just not growing, which is a real worry for our cows. The Hobbit is doing the best job he can, moving them around the property – trying to give the grass a chance to grow. Ray of sunshine

Happily, this weekend wasn’t without a little ray of sunshine.

A couple of weeks ago the Hobbit was in the paddock checking the cows when he came across a duck’s nest with three eggs. The cows had disturbed the mum, he knew she wouldn’t come back so he scooped up the eggs and popped them under our silkie hen that was sitting on a nest. Silkie hen

Delightful surprise this weekend – one of the eggs hatched, and we found the cutest little duckling snuggled under her.

We checked on them regularly, in between the down pours, and one time we found the hen back inside the house and the duckling outside, stressfully calling for her. We realised that the little fella was going to have difficulty getting in and out of the chook house, it was built for hens and chickens not little waddling ducks with tiny legs.

So we made the decision to put them in the cage for a couple of days and keep them inside. A simple decision, you would think, however the reality was anything but and it was another one of those times that we should have got a video of the action.

This one day old duckling gave the Hobbit and me a real run around in the rain. Go figure, who would have thought that something so tiny and just born could be so fast. Finally, we caught it using a net and now I am happy to report that mum and baby are in their cage on the dining room table, warm and safe.

Mummy silkie has taught the little duckling to eat and they are bonding beautifully, and we are sure in no time, he or she will fit in perfectly with the Fernlea menagerie. And so our little animal family grows, if you want to read how ‘the family’ has grown to date – CLICK HERE.

Its mid September and we are hanging in there for spring and the warmth and sunshine, if it doesn’t come soon maybe our next milestone at Fernlea should be to build an ark.


Coffee time, Food, Green fingers

Granny’s Cookbook

FERNLEA’S GUESTS WILL BE treated to tasty, hearty meals, that is the plan. Fresh produce will be grown in the pink greenhouse and what the Hobbit and I don’t grow we will source locally.  We have got amazing producers right on our doorstop like Millars Vineyard, Kaiwaka Cheese Shop and Echo Valley Olives to mention just a few. We know however, growing and sourcing the produce is just the start, we will have to cook and bake food with love, care and skill to make sure it is tasty and nourishing.

I was fortunate to have the most amazing granny  growing up, she was born on a farm in Africa in 1910 and lived for 102 years, passing in 2012. Granny  lived through two world wars, the great depression, witnessed a man walking on the moon, the coming of age of the internet and the development of most of the household conveniences we take for granted, like having an internal flushing toilet.

When granny passed I inherited her opal ring and cookbook. I love the cookbook, it is not very big, and it has a serviceable and inconspicuous brown paper cover, which I am pretty sure she put on. It is called ‘The Household Science Cookery Book’, is a fifth edition, produced in 1929 and was written by Jeanette C Van Duyn. What is especially great is that Granny wrote notes on some of the pages and when I see and read her handwriting I feel as if she is sitting right next to me.

I find it fascinating that there are no drawings or photographs of the recipes, but there are pages of advertisements which are interesting and amusing and they have drawings or photos. Below shows one of the advertisements, it is selling coppers spray for a pest free garden, there are more appropriate adverts in the book, such as for baking powder and food colouring. When I look at the book I can appreciate how far we have come with respect to the production of cook books.

Open cookbook

So new will meet old at Fernlea.

We are going to prepare the produce we grow using Granny’s cookbook. The book has so many recipes in the 568 pages, it will be an adventure and challenge. There is a recipe for prune souffle, one for jellied tomato salad, noodle balls and there are three different foamy sauce recipes… oh the choices are endless.

From now on we will be testing, trying and refining the recipes to see which ones we want to have on Fernlea’s menu. We will be asking friends and family to be the tasters and give us their thoughts. Future blogs will include reports on our efforts and the honest feedback from brave and sometimes not so willing guinea pigs.

Our first efforts are going to be focused on what we can make for continental breakfast, so a good start will be on the bread making section and then we can move on to page 79 to try the recipes on cooking cereals.

Thank you granny for your wonderful book, love your granddaughter.