Category Archives: Tales from the Homestead

A Plague of Pestilence

Warning story contains mentions of foul putrid dead rodents. 

I opened the shed door at pig and chook feeding time, startling sleek glossy fat rat. Up the wall it shot, its nimbleness belying its bulk and into the shed rubble stacked high upon the shelf. Shudder. The Other Half said ‘we must lay some bait….’ 

Another day and the maize bag was chewed, spilling its contents over the floor. The Other Half said ‘we must lay some bait…’ 

The next day we lifted the cover on the fermented maize in its ½ blue barrel. I gagged at the sight of a drowned rat, floating spread eagled on the foamy surface. Fishing it from its watery grave on a long handled spade I gingerly carried it out and biffed it over the fence, far, far away. 

The Other Half laid some bait. 

With bait stations everywhere it was looking good. Bait all gone the first night and all gone the next. Partly gone by the third morning, we were making progress. 

But then the STINK came…. 

A horrible sweet dead animal stench. We searched for the bodies and followed the smells; a rat was disposed of in a hole in the ground. But it seems there was more to be found… 

As I hung out the washing a smell wafted up, gagging I searched through the grass and comfrey to find a fat still body against the fence. Bloat had set in and any movement released more of the fetid stench into the air. I fetched the old shovel and dug a small hole nearby, retching, I gently slid the shovel underneath. A shove and a slide it was into the hole and covered with dirt. But the smell hung in the air like a smothering cloak as I barfed into the grass at the side of the path. 

Theres a lot I can handle, a lot I can do, but maggots and rotting flesh seriously make me ralph! 

But there was a smell in the driveway and a smell in the shed. Smell under the deck and in the garden… and we had visitors coming. 

Photo by Vicky Thorley on Pexels.com

Luckily by the next day we had found the one in the shed and the deck one had faded. So outside we sat in the rustic back courtyard, cuppas and cake in the sun. Talks about gardens, solar power, living of the land and of course politics. 

When what should I smell but a waft of the dead, of foul rotting beast and there in the corner lay the biggest one yet! A long-handled shovel and apologies needed as I gently scooped up the carcass from its paved grave. I carried it far, so far away and flung it still further over the bank. But the malodorous stench was still wafted in the air, so a quick bucket slosh to rinse the whole spot and wash the foulness away. Phew back to relaxing and enjoying the day, which went along quite well with no more putrid smells. 

But then a day or so later came the flies… We’d had some pesky little beasts, but suddenly numbers swelled to epic proportions!  We try to be natural with the use of no sprays. So up went the fly strips and on went the vinegar, fly swats and hand-held fly zappers all put to the test. But these flys were relentless, the strips just filled up and then we ran out!!! ‘I must have some spray; these little buggers must go!’ said The Other Half. But the first spray was scented and worse than the flies! The whole house reeked of some brain numbing scent and the flies just kept on coming. 

Photo by Vijay Putra on Pexels.com

The next can was better ‘non scented’ it said, but its success rate was just as bad as the first and the flies just kept on coming. 

More strips were hung, over and over, at least the buzzy b#*tards would die on those. Then a chance find under the sink, a spray can left by the previous owners, I think. Pyrethrum ingredients, natural to a point, but it knocked those buggers down dead and extinct. 

A spray on the window sills, a few blasts through the house and numbers were down, the relief was so great. Fresh fly strips went up and lasted much more than just one day, we were finally free of the horrible fly plague. 

But it seemed the smell in the shed had not been just one rodent. I pulled out some frost cloth to be assailed afresh by the pungent stench of partly dehydrated rat, all fluff and dry carcass entangled in the now smelly folds. Fresh gagging ensued and a hastily washed cloth was flung on the lawn, devoid of its mummy. (Which, by the way I must confess, was left on the shelf for someone else to deal with…) 

Two more small mummies were swept from under the freezer to lie on the concrete, their empty eye sockets staring, creeping me out and squeamish for sure, somebody else can deal with those two. I am Done!!! 

Lessons from the garden

From the moment we are born, we begin to learn and to the day we die we are surrounded by opportunities to continue learning and growing. Often these learning experiences come from our immediate surroundings, if we chose to see them.

As I walk around our garden I observe and consider… so what has it taught me lately?

Firstly, to act on my thoughts. So, when I see the white cabbage butterflies flitting beautifully amongst the plants the thought ‘I should net the brassica seedlings’ enters my brain. DO IT. Don’t procrastinate because The Other Half just tidied the shed and packed all the nets away (that I had left in handy disarray) somewhere behind the quad bike. Don’t get distracted by some other job, because there are always other jobs. Go and get that fine netting, no not the green one the holes are too big, the white one that’s it. Drape it over the greenhouse door way and secure it well. Because if you don’t those beautiful fluttering bastardflies will lay their noxious little eggs, EVERYWHERE. And even if you brush off those minuscule balls of future caterpillars you will still get caterpillars…

The damage begins…

Then even if you search those poor little chewed brassicas and squish the green fleshy demon spawn there will be more next time you look! Growing fatter and hairier as those poor denuded future food crops languish under their voracious foraging. So, remember listen to your pop-up thoughts and act on them – unless it’s just snowflake rubbish, then ignore it.

Lesson number two. Don’t plant your Kamo Kamo anywhere near your cucumbers. Or for that matter anywhere near anything at all. In fact, I would say give them about 10 square metres all to themselves far away from any other garden. Then at least you will have other garden.

Also, when harvesting from said triffids wear long pants, long sleeves and gloves. Or even better send someone else to find them! We were harvesting tasty little cucs from the plants scrambling up the re-enforcing mesh frame, but then the Kamo Kamo came. Its trailing vine crept stealth like across the mulch, flowers popped their sunshine heads out from its leaves. But no fruit came forth. We had pumpkins growing round and fat, but no Kamo Kamo. So annoyed we turned our back on it, foolish mistake.

The kamokamo escapes…

Its trailing tendrils crept over the corn, which was fine, you know ‘Three sisters’ and all that, minus the beans that is. It was in said corn that we finally started harvesting its fruits and found the first mammoth beast weighing down the vine. Then it crept past the cucumbers frame and out towards the lawn. We tossed it back off the herb garden and started harvesting the cuc’s from the back of the rusty support.

Then somewhere, somehow it breeched the cuc frame. I don’t even know when or how, it was just suddenly there, smothering all asunder. The cuc’s suffered, sunlight obscured and flattened by the overbearing weight of bullying creeping fingers of prickly green.

That was lesson number two plant the damn Kamo Kamo far, far away.

Lesson number three. Jerusalem artichokes. “I think we got them all, no those ones will be fine over there” foolish naive person…

Fartichokes are the gift that just keeps on giving. Don’t get me wrong here, I think they are great. You can eat the tubers (we don’t, low carb household here) They have pretty little sunflower like flowers for the bees and are in fact related to the sunflower. You can feed the plants to your stock, or just let them clamber up the fences like feral goats and let the blighters help themselves to the once towering stems. Or feed the tubers to your pigs so we can all experience why they have the nickname fartichokes. Plus, they are a great carbon crop for your composts.

However, if you at any time should choose to repurpose that particular area of garden, they will repel your every effort to remove them. Kind of like oxalis but two metres tall. Then they will even magically appear in other parts of the garden, spreading their wonderful bounty across the land.

So, lesson number three don’t plant near, in or around any area where there has been fartichokes, unless you will remember to constantly remove little sprouty gifts.

Lesson number four. COVER THE SOIL. (and learn how to make real good compost, but that’s a whole other story) Now this is very important, hence the caps… if you want to grow food which enhances your life you need to enhance the life of the soil it grows in. Covering the soil is the first step, it stops the sun from baking it, just like a hat stops the sun baking your bald spot. It helps to keep the moisture in, like putting a lid on the pot to stop evaporation. Ya get that? Whether you cover it with woodchip mulch, straw, leaf litter or living plants, it provides protection and food for your underground livestock.

The mulched garden

You might need a microscope to see most of these little critters, but they are the lifeblood of your soil. Get these microorganisms in a prolific healthy state (this is where the REALLY GOOD living compost comes in) and your soil becomes a living, thriving farm under your feet. Hey you can even start calling yourself an underground farmer cause you know a healthy soil has apparently 100 billion microorganisms per handful of soil. Phew, that’s a high stocking rate. Bring the Soil Food Web (Google it!) back to life, be the spiderman hero for you garden, spinning the web of fungi.

Thats lesson number four and obviously the most important one here. Spread the organic love mulch throughout your garden, learn about and bring back the microorganisms, the fungal life and watch the magical invisible underground livestock do their thing!

Fungi sprouting in the mulch

Lucy and the ‘Half pint’ bull

Lucy has only ever had a ‘sheep herd’, ever since we picked her up as a tiny 6 day old lowline Angus/jersey cross dairy calf. The teeny bundle of cuteness turned out to be a menace in disguise as we struggled to get her to survive her first couple of weeks. Between the scours and the refusal to take bottle, to tubing the poor little beast it was a battle of poop and frustration. But we made it! Just…. 

At 18 months we brought the vet out to AI (Artificially Inseminate) our wee girl. She was ready, the timing was right but at 50/50 odds our chances weren’t great. Sure enough we were out of luck. Her next cycle she was mooing down the neighbourhood and making amorous moves on poor Sooty the pet sheep. We were out of luck, left with a vet bill and no calf. 

Time rolls on, we are busy, then moving property. No time to think of AI again or finding a little bull. But luck was on our side, the farmer down the road at our new property has some Highland cattle and a wee bull… a deal was reached and the small herd moved down the road to a paddock opposite our house. 

Lucy the low-line Angus/Jersey cross

Lucy was fascinated! Half Pint was a gorgeous strapping short legged lad of Highland /Hereford ancestry. And in true Scottish form he let his presence be known in the mountainous regions. But it wasn’t the bagpipes that echoed over the steep wooded slopes. It was a tremendous bellows of a different sort that could have emerged from a bull twice his size. He stomped the fence line and outside our gate let rip with his courting of our dainty wee lass. Day and night. 

Cautious we were, allowing Lucy some time to get used to the beastie from the space of two fences and a quiet gravel road. She stood at the gate with her long lush Lucille Ball lashes (her namesake you see) bating them over her large soft brown eyes. What bull could resist such a stunning sleek black barrel of a cow. 

So as evening drew on the third day we opened the gate to let lucy out. A sheep herd stampede to the wide-open spaces hastened us up, their excitement of fresh grass crushed by the click shut of the gate. But Lucy set free had trotted off down the road. With grass on her mind, she grazed the long acre, nibbling her way along the verge of the road. We opened the gate to her destiny and ushered her through. Her mind still on grazing she ambled straight in, short knee deep in the lotus and clovers that grew. 

But Half Pint saw us shut the gate and move away, his senses alert and eyes on Lucy he was off at a trot. Lucys ears pricked up, her nostrils flared and promptly turned on her heels and shot off the opposite way! “hell no!” she said as he lumbered on up and zipped round the paddock, Half Pint hot on her heels. 

We left them to it, to sort themselves out. At least he was finally quiet the noisy little prick. 

Half-Pint the Hereford/Highland cross

That night poor Lucy stood opposite our gate, her whiny moo floating across the road and down the quiet drive. Out to see her I went and found her wide eyed and flustered while Half pint nuzzled her bull goobered side. I want to come home to my sheepie herd her low mooing told me, or so I heard. But no, it’s a calf you want and this is the way, poor Lucy my girl, it’s here, I’m afraid where you have to stay. Lucy turned from the fence and tried to get away but he dogged her and moped with his big shaggy head a giant lovesick puppy mooching behind. 

The next morning we woke to his bellows again, a grumpy Half pint was having his say! Oh bloody hell is it worth it we thought and went out to see what the racket was about. Lucy it seems was nowhere to be seen and Half Pint was shitty and not in the mood. So off up the track and round the big hill, he grumbled and moaned to find where his other girls and offspring had got too. Meanwhile in the growing quiet we called out for Lucy, who slowing emerged from under the old woolshed in which’s darkness she stood. Her short little legs had allowed her to hide in a spot where the bullock couldn’t quite get, small as he was old boofhead wouldn’t fit. Smart thinking my girl but I’m sorry to say, if you want a calf this really is not the way. 

This harassment and hiding continued for two days, Half Pint bellowing, complaining and stomping off to sulk. But funny enough on the next day we came home from town to find both in the paddock, grazing and quiet. It seems that the roles had reversed with Lucy docile and meek following along behind the hairy great beast. Phew we all said what a relief now we just have to wait a few more weeks. Hopefully she will take and a calf we will have, this drawn-out rowdy saga will mean milk, butter and cheese!

Pigdamonium

Tales from the Homestead

We live our life on a precipice and I’m not talking metaphorically here. Not far from our house is a cliff. A beautiful bush covered ravine with a fresh, clean stream winding its way to the Whanganui river. Steep walls of water hewn rock tower over head, hung with the lace of ferns and entwined with the clinging roots of brave trees. Cascading falls of sparkling mountain streams plunge into its depths, dark, cool and mysterious in the scorching summer heat. 

It was into this gorge we lost a pig. A Kunekune who was destined for freezer camp on the next cool day. We think he knew and did a runner, or just fell off the top while chasing a walnut…. 

We searched the paddock and along the edges calling “Pig, Pig, Pig” no reply.  The Other Half scaled the steep track down to the stream, wading and kayaking its alternating shallows and depths, braving the giant eels in deep dark pools (or so legend says) But to no avail, the pig was nowhere to be seen. 

Some of the trouble makers with grumpy Mum Polly

A week later freezer camp prospect number two also disappeared. (Yes, I know we need to fence; we need to do a lot of things. Would you like to see the list of must do jobs?) Again, we searched with but no success. 

Then a few days later 2 little pigs didn’t turn up for dinner (I’d like to note here all missing pigs where male…) This time however our searching and calling from the top yielded faint answering oinks and grunts from down below. 

Now for someone afraid of heights living above a gorge is probably not smart. Searching for bloody pigs on the bush clad edge of such a gorge is just stupid. Especially when a quick swipe of an arm through thick ferns reveals nothing but air on the other side. Shudder. 

But down the bank he was and at that spot there were fern covered ledges. So, with a strop tied to a sturdy tree The Other Half lowered himself over the edge, dropping 2 metres to a narrow track. He edged along the ledge calling the Kune, who promptly ran in the opposite direction. Sigh. Unfortunately these little Kune had not experienced much hands on attention from their busy humans and he was adamant this human could just stay the hell away. 

We decided to try from the bottom. It was down the steep track again – we’re talking 30 metres or more almost straight down, dirt footholds cut into the cliff and timber ladder steps with dodgy hand rails. The light was fading making it even darker in the shadowy deep gorge. He waded through the cold bush stream calling “Pig, Pig, Pig”. The growing gloom creating a creepy, echoey, eerie feel beneath the damp rock walls and overhanging fronds. No answer. 

Then turning to search further along the stream bed and towering rocky banks he spied a small shivering lump on the opposite side. The little lump didn’t move as The Other Half reached out and grabbed it. But as it rose into his arms all hell did break lose. The pig screamed and squealed, wriggled and squirmed, and BIT… 

The ungrateful little sod was grasped super tight and bearing this heavy (25 kg+), loud and hostile burden The Other Half headed for home. He trudged back down the stream, struggled up the horrendously steep track, through the overgrown pine paddock, out the rickety wooden gate and back down the gravel road. Then tossed the cranky little sod over the fence into the pig paddock. Wet, dirty and deafened he strode back through the pig paddock, down the steep hill side to the tree with the strop. “Grunt, grunt, grunt” said the first little pig and ran along the ledge below. 

Holding the strop, wrapped around his wrist, The Other Half advanced on the pig who ran along the top of what looked like another ledge.  But the softness underfoot revealed it was actually just ferns adhered to the bank by their trampled roots. Too late! he was already half way as the pig made a leap back up the bank. The Other Half grabbed its leg and held on fast, the added weight shifting the roots beneath his feet. He lunged back to firm ground the strop in one hand, screaming pig in the other. Then back up onto track above and to the foot of the tree “grab the bloody pig!” he yelled to his white knuckled wife and tossed it 2 metres up into the air. She grabbed it by the front leg hauling the rowdy beast back to safety and The Other Half scrambled back up too. With darkness upon us we retired for the night, weary and grubby, covered in mud. 

Polly in her preggy days

The next morning the suspected escape route was blocked off and no more little piggies were lost. But our story doesn’t end there.  For one month after the first pig disappeared with no sign or sound of either pig. I heard a commotion, a screech and a squeal (me thinks I have spent too many years reading Hairy Maclery…)  

Polly the sow was all in a rage, chasing a pig all over the place. And what should we have? who should it be? But one of the big boys come back for tea! Mum was a bit pissed that he’d entered her space, she let him know that he was a disgrace. But it soon settled down, piggy life back to normal and the prospect of bacon a delight to us all.