Well, hellooo. Here we are at the start of a different year. Sort of. We’re still at the start, right? How did that happen so fast? I took an unplanned break from blogging as life got very busy with a young family, the chickens, the garden, creating vlogs on our YouTube channel and end-of-year things. Nothing turns routines and habits on their heads like a small child. But I’m here now, with an update on all the homestead and life things. Or at least some of them. So much has happened.
The wet winter of 2022 carried on into an unprecedented wet spring. It was great for the garden, great for our water supply and great for the soil heading into the ‘dry’ summer we were expecting. It made it hard to get some things done, made the weeds grow exponentially and made for slippery, muddy chicken pens and high-traffic areas. Our front fence replacement project got put on hold for a while because the water table was so high, which is not conducive to digging holes for posts.
Then something even more unexpected happened: we had an unprecedented wet summer. Wet and summer don’t usually hang out together around here. We normally end up in some sort of drought, with brown grass, water-saving practices and being stingy with watering the garden; just enough to keep most things alive. It has been the oddest summer that most of us remember. The rain events and cyclones just kept coming.
A few weeks ago, Cyclone Gabrielle arrived and was the most destructive cyclone the North Island has experienced in a long time. It was a noisy, crazy storm. Thankfully, our area wasn’t that badly hit. Our road was flooded for a day, we had one broken branch here, plus a dodgy one that we had to remove, and some large trees uprooted nearby.
But there are places where the rain was so torrential and the winds so strong that the landscapes have been changed beyond belief. Brown, swollen rivers have eaten away at surrounding land, bridges and roads. Huge, muddy landslides have destroyed roads, houses and chunks of farmland. Horticultural land has been swamped by silty water. Forestry slash has left a giant mess. People have been cut off from road access, power or water. Lives were lost. It’s immense.
We had our own kind of storm, as just before the storm started we found out that The Husband’s brother had been killed in a car accident. No one’s prepared for that kind of shock. It’s been a hard time, full of sadness. But it’s also been a time in which God has surrounded us with loving family and friends, beautiful words, songs that help us through and thankfulness for our memories and for each other.
Now I’m recovering from minor surgery. I wasn’t able to prepare for it as well as I had originally intended to but we’re doing ok. I managed to get back on top of some food things and housecleaning and wrote some instructions for The Husband. He’s in charge of the homestead and family for now. With helpful reminders from me…
Miss Scarlet is 20 months old now and wanders about getting up to all sorts. She’s sneaky but oh-so-cute with that pleasant smile plastered all over her face. She seems to be a good little helper, enjoying tasks like unloading the dishwasher with her brother. The Little Fulla gets funnier by the day and more full of his own ideas. He’s definitely enjoyed all the mud that these wet seasons have brought and it’s hard to get him inside sometimes. He’s been doing a great job helping me with the chickens and is ever-eager to use tools.
So, that’s the backdrop of how the homestead is going! The two main events of summer were butchering chickens, bit by bit, and replacing our old, falling-down front fence. I was waiting for the right time to do the fence. The Husband had done enough waiting and while I was butchering a couple of chickens he demolished one side of the old post-and-rail fence. We had to do it then. I’m glad he did it when he did though, as it took us a month post-Christmas to do the fence project and it was finished before the ground got super wet again and before feisty Cyclone Gabrielle hit.
We had to remove weeds, trim the hedge and other plants back then begin installing the fence that I had designed and ordered the materials for. The hardest part was getting the timber posts positioned, lined up and plumb. Dad was there to help with that and what a help he was. The weather was somewhat less helpful. As were the swarms of mozzies that all the sitting water has brought. We chipped away at our fence installation bit by bit, mostly on weekends and one day we finished it! It brings me so much joy to see a nice fence and gate outside our place. And relief that it will keep wayward dogs out. And children in.
Our two batches of Australorp youngsters have done well. In the first batch we had 11 girls hatch and 14 boys. In the second batch we somehow got 7 girls and 17 boys. Yikes! What kid of odds are those?! There’s been a lot of butchering to do.
For the first time, we got some meatbird chicks in spring. I’d been wanting to try some for a while, but they aren’t as readily available here as they are in the US. Our feed supplier started getting some in from a hatchery to see how they go so we got to see how they go too. They were very cute yellow fluffballs when they arrived but they grew crazily fast into giant babies with intense appetites. It’s eye-opening how much faster they grow than our Australorp chicks and Australorps are not a small breed. The Cobb meatbirds are just bred to grow fast and big. They are ready to butcher much sooner but they do eat more.
I only got six chicks to start with as I had to juggle them with our Australorps; making sure everyone had space, housing and equipment. I also had to butcher them along with most of our young cockerels and I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I do lots of small butchering sessions, doing usually two or sometimes three chickens at a time, while Miss Scarlet is sleeping or otherwise supervised. We have yet to finish building the chicken plucker so I don’t want to do a big batch of meatbirds until we have that done. I also just wanted to see what they were like in terms of taste and everything.
I kept the best two older Australorp cockerels to grow out and see how they turn out compared to our current rooster, Basil. They are both Judith’s sons, one black and one a lovely dark blue. The Little Fulla spent a lot of time with our young chickens this season so some of them are very friendly. Then I had to work on the second batch.
I finally finished processing the younger batch of boys that didn’t make the cut. There were so many of them. There is an egg shortage in NZ at the moment due to major changes in legislation in how hens can be kept on egg farms, so I’m being careful in my decisions about females at the moment and haven’t parted with any, other than a few undesirables that I culled. I’m thankful we have a good egg supply. At least six of the pullets have started laying now, which is very helpful when the hens are moulting and some aren’t laying. The silver lining of this event is that a lot of people have gotten into chickens. I’m always happy to help people get into chickens.
From the second batch I have kept two cockerels to grow on, also a black and a blue. These two are from Dahlia though, which is an important distinction. I would like to keep at least one of them since I can’t breed Basil’s sisters to him or breed his sons out of Judith (older cockerels) to their sisters. Even though Judith’s offspring are looking great, we can’t breed them all with each other. The problem I’m having in my decision-making is that I’m not certain that the older black cockerel us actually Judith’s. And he’s my favourite. There was some uncertainty with egg identification when the hens went back to laying well last winter. I wrote notes but there were some I was unsure about. It just so happened that this beautiful black dude is one of the ones I wasn’t sure about. There’s a possibility he could be Ninja’s son.
I haven’t raised up any of Ninja’s sons before because she has poor light blue colouring, so I culled them, meaning I have nothing to compare him with. He has a lovely curved shape and a comb that curves down nicely at the back in contrast to some of the high combs I’ve been trying to weed out. I want to keep him for his good traits and what he could pass on. But what if he passes on poor colouring? I need a backup. Judith’s dark blue boy has beautiful colouring but is a bit flat in the back. I can’t really keep both him and Basil but I’m not ready to make that kind of decision yet.
I would like to do a test breeding with the black cockerel and some blue hens or pullets and splash pullets. The more chance of blue chicks the better, as they will show how good his colour genetics are. The difference in colouring between Judith (best coloured blue hen) and Ninja (worst coloured blue hen) and their blue offspring has been quite obvious. I should be able to tell who the cockerel’s mum really is from his blue offspring. But it will take a while. I need to separate him and the females to breed him to for four weeks before setting eggs to hatch to make sure the eggs aren’t fertilised by the other males. That’s not happening right now from the position of my bed.
It took longer than ever to get the summer crops into the garden but here we are, in a better state than I thought it would be. There was so much weeding and garden prep to do that I couldn’t manage over winter; all the foundational things that had to be done before the fun planting and sowing part. There were many weeds and the raised beds hadn’t been properly topped up with compost for a while. I have The Husband and The Little Fulla to thank for how far we came. They shoveled and wheeled most of the garden mix compost from the pile out the front to to the raised bed Veggie Garden. The Husband also weed-whacked the weeds in the paths of the Veggie Garden and in the Processing Corner and helped lay cardboard on the paths and spread out sawdust over some of it.
Before the end of the year, all the beds had been topped up with compost, mulched with peastraw and planted or sown with all the crops to go in there, all except the carrot bed, which was in an awkward patchy state. I had a moment one day when I opened the Veggie Garden gate and wondered who’s garden I was looking at for a second. It makes my heart sing. I’m really glad I sowed and planted flowers for the Veggie Garden too as they bring me a lot of joy. The red nasturtiums have been particularly poignant around the dark purple and green foliage of the lettuces. The sunflowers will be opening soon.
The Front Plot got some attention too. The tomato plants in there were doing well, until the wetness got a bit nuts, and getting wound up the strings on the tomato trellis system. Potato plants are growing, even if they came from store-bought potatoes or transplanted little hideaways from last season. I didn’t get time to germinate and grow any cucurbit seeds like I normally do, but God took care of that. Last year’s autumn compost delivery got dumped onto one of the Chuck’s Winter squash fruit, which I didn’t realise until I found it rotting away when shoveling compost. I was disappointed. But the squash that I thought was wasted is the reason we have sprawling Chuck’s Winter squash plants in the Front Plot right now, which I did not grow. We got another row weeded and planted with kumara shoots, a bit late but hopefully we’ll get something out of them.
I sowed cucumber seeds straight into a raised bed, twice, and only one gherkin plant came up. So no pickling gherkins this year. But since I did 15L of gherkins last year we’ll probably be alright! My fellow gardening neighbour kindly gave me two spare telegraph cucumber seedlings, which have some cucumbers growing on them now. The butternuts and Wee Bee Little pumpkins had to be sown straight into the garden too. No butternuts came up but we have two (hopefully) Wee Bee Little pumpkin plants and one rampant one that was definitely a cross-pollination child.
There are still masses of weeds to deal with after all the rain. I cannot explain how fast they grow. But we are growing food! We’ve continued to have enough rain that I haven’t had to water the garden at all, other than once after I sowed seeds in the raised beds and once watering the kumara shoots in after planting. That is very strange! It has saved me a lot of time and gave the late garden a great start. But the latter rain has led to diseased tomato plants that I didn’t finish getting to before my surgery.
Life has definitely been a bit wild but we’re doing ok. In time, I will be back in my garden, with my chickens and filming the things that I love around the homestead. Before I drifted off under anaesthetic, the anaesthetist told me to think of somewhere nice so maybe I’d dream about that. I thought of home. I’m glad to be home.