Welcome to 2019: A year of extraordinary adventures and growth!

Hello and welcome back to our first blog of the year!

Our household has been super busy this summer! How about yours?  Did you do anything fun over Christmas and New Years? Have you added anything to your homesteads or have you done anything different in your life?  We’d love to hear about it!

Speaking of new experiences and adventures – We’ve just given our lawyer instructions to confirm the purchase of 4.6ha (11.4 acres) of wonderful land in North Canterbury! (No the photo to the right isn’t it! but that’s a hint of our next post!)

Both Victor and I are eager to start the process of building and have been in contact with many different builders in our area. We’re meeting with one of the ones we’re most likely to go with this Thursday. We’ve also got very affordable finance/loans from our bank. Our lawyer is quite happy with the situation too and has provided a ton of information to help us prepare for this huge step! We’ve looked at many different kinds of builds, and although instant gratification with a big house right away is nice, we feel that working in stages on our “dream home” will be both more affordable and will also help keep us from getting in over our heads financially. We’re going to build a beginning structure which will consist of a 3-4 car oversized workshop/garage and a small (but still good sized) 75m2 home which we can later either extend or build a newer bigger one when the time comes.

We’re also in contact with several different local farms to get an idea of the startup costs for the things we would like to do right away (raising heritage breed chickens) and things we are looking at in 6 months to a year (getting goats for example). It’s all happening at once, which is both scary and exhilarating at the same time.

Victor and I will be in touch again soon to tell you about any changes that happen before settlement. If you enjoy reading our blog, please consider sharing and subscribing and let us know in the comments section if you have any suggestions or have any tips for young families in becoming more self-sufficient!

May God bless you and yours!

~Grace

It’s a beautiful world

The equinox has just passed us by, and in true Canterbury style the nor’wester is back, like an old friend. The birds are happy with the warmth, though, and laying in earnest, and the house continues to make rapid progress. It’s said that the windows and doors were supposed to go in today.

Last night, though, a wicked southerly change came through. Grace texted me, exhorting me to take care on the roads, and saying that the animals – our dog and two cats, that is – were rather distressed by the thunder and lightning. Nevertheless, I resolved to go out to our block and check on the birds. It was as well that I did so: unexpectedly, the chicks had eaten nearly all their food, and the big birds had drunk nearly all their water.

Having decided to drive by the back way, I was treated to the two ends of a rainbow, framing the Waimak as it flowed out of the gorge onto the plains.

This morning, too, I was treated to a dusting of snow on the top of Mount Herbert, and also the North Canterbury foothills. The last of the season, perhaps, and the storm went as quickly as it came, with a fine warm day today.

All seasons have their joys, but Spring is a favourite of mine, a time of new life and hope, and fitting for where we are in our journey.

De fine incepti

Dear Readers,

Thank you very much for sticking with us all these months as we’ve been working hard to find our permanent home. As you might be able to tell from the above Latin phrase, we’ve reached the end of Step 1, and we now own a beautiful farm block! Our new land is 4.65 hectares (roughly 12 acres) in the heart of Canterbury, just northwest of a little country town called Cust. Our property has a fairly gently rolling, but mostly flat landscape but it is surrounded by mountain views!

We carried out our final inspection of the land on Saturday 23 February. This inspection is properly called the “pre-settlement inspection”, and if you buy real estate in New Zealand using the normal contract, you’re entitled to one such inspection as late as the day before settlement day. We’ve found these to be very useful, as you can check that the property is in good shape and that all the chattels you’ve bought are there and in good working order. Apart from the odd deceased sheep — another farmer formerly used the land as sheep pasture — we found nothing untoward, and it was full steam ahead. Settlement itself was very smooth, as our lawyer has taken good care of us, and so the magic spells were uttered and the land became ours about midday on Thursday 28 February!

Now I would very much like a suitable name for our lovely new block of land. I like the thought of something to do with the three prominent hills around us (Mount Oxford to the west, Mount Thomas to the north, and Summer Hill to the south-east), but Victor is still waiting for that flash of inspiration. We welcome any suggestions from the readership, so feel free to post them in the comments section. The winner (if there is one) will get exclusive bragging rights and a shout-out on the blog.

No sooner had we settled on the land than we got right to work. Victor took Friday 1 March off from his day job, and we met with no fewer than four contractors on the site.

The farm came fully fenced around its perimeter, but we decided that we wanted to have a few different little paddocks fenced off and needed some water lines put in, so we could water any animals we acquire. Thanks to Austin of Homesteady for the suggestion; a water line out to the middle of the section has proven remarkably inexpensive, and is sure to be a lot better than carting water barrels around with a tractor! We also wanted a new driveway put in; all the services (power, water and phone) are in the south-west corner of the section, and the existing vehicle gate was in the south-east corner. We didn’t want to have to construct 200 or more metres of driveway; that would have been both costly and wasteful. Victor found a local fencing contractor who has done excellent work; more on that below.

Another contractor was the environmental engineer, who was there to help us design a suitable septic and stormwater system. The fencing contractor helped her by digging a test pit, since he needed to do the water trenching anyway. We’ll say more about her work in due course, but will note that this needed to be done early as a wastewater design is a necessary part of building approval.

The two other contractors were a driveway contractor, who just came out to have a look, and a water pump supplier.

20190308_194218.jpg

I found a “local” who was in need of a few acres of land to graze her horses, so the big portion of the grass that we don’t need right away will be kept clean and earn us some income at the same time. The pre-existing vehicle gate has come in very useful: it gives her a means of access without having to go through the home paddock.

The fencing contractor is Andy Smith, who runs a business called Rural and Lifestyle Fencing. He also does lifestyle block irrigation and stock watering. As you can see from the image to the left we’ve chosen to add three 80 litre ball float valve filled stock troughs, one for each paddock (except the home paddock, which came with its own trough). It took him less than 5 days to complete more than 300 metres of new fence lines, drive the gate posts, and do the irrigation lines and set up the troughs for us. Everything looks very professional and we think it will last for years to come.

Whenever we go out there, Victor and I feel our spirits rise. Stargazer keeps asking where our house is, and of course, that is going to be a whole journey in itself. Honeybee likes picking up objects of geological significance and seeing how they taste. I don’t know if she’ll get any beneficial minerals from that or not; Victor thinks probably not, as those rocks are likely to be mostly silica. In the end, at least she’ll have a robust immune system! Little Ducky has yet to express any certain opinion on the subject of the new property. She seems to just want to drink her goat’s milk and spend time in her Daddy’s arms. Our Bella absolutely loves it of course.

Isaiah 40:30-31 says:

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I hope you find rest, renewal and comfort in this passage as I have in the past few months. I feel that God is leading us on a very big journey and I hope you will continue to support us as we follow in His steps!

God Bless you and your house

~Grace

Allow us to introduce…

…the newest member of our merry band, the vivacious Bella!

When we first decided to get a large block of land, and considered running stock on it, our minds turned to Man’s best friend. What better time to look for a helper? We — and by “we” I mostly mean Grace — thought long and hard, but not too long nor too hard, about breeds and such like. We wanted a dog who would be fast, energetic, easy to train, loyal, good with children, and quiet (mostly; we have to make some concessions to reality). And while we’re at it, why not world peace? But we were pleasantly surprised. We went on Trade Me, which is New Zealand’s answer to eBay for our international readers, and found a family who were selling a border collie / huntaway cross for a relatively inexpensive amount.

It would seem that the family dog, the border collie mum, had some unexpectedly personal contact with Nana and Grandad’s unfixed huntaway. The result was a litter of no less than eleven puppies, which was a bit much for a town family to keep at home! So we stopped by for a visit. Most of the pups were mildly curious about us, but mostly just wanted to sleep, eat or play. One of them, though, a very little girl, climbed into my arms and nestled herself there. To this day, I say that she chose us, and Grace is quick to correct that to, “She chose you.”

Bella was born in March 2018, and we took her home in May. This is how she was about when we first got her:

And last month, when she was about ten and a half months old and had been living with us for nine months:

Bella is very much a puppy. She enjoys chasing frisbees and balls, and doesn’t always bring them back, preferring to run rings around us while holding them in her mouth. Grace remarks that the one thing she will catch and bring back to us is her own tail, which is frequently seen swinging rapidly from side to side. She will absolutely lick a small child to death at the slightest opportunity, much to the displeasure of Honeybee and, to a lesser but still significant extent, Stargazer. Ducky, on the other hand, doesn’t seem unduly concerned, and likes to put her fingers in Bella’s nose! Our life with Bella has been in some ways as much about learning ourselves as training her. For instance, we spent part of this evening trying to teach Stargazer that when Bella gets in her face she has to remind Bella who’s boss. Collapsing on the ground and crying is not an option unless you wish to be licked even more fiercely.

On the other hand, with grown-ups and other dogs, Bella is remarkably submissive, even timid. It’s not because of any harsh treatment from us; we think she was the natural runt, and we were told she was picked on by her litter-mates. She has started to come out of her shell a bit as she’s grown, and we hope she will be able to keep spending time as appropriate with other well trained dogs. In the meantime, she very much enjoys going for a run with me of an evening.

Over and out,

Victor

Investigations into Livestock Animals

Hello, my fine readers! How are you today? Have you been doing any fun projects lately? What about God’s mission? Is He leading you on any interesting paths?

Well, Victor and I have been sort of pulled into a strange mission by our ears. It would seem that God in all of His infinite wisdom needed us to become homesteaders so that we would make connections with people nearby and join a movement to save one of His critically endangered goat breeds.

photo courtesy of Heather O’Neill

In New Zealand, there is a small island with a long history leading back to good ol’ Captain James Cook. The story goes that in 1773, Captain Cook decided to leave a couple of his favourite goats with the leader of a tribe on a small island located in the Marlborough Sounds, at the northeast tip of the South Island of New Zealand. He is said to have also released a few of them into the wild just prior to setting off at sea so that if he ever came back he would have an instant food source. The breed that developed from those goats is known as the Arapawa Island Goat. There are less than 300 (correction 400) live Arapawas in the world today. They may, in fact, be the most critically endangered goat breed in the world.

So you’re probably wondering why this breed should matter to you … Well, from what I’ve read and heard about through the NZ Arapawa Goat Association, these goats are special.

They have unique genes which are only very distantly related to any other currently known breed. Unfortunately, the breed of goat that Captain Cook raised (the Old English goat) is considered extinct as far as we know so we cannot test current day Arapawas against the Old English Goat genes to see if they are the same. It is unlikely that they are the same exact breed because the span of several hundred years is more than enough time to change a breed’s genetic heritage. That said, these are believed to be the closest thing that we have to that old hardy everyman sort of goat.

Unlike many of the commercial breeds who have been specifically bred to be dwarfed, Arapawas are naturally small. A full-size Arapawa is not usually much bigger than a medium sized dog. They have great milk from what I’ve heard, which is said to be as sweet and as creamy as the Nigerian Dwarf breed, but having the nutty flavour of a Nubian. They are also naturally high milk producers despite their small size. I can’t wait to try some myself!

Arapawas are also really healthy animals from what I understand. While they may not have as much immune protection to commercial farming (they do suffer from worms fairly easily), their immune systems are great at lifestyle and small farming ventures. They lived for hundreds of years without much input from man but are also very humanly social and friendly after only a couple of generations of domestication. Victor and I considered trying to get a normal breed like the Nigerians, or the Nubians, but when we were faced with an opportunity to help save a special variety of goat it made total sense to us to try. I mean, just look at this face!

Mayhem by Heather O’Neill

Please consider helping to support this critically endangered species by praying, volunteering, donating to the cause, or maybe even taking on a few of these beautiful creatures if you have the time and space! Please click on the links below for more information!

https://www.rarebreeds.co.nz/arapawagoat.html and http://www.arapawagoats.com/dna.html

 

May God bless you and keep you!

~Grace

*all photos courtesy of Heather O’Neill on the Arapawa Facebook group’s page. Thank you very much for allowing me to use your beautiful animals here!

 

 

Investigations into rural internet

One of the aspects of our due diligence investigation into our land was the availability of internet. Since I work in IT, and since an online presence is important to our various endeavours, getting a good and reliable internet connection was necessarily important to us. We had already pulled out of one block of land because it appeared that internet was thin on the ground out there, and so it was important for us to check this out.

New Zealand was a relatively early adopter of the internet, as could be expected given our remoteness. However, while our people love to be online, we don’t necessarily get good speeds. Our links to the rest of the world are few in number, and internal infrastructure (or lack there of) is an obstacle. We love to hate Chorus, the telephone lines and infrastructure company, and it’s almost certainly true that some decisions they have made over the years have exacerbated the problem; but the biggest challenge is our population density. New Zealand’s population density is said to be about 18 persons per square kilometre, only a little more than half that of the United States (and that’s with Alaska and other sparsely populated areas included). The Government has spent several years leading the charge to bring fibre (“Ultra Fast Broadband” or UFB) to homes and businesses, but that is only really in the cities and large towns, though there is a plan to bring fibre also to smaller towns especially where there are schools and hospitals. Word on the ground, naturally, is that Chorus has no plans to do fibre to the home outside urban areas; and they can’t really be blamed, as putting what might be tens of kilometres of fibre in the ground to look after only a few hundred customers is not really worth their time. They do offer a process for “Next Generation Access on Application” (abbreviated to NGA on Application, or NOA), but the ball park figures typically end in four or five zeroes.

So where does that leave us? Well, in rural areas where phone cable exists, VDSL is available (for customers very close to the cabinet), or ADSL (for customers moderately close to the cabinet). But we were told on enquiry with ISPs that our property is either just beyond the effective range of ADSL, or just within it but far enough away from the cabinet that we could expect poor and slow service. Scratch that, then.

That leaves us with three other options: The so-called rural broadband initiative (RBI), which uses the cellphone network; terrestrial wireless; or satellite. The good news is that both RBI and terrestrial wireless are likely to be available where we will be building, because satellite is not a desirable option: one pays through the nose for very limited bandwidth allowances, slow speeds, and weather driven outages. RBI and terrestrial still have quotas and speed limits, but the speeds are comparable to what one might hope to achieve with VDSL in the towns, and quotas are what they are – it is just one of those things about living in rural areas. If your lifestyle absolutely requires unlimited internet, the lesson is that you really should live in an actual town.

And who knows? In years to come, it might even be cost-effective to do fibre in rural areas, but I’m not holding my breath. Still, we will put a duct in the ground just in case, because one never knows what tomorrow may bring.

Of mushrooms

Growing up in semi-rural Canterbury, one of my joys was the occasional opportunity to collect wild mushrooms. These were typically the field mushroom, which I’m told is Agaricus campestris, though some of the larger specimens may in fact have been the horse mushroom (A. arvensis). Even then, I wasn’t one to turn up my nose at free food, and in these days of getting all kinds of food and drink from the supermarket, there is something special about finding fresh food in the wild (these weren’t the only ones; we would occasionally harvest mussels from rocky beaches, or catch fish).

It so happened that the other day I found a wondrously large mushroom (though not nearly as big as some, such as the giant puffball, large specimens of which have been rumoured to be mistaken for sheep) growing in the overflow car park at work. So naturally I brought it home, as both a learning and a culinary opportunity.

A cluster of horse mushrooms (Agaricus arvensis). Copyright Wikipedia user “Luridiformis”.

Stargazer was delightfully mercurial in her response, one minute declaring that she didn’t like it, and the next completely changing her tune! That girl definitely responds well to a courageous example. Having eaten some bits of it fried up with butter and a little garlic, she declared that she loves horse mushrooms. Honeybee on the other hand cut to the chase and demolished her portion. The truly reluctant members of our little band were Grace’s parents. Apparently, they aren’t really to be blamed: the wilds of North America are full of toxic fungi of all kinds, and children there are told that distinguishing between the toxic and edible specimens is all but impossible unless you’re a mycologist. Myself, I think that’s probably over the top, at least as a lesson to carry into adulthood when the more subtle distinguishing characteristics can be observed; but I digress.

I would of course be remiss if I didn’t point out that gathering wild fungi is not for the unobservant. Even in New Zealand, we have instances of the aptly named death cap, Amanita phalloides, which in one of God’s little jokes looks more like either the field mushroom or the horse mushroom than most other species of edible mushroom do in New Zealand. But it doesn’t look extremely like either if you know what you’re looking for:

  • The field mushroom and horse mushroom are white to light brown on top; the death cap is pale yellow-green.
  • The gills (on the underside of the cap) of the field and horse mushroom are pink or flesh coloured, darkening to a dark brown as the cap ages; the gills of the death cap are white.
  • The death cap has a bulb at the base of the stalk; the field and horse mushrooms do not.
  • The death cap has an upwards opening collar on the stalk; the field and horse mushrooms usually don’t have a collar at all, but if they do it opens downwards.
  • The death cap when bruised, cut or damaged turns vivid yellow.
  • The death cap emits a foul, sulphurous odour while being cooked; the field and horse mushrooms smell, well, like mushrooms.

Amanita phalloides, the death cap. Do not eat! Copyright Wikipedia user “Archenzo”.

Having said all that, if you’re unsure what a mushroom is, do yourself a favour and leave it alone. This is especially important if you have young children with you at the time, as it’s important to set a good example!

Happy foraging,

~Victor