The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning the 5th of June 2010.
Saturday the 5th
parsley seedlings

For several months we have enjoyed the biggest, most prolifically growing parsley plant I've ever seen. When it flowered it was the biggest untidy mess you could imagine, but we deliberately left it to seed, collecting lots of seed for planting again in the garden. But we only took a small portion of the seed it produced and the rest of it has fallen straight down onto the surface below the plant, including into a stray pot.

new friends

Our new friends Peter and Lilo recently moved north from their previous home in Wellsford. Soon after their arrival they invited the entire neighbourhood to visit them at an open-home afternoon and evening - we got an invite because we'd already met them via the internet. It was a very brave thing to do in some senses, but a very good idea as well, not unlike the sort of thing people used to do in this community.

Since then they've been to dinner with us and for a walk around the farm, and today it was our turn to visit them and do the same.

They've found a lovely property near Fairburn, with some spectacular bush which has been long fenced off from stock. We wandered around for a couple of hours in some light showers, finding some of their livestock along the way.

Dinner was a fabulous event. Lilo had cooked some potatoes and we each took one or two of them, sliced them, then covered them with a combination of various foods we'd selected and grilled under a marvellous table-top contraption in individual little pans, according to our own taste. The toppings included four or five different cheeses, along with bacon, olives, and a variety of other ingredients of which I'll have to be reminded by another visit! It was all delicious!

Dessert was a deeply chocolate mousse and I am very pleased that Stephan now has the recipe.

Sunday the 6th
birthday cake

A family gathering this evening and this is Sean's "Lion in the Meadow" birthday cake, cleverly constructed by his dad, Mathew. It isn't quite Sean's birthday yet, but he shared his party time with Sarah and as it's Grandma Muriel's birthday as well, she's never far from anyone's thoughts on this day.

Monday the 7th
Brown Quail

As I was sitting writing this morning, I noticed a movement just outside my window. There were five little brown quail feeding on the lawn. When I moved, they all dashed off, and I had to sneak up on them to get a photo - it's a bit fuzzy as a result, but they're very pretty.


I went out late this afternoon to move the heifers, and it started raining quite heavily. I climbed through the fence and sheltered under one of the big Puriri for a while and watched the heifers dashing about in their new paddock.

As I stood there hoping the rain would stop I was thinking about my Uncle Paul, in Chile, in hospital, probably dying of Kidney cancer. I've only just heard that he is so ill, after my last phone conversation with him a couple of weeks ago when he intimated that things might not be looking too good. I've only known Paul since living up here, because he's been in Chile for most of his adult life and was not always in regular contact with the rest of his family. He came to visit back in about 1998 or so, when we still lived in the Bush House and had the first Pukeko chicks. He came again to New Zealand a couple of years after that, when Jill married Bruce. Paul and I had "an understanding" as we both described it. My mother and my aunt are very similar to each other in many ways and entirely unlike me; Paul and I recognised many similarities in each other - although none of the things he saw were visual!

We've had many conversations over the last few years, and it obviously entertained him enormously that I am a farmer. I have so enjoyed knowing him, so it has been a sad few days thinking of him so far away and fading.

And then I walked away from my tree to move the bulls and noticed the trap under the other Puriri tree had moved from its usual position. I thought it had caught a possum, a very good thing. Then I realised it was a cat, and thought that was an extra good thing...


But as I looked at the cat, it gradually horribly dawned on me that this wasn't just any cat. That orangey coat, sleek, smooth hair, all belonged to my lovely Spice.

It is a good thing for me that I am behind in posting the weekly news, because I needed some time to come to terms with this event before writing about it.

I extracted Spice from the trap, the only good finding being that the trap had worked extremely efficiently and that her death must have been as quick and humane as possible.

I carried my lovely cat down the same track I'd first carried her five years ago, and laid her on the floor in the house, where the other two cats could find her.

I feel terribly sad about my little cat. I knew that Stephan was modifying a possum trap so it could catch cats, but when he went to set it under that tree, I somehow didn't connect that earlier knowledge with what he was doing, and kept thinking it was just another possum trap. I know Spice hunted rabbits out in the Mushroom paddocks and Stephan should have known that too, since she often followed us around the farm on our walks.

I noticed that Spice wasn't around this morning, but that's not altogether unusual - except that in wet weather she tends not to stay out.

There is nothing that can be done. I've always known that our bird protection programme which involves pest trapping puts any cat at risk, deliberately in the case of the feral cats around the place, and that this might endanger our pets. But I am very sad that in this case we had holes in our combined thought processes and that this death was probably avoidable.

Tuesday the 8th
burying Spice

Throughout yesterday afternoon and evening, every time I heard the cat door I thought it might be Spice coming home, that I might have been mistaken in identifying the dead cat. It is many years since I've had to deal with a sudden death and I'd forgotten the tricks the mind can play.

We buried Spice this morning.

I selected a Taraire seedling from my greenhouse to be planted over her.

Cattin's tree

This little corner at the top of Flat 1 has become our cat cemetery, with Cattin and Spice now buried there together.

Bird's nest fungus

I spent the afternoon quietly potting plants in my greenhouse, a soothing activity.

This is one of the bird's nest fungi I discovered growing in several pots.

Wednesday the 9th
DOC200 trap

A cool but sunny day. It seems to have rained on most days since the rains started this autumn, so it's a very pleasant change when the sun shines.

This is a double DOC200 trap (Department of Conservation design), with a dead hedgehog in one end. Those creatures can fit through pretty small holes - there are two mesh screens with a small hole in each, offset, to stop Kiwi reaching through into the trap area. The DOC200 is another very efficient trap. The trap on the left has been tripped as well, but without catching anything.

While many of us have long thought hedgehogs to be cute little things which do no harm, they're quite serious pests and eat a lot of native ground dwellers like snails, lizards and skinks, and the eggs of ground-nesting birds.

lovely grass

Looking back up the Bush Flat paddock as I walked back. What a lovely lot of grass! The only worry with this sort of grass at this time of the year is getting it eaten before a frost hits it. Because it's Kikuyu, a frost would cause it to wilt away to almost nothing within a couple of days, and would stop it growing back until the weather warms again.


I'm not having to push the cows very hard yet, although I am leaving them to clean up the paddocks reasonably well. Because the first-calving R3 heifers are with them, I'm being a bit careful about their feed levels.

I could split the mob again, into the fatties and the skinnies and feed them separately, and I might look at doing that a bit later in the winter. The heifers are in good condition, but I'd draft them out with the thin cows and feed them well, since they're still not quite mature, and have a little more growing to do.

Thursday the 10th

Today's paragraphs are of a personal nature, of no farming relevance at this time, so you won't miss anything vital if you don't read them.

I went to town to see the surgeon who chopped holes in me four weeks ago and he turned out to be surprisingly nice - I hadn't been quite sure after our one brief pre-surgery encounter. I'm writing about this here mainly because I learnt some things of which I was previously unaware.

My ailment is not particularly serious, but some ongoing internal discomfort has been explained by the discovery of a number of fibroids (benign muscle tumours) growing in and on my uterus. Maybe it got bored, never having been employed for its ultimate purpose. There are three options from the surgeon's point of view: do nothing, attempt removal of the fibroids, or hysterectomy. I'm disinclined to undergo serious surgery unless I have to, so the surgeon has suggested I go away and think about it all for a few months, and go back again then to either ask more questions, or decide on my next step.

For several years I've been wondering why blood tests showed my iron levels to be low. I did not consider that there was any obvious reason for that to be the case, and any serious cause had been ruled out. But apparently the presence of fibroids will cause more blood loss than is normal, so that a body cannot keep up with replenishing it and can become deficient in iron. I will have to consider the magnitude of that problem and the length of time it will potentially continue, in deciding what to do next, if anything at all. All very interesting.

Friday the 11th

I was woken before 6am by a call from a man in Chile who is to meet Jill in a few hours. She is in a plane on her way across the Pacific to be with Paul.

Drymoanthus adversus

I was sheltering under a tree this afternoon during a rain shower while moving the cows and wandered around looking at whatever was on the ground. I spotted these plants on a fallen Totara branch and thought they looked rather orchid-like, so brought the branch home.

I was right: they are Drymoanthus adversus, a fairly common little orchid, but not easily seen when growing on high branches.

pig sign in the Back Barn paddock

Out where I'd shifted the cows to new grazing, I could see there had been wild pigs there before them. In this picture there's a large patch of pig rooting just behind the closest cow.