The week beginning the 16th of January 2021.
Saturday the 16th

Miryam flew back to Auckland today, to make way for our next visitors: Jude, Stella and Faith, who arrived later in the afternoon, after driving the long way around the coast on their way from Auckland. Adding that extra hour or so to the journey because of the closed road through the Mangamuka Gorge is a significant ongoing inconvenience, especially when there's lots of holiday traffic to contend with as well.


Jonny was here earlier in the day and went out with Stephan to check on the bees' and hive's health before they brought some of the frames back for us to take some honey off.

The Ministry for Primary Industries instructs that honey from areas where bees may harvest the honey dew from Passion vine hopper insects on Tutu plants, must not be harvested after the after the 31st of December, so we're a couple of weeks late; but Jonny (who is a commercial bee-keeper) tasted some of it and he said it was probably alright. There's Tutu growing on many of the stream banks since we excluded the cattle from grazing into the streams.

This is a quick-and-dirty way of getting the honey out but it'll do the trick since we don't have a great number of frames to harvest.

After scraping the honey comb into the colander, I left it sitting for the rest of the afternoon, while the honey collected in the big bowl underneath, then put some of it in jars. I also tried filtering some of it through muslin cloth in a sieve which worked far better than I expected and removed most of the wax, for nicer-tasting honey. It just took a bit longer to do that.

Later on Stephan took the frames back to the hive for the bees to clean up and use again. The honey they make from now on will be used by them during the winter. If we want more honey, we'll have to put new boxes on the hives after the 1st of July, according to the guidelines, then harvest the honey next time before the end of the year.

I'm very suggestible - I think that's the appropriate word for being likely to become short of breath because Jonny told me I might feel like that if there was Tutin in the honey. I had to eat it several times before I stopped thinking I was experiencing adverse effects, since I wasn't really. It's delicious, the only problem with it being that it drips off my toast and on more than one occasion I've had to carefully wipe parts of my computer keyboard, having a habit of eating lunch in front of the computer.


Stella and Faith were keen to get in the pond on this very hot afternoon, after so long in the car on their way here.

Sunday the 17th

I think bull 200 has encountered a bee or a wasp: his left upper eyelid is swollen. I'm pretty sure that's all that is wrong.

cattle yards

Jude and Stella hadn't seen the finished yards, so we had a look on our way home from the cattle check.

Funny how we can always convince new victims to try the head-bail. I'm not sure who's the weird party, us for getting them to do it, or them for trying it.

Monarch pupation

A Monarch part-way through the pupation process.

Look at those antennae! I hadn't realised until seeing this photo, that this stage of metamorphosis involved the formation of all the body parts that are present later when the butterfly emerges. Fascinating.

pond fun

Christina brought her grandson, granddaughter and a friend for a swim, much to Faith's delight.

pond fun

There was a lot of teasing and trying to push the bigger boy in...

pond fun

... which resulted in the obvious retaliation. We were pleased to see that Roman was very gentle with her and never pushed beyond her tolerance.

The four of them had a lovely time.

Monday the 18th
man and girl

When Jane rang to say she'd caught yet another possum in her live-capture trap and Stephan announced he was going to shoot it, Faith said she really wanted to go and watch. Discussion ensued: did she realise that shooting a possum would mean it was dead, no longer alive, and that there would likely be blood? How did she think she would feel about seeing that, considering how upset she was about the death of Cecil last year?

Jude decided that she was sufficiently informed and obviously very determined, so said she could go.

Here she watched and asked many questions as Stephan plucked the possum's fur into his bag afterwards.


Stella came out with me to check the cattle. I found heifer 186 licking 872's udder area; 186 is due on heat in a couple of days and perhaps 872 is coming on too. Bull 200 was quietly staying with them, then with 186 as she wandered away.


The bull's eyelid is back to normal again today.


710, with thick mucous on her side, with a tinge of blood in it, confirming that she was on heat a couple of days ago. According to my notes it was actually on the 14th, four days ago. Usually ovulation-related blood will show from 24 to 48 hours after the fact but if there was a lot of it, presumably traces of it might continue to clear for a day or two longer.


Stella, picking blackberries while I did the evening's check in the Tank paddock.

Tuesday the 19th

Stephan said he saw these two "engaging together" last evening.

Unless I see them at it, I've been finding it hard to determine when the cows with bull 199 are actually on heat, because he hangs around them for a couple of days before and for some time after mating.


A couple of days ago Stella and I dug out some tiny tree seedlings from the silt beside the stream at the Tank paddock crossing and brought them home. When I came back from a noon cattle check Stella had found some pots and potting mix and was quietly potting them up. Nice.


Jude with a cold drink, in the shade of the grapes, watching Faith playing around on the jetty and in the water.

I tried pulling that chair forward so that its front legs were lower than the back, and the seat angle was not as steep. It was very comfortable. I hereby request a design modification.


These trees at the bottom end of the Windmill lane have gradually been gaining in size. I can't even remember when they were first obvious, growing here on their own sometime since we had the major drain clearing done a couple of decades ago.

calf and man

Stephan and I were bringing the insem cows down the Windmill lane from Mushroom 1 when calf 206 somehow got shoved through the fence into the paddock and had to be retrieved. We've long needed a gate in that corner!

Stephan went along to the gate and back in to the paddock to propel her in the right direction ...


... and I drafted Fancy 126 away from the others and along the bottom of the Windmill lane to entice her calf to come out.

Neither was willingly cooperative, probably having no idea why they'd been separated and Fancy wanting to go with the others along to Flat 4.

You think a job's going to be simple ...

Wednesday the 20th

Jude, Stella and Faith went off on their way home this morning, after a last game of Wingspan. It's a newish board game I saw reviewed before Christmas and contemplated buying and then didn't; so it was nice to have the opportunity to play it this week. Over and over. It was variously fun and frustrating and in the end we agreed to add an extra turn for everyone in each round, because otherwise you just got going and then the game was over. I'd buy it if I didn't think I'd spend too much time playing it when I actually need to be doing other things.

Imagine being able to split the skin from the top of your head and emerge as an entirely new being!

Monarch pupa Monarch pupa Monarch pupa

The middle picture caught the pupa mid-writhe, just after the caterpillar skin had fallen away from the stalk at the top.

I always thought that the metamorphosis happened inside the skin of the pupal case but looking at the third picture, the skin must be formed at the end of the process, because the wings there are distinctly separate from the body.

I have been captivated by this process this year, watching the violent movement involved before the eventual formation of the smooth chrysalis.


I didn't know about this either: this caterpillar set out a track of silk up the window as it climbed. I had noticed that it was sometimes hard to remove a caterpillar from one part of a plant to another and it must have been the presence of this silk that made it so.

This caterpillar eventually pupated on the window. I worried about the pressure of the window on its side but having disastrously tried to move an unfortunately-placed pupating caterpillar earlier in the week, I left this one alone.

Things are getting pretty dry around here now, although with little bits of rain from time to time, it doesn't feel quite as dire as last year's drought. Yet. Last night there was a very fast-moving but violent thunderstorm resulting in 5.8mm in the gauge this morning. It's not really enough to make much of a difference when it starts getting this dry, unless there are regular showers; which look quite unlikely.


Here in the Tank paddock are bull 194 and his small mob.

194 is the bull I would have castrated had we received his genetic test results back in time to do it last season, because he carries the AM defect gene.

But since he has a nice temperament and his pedigree is slightly different from the other bulls, he is the least related to a couple of my cows.

775 and Ellie 171 are the two cows whose calves may require genetic testing next season. The other two cows with him are Ellie 119 and her daughter Henrietta 141, both of whom are on my cull list this year.

119 has a propensity to produce calves with a nervous temperament and I'm nervous about her developing the hip problems of her mother, Demelza. Her daughter 141 has had the bloody nose of late and last year's bull ended up with a too-short lower jaw. This year's calf so far looks absolutely beautiful but I'll be watching him carefully throughout the rest of the year for any similar tendency. It's a trait I don't want to chance introducing and I'm nervous about the hip issues in this branch of the family as well. Everybody has to go sometime.


I love watching the calves when they've just entered a new paddock, taking off at great speed, kicking up their hind legs, running and leaping with their tails in the air.


If I didn't know my cattle well, some of them would make me very nervous. This is Fancy 188, 166's daughter, playing silly buggers this evening, bouncing around behind me as I walked across the paddock.


So many beautiful plants are emerging now along the edge of Route 356.

I think this is Māpere, Gahnia setifolia.

dead sedge

Stephan recently spot-sprayed some of the Australian sedge with glyphosate and while it may be the way we need to tackle it, it's not entirely satisfactory, killing the grass around each plant as well.

There's always so much to do and the longer I do this, the harder it gets and the more I think it would have been a good idea to have bred some obedient, diligent children. Or kidnapped some ready-made.


Up the hill amongst the trees I found white-faced 746 and the bull grazing quite close together.

I climbed further up the hill, looking for other cows and after one of them called, 746 ran up the hill toward her. I think she had suddenly come on heat and was attracted by the strident call.


The bull soon followed and immediately mounted her. Interesting that she'd come to the call of another cow when the bull was right there with her.


Previously-unwell 904, who took so long to lose his dried-up scrotum, has finally lost it - and quite recently, if his licking the wound is any indication.


An area where Stephan didn't spray the gorse last year!

There was a lot going on during the last two summers, with the huge boundary fence replacement and then the new yards. No wonder some things were missed.


I've been experiencing a sense of deep sadness for this land. The bones of dead Puriri are everywhere I look.

Somehow I will regain the wonder of this lovely place. Ignorance was a happier state.

man and pig

As I drove home in the fading light I came across a man and a pig, out for an evening walk.

Thursday the 21st

The place we bought the ute from wanted to do a three month "free" check. They didn't tell us that until it was too late to do anything about it late last year but we organised it for today. Unfortunately we missed the two weeks during which the Mangamuka Gorge was open. So I did a bit of fiddling around with the google map, comparing distances and travel times for the various routes we could take south.

Going via Kaitaia and down the East coast through Taipa, Mangonui, Kaeo and rejoining State Highway 1 at Pakaraka adds about forty minutes to our usual trip time of two hours to Whāngārei. It looked like going up Diggers Valley Road and back to SH1 at Mangamuka Bridge on the south side of the gorge, would take only about as long, with the advantage of missing a lot of traffic on the other roads.

We left ourselves plenty of time, so I was able to drive as slowly as I was comfortable up the valley road, expecting around every hair-pin bend to meet a huge logging truck. There was only one, just up the road from our gate.

There's been a lot of letter-writing in the local paper about the state of Diggers Valley Road because of the logging operations but we thought most of it was in far better condition than any other time we've travelled that way. In a couple of places I was glad of the extra clearance under the ute, but it would have been navigable with care, in an ordinary car.


I stopped on the side of the road to take this picture of Orowhano (I'm reasonably sure), pictures of which I often see posted by a friend and former te reo classmate, who lives somewhere around the other side of these huge peaks.

It took us half an hour to drive to the end of the valley road, then another half hour to get out to Mangamuka Bridge. Through the gorge it takes 35 minutes to Mangamuka, so going this way only added 25 minutes to our trip south. I think we've discovered the best way to go!


In Whāngārei we phoned Sheila from the ute place and she popped down and picked us up and took us home for lunch and a couple of very pleasant hours of conversation.

Sheila was Jill's Vicar's Warden when she was at Christ Church in Whāngārei. Sheila and I had kept in touch throughout Jill's decline and Stephan and I have visited her often in the last few years, always enjoying our time with her.

At about half past two Sheila took us back down to collect the ute and we came home via the East Coast, so we could pop in to Mt Pokaka Timber, there being some specials advertised in this morning's paper. We recorded our times and kilometres and concluded that our morning's route south was far superior to this way home, with all the traffic having to travel north on a single road.

We ducked off at Taipa and came through via the Fairburn Road but it still seemed like a very long way around.


A caterpillar who ran out of energy, perhaps? I watched it yesterday, spending a lot of time wandering around looking for a suitable place to pupate. A caterpillar presumably has a limit on time and energy after stopping eating and going off to commence the next phase.

I wonder if I've contributed to its demise in bringing it into an unnatural environment, where the food is not still growing (the snippets of Swan plant are regularly replaced, kept in cups of water, but not as fresh as on the plant) and the air may be warmer or drier inside. But most have survived and outside they were being predated by wasps, so on balance I think I'm helping.


And there were two newly-emerged butterflies fluttering at the windows, so I took them carefully outside to the garden. Then they flew away to their new lives.

Friday the 22nd

I received an object lesson overnight in the perils of selfishness. When all our visitors arrived, I stashed the remains of a favourite Christmas treat in the back of the fridge, there being really only enough for one person to eat and I wanted to be that person. Then we had visitors continually and I didn't forget about my wicked, hidden delight, but I'd had no quiet opportunity to enjoy it either. Last night that chance arrived and I didn't even share it then, with Stephan. I ate half, put the rest back in the fridge to be savoured again this evening.

At about half past two this morning I was awoken by a horrible pain in my stomach and the very strong feeling that whatever I'd eaten wasn't going to stay where it was for much longer. I spent the next two hours feeling dreadful, eventually crawling into the spare bed with a hot water bottle and sleeping fitfully until morning.

It pained me to realise it was the pudding and that I would have to discard the rest of it. You can keep brandy-infused steamed pudding in the fridge for years but obviously not the lovely cold summer pudding Elizabeth always makes and I've come to love. Stephan didn't openly laugh.


I was going to move the insemination mob out the top gate and along the lane to Flat 3 but then noticed that lame 202 was sitting about half-way down the paddock, so called them down to the bottom gate instead, hoping to reduce the distance she had to travel.

She has been looking very sore again, although continuing to move around with the others and eat and drink normally, so I'm going to let her decide how much she needs to rest and hope she comes right.


This is Fancy 191's daughter, the calf I helped during her birth. She is disappointingly small.

Her pedigree predicts much better growth than this, so perhaps her mother has less milk than she appears to have in her quite adequate udder, or it is not of great quality. Or the calf unluckily got all the dud genes her parents carried and will never amount to much. It could have happened to any of us. Perhaps she'll be talented in art or music ...

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