Autumn is a time when I feel like a Smug-Little-Squirrel-Nutkin gathering up the summer and storing it away, but this year, things have gone wrong. The season is just not right and panic has set in. The tamarillos look blandly green and wilted from frost attacks, the walnuts spread out on the veranda look just as wet as when I gathered them, and the trays of silver beet and broccoli plants have been screaming for a week "Plant me now! Plant me now!"
The kitchen floor is covered with buckets of food waiting to be processed and my thoughts turn to our pioneering women who had to get it right or the family starved. The last of the apples are musting away in an evil-looking mess, which will become cider by Christmas (yum!). I need to juice the final buckets of citrus for freezing; there are feijoas falling out of an old box waiting to go into the musting barrel after the apples, and the passionfruit is wrinkling beyond recognition - I need to scoop them into ice cube-sized blocks for topping winter desserts.
In the meantime, Winter has marched in. It is soooo cold and I am rather worried at the rate my fires are consuming the wood. Last year I bribed foresters, who were working locally, to drop five of the shining gum trees in the forest. It took them half an hour to drop them and saw them up into manageable pieces, and an hour to demolish the beer and pumpkin scones. Of the five trees dropped, the year before last, four have coppiced away again and should be ready for a second harvest in about six years. With fifty trees in the forest, my thinking is that I should be dropping seven or eight trees a year. I believe August/September is the best time to harvest gum trees but, as far as I am concerned, anytime there is a handy chainsaw in sight is the right time!
Mrs Pig started to drop in condition at the beginning of last week and I decided it was time for some of her family to move on. It was rather fortunate - I had seven piglets to give away and a Friend-of-a-Friend had several sacks of whole barley to give away (fancy that!). Mrs Pig will pick up very quickly with boiled barley in her morning milk and the remaining Three Little Pigs should round out well as they help her chew through the supply (not to mention Last Thyme and Luke).
Finding food for Mrs Pig, at this time of the year, is a little difficult with the seasonal changeover. It makes you wonder how the wild creatures get on. There is a huge strawberry tree by the cow shed and Albert-the-Cat and I have an agreement. The tree is always packed with Tuis and he says he'll guard the bottom fruits for me to pick for Mrs Pig so long as he can get the bacon rinds at breakfast. Mrs Pig just loves the strawberry tree fruits and it helps to brighten her regular diet of cut grass and milk. There is a cottage bakery up the road and Mrs Pig (and piglets) enjoy the odd delivery of baking woopsies. (Their bread is absolutely delicious - especially as most of the fancy loaves have Middelmost herbs in them.)
I am frantically planting trays of silver beet which will provide winter greens for Mrs Pig when conditions are too tough to cut grass. I plant them everywhere. Any space that's available gets turned into a silver beet patch. As a vegetable, I hate them and it gives me great pleasure to heave armfuls of the disgusting stuff over the fence and into the pig paddock!
This week it was Little Cream Cheese's turn to go into the forest to dry off. The white-faced Hereford Bossy Boots is feeding is now once a day and I'll milk her each morning for the house and Mrs Pig.
On Saturday I was out the back tubbing up next year's blackcurrant bushes into tyres stacked two high on a previously unproductive piece of ground when, bang, crash, thump - the neighbours tipper dumped a huge pile of spuds into the carport. With a grin from ear to ear, she called out as she drove off, "They're chipping spuds - of the McDonalds variety. I thought you might like some so I backed the trailer under the harvester. Happy peeling!"
Right! thought I as I viewed the mountain and visualized the ever-decreasing space in the freezer. It's amazing what a regular supply of milk and cream can turn into. However! I drew breath, devised my plan, grabbed a pile of sacks, and commenced. With the trusty triumph loaded up, off I went. Firstly to the lady who gives me eggs.
"I thought you'd like a sack of spuds."
"Oo, yes please," she replied, "Do you need some eggs?"
"Oo, yes please," I lied.
Next, to the bakery. "I've brought you a sack of spuds.." and I came away with freshly made pannetone, some of which was popped on top of a sack of spuds for the people who own the orchard where I get the windfalls from.
Back down the road, I stopped off at the dairy farm where I grow my pumpkins (he lets me sow a row down the edge of the turnip crop).
"I've got another plastic drum for you," he said, heaving the sack up onto his back. "I'll drop it off when I go to town."
Heading home I call into the neighbours on the other side of Middelmost (who grow spuds as well).
"Would you like some eggs?" I asked.
"Oo, yes please," she replied honestly. "I've just made some cream puff cases - would you like some?"
And so on.
I made it home an hour and a half later with eggs; fresh bread and pannetone; a plastic drum on the way; cream puff cases to have for afternoon tea, and a space to put my car back into. Bartering is like aroha. If you have plenty, give it away. It eventually goes round in circles and comes back to you.
Yesterday I came home to find a ton of carrots in my carport! Bartering, I reminded myself with gritted teeth, is like aroha. It will always come back to you. Possibly not in the way you might imagine, but it will always come back to you.