September was the driest month, October was the warmest and November is definitely heading to be the wettest!! That leaves December to cover all angles - I'm not going to pack my snow boots away until after Christmas. The calves have had to stay inside all week as the bitter southerly howled and the torrential rain beat my newly opened irises to a pulp. There is more bog than dry patches out in the back paddock, more bog than I think I had during the deepest, darkest parts of winter. Even the cows are reluctant to slop through the mudslide to the milking shed. But...my computer now neighs when I start it up and gallops off when I close it down...and I have a mouse for a cursor who eats cheese, wriggles its tail and scares the hell out of a cat whenever I double click!
The bad weather has made me so sad because November is my favourite month of the year. It's a month when I feel I can pay my respects to the spirits of nature. All of the babies who are going to die have usually died; the horrible things like docking and de-horning have been pushed into memory; the garden is blooming with things to smell, pick and eat; the weather is conducive to lounging about, and glass in one hand, nibbles in the other, and there is little to do in November. The garden is planted but not ready to harvest and, apart from marmalade, there are no major jobs to attack in the kitchen. November is a cruisey month - a pause between the weed wars and the Christmas mayhem. It's a month when I like to take the time to stand under each tree, stepping softly across the grassy paddocks, steal silently in and out of the gardens and immerse myself in the feelings coming to me from my environment.
When you take the time to allow your land, your forest, and your crops to give you their spirit you can begin to understand their position of well-being. Most of us understand the phrase 'having good animal husbandry' or 'having the stockman's eye'. Both of these terms refer to a person's ability to walk into a yard or paddock and to sense how well each animal is doing or how each animal is feeling. It's not difficult. The constantly observant farmer will have a hunch that something is not right with a beast two paddocks away or will sense the right moment to move through a herd of Kaimanawas. We need to extend this skill to our land. Stop, look and listen to what each portion of your property is saying. Let its spirit become familiar to you. Let your environment whisper its mind and be receptive to the feelings you have as you slowly wander to every corner of your responsibility. There are still three weeks of November to go. Hopefully, Middelmost and I will be able to have our chat and revise our contract agreement with each other for the year to come.
The upside of this weather is that I am going to have heaps of compost. The rain has made the feeding pad outside the cowshed mulch down completely and I lifted some to have a look. Deep, rich, sloppy humus stared back. It's far too heavy to cart at the moment but give it a month of drier weather and it will do wonders for the orchard garden. The calves have been given a fresh sprinkling of straw each morning and night while they have been shut in and I hope to lift this out and pile it on top of the potato patch next week. There would be about four bales of straw mixed with poos and wees and bits of cut grass. Lovely stuff - should make the spuds 'sit up and howl like a fox'.
This is the first year I think I am going to reach my compost-making target. I try to estimate the amount of food Middelmost has given me (weight-wise) and then give that back to Middelmost as composted mulch. I picked seven buckets of tamarillo, four buckets of tangerine, two buckets of mandarin, eight buckets of oranges, and an estimated fifteen buckets of grapefruit (the tree is only half picked) in an area of approximately six metres by four metres. There is also a lemon tree in the middle of this patch that continually drips large, juicy lemons. The year before I tipped at least a wheelbarrow full of horse manure and sawdust a day under this tiny citrus orchard and the results, this year, speak for themselves. Unfortunately, you can become a bit fanatical about manure - almost to the point of choking back the tears when Luke lifts his tail as we are trotting along the road. As the gold hits the ground I think, "How dare he - Middelmost has worked so hard for that!"
In this weight-for-weight equation, I need to take into account the number of potted plants I give away. I always remember an old friend of mine taking me around her garden.
"This is Mrs P's rose," she would say, or "These dahlias came from Mrs B's garden," or, "I took a cutting of this when Fred and I were staying at So-and-So's house."
Her garden wasn't flowers and shrubs...it was people and memories. Another friend advised me years ago to "give your garden away".
"It's an insurance policy," he said, "If the local topdressing pilot accidentally gives your place a generous dose of thistle spray you can at least get cuttings back from your favourite or irreplaceable plants. My Dad's blackcurrant bushes are a perfect example. My bushes came from cuttings from his bushes and, like his, produce a big, full-flavoured fruit ideal for jam or for wine. Dad has long gone but potted-up cuttings from 'his' bushes have become a sought-after item not only with family members but with all sorts of acquaintances. His blackcurrant bushes have gone in many directions and each time I am able to load a visitor up with one I get the chance to savour something special about my Dad. Last year I was visiting my niece and, as she proudly showed me around her garden, I chuckled as she pointed and said, "Those are Grandad's blackcurrants". So I frequently give pieces of my treasured flora away as a safeguard against a disaster and to create a reason to be remembered. This year, for the first time ever, I don't think I am going to run out of the homemade potting mix.
The bad weather also put a pot to Mrs Pig's new house being built as the local handyman sensibly cancelled the concrete laying for the foundations. But with the calves being moved into the cowshed and the Black Angus Babies going off to boarding school I was able to do a shuffle around and give Mrs Pig the brand new calf house in the forest.
"Very nice," she said. "Very plush - now where's the tele?"
I apologized and moved Mr Pig out of the pig paddock and into the other half of the forest to give her some company through the railing fence. Mrs Pig certainly looks as if she is due any time now and I wait with baited breath. You have very little control over sows in labour - you just have to cross your fingers and hope the piglets arrive correctly and that they survive the first couple of days.