We know spring is coming when the snow drops flower in the Cottage Paddock here at Struan Farm. These flowers date back to John's parents, they have always been in this spot on the edge of the Cottage drive. The sheep seem to leave them alone, for some reason they don't get nibbled.
I was interested to get down at eye level with the flowers to see inside them. Normally they droop or "drop" down, hence the name.
The rainy evening before last Farmer John walked up the drive to deliver Struan Farm's first pet lamb of the season, hooray! He'd found this little one in the paddock without mum, and wasn't able to find or reconnect her with mum. I've been pestering him for pets, worrying that we might not have any this season. This past week I went so far as to cast a wider net, sending emails to friends who have farms to put the word out that we'd be happy to have any abandoned lambs they didn't want to look after. While I kept trying to console myself that no abandoned lambs would be a good thing, pet lambs bring me so much joy and happiness I really can't imagine a year without (at least) one. It would be a considerable void--I'd miss those baaas outside the bedroom window at 6:05 a.m. much as I moan about them.
In any event, let me introduce you to "Cookie." She's a lively little girl with an endearing brown tip on one ear. She spent the first night in the garage, but now the Pet Pen is home. No issues drinking from the bottle at all!
Here's hoping she might get a friend or two joining her in the next week or so, but if not we'll make sure she's not lonely. You will enjoy getting to know her I'm sure.
p.s. given continued rain I decided to pull out one of the leftover "lamb coverlets" from last year, like the one so fashionably worn by Pip. Cute, eh?
It's shaping up to be a bit of a floral week on the blog front. Apologies if that's not your thing, but things are starting to bloom here at Struan Farm! A few days ago I came across this wee abutilon flower in the Homestead's roadside wooded garden. I recall digging the young plant up from another area of the garden where it had self-seeded and transplanting it--it seems to be quite happy here.
Abutilon are part of the Mallow family, Malvaceae. Common names are "Indian Mallow" or "Chinese Lantern." We plant them around the property because they are easy to grow and the native tuis love to feed on them.
You'll tell me if I've gone over the cliff with too many photos of the camellias from the gardens at Struan Farm, won't you? I've been overwhelmed by them, really. I take them for granted most of the time, but after a recent stroll around the gardens I'm finding them quite amazing. The sheer variety that John's parents planted, different types and different colours. While sister-in-law Anna can rattle off most of their names, John and I are pretty hopeless on the score.
But let me share some of them with you:
Lots to be thankful for, isn't there?
The "Mad Mower" and I started a bit of a spring clean in the Pet Paddock at Struan Farm over the weekend. I picked up fallen branches and raked leaves while John mowed and mulched the rest. It was much needed, and looks much better. In September I'll be able to get some paddock grass seed down on the bare spots around the trees. These are caused by a combination of fallen leaves and sleeping sheep!
Nephew Mike continues clean up work on the fallen tulip tree in the far back, along with the other trees damaged when that toppled over on them in a recent winter storm.
I couldn't decide between the two options above. The first means "going crazy," while the second means "being keen" about something. Suffice it to say that at times both apply here in Piopio at Struan Farm!
You will (of course) remember John's "Next Big Thing," the massive area of scrubby paddock that is being fenced off from stock to plant for an extended native bush reserve. The one that runs along the stream down to the Mangaotaki River from one of our existing QEII protected bush reserves. Well, progress has not been exactly rapid on this little project, the weeks of rain this winter have not helped. The fencing constructed hasn't proven to be sheep proof, we've watched lambs hurdle the fencing and jump big limestone rocks to get into the area, much to John's dismay. Weed control hasn't commenced either, something that needs to be done before any trees get planted, let alone a thousand or so. So considerably more groundwork is needed on a number of fronts.
John has been stressing out about all this, since we have a narrow seasonal window in which to plant. This weekend reality collided with enthusiasm, and an executive decision was made to grow on the native trees purchased thus far for another year, repotting them all.
You know who is jumping into this fray, right? I'm learning all about PB3 bags vs PB5 vs. PB whatever. I've already done some flax and some kahikateas to warm up for the main act, although the work may very well get done in instalments given everything else I've got going on.
I've set up a staging area with a wooden bench near our mountain of potting soil. It's actually quite easy, relaxing work relative to the weeding I've been doing lately, good to have a change of pace. And I swear the plants seem to perk up noticeably after being put into a larger bag with fresh soil and a good water!
We've had some old silver spoons and forks sitting the drawers at Struan Farm for years now, gathering dust and turning black. They are monogrammed with an "R" for "Robertson" and are most likely silver plate (the marks indicate "EP" which I think means electroplated). Not sure what happened to the knives, so it's not like we can really use what we've got for dinner place settings. John thinks the knives would have had bone handles. We do, however, have some proper soup spoons, so I decided that John and I could use those for a recent supper of parsnip and kumara soup. The silver polish was pulled out, elbow grease applied and the tarnish disappeared.
This brought us to a discussion over supper about whether or not they belonged to John's parents (wedding present?), or to his grandfather, Sir Carrick. John doesn't remember. I will get to the bottom of it eventually, or maybe not, since a number of family members have already reported back that they have no idea about them. There are marks I can research, but then again maybe we don't need to know, and it's just best to use them for what they are: spoons and forks.
A few days ago I planted the first of what will be many seed trays in the glasshouse here at Struan Farm, of both veggies and flowers. I started, predictably, with tomatoes. Yes, lots of different heirlooms, some once again from Mr. V. from Dargaville, some I saved myself from last year, some from King's Seeds, and some from Bristol's, a new source I discovered this year. Oxheart, Mexican Pink, Big Red, Beefsteak, etc. etc. etc.
I've also started some chiles, parsley (curly for my hedge in the rose garden), and marigolds, echinops, and scabiosa. Heaps more to do in the coming weeks, but it's a start.
I've also deployed the label maker in a somewhat compulsive (or perhaps desperate) attempt to keep the tomato varieties straight. I'm usually good until they're planted out, at which point I lose track. I'm determined to try better on that score this year, but we'll see what happens. Mr. V. recommends a map. I know permanent marker on wooden sticks doesn't work, don't waste your time with that.
When family visit Struan Farm they know to expect "jobs." Like many things at the farm, this started with John's dad Maurie, who was known for sending kids up trees or onto roofs to do things, often quite precarious things from a protective mother's (or spouse's) perspective.
Robertsons don't really sit around much, and I am pretty much in their camp. I remember a bathroom and bedroom being painted one Christmas Day before everyone went to Anna's house for dinner (that one was a bit much for me). But when family members arrive they typically ask what jobs they're meant to do, even the grandchildren. Everyone helps.
A few days ago John led an expedition down to the river to collect pine cones, which we use for kindling in the fireplaces at our house and the Cottage. He'd noticed they were starting to drop from the trees above the river track. So we grabbed some sacks and rallied willing workers to gather them up for next year.
p.s. We do try to make "jobs" fun!
Of course our granddaughters Ella and Livvy needed to reconnect with pet lamb Rosie during their recent visit. So everyone trudged off to search the paddocks for the little darling. She proved elusive for a bit, I'm almost wondering if she was playing hide and seek with us as we walked around calling out her name.
But eventually she came running up and everyone was reunited:
After she'd had enough cuddles she ran off to rejoin the mob, jumping up in the air several times to show off for the girls. What a girl!
Not what you're thinking, okay? It's way too cold for that here in Piopio right now!
This past weekend I made my first "naked" cake at Struan Farm for granddaughter Ella's birthday. "Naked" cakes, where the sides of the cake are left un-iced, have been trendy for awhile now, I'm seriously late to this table (only the top and between the layers are iced or filled with fruit and cream). For Ella's celebration cake I baked the easy carrot cake recipe from Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa Foolproof." For the icing I made The Free Range Cook's cream cheese icing, adding Fresh As freeze dried pineapple powder for a bit of fruit flavour.
After baking and icing the cake I realised it looked a wee bit, well naked.
If I'd had some edible flowers in season in the gardens those would have worked for the top, but absent those I finely chopped walnuts (which were in the cake), and sprinkled those in a ring around the top edge. Voila--a naked cake that looked good and tasted delicious. Happy Birthday Ella!
We've actually enjoyed several sequential days of sunshine here at Struan Farm this week, hooray. It meant I was able to finish cutting back the roses and hydrangeas, also pruning the apple trees. But you know what blue skies in winter means, don't you? Cold nights and heavy frosts!
The daffs got iced a wee bit but they tell me they're okay....
While I'm marking time waiting for a pet lamb or pet lambs to land this season at Struan Farm, I find myself smiling at pics of last year's pets when they first arrived. Especially compared with how they look today.
Here's Rosie so you can see what I'm talking about:
Quite the change, eh? But she's still a sweetie. I also can't believe how tiny Pip was!
Not sure we entirely agree with the expression "you can never have too much of a good thing" here at Struan Farm. Take firewood for example. Please! The storm damaged tulip tree in the Pet Paddock and the five poplars taken down by the road crew left at the back gate pushed us completely over the edge. Our firewood sheds are full, we're now stacking wood along fence lines to dry.
I was enlisted by John to find people who needed firewood. We've had three different parties come out with trailers and chainsaws to help themselves. Nephew Mike and several other family members have been loaded up. Last week I also found a friend of ours who was running low, so we've stocked her up for the rest of this winter and most of next.
Now that the existing stockpile is down I've been told my marketing job is done. We can also start to think about felling a few macrocarpa trees that need to come down....
Something unusual happened over the weekend here at Struan Farm: the sun came out! I was able to get out in the gardens to cut back hydrangeas and roses. I'm not done just yet, but almost. John and I also pruned Monty's Surprise and Peasgood Nonsuch, although we still have to get up to the Old Orchard Paddock to prune the other apple trees there.
On my way back from the Homestead gardens I saw Rosie in the Cottage Paddock with her mob. I decided to stop and say hello, give her a rub. She came right up to me, but after a brief hello was far more interested in scratching herself on the Rav!
Good to see you too, Rosie. Hope you were able to scratch that itch!
This past week Nadia Lim posted about making some delicious looking Apple Pastry Rosettes. They were supposed to be simple. Conceptually, they are. But I will tell you that practically, they aren't. And you know that I bake and make pastry quite a bit here at Struan Farm. Friends Kris and Bob and I sampled something quite similar earlier this year at the Wakefield Heritage Apple Fair. So I was keen to try making them.
Thin slices of apple halves (doused in lemon juice and heated in the microwave to soften, then cooled) are set out overlapping along a strip of butter puff pasty that has been brushed with apricot jam. The apples are then dusted with cinnamon and the rosette is rolled up. My first effort looked great in the tins, but I had problems getting them out without deconstructing them. I wondered if I should have greased the tins or used non-stick muffin tins. I queried Nadia, but didn't get a response. They tasted great, so I decided I needed to try again.
"Take 2" was a considerable improvement. I watched her video. I saw that Nadia was using puff pastry that was a different size from the standard Edmonds butter puff pastry available in the grocery store to the average consumer. Her rectangles, and thus her strips, were wider than mine. (She used a ruler, I hadn't.) Her apple slices were also much smaller, so the ratio of apple to pastry was completely different, hers allowed for a cushion of pastry at the bottom of each rosette. She also used larger muffin tins than I have. Probably "Texan."
So I adjusted what I could, using a spoon to dig them out of the muffin tins when warm. A better result if still a wee bit mangled:
They are yummy served warm with cream, yogurt or ice cream, and worth the effort. But they are fiddly and just saying to clear the air: NOT THAT SIMPLE!
I'm not sure why we haven't noticed before now that the old willow tree down at the pond at Struan Farm creates a rather scenic natural arch. I finally opened my eyes this week:
It's a terrible thing to say, but sometimes we truly do miss seeing all of the beauty that surrounds us. I guess this was yet another message to pay attention!
For some reason Clifford likes to nibble the "green manure" plants I've grown from seed in the vegetable gardens over winter at Struan Farm. These are meant to help the soil between crops. He knows he shouldn't be doing this, and he keeps a cautious eye out for a reprimand while he munches away. Recently I took the chicken wire down that we've had around this area so that we can think about proper fencing or raised bed options ahead of summer/spring planting--he now must think it's okay to graze here with the wire down. John and I had fun watching him eating away out the kitchen window, casting occasional guilty glances toward the front door.
Silly dog! I guess these greens must have something he craves nutritionally, something lacking from his rather expensive "senior and mature" Eukanuba dog food..Shortly I'll dig the plants into the soil, so he might as well nibble on them while he can.
I must report that John has gone over the edge recently here at Struan Farm. Over the edge of our roadside bank, that is. This is the one that partially slipped a few weeks ago. The road crew has since removed part of the bank and taken out five poplar trees. We are now left to contend with a gaping hole at the edge of our orchard. And in all honesty a bank that is still slipping, since they haven't really finished the job properly. They've done what they were able to get approval to do. But we can see the section that will slip next due to what they've done, and left undone!
In the meantime John has planted native golden totaras in a line further in (anticipating where the next slips will occur), as well as some natives in the gap to help shore up the bank.
(You can see the section we think will slip next, to the right of John in the back of photos above and below.... the other side is also a concern.)
Neither of us is terribly keen planting any further down this unstable bank than where John is standing above. It's a straight drop down to SH3 and traffic. So we have cut some ponga (tree fern) fronds with spores on them and tossed those down into the dirt, hoping some of the spores might grow into tree ferns (we'll be very lucky if that happens).
Yep, this is a situation. We'll keep you posted.