This time of year is filled with anniversaries for us here at The Outpost. This week marked one year since we moved here.
It seems like as good a time as any to stop and do some reflecting on how far we’ve come, and what we’ve experienced.
The very first improvement we made when we moved here was to erect a washing line. It’s just like the line my family had growing up. The very first load of washing here was a load of towels, and when I went to hang them up on the existing line, it sagged and they touched the grass.
I hate laundry, and if we didn’t make the improvement, I would have avoided it even more than I usually do. It was one of those upgrades which was required just to function at a basic level. For a long time, it felt like ‘at a basic level’ was our main goal here.
We built gardens. This time last year was a real struggle as I quickly went to work growing lots of seedlings and ended up with nowhere to plant them. The original garden beds drove me crazy as the kikuyu grass constantly invaded. So we’ve been slowly remodelling and building giant beds with PVC paths. So far, they are doing a great job protecting us from reinvasion. After lockdown, I built my strawberry beds, which are starting to take off now as well.
I got our soil tested. Overall, we are very lucky with our soils here, but it needs improvements. I’m noticing a difference in the health of my plants with all the potions and powders I now apply. I picked up my first trailer-load of compost, and about now, I’m thinking about getting another one.
With so many birds, we get quite a few eggs now. We’ve met our neighbours and one of them buys our excess chicken eggs from us, which covers the cost of their food. I’m introducing my friends and family to the joys of duck eggs this season as I attempt to limit the number of ducks we have next year. It turns out we have five or six males, so we are still considering the idea of duck-fat potatoes. That’s way too many dudes and the pond turns into a pool orgy each time I clean it. We have also discovered Richie McCaw (our all-black random Pomeranian duck) is a female duck. Surprise!
We’ve planted over 100 trees. Mostly native trees, but also a few fruit trees. There was a much-abused lemon tree that has been with me for nearly a decade that finally got a home (and which is now thriving), the bananas, a pinenut tree, a grapevine, a braeburn apple, and an apricot tree I grew from a seed given to me by my aunt.
Last summer, we experienced our first drought and put ourselves on water restrictions. I learned the true levels of rank my body can get to as I sweated my ass off killing weeds and restricting water. But we made it through without running out of water. After a truly impressive rainy winter, we are now trying to ensure there’s enough room in the tank for the next rainfall. It’s nice to have a shower that runs the entire time, instead of turning it off to scrub.
I have obsessed about our weather data. On the first day I took possession of the property, I installed a weather monitor. I tracked down some historical data and used it to measure against. There’s a spreadsheet. The results of year one are a bit frightening based on the way our land currently works. I began thinking about restoring a wetland area we have out the back and looking at ways to hold onto the water that we get at the wrong time of year.
We are learning the rhythms of farming. Right now, I am waiting for the first scorching spring day so we can get an early start on cleaning the troughs. We got this wrong last year and ended up with an algal bloom in a trough in the middle of the drought. We won’t make that mistake again.
2020, of course, has had some particularly unusual events. Back in January I got to go find and herd back our escaped cows during the day everything went yellow. It messed with my head and it was one of the single most physically difficult experiences I’ve had here.
When we moved here, a tourist plane used to fly over our house every day. Twice a day during summer. I waved at them if I was outside, and sometimes Richard mooned them. We haven’t seen that plane since the day before lockdown. I kind of miss it.
There’s also a distinct lack of helicopters these days. It makes me wonder how many of the ones we used to get were rich tourists going to resorts further north. I’m not sad that there are fewer helicopters at all.
And, of course, we got engaged. Can’t forget that one.
For all the work we’ve put in this year, there is 50x the number of jobs still on the to-do list. I’m usually so focused on what’s still to go that I forget about how far we’ve come. We’re on track to achieve the goal of living off this land sustainably.
I’m still learning about exactly how to do that, but that’s the thing – I am learning. And we are progressing. Rural life has it’s challenges, but it’s also a surprise and a delight every single day. One year on, and I don’t regret a single second.