Got The Plot Farm, Part 2

Part 2 of 2 recounting the highlights of our farming experience:

The Compost Pile – We worked like mules and at the end of the day had a rotting pile of poop with a tarp on top! One of the rules of organic farming is that all compost has to come up over 56 degrees Celsius (120ish F) for 3 consecutive days in order to kill any parasites from non-organic materials. We used four ingredients: mulch from non-sprayed trees (almost organic), horse poop (non-organic), leaves/sticks washed up on the local beach (non-organic), and green grass fresh cut from the farm (organic). We built layers of the first three ingredients, with a thick layer of green grass in between each layer, until we had a pile about a three feet wide, 4.5 feet tall and about 30 feet long. We then threw tarps over it to contain the heat and hoped for the best. Four days later the thermometer read 66C (140ish F) and held for almost a week. Success!!

Our compost pile!

Pinnacles Tramp – One of our first days that we took as a break from the farm was filled with a day hike up to an area called The Pinnacles. The Pinnacles is a very steep mountainous area from old volcanic events that ends up being the high point in the middle of a 30mi wide peninsula. From the top we were able to see the ocean and farms on both sides of the spine that runs up the middle of the peninsula. It was very interesting to note the incredible amount of effort and development that made this hike manageable as it was recovered land from the old logging days of taking down the native forest; much of the walking path was built from a painstakingly difficult horse trail that brought supplies into the mountainside in the early 1920s.

Overnight Getaway – We were given the keys to the car and off we went! Nancy came home from the market with a bit of a cold and offered the keys to her car for Labour Weekend so we could explore a bit of the Coromandel Peninsula. Labour Weekend, which signifies the start of summer, is one of the busiest tourist weekends of the year and we almost had to spend it at home reading… Boo! Well we jumped into her car – driving on the wrong side of the road (the drive on the left side here) – and took off toward the beach! We spent an overnight in the back of the car because the campground didn’t have enough trees to string our hammock and and went the next day to the hidden New Chums Beach. New Chums ranks in the world’s top 20 undeveloped beaches and it turned out to be just as advertised. A 30 minute walk through the woods that can only be done at low tide to a hidden mile-long beach, with all of 50 people on it for the busiest weekend of the year. Rough life we’re living here I might say…

A view off the Coromandel Peninsula while we were took Labour Weekend off from work.

Beef, it’s what’s for dinner – Our first two weeks at the farm we were scraping the bottom of the meat barrel as the previous “beast” had been killed several months ago and the meat selection was low. The chickens were also eaten a couple weeks ago and the cows which are farmed for beef were not big enough to be killed… until today! Nick the “Homekill Guy” showed up with his outfitted 4-wheel drive truck, 6’x10′ trailer, and .223 rifle. About ten minutes later the chosen mature steer laid on the ground and Nick was sharpening his knives. About only thirty minutes from when the beast hit the ground, it had been quartered and put into the back of his trailer with the other 3 that he had processed since lunch. The hide was in one barrel to send to Italy for leather, organs in another to be turned into dog food, and 4 quarters of the cow on his way to the butcher’s in the back of the truck.

Beef, it’s what’s for dinner! (Lindsay watching Nick, the “Home Kill” slaughter man get the next months cow to the butcher)

Halloween in New Zealand – Honestly, a bit of a let down. Halloween hasn’t really caught on over here so what did we do? We went out and had a beach party with a bonfire! Of course it rained and the kiwis had to prove how tough they were and no one wanted to be the first one to quit. Hey, at least Linds got to sample all of the candy and I cleaned up the box of cookies no one wanted.


Lindsay cooking in her “gum boots” in the eco house’s kitchen

Hot Water Beach – Our final tourist experience on the peninsula was also the most popular tourist stop for the region. Hot Water Beach is one of those experiences that you just couldn’t miss while in New Zealand! We had spent the morning at a different beach, lying in the sun and playing in the water at the picturesque Cathedral Cove, and then took a short drive to world famous Hot Water Beach. We had borrowed 2 shovels from the farm that we used to dig a bathtub-sized hole in the sand, which during low tide would fill with steaming hot water from a thermal spring behind the beachhead. As the spring made it to the ocean it fanned out and we were surrounded by 250 of our closest friends digging their own jacuzzi in the sand. Talk about a sandy experience – our bottoms were absolutely filled with fine sand!


Down and Dirty

No pictures, no frills no funny stories.

We’ve been at Mike’s Brewery these past 10 days where internet access is quite limited, but it ends tomorrow morning.  We’re headed out to do a 5 day canoe trip down the Whanganui River (assuming you want to look it up) which is one of the “Great Walks” here in NZ and the only one that isn’t done on foot.  We bought a car and will rent a canoe for the trip.  We can sleep in the back of the car instead of paying for a hostel when our hammock isn’t an option which will greatly offset the cost of the $1560 Subaru which we can likely sell for the same if not more when it comes time to leave. Hopefully it doesn’t break!

After the canoe trip we will be spending the next 7 days at a bakery/pizzeria in the southern part of the North Island. Hopefully we can finish up with the farm post, and then put one up about Mike’s Brewery and the river trip.


“Those White People Aren’t That Bad”

Trying not to sound preachy or elitist, we have come to find a way that we can verbalize our current and hopefully many future interactions with native/aboriginal people that we meet in any of our off the grid, non touristy travels. This came about during a lengthy layover at the less developed Fijian airport of Suva. We had a long break before our final flight to Auckland and ended up walking into the local town, evidently a non-standard practice. We spent a few hours walking down the main highway with several taxis and regular folks stopping to see if we needed help or if we were lost… As we started walking into what would reasonably be classified as slums we started to second guess our logic.

But you know what? The people who look scary, with the unkempt yards and feral dogs were the first to flash a smile and say good morning. And when greeted with a smile and a “good morning” directed at them they lit up with a beaming smile. We did nothing that day except wave to the kids at a local school and try to buy some food off the local market and shops that were not following the most stringent health laws. We didn’t get mugged or robbed, no one tried to swindle us out of cash but rather seemed pleasantly surprised that the rich white tourists were willing to walk through their town and say hi to them rather than taking a bus to their resort property. (We were in Fiji after all)

It’s funny how regardless of how different the places I’ve been, be it Afghanistan or Fiji, one thing has remained constant; if you realize you are no better than the people you’re around and make an actual effort to embrace and respect the culture things normally turn put for the better. This led us to develop a bit of a mantra for our travels: we want to leave a shop, restaurant or street corner with the local saying “

  • huh, those white people weren’t all that bad.”
  • Got The Plot Farm, Part 1

    Days 1 through 13

    Hello everyone! By the exorbitant number of exclamation points, different vocabulary, and extra ‘u’s in my spelling, you will likely notice that I (Lindsay) have started writing on the blog. Yep, I fully give Clayt credit for all of the funny and potentially much more entertaining posts. For those who are interested I will be offering a more detailed view of what our working days here in New Zealand are filled with as wwoofers, as we go from veggie farming to wine making to who knows what!

    Highlights from the first half of what we expect to be our longest continuous Wwoofing stop:

    Day 1 – We made it to the bus stop in Thames with no certainty that our hosts knew we’d be arriving today. An email was sent late last night with our arrival time, but we haven’t idea when they check their inbox! Just as we were picking up our backpacks to start the 8km trek to their farm a young woman poked her head into the bus stop asking for us. Woohoo! We got to the farm, met the families, and without any wasted time got right tour first day of work: weeding buttercup and doc from the summer beds. ‘Buttercup’ and ‘doc’ would soon become our arch nemesis.

    Our outdoors toilet, not bad for an outhouse!

    The Cabin Cleanup – Later in the afternoon of day two, which turned out to be one of our only rainy days we borrowed some rags and non-detergent soap and set to cleaning up our humble abode that we would call home for the next month (Clayt and I were both secretly wishing we had bleach!) The spiders run rampant in an empty house so we had our work set out for us trying to get the cobwebs and droppings cleaned out! We finished our cleaning project on our first Sunday which is generally a day off from farm tasks and a day we would continue to have to ourselves.

    Planting and Castings – Eric taught us all about worm castings on day 3 as we prepared to do some planting. It is a fairly common practice here in New Zealand to use a certain type of worm to speed up the transformation of waste food to useable fertilizer all in an old tub (which for some reason are everywhere here…) Apparently this process is even better than natural decomposition and in Eric’s heavily Dutch accented words “the Volls Voyce of fertilizer”. We then used the castings to plant a few rows of capsicums…aka peppers. Capsicums are not the only different name for a common food we’ve encountered here; beets are called beetroot, chard is called silverbeet, zucchini is known as courjette and corned beef is referred to as silverside! Planting is obviously a common activity here on an organic produce farm and we spend about 3/4 of our efforts on either preparing beds for planting, putting the actual plants in the ground or weeding doc and buttercup from the beds. Because of an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the farm much of the work that we do is by hand and without tractors. Hooray!

    Ex-US Army fuel bladder turned water storage container… legally purchased, of course!

    Stella the Cow – We milked the cow all on our own! We had both been taught separately by Rowan (one of the tenant farmers here) and deemed capable to take care of this task without supervision for the morning milking. Stella is a bit temperamental and doesn’t look too kindly on women so Clay has to get her back to the milking shed. After a bit of a udder wash we are under way and as long as you are speedy with your milking she is normally a pretty good sport. Her calf Rosie likes to come and investigate and also likes men more than women… lets just say that Clay now knows what it is like to have his lower back licked by a calf while milking her mom.

    Lindsay on her milking duties with Stella!

    The Kapa Haka – What an awesome event to go see. Not just a 5 minute routine but this was a 20 to 25 minute native Mauri speaking, dancing and performing routine put together by grade school (3rd to 8th grades) students and the competed in town. This was our first weekend and got a chance to go in with one of the families and ended up staying here all day watching the incredible performances. Groups of grown adults would not have done as well as these guys. The thing that set it apart was that the whole performance was based on the Mauri culture and keeping alive the traditions and it was accepted and encouraged by all members of mainstream New Zealand. It would give you goose bumps when the members of the crowd that supported a given school would stand up and issue a ‘response haka’ in congratulations to the members performing on stage. (See Videos)

    The Fire Dragon – Our first, and only (that sounds worse than it really is) building project of our time here also involved our first time putting a roof on something by ourselves. The “fire dragon” which is actually a earthen cob pizza oven sat in a beautiful patio area without a proper roof. Well we fixes that right up! With a dozen sheets of reused metal roofing, a box of screws and a little bit of trial and error we put a roof over the dragon’s head right proper. After we were done we just hoped that it didn’t rain until we left so they wouldn’t see the inevitable leakiness of our roof…

    The Cob Fire Dragon

    Organic Farming in New Zealand

    In the days to come we plan to post a short day by day of our working gig here at an organic farm on the north island and hopefully at our other random stops on the way. This first one will be a bit of a description as to where we are and what we’re doing as well as the mindset behind hitch hiking and living with someone for a few hours of work per day.

    Eric and Nancy’s Earthen House. The central element of the property is completely off the grid and uses solar for electricity and heating.

    “Charles’ Place” AKA as our 300sqft home for 4 weeks!

    Where are we: we’re staying at a multi-family organic farm 5mi from the town of Thames on the Coromandel peninsula of the North Island. We sleep in a 300sqft cabin that is very smiliar to what you would expect at a camp. We had the option to stay in the host’s house but the privacy of our own building was a nice incentive. The farm is about 10 acres with three families staying on it, one older couple that own the property and two younger families (late thirties) that basically do a modern day version of share cropping. Coming into it we didn’t know if we should suspect crazy hippy communal love cult or super religious bible thumping amish folks but it is quite to the contrary. It’s quite simple and each family has two days a week of garden/work duties and they all pitch in when work needs to be done. The land is comprised of a large raised bed garden system with beds that are cycled through as the year progresses. They also have a dairy cow pasture and a food cow pasture which between those and the garden they consume the majority of the land. Also on the land is an orchard which is primarily citrus based with many mandarin trees, a worm farm/compost area, several green houses, a couple barns/storage sheds, a duck pond and of course yards/living spaces for the families.

    What we do: As per the agreement for “wwoofing”, we are required to do 24hrs of work per week in exchange for room and board. Meals are free and so are the standard requirements of living such as laundry and showers. We try to work more than four hours a day in order to try to bank hours so that we can travel the peninsula and see the area. Our work is basically grunt work as we are the privates when it comes to the farming team. We do a lot of weeding, mulching and digging in the dirt but they also teach us quite a bit as we go, especially when it comes to doing organic farming. Much of the work is done without tractors or machinery whenever possible so we are well acquainted with hand tools.

    The “summer beds” that we have been working on. This is about half of the garden area.

    Our first full day at the farm we learned the routine of a working day: wake up at 7am, be downstairs for breakfast by 7:15. Eat the morning meal, wash dishes by hand (a dishwasher takes up too much electricity) and be ready to work by 8. Work for 2.5 hours, then return inside for ‘smoker’ which is the morning tea and snack. At 11:30 we return outside for usually a second task until lunch at 1pm. This is the end of the work day for us wwoofers having completed our four hours. If we choose to work a longer day we’ll do another job for a few hours, or if not we hang out, go for a hike, read, nap or write blog posts. Next comes supper, the clean-up, tea, and bed around 10!

    What isWwoofing: Willing Workers On Organic Farm. Entering somebody’s home as a wwoofer is part of a verbal contract to complete 4-6 hours of work, 5-6 days per week, in exchange for room and board while getting to meet some of the locals and learn about a different way of life. If a family would like to bring in tourists but they do not have an organic farm, they are known as a Cultural Exchange Hosts with the same contract. Most hosts will allow the tourist to accumulate hours for a later day off.