Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Some time since the last post...

...and much has happened in the interim period.

A bit of success; the chicken coop and run is completed and is operational.  The chickens all went in to their new home on Sunday evening, after the run was assembled, the perches installed and the gate hung.  We'll leave them in there for at least a week before letting them free range for several hours of each day again.

There's a number of innovations I'd like to add to the basic structure.  I intend to collect the water off the roof to fill the water bowls.  The kids want us to build a self-refilling feeder that they saw constructed on a TV programme recently.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

10 Things that are Never Quite Finished or are Inevitably Ongoing on the Block

Some things never go away, or never stop when living on a rural lifestyle block. And not that we'd really want most of them to go away anyway...
  • Looking after the needs of the animals in your care
  • Finding something that needs fixing
  • Conceiving and planning the next project
  • Finishing the last major project you started
  • Mowing the lawns and managing the plant growth
  • Eradicating the weeds
  • Thinking of a new tool or piece of equipment that would be useful
  • Preparing for the next season
  • Paying it all off…
  • Enjoying the peace and quiet and the space

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dog Food - Make Your Own!

Just a short list today; 2 dog food recipes, albeit only links to great recipes that we've tried and are now regularly using.

We have large Golden Retriever. His name is Valentine, and he's about two years old. He's very active around our lifestyle block and thus needs plenty of healthy food. The great thing about making your own dog food is that you know exactly what has gone into it, there's no empty filler, and it's definitely cheaper.

- Down to Earth's dog food recipe

- Gourmet Sleuth (make sure you add the supplement mix also)

Wendyl Nissen also has a great recipe in her book; "Domestic Goddess on a Budget"

Try these, and let me, and also the people who own these recipes, know how they've gone down with your dog.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Valentines Day Follow Up - Giving a Goat

I had some good online and offline feedback about my Valentines Day list posted last week.  But I think i surpassed myself by getting my wife a goat this year.

Her name is Thimble (the goat that is) and she is a Saanen goat from an organically farmed milking herd.  We picked her up on Saturday and have really enjoyed her presence on the block since then.  She is full of personality, loves company, is quite inquisitive and great to milk from.

Some photos;

The developing new chicken coop is in her paddock, and Thimble spent some time checking on progress.  It's a little bigger than her own shelter, and she seems to prefer this larger, newer shed....  Our Dexters found Thimble's appearance quite a pleasant surprise also. 

So to the list then....

Why a goat?

- She will provide all of our daily milk requirements
- She is a friendly and interesting addition to our stock
- She eats things that other animals don't eat (like blackberry and gorse)
- Her milk will eventually be used for cheese and yoghurt.
- The kids love her

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

List of 10 Valentines Day Ideas on the Block

Valentines Day is coming up this weekend. The day can be overly commercial. The real opportunity is to use the day to let your loved one know that they are loved. The following ideas are 100% original and conceived by me just now;

- Scratch “I love you _____” into the metal / stone chip on the driveway.

- Alternatively, mow a message into the lawn, or maybe a paddock if you have a lot to say.

- Find somewhere nice to have a picnic. Perhaps a home cooked breakfast under a tree. Use your own free range organic eggs.

- Leave a little note in the letterbox. Maybe a little chocolate too.

- Get the kids involved. They make singing “You are my sunshine” so much cuter.

- Write a wee note on one of the chicken’s eggs. She’ll see it when she goes to collect the eggs.

- Pay your oldest child to make a valentines card for you. Print out a valentines poem or message from here; and stick it in the card and sign it.

- Make some creative garden art. For example, two flax fronds (not the leaf, the long stalky bit that grows over summer) with hooked ends could be pushed into the ground so that the ends cross over and form a heart shape. With ground conditions so dry at the moment you may need a post hole borer to get the hole started…

- Tie small bells to the dog and the cats. Give your partner a note that says “Whenever you hear bells you’ll be reminded of just how much I love you!” (my personal favourite)

- Put the kids to bed early with the excuse that they have school tomorrow. Enjoy a wine on the deck watching the sun go down together.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


It's not all hard work on the block.  We've taken a few weekends off for some summertime adventures.

I've taken each of my kids out for a kayaking adventure recently;

I've made them each a single ended wooden paddle which is much easier for them to use.

The top pictures are the adventure which started in Matakana, went through farmland and estuary to Sandspit and then round the coast a bit to Buckletons Bay.  

The next trip was from Buckletons Bay, up the coast and into Campbells Bay, collecting cockles, and then home again.

The critical components of successful kayak adventures with kids are;

- Talk it up.  Build the excitement.
- Take plenty of breaks.
- Bring some warm gear (just in case) and make sure they wear a lifejacket.
- Take a snack pack.  We take chocolate, lollies, drinks, some fruit, maybe a sandwich and then some more chocolate.  I'm pretty sure this is currently the highlight of adventures for our kids.

Friday, February 5, 2010

List of Money Saving Ideas in the Garden

Reuse the laundry water.  We use Eco Laundry Balls, so our water is left with no washing powder remains. We intend connecting the washing machine to an outside tank so that the water can be reused in the garden. There’ll be a bit of capital outlay initially, but savings thereafter.

Composting – save on fertilisers and avoid buying in soil to top up the gardens. We have bins in three areas on the property so that there’s no excuse not to put compostable waste in one when it arises.

Make your own fertilisers - I’m still keen on the comfrey tea. Try collecting seaweed. Try worm farming and using their castings as fertiliser. Castings have a NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, potassium) ratio of 3.2-1.1-1.5. These nutrients are readily available to the plants and will never ever burn your plants.You’ll avoid buying fertiliser and will greatly improve the productivity of your garden.

Stale coffee and coffee grounds also make great organic fertiliser. They provide many trace minerals and low, gentle levels of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous

Reuse stuff – our blocks are bigger than a city site so we can afford to have some unused resources lying around. You never know when that piece of wood, or tire, or wire netting or plastic bin or whatever might come in handy.

Grow from cuttings.  Ask neighbours for cuttings of desired plants instead of going to the nursery and buying one.

Eco-source some plants.  We’ve successfully transplanted Karo, Totara and Five Finger from local properties where these have self seeded.  Ask permission first.

Keen on flax?  There’s always people keen to get rid theirs so place an ad in the local paper and offer to dig it out for them. Replant at home. Its hard, hard work, but you’ll get free plants.

Collect vegetable seeds. Okay, we don’t really do this yet, so I can’t say how to do it.

Used carpet can be cut it into wide strips and laid it down between the rows in your garden as a walking strip. Or you can use it as mulch/ no weeds layer.

Cutting up pine trees for winter firewood? If left for a while the bark falls off. Collect it and use the bark to make garden paths or mulch. It rots down eventually and serves as a useful compost.

Water in the evenings. The water is more efficiently taken up by the plants. Water less frequently but in decent amounts when you do water. This allows the plants to root deeply.

Use flax flower stems as garden stakes. This idea came out this month’s NZ Gardener magazine. The flax stems are ready to be cut, and this is what they’ll be used for on our property in the near future.

Any other great ideas?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

10 reasons for friends and family to visit/stay at our lifestyle block

- It’s very peaceful out here. The evenings are long and warm.

- Paddocks are a nice place to contemplate in.

- There are plenty of jobs you could assist us with (splitting wood is the current big job on the go)

- It feels rural out here, but we are really still very close to town. You won’t be stranded.

- Please come and stay if you are a professional electrician, plumber or builder. We have a variety of issues you may be able to help with

- We have two spare rooms and three spare tents, if required.

- My wife is a marvelous cook and my children are fun and entertaining (I may have some bias here)

- “It is only in the country that we can get to know a person or a book.” Cyril Connolly

- Visit us and meet our animals; “Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” George Eliot

- We have fresh homekill beef in the freezer and it is still barbeque season…

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Proof of progress last weekend - the Chicken Coop emerges

Here's an update on one the weekend's projects; the new chicken coop.

The coop is progressing well.  Further materials are needed however.  Maybe it didn't need to be quite so large... 

One of the coop's intended occupants came by to check on progress.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Comfrey - a list of its uses and benefits

Comfrey has become a well used plant around our lifestyle block.  I was previously completely unaware of its existence or uses.  Here are a few things it can be used for;

Comfrey is very rich in Potassium, Nitrogen & Phosphates, so makes an excellent fertilizer in a variety of ways;

Comfrey liquid fertiliser - can be produced by either rotting leaves down in rainwater for 4–5 weeks to produce a ready to use 'comfrey tea’. We have some on the go constantly and frequently use it as a liquid fertiliser.

Use comfrey as a mulch – A 5 cm layer of comfrey leaves placed around a crop will slowly break down and release plant nutrients. It is especially useful for crops that need extra potassium, such as fruit bearers but also potatoes. Avoid using flowering stems as these can root.

Include comfrey in the compost heap - to add nitrogen and help to heat the heap. It’s a great compost activator. Comfrey should not be added in large quantities as it will quickly break down into a dark sludgy liquid that needs to be balanced with more fibrous, carbon rich material.

If you make your own leaf mould potting mix, then add a little comfrey to it also to further enrich it.

It can be added to salads, as it tastes like mild cucumber.

It attracts bees.

We feed comfrey to our chickens.  It is a high protein, low fibre feed source.

It can also be fed to, or made available to, other animals, including pigs. Organic farmers say that the stock will eat a lot of it or perhaps none at all, which suggests that they will eat it if they need what the plant contains.

Comfrey is one of natures greatest medicinal herbs - it has been used since about 400 BC as a wound healer and bone-knitter. Comfrey was used to treat a wide variety of ailments ranging from bronchial problems, broken bones, sprains, arthritis, gastric and varicose ulcers, severe burns, acne and other skin conditions.

A simple practical home use is to use it for any swelling. Bruise the leaves and wrap the injury with a wet bandage containing the leaves.

Apparently both the roots and the leaves of comfrey contain alkaloids, and these have been found to cause liver damage and interfere with iron absorption in high concentrations. So all things in moderation. Also it should never be applied to open wounds or broken skin.

We haven’t really explored comfreys food or medicinal uses, but we are sold on its gardening and stock feed uses.

Friday, January 22, 2010

List of Weekend Jobs on the Block

The weekends are a busy time on a lifestyle block.  The whole family helps, even the little kids who are still very keen to be involved in whatever we are doing.  What's up this weekend?...

Cut firewood for the upcoming winter – we had a large pine tree fall into our property from council owned land a few months ago and have spent many hours processing this up. There’s a good 2 winter’s worth of warmth in it.  Pine is light enough wood to dry well before this winter.

Check fences, troughs, gates etc

Mow the lawns – the perennial chore. But the property looks so much better when the lawns are mowed.

Stay on top of the weeds. Unfortunately the neighbours aren’t so good at this, so our boundaries in particular sprout many weeds. The place is small enough so that walking the paddocks and pulling the weeds out by hand is possible. Woolly nightshade, Californian thistle, blackberry and ragwort are our lifestyle block’s greatest enemies.  This topic deserves a list in itself.

Vegetable gardening – mainly my wife’s domain. This is going well, but needs to be watered and tended regularly at the moment. There’s still plenty of produce to come including watermelon, pumpkin, potatoes, corn and more strawberries.

Trim the boundary plantings. These have grown over spring and summer and the new growth keeps shorting the electric fences.

Continue the construction projects – the new and improved chicken coop is well underway, but needs further materials and progress.

Check and tend the animals - this is done every day, but even more carefully over the weekend.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

List of quotes about rural living and other things that inspire me

“The trouble with simple living is that, though it can be joyful, rich, and creative, it isn't simple”. Doris Janzen Longacre

“As much as I converse with sages and heroes, they have very little of my love and admiration. I long for rural and domestic scene, for the warbling of birds and the prattling of my children.” John Adams

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."  Beckett

“Nor rural sights alone, but rural sounds,
Exhilarate the spirit, and restore
The tone of languid nature.”   William Cowper

“If a man would enter upon country life in earnest and test thoroughly its aptitudes and royalties, he must not toy with it at a town distance; he must brush the dews away with his own feet. He must bring the front of his head to the business, and not the back of it.” Donald G. Mitchell, in My Farm of Edgewood

“It is only in the country that we can get to know a person or a book.”  Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave, 1945

“I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” Robert Brault

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need” Cicero

“If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can't buy.”

“Maybe a person's time would be as well spent raising food as raising money to buy food.” Frank A. Clark

“The family that makes the farm an old fashioned home with diversified crops, fruits and domestic animals sufficient to meet the household needs will still find agriculture one of the most satisfying forms of existence.” Calvin Coolidge

Monday, January 18, 2010

List of best rural brands / some of the brands I value

What are the brands that you trust and value? Here's a quick brain dump of some brands (loosely interpreted) that jump to mind for me;

Stihl – everyone round here swears they produce the best chainsaws

Husqvarna – also pretty good chainsaws

Skellerup – the best gumboots available. They last and last.

Stanley – for quality tools

RD1 – these guys have all the gear, and are always happy to provide a bit of free advice

Sir Edmund Hillary – perhaps not a brand, but New Zealand’s greatest ever

Gallagher – really good electric fencing units

Swandri – I got my first Swandri when I was about 12. NZ outdoor clothing is outstanding. Other top kiwi brands include Swazi, Bivouac, Kathmandu and Icebreaker

Sanitarium – good healthy food that tastes great.

Country Calendar – A great kiwi TV program for all the family

Mitre 10 – a man can never have too many tools

Dexters – small, friendly, great tasting cattle breed. We have three.

Cadbury – okay they make chocolate, but plenty of chocolate is consumed on the block. Almost overtaken by Whittakers this year for supremacy in the NZ chocolate market.

More best and most valued brands to come in a later list….

Friday, January 15, 2010

List of excuses to use to leave work early on a Friday afternoon

Try any of these.  Some will work better than others....

“The cows have got out”

“I have to go because my shoes hurt my feet”

“I’m off to go volunteering for the SPCA”

“I have an early tee off time”

“My kid's school just called, she's up a tree and won't come down”

“My goat has gone into labour”

“My wife doesn’t know how to start the barbeque”

“My zipper broke”

“My trademe auction finishes in half an hour…”

“I’m so tired – I got here this morning really really early…”

“Personal reasons...”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

List of things you can build yourself - Part 1

Living on a lifestyle block is a perfect excuse to go a build a few things that complement your block and your lifestyle. You don't need to be a DIY whiz to succeed at some of these projects.  Here's some things we've built so far, or intend having a crack at sometime;

Tyre swing – this was one of the first things we did when we moved in. The higher it is hung from in the tree the bigger the swing arc.

Letterbox – a recent project due to the last one rotting. I built it and the rest of the family decorated it. I think it must be the most stand-out letterbox in town.

Chicken coop – there are many types and sizes. Most are within the capabilities of a DIY homeowner. I’m about to start on a new and improved coop and run for our 5 chickens.

Bird house – another way to attract birds

Pizza Oven – this project is on my wife’s request list. There’s a lot of work in one of these but they make a great contribution to an outdoor entertainment area. Here’s what one could look like; . I've also had feedback that these plans are very good; . You have to sign up to get these plans, but they are free and are very comprehensive.

Wooden compost bin – the one in the picture is modular and very easy to build. To mix or turn its contents you simply take each layer off, one at a time, and shovel out the contents into the bin in its new location.

Workbench – with all these projects on the go you will need a decent workbench…

Check out for some excellent free plans for some of the above projects.

List of my least favourite tasks to do around the lifestyle block

Mowing the lawns – they’re huge, and we don’t have a ride-on mower. It's great exercise though...

Cleaning the deck – we let our chickens free range most of the time, but they invariably spend a lot of time around us and frequently poop on the deck.

Finding a short in the electric fence – this can be infuriating…

Trying to get rid of noxious weeds – spraying is our least preferred option. We try to stay on top of weeds by digging them out as they pop up.

Ending the life of a sick and elderly chicken – as a newbie to the rural lifestyle I had never previously taken the life of an animal. Three chickens so far have gone under the axe. Quick and easy for them, but very challenging for me.

Catching vermin – they get into the chicken coop, the compost, and goodness knows what else. Especially in winter.

Restocking the firewood basket in the middle of winter when it’s raining

Paying someone to do a job for us – There’s plenty of things I can’t do, or have stuffed up trying to do them. Sometimes we have to get an expert in…

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Native Birds around at the moment

What a privilege. We have plenty of native birds around at the moment, including;

Grey heron / Kotuku - these are loud and quite majestic. They have nested in the same tree since we have been on the property

Tui - these are drawn in by the nectar they find in the flowering flax

Morepork - we can't see them, but can hear them at night

Kingfisher - they have a nest in a tree right next to our house

Wood pigeon - large and noisy

Pukeko - we're not so keen on these. They do have plenty of personality though.

The List of Upcoming Lists

Here are a few of the lists I intend compiling. Many are already works in progress.

- Best reasons to own a lifestyle block
- Worst jobs that we have to do on the block
- Best rural brands / the brands I value
- Things you can build yourself
- Best shelter trees
- Best trees for producing firewood
- Tools and equipment you probably don’t really need on the block
- Money saving devices or ideas
- Great organic options and ideas
- Pleasant Surprises we’ve had
- How to attract native birds
- Safety Tips
- Security Tips
- Best books on lifestyle blocks and rural living
- Best recipes we’ve used using homegrown ingredients
- List of Great Quotes

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Any List Requests?

Please leave me a list request in the comments section if there is something you would like me to compile a list on. No promises, but I'll probably have a crack at it.

Things you can do with/for the kids

Another list that could be endless and will definitely be added to in time. We've done each of these things.

Hang a tire swing from a large tree – you’ll be able to get a free used tire from a tire retailer. The only cost will be the rope and the eyelet fitting that pokes out of the tire.

Build them their own raised vegetable gardens – this encourages them to take real ownership of their garden and pride in the produce that results

Give them their own animals – School run calf club is a great and long run idea. Kids raise their animals, and in many cases keep them well past Calf Club day. We’ve raised lambs and chickens so far. The kids take much greater ownership over the feeding, watering and caring of the animals if they are their animals.

Mow a bike track – Lower the lawnmower a couple of notches and mow a track around the house. If the kids have mountain bikes the track can extend into the paddocks also. ”Build a track and they will ride on it”.

Camp out – You live on a lifestyle block so you can definitely find a suitable camping site. It can seem like a real camping trip to the kids, but you still have the shower and other facilities right there if required. If it rains, and you’re a bit soft, you can call it quits and come inside.

Most valued tools and equipment on the block

I’ve started with a list that could be endless. I don’t even have all of these things, or some I do have are broken. But I wish I had the whole list.

I anticipate that a follow-up list will be required in due course….

The list then, in no particular order…

Good gumboots – don’t settle for the cheapies; they don’t last
Shovel - for manure, compost, dirt etc
Wire/bolt cutters
Craft knife – these are great for cutting flax and other fibrous plants
Pruning saw
Buckets - you can’t have too many of these
A good torch – things often happen at night, well away from the house
A length of good quality rope
Chainsaw – plus all the associated safety gear
A set of crescent spanners
Fencing pliers
Fine nose pliers
Pipe wrench
Some hot tape
Electric fence unit
Sprayer (not for nasty toxic sprays of course)
Voltage meter
Stock yards
Good waterproof gear
Compost bins
Somewhere to store the tools and equipment

A bit about us

We live in Waiuku, which is just out of Auckland in New Zealand.

We have a small house on a 5 acre bit of land. We've lived there since mid 2007.

I'm married and my wife and I have two children, girls aged 7 and 5.

We're commited to becoming more sustainable, living healthy lifestyles and eating healthy foods. We want our children to adopt healthy lifestyle practices.

Currently we have the following animals on our block; 3 dexter cows (2 heifers and 1 steer), 2 quickly growing lambs, 5 laying chickens, 1 golden retriever dog and 2 cats.

Our property needs plenty of development, hence the opportunity to try out new things and make lists about them. I have a huge list of potential lists to post.

First Post

I love living on my lifestyle block and I love lists.

I'm good at making lists but I'm pretty average at living the rural lifestyle. I'm learning quickly though and hope to share my experiences and adventures with others.

Please join me to review my many lists that explore the opportunities that living on a lifestyle block with a young family offers.