Adventures of a Septic Variety

You know any Saturday is going to be good that starts with the question “what is that smell?” Why, it’s sewage in the basement of course! Commence a few hours of frantic activity, including a frenzied shopping trip to get a shop-vac, mop, and look for a good plumbers “snake” for drain clearing. We were successful on the first two, but not the third. So on the way home we stopped off at a neighbors house, as he happened to run his own drains-laying company. We borrowed his drain-cleaning stuff, and got to work. Yummy work, dealing with that stuff. Ick!!!

In the end we were unsuccessful, and returned his equipment. John (the neighbor) gave some suggestions, and said we would drop by Sunday morning. Sunday we started digging. We found the septic tank, and after John arrived we dug many more holes (under his direction). We knew from Yvonne, the horse-boarder, that there had been “issues” with the septic system in the past- like raw sewage running down the driveway, now we understand just how half-assed the system was. Seems when they added the cattery and kennel 10 years ago they did a fair bit of earth moving, which put an extra meter or two of dirt over the drainage field for the septic system, rendering it ineffective. So the tank started backing up and sewage would run down the driveway. This went on for years (to Yvonnes horror, keeping her kids from playing in the “puddles”), until eventually Dave (previous owner) laid a bit of pipe so that the semi-raw sewage went over the hillside, which I guess was better than down the driveway.

So over the next month we get to gid a ditch 18 inches wide, 1 foot deep, and 100 feet long. At least the clay soil is easy to dig (unlike New Engalnd’s 50-50 rock to dirt ratio). When we get the ditch dug John will come back and help us lay the gravel (metal as they call it here) and drain pipe for a new and operation field. Woo! Digging the ditch ourselves saves lots of money, and considering all the ongoing “high priority” fixes we are doing to the house, that is a good thing! In the mean time we have restored the “over the hillside” expedient, which at least allows us to shower and flush the toilets, which is a very good thing.

Ah, the excitement of living on a farm!

Merry Xmas!

Hope you all have had a wonderful Christmas! We slept in after a late-night dinner (fondue!) last night at our frind Sibylie’s place. After a great breakfast we opened presents, and played with some of our new toys. Tam had a few new PS2 games that we had to give a look, and I had a new GPS which we used to start getting map coordinates for various farm features (we are very geeky).

This afternoon we went up to our neighbors Roger and Mary about 500 meters up the road for a fabulous lunch. We chatted, other neighbors came by, and fun was had by all. After stuffing outselves we came home and chopped out gorse for a few hours, before Tam felt the bloodlust call of the play station. Soul Calibur 2 will do that! Roger dropped by later in the evening with his half-brother Lex to take a look at the ‘pacas.

It’s nice that we are getting to know the neighbors. We even talked about all going in to buy a bunch of weaner calves (buy in bulk and save) which we would fatten on our various properties, then sell them all to the meat factory (1 stock turck to save on shipping). Could be interesting if it all comes together.

May you all have a great christmas, and a happy new year!

Some pics !

Okay, I’m having to sneaker-net these from my machine, which has the camera software on it, to the Pavilion, which has the modem, which is silly, but until we get the house LAN sorted out, there it is.

Here are some photos of Oak and Chris (Chris is the one with the white spots on his face). Yes, yet another Chris. At least when we say things like “Chris had fun rolling in the dust bowl by the gate” and “Chris spat green slime at us when we tried to trim his toenails”, you can (probably) assume we mean Chris-the-alpaca.

We didn’t name them, by the way; these are the names they came with. I’ll remember to ask Linda about their names at some point.

They’re very deer-like, with their fluff all short like this. We’ve since let them into the Gallop and they’ve been all frolicking and cavorting (and rolling in the dust bowl by the gate). Before that, though, they had their first encounter with the cats:

VERY fun to watch. The cats and the alpacas both were *so* curious, and yet *so* wary. The ‘pacas seem to be getting along with Molly and Dolly, our feral sheep, though. I’m wondering if our boys will teach the sheep it’s okay to come closer…

Judging by how long it takes to upload these pics over the modem (I’ll see in a minute how long it takes to download them again, and then I’ll have a better idea how badly we’ve been abusing those of you reading this through dial-up…), it may be a while before we inundate you with pics of the house and farm. Here’s a pretty one of Stephen in the little dell down behind the kennels, though. (That’s our neighbor Steve’s house in the background, not ours).

We're Farmers Now!

On Tuesday we got our first alpacas, Oak and Chris. Now we have stock, I guess we really are farmers! Pictures will come, as soon as we get them downloaded.

We have them in the dog-run for now, as it makes a nice little enclosure where they cat eat, chill out, and get used to us. This weekend we will probably move them up to the Gallop paddock, where they will have lots of room to romp, explore, and feast on various grasses until they are nice and plump. Some time after Christmas we will get Pointer, our third. He is currently in detox for Ryegrass staggers.


No really, we're not kidding

Some of you may have been following the discussion in the comments a couple posts back about our huge man-eating stinging nettles. I remarked how boggled I was to find nettles that had grown to be, effectively, small trees.

It turns out we don’t just have out-of-control nettles. We have bona fide New Zealand native tree nettle. I kid you not. One of our friends who came to the party works for DOC (Department of Conservation) as a weed specialist (Melanie — we took a botany hike with her in a local reserve a couple months ago.), and had a lovely time padding around the garden in her socks, pointing out this and that. She warned us against being too butch with the nettles.

“They’re only occasionally fatal,” she assures us. The people they’ve killed have been people who’ve been all “Bah, I’m tough ! I can handle some nettle sting !” and kept pushing into them and getting stung again and again, instead of leaving them alone and going and putting something on the stings like any sensible person. Luckily, neither Stephen nor I suffer from testosterone poisoning to the point that we feel the need to fling ourselves naked into the tree nettles to prove our butchness (we’ve got the gorse for that, hah hah).

New Zealand, incidentally, also has daisies and fuscia — and of course ferns — that come in Tree Size.


Sunday we had our housewarming. This meant that the two days previous were a mad frenzy of painting, cleaning, unpacking and organizing. But that is the best part of a housewarming, it gives you the incentive you need to finally get that stuff done!

The housewarming was a massive success, we have one very warm house! 51 people showed up! The day before we had put flyers in our neighbors mailboxes, and 20 of them showed up, which was a great opportunity. The neighbors also liked it, as it gave them a chance to meet each other and catch up on what is going on in the valley. We had plenty of dancers and musicians, as before the party started we had a rehersal for our coming performance (in March). All in all a great time was had. Food was eaten, drinks were drunk (but nobody got badly drunk), people walked around the paddocks, a much good conversation. A few people could not make it, so we will just have to invite them all over some other time!

Now with that past it is time to start focusing on farm projects. There is gorse to cut, fences to mend, and water tanks to get installed. Later this week we get our first Alpacas, and you can rest assured as soon as we do plenty of cute photos will start going up on the blog.

Pointy Things

And for once I don’t mean knives or swords.

Yesterday evening was largely spent grubbing out ragwort in the “gallop” paddock (it’s called that ’cause it’s big enough and more or less flat enough to). Ragwort and the occasional thistle. The ragwort we had to carry out in buckets, because while it’s poisonous to animals, it’s also more tasty when it’s wilted. Thistles are also more tasty when they’re wilted, but are not poisonous, so they get left behind. I spent most of the time clearing the ragwort out from under one of the larger patches of gorse (gorse so old and tall that it was possible to walk around more-or-less safely underneath it). I must say it takes a certain amount of… finesse to dig a four-foot-high bull thistle out from a mass of gorse.

It was really quite lovely under there, though, in the dappled sunlight. The gorse trunks get all twisty and wiry (it was old gorse trunks they used for Fangorn Forest in The Two Towers, BTW), and where I was they were tall enough that grass (and ragwort and thistles, of course) was all growing underneath, and also these great purple spires of blooming foxglove. Heaps of them. So I was basically surrounded by either spikes or poison, but it was all very very pretty. (Luckily, livestock generally has the wit not to eat foxglove, so those can stay).

Apart from the foxglove, there’s tons of other stuff blooming in the pastures as well, though apart from the broom, nothing so showy. I know clover and English daisy and buttercup, and maybe a spot of vetch, and something that might be dead-nettle or henbit or something. But other than that ? Tiny little stars, bells, cups, in blue and white and yellow and pink, in different shapes and sizes and habits. Oh, and eleven different kinds of plantain, rushes in the damper spots and watercress in the streams. Plus, you know, grass, and other leafier things that aren’t quite blooming yet.

Stephen has the right of it: We don’t have pasture; we have salad.

Conveniently enough, that makes it just about perfect for alpaca.

The Weekend Report

Thursday: After work, scooted up to Willowbank Farm to take a look at some alpacas they are selling. Picked some out. Linda’s coming by our place this Thursday to make sure our facilities are suitable (apparently, she once had a potential buyer who not only didn’t *have* any fencing, but didn’t understand why she would *need* fencing…).

Friday: After work I went busking in Cuba Street with a couple of other African drummers. Fun ! We made all of maybe a buck or two each, but met a couple new people who might be interested in joining the class. More importantly, though, we were actually pretty good ! Passersby smiled at us, and several sat down on nearby benches to listen. Pretty neat !

Saturday: Put together My Desk. The Behemoth. I’m sure we did other stuff besides just unpacking, but I can’t recall exactly what. Oh yeah, some shopping. We each bought our very first pair of gumboots ! Hee. I feel silly clomping around in my bright shiny new gumboots — it’s like I’m playing pretend-farmer. Except that they really are damned handy things — for mud (we’ve got boggy bits down by the streams), for the horse poop you don’t quite notice in time, and also just for going out into the yard or paddocks where rain or dew on the long grass and plantain stems would soak you to the knees otherwise. Damned handy things.

Sunday: Stephen has largely recovered from his (much less debilitating) encounter with (we are assuming) the Kiwi Death Flu. It only had him down for three or four days, and he wasn’t nearly as dead out of it as I was. By Sunday, though, he’d recovered enough to go to fight practice, and then come back home for The Odyssey.

Our Big Weekend Adventure this week was… going to the back of the property. Yes, we hiked up to the top of Marchant — up one fenceline and back down the other. We had to do large chunks of it on the neighbors’ sides of the fences, because our side is inaccessible in a lot of places. Wow. It goes back quite a bit farther than we thought it did. And there’s a lot more grass up there than we thought there was, too. Once you top the crest of the steep bit, it goes rolling again, and there’s all this long, long grass. You can even see all the way to the sea from up there. But boy howdy getting up there is a challenge. (Stephen, BTW, is totally my hero. I lost my jacket at one point, and he valiantly went back down and down and then over into the bush for it. I was *almost* ready to just abandon the poor thing (the jacket, that is.)) Supposedly, there was once a bridle path up the hill — we’re going to try and find that and clear it, if only so we can walk around up there without going hand-over-hand up the neighbor’s hill. (In some places, it was so steep you were almost tempted to try using the fence battens as a ladder.)

Still haven’t quite made it to the spring — Stephen tried coming at it from above, when we briefly cut in from the fenceline, but was forced to give up by thick brush and an overabundance of stinging nettles (yeowtch!). Brush, nettles, and the firm conviction that having to be airlifted out of your own back yard would be the height of embarrassment.

In the meantime, though, the battle against the gorse and ragwort in the paddocks nearer to the house has to take precedence.

No sign of the neighbor’s calf — I think he must have come and caught it himself at some point — but we still have Molly and Dolly, the prodigal sheep. They both look much fatter than their flock-mates on the other side of the fence.


I did, in fact, make it to the parade. A handful of us hopped out at 3:30 and caught it as it went down Willis (a block inland from my building). Very, very cool. A Maori troop in the lead a brass band playing the theme music at the end, and in between the stars in vintage convertibles interspersed with orderly mobs of folks in costumes from the films.

It’s a measure of my geekness that I got a far bigger kick out of seeing the costumes go by than the stars, and they had a good representative chunk of most of the groups: Hobbits, Elves (though I think they put the Rivendell and Lorien Elves together), orcs, Uruk-Hai, the Black Riders, Rohirrim on foot and horse, likewise Gondorians mounted, on foot, *and* the Rangers, the Southrons, the Easterlings, and troops of everybody from the previous battle against Sauron — the Elves, the Numenoreans, etc. all armed and armored. Big Fun.

Pretty sure I recognized several of the faces under the helmets from the various re-creation groups at the Faire this past weekend, and Stephen informed me after that one of the Black Rider’s horses had been camped next to Pirate Camp as well — the rangy black they’d used in the stunt riding demos and as the mount of the “Messenger of the Lord of the Underworld”.

Afterwards, I dodged upstream to the train station — through the massive, massive crowd heading for the waterfront, where they were showing the rest of the Premier stuff (the speeches and interviews and etc.) and then The Two Towers on a gigantic screen. At home, two of the three broadcast channels were showing the Premier pretty much right up til 7:30, so I got to watch the interviews and stuff while we tried to get the DSL working in the dining room (the dining room currently sports our only working phone jack). No luck there yet, which is why there are still no photos.

Must call Telecom about that today, and a locksmith to get into the basement (where the former owner locked up his wine and guns — we seem to have lost the key, or else we never did get one). Also need to get the ball rolling on the solar hot water system, a new, larger water tank (our water comes from a spring, into a tank out behind the house. A small, old, leaky, mossy concrete tank that we’d like to replace with something larger and more water-containing…), and some alpacas that Willowbank Farm is selling (so that some of the stock on our land will actually belong to *us*!).

Busy, busy, busy…

Greetings from Wellywood

I’ve just returned from my lunchtime meander and can say that Wellington right now is, indeed, a mad, marvelous carnival.

The weather is absolutely perfect – near 70 degrees, perfectly sunny, with a light northerly to keep the sun from getting too intense. My primary goal this midday – apart from admiring the crowds lined up along the parade route – was some vitamin E in gel caps for the worst of our sunburned bits. I managed to scoot across Willis Street to the pharmacy just ahead of the truck full of workers setting out the barricades. It’s still pretty clear up at this end of the route, apart from the generally elevated numbers of people, but down at Courtenay Place it’s an absolute zoo. They’ve got the grandstands up and the carpet out, and the barricades are lined with fans five-deep. The street in front of our old apartment is lined with media trucks, and all the little parklets and courtyards are full of crowds and buskers.

Someone somewhere is making a killing on plastic elf-ears – even some of the security teams in their yellow safety vests are wearing them. There are plenty of “WE (heart) YOU ORLANDO!” banners, interspersed occasionally with similar sentiments for the other actors/characters. Most disturbing, perhaps, were the “Gollum 4EVAH” banners, including such gems as “Marry Me Gollum” painted in Dwarven runes (why, exactly ?), and “Smeagol I’m Pregnant”. (brrr)

Ran into Emily again, dutifully maintaining her position at the barricade. My coworkers are planning to head out to Willis to watch the parade, so there may be another report later.