Rainbow Valley Farm – Flood, Feathers, Filth, and Feta
My first week on Rainbow Valley Farm coincided with monsoon rains. The first few days the mornings were pleasant, and just as we would sit down for our communal lunch the rains would begin. It was like clock work. It started with a little drizzle and quickly became torrential! Soon after we finished washing up the lunch dishes, the clouds would part and we could get back to work in the humid heat.
A few days later the rain settled in, and it poured for about three days. The last day was amazing! It was so loud that we had to raise our voices, and it just kept getting louder and wetter as the day progressed. The gutter above the door to my room got clogged, so by the middle of the night I had a waterfall shooting off the roof in front of my door! By noon the next day the property was starting to flood. Trish, the owner of the farm, said it was the biggest flood she’d seen on the property in over twenty years. The flooding was caused because the farm is situated in a steep valley. The ground became so saturated that the rain just ran off, and flooded the valley stream. Luckily the main house and wwoofery (housing for interns and wwoofers) were up high enough on the hill to not be affected. Just as quickly as the water had come up it subsided. The wood lot had been shifted a bit, the permanent tent was a little damp and silty, and the lower paddocks looked flattened. Amazingly none of the fences broke, the bridges held up, and nothing was shifted too far.
“Birds of a feather flock together,” doesn’t quite ring true on this farm. We’ve got chooks (chickens), ducks, geese, and guinea fowl all living a somewhat harmonious existence. One of the first tasks I was given was feeding the poultry and collecting the eggs. I quite enjoy it as a start and end to my day.
Until recently, all of the poultry was totally free ranging on the farm, and most of them stuck to the orchards. It’s quite cute to walk through the orchard and around the wwoofery and find random and creatively placed nesting boxes that have now been abandoned. Having free range chickens in the orchard for over a decade began to take it’s toll as they had started to scratch down to the shallow rooting systems of the fruit trees, so things changed! The chickens were split into three groups – a chicken tractor, a flock for the hen house, and a small group to remain free ranging in the orchard. Some of the ducks joined the hens headed for the house, but the most of them and the guinea fowl and geese stayed in the orchard. Since the switch up the orchard has changed a lot. There is a new rhubarb patch, and lots of undergrowth growing back, and still benefiting from the bird poop fertilizer.
As with any barnyard, there is a love story to share. A few years ago Mrs Goose passed away, and Mr Gander was left heartbroken and lonely. Then one day his eye caught a sleek looking black duck named Victoria. It was love at first sight, and he has been at her side ever since. Victoria enjoys Mr Gander’s company alright, but she has been a bit promiscuous. Eight little ducklings were born just a few weeks ago, but Mr Gander seems to think they could only be his. He is very protective of them, and they’re growing very strong as a result. Meanwhile, Ms Goosey was introduced to the flock as a replacement for Mrs Goose. Smitten immediately with Mr Gander, Ms Goosey tends to spend her days following Mr Gander, Victoria, and their ducklings around – I have yet to decide whether it should be classified as stalking or just the nature of a protective aunt to the ducklings.
Mr Gander and Ms Goosey team up to be bullies at feeding time, and I’ve had a really hard time dealing with their behaviour. If they were simply being mean for the sake of it and stealing everyone else’s food then I suppose they could have been moved or isolated for a little bit. However, they’re only acting out of protection for the ducklings. Most of the other birds have realized this and stay a safe distance away from them at all times…. I think Mr Gander gets a little bit bored by their good behaviour and lashes out indiscriminately on occasion. He doesn’t respond when I tell him off.
The hot and humid summers here make for good rice growing conditions. It is probably the only rice paddy in New Zealand, and produces almost enough to sustain the farm. They’ve been experimenting with annual versus perennial systems of growing rice. Although it is more common to grow rice on a small scale annually because it is a staple and yield has to be consistent for subsistence farmers, friends of the farm in Japan have insisted that their perennial rice has higher yield. The easy part of growing annual rice is that at the beginning of the season the paddy can be drained and thoroughly weeded, and then rice transplanted in, and ducks added to keep the weeds down and fertilize. The hard part about growing it perennially is that this weeding has to happen between the already establish rice plants, and more often… it’s a lot more work.
Off we went to weed the rice paddy! Honestly, I don’t think I even imagined spending time in a rice paddy, but it was quite enjoyable. Especially once I got the hang of keeping my legs wide enough to keep balance and limit how much I had to bend my back.
Fran ‘accidentally’ threw her handful of mud and weeds at Tom instead of the bank. From that point on there were random missiles of mud flying in every direction. We were filthy by the end of it, but my skin was softer!
Some of you may already know about my fascination with making my own cheese. Just before I left on this trip I bought a little starter kit, but decided to wait until I got back because I didn’t have enough time to finish it, and by that I mean eat it. It was just my luck that Joc, the farm’s people care manager, is an accomplish home cheese maker! Even though I’m only here for a month, it is more then enough time to make feta. YAY! One of the farm hands, James, regularily buys raw milk for his family and he was happy to fill a few bottles up for Tom and I. Tom made a MASSIVE block of camembert that is still curing, and I’ve made a wee little blob of feta. Today I’ll be taking it out of the mold and putting it in a brine solution for a week or so. Hopefully by then we’ll have some lovely tomatoes and cucumbers to make a big greek salad! Some ancient greek ancestor will be proud!