NZ Lifestyle Block - - Country Smile -

I’VE BEEN WORK­ING to help my ju­nior agron­o­mists iden­tify fam­i­lies of plants. Often you will come across a weed in the pad­dock that you just aren’t sure of, but if you can iden­tify the fam­ily then you will have a pretty good idea on how to con­trol it.

I gave them a pretty ubiq­ui­tous weed – black night­shade – and asked them to fig­ure out what it was re­lated to in the gar­den. They made their fa­ther proud when they in­formed me that it looked like the pota­toes and the toma­toes in the gar­den. Right on kids!

Black night­shade ( Solanum ni­grum) is a com­mon weed found al­most ev­ery­where in New Zealand. Orig­i­nally na­tive to Europe and Asia, black night­shade has spread to North and South Amer­ica, Australasia and Africa. It is a mem­ber of the large Solanaceae fam­ily of plants and notable mem­bers in­clude the night­shades: pota­toes, toma­toes, to­bac­cos, cap­sicums, and even the aubergines (or egg­plants).

Many species of plants within this fam­ily have im­por­tant uses as foods, spices and medicines, but black night­shade isn’t one of them. The leaves and the un­ripe berries con­tain some nasty com­pounds that could get you sick if eaten. But amaz­ingly, de­spite this, black night­shade is used as a food source in some parts of the world where the ripe berries are made into jams, in­cluded in soups and stews, and the leaves are cooked and eaten as a veg­etable.

Black night­shade is eas­ily recog­nis­able in the gar­den, pad­dock or crop. It is a tall, up­right plant. The leaves are broad in the mid­dle and nar­row to a tip at the end. The leaves and stem can some­times get a quite vivid pur­ple tinge to them. It pro­duces a sim­ple white flower (some­times with a pur­ple tinge) with a pro­trud­ing yel­low mid­dle, which de­vel­ops into a small bunch of green berries that ripen into a glossy deep black colour.

It tends to ger­mi­nate in the spring, flower in the sum­mer and then die off in the au­tumn with the frosts.

How to con­trol it

In a gar­den sit­u­a­tion, it is an easy weed to re­move by hand, but if you have a large in­fes­ta­tion of black night­shade, con­trol can be dif­fi­cult as it is re­sis­tant to a lot of the chem­istry com­monly avail­able.

In a pas­ture sit­u­a­tion, there are a few prod­ucts: • if the night­shade is very small (2-4 leaves), use a prod­uct like Tropo­tox Plus at 4L/ha. • if the night­shade is larger, then prod­ucts like MCPA (1.5L/ha) or 2-4D (1.5L/ha) can be used but ex­pect to see some ma­jor clover sup­pres­sion. • if night­shade is present in other crops, it is best to seek some pro­fes­sional ad­vice to find the right chem­i­cal to kill the weed but not the crop.

Whether you own a farm, a life­style block or have com­pan­ion an­i­mals, there will be dra­mas. Some will turn out well, oth­ers not so good. I have had some sad ex­pe­ri­ences with our stock over the past year, but I have also seen a num­ber of mir­a­cles.

Then there are the happy co­in­ci­dences, the oc­ca­sions when you set off to check the lower pad­docks but some­how find your­self in a dif­fer­ent place and find a ewe strug­gling to give birth and need­ing help, or a goat caught in deer net­ting.

This day, I went to check on an in-lamb hogget and as I walked through the gate I heard a splash, a lamb bleat­ing and a ewe baa-ing. I found a small lamb un­der an over­hang, up to her knees in the creek. With en­cour­age­ment she moved to a low part of the bank and climbed out.

I had no plans to get the flock in but a neigh­bour phoned to say a few of our sheep had found a gap in the fence and wan­dered onto his prop­erty so I de­cided to get them in to check num­bers.

As they ran into the yards, I saw a hogget with two feet peep­ing out of her be­hind. Af­ter ex­am­in­ing her, I re­alised the lamb was stuck and I couldn’t get my hand in far enough to help, but I did man­age to ex­pose the nose, which was swollen.

I knew I had to get the lamb out there and then. Adren­a­line helps. I forced my hand in and found the neck and pulled. Both lamb and ewe sur­vived my some­what bru­tal mid­wifery.

But mir­a­cles at Fox­glove Farm are not con­fined to sheep. It was a very noisy lawn mower that saved Tig the barn cat’s life. He had be­come dan­ger­ously ill and as is the way with wild or semi­wild an­i­mals, he had holed up in an in­ac­ces­si­ble place un­der the house.

An im­promptu de­ci­sion to mow the lawn drove Tig out and we were able to grab him, put him in a cage, and get him into town for a life-sav­ing oper­a­tion. He’s

as good as new but dis­gusted with his spe­cial diet.

Be­ing en­trusted with the well-be­ing of crea­tures who can­not speak for them­selves can be a mat­ter of life and death. Here at Fox­glove Farm, the small, older, in-lamb ewes can be nur­tured, given ex­tra feed and brought into a sta­ble when it’s cold. An old South­down ewe, who had many lambs for her pre­vi­ous own­ers, lost con­di­tion dur­ing the later part of a very cold and wet win­ter. Was it fair to keep her go­ing? She had been with the main flock and ram but I thought she was too old to get in lamb. For some in­ex­pli­ca­ble rea­son, I de­layed the de­ci­sion to cull her, in­stead putting her on our best pas­ture and feed­ing her maize and hay. She re­sponded well and a few weeks later gave birth to a ram lamb.

At Fox­glove Farm we get an­gelic vis­i­tors too, ex­cept that our an­gels tend to be six foot tall, buff Kiwi farmers who are ei­ther pass­ing by or vis­it­ing when some stock emer­gency hap­pens.

Last Christ­mas two kunekune piglets were de­liv­ered and put into the pre­pared pen. As we had guests, we didn’t check on them un­til mid­night, but when we shone our torches around we found an empty pen. We’d love to hear about your prop­erty and its an­i­mals, your projects, your life’s mo­ments. Email ed­i­tor@nzlifestyle­, and if you wish to in­clude im­ages, please send high res­o­lu­tion jpegs.

Cut flow­ers don’t mind where they grow. With­out much mod­i­fi­ca­tion, a life­style block can be the ideal en­vi­ron­ment for grow­ing flow­ers for profit, from an­nu­als, peren­ni­als and shrubs, to or­na­men­tal grasses, colour­ful or bud­ding branches, and seed heads.

They all pro­vide op­por­tu­nity for the block owner, but it’s choos­ing the right crop that can make all the dif­fer­ence be­tween low and high prof­itabil­ity.

Chris Smel­lie is Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of the New Zealand Flower Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion.

“The kind of trou­ble you run into with flow­ers is that they have to be picked at the right time as they open, and then they have to be sold rea­son­ably quickly; they are one of the more per­ish­able prod­ucts to deal with, even more so than say fruit and veg­eta­bles.”

Grow­ing flow­ers is also often la­bo­ri­ous and time in­ten­sive work, says Peter Nie­pel of Cot­tage Crafts, who started his ca­reer in a flower and pot plant nurs­ery back in Ger­many.

“A lot of work goes into cut flow­ers,” says Peter. “You cut them, bun­dle them, maybe put a tape around the bun­dles or even wrap them in cel­lo­phane. I don’t know how many hours I spent as an ap­pren­tice to re­move the sticky tape which held the bunches to­gether and re­move the cel­lo­phane be­cause the flow­ers went onto the com­post heap.”

That hap­pens be­cause you will never sell 100 per cent of your flow­ers.

“If you don’t sell them on the day they are in prime con­di­tion all you have left is com­post,” says Peter. “We often stored cut flow­ers in the chiller and they were sold the next day as sec­ond qual­ity, or we used them in ar­range­ments for fu­ner­als or wed­dings etc. ( Whereas) if you don’t sell pot­ted plants you just bring them back home, water them and take them to the mar­ket again next week.”

event at which peo­ple will spend money on flow­ers. De­cide whether you are look­ing to sup­ply the wedding mar­ket or just gen­er­ally hav­ing flow­ers avail­able for other oc­ca­sions.”

He­len agrees that a clear mar­ket plan should be es­tab­lished ahead of time.

“There is a stan­dard rule for all facets of hor­ti­cul­ture: do your re­search. We can all grow plants in one form or an­other, but does the sys­tem want them or want to pur­chase them? One thing we learnt when we were flower grow­ing was we could grow what we thought would sell, but it was a dif­fer­ent story when we wanted to sell them.”

He­len John­son also sug­gests avoid­ing putting all your eggs in one bas­ket.

“When I set up in prop­a­gat­ing, ev­ery­body wanted to know what I would spe­cialise in. I did not spe­cialise in any­thing and worked on the the­ory I can grow 1000 plants of one va­ri­ety. If no­body wanted to buy them I am left with them. But if I grow 100 of 10 va­ri­eties, surely I will sell some, which is ex­actly what has hap­pened over the past 20 years. We now grow over 100,000 plants of many va­ri­eties and that al­lows us to change with the trends. For ex­am­ple, bees are big busi­ness at present, so we are go­ing with a num­ber of va­ri­eties for bees.”

The savvy cut flower grower will also need to be aware of changes in con­sumer style and colour pref­er­ences. New grow­ers can con­trol start-up costs by be­gin­ning slowly and in­creas­ing stock, equip­ment and pro­duc­tion as their busi­ness grows, but there are a few ba­sic things you need to start with:

“If you’ve got a life­style block you’ve usu­ally got two or three acres so you’ve ac­tu­ally got scope to do quite a bit,” says Chris. “You prob­a­bly then need a small trac­tor and a small cul­ti­va­tor. You can get small ride-on trac­tors and cul­ti­va­tors or you can get walk-be­hind cul­ti­va­tors.”

A small spray­ing set-up of some sort will deal to pests, dis­eases, and weeds.

“It could sim­ply be a mo­torised knap­sack or it could be some­thing that drives off a small pump that drives off the trac­tor.”

Most tall or top-heavy plants will need some sort of sup­port. Sev­eral mesh prod­ucts are avail­able that can be used as a grid for the flow­ers to grow through, pro­vid­ing stem sup­port, and come in dif­fer­ent lengths and mesh widths, in plas­tic or wire.

Your garage or shed should be big enough to al­low room to sort your flow­ers once you have picked them.

“You would need some ta­ble space to sort them,” says Chris. “You would pick them, some would be re­jected and some would be dif­fer­ent lengths. You would need some buck­ets, some water on hand to fill buck­ets, and then maybe have a small chiller space too. There is quite a bit around sec­ond-hand.”

You also need to have easy ac­cess to a point of sale, says Chris.

“That could be that you could eas­ily de­liver the flow­ers to the cen­tral flower auc­tions or that you would have a good farmers’ mar­ket or some­thing nearby.” Plant ma­te­rial, water tanks/bore, mulch, fer­tiliser, chem­i­cals, gardening equip­ment, float­ing cov­ers, wind­breaks, flo­ral preser­va­tive, post-har­vest han­dling equip­ment, pack­ing ma­te­ri­als, and trans­porta­tion costs for de­liv­ery are all things to con­sider. There may also be com­pli­ance costs.

“In some cases you have to have re­source con­sent,” says He­len. “You have to ap­ply to the coun­cil for water for ir­ri­ga­tion, whether you are in town or in the ur­ban ar­eas. You may need a haz­ardous sub­stances or spray li­cense which costs sev­eral hun­dred dol­lars. And if you are putting your prod­uct through the mar­kets/auc­tions, there are levies which come off the auc­tion price.”

To pro­duce milk,

a cow must first pro­duce a calf. To pro­duce a calf she needs to get im­preg­nated by one means or an­other and run­ning a bull on my 3.5ha (8.6 acre) block turns out to be the best way for me.

With my first house cow, mat­ing was sim­ple. I lived on my par­ents’ beef and sheep farm on the East Coast and when she felt like it, my cow too­tled off with Dad’s bull, and a calf would duly ap­pear in spring. Things just pretty much went as na­ture in­tended and I didn’t think too much about it.

Now, with only one or two cows and no free-rang­ing, free bull avail­able, I have had to come up with dif­fer­ent sex strate­gies. I’ve con­ferred with vets, neigh­bours and pro­fes­sional dairy farmers and all have of­fered ad­vice and so­lu­tions, but they don’t nec­es­sar­ily suit a small block where grass is pre­cious, or­ganic and nat­u­ral meth­ods are pre­ferred, re­li­a­bil­ity es­sen­tial, and safety around kids an im­por­tant fac­tor. Sion was a lovely reg­is­tered Welsh Black bull that grazed with my two cows and very re­li­ably got them preg­nant. They pro­duced com­pact, cute lit­tle calves each year that grew into prime steak. No has­sle, no stress.

He did, how­ever, eat a lot of grass, more than a cou­ple of quick en­coun­ters seemed to war­rant, but he did the job so he stayed.

Then the teenage hor­mones kicked in. At about three years of age, he started get­ting ‘bully’, which is not sur­pris­ing for a bull per­haps, but by year four I was hav­ing to warn kids, town­ies and wwoofers not to turn their back to him.

As with all en­tire males (hubby ex­cluded), I never let them get too close, be­come too friendly or lose re­spect for my

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