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 email@example.com, 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