I can trace my interest in nature and healthy food sources back to my Tante Anges. A maternal great aunt, who lived on land inherited from her father (my great-grandfather). She grew all her own vegetables and raised her own lamb. She took care of the sheep as though they were her children, but faithfully slaughtered them every year for her freezer. Every female was called Suzie and every male, Fritz – much to the chargrin of my God Father, Fritz.
My Tante Agnes was my hero and on the several visits I made to my ancestral home in Steirmark, Austria, we got along famously, despite the language barrier.
Every day, she would walk up to the neighbouring dairy farm and collect her pail of milk. The baker would visit the valley she lived in twice a week, selling the most glorious sourdoughs, rye and sweet bread. Meat of course was courtesy of Suzie and Fritz and all vegetables home-grown. Previously she’d had her own bees for honey (until the large hive burnt down) and she would make the most delicious Himbeersaft (Raspberry cordial) from wild raspberries.
Tante Agnes tended her sheep until she was in her late 80s, which was some feat considering the Austrian winter. She grew her own vegetables up until mid-last year, when old age started getting the better of her. She passed away this February, at 91 years of age.
Back in 2011, I managed to convince my husband Chris that we needed a rural bolt hole. Somewhere that we could “weekend” and escape our inner-city lifestyle. We started looking at properties in Matakana. A rural area, about 1 hour north of Auckland, known for its wines. I viewed it as being full off middle-class hippies – somewhere where I would feel at home. We started looking, and fell in love with the second property we visited. It was a 1 hectare block, with a level building site and the remainder of the section split in to three almost even sized sections. A lovely stream trickled through the property in an S shape. The section is nestled in the Dome valley, 5km down a gravel road, and has hills, gullies and various points of interest throughout. We took the plunge, and the spot was ours!
My uncle Fred pounced in to action, converting a 1/3 of the section in to a native bush forest and installing a couple of bee hives. Fred’s from Dannevirke in the Hawkes Bay, in a previously life, he’s been a Apiarist and he has a passion for NZ natives – he grows THOUSANDS of them from seed and rescued seedlings. Fred has travelled up here a couple of times a year over the last 7 years to plant more trees.
In 2017, Chris and I found ourselves to have grown out of City living. We’d had three babies in two years: Dom, our son born in 2012 and our twin girls, Elizabeth and Sylvia in 2014. There is only so long you can raise kids in an apartment before going absolutely mad. I was sick of walking the kids to day care past human excrement and dis-guarded glue sniffing bags. I was sick of cleaning the exhaust dust from the window sills, wondering what my kids lungs looked like if the window ledges could get filthy so quickly. Paying the mortgage on an unimproved section wasn’t too much fun either, so we bit the bullet, built a house and moved in time for Dom’s 5th birthday.
We are now thriving up here: transitioning from City Slickers to Country Bumpkins.
During the course of our preparations to move, I attended a back-yard chicken keeping course in Parnell. Our family goes through copious amounts of eggs per day (up to a dozen) and I was uber keen to get myself a flock. After the most enlightening lecture by Barbara Stumbles, I wandered through the second hand book stall, and stumbled upon Linda Woodrow’s The Permaculture Home Garden. I snaffled this up and fell in love with her approach to gardening: working with nature; getting natural forces to do the work for you (how appealing!) and her fun and easy to follow writing style and lay out of the information. I read the book over and over and over in the year leading up to our move. I’m reading it still. My Permaculture journey will be based on her advice: following her guidelines as best I can.
This journey will include chickens, worms, various sources of animal shit, failure, successes and lessons that can only be learnt from listening and observing the natural world around me. Knowing me, I’ll probably take short cuts, forget to water things, be passionately obsessive one minute and then lose some interest. Then I’ll find a hidden tomato – delicious as only home grown and sun ripened can be, channel my Tante Agnes, pick up Linda’s book and find my passion all over again!