Spring is (Almost) Springing!

“Spring is nature’s way of saying “Let’s party!””  – Robin Williams

I keep reminding myself that it’s still very early and that there’s still a good chance that we’ll be seeing more frosts and more snow…but it’s really beginning to feel like spring out there! The birds are singing away, buds are starting to pop open here and there, the grass is greener, and the days are getting longer and longer. It’s a much more subtle transition than the coming of spring back in Ontario. There’s no snow to melt – the ground was only covered in snow for a couple of weeks of the winter. But changes are definitely happening and that sense of excitement is palpable.

One of the first willows budding.

After our wonderful Community Day earlier this month, we had another great volunteer, Graham, join us for a few days. We’re very lucky to be in a place that attracts such interesting and enthusiastic people. Despite having a good bit of rain over those few days, Graham helped us with all sorts of things – including some tree planting! We were given several little trees that were, for the most part, unidentified and were really looking like they wanted to get in the ground. Luckily, we have a section of fenced-in garden on one part of the property and so we thought that this would make a good temporary home for the trees as they get strong and reveal their identities to us so that we can better place them in more permanent homes a bit further down the track.

Tim, Andy, and Graham working hard at planting trees in the “campsite garden”.

Graham also spent one evening teaching us some techniques for making rope from cabbage tree leaves. I was amazed at how the fibres twisted together to become something quite strong. It got us thinking again about the seemingly endless range of uses of plants. As we get the design of the land together and consider the sorts of species we’ll be planting here, we’re thinking about which will best for providing shelter, food, medicine, fibre, beauty, flowers for bees, homes for birds…and the list goes on. There’s so much to learn!

Some very exciting news is that Andy became an uncle for the first time on August 8th. His beautiful little niece, Lily, is in Brisbane and so we’ve planned a trip over for November to meet her (and probably to do some farm touring as well…when in Rome!). Besides my hours in the Sydney airport, it’ll be my first trip to Australia and definitely something to look forward to.

A couple of weeks ago, Andy and I attended the seminars and AGM of Organic Farm NZ – a national organization that promotes organics as well as providing a peer-reviewed certification system. There were some very good speakers in the seminars, a tour of the Organic College at Lincoln University, and a tour of the forest garden of Bob Crowder – an organics guru in Christchurch. In addition to some very interesting seminars (on growing new potatoes, psyllid control, the history of organics in Canterbury, etc.) the weekend also gave us a chance to chat with some of the movers and shakers in the Canterbury organics movement. And the food was very good!

Back at Toi Toi Manawa, we held the first in our emerging series of workshops last Sunday – this one on Swedish Massage. We had ten people here for the entire day and learned some basic massage theory and techniques from Gorden Hamblyn, a professional massage therapist who generously volunteered to come and spend the time with us. It was a lot of fun, really educational, and VERY relaxing!

I’ve had a few good opportunities to be out and about in the community this week. I discovered that there is a Tai Chi class offered at the little community hall in Glentunnel on Monday mornings. Tim and I went along to that this week, had a great time and met some really lovely ladies (Tim represented 100% of the male attendance). Then on Wednesday, Andy, Dom and I went for the first time to a line dancing class held at the community hall in Glenroy (lots of Glens around here!). The line dancing was a blast and brought me right back to Mrs. Morris’s Grade 9 Phys Ed class…my other line dancing experience. Both the Tai Chi and the line dancing (while VERY different from one another) were great ways to mix up the week a little bit and meet some new local folks. To top it off, last night we attended the Whitecliffs township meeting. These happen on a monthly basis but this is the first time we’ve been able to make it out. One of the main items for discussion was the revised plan for the Whitecliffs Domain – a popular recreation area and campground here in Whitecliffs that attracts many summertime campers from around Canterbury. It was good to be able to sit in on the meeting, learn what some of the issues are in the village, and begin to be more involved as residents.

This weekend we’re off to Lyttelton! We’re going to a show tonight – the Lyttelton Rough House Revival Tour – which is very exciting. First, because it looks like it’ll be a really good show and we’re going with some great people. But also because our experience of “night life” in the city has been virtually non-existent. We’ll be staying over in Lyttelton and spending the weekend enjoying some of the sights and sounds of the Habour Basin.

High on the agenda for next week is finishing our little propagation house. Tim and Andy have made a very good start on it and it should been all finished in time for our first planned seeding at the end of next week. I’ve got all of our veggie seeds together now (I think!) and have been working at wrapping my head around timelines for seeding in trays, transplanting, direct seeding, etc. It’s going to be very interesting to compare my estimates to what happens in reality! This season will be a very good chance for Andy and I to really start to understand some of the differences in growing in this climate compared to what we’ve started to become used to in Canada.

The mini propagation house (cold frame) under construction. Some more framing and the ex-greenhouse plastic are left to be added soon.

Next weekend, we’re looking forward to hosting a group from the New Zealand Parkour Association who will be holding instructor training here. In return for the use of the space, they’ll be giving us a much appreciated hand in the garden. Hooray!

So that’s the update from here in the blue skies and green grasses of Whitecliffs. I’ll leave you with a few more photos from the last few weeks. And, with any luck, the next time I write the first veggie seeds will be germinating happily in their trays!

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Glazomania: a passion for listmaking

Over the last couple of weeks, a number of big and exciting checkmarks have been added to our ongoing To Do list at Toi Toi Manawa.

This was helped in a big way by the fact that we had a deadline to work towards. This past Sunday we held our Community Day – an event to welcome neighbours from near and far to Toi Toi Manawa in order to show them the place, share what we’re planning here and get some feedback and ideas. And have fun.

In the lead up to the event, we were very lucky to have a couple of great volunteers here working with us. Among many other things, they helped us to really tidy up the garden and get it ready for spring, create several new compost piles, organize our shed/workshop and finish the final touches on our composting toilet. Having the extra hands here made a big difference for Andy and I, as we watched item after item being crossed off the list.

The event itself was a blast. What we thought might just be a quiet gathering with a few friends from  the village turned into a crowd of 50+ people, many of whom we’d never met before – which was exactly what we’d hoped for! We had perfect weather, were treated to a gorgeous array of potluck delights, and had a great time chatting with the diverse set of people who came out. The kids got busy colouring in carrots and eggplants and having their faces painted (and painting ours too!). We got excellent feedback on our ideas for future workshop topics and Andy led a land tour which sparked all sorts of interesting discussion on everything from the shipping container accommodations to compost making and from windbreaks to the Himalayan tahr. We were totally energized by the positive reaction of the community and by the many forms of support offered through the afternoon. What a way to begin August!

The group on the land tour with Andy.

Community Workshop Interests

Of course, now we who live here are continuing to benefit from the mad dash of accomplishments leading up to the Community Day. The composting toilet is, perhaps, at the top of that list. After many months of using the port-a-potty (“port-a-loo”), we have switched over to a beautiful toilet that doesn’t smell and that will help us to better complete the nutrient cycles here. We’ve been very careful to outline instructions for use in the toilet so that the composting process can work to its maximum potential. Because #1s and #2s are kept separate in our system, we’ve had to label their seats accordingly. Luckily, we have our brilliant friend Tim volunteering with us at the moment and he’s created the perfect signs for indicating which is which:

To top it all off, yesterday we got connected to power from the grid. We spent the evening almost giddy with excitement as we realized we could have hot water from the taps anytime, turn on good, warm lighting in the evenings, use the oven, and go to sleep in a heated shipping container. Now we just need to make sure that we don’t start taking these incredible things for granted!

Andy and I have now completed the current versions of the Program Plan and Land Plan for Toi Toi Manawa. Another big checkmark for the list. Now, as we move more fully into implementation, Andy is designing the two priority shelterbelts that we plan to plant over the coming year. Meanwhile, I am compiling the feedback from the weekend and beginning to put together the workshop schedule for the coming months. On the 19th, we’re hosting a full-day Swedish Massage workshop, run by a friend who is a professional massage therapist. Seemed like a perfect way to ease into the workshop program!

The final (for now!) land design drawing

This weekend, we will be attending an event called “The Past, Present and Future of Organics in Canterbury” which will, no doubt, give us some better understanding of the organics movement here and where we fit into the picture.

So there it is. Lots of items crossed off the list, and many more added to it. And so continues the life of a glazomaniac!

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All About Community (as well as some other things)

As the end of July comes into sight, I’m pretty sure that every day we’re adding more to our “To Do” list than we’re crossing off. Winter is supposed to be the “quiet time” for farmer-types, isn’t it?

It feels very good to be busy. And to be busy doing things that I enjoy and think are meaningful, well, that’s got to be about as good as it gets.

I am well on my way in planning a “Community Day” at Toi Toi Manawa – an event to bring folks from the local village down to this place to show them around, share our plans, get their input, and have a bit of fun. While we’ve made several new friends in Whitecliffs already, we’re sure that there are others who have been wondering about the construction, the influx of shipping containers, the new faces out on afternoon strolls. And we hope that this will be a good opportunity to bring those people out and get their input as we move forward with plans for the program – like learning what sorts of workshop topics would be of most interest to them and what ideas they might have for the development of the land. We’ll be sure to put on clean shirts (and maybe even get haircuts) to make a good impression!

High on Andy’s list of priorities before the Community Day is the completion of the finishing touches of our composting toilet. We’re really excited to get it operational. As Andy says – we put so much effort into what is going into our bodies, why should we throw all those nutrients away when they come out? “Eww” factor aside, properly composted “humanure” will be a great asset to us as we establish young trees around the property. And, in that way, we hope that the nutrient cycles will be a little bit more complete – for the benefit of the land and for ourselves. Plus we’ll save an enormous amount of water. Win – win – win.

The Toi Toilet. On the home stretch towards first use!

In between event planning, we are also aware that spring is fast approaching – and that we’ve got a lot of preparing to do! Our main focus at the moment is on the garden. Which makes sense, since it’s the source of our FOOD! We have been harvesting the last remains of most crops (though there are still tons of leeks and Jerusalem artichokes in there), spreading compost and manure, and tackling some of the areas still full of couch (aka twitch) grass. For the upcoming season, we are planning to put one half of our garden into green manures, while the other half grows the vegetables. Green manures (aka cover crops) are very commonly used by organic farmers, with benefits including:

  • improving soil fertility
  • supplying additional organic matter and nutrients to the soil
  • improving soil structure
  • improving soil aeration
  • assisting in weed, insect and disease control
  • attracting beneficial insects
  • increasing soil biodiversity
  • ….and some of them you can even harvest for food! (peas, beans, etc.)

So, since we don’t need our entire available growing space to feed ourselves next season, we’re going to devote some of our energies to testing out different sorts of green manures and feeding our soil.

As many of you will know, much of my home province of Ontario (not to mention so much of the rest of North America) is experiencing a drought right now that is posing a very serious, and in some cases devastating, challenge to farmers. I am thinking often of my farmer friends and hoping that precious rain will fall soon. Times like these really do emphasize how important it is to support local farmers who take on such big risks in order to grow food for their communities. I will continue working on my rain dance.

For the moment, I am type-type-typing away next to our ever-appreciated woodstove, where dinner (soup a la Andy) is simmering away for us. It includes a dazzling array of veggies, including the leeks that I just harvested from the garden. So I’ll leave it there, wish you well, and thank you for reading my ramblings!



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Wintertime (and the livin’ is easy)

Never before have I had winter holidays that included waterslides!

Andy and I are now in the midst of two weeks of holidays and, although we’re not straying too far from Whitecliffs this time, it is giving us good time for pause and reflection. And waterslides.

We spent two days last week in the alpine village of Hanmer Springs – famous for its hot pools. We based ourselves in a beautiful little B&B cottage (Albergo Hanmer) – what a treat! In between dips in the nearby hot pools, trips down the waterslides, and a lively round of mini golf, we relaxed in the cottage. Making meals, playing cards, watching movies, catching up on some sock mending. Part of the joy of the holiday was realizing that it wasn’t actually so different from our day-to-day lives in Whitecliffs! It was, however, very nice to have a change of scenery for a couple of days and to realize that there were NO outside jobs for us to do there!

The week has also given us the opportunity to venture to some other near-local points of interest. Namely, Flock Hill and the Hinewai Reserve.

Flock Hill, the biggest boulder field in the Castle Hill basin, is a remarkable place. That’s why they filmed parts of Narnia there! It’s home to a unique set of rock formations – gigantic limestone jutting out from the hillside. Halfway between the east and west coasts, the area has significance as a traditional meeting point for the Maori people. We spent a beautiful, sunny afternoon hiking up to the top of the hill and playing on the rocks.

The following day, we set out in the opposite direction – to the Banks Peninsula to the southeast of Christchurch. After visiting the coastal village of Akaroa, we headed to the native forest regeneration project of Hinewai. In 1987, the land was in scrubby pasture. Today, it is a beautiful and remarkably diverse native forest, rich with plants, birds, and well developed walking trails for visitors. We were lucky enough to bump into the amazing man behind the project – Hugh Wilson – on our way in. We recognized him immediately (coming up the hill on his bicycle) as we’d just seen him in the documentary Earth Whisperers a couple of nights before. Hugh gave us a very warm welcome and some good recommendations of routes to take through the forest. After a great three hour hike, which included solid exercise for both brain and body, we caught Hugh on the way out to thank him for the wonderful work he continues to do. As we raved about the beauty of the forest and our bewilderment that it had all grown up so recently, Hugh remarked: “Yes, it’s amazing how quickly nature forgives”.

Photos find it hard to do justice to either of these places. But here’s a try:

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Now, for the final stretch of our holidays, we’ve settled back in Whitecliffs to get organized in our new shipping container abode and get back to enjoying our day-to-day (holiday-like) routines on the farm. I made some goat cheese and yogurt today with the milk from a friend’s goat. Andy has been busily measuring out the land just surrounding the containers and main building so that we can develop a plan for the landscaping. We’re thinking berries. herbs. maybe a little pond. salad greens. a couple of trees. an outside eating space. and anything else imagination (and, most importantly, the land) guides us towards. So the adventure continues.

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Onwards and Upwards (And Twirling)

As usual, it seems like we only just said hello to June and now we’re waving it out again!

Andy and I are settling well into our new roles as Land Manager (Andy) and Program Manager (me) at Toi Toi Manawa. At this stage, much of our work is revolving around developing plans. Drafting, redrafting, mapping, making scribbles, consulting with various people on various topics – all in order to have a solid land design and program plan together by the end of July. We presented our current drafts to the Trustees on Thursday and things seem to be moving in the right direction. It’s quite exciting to be heading up this sort of a process and it is absolutely useful experience for us. If you haven’t already, then feel free to take a peek at our website and facebook page, to see a little bit more of what we’re working on. These are definitely works in progress – so stay tuned for more!

We’ve been venturing outside as much as possible too, of course. There’s been harvesting of the bits and pieces STILL left in the garden and doing some more wintertime tidying up, organizing our shed, and cleaning up after our big snow storm. And, as always, walks around the property. It’s amazing how much there is to discover in 40 acres!

An example of what a quick trip out to the garden yields for us – even in the middle of winter!

Realizing that we’re fairly isolated out here, we thought it’d be a good idea to sharpen up our first aid skills by taking a short course with the Red Cross in Christchurch. I wanted us to get a lot of practical experience along with it, so the night before our first class, I took a good spill in the kitchen, giving my wrist a pretty decent scrape while also knocking the kettle of boiling water over and burning my hand. Andy did a great job bandaging me up, and our ten dinner guests were most entertained. All in the name of education!

One very exciting piece of news is that our new shipping container accommodation arrived yesterday. This was a long awaited arrival and means that we can now set up a permanent living space for ourselves for our time at Toi Toi Manawa. It’s very exciting to be able to fully unpack the suitcases and set up a little bit of “us” space. The container itself is lovely – 20ft long with a newly finished wooden interior. It has a heating panel, lights, power plugs, carpet, and a big window looking out over the property. There are three other containers beside ours, each with two rooms. In the future, these will be used to house greater numbers of on-site researchers and guests of the program.

The shipping container accommodations of Toi Toi Manawa. Arranged in a sun-catching curve. Note: I dropped my mitten!

Our new little home! There will be interior photos one day when we have it a bit more organized than it is right now…and maybe even have real curtains instead of a duvet cover tacked to the wall. Maybe.

A sneak peek into one of the empty container rooms. Not bad eh?

For the next two weeks, we’re on holiday. Although we’re likely to spend a good portion of the time doing the same things we’d be doing if we weren’t on holiday. Reading, making plans, working away at our list of outside jobs, and enjoying life in Whitecliffs. That said, we’re anxious for a change of scenery too. With this in mind, we’re heading off to the alpine village of Hanmer Springs on Wednesday for a few days of thermal pools and relaxation.

Tonight, we’ve just finished another great meal of garden veggies and plan to spend the evening watching a documentary. Or playing cards. Or maybe both. Life’s a holiday!

I couldn’t resist! Gorgeous carrots from tonight’s dinner. Compliments of our friend Logan and his garden.

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And then there was snow…

Last Wednesday brought about 30cm of fluffy white snow to Toi Toi Manawa. The most snow that Andy’s ever seen in New Zealand. The only snow I can remember ever seeing in June.

Snow-covered caravans. This is why we’re so glad to have a nice toasty (insulated!) building to live in now!

We became a bit more isolated than usual as our rather long driveway was impassable by our little car. Schools were closed and the village was full of people unable to make the drive into work. And there was happiness all around! We had a really nice walk through the village, chatting with our neighbours and meeting some new ones. It was perfect snowman-making snow too, and so Andy rolled up his first big snowball and built his first snow pig.

Snow Pig. A little bit unconventional maybe, but boy was he charming.

The moon was near full the night after the snowfall and so we had a beautiful moonlit walk around the property. I was amazed at how incredibly bright it really was outside. We could see the hills far in the distance and watch our shadows as we made our way through the snow. Between a brief power outage and running out of gas, it became a very good time for us to be creative and return to cooking and heating our water on the woodstove.

The Other Side of the Moon

The days that followed were quiet and cozy. It wasn’t until Saturday that we made our first journey out of Whitecliffs and into Darfield. The fully snow-covered Southern Alps are in full view from Darfield now and have become extra prominent with their new blanket on.

Venturing even further afield, we had the opportunity on Sunday to do a little bit of work with some of the residents of Sumner – a suburb of Christchurch. There is an up-and-coming community garden project there and we’ve been in touch with the coordinator while he brainstorms creative ways for them to organize. We had our first chance to visit the garden site itself on Sunday – what a beautiful spot! After trekking up a hill (at a 45 degree angle) we found a big patch of shrub that is the site in question. It’ll be a pretty major endeavor to get it garden-ready, but there’s some good enthusiasm in this group and we’re looking forward to seeing what becomes of it.

Now, after that brief break with civilization last week, we have all of our services back in action and have started this week off with renewed energy. Last week was a very good reminder of the joy of an unexpected day off and the benefits of being well prepared with the essentials. It was a great comfort knowing that we have enough food stored away here and enough firewood to last us many, many weeks!

As we, and some of our neighbours, dealt with frozen pipes, it was also a real reminder of the difference that context makes. The same weather event in Petawawa wouldn’t have yielded the same results for folks, that’s for sure! In their relative absence, it was very easy to appreciate sand and salt trucks, snowplows and ice scrapers, insulated pipes (and buildings!) and all of the other regular accessories of a Canadian winter. I finally tracked down a pair of mittens today. Next step will be finding something other than a kitchen flipper to scrape the ice off of our car in the mornings!

Tomorrow, Andy is heading off to a grazing seminar with John King, a local educator in holistic management. It should be a very good chance for him to do a bit of learning that will be very relevant to his role as Land Manager at Toi Toi Manawa.

Our neighbours, the Himalayan tahr

Meanwhile, I’ll be working on the development of our program plan, our schedule of events for July, and our new website and Facebook page. It feels good to be busy, and it feels even better to be busy doing things as worthwhile and enjoyable as this. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to fix myself a warm drink and settle down for some evening card playing with Andy while the girls serenade us with their guitar playing. What a life!

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Keeping Up (With Blogs) Is Hard To Do

And it’s June in Whitecliffs.

For me, life in the Southern Hemisphere is involving the consultation of many seasonal calendars to aid in my orientation. What does “June” mean now? I have vague ideas about bringing extra layers along on day trips and expecting to be changing them frequently. It’s early winter and so the temperatures are dropping and the leaves are falling off of the trees brought in from the Northern Hemisphere. Mornings are frosty though afternoons have been warming up nicely. The differences between the micro-climates in our little valley and Christchurch – only an hour’s drive apart – are fascinating. It’s generally much warmer in the latter – a reminder of the differences made by nearness to the ocean (among other variables).

In these early days of winter, we have had some thinking-heavy days. This has been something good and productive. Toi Toi Manawa, the charity that has brought Andy and I to this beautiful place, has been doing some good soul-searching as it nears six months since its January launch date. Reflection has been a key word as we look back together at the past months to see what has worked best and what we can build on. The result is a heightened focus on the use of this space to host events for the local community – guest speakers, hands-on workshops, and more, all under the umbrella theme of sustainability. I’m taking on the role of Program Manager to see that we provide a fun and engaging set of events at Manawa this year. Meanwhile, Andy is also taking on an additional set of responsibilities as the on-site Land Manager. To begin with, he is rolling up his sleeves and digging into the world of Holistic Management. This is a style of land management that has resonated well with many of the organic farmers that we know and respect. It gets down to the real roots of what matters to farmers as land stewards and as human beings, and it incorporates quality of life in goal setting and farm planning.

In between brainstorming sessions and planning meetings, a few recent highlights have included:

  • our first time to the Oxford Farmers’ Market followed by a gorgeous (albeit muddy) Sunday hikes at Ashley Gorge and Glentui
  • breaking down and investing in a small bottle of maple syrup
  • helping with building work for some friends over the hills who are constructing a new building where they will milk their water buffalo and make cheese
  • getting to know some folks from the North Canterbury Clydesdale Club and attending their AGM
  • time spent visiting with new friends in Whitecliffs
  • moving about 150 small trees that have been given to us to plant on the property
  • a visit to our local Glentunnel Museum and a walk to the old coal mine and the tunnel that gives the village its name
  • waking up to the best rainbow of my life (so far)

Meanwhile, the main entryway to our building is now missing only finishing touches. Our shipping container abode is set to arrive within the week. Power from the grid is on the horizon too. All of this is really just the icing on the cake as we have been very happy and very grateful for our warm, dry, and very comfortable place to stay.

As I write, delicious smells are wafting towards me from the wok that Andy has heating on the woodstove for dinner. Dominique is sorting through the flax that she is preparing for weaving. Lien is enjoying the power of a solar light sent to us by our friends at Glenergy. And I am struck once more by how good it is to be experiencing Whitecliffs in June.

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