My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden

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Rube is Not the Word to Describe My Neighbours


 Census 2018 is on my mind. New Zealand is about to count itself.

Our dwelling details will be designated rural. We will count our hens and our cattle. I guess we will explain again, our septic waste and water supply systems, uses of buildings and land. No doubt we will list our gender and our levels of education and income. Who knows what other questions will be asked. Our feelings and views will not be canvassed. Data will show we are neither feather-brained nor bovine in outlook. Such questions are designed to elicit data to give an overall statistical snapshot of people who live in the countryside on Census 2018 day.

What I do know, is that the tally of rural residents living on our country road will show our neighbours’ occupations as: accountant, builder, commercial hydroponic rose grower, dairy farmer, engineer, horse breeder, industrial chemist, land developer, nurse, policeman, retiree, school bus driver, school principal, stay-at-home parent, student, urban business owner, web developer. And what I also know is that these neighbours have busy workdays and busy weekends. 

We affect to live a rustic lifestyle just fifteen minutes drive from the city. To some, country living may seem unsophisticated. Sunhats, jandals, gumboots are not fashion statements. They are practical items that suit the living on the land. Old-fashioned he may be, our neighbour persists  year-round in true Kiwi style by wearing a singlet, shorts and gumboots as he goes about his jobs. We all wear gumboots as the preferred footwear when the soil is saturated after rainy downpours and when we struggle in flooded paddocks to save wrecked fences. 


This time a post had to be pulled out of the water.

In stormy weather, a work gang forms and men rev their chainsaws and tractors to deal to a fallen tree blocking the road. We are able cook up a one-pot meal over the woodburner or gas-fired BBQ during a prolonged power outage.Our gender, our educational levels and occupations count for nothing at these times. Neighbourly commonsense and cooperation matters. These are the same people who on Monday morning, switch to their sophisticated urbane selves and dressed in their city clothes, head into town to their places of work. 

But back to the word prompt for this post. Getting started was the hard bit. What content could I use on which to peg the prompt. I consider myself to have a good knowledge of the meaning and use of the English language. As a competitive Scrabble player, I pride myself on a quick recall of words. How could I have not come across this word? Awkward.

First I thought maybe the word had something to do my birthstone, that precious, blood-red coloured gem, the ruby. Shakespearean quotes came to mind. After all, there are many rub- words associated with red and rubies that evoke emotion and symbolic meanings. Then there are these proverbial words,

Who can find a virtuous woman? for Her price is far above rubies.

Next, I wondered if I could play around with the shortened version of a given name like my Great-Aunt Ruby or a man’s name like Reuben. Both names feature in lyrics of well remembered songs but yielded few writing cues.

Feeling ignorant, I broadened my word meaning search. It was American dictionary time. Hayseed to me is something that falls from a dried grass stalk and is often the cause of a seasonal allergy known as hayfever. Hillbilly, not really in this country. Yahoo or lout, maybe the young guy who 360s at the intersection or weaves his vehicle at speed through the designated 55kph corners of the windy stretch of downhill leaving black tyre marks on the road surface. 

Finally. Got it. This has been an exercise of making sense of cultural use of words to express ideas.

Rural voters were tired of being treated as rubes by state officials who showed interest in them only at election time. 

The word definition and its use in the sentence imply prejudice, a put-down, a negative viewpoint of rural folk. I am word wiser now.

Reminder to self. Memorise the 4-letter Scrabble word list. There are only two hooks, -l and -s, for the word ‘rube’.


Irrational Urge was Hard to Stifle


Eleven years ago, Himself arranged for a stock agent to buy four, white-face beef animals at the local cattle sale held each Tuesday. We understand that animals can be nervous when they off-load from the truck. But, they tend to settle once they have explored the paddock, had a drink and start eating grass.

On this occasion, the new cattle stood quietly in the stockyard while Himself checked them over before releasing them into the paddock. Four black bodies charged through the opening gate, just missing Himself flattened against the fence railings. They stampeded across the paddock and hurtled through the live electric fence. They splashed across the stream into our neighbour’s property.

Himself’s language probably offended the animals as there was more cattle mayhem. Neighbours rallied to help herd the runaways home. One animal hurdled a 7-wire fence into another neighbour’s farm. Three fled in a headlong rush up the road before being rounded up. The final gallop was through my vegetable garden. They kicked divots of garden soil into the air and trampled my late summer vegetables. One dived back into the stream and joined the animal still on the neighbouring farm. It took three hours to restore calm and to secure the animals in the back paddock away from the stream and the road. That was on Tuesday after I got home from work. 

That night, Himself was on the phone to the stock agent. “From a forestry block!” Himself was heard to splutter. These four animals had had little contact with humans. Cattle hand-reared as calves are more used to humans and this is what lifestylers want on small blocks of land. On Thursday, all four animals were back on the truck to their new owner.

That weekend, it was drinks and BBQ at our place for the neighbours. Everyone had their similar stories of strife with cattle. In the heat of the moment, we had all felt the irrational urge to shoot the lot on the spot, an urge which was hard to stifle.

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Strategy is to Pick up Polystyrene Particles from the Stream Bank


Plastic pollution seemingly never stops. In my previous post, I was proud of having cleared the stream of inorganic debris and improving the water flow. And I was delight by the number of freshwater mussels. Today, I spotted and picked up clumps of white polystyrene partially obscured by flattened grass on the streambank where the native birds, Pukeko, hangout and feed on the freshwater mussels.   


Clumps picked up from flattened grass on streambank where Pukeko eat  freshwater mussels.

Kākahi, freshwater mussels, were a traditional food source for Māori. I just hope there are no white micro-particle pollutants in the stream water, home to this native filter-feeding species. I read how plastic toxins can work through the fish food chain onto our meal plates and can harm human health. Sea creatures are known to be ingesting quantities of plastic particle debris sloshing about in the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps this logic holds for the freshwater food chain? 

A quick Google search shows experts worldwide are concerned by the evidence of the mounting problem of polystyrene particles. I am now left with questions:

  • have the filter-feeding freshwater mussels ingested any nano polystyrene particles floating in the streamwater?
  • did the Pukeko peck at the clumps of polystyrene on the streambank?
  • if so, how will both species be affected?
  • did the polystyrene particles get blown by wind from a roadside rubbish pile to be swept into this small stream during a flood?

Council rubbish trucks come weekly to collect household rubbish and recycling items from the roadside. We comply with Council’s regulations. Our supermarket is committed to phasing out the use of plastic bags. I can work with that plan. Large hardware items are commonly encased in a polystyrene packing frame inside a cardboard box. That stumps me. I feel guilty taking it to the Refuse Station.


Polystyrene packing that encased a monitor

The upshot is, I do not know enough about the effect of the ingestion of polystyrene particles on our native freshwater fish and bird species. It may seem like a handful of polystyrene particles. However, I am not optimistic. All I know for now, is that I still need to pick up many nano-particles of polystyrene <3mm in diameter from the native birds’ streamside feeding area. That is the first step.

Polystyrene Particle

Nano-particle measuring <3mm picked up from the streamside

Next, I will need to check the stream waterline for polystyrene clumps caught in overhangs where the filter-feeding mussels grow. That then, is my for-now strategy.


Hope is on the Horizon for Kākahi and other Freshwater Dwellers


Pukeko and ducks have been feasting in the shallows of the streambed, leaving dozens of empty Kākahi shells, tops bitten off, scattered on the coarse silty sediment. I counted. And I know this has not always been so. I also tried to count the outer rings on one of the larger mussel shells to get a possible indication of age. I am no expert, but I think nine or more rings means a possible age of nine or more years.  The stream is a favourite and tranquil place to stroll. It has become second-nature to look out for eels and other freshwater life. Freshwater habitats in New Zealand have been under threat for a range of reasons. The outlook in my rural backyard is promising.


Empty freshwater mussel shells in the water on the stream-bed. Left there by the Pukeko.

Imagine if you will, Kākahi, a teeny-weeny freshwater mussel larva, latching onto Kōaro, a host native fish, for the migratory swim of its life. The journey may take a few weeks. Destination. Upstream to clear, shallow freshwater that flows unimpeded, shaded by overhanging Totara trees. The young hitchhiker will hop off the bus to make itself comfortable in its new digs. For this is where it will settle to live an independent life and to grow for decades if the watery conditions stay favourable. I may not see it for some time until it is bigger. Nine years is a long time to wait. 


Kākahi Freshly opened mussel grown to about 90mm. Possibly nine years of age.

It has been hard work for more than ten years to clear dumped, inorganic materials, fallen trees and pest plants. I am delighted to think that the increase in the mussel shell numbers might, just might, be in a small way, a result of us having committed to cleaning up the stream when we first came here.  I am proud of the way native ferns are regenerating  along the stream bank. The water now flows more freely.  We  put water troughs in each paddock for animals to drink from. Electric fencing is our way of keeping animals off the streambank. We have not built a permanent fence because of bad experiences with damaged fences during storm-related flooding.


Cleared area. Upstream water spills over a rocky ledge.

I hope the Kākahi and their Kōaro will have an extended stay in the shallow water and the coarse silty sediment under the ferns and the streambank overhangs. I am hopeful we will be able to think beyond a nine-year lifespan No more declining species. The freshwater creatures have support from afar. Change is happening. There is political support for campaigns to clean up New Zealand’s waterways.  Stream protection means

“if you have water supplied by a stream, you have an obligation to safeguard the quality of the water leaving your property – for downstream users and for other stream life.”

Hope for our rivers, lakes and streams is on the horizon.

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Broken Branch a Shock to the Tree


Whenever a tree breaks or falls, I feel a sense of pain. I think about the loss of the ecological habitats and homes to generations of birds and insects. Trees are part of nature’s cycle of life. Cattle rest in the cool shade. The animals stretch their necks to munch the edible foliage and nutritious autumn seed pods.  The tree roots stabilise the soil. Leaves colour with the seasons before falling to be raked into my garden mulch and compost. Ornamental, mature ‘Sunburst’ Gleditsia Triacanthos – Golden Honey Locust and ‘Sweet Gum’ Liquidambar Styraciflua trees, planted before our time here, line the eastern side of our long driveway. 

This week, a humid weather front with north-easterly winds gusting strongly at times, caused a big Liquidambar branch to snap but not sever its attachment to the tree trunk. There it rests, beyond our reach, in a precarious position, weighing heavily across the lacy foliage of a Gleditsia branch now hanging low over our entrance. Our driveway gate is shut for now and a sign, ‘Beware Broken Branch’, hangs on the gatepost.

When a tree is damaged, Himself nips into his workshop to check and fuel his chainsaw in readiness to deliver the cruel and final cut. There is firewood to saw and stack ahead of winter. There is pruning to be done to remove potential hazards. There are some jobs he can do and there are jobs beyond the scope of his chainsaw. The wisdom is to know the difference. Safety is paramount.

Shelterbelt trees

Some of the felled Leyland Cypress shelter belt trees. Lots of firewood.

Leyland Cypress trees once lined the other side of our driveway. Planted close together as a shelter belt before our time here, they were never pruned. They grow fast to a height of thirty metres and become wide-branching. Bark had grown over the fence wires and signs of dieback and wood rot meant the trees were at risk of being felled by high winds. We had professionals do the dangerous work of felling this row of 120 trees. For days, chainsaws, screeched and snarled in loud protest above the low base undertones of the heavy rumblings of the industrial grinding and mulching machine.

Thirteen years later, the tree stumps are rotting into the ground. We had firewood forever it seemed.  Truckloads of  shredded foliage and small branches were dumped to form a large mound of organic matter near my garden area. The resulting compost has since been added to my raised vegetable beds. 

Every tree matters to the world. Their limbs reach to the sun and bring goodness back to the earth for our health. Trees are a litmus test of the state of the health of the earth. I am protective of my trees. I know the trees will have to be pruned. An arborist is coming to inspect the tree damage and other work to be done. I will put my trust in the arborist to prune the overhanging branches with skill and care.


I want healthy trees. I want the trees to heal well after their limbs are amputated. I do not want the trees to succumb to post-surgical shock.   


I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.  

Dr. Suess. The Lorax.


Copper Phone Wire and Landline Static Woes


One pair of copper phone wires. One pair of copper wires lead from a roadside junction box in a trench across Neighbour’s paddock to connect with the landline jack point in our house. One pair of copper phone wires to transmit a lot of information to our multi-generational household. A copper wire connection to bundle data to our fixed line on an unlimited broadband plan to feed data greedy devices.   

Through inertia, or by habit, we kept the fixed landline should we ever need to connect to an exchange in an adverse event. You never know. We almost tolerate occasional cross-line local calls and atmospheric interference to reception. Crackling noises disrupt our phone conversations. So last century, I hear you say.  

Himself and I are Baby Boomers who grew up in homes that had party phone lines and whose parents dialled the local telephone manual exchange to make a toll call within New Zealand.  Mum’s international call to her mother and family in England on Christmas Day had to be booked in advance and was limited to three minutes. The only extraneous noises over the phone then were the sounds of weeping. Houses were linked to overhead phone wires carried on telephone poles across the countryside to connect communities through a system of local phone manual exchanges.

Junction Box

Teleco’s junction box  near the house is the destination for the copper phone wire that comes across the paddock, via a trench, from the roadside junction box.

About three years ago, Neighbour’s Tenant got busy with a small digger and scraped a bonfire pit. Snap! Our link to the world stopped. Putting a mobile phone to work, we entered a marathon Q & A session with Teleco Customer Service Operator. Have you checked for a loose connection or dirt in the jack? How many phones are connected? How do you know your phone wire has been broken? If our technician has to enter your property you will have to pay. Do you understand? The technician came out from town with his fault tracking device that lead him from the roadside phone junction box to the bonfire pit. After digging around, he found the broken copper phone wire ends and made the repair. Teleco CSO phoned our landline and proudly announced through the static, “fault fixed”. Grandsons of the house did not care. They were reunited with X-Box.  

Junction Box
Checking the copper phone wire ends in a junction box near the house.

A year later, we had a similar dialogue with Teleco CSO. Neighbouring Owner returned home. He felled some trees and burned the rubbish on the bonfire pit site scraped by his now-departed tenant. Again,  we were disconnected. Again, Teleco repaired the damaged copper wire. The crackling noise on our landline persists.

Last week, Teleco posted a glossy brochure to tell us they have cell towers waiting to deliver superfast wireless rural broadband to our home. We will not need a landline or a phone jack. Our lives will become more enjoyable, transformed by hours streaming data. Talk to us, Teleco says.

We acknowledge it is time for these Kiwi Baby Boomers to make the change. Before signing up to an exchangeless future, we will be the ones who ask the questions. How indestructible are Teleco’s cell towers? Can Teleco guarantee there will be no static during our phone calls?  




January is the month when New Zealanders enjoy summer days. It is a time when people leave their real world lives to relax, to holiday at beaches, lakes and rivers and to enjoy outdoor activities. It is a time when we are busy in our gardens and enjoy the fruits of our labours. However, nature is having an impact on our environment.


Ripples caused by raindrops ahead of heavy rain forecast

But, I can be forgiven for taking childish delight, for now, in watching raindrops splat and ripple onto puddles. It is the promise of the rain needed to fill our watertanks and to raise the stream level back to its regular level. Rain is forecast to keep falling. Heavily. And with high winds for a couple of days. Water will fall and flow everywhere and not as we would wish it. So we are warned. It has been a very dry and unusually warm December. Did I miss spring? Is this climate change at play? Nature is leaving a trail of evidence.


Even though heavily mulched, my garden is wilting. Lettuces have bolted and gone to seed. They were tasty while they lasted. Dahlias are showing their hot colours. Yellow butter and other beans are producing well. Defiant heat loving plants remain true to label. Leaves on the liquidamber trees are displaying signs of early autumn colours.

Pukeko Under the Fruit Trees

Pukeko eat the ripening fruit and damage the branches.

Pukeko and rosellas are unrelenting in their assaults on the ripening Captain Kidd heritage apples that should ripen in March. My early Peach Haven is history. It drives me crazy to see a pukeko, apple clamped in its beak, sprint from under the fruit trees across the paddock to its stream-side habitat The birds jump into the trees and damage the branches. The stream level is very low, the soil is rock hard, the plant habitats are parched and I am sure the birds are desperate for food. Earlier this morning, a family of four fruit thieves raided the orchard undercover of a downpour. No summer holiday in my world. It is garden guerilla-warfare.


Grass is greener on the other side of the fence

We have our cattle on a sheltered hill paddock which is prone to dryness. They are grizzling because the grass quality is not as good as that on the other side of the gate. The trouble is that the better grass is in a flat paddock that is prone to flash flooding when our stream spills over. Years ago, in our early experiences of coping with bad storms, the cattle either stood in the shallows or huddled under trees. We gave up trying to move them. Wading in fast-moving, waist-high water that sweeps all manner of debris, including fences from neighbouring properties, in its path is not safe. Those animals all survived. Mindful of forecasts, we are now better prepared.  So, these cattle can stay on the hill for two days until the storm blows over.   

Meanwhile, weather forecasters continue to track the sub-tropical storm as it unleashes over New Zealand, to warn of the dangers of heavy rain, king tides, large waves and strong winds and to advise holidaymakers to evacuate.  No doubt the raindrops and the ripples will cease to be delightful as the puddles  flood and reform to flow as a small stream down my driveway.