It was fantastic to see Struan Farm's old fashioned rambling rose "Souvenir de Madame Leonie Viennot" come into flower just a few days ago down at the Homestead. I'm training her to grow across the top at one end of the pergola. She must be keen about that, since she's quite early this year!
For years everyone called this rose "Roma's Rose," since it came to the Robertson family via a cutting from friend Roma Ronaldson. Christine Nelson, another family friend, eventually helped me with the proper i.d. The Auckland Botanic Garden mentions that it's also called "the dunny rose," since the rose was often planted around or on top of long drop toilets, either to hide them or to mask their odours.
No odours to hide at Struan Farm, I promise!
Visiting daughter Sarah requested a carrot cake for her early birthday celebration last week here at Struan Farm. So once again I whipped out my Barefoot Contessa carrot cake recipe, along with The Free Range Cook's cream cheese icing. The latter I jazzed up with Fresh As freeze dried passionfruit powder. The flavour is amazing, and it cuts all that rich sweetness.
Once again we also went "naked" with the cake, and I needed to come up with something for decoration on the top. I thought about doing crumbled walnuts in a ring around the edge again, but instead decided to experiment with "Candied Carrot Curls," both for colour and taste.
These are worth a try. Wide carrot peels are cooked in a sugar syrup, drained, and baked at a low temperature for a period of time. After that they are rolled around the end of a wooden spoon, and put back into the oven until crisp. While these worked, next time I would use larger carrots than I had on hand to achieve more of a corkscrew or spiral. But they tasted great and were fun! Depending on how long they are baked, they can be somewhat like a fruit leather....
Last Friday night a fundraiser was held in Piopio to benefit Project Piopio Trust, a community trust that does lots of good works and beautification projects around our village. NZ chef, restauranteur, author, and all-around-nice guy Al Brown came to town with his brother to speak to a group of about 200 guests. Piopio's Fat Pigeon Cafe catered drinks and nibbles. It was a fun, successful evening.
Of course I managed to score one of his cookbooks:
And p.s. guess where he stayed?!
He's promised to come back. Fingers crossed!
New(ish) granddaughter Violet came to Struan Farm for the first time last week, all the way from the U.K. We've decided she's a country girl, she loves the animals and space to crawl around everywhere! She had solid sleeps in the peaceful Cottage, along with mum and Uncle D.
p.s. the pet lambs behaved themselves, even Rosie!
Last autumn I was inspired to plant ranunculus in the gardens here at Struan Farm after seeing a beautiful spring bouquet a friend had received from her husband. Sadly, this friend passed away a few weeks ago after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.
Today is her memorial service overseas. Coincidentally, the flowers, which have had their battles with rabbits, are now starting to bloom. The rabbits are now letting them be. In fact, it looks like they've left the red and bright pink ones, and eaten the yellow, orange and white. Fair enough, thank you (for once) rabbits.
In celebration of your spirit and memory, Linda Koury Ducruet. You are loved, were full of laughter and light, and will be greatly missed.
We've had a few family dinners at Struan Farm this week with daughter Sarah visiting from the UK with new(ish) granddaughter Violet. Luckily, I have gotten my mojo back on flower arrangements with more variety on offer in the gardens. As well as some flowers, there are lots of buds and shoots/sprigs to play around with.
Right now the later flowering fruit trees in our orchards here at Struan Farm are starting to bloom. The biggest news this year is that our pear trees are flowering for the first time, hooray! Baby steps, I know..
Here's Monty's Surprise (apple):
Giant of Gascony (quince):
Nashi Dual: Nijiseki/Hosui (not sure which half though!):
And last but not least, our pear in flower. It's either Doyenne comice or Winter Nellis, I've forgetten which one is planted where!
Peasgood Nonsuch and Initial apples have yet to start flowering, I've got my eye on them. Our five new Luisa plum trees finished flowering last week, so they're settling in well.
I've decided that pet lamb Curly is quite the cuddler, at least with the rest of his adopted pet lamb family here at Struan Farm. Definitely not with me! I caught him cuddling with Tootsie out the bedroom window. Tootsie was absolutely zonked out, sound asleep, with Curly watching over her.
Pretty cute, eh? Yet another reason pet lambs are called "time wasters," it's so much fun to watch them....
We have a huge, old clematis vine that grows atop one of the dogwood trees in the Homestead gardens here at Struan Farm. And right now it's blooming, beautifully. It's so high up in the tree that you could almost overlook it, it's easier seen from a distance. This year one of the flowering vines is dangling down, so I've been able to see (and photograph) the delicate pink blossoms close up for the first time.
I was up early a few days ago here at Struan Farm and opened the bedroom window to say good morning to the pet lambs. It turned out that only Cookie and Buster, the two older lambs, were at the back gate waiting patiently for their morning bottles. Curly and Tootsie were nowhere to be seen, or heard, after I called out for them. Usually if they're in the vicinity I can hear "baas" and they can hear me to know to come home.
Suffice it to say that the pets have started to wander from their home base of the back gate, exploring further afield around the farm.
This particular morning it was raining and I was concerned. The gates between the paddocks around the property were open, so they could have wandered off anywhere during the night and gotten stuck. Cookie and Buster are starting to eat grass and are bigger and stronger. But Tootsie in particular is still quite little.
And so I hurried to dress, made up bottles, and donned rain gear and gumboots. (Note: no time for coffee.) By the time I got out to the back gate everyone had arrived and was ready for a feed. The two little wanderers got a lecture from me about the need to "baa" back when I call out. They tell me that they've read the memo now and will try to improve. The next night Tootsie wandered off, so I had her read the memo again.
Yesterday morning the rain was going sideways and the winds whipping the trees. There were no lambs to be seen or heard, anywhere. I called out, and debated whether or not to go out and try to find them. This time I wasn't quite so worried, I had my coffee first. They are big enough now that they won't starve if they miss a feed.
They all turned up! Everyone now knows the drill. (See Tootsie scrunched below Buster and Cookie, peering through the fence.)
There's an area next to John's workshop at Struan Farm that has been a landscaping project yet-to-happen for several years now. We couldn't decide whether to make this area garden or lawn, plus we had too many other projects related to the new house. The area became part of "Veggie World" officially last summer, with corn and tomatoes planted in abundance. It worked so well that we transplanted the weeping copper beech tree planted in the middle of the bed to another garden. This spot was clearly meant to be a vegetable bed, it had spoken.
Discussions ensued, designs were considered. I didn't want a messy jungle right outside the front door. We decided upon a raised bed similar to the retaining wall running down the driveway. Since the walls of the bed are made of treated wood, it's been lined with plastic sheeting on the inside. (A concession to Karen who doesn't want arsenic leaching into her tomatoes.) Steps were constructed at one end to allow the gardener easier access, she isn't getting any younger. The walls are high enough to deter the dog from galloping through, also to keep rabbits out.
So we're getting there. The bed has now been filled partially with compost and soil dug from our burn piles, which has ash and organic matter. I will plant the tomatoes this season as it is. After veggie season we'll add more soil, mulch and compost to top things up.
"Project completion" then involves a recycled brick path down the middle, a trellis, and perhaps a grapevine. That's the vision at this stage!
My bread trials have continued, with some good news. I've found a wholemeal bread mix to replace our beloved Laucke Golden Wholemeal Bread Mix, the one that's been discontinued in NZ.
I did contact Laucke about the possibility of them shipping directly to us from Australia, but the cost was prohibitive. I must say that they were extremely responsive on the customer service front through this discussion-- it's a great company that does its best to support the brand.
It took a bit of searching on the internet and emails, but Davis Trading sells Champion Wholemeal Bread Mix on a wholesale basis. Since Struan Farm's GST-registered farmstay business qualifies us to purchase on this basis, a bag was couriered out to test.
I can report there's nothing comparable to this being sold retail in mainstream food stores. I'd already been researching recipes to come up with my own mix, a last resort in my mind. So I'm thankful that Davis stocks this mix. The bread tastes good, and I can continue to offer freshly baked wholemeal bread to our guests, phew!
Don't really need or want any speed bumps on the basic offering, do we?!
I found myself a bit amused a few days ago reading about the appeal of "Bluebell Dells" on NZ Gardener Magazine's Facebook page. This was after I'd spent two days pulling bluebells up and out around the Homestead gardens at Struan Farm, where they are taking over. My poor tulips were losing the battle against rampant bluebells at our main entrance, something had to be done. I also looked around the various beds and discovered them everywhere. It was, well, bluebell hell. So trailer loads of tops and bulbs went off the burn pile. Don't worry, some are left and will undoubtedly keep spreading around the place for years to come.
Unbeknowst to me, people rave about the English woods with their bluebell dells. I had no idea! Here we've got our very own dell in Piopio and I'm trying to contain it rather than encourage it. John's mum Rosemary loved her bluebells, so we will always have some. I just don't want them taking over, and they've been trying to do just that (along with onion weed and Japanese anemone, other garden enemies of mine).
What I did learn from all this is that there are several types of bluebells. The most common ones here in NZ are "Spanish Bluebells," Hyacinthoides hispanica. The traditional English bluebell is Hyacinthoides non-scripta. We also have pink and white cultivars.
Most people who don't know sheep think they're, well, dumb. At best, not terribly intelligent, if they think about them at all. They believe all the stereotypes, that sheep behave blindly in herd mentalities. Which yes, sometimes they do.
But here at Struan Farm I've learned about sheep and have seen another side to them, mostly through the teachings of my pet lambs. I've learned they can indeed be quite intelligent. Like people, they have personalities. Yes, they can get easily flustered, especially when in a group and frightened, but they're far more complex than that.
Our four pet lambs this year are a good case in point. Ella, Livvy, Daniel and I discussed this over breakfast recently at Piopio's Fat Pigeon Cafe.
Cookie definitely behaves like the eldest. She drinks her bottle fast to finish first, she's competitive and wants to please. She is gentle, loves her cuddles and makes sure she gets them. She is the one to "baa" in the mornings to wake me up. She knows her name. She has a beautiful face, with an ear that is tipped brown. At the moment she's a bit angry with me for cutting her bottles back to 3x per day, and I'm hearing all about it.
Buster is a character. He's not so sure about being petted, at least when you might want to pet him. It's all about when he wants that, but he does as soon as you walk away. He's a fierce but slow drinker--has pulled the teat off the bottle at least three times now and splashed milk all over his face, much to his surprise! He likes to chew zippers on jackets, gumboot edges, and dangling hair. He has a beautiful face.
Curly is perhaps the most complex of our pet lambs, or maybe just still a work-in-process. He has become much more socialised since the girls' recent visit, is starting to respond (sometimes) to his name. John and I wonder if it's because he may not feel 100%, but he seems to be improving and growing. He cut himself under his eye on something a few days ago (no idea how that happened, what did you do to yourself Curly?!), and later was found in the pouring rain walking by himself in the dark on the farm track. Cookie and Buster tend to run off, abandoning him when he doesn't keep up. It worries me that he might get lost around the farm, and since he doesn't "baa" all that much I will have a problem finding him. It will be interesting to see what Curly looks like and how he behaves as he gets a bit older. Right now he's somewhat shy, and his looks are those only a mum (and perhaps Livvy) can love!
Of last year's pet lambs Rosie, Ruby, Pip and Pepper are still here at Struan Farm, Spanky went off farm. While Rosie interacts with us the most, Ruby still comes up for pats and apples, quietly, gently, in her own way. She's starting to develop more of a taste for apples. Pip and Pepper will come close but don't interact all that often. Rosie is quite direct about wanting apples and pats (in that order), every day. She will barrel up the paddock when we call her, otherwise loiters around the house paddock munching grass in plain view, just in case we notice and have an apple on hand. I can see that Rosie is going to get annoyed eventually that I've taught Ruby to enjoy apples too.
Last but not least, our newest pet lamb, Tootsie, is definitely still a personality-in-process. She has started to get up and come for her bottles, and to acknowledge me calling her. But it's early days for this wee girl, too soon really to know what she'll be like.
Personalities and smart lambs-- yes, we've got a few!
John's "Awanui Avenue" of flowering cherry trees in the Cottage Paddock is starting to look pretty beautiful here at Struan Farm.
What's interesting is that the trees on one side are larger and bloom first. We're not sure if they get more sun, the soil is different, or they're just more protected than the other side, but there's a noticeable difference.
In the Pet Paddock we have two different flowering cherry trees, "Rosemary" and "Maurie." Rosemary was planted by John's sisters Julie and Anna to honour their mum after she passed away. John planted Maurie for his dad after he passed away three years later. They look across the paddock to one another.
For those who knew them, it would be no surprise that "Maurie" blooms first!
While Rosemary isn't blooming just yet, when she does she is far more beautiful, again, no surprise there.
I got a phone call from the neighbouring farm a few days ago. They had an abandoned, "sickly" ewe lamb. Would we take her in as another pet lamb here at Struan Farm? You can guess the answer: of course! I drove over with bottle, blanket, etc. to pick her up.
"Tootsie" spent her first night in the garage, part of the time wrapped in a blanket in a box by the fire inside to warm up. She wasn't drinking all that much at first, I was worried. The next day she was frolicking around, so I installed her out in the Pet Pen (she's way too little for the paddock at this point). I didn't want her to be alone her first night outside, so popped Curly back into the pen to keep her company.
She's a real cutie, I love how one ear flops down. And she seems okay thus far. It's great to have two ewes and two rams in the pet lamb mob, evens things out at the back fence.