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(2015) About six months ago we decided it would be great to add a natural sunscreen to our range. Little did we realise how complex and exacting the process would be…read on

We have accumulated so much information about sunscreens that our brains have gone on strike, a bit like the feeling I get five minutes after starting a conversation with our accountant.

Here are some relevant facts to start with:

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, it works a bit like the Richter Scale for earthquakes, in other words to a lay person it’s rather confusing. An SPF 15 blocks 93.3% of UV rays, an SPF 30 blocks 96.7%, and SPF 50 blocks 98% so 30 is not double 15 as you would think, and not 30 times longer in the sun either. There are now limitations on SPF claims -50 being the highest.

ANapier Beacht present it’s not compulsory in NZ to get a sunscreen tested, but it seems a necessity to have an SPF value. Testing is available in Australia. There are 2 methods of measuring SPF: in a laboratory, which is called ‘in vitro’ & on people which is called ‘in vivo.’ At present the ‘in vivo’ system is the one with the most clout here & in Australia, but overseas it is being phased out. It seems an oddly unscientific method, where volunteers are tested with small patches of sunscreen for various amounts of time, in a controlled environment & a figure is arrived at. I’ll come back to these tests in a while.

At first it seemed quite simple, Google provided us with much data about natural oils & their SPFs. We read that Carrot Seed Oil & Sacred Basil Oil had SPFs of 40 or so. How hard could it be to make a mix with an Olive & Coconut Oil base, add some Zinc oxide (ZnO) & away we go.

We’d heard that ZnO nano particles were bad guys, we didn’t want those. We read research that criticised the chemical sunscreens, these work by being absorbed into the deeper layers of your skin, & whilst screening you from the Sun they also got absorbed into your body.  There are also reports that these products can cause skin irritaion & allergies. They are implicated as endocrine disruptors & contain skin penetration enhancers, which mean that people working with other chemicals, such as pesticides are at risk.

At first it seemed that there had been a difference between a sunscreen & a sunblock, a sunblock like ZnO works by creating a protective & reflective barrier on top of the skin, rather than inside it…but no that’s too logical, we must now call them all sunscreens.

wairarapa trip march 2015 073 (shrunk)

OK, so we’re wanting to make a sunscreen that’s a sunblock, but we can’t call it that. We started by looking at all the natural oils & butters that had an SPF rating. We combined 2 recipes, an old one by Elizabeth Francke & a more modern one we found online. There were a lot of ingredients, strong black tea, lanolin, sesame oil, coconut oil, shea butter, several essential oils, but not citrus oils. We made a batch using pharmaceutical grade ZnO. We passed it out to friends & family. It smelt rather deliciously of food, it looked like putty, it rubbed on nicely. Feedback was positive.

Next step was to get some idea of the SPF rating, this required sending a sample over to Oz for testing. We were feeling pretty optimistic. Some $500 later the results told us it was not great, only SPF9. It seems that the SPF ratings for natural oils etc cannot be relied on to give a good SPF figure, dammit!!

Back to the drawing board, we sourced a finer grade of ZnO, micronised, we put more into the recipe, we beat the mixture for longer, apparently it is notoriously difficult to blend. We sent off a sample…we waited, we waited some more,the sample went missing, we sent off another sample (tracked for $40.) We waited, we alternated between optimism & pessimism, if this didn’t work we’d give it up as a bad idea. Result: SPF12, bugger!! another$500 gone, close but no banana (Geoff points out that I should say ‘No cigar’ & that I am being very PC by not referring to smoking- purely random brain function on my part).

After more consultation we looked again at the nano particle information, we found a place in Perth that made a range of Zinc oxide nano products in plant based oils. The product is Eco-certified, which is encouraging, the base mix is a coconut oil derivative. We looked again at the information on nano particles, it seems that much of the info was from 2008 & had been revised. Both the TGA & EWG reports & Cancer Council Australia deem it safe to use, looking at present time evaluations. The initial scare was that these small particles could be absorbed through the skin, this has proved not to be the case.

ZnO forms aggregates which are larger in size, and this creates some of the confusions around ZnO particle size. There seems to be confusion generally around the nano definition & how it is interpreted and measured. Some sunscreens that have made claims not to contain any nano particles actually do contain them.

Weighing up the pros & cons, it seems that the Zinc oxide with nano particles is a safer option than a chemical sunscreen which is absorbed into the skin.

  • As  ZnO forms a physical barrier it is ready to go as soon as you apply it, you don’t have to wait 20 minutes.
  • ZnO sits on the surface of the skin & is not absorbed into it. Points of  potential entry would be through damaged skin.
  • In cream form, rather than spray or cosmetic powder there is no chance of inhaling it.
  • The finer particles have a much bigger surface area & are more effective as a sunblock.
  • The finer particles do not whiten the skin so much as the larger grades, so consumers are more inclined to use appropriate amounts.

The risk of sun damage far outweighs the risks of not using a sunscreen. The Cancer Council Australia has good information on the topic, and comments that if a product is labelled whether or not it contains nano particles, then the consumer can make up their own mind.

So we’ve come full circle, & have decided that on balance we feel that ZnO nano particles dispersed in an oil base offer a reliable way of getting a good sunscreen, with consistent results. We were sent a sample of ZinclearXP65COCO & made two batches which we sent back to their lab to be assessed. The ZnO is dispersed 65% in an oil base called Coco caprylate/caprate, which is derived from coconut oil. The product has Eco cert & Natural Products certification. It is biodegradeable.

The latest results from Dermatest  are below:

(28/2/2017) This was a preliminary test, and we hope to get a full testing in the Spring of 2018

Here are the results & explanations for the values:

Parameters

Millstream
Sunscreen #1

 SPF

34.8

Pass

Critical Wavelength 

373.00

Pass

UVAPF 

17.72

Pass

UVAPF/SPF
(≥ 0.33 for UVA requirement)

0.590

Pass

 The estimated in-vivo SPF value for the  sunscreen is 34.8 

Critical Wavelength– The critical wavelength is an additional requirement for UVA logo, it must be equal or higher than 370, both your samples passed the specification at critical wavelength of 373.

 UVAPF and UVAPF/ SPF – For European regulation, there is also a requirement to provide the consumer with a minimum level of UVA protection in relation to the SPF. This should be “UVA PF” or at least 1/3 (0.33) of the SPF to carry the UVA seal. 

 The good thing about Zinclear XP65COCO that you used for this formulation is that it has high Zinc Oxide loading and it’s already in a dispersed form. As long as you are consistent with your technique in mixing Zinclear with the bulk and in homogenising the emulsion, you’ll achieve good SPF rating.

Meantime we have done the best we can, & all the other ingredients in our recipe are user friendly, even the emulsifier & preservative are Eco certified. We have included lanolin as a water protector, but we make no claims that this is water resistant (that requires more tests & more $$).

Other things to consider when looking at sunscreens are:

  • The balancing act between skin protection & getting the Vitamin D you need.
  • Other ways to protect yourself including avoiding the hottest part of the day, wearing a hat & light clothing.
  • Using the appropriate amount of sunscreen  as recommended, re-applying as needed, especially after swimming.
  • One rule of thumb is a teaspoon per body part or area: 1 teaspoon for your face, head, and neck; 1 for each arm; 1 for each leg; 1 for your chest and abdomen, and 1 for your back and the back of your neck, although you won’t need so much of our sunscreen, your skin shouldn’t look white once it is rubbed in. Regardless of which SPF you use, apply it 15 to 30 minutes before going outside to allow it to adhere to skin, then reapply at least every 2 hours—more often if you’re swimming or sweating excessively.

There’s lots of info online, this is just the tip of the iceberg, so check it out & make your own choices. Below are a few of sites we referred to:

Farewell to Rifkin

Our old dog Rifkin died peacefully last weekend. She was a beardie, bearded collie, 14 plus years old.

It’s a long time to share one’s life & I just wanted to put a wee tribute to her here.

DSCF2186 (shrunk) jan 2011 kaiya 023 (shrunk) DSCF1574 (shrunk)

Rifkin was the third beardie we have owned, & we still have  Didgit, (#4) to keep us company. Finding Rif was one of those wonderful, serendipitous occasions: we had been looking for a beardie pup for sometime. The night before we were due to go to Palmerston North to see someone off at the airport, I had a dream. I dreamt that we found a puppy, & I was carrying her, soft & warm, with her head resting on my shoulder.

te onepu postcard 048 (shrunk) te onepu postcard 065 (shrunk) Blog 14 10 008 (shrunk)

When we were in Palmy, tired of shopping, we decided to visit a pet shop on the outskirts of town. It was a place we used to go to with our daughter, when she was a student. As we arrived in the carpark I suddenly recalled my dream, & said to Geoff ‘I should warn you, I think we’ll find a beardie pup here.’ And so it was… what a special beginning. Rifkin was named after much deliberation & argument, after a gaffer or some such on a Michael Palin doco. She was frequently referred to as ‘Whatamess’ because her long fur & large hairy feet seemed to collect all manner of garden debris & spread it about the house.

Didgit 8 months DSCF2189 (shrunk) book pics 040 (shrunk)

She was a most gentle & patient soul, sitting for ages while I’d clip clumps of mud from between her toes, or cut tangles out of her coat. Rif was also very smart, in later years she learnt to play soccer, using her nose & front legs to dribble a ball, & also to bounce a ball back to you with her nose. I’ve written about her recovery from a tumour nearly 3 years ago, after that she always barked like a hoarse seal, which was just as well since Didgit has such a loud bark it makes our ears ring & the windows rattle.

In the Winter one of our favourite games was kitchen soccer, a rowdy, mad game with much scrabbling & barking, as a tennis ball was rebounded off the side walls of the kitchen & both dogs would try to get it. Rif learnt to hold the ball in her mouth, tip her head up & bounce the ball, so she could catch it again. In more recent months she got a bit cautious of playing with Didge, who would get so excited she’d send Rif’s legs out from under her.

Last week two amazing things happened, that kind of close the circle. I had a distance healing with Chakra Dance Vicky, she told me she got a message about loving animals but letting them go when the time was right. Because it seemed obscure, she didn’t tell me until after Rif had died. In the meantime my Aunt rang me with a poem from a dog to it’s owner, saying goodbye. It felt very special to receive such clear messages that Rif was ready to go, & for us to let her. She died at home, peacefully, with our arms around her, in her favourite sunny spot. We feel so blessed to have had her company, love & loyalty, her trust & joy de vivre.

Rifkin (shrunk) may, giles 015 (shrunk)

We still think we see her or hear her around the place & it will take time to get used to her absence.

Amazing Wairarapa

Geoff & I took the old caravan on an outing to explore the Wairarapa a few weeks ago. What an amazing, wild & varied place. I thought I’d just put in a bit of a photographic essay to tempt you all to go exploring.

We stayed at Mount Holdsworth, Lake Ferry, Ngawi & Castle Point.

We came back on the Monday that the cyclone was due & had a bit of excitement, first the brakes went on the Terrano just as we left Castle Point. We were very lucky that we could pull over safely, & we got rescued by the AA, (not for the first time!) It was a broken alternator belt, which drives the vacuum pump for the brakes, (so Geoff informs me.) Luckily we could make coffee & cook breakfast in the caravan while we waited. Then we took the ‘short-cut’ via Alfreston, which was very scary, muddy & like 40km of forestry tracks. Eventually we arrived safely in Eketahuna, covered in mud & a bit shaken…not a route for the faint hearted, or those anticipating a cyclone.

Mount Holdsworth Mystery plant?? Mount Holdsworth, Geoff being brave Mosses & Lichens, Mount Holdsworth Rewarewa Lake Ferry

The Pinnacles Cape Palliser, Wairarapa  Cape Palliser, wairarapa

Ngawi, wairarapa Tinky Winky, wairarapa Look cute, smell bad!!

The Pinnacles Castle Point

A couple of weeks ago we noticed some new wasp-like insects, busily pollinating the Siberican Motherwort plants. They were marked just like wasps, but flew like bees, or hovered a bit, every now & then there would be a flurry as two larger bees fought, or a large one grabbed a smaller one.

Honey Bee (left) Wool Carder Bee (right)

Honey Bee (left) Wool Carder Bee (right)

Wool Carder Bee

Wool Carder Bee

 

We’ve discovered the best way to find out new things on google is to go to ‘Images’ to search, much quicker than trolling through loads of websites, so off we went in search of this rather alarming new visitor, and this is what we learnt:

These new insects are in the family Megachilidae: which includes Leafcutters & Mason Bees. They are Solitary Bees, not forming large colonies like the Honey Bee. The females are about half the size of the males, they have specialised rows of hairs on their legs, which they use to scrape ‘wool’ the downy fur from leaves like Woolly Lambsear. They carry this wool beneath their bodies, & use it to line their nests. The nests are found in disturbed habitats, cavities in rotting wood, & timber stacks etc.

The larger males are very territorial, attacking & chasing off any other pollinators from their patch, they also harrass the females, and “immobilise them, trying repeatedly to mate” not very endearing habits! Although they seem aggressive there does not seem to be any evidence that the Wool Carders are damaging our native bee populations or affecting the honey bees to any noticeable extent. The Wool Carders gather pollen from exotic plant species, with long tubular flowers, & have a preference for purple & blue flowers, although in our garden they were only found around the Leonurus sibericus flowers, which are pink. As yet we haven’t found any nests, but there is so much wilderness around the creek, they could be anywhere.

 wool bee 008 (shrunk) wool bee 024 (shrunk)

Our ports are our vulnerable spots for new species to enter NZ and these bees were first noted in 2006 in Napier & Nelson, since then they have spread out to over a dozen locations. I think in our garden since we stopped keeping bees, & the wild bees died from varroa, a much larger variety of pollinators are present in our gardens, this is reassuring in a way, that nature is filling the gap. We see far more Hover Flies, Drone Flies, Bumble Bees & Native Bees than we used to.

The other shift we’ve noticed over the last 5 years or so, is that we have less of the red & black spotted Ladybirds & more of the irridescent Steel Blue Ladybirds, this year a new arrival was the Yellow Shouldered Ladybird, which looks like a dusty blue bug, with big yellow spots, these were most often found feeding on the aphids at the top of the Swan Plants. They were impossible to photograph!!

It’s unsettling having new things arriving & wondering what these changes mean, & also missing old friends like the Magpie Moth & Cinnabar Moth, which used to be common in our gardens.

Well, our new system for growing tomatoes seems to be working well, so I thought I would put it here, in case someone wants to try it. What we have found, is that the low growing bush varieties, especially Scoresby Dwarf, are cropping really well, but the staked ones are not so prolific.Next year we shall grow perhaps 6 or 8 staked plants to add colour & variety, but stick to Scoresby Dwarf for our main crop. We have been diligent in removing any leaves that look unhealthy.

Tomato Harvest Veges from Garden

The original directions said to dig a hole 60cm deep & bury fish heads in it, but we didn’t manage to get hold of fish heads, so we improvised. In a bucket we mixed dried coffee grounds, epsom salts, plant mycorrhizal powder (from our local health shop),crushed, dried egg shells & worm castings.

We dug deepish holes, not 60cm, & put a good handful or two of this mix into the hole, followed by one disprin per plant. We trimmed off the lower leaves on our plants, so that the lower 10cm or so of the stems were bare, & planted them up to where  the leaves started.

The plants have grown well, & are providing us with plenty of fruit. Once a week Geoff sprays them with his special brew, which is 2L elder leaf liquid, & 3L comfrey/nettle/seaweed liquid fertiliser &  worm wees. This spray is designed to keep the psyllids at bay, & so far it’s working. The peppers & eggplants, & spuds also get a dose.

To make the elder leaf liquid fill a large saucepan 2/3 full of leaves, cover with cold water & bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 mins, cool then strain into bottles. It seems to keep several weeks ok. Simplest method of straining is to fold some net curtain into the funnel you use for filling the bottles.

Whenever the coffee grounds collect up, I mix them with some epsom salts, about 1:1 & sprinkle around the base of the plants.

So far we have made 9kg of the roasted “Harvest Tomato Sauce” (Annabell Langbein’s recipe), for pasta etc, & put in freezer, that’s about 30 cups worth, also have several batches of Ratatouille in the freezer, which is great for using the extra eggplants & zucchini, & shall definitely make lots more. This is a real treat in the Winter, when it reminds us of warm Summer days. Especially good added to Lamb Casseroles, with a tin of chickpeas & some Middle Eastern Spices.

January in the garden.

Today we have rain, what bliss. Our poor gardens have been hanging in there, the borders have only been getting enough water to keep them from complete wilting. It looks like we’ll have several days of relief, & even if there is not enough rain to really water the ground the plants & us get some respite. I went out early this morning and took some photos, I could just about hear the gardens sighing with relief!

a storm comingasparagus ferns 1happy frog in rain 1Tree Dahlia stem gathering water 1

It’s been a busy month, we have had a combined family exhibition at the Hastings Community Arts Centre. Nine family members, ranging in age from 12 to 87. It feels  very special to share this with my Mum & Aunt  & I hope when I’m in my eighties I could be part of such a venture. When we made plans for this, of course, it was in the Winter when we had spare time, & the reality was that we were all pretty busy & it was so hot we could barely move. Luckily we found a supply of iced coffees to sustain us through the setting up.

millstream poster 

The vege gardens are thriving, we have used quite a bit of mushroom compost this year to mulch areas, & we found details of a way to plant tomato plants, which although a bit more complicated at the time, seems to be having good results. We’ve also beeen brewing up elder leaves as an insecticide to keep the psyllids at bay, so far it looks promising. Of all the veges we grow, tomatoes are probably our mainstay, & if we can freeze a whole lot for the Winter we will be very happy

.tomato crop 1 Summer Garden 1

The herb garden has been a mixed bag, our Arnica crop has been amazing, loads & loads of flowers. We’ve learnt that they need to be split up & replanted at least every second year, but preferably every Spring. Meanwhile our new planting of St John’s Wort has been a failure, from what I can find out, we have a fungal problem called anthracnose, which kills the stems at ground level, so that whole stems of fine looking plant die off over night, it’s very worrisome.  In the last few years, it seems we have more problems in the gardens, the psyllids/ virus on tomatoes & spuds, anthracnose, moulds on the alliums, raiding birds eating half ripe fruit: it’s a fraught business being a gardener.

Unripe Elderberries 1Amazing Arnica crop1

Luckily the positives far outway the negatives, & just stepping barefoot out the door, into the herbs & flowers never fails to lift my heart, what a privilege it is to live this way. I think back to my childhood in England, where our outdoor area was a square of concrete, with room for dustbins & coal bunkers, & the plants growing there grew in the cracks in the walls, I feel so very blessed

.Tui by deck

Thoughts on herbal medicine

Geoff came across this speech, written by Rob McGowan about working with plants, traditions of healing, & the need for working with intent. It’s a bit of a trendy sales pitch these days, but the reality of working closely with the plants in our gardens & bush is that it adds a whole added dimension to our lives & our remedies. This speech is a wonderful, concise & eloquent description & exploration of that relationship. I hope you will take a few minutes to read it.

http://rongoanz.blogtown.co.nz/2010/06/02/rob-mcgowan-nzamh-conference-29-30th-may-2010/

I remember attending a Herb Conference, some 15 years ago now, & I had the feeling that I was out of step with many of the other participants, who could discuss at length the strengths of tinctures & how many  papers they had achieved in various modalities. (Interestingly, many of them could not identify even the commonest weeds & plants, or where to find them.)

Then Susun Weed stood up to speak, she spoke of the Wise Woman Way, & the gentle plants & their uses. I sat in the audience, moved to tears, feeling validated in my hands-on knowledge, that my years of having soil on my hands & under my feet counted for something. That something may not be quantified but it is valid, & for me it is the foundation of my love of herbs.

A stand of Salsify seed heads, Te Onepu Road

Turn of the wheel

The wheel has turned, & we are resolutely looking at Spring. My wishful dreams that we would be all tidy in the gardens with time to spare have evaporated! Suddenly everything is growing, weeds, blossoms, tiny bulbs, lambs, catkins, willow leaves, that awesome sense of shift & hidden movement as sap rises & life returns.

English Violets Magnolia stellata

Primroses Swallows return

We tidied our boxes of seeds the other day & put all the really old ones in a bag, which I shook out around the edges of the gardens. Many of these were Aquilegias from the days we ran the nursery, Nora Barlow, Nora’s Sister, Little Warwick, Red Star, doubles, singles & clematiflora types, if only 1% germinate we will have some treasures.

This is the time to get seeds sown, we spent a happy couple of hours sowing seeds in the greenhouse today, & we are even in phase with our moon calender, which says from now to the 7th Sept is good for plants above ground. We have sown punnets & pots of tomatoes, peppers, curcubits, & other veges, plus some herbs like Burdock, Valerian & Cardoon, plus some odd packets of very old seeds we hope might grow.

It’s also the time to start seed potatoes sprouting, (see chitting potatoes in blog) this makes sturdy sprouts, ready to grow fast once they are planted in about 6 weeks time.

We had our first, modest feed of Asparagus this week, early in the season, & so delicious with butter & black pepper. Our ratbag sheep got into the gardens & stripped all our beautiful brassicas bare, so now we have stumps where once there were heads of broccoli & cabbages forming. Very depressing after such a good start. We might get a few late heads of Broccoli from them. We had the last word  with the sheep, two wethers, which are now in the freezer! We are getting tough!!

unruly flock Brassica stumps

This year we are altering our vege growing, no pumpkins, we never eat enough to use what we grow. Only early spuds to avoid/minimise the psyllid problem, & a new super feed system for our tomatoes, which includes fish heads, aspirin, bone meal & worm castings, fingers crossed.

Finally I just want to say what amazing big skies we have here, they are stunning, here are a couple of pics to inspire you.

skies Aug14 019 (shrink) skies Aug14 004 (shrink)

We had a big frost last week, & went out to take some photos. Rugged up against the cold, in thick jacket, hat & gloves it was possible to appreciate the delicate beauty of the early morning. Giles had discovered some photos online of frozen bubbles, so we spent some time playing with that idea, & blowing bubbles onto the roof of the car. Most pop quite fast, but the ones that stay very slowly freeze, with those lovely fern-like patterns that frost makes. As gardeners we are happy to get some good frosts to help clean the garden of nasty bugs & also to provide the chilling that many of the plants we grow, need, to  anchor them into their seasonal cycle. Most of our garden & herb garden is planted in deciduous plants, trees & shrubs, which all enjoy a good frost & a rest over the colder months.

Bubbles & Frost

Frosty MorningSoft Morning Light

Our plants might be resting but we are not. We are re-organising our herb garden in a major way. The central bed had become totally overgrown by a tenacious mix of St. John’s Wort, Solomon’s Seal & Couch grass. Geoff has dug this out & we have sifted through the soil to pick out any roots left behind. We’ve planted a new bed of St. John’s Wort, where it is surrounded by lawn , so hopefully it will be contained.  We’ll plant annual herbs & vegetables in the old bed, so we can dig out any Couch etc that shows up. We’ve also doubled the size of our Arnica bed, so we should have a good crop this year. Next on the list is to clean up the Meadowsweet bed & split the plants up, as they are very congested & not producing many flowers. That area is also rife in Couch Grass, so we shall have a good dig around & mulch were we can. Mulching certainly seems to help keep the Couch under control, as it comes up to the surface, under the mulch, & is easy to pull out. We use old cardboard boxes or thick layers of newspaper, & cover these with leaf mulch or similar, heavy cover.

Couch roots under pavers Equisetum hyemale Cleared beds Couch & Taro

Our bath pond is also in need of a good sort out, it has a variety of Horsetail in it, E. hyemale,whichalthough not as rampant as E. arvense, still spreads & has nearly filled the bath. We shall have to dispose of the unwanted roots very carefully, probably on top of a bonfire heap. We are hoping our frogs will return in the Spring & be delighted to find a bit more space in their pool.

New St. John's Wort bed Tidy Herb Garden

Wintertime

Winter is here, after dragging it’s heels for some weeks. It has arrived in earnest.

We have filled our woodsheds with a mix of Willow, Robinia & Apple wood, which is a good combination for hot fires. Our routines change, we dawdle in house in the mornings, thinking of tasks that just have to be done beside the fire. Porridge has appeared on the breakfast menu, or tea & toast on an especially slow start. I have remembered last years soup recipes & made big pots of Pea & Ham soup, & our ‘Oxtail without the Tail Soup’, putting pots into the freezer for later. Casseroles & stews , lasagnes, Shepherd’s Pie & curries are in our thoughts, & on our plates. We have a great system at present, where Geoff, Giles & I take turns to cook, & we each cook enough for two nights, so we only cook once a week each, plus a fry up or freezer meal for the odd day, I love it. I’m starting to try out some new recipes, instead of just cooking in a rush as I often do.Frosted Garden Gingko after Frost

There’s nothing nicer than finishing work & coming home to a cosy fire & warm house, with maybe the option of a hot bath, courtesy of the coalrange. The cat has taken up residence under our old Fire Nymph, & we let our old dog Rif sleep indoors at night. They are both about 14 & getting a bit frail. Young Didgit gets put in the kennel, & wakes me in the mornings with her big, wet, cold nose thrust into my face.

Rif asleep Tripper under the Fire Nymph

The frosts have knocked back everything that dies down or simply dies with the cold, & at present there are drooping, wilted frost burnt leaves strewn about the gardens, looking rather depressing. The trees however look lovely, & golden leaves float down from them with every whisper of breeze. Despite the Winter chill, we are needing water, our rain tanks, which filled so well in April with over 200ml of rain, are getting low as we’ve only had 20 ml this month so far, the weather forecast always says rain later in the week, but when we get there, it has moved on again.

Mice & rats are a bit of a pest now, they gnaw at night sounding like they will eat through the timbers that hold the walls up, or that they are rolling heavy balls up & down, or maybe chewing through our wiring. I pretend to myself it just very noisy mice, but I am afraid that it’s rats in the walls. We have set traps & laid bait, neither of which we like to do, but it’s us or them.

Last weekend we got woken up at 5.30am by bangs & booms, it turned out to be duck shooters in the paddock behind our house. They were shooting Paradise Ducks, & over the day I think they wiped out the whole lot. I know they are a pest, & there were lots of them, but I do miss them. I have been in the habit of sitting in bed in the morning with a cuppa & watching them go about their duck business. Occasionally a hawk would fly over & the whole lot would rise into the air, & do that magic thing where they turn, flashing from black to white & black again. Now the paddock looks forlorn & bare. I guess it won’t be long before some other parries find the spot & move in.

Paradise Duck Decoy Brimfull woodshed

Our Feijoas are prolific & big this year, next on my ‘to do’ list is to cook some up & freeze, we’ve made Chutney & Feijoa Farmhouse Cake from an old Listener recipe, & of course we give them away to anyone who can be persuaded to take them. Luckily they are quite a bit later than most people’s crops so we can find takers. Giles has plans to make wine, to add to the growing collection wired onto our top shelf. This includes the Peach Parfait, Beetroot & Carrot with Lemon Balm.

Feijoas still on tree Autumn Bonfire

It’s both the bliss & burden of a ‘lifestyle’ block, the satisfaction & stress of using up, storing or giving away our harvests. I wouldn’t have it any other way, I’m happy to have time to do these things in amongst ‘work’, & really it all becomes one & the same, & I would never give this up for a huge salary, commuting to work & all the stresses that go with that.