Guest blog: Never a quiet day for country mum Laura MacDonald on her Te Akau lifestyle block
In our new guest blogger series ‘My Neck of the Woods’, we spend a day with interesting New Zealanders in their patch of paradise. First up is country mum Laura MacDonald of The Kiwi Country Girl, who is growing and cooking all kinds of deliciousness on her Waikato lifestyle block, with a toddler in tow.
A day without eating dirt is a day wasted…wait, that’s not right. Unless you’re our daughter Sadie who revels in the fact that I cringe every time she picks something up. I know the next stop is her mouth. Chicken food, leaves, worms and, of course, the natural ‘fertilizer’ left behind by our sheep all get the same treatment. While her little buddies are busy attending music groups, coffee dates and baby gym classes, our daughter is up to her ears in mud and couldn’t be happier. She was born for farm life which makes my heart sing.
I’m Laura and I live on a small block of land in Te Akau, 40 minutes from Ngaruawahia in the Waikato with my husband Josh, our 14-month-old daughter Sadie and our boisterous black labrador Sage. Josh drives stock trucks for his family’s transport company and helps out on their dry-stock farm while I stay home with Sadie and work on devising recipes for my rural lifestyle blog The Kiwi Country Girl. We grow veggies, raise chickens, make things from scratch and I share it with the world.
As any good day should, ours starts with food. We are a fair hike from the nearest anything, so it’s mostly homemade around here. Baking bread is flavour of the month and this morning we are taste-testing a batch of English muffins. Sadie approves, but that’s not hard. I’d love to be able to say she’s a useful kitchen helper, but she’s still at the stage where she’s only interested in putting anything in her mouth and pulling everything out of the cupboards. So I usually give her a snack, open the Tupperware or pots and pans’ cupboard and let her go crazy while I get on with it.
If it’s a nice day we will head outside straight after breakfast. Our aim is to grow most of our own fruit and vegetables, so gardening is a big job. I made the mistake in my first year (as many people do) of getting completely carried away, buying ALL the seeds and biting off way more than I could chew. Needless to say, the garden got away on me, so I scaled back the following year and since then have been slowly working my way up.
We potter in the garden pulling out weeds, planting new seedlings and learning the difference between the two so that the seedlings actually have a chance of survival. We try to take some of our harvest inside before it’s all eaten on the way by a ravenous toddler.
We have a large outdoor in-ground garden as well as a couple of raised beds for herbs and raspberries, but my favourite is our poly-tunnel. We bought a kitset a few years ago but the weather took its toll on the plastic so Josh rebuilt a more permanent structure. It’s plywood front and back with wire mesh over the windows for ventilation (but to keep the white butterflies out) and we covered it with a more heavy duty plastic.
The warmth generated from this and the raised beds inside make for perfect growing conditions year round. We plant tomatoes and peppers in September and are still harvesting them in June. Lettuces and brassicas do extremely well all year and it has been the perfect set-up for our strawberries – we harvest these from October through to March and the birds get away with none.
Next up is taking care of the varying number of chickens. We keep around 10 laying hens and raise meat birds too.
We buy fertile eggs, hatch them in an incubator and they are ready for the freezer at about 18 weeks old, or when the roosters start crowing…whichever comes first. Depending on the age and stage of the laying hens we have at the time, we might keep a few hens to make sure we have a good supply of eggs year round, but everything else goes in the freezer.
Growing chickens slowly and processing only a small number at a time is probably not the most economical way of doing things but it works for us. It fits in well with our goals of growing our own food and showing Sadie where her food comes from, plus it’s manageable as we can process all the birds during her nap time. Our breeds of choice are Rhode Island Reds and Australorps. They are both fantastic year-round layers and make great table birds. Plus they are super-friendly.
If the weather cooperates and there’s something happening on my in-laws’ sheep and beef farm (only a few minutes up the road), Sadie and I will go to explore. This time of year we are in the middle of lambing, and the calves need ear tagging and vaccinating so there’s lots going on.
This year we brought two ewes from the farm down to our house paddock to lamb, which is pretty exciting – we love being able to see them right outside our window.
A huge part of my day is devoted to working on my blog. I could be in the kitchen testing recipes such as this one, taking photos or making videos. Once Sadie has gone to bed, I write posts and do the computer work that comes along with this. My goal with the blog is to share what we know and what we are learning along the way about living a more “made from scratch” lifestyle. If I can inspire others to try making meals this way, or to grow veggies or raise animals that’s a bonus.
The list of jobs written up on the blackboard is neverending and relaxing isn’t something that happens often. But once Sadie is asleep and I’ve wiped the last trace of dirt from the couch, I am always so grateful that we are here living off the land. We are doing what we love, sharing it with others and raising our family the only way we know how. This is the good life for sure.
LAURA’S HOMEMADE HUNDREDS AND THOUSANDS RECIPE