Introducing Niki

April 28, 2014 Niki Morrell

How can you tell that the people who’ve bought the farmlet down the road don’t have a clue what they’re doing? When the first livestock unit they buy is a bull.

Hamish the bull

Yep, that was us in early 2012. We were the proud owners of 25 hectares of marginal land in a “very high” wind area at 700 metres in the Nelson Lakes area.

We had no farming experience whatsoever. And we had a bull. When we acquired him, Hamish was a placid two-year-old. Now he’s nearly five and a lot less easy-going but that’s a story for another time.

My name is Niki. I was born in Christchurch but hopped over the ditch to Australia in 1998 and lived there for 13 years.

In that time, I met and married a nice Scottish engineer called Ewan. We worked and travelled all over Oz and I eventually scored a job as a radio presenter for the Australian Broadcasting Association.

Niki, Ewan and Buddy

In 2007 I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, the kind that tips you on your ear and makes you re-evaluate everything.

In 2009, I studied for a qualification in permaculture design and started seriously looking for some land back in New Zealand.

The Trans-Tasman commute

We’d always planned to come back here. Ewan had this lovely picture in his head of a couple of acres, a few chooks and a nice vege garden. What we ended up with was very different but that’s what can happen when you fall passionately in love with a place.

We bought our block in August 2009 but remained in Oz to keep working and save money. We’d fly over for a week every four months when Ewan had some R&R, and rush around trying to deal to chest-high weeds in the vege garden and repair the rabbit-proof fencing. Almost two years to the day after we bought the place, we moved back permanently.

Now that we’re here, what’ll we do?

When curious locals asked us what our plans were for the place, we’d talk airily about “feeding ourselves” and “sustainable living”. We’d mention Highland cattle and Wiltshire sheep, chooks and maybe a pig or two.

In reality, for the first three months all we wanted to do was rest, drink wine and admire the glorious views.

We set up the worm farm first and my ignorance nearly wiped them all out. Then the chooks arrived. To be honest, they frightened me a bit.

Hamish sauntered out of his trailer next, followed by three other Highlands and ten Wiltshire ewes with a ram thrown in for free. We were on our way.

A neighbour was growing saffron and we decided we’d have a crack at that too. We bought 1,000 corms in early 2012, built some raised beds and poked the corms into the best quality compost we could afford.

Only a fortnight later, I was thrilled to discover green shoots emerging. I gloated about “the crop” on our website. . . until I realized that the shoots came from the pea straw I’d laid under the compost and had nothing to do with saffron at all.

The vertical learning curve

Since then, we’ve bottle-raised lambs, watched all the seed in a newly-sown paddock wash away in torrential rain and spent 13 hours in a paddock trying to keep a dying cow alive. We sell eggs to folk in our community.

Ewan brews his own beer and I make mozzarella. We’re currently in the middle of our third saffron harvest.

We’re still nowhere near mastering the farming thing but we’re further on than we were. We’ve learned that farming requires compromise, that all the books in the world don’t prepare you for the real thing, and that it’s a lot more fun and a lot more heartbreaking than we’d ever dreamed.

Welcome to the rollercoaster ride that’s lifestyle block farming. I’m thrilled to have you along!

About the Author

Niki Morrell is a writer who is learning how to farm 25 hectares of marginal land and beech forest in the Nelson Lakes area. With no background or prior experience in farming, she spends much of her time alternating between elation and despair. She says, however, that she wouldn’t have it any other way.

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