karen the quilter

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Karen’s Blog

Sea Dreams GravatarWhen I set up my Karenthequilter blog a year ago my intention was to express my passion for quilting and fabric design through an on-line forum.  However I’ve been incredibly busy with paid work so I wasn’t able to keep it up.  I’m now retired and ready for the next adventure. My husband and I are preparing for our move to 93 acres of rain forest in Fiji.  The house is for sale and we’ve been focused on de-junking and packing. I’m hoping that in a year or so we’ll be settled with our house built, including running water and some form of off grid power. That’s probably too ambitious but without goals its hard to accomplish anything. For now my focus for this blog is to document and share with my family, friends, and quilting community, our upcoming adventure.


3 Tons of Cassava

Yesterday marked a turning point for our farm, our first commercial sale of cassava to Agromarketing!  Up to this point all our crop sales have been small, mostly to local markets.  We sold 3190 kg of cassava at $0.50 per kg for a total of $1595.00.  We have probably another 6 tons in the ground so we’re hoping that Agro-marketing will be back in a couple of weeks for another 3 tons.

Agromarketing arrives at Mudrenicagi

The Agricultural Marketing Authority (Agromarketing) is a statutory organisation of the Fiji Government with its core role of finding the markets for all agricultural products in Fiji. Agromarketing’s goal is to improve the economic well being of rural dwellers in the remote areas by making the market accessible to them. As a new farm its been challenging to get on Agromarketing’s list of farms that they purchase from. On our island there is only one Agromarketing branch based in Savusavu and they travel all over our island purchasing produce. There is plans to open another branch in Nabouwalu which will make it easier for farmers at our end of the island.

We hired a crew of 7 guys to help Arthur and Charlie dig up the cassava.  Arthur’s brother John and nephew Henry also came to help. It took most of the day to pull the plants.  Agromarketing arrived in the mid afternoon to weigh and load 72 bags of cassava.  Most of the bags weighed about 45kg. Today we’ve collected a couple of bags of cassava that was too skinny for sale so that we can peal and freeze these for our own consumption.

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Chickens and Eggs

Yesterday Arthur and I rotated our chickens into a new pasture. It took about 3 hours to relocate and detangle the vines from our temporary fencing but now our chickens have lots on new green stuff and bugs to eat. We had wanted to completely free range our chickens and move them around in chicken trackers like I’ve seen on the permaculture chicken video but our property is still too rough and un-developed for this approach. So we’ve built a central chicken coop that will have 4 rotating pastures for our chickens. We’ve used electric fencing with a solar charger to keep the mongoose and dogs away from the chickens. This worked well until recently when the solar energiser stopped working so now we’ll be putting up permanent fencing.

Right now we have 44 chickens laying about 30-36 eggs a day. And we have another 49 chickens who will start laying within the next month. We feed them about a quarter pound of feed per chicken per day and they have about 5-6 hours of free ranging per day. I’d like to be able to reduce my feed costs and increase the food available to my chickens through foraging. I found a great website in Australia that has some great info on planting plants for chicken foraging. I’d love to be able to order their Clucker Tucker Seed Mix but its difficult to import seeds and so far the agriculture department has not been able to provide me with info on what I can plant here in Fiji for my chickens. So I’m going to experiment with planting my own mix of mung bean, blue pea, mustard seed, sunflowers, radish, cowpea, and bak choy. These are all plants that I can plant in Fiji and that the seeds are readily available.  We’ll see what the chickens will like and go from there.


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Two Old Men, Two Young Boys, and the Sea

Last week we took a day off from the farm and enjoyed a day on the ocean.  We traveled about 2 hours down the coast trolling. It was a beautiful day, not too hot and not too windy. Arthur’s cousin Zakaria and two of his sons, Budha and Jimmy, joined us.  And of course Bruno goes everywhere I go.

The fish were not really biting very well. Zakaria was the only one that caught a fish but it was a good size and was delicious for dinner. It was really interesting to watch Arthur and Zakaria fish.  There were no fancy reels, just 120 lb test weight line wrapped around a bottle or pipe.  Arthur has a couple of lures that “pop” along on the surface which they tried out. They wrap the line around their back and sit back and wait for a strike, then they pulled in the line by hand.  Pictures don’t really do it justice so I’ve uploaded a couple of videos to youtube.  This is something new for me so I hope it works.




Beekeeping Workshops a great success!

While I was in Canada, Arthur hosted a Basic Beekeeping workshop at Mudrenicagi sponsored and taught by the Agricultural Department. There were 26 participants who successfully completed the workshop. Participants learnt about the lives of bees, colony management, tools and protective equipment, and how to harvest the honey. Everyone enjoyed the practical experience of suiting up in a bee suit and opening a hive to identify the worker bees, drones, and queen. They were also able to harvest 9 frames which gave us 17kg (11.5 litres) of honey, not bad for our first harvest.

Although there are not many beekeepers in our area, beekeeping is well established in Labasa and Savusavu areas. The Fijian government is encouraging the expansion of beekeeping to other areas of our island through the provision of bee colonies at a subsidised rate once a farmer has completed their basic beekeeping workshop. Twelve participants from the first training session took advantage of this offer.  But a challenge for farmers in our area is purchasing the bee boxes and transporting them from Labasa to our location. So Arthur decided to set up a bee box manufacturing workshop at our place to provide local farmers with the box locally at the same rate that they would purchase it in Labasa but without the shipping cost. Arthur, Charlie and Zakaria have been very busy producing the 12 double box hives. Rayape and I have also been helping out.

This month we hosted a second beekeeping workshop on May 18-19th with 14 participants, including myself.  The weather was not very good – lots of rain and wind – so unfortunately we were not able to complete the practical experience. But we were able to invite Mr. Alipate, the Divisional Planning Officer for the North as our chief guest.  He closed our training session with an informative talk about beekeeping in Fiji and presented the certificates to the successful participants from the first training session.  As well the 12 nucleus colonies were delivered by the Agricultural dept.  We’ll be busy this week delivering the boxes and colonies.


Oops its been 2 months

Oops its been two months since my last post. I’d like to says I’ve been too busy to write but that would be a lie.  While we were very busy over the Christmas and New Year season with our Canadian family visiting, since they all left its been a bit slower paced.  Here’s a quick synopsis of the last 2 months (sorry that there aren’t many pictures but I lost my iphone which was my camera):

January: After celebrating New Year’s Day with friends Anna and Bob from Bua and two of their friends from Savusavu, Siana, Marc, Kinesi, Arthur and I reconnected with Ateca and Brendan in Savusavu. We enjoyed a day of snorkeling and had an absolutely fabulous dinner at the Surf and Turf Restaurant. Ateca and Brendan said goodbye to us in Savusavu before heading to Sigatoka and eventually back to Canada. We rented a twin cab pickup truck and drove back home taking the short coastal route from Savusavu to Wainunu not wanting to spend a full day on the bus. The weather had been very wet in December but we’d been told the road was ok, which it was until we encountered a flooded bridge. Rather than turn around and go back, Arthur started clearing debris blocking the flow of water under the bridge. With the help of a few other men they had the bridge cleared and after half an hour the water level had dropped to the point we could cross safely and carry on home. Siana and Marc stayed with us until mid January before heading off for 2 weeks in New Zealand. Kinesi was able to stay until February and we put her to work helping with unpacking storage bins from the sea can and weeding Cassava. Unfortunately for her and me, we were stung by hornets while weeding the cassava, very painful but at least neither of us had an allergic reaction.

February: Just about the time that Kinesi left for the Yasawas in early February, the weather changed and we had about 3 weeks of solid rain.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much rain and that’s from someone that grew up in Vancouver. At least with the new house we had plenty of dry space to escape from the rain.  As well with the two 5000l storage tanks we have no shortage of water. We’ve taken time off working on the house and focused on the farm instead. Our chickens were being attacked by mongoose so Arthur set some traps. We’ve successfully cleared the chicken pen of mongoose so the chickens are happier now.  We’re planning to build a more secure chicken coop once the wet season is over.  Arthur also set 17 traps for wild pigs and has already caught 3 pigs.  There’s a herd of about 30 wild pigs in the area that are getting into local farmers’ plantations.  So far they have not damaged any of our crops.

The biggest change for us is the hiring of a farm manager.  We’ve hired Arthur’s nephew Charlie.  Charlie, his wife Rayapi, and their 2 girls have moved to Mudrenicagi.  Right now they will be living with Arthur in the big house but the plans are for them to live in the small house that we were living in. Charlie will be a huge help to Arthur on the farm and we’re excited to have them join us.

Looking forward into March, Arthur is getting ready to start harvesting the cassava and the taro and we are hosting a Basic Bee Keeping Certification training program sponsored by the Agriculture Dept for about 25 local farmers on March 7th and 8th.

Right now I’m sitting under a Bure at the Bamboo Backpacker’s Hostel in Nadi waiting for my flight back to Canada. I will be spending about 6 weeks in Canada visiting my parents in Vancouver, Thomas in Victoria, and the girls in Whitehorse. Looking forward to seeing family and friends!


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our friends and family here in Fiji and around the world.  Arthur and I have been very fortunate this year to be able to celebrate the season with Siana, Marc, Kinesi, Ateca, Brendan and many of our Fiji family in our new house.

Our kids arrived in Fiji between the 12th and 13th of December. Siana met up with everyone in Nadi before she and Marc travelled to Sigatoka for a few days at the Tabua Sands Resort. I met up with the rest of the group  in Suva on December 15th. We had planned to do some site seeing in Suva but the weather did not cooperate.  For the entire 5 days I was in Suva it rained, and I mean torrential rains. Thank goodness we were nice and dry in Nakasi with Tomasi and family. Siana and Marc caught up with us on the 17th and we all headed over to Vanua Levu by ferry on the 18th. Although Arthur had said that the rain down home had been light, the night before we travelled the rain was really heavy and caused bridge and road washouts. We arrived in Nabouwalu after a somewhat rough ferry crossing only to discover that the road was closed and we were unable to get home. Thankfully Arthur’s niece Joanna Kean and her husband Tony opened their home to us.  Their hospitality was deeply appreciated. After two days the rain stopped and we were able to travel by boat up the coast. We met Arthur out on the ocean, transferred into our boat and made it home safely.

While we were in Suva, Arthur was hard at work installing the water tank, kitchen sink, toilet, louver windows and doors. Once we arrived we were able to move in. Siana built some rough shelves and counters in the kitchen. The fridge and stove were installed just in time for Christmas cooking. Our solar power system was finally installed on Dec 24th and this week the electrician completed the wiring. We now have lights and power points throughout the house as well as running water in the kitchen and a flush toilet – fantastic!  Arthur has mounted a white flag in preparation for the official house opening scheduled for January 8th.  Tomasi and Emosi from Suva will be our guests of honor and will have the official duty of taking down the flag and declaring the house open.

We celebrated Christmas with Arthur’s brother John and family,  as well as his cousin Zacharia and family, and cousin Charlie and family.  Everyone arrived on the 24th and stayed until the 26th. Thirty-eight people sat down to Christmas dinner. Our menu included 6 chicken put in the lovo, curried chicken, fried snapper, fish soup, dalo, and cassava. Lots of food to go around and lots of time spent laughing and talking.

The time with everyone is going very quickly. Ateca and Brendan have already left on their way to Savusavu and Taveuni. They will be spending their New Year’s eve at the international date line.  We’ll connect with them in a few days in Savusavu before they head back to Canada. I’m already missing them.

Tonight we’ll see in the New Year with a fish BBQ and a bonfire under the stars.Wishing everyone a Happy New Year.


The push is on

I can’t believe that is been well over a month since I last did an update to my blog.  What can I say but its been incredibly busy as we’ve all been working hard to get the house ready before Christmas. We’re almost there.  I would be very remise if I didn’t acknowledge all the hard work put into this project by Siana, Allan and the Fiji construction crew. They’ve put in long days and back breaking effort.

I’ve posted lots of photos of the progress on the house over the last 6 weeks below. Currently the roof is complete except for the gutters thanks to Arthur’s cousin Zacharia and nephew Mo who both worked through some blazing hot days. The exterior walls and main floor flooring is installed thanks to Siana, Allan, Titi, Dukai, and Kai, and the upper floor is more than halfway complete. The main floor veranda joists and upper floor veranda bearers are complete thanks to Vili and Tom, and the main floor veranda decking has been started. Last week we had an additional crew in to dig and cement in the posts for the platforms for the two 5000 litre water tanks which will be arriving tomorrow. As well they’ve dug the hole for the septic tank and started digging the septic field. Arthur has completed the rough in plumbing. Yesterday 4 of 8 solar panels were installed but due to some unexpected glitches the whole system will not be installed until next Sunday. The electrical team will be here by Friday to wire the house and hopefully by next Sunday the electrician will be able to connect to a live 2 Kv system and we’ll finally be able to fire up the fridge.


In the midst of all this activity we’ve had time to take a trip to Savusavu to see off Allan as he headed back to Canada. During the three months in Fiji Allan had a chance to see how life is lived away from the resort areas and I’m sure he is taking back many memories  of both good and challenging experiences.  We’ll miss the “big man” and look forward to his next visit. While in Savusavu, we spoilt ourselves with a much deserved break at the Daku Resort in Savusavu and chilled in the dipping pool just in front of our villa – it was heaven. We also had the opportunity to attend the wedding of the daughter of Arthur’s family’s longtime neighbours Suraj and Sera in Labasa. The ladies attending the wedding were dressed in amazing saris only to out done by the bride in traditional red and gold.

Siana headed off on Saturday to Nadi via a stop in Nakasi to meet up with Marc, Kinesi, Ateca, and Ateca’s boyfriend Brendan. They’re all connecting at the Bamboo Backpacker’s Hotel before Siana and Marc carry on to Sigatoka and the rest carry on to Suva. I’ll be heading to Suva to meet everyone and then we’ll all head home next Sunday. Unfortunately Thomas will not be able to join us for Christmas as he is attending a Motorcycle and Small Engine Repair program at BCIT. We’ll all miss him and me especially.

And not forgetting our animals. The kittens are growing quickly and are providing hours of entertainment. Bruno is trying desperately to make friends with the kittens and can’t wait until they’re ready to play with him. For now he’s learning the meaning of  ‘gentle’. Our layer birds were producing about 18 eggs per day but the mongoose have been terrorising the birds and its taken the last several days to figure out how to mongoose proof the chicken coop.  I think we’ve finally solved the problem as the chicken have started to lay again.  We’ve decided to expand our chicken flock and put in an order for 30 more laying birds and 30 more meat birds expecting to receive the chicks in early January. But best laid plans always goes awry – we received the chicks last week just 2 weeks after placing the order.  In the past its taken up to 2 months to get the chicks.

Christmas is less than 2 weeks away. Even though our house may not be ready, we are planning to host Christmas for our extended Fijian and Canadian family. We’re not sure how many people will be coming but we’re looking forward to celebrating with whoever will make it.  For those of you overseas, we wish you peace and joy during the festive season and all the best in the New Year.