Simon has started a new job, since his time at the dairy farm came to an end. He is now picking moss. I don’t know where else in the world sphagnum moss is harvested, but the West Coast of New Zealand supplies a large share of the world’s supply. This moss grows wild in the swamps here, and harvesting it is a big business. Simon is going along with a man who has been doing it most of his life and loves the work, learning from him. He came home from work one day last week and told me they would be doing a “fly-out” the next day, and we should come to watch. I had planned to stay home and get some work done here, and do some school, but I decided we would have a field trip, instead. Sadly, we arrived just too late to see the bags flown out, but we learned a lot about the rest of the process! Another time maybe we’ll get to see that part.
This is a patch of moss in front of Simon’s boot. This is a thin spot, not worth harvesting, but because it was raining we didn’t want to go much farther. Anyway, he said that the mud gets pretty deep the farther you go into the swamp, and we didn’t want to get that dirty! They have to cut the gorse out, and then they use pitchforks to pick up the moss, cleaning mud and sticks out of each forkful before putting it into the bag.
These wool bags are filled with 200 kg of moss. Two are filled side by side, and when they have enough to fill a truck with 72 bags, they call in a helicopter to lift them out. The helicopter can lift two at once. Simon said that at first it was a 40-second turnaround between dropping off one set of bags and the next, and by the end it was 50 seconds, since the helicopter had to go a little farther.
Close-up of some of the moss.
The moss is trucked to the sheds. These are long, low buildings with clear roofs and lots of ventilation. The moss is spread out on these tables, made of bird netting fastened to frames, to dry.
After it has dried some, the moss is put through the kiln. This used to be a tobacco kiln, but is now used solely for moss. After the moss has dried enough here, it is sorted again to get out any more stuff you don’t want in your hanging baskets, and baled in an old wool press. The original 200 kg now weighs 11 kg.
Simon took a video with his phone of part of the fly-out. He told me that a lot of static electricity builds up in the cable. He unhooked the bags that were loaded onto a smaller truck, and said that he got shocked with every set of bags!