Tuesday, 22 May 2018

To cap it all

With our normal washing machine disconnected we decided
to try out the new portable one that we have for washing
fleeces to wash our underwear instead. It worked well enough
and even spun out the clothes quite well. It might still use
too much of our precious water on the land though. 
This week we emptied the cellar of our old apartment and moved most of the remaining stuff out from the apartment itself. We also finished putting wardrobe together in the one we will be living in over winter so that we could put the clothes away. It is nice to be able to find other clothes again to wear. On the Thursday I took the car to the garage early then went back to our old apartment to clean it, since just about all our stuff has been taken out that needs to be taken out. I had arranged to meet up with someone to talk about weaving that morning too but somehow I managed to mess up the times. At some point what should have been 10am meeting in my head turned into a 10:30am meeting. It meant that the poor lady ended up waiting for me and I didn't show up. I was mortified, when I rang and found out my mistake. I hate it when others do it to me and so to do it to someone else was awful.

This little madam decided to worry our friend who was
looking after our animals by disappearing overnight. I did
explain that she does do that every now and again and is less
often now than it used to be, when she sometimes
disappeared for a week at a time
I said last week, very tongue in cheek, "Not much on my plate then!" but it was at the point when I realised my mistake that I knew I had too much going on in my head. I was making too many mistakes like that. I can be forgetful but I don't often leave people waiting without at least calling to explain. I went back to the apartment and sat down and wrote an email to Ian to explain what had happened and said I wouldn't be back until later on in the day as I wanted to get my head clearer and I wasn't in a good mood at all. I also wrote down in the email about all the things that were in my head and needed sorting or I was dealing with. Bless him! When I did eventually go back to our land on the last bus (only about 6ish) he was busy making shelves in the barn so that stuff could be organised and it means we can clear out the greenhouse in time for our felting workshop at the beginning of June.

Rain clouds. Not much but at least it is some rain for our
plants
A friend also realised that some of things we were talking about could be causing me a degree of stress and offered to take some of the workload off me. I hadn't said anything about what had happened and that things were piling up on me but it was such a relief to be able to say that her actions were really, really helpful at the minute and yes it would take some pressure off me that I rather badly needed. Of course, just sitting down and writing everything out was also helping me to sort things out in my head and made me feel a bit more balanced and less overwhelmed. There is still a lot to do, but I am starting to tick things off the list and another job was postponed by someone else until later on in the year, which again was helpful.

Ian has been busy cutting grass again. The alpacas don't like
long grass and Ian also likes to keep the grass short in some
areas like the orchard and around the current bushes.
I managed to book a flight to Slovakia for around mid-June to attend a PhD course. I was quite pleased to find out that flights to Vienna were cheaper and it is relatively easy to get to Slovakia from there. The only problem is that it was easy to find out how to get to Bratislava and quite cheap too, but the next leg was not as easy to find out. I sent an email to the university organising the course and they will send me details later, so not a problem - I think! I will worry about that nearer the time of course.

The view from the "office" yesterday
We went without a car for 2 1/2 days and Ian went to collect it around mid-day on Saturday. He rode there on his bike, which he hasn't done for a long time. He felt surprisingly okay and I was surprised how quickly he got back. It was rather an expensive job though and the car still needs a couple of jobs doing on it. When I say it was expensive, that is all relative but it is certainly more than we have paid for a long time. The car is getting old and so in many ways only to be expected.
Looking the other way from the "office"
Potential client?
The office. Ian starting the shearing. I had my own shearing
the day before. A friend of ours came to get some of our eggs
to put under a broody hen and since my hair was getting a
bit long she cut it for me. It won't be long before I'm as
white as that alpaca.
I have finished planting out all the tomatoes  and pepper plants in the greenhouse and the trees I bought outside. The spaces in the greenhouse we have left now will be planted up with basil or other plants that can tolerate warm weather. Outside we have been having to do quite a bit of watering.  We are resorting to emergency measures with the water as we are seriously short of moisture in the ground and it is only May. Since last week we have only had one very small shower on Thursday and little more again today. Just barely enough to wet the ground and not much more. This is not helping the germination of seedlings or helping plants just getting established. We have now set up a water tank next to the garden and filled it with water pumped from the newest pond. We might have lost many strawberry plants in the newest bed I made, but at least I should have been able to save some anyway. It is mot too much of an issue as there are still plants that are growing well that were made when there was more moisture in the ground and those strawberries are very prolific and will soon recolonise the plot.
Concentrating hard

Those shears are sharp. I hold the animals head down to
keep it still
We have also now organised getting our milk from our neighbour. We went up to take milk bottles ready for filling and she was in, so she gave us some milk from the morning milking. As she says, the morning milk is the tastiest - something you don't really appreciate with supermarket milk. Whilst we were chatting, aided by her son who was home for the weekend from university, her husband came out. He said with a big grin on his face that he went to make coffee and, spreading his arms out wide to emphasise his point, there was no milk in the house - apparently we had the last of their milk and she hadn't done the evening milking yet. Not too worry, it was time for her to go milking and for us to put our animals away and so he didn't have long to wait for the milk for his coffee.
Taking a sample for testing

This time holding the animals head still while Ian shears
the tail
For the last two days we have been shearing up in Estonia again. This time we had 17 alpacas, which is more than Ian can manage in one day without straining his back. He could manage more if he was just shearing, but we often help with getting the animals to the shearing area and then there are toe nails and teeth to check too, so it all adds up in time. Those who do more in one day, usually have a larger team. It is also a time when we get to socialise with other alpaca owners anyway and so is not a high pressure event. This particular gentleman and his wife are also good hosts who feed us well. A coffee break for instance means sandwiches or some savoury pastries, large home-made cookies, some fresh honey still on the comb and maybe some salad too. As for lunch! That was a tender slab of spiced, roast pork each with roast potatoes, leek sauce and salad with more of those home-made cookies. I don't think I need to eat for a week. We were put up in a local hotel overnight too and so it made for an enjoyable and reasonably relaxing time, even with the long day, due to the early start and late finish on the Monday.
Clipping toe nails - yes a pedicure too

Ian is holding down the animal while I clip around the ankles
which cannot be done with the shears as the ropes holding it
down are in the way. It might look kind of drastic but the
animals are much calmer once they know they can't get away

Taking time to get up

Off she goes

To cap it all! She was stuck again when we got back
I did manage to create chaos again though before we left. This time I forgot to shut the door on one of the arks and the chickens escaped. Not great when you are trying to get away early. I don't think I was particularly popular when the incident was discovered. We managed to capture the chickens - or at least we thought we had, until a friend of ours who was putting the animals away at night discovered one was still out. He wasn't sure how she had escaped. At least he managed to get her in and she seemed happy enough to be reunited with her flock and so he guessed he had managed to put her in with the right group. Our stupid sheep was also discovered once again with her head stuck and making a right racquet and our friend ended up cutting the fence to free her. Obviously she is not going to learn her lesson.
One stuck sheep and two more sensible ones, who don't bother
sticking their heads through to get grass, maybe just their noses.
Our friend ended up cutting the fence to
free the sheep this morning. She had been
there a while, but did this teach her? No!

Monday, 21 May 2018

Shearing time again

We have just spent a whole day shearing today. Enough said! Here is a taster.

Hard at work :)


Monday, 14 May 2018

Is the water off?

5am this morning
"Oh yes!" I said. "I turned the mains off after I had used the water every time." Well I did, except for the last time before leaving the apartment. It was the apartment that we have been moving stuff into and nearly finished doing with the help of some young guys from the nearby sheep farm. All the big stuff is in there now and it is just bits and pieces left to move. We got an urgent phone call one day and texts to say we had a waterfall at the apartment and the people upstairs who manage the place had turned off the water to the whole apartment block. Oh dear! Not again. We rushed back and sure enough water had been spraying out from what had been a minor drip up until then. The new valve that had replaced the one that had cracked had now itself failed.

Turbjørn enjoying the sun now that he no longer has so much
fleece.
Fortunately we have a wet and dry vacuum cleaner and we started the mopping up process. Ian had to go back out to the land to get the dehumidifier and that is now on underneath the sink to try and dry that out. We were also fortunate that the dripping down into the basement area missed the electrics but it did leave a pool of water underneath the freezers. One of the freezers had only just been put in recently but thankfully it was empty and so could be moved easily, making vacuuming up the pools easier. We will have to move the dehumidifier down there soon as it also dripped onto our neighbour's wood pile too. Sigh!

Looking like ET
I'm glad that the rest of the week was not as exciting as that. Gradually the garden is getting sorted, but we are now at the stage of needing some rain, as plants are starting to struggle and seeds not germinating. If we weren't trying to farm or garden then the weather would have been described as glorious. We are now both suntanned again and it isn't rust like last year. Not so great is that the early good weather has also brought out the biting insects. Gardening in the evening at this time of the year is usually quite pleasant, but this time the mosquitoes and midges are already out.

A bit of brotherly advice after the shearing last week. It's
okay, you will get over it
El stupido the sheep was stupid again and again and again. About the only thing she has learnt to do is to stand still while she is being released from the fence. She still hasn't got into her head that she is not a lamb any more and she has a whole load of fleece that wraps itself around the fence wire, making it very difficult to get her head out again. We went away shearing for a day and we suspect she had been stuck in the fence a while by the time we got back because there was a lot of trampled poo on the floor and she now has a mucky backside. One day she managed to get her head stuck three times. She is definitely destined for a rendezvous with the freezer.  Ian has moved their electric fence, which seems to have stopped her for a little while. It is not that she didn't have grass to eat, just not quite to her liking, obviously.

George's haircut looks much better now that Ian gave him an
additional trim. At least he can see better now.
We started on the shearing at other places now. We were near Riga for one group and Estonia today. Ian got to shear his first lama. He was asked if he would so it and he said he would give it a go. We wouldn't have done it if it had just been the two of us, as lamas are much bigger and stronger than alpacas. The two guys who were helping us were quick learners and despite the language barrier worked well with us. That shearing session was also a first for being watched in the process by a peacock and some emus. The emus didn't seem that bothered but the peacock watched for most of the time. I'm glad he wasn't very vocal though, as they are definitely noisy creatures.

George looks quite the elegant young man now
One lady came to visit from another mini-zoo and asked if he would do her alpacas and lamas too. We said we would do the lama at this zoo first before making a decision on that. We now have some criteria to work with and the first is that for alpacas we need one extra person to help, if they want us to do it alone then we would charge extra as it takes more time to clear the fleece away. For lamas there needs to be two extra people to pin the lama down or a very compliant lama and we are not taking any chances on people saying it is compliant. They get the lama to lie down, or we don't do it! Simple!

This photo was taken just over a month ago and so no grass.
Quite a difference now where the grass is growing well.
Eyre or Flossie as she often gets called was the one that
woke us up this morning. Earlier on this week I saw her
stalking something by the pond. Next I heard a splash and
one wet pussy cat scrambling out. Ian had just strimmed the
edge and she obviously found out the hard way where it was. 
We had to set off early to be up in Estonia today. I managed to set the alarm but forgot to change the time on the device to match Latvian summer time, it was still on GMT (Oh yes! I'm doing well this week). Our alarm instead was one of the cats having an altercation with something. She was still on edge when we left this morning and kept looking into the forest, it was probably just another cat though. The deer were also up and about this morning and seemed quite suicidal. One deer couldn't make up its mind which way to go and in the end headed towards a neighbours fence and then seemed to get tangled up in it (not just sheep then!). We reversed back up to see what had happened to it and to my amazement it untangled itself and made its way through the wire in the fence. I know the deer are pretty skinny but it was quite amazing to see what size of gap it could actually get through.

Out in the field enjoying the grass and these two younger
ones have been doing nothing but eat. We think they are
growing fast too. 
Alpaca shearing this year has been fairly uneventful. We didn't get lost (okay minor detours due to some issues with Google, but nothing serious) and the shears worked well, especially some new combs that Ian has started using. We had two groups to get through and in both groups there was a spitty animal, but once down they were fine. The weather was also nice and all in all it is just a pleasant day out for us that Ian gets paid for, so win-win situation. We even get fed too and get to talk about one of our favourite topics (well actually it is Ian's all time favourite topic) - alpacas! One of these days we might get some photos of the action.

Brencis complet with go faster stripes
We don't get much traffic past our place, but one day I looked up and a rather sporty car was travelling ver slowly along the road. It also had numbers stuck to it like in a car race. Ian was strimming (yes the grass cutting season has also begun) so I had to get his attention by which time the car had driven past, but next a whole group went by, Ferraris and Porchés. All were travelling very slowly, trying to prevent their very costly cars hitting the bumps and pot holes along our dirt road. I mean, who brings a low slung, sporty car like that along our way and not just one but lots of them.

Mr. P does like a roll in the dustiest places.
I still continue to work on my research paper and I'm now also trying to write a research proposal for a three month contract in Finland. It fits in nicely with my overall work and is paid, so that is always a bonus. Whether they think it would fit in with what they are doing remains to be seen. Hopefully I have enough experience to bridge the gap between the arts and sociological research. I'm also working on the felting workshops we are holding and working out what to do with those and sort out advertising. Not much on my plate then!

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

I should be doing....

What a difference a week makes at this time of the year. The
grass is growing fast, the trees are leafing up and the sun is
getting quite hot at times. We are already suntanned due to
working outside so much.
I know what I should be doing and that is doing some more writing on my paper. I have a jobs list as long as your arm at the moment. Typical May really and something always unexpected turns up, so another job to apply for, another conference to go to and a myriad of other things that take longer than I feel they should do. All need prep work, or finishing off. Life is busy, but I know it is a season and there should be some downtime later on.
The Schisandra Chenesis is flowering this year, last year the
flowers got caught in the frost.

Anxiously awaiting the inevitable
The good news is that we have completed one of the jobs that has to be done every year about now the shearing of our alpacas. We did the boys yesterday. It wasn't too bad at all and Ian has got faster, however it is always the setting up, the clearing up in between and sorting out the fleece when there is only two of us that takes so much time. At least this year, it did not feel particularly stressful, the animals were on the whole cooperative enough when down, apart from Brencis who is proving to be a bit of a handful when it comes to trying to work with him. He's a big lad and so when it comes to manoeuvring if he doesn't want to go it takes a lot to move him and yet when he wants to cooperate like going on walks, he is no trouble at all.
A few outside too. George is the great escape artist and had to
be returned to this enclosure several times

All set up and ready to go

Suave!
When we had finished shearing we had a lady and her son turn up unexpectedly. We hadn't even had much chance to eat. We are open to visitors coming on, but so often they have a knack of turning up, just at our most busy time. Oh well! Can't complain too much. We also had another visit later, but at least this one was planned and we were able to talk farming over a cup of herb tea straight from the garden. Today we sheared the girls. No animal likes being taken for shearing, but Aggie especially seemed to appreciate the coolness of less fleece; she ran up to Ian later on this afternoon and gave him a gentle nuzzle - we like to think it is her way of saying thanks, but maybe we are just anthropomorphising her actions. Still it is nice to feel appreciated.
A rather traumatised Freddie, after his first shearing. He did
recover though and came up and ate out of my hand

The yearly, "who are you again?" They don't recognise the
other alpacas once sheared and so go around smelling each
other to remind themselves who is who.

The three musketeers
Talking of feeling appreciated, we've had a few visitors this week who have lifted our spirits somewhat. There are times we wonder what on earth we are doing, but then there are those moments when people say something and it makes sense again. One group, included a grandmother, mother and son. The son was fortunately very good at English and translated well and he himself was very curious about alpacas and what we were doing here in Latvia. His mother thought it was good that we were here and working on the land, she liked what we were doing. It lifts us when people appreciate us being here and loving the land on which we work. It makes me sad to think that so many folks from foreign lands are not appreciated, even if they work really hard producing from the land, especially those folks who are harvesting the foods for the UK. Not a job that many Brits want to do and yet they are often considered unwanted, economic migrants etc.
Enjoying the sunshine and making up for being cooped up
for most of the day

Mr. P with his trimmed teeth. Oh yes! Ian is also an alpaca
dentist and I am his able assistant

Sorry George, that haircut does not look good on you. It looked
fine when we did it and then it all flopped again and hides his
eyes. He will be getting another trim soon

Sunrise
Another group of visitors were some returnees from the week before. They had asked if they could take photos of the alpacas as a surprise for a couple getting married. The problem was that we are having some quite hot weather at the moment and the alpacas needed shearing and would not look quite so fluffy for a mid-June wedding photo shoot. We explained we would be shearing this week for that reason, so they came with the couple this last Saturday before we sheared for some pre-wedding shoots. The sun fortunately shone for them, as of course it had been a little overcast in the afternoon. The wind was cool, but even so, it looks like they got plenty of good photos and we got some good photos of them taking photos. Brencis was an absolute star, poking his nose in quite often. He's only after food of course, but he's gentle enough not to be too pushy - most of the time anyway. We can't share our photos though until mid-June, so I shall have to leave you in suspense on that.
An elder tree coming into flower

Hmm! I intend making holes in these bales and putting in some
squash plants. I think I may have to deal with some snails first

The ploughed dock field
We haven't spent much time with moving furniture this week, we have been trying to organise the final removals though. The problem is that we are not the only ones busy at this time of the year and so we are still waiting. We can hear tractors going constantly at the moment as people plough their fields or prepare the land. Ian has been doing a bit of ploughing on our land too. We hadn't planned on doing much ploughing but we have an area that has become a dock field. One of the best ways of dealing with it, according to a recent publication by the Organic Research Centre in the UK, is to plough, let the roots dry -which is helpful on sunny and windy days like they are at the moment - then take out as much as possible before planting with buckwheat that will compete with the docks. It's an ongoing process.
Asparagus is growing well. I hope this bed does better than
the last one. We got two harvests out of it and then they all died
on us

It is looking like it could be a good fruit year. Our plums
are actually flowering properly this year. We put them in
about 7 years now, so about time we got something.
Besides the alpacas we also have three sheep. Last year one of the sheep was so loud and persistent that she went for a rendezvous with the freezer. Unfortunately her daughter seems to have inherited some of those traits. She is not quite so loud or persistent, just nearly, but she also has an added quirk. She ranks as one of the most stupid of sheep. Sheep are not renowned for their intelligence and we have had some issues over the years with their ability to panic first and think later. However, this quirk beats that. Last year both lambs were eating through the fence when the grass started greening up, fair enough! This year, the most stupid one has not realised she is now too big to do this. She can get her head through, but not back again. She has not just done this once or even twice but about five times now on nearly consecutive nights. Usually she waits until we are just going to bed and ends up standing their bleating away, until we manage to get her head back through.
Oh yes! The caravan is out of the greenhouse and we can
sleep in in the mornings, as the cockerels are now much
further away.

The grapes are flowering
As I mentioned last week another of those seasonal jobs is getting the seeds in, unfortunately we seem to be going through the dry, windy phase of the year that makes planting most seeds a bit of a waste of time unless we are prepared to water them in by hand or hose. We don't know how long the dry spell will last, often a month, once it was two months and so we are cautious about overdoing it. I have planted trays in the greenhouse and they are doing well and I have planted up some of the tomato and pepper plants I started off a while ago. So at least that is progress.
Two groups of chicken arks outside and tomatoes planted

We have about 20 chicks too. Rather more than we normally
get. The last one to be born has proved to be more resilient
than anticipated for a late one. It was helped out of its shell
which usually means it won't survive. It was kicking and
flailing around, which is not a good sign, but recovered
after all the shell bits were soaked off it. It was put in with the
rest, which usually means it get battered about but it was still
up and running about. I did traumatise it by soaking off some
more stuff off its bottom today and it knocked it off balance.
I found it quivering in the corner. I gave it some fluid, put
it in a box for a few hours and it recovered again. 

A new peony to add to my rose bed
I have to confess to going a bit wild at the spring market this year though. I want to make the area around where we spend our summer months prettier with flowers and not just herbs. Mind you, all the plants I bought also yield something edible, so that's a win. I have been creating more raised beds with rotten wood to put them in and I am pleased with how they are turning out. I just hope I manage to keep the weeds at bay now.

Top right is my new jasmine and I have also moved a
southernwood from a bed getting taken over by autumn
raspberries

Still more to plant in the green box
Pansies from the market and a rosmary under the jar

Our new little portable washing machine for out on the land.
We will mainly be washing fleeces in it

Mari's cut doesn't look so bad at all. At least we didn't
have to scalp her this year. Just a light trim on the head

Lady V moaned all the while she was waiting, but wasn't so
bad once she was down. She knows the routine.