Monday, 24 October 2016

It's that time of the year again

No we haven't really been burying bodies in the greenhouse.
Just our sense of humour I guess. Actually Ian had just dug out
some soil from the other bed so that the chickens can build up
some fresh soil. This mound was then shifted to the outer edge
that needed building up.
So much of my blog turns with the seasons. That is what happens when we live and work in the countryside. What we do is dictated by the weather and of course by the more artificial deadlines of academic years that I work to as well. I was due to go away again and there was forecast for snow while I was away. It wasn't likely to be much or long lasting but after a cold, dry spell it could mean a period of wet and muddy weather. It was obviously time to put the caravan into its winter home in the greenhouse, while we still could. To do this we had to put the chickens in first. We also had to finish tidying up the greenhouse by removing the remaining tomato plant skeletons and putting logs down for the arks to sit on. The aim is to raise the beds more and stop the chickens digging their way out in the process.
The arks on the left and the caravan on the right in their
winter quarters in the greenhouse

The swans flew south last week and someone told us that
the snow would come three days later according to the
folklore and sure enough it did - well sort of. Fortunately
nothing lying on the ground yet, but those swans were right
to set off
We had been moving the chickens closer and closer to the greenhouse so that we didn't have to move them too far in the end and that was helpful. We have a bogey as Ian calls it, which is basically a wheeled contraption to put the arks on to help us move them, but it was somewhere at the back of the barn. It was just easier to move the arks by hand instead. As we are low in hay this year we decided to use leaves as bedding for the chickens and it freaked them out at first - well the older ones anyway, as it was a lot noisier than having hay on the floor. The younger ones though were thoroughly enjoying scratching through the leaves. Eventually they all discovered the dry soil underneath the leaves and were in heaven as they had their dust baths. If you have never seen a chicken having a dust bath, it is always good to be warned about it before you watch - they look more like they are having a fit as they cover themselves in the soil. It is hard to believe that they are actually in some sort of delirious state as they kick the soil about.
Chanel looks like she is having a really good chat

The girls blending in well with the autumnal colours
As I mentioned we got a good proportion of our apples picked and stored in our cellar, however, I forgot to mention we had some help in doing that from someone with a few spare hours. This was much appreciated, especially as they were much taller than either me or Ian and could therefore reach higher without a step ladder. I managed to get a pot load of apples boiled down for the freezer the following day and in jars, along with some reduced grape juice. I am going to have to work on some recipes over the winter to use our hemp and amaranth seed along with all this fruit we have this year. Maybe some sort of seed bar I guess.
Hercules with his happy face on

More preparation for the coming wet weather, a fresh layer
of chippings on the road way. This time there is also some
clay drains from the pond that were dug up earlier on this
year when it had dried up a lot. Now being put to better use
where we really could do with it drying up
I also managed to finally get an outline done for a third paper I am writing. Of course it took me a lot less time than I imagined it would once I got around to it. The problem I had was trying to get straight in my head what I actually wanted to say in some coherent form. It is far from finished of course but at least it is a start for my supervisor and I to work on to get it towards a publishable state. We have some very strict deadlines on this and the end of this month is the first one for the deadline.

All puffed up against the cold. They haven't left
us yet. They may head into the village though later
I have also got a trip to Sweden organised for the end of the year. It has been a long time in the planning stage and one of the biggest issues has been the financing of it. It still has to be agreed by the grant awarding body, but at least that is now functioning again after a year when there was no funding. I haven't had a problem before and so I hope there won't be one this time as there is little time to rearrange it if necessary. It will be a good opportunity to talk about the type of work I am doing to a different group of people and maybe work towards some sort of collaborative project in the meantime. That is what I definitely need to keep on doing research, otherwise I need to start looking towards some other way of deriving an income.

A workshop I organised on networks. We had good fun
throwing balls of wool at each other to show our connections
As I mentioned I have been away over the weekend at another conference. This was rather different to the academic conferences I have been too. There was academic input, which is why I went, but there was also a large input from people living in eco-communities. These are often called intentional communities and are effectively communities who live together with the specific intent of living more carefully in balance with nature. It was a bit weird to hear the kind of language used that I used to hear from evangelical Christian circles, especially in the preach, errrr I mean lecture I heard this Sunday morning. The young guy was relating the values of McDonalds and what could be learnt from them in terms of outreach and people centred approaches to customer service. I felt I had heard this before in some form or other in church sermons.
A nice cup of tea in Vilnius Old Town

Outside the cafe looking down the street. I was
surprised with Vilnius, it is a bit like Riga or
Tartu meets Italy and maybe the Catholic
influence. It is not as tidy as Riga and seems a
little more chaotic, but that was only a brief
impression. It felt like there was a lot to
discover though with some interesting looking
I found there was such a diversity of people and many with quite strong opinions. I wonder how this will work in the future. If there is consideration for the opinions of others then it may be fine and although the opinions were intense there did seem to be a commitment to listen to others  with respect over the weekend. If that lasts then the evangelicals would do well to learn from them I think. Some groups were quite traditional in their approach to the role of men and women in society, some were very free in their interpretation of those roles. Some were very spiritual communities and some less so. Some were based on more Catholic spirituality, some even based on a book I had heard about that encouraged people to live closer to a Garden of Eden style of life (at least the author's view of that) and some were based on a more Eastern spirituality. So there was a very diverse range of opinions on how to live the simple life that to outsiders would just generally view as some very hippy lifestyles.

Not quite sure what this random egg on a pedastal was for
There was a bit of a mix up in the end in the conference organisation but it did lead to an interesting evening. During the conference some of us stayed at the site of a potential eco-community. There was a kindergarten and school but the community did not live on-site as in other communities. One older, devout lady was the inspiration for the community and adored the fact that she could look out of her window and see the children enjoying the natural environment as they learnt and played together. Some people on the conference stayed in the kindergarten house and I and a few others stayed in the old lady's farmhouse. On the last afternoon there was a trip back to Vilnius where most of the conference itself had been held, but we found out that they were not returning back to the place where we were staying. I had only just arranged that somehow I would be given a lift back to Vilnius in the morning in time to get my bus and the same with a young lass from Georgia. Although we had been told we could stay over, they hadn't explained that we would not be able to go on the trip, which in some ways was why we stayed over.

Ooooerrr! What's that white stuff falling from the sky?
The young lass was a bit upset at missing out and we had contemplated joining the group and then staying over in Vilnius instead, but it was too late to make a decision without first finding out if that was possible or would not upset our host. In the end I and the Georgian lass were on our own. There had been a meeting of local eco-communities in Lithuania and they had finished with lunch at the kindergarten house and so they accepted us in their midst and then left us with enough food to eat for the evening. It gave the two of us a good opportunity to just talk about life and our different viewpoints on it. We also got to hear a little about life in Lithuania from our host, who had been an economics professor at the university at one stage. I got confused as to how many children she really had, but it was evident that many considered her their mother, which was a testament to her caring nature. She came to me in the morning with a cup of tea and a piece of cake for breakfast and sent me away with an apple and oranges to eat on the journey. The young lass left in the early hours as her plane was at 7pm.

A photo from a previous trip to Riga
So here I am on a wet Monday writing this blog while heading back to Riga by bus for a meeting with someone who I have only Skyped with before. Then I shall be heading home on the evening bus back to our land and our caravan in the greenhouse.

A side view of the Freedom monument in Riga
By way of a P.S. The meeting went really well and we both went away really inspired and with some questions we felt needed answering that would help both of us in our research. Always good to clarify the questions that need answers.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Chillier days

Frosty morning
Winter reared its head this week with some distinctly frosty days. One night it was -6.7C in the greenhouse and last night it was -5C. Staying out in the caravan in these temperatures is starting to lose its appeal. We are still warm enough, as our quilt and two blankets help a lot. Menopause also has its benefits. The disadvantage is waiting for the caravan to warm up sufficiently to want to get up out of bed. At least the heater is within reaching distance and the caravan warms up quickly, since it is only a small space. Of course our electric use has gone up, but our travel costs, or Ian's travel costs are still low because he's not travelling backwards and forwards all the time. I am also out and about on the land rather than cooped up at home this way too. At some stage it just won't be worth staying out as the nights will be so long in a small space. I know! I keep saying that and we are still out here. 
These two are forever fighting it seems, but I think they would
miss each other if they were separated.
A picture of me last week, filling in for Little Red Riding
Hood. I used the alpaca scarf to good effect. It was really
warm and kept the cool winds at bay.
I spent the week in Latvia and at this time of the year, it can become a bit of a novelty. I have several trips planned all ready and one to arrange. I did go into Riga though and had a great day chatting with some lovely people. One was a connection for professional as well as personal reasons. Lovely chap who I've worked with briefly in the past and we both value each other's inputs on rural development. Good to thrash ideas about and would be great if we ever found a project we could both work on. I'm sure we could spark some good ideas between us
Aggie looking rotund and hopefully pregnant

Chanel glowing in the autumn sunshine. She really is the
colour of autumn too
The other meeting was meeting up with some with an aim to start putting together a programme for a felting holiday (details to be announced in the near future we hope). I am working on finding activities for day trips for people to experience more of Latvia, including Riga and a chance to be inspired by Latvian art and design. It is mainly aimed at those from abroad of course. We hope to arrange various types of felting courses, to suit different budgets, so we hope to make some more accessible to local people and some for people who would like to come for the experience of felting on an alpaca farm and visiting Latvia for the first time. All this planning will mean we can also put together holidays tailored towards individuals or groups. Quite exciting really and not the sort of thing we had thought of doing before, but if it works then great. 

Eyre warily eying the alpacas, as they do like to chase her
A friend who I met at the local camp last year and this year is helping me organise the Riga city tour aspect and she also introduced me to a lovely textile artist Ieva Prane. Ieva's work is very varied and it will be wonderful to include her on one or more of our felting courses. She is really open to sharing her work and what she does, which not all felters in Latvia are unfortunately. I also briefly met her husband Guntars and as I write this blog, Guntars' music is playing on the radio. He produced an album of Gregorian chants from ancient records he found in a library in Riga. Very peaceful! 

All ready for our visitors. At least it was nice and warm in the
I am surprised that we are still getting visitors turning up on our farm, particularly at weekends. I even sold my first felted product this week, but don't get too excited it was just a felt ball, at least it was a start.We had one group from the local regional rural consultancy bureau during the week and a family who stopped to take a look at the animals at the weekend. We even have another booking for the end of the month for a small group who will be in the area for two days. It makes me wonder if we can do something for Christmas but that would be a challenge to come up with something but could be fun. 
Felt balls
A range of shawls, socks, pendants and scarves for sale
The ones that got away. The amaranth in the greenhouse grew
some lovely big seed heads and we harvested lots of seed
but these ones were much smaller. Unfortunately the wind 
seems to have also taken all the seed with it. No doubt there 
will be Amaranth growing all over the garden next year, as 
well as hemp
We are still making slow headway in finishing the harvesting. I collected all the beans from the garden on the land and started the process of drying them. Those that dried on the vine look fine to plant next year, but those that hadn't got frosted and I think they are only good for the pot. It was a shame as I was hoping for more beans to grow next years crop. We have also been collecting apples. Some of course are frosted, but many seem to have survived the frosty mornings. We have now got quite a few crates stored in our cellar. We hope they will last into winter and if not they will be processed at a later date. At least the chickens are enjoying the bonanza.

Sofie sitting in her favourite place when we are trying to move
the chicken arks. As we carry them to their new position, she
tries to lick or rub up against Ian's face. Not easy to carry the
ark with two hands and fend off an affectionate cat.

The humungous potatoes with a teaspoon for comparison
As usual our garden got a bit overgrown but I managed to find some potatoes that must have grown from some potato peelings which were in the compost heap and they were absolutely huge. I know there are lots who say you should never put peelings in compost heaps, but we do and not really have many problems apart from random potato plants from time to time. Unfortunately these ones also had brown, hollow centres. This is due to the hot dry weather when they started growing, followed by the wet weather which stressed the poor things out. Unlike blight though it doesn't affect their taste thank goodness, just a little disappointing to find they are not as big as they look.  One advantage to the frosts is they make parsnips sweeter and so we have started digging these up for a distinctly wintery flavour in our meals. 
Shawls outside for pictures for the

This one was inspired by dandelions, not
that they look like dandelions, but that
was the inspiration
Mari looking out for Eyre, our little grey cat
The greenhouse tidy up has continued in preparation for putting the chickens and the caravan in for the winter. This has definitely been a slower process than usual. Normally it is cleared much sooner, I'm sure. Or maybe it just feels like that. Certainly last year they were inside much sooner and there were more frosty mornings than this year. The steady drift towards winter though means that the animals are getting through the grass quite quickly and need to be moved more often as the grass stops growing. Soon they will be just on the hay, but the longer they can stay on the grass the better. 
Mari chasing Eyre off

Monday, 10 October 2016

Forgetful? Who me?

I would love one of these! Somewhere to hide or somewhere
to store our harvest over winter. One day! Maybe!
How could I forget? Actually for me it is really easy. Oh yes! I'm Wonder woman at the moment, I wonder where I have left my keys, I wonder where I have left my handbag, I wonder where I left my scarf (applicable if you read my blog about my Austrian trip)- you name it and at some point in the week I will have put it down and forgotten exactly where it is. I think I'm spinning a few too many plates at the moment.

I was waiting so long at one of the ten sets of traffic lights
along this road that folks had enough time to have toilet breaks
Anyway what I forgot to mention was that I went to a meeting about Citizen Science on the Friday of the week before - in Cesis, Latvia. I met up with one of my colleagues from the Estonian University of Life Sciences too. I got to ask lots of questions and make some new acquaintances. I even got a tour of the environmental institute, which is very swish. It was one of those good networking meetings, but due to travelling I haven't got around to following up on them yet, but I will. It's on the list of things to do!

I also forgot to mention that while I was at the meeting Ian got a visit from a lady from Sheffield, who a visitor earlier on in the year told us about. We had been chatting about where we were from in the UK and she mentioned her aunty lived in Sheffield where we used to live. She said she would tell her about us and we should expect a visit when she comes to Latvia, which she did on a regular basis apparently. Sure enough, Ian got a phone call and a visit from the aunty with a few others. Unfortunately we still haven't got our shop built and had only just taken everything back because it is getting damp out in the greenhouse, otherwise they would have been tempted to buy something.

The view from my hotel window this week
One thing I know will end soon is the harvesting. The weather is definitely taking a turn and the days are getting short and chilly. We actually saw the sun in what feels like ages today. Unfortunately the wind is still strong. We do not get many windy days here in Latvia, so the sustained windy weather is a bit unusual. I was away again at the end of last week and so I spent as much time as possible beforehand harvesting and more time when I got back. The tomatoes are all just about collected now, although I noticed a few loitering in vines that have not been cut down. Ian finished off the amaranth in the greenhouse that I had started on. We collect the seed off that to make into flour, or just add to breads or cakes. I am working on it as a seed for main meals but not really got a good recipe for it yet. The seed is so light though it is hard to sift in the very breezy weather, I think we would lose the lot.

The walk to the seminars. We had our morning and afternoon
coffee in the manor house you can see
The mill pond
The raspberries are also continuing but I think they may finish soon as frosts are forecast. I also collected the last of the squashes so they don't get ruined in the frost. I had to pull up some tall bean plants as they had got blown over by the wind and I will work on the short beans over the coming week. The only other things left now are the apples, carrots, parsnips, jerusalem artichokes and some beets. I say only but the jerusalem artichokes are quite big beds. I shall harvest half and leave the rest until spring. I hope the expected frost tonight will not be too severe for the apples. A job for tomorrow no doubt.
A choice of which way to go

The mill pond looking the other way
As I mentioned I have been away again, this time up in Estonia in the far north of the country in Lahemaa National Park. It's a hard job specialising in rural issues, I mean you have to go to all these lovely places like alpine farms and national parks. Someone's got to do it though! So I make the best of it. I seem to be getting a reputation for asking lots of questions but I guess that's okay, at least I hope so. I am hoping again that some of the contacts might yield some results eventually. I did get to meet some others with interests in rural Lithuania. I have only met one other person from Lithuania in all the time I have been studying and so I don't really know what the similarities and differences are. I can hazard a guess at many of the similarities as they are often the same across all post-Soviet countries, but that's where my knowledge ends. It will be good to find out more and so I am booked on another course at the end of this month but based in Vilnius this time - somewhere I haven't been to yet.
Palmse Manor House

The cow farm we visited where we could feed the cows apples
They came running when they saw the farmer with a basket
I wasn't sure what to do about getting back from the National Park. I thought it would be best to try and find someone going back to Tartu and stay overnight with my friend there. Otherwise it would have meant staying overnight in the hotel and a higher cost for me. I was actually rather pleased to find that the costs, including accommodation, was covered for PhD students from our university. I was expecting to have to pay for the hotel and so was very happy when I found out I didn't have to. Anyway I happened to mention I was having trouble working out how to get back home, to a friend who lives in Tartu and she said, in jest I think, that she should come and fetch me. I in jest back, told her that there was still room on the agricultural tour I was booked on (at least that was the one I thought I was booked on, but apparently I hadn't, but that is another story). Next thing I know she had booked on and so we got to spend a lovely day touring farms in the National park.
A coastal meadow. I nearly got blown backwards walking down
to this point. Definitely blew the cobwebs away

An abandoned manor house
Meanwhile back on the ranch so to speak, Ian had a visit from a Riga school. The only person who could not speak English was the teacher, as is often the case these days. There was a designated translator, a student who had a relative in the UK. Ian set up the greenhouse to give the talk and had it all organised so that the students were inside this time, since he didn't want to freeze chatting to them outside like we have been doing. They seemed to enjoy the talk and were all engaged and asking questions. He showed them the usual about shearing but also demonstrated the combing and carding of the wool. The sooner our shop gets built the better though. So let's hope the wind dies down and the weather stays fine for a few weeks - that would be really helpful.
I love doors

A sheep farm next where we had lunch and yes lamb was on
the menu
Our young chickens continued to escape this week, although I noticed they are starting to struggle getting through the fence now they are getting bigger. Each day they were fastened up at an early hour so that Ian didn't have to continue chasing them about. They were out twice today but now we have them sorted. We swapped them for another of the arks. We planned to do some swapping about later but it wasn't fair on the three hens that never escaped to keep fastening them up early and so I cleaned out the sleeping quarters of one of the arks and did the switch. Now we know the youngsters will not be escaping but I do have to clip the wings of the older birds to make sure they do not now get out of the uncovered enclosure that they have been moved to.
A guardian dog keeping an eye on us and sitting between
us and the sheep. However the farmer was really worried
about a new invasive species to Estonia, the jackal. I was
quite shocked to hear of this but one farmer has lost a
hundred lambs already over a few nights. The lady telling
me said, wolves have rules, bears have rules but jackals do
not and that makes them very dangerous.

Native Estonian sheep of many colours

Felted pieces in natural colours

My friend feeding a horse. She is in her element

Fitting up the horse in its gear for fetching logs from the forest

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Sign of the times

Translation: Griezites Farm
We have new signs, one is just a give way sign onto our rather muddy road. At least the snow clearers should know in winter to keep it clear - well we can hope. The other is the sign for our farm and translated is Griezītes Farm. There have been a couple of times now that I have been coming back to the caravan in the dark and it is quite eerie to see the sign stand out so bright in the headlights. At least now we can't miss the turn.

Autumn raspberries still going strong
It seems like this week has been really busy but I don't feel I have achieved much. We are continuing to pick raspberries, which always takes time and is not as much fun as it is in the sunnier times earlier on in the year with the summer raspberries. Mind you, it is worth it, as they are quite tasty and we have been enjoying raspberry and apple crumble. Today I packed jars with more raspberries and apple slices and then cooked them in the jars, ready for more crumbles in the winter.

This is where they should be, behind the fence
Part of the week has been spent trying to find our young chickens, as the little darlings (said through firmly clenched teeth) keep escaping. Chicken Run! comes to mind, theyŗe up to something. We have found them in the squash patch a few times and one rather large squash was well pecked. The problem seems to be that despite their clipped wings, they can semi-fly and scrabble up the fence or can fly high enough to land on the gate and then hop over. I sorted out the gate problem, by putting sticks in the gate to prevent them landing on it, but unless we get taller fencing we cannot sort that out. The larger chickens don't manage to get over as they are too heavy to scramble up the wire and cannot fly high enough to get over the gate, or don't bother, so eventually the problem should cease.

The gate with added sticks to stop the
chickens escaping. Failed!

Ian fishing for frogs in the well with a home-made fishing net
One day the chickens in Ark 4 as we call it, will be put in one of the covered arks for the winter, as that will be easier for us to manage them in the greenhouse where we always put them, but first of all one of the other arks has to be vacated (in other words hens culled) and then fixed. The arks have served us well, but they are requiring some maintenance now. We are definitely keeping the oldest hens as they are the most reliable layers. One of them at least is still laying every three days or so, whereas all the others have given up for autumn. We had to do some calculations to see who would be the ones heading for the pot, which kind of does remind me of Chicken Run! and that makes me Mrs Tweedy.
Releasing them into the pond

The well has been pumped out three times and so theoretically
it should be time to test it to see if it is good water.

It seems to be filling at a consistent 1.31litres per hour according
to Ian who loves keeping records like this.

Not sure what sort of birds these are, possibly starlings I
suppose, but flocking nonetheless.
There are many signs of autumn, from trees turning yellow or bright red, the blustery weather and flocking birds. Not so welcome a sight was the sight of geese flying south. Ian heard some flying at night too. They usually say that geese head south about two weeks before the first snows come, so it reminds us to get cracking with winter preparations. Fortunately the first snow does not last anyway, but does leave a sludgy mess. There will be road markers to install, markers to let us know where the ponds are so we don't walk into them or Ian drive the tractor over them inadvertently. We will need to make sure there is enough feed and tyres changed on the car. We will also need to get the greenhouse prepped so that the chickens can move in and then the caravan. We also need to gather in the apples and the amaranth as the last things to harvest before winter. We have a few plants outside but they will stand some cold and be even better after frosts anyway, such as parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes.
The blustery weather has caused quite a few willows to
snap this year. I was working in the garden one day and heard
one fall and looked up just in time to see it coming down.
Fortunately I was well out of harms way, otherwise I would
have taken more notice of the cracking.

Marie eating through the fence again! There is plenty of grass
and hay, but she makes a habit of eating through anyway.
The reason the blog was late though, was that we had help with toe nail cutting for our alpacas and as a thank you, we went back to our apartment and had a meal together. A young couple, who I have mentioned before, moved into the village for a short while and were willing to help us out from time to time. Since the young chap was a rugby player, unusual for a Latvian but there are clubs here, it seemed ideal to ask him to help out with the trimming. This time of year, the animals are not quite so well behaved, we think they sense the winter and tend to be a bit antsy, so it was nice to have someone who could hold the alpacas firmly. I had to get changed though at the end, as Chanel managed to dribble spit all down my leg and get a spray across the back. The alpacas were definitely not on their best behaviour, still at least the toe nails got done and it did not put the young couple off alpacas for life. As the young chap said, it was nice to get the chance to cuddle an alpaca.

Putting rather a lot of strain on that wire to reach those tasty shoots

Amazing that she can get her head in and out of those holes
in the wire.