Tuesday, 27 September 2016


Home after a lovely weekend with family and so this is just a quick note to my regular followers to say that I will update tomorrow.

Monday, 19 September 2016

A slow process

Two small hay stores, each holding about 30 small hay bales
This week we have mainly been focussed on getting the harvest in. Ian has continued to bale hay and he managed to bale another 23 off the ski hill. The number of bales was just under half what we got in mid-summer from an area about three times bigger. Just shows how little grass there was after the drought in summer. We wouldn't have cut then but there were a lot of weed plants starting to flower and we didn't want them to set seed, but it is a good job we did. Little did we realise we would still be trying to get hay in two and a half months later. He also cut some grass around an area we call the lake, it often floods in spring and hasn't been dry enough to cut until now. The type of grass that grows there is not good for feed but good for bedding and dries quickly and that was a big bonus.

No the barn is not on fire, just the sun shining through.
Perhaps it was just a little dusty. 
Despite all the cutting and baling we still are not sure we have enough and so when a friend offered to sell us some we decided to buy some in. It was meant to arrive on Sunday, but unfortunately there was a problem with the tractor. It isn't a big issue as they are large bales and can stand being outside anyway. Not like our smaller and more manageable hay bales that will need covering when the rains come again. There was a set of bales that hadn't dried well and were put in the barn, so we have taken them out and put them in the new hay store where they will get more air circulation. We had to ditch a few of them though, unfortunately. We then put the dry bales from near the lake in the barn.
Heave ho! The things you do on the farm

Nibbling on the willow trees. The sheep had already nibbled
on these but the alpacas can get higher up. It makes the place
look more like a park. I think we have a bit to go before we
look like Capability Brown has designed it though.
We have an apple tree on our land that is probably the result of a bird or wild animal dropping seeds, as it is in a really random place for an apple tree. This year it was actually covered in apples, are are many apple trees this year. The taste and texture is unusual, it reminds me a bit of a pear but it is definitely an apple in shape. The skin had started to turn blotchy and so we decided to harvest them. I took a couple of buckets down with me, but quickly filled them and still couldn't reach many of the apples. Ian conveniently drove past in the tractor at this point and so he helped me out by using the front loader to lift me up so I could reach the apples, as you do!

We were a little concerned that the sheep had been nibbling
on this bush/tree, as we were not sure what it was. A few of
my friends though are quite good at identifying plants and so
I asked on facebook. We think it is some sort of viburnum
and so we think the sheep are safe with it. Some types are often
used as a hedging plant around fields of livestock anyway. 
The only problem with collecting lots of apples is that they may then need processing and these certainly did, so that meant one day back at the apartment sorting those out along with a batch of tomato sauce to be oven roasted in jars. The freezers are quite full, mainly with berries though, and so I am trying to jar up as much as possible or dehydrate food from this years harvest. Processing food though takes such a long time and probably the reason many people do not do it. However, when it comes to the winter, we then have a lot of food ready prepared for meals and we still have the advantage of knowing exactly where our food comes from.

Our eerie greenhouse one moonlit night
I have also been processing the amaranth and hemp seeds. The amaranth self-seeded in the greenhouse and is everywhere - I'm not a very tidy gardener. The advantage though is something will grow that we can eat and these have large heads of seeds. Actually the hemp plants this year were also self-seeded and since many of our sown seeds did not germinate well in the drought, the fact the hemp plants got a head start before the real dry season set in, meant they took over. Good job hemp seeds are really healthy and I have been looking at how the dried leaves are good in cooking and tea, so that is another source of nutrition over the winter. Both amaranth and hemp seeds can be used for making flour and added to breads whole for an added crunch, which will help with the variety in our diet.

Looks like an early morning scene but it is a long exposure
shot in the moonlight
Our very sweet grapes are just about all gone now and I think we must have eaten most of them ourselves. It was so tempting walking past to have a few. One of the other grapevines, a blue one, has taken time to ripen and has too many seeds in to be worth snacking on although they do taste nice now, so they were harvested this week for wine. I harvested about 2/3rds of them and then decided to see if some friends of ours, who make alcoholic drinks for sale, would like to try and see what they can make with them. We can then compare our different approaches. If their's works well then we thought that maybe we could extend the grapvine further. It will provide some shade and we or our friends can sell the exclusive little vintage. People who visit are often fascinated by the fact we have vines in our greenhouse anyway.

Cranes flying south for winter. They are noisy birds, which in
this case was a good job, otherwise I would have missed them.
Ian wired in another socket in our caravan so we have a separate socket for the heater and can still plug in my computer and phone - unfortunately a sign that winter's coming and it has definitely been getting a bit nippy in the caravan. I even covered up the peppers tonight with some garden fleece in the greenhouse. We have been having to put the animals away earlier and earlier and it is difficult to know what is the best way round to do things, put them away or eat first. Today I was digging up the potatoes out on the land (there is still a load to dig up at our other apartment plot) and I finished a bit late in the evening to start cooking. Fortunately Ian had already got the food under way, but by the time I had finished we had to rush to eat it so that we could put the animals away.
The leaves are just starting to turn in the moss covered oak tree
I think this lamb is starting to put weight on now she has had
the worming medication. She is also getting the hang of sheep
grain and moving with the rest of the herd. It makes moving
the sheep between plots a lot simpler now.
We found out this week we had miscalculated last week about the rate of filling of our well by a factor of ten. So the well was filling at about 100 litres a day, which was more respectable. This week though it was down to about 50 litres a day with a drop on a couple of days to about 25 litres. We reckoned that on a hot day we would need about 60 litres a day for our basic needs and for the animals to drink, so it will be interesting to find out how it does over the next summer. It possibly still needs a good flush through though to get the water flowing properly after being disturbed by the digging.

Mr. B and Mr. P are often fighting but we think they are just
playing, it doesn't seem to be very serious. Mr. P is hopefully
going to be a father for the first time next year. I wonder what
colour the cria (baby alpaca) will be?
Aggie has been acting very strange just lately. We wonder if she is being over sensitive about being pregnant. She will let me deal with her front legs when she needs some anti-mite spray, but she was very difficult to handle and get the medication on the back legs. Even Ian was having difficulty holding her. Not sure how she will be when it comes to toe nail cutting, we might have to pin her down. Ian decided to take her for a walk to see if they could make friends again. At first she was a bit antsy, but eventually she calmed down and they went for a nice long walk. He decided to take her up what used to be a ski hill in Soviet times, but this meant crossing the dirt road. He was crossing the road with her on a long leash when he realised that she had sat down and seemed very comfortable. We wonder if she wanted to roll in the sandy road. Not useful when sometimes cars and trucks go hurtling along there. Ian had to get his hands under her belly to get her moving. I somehow think she hasn't got a clue about traffic and why should she!
Turbjørn debating whether to eat the bark on the tree

We had a return visit from a lovely young couple who have now moved into the village for about six months while they train at the local technical college. He is learning about log house building and she is learning sewing and clothing construction. They would love to live in the countryside, but realise they need to do some planning and training to help them earn enough money to live on at the same time. It was great talking about life, faith and future dreams.

The song Liverpool Lullaby by Cilla Black comes to mind
when I see this photo, with the lyrics "Oh you are a
mucky kid"
So I think that is about it for this week. I have crossed a few things off my to-do list but there is still a few to go yet and a few that had better be done in the next day or two before we get some rain. There are times I wish it didn't take so long as it doesn't help when I also have some other jobs to do like writing papers and finishing off writing up lesson plans - at least it doesn't matter about them if it rains but digging potatoes does.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Conference trip photos

As promised here are the photos from the conference I went to in Austria.

First photos are from Innsbruck and my walk to the conference centre from my hotel every morning
This was the view from my hotel and shows the path that runs
alongside the river

My leafy walk along the river

Over the river Inn
I didn't take any photos of the old town that I walked through. Too many tourists doing the same thing and I thought I would show you a different side to Innsbruck. 

The next group of photos come from our conference trip and to be honest I cannot remember where they were exactly, but the scenery is pretty much the same across the Tyrol. Very ordered, very green and very pretty with some spectacular mountain scenery.
This was the view from the first cheese factory we visited

And looking the other way. Not a bad view really although
I'm not sure I would get any work done, as I would be too
busy gazing out of the window

These are some of the cows that supply the milk for the cheese
factory. They look pretty content with life

This is where we had lunch. The lunch consisted of more cheese
hams, salamis, eggs and salad all using products from the farm.
The farm actually only has around 17 cows and some pigs, which
are fed on the whey leftover after making the cheese. There is also
a shop up there.

Another cheese factory. These cables run from the local farms
to the factory to deliver the milk for the cheese

Somewhere up there is a farm that uses these cables

The last visit of the day was to a lowland farm.
He couldn't sell his milk to the previous cheese
factories as they only take mountain milk. There is
another factory though that takes the milk. To the
left you can see an ancient pear tree, one of a group
that is used to make the rather strong spirit that I
wrote about yesterday

Another view from the farm showing the encroaching village
And this group is from my time in Seefeld

On the way to the conference
On my walk back to the guest house

Conference dinner up in the mountains. We travelled up on a
funicular railway

Sunset over a German mountain apparently

The view from the balcony 

And moving round a little more

Still from the balcony

last picture from the balcony. Rather nice don't you think! 

On the last day of my stay in Seefeld they had a special market
for handcrafted items and these guys were shearing sheep. I had
to take a photo to show Ian. These sheep were so compliant, they
didn't need manhandling to the ground to get them done. Having
said that, one of them was a little more wriggly than the rest
A view from the road to Innsbruck airport. I walked from town
to the airport, as it was fairly close. There are not many places
you can walk from near the centre to the local airport. I took it
because there is a heart of trees on the mountain especially for a
friend of mine who loves hearts of this kind in the
natural environment

Monday, 12 September 2016

Home once more!

Ian has been busy while I've been away. He wired up some
plugs for my kitchen in the greenhouse. Maybe I should go
away more often 
I'm back home now in the caravan. It is hard to imagine being back in the apartment now, but time will come I'm sure. Unless, of course, we are very fortunate and manage to sort something else out in the meantime, but I doubt that. It is still quite mild and warm and so not an issue about being in the caravan at all, until the evenings that is. The cooler nights and the mosquitoes has us heading into the caravan to eat, instead of the greenhouse like we were doing. We still cook in the greenhouse and that helps with making it easier in the caravan as there is not so much room and sometimes the cooking can create too much steam and make everything feel damp anyway.

He also made a lid for our new well. We reckon it is producing
about 10 litres of water a day. Not great but at least it is
flowing. It has been emptied once so far and it is supposed to
get better the more it is flushed out. Admittedly we haven't
had the rain to percolate through either, which is why Ian
has been cutting hay again.
Anyway back to what happened last week. First of all an apology. I haven't been back to the apartment yet and so I still do not have the photos from the trip. I think I will post them tomorrow, if I remember, rather than wait until next week, which will seem weird. One thing I found out from my trip was that the Austrians call the area I visited Tie-rol  ("tie" as in the item of clothing you wear around your neck) and not Tee-rol like I have always heard it called in the UK. Innsbruck is a pleasant enough town and I really enjoyed being able to walk alongside the green river down a leafy path to the university every morning. It was just far enough away to get a good bit of exercise before the long days, which started at 8:30am and finished late. The first night finished with a reception at the local municipal building, which was a little like a full introduction to Innsbruck to a captive audience, instead of a short introduction and then a time to network, which is the normal format for these things. There was a bit of grumbling about that and rightly so.

Mari is a gorgeous looking alpaca and sweet natured too.
The second day was a little shorter and finished with a tour around the town, but I missed that, as I got chatting with someone. It still finished around 6:30pm though, so not exactly short days. Again there was not much free time for networking, which to be honest I think is more important than many of the presentations. It is a bit of an issue in the academic world that funding for these trips is dependent on presenting papers and not on what would really benefit academia and that is bringing together a whole host of experts from different fields to work together on something that could do with some fresh input. I know that outside experts are not the answer to everything, but it is good to bring in fresh perspectives from time to time and to have access to quite a vast range of knowledge.

Chanel in reflective mood
I got my Lancashire fix from the group of sessions that I had a presentation in, as the host of the sessions was originally from Barnoldswick and he still had the Lancashire twang. I also sat through a presentation which had a map of the area where I used to come from and where I was born. Felt a bit weird with it being the subject of a study by someone who was German but lecturing at Sheffield University where I got my bachelor degree.

This is the "I'm pretending to be asleep"
pose, because as soon as your back is
turned I will be up on the table or in the
sink to see what tasty treats you have
left behind 
My presentation was okay. It was not particularly fluent as it was just after lunch and I was quite tired. It didn't help that I was up finishing it off the night before after the late reception finish. One lady really liked the presentation though and was very enthusiastic about what I was doing and my supervisor said I was much clearer than the other presenters, so that was kind of okay. However he also said "Where was the methodology?" and said I wasn't clear enough on the landscape aspect as usual - will have to work on that for my PhD defence for sure. I often have to re-write something and insert the word landscape a few times to make it fit with the theme of my studies better. I'll get there.

The autumn raspberries have been brilliant this year. Last year
they mainly did not ripen before the frost got them, we only
had a few but this year we have been having to freeze them.
What I really liked about this conference though was the fact they broke up the long days with a field trip in the middle of the conference. It gave us a better chance to chat with others and to see more of the agricultural landscape of the Tyrol (did you notice I put landscape in there?). It is quite fascinating to hear of farmers who only have a small number of animals, one only had 17 cows and yet they were still in farming. It helped that there were subsidies to maintain the landscape (done it again! :D) in the traditional alpine way. It also helped that there were lots of tourists to the area to stay in guesthouses they ran and that they had a good market for their cheeses. During the winter months, when obviously it was more difficult to get up the mountains they kept the roads clear and did forest work. Quite a diverse lifestyle then!

Ian has been sculpting around the well. Hopefully it will grass
over soon
The first place we visited was to a cooperative who managed one mountainside with separate herds of cows, some dairy and some beef. The milk was pooled together and a cheesemaker rented a place from the cooperative to make his cheeses. I bought some raw milk to drink, since I was missing ours from home. Of course we got to taste the cheese too. The next visit was to a farmer who produced his own cheeses and had a shop on site, where we had a rather nice lunch of cheeses, salamis, hams, eggs and salad, all from the farm. You may notice a theme here of cheese, because our next visit was to a cheese factory in the valley. The farmer we had just visited sold his excess to the factory as did a few others but all had to be mountain farmers, no milk was bought from the valley farmers. Many of the farmers even sent their milk down to the factory via a cable system. That would be a sight to see, but when we got there the cheese making had finished for the day. Guess what! We also ate cheese here too and had a drink of buttermilk.

Cobwebs on the fencing
The next visit was to see a young chap who had just started producing vegetables for a local hotel. The hotel owner had bought the land to supply his hotel as he wanted to keep the produce local for his Ayurvedic diets. It was great to see the weedy garden. It was of course the first year and he was only experimenting, so only to be expected. The plans did seem a bit odd at times because they planned to produce eggs for the hotel, but there are always cockerels that need dealing with when trying to raise your own and it was supposedly a vegetarian hotel, well you could get meat if you wanted but the thrust of it was vegetarian. They also had sheep to keep the grass mown (sounds familiar) but again there is a problem if there are too many males and the same problem for the milk they aimed to produce at a later date. He did admit that the staff would probably benefit from the meat, when it becomes available. He was right though that it used to be that eating meat was a rare event and not a daily event like it has become and his own grandmother only used to eat meat a couple of times a week. We didn't have cheese here, but chives on bread with a home-made syrup for drinks.

Veronica has been putting on weight after her pregnancy free
year. We don't think she is pregnant this year, she was too
busy fending off all advances
Finally we finished up at another dairy farm, but funnily enough we didn't eat cheese here. They had some ancient protected pear trees and so instead they made juices and a spirit from them and we got to taste these. I had the pear juice first, which was lovely and then tried the alcoholic pear drink. I couldn't taste the pear, just the burning sensation as it went down and I couldn't finish it off. I said it was too strong for me and the farmer laughed and said "No! No! 60% is strong!" I dread to think! He assured it was "only" 40% proof. Still more than I can take anyway.

Agnese is probably pregnant though and she has been acting
strange, rather like Estelle last year.
We had the conference in two locations and so after the field trip we were dropped off in Seefeld, a tourist resort higher up in the mountains. It was rather twee with all the balconies overflowing with flowers and just about every building was either a guest-house or an eating place. I found the guest-house I was staying in, Haus Orplid and was met by a lovely lady. She welcomed her guests every morning and made sure she said goodbye when I left a couple of days later. She greeted everyone warmly without overdoing it, which was rather nice. There was a bit of an issue in the fact that the guesthouse only served breakfast between 8-10am and the conference started at 8:30am again. She said I could come down 5 minutes earlier and assured me there was plenty of time to get there, as the venue was only 10 minutes away. Well it is if you find it straight away! I got there in the end, is all I'm saying.

Tomatoes ripening in the late summer sun
The evening was a reception up in the mountains and to get there we had to use the funicular railway. Another presentation by the local dignitary and the obligatory facts about the place, but blessedly short and he gained everyone's approval by stating the first drink would be paid for. The meal was rather good and I chatted for a long time with a chap from the UK mainly and a bit with chaps from Norway and Switzerland - they mainly spoke in German to each other though. At the end of the evening we had to go back down the mountain and when we got to the bottom I realised I had left my alpaca scarf at the top of the mountain. The problem is that I had come down on the last but one train and although the train would go back up the mountain, it would not come back down. A phone call to the top though and I was assured my scarf was found and would come back down with the next group.

A bird's nest made from sheep's wool we think
I waited in the waiting room but for some reason the guy shut the door. I had visions of being left there all night. He let me out, but by the time he did, most of the folks had already left and my scarf was nowhere in sight. I had to go back to the hotel, but as I went around the corner the lights all went out and I was left trying to find my way back in the dark with just the torch on my phone to guide me. What fun I have! I did find the bridge that we went over to get to the railway and once over that there were streetlights and getting back was simple from that point. Fortunately I also got to keep the key to my room and that let me into the guesthouse itself. Phew!

Amazing the contortions an alpaca can do to scratch an itch
Fortunately the scarf was there in the morning. It was the scarf I had knitted from our own alpaca wool for Ian's mother who died last year, so I would have been rather sad to lose it. The last day of the conference was a short day and many left either that morning or shortly afterwards, so it felt like only a few were left behind. Most were taking advantage to go on holidays or to join the post-excursion trip to the Italian alps. I was only leaving the following day as there wasn't enough time to get to Innsbruck after the conference to get home. Later on in the day though I bumped into one young chap from the conference as I was looking for somewhere to eat. Since he was also doing the same, we decided to eat together. As we were making our way along to the restaurant he had planned on eating at, we saw another fellow from the conference. His partner had joined him in Seefeld for a day or two and so we all sat down and had a right good chinwag. It was better than eating alone anyway.

The golden head of an amaranth plant in the greenhouse
Saturday I set off back home. It was a fairly uneventful journey though, albeit with a rather long overlay in Frankfurt, apart from meeting a rather interesting young chap on the plane from Frankfurt to Riga. He asked me if I was visiting Riga and of course I said I was going home, which as usual surprises folks. I found out he was a joiner on yachts in the South of France, which made a bit of a change from working for an Irish joinery company, as many Latvians do, which he had done for nine years previously. He might even pay us a visit to the farm, he said, as he lost his cashmere hat and would love another hat made from natural materials, but he is allergic to sheep wool.

A rather large tomato that is now in the process of being
reduced to soup
So back home once again and it is back into the more mundane aspects of life, like harvesting amaranth seed, starting to tackle the tomato mountain, hanging some of the self-sown hemp to dry (they are huge now and taller than me), helping Ian with the sheep by holding them while he gave them injections and then helping make sure the lambs got to the new pasture. Unfortunately while I was away one of the lambs died and so we are down to two. The lamb was rather thin and it also got stuck in the wood pile one day before I went away. It could be that it wasn't thriving due to worms, which is why we gave them the injections about two weeks ago and this one was the second dose. Who knows! Sheep do sometimes just keel over and we are not the most experienced of sheep farmers.