Monday, 18 June 2018

Oh so dry!

The road that runs along our land is a bit rough again. It was
graded after the rain, but now it is dry it is like a washboard
I know last week's title for the blog was "Oh Sweet Rain!" Well it was nice while it lasted but it sure was not enough to make much of an impression on the land and the vegetation. We have had no rain since then either. Certain trees and shrubs are beginning to show signs of a severe lack of water. Where the vegetation has not been cut, it is still hanging on in there - just! But where the grass is cut, then the ground is looking distinctly parched and brown patches are appearing in what should be green grassy areas.
There have been lots of interesting wee beasties
and I'm not entirely sure what they are, as they are
not ones I have seen before or rather noticed before.
I'm trying to make sure I take pictures so that I can
check to see if they are friend or foe.

About the only moisture we saw this week was the dew on
the ground due to one particularly cool night
As I mentioned last year, we are chronic weather watchers these days and we can often be seen checking the weather forecast, but it is so demoralising. There will be a forecast for a good dousing of rain for about a week ahead and as the day draws nearer, the amount of rain forecast gets less and less and less until there is nothing. We have seen some quite dark clouds, but no rain on our land. On the radar we have seen rain to the north of us, rain to the south of us, rain to the east of us and rain to the west of us - but none for us. Even so, it is still dry over much of the region and the regional head office has asked the government to declare a drought. We have about a days worth of water in our well for our day to day use and will soon have to bring it in from our apartment for our animals. It definitely makes us careful in our usage.
These are friends, these are dock leaf
beetles and are currently making lacy
dock leaves that will weaken them.

This is a bag I started ages ago, but the front flap went all
wrong and ended up way too big. With Heather's help I have
been modifying it. It is still a work in progress but it's getting
Heather our current resident felting tutor returned from showing our Latvian Alpaca Adventure guest around Riga on the Wednesday. Since then she and I have been doing some more felting - or rather Heather has been doing some serious felting and working on some interesting pieces and I have been pottering around finishing off bits here and there.  Heather has been putting together a themed collection of pieces and the more we work with alpaca fibres the more we realise that alpaca is definitely not like working with merino wool. There is a lot of serendipity about it, which has caused some consternation from time to time. Just when we think we have the measure of the fibres they do something unexpected. This has meant some re-working of pieces to get a result we are happy with. It has also meant some fascinating pieces too - but you will have to wait for our photo shoot to be completed to see a glimpse of most of them.
This shows the bit of the flap that I cut off and it will now
become a pocket, that I shall sew on. That is the next bit to do

This is the finished shawl I was making last week using
George's fleece. It is a cobweb felt, so is super light with
lacy holes in it. The collar is doubled over and sewn so that it strengthens it.
We have been really careful throughout the process though to try and use as little water as possible and Heather often took the articles back to the apartment to rinse out after the hard work had been done on the pieces. We hope that we don't have the same issues when it comes to the next workshop, otherwise we are going to have to bring in water.
Sewn collar detail

Cute curly pieces

Ian with tractor and trailer to collect the bales
As well as felting, Ian and I have been getting the hay in. Ian does the cutting and baling with the tractor and then I help him with the collecting and stacking. At least I did this year, last year I managed to book on a conference at the end of July, which ended up coinciding with baling time. I'm pleased I didn't manage that this time around, boy would I have been in trouble. We haven't finished of course, but we are hanging back on cutting the rest and waiting for some rain to help the grass to grow. We don't want to risk killing all the grass if it doesn't rain. At least we have nearly enough hay now for the whole year, as we still have a reasonable amount leftover from last year.
Heather gave me a rose last year
and I wasn't sure if it had died or not
over the winter. It came back from
the root and so isn't quite the same
but it is still purple and has a lovely
smell, so I'm quite happy with that.

Dew in the morning on a spider's web. I love the colours
The lack of rain does make it difficult for moving electric fences for the animals. The other week Ian managed to snap an electric post because it was set like concrete into the ground. He did manage to move the fence for the girls though, so they can eat the grass under the trees that still looks lush, in reality though it is actually quite sparse. We are just hoping the grass lasts until the rains - when they come. At least we noticed the buckwheat that Ian planted has sprouted. I think the bit of moisture from the rain last week and a good dew one morning seems to have helped. If the forecast holds for rain, we will plant up another area of buckwheat. The idea is that it will outcompete the docks that have taken over those areas. That's the plan anyway.
Another wee beastie. Very unusual

Sitting on the fence.
We made some progress this week on some admin to do with the sale of our apartment. This was our registered address and so we needed to transfer it to our other apartment. We went into the big town and found the right office. Despite it being the immigration office, however, there was no one there who was fluent in English. We managed though, with the help of a friend via mobile phone and my little bit of Latvian and the admin lady's little bit of English. At least it is all official now, that we live at our apartment that we still own - although we don't because we spend more time out on the land than we do at the apartment, but this hasn't got an official registered dwelling yet!
Also sitting on the fence.

Not a photo of Sofie but Eyre, our grumpy looking cat. She
is not quite so good as Sofie at catching things, but she
managed a lizard today, which I would rather she didn't, as
they are good to have around.
We have had some laughs this week. Over the course of a couple of days the front of our greenhouse became like mole city motorway, with soil pushed up between food bins and all along the entrance. It was making getting the chicks out a bit of a challenge. We were eating our evening meal one night when Heather spotted one of our cats with something in its mouth. Sofie was obviously feeling left out and had decided to bring her own meal - yup! Mr, or Mrs Mole. It was not exactly what we call fine dining and not much appreciated and so I had to shoo Sofie away to eat the poor beast in peace. At least we don't have a mole problem any more.

My lupins are looking good

Grass on a dewy morning

Samples to test the feltability of the boys fleeces. George
felts very well and Frederiks is okay but requires more work.

The chicks are getting big now

This started out as a felted cuff but it made
a handy holder for the herbal teas I have been
making. Here is a mint tea

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Part 2

Here are the extra photos as promised. It has been one of those weeks where we have been on the go for much of the day

Latvian Alpaca Adventure

Choosing the fleece

The nice part about felting on the farm is getting to choose
who's fleece you use
This is George's fleece and it is great to be able to say, he felts

Laying out the fleece
Wetting the fleece
The soap in this case is not for the felting process per se but
to help in making the rubbing in of the water and soap
underneath easier so as not to move the fibres around
too much at this stage

Carefully starting the felting process, making sure it is all
wet and soapy enough - not too much, not too little

Rolling the felt

This is where the real felting process begins
Fleece beginning to felt

Arty shot

Animals on the farm, big and small
A bug for identification

Sofie observing the felting process. She knows how to do it,
as she gets her own fur in a complete mess. We've only just
about managed to get out the last lot of felted clumps. Long
hair and farm cats don't mix terribly well

Lounging around. Making fleece is such hard work

Having a chew

Needing some shearing, but now we are haymaking

Swallows have taken up residence again. I hope they start
to eat some of those horse flies

Office view

This didn't help Heather's admin as it flew over whilst trying
to deal with a call 

Sorting out the electric for our old apartment
On the land
A stork investigating the hay for tasty morsels

Haymaking is a bit of a dusty affair this year

The dry year meant Ian could dig out the pond deeper. In
the spring the water is almost up level with the roadway
at the back. That is a lot of water that has disappeared

Monday, 11 June 2018

Oh Sweet Rain!

We have seen clouds that look like they might rain and some
we could see were raining but passed us by. We are so
grateful to hear the rain on the caravan roof right now.
We actually sat down and just watched the rain. There wasn't much else to do really, except maybe tidy the greenhouse, but since we had just baled and stacked 36 bales of hay and shifted another 20 or thereabouts,  I think we deserved a rest. We badly needed the rain though. It is only early June and already plants are struggling with the heat and lack of water. Since early April we have had very little rain at all and I think we have only had about three showers since I got back from the UK in mid-April. Many of the days have been hot and sunny, further increasing the stress on the plants and animals alike.
A very pregnant Aggie having a sunbathe

An airy cover for the chickens. Two have escaped or nearly
escaped from the enclosure this week though. Hopefully
we have sorted it now. Unfortunately it was after one of them
reduced the number of carrots by scratching through one of
my veg beds. Wouldn't have minded so much but not many
had germinated in the first place. Grrrr!
Last week I was going to write my blog as usual when I discovered an email that told me that a meeting in Slovakia was cancelled. I had heard that there wasn't a huge amount of interest, not that surprising as it seemed to be arranged last minute like a lot of these things, but it was supposed to be going ahead regardless. Rather annoyingly someone had had a change of mind, as I had put a lot of effort into finding out how to get there and so I then had to put a lot of effort into cancelling everything on a week when I was particularly busy too. At least I got my money back on the flights from the meeting organisers- well at least most of it, as I am waiting for AirBaltic to get their act together and send me my taxes back. They said they would in the expensive phone call to them 52c a minute.
At least the cool nights have meant the grass still got some
moisture but it was beginning to struggle and in some places
dried to a crisp. I was beginning to worry that Jani - the
midsummer festival with bonfires was possibly going to cause
havoc and a wildfire.

Ian has been clearing a mound to make way for a root cellar.
Both these heaps will be used to cover the old chicken shed.
Details are still to be worked on
At least the rain gives me a chance to write the blog. It is after all, too wet to do any weeding and  there isn't that much to do anyway as I haven't put many seeds in yet because it has been so dry. We also need to wait for the cut grass to dry out again, so no more baling for now (don't worry there isn't that much cut and it will be fine, there is more hot weather forecast).  So what's been happening over the last two weeks? Well first of all we had a visit from a mother and daughter who live close by and had just bought some alpacas. They asked lots of questions and Ian gave them lots of advice, we also agreed to shear their two animals that still needed doing. We were concerned that they might get too hot in the high temperatures we have been having.
A grateful addition to the greenhouse. A side door for ventilation

A chance to try out the feltability of the fleeces from these
little chaps. We found George's felts incredibly well
whereas Frederiks takes a bit more work.
It was not the best plan, but we ended up shearing the following day. One of the problems was that we still had jobs to do to get ready for our felting tutor's arrival that evening. Animal welfare though was uppermost and since the family had important commitments the rest of the week like finishing off degree courses, we decided just to get on with it. We started off with an enjoyable short tour around their property while we collected their animals from the field. I was worried at first that the animals were not already rounded up, but the family seemed to have sorted out the walk from the field to the barn and it wasn't an issue. Getting the animals in for shearing itself was a little more problematic, but we got done and showed them one or two tricks for improving compliance with the animals - some of the things learnt from experience the hard way.
Poor Mr. P has been bothered by the flies. They really annoy him

Cow parsley makes such pretty pictures, but it is a pain in
the field as the alpacas do not eat it
There was one point where we used a rope to corral one of the animals so we could check its teeth. Unfortunately another of the animals managed to get entangled in the rope and then set off at full pelt around the paddock with the rope dangling from its body. I managed to grab the rope and slowly haul it in, to get the rope off, whilst Ian was dealing with the other animal. After we had finished the shearing and checking on the animals we were treated to cold Latvian soup - the ideal sort of food on a hot day. It was nice to be able to do all that and still be home mid-afternoon, since it is much nearer than most other places where we do shearing.
The grapes are starting to swell and the leaves provide a nice
bit of shade

Pine cones forming
I still had time to get the apartment we have moved into presentable for our felting tutor before we went to collect her in the evening - presentable in the loosest sense of the word. The next few days were then spent finishing off the greenhouse to transform it from a dumping ground into a workshop for the following week. Now the barn looks like a dumping ground and so does the little greenhouse structure outside, but its progress of sorts. While Heather our tutor and I were clearing the greenhouse out, Ian was having fun, I mean working hard digging out one of the ponds. It had dried out quite a lot and so it was the ideal opportunity to try and tackle the problems we have of it draining away and deepen it. Ian found more clay drain pipes, so now they have been plugged and our pond is filling - very, very slowly due to the drought, but at least it is filling and not emptying. I don't think the fish were terribly happy about it all, as the pond got a bit shallow in the process, but we reckon there are still at least four of them left of the 8 put in and they are getting quite big. I'm sure they will appreciate more room later on in the year, as the pond fills though.
Pied wagtail

Small in number but we had great fun
Our Latvian Alpaca Adventure didn't get the numbers we were hoping for and it was really difficult to get time to really push the advertising of it, so we decided to run it with just the one participant to try and work out some different ways of running it in the future. We had hoped to visit a Latvian felter, but unfortunately she pulled out just before the event and so all our plans ended up changing anyway. It was very frustrating. Especially as I had taken quite a bit of time trying to help them understand how to work with the international folks on the course and provide reassurance. On the plus side though, our participant was lovely, she thoroughly enjoyed the week and made some good suggestions for the future.
We ate a lot of fresh bread that I
baked and pastries from the bakeries
 in the village. I'm really pleased to find
that vine leaves make great replacements
for baking sheets.
Just pointing out that a rain cloud was on
the way.
One suggestion was to build some pods for people to stay out on the land rather than at the hotel, which has some potential and maybe a step forward - although when I've checked on prices, small cabins would work out cheaper. The hotel is nice and we get a good deal on it, but it does mean I have to organise transporting people backwards and forwards, which can be an issue sometimes when there are still jobs to do on the farm. It is also a way of reducing the costs of the holiday.
Felting with George's fleece. The rings are to work out how
much shrinkage occurs during the felting process. I still have to
finish this one off.

Doing some eco-printing. I use that term loosely as I don't
like the use of so much plastic, despite not using strong
chemical dyes. I did find out that leaving the fabrics that
had been soaked in rusty water with the leaves overnight
made a blue or purple dye. Those steamed right away were
Another aspect of the pod idea is that we could also offer some sort of retreat, whether that is a craft retreat, an academic retreat or just a retreat away from it all. We could even use them for artists in residence where felters, painters or any artist comes to spend time using the resources we have on our land, such as our fleeces, natural materials, landscape etc. The possibilities are endless I'm sure. Heather will be using the rest of her time here on our land getting to know more about the alpaca fleece and how it differs from sheep fleeces as our first artist in residence. She has already made a truly gorgeous scarf using some of George's fleece and some of Aggie's. Alpaca fleece can be wonderfully soft, but it is still a pretty unknown quantity in the felting world and even has a bad reputation at times. Obviously something we would like to change and there is no better way than to have someone experiment with it to find out what its strengths and weaknesses are.

There are so many pictures from these last two weeks that I will post some more later.