Monday, 29 June 2020

Outdoor showers

This has been my office in the heat of the day
just lately. Finally the trees in the orchard
are big enough to sit in their shade.
I should really be editing a paper, but I cannot focus at the level required for an academic paper. I'm half asleep and another early night is needed. It isn't just the two hour and 20 minute zoom call, interesting though that was, or the fact I had a pause in the middle to help Ian stack hay as it was about to rain, but also due to the fact I was up early this morning. 
I found out the name of a flower that I had seen frequently recently and it was called lesser 
stitchwort. I looked on my computer at a guide for
Latvian plants in the different habitats and found out
there was also a greater stitchwort. I thought I had found
it this week, but no, it was wood stitchwort instead. 
Well now I know.

Ian found this bug. I think it had only 
just hatched out. I guessed it was a 
longhorned beetle, because of it's long
antennae but never seen anything
like it before. I got excited that it was
perhaps a migrant a spotted longhorn
beetle as that was the closest on 
iNaturalist. Someone corrected me and
said it was a ladder longhorn beetle.
Close but not close enough. These are
more widespread than the spotted
ones though
Let me back track a bit. Yesterday was one of those days. The day started off in the sultry heat of summer. The sort you get before a thunderstorm. We knew there was a possibility of rain on the way, but it was not certain. Ian was baling in the tractor - a hot and humid job since the aircon is not working and he can't open the door for ventilation - that would be a big pane of glass to replace if it breaks. The other problem is that flies would get in through an open door and make his work impossible anyway. So while he was sweltering in the tractor, I was sweltering outside as I ensured the twine on the bales were properly secured and then started the process of rolling them to the old alpaca house that is now used as a hay store. I rolled some down the hill, which is kind of fun, but not so much in the humid heat of the day. I had to get them inside and that was my focus, even when Ian was showing visitors around. 

A video of the stork dance that happens every 
time that Ian cuts hay.

Apparently these are green tortoise
beetles because of the shape of the
shell casings. 
There was one point I realised I had to get water and cool down, I was overheating badly. Fortunately we have water stored in our root cellar, so that was cool and I dropped my shirt into a rainwater trough at the back of the barn - also a cool spot. That got my temperature down and I could carry on. I managed to get all the bales stacked that could be easily rolled. Another group of bales were covered with a tarpaulin, five bales were hastily thrown into the horse box because they were nearby and another group stacked near one of the barns ready for Ian to put in. All the time I was watching the dark clouds gathering and then after the briefest of showers - if you could even call it that - it passed over. I felt I could relax. Ian finished the baling and we even allowed ourselves a cup of coffee and a sit down. Then back to work. 

After 11pm at night
A robber fly at the bottom.
Whilst Ian stacked bales into one of our other store houses, I went and sorted the bales he had just done by gathering them together. Before you think I'm superhuman, these bales weigh about 25kg not 800kg like you see in many fields today, so not too horrendous to move around by rolling but it does mean they do not do well in the rain, so something we try to avoid. I got two lots of bales grouped together and once again I watched as the rain clouds gathered. I got the third group gathered and then it started to rain, I decided to stack them so at least some were off the floor. It rained harder. I saw some of our neighbours walking down, I wondered if they were visiting, but no, I realised as I walked past they were waiting for the bus. It started to rain even harder. By the time I got up to our greenhouse, I was absolutely saturated. I shut the doors on the new greenhouse, because I couldn't get any wetter. Rain was pouring off my cowboy style hat in sheets. Ian was a little more sheltered but just managed to get the bales in, but by the time he'd sorted out the doors on the animal houses so they weren't wide open, he too was drenched.
Just a member of the mustard family
but such sweet little flowers

Alkanet a dye plant
All we could do was strip off in the caravan and leave the heap of sodden clothes on the floor while we dried off. I was sat in a towel when there was a knock on the door. The bus hadn't come, could we take our neighbour into Riga. Oh! Errr! Yes sure! I decided to go with Ian, and hastily got ready. At least we could find something to eat on the way back, as I was too tired to cook something and it would be late when Ian returned anyway. We got as far as our village when our neighbour decided he was too wet to carry on - apparently he was beginning to feel chilly in our car. We dropped him off in the village as requested and headed for the bakery for some cold summer soup and a cake and then do some shopping. On the way back, our neighbour caught up with us and asked if we could take him home and then take him for the bus in the morning. Hence the early morning this morning. The joys of public transport in remote areas.
I thought this was an early marsh orchid,
again close but not close enough. It's a
Baltic marsh orchid. Fortunately Ian 
just about managed to avoid running it

Our first box of strawberries. I hope
the rain hasn't ruined many of them.
At least that was the most exciting point of the week. I can't do with too much excitement like that. Although is losing my phone in the alpaca house one of those moments? I realised I had dropped my phone somewhere between our greenhouse and the alpaca house, but that is still a large area to lose a phone. Ian phoned, it wasn't in the caravan, he phoned again, it wasn't in the greenhouse, so we tried again and sure enough it was buried in the hay in the alpaca house. Whoops! Goodness only knows what the alpacas thought of my phone going off. 
A green cucumber spider
Hay cut and cleared from this area. Except one 
area because we are enjoying seeing all the 
flowers in that patch, plus the grass is never
really high in this particular place.
We have finished round one of the hay cutting season, there are still two other areas about the same size to cut, although these are a little less fiddly to do. It was dry most of the day today and so the bales at least had a chance to dry off so Ian could stack them, only he had more visitors to show around and so needed some help this afternoon to finish off. Our stores are nearly full already so we can be a little more relaxed about it. I should also be finished with the majority of my work soon too, so I can concentrate on getting the garden into shape, as well as helping more with the haymaking or at least stacking hay bales.

This area gets left for the flowers too

Poor Mr. P. gets all the difficult cases. Vanessa
is not what we would call a compliant alpaca
and she shows her displease at our choice of mate
for her by putting up quite a fight. Normally that
would mean she is pregnant, but not in her case.
We sheared the last of the alpacas at a mini-zoo this week and a small llama. Normally llamas fleece grows more slowly and they only need shearing every two years. This one year old llama already had quite a long fleece and she was still tiny for a llama. The fleece was also pretty good too. Hopefully next year we won't have the problems of lockdown - well maybe. It would be much more awkward next year as we have continued on with the mating season and one or two of the alpacas are showing promising signs of being pregnant. That will mean shearing will need to be finished by mid-May.
An oak spider. I thought at first that
was because there are lots of oaks on 
our land and then I realised it has an
oak leaf pattern on its back.

Monday, 22 June 2020

Finally done!

A weird rainbow for a weird week
Many of you will already know that I finally got to defend my PhD, so I am now officially a Doctor - academic doctor of course not a medical one. To get to the end I had the equivalent of a two hour oral exam where I had to answer questions from an opponent (examiner) and justify the work I had written for my thesis. I not only had to answer to the satisfaction of the opponent, but also the academic board who also asked questions at the end. It was not nerve wracking, as I knew to get that far I had done the hard work. I just needed to try and answer in a way that at least sounded intelligent. In fact I almost enjoyed it, apart from near the end when my internet connection started to go. Of course it was done online - as most things are in academia these days. I think some people are starting to do their's in the university now that the emergency is over (for the time being) in the Baltic States, but mine couldn't because one of my supervisor's and my opponent are not allowed to enter the country without quarantine at the moment, one is in the UK and the other in Sweden.

Rather proud to have so many lesser
butterfly orchids. Even more than
last year by the look of it.

A field of lupins

It was a bit weird, because I have worked towards this point for nearly 12 years, first getting a Post Graduate Certificate, then my Masters and finally the last 7 years working on gathering the work together for the PhD - and now it's over, with no big celebration or anything. Not that I enjoy big celebrations so much, but they are a good way of bringing something to an end. A marker if you like. I can understand the issues for the youngsters leaving school who would now expect to attend an end of school party and can't, or having a low-key wedding instead of a big splash. It feels odd not to celebrate. Even the debrief at the end with my supervisors and the opponent, which went so well for a time, ended with a disconnection not a goodbye. All I heard was something like and now Doctor Stor......<silence>. In someways though the debrief was better than the defence as my supervisors were very happy with the work I had done and it was nice to hear their perspective and the skills they felt I have. It felt very validating to hear my own colleagues appreciate the work I have done. 

Rabbitfoot clover. This was a new name for me

The grass was sure getting long. I was beginning
to get lost in it all. Doesn't take much.

I did get to have a mini-celebration at one of our favourite restaurants. Having said that we only went because one our friend's up north had an alpaca which give birth today (a little black and white spotty cria - quite a surprise) and we went to see them ........and they just so happen to be close to the restaurant. We only had one course though as Ian had to be back to do some more hay cutting, which he started yesterday.  So yes, I finish a major milestone in my life and then leap straight into the busyness of farm life at this time of the year, meanwhile still trying to finish off two projects and two academic papers - hopefully before the end of the month. Then I will try and dial down a bit. 

Ian cutting hay with his trusty followers hoping for a meal

I couldn't find the name for this plant
I have had a little bit of time over the weekend, so apart from planting a load of stuff that needed planting and getting some much needed weeding done, I have been playing with an app I downloaded called iNaturalist. I've been using it to document some of the plants and small wildlife on our farm. It's been pretty good, and helped me by suggesting names for some that I wasn't sure about. I think those interested in entomology are the most keen users as I seem to have had the fastest responses from those to confirm my id or correct me if they think I'm wrong. There hasn't been as many with an interest in plants. Also there are some plants and insects I do not know and cannot connect with the algorithm's suggestions, because they just seem too far off. Not sure how to sort that out and no one has suggested a name for them yet. I probably need to play around with the app a bit more. Still it is a great way to get people involved in citizen science - and that will be another project I will be doing starting next month. One of my grandson's will also be using the app, so hopefully we can follow each other and see what we find. Should be fun!

I have no idea what kind of moth
or butterfly this will turn into.

Edible frog apparently. I thought they were just called pond frogs

Poor Turbjørn and his bent neck
Other news from the farm: Tubjørn was seen by an animal physiotherapist and she has given us some massages to do on him. It is amazing how still he stands as normally he's a very nervous animal. He seemed to be getting better after the anti-inflammatory injections and therapist's visit but the other day he seems to be worse than he was before - having said that, there did seem to be some disagreements between the boys, so whether someone has bumped him again, we don't know. We'll see how it goes, he doesn't seem as stiff as he was before, so maybe just something he'll have to live with. 
A rather striking longhorn beetle

I misnamed this one apparently. I thought
it was a common blue damselfly, but
someone said it is an azure damselfly and 
since they are an entomologist, I'm not 
arguing. Actually I could see why after
comparing, so I clicked on agree

An amazing contortionist
The rain seems to have stopped for the time being and the temperatures have soared. While it was around 15C during the day in previous weeks it is more like that at night now. During the day we have hit over 30C on several days. Caravan living is a bit more of a challenge in the heat. It's far easier to warm it up than it is to cool it down. It's a good job we finished off shearing the alpacas last week. It's also a good job we got the chickens out of the greenhouse. I had a lot of work to do, but they needed shifting more urgently as the temperatures were unbearable in the greenhouse. 
Unfortunately this one died in our car in the heat.
A clouded border butterfly

Wood Cow-wheat. Such a pretty parasitic
plant with such a strange name

Is that a twinkle in your eye Mr. Tellus?
The mating season has also begun on the farm. We were going to wait, but the heat affects male fertility and takes a long time to come back - 60 days apparently, so not the ideal time to wait. Last year it was hotter earlier and we are not sure if that was the reason we didn't get any babies this year, or whether it was just the females were too fat or something else. Anyway this year the females are a bit trimmer and the weather has been cooler up until now and so Ian thought we had better start the mating process. It gets a bit complicated as the males need a rest and some males cannot be mated with some of the females because they are half-siblings. We did try George for the first time, but he's not ready. He sniffed the female, she spat at him and he backed off. Meanwhile his older half-brother, Brencis, on the other side was demonstrating what to do - which is supposed to help, but no. He just watched! Some of the females are very compliant but some are rather feisty. What we do know though, is that despite his age, Tellus is still the alpaca lady's man, they all swoon for him, poor Mr. P, not so much. 

Mr. P - poor guy has to try hard to impress the ladies
but he is a trier.

A little learning to do to become a daddy!

Freddie will never be a daddy unfortunately. He's
got the sweetest nature but a gammy leg and skin 
We hope Brencis will give us two
babies this year. 

Monday, 15 June 2020

Just another week gone by!

Ilvija before shearing looking like a little
teddy bear
Time flies when you're having fun they say. Time just flies anyway I think. Another week gone and more shearing done. We've almost finished. We just have a mini-zoo left to do. This last week we sheared the rest of our girls on one day and the rest of the boys a few days later. It has been a bit difficult trying to fit the shearing in this year. First because it was too cold early on, then too wet and travelling to do other's. Finally we had a few days when the rain was only forecast to start later in the day and Ian is now fast enough to get it done in a few hours, at least on just four or five animals. After we sheared the girls, we had literally just packed up everything and thinking of sitting down for a coffee when the rain started, but at least we managed. It was also manageable to get it done and still have time for me to get on with some work, if I worked into the evening anyway.

Long legs, not like her Mum

Such a cutie.

How are we going to tell these too apart. Ilvija is 
definitely a little mini-Chanel.

The swelling has gone down but there
is still a crick in Turbjørn's neck 
I mentioned last week that we wondered if Turbjørn had some arthritis in his neck. The next day Ian came into the caravan and said you had better come and have a look. Turbjørn was sat upright but his neck was most certainly not straight, it had a definite kink in it. We had the vet come out to look, but she doesn't really know much about alpaca necks - this is something a bit different to the problems we've had with alpacas up until now. She gave us some anti-inflammatories and Vitamin B complex and the swelling at least seems to have gone down. He still has a bit of a kink, but due to the wonders of modern technology and an appeal on our Facebook page we have someone who is studying animal physiotherapy coming to have a look this next week. We lined up a few other jobs while we are at it that we would like some advice on. It will add to our knowledge anyway.

A pond frog

These ones do like to sunbathe

Mari looks very smart.

Brencis is so nosy, each time Ian switched off the shears  
he would come and look to see what was happening

Father and two of his sons. Tellus in front,
then George and then Brencis
It was a short blog last week because I have so many deadlines due and so much work including on our farm that I was rather inundated. The amount of work is beginning to slow down a bit and by the end of the week I will have finished some major milestones. More on that next week though. What I did forget to mention is that we had one of those, "What was all that about?" moments during shearing at one place. It is normally a lively affair at this one particular farm as one of their alpacas is rather spitty and uncooperative. This time it wasn't that particular animal that caused mayhem though. We were shearing one of the alpacas when two of the ladies helping suddenly jumped up and ran to the back of the barn. There was a bit of a commotion and we saw the bull kicking up quite a fuss, but it only dawned on me afterwards that he must have been on the wrong side of the hefty fence. He was corralled up before I even realised what had happened and Ian was oblivious because he was focussed on the shearing. Now that would have been rather exciting if he had got out, but the sort of excitement I'm quite prepared to miss out on. Still all was well in the end, which was a good job as one of our helpers is due to give birth this month.

Jakobs is looking spottier, I'm sure!

The grass has grown a lot
We have started the plans so that we are open for visitors this next weekend. People have already been ringing up and we have agreed to let them visit. We don't mind small groups with a little advance warning. What we will not be doing is having people just turn up. We want to be prepared for visitors and so people will have to book in advance, no matter how far they have travelled. Also Latvia moved out of the state of emergency this last week and although there are still deaths from Covid19 there have been no new cases in the last two days and even before that the number of cases had been pretty low. There are still some restrictions on distancing and masks on public transport but for outside events the restrictions are minimal. We plan on only doing outside tours and not doing so much of a demonstration like we used to. Not quite sure what will happen on very hot days or days when it rains yet. We will find out. 

Just too hot!

Relief in the rain

George looks much happier to have less fleece.
As I said, work is winding down as we head towards the end of a project I am involved in. Little did I know how much I would learn about the Baltic Sea and how much the marine environment is beneficial to people. I have learnt about the different ways that pollution gets into the sea and the way that the sea processes those harmful substances. Some are neutralised and some are accumulated and cause us harm. Then there are underwater eelgrass meadows that are nurseries for the fish we eat - isn't that cute? Reed wetlands filter water for us, so there isn't as much of the harmful substances in the water we swim in. That and so much more. You can see a bit of what I've been doing here (link), I was on the health and well-being team. 

Josefs before shearing

He really needed a haircut


A very leggy looking Josefs

Freddie with his new haircut.
I still have another project to finish that I'm working on. This one was just a short project for me, as they needed some help to finish that one off, also about the sea, but also other blue spaces and health. Then I start work on a new project but more land based this time. At least that keeps me going part-time until the end of the year. It keeps me busy and some income coming in anyway. At least part-time I might be able to actually clean up my computer and sort through the hundreds of files I've saved ready for a project of my own - well maybe. There will also be the garden to sort out. The weeds, as usual are getting ahead of me. At least this weekend, in a brief spell before the rain, I managed to find parsnips, beetroot and garlic. The carrots look a bit thin though. Either they haven't come through or still coming through. I'll find out next week and re-sow if there are not enough of them. 

Sweet Freddie before he was sheared. He was amusing  
because he made such a funny noise before while  
he was being sheared. 
A spruce tree

All the boys sheared now.
Ian at least tackled the greenhouse monsters, aka grapevines today. They look so sweet as they start to grow and then suddenly they change into a raging monsters that threaten to strangle you as you go in through the door. It is amazing how much it grows in just a week. At least I have a ready supply of leaves to bake bread on until the end of the growing season. They save on baking paper, oil and wear and tear on my silicon baking sheets. Which is good, because I bake bread every few days anyway, virus lockdown or not. 

Lady V looks like she has a spring in her step since being sheared