Monday, 28 June 2010


Time for a cup of tea!
Not too good a week for me. My tooth or rather, where my tooth once was, started to heal nicely and the first few days were great but then it started to hurt. It was like having a mouthful of ulcers (canker for my American friends), it wasn't pleasant and kind of wearing. If I could get out and about it took my mind off it but if I sat at home feeling sorry for myself with the various noises that comes with living in our apartment then I didn't feel well at all. One activity I used to take my mind off it was to go and take photographs of the orchids on our land and catalogue where they were. A friend of ours is an avid orchid enthusiast and so I sent the photos off to him to see what kinds we have, as I wasn't sure whether we had a few different species or different variants of the same species. Our friend reckons we may have at least three species of orchids with some hybrids too, which to me is rather exciting as it confirms what a varied piece of land we have, one that is worth preserving and taking care of.
Scabious! I spent ages trying to grow these flowers in the UK
when we lived there and now they are growing wild on the land

My potting table removed to outside where it is a little
cooler and the view rather pleasant.
I was a bit down on Saturday as the time came around to the time when our youngest would have been due to land in Riga, if he hadn't got a job and decided he couldn't really come. I was sad that he wouldn't be around to see what we were doing and have some chats around the meal table about what he was doing. Ian and I had been looking forward to it as we haven't had much chance to see him since we have moved to Latvia. It wasn't meant to be obviously but at least being out on the land was restoring, it is so pretty there. A throw away comment by a friend about our overflowing pond from the heavy rain we had earlier on in the week set us thinking, I also loved the waterfall effect but it seemed such a waste just flowing away making everything below it very boggy and not useful and so we started on planning another two ponds in series below our first one.  This will vastly increase our water storage capacity and maybe we could also have some fish in there too. Well it took my mind off toothaches and mother aches.
These look like purple and yellow
flowers but the purple are bracts not

Our orchard surrounded by the electric fence. Hard to see
but there is a yellow warning sign on it - only its in Polish!
Hope the deer can read Polish.
Saturday Ian connected up our new electric fence to keep our orchard safe from a wandering deer that seemed to think our orchard was a new delicacy to be enjoyed. It totally changes the look of the place from an open orchard area to enclosed space - amazing what a few wires and fence posts can do. This will be a temporary option until we have a hedge that is high enough and thick enough to keep out the deer but that will be a while yet as we still have to take the cuttings for it. We half expected to arrive on Sunday with a frightened deer stuck in the middle and were quite relieved when we didn't but we were amazed to see a hare make its way delicately through the fence and so we wonder if it is working properly or not and I am not testing it, as I don't think it will cure my aches.
A stunning group of thistle like flowers. They are not thistles
wrong type of leaves - will look up the name soon!

It started so well!
Sunday we had to empty the water out from the boreholes that had filled them up after the heavy rain we had had so that the guys can get on and build our barn. We had a brilliant idea, why not start on the pond that we were going to build and empty the water from the boreholes into it, it will only take a couple of hours!!!! Hmmph! Well that was the idea and it was going quite well for a couple of hours and then Ian managed to get the tractor stuck in a really boggy area that had got churned up as he was working. We spent the rest of our Sunday digging it out. Took us about 6 hours! It was not fun, it took rocks, twigs, branches, straw and finally digging with our bare hands and a winch attached to our car to get it out. The mud was so sticky that it was like a very effective glue keeping our tractor in or rather digging itself deeper and deeper in. It is a good job the nights are light till very late here as we finished still in the light just after 10pm at night but we were pretty tired - we even slept in the next morning. Our last pond will now have a feature island in the middle, because there is no way we are going anywhere near it to move the soil as we are as likely to get bogged down in it as the tractor was. Even as we were digging the pond it was filling up with water from a spring that we uncovered and that was also one of the reasons we didn't dare leave the tractor until the morning as we had visions of it being in the middle of the pond by then. Heh ho! We know how to spend our Sundays, a day of relaxation!!!
Okay another orchid but they are
rather stunning plants

Free at last at just after 10pm
At least it all ended happily and instead of using the borehole water to fill a pond it was used to clean the off the mud that had caked the tractor. Waste not! Want not! Ian is happy with his nice shiny tractor now, as he had wanted to clean it for awhile, something our middle son and his fiancĂ©e obviously understand as Ian got a father's day present from them that arrived later in the day, a book called "That's not my tractor" and it finishes with "That's my tractor. Its headlights are so shiny." Impeccable timing especially as it is amazing he got a father's day present at all, even if it was late.
Those ruts were up to my mid-thighs,
okay I may be short but not that short,
those ruts were still deep!

Blue butterfly
Orange butterfly. If anyone knows what they are then please
let me know, saves me a job!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Swimming anyone?

The sheets cover 1.8m (6ft) deep holes
 We had a lovely week, can't remember if it rained at all but we managed to get  a lot done in the gardens and on the land, until the weekend that is. Wouldn't you know it, it started to rain as they were boring holes for the foundations of our barn on Saturday. Not impressed! It started off okay but as they dug the rain started and by the time they finished it was pelting it down. We were left with a request to dig a trench to drain the water away from the barn site and that meant that Ian had to put the back hoe onto the tractor, in the rain. That didn't go very well, he was tinkering about for ages but I wasn't leaving the polytunnel to find out what the problem was as I only had a lightweight rain mac and Ian had the full set of waterproofs.

Swimming pool perhaps?
Eventually Ian got the back hoe on and working and the next stage was to dig a drainage channel, which was easier said than done as there were now several very deep holes in the area to be avoided. Another problem was that he couldn't really see how deep he needed to go, he needed a water level in it and that meant I had to dig ditches (sound familiar?) from the pools of water to drain into the trench. Eventually we managed to get a working drainage channel with some feeder ditches but I was soaked through - my anorak was clearly not up to keeping the rain off that was falling (it is quite old though). While Ian sorted out the tractor I had to try and dry off as best I could in the polytunnel and walk up and down to keep warm while drinking a cup of tea (of course!). I was so cold by the time we got home Ian had to light the woodstove for me. It certainly made an appealing case for getting a woodstove into the polytunnel as soon as possible.

We now have aubergines (the second from the right) and
outdoor tomatoes (right) as I think it is proving too cold
to put them out.
Scaling up is an interesting exercise, it certainly shows up the problems of multi-site work such as the tools are never in the right place, except Ian's which now live in the truck; mulching is a great time saver and so all the hay that we stacked earlier on in the year is coming in very handy. The mulching serves two functions, one to keep the weeds down but also to keep the ground moist around the plants - very useful in the polytunnel. It also shows the use of the hay cocks that the Latvians set up in the field which usefully dry the grass while it is stacked. Our hay stack is quite wet in the middle, which is fine for us as it will compost eventually but not for bedding for animals or for mulching around plants. Having the hay stacked up in fields drying and only taking what you need when you need it, makes a lot more sense now. It does mean also that you do not need perfect weather to cut the hay although that would be better, as it can be stacked there and left in the field. We do have some of the wooden pole structures to make the hay cocks but not enough for the area we will cover, a job for Ian I guess. Scaling up could also mean a change of practice. I prefer to make wide beds that we can walk around and weed from but on a larger scale it might be better to plant long rows which will be easier to hoe between, unless of course the mulching will be effective enough on a large scale. Trial and error, I think!

The pond is very full now, and we were worried that it
might dry up on us not long ago so Ian extended it
We quite enjoy looking at what the Latvians use in the garden and we have learnt quite a bit just lately. A lot of the gardens have got bottles on lightweight sticks and we weren't quite sure what they were for until we stood next to a patch one day when a slight breeze was blowing and we realised they were making a clacking sound, bird scarers obviously! We have used that idea in our orchard to keep off the deer, not sure if it is effective or the deer just aren't bothered about our orchard at the moment but at least they haven't been back. One garden has just constructed a support for his broad beans out of thin wood poles which looks a useful idea to copy, and many of the Latvians pile up their weeds in an area of the garden and then grow their pumpkins or courgettes (zucchini) in them, the wide leaves smother any re-growth.

So full we now have a water feature
Well I hope that all makes sense as I am not quite with it today, as I had a tooth removed this morning. I lost the filling that was put in about two weeks ago and there was no point in a having a crown made for it as I managed to lose two of those in quick succession when my tooth first started causing problems many years ago. I decided, therefore, the best thing to do was to remove it. About half way through I was wondering if it was ever going to get pulled, or whether the young slip of a lass was going to have to call in reinforcements. She kept shaking her wrist and it took rather a long time with the assistant holding onto my jaw. The poor dentist looked exhausted by the time she finished and I am not quite sure who will ache the most tomorrow, me or her!

A butterfly that was trapped in our polytunnel

Monday, 14 June 2010

Quagmires and puddles

Drainage down the side of the polytunnel
The ditch down to the pond
After a week of dry weather and no significant rainfall for even longer we eventually had a long lovely overnight drenching downpour, the sort that waters everything beautifully giving our newly planted trees and bushes a much needed boost - saved me a job anyway! I was not looking forward to watering over a 50 bushes and trees. Unfortunately the rain also leaked into the polytunnel under the floor. It looks like we have a spot that turns to swamp even with a fairly light shower. This meant that Ian had to start digging a trench to drain the water away from the polytunnel with his tractor, he dug about 2m of the trench then realised this was not a good idea as ideally he needs a ditching bucket which will make a narrower ditch. He can then put in a pipe with lots of holes and covered in fleece in to the narrower ditch to drain the water away from the foundations. If he carried on with the wider trench he wouldn't be able to put in the narrower trench later without risking the tractor falling into the polytunnel - not a good idea. In the end he sloped the soil away from the polytunnel to see what that would do. Well we found out, big time as we had a terrific thunderstorm with so much lightening that it lit the whole area, as if someone was switching a gigantic light, on and off rapidly. The rain came down in sheets and was so bad at times I could barely see up the hill and the wind was tearing at the trees and our rhubarb (had to mention that as it is looking fairly sad at the minute). The next morning we set off to our land with trepidation, there were trees on the road which didn't bode well but to our relief the polytunnel was still standing, even the doors were still closed.

You can see the damp patch on the left but the tomatoes on
the right seem quite happy.
Swimming anyone? The place our barn will go!
Sloping the soil away from the polytunnel did work and the water inside the polytunnel was not as bad as it had been, just means we haven't had to water that side of the polytunnel all weekend though. There was still a lot of water and so we decided to dig a small trench by hand and direct it towards our pond. It was great fun, I do love digging ditches in the mud and watching the water drain away, the problem is that there was so much water that we were now worried that it was going to overflow our pond. If that was to happen then it would wash over the side eating away at the bank leading to a devastating

collapse of our pond. Not what we wanted! I remembered that in the forest were some clay drainage pipes lying about and amazingly Ian was able to locate them amongst the new undergrowth. Wonders will never cease! These were installed high up the side of the pond and would hopefully lead the water away without eating into the bank if necessary. As it was the water didn't quite reach the level of the clay pipes but it was close. I had so much fun digging the ditches by the greenhouse that I went and did the same for the levelled area that will eventually be the barn. Why is it though that we just get an area level for building and then it rains?

Ragged Robin
The thunderstorm also left us without electricity for a while and early the next morning, power was on but at a much reduced ie 70V not the normal 230V. The problem is that at this low voltage the new-fangled energy saving lightbulbs wouldn't power up, the halogen ones in the shower room and toilet worked but it was like having a wash by candlelight as these rooms don't have windows. We weren't even sure if the freezer would work at this voltage and waiting for my cup of tea took ages! The water did boil - eventually! At least when we got back from the land in the evening the electricity was up to full strength.

Ox-eye daisy
I was sent a book, How to make a Forest Garden by Patrick Whitefield, from a lovely lady I met through the cottage smallholder forum (such a friendly bunch!) and it has made me think how we could utilise the forest we already have and some of the new growth that will be a forest if we don't do something with it soon. I hate digging up trees anyway and so being able to incorporate something and make it productive is a challenge. Last week I was wondering "if God commanded man to fill the earth and tend it, what would that look like?" and one section in the book really caught my eye

Even the humble clover is beautiful. This was such a vivid
colour, it was incredible!
"A forest garden does not need a lot of work, but it does need attention. Though it can stand the odd spell of neglect, if it only gets attended to in occasional bursts of energy a few vigorous plants will take over the lower layers and much of the food will go unharvested. It needs someone to wander through it regularly to see how it is getting on, to cut back a rampant plant here, add a little mulch there, pick those tender little leaves or juicy berries before they go past their best. In short it needs someone to inhabit it"

Greater butterfly orchid
Isn't that how God designed the earth? We are not meant to hack away everything and exploit it but to wander through the land and inhabit it. Live with it! Look after it! Care for it! Inhabit it! I love that phrase, it really seems to resonate with how God intended man to live on this planet and what we feel is part of our purpose here in Latvia. Well I won't be converting the whole lot to a forest garden, as that would mean the open meadowland would be lost too and with that would be lost the corncrake but also some amazing orchids which we found in our wanderings this week. There are loads of them! We tried retracing our steps so that we could locate the orchid we found last week as it should now be flowering, but we had some difficulty remembering where we saw it but as we wandered about we realised there were lots of purple orchids and then we found a whole glade of the butterfly orchids which we had only seen in bud last week but only the odd one dotted around, it is such a treasure!

Marsh orchid - not sure which one yet
in the process of finding out from my
friendly experts 
So how do we get the message across that it is a sheer delight to inhabit our piece of the world, to wander in it and see how it is getting on? Or rather it should be a delight! The problem is that so often we only hear the frightening version of events "unless we change we will be frazzled in sweltering heat or be battered to death or drowned by freak weather. One thing that has often struck me on my course is that environmentalists are giving out the wrong message for all the right reasons. They are right that there is a danger that we will damage the earth beyond repair, I don't happen to believe God will actually let us do that and he is the healer of the land too, but that does not absolve us of our responsibilities to look after it. An article "Can hotel towels save the world?" on Forum for the future suggested that instead of harping on at people how wrong their lifestyles are they start to tell people that other people are doing the right things and so imply that it is socially acceptable to reuse your bath towels, in fact if you tell them that the previous occupiers of the room they are in, reused their bath towels then the reuse rate went up even more.  Interesting! What other messages should be changed to help people make right choices? Will it change the world?

Monday, 7 June 2010

Cool of the day

"Do you like my garden so green?"
I know last week's comment on talking to God about the mosquitoes was a bit flippant but it does have a serious side to it. One of the questions I keep coming back to is "if God commanded man to fill the earth and to tend it then what does that look like?" I know the thought of filling the earth would worry environmentalists, but if God set that as an agenda then there is a way of filling the earth and looking after it that does not harm the good that God has made. I also wonder what would a redeemed creation look like? What would happen to all those parasitic insects and fungi or how would they operate in a redeemed world? I cannot personally redeem creation but I can be part of the process and what is my role in all of that? 

Sticky catchfly I think! Not a particularly fetching name
for a very pretty flower
Romans 8" 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." 

I think that we get so wrapped up sometimes in what our faith means to us personally that we forget that our faith and our relationship to God through Jesus has a resonance on the earth and in creation and so we should see some of the fruits of that relationship working itself out in the earth. Amazing what ponderings can happen on a rainy day, unfortunately the last rainy day for a week.

A pink haze of the flowers above
Still on the subject of creation we have been listening to Folkwaves as we love listening to folk music and this is mixed with the local derbyshire accents (which surprisingly we don't hear so much of these days), and they play a great song called the "Cool of the Day" by Coope, Boyes and Simpson , unfortunately it is not on the net but a version by Kathy Mattea is (you can listen to a short preview of the Cooper, Boyes and Simpson one though on Amazon). I found the lyrics to it below

A butterfly orchid in bud
(Jean Ritchie)

Now is the cool of the day
Now is the cool of the day
This earth is a garden, the garden of my Lord
And he walks in his garden
In the cool of the day

My Lord, he said unto me
Do you like my garden so fair
You may live in this garden if you'll keep the grasses green
And I'll return in the cool of the day

Then my Lord, he said unto me
Do you like my pastures so green
You may live in this garden if you will feed my sheep
And I'll return in the cool of the day

Then my Lord, he said unto me
Do you like my garden so free
You may live in this garden if you'll keep the people free
And I'll return in the cool of the day

Not a mossie but if you look carefully you will see a
All I can think of is that if I walk in the garden in the cool of the day I am going to be bitten to death by mossies (mosquitoes to give them a proper name). I do wonder though how we would treat the earth if we thought that the Lord was going to be walking in it in the evening, wouldn't we scurry around doing a bit of a clean up getting it ready? Or in the case of many areas we would be making monumental steps to clean up.

Our walk in the cool of the day one evening with a blessed breeze to keep the mossies at bay resulted in us hearing the corncrake again, back from its long winter travels. The sound of the corncrake is not exactly a melodious tune like some of the birds around, more like the old-fashioned wooden football rattles, a kind of rachet sound but it is nonetheless a welcome sound as it marks the presence of a bird threatened with the modern farming practices. Our walks on the land are a delight and we do indeed feel very blessed to be given the charge of this place; one evening we were returning to close up the greenhouse and arrived to see the stork in our pond, after a little tadpole snack from all those tadpoles we put in last week. On seeing us the stork decided to remove itself from our pond and saunter off, it obviously wasn't really that worried about us and what we might do. Fortunately for the tadpoles there are some deeper areas of the pond that the stork cannot get to.

A wasp had started a nest in our shed and apparently
abandoned it but we discovered it hadn't abandoned our
shed, instead it had found a better hiding hole in our stove.
The wasp eggs unfortunately though were smoked when
we cooked some more bacon and egg for our butties
(sandwiches for those not from the North of England).
Last year we bought a red and a white vine that we were going to plant out on the land somewhere but hadn't had the time to do deal with it before the onset of very cold weather, so I buried the pots in the garden and covered them with leaves and fleece for over the winter, hoping they would survive. One vine survived very well and as soon as it was warm enough the leaves started unfurling but the other vine was a very sad sight and the thin stick crumbled in our hands. The forlorn pot stood at the bottom of the garden for weeks while the other vine was racing away in the pot in the polytunnel, I was fully intending to put the sad specimen on the compost heap when I got around to it. The other day I walked past and noticed three tiny leaves coming up from a new shoot at the base, it was alive after all! So instead of heading for the compost heap it is now sat in the polytunnel next to the other one while we decide where exactly we are going to grow them.

Ian ploughed this land to get rid of a large area of ground
elder and nettles but just this week it burst into life and is
now covered with wild garlic mustard as well as some ground
elder. It will now need re-ploughing and then a spring tine
used and then re-seeded with meadow grass, lucerne, clover
and some timothy grass (all good for animals and the ground) 
We had some sad news this week, our youngest son is not coming this month to help us as he has got a job for the summer. In one way we are pleased as he needs the money but we were looking forward to seeing him. It was also sad that the conversation did not end on a very good note as he seemed so angry for some reason. Our relationship has always been a bit up and down but this time I was quite concerned as it crossed my mind that it was a possibility that we might never hear from him again and that hurt. I carried this fear for a couple of days but last night just before I went to sleep I felt God speak to me "he will come in from the roof." Okay I haven't lost it from grief, honest! It was God reminding me of an incident a long time ago when our youngest for some reason at the age of 9 decided to climb out of his attic bedroom window and stand on the roof. I was not best chuffed! In fact I was furious! Too furious to actually deal with it and I had a house full of guests to get ready for a prayer meeting that evening. Maybe that was a good job for him! I sat him next to one of our guests, a lovely older lady, and told him "don't you dare move," and he didn't. Not surprising really!  Well as I prepared our food I was busy chuntering away to God about my youngest and the scrapes he got into and I was still chuntering later that evening at the meeting.  During the meeting though I felt God say that our youngest would go out on the roof, but he would come back. I understood that to mean that no matter what danger he would put himself in or how far he tried to remove himself, he would come back! Eleven years later I need that promise to hold onto.