Monday, 23 August 2010

The gentle sounds of summer

Lunch on the land! Enjoying the sun and the cooler
In England the quintessential sounds of summer are the annoying noise from lawnmowers cutting lawns and the thwack of a ball on willow as the gentle summer game of cricket is played around the country from villages to towns. Not that I have ever lived within hearing distance of a cricket pitch but I have heard it enough on TV to associate the sound with a lazy summer's afternoon. Here in Latvia the sounds are different, instead of lawnmowers it is the strimmer (bushwhacker) whining away for hours on end, the noisy clacking of the storks from the rooftops as they show off to their mate and now that the storks have gone and summer is drawing to a close it is the gentle thwack of potatoes in buckets. Yes the potato harvest has begun in earnest. We managed to get ours done and dusted in two days which was a surprise as the forecast was for showers, instead we have had some lovely weather albeit with the odd shower.  The good news is that this year the potatoes are much bigger than last years puny excuses for a potato, the hot weather with some good downpours has obviously worked a treat, unfortunately the bad news is that there is not a huge number of potatoes as we had to use last years puny excuses as seed for this year and they were in a shoddy state when we planted them as our basement is too warm over the winter. I think quite a few of them gave up the ghost after planting. Still the contrast in size from last year is quite staggering considering they are from the same stock.

We remembered to take flasks of tea,
(and yes I did say flask not flask) but
we forgot our cups. Ian came up with
this ingenious device to drink from.
The bottom part is to hold the tea
softened upper plastic part. He thinks
of everything - well sometimes!
Having spent much of last week piling up hay out on our land the vegetable gardens did get a little neglected and there are a few problems when vegetable gardens get neglected, one is the weeds obviously and another are the monsters that grow in leaps and bounds while your back is turned. Anyone who has grown any sort of squash plant will know exactly what I mean. Sweet tiny little fruits take on manic, take over the world proportions, in the space of just a few days and there are always the ones which lurk under a leaf that you didn't spot. The first day back in the garden I collected four bucket loads of patty squash from 5 plants and I have run out of jars to make squash butter which tastes wonderful and uses up lots of them, so thanks to Shelley for that on the Cottage Smallholders forum. I could also make chutney, freeze some, dry some and of course eat some but I am not sure if we will still get to the end of them, some may just end up as compost. It has felt almost like a full time job in itself sorting out the veg for the winter but I think the end is in sight, the days are cooling down and the mists of autumn are forming in the evenings now and the short summer season will roll over and the bulk of the harvest will be in. Here in Latvia there is not a lot of point of planting veg to grow over the winter, not much grows under three foot (1m) of snow or at below -20C but we will try and extend the season with some winter veg in our polytunnel but not for the whole winter, the polytunnel is not that good.

Last years mystery pumpkin plant that appeared in our
manure pile
One thing you will notice travelling around Latvia are the pumpkins they grow, lots of them all over the place. Our visit to our neighbours to the land explained that they are good for keeping weeds down as they grow and smother all in their path, they are also good for animals, particularly cows and makes the milk tastier. I remember when I came to Latvia to live that I discovered that milk can have different flavours. I thought milk tasted of milk and that was that but it has more to do with the blending of different outputs from different farms and the fact that many cows are fed the same diet anyway in most of Europe and America. Here in Latvia the cows are fed on different grasses and foodstuffs and so varies from place to place. Some milk production is still on the industrial scale but not all of it, hence the difference. Giving cows pumpkins to eat though does explain the presence of our mystery plants last year growing on our manure heap.

The offending polytunnel. There be monsters lurking here
this time they are melons though.
Talking of polytunnels we got into a bit of trouble with our polytunnel with an official letter from the council saying we had an unauthorised building on the land. Turns out that the building inspector had been out to look at our barn which is still not past the foundation level as there is still no wood for the local sawmill and so is not very visible and he thought that we had built the polytunnel instead. The polytunnel is not subject to the same rules as a barn and we are still trying to establish what rules really apply, rather than what rules may line someone's pocket if they can twist them around. Rules in Latvia are seldom clear as they are still working things through and it does take time to clarify all possible scenarios. The polytunnel is not subject to the same rules as the barn as theoretically we could take it down anytime we like and move it, not easy but possible. Still we will see what the architect has to say about it on Friday.

An experiment to see if clay pot irrigation works as well
if not better than manual watering.
Ian had another unexpected long trip last week besides our trip into Riga and that was to help a neighbour pick up a saw. Things do get a little lost in translation sometimes and so Ian was not quite sure what it was he was going to pick up besides the fact it was going to be a big saw. He had to borrow a trailer from a local garage which was handy as he wasn't aware they had a trailer for hire and he and our neighbour went to collect the saw. It turned out to be a very big saw and very heavy, too heavy to lift manually and it had to be lifted into place with a forklift. The roads in many places are atrocious, especially as the main dirt road is undergoing major works such as straightening and even tarmacking (asphalt) in at least some places (would be nice if they would do the whole lot, we wait with eager anticipation to see if that is the case) and so required a different route to be taken along some windy roads. What would have been a 3 hour trip took 5 hours as they carefully navigated potholes and rutted roads. On getting close to home Ian asked how they were going to get the saw off the trailer, something that hadn't been thought about. Surprise, surprise! Amazing how many times we have had stuff delivered to the land with no means to take it off the back of a trailer or out of a van, it would seem that people do not think that far ahead. Anyway a phone call meant that a telehandler, or a telescopic handler to give it its posh title, was on hand to help. Something else that is useful to know should we have the same problem again with a delivery.

Not easy to see but this bit of land is now flooded. It never
used to flood until they put the new electricity line in and
so they must have damaged some drainage. You can also
see some of the hay piles dotted around our land, like giant
molehills everywhere. 
Another long trip is planned for tomorrow since it is forecast to rain quite heavily because we have to go back into Riga to collect Ian's computer. Unfortunately my last title was a bit too apt and the stupid thing could work but only at great cost, almost half the cost of a new computer of the same size. The hard drive still works but it is the logic board that has gone kaput and if like me you are not sure what that means then all you need to know is that it is a crucial component of the computer also known as the motherboard and it is very expensive to replace. So looks like he has to put up with the slower little powerbook that he got when he started work in Denmark in 2003 for the time being and although it has its issues it still at least works. Pity Apple can't get all their computers to be as long lasting as his little powerbook.

Found the perfect washing machine on the internet for our house and maybe even for our bike mechanic son in England, a pedal powered washing machine! What a great idea! I could get it hooked up to Ian's bike and he could do the washing while he cycles. Perfect for winter when he uses his turbo trainer to keep fit when the weather outside means he can't get out on his bike. Wonder what else I could get him to do at the same time, no point in wasting all that energy.

A stork taking off! Some of the last times we have seen
them for this year. Summer is nearly over by the time they
leave. The place is strangely empty without them but I
thing the frogs are happier.
Another item of interest on the internet is the subject of names. In the UK I was known as Jo but I found while travelling about that this actually causes confusion and I have to explain how I got the name Jo ie a shortened version of my real name. If I say my name is "Joanna" then I don't have a problem and everyone seems to understand, only here in Latvia they pronounce it "Your-anna." In the UK a names a name and the surname you have is one you inherit or obtain when you get married or have chosen and changed by deedpoll. Many countries though are more complicated than that and here in Latvia a surname denotes your gender and ends in "s" for men and "a" for a woman. One article explains how surnames are treated very differently in other countries, for instance in nearby Lithuania the surname even denotes marital status, something that would never have crossed my mind at all but causes some people lots of headaches at foreign border posts as they explain that yes they are married even if their surnames are slightly different. The world is a fascinating place and somethings we take for granted in one country just looks plain odd in another. I love it!

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