Monday, 6 September 2010

Good times

Sunset at home
It's official it has been the hottest summer on record after the coldest winter in 100 years.  The only record that wasn't broken was the hottest single day recorded in Latvia which was 36.4C (97.5F) in 1943 in Daugavpils but as far as averages are concerned that was definitely broken with a full two months of hot weather - and boy don't I know it! The heat has meant changes to routines, perspiring from every possible pore on my body (I know you didn't really want to know it but these things happen!) and to boot I have lost 10 lbs in weight. Summer is definitely over though now as the leaves turn colour, the children go back to school and the autumn mists descend each night heralding the cooler days. We did have a few rather wet days but the sun has returned and we having some rather pleasant daytime temperatures but the nights are a little chilly and we only just hung on and put the first fire on in September. I guess we have got rather used to the heat.

One of the distant memories of summer spent shifting lots
of hay
The children of the village went back to school on the 1st September as they do every year in just about all ex-Soviet countries, they were dressed up smartly and all carrying bunches of flowers for the teacher. The day is characterised by lots of speeches and clapping and not much else as the true school day starts the following day. My course started today though along my job with an online school and so summer slips away to a distant memory and the storks fly ever further away (they were seen over Malta this week). We have learnt much over the summer though and done battle with the heat, the insects and the weeds. The insects this year have been awful, first it was the mosquitoes and the kamikaze daytime ones which didn't know that they were supposed to wait until the cooler evenings before appearing, followed by the numerous horseflies after the mosquitoes tailed off, which obviously enjoyed the heat and then the flies who revelled in the very hot temperatures. I had to wear sunglasses, not just because of the sun but to keep the flies out of my eyes while working and I heard of one lady who wore a bee suit to milk the cows because the flies were that bad. One of the nice things about the cooler autumn days is the lower numbers of the flying pests, unfortunately we seem to have the jumping pests which we must have picked up from somewhere and they have the itchiest bites of all.

One thing I was sad about was that Avon So Soft does not work to keep off the mosquitoes and horse flies, it does put them off a little but the need for my blood over rode any nasty taste they were left with from the oil spray. At least we did find a non-DEET spray but how much safer that is I am not sure but it was very necessary at times just to be able to get any work done in peace.

No sign of the errant beans at this point
and yet they managed to bring these
massive plants down once they got going
So what have we learnt? We learnt that growing sweetcorn with beans and squashes doesn't work with the varieties we grew, the beans pulled over the sweetcorn and the squashes never really got going. With hindsight we probably grew the wrong sort of beans with the wrong type of corn and the squashes were put in at the wrong time. A less vigorous bean with maize rather than sweetcorn and pumpkins rather than squashes would probably work far better as the maize and the pumpkins would be ready about the same time and the less vigourous bean wouldn't pull over the corn. Still the corn did grow tall and I wonder how much of that was due to the beans supplying nitrogen.

This melon grew so well but the nibbling from a certain
little fur pest ensured that the melon eventually rotted
leaving a stinking mess. So sad!
Melons can be grown in Latvia is one thing we proved but we were too late to really benefit from the heat to grow lots of melons. The late finishing of our polytunnel and my problems getting assignments done at the end of the last modules really set us back by at least a month, so to get the production we did was a bonus. We also learnt that the melons are better grown upright rather than sprawling on the floor round the cucumbers as we can't get to the cucumbers easily once the melons take off. We found out that ripe melons can explode and they stink when they do, a really sweet cloying smell that is hard to get rid of. We found out that tapping the branches of tomatoes and chillis improves fertilisation and aubergines are difficult to set even using a paintbrush to fertilise them. I think a bee hive near the polytunnel will be a good idea for next year. Straw mulches were a real blessing this year as they kept the weeds down in the critical early stages and the soil damp during the dry spells saving us much time and effort which was a good job as working in three separate plots was hard work in itself. Next year we really need to be more organised to keep on top of it all.

A summers day
Last week when our neighbours to the land joined us we found out the young lass of the family had got through to the finals of a national competition and needed to be in Riga on the 1st September but was worried as the family car was broken and not likely to be fixed in time. We offered to help out if needed and sure enough on Tuesday Ian got a call to ask if he could take the family into Riga and would he join them at the event as there was a spare guest ticket, the only requirement was to dress smartly. Getting Ian to dress smartly is a major achievement as his days of shirt and tie for work, even under a lab coat, are well and truly behind him, he is much happier in a pair of work trousers and warm tatty tops. The refrain of 'your not going into the bakery like that!' can often be heard, okay it's only a bakery but there are limits believe me! Unfortunately there was only one spare ticket so Ian went alone with the family. He had absolutely no idea what he was going to and due to a mishap along the way they arrived only just in time but could not sit together, so there was Ian at an event with no clue as to what was going on and no interpretation. At least most events are kind of self-explanatory by following the clues of those around, ie clap when they clap, smile at the camera (oh yes, didn't tell you that bit, it was being broadcast live on national state television), and look like your enjoying yourself, which fortunately he was. He is of course now quite happy to sign autographs following his moment of fame (or not as the case maybe as we have no idea if he really was on camera or not). He rolled into bed at 2am the next morning, a very late night but happy to have been able to help.

A rainy afternoon project
Our friends who we helped out the other week with the wood deliveries were also so sweet that they invited us for dinner to celebrate their youngsters 3rd birthday party. It is a looooong looooong time since I have been to a 3 year old's birthday party but we had good fun. I used the invite as an excuse to make a puppet one rainy afternoon for a present, not sure he was really that bothered with it as he is into tractors and grass cutters and I had made a dragon but the parents loved it. Nothing much was organised, there was food and the parents sat around chatting and eating whilst the children entertained themselves by playing nicely and so it was a great chance to hear a lot of spoken Latvian. One thing I have discovered whilst moving around is that I am not a great fan of simultaneous translations as it means I can't listen to the flow of the language, fine if you are not living there and only on a short visit but not good if you need to learn a language. The evening turned out to be perfect as most of the adults could speak English reasonably well and so they would stop every now and again and tell us what they were talking about and giving us enough space to be able to contribute if we had something to say and then carried on in Latvian, so they made us feel part of the group without reverting to talking in English all the time. Another invite for an evening meal the next day from friends returning to Latvia and all in all this week has been very heavy on the social calendar side which makes a big change from the summer when it was eat, sleep and work and not much else.

Someone enjoyed playing with the dragon, even if the
recipient wasn't really that bothered
Weddings have been very much on my mind just lately with two of our children getting married in the next four months and so it was funny to read the differences between wedding traditions in different countries. I think my children will be glad that they are not Russian where the groom is expected to carry the bride over seven bridges, I think here in Latvia is only over one and you can see many groups over the summer congregated around a bridge waiting for the groom to carry the bride. The Latvians also have a similar tradition to the Russians of shouting out at random times that leads to the bride and groom having to kiss - not sure exactly what it was they were shouting out at the wedding we attended but it was a bizarre experience to be sitting down eating and suddenly having this fairly raucous noise erupting from one side of the room and everyone waiting for the bride and groom to kiss in response at very random moments.

Grandad in practice?
Update on our barn building saga, wood has finally been located in the nearby large town and we have it on order to be cut this next week. I am not surprised there is finally some wood there as that town was struck by a powerful storm that wrecked many trees and roofs in the area fairly recently. Whilst on the way to get my haircut we passed many trees snapped like sticks and piles of already sorted out branches cleared up from trees already dealt with. It looks like they must have had a tornado as the damage was fairly localised in places and look like someone had gone through with an almighty machete clearing a path as they went. Glad that one didn't pay us a visit.


  1. So many lessons learnt in a season! Books are great at giving useful information but there is no better teacher than experience. It seems you are making a mark not only on the land but with the people around you. You and Ian are living gospels, great news indeed. Bless you both.

  2. Experience is definitely good and a lot of information is on the internet which is really helpful but at the end of the day it is only by going out there and doing it that you find what works in each situation. Our experience from previous gardens is helpful but a different soil and a different climate and different growing years it is a constant learning process.

    It is lovely to feel included in the community despite the language barriers.

  3. Speaking of hottest summer and coldest winter, do you find that most people around you accept the concept of climate change?
    It is so discouraging to see so many dismissing it here in the States.

  4. I think most people accept that something is going on and man is responsible for it, what that something is and how it will affect them I am not sure they really know. What I do think might be happening though are people are tired of the scary scenarios and would like some positive things to do that are achievable. Also the endless arguments between scientists are a big switch off, although in reality it is all part of the debate where consensus is achieved and perhaps people need to understand that.

    Meanwhile what we need are positive examples of reducing our demand on the energy reserves of this world. I know I was absolutely horrified to realise that our average use of water was a tiny fraction of normal expected US household consumption. I felt awful pouring water onto grass in a semi-arid desert when farmers were having to ration their use, all because the home owners association demanded that it be green. It didn't feel right. There is so much that can be done in the US and Europe to reduce consumption. Thoughtful consumption of resources would be a start.

    Gosh if I don't stop now I will be half way towards my master's thesis

  5. Nearly forgot to add that the pouring of water onto grass was in Colorado where we lived for two years.


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