Monday, 20 September 2010

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday tooooooo you

A gorgeous sunset making the hill
look like its on fire
I am having to do a bit of writing on my blog a little early this week as it is Ian's birthday on the day I should be posting and I am not sure if we will go out or have a special meal but whatever we do it will mean spending time together but not a lot of money. He has too many toys anyway, and his toys are not cheap! (Oh err sorry! Essential pieces of equipment! hehe). The dilemma is if we go to the local hotel he could have a nice steak but if we don't, I will have to track down some meat in this village - easier said than done. There are often salamis and there is usually some sort of pork but chicken is hit and miss and beef forget it. Roll on next year when we grow some chickens for the freezer. (update: surprise, surprise we went to the hotel and he had steak, at least I didn't have to do the washing up)

One of the culprits before it met its doom
You can tell when the temperature is going down when the layers start piling on. We have had some lovely autumnal days but haven't escaped the drizzle and the rain this season brings. It is hard to believe that not so long ago we were sweltering in humid 30 degree heat and now the temperature has slipped to about 10C during the day. At least it makes it pleasant to work in the polytunnel now, instead of being like a sauna. We removed the last of the big tomatoes from the polytunnel this week as it looked like blight might be starting to creep in and the rest of the summer plants are looking a little bedraggled and barely hanging on. We would remove them too but the melons haven't all quite ripened yet and the cucumbers are still producing so they are being left for the time being. Our other plants planted for the autumn are looking good, well if they haven't been stripped by caterpillars that is. I always think of caterpillars as being an outside problem but not in our polytunnel, the little blighters must have laid hundreds of eggs and there is one thing for sure I am not going to use a humane way of getting rid of them, so they get squished. Disgusting job but effective.

You can just see the clay irrigation pot poking out from
between the lettuces in the right hand pot.
Our clay pot irrigation trial is working well. It is a little hard to tell from the photograph but the lettuces with their little clay pot on the right are actually doing slightly better than the hand watered pot on the left. I have also found that the clay pot irrigation uses less water than watering using a watering can. These lettuces have only been topped up twice since planting too, so perfect for going away. The theory is that the unglazed clay pot acts as a reservoir from which the plants can extract the water. The pot has to be the kind of pot that allows water out and so should not be glazed or fired at to high a temperature, ie not over 800C preferably. We had ours specially made by a local potter and they have a quirky hand made appearance. Ours are also part glazed at the top which means that the pot can stick out above the plants making watering easier and yet not lose water to the atmosphere. It also has a jaunty little cap to keep out the bugs. We will roll out the trial for next year to see how they cope with things like tomatoes and melons but I think we will need some bigger pots made first.

The dark line that runs up the side of
the road way is where the pigs have
turned over piles of hay that were
used to slow down the flow of water.
This and some activity beside the top
pond means the pigs were worringly
close to the polytunnel 
Outside on our land the wild boar have been having a field day, there are patches of churned soil all over the place and some alarmingly close to the polytunnel, fortunately not many of them are deep. They are becoming such a nuisance that I might even make them the subject of my study for my Masters degree. I was going to look at how new landowners or inexperienced ones anyway get help and support, possibly contrasting the new crofters scheme in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland with what happens here in Latvia, but after this week I have come to the conclusion that you can give new landowners all the help you want in order for them to set up sustainable enterprises on their land but it will all be a waste of time unless the problem of the wild boar is sorted. There are tales of people digging up carrots while the pigs are at the other end taking their fill, of fences not being sufficient to keep them out and vast damage done to gardens - the problem is that these are people's essential winter supplies. Our neighbours had to dig up their potatoes early due to pig activity alerting them to the fact the pigs had their eyes or rather their noses, since they smell very well but can't see so well, on their garden. A friend of ours is increasingly afraid of going out at night as the pigs are often in the garden, eating the apples and digging big holes and one night they hurt their alsatian dog quite badly. I did some quick research to see if looking at this problem would make a feasible project and I found that pigs normally will stick close to the forest cover when rooting and so the middle of fields should be safe, but this is not the case here. The pigs are obviously not afraid of people or other wild animals like wolves.  There are no wolves close to us that I know of and farmers here cannot shoot on their own land unless they have an agreement with a hunting organisation that they are part of and have the permission of the organisation to hunt, which means organising a special event. So complicated!

A rather deep pig hole
Our wild boar problem makes me wonder if Latvia does not suffer from a few human versions of the wild boar too. Greedy, opportunistic, turning over the ground irrespective of what is there, a disaster for farmers and the rural poor in general. They don't care that they are destroying the farmer's fields, all they care about is filling their bellies. Now within an ecological standpoint that is fine and wild boar do have a valuable role to play in the ecology of the land but when they get out of control then we have problems. The destructive nature of some of the elite which does not care about the rest of humanity is as destructive to the landscape as the wild boar and both will lead to the abandonment of the farms ultimately, unless something is done.

Love this lichen encrusted sign but it is looking a little
worse for the wear this year.
Well on a different note I saw a couple of blog posts this week with phrases you have to think about. The first one was "The more quietly you speak the farther you will go". I think that too often as Christian's in the world we do a lot of shouting, "Come this way", "I will show you which way to go" etc. We are on a journey, and we might know the final destination - a city where God dwells, but the journey is not as straightforward as we think sometimes, there are twists and turns and sometimes we need to ask the way of others. Yes we can be guides to those also on a journey who need some help and direction but we don't necessarily need to stand on a mound shouting at everyone as if we have all the answers. Maybe if we heeded this phrase then we might indeed be heard when we have something relevant to say!

Mushrooms in the forest
The next was from Amnesty International's Advocacy director "The only real question is not whether impossible things can be achieved, but how and when?" Such an inspiring thought! I am often accused of being too optimistic, but how much more optimistic can you get? The examples he used were from events that led to the fall of the Soviet Union, a huge momentous event which was amazing to see and happened so suddenly and rapidly. A mighty stronghold brought down by some people willing to make a stand with tomato ketchup and songs (see the article). Impossible things do happen; after all when Elton John sang "Nikita, you will never know, anything about my home" about a border guard on the Soviet side, we believed that was true and yet the strain on the system was showing only two years later and the collapse a mere 4 years later. Likewise who thought the banks were invincible in their greed? Yet the system is creaking and people are busy papering over the cracks and the warning sounds have not been heeded. They are trying to revert back to business as usual - bad mistake. Maybe you are thinking that is nothing to be optimistic about but I find it both exciting and exhilarating because I believe there has to be a better system than the one we have and I am looking forward to seeing it come into being. So hold on folks the ride might be a bit hairy but there is a good ending - I read the end of the book.

A view from the top of our ski hill with the remains of one
of the light posts to light the hill at night 
Not so encouraging though is a brief run through of the recent history of the Roma, it is a tragic story of a despised minority. The current expulsions by France fill me with horror that people can be treated this way in a so called modern nation. I am not singling out France either because they are doing what many people would like to do as we saw from the success of the far right party in Sweden. Is it not time that this particular minority were actually listened to with a measure of compassion? Their way of life has been under pressure for a long time and their options limited. They are in many ways a good example of stewardship by shunning the use of large energy hungry houses and by resourceful reuse of materials and yet I am not blind to the issues of where they stay and some of the problems they have. How much of that though is because of a lack of choices? Shouldn't we be able to dialogue with a group of people rather than stigmatise and ostracise? Maybe, just maybe a better understanding between Roma and non-Roma may diffuse the tensions and maybe, just maybe a better dialogue with immigrants and nationals may help people to live together peacefully.

The top of the hill and we think the remains of the ski lift
Reading through the Coloradan today I found out that there was a brush fire about a mile away from our old house in Fort Collins which seems really bizarre as we are sit here in Latvia after having a torrential downpour last night that meant we could hardly see through our windows at one point. It is hard to remember how dry it is in Fort Collins now- bet they still have green lawns though!


  1. A belated Happy Birthday to Ian. Glad you were able to enjoy your steak and it's so nice not to have to do the washing up.

    I moan about the snails in my garden but at least I don't have to contend with wild boar. Shame you can't just shoot one (without so much palaver) and have a nice roast!

  2. Hi Mavis, I shall pass on the good wishes, thanks.

    I look forward to finding out how to get to the stage where we can have that nice roast. It might take a while but maybe I shall have a nice Masters thesis out of it first :D


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