Monday, 27 June 2011

First glut of the year

A glorious daisy plant that I haven't even planted myself
It didn't take long but we now have a strawberry glut. We have had strawberries in salads, strawberries for dessert, strawberries in ice cream, strawberry sauce, strawberry and gooseberry jam (using up some of last years gooseberries before the next lot arrive), as well as eating them straight from the plant; we are now kind of strawberried out but at least they freeze and we have tried drying some too to see how well they last. Other plants are beginning to get there at last and we have had the first sugar snap peas, swiss chard and some thinnings from our kale. Everything is still rather slow though due to our late start with the greenhouse, my studies and the dry weather. The wetter weather has certainly been welcomed for bringing the plants on, but not always so appreciated by everybody in our house (hehehe).

Okay I know you have to look hard
but you can see our prayer flags out
there in the field, waving away keeping
the hoover birds off our buckwheat! 
We were so excited to see that our buckwheat has germinated and growing well despite the attack of the hoover pigeons last week. They did seem to look like little vacuum cleaners as they strutted along and, as I said last week, it was so disheartening to watch them, especially when they didn't really seem that bothered by our presence at times. I had read that shiny things waving about is supposed to scare them off and so I thought foil strips would work but I wasn't so sure that they would last very long, as the foil we can get seems to tear so easily. In the end I made foil ribbons by sandwiching foil in cling film and then ironing the strips - at least that felt less likely to tear. We also noticed that wearing red and waving madly seemed to scare them off eventually and since I have loads of red ribbon we decided to try some of that too. Ian then tied the foil strips and the red ribbons to long sticks and placed them around the field and it seems to have worked. Ian watched one day as a group of them flew in the direction of the field, and seemed to be heading downwards before suddenly back tracking and flying off. Result!!!! Now our field just looks like it is surrounded by prayer flags fluttering around in the wind.

There they are, tiny buckwheat plants
This week we have been for a look around a friend's new factory unit, well when I say new, it is new to them but really it is a relic of Soviet history - it was fascinating. Old tins with Russian language labels, cart wheels, and many other fascinating things littered the place, Ian was in heaven pulling out items to show me. Our friends thought that Ian would love to help clean up and so spend time spurching (a good Northumbrian word for a rummaging through stuff) through all the paraphernalia but Ian looked a little apprehensive at the thought, we both had visions of our car becoming filled with all sorts of interesting looking items that might come in useful and goodness only knows where it would all go, we would need another apartment just to hold it all, or another barn built. So is anyone interested in a genuine bit of Soviet history? An empty tin that once contained tuna, empty bottles of smuggled alcohol, genuine 80s Soviet phone made in Latvia, cart wheels etc. and that is just some of the weird mix of things there.

Glorious sunset on Ligo evening. The day after seeing
our third longest day in 12 months, since we spent
midsummer down under at Christmas time.
This week the Latvians celebrated Ligo which is their midsummer festival held on the 22nd June and we were invited to join some of our neighbours by the pond with the obligatory bonfire and barbeque, drinking beer in Ian's case and pear juice in my case. It was an idyllic evening of chatting and eating, with just enough wind to keep the wee biting beasties at bay and yet just warm enough to sit outside, especially welcome as we had had a lot of rain this last week. None of us were up to waiting for the sun to come up around 4am and so at 1:30am we headed back to our apartment with the stars glinting faintly in the still just light sky, full with food and friendship. I was chatting with our friend today about the festival and she was saying that for most festivals in different countries people organise parties where they invite people to come, but Ligo is different as parties just happen, the whole day is about parties, with people coming together in an organic kind of gathering and not a formal organised event. That sounds like the way God would organise something, with people coming together to sing, to talk, to just hang out around a bonfire and then move onto another gathering to sing some more, to talk some more, to eat some food, enjoying each others company and appreciating the good things that God has given in the beauty of his nature.

Ian mowing the "lawn" wearing his funky headgear. Actually
it is my anti-mosquito net that we bought in Oz
earlier this year. 
We have been here over three years now and we have found in that time that things take time to happen here, whether it is really getting to know the neighbours because it takes time to nurture and deepen the relationships, or time spent just getting something built, or the time taken to pull a project together. Of course somethings can happen quicker and it is not just things working in Latvian time, sometimes it is because I will sit on something rather than push something through. I get the feeling though that it is not good to push things through all the time, either that I am getting too distracted with other things. It is good to try something in a small way first, sit back a bit and see what is the next move, a bit like our land really. Sometimes we have some definite idea of what we want to do and work towards that, but as we work at it and occasionally take a step back we can see we need to adjust our focus, change direction or re-plan what we want to do, for instance we were going to have two greenhouses built but the only place for a second one would be nearer to the trees and that means more shade, to put it somewhere else will mean tearing up more land and we are more and more loathe to do that. We are growing to love the variety that marks out the land, the patches of wild strawberries amongst the taller grasses, the orchids nestling amongst the shadier areas, the sheer variety of grasses on one piece of land is quite staggering. Whenever we try and identify a plant we can't just look it up under the grassland section we have to look it up in all the sections as we have patches of dry grassland, rich meadowland plants, woodland plants, you name it we have that habitat somewhere on the land.

Weird looking caterpillar
Another thing we have discovered over time is the costs incurred for honesty. Doing things properly costs money and, in Latvian terms, lots of money. Our greenhouse project will cost a lot in architect fees, fees for putting it on the map and goodness knows what other fees and they add up. Our chimney installation for our wood burning stove cost quite a bit for such a small project too. Setting up contracts with notaries also costs lots of money with money getting paid to the state in fees for this that and the other. All in all, honesty costs a lot of money and is absolutely no incentive for doing things the right way at all. I can understand that the state needs to levy charges for some things but some of it seems unnecessary and some of it seems to be there to put people off instead of encouraging an honest approach to business, or making alterations or whatever the project. To move forward and bring more businesses out of the grey economy I believe that the costs of honesty are going to have to fall and people need to see some benefits to working everything above board. Sticks are all very well but a few carrots may help too.

Our miracle pool is a rather odd colour at the moment
as the rain has washed a lot of silt into it making it a sort
of beer colour.
It is easy to tut tut at such disincentives and roll our eyes at such vagaries of the Latvian system, but it is not the only system that is broken and needs fixing. Latvia at least has the excuse that it will only be celebrating 20 years of freedom from the Soviet system this year, not a long history at all and much of the Soviet system lives on in peoples minds making progress slower than some would like. So what excuse do countries  for discouraging honest dealing that have had a far longer history of independence? A Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto, has written a rather interesting article regarding the way that facts regarding who owns what has been quietly destroyed to the point where no one knows who owns what leading to the debacle we have recently seen with sub-prime mortgage scandal. One thing for sure is that they are facts Jim, but not as we know it. It is scandalous really, allowing those in positions of wealth to exploit the system, instead of governments doing what they can to control the greed.   This system of destroying facts certainly provides no incentive to newly developing countries to get things right. Reforming the Latvian system seems like childs play compared to the reform needed in the financial world of more advanced economies. Time for a change methinks!

Our bottom pond recovering after the drought with the
addition of some grass seed to hide the scars 
St.John's wort


  1. my family in Sweden also celebrate brother loves it, the maypole and everything.....and probably the excuse to over eat too!!

  2. Only over eat? Often an excuse for a beer or two or three or.... well you get the idea. Often the reason for so many police with breathalysers out on the road at this time of year.

  3. It's so nice to hear that after a long cold winter and all your hard work, you are able to enjoy the fruits of your labours.

    I like the improvisation of party style of celebrating. Sounds like you had a good time.

    I also like your idea of prayer flag scarecrows. Do you think they'll work the same to keep the cats out of the garden? (All the cats in the neighbourhood seem to think that our lawn is a feline public toilet.) I might give it a try.

  4. You never know Mavis, maybe it will work. Let me know if it does


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