Monday, 25 July 2011

Glutton for punishment

Our buckwheat field is flowering. That is going to be a lot
of buckwheat seed. Help!
We are definitely heading into the season of gluts. One day I am dealing with the blueberries which we were kindly given, next it was half a bucket of blackcurrants - which might not seem much of a glut until you realise that you cannot eat a half bucket of blackcurrants before they go off and so they have to be dealt with. At least they could just be washed and frozen so that wasn't too much hassle. Our next glut was gooseberries. As the currant bushes haven't been so prolific this year we didn't expect much from our gooseberry bushes ...... until we went to start picking them that is. We picked a full bucket of gooseberries from two gooseberry bushes and thought we had finished, but on standing up we spotted another bush of gooseberries also loaded with the little hairy fruits (they had to wait as we only had one bucket with us). You can tell we are not sure what we have yet can't you! We have three separate plots that we manage and we kind of forget from time to time what is where. We also had the lurking courgette, the one that kind of blends into the background until is of monster proportions. Happens every year but fortunately so far they haven't been that prolific and so wasn't too much of a hassle... give them another week or two and it will be courgette this and courgette that even with just three plants.

Theatre at the outdoor stage at our annual celebrations
I am beginning to get the hang of what to do with fruits though, especially of the berry kind. De-stalking or topping and tailing is as you can imagine, if you haven't done it before, is really boring and very tedious and so any form of mechanical processing is a major time saver (for the uninitiated who haven't a clue what I am going on about, de-stalking means taking all the stalks off the berries as they get stuck in your teeth otherwise and topping and tailing is taking the flower remains off one end of a gooseberry and the stalk off the other - which is the top and which is the tail is for you to decide). For half the berries I have used a gadget that goes on my Kitchen Aid mixer and separates the pulp from leaves, stalks, skins and seeds and saves a lot of time sorting it all out, I froze that in ice-cube trays for ease of use later. The other half complete with stray leaves and stalks I have steamed using a natty device that allows you to collect the steamed juice, and from that bottled two 1 litre jars of juice and three jars of jam from the remains which were then put through the strainer. Have to say that the juice is a little sharp so not quite sure what we will do with it - may have to mix it with something else later or let Ian drink it all as he can take sharp tastes including rhubarb without sugar (Bleh!). I also found a recipe for gooseberry vinegar so giving that a go - might just end up with a mouldy mess though.

A dyeing workshop
Time seems to fly by and I am left wondering at times what exactly have I done. I seem to spend a lot of time processing food, so that we have plenty for over the winter. I also spend some time in the garden weeding, but perhaps not as much as I should judging by the amount of taming I had to do today. I gave quite a few plants a hair cut to tidy them up but decided to leave the marjoram that is lying about all over the place as there are rather too many bees on them to start wading in there. If I am not processing food I am processing plants for their seeds, as we are trying to learn the art of saving seeds for growing the following year, sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is not. Trying to stop seeds going mouldy can be quite hard. I did manage to finish reading all my academic papers about wild boar or conflicts between wildlife and people, so at least I can start the process of writing up a proposal for my thesis. I even came up with a title which I am going to run past my tutor, "Wild boar: Friend or Foe?" I have also spent a lot of time chatting with our youngest on Skype, in fact once I had to given him a big hint that even if he is finished for the summer hols and is getting bored, I haven't and I was struggling with interruptions, (so son, if you are reading this, I have finished reading the papers now) just typical that he hasn't been on for days, obviously found something else to do. I have also finally managed to finish some knitting for my nephew and niece, what's the bet that by the time they get it my little nephew will have grown to big for his cardi? (No pictures yet until they have seen them first though)

Wild boar numbers in Latvia. As you can see they have
increased rather rapidly in the last 15 years
Going back to the wild boar, the numbers have finally been released by the Latvian Statistics Office and it is estimated that the numbers decreased this last winter, which is only to be expected really, as there was a lot of snow - not that they decreased much mind as you can see from the graph. After the severe winter the numbers fell by 300 ie from about 67,200 to 66,900. How accurate these numbers are is difficult to say as the statistics have to rely on information from hunters, as the forestry personnel cannot collate all the information necessary. The smaller numbers will not be of particular encouragement to farmers though when their land is dug up. We are pleased that so far the damage has not been in any new areas and in out of the way places on the whole. We do not want to spend lots of time filling in pig holes or ploughing up areas to level them.

The referendum took place this Saturday to decide whether to dissolve the Saeima (Latvian Parliament) and the result was overwhelming, 95% of those who voted decided to oust the current government. If that doesn't give a hearty signal that the Latvian people are fed up with corrupt politicians I don't know what will. A friend of mine though did voice the quandary that it was all well and good to vote this time to say "enough is enough" but in the election to elect a new government will anything change? Will there be enough untainted politicians to vote for? Will the parliamentarians act with integrity once they are elected? Time will tell, but the Latvian people have spoken very loudly and very clearly - they don't like corruption. 

All natural dyes and the labels are all written on pieces of
The referendum was not the only event in our village this weekend, there was also the annual celebrations. As is normal in Latvia, most things happen around an outdoor stage and involves lots of singing, dancing and acting. It was quite amazing to see a guy from the local garage acting, one of our neighbours, a man in his early 20s, dancing, and the local owner of a joinery company singing in the choir. In the UK it is not often you come across young men who do folk dancing and to be honest they would often be laughed at by their mates, but here in Latvia it is not unusual and nothing to be ashamed of and rightly so too. Good for the Latvians I say. There was a troop of older ladies dancing too, the only complaint was not the fact they were dancing and at least keeping fit and enjoying themselves, but the youngsters who followed them were getting rather cold waiting for their turn. I would show you a video but of course I turned the phone on its side and was too far away to get a good picture, another time perhaps! This year the event highlighted the local businesses in the area, a local tv personality interviewed the business owners to find out what they do and so one of our friends explained about the company she had set up exporting firewood and another of our friends talked about making goats cheese and the rabbits she raises, she even sold out of all the cheese she had made. So many folks were surprised to hear of the local businesses and took business cards away, let's hope that is the start of a robust local economy. 

Can you spot the blueberry dyed wool?
There was also a workshop on natural dyeing at the celebrations and it showed what wonderful colours can be generated from local weeds. Fat hen gives a gorgeous clear green and is a frequent weed in our garden, the blueberries give a stunning purple and dyer's chamomile can give an intense yellow or orange. The amount of skills in the area in terms of dyeing, weaving and spinning is astounding and certainly bodes well when we get the alpacas. I am looking forward to seeing what products we can make between us. Latvians can be so creative and have not lost many of what we could consider old skills, the knowledge is actively used and so people really know what they are doing, which also means there is great scope for holidays learning about these old skills in some lovely Latvian countryside. 

Translation: Wood colours
Unfortunately while we were enjoying the celebrations others were not having a good time; this weekend has had its fair share of shocking news. The young talented Amy Whitehouse succumbs to her addictions, such a waste of a life, such a lack of hope. The news from Norway was shocking not just from the sheer scale of the atrocity but the unexpectedness of it. It kind of feels like there is nowhere safe today, even when things are bad elsewhere there is a hope that there are places that are not accustomed to such horrors, but this illusion was shattered over the weekend. I have to admire the response though from the Norwegians where the voice of reason arose strong and clear, that they will not give in to fear, that they will refuse to be a hostage to it, but will continue to live their lives with openness and transparency. I do pray that they can indeed live up to that call. And then there is Somalia, people dying once again due to famine. This is not just about a lack of water causing a drought, this has to do with how the powers who control the areas deal with the issue. Famines need not happen these days, bad weather, yes, food shortages, yes, but famines no! It is the lack of political will and power mongering that causes famines. I at least learnt that on my development management course.


  1. I totally agree with your 'bleh' comment about rhubarb without sugar! How can he do that??

    I am fascinated by all the new/old skills you're acquiring, preserving all that food and dyeing wool. Glad the dyeing workshop is not a dying workshop! Maybe you'll have another use for the glut of berries.

  2. He can also drink cocoa without sugar too, I suppose it is a good job since there is so much diabetes in his family.

    I had to resist with the remains of the gooseberries not to keep hold of them like I did with the blueberries to see what kind of dye they make, if any. I am already wondering whether to keep the marigolds for seeds or dyeing. I think seeds might win and then I have more next year and more time hopefully

  3. Dyeing and creating could be another string to your bow - you could set up holidays for people to learn these skills!!

  4. We looked at it about a year ago and it could work but we would need to find out about how to make it work legally and all that. Yet more work! :oD


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