Monday, 5 September 2011

Harvest Festival

It's like our own harvest festival. We didn't plant those big
orange pumpkins or the large green ones, they just grew
in our manure heap up the garden. Guess what the cows
have been eating! Apparently it makes the milk tastier. At
the top are sunflower heads.
Still in harvesting mode this week, another coolbox full of tomatoes which were transformed into jars of tomato sauce, beans in tomato sauce and a tomato, onion and chilli sauce. We had to sit for a whole evening shelling beans for the eight jars of baked beans I made. It would have been easier if I hadn't already got the tomato sauce cooked down as the pods would have been drier and easier to shell. Hopefully the next lot of beans waiting for shelling can wait long enough to dry out. We also have pumpkins harvested and curing, along with lots of other squash as you can see from the picture but the ultimate harvest started today, our field of buckwheat. What a job! Our barn is still not quite ready and so there is not much room to put our buckwheat to dry, so we have some stacked in a corner - all four trailer loads full, on the Latvian style hay rick supports. We also have some on supports in the greenhouse and after an afternoon cutting we are gradually running out of room and nowhere near done yet. A friend of ours even came and collected a boot full to try on their rabbits. It is looking increasingly likely that we will allow some (maybe most) to be killed off by the frost and let it seed itself for next year. That way we can probably collect a harvest off it in maybe June or early July next year.
Our field before harvesting
Our first two stacks. As you can see the barn is not finished yet
we are still waiting for the doors to be done and the frames
are there in the middle 
Stack number three in our greenhouse
Stack number four and the start of number
five. We packed in at this stage because
it was getting late and starting to get damp.
The worst thing is that we can't start until
the afternoon as the dew is so heavy in the
mornings now.
All that buckwheat came from this small patch, there is still
a lot more to do!!!!!!

Yes mushroom time again and we live
to tell the tale after a lovely wild
mushroom risotto
All the harvesting has made me think about efficiency. What do we think about when we think about efficiency today? It is usually measured in two ways, the costs of the output versus inputs or the output per person. A modern farm with lots of modern equipment is considered efficient because there is a large output with minimal input from one person due to all the equipment to hand, but is that really efficient? Farming with lots of big equipment can be wasteful. All the harvest has to be at the same stage at the same time to be harvested by machine, or a lot of the harvest will be rejected and wasted. An allotment garden, however, is far less wasteful as the harvest can carry on for a long period of time and less produce is rejected as it can be used in different ways (did you know that more can be produced per acre on an allotment than a farmer could ever hope to harvest?). For instance, we had some blossom end rot in some tomatoes, so I just picked them when they were green and we had them fried. They were perfectly edible with the blossom end cut off but in a modern farm that would have been rejected and thrown away. The farms also have high inputs in terms of capital to buy the equipment, the sprays and fertilisers needed to farm on that scale in a monoculture, and a large oil input in terms of diesel and manufacture of all that equipment. How sustainable is that in the long term? I will leave that one for you to think about.

Some of the not so lovely dwellers in our compost heap.
These are cockchafer grubs and they have a voracious
appetite that can ruin a crop. Ian was just going to move
the composted straw but ended up sifting through it for
these little fellows and there were about four tubs worth.
From my perspective though, we are being as efficient as possible with what we have, weather permitting. The buckwheat this year may get partly wasted as far as collecting seed is concerned but it has done its job of keeping the weeds down and giving us the time to plan for next year. It was also an interesting experiment to see how it grew and what it looked like, as none of our friends and neighbours knew what it would be like. It did prove it is worth growing in this area but there is of course a question of how much can be grown to be harvested using minimal equipment. There must be a better way to harvest it and stack it to dry and that is something we will have to think about. Having said that, if the weather had been a little kinder to us we may have had more time to collect it too. It was too dry to plant any earlier (even if we had found any if you recall the trouble we had finding it in the first place) and is only just ripe enough to harvest now. We may lose out in the end to frosts, unless of course we have another window of good weather before the onslaught of frosts. The rest of our gardening though is usually more efficient as far as trying to harvest all that we have and finding as many different ways to store it for winter use, if we can't use it now. I must say the fermenting cucumbers are interesting to watch and I do hope they turn out well in the end, the book assures me they will be lovely.

Been a beautiful day today
I mentioned last week that weather watching has become really important to us, but the forecasts have let us down badly this week as the rain often came earlier than predicted and instead of a morning of sunshine followed by afternoon rain as predicted, it just rained a lot. That also meant that the hay we cut the other week is now wet. Good job that it was only going to be compost anyway. It also meant that Ian has now started on rainy day projects such as painting radiators in the other apartment. We often joke about rainy day projects, if it is something that is inside and needs doing we jokingly add it to the list, not sure how much of that list will ever get done but we wouldn't want Ian to get bored when it rains and pens him inside the house now would we?

We had our visitors back again this
week. Those wild boar sure know
how to dig.
I think the rain held off just long enough for the return to school this week. Ex-Soviet countries still tend to stick to the September 1st as the date for returning to school after the summer. Much of the returning ceremony here in our village is held outside unfortunately, considering our weather this last week. It is funny to see children dressed up in their best, the boys in shirts and ties instead of the usual more casual attire, and girls in very smart frocks and all carrying flowers for their teacher. Going back to school is certainly a big event here. Can't imagine children all dressed up as if going to a party back in England on their first day back. Where does all the time go though? I started back to work too (I moderate an online chat room for a UK based educational organisation) and yet it doesn't seem that long ago since I broke up for the holidays. This summer has flown by and it hasn't helped that my work for my university course has not really stopped this year either. Hopefully though I shall be ready to get started on putting together the work for my Masters thesis.

Some of our magical messy forest.
This will get a make over later on but
maybe a while before we get to this bit.
Had another nice week chatting with friends again, one evening we got to know a little more about life behind the iron curtain. It is fascinating hearing stories of every day life. This week we found out that expeditions to other countries was very possible. We were always under the illusion that travel for those living in the Soviet Union was limited. The reality was that travel outside of the Soviet Union was limited, even to Poland and East Germany, but travel within the Soviet Union was very possible and that was a huge expanse of land to travel and explore. Our friends told us that they would group together and hire a coach, pack tents to stay in, then travel all over the place just not in a Westerly direction. Sweden was a far off country when you lived behind the iron curtain, despite being just over the other side of the small Baltic Sea, but East was very possible, Ukraine, Russia etc.

Aubergine! We are a little more successful than last year
but not much. One more year to see if we can do better.
Just like to finish with the tale of the Houdini rabbit. We were round at our friends farm and they have lots of little rabbits but one of them keeps escaping. After apprehending the little individual (rather amusing as it was three adults to one small rabbit and he gave us the run around for a good couple of minutes) he was placed back in his pen with lots of other rabbits of a similar age. We couldn't really see anyway he could get out, there were no gaps, but as we stood talking we could hear some scrabbling and the Houdini rabbit scrabbled his way up a 3ft high fence onto a narrow ridge and then squeezed itself around a tiny gap into the pen of some bigger rabbits. The little one then proceeded to get itself into the feed basket from which it attempted another escape - not this time though! I caught him by the scruff of the neck and put him back where he belonged. No sooner than he was back in, he was plotting his next escape. We watched him try again but not quite make it this time. I decided to put a stop to this little one for its own safety of course - that and I'm a spoilsport - by jamming a piece of wood into the crevice through which it was squeezing, unfortunately that didn't sort it. The little fellow has now been imprisoned in a cage after escaping five more times and so far he hasn't managed to find a way out of that yet. What makes this little fellow so determined to get out though, when all the others are content to be fed and watered?


  1. I like your comment on efficiency - big is not always best and as you say can often lead to more waste.

    If you go on the way you are in food production you may need some hired help during harvest time!

    Houdini made me laugh - a rabbit with attitude!

  2. I think your right about the hired help at harvest time but it is difficult to know how many and then where to sell afterwards. Those are things we still need to work out but I think we are getting there.

    It was funny watching the other rabbits, almost like in "Chicken Run" when the farmer peers in and they are all pretending to act like normal chickens. I really felt like saying "they're are up to something"

  3. got to love that rabbit!!! You have so much harvesting to much work, I'm exhausted just reading about it!!
    oh and it's rained all week in Lancashire too!!

  4. I'm exhausted thinking about it, doesn't help that I haven't been sleeping well for some unknown reason - not like me at all!

  5. Trying again to see if can comment here. Not managing to do so recently for some reason. Still thinking of you and following your blog Joanna.

  6. Success this time Danast and thanks for still following along :o)


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