Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Just catching up

Now we've had some rain, it feels safe to have
a barbecue again, unfortunately the wood got
a little wet too and Ian had to use the heavy
duty fire starter - aka the blow torch- to get it
going to provide the charcoal to cook the food
This last week I was running out of steam, I was just so tired. I am not sure if it was stress? rain? physical work? virus? combination? If it was stress, what was I stressed about in particular? Who knows, but I decided not to fight it and let my body work it out of its system and sleep when I needed to. I am quite adaptable in the end and I am sure the stress of conferences will diminish eventually, actually quite soon - as long as it goes okay that is. I will talk about the conference more next week, after all I don't want to get ahead of myself and there is still a lot to say about the week just gone and since I have some time in peace and quiet I may as well just get on chronicling it.

The barbecue spot - or is that frankenbbq? After all the metal
grid was lounging around in the basement and the bricks are
redundant ones from somewhere.
One of the stresses last week was a late night rain storm, this is not good for the constitution especially when accompanied by dripping sounds. This was the second time in a week that rain has poured in through the air ventilation chimney that is in the midst of repair and necessitated buckets to be arranged under the drips. Our problem is that many good trades folks have left and gone to Ireland or the UK and so we are left with people who struggle at times with life and drink to excess far to often. I do hope though that the guy repairing our chimney will sober up soon to finish the chimneys off. There was a lot of water came down though that night and a stone in our pond out on the land that I could stand on to get water because the water level was so low i.e. about 2-3 inches (5-7cms)  below the level of the stone is now submerged by about of inch (2.5cm) of water. That's a lot of water in a short space of time, even if it does take the runoff water from our greenhouse.

The squash season has arrived. At least we
don't have to do much more than put the
squash in the sun to harden the skins at this
stage
Our summer time activities are so weather dependent that it does make us fairly obsessive about weather forecasts, we look at three sites mainly and in addition look at radar and satellite pictures and still they get it wrong sometimes. The most stressful point is when we want to harvest the hay and we feel like we are racing against time and nature, but once that is in we usually feel a bit more relaxed, until we have the race against winter and the preparations we need to make for that. As one journalist wrote recently though, sustainable farming can't be rushed, you need to take all the time you need. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and stop trying to fight nature - it often wins anyway and when you lose on one front, you may gain on another, something we found this year for sure. We lost out on some of the seeds that got planted that haven't germinated in the heat, or possibly germinated then frazzled due to lack of water, but we gained on another front in that Ian didn't have to mow so much as the grass wasn't growing. One of the losers this year, may have been the oats. We haven't had much luck with this crop, last years lodged (i.e. fell over) due to disease, as it got rust in the rain - don't laugh! Plants can get spots that look like rust. This year, it may have been the lack of rain. Fortunately we got about four bales out of it before it fell over, the last bit was left to see if we could get it to ripen and therefore save the seed. Instead the remaining plants were mulched back into the ground, so all is not lost I guess. We are not sure about the four bales either, as we are unsure if they were dry enough to bale - they are in the greenhouse where they are dry at least and we will see how they fare - if not it is compost for them.

The race is on to the raspberries!
I had another visit to the dentists this week. I had a tooth that was not good when I went to the dentist last time, but I couldn't get them to understand that I needed work doing on it and in the meantime it has got worse. My upcoming trip to Florence concentrated my mind though as I didn't want a repeat performance of emergency dental repair work needing to be done on my teeth again, so I managed to get another appointment for during the week, only they did some work on it and then told me I had to go back after my trip, meanwhile only putting in a temporary filling. Oh boy! Hope it lasts.

It's getting mighty crowded in that nest
We had more visitors this week as one of our neighbours who lives in America most of the time, who we met last year, brought his family to see us this week, first he brought his brother, sister-in-law, nephew and mother and then he brought both parents for a longer visit. They loved to see what we were doing and to see some of the possibilities for land use in the area, especially since they normally live near the sea. His father loves plants of all kinds and knows people who have grown different types of fruit and so we are hoping for cuttings, in turn he wants seeds from some of our plants too, like my "black" hollyhocks. We spent two hours talking plants and viewing the land, I even taught our neighbour some new words that he hadn't learnt in America, whereas I have at least learnt the names of berries in Latvian - not much use for knowing the translation of redcurrants etc. in New York I guess!

That brown patch in the middle of the picture is my
strawed up bed, rotting down a bit for future strawberry
and potato beds
Oh the excitement, a royal baby! Has the world gone mad or just the media? Oh yes! It's the silly season where they seize on the smallest thing because everyone else is on holiday. Still I wish the Royal couple all the best and hope they can bring up a well-adjusted little one despite the glare of the publicity. What is the fascination with a royal baby? I am mildly interested and we have running jokes in our family about the royal family and the idea they could pop in for a cup of tea anytime, so some sort of mild affection for the institution. I do think I would rather have the royal family than a Presidential election every four years like in America, that is hyped as democratic and seems anything but, judging by the amount of dollars spent, but still I cannot quite see what all the hype is about. The announcement and a few pictures is enough is it not? Not a detailed analysis of what the world's media is saying, an analysis of what his life will be like, a round up of ..... you get the picture anyway and I'm sure you saw the news too and as for the breaking news that his grandmother said  "absolutely beautiful, the family is thrilled" - what else was she meant to say? She is his grandmother after all and hardly earth shattering news. Rant over now!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Slowly, slowly

You will have to make do with one of our alpacas in
silhouette as we haven't got around to taking a photo
of our escapee. Well we were expecting to have him for
Sunday lunch, but just didn't find the time to do the deed.
Now I just want you to picture the scene, there I am picking peas and Ian comes up for a chat, next thing we know is there is a bang and a flutter of wings, our returned cockerel had escaped. Was it a last ditch bid for freedom? He was due to be dispatched in hours or had I just not fastened the coop up well enough when I fed him earlier? Who knows. What we do know is that he led us a merry dance around the area in trying to catch him. At one point Ian went off to fetch the fishing net that we had bought to catch errant chickens in and whilst doing that I headed him away from my garden. While I was waiting for Ian the cockerel settled down to contended clucking outside the chicks arks, it was as if he was telling them there was food just outside. I watched him for a while, as Ian had quite a way to walk to get the net, and he definitely looked like he was trying to interact with the chicks and take care of them, as cockerels do. I hadn't really realised until we starting raising cockerels that they put a lot of effort in to making sure their females are fed, we had only had three hens before in a small ark. Ian returned and the chase began again and after several trips into and out of the forest edge, he was netted. We decided to give him a chance, could he teach our dippy chicks to get into the box at night, since he always put himself away at night? They had been a real nuisance to Ian when he was out on the land on his own. There was only one way to find out, and our chicken dinner got a reprieve. He took to the chicks right away and started scratching the ground and showing them seed that they had missed, he didn't attack them at all as we thought he might. Time will tell though if he is any good at getting them off to bed at night, although he does seem to be doing okay so far.

Rather wet as you can see. We also have
noticed recently that whenever it rains
we have water coming through our
toilet ceiling. Unfortunately the guy who
was supposed to be doing a professional job
on our apartment block chimneys has been
too drunk to finish them off. Again
unfortunately tradesmen can be difficult to
find, either they are too busy or in England
or Ireland.
Our heatwave broke on Friday and we've had some quite dismal and wet weather since. It looks quite autumnal really, which is very bizarre when we think back, as this time of year is the start of the English school holidays and as kids we used to look forward to what we considered the long summer breaks . The reality is that it is rather late summer heading into autumn time and the UK schools have some of the shortest summer holidays in Europe. Here in Latvia they have already been on holiday for well over a month and go back around the same time as UK schools. The rain, however, was much needed as fields were drying out and grass was getting shorter in supply, but after two days there was already mention by several folks that it was enough now and can we have the sun back. At least the poor weather meant time to visit some friends that we haven't seen for a while, well if you don't include the time that our Swedish friend popped in to make sure we were still alive because he hadn't seen us for so long and we usually go to their house because it is easier. It is a problem with the summer though as the jobs stack up. We hadn't been for that long we actually ended up stopping about 5 hours reliving the summer highs and lows. Our Swedish friend's new saying these days is "Slowly, slowly" that way he makes sure jobs get done without wrecking machines, it's just a little frustrating at times. The pancakes and fresh blackcurrant jam were worth staying for though.

A picture from sunnier times. Bladder campion I think
In the garden this week I have finished off getting most of the berries in, just one blackcurrant bush to go, but not all the currants are ripe on the shady side of the bushes (just remembered as I type this though that there is another bush I had forgotten about - oh well). Hopefully by midweek the weather will be better and I can get out and get them. The gooseberries are in and I have dried the green ones and they make great raisin substitutes, quite sweet and still juicy. We even managed to dry one lot in the solar drier, so it does work - when we have the sun that is. Redcurrants have just been collected, washed and frozen. I haven't much time to do much with them at the moment. I did get chance to process the blackcurrants though, 9 jars are in light syrup for breakfasts and the split ones, leaves and not quite so ripe ones were put in the steamer along with some from last year and made cordial and jam after sieving the steamed berries. We are starting on the tomato glut now too, so I have made my first batch of reduced tomato sauce and I shall freeze that too after it has finished cooling on the windowsill.

You can see our errant chickens, away to the forest
The raspberries are still producing too, but we are still having to fend the chickens off them periodically. We are also fastening the chickens in a bit more because they have either stopped laying so much or laying eggs elsewhere and we are trying to encourage them to lay in the chicken hutch. This free ranging malarky is hard work and rather less productive than we would have hoped. The idea is that as they forage they will find much of what they need to eat, but we are beginning to wonder if their foraging is actually causing them to use too much energy just running around -- especially away from us when we are chasing them off the raspberries. We will not really know until next year if they have an effect on the fly population as we think those kinds of insects have diminished a lot now anyway and not likely to be back before next year, although don't quote me on that.

A geranium possibly! I'm sure someone will correct me if
I'm wrong. I have some very intelligent followers 
I'm not sure if I will get the chance to post next week, as I shall be in Florence, Italy for my first academic conference. I've been trying to prepare a 12 minute presentation - it's hard trying to keep it on time and I may just end up reading from a script what I need to say to keep me within such a tight time limit. Fortunately I can read quite well from a written script, its all that practice of reading books to my own children, children at Sunday School and a playgroup. Little will they know as they sit there and listen the reason I can read properly instead of using a monotone. Poor Ian will just have to fend for himself again. I'm sure he'll manage.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Hay ho!

Lots of bales. We are down on last year, but
not by much and more were properly stacked
under cover this year
It's finished - the baling of the ski hill grass that is, the good stuff. There are just patches to do now, the rest is not all good stuff and will be baled for compost or building protective walls. This is the crucial crop of the year for us in many ways, as it the stuff we need to feed the animals over the winter. We got it in earlier than usual, but that is because of the weather being unusually hot. We have not only baled it but stacked it too. Being small round bales they cannot stand outside all winter like the large round bales can. We could have cried on Friday though, as we were so tired on the Thursday that we only got one load in and stacked and thought we would do the rest on the Friday, but it rained. It hasn't rained that much over the past two months but that day it poured down, well out on the land it did anyway. Fortunately it wasn't all day, just a prolonged shower and by Saturday it was dry again. We stacked another four loads on the Saturday but were too tired to unload the last round and so left it in the trailers overnight. Sunday we finished the stacking and I covered the outer layer with spare hay to help it run off rather than from one row of round bales to the next. That afternoon we went to the hotel to eat and then chilled for the rest of the day. Out on the land it rained again quite heavily and it seems that outer layer is doing a good job.

The last loads to be stacked on Sunday morning
All in all there are 262 bales of hay this year, which should be more than enough for our three boys, the four new ladies when we get them and maybe some sheep, aka lawnmowers. Some of the old bales were put in a shelter by the alpaca house and in front was put tasty green new hay and there is still ordinary grass to eat, despite the weather and guess what......... they prefer the old stuff. Don't they know they are supposed to prefer the better, newer stuff? Actually Ian was wondering if they are getting a bit lazy and eating the hay, rather than going out into the fenced off area to eat grass. That seems to have become a habit since the hot weather and the increase in fly numbers. Hopefully they will go down soon.

Getting there!
It has been so busy just lately that I forgot to mention a few things last week, some of them really important too. So sorry son! Anyway the news is that our youngest son got a first in automotive design at Coventry University. He's worked so hard towards that goal since he was about 9 years old and so it is lovely that he capped that with a first class honours. Unfortunately he now needs a job and that doesn't seem to be forthcoming at the moment. Still! Early days. He took quite an interest in drawing cars at an early age, as many young lads do, but he really enjoyed the more technical drawing after Ian showed him how to do it. He would draw for hours, not bad for a child that rarely sat still otherwise. We even bought him a proper portable architects drawing board so he had a good surface to draw on and of course plenty of paper. As they say the rest is history and I still have many of his drawings from that time, carted around the world.

And finally done. Tarps all tied down and protection layer
of spare hay added to the sides 
Other news I forgot is that I made a new cordial. Meadowsweet cordial. I used to make elderflower champagne back in the Derbyshire, when the elderflowers were plentiful, but out here in Latvia I have only seen the first bush this year and it was not near to us. I thought there was one nearby, but it turned out not to be the same plant as it has red berries not black. We were reminiscing about it when a thought struck me that perhaps the meadowsweet would make something similar. After a little research on the internet, as you do, I found a recipe for the cordial and gave it a try. It was okay, a little reminiscent of lemsip actually, as meadowsweet does have salicylic acid in it, the component for your everyday aspirin but it wasn't bad. Some of it eventually started effervescing and that had more of a taste of the elderflower champagne I used to make and was more refreshing.

Not forgetting the 32 bales we managed to squeeze into
the cover down near the alpacas. That should keep them
going for a while
And the final piece of news that I forgot to mention was the fact that I drove the tractor for some of the baling. I would do the uphill sections and Ian did the really steep downhill sections. It meant that I got to sit in the air-conditioned tractor for part of the time, instead of being stuck outside all the time in the heat. Mind you, it was still hard work though, as that gearing is stiffer than your family car and being the shorty that I am, meant it was a bit of a stretch trying to reach the pedals and keep an eye on the back of the tractor to see what was happening with the baler. Maybe one day when we finally work out how to connect up a gadget, that our son-in-law gave us, to a webcam and operate it in the tractor we might not have to crane our necks to see what's happening. I think that is a winter job to work out though.

Sofie spent most of the day amongst
the hay bales, in fact she nearly got
squashed by one as Ian swung it up
into position, just as she came for an
inspection. 
I hope you enjoyed the videos of our well-behaved animals being put away at night. Don't let that fool you though. Our alpacas to be fair are fairly easy to look after and as long as electric fences are operable when the grass level is getting low then they don't really challenge the fence. We don't of course let the grass get too low, but they do tend to want to eat the juicier grass on the other side if they can, like most herbivores. It is the chickens that are posing a problem at the moment. They are wandering further than we thought they would and we now have a barrier up in front of the greenhouse so they don't wander in. They could fly in, but they don't seem that bothered - yet! The main attraction at the moment is our raspberry bushes. At first we just chased them off, but that became a bit of a joke. They would often sprint across to the raspberries as if they were racing us, to see how much they could eat before we would chase them off again. We then reasoned that they would only eat the ones nearest the floor anyway and if they left some fertiliser there then that would be good for the raspberries. That is until their next escapade that is. One day Ian spotted them jumping, as we sat drinking our morning coffee we could see the cockerels head periodically bouncing up to reach the higher raspberries. It was quite sweet actually, as he would jump up and grab a raspberry and put it down for one of his ladies. This was not really what we wanted, especially when we noticed the one we nicknamed big bird because being a broiler chicken she is huge. She has all the finesse of a baby elephant, she jumps up okay and gets her raspberry but then lands on the ground with such a thud and damages the new growth. At this rate there will be no raspberries for any of us next year. We resorted to chasing them off again for the time being.

Our rather dry pond. Fortunately there is still a lot of water
in that deep section.
Our young chicks are not much better. One managed to find a hole in the ark it was in, but fortunately we found the chick before Mr. Fox did. The other problem is that they haven't got the hang of going in at night. That is 32 chicks that need to be put away manually, one by one. Oh the fun! One day I'm sure they will get the hang of the fact there is food to be had at night in their hutch where they are locked up.  At least we don't have any problems with the new cockerel we have, that puts itself away. It is not actually a new cockerel, it is one we used to have and swapped for a broiler chicken ready prepared for the oven, but unfortunately he has become aggressive as I mentioned last week and we did another swap for our cockerel that wouldn't put itself away at night and was earmarked for the pot. At some point we will dispatch it, but we haven't had the chance yet.

Despite the rain out on the land, there hasn't
been much back at home and these broad
beans are suffering. I could lug water up the
garden from a pond, but that is a lot of
buckets of water to carry. 
I found an interesting report on the future of farming this week, but I ask you, how many people with good business brains are attracted into farming because it is high tech, as they think it will? It can be very high tech and some of it is very beneficial, but often the attraction to the countryside is to get your hands dirty, to work hard, but see the results - like a nice pile of stacked hay ready for the winter. Shunting cattle into a shed at the push of a button and monitoring them on the screen is not what attracts people and I am not sure it will attract the next generation of farmers either. Satisfaction though might just cut it. When we sit drinking our morning coffee viewing the land, it beats sitting in an office and no we aren't wasting our time with jobs to be done, we have already fed and watered the animals or just let them out as needs be, opened up the greenhouse and just quickly scanned to make sure there is nothing that needs sorting immediately before sitting down for coffee. As we drink the coffee and drink in the beauty surrounding us, we are bouncing off ideas as to how to run things better, or running off the jobs for the day and yes setting the worlds to rights at times too. It's times like those that makes the hard physical jobs worthwhile.

Even the strawed up potatoes are looking very sad now.
In a month and a half we have only had one decent shower
and the only reason things aren't worse is the fact we have
had some decent dewy mornings
You can tell I have had time to think a bit this week, one of the things that came to me was that this was going to be a really tough year. The economic crash of 2008 coincided with our drop in income, not that we are without money, just that the money coming in falls far short of the money going out. That's fine as I felt that the 7 good years we had beforehand would stand us in good stead. In some ways I didn't quite understand why the 7 years, it seems biblical as in the story of Joseph and all that and I have found that sometimes God works through the actual timings or incidents in the biblical stories rather than just being stories to guide us or show the character of God, which they are. What I didn't understand exactly was why this story was applicable in our lives here in Latvia. I think I found the answer this week, back in 2006 a politician  in Latvia, stated that there was going to be 7 years of prosperity for Latvia, harking back to the biblical prophecy of Joseph, but the reality was that there had already been four years of prosperity as money poured in from the EU and foreign banks and they should have been preparing for 7 years of cut backs and poor economic circumstances. Instead they determined to "push the gas pedal." Well five years has passed and we are now in the 6th year, the 7th is a year where growth occurs, but you have to wait for the harvest to see the results. So we weather the storm of this year and look to the growth that happens in the 7th, still confident that God is working something out, even if I can't quite see what yet.

It's not all bad news though, the squash plants
are doing okay. Whether that is anything to
do with their proximity to a neighbour that
has a pump and waters her garden or not, I
don't know.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Goodnight!

Video two as promised

video

It makes our animals look like well trained beasts and birds, don't believe it though - more will be revealed on Monday

Friday, 12 July 2013

Ian leading the chickens

I actually managed to post this. I am quite amazed. Sorry it has taken so long it was a bit of a palaver. Video 2 another day after I have sorted that one out

video

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Cry freedom!

Oh yes! Raspberry glut begins
Sorry once again for being late, but yesterday we only finished eating rather late after baling hay since early afternoon. Ian finished at 8:30pm but I finished earlier to go to a house meeting. So all in all, there wasn’t enough hours or energy in the day to write a blog. Anyway onto the events of the week. 

Feeding the alpacas
I enjoyed having a helper this week, who was up for any job I could throw at her. As I mentioned before she picked and sorted strawberries, which meant I got quite a few frozen and bottled up. She helped me pick peas, put sawdust down to create new paths, picked weeds, strawed up potatoes that I had weeded and plenty of other jobs too. She just made jobs go twice as fast, but there was still plenty for us both to do. She also got to live a few crazy ideas, such as swimming in a river and hanging out with the alpacas looking very Peruvian in her Peruvian poncho. Obviously we had a blast and had numerous crazy and serious chats whilst working. 
Caption competition here! Any offers? No prizes, just some fun

Haymaking art
Once our helper left we got on with haymaking. Ian actually started cutting with the two wheeled tractor the afternoon before, which didn’t take him quite as long as it usually takes me. He then cut the rest with the bigger tractor. He is definitely getting faster, but it still took him about 7 hours. We had a panic though as it rained quite heavily while he was cutting. The weather forecasters had been promising rain all week on Friday and so we had decided we were going to cut this week, then they changed their minds on the Thursday and forecast rain midweek. We decided to start earlier rather than risk the rain, except they changed their minds back again sometime on the Friday. We either have to get better at forecasting our own weather or we just resign ourselves to the weathermen getting it wrong from time to time. The problem is that the one thing that is crucial is the hay, that will feed not just our three alpacas this year, but another four female alpacas, two of who will be pregnant and possibly some sheep. Fortunately the weather has been that dry that it didn't seem to be too disastrous and the hay dried well. 

No hay bale photos yet! We've only just finished. Instead
a hay field flower, Scabious. I always wanted to grow these
in a flower bed, but obviously it prefers the freedom of the
open field and they grow quite happily there
Our activities are more or less governed by the weather, but we still try to have at least a day a week where we take things very easy, only it is not always Sunday. This week it was Saturday, as the hay needed time to dry and so it was cut on Friday and due to the rain turned on Sunday. In fact we took Saturday so easy we slept for two hours in the afternoon. Now in the summer it is not unusual for us to have a kip midday, as we can start early and finish late, but the heat of the afternoon can be unbearable, but that is usually for an hour, not two. I guess we needed it though as we both slept well again that night. It's nice though to have the freedom to choose when to do things, well weather permitting. At least the weather has held up till now and all the hay is baled. It would be good if it didn't rain until we collect them in, but we have left them out for the time being to cure a little, in case they are slightly damp. They cannot stop out long though, unlike the big bales as they can get wet. That's a job for tomorrow.

Finishing off the hutch
It is not just us enjoying the freedom of the countryside, so are our chickens - the older ones that is. As we will need the arks for our new chicks we decided to re-home our older ones in a new hutch set in the alpaca paddock. Last week's photos showed the half finished hutch, but Ian got it finished just in time before haymaking time and we both transferred the chickens one evening to their new abode, except for poor Charlie. He was earmarked for the pot, because he wouldn't go in at night and didn't seem to look after his ladies terribly well, unlike James. However, he has got a reprieve as he is not an aggressive chicken, he has the chance at a new home to replace another chicken who is turning aggressive, we are just waiting for him to be collected. Our James has also been getting a bit aggressive, but hopefully we have put him in his place and is getting the idea that humans are higher up the pecking order than chickens. He seems to place alpacas at the top and us at the bottom - or tried to.

The freedom of the open field
Our chickens have certainly taken to their freedom, they strut around with tails up and wander far too far. We hope they are not going to become a meal for Mr. Fox, as they were supposed to stay in close proximity to the alpacas, but they have other ideas. They do go into the alpaca house on a daily basis to have a good old rummage around - hopefully finding lots of juicy fly larvae in the process, they like a bunch of cleaners marching in, quite funny to watch. The alpacas don't seem unduly concerned about this and after the initial curiosity they now seem to ignore them totally. One of the problems with their wanderings is that they now are wandering around my new cranberry bed. So far the cranberries seem safe, but that is probably because they are green. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to protect them from the chickens though, they were looking ever so nice too. Oh well, back to the planning board on that one.

Poor Charlie, he lost his women and he's now waiting for
his new home
I mentioned earlier that we had a house meeting. From time to time all the folks who live in the apartment block are invited to a house meeting, where we decide on what is going to happen about the heating, what is going to happen with the house in general, the heating, what needs repairing, the heating, and any other problems. Yes I know I've mentioned the heating more than once, it comes up every single time and we still haven't resolved the issue. Some folks are just willing to continue to pay stupid sums of money for inadequate heating, rather than tackle the issue together or get a new form of heating. We have another meeting later on in the week to try and resolve that one, yet again. The other issue that gets recycled is the issue of non-payment. Some people were refusing to pay because of - well lots of reasons. It is not a great deal of money each month and it goes towards paying electric bills and various other costs, but it is not enough to do major work, because not everyone is paying and because it is not getting done they won't pay and so it goes on and on. It looks like it is heading towards being sorted though, with the worse culprits being given ultimatums, pay up by a certain time or agree a payment plan or court. Drastic, but possibly necessary.

These little fellas look quite odd as they are still waiting for
the feathers on their heads. These are our first batch of
chicks this year waiting to be moved up to the bigger ark soon
In an effort not to waste anything, I have been getting more experimental and trying different foods. We cooked bulrushes tonight with our tea. From three bulrushes when we first dug the pond, we are now getting lots of them popping up all over and they are in danger of taking over our pond. I read somewhere though that a lot of the bulrush plant is edible and so we gave the base of the stems a try today. Apparently bulrushes can pick up all sorts of nasty chemicals and that's why they are good for cleaning water, but since our ponds are not contaminated they should be fine. We found out that it is only really the inner core that is properly edible, or the very young shoots, the rest is a bit fibrous, but they do taste good. At least when we clear the ponds out, we have no need to throw away all the plants. Just going to see what to do with the roots and I know baskets can be made from the leaves but I will leave that for another time.

Our water situation is okay, but that brown ring shows how
much water has been lost. We think there must be a spring
because even though the water table is dropping, this still
fills, but slowly
The other challenge we had was lots of small fish we were given. They taste good but the bones are a nightmare. I was determined to find a way to cook them that would have the same effect on the bones as tinned fish and I have found it - the pressure cooker. I marinated the little bream in oil, vinegar, onion and herbs and then pressure cooked them for about half an hour. Result! The bones are a bit like the bones in tinned salmon, a bit brittle but edible and the meat of the fish was fine. I would now like to see if I can do a batch job in jars and then we can eat them out in the caravan for a quick meal.

Black hollyhocks. Well that is what they are
supposed to be, but in reality they are a very
deep maroon colour
We had a surprise visitor tonight, just as we were about to leave, a black and tan dog turned up. It was the friendliest of creatures, didn't go silly with the cats, seemed quite affectionate without being overly fussy, didn't jump up and most certainly did not look like a stray. I managed to get hold of one of our neighbours, as I remembered that she said she might get a new dog sometime as their old guard dog was getting very, very old. Sure enough it turned out to be theirs. It had been a stray and when their dog died they gave it a home. Glad my hunch turned out to be right. Their dog was very happy to hang around while we waited for them to turn up to collect it though. Ian is not a dog lover, but that one was okay in his books.

I will try and upload a couple of videos of the chickens and the alpacas, as soon as I have worked it out that is. I will not be winning any awards for my filming but they are fun.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Baling time

Hi folks, this blog will be late this week due to a house meeting and baling. It's 10:06pm and we have only just finished eating our evening meal, so more news later, I'm too tired and it's too late to blog now.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Race against time

Is it safe to come out now?
Not sure if our alpacas were relieved, but we finally collected the shears and they worked. The two unshorn alpacas were spending a lot of time in their shed because of the heat and not looking terribly happy. Now they are shorn, they are not terribly happy with the horseflies, but that's a different issue entirely. Our son and I tried valiantly to hold the alpacas down whilst they were being sheared by Ian in 29C (84F) heat, but that didn't work and in the end we made an emergency phone call to a friend of ours to come and help. It didn't help that our son's back was playing up either. Fortunately our Latvian friend works on the local sheep farm and was able to come over. He's used to handling sheep, even the large rams and often gives the sheep a pedicure, so our alpacas not only got a hair cut but a pedicure too. I think the alpacas are getting used to him, as he's helped us before, or they recognise the strength he has, he is quite gentle but firm with them and they quietened on down for him. Every now and again they did fight back, whenever they felt a bit of leeway, but on the whole they were fairly placid, despite the attention from all the biting insects around.
Well that doesn't look tooooo bad I think!

Franken bucket holder. Franken objects are defined in this
household as objects made from previously used items. We
now have a variety of franken objects around (see previous
posts)
For those who remember my emergency dental treatment back in Australia in April, I have been in the process of trying to get the money back out of the insurance company. I have now spent over eighty minutes on the phone to various people, being passed from pillar to post trying to sort it out. I have to say they were all terribly sorry and tried to be helpful, but unfortunately mainly useless in getting the issue sorted. Eventually I ended up with the right person, who got someone to phone me back and within five minutes of that phone call I knew what was needed to continue with the application. Hopefully we now have some resolution regarding this. I can hope.

A new chicken hutch to hold the older birds, where they
can free range around the alpaca paddock and hopefully
keep some of the insect population down. We need this
finished before the newest chicks are ready to move
outside into the box that we have the last lot of chicks in,
so three weeks maximum and there is a hay harvest to fit in
as well.
It now feels like a race against time, as I have still been planting some seeds and planting out some squash plants that have been sat in pots for ages and wondering if it is worth it or not? Will there be time for them to develop or not. There is still time to plant some of the quick crops like radish and the like and the crops that will stand in the autumn like the kale, but as for anything else, not really sure and I certainly do not want to be managing seedlings while sorting out the hay harvest. One of the reasons it has felt like a race is when one of our neighbours noticed some apples on a tree and commented "another month and then the harvest." As usual there is a cry that wells up that says "but the season has only just begun"

At least three sides are finished, just the roof and the back.
We are trying to work out the best way to gain access to the
nests before Ian finishes it off.
Our son and his wife and baby went back to the UKon Thursday, for a rest I think and our new guest came on Saturday. Just enough time to turn around really. I hoped they enjoyed themselves anyway and our son can now add alpaca handler to his CV. I think they enjoyed the bakery the most though, as it makes for a nice walk - well most of the way after navigating fly alley. There is a spot, in what must be a swampy area, that buzzes with flies that lay in wait for them. At least the pastries and the ice creams were worth the effort I' sure. I will miss the cuddles with our grandson, but it is something we always realised would be an issue with living so far apart and so I'm quite at peace about it. I will enjoy them when they are here as much as possible and be content when they are not around.

Some creative decorations outside our local
supermarket
Our new guest has been brilliant at helping out and halving the time of some jobs. One afternoon she processed a bucket of strawberries, a job she remembers well from last year when she came to help me, as she has only just recovered from the over indulgence in order to enjoy them again. Another day it was two buckets, while I packed some of them into jars and syrup and made cordial out of the squashy ones and the ends that were cut off. Waste not want not! There were still three trays to freeze too. Today we spent about four hours while I weeded the potatoes which resembled a sea of greenery and she put a layer of straw around the plants to prevent as much regrowth as possible. The straw will also keep the potatoes moist in what still looks like a rather warm summer ahead, even if today was blissfully cooler.

These little fellas are outside the local technical school.
One seems a little worse for wear
One of the ways we keep in touch is facebook of course, doesn't everyone? Well the answer is no because Ian doesn't use facebook at all, but at least I can keep in touch that way. I keep in touch with a few people through facebook and like to read the posts, what I hate though is the fact that adverts have started appearing in the news feeds. It seems like a real intrusion, a bit like being out for a walk around town and having a flyer thrust at you in a way that you can't help but take it. I was pleased, therefore, that some companies are beginning to take notice of how they are presented on facebook. Companies do not want their adverts placed in inappropriate places, such as on controversial pages that they have no wish to be associated with. Maybe they will realise that their adverts placed in news feeds is too intrusive too and withdraw their backing. I can live in hope anyway.

A record, four baby storks outside our other apartment
As anyone who follows my blog for any time will know I am studying towards a PhD and my studies are about trying to get participatory involvement central to development in rural areas (in other words letting people have a say in development that affects them). This means I get to talk to lots of different people in my capacity as a researcher - I really love that aspect. There are a couple of issues that keep cropping up though and one of them is Latvians admit to not collaborating well, and they acknowledge it as a problem. This is based on the lack of trust that many have for each other, again something they are aware of. Collaboration, cooperatives and trust are all issues partly because of the complicated history of Latvia, sometimes from the World War era and sometimes from the Soviet times and the subsequent chaotic collapse of that system. A blog "Latvian History" does a good job of highlighting the difficulties faced by Latvians during the different periods of time and the authors most recent blog on the Latvian soldiers in the red army demonstrates particularly well the complicated history of this land.  I just pray that at some point in time, the Latvian people will be able to reconcile themselves with the past and move on, after all we have found them to be a generous and kind people and we would wish them to be able to trust each other enough to work together better.