Monday, 10 August 2015

Another week over....

A butterfly on an onion seedhead
Where does the time go to? It has been a hot and sticky week this week. Temperatures up around the 30s and high humidity. The smells and the warmth reminding us of places we have visited that were always strikingly warm for us Brits, such as Cyprus, Pensecola in Florida and Brazil. Even this evening at way past 9pm it is still 23C.
Not quite sure why these Jerusalem
artichokes are so high. The original
ones are as high as the tips of my fingers,
these are another 40-50cm taller

From the enormous to the tiny. These are not what you
might think they are, these are not watermelons, but
cucamelons and are about the size of nail on my little
finger at the moment. Apparently they grow to grape size
and taste of cucumbers with a tang of lime. When they are
ready we will let you know, but they are cute. We also
found out this week, they can be treated like a perennial
if stored in a frost free place over winter - we will be trying
that out
I finally got to the dentists and had a tooth extracted. It seems to have passed without incident and healing okay, although I half wondered today if I was starting with an abscess, but I think it was just a combination of heat, a woman thing and tiredness. Certainly not the kind of thing I want as I head for a conference next week (which reminds me, if I don't post next week, you know I haven't forgotten).
The grapes are suddenly ripening in the heat and we have
even had a few of the sweet ones. These are a picture of the
more sour ones that we are hoping to make some wine out
of this year.

Of course the heat means that some of our squashes have
exploded in size. Much to our relief
The hot days means the farmers around here have been busy because all fields need to be cut by August 15th to receive their EU subsidies and there hasn't been many dry enough days to get it all done since the week we got our hay in at the end of June. Silage was okay, but hay no, that needs heat to get it dry or a good long period without rain. Although we don't get EU subsidies, we have still cut our remaining fields meaning we now have another 102 bales. We haven't gone down the subsidy route yet, because we know there will be certain criteria that needs adhering too, such as cutting down trees that are now growing in the middle of fields. Some can stay for shade, but many need thinning out and it will be too much for Ian to do at once. EU subsidies are not always that generous and Latvia gets some of the lowest, so not really worth it just yet. Plus alpacas do not attract subsidies yet either. Something the Latvian Camelid Association are or were working on.

Forty down, sixty-two more to go!

The hay is not so great, as it is passed its best but it will make good bedding for the alpaca houses. Ian nearly sold a baler the other day, well he could have done if he had the contacts necessary. A gentleman saw Ian baling and stopped the car and asked about the baler. He couldn't speak English, but Ian was able to tell him how much it cost. He was very interested. Our baler may take longer than the huge balers, but the the rewards of manageable bales is invaluable to us and I guess it was for the gentleman who stopped. Well when I say manageable, the bales are manageable if they are not too densely packed as some of the ones were this week. Some I can throw up onto the trailer without too great a difficulty and some I struggle even using a bit of application of mechanics and rolling it up over another bale.

Amaranth, for their seed. It can be used a bit like quinoa
Flowers forming
Damage at the top of our land. You can tell how large an
area by the size of the bale - that they also messed about with
The wild boar piglets have grown recently. How do I know? The damage to the fields has suddenly gone up and so the herds must be on the move and not just solitary animals as we have suspected up until now. They have got into our barley field and made a mess of that, up to a quarter of it was lost and it is so close to being ready to cut. We have put an electric fence around it now which is connected to the mains but the dry weather means it is not very effective, especially at the points where the pigs get in, as that is quite sandy. Ian has contacted the nearby sheep farm to ask about their fencing, they have been busy putting some up in the last few months and I think we are going to have to do the same. We keep contacting the hunter and we even think they visited last night - there was some bread on the floor in one lot of digging and we can't explain its presence in any other way - unless of course the pigs have started carrying around bread to make a sandwich with the things they find at night.

Damage to the barley crop. It is a bit weedy too, but that was
the least of our worries
The fence from the outlet in the barn. It registers 10,000V
inside the barn, but by the time it gets to the orchard plot it
is down to 4000V

By the time it gets down to here it is around 2000V and at
the top of the field it is barely registering. Not good!
Problem is that neither of us really want to test it either.
We have a tester and that is how we know what voltage it is
pumping out. Even the sheep fence, run from a battery, is
currently pumping out 4000V

These are called strawberry sticks. They look interesting,
but not something on the list to keep. The fruits don't
taste of much and the leaves are small and so not much of
a replacement for spinach. We have plenty of other leafy
things that can replace spinach in meals that are far easier
to grow and far more productive
We were in our caravan last night and Ian could hear some squealing (I can't, I'm as deaf as a post. Okay! Not maybe that deaf, but I certainly do not hear well). He thought it sounded like a bird but didn't recognise it. We are now beginning to wonder if it was the pigs, as the mess this morning was pretty bad, fortunately just on grassland and not the crop fields again. We keep wondering when the African Swine Fever will hit the numbers, but the known infections are still just a little way off.
Chenopodium giganteum makes a far better replacement
for spinach. It is productive, grows well and high. It also
is related to quinoa and so the seeds will be edible too.

I didn't think you would want to see pictures of skin
problems and so there is a cute picture of her son Brencis
Veronica our oldest alpaca has been having skin issues again this week. The fly numbers have gone up in the heat and they have been massing on any little sore she has, so much so that she has been gnawing away at her fleece. I have used a liquid with plantain juice in it to calm any itching and we have also applied engine grease to it. Sounds a bit drastic and awful, but we had to do something to keep those flies off and the insect repellants were useless. Apparently, according to one of our farming friends, a sheep consultant had advised her to use it when the sheep get cuts at shearing time, as it is the only thing almost guaranteed to keep the flies away. At least it does seem to be having some effect, but those flies are persistent even when there is no sore to attack, as we know from trying to collect the hay. We also gave her an injection of Ivermectin in case it is mites that is setting off the irritation.
The peas have also come on a lot this last week. They are
likely to go over just as fast in this heat though. Still
looks like a good enough harvest from them now.

As if there isn't enough pictures of cute kittens on the
internet. Eyre is starting to get quite explorative these days.
She also killed a vole today that was around the hay stack
We got the results back from the fibre testing this week. Agnese's fibre quality is acceptable for a first time cut, not excellent but certainly acceptable. So is Estelle's and surprisingly Veronica's, who should have the worst due to her age, was only slightly thicker than Estelle's. What was even nicer about Veronica's fleece is her's didn't change as much through the year, it was fairly constant and has a smaller range of fibre widths - all very good qualities for a fleece animal. Unfortunately, Tellus' fleece, as we suspected, is not as good as we had hoped. Not only that his fleece quality went down over the winter, obviously he is being over fed. We knew he was putting on weight but was surprised that the winter feeding of grain was making his fibre thicker. The amount of grain being fed has been reduced substantially, especially for the boys. There will be no midday winter feeds, either from now on, as they don't need it. At least that should save us some money.


  1. Such a beautiful place you have!

    The artichokes--did they get a good dose of nitrogen somehow? That might explain the tallness. That, or they are very happy!

    1. Firstly let me apologise for not replying to your post earlier, somehow it didn't make it through to my email for moderation.

      It is a lovely place where we live and always feel grateful for the opportunity to work the land there. I am not sure really why the artichokes are so tall. It is a new plot for them, so maybe that is the answer and we have put alpaca poo on them, but then we also put them on another plot too. Previously there were cabbages I think there. We will have to see how they compare with next year I guess :)

  2. I really enjoy your updates. It's fascinating to compare life here to life on farms in totally different cultures and climates. Some of the things you mention are completely unknown to me.

    It still feels a little strange not to have our own hay this year. Hoping I don't come to regret that.

    1. Thank you Bill for the encouragement. I must admit that although we have gardened for years, it has still been a steep learning curve. Even after six years of growing vegetables in this climate it is still taking time to adjust. I suppose it is partly because of the variation in climate. In the UK cabbages were reliable growers, here it depends on a cool year or growing in the shade - which is a little limiting but with forest edges possible. The short growing season limits some options but the long growing days opens up a range of others. As you know though, the weather is such an unreliable factor that we cannot be certain, one year to the next as to what will reliably grow, so there is always next year :)

      I am sure your long growing season makes it not worth the while to cut your own hay and better land management an option. We cannot guarantee grass to eat past October (sooner if those wild boar get in) because frosts kill off the nutrition in the grass. Our earliest frost was September 1st, but we have also known the first frosts as late as November. We have had snow in October too and snow on the ground from November to March, so we need to be prepared and we need hay and lots of it.

  3. another fascinating read Jo...mites, flies, made me itch! Hope your mouth heals quickly....ouch...

    1. Sorry for making you itch :) It is definitely one of the downsides to a rich biodiversity. How come there are so many insects that bite? I didn't realise how many varieties of mosquitoes there are for a start.

      As for the mouth, I am back to the dentist tomorrow :( might have an abscess starting


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