Monday, 27 June 2016

Don't Panic!

A green and pleasant land
Last Monday we took a trip to the airport to collect some friends of ours who are going to be staying with us for two months. We decided to put them in our apartment, especially since we are not even there most of the time at the moment and then they have access to all the kitchen equipment, fridge and washing machine. It also means that our other apartment is still free for guests to come. Our friends have been willing helpers and proved a useful extra pair of hands at this busy time of the year. They have prepared herbs for the solar drier, shifted wood out of our barn, barrels out of our old alpaca house, strimmed grass and cooked meals.
The lambs are growing up fast

Half the ski hill cut, so about a hectare
The forecast was good for haymaking this last week but not quite long enough to do our whole ski hill and so we only cut half as we have for the last two years. Unfortunately the amount of grass was greatly reduced due to the lack of rain we have had up until now. Some people are waiting to cut around here to see if their grass will grow more, but we decided we couldn't wait because sometimes those windows of time can be few and far between, even if it has been a dry year so far and a lot of the plants we didn't want to take over were rapidly going to seed. At least we may get another cut later on in the year if we need to, especially now we have had some good rainfall over night and into this morning.
This one always looks like he has eye liner

Mr. B with his muddy knees after last night's rain
The last two years we have used our neighbours barn to store our hay and that has been such a blessing but this year she said we won't be able to. She has been increasing the number of cows she keeps and so needs the space. It was a bit tight last year too. Unfortunately we hadn't got around to checking earlier - it was something we kept meaning to do and she only told us last week when we went to collect some of the older hay. Now we are desperately trying to think how we can store it all. As I mentioned our friends helped to move out wood from our large barn and the barrels out of our alpaca house, that way we can store a certain amount in those places, but we really don't know how much yet until we stack it in there. For now they are in the tractor trailer under a tarp, in a horse box and under plastic outside while they cool off after baling. Tomorrow we will start stacking them and see how far we get..
We finally have a post knocker, for knocking in posts for
fencing. This was made by a friend of ours and he brought it
over because he doesn't need it right now and he will make
himself another one when he needs it. Now Ian can get on
with doing some fence repairs around the boys paddock

So here is the tractor trailer I was clambering over to fix the
tarp on. There are about 54 bales in these two and we only
needed to make one trip with these and another with the small
trailer. Normally for the hectare there are at least two runs
if not more
Ian was doing some baling and we were expecting rain so I had to put the tarp over the tractor trailer, which involved quite a bit of climbing. It amused me to be doing that at my age. I'm glad I'm still able to and I am pretty sure losing weight recently has helped. I certainly feel I can bound up the stairs a bit quicker these days and I definitely can bend over much easier to do all the weeding that needs doing. It makes me realise how much fat I was carrying internally around my middle. Today though I was back on the computer finishing off written work, which was fine as we finally got the saturating rain we so desperately needed.
We watched with a certain amount of bemusement as this
little lady stalked a stork. We wondered at what stage would
she realise that a stork is way beyond her capacity to catch?
It was also a bit worrying to think she might also go after our hens 
A close up of our oak tree. We measured it recently to see if
it would be classed as a protected tree, but it was about half
a metre short around its circumference at only 4.5m
We have been staying out in the caravan for quite a while and go back to have showers and do our washing during the week when we go to collect milk. The problem is that it has been so hot and with doing the baling it can be dusty work and so we really needed a good shower but didn't want to go home. We ended up having to use the pond water and watering can for a makeshift shower instead. All I can say is thank goodness it was too late in the day for visitors. We could do with a shower area but trying to work out a place for that will be more tricky than where to put the loo, aka the office, due to the problems of mosquitoes and horse flies. It would be good to find somewhere though that we can use the sun to heat the water up during the day. A challenge for another day, until then, the pond and the watering can will have to suffice.
Some swallows can't quite decide where to nest in the girl's
alpaca house

These three have certainly got the hang of this visiting lark.
As soon as anyone appears now they are ready for some food.
It is one of the reasons they usually get apples or carrots and
not grain. 
It was a holiday week for Latvians and many stayed up to celebrate their midsummer festival, Ligo. We didn't, we needed sleep to get the baling done. It has been so hot and difficult to sleep at times, which is unusual for Ligo, normally it is quite cool or even rains but this year was a great time to celebrate. The holiday week though has meant we have had quite a few visitors and we have found out that word has been going around our village about our alpacas and it has become known as a place to visit. Two groups mentioned that friends or people they know have told them about us. One group stayed for a very long time and were very interested in what we were doing generally and not just with the alpacas. One lady who visited was an Australian married to a Latvian and so language wasn't a problem there and all the rest of the groups had at least one person who could speak very good English, so we haven't had any issues communicating.
The landscape completely changes again when we start cutting.
We got a reasonable amount of hay from here because it is
wetter than on the ski hill so that at least increases the amount we
have collected but we have a long way to go yet.

Veronica usually looks very regal and so we call her Lady V,
but here she is looking rather cute
It's been quite a week for many of us. So many of my friends seem to be in a state of shock. Some are happy with the result from the UK referendum, but since I know many outside the country there is a sense of vulnerability and concern over what comes next. It isn't just a feeling of what comes next personally, although that is a worry in itself, there is also the sense of what next? What chain of events could this precipitate? Will it really have positive effects on the UK economy? I rather doubt that but who knows. Will it have a contagion outside of the country across Europe?
Mari always looks cute though. We found out that she has some
of the finest fleece of our herd, apart from Brencis who is
younger anyway. 

Agnese in deep thought about Brexit. Will we have to find
new homes for us all.
If the arguments for Brexit were just about the unwieldily and bureaucratic EU and the changes that need to happen, I would have totally understood, because that is in some ways what I am working for in my research. So often though it was about taking sovereignty back, which to be honest I don't understand in this global world. It was about immigration, which is not affected that much by the EU. Yes there is freedom of movement and that is why I'm in Latvia, so it works both ways. What was even more bewildering was seeing the look of shock on the supposed victors' faces, the leaders of the Brexit campaign, as if they had no idea what was going to happen next. It would appear that no one wants the poisoned chalice of enacting Article 50, the mechanism for countries to exit the EU. Such shocking disarray.
At least our apple trees in our orchard on the land are finally
starting to produce. We haven't had much more than about
two apples

I was given these scented stocks last year by a friend and they
remind me of my Grandad's allotment from childhood
These past few weeks have seemed like one thing after another and so it was hard not to be down at times and sometimes it is the smallest of things that annoy us. One of the first things our friends from America needed to do was get some cash out of the cash machine. We pulled up to the spot in our village and one of them got out, but when he got back in the car he said the cash machine is not there. We were rather stunned, as we had only used it the week before, so of course I got out to see if he had missed it or something, as if he was likely to miss a cash machine he had used before - daft really, but sure enough there was just a blank wall. It was already plastered up and painted as if there had never been a cash machine there before. Apparently we weren't the only ones to stare in disbelief at the wall and one of our friends spent an amusing time watching the confused look on people's faces. Fortunately they haven't completely removed our cash machine services to the village, but what they have done is put it in a shop that is not open 24/7, so we have to remember to have cash outside shop hours - something I will definitely have to remember if I ever catch the early bus.
I think the rain was too late for some of our blackberry bushes

The new pond is gradually filling up

The buckwheat seems to be recovering a bit but very weedy

And as for my vegetable plot! We have a nice crop of
self-seeded hemp 

Monday, 20 June 2016


A contrite cat? Not!
Our cats are working animals with jobs to do and to a great extent they do their job well, they are often seen with mice, voles and even moles sometimes. They also manage not to bring too many live ones into the greenhouse and never into the caravan. However, they have not had such a good hunting season around my garlic. It would seem that over three quarters of it have simply disappeared and I wonder about the carrots, as there were times that water would just run away down a hole. The voles must have also had some of broad beans, as one patch seems to have only a few that seem to have germinated.
Brencis is getting big now. It is hard to think that he is one today.

A nuzzle from Mum
I don't make matters easy for the cats in some ways I guess because there are times they follow me into the garden and I am not entirely pleased with them when they wander across my seed beds or worse use them as a toilet. Not helpful, so maybe my vegetable plot is not their most favourite place to be. Sometimes when Eyre, our youngest cat, follows us it does not lead to a good outcome in other ways too. From the swallows that dive bombed her causing her to crawl along the ground to avoid them, to the time that she decided that near us was the perfect place to pee (sounds familiar) and so she scraped away at a convenient scrap of soil amongst the grasses. The next thing we saw was one cat hairing up a tree at a rate of knots, because of course there are only two sources for convenient soil patches in amongst the grass, mole hills and ant hills - she chose the latter. We laughed!

Resting under the trees under Mum's
watchful eye.
Eyre seems to have a special sense of where not to sleep and she has been shooed off my pepper plants, she got too close to tomato plants that were under fleece that she loves to sleep on. I have found her on top of the chick heater - fortunately they are safe under wire that they cannot pop their heads through. I also found her recently sat on my squash seedling tray. I wish cats had a sense of what to sleep on and what NOT to sleep on. It would be useful. It is one of the reasons for having catmint under a basket to keep it safe from cats until it has established itself properly to handle an invasion from them.

These little fellas have been safe and sound in the
boys alpaca house. They are getting big though so we thought
it probably won't be long before they take flight and join their
parents eating the insects. I love watching swallows
in flight.
One of the worst features of the cats is the fact they find small birds make a great delicacy. We had noticed a bird going in and out of the old alpaca house and were quite excited that a pair of birds had made it their home. Unfortunately we were responsible in part for their sad demise. The last sheep to give birth had to be put in the shed so that we could milk her to try and save the lambs, which if you read last week we were unable to do, but our cats thought it was a great adventure to follow us down to the shed each time we went. They seem to be less afraid of the sheep than the alpacas, as the sheep by and large ignore them, where as the alpacas are liable to investigate, which frightens the cats off.

Today they flew their nest. It was obviously getting a little
cramped in there
I always shooed the cats out of the alpaca shed, especially when they started climbing. One of the biggest problems for birds is the fact that Sofie is an excellent climber. One day we spotted her as she was starting to climb up the outside of the alpaca house, she was obviously after the nest. We shooed her off and she scampered away, but we knew it was likely to be only a matter of time. That night she hung around while we put the animals and chickens away, she was unusually attentive. Maybe I am reading too much into her behaviour, but it was as if she was making sure we went in and were out of the way, before she returned to an uninterrupted feast of baby birds. The evidence of torn and shredded fleece that was stapled to the side of the alpaca house to stop the snow in winter and help warm up the interior of that particular shed was enough to let us know what had happened.

We are quite relieved to see these two spending time with their
mother. We were worried at first that they still hadn't bonded 
well enough and she didn't seem especially attentive to them,
unlike the other mum.
The season has been tough on the plants. We finally got the rain we desperately needed and we were surprised that it appears it might have just arrived in time to save some of the shrivelled buckwheat, but it is still not as good as we would hope. Potatoes are finally starting to poke through and some other plants are finally beginning to put in an appearance after their winter sleep and so are the weeds now. It looks like we might have a grape cutting that overwintered successfully, but it has taken until now to show any signs of life. The rain might not have been in time for some of our blackberries. They were flowering away well and then suddenly started dying off. Most of my sage plants don't seem to have even bothered to appear, there are still no signs of life. One small sage plant fortunately is already in leaf and flowering but the large bushes - nothing!

Fortunately our solar dryer only blew over without any
significant damage. 
The unsettled weather unfortunately also brought a storm with it. One night the caravan was shaking with the wind and the next morning several trees were down, along with the branches in the middle of one of our cherry trees. Our new small greenhouse collapsed, but fortunately that was due to poles coming apart rather than breaking them. Connectors broke and there was already a small tear in the plastic and that got a bit worse, but it has been repaired and put back up. We are still not sure how well it will fare in another storm. Our old one is still going, despite the fact the plastic is getting brittle in places and seams tearing. That one though is well anchored into the ground by burying about 10cm or so of it into the ground and that seems to be the trick to keeping it safe. We are glad that our Christiania bike went to its new home though before the greenhouse collapsed as it was being stored there.
Fortunately this was not as bad as it looked and Ian has been
able to repair it

What I don't understand is how this shelter is still standing. It
has definitely got more and more of a lean on it, but the storm
didn't finish it off. It will be going soon though as it needs to
be taken down to make room for an office for me.
Ian has had his fair share of escapades this week. He managed to get the tractor stuck digging more holes to encourage water to stay on the land rather than run off elsewhere. We are trying to strike a balance between having somewhere for water to go when there is too much, which happens frequently and somewhere to store it for when we do not get enough rain, that also happens too frequently. He dug some larger holes in a ditch but it wasn't quite as dry as he hoped and whilst digging hadn't realised that the big wheels were sinking deeper. He spent a fruitless afternoon trying to get himself out before admitting defeat and calling for reinforcements from one of our neighbours (unfortunately no photos, as I wasn't there, I was at our apartment doing some sorting out). I saw our neighbour afterwards and he said it was easy, like plucking a carrot out of the ground. Amusing! The good news is that the holes in the ditches are full with water after the rain and the big pond that Ian dug last week is slowly beginning to fill up. The ground around is still likely to be boggy around there and so we are going to plant that area up with cranberries and blueberries. Hopefully we can take some cuttings from our other plants.

Mother and son are doing well. He is a little photogenic lamb
I often wonder what we have done over the years here, especially when considering how precarious our residence is with such things as the EU referendum in the UK. If we left tomorrow would we leave a legacy? I then think of the times that people have looked again at the rural area around them and realised how rich they are, if not in monetary terms, but in natural resources. We may not have been successful farmers or business people, but hopefully we have encouraged some to re-evaluate what they have here in Latvia and value their natural environment that is in a better state than some of the land in the UK with its over-intensified farming. Where in the UK can you hear a cuckoo on a regular basis? Where can you regularly see ospreys and eagles circling over head? Where do you see the flower rich meadows? Where can you see so many stars on a clear night that it takes your breath away?

A rather large visitor of the feathered kind. It is still amazing
after all these years to see so many storks. Not a common
sight in the UK
Many people who come are amazed at what we have managed to do over time, as they don't have the vision to see something like this happening in rural Latvia. Okay we are not turning a profit and sometimes there is a lot of work to do so we get tired, but we are eating the sort of fresh food that you pay a fortune for in the supermarkets, we are enjoying the outdoor life and the companionship of our alpacas. We have people come and visit who have heard about our alpacas and Ian never tires of telling people about them. Occasionally we also have visitors where a real connection is made and it turns into an opportunity to have a chat about lots of other topics and sometimes those chats help them to think that there is something more to hope in and there is something in the path we have tread. I am sure there are those that can tread a similar path and make more of a success of it than we have and I'm fine with that, in fact I'm more than fine with that.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Ups and downs of farm life

Sifting or riddling soil (dirt) 
I could have titled the blog exactly the same as last week as arrivals and departures, but that would get boring. It has been busy again this week and we have been grateful for our guests who undertook some of the odd tasks that we do around here, such as crushing eggshells. Not quite the same as crushing bones like they used to do in the Workhouses in Britain in the eighteenth century but it did remind me of that. It maybe just as tedious but not so arduous and means I can give the shells back to the chickens without them realising they are eggshells and so deciding to eat their own eggs. Our friend found the task quite therapeutic and jokingly said it was a shame there wasn't someone she was mad at at the moment. There was also weeding to do, hoeing and sifting alpaca poo/decomposed wood chips to make something I could use for planting up squash plants. At least it meant I could catch up a little on some planting and just before some much needed rain.
Riddling isn't so bad, our friend is smiling

Waiting for births
We were waiting and waiting for the sheep to give birth and we joked that they would wait until after our friends returned to Estonia, but instead two of the sheep gave birth the day before they left. The first one to give birth had a male lamb in the early hours of the morning. We didn't know anything about it and she hid him well, which meant we didn't discover him until much later, by which time she had bonded well with him and there was obviously no problems. This was a good job, because it was the sheep we have the most problems with as she is not as friendly as the others and takes a lot of catching. The next one seemed to take quite a while from her waters breaking to giving birth and so she was helped along the way by a friend of ours from the neighbouring sheep farm. It was a big baby and a little traumatic for her, so we decided to put her in our old chicken house to bond with the baby and recover. In the process of catching her though, they realised that she actually had twins and was in the process of giving birth to the next one. Fortunately all went well in the transfer from the field to the shed and her babies grew well.

Helping with the birth - well pinning a
sheep down while the hardwork was
done by our neighbour and Ian

Safely tucked up in the chicken house-
where you keep sheep of course!
The following day we had visitors, some neighbours from the apartment where we live (in the winter that is). It was lovely to see the young man and his new family, as we knew him when we first came to do a camp nearby at what is now the sheep farm and camp. In those days there was very little infrastructure and we camped in tents, not cabins like they have these days. I always remembered him as a child who smiled a lot and it was a shame to see him struggle a bit in his teenage years, but he seems to have come through that now and grown into a lovely young man and family life seems to suit him.
The elusive sheep with her lamb.

She is a good mother though and her lamb is growing up
fast and healthy
Ironically the next set of visitors, only an hour apart, was the man who ran the camp where we had met our previous visitor. He was also the man who sold us our land and set us off on this adventure of smallholding, as well as one of the first people we met when we came to Latvia in the year 2000 as he was running that camp in another place, north of Sigulda. He brought his family and it was amazing to see the youngest boy, who could be quite bouncy at times, stand so still while the alpacas came up and sniffed his hair. Even the boys, who are not always so friendly, seemed to be quite fascinated with him in particular and we are not quite sure why. Alpacas can be quite choosy who they will interact with at times. Sometimes we have to really coax them and other times they will come straight up.
He's also very cute and a black face like his mother
Eyre under the fleece and amongst the strawberries.
Our friend kindly offered to buy us dinner and so we took him up on the offer, despite the fact we had actually been twice that week with our other visitors. We are not the sort to pass up on the chance of a meal and it was easier than trying to make something out on the land especially as it had started to rain quite heavily. If it had been fine outside we would have had a picnic outside, but the caravan is too small for so many and in the greenhouse my tomatoes were in peril of youngsters or youngster to be more precise with lots of energy. It wouldn't be fair to expect a young one to not run around in the greenhouse when he had been waiting for adults to finish talking.
Aggie often comes up to visitors to greet them

I love this picture as they look like they are in formation
ready for action
They weren't the only visitors either. Our friend who helps us on the farm came to see us while we were chatting in the greenhouse to check all was okay to bring her friends the following day. As she helps us out, she was able to give the tour herself and Ian was really only on hand to fill in a few details as necessary. She brought carrots sliced up nice and small so the alpacas do not choke and to encourage them to come up and the alpacas were quite happy to come up and greet her. To finish off our last visitor today was the first visit we had from a Lithuanian, he was working for the biogas unit nearby on contract for a few months and had been passing our land regularly so decided to stop today.
Our friend the goat farmer has had this playground built for
the goats. It is very amusing to see the goats using it and our
visitors enjoyed the cheese so much they bought some to take
home with them

A rainbow with its head in the clouds. A welcome sight after
the drought we have had. Most of our buckwheat died through
lack of rain
We've had a couple of days of showers with the sort of rain that wets everything through nicely. Unfortunately it was also windy and cold, we even had to put fleece back on the tomatoes. Of course that would be the time for our last sheep to give birth. Our chicken house was full with the other sheep and her two and it was obviously not working to leave the next set of twins outside. We tried moving them under shelter and making sure that they had protection with hay. The mother even seemed to be quite interested in her babies and paid them a lot of attention, so we were hopeful she would bond well. Unfortunately she didn't seem to let them feed and it was getting too cold and wet for the babies. We ended up rearranging things in the old alpaca house to make room for some new occupants. It was a bit of a struggle because it had become a convenient store.

Fish in our pond. We wondered if they had survived since
our friend put them in as we hadn't seen them, but just
lately they have been visible
As the babies didn't seem to be feeding and mum kept moving off when we tried to get them to latch on, we decided to milk her and bottle feed the young ones. To do this we had to pin her down and milk her on her side. Not exactly very dignified, but necessary because she wouldn't stand still. We were encouraged to get a good bit of milk down the babies. I got up in the night to see to them and found one had managed to crawl through a small gap between the barriers. I tried to give them some milk, but they didn't seem as bothered as the last time, so I went back to bed for an hour. The second time I was very concerned as they still weren't feeding.

The youngest twins that didn't survive. They looked this
peaceful when they died. 
One lamb felt quite cold and so I sat on the floor and tucked her inside my coat till she warmed up. We managed to get a bit of milk down them in the morning after Ian got up and one of them even started moving around a lot and investigating the shed. They still weren't feeding properly though and seemed to have stopped suckling. We also realised that the female lamb couldn't stand on one leg and we wondered if she had been stood on. I spent the early part of the morning in the greenhouse with the female lamb tucked up on my lap again, warming and snoozing in the sun. Unfortunately none of this was enough to help and by early evening the male lamb died and about an hour later the female died.

It was sad in many ways, but something wasn't right, so this was perhaps the kindest option for them to drift off in their sleep. It was also a bit of relief because we thought we might be tied to the farm to feed them every two hours, until they were big enough to feed with longer breaks in between. The mother was making quite a bit of noise whilst in the shed and we thought it was because she wanted to be with the others and the ram kept bleating back. Now we are beginning to wonder if she was actually calling her little ones and as they were getting weaker they weren't responding back. She certainly got very noisy when we put her back in the field and she kept looking for her little ones. All a bit sad really, if only she had let them feed. The mother also had a problem when she was growing up so we think she will be better off culled. This might have to be sooner rather than later because at some point the ram will try to mate with her and we don't want babies in winter. The ram is needed at the moment because he is good at looking after his ladies and it is better to have him around to protect them and the babies against foxes.
A big hole for a new pond
Someone trying to eat through the fence
With all the hectic weeks we have been having we haven't had the chance to Skype with our daughter and her young family, so I made sure we could today before I get into finishing off pieces of work with deadlines that are looming. I have managed to push some back because of the problems we have been having but I can't do that for them all and I want them finished and out of the way anyway. It is amazing what we can do these days with modern technology. I took the Skype call on my ipad and with the mobile internet in my hand we went for a walk around the land. First of all we went looking for Grandad and on the way we saw some baby chicks, some of the hens and then found Grandad on his tractor digging a tree root out. We then walked to see the alpacas and Aggie came up really close to the screen, we then continued up to see the baby lambs and lastly the boys before going back to the caravan to finish off chatting. Not sure how much they could see, but at least they could see some of our animals.

I must add that many of the photos on this week's blog are not our own but taken by our friends who visited us this week