Monday, 22 May 2017

Spring! Finally!

Bird cherry flowering
It finally feels like spring. We haven't had frosts for a few days now, some days have been quite warm indeed, actually more like summer. The cold northerly winds on other days though remind us that it isn't summer yet. With the warmer weather it seems like everything is popping into life. Most of the trees are now just about in leaf, even the oak trees are showing signs of life. The apple, cherry, bird cherry and plums are all bursting into flower too. The rhubarb has come through too now and it made a welcome addition to our spring greens fry up- it adds a kind of lemony taste. I did over cook it a bit, as I forgot it doesn't take long, but will remember next time just to heat it through for a bit of crunch too.
The dandelions are out! Good job the animals like them

Enjoying eating the dandelions. You can also see the posts
for the new fence Ian has been installing this last week. The
baby alpacas often go through the electric fence initially, but
we are worried they would also end up on the road, or the
girls panic over something and run out into the road, so
we are fencing off a large section to stop this. 
Spring is always full of new arrivals some we welcome and some we don't. The mosquitoes are the ones that fall into the latter category. There are not many at the moment, but they are definitely buzzing around and I was even woken by one this morning. The swallows have arrived back and they definitely fall into the welcome category. We intended to re-roof the boys alpaca house but that is postponed until after nesting. I also thought I had heard the golden biscuit once or twice, whoops I meant the Golden oriole, but not entirely sure. Usually when it does arrive it makes lots of noise all day, but remains elusive to sight, despite its vivid yellow colour. Rather like the cuckoo, which fortunately this year is keeping its distance and not driving me cuckoo with its noise. Another welcome visitor, at least while we haven't got free range chickens is the eagle which flew over whilst having coffee one morning. With the sun shining and an eagle flying over, it seemed like the perfect coffee break.
It was a lot of poles. Just need to tack on the wire now.

The annual picture of the caravan outside for the first time in
the year. The poles by the way are to stop Ian forgetting about
the extension lead and driving over it with the tractor.
To commemorate the arrival of spring we had the annual move of the caravan outside. We even had help to move the caravan outside this year, as Ian's brother and his wife were here at the time. It was a short visit, but they promised to make a return visit sometime. We took them for a walk around the land and showed them our forest as well as the ski hill. It still seems weird to think it is ours when we are showing folks around. We had also planned on shearing the alpaca boys while they were here but it rained on the day and so it got postponed. In fact it was earmarked for today and it unexpectedly rained again. It is a bit of a pain, but we did need the rain, so I'm not complaining too much. There were plenty of other jobs to do to keep us occupied.
A gleaming sign, but not many visitors this last week. We will
make up for it this week, probably two coach parties

Enjoying spring grass
Besides showing Ian's family around, we also sat around eating lots of cake, visited our friend the goat farmer of course and generally talked. Well Ian did a lot of talking, he has been saving it up, after spending so much time on his own - so visitors beware, he saves it up for any willing ears. We shouldn't be short of visitors at all this summer. Ian's brother and wife were the first of the year and the next group are expected later on this week, with another guest next week. It is all coming around rather fast, especially as I am still getting the apartments sorted out. Again I'm getting there or at least making progress. I even had Ian sort me out two new uprights for my old IKEA shelving that has been dismantled so many times and re-located that it needs matchsticks in the holes to give the screws a bit more to grip onto.
A little miracle grape plant. This is the only cutting to survive
from our dessert grape. We have been enjoying the fruits of
our tarter grape recently as our friends from Kandžas Laboratorija
gave us the wine they produced from our grapes. It is more like a
port wine, quite rich and sweet. Better than our last years attempt
at wine with this grape - it was alright as a mulled wine but not
just for drinking, this is fine on its own.

Our fruit bush area prepped for the autumn raspberries
I planted lots of seeds over the week such as peas, herbs, flowers, lettuce, parsnips (might be a tad late, but oh well), beans, texel greens, collards, radishes, mizuna, rocket, carrots, squashes and loads more. I still have loads to plant too along with the weeding, which is now beginning to be needed after the rain. As well as planting there has been the autumn raspberries to cut back and pull up the escapees to be relocated elsewhere and Ian was busy prepping the area for that today. I also got started on the strawberry beds as they are already in a bit of a state. At least I feel I'm getting somewhere at the minute, even though I've still had quite a bit of academic work to do too.
Ian mowed around the ponds

Work continues on the garden plots. Fortunately we don't
need to do a lot of hard digging, as the beds are made up of
rotted manure. Still there are a lot of weed seeds, which
doesn't help.
The Masters student I was supervising had to finish by this weekend and her work got delayed, which meant we were working on it for the latter half of the week. I also got on with a bit of my own work of re-analysing previous work again. It is slow going but again I feel I am getting there. At least I can work on the academic work and then take a break in the garden and then sometimes I am working in the garden and take a break by working on the academic side. It all depends on what has the highest priority that day and how tired I am of the whichever I am working on at the time.
Contemplating life? Make the most of it Chanel, the little
one should be here soon. 

Ian strimmed around my herb bed and mowed the lawn in
the orchard. It seems a bit of a grand name for trees that
have just about hung in there but it is beginning to look
more like an actual orchard this year. We've waited long
enough to get to this stage.
Of course there are plenty of jobs to do and we won't be bored for quite a while. Ian has started on the mowing and strimming, which takes a fair amount of his time over the summer. He has also started the waiting game. Today was the earliest date for our girls to produce babies. Chanel has already had us wondering this morning, as she has seemed a bit agitated and separating herself from the other girls at times, but nothing so far. Aggie also seems so tired, bless her! One day she didn't seem happy with herself at all and so Ian got hold of her and I carefully poured cold water down into her fleece. We thought she might freak out a bit at this, but she seemed to actually enjoy it, except when it got a bit close to her neck. It seemed to make her feel better anyway.
Big baby bump

Aggie is also looking close too. We don't think it will be
as long as July, which we had wondered because she took
so long to spit off Mr. P - an alpaca sign to say I'm
pregnant so keep off.
The sheep, however, have been grumpy and demanding as usual. They are bothered by the flies when it is hot and also get through the grass quite fast. At least the grass is now growing or at least the dandelions are. They are not Ian's favourite animals at the best of times and this week was not the best of times. Somehow two of them managed to escape and Ian was not happy to say the least. He was in such a bad mood that I shouted at him and started to walk off. It was over a year since our last argument, so not so common an occurrence really. Anyway, we sorted out our differences and I went to get some food for the two errant sheep, while he guarded the broken fence to stop the other three from getting out.
Poor Aggie, she looks so tired
Mari as laid back as ever and enjoying one of the million or
so dandelions.
It was a bit hard to get them in, as they were enjoying the rather lush grass near the ponds. They are not allowed near there, despite the lush grass, as it is possible to pick up liver fluke in damp meadow areas and we don't want there manure running into the ponds. Eventually they decided to follow me for the food in the bowl and I got them into the paddock area and then into the shed and shut them in for the night. At least we have been fine since then, just kind of busy.

Monday, 15 May 2017

A good week

Sunshine and showers along with some warmer weather
It is those little miracles in life that help. We started off by getting three important things done whilst in the big town. We finally got the cash books stamped at the tax office, so we can officially once again write up any cash we receive. Ian got a pair of army boots that he is finding very comfortable to wear around the farm. He is a bit tired of boots that fall apart and he is hoping these ones will buck the trend. They are proper leather for a start.
A gorgeous sunset. By the way, sorry for no pictures from
Estonia, too busy either shearing, talking or driving

Unfortunately the alpacas are not liking it so much. Except
Chanel, who seems to be a bit of a sunworshipper
The third job was to get a contract for the internet on my phone and cancel our Wifi. This saves about €5 a month, so that helps to make our savings go further. It was amazing to turn up at the phone shop and there was no queue - that's unusual. Then the lady behind the counter was a relatively helpful and smiley person, the last few times they have been quite grumpy and we got it sorted with no hassle. Even better.
Having thought Lady V might be pregnant, now we are beginning
to doubt it. It would be fairly miraculous if she was though

Aggie looking a little worse for the wear. She is still not
enjoying the pregnancy lark we think
The next job on the agenda was to get the apartment in a fit state for visitors and washing done. All sorted! It still needs finishing off for our long term visitors, but for now it was fine. It feels like one of those Chinese puzzle games where you have to move something first to be able to move the next piece. Slowly though it is coming together, although it looks worse now than it did in places.

Says it all really
Thursday morning was an early start, as we woke up at 5am on a very frosty morning (-7.3C) to head up to Estonia to do some shearing. We hadn't had a response from those in the very north of the country and the big breeders decided to do the shearing themselves more gradually, rather than over an intense few days, so it meant that two days was enough time for us to get the shearing done. To be honest it was enough for us too, as we have other jobs to do on the farm and our own animals are not sheared yet either due to the cold spring we have had so far.
Aggie is not the only tired one

Ian used the bad hay from the hay bales to cover the wood
pile that will gradually rot down to give us some rich soil
Shearing this year was very different to last year. We were much more relaxed, we had 14 to do in one day, which was a long day. We got there about 9am to set up and with breaks to eat we finished at 9pm. It wasn't too bad for the first shearings of the year and Ian quickly got into the swing of it. We also enjoyed the abundant food on offer and the perfect time to talk alpacas. Next year it is likely to be a two day job as he increases his herd.

Mari does look funny sat like this
We stayed overnight at my regular haunt in Tartu and then went to two sites the next day with three alpacas each. Ian was able to sharpen his own combs and cutters with the grinder he bought last year. This is one of the biggest reasons for the more relaxed feel to the shearing, besides less to do. It meant he wasn't worried about running out of combs and cutters or jetting off to get them sharpened, which usually entailed a longer wait than we liked. Also the fleeces of the animals seemed much cleaner and they weren't so long and overgrown. Altogether a much more pleasant time. We enjoyed last year, but it was stressful

Crowing at the moon! 
We arrived back home a little later than anticipated and so the animals were a bit reluctant to go away. The sheep eventually went in, after running in and out several times. All the alpacas bar Tubjørn went in, but he regularly ends up left outside anyway. The chickens, however, would not go in and I regret not making them. The cockerel started off by crowing at the moon and kept that up intermittently throughout the night, consequently I had a very interrupted night's sleep.

Ian got some ploughing done. We are not planning on doing
much of that this year. We will use this to put in buckwheat
and squashes. 
Saturday was another cleaning day and Sunday we were off to the airport to pick up Ian's brother and his wife. Ian did the usual notice of Griezites Alpakas with their name below. They laughed when they saw it. We've had a great time. The sun has shone for some of it and they thoughtfully brought us some rain to water in the seeds. We even had our first thunderstorm of the year. At least we had a good few showers rather than one torrential downpour - something we badly needed. Ian has talked a lot about alpacas and this is the first time we have been able to show some of his family around our land. They now see why we love it so much.

Monday, 8 May 2017

So close!

You can tell we are heading into summer with where the sun
sets. So different to mid winter. This was also taken after
the light snow shower and after 9pm. Not a sky promising
good weather tomorrow.
I was going to tell you how the weather has got warmer and winter seems to have gone, but oh no! The temperature dropped again today with a bitterly cold northerly wind and it keeps trying to snow. Fortunately nothing serious (except as I am writing and big flakes start to come down), but it sure is not pleasant. Such a shame as I was out in the sunshine yesterday preparing more vegetable beds. At least I managed to weed and water the cabbages, Brussel sprouts, mizuna, beetroot and poppy seeds that have all sprouted under fleece. I also wrapped them up with some mulch too, so that will have helped in this cold wind. It will stop them from getting quite so hammered by the fleece as the fleece is just laid on top and is not over a framework. Ian also ploughed a small patch that we are going to plant up with buckwheat and squashes, which at least do not have to go in just yet anyway.
Sunrise on a cold and frosty morning at 5:37am - yes Ian was
up early
An early rise means the animals are allowed out early too
At least this week we have sorted out a few things. Firstly the debt we allegedly owed to what was the heating and water company and is now just the water company. It all goes back a loooooooong way, when they were not supplying adequate heat and we argued with them and then refused to pay for the heating part or rather lack of heating. As I mentioned the last week, the new director promised to have a look at it and we now have a reasonable reduction in the amount owed. I am not quibbling over the amount, as he did explain the difference in calculations and where I would not agree with how it was done, it is what it is, as a friend of ours would say.
We don't get out to this bit of the land very often. This is the
old ski hill with the rest of our land over the road on the left
hand side and one of our neighbour's to the right. 

Signs of spring! Really! Lesser Celandine I think
The other bit sorted was the application for farm payments. We have about 13 hectares total, but about 3 hectares is forest and some of the land has been taken over by trees and would not be allowed under the payments. We also decided not to add in another section that would have been complicated to put on the map, maybe another year, but not this one. We won't be retiring on the amount, that is for sure as it only amounts to about 5 hectares and EU farm payments in Latvia are some of the lowest in the EU, but at least it will pay for the summer diesel for the haymaking.
These little daffodils have hung in after being uprooted by
the wild boar. I expected a whole clump of them by now
An early morning visitor to the land. We also had the previous
owner out to the land today with his son. A nice surprise
One thing we didn't manage to sort out was getting an authorised receipt book. To collect money from visitors we are supposed to have an official receipt book that has a stamp on it from the tax office. For that we have to drive 45km just to get the stamp and for them to register the book, that you can buy in an ordinary bookstore, on their system. There is no way of doing this locally and I wonder how some people manage, although I can guess. Unfortunately we arrived on the wrong day. Not only do we have to drive all that way, we also can only go on a Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and we went on Wednesday of course, silly us! In this day and age, there should be a way of registering a book online or locally at least, such as at the local council offices. Anyway the lady at the tax office spoke very slowly after several requests to do so and then took us to the door to show us the days the tax office dealt with registering receipt books. At least that was clear now.
Our old oak tree with moss growing on a branch in the morning
sunlight

Mr. P
Fortunately it wasn't the only thing we went to do, we also went to have a look at a builder's merchant we had been told about. It was in a small village near to the big town, in an out of the way place and not the sort of thing you would find by accident easily. Not exactly on a main road and yet the stock looked good. We ordered some more fencing and then returned on Saturday with the trailer to get the fencing and roofing panels for a new alpaca house and to replace the roof on the boys place. The boy's roof is deteriorating badly and so we are just replacing it with a metal one. At least it will last. The owner was quite a character. He didn't speak more than a few words of English but we managed and he just rattled away in Latvian.
And Mr. B looking very fluffy

How does she manage to do that when she is so pregnant?
She is due in a couple of weeks
I said last week that we had a cancellation for our felting course, but we are relieved that we have got another lady to fill the place. So we are back on track now. The pieces for that are starting to come together now. It was all decided on before Christmas, but of course we have to double check that everything is in order and transport booked. Our biggest worry at the moment is the weather. It has been so cold that shearing is later than anticipated. We had hoped to have that done at the beginning of the month, but it looks like it is going to be the end of the month instead and does not leave me much time to test the fleece samples before the course. We still have some fleece left from previous years so that will help at least. The wonderful thing about our greenhouse though, is that although it might feel like Christmas outside, at least inside it is nice and warm. The good news is that we also have a booking for all three days on the August course too.
Getting big. 

The girls enjoying the sunshine in the cool morning. They
did struggle a bit on the warmest day and sat inside then,
but on the cooler sunny days they sunbathe. I half expect a
worried passer by to call in and tell us our animals are sick,
but no, they really do like a sunabathe

A gorgeous day when spring felt like it had arrived, even the
trees were coming into leaf
Talking of the greenhouse, we have had an unwelcome visitor, another cat. I had a bowl of uncooked sourdough mix left out on the side in our greenhouse kitchen which it ate. Eeew! Hope it had a poorly tummy after that lot. We decided to block off the hole where it was getting in, which meant our cats were either in or out. If they wanted shelter they had to go down to the barn. The problem is that one of our cats worked out a way to get in. We had no idea where and one day we decided to find out as she was just on the outside. We rattled some food in a pot and sure enough she revealed how she was getting in - through a hole in the plastic. Not a good idea. Normally they go under the framework of the greenhouse, which is fine, but through the plastic is a definite no, no! Especially when a certain little cat is still getting on the roof from time to time and putting holes in the roof plastic.
Lady V is starting to show her age, we really hope she is
pregnant before retiring her. 
Doing some gardening
I have been continuing to work on an article for a journal and at least I am making progress, even if it meant printing out all the interviews on a ream of paper in small print to sort it out. At least it feels like I am getting some sort of structure worked out to categorise it and I might even be able to use the material for another paper that will be in progress later on. Even if I can only work on it for an hour before having to take a break and do some gardening. I saw today on Facebook that the National Geographic has an article on the customs and traditions of one of the places I am working on in Estonia along with its troubled history as a tribe divided by a modern day border (you can see the article here). It was funny to see the faces of people I have heard about through the interviews gathered by the students who have been helping me.  One annoying problem I have had this year is having funding turned down twice for a conference in July. It is only on every other year and it is a relatively important one too. I'm not happy. It will go in for a third attempt this next month, but I have to think about booking flights etc. to get there and there is still a risk I won't get the funding.
Savouring every blade

There is some grass there, honest! 
While I was getting on with the writing, Ian had the harder job of clearing out alpaca houses. He did the girl's alpaca house on is own but he had help for the boys'. The young lad who came to help us had cerebral palsy, which made helping a bit of a challenge but he was willing and between him and Ian they worked out a system to do the work. They also fixed the boys fence, as that is definitely a two person job. We will definitely be happy to have him back and help, but we will have to work on how that will be a good experience for him and manageable.
Having a chase

Ian re-baling hay
One really big issue we had was the hay for bedding. Ian decided to break open one of the hay bales we bought but it was hardly usable at all. They obviously had the same problem we had with bales that were baled in September and hadn't been dried properly due to the weather. Out of three big bales of hay he managed to put bedding down in the boys' alpaca houses and re-baled four bales into the more manageable small bales we normally use. He didn't want to use the hay in the girls' because of them being pregnant and due relatively soon. We usually layer the hay over time and only clear out twice a year. We would have expected to use one bale for both houses and they normally take three or four bales each, which means that 3/4 of the bales were lost to mould.
Blow dried hair

Someone found a cool place to sleep
One other important job was to get some sorting out done in our apartments, ready for summer visitors. It has meant doing some rearranging and now all Ian's tools are in one place and he brought out his shelving and fixed them up in the barn. He has also been doing some sorting out in the barn as so much stuff is piled in that it is difficult to get to it and so doesn't get used properly. It also needed a bit of rearranging to get the fridge in that lives in the barn in the summer months. It wasn't really needed until this week as the barn was quite cold enough for food and we had a big box to store it in.

I love the clouds on this breezy but sunny
day
The sheep were finally let on the grass this week too. Ian seems to spend a lot of the week moving fences at the moment because he cannot leave the alpacas on for long before they have eaten what is there and we were hesitant to let the sheep out as they eat twice as much. They needed grass though but you wouldn't think they appreciated this when they come to the gate in the evening and stand there baaing away for grain. Our chickens probably need grass too, but they are on lock down still due to the threat of avian flu- although we do notice quite a few people disregarding the rules, which to be honest is probably healthier for the chickens. It is a bit like cooping everyone up in an office during flu season when it would be healthier to get some fresh air and some good food. It is probably why the chickens are getting picky with what they eat. It has been cool enough to keep them in the greenhouse - just, but they are getting fresh food for health reasons.