Monday, 29 April 2019

Spring? How did that happen?

The silver birch trees were bare when I left and now they are
I went up to Tartu this last week and when I left the trees were bare, when I came back many trees had popped their leaves and there was a green haze in the forest. On the Tuesday morning when I went to catch the 6:55am bus, it was freezing. The temperature was -3C and I had to wear a light winter coat. After about half an hour on the bus my feet were numb with cold and I was pulling the coat tightly around me. Shortly afterwards the bus stopped to pick up a group of students of varying ages. They mainly looked dressed for warmer weather. One young chap looked like he had literally rolled out of bed, put some clothes on and headed out of the door. His hair was tousled and he had that glazed look on his face that said he had not engaged fully with the world yet. Just behind him were two young chaps dressed in shorts and t-shirts. I know the sun was shining but really, it was not that warm.
Someone else doesn't look like a morning person. Although to
be hones this was the evening. It is a good job Josefs is going
to be sheared soon. He needs that hair out of his eyes. Tonight
he and Josefs went to join the big boys. There was much
moaning from Josefs.
Jakobs didn't moan so much about the move. We'll see
how he gets on tomorrow. He is so little unlike Josefs, who
is nearly as big as Freddie and George, despite being a year

The Cesis opera house
I got into Cesis and headed for my cheap and quiet working place for the next three hours. It is cheap enough for me to keep me supplied with tea or coffee and a light meal before heading for the train and quiet enough to work without interruptions. I also don't have to pay for the loo either, unlike in the train station. A bonus with a supply of tea. Around midday it was time to set off to catch the train and as I sat in the blazing sun on the station platform, I began to realise that perhaps the young chaps weren't that daft as I was boiling. Shorts didn't seem quite such a silly idea afterall.
The new section of the opera house. A
grand place for such a little town, but
well used even so.
A ring side seat to listen to the opera singer

Cesis centre
The sun shone nearly all week, just for a change (said with heavy sarcasm since we have hardly had any rain whatsoever during the whole of April). We did have one downpour while I was in Tartu and I nearly felt like going outside and dancing in the rain. I refrained as I would have had to sit in presentations with damp clothes as I hadn't even brought a coat with me that day. There was no forecast of rain so it was a bit of a shock. Unfortunately for Ian there were only a few small spots of rain on the land and not enough to give the grass a good soaking. Where the vegetation is finding the water is anyone's guess because surprisingly even the ground is starting to green up. Of course with the good weather I was working in an office, but I did get to see an enormous gaggle of geese fly over at one point. I feel sorry for you folks who have to work in an office normally. I was back to my normal pattern of work today, taking computer breaks by checking on our chickens to see if they have laid eggs. Just what the doctor ordered.
A Cesis rooftop

I love the shape of this one. It looks like a hat

A street in Cesis

Part of the castle walls in Cesis

I don't think this gives an idea of the scale of this monster,
but the building behind is a two storey gym
The week at the university coincided with an agricultural exhibition. The university I work for, used to be the agricultural college before becoming a university, which is why we have a veterinary, forestry and various agricultural departments. I don't think that the large agricultural equipment is the way to go to feed the world, but they are certainly amazing to see and the ones I did see are not the biggest either. It is no wonder the agricultural soils get compacted.
Just a little cab

But from this angle you get more of an idea of scale

Hello! Who are you? The two groups of girls have fences
next to each other for the first time. We wouldn't be
doing this if they were of the opposite sex, there would be
Out on our land we do not get out on a frequent basis to socialise as there is so much to do, but this week I managed to spend just about every evening at one social event or another. As an introvert it is quite nice to just chill this evening. The first event was a barbecue with my departmental colleagues. I don't actually get to see them that often, even if I am up in Tartu because I am working in another building, so it was nice to meet up with them again in an informal setting.
Mari is fascinated by the other girls

Veronica is more interested in just eating grass
The next night I took my friend out to dinner as a thank you for doing lots of editing for me. The following evening was a little more stressful as I needed to network at an Estonian Sociology conference. Estonians are just as introverted as I am and so it took me a little while before finding someone who looked outgoing enough to be able to chat to. A friend of mine turned up eventually too. He is someone I had met at other meetings and we have a lot of research interests in common, so we were using the opportunity to catch up. He normally works in the UK so was an ideal opportunity. I only found out about the conference from him anyway. Lastly there was another barbecue to celebrate a friend's 65th birthday. So much for quiet night ins with my friend having a natter.
Graffti in Tartu

A mural in Tartu. They have quite a few murals on
the sides of buildings

Dry and dusty already. We expect the road to be like this in
the middle of summer
There was a bit of a panic for Ian midweek. He even phoned me, he was that worried about Mr. P. He rang to let me know he had called the vet out as he seemed to be laboured in his breathing. We are thinking he might have hayfever. He seems to react to dusty hay more than the others and the trees are certainly starting to spread their pollen about. The vet gave him steroid and anti-histamine injections and tonight he just seems to have hiccups and not too bad with his breathing.
The caravan needs a wash, but it is out in its usual spot

At least these ones seem happy enough. They have got the
hang of feeding time.
We had chicks hatch this week too but disastrously one group got overheated and died. If they had been outside of the greenhouse they would have died of cold as there has been a chill wind, but unfortunately the greenhouse obviously got too warm for new chicks and Ian had been busy working at the camp. The older ones were fine. At least we have nine that seem to be quite healthy. We had the normal one with a gammy leg that eventually died, they rarely survive and one just died for seemingly no reason. Not a good result from this hatch really as 25 eggs were set. Maybe some of the eggs were too cold to start off with. We'll only set some more away if someone else wants a batch as we probably have enough for now. We have enough to replace any hens that we might need to.
Poor Chanel is already attracting the flies

If you look carefully on this photo, you will
see tracks up the middle. Someone has
been driving across our land. Not good

Freddie looking rather grown up these days

George still looks a bit of a scamp though

The green haze

The untidy post-winter Greenhouse. I think I have quite a bit
of tidying to do.

Now I can grow my own alpacas!
A surprise present from a friend
that I got for my birthday but only
arrived whilst in Tartu
At first I thought this was my
present from my daughter
but inside was a pebble picture
All these cards arrived while I was away. The disadvantage
of having a birthday over the long Easter weekend

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Started off well

Mari looks like she has been styling her eyebrows
It was a sorting out kind of week. I had a Skype conversation with my supervisors one evening where I got some solid advice and promise of help that will hopefully push me forward to finishing off a paper and a big step forward to finishing off the PhD. I will be so happy when I get that sorted out.

A rolling alpaca having a dust bath. Vanessa's group are
enjoying the bank that Ian created. Not sure we are ever going
to get grass to grow on the bank.
Trying to regain some composure after the inelegant roll
I was using google docs for working on the paper and it wasn't working so well for me. I needed to amend the references in it and it isn't so easy, so I decided to download it to my computer to work on it using Word, as I have an automatic reference app for that. The plan was then to upload it to the cloud for my colleagues to comment on. Only the plug in for the type of reference I had to use wasn't working and so I had to deal with that first. It seems that nothing is straightforward at the minute. You want to do that? Then download this app then you need this plug in! Now you need to do this, then learn how to use the thing. Then overcome this little glitch and it feels like yet another week has gone and it still isn't finished. Not really this time, but that's what it feels like sometimes. Probably just showing my age.
Kind of strange, the grass looks like the middle of summer
but the leaves have not come through yet.

Contemplating something or recuperating from gardening
I was sorting out the gardens over the Easter weekend. The potatoes are now in, well most of them. We appear to have eaten too many white potatoes and so need some more to finish off the last row. I also potted on cabbages, cauliflowers, lettuces, Chinese cabbage and chard. Unfortunately they seem to be growing rather slower than I hoped, because the nights have been so cool. At least they are still alive though. It was my birthday on the Monday and so it was nice to be doing the potting on and potato planting rather than computer work. I know how to enjoy myself.
The moon shines down too

Is it fleece or is Chanel beginning to show a bit of belly there.
Still a few months yet before she is due, but Ian has increased
her rations because the alpaca cria (baby) puts on most of
its growth in the last few months.
My daughter tried to send me a WhatsApp message for my birthday but unfortunately WhatsApp stopped working on my phone two days before my birthday and won't update. Sigh! The phone is working reasonably well and so it is annoying to need to change it for something like that. Still at least there are more options than WhatsApp to communicate with. Messenger fortunately was still working, so she resent the message that way and I also got a message from my youngest and a video from three of my grandchildren wishing me a happy birthday.
Sunbathing on the mound

A spring visitor. This one was hopping away from the pond,
so Ian caught it and put it in the pond as there are not many
frogs around at the moment. 
Spring is definitely in the air, despite the cool nights. As we are out in the caravan now, I am using the outside loo and so as I wander on down there, admiring the backdrop of the forest, the birds singing in the early morning, all is well with the world. The problem is that just as I am enjoying the atmosphere the stupid chickens started creating a fuss over nothing. We have two cockerels who freak out at a hen announcing she has laid an egg, or a passing butterfly or whatever it is that seems to freak them out on a frequent basis. The noise drowns out the more melodious warbles and trills of the woodland birds. The cockerels crowing in the background from time to time did amuse my work colleagues though one Skype meeting. Not your regular business meeting background noise. We moved the caravan out of the greenhouse this week and so we don't get woken up so easily with the sound of the cockerels crowing right outside the caravan window deenow either. Bliss!
A nice large nesting box and they have to practically sit on
each other to lay an egg

Probably the same deer we saw, although we are seeing a lot
of them this year. Normally in March we see them as they are
hunting for food under snow, but by now the grass is usually
appearing and they disappear deeper into the forest.
It is amazing to see the forest coming to life with the wood anemones bursting into bloom once again but we were even more amazed one lunchtime as we were sitting outside eating our sandwiches and enjoying the sunshine when Ian spotted a deer in the forest. We sat and watched her for a good 15 minutes or so as she searched for food. She seemed completely unaware that we were there. She also looked rather thin. This time of the year is hard on the wildlife as the vegetation recovers from the winter, but it is even harder this year due to the lack of rain. We have not had more than the merest hint of drizzle in the last week and it is getting critical.

Josefs looking very fluffy around the face
I've seen quite a few cranes this week. No not the big industrial ones but rather the large birds, I even spotted a group of them from a train window. It was more stunning to see two of them flying slowly over our land, they were so low. We also saw two swans flying over several times and I'm guessing they may have been whooper swans, definitely not mute swans as they were making a right racket. Some must have flown over on an early morning flight as we were in the caravan when we heard them loud and clear.

At 16 years old and she can still do yoga poses. Do be
careful Veronica!
We had English visitors to the farm this week. A couple and their daughter. Apparently it was their first trip out so far from the capital and the husband was a little unsure and wondered if they were lost. It is a lot of countryside with not many people around if you are not used to it. Fortunately they found us okay and we spent a good couple of hours chatting about life in Latvia and of course alpacas. We just had time to grab some lunch when we had a phone call from a Latvian couple who wanted to visit. I let Ian get on with it this time, as I had the garden to deal with and I had heard it all before already that day.

Out enjoying the sunshine and the breeze
I went to get my haircut this week. My hairdresser had just got back from Georgia and she gave me a gift of Georgian Svanetian salt. It was rather nice on some potatoes. Apparently it is produced up in the mountains and has eight hand ground ingredients in it, including marigold, which gives it a lovely golden colour. Very different anyway and a lovely gift.

Just trying to get that itch!
Ian often does a search for our farm on the internet to see if anything has been published recently and was rather bemused to see my article from Dispatches Europe translated into Russian. Unfortunately it was on a rather dubious news site, which I know has a rather loose connection to truthful reporting. So while it is nice to get free advertising, I would rather that be on a more reputable news outlet, but as I was told, that's the way the internet works.

Monday, 22 April 2019


I just ran out of time. I had a few things to do before I'm off on my travels again tomorrow. I'll catch up with you soon 😀

Monday, 15 April 2019

Ooh my head!

Mari is cute
I have been on Skype most of the day today, so forgive me if I am a bit dull. It was a one hour meeting this morning with my Estonian colleagues and just over three hours in the afternoon with the colleagues from around the Baltics. All of it was to do with the project I'm working on with the university. We are all trying to find a route forward, bringing in our different skills. It is one of those projects where not much has been done in this way before and so it is a bit like trying to join the pieces of a rather complicated jigsaw, not just moving on from a well worn path. We are getting there though, just it is a bit slow at the moment. Once the route is clear the rest should slot in fairly easily - she says! Ask me that in a few months time and see if I say the same thing.
Tellus looking suave again

It's going to be another cold night!
It has been pretty cold during the nights in the caravan, but mainly glorious days - well if we discount the rather bitter north-easterly wind. Not always so pleasant. It also snowed one night, but only a small dusting and that was the only moisture we've had all week, so everywhere is still looking fairly parched. At least we did find that by sitting on the sunny side of the boys alpaca house we could soak up the sunshine on the warmer days and watch the boys hunting down the tiny blades of grass in their paddock. Not a bad way to drink a cup of coffee in the morning. They are still itching to be out in the field but we can't until that grass grows, no matter how much they moan at the gate.
A George close up
George doing his Elvis impression

The three muskateers... sunbathing! Herkules, Tellus and
A couple came one evening to see the alpacas, I had some work I had to prepare for the following day and so said hello and then excused myself. About an hour later I finished up my work and I realised Ian was still chatting in the greenhouse with the couple and they hadn't even been to see the alpacas yet. They did see Vanessa's group (the newer acquisitions) pronking around their paddock from a distance, even Vanessa was doing it even though she is 10 years old. And yes I do mean "pronking," as it is a technical term for the running they do where they look like they are on springs not legs (you can see our youngsters pronking in a post on our facebook site here).
Who me? Pronking? You would never catch me doing a thing
like that.

The parched grass means dry moss .... all over the fleece

Mr. P trying to disguise himself with the moss

Antonia showing off her good side
Ian finally wrapped up his talk and we all went to see the alpacas. It wasn't the warmest of evenings and the temperature was rapidly dropping, but there was still a lot to talk about and the alpacas were being cute, so all was well. At the end we all had a cup of tea to warm up. we needed it. As they toddled off home we put the display away and hurriedly got the alpacas and chickens tucked up for the night. We were glad of the heaters that evening and always glad of them in the morning. Ian is close enough to switch it on first thing and we don't get up until the heater is warm enough to warm our clothes on it. We might be tough, but not that tough.
Herkules looking cute and cuddly. Some days he looks kind of
old, but today not so much. He must be enjoying the sunshine

Digging Jerusalem Artichokes
One advantage of the cool weather is that spring is sluggish to get get going and so spring jobs in the garden are getting done and I don't feel like the weeds are getting ahead of me yet! Ian has been dumping the manure from the alpaca houses just over the fence over the winter to save time but of course now the snow is gone it needed shifting. Last week I mulched the raspberries with some of it and this week it was the turn of the blackcurrant bushes and half of one of the Jerusalem artichoke plots. I am gradually digging up the Jerusalem artichokes and mainly feeding them to the chickens. We can't eat so many but they are good for chickens, so that works and they are so easy to look after. I also managed to weed two of the strawberry beds too. I just need them to grow a bit more to mulch them with some old hay.
Partying too hard the night before?
We can see Brencis' fighting teeth have
grown though and he will definitely be
having those cut during shearing time.

Mr. Turbjørn, have you been spitting by any chance?

That's better Mr. Turbjørn
Ian has been busy too of course. He put the back hoe onto the tractor and went around to one of our neighbours to dig foundations for a cabin for him. He is going to use an old cabin and rebuild it, but first he needed an old fashioned style foundation where a trench is dug and filled with sand and then large stone placed on top of the sand. These are then levelled off to rest the cabin on. It will be interesting to see what that looks like when it's finished. While the back hoe was on he went to dig out a load of barbed wire that was stuck in the ground where we cut hay. Ian always had to remember where it was and go around it, as it was just a single wire stuck up out of the ground, but firmly attached to something.
And now for the funny poses! Josefs in
the poo position

Chanel mid-roll. Look at that belly! Take care Chanel, we
don't want any accidents in your condition.

Slowly greening but still needs more moisture
Water is already an issue and as I mentioned, we've hardly had any precipitation since the snow went. Just the odd dusting. Our well is going down, which is to be expected as the weather dries and the force from underneath decreases. We just hope it doesn't go down as far as last year. We couldn't actually draw from the well from July onwards. In preparation for sowing the seeds we decided to fill up a water container from our pond that stayed fairly full last year, despite the drought. The water is brown from the peat, but it will be fine for the plants. So that was another job for Ian as it required the generator to work the pump. I hope we don't have to fill that up too much though. We still do not have much rain forecast for the next week either. The last time Latvia had a dry April was in 2009 apparently and was followed by a dry May and a cool rainy summer. Err Yippee! That would be challenging for sure. We'll see though, after all the weather does what it does and there is not much we can do about it, except pray for rain at the right time.
The yellowhammers are back

Mari already eating through the fence.
It's not as if there is any grass on the
outside either.

Aggie is still feeding Josefs, despite he being nearly as big
as Aggie. Mari has stopped feeding little Josefs though.