Monday, 20 April 2020

Just another week

I love the colours in this photograph. Jakobs, our
multi-coloured alpaca against a moody dark blue sky
I know for some people this year has been an absolute drag, stuck indoors with not a lot to do, maybe kids to supervise and not much garden. It's tough. For me the opposite is true, time has flown by. We are over half way through April and I'm wondering where all the time has gone. Working from home is something I'm used to and I value the freedom to change my timetable, only that is not happening so much at the moment. I have deadlines to meet, work to get through and it's turning out to be a bit intense at times, even without a pre-defence to prepare for like last week. The availability of doing online meetings can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it is possible to keep in touch and a curse because it ties up my timetable. I know if you are used to working in an office you can probably appreciate what I mean. I'm just not that used to it. I am used to intense busy periods as I try to work on the land and do the work for courses or my job, but not often that intense just for the job.
We woke up to this on Wednesday morning

But it was short-lived. All gone by 5:30pm

The peonies are coming through
I often look back on the previous week's blog to try and avoid the temptation to repeat myself (sorry I don't always succeed), but it looks like Blogger has swallowed most of my pictures. That's rather annoying. They were there last when I posted them. If I had the time I would reinstate them, but just at the moment there won't be much chance of that. I finally found my inspiration for an article I still have to write so that is finally progressing again. I had to write and ask for some extra time. I knew that even if I had time to finish it, my co-authors wouldn't have time to read it as they are deep in pre-defences for master students now. I had other frustrations this week, as I had to try and get my head around some new software to help with getting information from articles. Our electric also went off before a meeting, due to the windy weather we've been having- mind you that was useful to get on with some other work that didn't need the internet.
The Siberian squill I dug up from outside the apartment is
doing well. It is the nearest I get to bluebells here. Hopefully
one day we will have a carpet of blue in spring.

Aggie. She looks like she's getting a bit of a mite problem
again - normal for this time of year. At least she usually
responds to my magic cream - well most of the time.
One of the little jobs I had to do this week was to write a short biography and send a picture to add to a list for the project team I joined this month. I looked through all my photos but struggled to find one of me without alpacas and one where I wasn't wearing farm clothes. Not easy but I found a nice-ish one. A nice outdoorsy one, since it is a project to do with health and well-being in the outdoors, only in this case by water. I didn't have one by water but with a tree in the background, or sticking out of my head depending on how you view it. My biography for an academic is also a bit eclectic and there may have been a mention of having alpacas, but it does fit with my research on rural landscapes - honest! At least the lady who read it thought it was inspiring, so I think I got away with it.
If it wasn't for the fact that Lady V's legs are wonky, she
is doing very well for an old lady of nearly 17 years old.
She's a year older than Herk

Ilvija's fleece is rather varied in colour, brown, dark brown
then light again
I think it should calm down soon, as we head towards the end of the academic year and I certainly hope it does before the planting season starts, at least at the moment it is too cold to really get going on the garden. The longer days will be helpful then. I have started on the potatoes, though as they are all snuggled up in the alpaca manure, so should be fine with a dip in temperatures at night. Ian is also making progress on the greenhouse and doing a very tidy job of the landscaping, so I think that will be ready in time for when the tomatoes are due to be planted up at the beginning of next month and we are going to make another herb bed. One job out of the way anyway.
Synchronised eating. There is hardly a blade of grass in their
paddock. They still try to find some though. They are not
starved, there is plenty of hay for them and it's pretty good
this year, full of nice leafy material - but they still would
rather have grass

Just to prove the point, Lady V has her head through the fence
to find some tasty morsels. Between her and Mari the fence
is a bit wobbly. It doesn't help that the ground is so soft, so
not holding the posts firmly enough
We did have visitors again this week, but these ones we knew and we did observe social distancing rules (unlike the old lady in the supermarket this week). Our visitors came bearing gifts - a bag of wood pellets, empty egg boxes and some empty jars. All useful gifts for us. Our hens are producing regularly, our composting toilet needed some sawdust and jars are always handy when you grow your own stuff. Jars are also handy to keep the mice out of food. Actually jars are handy when trying to keep a certain cat out of our food. I found a mangled silicon muffin case on the floor this morning, but it wasn't a whole one. I did mutter something about I hoped it made her sick, well it did... on top of one of the chicken arks. Yuck! I don't believe it will cure her from eating all the stuff she shouldn't do. She seems to spend all of her time hunting for crumbs and not as much time hunting mice, which is what a farm cat is for. In fact she even nicks mice off our other cat sometimes, rather than hunting for her own.
Amanda (not pictured here, this is Silla) managed to limbo
dance her way under the fence that you can see behind. We
at least could stake that down to prevent a repeat escape.

Herk enjoying the grass in peace. He can still see all the
other alpacas, not that he's that bothered if he doesn't. He
is often on his own because he's deaf and doesn't realise
they have all gone out. 
Herk has still been causing us much concern over this last week. We have tried all sorts of things to help him recover. Finally he seems to be improving and he seems to be able to get himself up at last. Not easily but at least he can. Ian still has to help him up in the mornings as he seems a bit stiff - don't we all! We honestly thought at times we were going to lose him. He's had injections that are used to strengthen the heart, worming treatment because he suddenly had worms in his poo samples, despite the fact he's been pretty clear so far, he's had thiamine tablets because alpacas are thiamine sensitive and can rapidly go downhill without it and he's also had his own patch of grass to eat. The other boys are insanely jealous of this, but there isn't enough for all of them and Herk really did need it.
Red-veined sorrel 

Mossy logs. I love the colour contrasts

Trees down from the windy weather

No not goldfish, but my waterlily starting to grow

Not a large cow pat either, but the remains of silage bales.
Once they've dried out a bit, I will remove the plastic that is
still underneath. At least I will need to do that before our
bin is emptied next month. We only have a collection once
every three months.

The water in the pond is crystal clear at the moment, but
no frogspawn yet

You can tell this is a stork in springtime because their beaks
and legs are so red. After a few months of raising chicks,
they don't look so glossy.

Mari looking fluffy

More synchronised mowing

Stopping for a scratch

Landscaping nearly done. Now for the water diversion
features and herb bed

Josefs is such a cutie and a lovely sweet personality too -
he also moans a lot though

Sunset on the oak tree hill

The boys paddock at sunset.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Not a lot and yet...

Boys! Remember social distancing
It has been one of those times when work of the more routine kind takes precedence and that's not quite so interesting to write about or not appropriate to. One thing I can say is that things are ticking along slowly but in the right direction and we finally got a paper published in a journal related to the project. So that was a bonus. You can see it if you are interested in what I'm working towards at the moment (link here).
We've had a mixed bag of weather over the last two weeks.
Snow, wind, rain, sunshine. Warm days, cold days. I guess
it's just typical spring weather really.

This is my reminder to get off the computer for a few
minutes, however, this one is not so applicable in today's
environment. It's not normally applicable to me anyway,
but more so now.
One of the reasons for not posting last week was that I was trying to prepare for a pre-defence of my PhD. Basically that is like an oral mock exam in preparation for the final defence. I had to prepare a 25 minute presentation and then discuss my results with an opponent. I already knew what kind of questions would be discussed, but I only had two days notice - which is normal. The review of my written thesis was quite encouraging and most of the comments seemed very fair. It means I have a bit of work to do to improve my thesis but nothing horrendous.
A crane

It won't be long before the oak tree will disappear amongst
the foliage. 
Preparing though was a nightmare, partly because there were some urgent work tasks to do the week before. To be honest I only finished with an hour to spare and then I needed to prepare myself and the room for the presentation, which of course under the current circumstances, was online. I had to go back to the apartment to make sure that I had a good signal on my phone, as that is how I access the internet, so I went earlier in the morning rather than leaving that until the last minute. I also quickly trimmed my hair, as you do! After all that I still had half an hour and so I decided to spend that time listening to some music and calming myself down. Stressed or what! Fortunately by the time the presentation came around, I had calmed down and felt quite peaceful about the situation.
These were only little trees when we got the land

A view from Vanessa's crew's paddock
It was the weirdest presentation I have ever done. I had half an hour of talking to my computer and trying to remember to look at the camera. During the presentation I could not hear anyone or see anyone, only my own slides. There were several times during the presentation I made a mental note that something wasn't quite as smooth a transition from one topic to another as it could be, which was a bit distracting, but I mainly managed to get through without too many slip ups and within a good time. Phew! The discussion at the end was pleasant and I was able to genuinely thank the opponent for some very constructive comments that I felt would be helpful in preparing for the final defence. This was supposed to be the toughest part of the processes and so I was glad it went as well as it did. It was also nice to see my colleagues had joined me too.
Vanessa doesn't look amused. Just like her mother

We often call her Silly Silla, mainly because she sits out
on her own, whether it is rain or shine.
As I mentioned before we moved out to the land and have been here about a month already. It has been a bit chilly at nights but nothing too bad and just the one heater is enough in the morning to warm things through now. At least in a caravan there isn't so much to heat. At the coldest points we used a fan heater though. Of course it has been quiet as we haven't had any visitors, until this week. Three cars, each containing two people turned up at once. We weren't happy. They had had a test and been declared free of Covid19 and so felt it was fine to travel about as long as they obeyed the rules of only two per car and 2m distance. They obviously were not aware that does not mean they can still catch it or carry the virus on their clothes etc. Please people! Stay home! Stay safe!
Vanessa's crew have seen something 

It's just Sofie

Slēgts means closed
Unfortunately Google is still showing we are open, despite sending them an email to say we are closed. Not helpful that we can't just change the information ourselves. It wasn't a comfortable experience to have people drive on and expect to be shown around and so we decided to actually block off our roadway. Hopefully no one will be daft enough to drive on but it does mean that we now have to stop at the entrance to unhook the string and sign whenever we take a trip into the village.

Just coming back from my presentation to see Ian in the field
with his camera and computer. He was comparing the views
to some taken in 2009.
Ian's had a harrowing time 😃 He has been out with the
tractor and chain harrow to remove the dead grass and
flatten the molehills
It has been a fairly hectic time work wise but I have at least managed to get out and do some work in the garden. Several beds are now looking a lot tidier. Some Jerusalem artichokes have been dug up for the chickens and some for ourselves. Most of the strawberry beds have been weeded and old hay put on them to keep them mulched. Asparagus beds have been sorted and my herb beds. I even planted one row of potatoes into the alpaca manure that Ian has laid out over the winter.
No not giant molehills but dispersed manure heaps and silage
heaps, ready for planting up squashes next month

Levelling the base
Ian has continued to work on the new greenhouse so that there are two beds with plenty of well rotted manure in and he is gradually sorting out the landscaping so that we can open the doors wide. It doesn't help that we have an undulating land where very little of the ground is flat. He's doing all of this while the polycarbonate is off so that it is easier to work. It also means the beds get some soaking from the rain we've been having. It is better they get rainwater on to soak the dried out manure. As usual, spring has been a bit dry and windy at times, but we've also had some showers, so all is good and the grass is growing well.
Preparing the base of the beds

Wood edging in and a layer of dried grass harrowed up from
the fields

Some well rotted manure and the next layer will be rotted
wood chippings for a mulch but that will come later when
these have sunk a little

The girls are out. Mari is talking to the new girls and
introducing herself no doubt. Although they have met
before a while ago. I guess you could say our alpacas have
been in isolation since October when they were only allowed
out in their paddocks. Anyway girls, social isolation is not
being relaxed just yet. Another week or two.
Of course with the grass growing well the animals are itching to get out to eat it. It would be lovely to do that but too early and it wouldn't be good for the grass. The wet and windy weather we have had though did loosen some of the gates, enough for first Tellus to get out one day onto the field on his own - we can only surmise it swung shut after him, because we don't think he's quite that clever to get through a gate and close it behind him. He is clever, but not that clever. He's the one that backs into other animals so they can't spit in his face when he tries to muscle in on someone or get in through a door that someone is blocking. The girls also managed to get through their gate and it was a bit harder trying to get them back in, they sure didn't want to be parted from that bit of green grass.
Boo! Surprised you! Mr. Tellus at least on the right side of the
fence here.

At least here Herkules is cushed (sat upright) and not on his
side, but he's reluctant to get up from this.
It would be especially lovely to get Herkules out onto the grass as he is really struggling at the moment. One day we found him collapsed and he couldn't get up. There are few times he seemed to struggle to get up and yet once up, he doesn't seem so bad. We are not quite sure what is wrong with him, we did try and get some blood tests done, but the results were a bit weird - not weird in telling us something was wrong, but weird in the way that suggests the blood sample wasn't a good one, for whatever reason. We will have to make sure it is done again and see what they say this time. Ian will also see if he can get some slides done himself. The advantage of haematology training, albeit a rather long time ago.
Brencis gazing wistfully at the grass on the other side of the
The storks are back visiting our pond
Because it is so long ago since I last blogged, April 1st came and went. My chickens decided to play a trick on me. I had just finished giving some of them a good telling off because they hadn't been producing many eggs and went around to the back of the ark to put in their evening food when I found three eggs in the corner of their ark, just not in the nesting box. A little April fool prank I think
Smiley George. He's a clever chap, like
his mother and father

A grumpy looking cat and I'm the grumpy owner. She is
becoming a pest. She even tried to eat a squashed year
old egg and mouldy seeds today. It's a wonder she isn't sick

Ilvija looking like a cudlly teddy bear

Her mother glowing in the sunshine

Valerie glowing too

The pied wagtails are definitely getting out and about

The gooseberry bushes are growing

A very shaggy looking Jakobs in front

Freddie is such a sweetie

There's some grass here somewhere

Spring flowers