Monday, 29 August 2011

Harvest galore

Cutting of the last lot of hay
Have I missed something? There is, or rather, was an inflatable Father Christmas in Ogre, just outside of Riga (Ian spotted it on a webcam he checks on to see what the weather is doing just West of us) and I'm dreaming of a White Christmas was on the radio. - whatever next? It makes the year seem all the shorter and it is speeding away fast enough as it is. It definitely feels very autumnal now and harvesting of winter storage vegetables is in full swing around us. You can here the gentle plink plink of the vegetables into the buckets and see the gradual reappearance of bare earth as the plants are dug up. (Just to confuse me even more, this evening in the local supermarket it was possible to buy Easter sweets - how bizarre is that!)

A gift from a neighbour. Now I am going
to find out how to ferment cucumbers as
I already have jars in the fridge. I might
pickle some too.
Never have the forecasts been so important as they have this year- although Ian might argue with that as forecasts were very important to him when he was cycling into work, 13 miles in the rain is not fun. Our lives though seem to be almost run by forecasts at the moment. Our hay cutting was fitted in to catch a spell of good weather, so we could take advantage of getting some good hay baled up in preparation for alpacas next year. Up till this year it didn't matter if the hay got wet, apart from the fact it got heavy, as we were only using it for compost. Most of our land is poor quality meadow as there is far too much ground elder and wild raspberries amongst it, which means it is just not worth the cost of baling it up, the hay on the ski hill, however, is much better quality and it would seem a shame to just continue to compost it. The problem is though that to improve the rest of the meadowland we need to cut it to reduce the invasive weeds and favour the grasses. We don't agree with using chemicals on it and we don't want to dig it up and reseed it, as that would mean losing all the wild flowers that are there  - okay it won't produce as much hay as it would if they weren't there but then we wouldn't have orchids. That means we are left with cutting poor quality hay and composting it, which is fine for our veg and it works a treat in the greenhouse to reduce the amount of watering needed. 

The third load of six trays of drying
tomatoes. They are great in soups
and stews over the winter or just popped
into a pasta dish.
A couple of days of fine weather meant we got the rest of the grass cut apart from a small area because guess what? If you follow this blog you may have already guessed, there was a distressed corncrake looking for its home where Ian had just cut, those birds are just not smart. He was sat in the tractor for a long time waiting for it to move, in fact long enough to think about getting his phone out which has a camera and find the camera setting, but of course not long enough to actually take a photo. He said the poor little thing kept looking at the grass waiting to be cut and the bit that had just been cut as if it was trying to work out who had demolished its home while it was gone. We need to put up a notice that tells them when they are supposed to have moved out, haven't they got a holiday home to go to? One that's nice and warm?

Been a busy day as this is a bowl of plums microwaving
to make microwave jam.
We have also been busily scanning forecasts to see what night time temperatures are going to be like over the weeks ahead, as our buckwheat is starting to go over, but a frost will kill it. We are trying to give the seed as much time to set as possible before harvesting and yet avoid the frosts. Ideally 60-70% of the seed should have set, much more than that and you lose seed anyway as it shatters when cut, but less than that means not a good harvest. Vegetables on a small family scale are much less exhausting as you just need a dry day to harvest, although a couple of days for digging up root crops like potatoes and carrots is better and you certainly don't want to be gardening in a mud bath.

Our storage tomatoes that should last a while and under
the cover and in the strange arrangement at the top are
beans undergoing a salting process. We shall see what they
turn out like but at least it is possible to put a lot of beans in
a small space
I have talked before about how we are learning about the land we manage, we are not rushing into decisions, but trying to work with what is there. Relocating plants and trees we want to keep, but are perhaps not in a good place and taming dominant weeds like the ground elder through regular cutting to give the grass a chance to fight back. We are learning the names of plants and what they do, learning to identify birds by sight and sometimes by call and learning the names of the trees and learning to distinguish them by bark alone at times. Learning to name nature, learning the contribution it can make, alters how you do things, less ready to uproot it and if it is uprooted it is done with thought. I can therefore relate to Aldo Leopold's words when he says 
"Once you learn to read the land, I have no fear what you will do to it, or with it, and I know many pleasant things it will do to you."
These are different tomato seeds all been given the treatment
to separate out the good from the bad seeds and to ensure
we keep the productive ones next year
It makes me wonder if that is how God intended Adam to work the garden of Eden, to learn about the animals and plants in the garden and the place they had. Of learning to tame some and encourage others, to find a place for each plant that was both pleasing to the eye and worked with it for what it could do and was useful for. I am tending more and more to think of the place where we work as a garden and less and less "the land." Ian had cut a path through some trees and it looked so nice and left an area that just seemed to shout to be planted with something useful and so we are thinking of relocating a wild rose and some mint to that place. Might even put some bulbs in too and as I write I am wondering if maybe we could manage to put a seat in nearby. Not sure how often we could sit on it due to the biting insects but there are times it is perfectly possible. 

It doesn't look big in this picture but that is a ginormous
bowl with dill seed in it. All ready for adding to various jars
of things and for seed for next year.
Ian hasn't just been cutting our grass, he cut some for our neighbour too. They have finally got access to some buildings they are going to turn back into a working factory producing wood for fuel. The factory has not been in use for 15 years and so is quite neglected and nature has been doing its best to try and reclaim the place. I am so pleased for this young couple with big dreams and such a desire to make a difference to their local community through providing employment and we are proud to call them friends. It is hard work though and dealings in business is not often straightforward in Latvia but they are pushing through and I pray that God will bless what they are doing and bless them for their hearts that desire to do good. Ian used his two wheeled tractor to neaten up the property and make it easier for them to sort out a car park that will take the lorries carrying the wood to and from it to help out. They let us have a flail that was lying around the place. A flail is used for separating seed from plants - not quite sure how to use it but I guess we are going to find out. 

I have been following the news about Hurricane Irene, strange isn't it how there is so much news about it hitting America when there was so little news when it has already hit the Caribbean at a far higher force just not the same force of news. I guess the higher population affected has something to do with it and the fact that hurricanes don't often get that far up. I think the BBC coverage though has shown a drop in their standards, this quote was a classic
"You can see why the mayor made the New York subway system shut down, because the subway system is right below the ground level in New York."
A visitor to our land, a bird of prey of some sort but not
sure which as we didn't get a good look at it. We did
get a good look at the eagle that was flying around when
we arrived but typically it flew off before we got the camera
Now pray do tell me, where else would you expect to find the New York subway system? Talking of New York it will soon be the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Guardian website was asking what is your story from the event? What do you remember? I suppose it is a bit like the shooting of President Kennedy which was such a startling event that people remember what they were doing at the time, I don't remember that incident but then again I hadn't been born then. I do remember hearing about the 9/11 attacks for the first time though. We had just got back home after Ian had been signed off work with chronic fatigue and our kids were home-schooled and so were busy working in their bedrooms and our middle child came rushing downstairs saying an airplane had just crashed into a skyscraper in New York. At first I wondered if he had misheard and not understood, maybe it was just a radio play or something and I sent him back upstairs to get back on with his work. A few minutes later he came back down stairs and said another plane had flown into the other tower. We didn't have a tv and I can't remember how we started on checking the details, probably the internet, but it was amazingly awful to follow. 

Our neighbour helping us rake hay. This method is better
than a tractor as it is kinder to the ground and is still
quite fast and definitely a lot faster than by hand.
On a completely different note I am finding out the joys of heading towards menopause. I have to admit I thought this was something that happened to women in their 50s and so, as I am in my late 40s, I thought I might be starting early. I know there is lots of info on the internet these days but there is not much about what it is actually like to go through it. How do people cope with some of the symptoms? That sort of information is a bit scarcer, unless of course it is a scare story. I haven't got friends around me who I can ask either as I am not in regular contact with those who have just gone through it and not exactly the sort of thing to ask when renewing a contact. Fortunately I am in contact through a forum of some lovely ladies who have been through it and were willing to share some of their stories, bless 'em. Reading about symptoms is all very well and I kind of know what to expect, but there is nothing like hearing stories from real people. So if I appear a little flustered or complaining of the unusually warm winter when it is -20C outside, you will know why.

Monday, 22 August 2011


I won these gorgeous buttons from a lady who does some
beautiful embroidery calle Karen and you can find her
blog here. She does some amazing work and mainly in
white - if I used white it would be multicoloured by the
time I finished.
It has felt a busy week once again. Trips into Riga were timed with visits to the tractor shop - I'm beginning to wonder if that is all part of the experience of visiting us that we have to at least try and go to the tractor shop. We went to pick up a new cutter bar on the way home, which we had reserved on the first trip after collecting our son from the airport. They had a special offer on one that is good for rough ground, with pointy things on the front to stop the cutter bar coming into contact with stones. It was really funny as the sales guy was trying to explain why there was a difference between the cutter bar they had in stock and the one we have and none of us could come up with anything more technical than pointy things. We don't need a new cutter bar, well not yet, but we have come to rely on this piece of equipment for keeping our land in check and to tackle the ground elder through regular cutting - much faster than using a strimmer - which means that if it was to ever break we would be stuck, hence the decision to buy the new one, especially since it cost less than our original one.

Our son driving the big little tractor
Our trips into Riga are a bit of a nightmare at the moment as they are constructing new tarmac roads on just about every route into Riga from our place. It is lovely when they are done and we have some nice level tarmac roads to travel on instead of the dirt roads, but for some reason they do not do a stretch and then move to the next point. Oh no! They have to work on it at several points at once and leave gaps in between where nothing is done - it is very bizarre and means you have no idea at which point you will come into contact with the road works.

Our missing bale of hay. This bale
rolled down the hill onto our neighbours
land and wedged itself in some branches
which saved it a trip into a ditch. Not quite
sure how we are going to get it out yet. We
can't roll it out as it is much too heavy and
there is a steep bank to roll it up to the field.
I still had some studying to do and so it meant that father and son could spend a bit of time together. Our son was very willing to help out when it came to operating machines and so the orchard got mowed with a lawnmower, the area around our currant bushes was mowed with the two-wheel tractor and he even got to do a bit of grass cutting with the big-little tractor. Our cellar is also now virtually clear of wood, not sure if our cellar just got damp through the damp wood being put down there or because there is some water coming in, so we need to give it a bit of time to assess the situation.  When the cellar hopefully dries out a bit, we will stack it up with some more dry wood ready for winter. We did take our son out for meals as promised, one to our local hotel for some of their famous chocolate pudding - cake on the outside and it should be runny on the inside but this time it wasn't, still nice though. We also went to Ķirsona Muiža which we have nicknamed the Disney palace and was built by the same company that built the Lido in Riga, which all Brits that I know have to visit when they go to Riga, just to sample a range of Latvian food.

Our monster tomatoes
We also took time to visit our friends and show our son around the farm, looking at lots and errr lots and errr lots of cute baby bunnies. It is hard to look at them and think food but that is what they are being grown for, as the meat is healthy due to being low in fat and of course they breed like rabbits and so that means a lot of meat in a short space of time. We had quite a laugh as our friend's daughter has a knack of getting animals to follow her, usually it is the goats but this time it was chicks and it was hilarious watching the chickens chasing after her with their little legs going nineteen to the dozen. We came home from there with a pot of honey, the last honey of the year as all the bees make from now on is for over the winter and so it is not good to take any later. It is this time of the year the beekeeper also starts to treat the bees for various illnesses and to start feeding them to make sure the reserves are built up. Our son decided honey from the farm was far superior to the stuff from the shops - not bad for a city boy really.

On our misty trip into Riga. This shows one of the many
disused fields turning slowly into forest
Saturday was forecast to be wet and so we decided that we should sweep the chimney at our other apartment. It was a job we were dreading as we have one bad experience of sweeping chimneys. Most of the time back in England, our middle son and Ian would tackle the sweeping together, as we had an awkward fireplace made up of rough hewn stone - not ideal for a good seal. Most times they had a good system going but once it failed with rather catastrophic effects. Soot ended up everywhere and it took me a week to clean that room, including some rather large curtains. This chimney that we were cleaning this week doesn't have a cleaning chamber and has to be virtually dismantled to clean it, which proved a little tricky at first but eventually we got it separated without covering everywhere with soot - an amazing feat in itself. In fact it all ran rather smoothly and we got it all put back together and tested it with a small fire - no problems at all.

It's amazing to watch the guys who stack these hayricks
they are so fast. They do the field in about a day. These
ricks allow the hay to dry out and now they are slowly
being collected in.
I was hoping for a bit of a slow day on Sunday, taking things easy, but I got chatting with a neighbour at our other apartment and she was asking when we were going to dig up our potatoes. I said sometime this week, but couldn't tell her that it was because the weather forecast was looking good for the whole week. She showed me some of the potatoes she was digging up and some looked like they were going rotten, probably from blight and her garden is higher than ours, therefore should be a bit drier. This news got me bit worried and so we had a change of plan and decided to dig up our potatoes that afternoon. Ian went to get the two-wheel tractor as he was planning on cutting someones grass the next day and he had a go with the potato lifter. It was hardwork and we realised that he needed a guide to work towards to keep a fix on where the rows were, but it worked and we know how to use it better next year. Our potatoes were actually quite good from that plot, and no more than half a dozen bad ones, so we were really pleased. Maybe our neighbours put them in the same plot each year, or maybe their potatoes are more susceptible than ours, I don't know, but I will make a point of looking to see where they plant potatoes next year.

This little chap was determined to help out and at times we
had to stop digging because he was in the way. He seemed
to be completely fearless.
By Monday our nice dry week seemed to be evaporating with an increase in forecasts for rain, so after I had picked two buckets of beans plus removed all the weeds from the potato plot and Ian had repaired the clutch on the two-wheeled tractor that seemed to be slipping, we then got cracking with digging up the second plot of potatoes (the shorter rows running across the hill meant it was quicker to resort to the old-fashioned method of digging with a fork and not using the two-wheeled tractor). We have found out that straw definitely helps to suppress the weeds but also benefitted the size and number of potatoes produced, well that and our neighbours sprinkler must have been having an effect too, as our first two rows of potatoes were ginormous, with many big baking potatoes. We just got most of the potatoes in and was gathering up the last ones when the rain started. Phew! Just in time! We will give the plot a week for weed seeds to germinate, dig those in and then scatter some clover seeds over it to hold the ground together over the winter to stop the nutrients leaching out and to give a green manure to dig in in the spring. Well that's the plan anyway and very much depends on the weather. The ground has gone quite soft and so it is going to set our cutting of the last of the hay back. Fortunately we don't want it for feed or anything and will only compost it but if we don't cut it the dominant weeds take over and as we are still trying to improve the grassland it needs to be done.

We took the time for a stop and a cup of tea on the way
home from Riga. The mist had gone and from this point
you can see for miles and miles.
One of the effects of living in an ex-Soviet country is that many of the older people still speak Russian, but we found out this week, it is not just the people, sometimes it extends to the animals too. Our friends have a new horse rescued from an abattoir, well when I say new I mean new to them and they were relating to us the other day how they have been riding it and proving it is not just a horse for pulling carts and agricultural equipment, which is what they have it for. The horse, however, only seems to understand Russian and not necessarily the sort of Russian you learn in school. I get the impression it is not the gentile kind of Russian you use talk to your grandmother either.

There is lots of forest in Latvia
Not had has as much time on the internet as usual (probably a good thing) but one news item that did strike me is that Sweden apologised for a turning a blind eye to post-war Soviet occupation of the Baltic States. I think this is a very good thing as it acknowledges the mistakes of history. The Swedish Prime Minister stated that Sweden had a "debt of honour" to the Baltic States for the way they behaved. I think they still do have a debt of honour for turning a blind eye to the way the Swedish banks have dealt with the Baltic States, using practices not used in their own country, hiding the details of how much interest is paid on loans. Oh yes! I know the poor always end up paying higher rates because they are considered a poor risk, but how many could pay back if they weren't being charged extortionate rates? I know that the Swedish banks are not the only ones to operate dual standards and legal but immoral practices but I still think these things should be acknowledged and promises made to reform dealings. Instead we have the situation where the banks are returning to profit while the nation is weighed down by debt incurred through immoral lending practices.

I shall leave you with a link to a Youtube clip of a young girl aged 10, Ta'Kaiya Blaney from the tribe Silammon, singing about the effects of oil extraction from tar sands, called Shallow Waters. The lines "If we do nothing it will all be gone" really echoes through my mind and makes me more determined to keep going and trying to do what is right.

Oh yes before I forget. Last week Karen asked what did goat taste like? The first meal we had tasted a bit like a cross between a low fat lamb and stewing steak, but that could be how I cooked it. The rib we had today was much more like lamb but without the fat.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Interesting times

There were a couple of moments this week when I didn't recognise someone, very embarrassing! The first person I didn't recognise as they were waving at me, was due to a radical haircut. It made a huge difference, and that is my excuse and I am sticking to it. The next occasion was when we walked into our local hotel. I saw some people sitting at a table but didn't initially take much notice, and then suddenly I realised I knew two of them and was frantically racking my brain to remember who they were and where did I know them from. Eventually I did work out who there were and they weren't from the village and so it was quite a surprise to see them in our locale, especially as they were from Riga, they are also friends of people we know are away at the moment and so they hadn't come to visit them either. It is odd how we do not recognise people out of context, I guess that tells us something about how our brains are wired. It did mean though that instead of a quiet meal for two as usual, we had lovely evening where we were introduced to someone else who lives in Riga but comes from Lancashire like me. We traded jokes and were able to talk "Northern" and be completely understood, it was great. Just hope I recognise our son when he gets to the airport tomorrow (I am writing this ahead of time so I can spend time with him catching up instead of sat on the computer)

Talking of brains being wired differently, it is funny how our perception of old changes with age. One young lass who translates for us on a frequent basis has found a dictionary that is really old and contains some of the terms that we were struggling with the other week. This very old dictionary was printed in ........ 1968! Old!!!!! That makes us old! That makes us very old!!! We were expecting her to tell us it was from the 1930s, now that's old! Well it is to us, being early 60s children.

Since coming to Latvia we have been eating very well, of course there are the fresh vegetables from the garden and this year we are starting to get gifts from friends, such as lampreys earlier on this year, beavers sausages, goat's cheese, chicken the other week and this week we have got half a goat. The lampreys we have to work our way up to eating, they are good but smell very fishy which we find off-putting, but paired up with some strong tasting vegetables and herbs it works well (still got a packet in the freezer). The beaver sausage we are still working our way through too, as it makes good salami for pizzas or a tasty casserole and it hasn't been casserole weather. The chicken was a free range hen that was past its productive years and so had to be cooked for a long time, but it made a lot of tasty juice for stock and still had a taste itself at the end. It made a lovely chicken and mushroom pie and yes the mushrooms were picked by Ian fresh that day. As for the goat? Well that is in the freezer as we haven't had chance to eat any of it yet, I will let you know what it tastes like when we have eaten some. It does show though that you can live very well, quite cheaply when you live as a community. We have also learnt to make many foods that we took for granted in England, such as cheese, bacon, hams, sausages and found that really they are not hard, just not so instant as opening a packet from the supermarket. I planned on giving our son some home-made bacon sarnies one day while he is here but that meant buying the meat Saturday, adding salt and honey to it in a plastic bag and turning it every day for four/five days so it will be ready Wednesday.  

I mentioned last week that Ian keeps saying "winter's coming" well this week it did rather feel like it too as we have had some rather cool, rainy weather, fortunately it seems to have warmed up a lot in time for our son's arrival. Even the trees and vines have started changing colour. The rainy weather has meant that it has been difficult to get into the garden apart from the smash and grab type raids to get some veg from the garden before the next shower and so the weeds which were bad before have increased. Finally on Saturday I got in there and did battle with the weeds, which succumbed reluctantly. There are now three rather large piles of weeds complete with pulled up peas. I managed to rescue enough peas that hadn't been munched by grubs to add to our pie and they were good, just a pity there hadn't been many more of them. I did do some research and found that one of the best deterrents is fleece or fine netting to protect from the moths that lay the eggs, so I think I am going to do an experiment to thwart the beasts, one will be to cover them and another to grow something amongst the peas to confuse the moths, maybe nasturtiums and/or dill. If anyone has any other ideas please feel free to add a comment. I decided against the pheromone traps as they are just too expensive whereas the dill is free as I keep the seed - there's some drying in our bedroom as I write and so are the nasturtiums - if I manage to get some going to seed and the frost doesn't get there first.

One of the good things about winter though is the respite from the garden. There is not much to do in it when it is a metre deep in snow and all there is to do is to plan for the following year. I can really relate to one comment I read on a blog about farming this week
 "One thing that has surprised me year after year is that in spite of all the challenges we New Hampshire farmers face every season we all return for the next summer. The winter seems to refresh and completely renew our motivation for growing and doing what we love."
I can really relate to that. I was looking at a plot of land today and planning for next year as I would love to increase the number of blueberries bushes we have and there is a triangle of land that is between paths and is a jungle of ground elder and wild raspberries. By laying a thick layer of cardboard mulch and then straw and pine needles on top by spring there could be a good soil layer for the plants and hopefully no weeds. Winter will do its work too. 

Our land is our investment for our future. Often we are making decisions that will not be realised for many years, maybe even after we have gone. We are keeping many of the trees that have seeded themselves, some we remove when they are just plain in the wrong place, but if it can be kept and Ian can still manoeuvre around them with a tractor then they are kept, they will provide shelter for animals and fuel for us in the future. Oaks are something we are particularly keen to encourage and yet we may never see the fruit of those, although I would like to try coppicing them as they can be used for straight oak beams - they only take about 25 years I think! Just in time for our "retirement"? Actually past our official retirement age as that is just less than 20 years away (scary!). We are hopefully going to tread slowly into alpaca keeping next year with just a few to see how they cope with our land and our winters before embarking on rearing. They will still provide us with a few woolly jumpers anyway. 

I see these sorts of investments, along with learning how to keep seeds as the best way into our future. Banks used to be thought of as nice safe places to store money and trustworthy places to invest our pensions, now I am not so sure. There are so many question marks over the way the economy is run and how sustainable it is that even the experts really do not know what they are doing, they are guessing too and often just praying that everything will return to normal and it will all go on as before (Delamitri yet again? here and here). The riots in England this last week should be yet more warnings that things cannot go on as before and reverting to authoritarian rhetoric isn't going to help either. I am not going to say much about this as so much has been said already and most excellently on this blog, which talks about the result of investing in the rich and in consumerism that has, like Roger's blog says, meant a lot of unexploded land mines waiting to be triggered. This blog also gives a good account and I especially like Cheryl's comments if you scroll down, where she argues for a return to living together as a society.

As Christians we are told not to store up our treasures on earth but store it up in heaven

 Matthew 6 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Thought you might like a cheery picture to
finish with! A photo of our sunflowers. Sorry
haven't got around to taking any more but
maybe tomorrow I shall post some
But what does that mean in our lives today, we often spiritualise it to oblivion and still don't really tackle what it means. The Lords prayer says "Let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." To me that means we are praying for heaven on earth, so invest in that. Again what does that mean in practice? Well I can't give you an definitive answers because it will be different for each one of us, but instead of looking to make an eternal difference, look to make a difference now, here on earth using kingdom principles of equality and fairness, and don't store up the money for the future. It is okay to give it out with the expectation that it could come back to you (and I did say "could", it won't always) and then recirculate it again, using it to build up, encourage and restore.There are plenty of folks that need a hand to get started on a project, so invest time, and money into those places. Get a group together to see about investing in some small projects - that's called spreading the risk. Just do something, don't get sunk in despair or believe it is all going to hell anyway and not do something about it. There is a God in heaven who is in the business of sowing encouragement and love into a hurting world and he is into transformation, so sow into it. Get behind what he is doing. 

Monday, 8 August 2011

All baled up

Our ski hill from the top

Some of the 29 bales of hay we now have. Some of these
have rolled themselves down the hill. 
Oh the aches, I should look like Arnold Schwarznegger for the aches in my upper torso from battling the two wheeled tractor the other week and fluffing up the hay this week, but I don't and I am still the same rotund shape and perhaps only a couple of pounds lighter for the trouble. Still it seems worth all the work when we look at the land now and see 29 large bales of hay sat there. We cut the hay and someone came with a tedder to turn the hay and fluff it up, to help it dry. The tedder worked on the flatter areas of our ski hill, but we still had to arrange all the hay on the steep areas into long fluffy lines. Our lovely neighbours organised the tedding (not sure if that is a correct term or not) and the baling for us and we are so grateful for helpful neighbours who know the locals that have the right equipment, it saved a lot of hard work. We thought it would be baled on the Friday but the guy with a new baler said our land was too steep and so an old tractor with an old baler was organised, but we still expected to have to do the really steep parts - remember it used to be a ski hill in Soviet times! We were getting nervous that none of it would be baled in time before the rain, as the old baler broke down, so we were very relieved that they made it in plenty of time and the promised rain did not arrive until today, Monday. We were even more relieved to find that they had baled even the very steepest areas - that must have been hairy! We didn't have time to get out with the camera to take a photo over the weekend, as we had visitors and it rained today, but Ian was taking our trailer back to the land after a neighbour borrowed it and stopped to take some photos especially for all you blog readers out there - isn't he sweet! We weren't expecting 29 bales of hay though, we were expecting 20 and our neighbours were also expecting less from their lands too. One neighbour only had the right money for the normal number of bales she usually gets and another got 58 instead of the usual 40, we thought the grass had done well this year.

Our greenhouse is looking very full now
Besides helping us organise getting the hay done, the young lass who translates for us is learning many new terms in English for farming terms, but so are we. I have a tiny bit of experience with a sheep farm, as my godmother lived on a farm with Herdwick sheep in the Lake District and we used to live in a farming area where I used to take note of the seasons as I walked around and took an interest in what was growing there, but my farming vocabulary is very limited. Ian's isn't much better coming from a mining family. We end up on the internet so much, doing research on equipment, on what to grow, what techniques to use and the list goes on as we learn what we can do. Trying to communicate with our neighbour does make us realise though how inadequate the English lessons are for those living in rural areas, there is a lot of information on the internet that is helpful, but  a lot of it is in English and if people do not learn the vocabulary of farming terms, then it is hard to look for the information. English lessons are useful though for when you get lost in a city, apparently!

We have melons growing again this year
In the same way as last year, all to soon the season seems to have turned and the frantic sowing of seeds has more or less stopped, apart from a few catch crops and some sowing in the greenhouse in anticipation of some fresh autumn veg, which I will get round to soon; instead it is replaced by the frantic saving of veg for the winter months. There are times I feel like asking the plants to take a breather so I can catch up, as I pick yet more beans that will need to be frozen. At least I know we will appreciate it in the winter months, especially when I do not have to buy any veg yet again. The other problem with the turning of the year, the cooler nights and shorter days, is that a certain someone in our house - and there are only two of us and it's not me - starts to chime "Winter's coming!" I might swing for someone if they carry on, I mean it's late summer and we still have autumn to go yet and probably still have quite a few more warm days to go (at least I hope so anyway). I might have to let him off though as he has been podding dried peas to keep for over the winter and for next year and it has been a bit of a thankless task due to a large amount of losses caused by pea moth grubs, probably about 80% of the crop was chomped to some extent. In fact we have been finding the wee beasties crawling across the floor of our other apartment where I had left the peas to dry right before we were due to have visitors staying over night. Not what you want! Internet here we come  to look for natural deterrents/natural extermination regimes, I think.

We still have a lot of grass to cut but this will wait until
after the corncrakes have gone as it not good hay making
material like our ski hill grass
Over the weekend I got a package of seeds from Agroforestry Research Trust that sell a range of seeds for permaculture. We love the land that we manage and growing bushes and trees that can stay in one place means we don't have to keep digging it up and ruining the soil structure. I was looking for Szechuan pepper seeds first of all, as I fancy growing some seeds that can be used instead of having to buy normal pepper seeds. I was delighted to find that the seeds will stand -20C, which means that they should survive our winters here, even though it can get colder than that, the ground is not usually that cold if it gets a blanket of snow on it and we can always wrap them up for added protection. I started looking for other seeds too that would tolerate cold winters and ended up with quite a list of mainly shrub seeds. Some sound really intriguing like the Chocolate vine with fruit that has pulp which is supposed to taste like chocolate, or rhubarb that tastes of apples and a bush with fruit that tastes of liquorice, as well as one that has fruits that look like blackcurrants but again taste of apples and is ready in June, unlike most berries that are ready in July/August. Hopefully this will all add up to a very tasty hedge around our orchard as well as plants on a steep piece of ground near our greenhouse. I'm looking forward to tasting the fruit of these shrubs but I guess I am going to have to be very, very patient.

I finished this a bit ago but couldn't post it, as it was a
present for my niece. Not sure if she likes it but I posted
it on a craft site the other day and someone said it was
trendy. Can never be sure if it is or not with not living in
the UK for so long
Visitors are like buses here, you don't see any for ages and then three come at once. We haven't had many visitors in while but we have had two lots over the weekend and our son arrives next week. The first visitors we had were some friends who we have known for many years and our children grew up together in the local church we used to attend. We were really excited to hear that they had gone to India to help in a school out there over the last year, but we never got to hear the full story until this weekend. Although they are now back in the UK they still have plans and dreams for further adventures and it was great to listen to them and be able to show them our plans and dreams too, as well as some of the realised plans on our land. We also introduced them to some of our friends, who kindly showed them around their farms so they know who we are talking about when we write our blog and can picture the scenes more easily. As we talked and laughed lots the years rolled away, they were such an encouragement to us to keep going, doing what we are doing, as well as praying for blessing for us.

I knitted this for my nephew and it has cute little hippo
buttons on it. I saw a picture of him in it and was
relieved he hadn't grown out of it in the time it has taken
me to knit the two items and send them off, he also looked
quite cute in it too I thought.
Our second set of friends, we have only just got to know in the last year, but nonetheless we have really gelled and love their company when they come. It is great to be able to talk to friends who understand what it is like to be immersed in another culture, not always understanding what is being said all the time, but still loving the country of Latvia and the generous people who live here. We can talk berries, jams and juices, laughing at the contrasts between the UK and Latvia and generally spending a lot of time talking and eating - the perfect day. Do you ever get the impression I love talking to people? I like solitude, peace and quiet but I also love companions who like to talk about lots of things, as long as it isn't shopping, especially if that is while eating. I would be no good on a holiday where all we got to do was sunbathe, I'd get bored far too easily.

A rainy day project. This wall has
needed plastering for quite a while
but in true style it was left and left.
I may post the finished picture next
week as I have to say, hubby has done
rather a splendid job on it and finished
it just before visitors arrived.
A friend I have met a few times over the years has a blog (worth looking at as she takes some gorgeous photos and then does even more amazing things with photoshop with them), she was relating a small incident with the local air sea rescue and it reminded me of one of my school skiing trips when we went to France. It was nowhere near as dramatic as her incident, but with hindsight it could have been. One afternoon we went a little further afield on a ski tour with our instructor, but unknown to us the weather was about to change and a fog was coming down. The local mountain rescue team were clearing the mountain to prevent incidents and they were leading us off the mountain. I was a timid skier and was nervous of the edge, as it looked pretty steep, and in my nervousness I kept skiing away from the edge and into the banks. I was holding everyone up and in the end the mountain rescue team put me on the stretcher sledge they had with them and  after that we progressed much faster. When we nearly reached the bottom and everyone was safe, the team then put on a spurt and we left the rest of my group behind, as we hurtled down towards the cafes and restaurants at the end of the run. Great fun for this rather timid teenager!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Cultural quandaries

Our village is getting a new hydroelectric
plant - not sure if it replaces the old one or is
in addition to it but the river has been
dredged in preparation. Before it was
dredged I went to get some water mint from
the riverside. I am so pleased I did as the rest
is now under gravel. Wonder what else was
lost under that and did they do an
environmental assessment first?
Culture is a funny thing and cultural expectations are so varied that it is difficult to know what to do sometimes, especially in a different country. Mind you culture and traditions even varies from family to family. In England if someone called in at our house, the first thing we would have done is offered a tea or a coffee and we loved it when people called round unexpectedly, we just loved having visitors. Some people though didn't like unexpected visitors and liked to be phoned beforehand or an appointment arranged. We found it quite hard in Denmark that we had to arrange weeks in advance to see someone, it was rare for a spontaneous event, although I did have one friend who loved unexpected visits, but she had a huge family so she needed to expect the unexpected. Having said that it was usually because families we knew were quite close to relatives and spare time was spent at their homes or having family visit them. In America it was more usual to arrange a meeting at a restaurant, but thankfully I did have a friend who loved to be visited and she lived miles out in the countryside and would always have the kettle on when I arrived.

This is the drained lake, it used to go to the trees and will
do again once they have finished the work on the plant
Here in Latvia, people are lovely but often not very confident and so it has taken us time to get to know people which is fine, I can understand that. It was therefore surprising that one lady we had got to know commented that we passed her house frequently but never stopped for a coffee. We did not expect that we could just drop by, except maybe to ask a question, maybe it is not even very Latvian. The problem is that usually it is just Ian that passes as he travels back from the land, and when it is both of us we can be rather tired, hot and sweaty - not the kind of state where you want to drop by and take a coffee, even if someone says it is okay. However the offer was made and so we decided one evening to call in and spent a lovely evening chatting and drinking tea outside on the patio. I sure think we shall be doing that again sometime soon.

This is the funnel through which the water
will flow
Other things that vary are superstitions. Here in Latvia you cannot give a gift of something that grows, you have to accept payment or it won't grow according to superstition. Shaking hands across a threshold is also to be avoided. It does make you wonder where such superstitions arise from. I remember in England there was a guy who had come to take a look at the house, I can't remember if it was pricing it up to sell or rent and after taking a look around inside we went out the back door and he had a look up the garden, but he would not leave the premises by walking around the house, he insisted on coming back in and leaving by the same door he had entered in by - he said it was bad luck otherwise. I hadn't noticed this work of bad luck personally and would hardly even take notice if I left by a different door to the one we entered. Neither had I noticed that things died that I had been given and I have been given many plants in my time that seem to have thrived even though they were gifts, okay I probably killed one or two in the process but the majority survived. I have to say there is one superstition that I am always hesitant to break and that is walking under a ladder, but to me that is plain common sense, as I always check to see if there is anyone up there before deciding whether to walk around it or under it.

A view from the tractor of our cutting
We have been highly entertained this week with the antics of the young boys who live in the other apartments. They have been having a whale of a time (where does that phrase come from to mean having a fantastic time?) in the sand pit, as they have had the delivery of more sand and they have been digging big holes and filling it up with water, first carried from the pond which must have been hard work, and then from the drain pipe from the roof during a very heavy shower. It was one of those moments when you can see the fun they are having and thinking "thank goodness they are not mine as they are going to need a lot of washing by the time they have finished." I know what it is like to have to clean up after a youngster who has mixed sand and water together. We had a sand pit in our front garden and I had put out a washing up bowl for our youngest to wash himself off before he came in after playing in the sand pit. It was obviously too much of a temptation as he poured the whole lot into the sand pit and plodged away to his hearts content, he had a great time. I had to laugh but oh the mess, he was covered up to his knees in a thick layer of sand. I had to retrieve the washing up bowl and pour water all over him before he could come in.

An eagle looking for an easy meal
Well besides watching the neighbours kids and drinking tea we have been quite busy this week. We had a few days rain and so we took the opportunity to get on with some indoor projects. We have ordered a wardrobe from the local joinery firm, the one who made our kitchen, and I asked him the other day when it might be ready, expecting him to say a couple of months, "Oh about 3 weeks he said." The problem is that we wanted the floor redoing before we got the wardrobe as our bedroom is the only room in the house not to have had the old vinyl taking up and replaced with laminate. Once the wardrobe is in it won't be moving in a hurry, it will be dismantable but not easily at is 150cm wide and 210cm high. It concentrated our minds somewhat and so we got the flooring and laid it this last week - it's looking really nice. Ian also replastered a wall in the hallway that we just haven't got around to finishing off. We could be in serious danger of actually finishing the apartment we live in - well nearly, perhaps! Is it only us who actually finish jobs that need doing just before moving?

Still flying around!
We have also started cutting hay this week as we are expecting a week of no rain or only short showers. We decided to start cutting the hay on the old ski hill as there are no corncrakes there- Ha! That's what we thought anyway. It is better to cut into the middle of a field and then work outwards if there are corncrakes but that is really hard on the ski hill as it is a difficult area to cut anyway and besides we have never heard corncrakes in that area. Yesterday Ian started off with the two wheel tractor cutting a steep part while I got on with some other jobs which included stacking two big piles of hay that has been laying on the ground for far too long. After lunch I started cutting another steep section, if cutting is what you call it. The grass is much longer this year, obviously the hot dry June has benefitted the grass and it has grown well, in fact it is higher than me and I felt like I was fighting the tractor the whole time to get it cut. I am sure the guy cutting the hill at the top on the neighbouring property was having a laugh as there were a few times he came near and would have seen me hanging over the tractor exhausted. Ian meantime used the little big tractor (bigger than a two wheeled tractor but still not what you would call big) to start on the rest of the hill. At about 6pm we called it a day even though there was a small section that still needed cutting right at the top of the hill, but with a big black cloud rolling in and rumbles of thunder the last thing I wanted to do was to be caught in a thunderstorm at the top of the hill with a piece of equipment I couldn't run with. Ian went back today to finish off cutting with the little big tractor and was just finishing cutting a section when the hay rustled and out popped a young corncrake - they get everywhere! Consequently we have a small refuge in the middle of our ski hill for the young bird, rather than make it fend for itself against the huge number of storks that were following behind Ian waiting for a meal.

Storks are also interested in an easy meal
I was interested to read this week an article by Polly Toynbee on the need for collaboration in the health services rather than an atmosphere of competition. Collaboration works well in many spheres not just the health service if the aim is to help others. Here in Latvia many firms would benefit from collaboration so that they could fulfil bigger orders for export but they are often wary of working with others, usually due to a lack of trust, settling for less rather than working with others. In some ways this is a hangover from the Soviet times where co-operatives were not run for people's benefit but for state decided initiatives but it is also a hangover from the early years of independence when some forms of collaboration were milked by a few to the detriment of many. Collaboration which seeks to make a profit at the expense of people is obviously not desirable as in the case of cartels but some forms need to be encouraged. I for one will be glad to see the back of the need for competition in a profit motivated society. Competition to provide the best service, or the best product or a good price is to be encouraged. I say a good price and not the best price as a good price should be one that reflects the true cost of the product, not paid for by slave labour and yet is also fair to the customer. Hopefully one day companies here in Latvia will see the benefit of working together, each contributing their own expertise at a fair price to the customer. I can live in hope!