Monday, 25 June 2012

And the answer is......

Okay time to reveal the answers to last week's competition. No one got the right answers but they sure made me giggle. So here is the completed construction no 1

Any the wiser? Does this help?

Probably not! The phone on my camera is not very good for close up shots, but that is a picture of two dead horseflies. The idea is that the horseflies are attracted to solid blocks of colour and they then fly around the solid blocks of colour. It is annoying to say the least to hear a horsefly sizing you up as it buzzes around making circles around you, well that is what it tries to do with the black fabric but it can't see the clear plastic and so bashes into it and stunned falls into the water to which is added some washing up liquid so it can't float on the top. We can't say it works very effectively yet as there are not that many horse flies around at the moment, so it has probably caught three of the six that have been buzzing around. So a cautious result on that one. Ian can't claim to have thought up the idea, it was something he had gleaned from the internet and kind of based on this link amongst others. Before I reveal construction no 2 from last week's competition, I will mention another cunning plan to thwart the biting insects, another lifted from the internet by moi! So here is the link and below are the pictures of my interpretation of them. One is made from an old oil bottle and the other from an old plastic vinegar bottle.

First the tops of the bottles are cut off and then inverted into the bottle a yeast, sugar, water mixture is added to the bottom of the bottle which releases C02 which attracts the mosquitoes, they fly into the bottle through the inverted top which acts like a funnel and either drown in the sugar solution or get disorientated and can't fly out. It works too but Ian reckons we need about five in the area of the barn to make an impact on the numbers and so as bottles become available they get converted into mosquito traps.

Now for construction number 2 from last week. Here is the finished article

Note the black wire mesh, the plastic cover and the net over the openings.

Here is the article in use! Have you worked it out yet? It's a solar dryer for our fruit and vegetables. Now all we need is a bit more sun, it worked quite nicely for the first day and then it has rained ever since. Even on a cloudy day though it does still get respectable temperatures, but it could do with just a little more heat then it will be brilliant and it will save us some electricity in the summer. The rails are for trays which still have to be constructed but at least it can get working on herbs hung in bunches.

Hoppy's house
Eleven more of our chicks moved out of the house and out onto the land this week. They are turning out to be a varied and beautiful flock of birds, from creamy coloured ones, to buff coloured ones, ones with barred markings and some which are more spotty. A motley crew indeed. Ian had to continue with the constructing this week though as he had to make a house for Hoppy and Hoppy's housemates. It is now almost completed . Hoppy is not going to be able to make it up the ramp of the bigger arks on one leg and so Ian has constructed a house that is nearer to the ground for Hoppy and housemates. The picture on the left is from a few days ago, it still needs a proper roof but it rained today rather heavily and in frequent bursts and so Ian wasn't able to collect a sheet of OSB to finish it off. The chicks need to be moved out of the house and so it has a temporary fix until it is dry enough to collect and they will move out tomorrow.

Ian putting the chicks into their new
Forgot to mention that I officially got my results last week for my Masters dissertation unit and I got a distinction. One thing is absolutely certain is that I could not have got that kind of result if people had not been so helpful and open and gave up their valuable time to talk to me and and for the people who helped me by translating the more local interviews. Collaboration to get results does not come easily in Latvia and a lack of trust is a big issue and so I feel very privileged to have been entrusted with so much information. All I can hope is that my work has helped make some difference, no matter how small. Even the chance to be an encouragement to some folks who were getting disillusioned in their fight to get a fair say in what happens with wild boar management was reason enough to do the work.

Our broiler chickens are getting quite big now and have
definitely put on a lot of weight this week. I guess now
they have their all feathers they can concentrate on
getting bigger
I was disappointed to miss an encounter Ian had last week, especially since I had spent a whole year studying wild boar management here in Latvia. Someone came to offer a hunting contract and was willing to pay for the privilege and suggested that we cancel our new contact with the other hunting organisation. He was rather upset that we weren't for sale and I don't think he could understand that money doesn't always talk. This encounter has a whiff of something not being quite right and so Ian requested a meeting with our hunting organisation for an explanation of the politics behind this. We are still waiting for that meeting but there was a small detail of a rather large Latvian celebration over the weekend that got in the way and so we are not too surprised.

No idea what the flower is but it sure is vivid
We didn't celebrate Ligo this year, which is widely celebrated here in Latvia with barbecues, bonfires, singing and dancing and depending on whose company you are in, it might also include a lot of drinking of beer and eating lots of cheese until the sun comes up. To be honest we are pleased we didn't get an invite this year as we were so tired, we could barely stay awake during the day, never mind into the small hours of the night. What with planting and weeding for me and constructing and mowing for Ian, it has been a long week. We have just about completed all planting now as there are only two trays of plants left to put in the garden. I am hoping the neighbours don't look too closely at some of the plants I planted as they might think I'm planting weeds. Quinoa has a remarkable similarity to the rather abundant weed fat hen and the only way I can tell them apart is because I know what was in my tray ie I can't tell the difference really either. Maybe the stem looks different but the leaves, well! They look exactly the same. I have a feeling that they will only look different when they grow to 6ft tall and the seed heads change to all colours of the rainbow - if they get that far of course.

Fence posts all ready for driving into the ground
Other jobs we have got done include getting the posts in for the alpacas and as soon as I have finished this blog I am going to pay the deposit on the alpacas, yes we have moved a step nearer to getting them. Exciting heh! Other exciting news - well it is for us, the strawberry season has now begun and they taste wonderful.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Competition time

Lovely blossom, I thought it was a mock orange at first but
on closer inspection it didn't give off the heady aroma of
a mock orrange. Beautiful flowers though
Excited? Well you will have to wait as the competition is further down the post. First of all it has been planting, planting and more planting, weeding, weeding and more weeding this week. It's monotonous and boring really and my back aches, but when I step back and look at the result it is good and worth the while. Most of our recent plantings are growing well, some of the types of squashes are struggling a bit, but I reckon with enough sunshine they should recover as they can be fairly resilient (as long as we don't have a frost that is), if not, we won't have certain types of squashes. We have three different plots where we grow food as well as the greenhouse and some things grow better in the different places, something we are still learning about. At least, despite the still cool temperatures we have had just lately we have had a crop of peas and salad leaves from the greenhouse and our broad beans are nearly ready. One evening we had sauteed peas, radish and chinese cabbage with the roast carrots and beetroot thrown in at the end. The peas and radish were from this years plantings, the chinese cabbage was from the shop after the desire for something fresh and not stored in the freezer, jar or in boxes of sawdust overwhelmed me, and the carrots and beetroot are last years rather rubbery, but still tasty produce from last year. This mixture of veg is much more my style of cooking and something I would do regularly when we had a much larger household, it is more difficult to maintain when there is only the two of us and also when I rely on our own produce.

I love lilacs and we have loads around
here, all on the wane though now.
This time of the year does mean there is an awful lot to do, some of it can wait but often it is weather or time dependant. We got the oats in at nearly the last opportunity to get a crop, the weather being against us on that one and perhaps some lack of preparation - ie getting the seed bought, but it is not like we can just pop to the nearest shop to get some, we have to travel about 30 miles to get it, which means a trip has to double up to get other provisions and so takes time. The weeding, if left I am sure you know, can quickly overwhelm a garden and keeping on top of that can be a major task, especially if other things crop up to distract or take priority. I was disappointed therefore, this week to have to turn down the chance of meeting up with some old friends, but we had to acknowledge that we haven't got as much time and travelling quite a distance to see them for just a few minutes is not really something we can afford to do now. We are more than willing to do airport runs if it means we get a good chance to chat with someone - we don't mind chatting and weeding if the other person doesn't mind us carrying on, or there is always the evenings, we don't even mind giving up a whole day if we get a good chance to really share heart to heart with someone, but unfortunately from past experience meeting up with people at camps where they have come to lead activities is not the place for a good place to share. When we started coming to Latvia we used to teach English in some of these camps and in those days they were much less structured, they had an innocence about them, but times have changed and children have changed in the last 12 years. Today children expect more and camp leaders have got more organised, not always sure that is a good thing on either account, then again parents pay for their children to attend camps and I guess they are looking for some sort of value for money from them. What that does mean though is that camp helpers are busy and the chances of an uninterrupted couple of hours chatting is highly unlikely and perhaps a bit selfish to expect it, so we declined.

Hoppy having some time out of the box, so it doesn't get
run over in the bun fight when I gave its box mates some
potato, cucumber and oats.
Our little chicken hoppy, has been giving us cause for concern. There was one point I was praying for the little chap (or is it chapess?) and I wanted to see a miracle, a sign that healing will flow in this place. Well a miracle happened but not quite in the way I expected. For the first time ever here in Latvia I saw comfrey. I had been kind of looking out for it as it is good for composts and since one variety is called Russian comfrey I thought there was a good chance there was some somewhere, but never seen it, till the other day that is. We were wending our way home in the car and had just pulled off the land and travelled a few metres down the road when I saw some. I got Ian to stop the car and we both got out and had a look, sure enough it was comfrey and I took a leaf home just to make sure. The comfrey was so close to the edge of the road that it was in danger of being cut by the road maintenance crew when they clear the road edges, or removal by the grader when they level the dirt road and so the next day I got out my spade and removed it to our garden. As the stems were tall, I reduced the size of it as that should aid in the transplantation and it also meant that I had some comfrey to use as a poultice for the little chick's leg. We needed to get the inflammation down and the wound healing and the comfrey seems to be doing the trick. It also gave me an idea, I know there are lots of herbal books out there but I also know that my Latvian friends use different herbs to the ones we do for some ailments and I was thinking of gleaning the information from them to produce a different kind of book, one based on the seasons as well as the recipes from the Latvian countryside. Worth a try anyway and may save some of the knowledge from being lost in the process. Just have to make sure I take plenty of photos this year of all the different plants to go in the book.
Hoppy's box mates. Two got taken out last night for bullying
Hoppy and were put in the big box, but they in turn were
getting picked on by those in the big box so had to be put
back. I think they have calmed down a bit though after
the experience.
The chicks in the big box, no longer yellow fluffy chicks
as they gain their feathers. They are a varied group of chicks
some buff colours and some speckled grey and some white.
Will be really interesting to see what they turn out like
One of the stork chicks outside our other apartment. There
are definitely two and may even be three in there

The flower bed outside the other apartment. I'm really pleased
how this is turning out but I think I have a purple and blue
theme going on here. Click on the picture to see the flowers
Well while I have been weeding and planting, Ian has been constructing again, here are the results so far. I'm not going to tell you what they are, I want you to guess and all will be revealed next week when we show the finished constructions.

Construction No 1. Can you guess what this does?
Construction No 2. Photo 1
Is it a coffin? No! (Yes Ian has a macabre sense
of humour at times)

Construction No 2. Photo 2
Is it a bobsleigh?
Construction No 2. Photo 3
Construction No 2. Photo 4
Nearly there but not quite. Any guesses yet?
Construction No 2. Photo 5
Maybe this will help? (Vital farm equipment Paul)

An interesting comment was posted by a friend of mine, Liz, on someone's blog, the question was essentially "Did they give the money to the wrong people? What would have happened if the money instead of being given to the banks was given to people to pay off their mortgages? The money would still go to the banks then, but people would have been better off in the process.What would they have then done with the money released from not paying off mortgages? Some of them would have squandered it surely? But what about others? I also wondered what would local farmers in this area do with a cash injection? Would they have replaced or invested in new equipment? Would they have repaired dilapidated housing and barns? Would they have tried some new innovative approaches to farming? Would that have had more effect on the economy than giving it to banks to fund bankers bonuses? At this point I guess we will never know.

I shall leave you with a video that someone posted a link to on facebook, that basically explains in cartoon form what I've been trying to say about the Latvian crisis for the past goodness knows how long. How we measure success is important and this really puts it in perspective and besides is funnier than me pontificating on the subject, yet again!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Planted up

Rows of Latvian beans, peas and squash in some rather
soggy fields today. Well watered in I guess

Been a rather slow wet day for me. There wasn't a whole lot I could do, it was too wet to garden, and besides I needed a day of rest after the last week when we have worked quite hard getting stuff planted and weeded while the sun was shining. The rain for us was just in time to water in the oats, buckwheat, beans, squash plants, brussel sprouts, celeriac, dahlias, and goodness knows what else because I can't remember now (but don't worry it is mostly written down somewhere). Most of the plants are now out of the greenhouse that should be outside, and I am just waiting for the amaranth and quinoa to get bigger and then they can go out to finish off. Apparently they sit around for ages at the seedling stage before growing vigorously and they have certainly done the sitting around bit. I shall grow a few in the greenhouse though, just in case they are a bit late. The amaranth and the quinoa are an experiment to see how well they grow in our climate, as they would make a good grain addition to our diet if they work. 

Our boating lake! You can see the sun did shine this week
I can't complain at the weather really as it hasn't been too bad once it dried up after the spring thaw and it certainly is not as bad as in the UK at the moment where there has been flooding near places I used to live in the North of England. I know our field here in Latvia was flooded again today but it will dry and it is an area we are going to work on over the next few years to raise the level so it no longer dips there. Neither have we the problems that friends of ours in Colorado have, where some of them have been evacuated due to a giant forest fire. I wouldn't mind, but I had only posted a message to my friend asking if the summer had warmed up enough for her as I know she likes the hot Colorado summers, she thrives in temperatures where I wilt. I am fairly certain though that she would gladly swap some rain and cooler temperatures right now. At least the weather for us was nice enough to sit outside yesterday with a take away from the bakery, soaking up the evening sunshine, listening to the very noisy frogs, the cuckoo still prattling on in the background and resting our aching feet. Twas bliss it was, twas bliss!

Flooded again but at least no river running through it.
Forgot to mention our nice hunters put a cover over
the drain to stop any more wild boar from drowning
because as they say a drowned pig is no good, you can't
eat it.
The new chicks are doing well apart from our poor little chick with the gammy leg. One morning I found it hanging upside down from the sling I made it to take the weight off it's legs. I was horrified as I put it down on the floor and both it's legs were all over the place again. I picked it up and massaged its legs, saying "Come on remember how to walk". I put it back down and it seemed to be moving around better and not scrunched up in the corner. It is still having its ups and downs though, we put it into a separate compartment with four other chicks that seemed to be quieter in nature or smaller, also means we don't have all 16 chicks in one box. The chick, or Hoppy as it is now nicknamed for obvious reasons,  seems to be holding its own and even seems happier in there rather than on its own, but occasionally it seems to get exhausted through trying to keep out of trouble or feed in competition with the others, today was one of those days. I picked Hoppy up and it just sat there, so I snuggled it into an old jumper and just had it on my lap for a while and it fell asleep. I think that was all it needed as it seems a bit more sprightly again this evening.

The monster eating machines. They are also fussy, they
aren't that bothered about a handful of weeds thrown in
they only want the fast food, so they get both and then
they have to scrabble around in the weeds to get the chick
crumbs. We will make them work for their food
All the chicks are growing fast and so Ian made another chicken ark, which will suffice for the time being while they are small and while we are deciding which are for keeping and which are to head for the freezer and which can be swapped. We know someone who ended up with all male chicks and no layers which is what she wanted, so if we have plenty of laying hens then we can swap as we don't need that many just yet. Before you all go arrrrhhh how could you, you should see the way the older chicks behave, they don't seem so cute now. In fact they are quite a menace; we think that is because they are the ones that are just bred to eat and not for their quiet temperament. We also think that we have three males amongst those chickens and only one female and I guess that doesn't help. Assuming the little one survives with the gammy leg Ian will make a small box that sits nearer the ground for those chicks, and if it doesn't survive then it also means we have a broody box ready just in case we have a broody hen when the others get bigger or as a box to keep any poorly hens in if necessary.

Getting more sophisticated now. This has a hinged door to
make it easier to enter and it has a bigger box for the birds
to roost in/

Running water! Even the middle pond was pouring into
the bottom pond.
It seems like we will have visitors galore this summer, which is nice. We had another two "bookings" this week. One is a young lass who came to help us before on the land and in the garden and she is coming back for more. It's lovely being able to talk garden and faith together as we work and it's lovely that someone wants to come to specifically help in the garden. Another is a family who we bought our apartment off that we live in now, they are back from Canada and in the area so would like to stay. I had a feeling this might be a busy year for visitors and it's looking that way.

Blackberries are flowering
I have been acting as an international trade negotiator this week. Are you impressed? Well I wouldn't be, because all it means is that I have been talking to a guy in Ireland who is trying to buy some railway sleepers from our neighbour's company and they find it hard to talk to someone in English over the phone, so they asked if I would do it on their behalf. I should know how hard it is to talk in a language you are not fluent in over the phone because I have had to speak Danish to the tax authorities there and I found that far harder than talking to someone face to face. At least now they have a Latvian contact, which is easier, as I was having to learn a lot of new terminology along the way. Did you know that a bale of railway sleepers is 24 sleepers bound together? Well I didn't before this week. 

"I'm not going out in that!" Sophie sitting in the barn and
not exploring outside. Can't think why!
Latvia has been in the news a lot this week on the internet. The lauding of the Latvian "success" though has made me mad. Christine Lagarde the IMF chief has been praising the Latvian success and the collective determination. More like collective acquiescence I think. The last few years in reality has been an exercise in prying the money out of those least responsible for the crisis in the first place to pay those perhaps most responsible. One dissenting voice rang out though and I have to congratulate the man
Dissenting voices were few........... Armands Strazds, an economist with political ambitions. "I feel like everyone in the auditorium except me has been hypnotised," Strazds told bne. "Sweden tricked the politicians and everyone in Latvia into a rescue package that was actually to save the Swedish banks. For them of course, it was the right thing. For Latvia it was and is terrible suffering." 
A dragonfly on the strawberry plants
At least there is more dissent amongst the journalists these days who are beginning to see how brutal the cuts have been for Latvians and there have been articles in both Reuters and The Guardian slamming the so called recovery. To sell Latvia's so called recovery as a success is to ignore the ongoing pain of those least likely to complain.

Monday, 4 June 2012

A grand time was had!

Well trained orderly arrangement of chicks 
We have had a fabulous week of sharing stories and sharing much laughter with our two visitors, Paul and Geoff, who I mentioned had arrived last week. We were really touched to think that they had travelled so far, not knowing who we really were, apart from what they had read in my blog, and yet feeling there was a connection to be made. Geoff even set off at 12:15am by bus from the North East to get to the airport on time. Thanks also to God for prompting them to come. The house seems quite quiet without them now though. They were as helpful as possible and lent some willing hands to moving lots of wood, holding metal frames as Ian tried to work out how to make a new implement for the two wheel tractor that would level ground or rake it and cutting the dreaded ground elder - which I am pleased to say is on the retreat thanks to the persistent cutting of the dratted stuff. They even acted as foreign observers whilst I handed in a letter into heating company to tell them why I wasn't paying the heating bill yet. There was much hilarity as suggestions flew as to what could be made of the tasks if we were to put a spin on it for the purposes of raising funds and you can read the result of some of those discussions from Paul's perspective on the Perspectives blog hosted by Martin Scott (our mutual friend and the person responsible for setting us on a path to what we are doing a lot of here in Latvia and the link to us becoming acquainted).

Just looking honestly!
As I was gardening today I was thinking about the spin that is put on actions and how projects are portrayed to raise funds, whether that be in a charitable setting, a missionary setting, research setting, business setting or even a political setting. Martin Scott raised the issue of how electable a politician is without the spin and I was wondering what is the line between over inflating actions to make a project look good, to make us look good or to convince people of the success of a project and selling an idea that has potential to do good? I had the provisional results for my Masters this week and they were very good which gives me the green light to go ahead with the next stage of study, a PhD. I mentioned a few weeks ago though that doing a PhD is expensive and I could do with raising funds in order to go ahead with it, but that means selling an idea that I have for research. So I have to balance the selling of the idea of the project with realism, and not over inflate the idea. I really do feel there is a gap in the research and that there is a need to do some rethinking of the application of support for farmers in areas where money is not in abundance because at present the money is either not effective or not getting to where it is needed, but how to phrase that in a realistic way that might lead to release of funds! Oh boy! I was never meant to be a salesman.

Enjoying a little boiled egg
The dilemmas tie me up in knots at times and then something comes along and seems to unravel the knot and crystallise what I'm doing and today was one of those days as a friend posted a picture of a malnourished hand of a child in the hand of well nourished person and the phrase posted below was

If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.
~ Norman Borlaug

The people in Latvia are reasonably well nourished these days, not as obviously short of food as many we observed in our early days here, but the reason for doing a PhD is both to cultivate justice for farmers and to enable them and their children to keep on farming, we need people like these to produce food for our growing world population - even if the Latvian population is shrinking - but how that happens needs to change.

You mean it isn't another chick picture?
No! This is the rampant grape in our
greenhouse that seems to have plans on
taking over.
We had one of those very bizarre moments this Sunday in our local supermarket. As we were shopping music was playing over the tannoy and we heard the introduction to a song that was very familiar to us, but the setting was all wrong. We looked at each other as recognitions dawned on us, it was a Delirious song called "History Makers," a Christian song we have sung in many different places, in different countries, but we have never heard it in supermarket in the middle of rural Latvia before. Why would a song like that be playing? For me it is quite a significant song as it is a song that dares me to believe that even someone like me can make a difference to history, not because I am special in anyway, but because I believe in a God who longs to change the course of history for the good of the people who live in this world. It was even more bizarre because it had followed a week of talking about living for God embedded in community and here we were listening to a song about living for God whilst going about our ordinary life of shopping in a supermarket. You can't get much more embedded in the community than that.

All 16 of them. Spuggy is the little brown one in the top
centre of the picture and penguin is the black one at the
As you may have guessed Paul and Geoff got to see the amazing miracle of chicks hatching from eggs this week. These chicks aren't as big as the previous hatch and each one has a different colouring - not the uniform breed at all. We have had a better success rate this time as 16 of the 19 fertilised eggs hatched, it was nearly 17 but one of them must have died of exhaustion as it managed to break the egg open but just didn't get out of it. One of the chicks we have nicknamed Spuggy, which is a corruption of Sparrow because it just looks like a sparrow with its brown colouring and another is nicknamed the penguin partly because it kind of looks like a penguin at times but also for the way it flops about as the poor thing has a problem with its legs. I had to separate the penguin because I found it at the bottom of a pile of chicks on a couple of occasions and it was exhausted trying to reach the food bowl because of the problem of walking. I have even been getting a chance to play at being a vet - something I wanted to be as a kid but didn't get the grades. We at first bound the feet together with a plaster (band aid) which at least got it standing upright at times, but it was still walking on the bend of one of its leg. In the end it has a support of rubber hose and cream applied to the swollen joint and we have been massaging the joint to try and get the achilles tendon in the right place (Cor! The things we are learning). It is hanging on in there and is still eating but we can't put it in with the others yet as it would still get trampled in the rush to get fed.

Poor little fella, but at least he isn't under a pile of other
chicks and gets his (or her) own bijou residence
I was struck this week by a news story of settlers facing evictions due to a posh development in Papua New Guinea. While no one that I know of is facing eviction from their homes due to a posh development, the gardeners outside our apartment block could still face eviction from their gardens to make way for a posh development. There is no other reason for paying such an astronomical sum of 82,000 Lats (the sum I saw on an advert for the piece of land $146,000, £96,000) for a piece of property 4.3 ha (11 acres) in our area. As I said at least they won't lose their homes but they would lose valuable ability to produce their own veg - and who is selling this land? As mentioned before the church. Sorry but I don't think that would be in God's plans.

The splint on the leg to try and stop it from inflaming the
joint any more. A little camera shy obviously
By the way, if you are wondering why it is virtually only pictures of little chicks this week, besides the fact that they are really cute, I'm waiting for the pictures from Paul (hint, hint!)