Monday, 24 September 2012


Our three puikas enjoying the sunshine
It was Ian's birthday this week. He had a good day, not doing anything terribly special, in fact he was acting as a haulier yet again, this time collecting farm implements from one friend to deliver to another one. At least we feel better knowing that the equipment is somewhere where it can be looked after and won't disappear, always a risk when people are not at home all the time. I went with Ian in case they needed an extra set of hands, but I was kind of redundant, apart from watching over things. One of the neighbours came out to help, which was interesting as he was a little clumsy at times and didn't speak any English, but he tried and his heart was definitely to help, he even gave us a bag of apples and pears. There was one point when our friend and Ian went off to hunt out some more equipment and I was left alone with the neighbour, who tried his best to engage me in conversation. I tried my best in response, but my Latvian is still worse than rudimentary, however there was one point I nearly fell on the floor laughing; the neighbour referred to Ian as "puika," which roughly translates as a lad or boy. I'm not sure if he thought he was my son, which would be even worse, but the fact that Ian was 49 years old that day amused me mightily. I managed to explain - I think! - that Ian was my husband and it was his birthday, I also explained how old he was. Puika indeed!

Amaranth outside. It makes a colourful harvest
I explained this to Ian when he returned which cheered him up immensely after feeling rather old most of the day(okay I didn't help as I was rubbing it in some what). I then rang our youngest son as he had been trying to get in touch all morning (doesn't help when my phone had slipped underneath the car seat at one point and so I hadn't heard any of the calls). My son lives with his girlfriend and her daughter and he got the little girl to sing Happy birthday to Ian. Awww! You could almost see the tear in his eye. There was one point though that the little girl stumbled over what to call Ian, and our son was heard in the background going "Ian! No! Grandad!" Ian was "reet chuffed" so to speak. So Ian went from boy to grandad in five minutes, and he loved it.

My new cranberry bed, awaiting a stone border and sand
to cover the cardboard.
Ian didn't get any presents - they are either in the post or he already has them (shorts from Australia from our daughter), or he has to wait until someone visits to bring them. All quite normal in our household. He did get a couple of nice emails as well to amuse him, one from his brother wishing him a Happy Bithday (no I haven't mispelt that, that is what was written) and a rather irreverent one from our daughter, which amused Ian anyway (dear me and to think I was her English teacher at one point). To cap it all, he even managed to order a beef steak at the hotel that night - not always available, especially around the third week of September and the sunset was glorious.

An empty greenhouse
Ian jokingly said he was thinking of setting up a For Hire business as we have been lending out our trailers all week. I mentioned our trip to pick up the farm implements and we used our horse box for that, the next day our friend came out and borrowed our smaller trailer to pick up the rest of the equipment, the day after that another of our friends borrowed the small trailer to pick up bricks to repair another chimney on our apartment block and the day after that another friend borrowed the horse box to pick up some furniture. At least they are getting used.

The grass has taken very quickly on
the newly landscaped banks. 
I am in trouble for forgetting to mention the back hoe broke last week. Fortunately it only broke when Ian had just about finished the landscaping. One of our friends attempted to weld it at our place but the generator was not powerful enough for the welder. They then took a trip up to one of our neighbours and used their electric - good job we are good friends with them. Unfortunately although he managed to weld it, the weld was not good enough to hold. It requires more major work to do that. It is still usable, just not as precise as Ian is used to. Our friend will give it another try sometime soon and see what he can do.

Peace returns
We have more news on our Stanley flask, the piece of equipment that is vital when temperatures dip in the winter or even in cool autumn days when it is damp like today as Ian is beginning to feel the cold. Two weeks ago we had the news from Stanley head office that they were going to replace our flask, the next email Ian received was in Latvian from the distributor to which Ian replied in English requesting a translation. The distributor wants us to go all the way into Riga to take the flask to them, so they can check it out and make sure there is a fault with it. Customer service and the customer is always right has yet to make it across the pond with the product. Ian has said the lady is welcome to come and visit us to check out the flask, since he has better things to do with his time and the costs of doing so is 1/2 - 2/3 of the cost of a new one, which is ridiculous to have to do. Currently we are still waiting for a reply to that.

Ian in the distance shredding and the pile of logs he cut
Weather wise it has been a reasonable week, even when it was forecast for rain it hasn't been as bad as they forecast and so autumn tidying up jobs were in full swing. Ian has been cutting the forest back a bit as it has encroached past the ditch, which is supposed to be the edge of it. This should help us to sort out the drainage too as he will be able to get in with the tractor and when the back hoe works he should be able to dig the ditch a bit deeper. That has meant lots of shredding to do, which is a good job as our pile of shreddings has composted nicely but is not terribly useful for paths so we don't have to walk on the mud in autumn and spring. It also means we have quite a bit of wood cut already in preparation for next year, or this year if we run out at our other flat - at least there is now a wood kiln in our village which means we can have the wood dried if necessary. If we do build a house on the land we are going to need the wood, depending on how much we get it insulated in the first year anyway and depending on whether we live in it in the winter or not.

Four boys - we think! One is destined for a new farm to
replace a very old cockerel and three for the pot
Ian has also been acting as a chicken psychologist this week. We finally dispatched the other two broiler chickens which meant we had a box free to spilt the birds up into smaller units; one ark was becoming a little crowded. Those that lived in Hoppy's box could now be moved to a proper ark that is up off the ground - better for the winter and the male birds that are surplus to requirements could go in Hoppy's box (at least we think they are all the males). That did mean though that now that there was only one male and three chickens in a big ark and there was space for one more. We moved in one of the birds from the over crowded unit, but the poor thing was constantly picked on by one bird in particular. We gave them a couple of days to calm down but it wasn't happening, so Ian removed the offending bird that was the biggest bully and put that into the unit that had more birds in it, he then took out another of the chickens to join the bird that was being picked on for company. Are you still with me? Well the upshot of all of this is that there was only a bit of a fuss while they sorted out the pecking oder again but nothing quite as bad as before and all is calm now.

Okay I'm not tall, about 5ft but that
Amaranth is very high. the next bed
was no where near as tall.
Harvesting has been slow and steady, with the good weather the number of squashes is steadily improving but the tomatoes in the small greenhouse succumbed to blight and I got two bucket loads of tomatoes from that. I thought I had picked absolutely all the tomatoes but I spotted one more plant that I had left in the greenhouse, it is a tomato with such tiny tomatoes they are no bigger than a finger nail and still not much sign of blight on them. Just rather slow to turn red. I also started harvesting the Amaranth, again a slow job but not too difficult. I am sure it would be quite easy to construct some sort of a machine to harvest it as it just needs the heads to be rubbed between two hard surfaces to release the seed. Of course in my case that means rubbing the seed heads between finger and thumbs or between the palms of my hands. It then needs drying off and then winnowing, which is also quite easy and so the seed is relatively clean. I used the first batch in some bread, but when it is not ground it makes crunchy bread - not unpleasant but not for the everyday loaf. I shall grind down the seed for the next loaf. The amazing thing is though that such tiny seeds can give rise to such enormous plants. Definitely something to try next year as even the plants outside have grown reasonably well, even in the cool wet summer we've had.
That tiny seed in the palm of my hand is an Amaranth seed

Monday, 17 September 2012

Exciting times ahead!

An atmospheric shot of the local fountain.
It is a shame you can't see all the colours of
the trees as they turn orange and red. Must
get a new camera that goes in my handbag.
I have another announcement to make this week. In July I mentioned that I was going to become a grandma for the first time, well now I get to be a grandma twice over. My daughter is expecting her first child at the end of March. So next year is looking to be a very exciting year, with grandchildren on the way and our youngest due to graduate from university.

Our poorly pussy cat spent all week nearly in this spot.
Not so exciting news is the fact that Sofie was very sick this week. She was a bit off on the Monday night and I spent Tuesday in to see how she got on. Towards the end of the evening she was starting to hide in dark corners and so we knew something was very wrong. The next morning she was no better and so we took her to the vets. The examination by the vet caused her to throw up, which was strange as she hadn't actually eaten anything for over 24 hours. She had a very sore throat and a high temperature and had become dehydrated so she was given a saline drip and injected with vitamins and antibiotics. I had had to dribble water down her throat using a teaspoon prior to that, because she wouldn't drink. When she got home she must have been very sore on one side as she seemed to get stuck somehow, it is really hard to explain, but she was in a very strange pose and meowing away at me. I placed her on her side with the side uppermost where all the fluid from the drip had accumulated and she promptly fell asleep. She spent most of the week asleep and had one more saline drip before she started to really recover and even then it was very slow and the vet was quite worried about her. I had to give her injections as she is hopeless to get tablets down and I worked out this was far easier on her and me than trying to get the wretched tablets down her. We think she disappeared on us once because she got so freaked out by the trauma of trying to get tablets down her. The good news is that today she was much better and running around out on the land once more and the problem? Not sure really as the vet was not convinced that she should have been so sick from a sore throat and a bit of a fever and wondered if she had also eaten something poisonous. I guess we will never know.

The remodelled river after the installation of the new mini
hydro-electric station
Last week we got a lamb that I had had to cut it up into meal sized pieces and I managed to make a better job of it than the last one we had, but it still looks rather rough. The things you learn! I mentioned this on facebook and also mentioned that actually if I had a choice I would now rather have goat to eat as it is like lamb but less fat (although the one we had wasn't particularly fatty this time, they must have been running it around getting it in training). My friend who has supplied us with goat meat in the past said they were planning a meal of goat soon and would I like to come. Now would I pass up the chance of a meal cooked by someone else? You bet I wouldn't! There was only one small detail, the piece of meat was actually still running around the field and since I don't like my meat to leave the plate whilst eating we had to wait until it was no longer running around the field and taken up residence in the fridge/freezer. The meal was absolutely worth the wait though and we even got sent home with a rabbit for the freezer and a leg of the goat.

No longer running wild around the field - well have you ever
seen squash plants grow when they are starting to really take
off or rather take over! These squash plants are from the left
Uchiki Kuri, Black Futsu and Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato
(and they really do taste like sweet potato with the same
texture). Don't you just love some of the weird names
they have?
On the one hand it seems a shame that something that was running around in the field or ark is providing us with food. Ian was really sad to say goodbye to two more of his feathered friends today - you should never make friends with your food so they say - but the problem is that if we want eggs, then we will have excess males to deal with and it would be rather expensive to keep feeding the unproductive ones and too many males to females means that the females suffer from too much unwanted attention. Likewise male goats are an unwanted by-product of goats milk and hence goats cheese so to speak. Without young goats being born you don't get milk and too many smelly billy goats is not pleasant, one is enough on our friend's farm. We also like meat, but we prefer our meat to come from animals who have had some sort of quality of life. Our friend's goats get to go out onto the grass as long as the grass is growing, they have clean living areas and plenty of hay to eat. The lamb that we got was also grass fed all summer - which is one of the plus points of lamb, I am not sure there is a factory farm unit set up for lamb yet!!! Our chickens had been brought up on lots of goodies from the garden, from caterpillars and snails to fat hen weeds and fresh buckwheat, consequently the last chicken we had had the skin the colour of a corn fed chicken. Not sure about this time they still need de-feathering as I write (quick update - they are yellow too). It's not pleasant killing an animal but we do know that their point from life to death is short and relatively stress free, they haven't stood around at the abattoir for ages for a start, which is stressful in itself. It also gives us a better respect for the meat that we do eat and we also happy to eat meals without meat too.

Our carrots with an ordinary table knife for comparison
Our harvesting continues this week, and Ian has started to collect the buckwheat and hang it in bunches in the greenhouse to dry off before threshing. I have also harvested some carrots and beetroot to store in sawdust for over the winter. Not all of the carrots are particularly big and that is why I didn't harvest them all, but some of them are ginormous. We have not always been very successful with carrots, but this year we did exceptionally well as you can see from the picture (cauliflowers are another crop we are yet to master, only got it right once and was absolutely inundated when they all matured at once - all 30 something of them!) . Our aim more than anything this year, due to the bad weather, is to try and make sure that we have plenty of seeds saved for next year, at least then we will get to try again then without too much extra costs. It seems like we have at least got one of every type of squash we planted, but not over run with the things, which is what we hoped so we could use them to feed the chickens. There is enough anyway to feed us and there are more to come and so if the frosts hold off, we may be okay and get over run, otherwise I shall be using the little ones like courgettes (zucchini)

The new hydro-electric station. The old one is having work
done, but I'm not sure if it will be de-comissioned or
renovated yet.
It was nice to have someone new comment on my blog last week and if you want to check out Petra's blog you will see some rather nice pictures of the Czech republic, but I must admit to being confused with another comment that also came through to my email account about the same time. It was an odd email and for a change it had no links, the links being a clue to it not being kosher, but it still didn't ring true. I looked it up on the internet and word for word it is posted all over the place and I wonder what purpose it serves - well  in this case it was marked as spam and not published. I welcome comments from anyone even if they choose to be anonymous, but I try to avoid spam. Especially the sneaky ones that say what a lovely blog you have and very complimentary and yet when you check them out, they actually represent some lottery company or something worse.

Monday, 10 September 2012

RIP Hoppy!

Hoppy was a very different looking chicken. Such a shame
that she never got to get her legs working properly
It has been a sad week as we decided that Hoppy's quality of life was deteriorating as the cooler days draw in and for some inexplicable reason she seemed to spend most of her days with her crooked leg stuck through the wire mesh. Hoppy, unfortunately never did learn to hop on what was her good leg, even that gave up. She was always first out of the box in the morning though and would dive underneath the others to get to the food. The others didn't pick on her, in fact they just totally ignored her and acted as if she wasn't there, with dire consequences for Hoppy as she squeaked her protests at being stood on. As I said with the cooler days drawing in, it was going to be increasingly uncomfortable for a bird that couldn't raise itself up off the floor and so we decided the kindest thing to do was to dispatch her and bury her in the garden. We hope at some point to put a quince tree over the top of her, although I did think that maybe I could put some lemon balm in that place - a restful, peaceful herb. A decision for later anyway. Hoppy wasn't the only chicken we dispatched this week, there was one of the broiler chickens. It wasn't as big as it looked and obviously we need to look at feeding again, if we are to raise chickens for meat. Still it was an okay size and made a good chicken pie.

Amazingly those clouds didn't actually
produce much rain, but there were plenty
more where they came from that did.
We have been trying to make other decisions too this week. One of them is whether to move out of the apartment we are in now and sell it then build a house out on the land. We are debating whether to just have a house that we could live in in Spring, Summer and Autumn when the nights are late, or whether to have a house that we can live in all the year round. We think we have picked the perfect spot, a piece of land that is only good at growing dandelions at the moment and yet it has a lovely panoramic view that overlooks the majority of our land. Well the jury is still out on that one as it would of course demand a substantial investment. We know what our hearts tell us but our minds are backwards and forwards over the pros and cons.
The weather's not been all bad. The last few
days have been gloriously autumnal, just a
shame we haven't had more of those for the
sake of the garden.

Our rather nude looking tomatoes, just a
shame that removing the leaves wasn't
enough and they all needed pulling up
We had to admit defeat and dig up our tomatoes. Blight won the day again in the big greenhouse, where airflow versus warmth has been a difficult balancing act this year. Our small greenhouse which is constantly open but faces a different direction hasn't been as badly affected, but then again the yield on the tomatoes is lower too. You win some, you lose some. We also got the beans and peas in from our field plot and I even managed to harvest a few squash this week. We have all of 9, and we have eaten another two already as they were in danger of rotting. I have seen some folks with enormous squash plants as normal, but I think it was all to do with timing. I think I actually started mine off too early for the cold weather we had and so by the time they were due to go out they were struggling in the pots they were in. We have been pleasantly surprised with the corn though this year. The cobs on them looked so unpromising and we felt sure the crop this year was a failure but when I have opened some up, the surprise was that there was actually something on them worth eating - maybe not as big as last year but tasty anyway. As for the oats, they were a disaster, we were so close to getting something in, but it just kept right on raining and a beautiful field of green oats turned to nothing as they succumbed first of all to rust and fell over and even what was left appeared to have been eaten, probably by deer.
Sorry the picture quality is not great on my
phone for this kind of photo, but there are 143
 blackcurrant cuttings that have shown signs of
life from the cuttings that were dumped in a
bucket of water. Not bad going from a total of
10 plants that we bought originally, we already
have around 40 plants that produced
blackcurrants this year. So who's up for
blackcurrant and strawberry with black pepper
cordial next year?

The left side has been sculpted, unfortunately there are lots
of deep ruts by the barn to fill with water, but at
least in the future Ian can now get in with the tractor and
clear snow if need be
Ian has been doing a marvellous job with the back hoe and tractor, re-sculpting the land around the barn area and moving bucket loads of soil to areas around the pond and near our orchard plot that needed building up. He's getting rather good with that back hoe, I have to admit, and it looks rather neat - well the bits he's finished anyway. Unfortunately he didn't quite get finished before hitting a problem, part of the back hoe broke. A good friend of ours came to have a look and he decided it was possible to weld it back together and he came back with his welder, unfortunately our generator wasn't powerful enough for the welder to work properly. A phone call to our neighbour wasn't answered, but that was normal and so Ian and our friend decide that the only thing to do was to go up to our neighbour's farm and ask if they could use their electric, complete with tractor and welder. I guess they didn't have much option to say no, but they are good friend's of ours and we've helped them out a few times when they've been stuck and so we don't feel too bad about that. That's what neighbours are for, right?

A rather neat job on the right, just using the
back hoe.
Wish we could say the microwave could be fixed as easily as hopefully the back hoe was. We had a quote back for the replacement part ........ £250!!!!! The stupid thing is that it is only a couple of micro-switches that don't work, the rest is perfectly functional. Surely replacement micro-switches should not come to £250. We have better news from Stanley flasks though. One of Ian's Stanley flasks stopped working properly and the top part of it on the outside started getting hot, it would appear that the vacuum was breached but how and why, we have no idea. It's not as if it was dropped recently and they are sold as tough flasks that survive a lot of hammer. Ian wrote to the company to explain the problem and they have agreed to send a replacement, so far, so good. Now it appears to be in the hands of the Latvian distributor and so we will see what happens next. It is a shame that the flask stopped working as it has outlasted other flasks and when working is far superior to the other brands as it really does stay hot for a very long time, which when working in -20C is a necessity, not a luxury.

Monday, 3 September 2012


Never seen this before, a rainbow in the
morning fog
I haven't been doing so well with jars just lately, thankfully this time the jars I managed to smash weren't full, unlike the full jar of tomatoes that I smashed not so long ago. This time one was at home, but embarrassingly one was in a shop. I picked up a pack of 8 bottles and at the bottom was a hole that I didn't know about until I picked it up. Oh boy! I am feeling rather clumsy at the moment, especially as I have also managed to walk into the handle of the chicken ark and have a wonderful bruise on my leg now. Must be my age! Anyway all I could do was gesture at a lady that there was a bottle on the floor and leave her to it, felt more like running off and leaving it. Today I managed to redistribute rather a lot of grape puree, leftover from making grape juice and put through the vegetable strainer. I'm not sure what happened really, but bits flew in different directions and the bowl tipped onto the counter. Thank goodness not much went anywhere else. I decided to freeze the puree since I didn't trust myself to make jam out of it just yet. Good job we went today to go and get a large chest freezer because our upright freezer is full to overflowing, as is the section under our fridge and I have hardly even started freezing things like broccoli, which is just starting to get going and beans.

"How's your children, errr I mean alpacas" said my friend
last week! Haha
It has been a smashing time from other angles too, but this time in a nice way. I got to see the 20 week scan of our first grandchild which was really exciting. It is a little difficult at times to remember that our daughter-in-law is pregnant, as we are not in constant contact or get to see them often - just one of the downsides of living far from family (although that depends on the family I guess, I am sure sometimes it could be a blessing). Planning to see them will be a challenge, especially as we are aware that our animals need to be looked after too, but I'm sure we will manage it. The scan pictures though are fascinating, especially the one where we could see the spine curving around so beautifully of the little one all curled up in Mum's tummy.

We have a squash plant. Last year we had a whole load by
this time in the year as you can see here
This week hasn't been the sort of week where we get done what we planned. The forecasts have been completely useless for us this year. The weather has been just far to unpredictable and that makes planning jobs a nightmare and that includes this week. For instance today the weather said light showers, which was the case out on the land apparently but over the apartment it was a torrential downpour for at least half an hour and some showers on and off. At least we did get one side of our land cleared of hay bales earlier this week and now they are all stacked or dumped as the case maybe. The stacked ones might be useful for bedding but we won't know until we open them but they seem like they maybe okay. The rubbish ones are stacked in a line for growing pumpkins over next year or dumped in a pile while we decide what we are going to do with the one particular part of the land. We are now debating whether to put another pond in and see if that helps to drain a field, as well as use the spare soil to raise the level of the rest of the area. We were completely whacked after clearing the bales, even though they are small there is a lot of them and by the time we had cleared around a hundred of them we could barely lift them, so we finished the job off working together, at least that way we could lift them. Awww! Sweet heh?

Not the best photo in the world but as you
can see, autumn has arrived here with this
glorious maple
I mentioned last week that our friend said autumn is the time of year for escaping animals, well it appears she's right. Not only have our alpacas been stretching the limit a little, but our neighbours cows escaped. Ian was working in the barn and I was in the greenhouse when we both heard voices and we looked out to see the neighbours cows and two of our neighbours looking rather flustered and frustrated. All of their cows had found a hole in the fence that some wild boar had made and decided that we had better grass than they had and came for a visit, or maybe as Ian said they had heard about the alpacas and fancied a visit. Our alpacas weren't impressed and disappeared off to the workshop where they live (I know we still call it the workshop, even if now it is the stable really) and one or two of the cows decided to try a closer inspection, but fortunately Ian got to the gate first and shut it before they could get in. There is no telling what sort of a job it would have been if they had got in there as they trampled over the fencing that keeps the alpacas in their extended area. We then helped our neighbours to herd the cows back to their land and then they kindly took us back in the car as we had tramped over quite a few fields to get them back to where they belong. It gave us a chance to show the husband around as he had not seen our land, or the alpacas.

Some better behaved cows on our way back from getting the
freezer. If you look hard you can see the lady in the horse and
cart who is driving them

Arriving at their new destination (photo by Ieva)
The other change of plan was due to helping out some friends with transport. We found out that they are moving and there wasn't much notice, but they needed to do something with their sheep as they weren't taking them with them to their new place. Another of our friends decided they could take them and we ended up moving them from one friend to another at short notice, i.e. we only found out in the morning and we moved them that afternoon, but at least we got a nice meal out of it - the mushrooms picked from the forest were heavenly.
Ian trying his hand again at herding, this time sheep not cows
(photo by Ieva)
Enjoying the sunshine in their new home (photo by Ieva)
Our combination microwave is quite old
now but still works well, if you can get
the tiny microswitch to work that is. It
is frustrating that for the sake of a small
switch the microwave might have to be
thrown away. We've tried looking for
parts but it is so old it is not helpful.

It was back to school today for the children and it was fun seeing so many of them in their smart clothes and carrying flowers. One of our neighbours is a teacher and he came back carrying some flowers even though he is male, it is quite normal here to give flowers regardless of gender. It wasn't a full day back at school, just a sort of celebration of the beginning of the year, classes should start tomorrow. It did mean though that our neighbour turned up just as we were trying to manoeuvre the freezer down the stairs and he offered to help. Although I managed to help get it down the stairs the wrapping started to disintegrate badly and it was more difficult to hold and so I was really pleased when our neighbour reappeared having changed to help get it into the basement room itself.

It is interesting on a day when children go back to school after the summer break that we had been talking recently of the difference between work and toil. Physically we both work harder than we have ever done, but some people wouldn't class it as work, because no one employs us and no one pays us. So many people though go to work and it is a burdensome thing to do - is that toil? Were we toiling when we were putting bales of hay away? It was work and it was hard work, but it was a warm day and we were out in the fields and not stuck in an office. We even had time for discussions to try and work out the best way to deal with the bales so they are useful for next year, even if that means only useful for compost. So what do you think? Is there a difference between toil and work? Or are we just nitpicking?

Updated photos to properly credit the photographer, our young friend Ieva