Monday, 26 May 2014

Wash out?

A stormy scene
We had one of those rain storms this last week that results in instant flooding within minutes. Ian had just finished planting beans before the rain, so they would be "watered in," when the heavens opened and the deluge began. The rain washed gullies in the side of the road and started to eat into it in places. It also washed the woodchippings down off our roadway near our barn and into the woods. They've been down since late last year, so have already withstood the odd heavy downpour before now and the spring melts, with no problems. This time Ian recovered four wheelbarrow loads of chippings from the forest edge. The rain also ended up pouring through the roof of the boys shed. Ian has rigged up temporary plastic sheeting to keep the boys dry, as it has needed fixing for a while, but he knew it wouldn't stand the volume of water that was pouring down, so he spent the duration of the storm in their shed encouraging the water to flow the right way. At one point he realised that he was standing in a puddle of water, as the water was also pouring in through the front door. He will get around to fixing the roof, but just hasn't either had the weather or the time to get going on that yet.
Our damaged woodchipping road

Flooding around the sandpit at outside our apartment
The barn was flooded too
The good news is that at least it looks like the buckwheat, oats and barley all withstood the downpour. We weren't sure if they had germinated or not and there were small gullies in the fields, but in the following few days the shoots really began to show. The beans maybe a different story, as we can see places where there are groups of them and Ian used the seed planter to plant them in rows and it is too soon to tell where they ended up. At least the animals enjoyed the fresher day following the storm, the girls especially as they actually made it out of the shed. They still haven't produced yet and so Ian is still on babywatch.
The girls enjoyed the soaking to cool off
Looking for chicken food?
We have had two lots of visitors this week. The first was a young couple and an even younger relative of theirs. We haven't seen the husband for ten years, but we have known him since we first came to Latvia, his new wife is someone we don't think we have met before, but you never know, as she did go to the same camp we have been to, but she was rather small to remember much and I think she will have changed somewhat for us to recognise her. Now that's scary! The young wife's mother lives in one of the neighbouring villages and wanted some hens and we decided to reduce the number of free range hens we have, so we struck a deal. I have mentioned before that two of them in particular had got into bad habits and were wandering too far, which was encouraging the others to do the same. The young cockerel was partly to blame too, but we wondered what would happen if there were less ladies to look after and if those particular ladies didn't wander as much, would that curtail his meanderings? Well so far the wandering seems to have reduced, although I have still found the errant young chap in our greenhouse again! I think he is getting the idea that the ladies are not for wandering as well, at least I hope so. I am hoping that the change of area, will also settle down the older ladies that we gave away. We know the younger two were not so bothered about wandering far from the hen house and with a new cockerel, hopefully that will keep them in order.
After the rain, looking down the hill

Five days later the oats are greening up now (looking up
the hill)
After the storm 

Five days later the barley is showing some strong growth
Feeding the alpacas, although on this occasion it is Ian
feeding these two as they weren't so cooperative today,
the girls were though (and no, Ian isn't in a dress and
wearing a blonde wig, he is standing on the other side
of our visitor)
The second group of visitors was a last minute arrangement. My supervisor was at his summer home in Latvia and it was his birthday, so he invited a few colleagues down from Estonia to join him, as well as Ian and I. Unfortunately Ian couldn't join me, as the timing for putting animals away would not have fit in with a trip up and the folks coming down from Estonia, so I went on my own. It was nice to meet up with folks in a more relaxed setting and we had some quite interesting conversations. The guys all went for a sauna from time to time, but a younger lass and I didn't join in that part. The downside was the mosquitoes have emerged and I got well and truly bitten and the bites have been driving me mad for two days. I can't remember how we got onto the subject of manure, but at one point my other supervisor mentioned that he had just got some chicken shit for his garden, at which point I remembered that Ian, in a half joking way, had said that there was some alpaca poo in the back of the car , if anyone wanted to take it, (not quite sure why we had half a bag of alpaca poo in the car, but there you go), so I relayed the information. Cor! I never had such an immediate response and my supervisor said definitely he would take it. It was only a small, half bag, but at least he was happy with that. Next time I ought to take more and think how much to charge, as he did offer to pay for it. Some of the folks were travelling back up to Estonia in the early morning, but some weren't and so I extended a welcome to see our land and of course our alpacas, which was accepted. I somehow think, folks wouldn't be as quick to come if it wasn't for our alpacas. So we had a pleasant early afternoon sat in the shade of the barn, since it was so hot, after a brief tour of our land and a visit to the alpacas.
Does my bum look big in this? No but the belly does. Ian
has seen the little one kicking too
Hmmph! I would rather you didn't take pictures of my rear
Oh look! Dandelion heads
The rest of the week has been studying, surprise, surprise. I am at the stage though, where I am going to have to submit a reduced version of the final piece, as I just do not have the time to complete the review I'm writing, within the time frame that I have. I am sure I already have more than enough to pass the course, but I want to use the work for other personal assignments towards my PhD and so I will have to come back to it at a later date. Rather annoying, but time is of the essence, especially when I have to organise a reflection workshop for an organisation on Friday. Busy week! Actually I am quite pleased it's a busy week this week, as it means that I haven't paid too much attention to the European elections. We didn't vote this time around, but that was due to a mix up regarding some papers we should have sent back. Anyway I am still appalled at the rise of the more extreme elements of the political factions and I just hope and pray that it wakes up the more moderate politicians to engage better with the electorate, rather than see a slide into fascism.
Estelle after her shower

Veronica, not looking her best

Ian's been busy of course this week.
This contraption is hopefully what we
will use to restrain the alapacas when
they are being sheared. Not been tested yet

Ian added some windows at my height to improve ventilation
in the greenhouse

Looking outwards

He has also been cutting grass again. We noticed that cow
parsley was beginning to flower and we don't want that
going to seed. It is a biannual, so a couple of years of making
sure it is cut, will hopefully put a stop to that particular weed.
Pity that wouldn't stop the dandelions.

Monday, 19 May 2014

RIP Alicia

Well after coaxing Alicia to stand for a couple of weeks, Ian came home one morning and said, "she won't stand at all. Can you come out and help me?" I went out with him and we tried to get her moving, we tried rubbing her legs to stimulate the circulation, in case they had gone to sleep by sitting too long, but she was having none of it. Ian at this point decided, enough was enough and we called round to see the vet. We opted to have her put down the following day, as Alicia didn't seem particularly distressed and she wasn't making a lot of noise calling to the others, as they do when they are bothered about sitting on their own. The vet came the next day and I noticed that Alicia seemed to have ballooned up, so something was going on. Ian held her head in his arms while the vet found a vein and while the injection took effect. She passed away peacefully. We then had to carry her out to the tractor to transport her to our barn for an autopsy. Not exactly the most elegant of transportation, but needs must. We found out the reason for her ballooning up anyway, it was fluid collecting in her abdomen and it contained a lot of protein that would suggest liver failure, but her liver looked fine. On reading up on the internet afterwards, we are inclined to think it was heart failure. The vet thought her heart looked big, but she wasn't sure how big an alpaca heart should be. She is now buried up in the corner of one of our fields, it wasn't the most pleasant of jobs, as it was difficult to do it gently, but we figured she was past caring.
Alicia's corner. A nice restful place
Veronica hogging the water bucket
Of course Ian found it hard, she was a lovely alpaca who would stand a bit of molly coddling and they had been through a lot together, what with the baby she gave birth to in the coldest of months and then the lung infections - or at least that's what we thought might be the case. Maybe it was her heart all along, making it difficult to breathe at times. I don't know, I'm not a vet, I'm a pharmacologist or at least was back in my younger days. Today, though Ian is thankful we did what we did, it has been so hot and if she couldn't stand, she wouldn't have been able to reach the water bucket. She was also our only black alpaca and as such would have absorbed a lot of heat. Our two pregnant alpacas have been suffering in the heat, one takes her place by the water bucket, continually sipping out of it and won't let the others near. I'm off tomorrow to get extra buckets. They won't even go out much to eat the grass that is finally growing, they just sit inside their shed eating the hay, out of the sun. I had a bit of a brainwave this morning and suggested to Ian that he moves their fence to incorporate the trees and so they can sit out under those. It is nearer to the boys paddock and a bit of a stretch for the fence from the girls, but they take priority at the moment. They get the afternoon shade too, as they are nearer the trees, good in summer but colder in winter. You can tell how hot it must have been, it is 9 o'clock at night here and still 24C out on the balcony. This is May isn't it?
Well why go out in the hot sun, when food is right out
the door?
They do eat the grass sometimes
It wasn't much use attempting to shear the alpacas at the beginning of the week, they had been spending their days out in the rain getting soaked. Inside when it was dry and out when it was wet. We can't shear the girls, until after they have given birth and now we are beginning to wonder if the sooner they are mated the better for next year (Alpacas have 11 1/2 month pregnancies). The earlier they can have babies the better we think, it might be easier to keep babies warm, than to keep them cool in a heatwave and May can get quite warm. If the alpacas are born later on in the year, the alpaca cria (babies) might not be big enough for the winter to keep warm. A delicate balancing act for sure.  Whilst I'm on about shearing, most people guessed that the mystery object was a pair of shears, but they have been modified with a wooden block. Last year, shearing was a bit of a headache and took absolutely ages and so Ian has been doing some investigating and noticed that there was a special attachment for alpacas that gave a longer cut that cost a huge amount of money and so Ian experimented to see if the wood block might work. If it does work it might be a good idea for when the biting insects start and also may make shearing easier. We tried it out on Alicia, just before the autopsy, one for a reminder of her and two to make the autopsy easier. It seemed to work well, so we hope when we get around to the boys that it will work as well.
Wandering chicken
We are not coming out
We have wondered if our boys are too warm and that is why they have been sitting around the hay feeder, but now we are beginning to suspect that they are just being lazy. The girls we can appreciate not wanting to go out, they have less shade available, but the boys! Ian decided not to fill up their hay feeder and make them go out on the grass. Today though, they sat inside, there is still hay in their shed, as their bedding is made up of hay. Might have to take more drastic action and make them go out in the mornings when it is cooler.
Gorgeous place to be
Ian's hard work, preparing the ground for other crops
There has been some niggly little things happen this week, which only added to the general feeling of misery at the beginning of the week. I broke my crock pot when some weights slid off and hit the bottom of the pot from some dandelions I had cooked and was pressing the juice out. We made dandelion syrup last year and loved it, so we thought we might do the same again this year. It was the merest of cracks and at first I thought it was just chipped, but no, the crack went through. So now we have a planter for outside the caravan and the electrical part will have to be binned at some suitable site when we go to the big town. The breadmaker broke too. Ian thought he might have managed to fix it, but it didn't work, unfortunately. All it needs is a new copper bearing apparently, the rest is working fine. Pah! The part doesn't seem to be available either. Double Pah!

None the worse for his swim
Another cockerel tried to go for a swim again this week, this time chased by the dominant cockerel and not us. They are obviously mistaking the grass growing in the pond as walkable on. Wrong! We have been discussing what to do with the chickens. Someone is interested in buying some off us, so that might help, but they are still wandering near and far. We even discussed things like having a kite with a hawk shape on it, but then it isn't always windy near us. We jokingly thought a drone hawk might be a good idea, flying it every now and again to make them go in. Probably freak out the alpacas too. At least we have sorted out the errant cockerel that wouldn't go in at night, Ian caught him and we put him in the horse box to wait for the culling of two of our cockerels in one of the arks and then he can go in there with his own set of ladies. Rather curbing his freedom, somewhat, but we hope the company makes up for it.
His wandering days are over though.
Next stop one of the arks with some
new lady friends
The oak tree looking good.
Another reason for curbing the dear chaps freedom was the rude awakening at 4:50am the night we decided to stay in the caravan. He decided to cock-a-doodle-do right outside, not a good move. It did mean we were up and moving around quite early that morning. I think we were in the garden before 8am, which was nice since it was quite hot later, in fact so hot we decided to have a snooze in the afternoon - how Mediterranean! This time the other cockerel decided to pay a visit to the greenhouse and started crowing whilst he was in there, I was awake and up running outside in my stockinged feet to chase the blighter out. Fortunately I don't think he damaged anything, since our tomatoes were all planted out. Not a good day, awoken twice by cockerels. We still ponder our decisions about how to deal with them. I think tomorrow there needs to be decisive action.  The drier weather at least has also meant chance to get things in the garden and we have planted out a lot of kale plants (hope they are going to be all right though as the sky has gone a really weird orange as I write this blog, I think a storm is imminent), I planted out more beans, some fodder beet and done lots of weeding, before they really take off. I even managed to tidy up my herb bed and made it look neat and tidy again.
It did rain too earlier on in the week though
At least a nice rainbow to make up for it
Sofie our cat has gone missing again. Why she goes on these little jaunts we have no idea. We do wonder if it is something to do with either the ticks or the tick medicine. She had that two days before she went missing. She does seem to make an annual event of this, maybe she is just away on her holidays. She could send a card though and then we would know where she is. The longest she has been away is six days, so hopefully she will be back soon.
After the rain, the sunshine, so plenty of
solars for our solar drier. Drying some
A rather handsome chap don't you think? Not sure if it is
harmful or not though.
It hasn't all been bad news this week. Our daughter and husband sold their house this week in Australia, all preparation for coming back to the UK. Our youngest finally got a job this week, so relief all round. It should be quite stretching for him as it is a design engineer job, so he needs to learn some more about engineering principles of design, he knows some but his degree was more design based. But after nearly a year out of work, after finishing his degree, it was getting really worrying for him and he was understandably quite despondent. All credit to him, he kept plugging away looking for jobs though.
The dandelions look absolutely gorgeous. Pity we don't
want this many though. We want grass. Ian is holding
off cutting them, because they still turn into seed anyway
after cutting. We are gritting our teeth and letting the grass
grow, as that way they will shade out the sun loving
dandelions. Or at least that's the theory
Barley take two! The stuff we planted before winter died
so we are trying again with a spring one and also the
seed we had last year. Maybe it was spring barley too, it
grew faster than the one we know was spring barley.
Oh well! It will make forage whatever happens.
My studies over the last few weeks have been about making maps with people or for people. It has been an interesting exercise, but something struck me as I read yet another paper that either didn't meet the true participatory ideal, i.e. including at least a representation from all sectors of society that feel the effects of decisions, or are part of the decision making process or bemoaned the fact mapmaking by the authorities wasn't truly participatory, that instead of saying "it isn't happening" type of thing, we should be saying "so how can we make it happen? What needs to change?"I think there are a few things in life that we could add that kind of thinking too and not just in the wishful thinking category, but seriously applying our noggins to the issue (for my friends who might struggle with Google translate for noggin, it is a word sometimes used for head, or brain). Identifying the problem is one thing, but instead of getting stuck there, we should be working towards making it happen and often that means really examining what is done and looking for issues, but also trying to think outside the box. Unfortunately politicians aren't very good at thinking outside the box these days. Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes its not. Nowadays though, we need some real creative thinkers to generate some alternative outcomes for our planet - otherwise, one way or another we are in trouble.
Apple blossom time! Taken with my new camera

This evenings rather ominous looking sky

Monday, 12 May 2014

Chickens can't swim

Our sheep have been given new quarters, over the hill and
far away. Well not quite, but far enough away to not hear
them so often now. Ian went to see them yesterday and they
had their heads hung low, like naughty children, he was
sure they would be saying "we're sorry can we come back
now?" They can't come back, they have a job to do of
eating grass and weeds. That side of the hill needs a
chomping down and so our biomowers are at work.
Our chickens have been causing Ian some consternation just recently and their wanderings are getting further. Ian was none too chuffed, as we say, when he found them scratching around in the patches that he had seeded with grass. That stuff ain't cheap! As soon as they start their wandering ways they get locked up in their shed now. Don't worry, there is plenty of room and more than many barn raised chickens get that you will find laying eggs for the supermarkets. We would still like to let them out though, as they are good for keeping the insect population down, especially ticks and our cats are getting plagued by them at the moment. Obviously our cats are not wandering in areas where the chickens have been. We have been trying to think of as many possible solutions as possible to give them more freedom, but the type of freedom we can cope with and the type of freedom where we are not going to lose our crops or the alpacas their grass. The Jury is still out on that one.
Good job we put some trees within their field enclosure.
We're too soft on them 
A rather splendid blue beetle. Not sure of its proper name
There are supposed to be three cockerels at the moment in the chicken house, but of course one has the upper hand and won't let the other two in, so they wander around at night. The little brown cockerel was for the pot, we just wanted him a little bigger though, only now we are not sure if he has been well and truly chased off by the larger cockerel that is second in line to the throne of top cockerel. Oh the shenanigans of the chicken community. The brown cockerel went missing for a day but turned up again yesterday afternoon, we had wondered if he had become fox food or osprey food. He was quite close to the road and so I went to herd him back in the direction of the chicken house, well he went high tailing further along the road side of our land, until I climbed down the steep bank onto the road and shooed him away from that side. Finally he went in the right direction, squawking his little head off in indignation. He then went towards the pond and I watched with hilarity and disbelief as he tried to walk on the grass that is growing in the pond after last year's dry spell. It is the closest I've seen to a chicken trying to impersonate a duck taking off from water. I gather he didn't know that chickens can't swim! Now he thinks he's a sheep, as that is where he seems to have taken up residence, well the last time we saw him he had.
I do know what this is though! A dragonfly nymph. These
wonderful creatures eat mosquito larvae and so are a very
welcome sight in our ponds. This one was caught in the
bucket but we made sure it went back
And so the cutting season begins. Ian was cutting down
the dandelions before they go to seed. 
For those who have followed this blog for years forgive me for repeating myself on the planting front. farm life/gardening life is kind of the same every year and kind of not. Key crops are markers for the year such as potatoes. They are all in now and I think we beat the neighbours to it - one of the advantages to not having fixed jobs. I woke up on Friday morning and said to Ian, since it is supposed to rain later on today and for the next few days shall we get the potatoes in in the morning? Fortunately we did and before the rain to water them in. Our drought has well and truly finished now, as it has rained most days since last week and the ground is getting sticky. We managed to get those potatoes in after a day (well afternoon really) where the ground had had a chance to dry a bit and judging by the forecasts it would have been nearly another week later before we got another chance. The spring barley we had sown is starting to sprout as well as onions already planted. The last of the onion bulbs have gone in now too, another marker crop. We have also started on planting the tomatoes into the greenhouse and so it is looking less like a store house cum chicken refuge and more like a greenhouse again, especially as that meant the little chicks had to move outside now.
We have a lot of dandelions and so a lot of cutting. This is
the first of three particularly bad weed infestations. The
next is cow parsley, then ground elder. Once they have
finished flowering, Ian will let the grass grow longer

Err where are we? And why are we so high up?


Well you will put your head there! (No chicks were hurt in
the production of this blog)

Cherry blossom, nicely off set against the manure heap.
Well it is a farm!
I have decided to offer to teach Sociology online with an organisation called Northstar Worldwide this next academic year. Feels really weird as a previous science student, as I must admit to looking down on the "soft" sciences. But as one of my lecturers noted recently, sometimes scientists end up researching such a narrow field that their studies have little impact on the rest of society and the whole point of the so called "soft" sciences is to have an impact on society in someway. He also noted that sometimes it is much more difficult to ensure getting good results, much easier than my test-tube chemistry and that was difficult enough at times. I have actually been working for this organisation for ten years now, firstly as the net nanny and now as senior online community facilitator, which is the posh title for being the person responsible for the student cafe monitoring by ensuring the young lass who took my place has somewhere to go if problems arise and also just to check in every now and again. I have other roles of course but that is the main one at the moment. Oh yes! And just in case you are wondering if I am qualified to teach Sociology after all that, is yes I am, as my more recent qualifications and research these days is Sociology based in one way or another.
Asparagus is coming through. I reckon by next week asparagus
will be on the menu
Plum blossom. The first time this tree has flowered in the
number of years we have had it.
We finalised some paperwork for our barn and greenhouse-this last week, or at least I think we have! We often just feel like we have finished something and then we get told there is another step. We just seem to keep shunting paperwork around in the process - keeps someone busy I suppose. We also started shunting paperwork around to get planning permission for the house to be built out on the land. We decided though to go for the maximum period possible and opted for planning permission to be over 8 years. We found out in the process though that our architect is now working at the council offices, instead of the older lady I fell out with a couple of years ago. At least she is capable of drawing up plans herself, which you would think all architects should be able to do.
My office for today
For my friend Roger. The autumn
raspberries he gave us
I was reading my friend Mavis' blog "Give us a clue" and it reminded me of a conversation that Ian related to me. A while ago he met someone at the car inspection centre who then came out to see our alpacas. He was also interested in sheep and so Ian arranged to take him to the nearby Christian camp who also raise sheep. It turns out he knew one of the guys there and they got chatting. Somewhere in the ensuing conversation it was related to Ian that word in our village is that Ian is a pastor. Who his congregation to pastor would be is a bit of a mystery, well in the normal traditional way of thinking. In the course of our lives though, we do chat with folks about life and faith, although not so much these days. Life on the farm means not much time to chat and much work to do, but it is a season and quieter times will come again. Times to reflect on life and faith once more. So who are we? Who do others say we are? Sometimes that is a fascinating question to ask and sometimes that is scary.
Quiz time. What do you think this is?