Monday, 31 August 2015

Still on the tourist trail

You can never have enough cute kitten pictures
We are still getting visitors to see the alpacas. Hopefully next year we will have as many people coming to see us for when we get organised and actually start activities like alpaca walks for which we will charge a fee. We are unlikely to charge an entrance fee, because most of the time people could stand on the road and see the alpacas anyway and we don't want to cause an accident, we would rather people come onto the land and talk with us. We could of course take donations and by next year we will be organised enough to have wool for sale or wool products. One of the visitors was very interested in the newly spun alpaca wool and took some away for a generous donation, which was encouraging. She also mentioned she would like to come back for more next spring.
A rather autumnal looking sunset, but really the leaves
aren't that brown yet, it is just the way the light is shining
on the trees

We processed the barley and the buckwheat this week. It
isn't much, especially after the wild boar got in, but it gives
us an idea of how the winnower works and how much grain
we can expect from an area of land. 
I now have to back track a little and mention our other visitors. Our neighbour paid us a visit again with her youngsters who are getting very used to the alpacas and the alpacas to them. They brought carrots for them to eat, which the girls enjoyed. The boys are just not interested in fresh vegetables at all, which is rather irritating. They also brought another of our younger neighbours with them as well and so we have another alpaca fan.
It still needs some work on it, but at least getting it to this
stage is good. We have animals who can deal with a bit of
straw anyway.

Unwelcome visitors. Meet the yellow
jacket metropolis. It is hard to see and
I wasn't getting any closer to take a
better photo, but that tunnel goes down
quite a way and is a huge paper nest.
Something has been digging at it
though. Big downside is it is next to
where we are starting to grow berries.
Yellow jackets are similar to wasps but
make nests underground, not a good
combination with berries.
The next group of visitors were from Sweden and were friends of our translator. He had asked a little while ago if they could come and of course we said "Yes." They are regular visitors to Latvia as they belong to a sister church to the one that our translator attends. They were a little surprised that I actually understood a little of what they were saying, which amused me. In Aberdeen there were quite a few from Scandinavian countries and so my brain had started picking out words from people's conversations. I actually find it quite tiring at conferences when there are many languages being spoken that I am vaguely familiar with, as my brain then tries to process what people are saying and I find it hard to switch off. Just a pity that ability doesn't actually translate into speaking them. Being in Denmark for the afternoon and hearing a lot of Danish also helped with triggering memories of the language and since Swedish is sometimes similar it helped with our visitors. I still envy our translators ability though, to speak many languages, as far as I can remember he speaks French, Swedish, German, Russian and of course Latvian.

Our supermoon picture
There weren't just Swedish people in the group, there was another Latvian besides our translator and for some reason he told Ian that his job was in drainage. After the Swedish visitors left he showed us a website where we could find out where all the drains were that had been put in on our land. It was fascinating as we knew there was land drainage (I think mainly from the Soviet era when the idea was to make the land submit to the dictates of the state) but we didn't know exactly where they were, apart from those we had already dug up in excavating ponds, ditches and our barn. It was important information that we need to know, because it explains many of the issues we have with drainage and wet areas on the land. It is fascinating who comes our way.

Tracey the tractor with fangs! Actually
it was just the sickle mower attachment
stood up against the front loader, but it
amused us.
The chap who worked in drainage used to live nearby and his mother still does and so the next day he came again - I did say anytime you are in the area do feel free to come and see us. He also came with his sister and brother-in-law. Apparently he had been telling them about his visit and our alpacas, since they are on holiday in the area they wanted to see them before they go. Embarrassingly we were actually just having a kip when they came, fortunately Ian had just woken up and then heard voices. It was funny to work out some connections of this group to people we already know, which I suppose is inevitable when they used to live in the same village. The mother we found out taught weaving to the lady who spun our wool and the sister works with the daughter of one of our neighbours in Luxembourg.

A rather ethereal picture of the supermoon this time
I actually ended up talking to the brother-in-law because I found out he was doing a PhD on local foods in Latvia and so we had some very similar research interests. I gave his wife my card, so she can send us photos of the mittens she wants to make and I hope he will get in touch so I can read about his research. Again it is absolutely amazing the people who are coming to see us. I look forward to seeing what other connections we make, especially as we have a rather large write up in the regional newspaper this week. No idea what it says yet, but we will find out soon enough.

Getting started on the stack
One of our neighbours helped to organise some wood for us, which I mentioned we had delivered last week. This week he came with a chap who has a mobile saw mill and for part of the week they have been busy cutting up the wood and Ian has been stacking it. It didn't look a huge amount of wood until it was stacked, but it looks like it should keep us going in small scale projects for quite a while, like new alpaca housing. It also helps Ian to visualise what can be done with the various sizes of wood. It's hard to picture how much you can get out of a decent sized tree, until you see the people working on one. As usual though, most of the wood is wet wood, which is fine for the kind of projects we have in mind, but not for a house. That would have to be cut and stacked for a while.
The mobile saw and its operator

Not finished yet, but covered in case of rain. If the rain
holds off, then there will be more tomorrow.
Winston Churchill once said, “When you find the work you love, you will never work again.” We have had a busy season this year with many visitors, which is good and many times we sit with our coffee or tea and thank God for what we have. One of the reasons for leaving the US when the Danish company Ian was working for sold the division to a US company, was the thought of working in a culture that says only ten days holiday (vacation) is good. At least in Europe it is around 20 days minimum. Nowadays we rarely take holidays, but to some extent most of our life is a holiday - at least at the moment it feels like that. Especially when we spend so much of our time living in the caravan, in fact this is Ian's first night home for a week. I only came back because we have a milk delivery twice a week at home. Today we were moving the sheep fence and I could smell one of the smells I really love, it comes from a patch of swampy ground where the cranberries grow. I have no idea what makes the smell, as I have never identified any plant that smells like it yet, but it is a smell that makes me breathe deep and it makes me feel incredibly happy - I wish I could bottle it and take it with me wherever I go and if I ever identify the origin of it, I will.

A final supermoon picture.
The only downside is our continual battle with mites on our animals. Veronica has a nasty looking blue splodge on her side, due to a spray that we have to put on her, as she keeps chewing at her fleece, we assume it is due to mites. What makes it worse is once there is a patch of raw skin the flies then get in and cause even more irritation. Fortunately they are not the ones that lay eggs, just they are persistent - they drive me mad and that's only because they buzz around my ears at times. We have to use a fly repellent, but it is the nasty DEET stuff, which I hate using, but needs must. Next week we will have to empty out the alpaca houses of all the bedding and steam the place again. Lovely job, any volunteers? Payment, a place to stay and food fresh from the garden to eat - we even have grapes and blackberries at the moment. If you want to, I can also show you the patch with the lovely fragrant smell and breathe deep.

Monday, 24 August 2015

En Rigtig Dejlig Dag

My Danish friends who turned out to see me
And just in case your Danish is not up to translating the sentence above (apologies to my Danish friends if it is not 100% correct) my title says "A really nice day." I know this is all back to front, but I must tell you about my overlay in Denmark on Saturday. It is the first chance I have had to meet up with my Danish friends since we left nine years ago. I managed to get in touch with some of the folks there and one lady who is a nurse in intensive care explained she wouldn't be able to make it because she was working, but she gave me the email address of some other friends. I had tried facebook, but of course not everyone is on there every day like me. We managed to arrange for them to pick me up at the airport and to go to their nearby summer house for the afternoon and they would let some others know about it.  I arrived at the airport and was busy heading out of a very familiar terminal with all the relatives and friends of people travelling lining the exit. I was trying to think if I had ever been met coming out of that airport and not sure if I had. I was usually with Ian and even if I had travelled on my own, there was no guarantee he would have been there if he had been at work. Suddenly I saw a face I recognised, it was my nursing friend.
The obligatory pipers for piping us into the
building. You can't go to a conference in
Scotland and not have some pipers there
for the dinner

A bit blurry, sorry, but it was a bit dark. The dancers were
dancing around sabres with lights around so we could
see them
I was a bit confused at first, but she told me she had got the weekend off after all and she had told the other folks not to tell me, so she could surprise me at the airport. She certainly did that. I'm still smiling about it, as I write. We managed to find the other folks and headed off to their summer home. I had never been there before as it was a new acquisition, but it is a lovely little place, perfect for those with an apartment in the city to rest at weekends. We had a lovely lunch and then were joined by another couple who I had spent many a day with when I was in Denmark. I was in for another surprise. I knew that the lady had won an award for best carer in the district we used to live in, what I didn't know was that it was for teaching old people in a care home English. When I met my friend she couldn't speak English or at least very few words. Whilst my Danish improved a little, her English improved a lot. In the care home where she works the old people were having a problem talking to some of the carers who were from other countries and they wanted to be able to talk to them, so my friend designed a course to teach them English as all of the carers at least knew English. Relatives of the old people really appreciated what she was doing and nominated her for the award. She was telling me she would never have been able to do that if it hadn't been for that time I spent in Denmark. It was with lovely warm feelings of friends who had re-connected so well that I waved goodbye at the airport - grateful for the eight hour overlay which had made it possible.
Crathes castle. This was the castle we
visited on the field trip

I love the combination of windows, wall
engravings, doors and windows in this
shot, as well as the millstone
Some of the other highlights from last week was also re-connecting with people I had met before. I recognised one lady who was from Wales from the dinner in Florence, where the last meeting was held. Fortunately she also recognised me and we kind of stuck together on and off all week. It is so nice to have someone that you can meet with and just talk ordinary things and not all academic talk and we also had a similar sense of humour. She had one of her students with her, who was also doing a PhD later on in life like me and she was lovely too. It was funny at times when they were talking, as they would slip into Welsh and for a split second I was wondering what was being said, then realised that I wouldn't have understood anyway, which was fine. I also met an academic who I had been emailing with about positive images of Eastern Europe especially with regards to gardening, which many love and do because they want to and not, as the academic literature often suggests, because they have to. He was a keynote speaker (a speaker to the whole conference and not just a small working group) the last time and we sat next to each other for a different keynote speaker this time. Unfortunately that particular speaker was not portraying post-Soviet countries in a positive light at all and his talk was dreadful, causing my neighbour to groan at the way the statistics were presented. It is a good job that not all the speakers were so bad, the rest were listenable to at least.
A view from Scolty hill. Now I shall be honest and say I
picked this trip because it was a walk and I love seeing
the heather covered moors in August in Scotland

A close up of the Scottish heather and ling flowering.
There were also blueberries ripe on the walk,
something that the Scandinavians and Eastern Europeans
among us noticed.We actually found some heather on our land
this weekend too. It is in my favourite glade where there are also blueberries and cranberries. 
My presentation went okay. I was a little bit worried at first that it hadn't gone okay, as there were no questions, but once one started there were others and no one was critical and many seemed interested. One guy asked me later about the work I was doing, so at least I knew someone was listening. Of course I was very good and tried to connect with folks I thought might be useful to know to do with my work or for possible collaborative partnerships - as you do at these types of events. One lady I got chatting to had Western Australia on her badge and so I asked her if she was from Perth - there are not that many places for universities in Western Australia and so I had guessed correctly. I told her my daughter had lived there for a few years and then for some reason I told her about my trip down to Denmark (the name of a town on the south coast of Western Australia) only to find out that that is where she grew up. I mentioned that it was that trip that had got us into breeding alpacas and she asked me if it was due to a trip to Pentland Alpacas and sure enough it was. She was only good friends with the owners of the farm and she encouraged me to write to them and tell them that we had got into alpaca breeding because of them, they would be thrilled. It is so strange the connections that can come up in some really random places.
My new friend from Western Australia. I wore
the shawl that I had knitted from the hand spun
wool from Tellus

You can never have too many photos
of the heather covered moors! 

I think the park was a little flooded, but it made a restful
So my trip to Aberdeen has been one full of surprises, lovely ones at that. So despite the fact that the seagulls are noisy and some children have voices like foghorns, it was an enjoyable time. The reason I mention the child with a voice like a foghorn is because I keep saying the Brits are loud, but that kid took the biscuit. After my fish and chips last week, I saw an ice cream van on the way back to my accommodation and I couldn't resist finishing my meal off with one. There were a few children in front, some with parents and one in particular without. He proceeded to do his whole order by shouting to his mother to ask about the various intracies of the ice creams he was ordering. Everyone in that park I think, heard every question, he was so excruciatingly loud. Fortunately the rest of my walks through the park to and from the conference centre were at quieter times of the day and I was able to enjoy some solitude every morning and evening.
Although if you tried sitting on this seat, you might get
wet feet

Breakfast out on the land. Can't beat it!
Yesterday was a relaxed day for both of us, as my plane had arrived late in the evening and so we arrived home well after midnight. We still had to be up for the animals the next day but apart from that we didn't do a huge amount of work. Mainly just sat around drinking cups of tea or coffee and chatting. In fact we have chatted so much, we even managed to start to crystallise out some plans for the future development of our land. Quite a bit of progress really for us. Today was a bit better from the point of view that we continued our productive chatting and also got some work done. In addition we had a visit from the local regional newspaper. A journalist and photographer came. I would love to see all the photos the photographer took of our little Brencis, he took a lot of photos of him, as well as a selfie with Tellus while feeding him. We went on a short walk with Agnese too, to see how she got on with someone else being on the walk, besides Ian and I. She wasn't too bad, just bucked a little at one point. She certainly knows how to play to an audience though, which is nice when you are trying to demonstrate how nice alpacas are.
Can I come in please? I've been on rodent patrol. The answer
is no, she has brought two mice in already.

Chopping up barley to get it ready for winnowing

The garden doesn't look too bad from this angle. The weeds
are bad though. Oh well!

Squashes ripening

The squash plant has taken over the compost heap, which is
what we wanted it to do

A delivery of wood while I was away. Hopefully some guys
with a mobile saw mill will come and cut it up and then Ian
can start on building some more alpaca houses

The chickens in one of the arks

Monday, 17 August 2015

The Winds of Change

One day on the way to do a spot of gardening at our
other apartment I noticed these huge practice
climbing poles looking like huge silver logs. The are
for the aborists to practice climbing trees, but in the
years that have gone by they have changed from
brown to grey and in the morning sun they glistened.
This blog comes to you in instalments, so maybe a bit random at times. Back home the summer is passing by so quickly now and there is a noticeable change in the way the wind rustles through the leaves of the trees. I wonder if the rest of the world hears the change too? The song "The Winds of Change" wormed its way into my brain this week and eventually I looked it up. I could remember the general tune and the title being sung in the chorus, but not much else. I'm terrible at remembering band names or even lyrics properly (no sniggering from my children please!). I had forgotten that it was written around the time of Glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall by a German band, The Scorpions. The lyrics speak of change blowing through Europe and dreams ignited in the hearts of the young that change was coming. It also spoke of the tension of the time, as soldiers marched by. Those were heady days when the news was unbelievable. I and many others never imagined that the Iron Curtain would fall so quickly.

Ian prepared to do battle with some
hornets that had decided to take up
residence in our barn. Hornets are bad
enough but if they take up residence in a
tree away from where we mainly operate
we let them stay, but the barn is out of
So many years down the line and sitting in a country that was sat on the other side of that Iron Curtain to the one I lived in, it is difficult to comprehend how far this country and those like it have come and yet the echoes of that time still rumble from time to time. I sometimes wonder if Europe catapulted itself into a heady hedonism from which it is beginning to wake up. Blindly, naively, rampant capitalism was allowed to take charge and community suffered. People chased a dream that thought stuff would bring them contentment. Are the dreamers waking up? Are hearts stirring for change? Will the markets finally serve the people and not the people serve the markets? Hope is in short supply at times, but it is hope that can bring radical change, just as it has done before. There is always that brief moment in time when the path of history can take several directions, on the one side down to chaos and on the other to a road that leads to freedom. Not freedom to accumulate more but freedom to live simply, in community with others. Even that road can be a rocky one though, but worth the effort of clearing the path through.
Part of the hornets nest. A remarkable feat of engineering,
just not welcome in the barn.

I love gates and there will be a few
more of these. Also on the High Street

So back to the land, the electric fence to stop the wild boar getting in didn’t work. They got in and trampled more barley and so we have perhaps lost half of it now. It doesn’t help that it has been hot here, at least during the day, and so the ground is dry, which doesn’t help the electric fence. There must be a problem with the set up too as it is loosing too much power from the source and as I mentioned before the battery operated sheep fence is giving a better power output. It is so frustrating, the barley was ready, we just hadn’t had the time to get it in. We did get some cut, half of that processed and the other half drying a little closer to the greenhouse where there is not as much pig activity.

The High Street, Aberdeen. Not exactly the hub of trading
these days, but I guess in days of yore then this was the
very centre of the city. I also imagine that come the start
of the University academic year it will be heaving with
I like little alleyways too. Full of mystery
Ian went to find out about the costs of installing a fence, as the nearby sheep farm has started fencing in their land. It is quite a dilemma, because the cost of putting up a fence will run to about €2000, money we could spend on getting new stock, but the chances are that by next year the African Swine Fever will have taken its toll and reduced the numbers of wild boar. The epidemic is building but still no evidence of it being in our immediate area yet. Once it reaches there will be a number of dead animals, but do we put up with the damage now? Even with a few wild boar around it is still possible to get damage and all it takes is one night to lose a large amount of vegetables or grain to even a small herd of boar. The wild boar rarely used to take people’s vegetables as they were quite shy and stayed in the forest, according to the locals, now they are used to being out in the open and I still wonder if that lack of fear will still not change, even if many get sick and die. So once again it is, shall we or shan’t we?

This street is called Wrights and Coopers Place, so it is fairly
easy to assume that the Wheelwrights and the Coopers were
engaged in making wheels in days gone by. 
I decided to practice some biosecurity this trip because I do not want to be responsible for importing African Swine Fever to the UK, especially since we have had so much wild boar damage and so the risk of importing a disease could be high. I washed and sprayed my hiking boots. I have no idea if I am going near any pigs in the UK or how likely it is that I could spread contamination, but I am taking no chances

A formal garden. I ate an ice cream there
because surprisingly it has been very
warm today.
The rest of the week has been gardening or preparing for a presentation for the conference this next week. I now have to switch back into researcher mode and it doesn’t feel easy with the harvest starting to come in now. I have taken up all the winter onions and they are drying in the barn, courgettes have been sliced, sautéed and frozen, sliced blanched and frozen, dried with salt and solar heat or used in cooking. The beans are starting to produce now at last and so I have had to leave instructions with Ian to slice those thinly and dry them in the solar drier, along with the courgettes, because I know he won’t have enough time to blanch them for the freezer and besides the freezer needs some serious sorting.

The more informal edges to the gardens
I also took a trip to the dentist, as I wanted to be sure I wasn’t developing an abscess before I travelled. I think that the bending over to do the weeding in the heat was making the spot where I had the tooth extracted ache, which was a little worrying. Fortunately nothing was wrong and she said I will probably not even feel it by next week. If I hadn’t have been travelling I wouldn’t have gone, but abscesses and flying do not mix – trust me on that! I have experience and not one I wish to repeat.

But sometimes the edges were also very formal. The flowers
were certainly past their best, but still putting in a good
display of colour
At least the trip to the dentist meant that we could sort out the mobile internet while in the big town. We upgraded to a Wifi unit and 50Gb download limit, up from 10Gb. The lower limit was fine for Ian out on the land on his own (unless it was really wet and he started watching too many Youtube videos), but could be a problem if we are both out there a lot and if I was working. It was also cheaper than our home line by about €5 a month. I wrote to cancel the home line and a very nice gentleman rang of course to ask why we were cancelling, his English was good too, which was a plus. I told him that it was easier for us to have a mobile internet, as we needed the access in an area where we couldn’t use a landline. He then offered us unlimited access but downgraded to 5Mb download speed for a third of what we were paying for a supposedly 8Mb line (Ian tests it from time to time and never seen that kind of speed, which I told the young man). Since it is still handy to have the home line we decided to stick with it at that price. At least it does mean that overall we now pay less for our internet and have Wifi out on the land and at home. 

Even the Scottish flag was in flowers
Ian's mother's house sale went through this week. So that keeps us going for a little while longer. It does take rather a long time in the UK normally, but this took even longer due to some minor hiccups. No idea what they were, but just glad that is all done and dusted. 

Cathedral gates
As I am likely to be away a lot in the not too distant future I got myself organised and uploaded the first terms worth of academic lessons ready for the new year for the online educational organisation I work for. Since the lessons are for a GCSE exam course then there are not many lessons left to prepare, which is good news for me. I heard from one of our organisations ex-students this week, he is now going to start organising students at a small international school to use our organisation - shows how long I have been working there when the students are now becoming the teachers. Scary!

The hotel in Riga. The bed was a little
solid, but not the worse I have known,
so I slept okay.

So for the next instalment I’m writing part of this sat in a hotel in Riga. Only after I booked the hotel did I wonder if it was a place of dubious character. It seems alright anyway and it was cheap enough. I think I’m the only person staying. Everyone else is at the Riga Festival in the centre I think, which suits me fine. Annoyingly the Wifi has a password with Latvian characters in it and my computer will not let me enter non-standard letters. No idea why not. My ipad is also not even seeing the signal for the Wifi, so I guess the internet will have to wait until I get to the airport at an unearthly hour of the morning, because the lady on the desk doesn’t speak English and my Latvian will not stretch to working out how to sort out the internet in Latvian. I was hoping to get away without checking in luggage, but with all the paraphernalia for looking reasonably smart that I needed to carry I wasn’t able to, along with the fact it is hot here in Latvia and I’m going to Scotland – which means I need jumpers and rainproof stuff that is too hot to wear here. Fortunately I am flying with SAS and so the luggage is not an extra I have had to pay for, it just means I need to get there early enough to check my luggage in. I only found out today that I couldn’t check in online anyway, because the second leg of the journey is with a different airline – why that should be a problem for some airlines and not others I have no idea.

That ivy must have been there a few years
And so for the final instalment. My conference is in Aberdeen and on the way I met a largish contingent from the Latvian University who are also on their way to the conference. I don't know where in Aberdeen they are staying, but no doubt I shall see them around again. It is hard to keep good contacts with the Latvians, they are not very good at answering emails and perhaps I need to use the phone more, but I think that sometimes adds stress to relationships when people are not confident in the language, especially with a native English speaker. Oh well! I will try and make sure that more contact is kept this time. 

King's College chapel grounds Aberdeen
One of the things I have been completely bowled over with is how friendly the Aberdonians are. Latvians are quite shy and so smiles and politeness are not particularly in evidence most of the time. When you get to know folks, that is different but it takes time and something I have got used to. So it comes as a shock to meet such overt friendliness. It started when I went for the bus. The instructions suggested that I take almost any bus and ask for King's College. The bus I chose did not go that way exactly but it was close, only 5 minutes the driver said. He was very nice about it. A young Romanian lady overheard our conversation and she offered to help me. She had been on the same plane as me so also had luggage. She got me off at the right stop and the bus driver said "Thank you" to me! In Latvia I always say "Paldies" and I am lucky if I get a "Ludzu" out of them, here they were thanking me before I could thank them. It kind of threw me off guard, but in a pleasant kind of way. Next the young lady tried giving me instructions on how to get to the place, it seemed to make sense but I must have looked a bit puzzled as a gentleman stopped and asked if we were lost. He didn't go on his way, until he was certain that one of us knew which way we were going. The bus stop was apparently outside the young lady's house, so she dropped off her luggage and kindly showed me the way to the university and gave me a bit of a guided tour on the way so I could orientate myself. It was so incredibly sweet of her. 
The view of the gates heading out from
my accommodation 

The all important kettle on the table on the right
So my angel left me at the gates to the accommodation and after that it was fairly easy to find my way around. Inside the friendliness continued, as a gentleman directed me to my room, explained the different keys I needed and then made sure I knew to collect a Wifi password at the main entrance after I got settled down. I almost cried when I spotted a kettle in the room, complete with tea-bags. I so badly needed a cup of tea after my rather early start to the day. 

Monday, 10 August 2015

Another week over....

A butterfly on an onion seedhead
Where does the time go to? It has been a hot and sticky week this week. Temperatures up around the 30s and high humidity. The smells and the warmth reminding us of places we have visited that were always strikingly warm for us Brits, such as Cyprus, Pensecola in Florida and Brazil. Even this evening at way past 9pm it is still 23C.
Not quite sure why these Jerusalem
artichokes are so high. The original
ones are as high as the tips of my fingers,
these are another 40-50cm taller

From the enormous to the tiny. These are not what you
might think they are, these are not watermelons, but
cucamelons and are about the size of nail on my little
finger at the moment. Apparently they grow to grape size
and taste of cucumbers with a tang of lime. When they are
ready we will let you know, but they are cute. We also
found out this week, they can be treated like a perennial
if stored in a frost free place over winter - we will be trying
that out
I finally got to the dentists and had a tooth extracted. It seems to have passed without incident and healing okay, although I half wondered today if I was starting with an abscess, but I think it was just a combination of heat, a woman thing and tiredness. Certainly not the kind of thing I want as I head for a conference next week (which reminds me, if I don't post next week, you know I haven't forgotten).
The grapes are suddenly ripening in the heat and we have
even had a few of the sweet ones. These are a picture of the
more sour ones that we are hoping to make some wine out
of this year.

Of course the heat means that some of our squashes have
exploded in size. Much to our relief
The hot days means the farmers around here have been busy because all fields need to be cut by August 15th to receive their EU subsidies and there hasn't been many dry enough days to get it all done since the week we got our hay in at the end of June. Silage was okay, but hay no, that needs heat to get it dry or a good long period without rain. Although we don't get EU subsidies, we have still cut our remaining fields meaning we now have another 102 bales. We haven't gone down the subsidy route yet, because we know there will be certain criteria that needs adhering too, such as cutting down trees that are now growing in the middle of fields. Some can stay for shade, but many need thinning out and it will be too much for Ian to do at once. EU subsidies are not always that generous and Latvia gets some of the lowest, so not really worth it just yet. Plus alpacas do not attract subsidies yet either. Something the Latvian Camelid Association are or were working on.

Forty down, sixty-two more to go!

The hay is not so great, as it is passed its best but it will make good bedding for the alpaca houses. Ian nearly sold a baler the other day, well he could have done if he had the contacts necessary. A gentleman saw Ian baling and stopped the car and asked about the baler. He couldn't speak English, but Ian was able to tell him how much it cost. He was very interested. Our baler may take longer than the huge balers, but the the rewards of manageable bales is invaluable to us and I guess it was for the gentleman who stopped. Well when I say manageable, the bales are manageable if they are not too densely packed as some of the ones were this week. Some I can throw up onto the trailer without too great a difficulty and some I struggle even using a bit of application of mechanics and rolling it up over another bale.

Amaranth, for their seed. It can be used a bit like quinoa
Flowers forming
Damage at the top of our land. You can tell how large an
area by the size of the bale - that they also messed about with
The wild boar piglets have grown recently. How do I know? The damage to the fields has suddenly gone up and so the herds must be on the move and not just solitary animals as we have suspected up until now. They have got into our barley field and made a mess of that, up to a quarter of it was lost and it is so close to being ready to cut. We have put an electric fence around it now which is connected to the mains but the dry weather means it is not very effective, especially at the points where the pigs get in, as that is quite sandy. Ian has contacted the nearby sheep farm to ask about their fencing, they have been busy putting some up in the last few months and I think we are going to have to do the same. We keep contacting the hunter and we even think they visited last night - there was some bread on the floor in one lot of digging and we can't explain its presence in any other way - unless of course the pigs have started carrying around bread to make a sandwich with the things they find at night.

Damage to the barley crop. It is a bit weedy too, but that was
the least of our worries
The fence from the outlet in the barn. It registers 10,000V
inside the barn, but by the time it gets to the orchard plot it
is down to 4000V

By the time it gets down to here it is around 2000V and at
the top of the field it is barely registering. Not good!
Problem is that neither of us really want to test it either.
We have a tester and that is how we know what voltage it is
pumping out. Even the sheep fence, run from a battery, is
currently pumping out 4000V

These are called strawberry sticks. They look interesting,
but not something on the list to keep. The fruits don't
taste of much and the leaves are small and so not much of
a replacement for spinach. We have plenty of other leafy
things that can replace spinach in meals that are far easier
to grow and far more productive
We were in our caravan last night and Ian could hear some squealing (I can't, I'm as deaf as a post. Okay! Not maybe that deaf, but I certainly do not hear well). He thought it sounded like a bird but didn't recognise it. We are now beginning to wonder if it was the pigs, as the mess this morning was pretty bad, fortunately just on grassland and not the crop fields again. We keep wondering when the African Swine Fever will hit the numbers, but the known infections are still just a little way off.
Chenopodium giganteum makes a far better replacement
for spinach. It is productive, grows well and high. It also
is related to quinoa and so the seeds will be edible too.

I didn't think you would want to see pictures of skin
problems and so there is a cute picture of her son Brencis
Veronica our oldest alpaca has been having skin issues again this week. The fly numbers have gone up in the heat and they have been massing on any little sore she has, so much so that she has been gnawing away at her fleece. I have used a liquid with plantain juice in it to calm any itching and we have also applied engine grease to it. Sounds a bit drastic and awful, but we had to do something to keep those flies off and the insect repellants were useless. Apparently, according to one of our farming friends, a sheep consultant had advised her to use it when the sheep get cuts at shearing time, as it is the only thing almost guaranteed to keep the flies away. At least it does seem to be having some effect, but those flies are persistent even when there is no sore to attack, as we know from trying to collect the hay. We also gave her an injection of Ivermectin in case it is mites that is setting off the irritation.
The peas have also come on a lot this last week. They are
likely to go over just as fast in this heat though. Still
looks like a good enough harvest from them now.

As if there isn't enough pictures of cute kittens on the
internet. Eyre is starting to get quite explorative these days.
She also killed a vole today that was around the hay stack
We got the results back from the fibre testing this week. Agnese's fibre quality is acceptable for a first time cut, not excellent but certainly acceptable. So is Estelle's and surprisingly Veronica's, who should have the worst due to her age, was only slightly thicker than Estelle's. What was even nicer about Veronica's fleece is her's didn't change as much through the year, it was fairly constant and has a smaller range of fibre widths - all very good qualities for a fleece animal. Unfortunately, Tellus' fleece, as we suspected, is not as good as we had hoped. Not only that his fleece quality went down over the winter, obviously he is being over fed. We knew he was putting on weight but was surprised that the winter feeding of grain was making his fibre thicker. The amount of grain being fed has been reduced substantially, especially for the boys. There will be no midday winter feeds, either from now on, as they don't need it. At least that should save us some money.