Monday, 25 January 2016

Spinning tales

The sun looks glorious through the
frosted trees
Well we have some good news this week, Eyre the kitten has recovered. She did have a trip to the vets and was given a drip and a course of probiotics, apparently she had gastroenteritis, but this morning she was bouncing out of the greenhouse to greet us as we arrived in her normal bouncy way. Such a relief, because at one point she wasn't even interested in drinking, just sleeping on the radiator.

These are the chickens that were free range and we brought
inside. They have settled in well and apart from one flying
out at night because I put them away in the wrong order, they
have stayed put in their enclosure.
We did however, lose another chicken. This one was regularly picked on by the four older ones in the same ark and never really fitted in. Again the prolonged cold spell we have had, must have been hard on it. Fortunately or unfortunately as the case maybe it is starting to warm up, with temperatures forecast to be above freezing this next week. So we are either going to have a dumping of wet slushy snow or wet soggy fields and we are not quite sure which is worse, especially when I shall be on snow clearing duties at our apartment block this week if necessary. I'm glad I got a bit of skiing in this last week while the snow was good. I found out that the tractor trails up to where we buried Snowdrop were ideal for skiing in because they had a light covering of snow, the ones that were fresh in the morning were too slippery for me and my cross-country skis as I'm not a confident or competent skier.

Such a cheery face. Mari is really getting quite bold now and
coming up to say hello. We think she will make such lovely 
therapy animal with her gentle nature
We both attended another Soil Science seminar this week and it has given us a lot to think about in terms of how we manage our land to protect the soil. I have known for a while that too much digging damages the soil, but how to manage land in a practical way to produce food was not covered in those kinds of academic circles, just the worry over the loss of microbial life and soil structure from conventional farming techniques. The seminars we attended this week were more practical in nature with remedial action that can be taken to correct problems and suggestions as to how to limit the damage. Now we just have to work out how to practically incorporate the details into our own set up.

Chanel is shyer but still such a smiley face
We have been out and about a lot this week it seems as today we took a trip to our friends at Raksi camelid centre. We haven't seen them in a while and we wanted to pass on the new information we have on the situation in Estonia and the opportunities for greater collaboration and training that we have. It was a good time to share our knowledge as they have looked at using alpacas as therapy animals but it didn't really fit with their operation, so they abandoned that idea. It could work for us though and so they will pass on what they know. We also had a good time looking around their place. They have new camels and they are very gentle animals and like some attention and a good nose scratch. Shame we forgot to take our camera. It looks like Ian might have another shearing job though in the early summer, providing of course he recovers well from his operation next month. He will have to be on best behaviour to make sure he does.

One of the dyed t-shirts
The rest of my week was spent preparing for my evaluation for my PhD which happens next week (sometimes in the car on the way somewhere, thanks to a mobile internet) and dyeing wool hanks and t-shirts. The t-shirts were all getting a bit yellow with age and so I threw them in with the wool hanks I was dyeing to give them a new lease of life. Ian's week has mainly consisted of looking after the animals of course, spinning wool and trying to mend my mixer. A slightly eclectic life we lead! Ian seems to be getting quite good at the spinning, he looks so relaxed as he either cards the wool to prepare it for spinning and then just gently peddling away as he spins the wool. I knew he would be good at it, at least he isn't tapping his leg all night making an irritating noise now, he is being productive in the process. The yarn is also getting better and more even as he practices.

Two of the dyed hanks of wool
A while ago I mentioned that I was testing my blood sugar because it seemed to be going to high at times, well after about four months of testing and adjusting my diet to the findings I have lost about 8lbs (about 3.5kg) in weight. I am nearly at the same weight that I got down to about 13 years ago when I had gall stones and had to monitor my fat intake religiously or suffer dire consequences - you could wave chocolate under my nose and I was not interested, unheard of for me and of course didn't last once I had surgery. I spent one week or so doing regular tests throughout the day to see what it was that was sending my blood sugar up and then used that information to adjust my diet and now just test in the mornings to make sure the diet is working. Scientists are beginning to see how individual our responses are to foods and it certainly showed in the differences between Ian and me. I have found that I cannot eat more than a small potato at night, or a small portion of carbohydrate rich food, but potatoes are the worst, whereas they didn't seem to affect Ian that much and he needs more calories than I do.

Our sheep have responded to the cold by putting on a lot of
fleece. They must be well insulated as that snow doesn't
melt off their backs
Timing is also important I can eat two of my own home-made breadrolls for lunch but not in the evening. I found that out this week after a rather high reading one morning. It makes sense when we remember that our bodies have a diurnal rhythm (daily rhythm). I take my time making bread and so it is more of a sourdough recipe, which also helps, I did find out though that shop bought white bread is only for emergencies, as the blood sugar rise is quite alarming. It is annoying though that if we run out I have to spend so much time reading the labels on bread to see which does not have added sugar - a good job I have new glasses and can see all the small print now and a good job that Latvians like a sour-rye bread and so easily available, even if I do have to hunt for it.

Yes we still have our Christmas tree up, but
it will be coming down at the end of the 
week. It is now starting to drop needles but 
it has been such a lovely addition to our 
lounge that it seemed a shame to throw 
it away too early
Paradoxically fruit is great and desserts are okay as long as they have protein in it, so small piece of cake (and I mean small) and custard - no problem. Ice-cream - fine! Once in the hotel I asked for just ice-cream and they gave me the ice-cream with baked banana in caramel sauce and nuts and the next day my blood sugar was not too bad and certainly not as bad as I had been expecting. If it had been two potatoes, that would have been a different story. Of course the initial rise may have been high - I didn't test that, but it did come down again by the next morning.

Our chain harrow disappearing beneath the snow.
I can also eat porridge in the morning, which not every person struggling with blood sugar can, but I do wonder if that is something to do with making a big batch of 4 or 5 grain porridge. If pasta is better cooled and then re-heated for blood sugar control, then maybe the carbohydrate structure in porridge also undergoes a similar transformation. I have found the same effect with both milk porridge and porridge made with fruit juice or fruit purée (we have a lot of berries in the freezer). I eat my porridge with apple sauce and kefirs and only add honey to the fruit porridge. That all worked out fine without any dire blood sugar spikes. One morning I made the porridge and ate it that same morning and my blood sugar rocketed up.

We don't like leaving these out, but not much choice unless we
build barn number two
One of the advantages of the revised diet is that it has pushed me into using some of the grains we have grown such as quinoa and amaranth. These are actually classed as seeds or pseudo-grains rather than actually grains (grains being the seeds of grass plants) and so higher in protein than the traditional grains. The quinoa is the easiest to process but harder to grow successfully, so we haven't as much of that. Amaranth is very easy to grow but far more fiddly to process because the seed is so tiny.  Quinoa makes a great substitute for rice and is quite tasty. I made a nice mix of the quinoa with fried carrot, peas, sesame seeds, linseed, apple, blackcurrant and gooseberry. The fruit was just warmed through but not enough to disintegrate. It was nice cold later on too. I think we will definitely have to work on upping the production of that this next year.

The girls have a new hay feeder, a special long one so more can
eat at the same time
The amaranth though is more difficult to use and needs to be treated more like polenta. I am also going to see if it works as a porridge for the morning, as this will reduce the total amount of starch I eat. I made flour from the amaranth to use in a crumble for a savoury squash dish and that worked okay and I will have to find out how much I can use amaranth as a substitute for flour. I already use a commercial pea flour to substitute a quarter of the flour in bread sometimes, so I can work on playing with that recipe.

A corner feeder too. Obviously well appreciated
The reality though is that overall the one strategy that has kept the weight coming off more than any others is portion control. I use the same plates I have always used, but instead of filling it, I use the circle that edges the pattern on the plate as my guide. My evening meal has to fit within the circle. A very simple technique. The next part of the portion control is that instead of half being carbohydrate, now it is a third or less. It is easy to visualise and keeps me on track for blood sugar control. After that I eat exactly the same as Ian does. Despite the fun of playing about with new recipes, I do find it hard sometimes. What I really miss though is toast when I feel like a snack, so I can relate to this video of a song from my childhood (forgive the overdone specimens of toast in this clip though, link here). Hopefully over time though my body will recover from its insulin resistance and I won't have to be quite so careful, as long as I keep the belly fat off.

I cannot get enough of the stunning
colours of frosty wintry landscapes

To finish off with, we have just realised that I missed an anniversary last week. It was 8 years ago on the 18th January that I wrote my first blog. We were still in Colorado then and just preparing for our move to Latvia. We didn't know what we were setting off to and certainly had no idea that eight years later we would be caring for alpacas and working out how to process alpaca fleece, along with managing 13ha of land. I had no idea then that I would be studying towards a PhD either. Amazing what you can do when you set off prepared to take the adventures that come your way.

Monday, 18 January 2016

RIP Snowdrop

Snowdrop in June of last year
I finished my blog last week with the worry that we were in for a snow storm, fortunately that did not materialise. We have had snow but nothing we couldn't handle. Not so fortunately, however, we lost Snowdrop. Our vet came out again to see her with another vet and both said it felt as if she was pregnant, which we knew would have been extremely unlikely. There was a day when she and the others got out of their enclosure, but the only intact male we had at the time was still safely within his enclosure. He would have had to have jumped over the fence and then nipped back in, which would be rather unusual. Alpaca mating is also a rather noisy affair, so I think Ian would have heard. Ian joked to the vet that if she was pregnant he was going to change her name to Mary.
No snow storm, but lots of frost

Winters are often stunning times of the year here in Latvia
The examination by the vets though seemed to tip the balance and shortly afterwards Ian found her on her side and breathing very shallowly. One of us stayed with her for the next 3 hours or so as she faded away. We, along with our vet performed an autopsy on her shortly after she passed away. We didn't have a choice, with temperatures way down, there was only a short window of time to investigate before having to deal with a frozen animal. We needed to know why she died so we can increase our knowledge, it also helps the vet to know what she is looking for when examining other alpacas. They don't learn this in vet school yet, not here in Latvia anyway.

The same oak tree taken at sunrise this morning.

The ram is finally taking an interest in at least one of the ladies
Towards the end it looks like her heart started to fail, a little like Alicia's did a couple of years ago, but it didn't appear to be that that made her sick, it was her liver. Firstly it was huge and it was also unusual, not a fatty liver thank goodness, which would have had possible implications for our other alpacas, but probably cancerous. The liver is now awaiting a histological examination. We don't have the facilities to do that sort of investigation.
Frosted tree, perfect blue sky and the moon

Frosted tree, cloudy sky and the moon
Snowdrop was a bit of a character. She wasn't a dear, sweet, old lady. She would have been twelve years old next month and so technically nearly a geriatric, but some alpacas in good condition are still producing cria at her age. She was the one we used to have to lock away when we had visitors as her interest in food was always paramount, and if she thought another alpaca was going to get "her" food she spat. Not helpful when you want visitors to come. She was also always, always, always the first in at night and we placed her food down first in a corner so that we could then feed the others. Woe betide any alpaca trying to eat from her tray. She had calmed down a lot though, as she got used to us. As long as we handled her correctly to make sure she didn't spit in our direction when trying to deal with her for any reason she was fine. She was only articulating her displeasure  after all.
Liquid gold sunrise

It has been difficult to choose photos from the ones Ian has taken

Of course we have also been trying to think back over the last few months to try and identify if there was anything that we could have done differently, any signs we should have been aware of etc. I don't think it would have made any difference to the outcome, but it could help us to recognise when another alpaca is sick. It is often difficult to recognise when herd animals are ill, because they don't show until it is often serious and something we just have to accept. There were a few things though that we now know were signals that something was wrong. We were worried about her weight, as she definitely seemed thin and despite not breeding from her this year to allow her time to recover, she didn't put weight on, despite extra feeds and free access to hay.
Soaking up the sunshine

Sometimes our animals prefer snow to the cold water
Another sign was the day she walked up to Ian and looked him hard in the face. When some of the others do that it usually means they would like some water, but that wasn't what she wanted. We remember an alpaca breeder mentioning that if an alpaca was pregnant and seemed to want attention, then something was wrong with the birthing process so perhaps it also means they are trying to get attention when they are sick. The final sign was a rapid weight loss in the last few weeks. I was surprised how much she seemed to have lost since it got cold, but I guess all her energy was going towards trying to stay warm. Thank goodness those two blankets made her comfortable in the end.
Says it all

The morning view from our apartment
Her name and her birth date should give you a clue that Snowdrop was a winter baby. The breeder we got her from didn't intentionally breed at that time of year and she was a surprise birth. It almost seems fitting that to bury her we had to dig through 40cms of permafrost before finding ground soft enough for the back hoe to handle. We had to use long handled chisels and a masonry drill to get through, then the frozen ground was so strong we were able to excavate underneath it without it giving way. So our feisty old lady is now buried beneath a blanket of snow, close to Alicia.

A picture I painted in our art class on a fantasy theme
The nibbler
She isn't the only one causing concern this week. As I mentioned last week I made a coat from an old sleeping bag. The bag must be over thirty years old, as Ian had it before he met me and we have known each other 33 years and so the fabric is not terribly strong. Our youngest alpaca, Brencis, is nibbling everything in sight at the moment. It is possible that he is a bit hungry as he isn't feeding as much from his mum and he hasn't quite got the hang of feeding from the trays yet. More often than not he picks the tray up in his teeth and so scatters the pellets everywhere. He does have free access to hay though and chomps his way through that, but you know how it is when kids are growing fast and trying to fill them. Anyway, he managed to tear a big section of the blanket and the next morning the patch was torn right off and no evidence of the fabric anywhere. We can only surmise that he has eaten it. Ian keeps checking to see if it has appeared, but nothing yet and after checking the internet it could be a while. Apparently the contents of an alpacas stomach can stay there for up to 60 days!
Our geriatric alpaca, is still going strong. Her condition is good

Eyre with her winter ruff
Next on the concern list was Eyre our youngest kitten. She may have eaten something she shouldn't have and definitely has worms. Great! Anyway I finally found the tablet we have for worming cats in my handbag at home, so tomorrow she will get that and hopefully that sorts her out. She got to spend a night in our caravan, rather than the greenhouse like normal. Don't worry about our cats though, firstly the greenhouse gives them lots of protection from the elements and they have both put lots of growth into their fur coats and have bushed up beautifully. We used to take Sofie and Bella (our previous cat) home in the winter, but found they hated the over-heated flat at night, which is why they stay out now. Finally we also lost one of the chickens yesterday. It was the one that was sick a little while ago, so the cold probably hasn't helped. At least the rest seem okay.

I finished knitting my Christmas hat
Talking of over-heated flats, that isn't the case this year. For anyone that has followed the blog over the years, you may realise that we often have heating issues. Too hot or too cold and too expensive regardless of the heat. This year it has been consistently cold and we even had mouldy walls. We now put our woodburner on in the evenings to keep us warm enough and to dry out the place. It is no good complaining, because it is a house issue and not just the company who provides the heat. Until the people in our apartment block decide to come off the communal heat, it will remain expensive and unpredictable. The re-circulation pump that was installed at excessive costs about eighteen months ago is the reason for the cold, but steady temperatures from what we understand. So the saga continues.

Monday, 11 January 2016

A chilly week

My herb garden looking like a scene
from Narnia
I'm sitting here wondering what on earth I have done this last week. Sometimes I write notes to remind myself, but somehow they didn't get done this week. It has been a week of chopping and changing of plans, I remember that much. I meant to get on with sorting out the details for my evaluation that happens every year for my PhD studies and will be sometime before the end of the month. I managed a little of that today, but not much before. I meant to finish some Sociology lessons and I managed a few of those too one day whilst trying to warm our other flat through to prevent pipes from freezing.
One of our projects this week was to get black plastic on
some field plots before it snowed. The idea is that in spring
these will warm up quicker and encourage all the weed seeds
to germinate, which will then die off underneath the plastic
leaving us a cleaner bed to plant into, either in spring or later
on in the year depending on what we decide to plant in it.

My orchard allotment plot
It has been bitterly cold and we saw -28C (-18F) one morning. Fortunately the car has not let us down, even though the diesel in the car is only rated down to -21C (-6F). By now it should be rated down to -30C (-22F) at least. Our alpacas have been shivering a little but on the whole they are doing okay and certainly relishing the increase in temperatures to a giddy -9C (16F) today. As a friend of mine wrote on facebook, you know it has been cold when -9C (16F) feels quite warm. One of our alpacas, however, is not doing so well. I spent a few nights this week making first one coat out of an old sleeping bag and then another one lined with an old fleece underblanket. Now she is wearing both.
Looking rather cold and bleak

Coat number one. Not bad considering I don't have a
working sewing machine at the moment. I had to sew it all
by hand and my fingers are still sore. The edges aren't
finished either, but I reckon she is not that bothered about
I was quite proud of the result from my efforts. I had been wondering how to make an alpaca coat for emergencies for a while and this week we checked them out online as our poor Snowdrop started to really suffer in the cold. Although we found some reasonably priced ones, the problem was that we needed it right now and not next week. I suddenly had a brainwave when I remembered an old nylon sleeping bag that had seen better days. I halved the sleeping bag, then cut a section off the bottom - otherwise it would be too long - and used that to make some flaps for the front of the coat to fasten around the throat. I used some velcro straps from a fleece jacket that had started to look tatty and a strap from an old bum bag (I know I have a few followers from America and I suggest you look up the translation, as it is not a word I like to use in polite British circles).
The new alpaca house can be seen in the distance

Despite the cold there have been some glorious days too
Unfortunately it wasn't sufficient to keep her warm and Ian said it had never made a good sleeping bag anyway and it always felt cold. I used the other half, but this time I lined it. I had to use a strap this time off an old Garmin heart monitor that was no longer working, as I had no more bum bag straps. You can tell from that list that we keep rather a lot of stuff that normally would and perhaps should be thrown in the bin (trash can). There is a pile of such stuff in the middle of our living room floor that has been there a while waiting to be sorted, but the pain of throwing things away is weighing heavily. This is not helped at all by the above example of the possible ways to recycle broken and old things. It just makes the job doubly hard. From where I sit I can see the Christmas tree (yes ours is still up) and see the baubles made from old lightbulbs that were sprayed red and decorated with gold paint and the soft balls made from an old bronze dance dress and stuffed with the contents of an old pillow. I can also see two pictures where one is made from old scraps of cloth and the other made from torn tissue paper.
And some rather nice sunrises

Out of the apartment window, looking one way
It has been an eventful weekend. Firstly we met a fellow Lancastrian, called Andrew, who also lives in Latvia (I hasten to add that I am the Lancastrian, i.e. born in Lancashire, Ian is not, he is a Geordie, born in Northumberland). Andrew is more famous than we are, he made the Latvian news, which is how I came to find out about him. Our friend who teaches English and often translates for us sent us the link to the news article about his blog a while ago and so I posted a comment. Eventually we made contact which resulted in him and his wife coming out to see us (you can see Andrew's blog here). We had a lovely few hours and I made wild boar stew in the slow cooker, which was rather tasty, if I do say so myself. The next day our neighbour who often comes to see our alpacas came out with another neighbour and her daughters to show them the alpacas. She had to show them around and explain about alpacas, which she is very good at now, since she has heard so much about them and has helped us out quite a few times, because Ian unfortunately had to call out the vet to Snowdrop and they were busy dealing with her when our neighbour came out.
Further down the street

The extra string was supposed to stop
the sheep from thinking of escaping
from their new paramour 
The alpacas appreciated the carrot snacks our visitors brought but two of the sheep decided to freak out and escape. It was a shame because they had been so much calmer this week because the girls now have a man. We have been quite startled by how much less demanding they are, now they have a ram around. The ram is a much calmer meat merino from the neighbouring sheep farm, which we went to choose earlier on the week. We are not sure there has been much in the way of mating going on though unfortunately. The idea was that we have the ram for about a month and then pack him off for a rendezvous with the freezer. That would then mean we have some hopefully calmer lambs to replace the skitty sheep we have now, meanwhile still manuring and trimming the pastures as required. Not sure how that is going to work out now if he doesn't get the girls pregnant. It might be past the breeding season, apparently.
Penned up waiting for the arrival of the ram - just in case they
freaked out.
The meeting went quite calmly really. Hello ladies, I'm
your new fella and that was about it. 

The new ram is not so used to Ian yet!
Anyway back to Snowdrop, since she has taken up quite a bit of our time this week. The coats have made a difference to Snowdrop insofar as she is actually warm with both of them on, but she is now a very sick alpaca. The vet gave her drips yesterday and something to help clear any blockages in her stomach, since she could feel a lump there. Today we have been pouring oil down her and our vet came back and gave her another couple of drips. Snowdrop isn't getting up on her own and she has been sat next to a radiator to keep her warm. We are grateful Ian managed to get the alpaca house done and wired up for electrics, even if it has meant several extension cables to get to it - not ideal but in a push it has to do. We only finished treating her at around 5pm tonight and couldn't have done that without the lights and the radiator to keep us warm as well as Snowdrop. She did at least eat a tiny bit of hay, which is a promising sign and made attempts to spit at another alpaca. Snowdrop is usually very ready to display her displeasure of any other alpaca who gets to close to her, she is normally quite a feisty madam in that respect, but not over the last few days.
We think the greenhouse tore due to the
cold. Fortunately we had plastic to
replace it with.

Poor lass! Not a happy lady.
It is hard to have to make her as comfortable as possible and then just leave her overnight and we half expected to find she had died when we arrived on the land this morning. We had even been talking about how we were going to bury her if necessary - not an easy job considering it has been so cold just lately. It would have involved chipping away at the layer of ice for several days and covering it so it doesn't freeze lower down, before we can get the back hoe out to dig a hole deep enough. Fortunately that wasn't necessary today. Unfortunately it has started snowing and we are not sure how much snow we may get tomorrow, we may miss the worse of it, we may not so we need to be prepared for a night out in the caravan if necessary.

Monday, 4 January 2016

You have to laugh

The Aurora Borealis from our land. It is clearer in the photo
than in real life. It was just an eerie greenish glow. It almost
looked like city lights, but we live in a sparsely populated
area and when you get out to our land there is very little
light pollution really. You can tell by the stars! Amazing
to see. We can stand and watch them for ages, even on
cold winter nights.
A friend of ours has just celebrated 25 years of marriage and made the comment that laughter was so necessary for his marriage. It is so necessary for ours too. We laugh more now than we ever used to and that's saying something, as I married Ian for his sense of humour. Admittedly there were times when the laughter was rare and times were tough, but we have weathered many a storm together over the 31 years we have been married. There have been a couple of times this week when a potentially argumentative situation ended in laughter and a joke that carried on for a few days; rather than the sulk like we used to, which also used to carry on for a few days.
Looks a cozy place to be, but that is just the light on in
the caravan, which is in its winter residence in the

Ghostly shapes! Ian was using me to act as something to
focus on, only I didn't move fast enough in this photo and
I left a trail of torch light
I'm just cute :)
One example was over cutting trees. There is a section of forest on our land that is throwing a lot of shadow over a growing area. Normally Ian doesn't like cutting too many trees down, but this time he was all for cutting the forest right back at this particular point. The problem is that it is designated as forest on our land plans and therefore a certain number of trees need to be left in place; although part of the problem is the accuracy of the plans due to pre-satellite maps which do not necessarily correspond exactly with the picture on the ground. For instance the edge of the forest could be right through our barn, but really the old ditch that probably marked the edge and the pile of stones where they put the stones that come up after winter would indicate the edge is about 4 metres away at least and the forest has been slowly encroaching on the field area. Admittedly there is a need to clear out some diseased trees and leave space for other trees to grow stronger but how many to cut?

Snowdrop has been causing us some concern. She has been
sitting down a lot, but that probably conserves heat. She is
also still on the thin side and so Ian has been giving her extra
feed in the mornings
There is a certain amount of frustration for both of us over the lack of Latvian language, which means we can't just go and easily check online for the rules and regulations, but I still felt it was not right to cut all of the big trees down and just leave tiny saplings. Frustration boiled over into an uncomfortable silence as we walked back to our caravan, until Ian turned to me and said with a grin on his face, "I know! I've had a really good idea. I think we should cut down SOME of the trees at that end of the land." To which I replied, "That's a VERY good idea!" We laughed! And several times since, as Ian reiterates his good idea, accompanied by that grin.

Ian missed the window to get these ruts levelled out. They
are quite deep but it had been too wet to deal with. Now
they are too hard to deal with and set like concrete in the
frozen temperatures we have had this week. We had a low
of -23C this morning

Winterised shovel. Ian uses this to clear
the poop from the alpaca houses and
the metal handle has been too cold for
him, so a bit of pipe insulation has been
Tree cutting is one of the winter jobs for Ian, as long as the snow is not too deep. Although we have more snow and the ground is frozen hard it is still possible to cut trees. That makes it sound like Ian cuts lots of trees down, but it is a work in progress to trim out the forest to leave trees stronger rather than over-crowded as they are now and dominated by willow. It is also a long slow process, to cut the trees and then process them into logs for either firewood or construction purposes and brush for chipping. The work is also to comply with some of the national rules that state how we are supposed to look after forested areas. The authorities prefer to have managed woodlands rather than natural grown, which is fine for us as we can utilise the wood and we aim to harvest it in a sustainable way - without clear felling in the future. What we can't use are stacked either in the forest (or will be, sometimes it doesn't happen so fast) or used to make hugelkulturs or raised beds with wood, which are useful in the damp low lying areas. One of our aims is also to grow some woodland plants for harvesting, although we will have to think how we keep the wild boar out of those areas.
Snowflakes on Chanel's nose

Looking gorgeous
One of my winter jobs is sorting the seeds out. We have some that are left over from last year's purchases and some from our own plants. Once we know what we have, then we can start to plan what we want to grow for next year and topping up with the seeds we still need. For those who like these kinds of lists, here are the seeds we have. The ones in red are ones that we have some of our own seed.

5 flavour berry Coriander Parsnip
Amaranth Courgette Peas various
Amelanchier Lamarckii (Juneberry) Cucamelon Pepper 
Apple Cucumber Peppermint
Ash False Indigo Poppy seeds 
Basil –various Hemp Quinoa
Beans - Borlotti, french, runner Hollyhock - black
Short beans of different hues Kale - Siberian Radish
Broad beans Lavender Rosemary
Beetroot Leeks Sage
Beets - fodder Lovage Shallots - banana
Chinese Cabbage - Chinese Marigold - African Spinach
Cabbage Marigold - Pot Spring Onion 
Calabrese Melon Squash - various
Caraway Mizuna  Sunflower
Carrot Mustard leaf Green in snow Swede
Catmint (Nepeta cataria) Nastursiums  Sweetcorn
Cauliflower Nigella Tokyo Bekana
Celtuce Oats - hulless oats Tomatoes -lots
Chard - Bright Lights Onion Turnip 
Chickory Pak Choi Canton Dwarf Wheat 
Chilli Parsley - curled Willow herb
Choy Sum Hon Tsai-Tai Purple Parsley - Extra tripled curled

We've been good, honest!

Carrot seeds
Have I got everything we grow? Nope! Some of the seeds are a bit old and some we have lots of but I buy more to ensure that our crops have a good genetic make up. You can get lots of seeds from just a few carrots, but the genetic variation will be low and so we buy in a few more packets to help this. We have lots of squash seeds too (after all it only takes one squash to get lots of seeds), but this year we had a lot of difficulty with the growing conditions and some of the types we like to grow did not do very well and so I am not happy with the seeds we have. You might also wonder why we have seeds for things like willow herb? Well that is because it makes quite a nice tea and we grow it for its medicinal properties. Plus why fight against the things that will grow quite naturally on our land when we can make use of them?
Our three wise men

Big Bird defrosting on the radiator
with Sofie looking on and wondering
what that chicken was doing in her
usual place.
Another winter job we did this year, that we haven't done before is to bring in the free range hens. One of our hens we call Big Bird was really struggling, we had had to defrost  her twice because her feet had frozen solid, in the low temperatures we have had this week. Another problem was that most of the free range ones are getting on a bit now and there were only four in the largish chicken house and so not enough to keep warm in that large space. We were surprised that Big Bird has survived this long though. Firstly she is a broiler chicken and they have a tendency to overeat and put on weight and so rarely last more than 18 months, so for her to get to over 3 years old is quite an amazing feat. They usually die from broken legs when they put on too much weight or heart attacks. She has also barely survived several fox attacks, partly because she was usually the last one out of the forest when the fox struck.

No longer free range, but warmer and safer from foxes
We had a spare chicken box that would fit in the greenhouse and we had some netting to keep them confined, so we brought them in and Big Bird was put in overnight with her usual companions after spending the afternoon on top of the radiator to thaw out. The next morning she stumbled out of the box, but she was still eating. However after Ian had finished his morning chores he found her dead body in the coop. It is kind of sad, but in some ways we are grateful that she had a good innings, she has passed on her genes and given us bigger - if daft - chickens and in her final few months actually looked a lot healthier than she had all summer. She had been toddling around getting into trouble for being where she shouldn't be by wandering far from home. Ian had been dreading having to cull her if she didn't improve, as she is from the first batch of chickens we hatched out. All the others had been males and so ended up on the plate.

Estelle has caused me injury before, but this time she was
as good as gold. She is definitely looking pregnant now
I forgot to mention the pre-Christmas treat our alpacas got - toe nail clipping! Not that they thought it was a treat though. I asked our neighbour, who finds our alpacas help her relax, to help us with the task. We are so pleased we did because the task went so well. Ian did all the clipping, but either I or our friend held the alpaca around the neck and the other held onto the fleece on the back of the alpaca. I think the extra calm presence of someone who they had met before worked a treat. We managed all eleven of them within a short period of time and no distressed animals or people - there is usually one or two who cause us a problem and either we end up hurt or the animal gets away without all the toe nails clipped. We have even harnessed one of them before now to get the job done.

I love winter mornings
It is customary at this time of the year to reflect back on the past or to ponder the year ahead. Just before the last New Year I wrote this :-
Well New Year is nearly upon us. What will this New Year bring? People are certainly filled with uncertainty and are worried what it will bring. It is hard to hold onto hope at times, but I cannot and will not let go of it. I still have my dreams, I still have my faith. I still believe that God is into renewing this planet that he made and I will work to the best of my ability alongside him.
A sugar coated alpaca or more likely someone has been
rolling in the snow.

It certainly turned out to be a difficult year, but one in which I did hold onto my faith, even if it did wobble at times. We went to visit some friend's of ours during the week and on the way back I got to musing over the following year. I felt a sense of turning of something momentous brewing, something as momentous as the Berlin Wall coming down. 2015 felt like a year to endure, not especially bad for us, but a long hard slog of uncertainty, just as I had felt it would be at the beginning of the year. I feel the same for the beginning of 2016 but a new shape of things to come around the corner when the storks return. I came home to an email in my inbox that started off "Onward to a new era" that felt like the whisper of confirmation to me. So hang on in there for the first few months of 2016, but hold onto hope and look for changing times ahead, or even better, take part in them and make them happen.

A couple of final things that I forgot about earlier - our horse box passed its technical now it has new winter tyres and I got new glasses today. I don't like these as much as the last ones and the photo is not good - winter hat hair into the bargain  , so I started messing around with photos and the second one is much better but still reminds me of Joe 90