Monday, 25 September 2017


Yes really! That yellow ball of light is sunshine!
Yes! We really do have sunshine. Not only do we have sunshine we have had sunshine for the past two or three days, with blue skies too. Bliss! It does mean that it has got pretty noisy around here. Often it is so quiet you could hear a pin drop, but at the moment we hear chainsaws, strimmers and tractors as people get jobs done while the sun shines. We are no exception and Ian has added to the noise from time to time. Not to mention the 4x4 cars that kept going past all Saturday. We saw more cars in a day than we normally see in a month.
I got to feel George's coat this week and it is super soft. I'm
usually quite a good judge of fineness, so I'm hopeful that
his turns out to be a good fleece

We saw the first flock of geese heading south-west tonight though. In Latvia they say that the geese fly off two weeks before the first snow. I do hope this group have got it wrong. I know it is due to get colder and we have had snow in mid-October before but please not this year! Not yet!

Frederiks is such a cutie. His fleece doesn't feel quite so soft
but it is very dense, so probably still a very good fleece
It has been, shall we say an entertaining week of sorts. On Tuesday I went into the village as normal as it is milk day (as is Friday). This means that unless I have dropped a bottle off earlier, I need to be in the village by 8am or thereabouts. It has become a bit of a bind this year and probably one we will not continue next year after we move back out to the caravan in spring. We will see if we can source the milk more locally or worse have to get supermarket milk. Not keen of the supermarket idea, so we hope our neighbour will supply us. We haven't wanted to change as we have had our milk delivered to us for near enough 10 years now from the same lady and when we are in the apartment delivery days are not an issue. Oh well! Times change and we have to adjust.
Glowing in the sunshine

A contemplative moment
Anyway, as I was saying I went in as normal and did the normal Tuesday type jobs, such as get a shower, do some washing, bake cakes and bread and bottled up some tomato sauce. I also did some sewing on my sewing machine. Not so normal though I ended up clearing what appeared to be a leak from our upstairs neighbours in our other apartment- fortunately not a big leak and one that had stopped, but as always a bit of a concern (we have had a few leaks from upstairs over the years). Also fortunately it had leaked onto the vinyl floor that is sealed so no worries about causing other issues and only needed mopping up. As I set off to go home that evening though I tried to start the car and it wouldn't fire up. It didn't sound good at all, so I phoned Ian. He managed to get a lift with one of our neighbours who was heading back into the village and they came to the conclusion there was an issue with the starter motor.
More contemplative moments and a spot of sunbathing 

Gathering on the few dandelions that have popped up 
Sigh! I was relieved though it happened this week and not next when Ian is due to go on his travels. Our friend who gave Ian a lift was kind enough to lend us his wife's car. She was going away anyway, so wouldn't need it for a few days. Unfortunately the car is just a two wheel drive car and our land was rather squelchy from all the rain. We managed to get the car on, but then got it stuck in a trench that Ian had made to divert water off the roadway. We resorted to pulling it out with the tractor and was able to park it where it wouldn't get stuck getting off the land. What a day.
We put in some barley to suppress the weeds. It is supposed
to be green manure over the winter too, but it has gone to
seed and looks healthier than any barley we have grown
in the fields. Typical it might even ripen too or not if it

It still amuses me the balance of alpacas when they have an
itch to scratch
The next day Ian went to the garage to sort out getting our car repaired. The mechanic asked if we could tow the car with our friend's car, but it was not something we wanted to risk, so he got an old Fronterra and the mechanic and Ian went to collect our car from the village. After bump starting our car they got the car going and they both headed back to the garage (as Ian said, why didn't he think of that! Well it is not something that would have occurred to me either). Along the way though the Fronterra developed a fault and when Ian caught up with it, there were clouds of steam coming out from under the bonnet. Ian ended up towing the Fronterra back to the garage. Our car was fine until it stopped and then it wouldn't start, so not an issue to tow the car.
One bowl so of course the cat has to sit in it

If you go down to the woods today, you're
sure of a big surprise
That was a bit of a wasted day since it was a day without rain, but we still got the chance to get out and find mushrooms. We got a nice load of chanterelles but there weren't many other mushrooms we recognised as edible, enough for our evening meal and some to dry at least. The next day was wet again and during a discussion a few days previously we had decided on the next wet day we would have a brainstorming session. We decided to discuss what we want to see happen on our land and what our values and focus were. We were doing quite well and we were both reasonably happy and positive about the ideas when the phone went. Our car was ready! We decided to go straight away, so we could return our friend's car back as soon as possible and we also decided that since it was still rather wet, we would have a drink and cake at the bakery. End of brainstorming session!
Well that was a big surprise. It was huge.
Unfortunately also past its best

And as for these spiky little chaps
The next morning we woke to the rumble of thunder. It was quite weird as we could feel the caravan shake with each rumble. At one point we heard a crashing sound, a tree near our pond had come down. The weather cleared up after that so Ian went for a walk and found a few more trees had come down in the morning storm. I think the rain soaked ground and the buffeting wind had been just a bit too much. We managed to get some jobs done that day and so we didn't get back to the brainstorming session until the evening, by which time we were both a bit tired and cranky. That didn't go too well, but we still made progress. We decided that if we were going to make any progress our caravan had to have a permanent shelter and not one to move in and out each year. This would free up the greenhouse to make it more suitable for a workshop.
Really weird
You can see the stump of the tree in the middle of the photo.
It makes the place look a bit empty now, as it was the only tree
growing in a swampy area

The girls out in their extended area. 
Our land has beautiful rolling terrain and so trying to find flat places for buildings, even small ones, can be a bit of an issue. It took a morning of discussions to finally settle on a spot for the caravan and a method to house it that we think will work and won't require any special permission to build. It is also close enough to the greenhouse to run electric to. We also decided on where to put a barn. We had decided on an area before but realised that wouldn't work with the caravan. Such a palaver! If that goes there, then that can't go in that spot, but if we put that there... and so on! We are not sure if it will happen this year, as it depends on the weather when Ian gets back, especially with those geese flying over. The forecast is dry for now, so I guess it is unlikely to stay that way for much longer. We do at least have the wood to build it. The caravan has served us well, but it will not do so out in the sun and rain every year for six months of the year. It needs a cover and it definitely wouldn't last long in the winter weather, hence the need to move it into the greenhouse every year.

The finished fence
The last two days have been glorious and so we finally got the girls fence wired up. This is a huge area covering about half a hectare or just over an acre and the posts had been in since May. While Ian is away the girls can be just left to roam around in it during the day and I won't have to worry about moving fences. It also means we won't have to worry about visits from the boys. We nearly had an incident this morning. We were sat in the caravan having breakfast when Ian issued an expletive and said "Mr P's just walked past the caravan". I didn't compute what he said straight away but knew by the tone of his voice we had to move fast. We got outside to see Mr. P. heading up to see the girls, he had obviously missed them. Fortunately he knew where to go and wandered up to the gate where we eventually managed to catch him. There may have been some bribery involved and it wasn't quite that simple but we got him in the end in a relatively short time. Ian harnessed Mr. P up and walked him back to his own paddock where he was confined to calm himself down and forget about the girls.
The boys were really excited about all the extra space,
especially George. I'm not quite sure if Aggie wanted to join
in or was just exasperated with George for getting too close
at huge speeds. 

Our view at morning coffee yesterday. Mr. P. staring at the
girls, pining again
We are not quite sure how he managed to break the fence, but they will be getting a new area to graze tomorrow, as Ian was out putting up a new one this evening. The problem is that they exhaust the grass quite rapidly at this time of the year and have to be moved often to give the grass a break. At least with the girls behind their big fence we now have more spare poles to make the boys grazing area bigger and even if they get out, they can't easily get to the girls. Our only worry would be Veronica really as the others are almost certainly pregnant. Mind you, Veronica knows how to put up a fight when it comes to amorous males and she hasn't wanted any of that sort of thing. It is not something we want to risk though, she is too old and she is retired.
We'll have none of that carry on!

Monday, 18 September 2017


A selfie in my new raincoat. Good job I got
it really
Is that the sound of a babbling brook I hear? Or the gentle running sound of a waterfall. Errrr! Yes! Not that there should be on our land. We have swamps and streams that dry up in summer but not exactly babbling brooks and there definitely shouldn't be a babbling brook near our greenhouse, but today there was. Actually there was a torrent of water running down into our ponds. We also have a stream running across our lower field and the drain from the road is under water - we didn't venture near to find out by how much though. In one or two places we had to back track from our investigations because the water seemed to be rather deep.
The top pond into the middle pond. We could
have had trout instead of carp in this pond. Mind
you at this rate we could end up with carp in the
middle pond if those carp have spawned.
The middle pond flowing into the bottom pond

Sweet little Frederiks
We haven't had as much of an issue with escaping animals this week, as our neighbour has now put up a more permanent fence with wooden posts and barbed wire. It seems to have done the trick anyway. Frederiks though, bless him did manage to end up on the wrong side of the fence. He seemed almost relieved to see Ian, as went up to him - they are usually quite shy still at his age. Winter seems to change that as they get used to being fed with grain. Ian wasn't able to actually get hold of Frederiks so I helped to corral him and he jumped back over the fence since it was down in places. The electric went back on to remind him what it is for.
George's fleece looks wonderfully soft, it will be interesting
to know what it will be like when he is sheared next year

Herkules has now remembered what the electric fence is for
since this photo was taken
Our usual suspects, Herkules, Mari and Veronica have all been eating through the fence to get to the greener grass and so the fences have been switched on at various times. They get through the green stuff at a much faster rate at this time of the year and fences need moving more often, especially when it has been as wet as it has been this week. We don't have them on permanently as we get through too many batteries otherwise and so use them judiciously. The sheep fence is always on though and gives a hefty kick, they wouldn't stay behind it otherwise.
Our babbling brook next to the greenhouse

Aggie's fleece interestingly showed the time she was sick
with the tooth abscess. The fleece diameter  declined quite
steeply at one point and so she must not have been not eating
properly for longer than we realised. Good job she made a
good recovery once we realised she was poorly and knew
what the issue was.
We found out an interesting fact this week as we got the fleece results back. We found out that our animals tend to get fat over winter making their fleeces not as good as they could be. The hay and probably lack of exercise does not help - just like humans really. Looks like we might have to run them around the paddock this winter to ensure they don't overeat. At least we don't have to worry about the quality of the hay, it is obviously more than adequate to keep them going and this year we do not have as much worry about not having enough like last year.

Down the side of the greenhouse. Ian had
to lift the extension cable out of the water

Ian had to move the water buckets that catch the water off the
roof so that the water could drain away

Frederiks with his mum, Chanel
Our friends from the Alpakafarm in Estonia visited us this week too, so there was plenty of alpaca talk. They were visiting Riga for shopping and called in on a bit of a detour. Mind you at least it saved us a trip as we needed some more alpaca feed, which they supply us with as they are distributors. They have stopped using the Estonian company for their own animals though and reverted to the more expensive Camelibra, produced in the UK. They weren't happy with the quality of the feed. We are also going to try the Camelibra and we shall see what effect it has on our animals as some of them are getting skin issues again and it could be linked.
We also discussed mating issues of alpacas with our friends.
We don't seem to have had a problem with Mr. P. though. Ian
checked one last time to see if the girls were pregnant and they
were definitely not letting Mr. P. anywhere near. He looks quite
calm here for a jilted lover

I love the purple colour of this mushroom
It hasn't been wet all week, just very wet when it has rained. On the dry days we try and get as much done as possible. I've picked more peas, taken up plants, cleared veg beds and sorted out areas for Ian to dump the alpaca poo over the winter to rot down into the nice rich soil we get from it. I have also been on caterpillar hunts as they have finally started appearing, which is a pain as the cabbagey type plants were doing quite nicely up to that point and really started to get going. This is also the time of year for collecting seeds from poppies, dill, mustard and hemp. I did leave some hemp though as I kept being told off by a Willow Tit (at least that is what I think it is) who was feeding off the hemp seeds. I thought it was just one, but it turns out there are two of them and they are bold little chaps.
The little fella is up there on the bean pole giving me a good
telling off as usual. That jungle passes for a vegetable garden

Our rather full and murky pond

A rainy day job, sorting out the ditches to
make sure the water runs away from the
buildings. A bit of a problem when our land
is so hilly
Since it seemed so wet for most of the week, Ian has been ticking off some jobs that needed doing. He fixed the boys feeder which got broken and one day he finally made me some shelves to fit the Ikea shelving units that I asked for earlier on in the year. He even came with me into our village to fit them. It was only when we got there though that we realised we hadn't got enough of the screw bolts. Doh! Seems like I will have to wait a bit longer to finish putting up the shelves and sorting out. He also spent a whole morning trying to scan receipts so that finances are in order before he heads off the UK. You can tell how wet it is when he spends time doing this before he needs to, he would rather be outside.
At least Aggie does not put her head through the fence like
Mari and Veronica, but she still likes to nibble the grass on
the other side

Such pretty mushrooms. Apparently they
can be eaten once parboiled first as the poison
is water soluble, however I'm not going to try
it. Too risky for my liking.
Still Ian has managed to get outside on those dry days and he has been doing a lot of strimming in the forest to make it easier for himself in the winter when he does the forest maintenance work. He also cleared a path through the forest along the edge of our border, so we know where the border is and it makes a nice walk too. We did try mushroom hunting again this week and we found a few, but not the huge numbers we expected due to the damp conditions. I am beginning to wonder if the nights have been too cool. If it warms up a tad then I think there will be more.
More of the pretty Fly Agaric mushrooms. Of
course I was telling someone I hadn't seen any
this year and then we go and see lots of them
No Veronica. you are not supposed to be eating the leaves off
the oak tree

Before the babbling brook got started in earnest

Monday, 11 September 2017

Harvesting between the showers

A barrowful of potatoes, fairly blight free, scab free, wormhole
free and fork hole free
The seasonal cycle turns and another milestone of the year passes. We are heading into autumn and so  harvesting of the main crops begins. The forecast for this next week is not good and so I took advantage of a dry day to start taking up the potatoes. I was going to write digging them up but some of them didn't need digging up. This year we tried a different approach, in winter and early spring of this year Ian put some of the manure from the alpacas on the ground and then in late spring he put in the potatoes by making a hole through the manure pile to the hard soil underneath. Alpaca manure is not as strong as other manures and so can be put directly on the garden. Later on in the year, as the potatoes poked through I and one of our helpers put old hay around them to encourage them to put out more roots and keep the weeds at bay.

The dark rich soil and not a bad
return, with each pile coming from
one original potato
To harvest the crop I took up the hay and found the potatoes, as some were on the surface of the soil just under the hay. It was then just a matter of sieving with my hands through the deep black soil to find the potatoes. The soil, despite all the rain we have had was rich and crumbly and so easy to find the potatoes. One group of potatoes though were a bit more rooty with weeds, which made it harder, so Ian used a fork to take those up, while I forked over the other beds for stray potatoes and any roots before covering up with hay again. It was much less stressful than in previous years as it didn't feel like a major exercise to organise, especially now all the gardening is done out on our land - we finally gave up the allotments last year. I got started on them and when Ian had finished doing what he was doing, he joined me to help.

The boys, by and large behaving themselves. Mr. P (our black
alpaca) was up to see the girls again, but was rather
disappointed, they were not having any of his advances. We
are fairly sure they are all pregnant now.
Another milestone that happens about this time of the year is escaping animals. They all seem to make an attempt at it. With the alpacas it is usually because one of them decides to start eating over the fence and so the electric fences get switched on more at this time of the year to remind them of their limits, but it isn't usually a big deal. This week it wasn't our animals that were the problem initially, it was our neighbours cows. They have escaped a few times already and that is why our other neighbour wanted to put up a fence last week. Well they escaped again this week and caused us a bit of a problem this time.

One layer of panelling completed. It will stop like this for
the time being, as we don't need the extra room yet and it
works better like this for a barn.
It had been a rather pleasant day to start off with too. Ian had been putting up the panelling around our newest alpaca house at last and he ran out of nails, so he needed to take a trip into our village to get some more. I had been doing some computer work and fancied a break and so I suggested a trip to the bakery, where we had a nice cup of cocoa and a pastry. On the way back Ian saw the neighbours cows out and so when we got back, as I went to go hunting for mushrooms he did some investigating.

I'm not sure if this is one of the edible ones
or not, so I took a photo to compare. 
So now picture the scene. I am wandering through our forest hunting for mushrooms. There are so many delightful looking mushrooms, and plenty of the edible ones that I know well enough to pick. Some are huge, chanterelles were also now appearing in different places to the ones where we know they grow regularly. The mushrooms were here, there, popping up everywhere. I love mushroom picking, as it is a great excuse for a wander around the forest, meanwhile……

Our winter squash collection is growing
Ian is not having such a delightful time. He had spotted that our neighbours cows were now in the road, he tried to phone our neighbour and couldn’t get through. He drove up to see her and on the way spotted three rather familiar faces - our sheep. Not where they should be but on our other neighbours land. He tried to phone me, again and again… my phone was back in the caravan. Whoops!

Finally apples from our trees in our small orchard, well more
than about three like we had last year. 
I got back to the caravan and discovered the number of missed phone calls. I rang to find out where he was and what the calls were for. He wasn’t best pleased. Our sheep are out, the neighbours cows seemed to have broken the wire, or freaked our sheep out. Either way our sheep were across the road and not where they should be. I had to set off to find them armed with a bowl of feed.

Maybe not so clear as I had hoped, but I love
the Cross design in the middle of
the courgettes
I saw them on our neighbours field but realised that the fence we had agreed to was now between me and them, somehow they had got through. I found out they must have just worked there way around it and so I trundled around to entice them back. I had to do this slowly to give Ian time to re-build the fence in a different area as it needed moving anyway.

We are gorging on grapes at the moment
At first the sheep were happy to follow, but when they realised that I wasn’t giving them much food from the bowl the older female in particular was starting to look towards going somewhere else. It also started raining. I had to keep moving. At one point she was quite determined to move off in a totally different direction. She then heard a sound and stood listening, she could hear Ian across the road hammering posts. She knew what that sound meant, it meant food! She started to trot off. Yikes she was heading for the road on her own. I phoned Ian and told him I was going to have to move to get her attention again. He wasn’t finished. 

I started to move to a safer crossing place away from the corner where the trucks coming hurtling along. I didn’t have much time to listen, I had to keep moving to keep the sheep behind me. I went across the road the sheep thankfully followed but then hesitated at the edge, reluctant to make the way over the rise onto our land. A car was coming! Fortunately it encouraged them in the right direction. Ian was trying to lay the wire, the posts were hammered in.

A picture from back in mid-August in
the paddock where they escaped from.
Madam who was not convinced by my
feeding occasional bit to her is on the
I took the sheep into the centre of the newly enclosed area and I started to drop feed to keep them interested. The lambs were fine with this, but madam was not. She expected a full bowl and that chap over there was one who usually provided it, so off she goes to Ian. Too late she and the lambs who were now following her crossed the one strand of wire. Ian managed to encourage them back in but when they realised that Ian was trying the same trick I was, whilst I was trying to wire up the fence in Ian's place they decided to take off up the hill. Smart!

Our friends who made a rather nice
wine from these are collecting these
ones to have another go at making
wine with them. They are going to take
all of them. I tried ours and it is still
a bit rough - will keep us in mulled wine
over winter though
Ian was worried they would freak out the alpacas. I headed on up with the remaining feed, over the hill to see the sheep trying to head towards the alpacas - you know the big sheep with the long legs and necks. The gate was open on their old paddock though, I managed to get the sheep’s attention and went into the paddock. This time I put the bowl down and let them eat it all, while quickly covering the gap with the wire. I also realised at this point the other gate was still open, so had to nip back behind the wire, re-close it and then head up to the other gate before they noticed. Fortunately they were still too interested in the feed.

Eyre enjoying cleaning out the pot of sour cream ready
for recycling
At least now the sheep were penned in and the alpacas did not freak out, although Brencis kept making a noise as if to say what are these strange stunted alpacas? I was also by now saturated. Good job my new raincoat arrived the day before. After finishing off making our mushroomy meal we headed on into the caravan to change and eat. Farming can be exciting, but not always quite the kind of excitement we want. Still everyone was fine, the sheep under control and we dried out, so no harm in the end.
The sun does shine sometimes

Carrots, squash, onions and grapes ready for
The rest of the week was fairly mundane. I have been marking work, working on my paper, and harvesting beans and tomatoes. Ian has been moving fences, writing updates for our alpaca adoptees and pumping out the well again. We are pleased that we have found the well now gives us about 75-85 litres of water a day up to about 700 litres or so, when it then starts to slow down. Mind you, it has been wet just lately, so of course that might help. I'm glad we don't have the sort of escapades our sheep put us through every day of the week.