Monday, 30 October 2017

Now where am I?

Winter sun. Autumn is over and the leaves have just about
all gone now
Oh yes! I remember now, I'm in Tartu again. I've been up to Tallinn this week via Riga, so I have been doing the rounds. This last week started off okay on our land but with the first snow forecast for mid-week, it meant we needed to carry on with our winter preparations in earnest. The wind was bitter at times but more importantly it was dry, so it was the perfect opportunity to clear out the alpaca houses. First I had to go back to our apartment to collect the milk so I started off processing more apples that I had collected. I cut some up into big chunks and added apple sauce for apple pies, I got so far and had to stop to head back and help Ian clear out the boys place, before going back to finish off the job. While I was finishing off processing the apples I also made a lamb steak pie and apple crumble and Ian prepared the veg out on the land. So between us we managed to make a decent meal before it got too dark to cook in our greenhouse kitchen. Well it worked!
The morning sun with the morning star above the stable
A back lit Freddie. Such a wonderful golden glow though
The next day we cleared out the girls place in the morning, I was surprised it didn't take so long. In the afternoon I dug up more carrots and Ian put up plastic over gaps around doors in the greenhouse as the skies grew darker. I had just about got enough carrots for one box in layers of sawdust for storage when the first snowflakes began falling. I had to go back to our apartment and get my long coat for the journey the following day, so took the carrots to put in our basement. I had been debating which coat to take and the cold weather decided for me. I needed a very warm coat that covered my legs for the cold bus in the early morning.
George and Mari sat together. How sweet!

George looks more like he's laughing here though
Overnight it snowed, but it also rained and so the roads were covered in a thick layer of slush. I was going to wear my winter ankle boots but decided that snow boots made more sense, although I haven't needed them since and had to carry them around with me on my travels. Oh the joys of winter travel! Once again I was travelling in the dark to Riga on an early bus. It is not my favourite time to travel but it was the latest bus I could take to be up in Tallinn for the start of the European Christian Youth Parliament where I was leading a session. There are four buses a day from our village 4:40, 5:40, 6:40 and 14:40. Not much of a choice really. Still better than many isolated places in the UK.
Frederiks and Chanel together too. Usually the boys spend
a lot of time together though

Aggie. She spat at me before we left as I put cream on her
foot. I was going to take the hat I was wearing at the time,
but after she spat at me I changed my mind. I didn't want
to be sat on the bus smelling of alpaca spit. Some gratitude
The journey was pretty uneventful and I was collected at the bus stop by the organiser. It is not a big event as it is fairly new and developing but it is exciting to be a part of passing on knowledge and encouraging younger people to explore the reasons why as Christians we have a mandate to care for the environment and what the churches can actively do. It is frustrating when the church neglects its role to steward the land and all in my group were convinced that people need to touch, feel and see the natural environment more, not just for the health benefits but also to understand many of the stories and pictures that are conveyed within the Bible.

Sofie keeping warm on top of the slow cooker
In my group one participant was doing a Masters in sustainability another was doing a Masters in governance and the other was taking a sabbatical after around 17 years in Bosnia-Herzogovenia as a missionary. At the end they presented our thoughts on how churches could be more intentional in sourcing and even producing good food. We also looked at ways of connecting urban churches with rural churches to support them but also to help in understanding the needs of rural communities better. With better connections and good coordination it would be possible for urban members to practically support the rural communities from time to time too. We felt that this connection would help urban people understand the process of food production and encourage networks to improve the food available to their own members and the wider community. These linkages could act as hubs, especially in places where access to good food was more difficult.
Caravan in the greenhouse again, but probably for the last time

Adapting one of the chicken arks so that the small ones
from our newest batch of chickens can be separated. There
are too many now in the ark of chicks and they are getting too
big. The cockerel who was bullied by the older hens earlier
on in the year has now been put back in with them and he
stood up for himself. Obviously matured in the meantime
I wasn't just talking about the environment, there was plenty of time for lots of other conversations, some quite deep. It is a while since I have had the opportunity to challenge and be challenged by the opinions of others and that is often a healthy thing. It must have also been enough of a challenge that I slept well despite being in a dorm with five others - not something I do often. The conference also wound down slowly as people left to catch buses and planes home, which added to the relaxed atmosphere of the conference. On the Sunday morning those who remained reflected on the previous days' events. We then prayed for the younger participants before some of them drifted off to go and explore Tallinn, leaving some of us older ones to a time of quiet. Around 4pm I was driven to my bus to make my way to Tartu. For the first time ever as far as I can remember I was collected by car in Tartu. I was met the first time by my friend when I arrived for my course nearly five years ago. but we walked to her house. This time though I am staying with another friend in her new apartment.
On my journey up to Tallinn from
Riga. There was no snow in
Riga by the time I got there though.

In Salacgrīva 
My friend's new apartment is close to the city centre but it overlooks gardens with apple trees and a run for chickens - although they didn't appear on this rather dreary day, the snow having just about gone. It is also surprisingly quiet and so it feels restful enough to recover from the busyness of the conference and also get some writing done - well I got a presentation finished and tomorrow I start writing properly. I WILL finish it! I hope!

A tundra like look from the bus

Getting thicker as we travelled northwards

A reasonable layer now. 

This is the old wall in an annex of the Estonian
Parliament building where we had our
first meeting

Monday, 23 October 2017

Winter preparations underway

A glorious day to be out. As you can see the alpacas are still
doing nothing but eat, eat, eat. Stocking up for winter I think
Well the weather improved this week and it finally stopped raining. It is cold though, but I'm not complaining, I would rather see the sun and dress warmly than have continuous precipitation that stops everything and means we have to leave the car near the road. We have even managed to drive onto the land properly these last couple of days as the ground has firmed up enough. Visitors have also been turning up, encouraged by the sunshine. We haven't had visitors to see the alpacas since late August due to the bad weather I suspect and yet over this past week we've had 5 lots of visitors and one lot came twice.

Here you can see the two beds on which the chicken arks
will rest over winter. The one at the front has had the soil dug
out about 20cm below the logs. Over winter we will add
hay like the one at the back and it will gradually rise up until
we have a mound to plant next year's greenhouse crops in.
We have been busy preparing for winter and that has meant sorting out the greenhouse to get the chickens inside. We got tired of shifting the chicken arks about and they were that heavy from the rain and getting so old that Ian has had to repair broken handles on two of them this week. I think the chickens were much happier too as they are now in the dry with fresh bedding and plenty of dry soil and straw to scratch about in. All that straw to scratch about in last year yielded several bags of compost and mounds of soil in other areas of the greenhouse in preparation for next year's crops.
All three arks inside and all plants removed to make way for
the caravan
Happy hens scratching in the hay and leaves
Even if the chickens are not laying many eggs (it seems we have one that is faithfully laying every other day, the rest think it is time for a rest) we are at least getting compost and any veg that is not worth preparing for us to eat, they are gladly dealing with. It means that we have the problem of too much soil in the greenhouse and will probably have to take some out next year, rather than the opposite where the greenhouse soil is depleted after growing in it too much or having to bring in compost from outside. At least that is a good problem to have.
At the moment the cross pieces are above the
level of the hay by a good way. By the end of
winter we will have to dig them out.

They are so happy they were not standing still
enough for me to photograph them

I kept trying!

Veronica looks a bit old in this photo with her wobbly legs
The day after the chickens went in the greenhouse we got the caravan in. In some ways it is sad as it is one of those marker points of the year that heralds the onset of winter, but in another way we are pleased as it is a bit warmer in there than outside. We are still living in the caravan but the nights are getting long and so it won't be for much longer - probably after I get back from Estonia if not before for Ian. This will be the last year we do this though as we plan to move the caravan once more and then build a protective and insulated structure around it. The caravan is also getting old and so it needs a permanent place to be able to out of the summer sun as well as winter rains and snow.
She can still do alpaca yoga and scratch that itch though

I think Chanel looks like she is glad to see blue sky too
We have also been getting on with a lot of end of season gardening jobs. Ian dug up the rest of our potatoes that were under the sprawling squash plants just before the heavy frosts set in. We've had a few nights where the temperatures have been around -5C overnight. I dug up the beets and a third of the carrots. Yesterday I just layered hay on top of any other roots that weren't dug up as I haven't got the time to carry on digging them just yet, as well spreading hay on top of the beets that were just piled up waiting to be processed as the pile only had a couple of layers of fleece on the top. We have too many other urgent jobs to get done before winter too.

George is getting more inquisitive as time goes on but he
wasn't so happy for me to hold on to him while Ian
checked his toe nails. He was nice and cuddly though. Holding
onto cria is one of my favourite jobs
I also managed to get in about two bucketfuls of bean pods from the short bush plants. They have been frosted but they will be fine to eat, unfortunately that was only about a third of them too. There was no point in pulling up more as they would probably just rot before we could process them. At least the tall bean plants I could cut and then I just carried them on the pole that they were tied to  after removing all the leaves and hung them in the greenhouse to carry on drying out, even if that is freeze dried.

Frederiks is a little shyer than George but he still comes up
to see what we have to offer. I thought he was going to eat
some beet leaves from my hand, but he just sniffed to see
what they were. We also checked his toe nails and they needed
cutting as they were already curling round. He has a lot of
fleece on him and it is light on the outside and gets much
darker underneath. We wonder if he will be the same next year
This will be the first winter for both boys, but at least they
have plenty of fleece on them
This summer has just been such a slow a growing season that things weren't ready in time or were ready when it was raining too much to do anything about them. The short beans weren't ready the last time I looked and so have only just finished growing before the frosts came. We won't starve though, as we usually have a backlog of food from the year before, just in case. I also got three bucket loads of apples from our neighbour's tree that he said we could have. I shall just throw all those in a large pot to cook down and bottle or freeze for apple sauce or apple pies.

Just how does Aggie manage to do this contortion? We cut
Aggie's toe nails this week but also started putting cream on
her foot as she seems to be having mite problems again.
She complains when she sees me but she actually seems
to feel relieved when I put the cream on.
Ian has also been shifting hay around so it is stacked in more convenient places and sorting out the batteries on the car. All winter preparation type jobs. The car seemed a bit sluggish to start but the terminals were not connected to the second battery, which is needed in the colder months. I think it just got forgotten about when the starter was replaced, not many cars have two batteries.

Eyre doing her grumpy cat impressions, despite the lovely
As I mentioned one lot of visitors made a return visit and the little girl had a large carrot in her hand for the alpacas. I chopped it up for her and put it in a bowl and she carried it all the way up to the girls with the biggest grin on her face. She is nearly three years old but she made sure as far as possible that each of the girls got a fair share of carrots, it was so sweet. Her mum had come back to buy fleece from us and she is going to try knitting in some of the loose fibre from Mr. P. to give a tufted look to her knitting. I'm looking forward to seeing what that looks like. It sounds interesting anyway. She also took some of Veronica's fleece to learn how to spin it with some sheep's wool.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Been and gone!

Grey days but plenty of brightly coloured trees
Ian arrived back late on Wednesday night and I picked him up from the airport. The animals didn't give me any more issues, well not that I was aware of at the time, apart from noticing that one of our sheep was limping one day. It did rain a lot on the Tuesday so I made sure that Ian's wellies were in the car when I went to pick him up, our land is just so muddy it is unbelievable. The rain meant that there were lots of jobs to do on the Wednesday before I set off to pick Ian up, like emptying drain holes from alpaca houses and putting in fresh hay because they had been in all day chomping on hay and weeing a lot. I think we will have to tackle the drainage around the alpaca houses, as it is obviously a problem in these wet years.
A little light reading for Ian on his course

Our son is a bike mechanic and so keen to get his children
riding bikes. His daughter finally cracked the balance bike
this week
The next day we went for a walk around to see what I had been doing and to check on the animals. The sheep which had been limping the other day, fortunately seemed to have recovered but we then found out that one of the lambs was on the opposite side of the fence to the other sheep. We tried to get her back in through the gate and she nearly did a few times but in the end decided to try and jump the fence and bust an electric post in the process. Sigh! At least Ian had spare poles handy nearby for just such eventualities. We didn't have long before I had to set off for Riga though on the bus as I was attending a conference on Alternative Food Networks on the Friday and Saturday, which meant staying overnight in a hotel.
My son and daughter with some of their children

A serious face!
I managed to find a hotel, the Mosaic Hotel, in the centre of Riga that was quite cheap, relatively speaking. It was also clean, comfortable and above all, quiet. Well it was quiet from the point of view that there was no traffic noise that I could hear, but there was the steady drip of rain on metal windowsills. It also had tea and coffee facilities in a common room, which was a bonus. It was more of a hostel than hotel really, but that was fine with me. I actually prefer that for the extra food making facilities they have.
But he's not often so serious!

Our little school boy looking rather grown up
The conference was very good, as we were looking at issues related to the perceptions of post-Soviet countries. In the academic literature growing vegetables in the West is often viewed as an enjoyable hobby, or a reaction to consumerism etc. but then portrays it as a reaction to poverty in the post-Soviet countries. The same with sharing that produce, it is considered as altruism in the West and merely supplementing meagre incomes in post-Soviet countries. The reality is different. Gardening is a much loved activity with healthy food and taste being the main motivators. Sharing food and finding ways to get food from what is considered more natural sources are all important. In fact I think the post-Soviet countries are often ahead in this respect because they have not lost the knowledge of gardening and often maintain contacts with rural farms through friend and family networks and so can obtain food directly from farms much more easily.
Zipping along

Not to be outdone!

The waistcoats I made from old
denim jeans and lined with alpaca
fleece for warmth fitted - just. It's
a good job they have someone to
pass them onto
My presentation went down well, which was nice as I hadn't planned on doing one at first. I had a small survey of allotment gardening in Latvia but didn't think I had enough respondents to put something together until I chatted with the guy who had given me his set of questions for the survey that he had used in Czechia and Poland. He really encouraged me to go forward with what I had and I must admit as I analysed it more carefully for the presentation I realised what a wealth of information there was. What surprised me more than anything was the fact that people took the time to write more detailed comments after the general questions. They really wanted me to know how much they valued the growing and sharing of food. It was important to them and an act of kindness that they enjoyed. I also added some personal observations from living in Latvia and this was appreciated by the Latvians there. They told me it was nice for them to hear an outsider appreciate an important aspect of their culture.
I think Ian captured this shot beautifully. She's a lovely

The new - well new to us - spinning wheel
Ian came to pick me up after the conference as that meant I could stay until the end but also it meant that we could pick up a spinning wheel that someone was giving us. It belonged to her family but was not being used and so she offered it to us. Ian has been working on it today as it was another drizzly day. Although it has obviously some signs of age and woodworm (not active we think) he was able to get it running smoothly. He hasn't tried it with any fleece yet as it still needs a bit more cleaning and the metalwork needs polishing up, but we think it might still work well.
A little woodworm artwork

The youngest grandchild (for the moment) who I saw earlier in
the year when I went to help our daughter with her older two.
Apparently he's a smiler
We have had some nice days and yesterday was one of them. It was a kind of pottering about on the farm day and we were having a relaxed lunch when Ian got a phone call. One of our neighbours had got his car stuck, could we help. We went round in our car and tried and then managed to get our car stuck in the process. Ian had to walk back and get the tractor to first pull out our car and then the other car. It was a good job he had a long winch cable because it meant he could pull the other car out from a nice dry section. We came away with a bag of apples and two lots of Michaelmas Daisies, a purple variety and a wine pink variety. Now what was I saying about the joy of sharing? We were told we could go back and collect more apples if we wanted to because they wouldn't be able to get back soon to collect more. That's actually quite handy as we haven't had many apples on our own trees. We got to do our own sharing today, another neighbour came to borrow our chipper. Seems only fair!
Oh he is a mucky kid! It's hard to believe that Brencis is
our youngest alpaca as he is probably the biggest now.
Fortunately he is also the most docile and submissive of
them all. That is one reason he is so mucky as one of the
others managed to sit on him in the mud.

I love the colours of the autumn leaves. This is a grape leaf
Well to finish off with I thought I would share the news about the grandchildren. Two of them started school this year and one has got "star of the week" and the other one gone up a reading group; they are obviously settling in well. The other piece of news is that we are expecting grandchild number eight next year. So I hope to make a trip over to see the new one next year and that is on top of seeing grandchild number seven at Christmas time.
Our greenhouse gradually emptying

Monday, 9 October 2017


The view through the caravan window. I was sat inside, nice
and dry and Mari, Chanel and their boys are all sat outside in
the rain. Don't blame me though, they were free to go inside
their alpaca house like Aggie and Lady V.
Well I'm still home alone and coping reasonably well despite the return of the rain. The sun was so nice while it lasted. Now we are back to squelchy mud everywhere and I've even had to get some of the wood chippings that Ian chipped earlier in the year so I can get in and out of the greenhouse without ending up ankle deep in mud. The ponds are also overflowing again and it still startles me to hear the sound of running water as one pond overflows into the other.
This is a picture from a couple of weeks ago of an eagle on
the boys paddock fence post. I've seen it around a few times
this week too. 

The boys are not happy with me this week as they have had
to stay in their paddock and they only have hay not grass to
eat. It has meant that I have had to carry up bales of hay to
them though as of course they are getting through it much
faster. The problem is that in the process of escaping three
wooden posts got broken, two plastic electric posts were
snapped and two bent. Ian will have to sort it all out when
he gets back.
The alpacas haven't been quite so good this week for me and the boys gave me quite a scare. I was in the caravan doing some work when I looked up and there was Mr. P out for a stroll towards the girls. I hurriedly put down the computer and made my way out of the caravan. My heart sank, there was Mr. B. and Turbjōrn all heading in the same direction. I looked over towards the fence to see where they had escaped from and saw Herkules busy munching grass in a world of his own also on the wrong side of the fence. Only Tellus was in the paddock where he was supposed to be. I knew the girls would be safe since we had put up the wire fence before Ian went away, so I left the boys to wander while I looked to see how I could get them back in behind the fence.

One snapped wooden post
This wasn't the worst part of the fence. I forgot
to take a photo of the tangled mess
A little repair to my jeans
I wondered if I had left the electric off, but no it was still on and the fence was in a complete tangled mess. I switched if off and lay the wires down on the floor. I went to get some food and wandered over to the boys shaking the trays. No chance! They were too interested in the girls on the other side of the fence. Plan B! I got behind them and started to slowly drive them towards their paddock, collecting Herkules along the way. I managed to get all except Mr. P in, as he decided to stop for a poo. I went in and put the trays down in their alpaca house. All of them except Mr. P, who was still on the other side of the fence went in. I shut the doors while I went to encourage Mr. P. back as I didn't want the others escaping again in the process. Mr. P. was not happy about the orange wires on the ground so I wonder if he was the one responsible for making a mess of the fence or whether he and Mr. B were fighting. Anyway after a little hesitation and looking like he might bolt in the other direction he went in. I was so relieved and very surprised that they actually went where I wanted them to, a minor miracle in itself.
If you look very carefully you can see a strange phenomenon
called "blue sky"

You wouldn't see this kind of apple in a supermarket very
often, with such red veined flesh.
I hadn't seen a soul for a week and a half. Even when I went back to the apartment it was eerily quiet. It was like one of those apocalyptic films where everything looks fine but all the people have disappeared. On one visit to the apartment the car was rather reluctant to get going - it is an intermittent problem we've had for over a year now. It only happens when it is cooling down in the autumn and warming up in the spring. Somehow air gets into the system at those times. I couldn't remember what I was supposed to do exactly, so I called a friend - after all it was about time I talked to someone and I asked if he would show me what to do. I spent the afternoon chatting with him and his missus, but since it was raining and not much else to do, it seemed like a good plan. I did find out how to fix the problem too and tried it again today - it worked.
An unexpected harvest from the greenhouse. The Jerusalem
artichokes have grown from those we gave to the chickens
over winter that they obviously missed. I have no idea
why we have suddenly got a proper mushroom growing in
the greenhouse though. I haven't seen this kind growing
anywhere else on our land. Still it was very tasty
Blueberries are slowly ripening, but each year we get more
and more on our bushes. The first few years were very
disappointing, so it is nice to finally see them get going
I haven't had to do much shopping since Ian went away, which is another reason for not seeing anyone. No bread to buy, no running out of cheese, oil or flour. I did run out of chocolate though. This week I did need a few things, so on the way home from my friends' I did some shopping and then stopped off at the bakery, where I saw some more friends were having a drink, so I chatted some more. At one point the guy said, sorry I didn't understand a word of what you just said, but I do like to hear you talk. Not sure what it is about my accent, I used to get that a lot in America when I used to help out at the church's coffee shop.
Still enjoying the space of their new paddock

Chanel and Frederiks her son
I mentioned a while ago we were planning on selling the apartment we live in (at least we live in it in the winter time). It didn't quite go according to plan and it all went quiet so we wondered if we would have to think again. Out of the blue just before Ian went away we got an email to say it was on and could we work on a timetable to make it happen. So we will still be in our regular apartment for the time being and we will work on getting the other apartment sorted to move into early next year. All change! At least we will be a bit more focussed over the winter with sorting out and a deadline to work to. So just bear in mind that if you want to come and visit, we will only have the one apartment and that will be free in the summer time or basically for six months of the year. In winter you will have to sleep in the living room, but still welcome.
Aggie and Lady V. I had to take these pictures quickly as the
sun was starting to disappear and the clouds looked quite
ominous, they didn't amount to much fortunately.
The girls don't just sit outside in the rain
It is getting to that time of the year when we think about switching from the caravan to the apartment, but there are still some gardening jobs to finish off before it finished for the winter. It seems though that we are racing into the colder months, as I saw several more flocks of geese this week and a flock of swans all heading off to warmer climes. I am at the apartment again this evening as I needed to bring back tomatoes, beans and raspberries before a possible frost overnight. As it is milk day tomorrow it was a chance to get them sorted. With the tomatoes now gone from the greenhouse, there will be room for the chickens to go back in. I think they will appreciate that as it has been so wet this week and with not being able to move the arks while Ian is away, they have had a mud bath. I had to put hay on the floor for them. Still it won't be long now before Ian is back, but then I'm away for a couple of days. Heh ho!
The garden is beginning to look very jaded now and the
squashes are showing signs of dying off

Blueberry leaves are glorious though with
a rich red colour

The maples too

George being inquisitive

Yey! Blue sky