Monday, 25 June 2018

I'm in the garden!

A promise of rain
At least that is where I have spent most of today. The rains finally came yesterday but what else would you expect on a holiday weekend. Jani is the biggest festival of the year and means beer, cheese, wreaths of oak leaves for the men and flowers for the women. It also means bonfires with shashlicks (basically marinated cubed meat). It did worry me, as much of Latvia was tinder dry and the Latvians love to head out to the countryside for their bonfires on Jani. So maybe it is a bit mean to be grateful for the rain. At least the rains came after sunrise, which is the important event to stay up for. I have to confess to being in bed during the whole thing. I need sleep!
Frederiks and George play fighting, although it looks more
like a game of Twister

Looks like they are about to break out into song now

Jani decorations at our apartment
The day before Jani we got a lovely present from our neighbour and a visit from her daughter to deliver it. They had baked pirags, which are like a bread dough around a ham and onion filling, there are other sorts but this is the most common. Our neighbour bakes very good pirags so we were delighted to get them. They were brought on a dish and beautifully wrapped in a cloth with flowers tucked into it. It only occurred to me afterwards to take a photo of it.
Eyre asleep in the greenhouse. At least it isn't
on my seeds

After the rain
As usual we did a lot of weather forecast watching and since the rain that was forecast was not diminishing the nearer we got to it this time, we took a chance to get seeds in (also Jani is often wet so that helped to sway our decision). Ian planted up another area of buckwheat to help us combat the dock problem and I planted beans, beetroot, carrots, a variety of salad leaves and radishes. Hopefully we should still have enough time for them to grow well. I planted the seeds into little troughs in the soil so that the water would hopefully soak the seed without washing them away. I also left a shelter belt of weeds to protect them from winds, since that has been an issue too just lately. Not helpful when it has been so dry and what little rain we have had didn't get much chance to soak the soil before being evaporated off by the wind.

Frederiks coming to say hello during the photoshoot with the
shawl I made from George's fleece
Yesterday's rain was just the right kind of rain that we so badly needed. It was long and slow. It started mid-morning and didn't fair up until the evening. It meant we didn't get soaked sorting out the animals and we were out for lunch with friends anyway, so no sitting in the caravan or greenhouse twiddling thumbs. Actually I did get a bit of sorting out in the greenhouse while it rained and before we set off to go for lunch. This is the last bit of sorting out after the flat move earlier on this year - sorting out the stuff that got dumped at the far end of our very large greenhouse.
I picked our first tomatoes of the season.

I love the clouds in this shot. I had to leap out of the caravan
to take the photo. Usually it is Ian who takes most of the
photos, but I can take credit every now and again.
I mentioned last week that our cat caught a mole and brought it for tea time. We thought that would be the end of the problems of molehills appearing at the front of our greenhouse. No such luck. The cats caught another mole and still there are molehills appearing. Moles are supposed to be solitary animals, but occasionally use a mole highway. So it would seem that the front of our greenhouse is in fact one such highway. Not helpful! They already play havoc with the alpaca houses as they tunnel under the stones that keep the houses above ground causing the houses to sink. The soil they push up to the bases of the houses will also cause the bases to rot if we don't clear it from time to time. We have enough clearing to do without their contribution.
The clouds this week have certainly been interesting

Felted collar using Mari and Agnese's fleece with a touch
of alpaca fibres from one of the alpacas we sheared elsewhere
Heather the felting tutor returned home this week. As I mentioned last week she spent most of the time getting to grips with the alpaca and what we can do with it when used on its own or just with silk. She now has a small collection of items that she will be exhibiting, so it will be interesting to see what the reaction is to that.
Felted shawls and blankets

We managed to get a quick photoshoot in
between the overcast skies. It was close though

Mari's fleece felts beautifully

Heather working on darning in some detail
The day before we were going to the airport I found out a friend of ours was visiting Latvia with her husband. I first met her when she was very small in my Sunday School class, which kind of ages me. We also brought her on her first trip to Latvia when we were doing kids camps. At first we felt we couldn't really meet up as her plane was getting in about the same time as Heather's was leaving and therefore we would be dropping Heather off two hours before. We didn't really feel able to hang around that long with all the chores that needed doing. Of course though we had stopped with Heather for one last chat and a wee bite to eat and so time had run on and as we left Ian and I talked about stopping for lunch as it was later than we thought it would be. It then occurred to us that our friend and her husband would only be about another 3/4 of an hour and it would be rude not to stay and say hello while the opportunity arose. We kind of feel a bit miffed when others do not take the time to see us due to their schedules and so it would be wrong for us not to. We were glad we did turn around and due to the wonders of FB managed to let them know we were there at the airport. We drove them to a nearby mall and had lunch there and it was great to be able to do a bit of catching up. I made sure they had the right kind of bus tickets and explained how to use the buses and so off we went on our separate ways.
The rose that Heather gave me last year has burst into bloom
We actually have a decent number of apples on our apple tree
this year. It's been a long time coming
We went to a meeting this week. We were introduced to a chap and I thought his name sounded familiar, it turned out I had met him a couple of years ago on the way back from Estonia in Valmiera where he lectures. The meeting was to do with setting up a marketing strategy for the area for which the group have won a substantial sum to get it up and running. It should be interesting how that progresses.
I finally got the last of the squashes and cucumbers out. It was
easier to have them in the greenhouse to water them, but
hopefully we will get more regular rains now - but hopefully
not as much as last year

Chicken apartment living. This is a faster
solution to get the chicks out of their small cage.
They are getting too big and needed more space
another ark would take too much time at the
moment and so we decided to add another section
underneath the other chicken hutch. There should
be enough room for them all. I just have to remember
to chuck my weeds in there to keep them occupied.

As usual a weedy garden, but tidier than it was

The buckwheat is growing well 

Cranberries flowering

The buckwheat has germinated in the second plot too. It
doesn't take long as Ian only seeded this on Thursday

The grass looks much better now it has rained. You can see
the other chicken arks under the oak trees. We had to do a cull
of cockerels this week. There were three cockerels in one of the
arks and they were fighting each other and harassing the hens.
The hens were loosing feathers on the backs of their heads and
egg count was down. We were rewarded today with five eggs
from this ark today. 

Our blackcurrant crop is ripening

Our pond is much fuller now. This picture makes it look like
it is nearly full, but the grassy edges should be under water.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Oh so dry!

The road that runs along our land is a bit rough again. It was
graded after the rain, but now it is dry it is like a washboard
I know last week's title for the blog was "Oh Sweet Rain!" Well it was nice while it lasted but it sure was not enough to make much of an impression on the land and the vegetation. We have had no rain since then either. Certain trees and shrubs are beginning to show signs of a severe lack of water. Where the vegetation has not been cut, it is still hanging on in there - just! But where the grass is cut, then the ground is looking distinctly parched and brown patches are appearing in what should be green grassy areas.
There have been lots of interesting wee beasties
and I'm not entirely sure what they are, as they are
not ones I have seen before or rather noticed before.
I'm trying to make sure I take pictures so that I can
check to see if they are friend or foe.

About the only moisture we saw this week was the dew on
the ground due to one particularly cool night
As I mentioned last year, we are chronic weather watchers these days and we can often be seen checking the weather forecast, but it is so demoralising. There will be a forecast for a good dousing of rain for about a week ahead and as the day draws nearer, the amount of rain forecast gets less and less and less until there is nothing. We have seen some quite dark clouds, but no rain on our land. On the radar we have seen rain to the north of us, rain to the south of us, rain to the east of us and rain to the west of us - but none for us. Even so, it is still dry over much of the region and the regional head office has asked the government to declare a drought. We have about a days worth of water in our well for our day to day use and will soon have to bring it in from our apartment for our animals. It definitely makes us careful in our usage.
These are friends, these are dock leaf
beetles and are currently making lacy
dock leaves that will weaken them.

This is a bag I started ages ago, but the front flap went all
wrong and ended up way too big. With Heather's help I have
been modifying it. It is still a work in progress but it's getting
Heather our current resident felting tutor returned from showing our Latvian Alpaca Adventure guest around Riga on the Wednesday. Since then she and I have been doing some more felting - or rather Heather has been doing some serious felting and working on some interesting pieces and I have been pottering around finishing off bits here and there.  Heather has been putting together a themed collection of pieces and the more we work with alpaca fibres the more we realise that alpaca is definitely not like working with merino wool. There is a lot of serendipity about it, which has caused some consternation from time to time. Just when we think we have the measure of the fibres they do something unexpected. This has meant some re-working of pieces to get a result we are happy with. It has also meant some fascinating pieces too - but you will have to wait for our photo shoot to be completed to see a glimpse of most of them.
This shows the bit of the flap that I cut off and it will now
become a pocket, that I shall sew on. That is the next bit to do

This is the finished shawl I was making last week using
George's fleece. It is a cobweb felt, so is super light with
lacy holes in it. The collar is doubled over and sewn so that it strengthens it.
We have been really careful throughout the process though to try and use as little water as possible and Heather often took the articles back to the apartment to rinse out after the hard work had been done on the pieces. We hope that we don't have the same issues when it comes to the next workshop, otherwise we are going to have to bring in water.
Sewn collar detail

Cute curly pieces

Ian with tractor and trailer to collect the bales
As well as felting, Ian and I have been getting the hay in. Ian does the cutting and baling with the tractor and then I help him with the collecting and stacking. At least I did this year, last year I managed to book on a conference at the end of July, which ended up coinciding with baling time. I'm pleased I didn't manage that this time around, boy would I have been in trouble. We haven't finished of course, but we are hanging back on cutting the rest and waiting for some rain to help the grass to grow. We don't want to risk killing all the grass if it doesn't rain. At least we have nearly enough hay now for the whole year, as we still have a reasonable amount leftover from last year.
Heather gave me a rose last year
and I wasn't sure if it had died or not
over the winter. It came back from
the root and so isn't quite the same
but it is still purple and has a lovely
smell, so I'm quite happy with that.

Dew in the morning on a spider's web. I love the colours
The lack of rain does make it difficult for moving electric fences for the animals. The other week Ian managed to snap an electric post because it was set like concrete into the ground. He did manage to move the fence for the girls though, so they can eat the grass under the trees that still looks lush, in reality though it is actually quite sparse. We are just hoping the grass lasts until the rains - when they come. At least we noticed the buckwheat that Ian planted has sprouted. I think the bit of moisture from the rain last week and a good dew one morning seems to have helped. If the forecast holds for rain, we will plant up another area of buckwheat. The idea is that it will outcompete the docks that have taken over those areas. That's the plan anyway.
Another wee beastie. Very unusual

Sitting on the fence.
We made some progress this week on some admin to do with the sale of our apartment. This was our registered address and so we needed to transfer it to our other apartment. We went into the big town and found the right office. Despite it being the immigration office, however, there was no one there who was fluent in English. We managed though, with the help of a friend via mobile phone and my little bit of Latvian and the admin lady's little bit of English. At least it is all official now, that we live at our apartment that we still own - although we don't because we spend more time out on the land than we do at the apartment, but this hasn't got an official registered dwelling yet!
Also sitting on the fence.

Not a photo of Sofie but Eyre, our grumpy looking cat. She
is not quite so good as Sofie at catching things, but she
managed a lizard today, which I would rather she didn't, as
they are good to have around.
We have had some laughs this week. Over the course of a couple of days the front of our greenhouse became like mole city motorway, with soil pushed up between food bins and all along the entrance. It was making getting the chicks out a bit of a challenge. We were eating our evening meal one night when Heather spotted one of our cats with something in its mouth. Sofie was obviously feeling left out and had decided to bring her own meal - yup! Mr, or Mrs Mole. It was not exactly what we call fine dining and not much appreciated and so I had to shoo Sofie away to eat the poor beast in peace. At least we don't have a mole problem any more.

My lupins are looking good

Grass on a dewy morning

Samples to test the feltability of the boys fleeces. George
felts very well and Frederiks is okay but requires more work.

The chicks are getting big now

This started out as a felted cuff but it made
a handy holder for the herbal teas I have been
making. Here is a mint tea

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Part 2

Here are the extra photos as promised. It has been one of those weeks where we have been on the go for much of the day

Latvian Alpaca Adventure

Choosing the fleece

The nice part about felting on the farm is getting to choose
who's fleece you use
This is George's fleece and it is great to be able to say, he felts

Laying out the fleece
Wetting the fleece
The soap in this case is not for the felting process per se but
to help in making the rubbing in of the water and soap
underneath easier so as not to move the fibres around
too much at this stage

Carefully starting the felting process, making sure it is all
wet and soapy enough - not too much, not too little

Rolling the felt

This is where the real felting process begins
Fleece beginning to felt

Arty shot

Animals on the farm, big and small
A bug for identification

Sofie observing the felting process. She knows how to do it,
as she gets her own fur in a complete mess. We've only just
about managed to get out the last lot of felted clumps. Long
hair and farm cats don't mix terribly well

Lounging around. Making fleece is such hard work

Having a chew

Needing some shearing, but now we are haymaking

Swallows have taken up residence again. I hope they start
to eat some of those horse flies

Office view

This didn't help Heather's admin as it flew over whilst trying
to deal with a call 

Sorting out the electric for our old apartment
On the land
A stork investigating the hay for tasty morsels

Haymaking is a bit of a dusty affair this year

The dry year meant Ian could dig out the pond deeper. In
the spring the water is almost up level with the roadway
at the back. That is a lot of water that has disappeared