Monday, 24 June 2019

A new sport?

Bales collected together.
Have you heard of Crown Green Bowling? Perhaps not. It is a genteel game, usually played by older people on a crown shaped, i.e. not flat, lawn in the northern parts of England and Wales. A great deal of skill is involved to ensure that the bowls travel in the right direction over the curved terrain towards a smaller ball, known as a jack. Now as you can imagine, if you follow this blog, the idea that I have taken up a genteel sport usually played by older people is not something I'm likely to do, but I did play something a bit similar today. I shall call it Crown Green Bale Bowling. The idea of the game is to assemble bales of hay into groups. Now our bales are not the huge ones, they weigh about 25kg and not 600kg and upwards like some you see these days.
The view from the oak tree hill of the cut hay

We can now see our alpacas again
Our fields are definitely not flat and so it is possible to launch some of the bales down the hill to gather them together for easier collection later, or at least it is in theory. Usually the bales don't travel very quickly and have to be encouraged along the way or more likely rolled manually depending on the gradient. However, occasionally there is a rogue bale, perhaps where I haven't anticipated the angle and gradient correctly and those are the ones that gather speed as they roll off in the wrong direction. At this point you will see this not so genteel older lady haring down the field in pursuit of a bale of hay before it ends up at the bottom away from the others, or worse in the pond.
It is amazing how much the grass had grown. Such little rain
but it seems like it was just at the right time. We got almost
double the amount of hay from these areas this year.

Ian and his stork pals. They sometimes get rather close and
have to run to get out of the way. It is comical watching them
As you can gather Ian has been cutting and baling hay this week. I help with gathering the bales and  stacking them. We haven't stacked them yet, we will be doing that tomorrow to allow them to lose some field heat overnight. We only bale and stack on the same day if there is rain forecast, it is better to wait otherwise. He was going to start cutting properly earlier but there was a forecast of rain. We did get some much needed rain in the end, but not as much as was forecast (yet again!), but at least it was enough to keep the plants going.
It is still dry and dusty though

This is on the verge of the field.
It has plenty of flowers to get
seeds from later. Interestingly
we found out that the purple and
yellow flowers (well not really
flowers but bracts) are actually
parasitic. Well I didn't know that.
The day before Ian cut the hay we had a phone call to ask if a group could come and survey the field for a biodiversity assessment. We are pleased we didn't get it cut after all. We were a bit skeptical at first as we knew they were meant to be doing an assessment ages ago and thought that had finished and wondered why they were doing an assessment on a major holiday weekend. The problem in Latvia, if you can call it that, is there are too many places with high biodiversity and so I think it might be taking longer than anticipated. Anyway, it was indeed a legitimate group and so we had a fascinating time wandering around our land looking at the various biotopes and discussing how best to manage the land for biodiversity.

Lots of flowers but not special enough! We need to reseed some
of the marsh orchids into this place.

It just so happens I found one, down
by the barn
We were also able to give them valuable details of where we had re-seeded after pig damage and where we knew there were plants they were looking for, for example cowslips, which are starting to spread all over the place. I only said last week that our meadows are flower rich, maybe not as much as they could be, but we still have a lot of the different plants they look for, just maybe not all in one place. I shall certainly be looking for seeds from the various plants on their lists. I downloaded the booklet the lady was using to show us some of the plants they were looking for from the website of the organisation. It is very handy.
We have loads of vetches this year. I need to find out exactly
which sort this one is. I have been photographing them to
compare later with the book I downloaded 

A butterfly orchid
The top of our hill with the old oak tree is apparently a special sandhill biotope and over the hill - which we didn't think was anything special also qualified due to the number of plants per square metre. Apparently the ski hill, where we get most of our hay from, was declared a special area before as the satellite picture picked that up. That has been meadow for many years and never re-seeded and so it is full of flowers and different grasses. On our trip around I also spotted a couple of butterfly orchids. We were quite pleased about that, as we hadn't seen many in the last year or two, probably due to various factors, but mainly because the animals are grazing in those areas. We will make sure we cut later to let them re-seed themselves.
I thought at first this was an orchid.
It is in an area we have found orchids
before but realised it wasn't the
butterfly orchid we had seen before.
Apparently it isn't an orchid. It is a
woodland plant, but that is as much
as I know at the moment

Our potatoes are enjoying the alpaca manure, not bad
considering the lack of rain.
It has been good this weekend to take some time off from computer work. As I mentioned earlier it was a holiday weekend here in Latvia. There are lots of activities and many families gather in the countryside to see the sunrise on St. John's day. There is a rhyme that basically says the person who sleeps through the night and doesn't see the sunrise on St. John's day, will sleep the rest of the year. I'm afraid we went to bed. We have a lot of work to do on the farm and by 11pm we are ready to sleep. We also have a heavily pregnant alpaca that is due any day now and so we want to be up early enough for any possible births. Fortunately alpacas usually give birth in the morning or at least early part of the day, so we don't want to be sleeping late.
A sit down protest. This is to stop them going in and using
their house as a toilet during the day. They do have plenty of
shade, there is a huge oak tree at the bottom of the field.

Apparently daises aren't special, but I think they are. They
also make a great resist dye plant.
I was also up late one night this week, trying to finish off some work for the project. My colleagues were away again and so it was up to me to get it done. I managed with half an hour to spare for the deadline. Happy days! It did cause a bit of a problem though, as it is not easy for Ian if I am working late when we live in a caravan. If I'm up working, he's up too. Heh ho! I had another Skype online meeting this week. Normally I would Skype from in the caravan but that particular day it was far too hot. I also do not normally do video Skype calls because there are too many team members and our signal for the phone is not fantastic, but this was only a meeting with two others. I made them jealous because I was there with a blue sky and a few clouds as a backdrop, whereas they were both in offices. I even got to show our alpacas to one of them after the main meeting was finished and we chatted about some other things that needed sorting.
This is a good indicator plant, or is it a characteristic plant. I
did get a bit confused by the terminology and not sure if it was
a translation problem or not. Anyway it is typical of the type of
biotope it lives in and we have plenty of it.

Not a native biotope, but my herb garden. I don't think I've ever
seen so many flowers on the lavender. Obviously enjoying the
dry conditions.

Awww! Jakobs and Josefs having a hug! Actually not, they
are play fighting and trying to bite each other. 
I finally got our chicks moved into one of the arks and out of the cage they had been in since they were hatched. This now means a nightly ritual of capturing the little darlings to put them away, until they get the hang of putting away time. I usually put feed in the hutch area so they come into feed and then close the door, all operated by a simple pulley system. The problem is that until they get the idea that the food is in the hutch area, they don't go away. I was relieved that on the first night four of them came to investigate. That meant only having to capture four of them. The second night, only two went in. Pah! I left them for a while and when I went back, only two were still out. Phew! Climbing into the chicken ark to capture them is not so easy, but at least it is easier than the ark that the older chickens went into. There would be no way to capture them in that one. It was never meant for long term use, but ended up being used for that.
Group hug! Or an alpaca game of twister

Jakobs looking very cute.
We have four different arks. Most of them are totally enclosed, but the other one is under netting to stop them getting out and stop the hawks from getting to them. The cockerel in that one, will not go away with the girls, but each night he almost seems to check that I have put them all away before he hops off to sit on a bale of hay. It is funny the way he cocks his head to one side and fixes me with a look as if to say, "Okay! All present and correct! You can shut the door now!" He then sleeps on top of the box where his girls are after I leave the enclosure.

Herk still looks kind of tired these days, but it is only on the
hot days when the flies have been bothering him

Chanel is also looking tired, but she is due to give birth any
day now

Inside this amazing nest are five baby swallows. It's just they
wouldn't cooperate for Ian to get a photo of them.

One of the parents having a rest from darting this way and
that. We got to watch some amazing arial acrobatics this
week as they had a territorial dispute with some others and were
backwards and forwards getting insects for their little ones

Monday, 17 June 2019


Grey skies and a flower rich meadow
The strawberries are turning, peas are podding and it rained. Yes it's summertime! We have a trough behind our barn to collect some of the run off from our barn roof. I think we've had three troughs full of water now since the beginning of April. Normally in summer the trough fills often enough to use the water for boiling for tea or washing up. Not this year. We have already been bringing water from our apartment since early spring, as the well wasn't filling either. Even today the rain was not exactly the Latvian deluge type, more like a very heavy, drenching drizzle, which reminds me of Scottish rain. Enough to keep the plants going, but not enough to really soak the ground though.
I was gardening for the camp this
week and spotted this rather
elegant chap
The door on and part of the fencing done.
Ian has been busy on the alpaca love nest this week. He has put a door on the smaller side of the building we were using for storing hay and split it from the rest of the building. It is enough for the two females that we are expecting to come, if the people are still interested that is. We were in the process of putting up the fencing wire when we had the first of our Sunday visitors. There had been a group staying at the local hotel and one of the families decided to visit us afterwards, then another, and another and another. The first group had been and gone before the next group arrived, but then the next three groups arrived within a short space of time. I just sent them up to Ian as I was trying to get on with some project work. Needless to say the wire still needs fixing onto the posts. Tomorrow's job I guess.
Chanel was moaning a bit today and her baby was definitely
having a party. We won't have long to wait now I guess. Maybe

It's nice to see the butterflies are
back. There didn't seem to be
many at all last year, just
cabbage whites. This year there
haven't been lots of them, but
definitely more varieties. 
The plan this week was to do more hay cutting but the forecast was for rain, which never came until today. There would have been enough time, but we didn't want to risk it. Not yet anyway. They say the best hay is cut before Jani, which is the midsummer festival held on the 23rd June. After that the grass is usually woody, but then the other plants grow and so the grass maybe woody but it is then a herb rich mixture. Ian and I have been discussing the merits of this and wondering if the early cuts are more like a high carbohydrate meal to an alpaca and the later cut a nutrient dense version. We do know that sometimes the hay can result in tooth abscesses if it is too woody, as we found out the hard way one year. Poor Aggie did suffer for a while before we realised what the problem was and could deal with it. So we still don't know what is the optimum for our alpacas, but better to have hay in than none at all. So far we have four bales that Ian cut at the end of last week.
It's good to see the new girls using the shade or shelter under
the tree. It's beginning to look like a park where the trees are
all eaten below a certain height.

Yes it rained! At least they got a good shower and I hope
it washed some of the dust out of Mari's fleece.
While we've hardly had any rain at all, other parts of Latvia were flooded out. It's hard to believe the difference when we are only about 175km away. Just like last year we have been sitting watching the rain clouds to the north, south, east and west of us, without even seeing a drop fall on our land. We've even been into our village about 6km away and seen the roads awash after the rain. Whilst we need a good dry spell to make sure we get the hay in, we don't want to be in the situation like last year, where the grass really struggles to recover after cutting or seeing my garden dying for lack of rain.
A sprightly looking Mr. P.

Nom, nom, nom. Enjoying the respite from the sun and
I took Ian to my department do at the weekend. I nearly forgot about it but my supervisor rang me up to remind me, or actually check to see if I was going. The advantage of this particular do, was it was only about half an hour away at my supervisor's summer house and not 3 1/2 hours away in Tartu. We only went for a couple of hours as we have so much to do on the farm, all the summer chores that keep us busy and then we had to put the animals away at night too. We arrived in time for dessert of strawberries which went perfectly with the Swiss roll I had bought from our local bakery. We had the kebabs from the bbq afterwards, once the fire had got going enough to cook with. Once again we were having a meal under the apple trees. It will be a while before ours are big enough to eat underneath their shade. It will be even longer if the deer keep nibbling on them over winter. We must get some deer protection for next winter - if we remember.
Hello folks, Freddie here. 

Poor Herk. He really does not enjoy fly time. 
Talking of forgetting things, I nearly forgot about an online project meeting, as it wasn't on my calendar, fortunately my boss emailed to ask if I was going to be there. I hadn't planned anything else and so was able to attend thank goodness. I have another one this next week, at least that one is in my calendar. It makes me sound quite lackadaisical but I've actually been working above and beyond expectations apparently. Phew! Pleased about that, I must be getting something right.
We think we can see a water lily flower below the surface. Yay!
So pleased that I managed to save it last year from the deer.

As I said last week, George is looking so grown up these days

The cranberries are doing well. It is
probably a good job they are on a well
rotted wood bed with a high water
table below.

Josefs looking very cute after the rain.

A view from the other end of the land of the boys.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Heard it on the radio

My office in the shade of the
greenhouse, just outside the
Ian's back! Thank goodness I could hand some things over to him, like alpaca poo clearing, letting alpacas out in the morning and putting them away at night. He arrived back on the Tuesday night and I left for a conference on the Wednesday afternoon. Just enough time to do a handover and talk him through the things that mattered and he had just enough time on the way home and a bit the next day to tell me about his trip. It was nice on Saturday and Sunday to have a bit more time to talk and we worked at a slower pace so we could wind down a bit after a hectic few weeks.
Evening meals sat out in the sunshine

The grass is still on the long side but at least you can see
the potatoes now. I'm sure it will be ship-shape soon. Well
Whilst I was away at the conference, the grass in the garden plots, that were heading for chest height due to the fertilising effects of the manure on the plots, had been strimmed down to a manageable height to work in. I was able to get in and weed some of the plots, including the potatoes that emerged while Ian was away and now well established. The grass didn't get wasted as Ian put it out to dry for hay. I used some of it at the weekend to put in the chicken arks for bedding, as the last lot seems to have disappeared. I guess the chickens are eating it.
This picture might not look very exciting to you, but to me it
is. It's my waterlily that I thought I might have lost after I
planted it too close to the edge and a deer got it. I managed
to somehow plant it far enough away this time obviously.

Yes! This really is at the conference. Our evening
entertainment was baroque music and dancing in an
 old manor house
The conference itself was good. It was organised by people I have known for about six or seven years now and I've been to two previous Rural Parliaments, so I am familiar with the format. This year there was a group from Finland and a smattering of other nationalities, so there was translation available on headsets, unlike the last one when I had to rely on some helpful folks. It was quite encouraging this year, as there was one lady from Estonia who said she would like me to come and lecture to the ministry department she works for. Should be interesting to get an expenses paid trip up to Tallinn anyway.
The people you see at conferences are rather varied.
Setting the scene for the entertainment

The rear of the manor house
I rather unexpectedly got a round of applause for one of my comments. I was quite shocked but pleased that someone else agreed with me. My comment was that we need to turn the conversation around, to help urban areas understand that to be resilient they need thriving rural areas. Often the conversation is along the lines of how do rural areas hang onto services due to depopulation? As I keep saying though, "What happens when all the farmers retire? Who will provide the food then?" Many people from urban areas seem to think that they will just buy their food from somewhere else, but then there are all the issues of traceability, food safety and the fact that farmers are getting older elsewhere, not just in Europe. The drain into the towns and cities cannot carry on, at some point there has to be a reversal and preferably before many of the farming skills are lost. I don't think that all who are in the rural areas need to be farmers, just that farmers need a social network too. They need schools and services for their young families not empty villages.
The place I visited is rather flat compared to our own area.
This is why they say we live in the mountains.
I met two ladies and one had relatives in the area. She asked
if I wanted to see the village whilst the other lady visited. We'll
only be 20 minutes she said. I reckoned on it being longer but
couldn't resist a trip. Just as we were about to go, coffee was
provided. It would have been rude to refuse, so I went with
the flow, which included waiting for one of the ladies to
have a very quick swim as she hadn't been able to have a
shower that morning.

The lake was full of little fish. Look hard and you can see them

After a baroque evening, someone has to do the laundry
It has been a bit disconcerting at times, as people would suddenly chip in during a conversation, "Were you on the radio recently?" as I tried to explain what I do in rural Latvia. I was sat outside waiting for lunch when a very friendly lady started chatting and part way through she asked if it was me, she had heard on the radio. We even had some visitors one day who remarked that they didn't need to hear our whole story, the one we usually give because everyone asks, as they'd already heard it on the radio and that was why they were visiting. My new found fame could go to my head, or more likely scurrying for a corner to hide. I'm sure I'll cope and it won't last for long.
A delegate from the conference helping
with the laundry
One of the baroque costumes airing
before being put away. It was rather
warm for such heavy costumes.
Today we had to take a trip into the big town. Ian's card had not been working. When he demonstrated it to the lady at the bank, the ATM swallowed his card, so now he needs a new one. Fortunately it was nearly due for replacement anyway. The reason we went in though was so I could collect some new glasses. They are purple - just for a change. Lol. I think the last three or four pairs have been purple, but as Ian said, purple does suit me. Sorry you will have to wait for pictures, but then they are not that different to the last ones I had, only I can see more clearly.

And because sometimes the pictures can say far more, here are lots of pictures to show you

Another costume

Then there were the field trips of course. The
advantage of my studies focussed on rural
development is that I get to see some lovely
places, all in the name of work. This was at a
Shitake mushroom farm

This young couple have a business growing Sea Buckthorn
which they mainly process for oil, but other products are made
too so there is no waste.

George is looking quite grown up these days. He looks a little
sad here, maybe he missed me? Not likely!

Finally the path is mown. Here the grass
is growing well, but on the ski hill
where we get most of our hay, it is not
so high.

Not bad for someone who is about to give birth in a few weeks.
Mind you, there have been a few times when she has been told
she had better not give birth until we are both back home and
bless her, she has hung on.

Oh yes! Hay season has begun. Not much of a breather after
a hectic few weeks.

A paddock area cut in preparation for a visit from some
alpacas whose owners want them mated.

Turbjørn showing his displeasure towards Jakobs

That grass was about ankle height when Ian left about two
and a half weeks ago.

Self-seeded Viburnum flowering.

The girls paddock after Ian flail mowed it to cut all the weeds
down that they have left. They are not fond of tall grass, until
it is made into hay fortunately. We think an elk may have
stumbled into the fence as some of the posts were broken.

Aggie has been quite the little madam for me. She was missing
Ian, so now she is making sure he realises she missed him, by
being uppity with him.

Marie the jumper. Maybe we should develop a new sport of
alpaca hurdles

A peaceful view of our land

Sticky-catch fly. I think it needs a nicer name, it's so pretty
but yes, it is sticky too.

Spring is the yellow season, early summer is the purple season

The butterflies have suddenly started appearing this last week

The grapevines are flourishing in the
warmer weather

Even the kiwi is starting to grow. Will
it ever do anything other than grow leaves?
Doubt it. I planted some hardy kiwis that
we bought recently this last week, so
hopefully they will produce something.

Beware, dangerous plants. Seriously! These tomatoes are
just planted in the cage where we put some of our chickens
over winter. Easier than dismantling the whole thing.

My herb bed is flourishing this year

This pain of a cat is sleeping soundly, until a pan rattles then
she thinks it for her. If you come and visit, please do not feed

Beans starting to grow in the greenhouse. These will get
planted out this week on our land and at the nearby camp