Monday, 31 August 2020

Autumn rains

Hello! Can I help you?

We thought we had finished shearing in June, but we had a late request. Unfortunately they had a bit of a long wait, as we were waiting to hear from the vet about an x-ray for Turbjørn. We had hoped the vet would come at the beginning of August but we finally got a message to say it will be this next week. Poor guy. He's still eating and getting about but he's still not right. It will be good to get some answers as to what the problem is.

Turbjørn and his twisted neck
Aggie with her bandage. She and her stablemates were all kept in
 and so were the boys so that Herk and Aggie don't get their bandages
wet. They were finally let out this evening for a few hours after it
finished raining and only in the paddock where the grass is short.
A sunset that promised rain

It's a shame the shearing wasn't the week before as the weather was much drier. We planned to shear on the driest day forecast and we planned to turn up early as there was still rain forecast for the afternoon. Pah! It was a lovely drive there but as soon as we arrived we noticed the clouds on the horizon. Not being from around there we weren't sure how long the rain would hold off or whether it would come at all. Our host assured us it wasn't due to rain, so we set up and started on the first animal. We were just over half way through when the rain started. 

My sister posted pictures of the Duddon valley
which we used to visit as kids. Heather always
reminds me of the Lake District and so I was
pleased to find some growing on our land. It's
probably taken advantage of the increased light
after trees were cut down. I think I might have to 
relocate some to my garden.
George, you are not supposed to be eating through the fence!

Our host immediately organised some of the kids to hold umbrellas over the equipment while she held one over Ian as he sheared. Let's just say, it wasn't a pleasant experience and a good job that Ian doesn't take long and can speed up significantly when he has to. I felt sorry for one young lass as she was standing out in the rain until it was suggested she could fit under the umbrella too, so there she was a rather wet young lass, crouched under the umbrella protecting the equipment. As soon as we had released the alpaca we rushed to get everything under cover. Unfortunately we got rather wet in the process and a bit chilled and we still had two alpacas to go. 

Veronica at the front, our old lady, who should know better and
Mari, George's mother, both eating through the fence. Okay
so this is partly because they weren't let out of the paddock into
the long grass because of Aggie. No wonder the wire on the 
fence is stretched.
Silla looking a little damp.

We dried off as much as we could but our floor coverings were too wet to do much about. Our host managed to find some old plastic and carpet though for the dusty old barn floor that we had decamped to. As we got ready to start shearing the other two, the rain eased off and the sun came out. Heh ho! At least the animals wouldn't get wet getting them from the barn where they were to the barn where we were working. The last two animals were not as much of a problem. I forgot to mention that the first one was also a squealer, a wee-er and dribbled green spit everywhere. 

Nasturtiums in a pot outside our greenhouse.
Eggs in the incubator. I nearly created a disaster this week
when I accidentally unplugged the incubator overnight, 
however, it looks like it might be okay according to my
research. I hope so! Time will tell. These are in the
greenhouse where the cats keep unwanted critters away.

We rounded off the shearing with a good lunch and lots of chat. I at least had dry clothes to change into, but Ian didn't. He did get lent a jacket to put on though. Note to self: Always take a change of clothes and ahem, include underwear. Enough said! The trip back was mainly in the sunshine too, although we could see the dark clouds to the north of us as we headed that way. The rest of the week was pretty much the same, sunshine and showers on most days. 

Sedums relocated to my garden from the field before they get eaten
You can see Herk's bandage. At least he doesn't seem to be 
able to scratch these off but sometimes they do roll down a
bit. I also suspect that one of the types of plasters maybe
irritating his skin. Sigh! The original wound healed well, 
but now another section is raw. 

It's September tomorrow - how did that happen? It only seemed like a few days ago when we were looking at the calendar and thinking, goodness me it's August already. Another year flying by at tremendous speed. I seem to have spent quite a bit of time this last week sorting out the alpacas with skin issues. The flies have been awful. We were hoping the cooler weather would reduce them, but no such luck. The rain has also meant damp bandages and that is not helping, as it means more regular changes are needed. What they really need is some fresh air and for them to dry out - they would heal much better. But fresh air means they are being eaten alive by the flies, so they need covering and so it goes on. At least Freddie is finally bandage free and the flies haven't bothered him any more. One down, two to go.

Clouds after the rain

The marigolds look so pretty in the rain

The large tomato Ian photographed last week
finally ripened and yes, that is correct 741g

I have been interspersing academic work this week with gardening jobs and food processing for winter. I now have quite a few jars of boiled down tomato sauce and bottles of cucumbers. I also have dug up some potatoes. There were quite a few blighted ones, but there were also a lot that were perfectly fine and so we have one wheelbarrow full of potatoes from just the one row. Only another five long rows and seven short ones to go. 

Tomato sauce sterilising and soup cooking in the slow cooker
There are some full grown carrots in there, somewhere and
there are some seedling ones too. At least the hemp is gone
now and hanging up to dry.
Our red apple tree is now producing green apples. We think
the deer damage has killed the graft and this is from the

We certainly live in strange times and one thing I cannot quite get used to is being told to do my research on a particular topic where I've disagreed with someone. Not just once but several times. It is quite bizarre as research is what I do. It's my job, it's my hobby. I had to stop using Google to do research on the internet because it couldn't cope with the diverse research I do. The algorithms were trying to be too clever and second guess what I wanted to know. It's not very helpful! I use DuckDuckGo now. The reason I don't need to have something second guess me is that I'm quite capable of inputting the keywords needed to get the information I want. Sometimes it needs a bit of tweaking, but I can find out information quite fast. I've spent the last 12 years doing it. I'm a scientist, but I'm also aware that scientists are biased to some degree. I'm a scientist who likes facts, but I also know those facts are set in a specific context and forms only one side of a story. Science is messy, full of uncertainties, is constantly evolving, revising itself as more knowledge is found. 

A Jerusalem artichoke flower
A bedraggled and battered garden after the rains. The Jersualem
artichokes at the back and marshmallow at the front.
The chickens safe but still pestered by the eagle

Does this mean that scientists cannot be trusted? Not at all, they are mostly working to the best they can with the current knowledge. It makes me cringe when people say, "Look at the facts!" or "We go by what science says," sometimes without really understanding the science behind those facts. Sometimes scientists need more humility and be able to say, "This is what we think according to the facts we have at the moment," but often people just need to know that science cannot say this will happen with 100% certainty. My first degree was in Pharmacology and Chemistry and people often wonder why medicines have such a long list of side-effects. The answer is that each person is unique and responds differently to the medicine. Mainly they will see a benefit in taking the medicine, but if not, then it could be any combination of effects, but usually they are minimal. In other words the manufacturer cannot guarantee with 100% what the result will be, although there are standards set to make sure that most of the time they do.

Ian says this looks like a pacman convention

Ian has been making progress on the little shed, in between
the rain. 

The same goes for vaccines. On the whole, most people will not experience many problems, some will experience minor ones and much more rarely some may have a severe reaction. However, getting sick with the disease a vaccine could prevent, is more risky. Injections are not fun and taking kids to be "stabbed" can feel traumatic. I had one that would go as white as a sheet every time and one that had to go with his dad because he wouldn't let the nurse near. What I do know though is that I was protecting my kids from something worse. It was a risk, but the risks from not doing it were greater. I do not want to return to the Victorian times when death and disease were constantly at the door. Over use of antibiotics and under use of vaccines could send us back to those times and not something I want to see. Healthy food and healthy environments will get us so far, but sometimes we need some extra help to stay healthy and I for one am glad we have modern medicines and scientists who are trying to improve what we know.

Some different mushrooms

A strange name for a strange fungi, Common Fibre Vase. They
look like someone has done a distressed finish on some wooden

A rather large boletes mushroom

A cute mushroom, Winter Russula. Not one we eat.

Coral mushrooms

A trip up to the squashes

A meandering pathway

Squash plants growing on manure heaps

The winter squashes are growing well

Unfortunately the snails are proliferating in the wet weather.
I have been collecting them and feeding them to the chickens

Monday, 24 August 2020

A gruesome discovery

Brencis in thoughtful mood

This morning was not a good morning to start my day. As usual, Ian got up first, opened the doors for the alpacas that can be let out, half doors for those waiting for mating or to deal with skin issues and then we have breakfast. After breakfast we start our daily chores. This is our regular routine all summer. Some of the chores change slightly but most are just regular jobs. The normal routine is that Ian clears the alpaca poo from the paddocks and the alpaca houses and I see to the chickens. Afterwards we have break and a morning coffee. This week though I have been opening the greenhouse doors then going down to see the chicks that hatched last week. I take off the cover just to make sure they still have some food and water left from the evening and see they are okay before going to sort out alpacas who need bandages to cover skin breaks that the flies have been attacking. The alpacas that need it, get fly spray on each morning and skin cream where necessary. Some days I change the bandages. 

A bug I'm happy to see, a dock bug - something
that eats the docks and other such plants.

Turbjørn finally has an appointment for the vet to come and
do an x-ray - 3rd September! Ian is still continuing with the
massages and he still seems to appreciate this - he doesn't run
off anyway. Poor guy! 

This morning was different I lifted the cover on the chicks - silence. Not one little cheep from all 15. I looked again, it was awful. Their bloody little bodies were strewn across the cage. I lifted the heater and there were more bodies under there, not one had survived. I went to the door of the barn and shouted for Ian. Something in the tone of my voice made him run. Not often does my voice carry across the fields. All I could say was, "They're gone, they're all gone!" I'm a hardened sort as we are used to dealing with the odd dead chicken and even dispatching them when necessary, but there was something about the sight this morning that made me well up and Ian gave me a big hug. Sofie has dispatched two weasels recently and so our first thought was it was a weasel, since we know they are about. We've heard they get bloodlust and kill just for the sake of it. It certainly looked like that, as they were only bitten. 

A rather strange looking caterpillar - a dot moth apparently. By
the way, there is a picture of the dead chicks at the bottom of
the page. So you can avoid it if you want to. It's there not for 
entertainment, obviously, but to show the devastation that can 
be caused and how even the hamster cage was not enough. We
did think that a cage designed to keep hamsters in, would not keep
other things out. Sigh!
On a happier note, a gift from a friend. 

A bit later on, I was getting the box down from where we had it on the hay bales, as it's cooler there than in the greenhouse, when there was a rustling sound. Something scurried away and then leapt down between the bales. It was not a weasel but a rat. Ian had messaged a friend about some eggs so we can set some more away to hatch and her mum suggested it could be a rat that had killed the chicks like that. How on earth it got through the bars of a hamster cage is a miracle in itself. A weasel we could imagine, but a rat? Whatever it was, our hamster cage needs to be reinforced. Normally we don't set eggs away so late in the year, but we were experimenting. We had found that eggs set away in April/May meant that hens were still not laying before winter, so we thought we may as well save on food and set them to hatch now. They would be big enough by winter in the arks we have to keep themselves warm. We are going to try again and hope the weather stays reasonable until well into October. We will also look at getting at least one more cat to live in the barn, maybe two. We had decided that two was enough on the farm as we didn't want to decimate the bird population but the arrival of rats, which we hadn't seen up until this year means we need more control and rat poison on the land is not an option - we don't want to poison other animals too. 

The clouds made everything look very small today.
Buff-tip moth caterpillars, busy eating through an oak tree.
There seems to be less of them, but only orioles and cuckoos
eat them apparently. Well we have both, so maybe that's
why we are seeing fewer of them. I was a bit concerned they
might have been the rather dangerous oak processionary
caterpillars, fortunately not. 

Our friend suggested we set some eggs away in late December to hatch in January but then we have the problems of keeping young chicks warm. A week in the apartment is okay, after that, they are too dusty to keep there and not feathered enough to put out into the greenhouse even with a heater. If this second batch does not work out well and we don't get enough hens then we will have a think and about trying again early next year. I'm sure we can figure something out if we have to. So apart from dead chicks, Sofie limping badly over the weekend and alpaca skin issues, everything is fine. At least Sofie was much better today and nearly back to normal and so far the alpaca skin issues are under control again. Not much we can do about the chicks though. What is really galling is that we actually had a really good batch. Only three out of the 20 eggs we set away were infertile, two chicks failed to hatch and the rest were all healthy. No leg issues such as we've had in previous batches. 

Soaking up some sun!
It is lovely outside, so why don't you go out? Who me?

Fortunately the rest of the week was not that traumatic. In fact up until this morning it has been quite pleasant, with nice temperatures and just a good dousing of rain overnight one night, which the garden needed - unfortunately Ian didn't as he is in the middle of building a replacement shed for the greenhouse that fell down about 18 months ago. The pleasant weather has meant that I have got quite a bit done in the garden: hemp harvested, shallots found, carrots and turnips sown for a quick crop, beans harvested and frozen, the rest of the currants picked and bottled and some cucumbers bottled for winter salads. It's a wonder we get anything from our garden with the weeds that came up this year, the caterpillars eating my brassicas and the general lack of time to do anything about it. Slowly though some sort of order is being restored, well was, until this morning of course.

A rather large tomato

The new shed has finally been started.

We had our first group visit of the year this weekend. A lovely group of ladies doing a tour of unusual places - or at least that was the translation on the tour operator's website. A lot of the ladies bought the felt balls I make and one even bought a calendar, of course since it was over half way through the year, she got it at 50% off. She liked the pictures though. We maybe should have had the goods set up, but we haven't done that this year due to the issues with Covid19. We didn't want the goods handled, then having to wonder what to do with them. However, the incidence in Latvia is still low due to the vigilance of the authorities and we have times when there are no new cases at all. 

Within the country there are some minimal Covid19 restrictions but for us it doesn't matter as we do our tours outside. Setting up a stall outside though is not a good option, especially during the visit this weekend as it looked really ominous. For a while we thought everyone would get drenched, but then the clouds passed over. It waited until I was trying to put the chickens away for the night and then let loose. I got another drenching. Ian laughed as he managed to avoid the two downpours. Heh ho! Such is life on a farm.

Below are two alpaca pictures followed by the ones of the chicks. If you are of a sensitive nature then stop here. 

Just trying to get that itch

A very cool looking George. 

A very sad sight! Just so unnecessary

Monday, 17 August 2020


Baling finished as evening gathers.
Finally the haymaking is finished and the cutter, hay turner and baler are put away for the year. The hay is baled, stacked and under cover and we can relax a little as we now have more than we need. It is always good to have reserves in case of a bad year. Or maybe we just need more alpacas. Whoops! Did I just say that? I don't mean it. We have nowhere to put more alpacas except the old greenhouse and that is stock full of stuff at the moment - a job for a rainy day to sort out and there hasn't been much of that over the last week. 
In the longest stack there are 150 bales of hay

Three stacks. That's a lot of plastic, but would be even more if
they were individually wrapped as you see in some fields. We 
have re-used the plastic from last year too.

This cricket hung around and let me photograph him (or her),
it looks like something out of an alien film.
I've had a lovely couple of weeks off. It was nice just to be able to get in the garden and be available for haymaking without worrying about getting my university work done too. I managed to find the onions that needed harvesting in my vegetable garden gone wild and lots of potatoes in places where we hadn't planted them. I've also sown some more carrots and turnips in the hope that they will germinate and grow in the warm soil and be ready later on in the year. In the greenhouse I've sown some broad beans, cabbages and kale that will give us some late autumn salad leaves if nothing else. I have to sow them in the greenhouse since the mice ate a lot of my beans that I planted outside earlier on in the year and the cabbages will be eaten by lot of different bugs. I've been delighted to see that the brassicas outside have done remarkably well this year, normally they struggle due to our dry summers, but the rain that made haymaking difficult meant they have grown well, now we just have to keep the caterpillar onslaught in some sort of check. I'm not a fan of daily caterpillar squishing chores, but needs must as we say.

We are still waiting for the vet to come and
x-ray Turbjørn's neck. Hopefully he will come
soon, as we finally had contact again. Ian enjoys
giving Turbjørn a massage as he gets to cuddle him.
Amazingly for a very nervous alpaca that doesn't
like anyone nearby, including other alpacas and
can be very vocal in letting everyone know, he does
stand and let Ian massage his neck. He seems to 
appreciate it. Turbjørn is a highly strung alpaca and
so this is quite a breakthrough really.

A pygmy grasshopper
We use permanent beds and try to dig as little as possible, but I think this year we will have to dig some beds over. They have got far too weedy, but also the mice and ants seem to have taken advantage of the lack of soil disturbance, which is something I didn't anticipate. Our cats are reasonably good at keeping the mouse population down in the greenhouse near the alpaca food, but not so good in my vegetable garden. Sophie though does seem to be in the process of controlling a weasel population, which we didn't know we have. Weasels are cute animals but not good when you have chickens, they can get through small holes and decimate a flock. So can pine martens as we found out earlier on in the year and we saw one of those this week scampering around in the evening before we put the chickens away. The main menace at the moment though is an eagle that seems determined to try and get through the netting to the chickens. It's had a chicken by the feathers twice, once last week and once this week. We just hope the netting around the ark holds up to the attacks.
A southern hawker dragonfly. I love the vibrant
pattern on this one.

Bargain flour... I think! 😂
Haymaking took up much of the early part of the week and we were grateful for some cooler weather when it came to collecting and stacking the bales. It's a hard job made worse in the high heat. We were even able to do the job over two days, which is a good when we had 269 of them to move. Even though they are very small compared to most bales, it is a lot of manual work. No rain was forecast but there were still some very dark and ominous looking clouds and so we were relieved to see them pass over and have all the bales under cover before the few spots of rain that did land in the night. There wasn't much rain though, despite the predictions, so now the ground is parched. 
A mushroom

A common field grasshopper - maybe! Only it looks different
to the other one I photographed as it has a darker back. 

Our friend took us out for a meal but after we
got back the animals needed some treatment
so on with the wellies and the head torch so I 
could see what I was doing.
With haymaking complete it was good to have a friend of ours come down to visit us from Estonia, it meant we could sit and chat a bit, as well as have some help pottering around in the garden. There was a query as to whether she would be able to, as there had been a spike of Covid19 in Tartu, but it seems to be under control for now and we know she's pretty careful about avoiding too much contact. Travel is certainly more complicated these days and I don't really fancy the journey with the potential to get the virus but our friend came by car so a safer option. I wish it was that easy to get to see the grandkids. 

Arachnaphobe alert: There are pictures of spiders below, look away if you don't like them. I still think they look amazing though and do a fantastic job trying to keep the fly population down.
Herkules and Freddie sporting the very useful cohesive bandages.
At least these have mainly stayed on. Herk occasionally scratches
his off, but we've found that if we spray some fly spray on, then
the flies stay away and he is less likely to scratch off his bandage.
The wounds are healing slowly. Freddie's bandage gets taken off
every third night and left to heal. Unfortunately we can't do that
with Herk's as he scratches at it. Slowly we are getting there.

A drone fly

Zebra jumping spider with a fly. Good job Mr. Spider

Cross orbweaver

My waterlily is still going strong with lots of 

A herald moth