Monday, 30 November 2020

Well that was close!

Our dear sweet Freddie

The forecast was for a drop in temperatures, so I thought I had better make an effort to dig up the root vegetables this weekend. The cabbages, broccoli and Brussel sprouts would stand some frost and I would still be able to get to them. Root vegetables once frozen in the ground are not so easy. It was a good job I did, not because they were in danger of being frozen in the ground after all, but I would have had more difficulty locating them under a blanket of snow. We were expecting some snow, errrrrr.... but not quite so much. Not that it is a lot of snow by Latvian standards and we've known more to fall in one day, but the consistent fine snow that fell all day today means we have a reasonable accumulation that we weren't expecting. 

George in a festive frame. No the snow was not
that high but the shot was taken from between
accumulations on the gate.

I started off nice and easy digging the vegetables with the beetroot. I was quite pleased that the majority were a reasonable size, especially as I use our own beetroot seed mixed in with some new ones. They are now all in a crate snuggled in a blanket of wood chippings. The beetroot leaves are drying in or on top of the oven. I have some leaves in the freezer already that will be used as a spinach substitute. I find spinach hard to grow because the summer is not kind to it and I always remember too late to grow some at the end of the season, so this will work instead. The beetroot leaves I have drying will add to my dried vegetable powder stock. I find that there are quite a few things that take up too much room or not quite right for eating directly because they might be a bit stringy or too strong in taste but dried out and ground into a powder they make tasty low salt stock. I dried out bean pods and ground them up. This was not a total success but I sieved it to separate the powder and the flaky bits, we get the powder and the chickens will be quite happy with the flakes added to their food, so nothing will be wasted.

Brencis does like to come up close and personal.
He can be a bit intimidating at times as he's so
big, but he's a gentle giant really - as long as
you don't touch his back legs.
A barrow load of parsnips

I also dug up the parsnips. I've had a couple of years where I've managed to grow these successfully but it is a bit hit and miss. This year was absolutely amazing, I've never, ever, grown parsnips as big. The ground was possibly a bit rich for them and they sent out lots of side roots, but even so, they were enormous and not woody at all and they tasted nice and sweet. I hope to save a few for next year to get seeds from or at least re-sprout the tops for new seed plants. I also dug up a bed of Jerusalem artichokes. I save a few for us and give most of them to the chickens -they are fine under a mulch and then they can be fed on a regular basis to them. We like Jerusalem artichokes but not so keen of their smelly effects. If that was all we had to eat, I would certainly do that no problem, but we have so many other things to eat we don't need to bother. I will have to do some research on ways to reduce their aftereffects though as they are super easy to grow and take no care at all. I dig them up in autumn to use in winter and then again in spring as soon as the ground defrosts. They are some of the earliest vegetables of the year for us.

Meet Pete the Parsnip. The fork and 
my old wellie is for size comparison.
My view from the apartment window this

Of course work takes up much of my time now and this week I've been searching for photographs for a book and database - easier said than done when some companies do not even bother to respond to emails. Anyway, I persist and that usually gets some results. We have a database launch date this week and so I've been making sure that is sorted. It will still be a work in progress but there is enough there to create interest and it can be added to over time. There is still a paper to finish and so I've been dipping into that, which kind of feels like getting blood out of a stone as it is such a slow process. I shall be glad when that one is done. I put on my diplomatic hat on this week too as I had to finish peer-reviewing someone else's paper. I needed to be kind and constructive with that. I feel sorry for the authors as they will have a lot of work to do on it. The science writing aspect is a tricky path to navigate especially if they do not have access to a native speaker to help them. 

Ian's morning view out on the land
George, Mari's oldest son had been outside in
the snow

There was a break from work on Thursday when I went out to the land with Ian one morning to help hold alpacas while they were scanned. We had 8 of them scanned and five were pregnant. Vanessa we were fairly certain was not due to the fact she was very adamant that she was not going to sit down for any male alpaca, well not for Mr. P anyway, as Tellus and Brencis are too closely related to her to be mated with. We were disappointed that Valeria and Antonia were not pregnant again this year and we'll have to try early again next year. Aggie and Chanel we were fairly certain were pregnant as they have been horrid, spitty and temperamental and so it was a relief to know they definitely were pregnant and not just obnoxious for no reason. Mari was definitely not as far on as they were, so due much later but at least she is pregnant - she does have nice babies too. Amanda and Silla were easy to see too, so it looks like most of them are due earlier rather than later. 

I love this shot as it would make such a good
subject for a detailed drawing showing the
way George's fleece covers his face, especially
around the nose.
The detail on Lady V's face would be a good
one to try and capture in pencil

We went to see some friends on Friday. One of them has been very ill for such a long time and we know he's vulnerable to any infection. You could guarantee though that even if we thought about going to see them I would get a tickly cough or start sneezing. Then there are the days when trying to get work done means I finish too late. We also didn't want to go and see them if we had been in contact with others where we weren't sure about their Covid bubble either and so time just stole away. To take Covid19 germs to someone already reliant on oxygen is not helpful though. Finally we found a time when we hadn't had contact with anyone other than in the local supermarket and so went up to see them. 

Hay stacks with a blanket of snow
Have you been out in the snow Mr. P?

Life used to be so simple when we didn't have to factor these things in. At least we are more confident of not having come into contact with the disease due to being tied up on the land means we don't see many people and our trips to the supermarket are relatively safe due to there only being a low incidence of cases in the area. In the whole of the time since the disease came into Latvia there has only been twice when there has between 1-5 with the disease in our region (they don't give numbers below 5). The numbers in certain parts of the country are not looking good though with huge spikes in numbers and the hospitals close to being full for allocated beds. There are additional restrictions in several places but not in the capital, which has the highest number of people and the highest incidence - just not the highest number per capita and that's how they get away with not placing the additional restrictions there. Unless the numbers come down quickly there will be a lockdown according to the murmurings.

Hmmm! I can see you have. He looks like an old
grizzled man
I see our Christmas tree is ready decorated

On Saturday we took a trip out to see someone with some alpacas. She was a relatively new owner and needed some advice and guidance. The alpacas' toe nails also needed cutting and so Ian demonstrated the correct way they should be done. It looks like we will have more customers in the next shearing season too and so Ian was explaining how to prepare the place ready for the shearing process. It is worrying though that she needed the advice on simple things like toe nail cutting, body scoring to ensure they are not too fat and general ideas on how to make sure they stay healthy. Ian wouldn't let any of our alpacas go without the people knowing how to care for them, as any responsible breeder should. `He would find selling them hard enough as it is and even harder if he wasn't sure they would be looked after properly with the correct after care services too.

So bright despite the gloomy skies. Makes a change
from dark and dreary we've had.
Little Ilvija doing her best to look like a unicorn

One of the things I've been spending time on this week is sorting out Christmas presents. I haven't finished yet but I've been trying to think of presents that will be of use, but fun and where the profits do not go into the hands of the temple of mammon, aka Amazon. Buying local becomes a bit more tricky when you are many miles away and they are not always ideal anyway. I've been putting together some sites for myself of places to buy local foodie items and things we might need and so that was helpful to send to my daughter when she wanted ideas. Maybe that would be useful for anyone who has distant relatives, a bit like the wedding gift list but packed with details of greener, more local companies, especially when it will not be so easy to pop over to deliver presents yourself. 

I think the unicorn look needs a little work though

I said the snow had got a bit thicker than we were

Mari with Lady V looking anxiously on. I'm not
going out in that, I think the look says.

The greenhouse looks quite gloomy with its blanket
of snow. I hope that plastic holds.

Boys you do know you have water
buckets inside don't you?

Monday, 23 November 2020

We're back!

A change of scenery. The view from our
apartment this afternoon

We're back in the apartment that is! This is the first night back since March when we moved out to the land. It isn't the cold that is the problem in the caravan, it is quite easy to warm it up quickly, even on freezing cold mornings. The weather hasn't even been that cold for Latvia at this time of the year anyway. What sends us back are two things that might seem inconsequential. Firstly the long dark nights. It is a long time for two of us to be stuck in a 12m2 space when there isn't much room to move around. It is now pretty dark by 4pm and we are still about a month away to the shortest day. The second point is the washing up. We use the kitchen that was built in the greenhouse and it serves us well for most of the year, but when it gets cold and damp, the washing up doesn't dry and it is a cold job for Ian. 

Oh oh! The brief view of the blue sky is about
to be obliterated - again!
At least someone knows the warmest spots. He
learnt fast.

Even cooking is a chore too but there are a few options. One is to start earlier and bung it all in the slow cooker, another is to freeze while trying to peel spuds, the third option is to retreat to the caravan but as I said, it is a small space. 

Finally some sunshine. 
Ian doing some repairs on his trousers.
Light on to see what he's doing and not
much space as you can see.

So we start on the new routine from tomorrow, where Ian leaves every morning to go and see to the animals and returns late afternoon once he has put them away. This will continue until sometime around March when the days get long enough and the heat in the sun returns to warm the greenhouse up in the day. There will always be a period of transition too, when there are still things out on the land that we need back in the apartment and there are crates everywhere, mainly with jars from the pickling and preserving done over the summer. We seem to have a lot this year, so we won't starve. It all needs a good sort out and rearranging though. 

Ian ordered a heat pack that is suitable for horses.
We hope it will help Turbjørn. It should arrive this 
Look how long Josefs eyelashes are. Incredible, 
even for an alpaca.

Another issue for us out on the land is the mud. We had a few dry days and a lovely Saturday where we actually saw the sun, but then this was followed by overnight snow and heavy rain. The paths that had started to dry nicely were once again turned into squelchy messes. Traipsing around outside, just makes everything muddier and the mud paths are widening as there is a danger of slipping on the hilly bits. The land needs a rest as much as we do. 

It looks like Freddie is developing some whiskers
under his chin
The scene that greeted me first thing on Sunday

The dry Saturday meant we managed to get a few jobs done though. We trimmed the boys toe nails and Ian gave them Vitamin A, D and E injections, except for Brencis as we need help with him. I then cleared the garden of the heaps of weeds and took them off to compost in our field. I moved hay bales to protect some carrots and turnips and put a cover over the veg. They had been under fleece, but I didn't want them crushing under that with snow on top, so created a better shelter for them. It looks a bit haphazard, but it worked. I also moved the black plastic off the beds that will get manure on them over the winter and put them on the beds that will be planted up with the cabbages next year (which I hope will stop them becoming weedy before I get the chance to plant them up). Lastly I cleaned out the chickens.

Wet soggy snow, not the nice crisp
Teeth cutting needs doing soon.

The next day was forecast to be wet and so I planned on doing jobs in the greenhouse. There was a lot of sorting out to do of those things that needed to go to the apartment and a general tidy up. There were also seeds that needed sifting through that I hadn't had the chance to deal with. By the time I'd finished there were crates and boxes all ready for the move and a nice pile of hemp and hollyhock seeds. The hemp will be used in bread and in chicken feed. The hollyhock seeds will just go in the chicken feed.

Brencis still needs his toe nails doing and an
injection of Vitamins A, D and E. He also looks
like he needs a wash. Not sure what's going on with
the patterning white and mud patterns. How does
he do that? 

Off to the field for something to eat. They do
look so organised - not often that happens.

I'm glad that isn't our field at the top, that is
quite a mess. They also take shortcuts across our
field. Not caught them recently though. Not as
if it is our neighbour either as she doesn't have
a tractor.

Chanel looks like she's been up all night. She 
needs a good brush. Ian thinks the turmeric on her
feed might be starting to help the issues around
her face. She's too spitty and stressy to put cream 
on but if she can distribute a bit of turmeric powder
around her face while eating, that might just do the
trick. We'll see.

Lady V is still plodding on, in fact she's making
a bit of a nuisance of herself by muscling in on 
others at feeding time. 

Ilvija is such a cutie

Until she starts trying to feed from her mum again.
Chanel's having none of it though and so hopefully
by the time she has another baby, Ilvija will have 
stopped trying.

Saturday was such a gorgeous day

A rather muddy looking alpaca

Still finding some green grass

Just chilling in the sun.

Monday, 16 November 2020


The weather may have warmed up, but it is still
rather dreary. I think Silla is singing a lament

The weather warmed up a bit after the wintry blast of last week when we had a good frost, but only a bit. At least it has dried up somewhat and we have stopped squelching around in mud. I was getting to the stage where I thought I had better dig out those ark plans and start building or looking up special shoes for walking on mud. It isn't even winter yet and I've already perfected the penguin walk, arms out, feet pointing outwards (kind of like this Youtube video). I suppose it's good practice for walking on ice. I hope I don't need that much practice though.  

Ginger Tom is still a shy cat. Rocket Ron will 
jump up onto our laps and loves a good cuddle,
Ginger Tom though is more likely to run away.
He also prefers Ian but that is cupboard love.
The soft lighting and damp conditions makes 
Josefs hair look super curly

Ilvija with her pack lunch

Amazingly we still have so much in the garden that is keeping us going in fresh veg. The brassicas are looking amazingly well, so green and red cabbages, Brussel sprouts and broccoli. My parsnips are humungous and the turnips and celeriac are coming along nicely too. We've only just started on the beetroots, one was so large I'm going to feed it to the chickens tomorrow - it looks suspiciously like a cross between fodder beet and beetroot anyway - which it might be. I have a mix of beetroot seeds and plant some for seeds in the following year and since some are for the chickens and some for us, it doesn't really matter that there are a mix of sizes. I've also just remembered that there are the Jerusalem artichokes to dig up, or at least another bucketful for the chickens. They do have some rather smelly repercussions if we eat them, but since we are supposed to be social distancing it doesn't really matter that much I guess. 

Ilvija looking like she's had one or two rather good
pack lunches too many. She isn't starving for sure.

Poor Turbjørn. He's struggling and could do 
with a massage, the problem is that he is beginning
to hesitate coming in and so Ian's had to stop. We can't
have him stopping out at night with the risk of dog
attacks. Ian's possibly found a source for a heat
pack that goes on horses though, so that
might help enormously. We have to find out
though how the battery does in very cold temperatures
as the deep cold kills batteries as we've found out to 
our cost.

Lady V trying out the new minimalist headwear

This weekend I finally got some more pickling done. So now we have jars of piccalilli, pickled red cabbage and I pickled the last of the cucumbers and green peppers. Something to pep up the main winter diet of squash, potatoes and beetroot. It's a good job as I don't think I planted enough onions this last year and the carrots didn't do very well either - although the ones outside are doing okay, they are nowhere near ready for picking yet. Not sure how they will fare over winter, but we'll see. I might try and put a protective bank of hay around them and plastic over the top, like a protected mini greenhouse. My pantry and freezers are full to overflowing too, so we won't be short of food. Ian's a bit worried that it is a portend of a bad winter. I like to think it is just good planning but in reality it is just I did manage to get a lot frozen this year. 

A bit bleak these days.

Ian has been busy chopping and stacking wood
ready for the next year

Not the sort of evidence of wild animals we like
to see. Obviously the wild boar are getting active

The drier weather has meant we have finally got our caravan into the greenhouse. We had hoped to make a permanent construction around it this year so we wouldn't have to, but just didn't get around to it. I was a bit worried about getting it in because of the new flattened area just outside the greenhouse that meant there was now a very large edge to reverse the caravan over. Ian found some substantial pieces of wood that had been intended for a bench and used those and it worked well. There was one hairy moment when I had to get Ian to stop quickly, as it was a bit close to the edge, but once we worked out a system for directing we managed it fairly smoothly. In fact, despite my reservations, it went smoother than normal. 

That's ma' boy! Tellus at the front, father of 
Brencis at the back

Is that my girlfriend over there?

The caravan in the greenhouse. With only the
chicks in the top corner this year and the older
ones out in the new greenhouse, the caravan
has been pushed further back. This is partly
because the greenhouse now leaks rather
badly where it used to go. Another thing on the
list of jobs to do. 

I'm pleased we are under some protection now as the wind today was vicious and it felt like sleet in the air. We can hear the plastic flapping about a bit and it is a bit cool in the caravan at times but on the whole not too bad. My Granny's old Arran cardigan is working well, it is so warm and keeps the wind out. We manage quite well in the caravan for most of the year, but it is getting close to needing to move back to the apartment. The apartment needs heating for a start, but also the nights are getting too long and cooking and washing up becomes a pain in the greenhouse as it is cold and damp. 

My view is not so interesting while I work these 
days. No longer can I look out and possibly glimpse
an alpaca. All I can see now is my washing that is
taking ages to dry. In fact we now are putting it on
the radiator in stages in the caravan with the
dehumidifier going.

The caravan in the greenhouse again!

Finding green grass at this time of the year is
tricky. We don't want them to completely scalp it
but they do generally prefer the grass to hay,
although Ian thinks they may be starting to
prefer the hay now, which means they can stay
in their paddock areas for winter.

We are still not on lockdown here in Latvia, although the numbers did climb rather quickly and new restrictions were put in place, so we managed a little road trip to see someone who has new alpacas. Outside of the cities the numbers are generally fairly low, so still relatively safe. It was nice to get out for a bit and see someone. Ian had mentioned I had graduated last week so they gave me a bottle of apple juice as a present. Very nice it was too! 

The reason these girls got some extra green grass
is due to moving the caravan into the greenhouse
(that bare patch in the middle of the photo).
We couldn't move them to this area until the
caravan had moved as Ian needs the space to swing
the caravan round to back it into the greenhouse.
I think we can safely say the new pond is full

I had some good news today from work. I'm getting a pay rise as I they found I wasn't being paid the rates for a PhD graduate, so that will be a nice Christmas bonus. I also have extra hours and some new challenges for next year, so I'm quite looking forward to that. It certainly takes the pressure off trying to work out how to make sure the farm pays its way. It will be still nice to find out how to do that, but for now in these uncertain times we can relax a little and try to think of what we want in place for welcoming back people to our farm to be able to enjoy our alpacas with us. 

Rocket Ron looking super cute....

....on top of the caravan with Ginger Tom. It didn't
take long for them to work out it is warm up there.
Don't be beguiled by these super sweet kittens, they 
are little rogues and tormenting Eyre. Sofie has 
gone to our neighbours again. She likes the
warmth and her hunting skills are greatly appreciated.
Probably good for her as she is starting to get old,
she is over 9 years old now and the warmth of the cow
barn will be good for her over winter. She did
pop back to say hello yesterday afternoon though.

Mari looking a little crazed here.

Phew! Back to her normal smiley face

He definitely gets his cute looks from his mum.

Not much grass left there.

At least Ian found somewhere that could do with
a quick bit of mowing

They're up to something, I'm sure

See they're even whispering to each other.