Thanks to Putin, we have something to put in.

As I brought the seedlings inside from a day out in the sunshine, to tuck them up as the nights are still cold, it struck me that I have President Putin to thank for the handy crates that are the new vogue around the villages of Poland. Continue reading “Thanks to Putin, we have something to put in.”

Shice!

Forgive the false advertising, but puppy pictures seem to work on my few Facebook followers 🙂

I have read about it, done the research, even chuckled to myself as I have heard of other peoples accounts of it happing. Joseph Jenkins explains that it happened to him from 1993 to 1997; that’s four years that he knows of whilst he was monitoring!

Even still, the proud feeling from the construction of my poor mans composting thermometer melted away as I checked the core temperature of my humanure pile a couple of weeks ago when I visited the land, I had hit 0°C and I am left with a pile of shice!

Further reading allays my fears and thankfully it’s nothing to worry about, as time goes by it will stop happening altogether, as long as I keep the faith and keep piling on the poo!

Off course I have sprung to action and I sprinkle the pile at every opportunity as and when I visit the land; a valid reason for my copious tea consumption. All I need now is some unadulterated child fec …..now there’s a stroke of luck! Yet another incentive to get the house habitable as soon as possible:)

Talking of child benefits we visited the local national insurance office today (CRUZ) to put in our claim for sleepless nights and nappy changing. Unlike the UK you receive a one off payment and depending on your earnings you may be entitled to a little bit extra and reduced national insurance contributions for the next five years; seems reasonable?

I have to say I was impressed by the officials stance; questioning us, checking our plans, motives and if we were already claiming money from the UK government. They assured us that there is an agreement between the nations and that they would find out if we were the recipients of multiple benefits; I wonder if claimants in the UK are asked similar questions or made aware of the consequences of claiming twice? As it happens I checked up on this and in the UK you are left to make a declaration on the form you have to fill in to claim child benefit; hardly the kind of small print even an English native speaker would bother to read!

I may have mentioned before that I am in the habit of downloading podcasts from Radio 4 to keep me entertained whilst walking the dogs, unfortunately The Archers omnibus only keeps me going for one decent walk and so I have taken to listening to various other broadcasts. One that I favour is More or Less (behind the stats) ‘Tim Harford investigates numbers in the news. Numbers are used in every area of public debate. But are they always reliable? Tim and the More or Less team try to make sense of the statistics which surround us’

One program that struck me more than most was about immigration, the hot topic in the UK that politicians seem to skate around as they don’t know how to separate EU immigration from other immigration for fear of it becoming a racial issue (in my humble opinion) Have a listen here.

The  fact, if you believe what is said in the program, is that EU immigrants have made a net contribution to the British economy since 1995. It is only when you include figures for all immigrants that this figure becomes a negative. An EU immigrant puts in about £6k a year, where as a non EU immigrant takes out about £21k, and as for the UK nationals then we take out about £11k a year. No wonder the country is in so much debt! Well worth a listen if you have the time.

And time is the one thing I have run out of; it’s time to collect some compost 🙂

Just for those who couldn’t see the puppy picture, here it is 🙂

Taking it easy after a feed
Taking it easy after a feed

Early May

Ok, I’m trying out my new idea for the format of my posts to see if it works; it will also give me an opportunity to catch up on events, if not for you then for me. And if you are wondering how I have found the time to type this then it’s down to the weather and administration; the weather has turned wet and Gosia is in town ticking boxes for those nice people at the EU donations office. I don’t have long, so I better work quick!

A couple of things from April first, things that need to be recorded; the wild plumb tree came into flower on the 26th of April, the sweet cherry, sloe berry and plumb not far behind on the 29th. Apple, pear and quince just starting; looking over the valley you can spot all the fruit trees in flower indicating a house, occupied or indeed derelict. One worrying thing seems to be the lack of bees, I have only spotted bumbles so far; Gosia recalls a lot more buzzing last year, I guess the proof will be in the crop as it is highly dependant on pollination, although I not sure if this is exclusively from bees though?

The swallows are here at last, although they don’t seem to have taken up residence in the barn, not to worry; I know they must be nesting nearby as they are taking mud from the pit on the building site.

The coppiced trees seem to be doing very well, I’m getting about a 50% success rate with the silver birch and almost 100% with the willow. We have also had unintentional good luck with the elder which I cut two years ago to get rid of them; they have all coppiced and we now have an abundance of greenery soon to become flowers and berries!

Wild plumSweet cherry treeBlossom across the valley

5th, 6th of May: Looking at the 10 day weather forecast we convinced ourselves that we should be frost free from now on so we headed for the garden and top field; I think we also needed a bit of a break from the house. 45 or so pumpkins in along with maybe 20 butternut squash. These were joined by about 20 courgette and 20 sweet corn on the 10th. I will check for damage later today when we return, I think we are tempting fate by not putting up the electric fence.

As the dandelions are up I had a quick wiz round with the mower before they set seed; a job that will have to be repeated more often than I have my hair cut 🙂

I heard the first cuckoo of the year and the oats that we cast are starting to sprout, giving the top field a new look of dappled green. Also noticed the Lilac tree flowering and the odd sight of horse radish in flower, which I had never noticed before. We have lots growing around the land and we are careful to avoid them when strimming as they are a key ingredient in many pickles and preserves.

LilacHorse radish in flower

7th of May: Good news, bad news; the electricity was finally connected without drama or tripping fuses, I’m all set to tackle the rest of the house now. Bad news, the plaster around the windows is cracking. A combination of vibration from the opening and closing of the windows and our poor attempt at getting lime render to try and stick to wood and expanding foam; the fiberglass mesh we used to help the process has failed to perform as we had hoped. The rest of the day was spent chipping off any loose render so that we could have another try. I guess we were lucky that we hadn’t started to take down the scaffold!

8th of May: We have been thinking about getting another dog and Gosia has looked at quite a few dog rescue websites to find a suitable playmate for Jackie (not quite true as Jackie doesn’t like other dogs) but you never know. Gosia finally found what can only be described as a Springer, Setter cross’; Zara. We headed off  first thing in the morning and she was part of the family by noon.

Zara

We think we have a solution for the window surrounds; the render that is used for the polystyrene insulation is quite flexible, so we have decided to give it a go. First coat completed by the end of the day, ready for a second tomorrow.

9th and 10th of May: Whilst the new render solution isn’t ideal in that it’s not a natural product, it does seem to be doing the job. second and third coats applied as required, then sanded down to blend in with the lime surround.

New render around windows
New render around windows

Jackie fell off the top level of scaffolding! All I heard was the thud as she landed on the bottom level, about 4 meters below and Gosia shouting for me to get there asap. I ran round the building shouting to try and find Jackie’s location, heart beating fast and a sense of dread; but of course I couldn’t find the black lifeless shape of a dog anywhere, she had already dusted herself off and was heading back up the scaffold! A heart stopping moment and a ban on dogs on scaffold has now been imposed.

Spider dog

And just in case you are worried about an overflow, I emptied the composting toilet, although this was in no way related to the events of Jackie falling off the scaffold:)

11th of May: Final sanding down of render and painting with a primer so that the lime wash will take, a good tidy up, a weed around the various plots of land and eviction notices left for the few mice that seem to think that our house is available for occupation. Chicken soup tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it.

Monday 13th of May: Catching up with the blog 🙂 Hope to read a few before we head off later today.

Czyz nie dobija sie koni? They don’t shoot horses do they?

Don’t worry Pete, I’m not about to start reviewing films; I will leave that to the experts; but I have made a mental note to add this one to my (your) list of films to watch.

I’m not sure why this film title popped into my mind when I heard that the horse burger scandal had moved on and eventually traced the source of the contamination, especially as I have never seen the film; I can only guess that it has entered my subliminal mind as I scoured the internet for information on the root of the problem.

You will all be pleased to know that it was an industrious Polish company that managed to fool the Irish into believing that the packet of horse meat that they shipped over to Ireland contained beef; simply by changing the label!  It also seems that they have been getting away with it for over a year and that Silvercrest (the company who process the meat into burgers) have lost the contract with Burger King to supply burgers, as a result of the scandal; it’s only worth 30 million Euro per year, so no great loss! That’s a lot of burgers, so where else have they ended up? All over Europe by all accounts, I just haven’t the time to check exactly where; although Spain and France are mentioned, not that they would worry about horse meat, nor indeed do the English. Cheap food tastes good, who cares what it’s made of?

The whole point is, is, that what we believe to be eating may have no relation to what we are actually eating. I know this of no surprise to many people, myself included, but its a sad state of affairs that the scandal now seems to have turned into the ‘devastating effects’ that this may now have on the Irish beef exportation market; surly the emphasis should be on tightening the regulations so that we can trust the label on the food we eat?

Anyhow, I don’t want to become a bore on the subject; although its possible I already have, I just wanted to put a little bit more information out there on the off chance that it might change one persons mind. And that that person then stops buying food without giving a thought about where it comes from, and decides instead to check the provenance of the food and makes an informed decision to spend a little bit more money for a product with a known history.

Incidentally as a certified organic farm we are now shipping pasture grown, free range pork joints for the unbelievable price of just……..:)

I had always wondered why I hadn’t seen that many horses in Poland!

And what do the Poles think about it all? Just the same as the majority of other  news reports, there is no health risk so don’t worry about it! http://www.thenews.pl/1/12/Artykul/125614,Poland-investigates-Irelands-horsemeat-burger-claims

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Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

Now I know that a few of my readers may well have already gone red in the face, in the knowledge that all that money that is paid into the EU is then distributed to farmers to ensure they can continue to run round in Landover Defenders; well maybe not all the money, the latest figures allocate about 30% of all EU funding to agriculture with an additional 11% to rural development which encompasses more than just farms. Still that’s a lot of Range Rovers, although if you are from the UK you can take solace in the fact that they are manufactured in England!

My personal gripe about the CAP is that its emphasis is \ was on larger farms, the consequences of which led to the massive food surpluses of the 1980’s; back then almost 70% of all EU money went to farmers and this resulted in a more American monoculture way of farming, which in turn impacted heavily on the environment. Greater use of pesticides and fertilisers, which amongst other things effected the bee population, polluted natural water aquifers and ultimately leaves the land unusable unless chemically enhanced. No doubt the chemical industry bosses are driving round in Ferraris courtesy of EU funding, albeit indirectly.

Of course now I have a slightly skewed view, in that as the owner of three and a half hectares (around 7.5 acres) of agricultural land I am in receipt of funds from those nice people in Brussels. But before you start screaming at me that I’m sponging off the UK tax payer I’ll quickly mention that we receive approximately £300 per year, which just about covers the fuel required to meet the requirements set down to be able to claim the funds in the first place. How daft is that? I’d probably be better off without it!

But then I realised why the CAP could be a good thing, with the emphasis on could; as the powers that be have positioned themselves over the decades to be able to mould how farming is carried out in the future. As all farmers in Europe receive some kind of funding then conditions could be applied to ensure that greener and more sustainable practices are followed. And, believe it or not, that appears to be the direction that they are now taking in Brussels. Although as you would expect they will probably take a number of years before they come into effect.

Without boring you too much, in fact I’d be surprised if you got this far, the two key points that interest me most are:

· Steps to encouraging more crop diversification, maintaining permanent pasture and ecological focused areas in larger farms, whilst relaxing rules for smaller environmentally certified farms (like us)

· A cap on the amount of money paid to larger farms with an overall reduction in payments to the largest farms of up to 70% (this is the farms that claim €300,000 + every year)

So here’s to the CAP and the EU, it looks like they may be heading in the right direction at long last. Although you have to wonder how farming in Europe would have developed had we never had the policy in the first place? I’m pretty certain that each member state would now have far better food security and we wouldn’t have destroyed a lot of the biodiversity that used to make a farm a farm.

Hopefully these changes, if they ever happen, will allow Gosia and I to have a working ‘closed cycle farm’ running alongside what I can only described as a ‘Farm House Bed and Breakfast’. And if we are lucky enough to get a few hundred pounds a year to subsidise our dream then I’ll happily accept it. Incidentally I drive a Lada Niva 🙂

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I was in a Tesco cafe and the waitress asked if i would like anything on my burger, I said yes, I’ll have a fiver each way!

I’m not too sure how far internationally the news has spread about the discovery of horsemeat in beef burgers sold in Tesco’s, so apologies if the above joke leaves a blank look on your face. Of course you may not find it funny, the joke that is, which may equally leave you with a blank look!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21038521 This BBC article should provide you with a better overview of the news.

I have to say that this discovery does not surprise me, aware as I am of some of the methods of food processing that the modern world uses to provide us with low cost nutrition. In fact nutrition is probably the wrong word to use as it is often the last thing considered by the manufacturer of a product which simply has to come in under a certain price point and fill the space in your stomach.

The biggest drivers of this need for cheap sustenance seem to be the supermarkets, of course we drive them by our demand, but they seem to have provided the catalyst in the first place; the promise of low cost food all in one convenient location was too much of a temptation for the masses to ignore and now we have reached the point where they dominate the retail sector and supply about 75% of all our food.

Of course with such a dominant position in the food supply chain they can use their power to drive down prices to provide us with low cost food, but their ability to purchase globally enforces unfair market conditions which then leads to a decline in the market of locally grown and reared produce, as they simply cannot compete. That is unless you produce a substandard product and \ or use unorthodox methods to make your product at the price point demanded of your supermarket purchasing department. No wonder horse meat ends up in your burger!

The really worrying thing about this is that if it wasn’t for an Irish government departments decision to carry out an investigation then this could have gone unchecked, which also means that it is more than possible that it has gone unnoticed for many years, even decades and may well effect a bigger part of your shopping basket than you would like to think.

The inability and sometimes reluctance of some countries, even those within the EU, to adhere to the food standards that we have drafted over many years in the UK; it is hard to believe that those without any framework at all have any obligation or inclination to follow our rules. Their rules are those dictated by the supermarkets, and if all they have to do is tick a box to say that the pigs where not fed on other animal products or that the meat is only from one type of animal then the box will be ticked, and very rarely checked.

But I wonder, will an incident like this actually change the shopping habits of people who insist on spending less than 10 % of their wealth on the most essential of all things, or will they simply continue to eat whatever is put in front of them irrelevant of ingredient or nutritional value as long as the price is right?

I could go on, and on and on; as I am sure you have guessed I’m not into globalisation and can only hope that one day the cost of transportation or the mass failure of monoculture will drive the cost of food to a realistic and sustainable price point allowing the majority of people to eat locally produced food once again without the temptation of chickens from China or pigs from Poland sullying our dinner plates. Well I might eat a pig from Poland, but then I hope I will have reared it!

By the way, thanks to Chris Oliver for the joke; it was only a matter of time before they started to fly and also thanks to Friends of the Earth and the USDA for the spattering of statistics I used in this post.

And one final thought, the French and Italians spend almost 7% more (nearly twice as much) on their food than we do in Britain, I wonder if this has anything to do with their gastronomic traditions, love of food and pride of its regional origins?