Potatoes and eggs

It’s clearly blood from a fresh kill in the picture, which has nothing to do with this post, but a picture of Malina is bound to get more readers than a picture of a spud or an egg for that matter 🙂

When I first worked in Jersey, as an excavator of tubers of the royal kind, I was often billeted in humble accommodation, not that this bothered me as I was young and spent most of my time working or down the pub!

One particular farm that I worked on belonged to the Priaulx family and I worked alongside two sons who kept up a relentless pace which they had no doubt inherited from their father. Both of them strong and wily, they would toss around the potato sacks like stuffed toys, which was fine unless you were the person who had to catch the 50lb sacks!

One evening the lads came to visit our barn, the two newly arrived young lady potato pickers from Wales may have something to do with it, and we proceeded to chat about this that and the other, helped along by several cans of Mary Ann Special. Oddly the lads declined any alcohol, but not that strange that we worried about it too much.

The conversation came round to food, probably as we had something cooking and it was time to eat and as polite hosts we asked if the brothers would like to join us. It was probably a curry, spag bol, chilli or some other two ring special if I had anything to do with it!

Both declined explaining that they had already eaten, ‘what did you have?’ was the obvious question, to which came the reply ‘potatoes and eggs’

For whatever reason we must have pursued this further, looking for the the secret diet that had produced such fine specimens of men, only to be told that they only ever had potatoes and eggs! ‘Nothing else?’ ‘Yes, bread and jelly for lunch’.

Now the reason I’m mentioning this is not to ridicule the Priaulx boys, on the contrary, I’m writing this as a sign of solidarity, as my diet, for breakfast at least, is more often than not potatoes and eggs, and for lunch,egg and chips or maybe tortilla!

After a successful harvest of Raleighs finest discovery we were left with more than a tonne to fill the pivnica (root cellar) and given the supply of eggs from friends and family, it would be a shame not to take advantage of this bounty.

In fact the pivnica is serving us well, with sacks of onions, carrots, celeriac, parsnips and swede, not to mention the garlic, leeks, cabbage, sauerkraut, and mass of pumpkins. Every morning, as I take the dogs for a walk, I ask Gosia if she needs anything for the day and I invariably come back with my pockets full.

I always send Jackie first just in case we have any unwanted guests, but to be honest they would be long gone by the time I open the second door. Still Jackie enjoys the task of checking.

DSC05969
Waiting for the second door to be opened.
DSC05972
Checking for unwanted guests

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We do go through the easily accessible veg in store at least once a week and recently had to remove about a dozen pumpkins with the rot setting in to take out the seeds for drying. This is the point when I wished we had our pigs already as the pulp would have been great fodder for them. Still we had soup and recently discovered pumpkin fritters on the menu for a few days, not to mention over a kilo of dried seeds to snack on and add to various recipes. Extremely good for you by all accounts and with over thirty still left in storage it will be while before we run out.

Now all I have to do is come up with a breakfast menu which includes them 🙂

And for the vampire lovers out there:

DSC06083.jpg

 

 

Burning down the house

No, nothing to do with the 80’s classic from the Talking Heads, nor the last desperate act of a father on the brink, it’s just that it’s rather cold and we ran out of wood!

But before you worry too much its not the house we are living in that we are torching, despite what you might think about a house of straw they don’t burn that well, rather it’s the old derelict house down by the barn.

Eighty or ninety years old, maybe more, it holds many memories for some of the local people. Only this Boxing day we met an elderly lady who remembers visiting the house as a young girl, visiting your neighbours was all the rage back then. The house itself was considered big for its time and its design is one that typifies the Polish countryside for me, with many examples still sanding, nestled between the modern freshly built houses of the last 20 years. If you ever visit Poland I would suggest a visit to one of the many open air museums, http://openairmuseum.pl/ they offer a unique glimpse of Poland’s past architecture and way of life.

Still we made a deal with my father in-law in the autumn, that if he demolished the house he could have half of the wood for his own winter fuel supply. No sooner was the deal struck then the family and quite a few friends descended, although it has to be said the bulk of the work was carried out by mother and father in-law.  We were left with heavy beams, cut to the length of the van for transport back to the family home, piled neatly under tarpaulins and whilst most made the journey quite a bit was set aside for us.

DSC09852

In the end half of the house was left standing, the weather turned against us and it made sense to keep the shelter in place as there is still a couple of tonnes of clay in there! Which is handy as I want to build a straw bale cottage there in the years to come.

So here I am, cutting with chainsaw and chopping with axe, almost a hundred years of history to warm a new generation. Marvelling at the giant hand carved dove tail joints that held the old house together, it seems a shame to burn it somehow.

But burn it does and it burns wells, too well in fact as the old dry timbers are a honeycomb of wood worm burrows and rot that has set in over the years. I just hope that it lasts us the rest of the winter as I’m not sure what to burn next…um maybe this bit of old furniture in the basement!

A picture post

 As the title implies my camera and computer bumped into each other after a short time apart, so it was nice to catch up.

A brief update in words and pictures; no sound!

Time is certainly flying by at the moment, I can’t believe it’s so long since I posted last and as ever I feel that I need to provide an update, for myself and anyone else who happens to be reading.

Malina is growing fast and I have to say I’m happy that all her clothes have either come from friends or relatives, as hand-me-downs and gifts, not forgetting to mention the hand crocheted hats and toys that Gosia has crafted. I doubt that my Yorkshire blood would have coped with the expense of buying new for such a short period of use. I’m also happy to report that the reusable nappies that we purchased, all twenty-four of them, are working out very well and the washing machine is only put to the test every second day. It’s good to know that we are not adding to the smell of burning nappies in the air as you walk past some houses in the village nor adding to a future landfill problem. Even the washing liquid is environmentally friendly!

Michalina toys
Look Gosia crocheted a baby!

The pups are also making good progress and we have started the weaning process. Unfortunately nature has left us with only four pups from the original seven, but the ones that remain are fighting fit and willing to take on anything that moves; chickens, cats, bicycles! Timmy, the smallest of the pack, even made a bid for freedom last night and was only found after a two man search with torches at 11 O’clock!

Escape artist Timmy
Escape artist Timmy
Please Zara, can we have some more?
Please Zara, can we have some more?

Indoor sowing of plants continues with tomatoes, peppers, some more chilli’s, celeriac, masses of basil and a whole host of salad greens. Outside sets of onions, spring onion seeds, radish and some broad beans have made there way into the raised beds. We even had the top field spread with some of natures finest bovine NPK mix, all we have to do now is decide on our final planting for the summer. The rye that we sowed in the autumn has done well so far so we are likely to grow the crop on rather than turn it over as a green manure.

DSC08881
Natures finest
DSC08883
Two sections of the field with fresh muck. The green band in the middle of the field is last autumns planting of rye.

 

The house is getting more and more attention as the weather improves and I have managed to fill in some of the deeper depressions in the earth rendered walls, ready for the first of the lime coats, although it’s quite possible I’ll do a bit more work on some of the window surround first. I also took the opportunity to relocate some of the sockets I had randomly placed in the walls, deciding that they should all sit at a standard height. The concrete work in the basment that I had decided on was put on hold as I discovered that I can have a premix delivered on the back of a truck, two cubic meters at a time once we are in April, which should save me a lot of work mixing by hand. The cost difference is negligible and it should be a manageable load for one person to lay before it sets.

DSC08860
Lots of lumps and bumps to even out.
DSC08877
Open plan living now that the temporary bathroom wall has come down.

And finally, I have spent a good few evenings now building my new website. It’s not ready yet and on reflection I think it is likely to become an extension of the blog rather than a replacement, so I’m afraid you long suffering readers will have to suffer some more. If you have a minute please visit www.winkos.co.uk and if you have another minute tell me what you think of the format so far; any feedback will be appreciated.

Now back to it, the baby needs walking, the puppies nappies need changing and I have to plaster the dogs!

Loose ends

Don’t worry, it’s not a post about umbilical cords! Although I will quickly report that Zara insisted on getting in on the birthing action and delivered five puppies into the world on Wednesday the 19th, so plenty of umbilical cords in my life at the moment; it seems I was destined to be a dad!

DSC08697

Talking of new life it’s also worth mentioning that the chilli’s have germinated and the first few leaves are reaching for the sky.

DSC08687

I’d also like to say a big thank you all for your kind words, wishes and poetry, Gosia especially liked the poetry. A few more photos can be found here, for those of you who like looking at baby photos! It also gets a few hits on my website which I am hoping to develop over the coming weeks to replace the blog (or maybe not)

Ok, back to the post, the loose ends that I am referring to are the posts that I meant to write in the autumn but never seemed to get round to, but as my camera is now my best friend again I found myself reviewing old photos and stumbled upon pictures that I had taken specifically for a post, so rather than waste them I thought I’d cram them into a catch up of sorts.

Elderflower beer! Do you remember that? Well I almost forgot about it, that was until we started the clean up and clear out  as we prepared to leave the land for the winter last year, and then I found it hiding in the back of the pivnica, bottles containing a golden yellow liquid, almost fluorescent.

DSC08555DSC08561

Not one to shy away from the unknown and casting away the slightly cloudy appearance and sediment in the bottles, I grabbed a jar and tried the homemade tipple. Light, probably about 4% in strength, fragrant with the elder and tasting slightly of the oranges that were used in the brewing process. Mildly effervescent, reminding me of a homemade lemonade and as such perfect for hot summer days; ideal for quenching your thirst after a hard days graft. I will be making it again that’s for sure.

My second loose end is the one coming out of the end of a plastic pipe.

DSC08582

In the words of Mr Harris, ‘can you tell what it is yet?’ Well, it’s a compost thermometer of course, available from Amazon, www.humanure.com  and occasionally from garden centres for around £20,  except this one only cost me a couple of quid for the standard household thermometer and a bit of invention.

First check that you thermometer will fit in your pipe, then cut the pipe to the desired length (about 60cm or 24 inches in old money), attach string to thermometer, plug the pipe one end with a cork and drop in your temperature guide. Take to the pile, insert, leave for a while and take a reading by pulling on the string to reveal the poo free metron. I look forward to reporting on the spring temperature next time  we visit; next week I hope!

DSC08579DSC08587

Phew, that feels better, two loose ends tied in a bow and just in time as my Polish family is congregating downstairs to say hello to Malina; no doubt Vodka will be involved. Na zdrowie!

Its chilli time

As I briefly alluded to in my last post I have started the propagation of this years chilli plants. In the past I have relied pretty much on my own seed from the previous years harvest and have always had reasonably good results; other than the frost disaster of a few years ago as I pushed the boundaries of local gardening knowledge and planted out before the second week in May.

We have two main types growing, a cayenne and one of the many bush varieties, both of which produce a reasonably hot chilli that find their way into many of the dishes we cook and a couple of warming condiments for the larder. But remembering a post I read last year at food and forage Hebrides I decided it was time to expand upon the varieties we grow to extend the range of heat and flavour available to us as we spice up our diet. The climate in Poland also seems to favour the chilli as the hot summers help to ripen the fruit in extra quick time, although you have to get a good head start at the beginning of the season.

If you have ever looked for chilli seeds online then you will soon discover that the catalogue is vast and the choice seemingly endless, so to save time and prevent headaches I went back to a seed provider that I have used in the past sowseeds.co.uk Not only do they have about sixty chilli varieties on their virtual shelves, but they also have a diverse mix of other seeds, and to top it all they ship to Poland; although I have to admit that I had my final order shipped to Jersey and then sent onto Poland to save a few quid.

So with sixty to choose from I narrowed it down to eight.

Poblano (ancho): I just had to have the key ingredient for ‘Mole Sauce’ even if I didn’t know what it was until now!

Jalapeno: I have grown them in the past and look forward to pickling them in the future, a must have jar on the shelf and topper for a fiery Pizza.

Hungarian hot wax: As requested by Gosia as their large size makes them ideal for stuffing.

Tabasco: We don’t want to have to buy it, so why not make it; how hard can it be?

Prairie fire: One for the windowsill to keep us warm in the autumn.

Lemon drop: I liked the sound of these and I’m interested to see how the citrus flavour comes through and the colour looks amazing.

Padron: Having consumed an unfathomable quantity of these little beauties in the guise on Pimientos de Padron (lightly fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt) in the tiendas of Galicia, north west Spain, I just have to try and rekindle the memory.

Scotch bonnet: I had to have at least one hot one on the list and the scotch bonnet is a familiar contender, so on the list it is. Although further reading only ranks it four out of five on the heat scale, that’s more than enough for me.

Propagation is relatively straight forward in a seed tray with a light (5mm) covering, although the trick is to keep the temperature above 22 centigrade otherwise germination can be a bit erratic. If you have a heat mat or heated propagator then you’re in luck, we just stick them on the windowsill which has a radiator below and just hope that Gosias dad keeps the boiler stoked:)

I used to cover my seed trays with black polythene to help keep in more heat as light isn’t required for germination, but this year I have gone for a clear plastic cover because that’s what we had available. Mist lightly with a spray and wait; they should say hello within the next two to three weeks. I’ll update you once we have the first signs of life.

DSC08614

Crop report

Unlike our friends over at City and the Mountains I haven’t taken the time nor had the patience to weigh the produce we have collected from our kitchen garden; maybe in the future I’ll try to keep better records as it’s interesting to see exactly what comes of all the hard work.

On the other hand we do have a fairly accurate record of the yields from our top field, probably because we only planted two crops!

As I detailed in one of my earlier posts we planted 150Kg of potato seed over a 900 M² area back in late April, the land wasn’t considered to be good for spuds, or anything for that matter, but I wanted potatoes and so I got potatoes! So when we finally picked them in early September, with the help of friends, family and neighbours, I was disappointed to find that we only harvested around 700Kg (maybe a bit more as we dug quite a lot by hand for the wedding). A combination of poor soil, a very dry summer and no doubt a little lost foliage eaten by our friends from Colorado all conspired against a good crop. Looking at the price of potatoes, twice that of last year, it would seem that everyone was blighted by the same problems. Gosias aunty lost all of their potatoes as a result of flooding in June, their lowland location meant that the tubers were trapped under water for many weeks, so the family is thankful that we at least had something to show for our efforts.

Putting this all into context we have to look at the cost to produce these potatoes and dividing the fuel cost between rye and potatoes, adding a bit more for the harvest, I’d say we have spent about 300 Pln (£60). That works out at roughly 50gr (10p) per Kg. Considering that you can buy them in the shops for about 1Pln (20p) per Kg it might seem like a lot of hard work, but then they are ours and they are free from fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides; which adds more than monetary value in my book.

The oats on the other hand cropped well, when we harvested in early August, with the help of the neighbours Massey Ferguson 307, we managed to reap about 1500Kg; a good fodder crop for when we eventually get some livestock on the go. Lets just hope the rats and mice don’t help themselves to too much over the winter!

Once again putting a cost on this is essential to determining the viability of future crops, so adding the fuel, seed and harvesting costs together we reach the sum of around 650 Pln (£130). In actual fact the farmer harvested the oats free of charge as part of our wedding present, but I have added the cost as if he had charged.  So that comes in at about 22 Pln  (£4.40) per 50Kg sack of oats; the going rate at the moment is about 25 pln (£5) per sack! A waste of time? I think knowing that the crop is ours and free of any additives does make a big difference; if we intend to feed it to our pigs, sheep, goats etc. in the future then at least we know what we are feeding them. Ideally we would like to stay away from commercial feeds altogether, even if it means that livestock takes a little longer to mature, knowing what fattened them up would sit well with me and hopefully add a premium to their value should we ever sell outside of our community.

I’ll make a quick note about the other ‘vegetable crops’ that I mentioned in my original post, if only to reiterate how poor the land is as a growing medium. Our cabbages are little more than cricket ball sized and the pumpkins just about reached the softball court. Mind you we have still had quite a few coleslaws from the cabbage and the pumpkin seeds are drying on top of the cooking range; an extremely healthy snack and very versatile cooking ingredient.

So what plans for the top field next year? Well we have already planted rye where the oats where (the 24th September), and we plan to plant clover and beans in the area that we had the spuds, cabbage and pumpkins; hopefully adding some much needed nitrogen to patch for the future. The very top of the top field that we left in oats as a green manure will be the potato patch for next year, but we hope to ship in some manure in the spring to help them along and increase the yield.

I was going to post a little about the kitchen garden but I can see that you have most likely lost interest if you got this far; I know I have, so beware I’ll leave it for an other post. Until then and hopefully with an update on the house in between, I’ll leave you read something more interesting 🙂

Beetle mania and mud flinging ticks the box

Yes I’m still here, although if you had asked me the same question this time last week I may have provided a different answer. Yet again I fell into the bimber trap (Polish moonshine) at yet another neighbours barbeque; we are still the novelty guests in the village and after turning down an invite a few weeks ago we could not say no a second time. As you may have gathered saying no isn’t that easy for me and the resulting grill left me in no fit state to type, drive, walk or talk that much on Sunday; my usual catch up day. A family member’s names day on Sunday afternoon sealed my fate, as I was plied with more vodka and bimber, in the end I was having trouble catching up with myself never mind the blog!

But at last, Sunday has come round again and after an early start to the day (6am) we have managed to walk the dogs, pick a bucket full of cherries for Gosias family, driven out to Rzeszow to exchange some faulty door handles that we purchased last week and made it back to Rzemien for Sunday lunch. On the way here we noticed that a number of people at the side of the forest road selling bilberries, so I can feel a trip is on the cards later in the day; although I’m hoping I can get out of that one as the mosquitoes are thick in the woods. Bilberries taste so much better when picked by someone else J

There you go, rambling on, I better try and catch up, although I’ll try and make it brief, like my notes 🙂

Monday 3rd June: My first tick! Now you may find this is odd but it is a big moment for me as I thought that Polish ticks didn’t like Yorkshire blood, as I have until now, never had a tick. Ticks in Poland can be dangerous and if one latches on it is possible to contract Tick-borne Encephalitis . Gosia soon removed it from my neck with a pinch of the tweezers!

An article I did find that may be of interest regarding ticks and preventing them, although I haven’t tried this yet, its worth a read. https://organicdailypost.com/7-ways-make-yard-hostile-ticks/

I started my first batch of Elderflower beer; recipe to follow.

Tuesday 4th June: The rain keeps coming down and the trenches that I pumped dry of water yesterday are full again; a little disheartening. The weather is so odd at the moment, 23°C and sunny then thunder storms with hail; hail so big that roof tiles are reported as smashed and a friend’s car is dented; mind you it was a Fiat 🙂

Still plenty of work going on in the house, forming the windows and stuffing the gaps and quite a bit of mud flinging; or clay slip to be more accurate.

Wednesday 5th June: My daily mushroom hunt whilst walking the dogs in the morning is paying off, most days I come back with one or two; today I found the Daddy and we had a splendid breakfast of scrambled eggs with mushrooms.

Big daddy
Enough for breakfast for two, with 6 eggs 🙂
Chopped and ready to fry
Chopped and ready to fry

Thursday 6th June: Rain, sun, sun, rain; working between the house and outside on the veg when we get a dry spell; we are now checking for potato beetles every other day. Initially we must have picked a good couple of hundred, but the numbers seem to be reducing, no sign of lave yet which is promising.

Paul, Ringo, George and John
Not much screaming in the crowds, just the snap crackle and pop of drowning beetles (once I added water!)

Friday 7th June: All downstairs windows are now complete, all formed and covered in a thick layer of clay slip; this should provide a good strong base for the next coat once it has dried.

Saturday 8th June: One final push to finish weeding the potatoes, we are joined by Kazek, Kasha and Pawel from next door as they tackled there own patch of spuds; so banter and a few beers fly between the fields. Word must have got out in the village that we were working in adjacent fields as Gosia received a call from another neighbour on Pawels phone; the fated invite to the BBQ. Spuds cleared of weeds by 7pm, tin bathed and out for 8.30pm, home way past midnight.

Monday 10th June: Allowed to drive again! The weather seems to be improving so I pumped out the trenches again and got cracking with the waste pipe out of the house. As we are only getting rid of grey water, sink, bath, shower, washing machine etc. then all the pipe is 50mm, this saves quite a bit of money and it fits together nice and easy. Pipes in, trenches filled, job done.

We noticed that the straw and clay above the windows is sagging a little under the weight of the wet clay so we added a few props to take the pressure off; I reckon on another week at least before they have set.

Window support
Window support
Window support 02
At least a week to set and then we will see if this worked.

Tuesday 11th June: The old cherry tree is at last giving up it’s fruit, the event is normally marked by the arrival of the ever squawking jays as they top feed off the tree, but as yet I haven’t heard them.  My new dog walking route is set to go pat the tree so I can grab a feed every morning 🙂

As ever though there has to be a balance to this new bounty and this is marked with the arrival of the horse flies, or bonk as they are called in Poland. We are fortunate that we only occasionally get mosquitos around the land, but the horse flies certainly make up for is during the day and they often draw blood if your not quick enough with your slapping hand.

News comes through that a friend of ours, who has always said he would help with the building of the terrace, will be here later in the week. Suddenly kicked into gear with the news I start to dig the post foundations.

Wednesday 12th June: The weather has at last returned to its normal self and our mood is improving; just as well as the post foundations are over a meter deep through hard clay and my enthusiasm is tested; luckily there are only ten to dig!

Took some time to sort out the wood for the terrace, we have borrowed a plainer thicknesser to plain the wood for the construction; so trying to get things in some kind of order.

Thursday 13th June: More of the same with some weeding thrown in for good measure. Life is good and we are starting to reap the rewards for all our work in the garden. Not a day goes by without the consumption of one of our crops; strawberries have been a daily desert for almost two weeks now and every meal is served with a salad of spring onions, lettuce, radish and any number of fresh herbs.

Friday 14th June: On with the terrace, or at least marking out and marking up; we are planning to rest the upright posts on pins set in concrete from the ground, a little more elegant than the metal shoes that you often see. One friend has welded some rebar to 12 mm threaded bar to provide a more solid fix in the concrete and Gosias uncle is cutting some steel plate for the bottom of the posts; I have to admire the way that the problems are solved in Poland, the land of invention 🙂

Post Pins
All pins in a row

Saturday 15th June: One cement, two sand, three gravel; or should I say half a bag of cement, four shovels of sand and six shovels of gravel per load. Roughly two and a half loads per hole and we had the job done by lunch time, a job well done; I even managed to get some foundations down for the second composting toilet I’m building. And whilst all this was going on Gosia was busy getting to grips with the plainer and the smoothed wood was piling up. I’m looking forward to Monday and the start of the framing.

Dictated by the weather; the last week of May

After such a great start to the month we had become a little complacent and simply assumed that the warm weather would continue, why wouldn’t it? This last week has given us a good shake and reminded us that you should never take anything for granted, that and to make sure we dig a drainage system to prevent the road from deteriorating anymore as it turns to a river every time we get heavy rain!

I must also apologise in advance for my mixing of tenses as I write this, some is written as it happens, to remind me it happened, and some is written from memory to fill in the gaps; I get confused easily and even though I try and correct things before they are published there are so many mistakes that’s it’s inevitable that some get through 🙂

Monday 27th: The rain almost convinced us to stay in Rzemien, but the prospect of lazing around all day, looking for things to do, was enough of an incentive to head off back to the ranch; not so bright, but early. A straw bale house will not build itself, so with a plan of attack agreed upon we set about trimming the walls with chainsaw and hedge cutters and then forming the window surrounds with chicken wire. I have heard chicken wire called blood wire, for good reason, as the cut ends can be vicious and gloves are a must.  Once a corner is formed and stuffed out with loose straw we covered the area with a thick coat of clay slip; at this stage it is an experiment to see how the corners form and how ridged they will be for the next coat of sand and clay.

Tools of the trade
Tools of the trade

Incidentally the mesh is pinned to the straw using homemade landscape pins; 3mm galvanised steel wire shaped into elongated staples about 10cm long.

Straw staples
Straw staples

Tuesday the 28th: The sun decided to make an appearance so we headed outside to pay some attention to the potatoes; they are coming on well and need to be weeded. We were still weeding at 5pm when we the rain decided to visit once again and we had only managed to clear half of the patch! One of the reasons it’s taking so long is that the ground is full of old sods (that must be the first time I have used that term in its correct context 🙂 ) so we are taking this opportunity to clear them; we have used the resulting piles of turf to help fill in the recently dug trenches that have sunk with all the rain. The weeding also provided a good chance to check the potatoes for Colorado Beetles, their eggs and larvae; three adults found and destroyed so potentially 1800 eggs less that could have been, I must make a mental note to check again soon.

A badly stitched photo of the top field, potatoes on the right
A badly stitched photo of the top field, potatoes on the right

We had a rare treat later in the day as Steve and Dorota invited us round to share the last leg of lamb from last year; very nice it was too 🙂

Wednesday the 29th: Back in the house and more of the same, once the walls are trimmed then any gaps need to be stuffed and there are more than you might think; attention to detail now will ensure that we reap the high insulation value of the straw in the future. I also tackled my first internal window sill, one of the two that will become window seats; it’s only the frame at this stage and I’m sure I will change the design as I move round the rest of the windows, but almost everything is an experiment and you have to have a starting point 🙂

Thursday the 30th: Today is a Polish national holiday based on a religious date in the calendar so any work we tackle has to be behind closed doors, as it was raining this wasn’t a problem. More trimming, stuffing, forming and experimenting! The heavens truly opened up at around lunch time and our hand built road became a river once again; Gosia insisted that it was our fault for working on a religious holiday 🙂 (not really) The storm continued for quite some time and the wind came in from every direction, throwing hailstones in for good measure; a good test for our house of straw. We later learned that several houses in the valley had flooded, so I didn’t complain as I bailed out the knee deep water of the trenches at the side of the house which I have yet to pour foundations in to support a couple of retaining walls. At about 6pm we received a call from our neighbours telling us that we had half an hour to report to a BBQ, the rain had stopped and we had had enough so a quick wash and we were there 🙂

Friday the 1st: Just say no! If only it were that easy, still the resulting hangover reminded me for the rest of the day what I should do next time.

So what do you do on a dry but cloudy day with a body and head that are still dazed and confused from a binge of alcohol? Cut the grass. Yes that’s the job for me, especially as I have the luxury of an Iseki 2160 with Kubota grass topper that I shipped over from Jersey after spotting it going cheap a couple of years ago. The tractor is so small it fits in the back of a Ford Transit, but it does a great job of cutting the grass and moving things around; it’s even been known to assist a few vehicles out of muddy predicaments.  But even with the extra horse power to hand the grass cutting it is still day long job to clear the orchard and bottom field; more than enough for me today. I still need that big tractor Pete, just as soon as you win the lottery 🙂 I dread to think how long it would take me if I used Terry’s method over at City and the mountains. I have to admire his determination and enthusiasm.

Not me but my nephew; helping out last year
Not me but my nephew; helping out last year

Saturday the 2nd: Back in the house with the straw as the rain comes down yet again; I did manage to dig a few trenches across our road to redirect some of the water as it runs of the surrounding fields but I must work on a more permanent solution. The French drain around the house seems to be performing well, some good came of our recent efforts.

Two and a half walls trimmed and stuffed with the majority of window surrounds and two window sill frames completed by the end of play; it’s slow, but it’s progress. I can feel some clay slinging coming on next week, always good fun, especially if the sun is shining.

One advantage of working in the house is that the range gets fired up and a pot of something is always on the go; even if it’s just food for the dogs. We have made Pizza and our own bread this week, recipes to follow; one day:)

Always something cooking if we are in the house.
Always something cooking if we are in the house.

Did the earth move for you?

Monday 20th May: Another slow start to the week for us as we had more paper work to complete for the EU amongst other things and we didn’t reach the ranch till gone 4pm; still the weather was good so we set about the garden weeding, planting, inspecting and detecting. I spotted quite a few ants on the broad beans, a sure sign that the black fly are about, so I gave them a good sprinkle with by nettle brew diluted 5-1; it worked last year so fingers crossed.

For the record the nettle brew first started life as nettle beer, I collected almost a kilo of nettle tips with the intention of adding yeast and sugar to complete the brewing process, but time went by and the nettles had decided they wanted to be plant food by the time I got my act together. So I added water to the bucket to cover the nettles, weighed down by a plate and stone, then let the mixture infuse for a good week or so. The resulting liquid, which by the way smalls quite a bit, can then be used as a plant food mixed at 10-1 or an insecticide against aphids mixed at 5-1. For a few more ideas on what to do with your nettles try  The Foragers Year, Food and Forage Hebrides or Under the Linden Tree. My beer recipe will have to wait for now.

Tuesday 21st May: At long last I started to put the electric fence up, some how we just don’t seem to have the motivation for the house and besides other jobs need doing, so I opted for the fence! We had the call in the afternoon that the digger is turning up in the morning so I cracked open a fresh bag of lime to mark out where we want him to dig; the French drain around the house, the trench for the water pipe from the borehole, the grey water waste drain and quite a bit of landscaping; he’s going to be busy! I managed to finish the fence 🙂

I also managed to empty the toilet, just in case you were thinking that we had two buckets! How we managed to go so long between disposal is anyone’s guess, maybe we are eating less or just using more of the food we eat? Looking back we have spent a few extra mornings in Rzemien, so this probably explains things 🙂

Wednesday 22nd May: After explaining what we wanted to achieve we were told that there was a couple of days work, considering you pay by the hour this wasn’t the best news we had heard in a while, but then a JCB is a lot quicker than me with a shovel, especially when the French drain had to go in almost 2 meters deep, so we asked him to crack on.

I can only describe the next ten hours as ballet with heavy machinery, each swing of the arm was matched with the tip of the bucket ready for the next gouge in the earth or sweep of debris; this man could dig! In the ten hours that he was there he only stopped to wait for me to empty the bucket of gravel as I shovelled it out and into the trench for the drain; his lunch was eaten on the move and he refused the offer of coffee, tea and beer on several occasions, I’m sure he was using his feet to make those hydraulics frolic the way that they did. Just shy of 100 metres of trench dug at varying depths, backfilled and a whole area landscaped in 10 Hours, we can’t praise this guy enough; a fantastic job done and in half the time expected. The earth certainly moved for us!

Thursday 23rd May: At last the weather has broken, it had threatened most of the day yesterday, but the rain held off until now and today we are dealing with a fifteen degree temperature drop, a persistent drizzle and the threat of thunder in the distance. Tough and delicate negations had to be made first thing in the morning to determine who was going to get out of a nice warm bed to put the kettle on and get the milk from the fridge in the barn next door; at least I had brought in the water from the well the night before; valuable ammunition to bring to the table!

As the day brightened up as we experimented with chicken wire, chainsaws and hedge trimmers in the house, then we decide that as we now had a fence up we should get the remaining plants out in the top field. That kept us going for the afternoon and the house was left to wait another day.

Tomato tyres
Each home to a tomato plant each; with different ‘soil’

Friday 24th May:  Even the best negotiators know that it’s all about give and take and whilst I took the tea yesterday I was happy to give it back as coffee today 🙂 The rain really is here now and the house has us back within it’s heart and the task of stuffing gaps in the straw, making noggins for the floor and sills for the windows have taken priority. The occasional sunny spell sees us out in the garden and at long last I have planted two tomato plants for the humanure experiment. Two tyres, two plants and two mixes of compost, one shop bought the other home made; planted with an equal mix of mole hill soil to bulk things out and set up close to the stable and close together so that they get the same treatment; we will see how it develops.

Saturday 25th May: More of the same and my first window sill is complete, the template for the next four windows of the same size. Having an early finish today as we have to pick up the plainer thicknesses that we are borrowing from a friend, I say early, it’s close to 5pm before we leave.

Birch Bolete
Soon to be a sauce.

But how could I forget, Gosia found our first mushrooms of the year, a bit eaten but non the less very edible and free of worms; I haven’t checked to be certain but they look very much like Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum); the combination of rain and a full moon played their part no doubt. The dogs will be happy as their walks will go further afield now as I try and hunt down more of our favourite free foraged food.

All in all a good week, a bit thin on the ground with the photos but my hands have remained dirty for the duration and I’m cautious about going out in the rain with the camera; I have to make it last, however I did managed to get a few shots of the first signs of fruit on the trees and the now glorious Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)  in bloom around our out door dining room.

Walnut.jpg
A good year for walnuts?
Pear.jpg
If the apples fail at least we will have pears; I’ll have a Babycham!
Guelder Rose.jpg
No cut flowers on our table 🙂
Guelder Rose02.jpg
A purple garlic flower trying to get in on the action.

Scaffold for rent

13th of May: It was mid afternoon before we retuned to the ranch, after a couple of stops to drop things off and pick things up, amongst them a sofa bed to add to our growing collection; I’m guessing you would call them a nest of sofa beds?:)  We now have three with a fourth promised and due to be collected this weekend or next, all good stuff if you have people coming to stay, which we have due to a great response to our call for volunteers; more than a dozen respondents so far from as far afield as Korea, Romania, Lithuania, France and the UK; the last couple of weeks of June could see as many as six visitors so we are trying our best to make them comfy.

Once we arrived back home we quickly decided that the house would remain off limits and the garden would get some attention, so our first batch of tomatoes went in along with half a dozen chilli plants, more butternut squash, courgettes and some spinach. The extended dry spell that we are having means that the watering can is well used and our water collection tanks are running low; I wont be praying for rain, but I secretly wouldn’t mind some…maybe overnight 🙂

Lots of weeding as ever, now that the beans and peas are coming through I can risk using the hoe, as long as I wear my glasses!

The fruit trees seem to be doing well and it looks like we will have an abundance of cherries, plums, pears and quinces; although it has to be said the apples don’t look too good at the moment, maybe it’s too early to tell.

First tomatoes and chillis
First tomatoes and chillis, horse radish flowering in the background
Field of Beans
Field of beans and quite a few peas
Cherry tree
Bumper crop of cherries, we just have to wait!

14th of May: Ok, back to the house, we must get something done! And we did, conscious that we will not have the opportunity to lime wash the house again once the scaffolding is down, a job we are to start soon, we decided to circumnavigate the house once more; 10 hours later we finished!

15th, 16th and 17th of May: The big event begins; operation ‘Reveal’ the dismantling of our hand built scaffold. As the weather is still hot with temperatures in the high 20’s I opted to start on the shady side of the house, following the sun and Gosia who was cleaning the window frames whilst she still could; it soon become apparent that she was working faster than me and she took up the job of removing stubborn nails and screws from the wood that I discardied from the top level of our construction. Every component removed seemed to weaken the structure and I was glad to have finished the top tier by the end of the first day, bringing me a couple of meters closer to earth.

And that set the pace for the next two days, one level a day with an ever growing pile of planks, a rapidly filling bucket of old screws and nails and a every wobblier walkway for me to work on. The forty-four supporting posts were the last item to come down and as the last one crashed to the ground on Friday evening we let out a cheer for a job well done with only minor injuries and a new found appreciation for the scale of the house. We had a couple of sticky moments as we discovered that a few of the posts still had tarpaulin line strung between them, but a penknife strapped to a four meter batten soon solved that. And of course as I was wearing steel toecap boots with reinforced soles to stop and nails going through my feet I walked backwards into a nail which found my calf muscle; Gosia wasn’t so lucky as her sandals offered no protection as a nail found the soft flesh of her foot; you only do it once and soon stop wearing flip flops on a building site.

Scaffold almost down
The shadows reveal the texture of the walls
Special tool No.2
How to cut a piece of string 6 meters high

Walking the dogs first and last thing provides a great opportunity to explore the surrounding area especially as I try and expand the territory that we cover; Zara is picking up Jackie’s hunting habits and pheasants, deer and cats are all flushed out as we do the rounds; no harm ever comes to the fleeing wildlife, it’s just a game to the dogs, although if I had a shotgun I would be tempted to have a go at the pheasants. I’m hoping their behaviour will deter the wildlife from coming two close to our vegetables, although we have agreed that the electric fence should go up next week as we are tempting fate with our open plan style of agriculture. Once the potatoes start to mature then the wild bore come out of hiding, I know it’s a while off yet, but it’s best to be prepared; I might even keep hold of afore mentioned knife on a stick!

Deer01
I wonder if thats a dog?
Deer02
Yes, it’s a dog!

18th of May: Eager to avoid and further injuries we spent most of the day tidying the site, we intend to use the planks of the scaffolding as the downstairs ceiling, once they have gone through a plainer; so it’s a job worth taking time over. We are also expecting a JCB at some stage next week to help with some landscaping and trench digging, so having the area clear around the house is essential. This should then lead onto the building of the terrace in early June, hopefully transforming the house once again as it looks a bit odd at the moment.

Naked house
The sugar cube revealed, cant wait for the terrace to be built 🙂
Scafflold for rent
Scafflold for rent

After all this excitement it’s hard to believe that things could get any better, but then in the space of a couple of bottles of beer, the bottle tops revealed that I had won two free bottles; it doesn’t get much better than that, a great end to the week:)

My lucky day
My lucky day, two winning bottle tops from Harnas beer 🙂

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.

Completing the cycle

Yes it’s that time again, time to add to the heated heap of nutritious goodness that is our humanure pile. Truth be told this is a late entry as the deed was done on Wednesday the 1st of May after our daily schedule was completed, but as you may have noticed my posts are centred around the weekend at the moment when we allow ourselves time to relax on Saturday night and Sunday back in Rzemien.

But a diary date is a diary date and I will endeavor to keep my promise to myself to keep a composting toilet diary, especially as we are now using the first of the compost for planting. Left to mature for 18 months we have around three wheel barrows full of sweet smelling, light and crumbly humanure; sorry to any of you fecophobics out there, but this really is top class compost and to try and prove the point further I hope to run an experiment with a batch of tomatoes plants when they are ready to go out; a control group planted up normally and a second batch with humanure incorporated in the soil; so watch this space 🙂

Would you use humanure if it was available to you? And for those of you who do, do you use it on food crops or just flowers and trees?

Humanure
High quailty organic nutriants: Humanure

How does you garden grow

No silver bells or cockle shells in ours, but then my names not Mary!

On the contrary, in addition to the potatoes and oats in the top field we have developed a few patches of ground around the stable, the kitchen garden, and so far we have planted over four hundred onion sets, several rows of beetroot, radish, lettuce, onion seed (a first for me), endive, broad beans, garlic and sun flowers; a welcome distraction from the ‘House work’. Indoors, in pots back at Gosia parents, we have tomatoes, chilli’s, courgette, cabbage, sweet corn and peppers all waiting until after the May 15th (the last frost date in Poland) to be planted out, along with a wide variety of beans; French, Runner, Kidney, Borlotti, Butter and Chinese. Then of course there are the peas, bok choy, fennel and a whole host of flowers that Gosia has taken an interest in this year, not to mention the herbs; the chives, sage, thyme and tarragon all made it through the winter and will hopefully be joined by parsley, wild garlic, basil, oregano, coriander, dill, caraway, lovage, camomile and no doubt others I have forgotten. In fact so much is going on I quickly knocked up another raised bed to accommodate our enthusiasm.

Raised bed
Raised bed waiting for soil and plants!
Kitchen Garden
Kitchen Garden

We also have many permanent fixtures, including a dozen or so black current bushes, half a dozen red current, three gooseberry, too many raspberries to count, two blue honeysuckle, rhubarb and a couple of goji berries plants; one planted last summer, which is just starting to bud after a harsh prune, and a newly acquired specimen from last week, which I’d guess is about three years old; at 15 Zloty (£3) I couldn’t resist 🙂 And I almost forgot, the twenty or so strawberry plants which we gave a new home to last year, not to mention the prolific growth of wild strawberries around the edge of the woods; I think I’ll have cover the orchard in another post!

So how is your garden coming on?

Greenhouse
Greenhouse
Gooseberry
Gooseberry

150 Kg P = 900 M²

The equation for chips with everything! Or at least the start of the formula that will be expanded upon as time goes by, ah yes time; x T 🙂

Well maybe not chips as I can only recall having them a few times last year and only twice so far this year when I was in the UK, but it’s certain that we will be eating potatoes in some variation on a fairly regular basis once our crop comes through.

So let me explain, we (Gosia) planted six 25Kg sacks of seed potatoes on Tuesday the 23rd, covering an area of approximately nine hundred square meters, I would have loved to have helped, but as ever I just happened to be doing something else 🙂 Although, with the aid of Kazek, his son Pawel, a tractor and a planting machine the work was done in a little less than an hour. Unfortunately for me the deal is that as I missed the planting I’m now in charge of weeding and pest control!

It has to be said that as the ground hasn’t been worked for over 12 years and with the minimal preparation that we have done, it was considered ‘not too good’ for planting potatoes. However I insisted that we plant as I have read in the past that spuds will dig the land for you; something that my Uncle backed up as he has memories from his childhood on a post war small holding that concur; the best way to bring old land back into play is to plant it up with potatoes; we will see.

This left quite a chunk of land, so we set aside about 1000 M² for vegetable crops and the following day, the 24th, set about broadcasting 150 Kg of oats we had on the remaining 7000 M². Once again I was busy with something else and Kazek and Gosia paced the field for a good couple of hours scattering the seed as they went; I did get involved in setting up top-up points throughout the land to enable easy refilling of buckets, but other than that my input was minimal; thankfully it’s not a crop that needs weeding!

Broadcasting the oats
I was busy taking a photo 🙂

The primary reason for oats is to provide food for livestock in the future; it is also a very easy crop to grow and should do well without any further intervention, even on our heavy clay soil. As a reminder for myself, it is not recommended to grow oats on the same land in successive years, so I will have to investigate what we do next year; but that’s a long way off 🙂

One final note, again to myself, the potatoes were free and will provide any future seed requirements, the oats came in at 100 Zloty (£20) and fuel costs so far 450 Zloty (almost £100). We have of course more fuel cost to come at harvest time so that will have to be added to the equation, but if fuel costs keep going up like this I can see that we will be giving up the stable for a few horses, we should at least be able to feed them next year 🙂

Papo Secos

Or Portuguese rolls as I have known them as for the last 25 years.

I know you may have been expecting a post about the snow covered hills, the inaccessible road to our land, the drink fuelled reunion with our neighbours or yet another meal that couldn’t be beat; well sorry, five minutes after writing my last post the snow started!

Admittedly it only lasted for a few hours, but that was enough for us to change our plans and hole up in Rzemien for another day.

Gosia has plenty to do and has nipped off down to Meilec for a few vitals and no doubt an extended inspection of the second hand clothing stores; it’s 1Zlt day today (20p) and you can never have enough jumpers, work trousers, hats, coats, skirts and shirts; can you? I have to admit I look forward to seeing what she has bought as I know that I will be treated  to some item of clothing that caught her eye; not just any old thing, oh no, Gosia has a trained eye and years of knowledge that identifies only the finest and most sought after brands, discarded by the affluent West and I’m sure that the value of my next jumper will be hundred times more than the 1 Zlt paid. I am, as I type this, wearing a Fat Face  lambs wool jumper and Gosia left the building sporting a cracking pair Diesel jeans; all courtesy of the second hand cloths markets that flourish in Poland.

On this occasion I know that she is looking for items than she can cut into material triangles as she is making fifty plus meters on bunting for an up and coming event, she has sewn over a hundred triangles so far but I’m sure chatter of the sewing machine will be heard again tonight.

BuntingWorking into the night

Anyhow, I digress; I started off with the intention of popping another recipe in the blog as I have taken to trying to make a batch of bread rolls most days since I got back to Poland. Having our own milled flour means that I can knock out 8 rolls for little over 10p a batch (ok maybe 20p if you included the electricity)

One of my favourite rolls to eat is a Portuguese roll or Papo Secos; no doubt because they are sold fresh in practically every corner shop in Jersey (Channel Islands). Because of the high number of migrant workers that originate from Portugal or Madera they have become one of the Islands culinary staples and if you ever buy a bacon roll you will always be offered Portuguese as one of the options.

I have now made them about half a dozen times and think I’m just about starting to get them right, so if you’re ready I will begin:

Papo Secos

  • About 400g of flour (or my usual third of a bag, if I had flour in a bag)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 15-20g of fresh yeast or one packet of fast acting.
  • About 300ml of lukewarm water

Sift the flour into a bowl with the salt, cream the yeast with the water (yeast in, a bit of water to mix the lumps out, then add the rest of the water; put to one side for a bout 10 minutes in a warmish spot until it starts to bubble.

Add the water\yeast mix gradually to the flour until you can bring in all together, then turn out onto a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes. Once you have a smooth and elastic consistency pop it in an lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel, find it a nice cosy spot and let it rise for an hour or so.

Once risen remove from the bowl and knock back the mixture and roll out into a large sausage shape; this helps you to now divide into eight or nine equal parts which you then roll into balls. Now cover these again with your damp tea towel and let them rise for 15 minutes.

Now the final part and at this point I’d put your oven on about 220c and more importantly place an oven proof dish with a couple of inches of boiling water in the bottom of your oven.

Slightly flatten the balls of dough and create a groove down the middle of each flattened disk, using the karate chop part of your hand! Don’t worry the pictures will help with this description.

Then fold the little disks of joy into a set of kissing lips, flip then upside down and place on your oiled baking tray, cover with your tea towel once again and let them rise for a further 30 minutes.

Ok I lied that wasn’t the final thing, but all you have to do now, after this final 30 minutes of waiting, is to spin them round, lips up, brush on some milk and slam them in the oven for about 10-12 minutes.

I have to say I think I could have done better with this batch, the cold air got in somewhere along the line and I didn’t quite get the rise I was hoping for; they should have a little more bulk. Non the less they were all eaten within 2 hours of completion 🙂

 

By the way I got two teas shirts!

Blogging: real-time education.

I occasionally search for other blogs with a similar subject matter to my own and I was rewarded in the last couple of days when I found http://vibrantenergies.wordpress.com/ an inspiring site for anyone who has an interest in straw bale construction. The detail provided expands upon my own write up of our straw bale house and the I have nothing but admiration for the team as they have built without plans and no real assistance from outside contractors; a true inspiration.

As anyone who reads my blog you will know, I tend to go beyond the subject of straw bale and as our future plans include the running of a self sufficient small holding, with bed and breakfast on the side, my search for relevant blogs stretches far and wide.

One site that has really caught my eye is the great Sugar Mountain farm, the livestock farming methods described are fascinating and I would love to go down the route of pasture pigs (sheep and chickens) as it will reduce our reliance on commercial feed; something that we would like to avoid altogether. The detailed information provided on the methods used and the reassurance that they have to deal with very similar climate conditions to those that we experience in Poland has convinced me that this will be a route that we take once we have completed the house. It will certainly raise the eyebrows of the local farmers who still marvel at the fact that we kept our sheep outside last year, never mind pigs!

As you would imagine there are a number of blog sites dedicated to running smallholdings and crofts, growing crops, animal husbandry and self sufficiency in general; many of which I subscribe to. In doing so I have access to so much valuable information that is written from experience rather than the prescribed methods set down in the many text books on the subject; and for me this a great example of the power of the blog. Of course this is in turn powered by the internet, but as we all know the internet in itself can be very confusing and provide conflicting and somtimes out of date information; what the blog format brings is real-time information from real people and as a rule you can get in touch with the author and ask them questions. I cannot think of a better format to educate oneself in your subject of interest and expand your knowledge further as you are drawn to the comments of others and invariably follow the links to the commentators own blog. My understanding and growing interest in permaculture has evolved as I have followed the route above and an honourable mention has to go to Deano at the sustainable smallholding; he provides detailed guidence as he journeys through his permaculture diploma. His dedication, enthusiasm, willingness to try something new to satisfy his own curiosity and the fact that he has spent the time to share his experience make this a must read if you want to explore the subject further.

It is also good to see that many bloggers decide to go that extra mile and I was pleased to see that Under the Linden Tree is involved in the creation of the Sanctuary Network, although it is still in its infancy I hope that its membership and ethos can spread far and wide; why not sign up and join in, the more the merrier 🙂

There are of course many other blogs which I follow and read, often making my laugh, cry, cringe or contemplate; I have listed a few of my favourites in a previous post so make yourself a brew and take a look, you may be surprised on what is on offer.

nkosChoice

It’s probably the best weapon we have to make changes, but it’s also the probable cause for many of the problems that we face; I know it’s all a bit philosophical for me and I don’t blame you if you don’t read any further, it’s just another hippy rant; so be warned!

I used to live a pretty comfortable life, earning decent money and owning a third of a successful and flourishing business; I wasn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I was able to afford most of the things that took my fancy. Given the choices available to me I happily spent my money on the latest and greatest technology available, with scant regard for the true cost of an item, i.e. the resources that they consumed in their manufacture and the on-going harm that they may do during their life not to mention in their disposal; my electricity bill was the least of my worries and landfill was something to do with the composition of a photograph! This attitude spread to the model of car I drove and the way I drove it, holidays that I took, my choice of food, furniture, fun and my lifestyle in general; very little was done with regard for anything other than myself. In short given the varied choices made available to me, provided by the clever manufacturers and marketing front men, I often made choices that were based more on style than substances. I was a dream customer because I wanted choice and because of the choices I made.

About eight or nine years ago I decided that it would be nice to have an allotment, grow my own so to speak; the concept was gaining popularity again due to the likes of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and I convinced my aging farming neighbour that I would be able to help him out with his vegetable plot in return for a small patch for myself. My sister also had a great passion for growing things and as she started to live a more sustainable lifestyle in Spain and I became hooked on the concept as I helped out on holidays and planted her fruit trees and dug her garden over to make it more productive.

I made a good choice.

As time went on and after a fantastic first growing season, I started to read a little bit more and with the eighty year advice of my farming friend my little vegetable patch flourished and I started to rush home from work to get on the land; the satisfaction that I got from working with the earth seemed to fill a gap that I was unaware existed. Propagating, planting, weeding, watering and harvesting seemed to take away the everyday stress of my normal working life; I was so successful that I even started to supply work colleagues with the surplus crops as the glut came on; this soon ended up in doorstep deliveries to a wider circle of friends and I was even know to take a bag or two of runner beans and tomatoes to client meetings. All of this was done gratis; I wasn’t doing it for the money, rather the selfish pleasure of feeling good about giving. I have to admit that as my chilli’s did exceptionally well, that and the fact you can only eat so many and cropping was far better than I could have imagined, I sold a few at the local garage.

Meeting Gosia about six years ago spurred me on even more, her Polish background and the simpler life that she was born into inspired me to make even more changes in my life and my past avarice slowly slipped away and the choices I made began to be influenced by something more meaningful than a label, a logo or an advert.

Ok, you’re doing well if you got this far, more than 600 words, way past my norm and no pictures or links! Make yourself a brew and take a break, there is a possibility it may go another 600.

It’s worth pointing out that these changes hadn’t actually cost me anything; in fact I had started to save a bit of money, even if it was at the expense of my time, but time is the one thing that is free to spend and the sense of achievement was far more gratifying than making a quick short term feel good purchase of yet another gadget.

But at the end of the day, even with all the changes we had made, we still had to stay on-board the merry-go-round of modern life; going to work, paying the bills and consuming more than we probably needed to, we even did what every government wants you to do and borrowed some money, although our reason was better intentioned than just buying more things, as we purchased our plot of land in Poland; we may have slowed the fairground ride down, but it still kept turning.

So when, through an unexpected twist of events, the company had to be sold we were given an opportunity to make a really big choice; clear out and try and make a new more sustainable life in Poland, or cash in and improve our lifestyle in the UK, thankfully I didn’t want a new Land Rover, so after taking a year to tie up all the loose ends we headed off Poland bound; another good choice.

As you will imagine this led to a whole host of choices that many people never have in their lives and we consider ourselves lucky and privileged to have the opportunity to make them, so we wanted to make sure that we made the right ones when building the house and straw bale construction, composting toilets, grey water irrigation systems, wood burning boilers, solar water heating and a closed circle method of farming and maintaining the land are all big choices that we made; it has to be said that it’s a lot easier to make these choices when you start from scratch, so hopefully we have made the right ones.

I hadn’t intended this post to be so biographical, it’s just gone in that direction; which probably isn’t such a bad thing, although I suppose I have only really pointed out the big choices and changes we have made. The point I was hoping to make was that we should all consider the choices that we have when they are presented to us in daily life, no matter how small they are.

Choosing glass over plastic, paper or cloth bags over polythene, water from the tap rather than the bottle, flushing the toilet only when required, using more eco friendly cleaning products, choosing items on merit rather than marketing, buying local instead of driving to the supermarkets (I’m talking about your butcher and baker rather than the local Spar), making food from scratch and dropping your reliance on fast food, composting everything you can (you will be surprised what you can add to the pile), walking or cycling instead of driving and when you do drive then doing so in a more sensible and therefore economical way, buying second hand clothes and furniture (or antiques if that sits better with you), turning lights off when they are not in use, filling the kettle only as required and trying to resist the urge and impulse to buy something new unless you actually need it; OK I’ll stop!

If we stop to think, just for a moment, then we can ultimately make very big changes collectively by making very small choices; we can also change the way that things are sold and marketed to us. Believe me if the manufacturers see a change in the way that we purchase then they will change their strategy to meet that demand, you only have to look at the plethora of green, environmentally friendly products that are available now; because one thing’s for certain and that is that the world will keep on turning with money as its fuel, I’d just like to see a change in how we spend it to power the rotation.

Ok that’s it, you will be pleased to know that my little rant is over and if you got this far I owe you a beer, served out of a returnable glass bottle:)

One last thing, I would like to say thank you to the shape of things to come who planted the seed in my head to write this post in the first place, that and my urge to provide a wider explanation to why I keep going on about plastic bottles, although I feel she puts it far better than I do.

Missing, Missing post, (Too chilly for chilli?) Found it :)

Even if you have heard it all before 🙂

It’s all very hectic here in Yorkshire; don’t be fooled into thinking that I’m having an easy time of it up here; with a demanding sister and two nephews I’ve turned into chief cook and bottle washer. Add to that, shopper, wood chopper and fire maker, baker, pastry chef, mechanic, plumber and all round handyman.

Eager to post something I came across a draft that I started back in Poland, which stayed there as I was hoping to add some descriptive photos to make things a little clearer; but it never happened as the temptation of a cheap flight drew into my new life servitude! I guess I’ll find out if she reads my blog now 🙂 If I never post again then please alert the police and ask them to search for a shallow grave somewhere in the Dales!

But onto my post, the missing post, the one that nearly got away.

It is that time of the year, it seems, that everybody who grows their own has started to go through the seed catalogues, looking for the old favourites or something new or unusual, maybe even looking for something that is resistant to a disease that afflicted the previous year’s crop. Part of this process is planning when to germinate the seeds and creating planting guides in your calendar to ensure that your future food will be ready to plant out around the time of the last frost, which can save you lots of time and most likely money.

Sadly I lack this type of organisation, I just dig out the seeds that I collected from the previous years crop and try and remember what needs to be planted when. I do of course pop down the local garden centre (our good friend Halina works there) and pick up any seeds that we are short of and as long as I remember to only grow what we actually like to eat we don’t have to spend too much.

So today, as I was reading a great new (to me) blog that I discovered yesterday: Shape of Things to Come, I started to think about chillies; no real connection to the blog, just a bit of a random thought. Then I remembered about an old plastic plant pot, that I found in the summer, with a label on it declaring that it once contained chillies that I had germinated in February 2008. Of course not having any organised records indicating if this was a successful planting or not, I may be going out on a limb, but I’m willing to take the chance and will be searching for my chilli seeds soon.

I would tell you that I have already planted them, but without Gosia to remind me where the seeds are my first job is to construct the question in Polish so that I can enlist the help of Gosias mum to help me find them 🙂 I will report back as soon as they are in the ground, or should I say pots.

But if you have the urge and a few spare chilli seeds then why not plant some now? There are a number of ways to germinate the seeds, in a tray similar to tomatoes or, as I prefer, in pots; three seeds to a 10cm pot. This allows me to grow them on longer before they need individually transplanting into bigger pots and I can easily monitor any seeds that don’t germinate; reseeding as required.

Once covered with a light potting compost, moistened with a water sprayer, I cover them with black plastic and secure this with a rubber band. This keeps the moisture and warmth in and the dark environment encourages germination. You should see some seed movement after about 14 days then you can then replace the black plastic with clear plastic to create a mini poli chilli pot (any ideas on what else to call it?) and grow them on until they hit the plastic. Once you have freed them of their artificial roof, grow them on until you think they warrant a separate pot; or if later in the year harden them off before planting them out. As long as the last of the frost has passed they will be happy outside.

(Insert photos here)

Now back to outside, once you have hardened your little plants off; this is done by putting them outside on good days and bringing them back in at night over the period of four or five days, you should be ready to plant them out.

DSC03030DSC03274

And if you happen to have any old plastic water bottles knocking around now’s the time to put them to good use. Cut round the base, a couple of inches from the bottom and you will be left with a handy tray for growing more seeds, a container for nails and screws or even a paint pot (suggestions on an postcard please)

This then leaves the top of the bottle to cover the delicate new plants creating a mini greenhouse to help things along whilst the weather warms up. Forgive the photos above, it’s the only ones I could find; from my allotment in 2007. The first one also shows my bean tepee, but more about that when I start planting out later this year.

Chillies will also grow well inside and I encourage everyone to grow at least one plant; you never know when a recipe will demand a few of the firey little capsicums and you will save yourself the trip to the shops as well as a good few quid. On top of that you can also dry any chillies you gather throughout the season, crushed up they become chilli flakes and if you have the patience the seeds can be ground down to make cayenne pepper; three things you will never have to buy again. Bush varieties work especially well inside and they are prolific croppers, I’m not too good and remembering name of varieties, but just ask at your favourite garden centre, or buy online.

Now you may be thinking that it is far too early and too chilly to start on my chillies, which of course it might be, time will tell. But having witnessed Gloria, my bougainvillea, burst into life after I gave her a trim about a month ago, I’m certain the window sill will be an ideal spot to get some early crops going; I have nothing to lose as the seeds are all home grown and I will only be using about thirty in this experiment, leaving me many hundreds more to try with if things go wrong. So I better start learning my Polish and find the seeds 🙂

DSC05069

Missing post

After struggling to find the time to write a post I found a ‘saved in drafts’ (great blog by the way) and thought I could quickly publish it with a few witty comments to try and make up for my lack of attention to blogging.

After a quick edit and spell check I thought I had posted it, only to find this evening that it has gone missing! And despite my best efforts to find a temporary copy lurking on my laptop, it appears to be gone forever 😦

Without the time or energy to rewrite it I will surmise the entry as a ‘how to’ germinate chilli’s and making sure you get them in pots on your windowsill any time now; it will save you money and you and up with three products; Fresh Chilli, Chilli Flakes and, if you have the patience, Cayenne pepper (made from the ground seeds). I’ll try and rewrite it when I convince my sister that she should have a few plants going on her windowsill, even if there not likely to make it outside in the fickle Yorkshire summer.

So what’s happening, why no posts, no replies to comments, very little reading of your posts? All I can say is I have entered into a life of servitude, I am not only the chief cook and bottle washer, you could also add baker, cleaner, plumber, driver, shopper, electrician, mechanic, wood cutter, fire starter, recycler and all round handyman 🙂 I just don’t have the time! That’s not strictly true, but by putting this down in my blog I’ll find out if my sister is reading it and if I never blog again then call the police and tell them to search for a shallow grave in the Dales:)

I have a little bit of work lined up, helping my nephew out with some dry stone walling at Bolton Abbey, so another feather in my cap if it comes about; although I hope the weather improves a bit first!

Ok, that’s it for now, I did manage to get some photos today which I hope to post soon, but I don’t want to post too much now just in case this one disappears as well 🙂