I like it when it snows, it makes our garden look like everybody else’s!

It’s about the only Chubby Brown joke I can remember that doesn’t have an ‘F’ word in it, and for whatever reason its a joke that always runs round in my head when it snows, as it is doing right now.

You may have noticed that my pledge to head over to the house to try and get some work done was curtailed by the weather; dropping temperatures and snow on a daily basis for the last three days has kept me in my hidey hole, which has given me too much time to think and I began to get all morbid about the state of the world, which is against my optimistic nature.

So the best remedy to this sudden cloud was to look at some old photos and remind myself of the work that Gosia and I put in over the summer and how much closer we are to achieving our dream. One of the little projects that I think warrants a mention is the pivnica.

A Pivnica is probably best translated as a cellar or even basement, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on; or in this particular case a root-cellar; because it is essentially outside and underground. What would this be called in England?

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First things first I had to tackle was the roof, stripping back the earth and tree saplings to reveal a mixture of old terracotta tiles, asbestos and tin sheet, old polythene fertiliser sacks and the occasional old coat, which served as the roof. Once removed we were left with the rotting remains of a wooden roofing frame, and under this the earth that was piled over the top of the stone built domed structure.

Once stripped bare we had to tread carefully as the earth was starting to fall in on the inside on the pivnica and it was soon decided to leave the earth in place and create a wooden frame to support a new tin roof. Luckily for us we had retrieved quite a bit of wood from the barn renovation  and whilst it may not have had the structural integrity of fresh timber it was fine for this task.

Controversially I keep all our old engine oil and mix it with diesel to create our own creosote for treating of wood; I know some people think this might not be environmentally friendly, but in my opinion it’s a far better use than taking it to the dump and not knowing what happens to it once you wave goodbye; it hasn’t any real value so my suspicion is that it would be tipped into landfill or burned off, so treating the wood in this type of construction seems like a sensible thing to do. Thinking back to the initial cost of treating the barn with a commercial product I know what I will be using next time it needs a fresh coat.

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So frame in place, followed by a waterproof membrane of a low cost roofing felt we dug deep in our pockets and purchased new tin sheet to top it all off. Tin roofs are surprisingly common in Poland, in fact its the most common roofing material used, so we where able to pick up a basic pattern for a reasonable price and from what I have read it has a low embodied energy compared to some of the modern alternatives so I’m offsetting any harm of the home made preservative 🙂

I’m sorry to say that on reflection we will probably remove this roof and replace it with a living roof, but don’t worry the tin will be used on my chicken shed project 🙂

So that’s the outside, what about inside? Well as this was most definitely a joint effort Gosia was busy with her rubber mallet and sacks of empty bottles creating a new glass bottle floor! Its was an idea I came across on the web when I saw a few examples of people making paths with old bottles, inverted and hammered into the ground and as a glass bottle lover it seemed like an ideal solution for putting our rubbish to good use. Having said that we soon realised that my beer consumption would never provide enough material, so we employed the help of friends, neighbours and a local bar to provide us with the three thousand plus bottles required to complete the entire floor. We also inherited quite a few screw top bottles with lids, so they were preserved for future home brew projects:)

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Hats off the Gosia who completed the entire floor on her own, about the only thing I added was encouragement or criticism, but once finished I had the back breaking job of lime rendering the internal arched walls, so revenge was sweet for anything that I may have said out of turn.

And there you have it, an underground root cellar which should keep things cool in the summer and prevent freezing in the winter, I can vouch that nothing went above 12°c in the summer, but until I set up a reliable thermometer for the winter I’m not sure about protection against freezing, but my guess is that it will be good.

When people first see it they worry that the bottles will break, but belive me you could jump up and down on them, it’s solid and by all accounts provides very good insulation.

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It looks like I never took any photos of the end result, but you get the idea of how it came along; as soon as I battle through the snow and cold I will add a few more photos of the finished product…or I will find the photos I’m sure I already took 🙂

Its a way of life

As we arrived back in Rzemien last week from our two day trip to the house, we were greeted by Gosias parents along with two of their grandchildren (aged 14 and 17); all sitting round the table, armed with knives, shelling walnuts. The task at hand was to come up with 3Kg of shelled walnuts for the cakes that would be made for the New Year celebrations; not a 5 minute task, believe me. And one of the thoughts that went through my head was what an unlikely scene this would be in the UK!

It was satisfying to know that the walnuts had come from our orchard back in Pstrągowa. Even though we had a bad year, we still collected over 50Kg and it was good to see them being put to good use. We also reserve them for making pesto as pine nuts are so expensive and as an experiment this year we made some DiacoNoino (an Italian Liquor). We did consider pickling some, but we have friends who are past masters at this so we left them too it, no doubt we will be making an exchange in the future.

It’s just another example of why I have come to love Poland so much, it’s the way of life.

I may have touched on it before in previous posts, but I think it worth sharing more detail about the collective farming that Gosias family are involved in. Along with Gosias Aunt and Uncle, her parents farm about 2 hectares of land which is jointly owned About half of the land is sown for various types of grain which is either turned to flour and\or used as animal feed with any surplus sold or traded for other crops. A further half hectare is set aside for potatoes and the last half for a variety of vegetables; cabbage, carrots, beetroot, beans, celeriac, root parsley and onions to name but a few.  This provides the bulk of the food for the family until next year.

Now you might think that this is quite lot of work for a small group of retired individuals? Well yes and no, because the key to their success is the way it’s farmed, not only do they recruit the help of the larger family group (English immigrants included) they also get help from the neighbours; especially when the big jobs are undertaken, such as harvesting the grain or potatoes. We took a day off the building this year to help out with the spuds and along with the neighbourhood volunteers we numbered about 15, needless to say the half hectare was cleared by mid afternoon; along with a bottle or two of vodka to celebrate:)

It is this collective and collaborative way of working that makes things possible and of course when it comes to the neighbours picking their potatoes then we all head over to their house; Gosias Uncle just happens to have a tractor which is used by many a household, but then of course they may well have some spare storage space to be able to keep the trailer or grain; it just works out, nobody is counting the pennies, they just get things done and more often than not with a smile on their face.

I may have mentioned our neighbour in Pstrągowa has helped out all year by shipping water back and forth to our building site, so when it came to picking his spuds we were on hand, ready and waiting with our baskets along with several other friends, and the job was completed in no time at all with the aid of several cans of beer (it was a hot day!)

Now it may be that all of this camaraderie is a result of communism, after all Poland has only been free since the early 1989, is it just a kick back from what the Kremlin advocated to its people? I doubt it, no I think it’s a result of a poor country making the best of what they have, working hard together to make sure they all had food in there stomachs and at the same time turning their backs on a regime they had no time for. And as I talk to older members of my own family it is not that far away from how things used to be in the UK back in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. A better time perhaps?

Of course as the first communist free generation starts to come through, flush with the money earned across Europe and the western ethos of spend, spend, borrow and spend fresh on their lips, it’s easy to see how a country can change in a very short period of time,  But as an optimist with the fresh picture of a 17 year old shelling walnuts with his gran so she can make a cake for the family, I’m hopeful that some of the old ways will stay and stop Poland becoming yet another victim of consumerism.

Gosia’s father once said that when they were living under communism they had loads of money but nothing to spend it on, now as a free country, he can buy whatever he wants, but has no money 🙂

A recipe

I know its a little off subject, but then the more I look back over my posts the more I realise there is no real subject, although I’m sure my niche in straw bale building and composting toilets will come into it’s own as time passes and the sun begins to shine once again.

In the meantime, I thought I would share a little bit of the food heaven that I live in. I have eaten this cake on several occasions and recently put in a special request, so thanks to Gosia for humouring me and sharing her secrets; even though the recipe can be attributed to many famous chefs on the web, Gosias is the best one I’ve tasted 🙂

To keep it simple, for me, it’s a two bowl affair. A wet bowl and a dry bowl; so the first thing you need is two bowls.

For the first (wet) bowl you will need:

3 eggs, whites and yolks separated

200g sugar

300g cooked beetroot (about 3 medium sixed) Wizzed up in a blender

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1 teaspoon vanilla extract or if you have pods go for it, use them now!

200ml olive oil (or veg oil)

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At this point I should explain that all measurements are estimated and a deviation of 10 even 20% is allowed. Gosia didn’t say this, but I watched what was going on and reading the scales wasn’t one of them 🙂

So start with the eggs, separating the yolks from the whites, or the other way round, and add the sugar to the whites; get a mixer and spin them up until the sugar dissolves. DSC05973DSC05974DSC05975

Now add the yolks, beetroot, vanilla and oil; continue to mix

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I once had a shirt that colour, but not for long!

Moving swiftly on from my fashion mistakes, take your second (dry) bowl

Sieve and add the following

180g plain flour

50 g coco powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch salt

Mix them up

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Add them to the wet bowl

Ok, so far so good, just give me a minute to check what happened next.

That’s it, remember not to mix them too much as this may make the cake ‘heavy’ although Gosia did also say that she doesn’t believe this; but then she didn’t mix it too much, so what do you believe?

Now for money saving tip number two, number one was to use the water from boiling the beetroot to make barszcz czerwony. but number two is to use old butter or margarine wrappers to line your baking tin.

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Then pour in your mixture, making sure lick your fingers clean of any that tries to escape, including that left in the bowl.

Throw it in the oven at 160-170°c for about an hour, maybe 50 minutes is it’s a good oven (check with a wooden skewer, it should be dry as you pull it out) , let it cool and eat

Crumbs

I might add some more pics tomorrow as we debate whether its better with cream or custard; we tried cream and it went down pretty well :), but I’d like to give custard a try, if there is any left.

Food, glorious homemade food

As the smells from the kitchen drift through the house I type contentedly, smiling to myself; in the knowledge that my belly will be full of wonderful, traditional, Polish food, sometime soon.

Pierogi (ruskie and kapusta), golabki, sznycel, krokiety, kotlety, krupnik (not the honey vodka), bigos, kapusniak, to name but a few of my favourite Polish dishes, I enjoy them all so much that my Polish vocabulary centres around food more than any other subject; I can talk a good meal 🙂

Of course I’m lucky to be looked after so well by Gosia and her mother, both fantastic cooks who still use traditional methods, to create food for a household of seven people fit for a king. How do they do it?

I think the key is tradition, a tradition that has evolved from simple living and survival; old fashioned values and the hardship of communism. A way of life that Gosia and I want to return to, without the communism 🙂

Whilst discussing the subject earlier today it suddenly dawned on me that the household is surprisingly self sufficient, even though I was involved in the planting of the vegetables in the spring and the harvest of the potatoes later in the year, so much more went on around us whilst we were busy with the house.

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Today’s activity is great example as the cottage kitchen industry swings into action for Christmas. Cakes, pastas and pastries are all made with flour from grain grown in a shared family field, Gosia and I took the grain to the local mill to have it milled into flour; 100Kg of grain provides you with 50Kg of flour and 50Kg of husks which is then used as chicken feed. The mill owner takes a little over £2 for his part. And of course you can’t bake without eggs, so it’s just as well that there are roughly twenty ex battery hens hiding out in the old barn at the back of the house who’s diet is supplemented with the grain waste. Any jam and marmalade fillings will be courtesy of the many fruit trees and bushes we have back in Pstrongova, ok the sugar was bought in to aid in the preserving, but that’s about it.

The Pierogi will be stuffed with a number of fillings, Cabbage with wild mushrooms (kapusta), plumbs (ze sliwkami) and cottage cheese with mashed potatoes (Ruskie, my favourite); with the exception of the cheese everything else was grown or foraged. The cabbage will be from the 100Kg or so of sauerkraut that is made every year from the summer harvest, the mushrooms come from our autumn foraging, the potatoes again are from the harvest earlier in the year, with enough stored to keep the family going until next year and the plumbs will be from our trees that we preserved when we had a glut.

Barszcz, white and red will be prepared from scratch, again using our own flour and beetroot, not to mention onions, garlic, carrots, root parsley and other vegetables. And then there is a vast array of pickles and preserves; gherkins, peppers, mushrooms, a variety of salads, cordial and compotes’.

In fact the only things that will be bought in will be the meat, with the exception of our own lamb, the fish, a few condiments and dairy products. Although you don’t have to go back too many years when this was all produced in house with a cow and pigs sharing the barn with the chickens; it was the only way to survive in a communist Poland. Move out to the smaller villages where we are building our house and it is still the norm.

All in all we reckon the family unit is about 75% self sufficient in food; hopefully we can up that number once we finish the house and start working our own land and take on a few animals, but then I’m sure I’ll be telling you all about that as and when it happens.

Got to go now, fresh made noodles with apple sauce on the menu and I’m getting hungry typing this 🙂

To coppice or not to coppice, that is the question

One of our hopes for the future is to be self-sufficient in wood as a fuel for our heating and some of our cooking, I would say all of our cooking but I don’t think it will be practical or realistic  to cook on the wood burning piec in the height of summer; 35ºC is not uncommon in July, August and September and the extra heat might just push us over the edge!

So back in  the spring of 2011 we purchased our first necessity (toy for me) for our future smallholding, a chainsaw; believe me Gosia is hard to convince when it comes to spending money so I had to have a solid argument ready before the go ahead was granted, but it was an easy sell with the above argument for self sufficiency laid of the table. Oddly enough once the novelty wore off and the initial felling of some of the larger diseased fruit trees was done I went back to using a bow saw, or even a pruning saw to thin out the woodland that we have; the chainsaw only comes out when really necessary.

As an experiment I decided to cut a section of trees down, not the really young trees, but ones I guessed to be five or six years old; about 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) in diameter., to see if they would send out shoots. The majority were silver birch, which I had read would coppice if they were under ten years old or hadn’t started to send out seed; there were also a few willow the odd oak and a few unknowns; and then I forgot all about them. So when I noticed new growth on the tree stumps that remained after I cleared a path for the new electricity cable trench, I was reminded that I must check on the previous years experiment.

 As you will see by the pictures we have had a degree of success with this birch and neighbouring willow; in fact as I inspected the area that I cut it would seem that about 30 % of the birch has coppiced well and sent out multiple shoots all of which are almost 6 feet high (close to 2 meters) All of the willow seems to have done what it is renowned for and exceed the growth of the birch by a foot or more, even the oaks have sent out shoots, although as would be expected the growth is a lot slower at about 2 feet (60cm). A great success?

Thinking that this was proof that we could have a sustainable source of wood in the future I thought I better turn to the internet for more advice of coppice management and from what I have read so far it may well be a false economy to coppice as the space requirements for a coppice to perform well may well be better allocated to many individual trees! I will of course continue to read  and may well report back once I’m convinced either way. Any advice happily received 🙂

Pile on the pile

Yes you’ve guessed it, its that time again; right on schedule, which is more than I can say for this post as I attended to the toilet yesterday. For any new readers I am keeping a composting toilet diary, to try and explode the many myths there are out there about human waste; inspired by Joseph Jenkins and his humanure handbook. I urge anyone with the space to at least give it a try and make the world last a little bit longer! Check out my ‘composting toilet’ tags for a full list of posts and a bit more info.

Nothing to report really, no slips, trips or falls during the process and all completed in less than the average time of 5 minutes. Lots of kitchen waste added as we have extra guests with the ‘Studnia’, we always try and feed anyone who visits, workers, friends, even people who arrive by accident; it just seems right, especially if we are eating ourselves; it would just be rude not to.

One thing to note I suppose is the compost pile level, its just seems to stay so constant; despite the deposits we are making (I’d guess 40Kg per fortnight.. err, that includes kitchen waste)  and of course fresh cover material after new nutrients are added, the pile never seems to get any higher. I just hope this continues once the snow arrives and the temperature drops, which it is forcast to do any day now.

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The pile two weeks ago after cover up
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The pile today after its latest top up

Naay watther

Or if you’re not lucky enough to be Yorkshireman, ‘no water’

Even the guys drilling are loosing faith, or they were until this evening when after 4 hours of pumping water from a very deep hole, which is no more than 30 meters deep (I say this for legal reasons) they came across what could only be described as fairly clear water; certainly clearer than the 30,000 litres of water we have pumped down in the last two days  to keep the drill head cool (no doubt close to 200,000 litres over the last two weeks).

Now this is by no means the end of it, we have to inspect the level again in the morning to check the depth of water (it may go down), if all goes well (no pun intended) we will at long last have our own independent water supply. I don’t want to get too excited about this as it will be costing us more than twice as much as we had anticipated, which is a big hit on a tight budget, and as yet it still doesn’t exist; I’m just hoping. If all else fails we will just have to build a big water tank and collect the rain water 🙂

Despite all the drama of the bore hole we have moved on and cleared all the straw and clay and lime render that had settled like a moat around the foundation of the house ( I told you Gosia always has a list of jobs to do), which was then transported by tractor and spread over the top field. Now tell me how many other types of building you could gather up the waste material and chuck on your field that will ultimately improve your crop? We also managed to clear the last of the trees that were felled during the trench digging for the electricity, as well as thinning out a good-sized area of trees, coppicing any willow that we came across and hoping that some of the birch will do the same; so never a dull moment. I also attended to my ‘special duty’ and the composting toilet is now ready to receive once agin, but I’ll write that up later…or tomorrow; now I’ve seen the time, 9.30; well past my bed time 🙂

Water

Well I’ve done Fire and Air so why not Water!

So this was the week we drilled for water, well not me and Gosia; Pawel and Krzysiek, the Studnia (well diggers) And even then they don’t use spades any more, oh no, they turn up in a big truck with drilling gear.

If you have read some of my previous posts you will know that we have waited since June for this to happen, so it was a big day

I’m reliable informed that this is a Russian built Star, six wheel drive truck with a 6 liter Layland engine that was used on the buses in the UK back in the 70’s

We had two options for our future water supply, hook up to the mains; which is about 600 meters away and would require a very long trench, or drill our own bore hole. The cost between the two was marginal, depending on how deep we have to drill as we are paying by the meter; so the ultimate decision came down to future sustainability, or monthly bills versus pump maintenance; so the bore hole wins. Of course we could be wrong, but I’d bet that water prices are only going to increase in the future and who knows what the water companies will be putting in the supply in times to come?

The whole process is quite straight forward, although it requires one key ingredient that we don’t have, water; which is used to cool down the drill head as it makes its way down through the layers of terra firma. But of course these guys have done it all before and a couple of pits and trenches are dug to hold few thousand litres of water which can recirculate as the drill goes down, topped up by the second truck which heads down to the village stream to pump more water into the thousand litre tanks he has on the back.

I should have a picture here of the truck with the water on the back filling up the pit, but I didn’t take one 🙂

The first 5m were clay then we hit rock and after the first day we had only gone down 8m. On the second day we got to 12m, but then we hit a problem, the water was no longer circulating, it simply disappeared…..10,000 litres! As you can imagine this slowed things down quite a bit; having to travel 2km to get to the nearest water supply and then having to pump it into tanks to drive back and empty them into a bottomless hole, I was beginning to feel sorry for the Studnia. Even the weather was down; still cold air with a constant drizzle.

But these guys have experience and noticed that there was a pit to the left of the house, good for holding at least 20,000 litres of water; the pit that we had dug when we had a JCB at our disposal during the pouring of the foundations. I had asked for it to be dug so that I could build a water cistern in the future to hold the rainwater run off from the roof, a lucky break:) So the new task was filling the pit so that they could drill for more than 20  minutes at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

They added 12,000 litres before drilling, which allowed for a good spell and a few more meters each time; as of Friday we had got to 25 meters and water was starting to backfill again, so the hope is we will have our own supply by the end of Mondays drilling. I have everything crossed in this hope, so if you have a spare wish going then send it our way 🙂

After all it would be nice to go from the well to a tap 🙂

Preperation

Preparation for next years kitchen garden.

Deciding what to do when you wake up in the morning can be a difficult decision,  not because we are short of ideas; far from it, its because we have too much to do. First of all you have to consider the weather, if it’s sunny then an outside job is on the cards, but if it’s too windy we are unlikely to traversing the scaffold and if it’s raining then we will probably want to work inside the house. Then of course you have to prioritise the work, if you have run out of wood then chopping more is a good idea, but then finishing the soffit and starting to mark out the internal walls in the house are becoming more important. Luckily for me I have Gosia, who has the ability to assimilate all of the information and decide on the days action. Of course I put up a bit of a fight if I’m not keen, had one two many beers the night before or simply disagree with the whole plan, procrastinate as I do, nine times out of ten you can be assured that Gosias plan is by far the best and most sensible and becomes the course of action for the day (I don’t know why I’m writing this, she never reads the blog!)

Gosia working hard as ever.

Anyway as we have had such good weather, cold but dry and sunny, we have turned our attention to some outdoor tasks and put in some time creating our veg patches ready for next year. Steve was good enough to pop over with his tractor and rotavator and turned over two areas of land that we have earmarked for cultivation. I had laid down old straw over the summer along with the muck out from the lambs shelter, most of which had rotted down over time, and this was chopped up nicely and mixed with the soil as Steve gave three or four passes on the tractor. Once completed we laid even more straw on top to suppress any weeds that may want to break out and in the spring we intend to rotavate it all again a couple of weeks before planting. The two areas cover about 70 square meters and will be primarily used as our kitchen garden. We have also ploughed the ‘top field’ by the house, around 900 square meters, for our main crop of potatoes, grain, beet and other crops for animal fodder. The exact distribution is yet to be decided, but animal feed is the main goal. As we hope to gain organic status in the future we have to consider what we plant and how we fertilise which adds a degree of complication, but we have contact with a local organic farmer and hope to visit him soon to discuss the best way to achieve this given our type of land.

Top field above the house
Top field above the house.

Earlier in the year we had prepared a couple of raised beds and a couple of terraces; these were initially planted with beans, of various varieties, and peas; the idea been to get some nitrogen into the ground (peas and beans fix nitrogen in the soil). Everything cropped well and the dried beans will provide many a meal more over winter time; sadly the peas, fresh and frozen, are all gone, they were so good that they have all taken an indirect route to the composting pile 🙂 The terraces were replanted with around 30 strawberry plants in September, all of which seem to have taken well and we added 20 black current bushes to the surrounding area. The black currents were pruned hard back, leaving just three buds, the idea here is to encourage root growth for a good crop in two years time. We have existing black and red current bushes along with gooseberry and masses of raspberries that spread through the orchard; Gosia spent over two days pruning these back after this years crop, so you can imagine the quantity we have, but even with such a large quantity nothing went to waste as we have jam, cordials and liqueurs from the spoils not to mention all that were eaten fresh or given away; we hope to plant some late fruiting varieties in the future to extend the glut even further. We also have the future task of spraying the fruit trees with a bordeaux mixture as we suffered from quite a bit of fungas related disease and bordeaux is a good organic solution; copper sulphate was ordered over the internet and we have plenty of lime left over from the render, so all that remains is to mix and spray; maybe a task for next week once I check the required ratios again 🙂

Of course you don’t think for a minute that Gosia would let me get away with doing nothing on the house do you? Just because external work is now on hold we still had the task of clearing the site and re stacking the wood that we have for the construction of the terrace; taking a note of dimensions so that we can refer back to the plans and order any wood required so that it may season over winter. We have also decided on a wooden decking for the terrace so this needs to calculated and added to out wood yard shopping list. Incidentally we cleared up all the tin off-cuts from the roof and weighed it in at the scarp yard, another 100 pln; which just about covers the cost of the bath. Now to find some taps and sort out a water supply!

How could I forget?

How to save water and the world

To be honest I can’t forget, I’m forever reminded by the rising level of sawdust and ultimately Gosias final reminder it needs emptying; however you would be correct if you were thinking that it is a number of weeks since the composting toilet has made an appearance. Not that we have had any ‘trouble’ in that department (we both eat fresh fruit everyday) or we have being tempted away by our neighbors high-tech ablutions, it’s simply that we have spent around 12 days away over the last 20. So a quick calculation shows once again the toilet has put in consistent performance and provided a good weeks worth of storage.

Now I know from my blog statistics page that you like the pictures I post as they receive more clicks than anything else on this blog, so with this in mind I thought I better start to explain things using more pictures rather than rambling on and leaving you none the wiser:) Don’t worry I have painstakingly edited all the photos and removed any turds!

Pan Hilary and szadz

A good Polish title, although not one that makes sense even if you speak Polish!

Gosia has a new name for me, Pan Hilary, and all because I cant remember where my glasses are, even, as was the case earlier today; when I’m wearing them! It refers to a childrens story about a man who looses his glasses and everybody in Poland knows it! I have heard the Pan Hilary tale several times since 🙂

Believe it or not I can’t speak Polish, the occasional please, thank you and asking for milk in your coffee doesn’t count, but I still occasionally come across a word that I really take to and this weeks favourite is szadz. Its one of the few Polish words that I’ve come across that only describes one thing and it doesn’t have six different endings to define it usage in a particular circumstance, a simple word; well except for the pronunciation! And what does it mean? ‘A white covering of frost’ which is what I looked out on this morning whilst using the ‘outdoor facilities’ long before I was awake! (Edit 18th November)  We have had the same every morning since, but we have also had glorious sunny days to compensate which clears the frost as it stretches out its rays. Crisp and dry as they say :0)

Soffit done, bar the edge strip and corner pieces and probably another pack of 200 self tapping bolts to make sure it stays there; but it was essentially done by lunch time. And as I said to Gosia I wanted to use a power tool that made a different noise in the afternoon so I headed to the orchard with the chainsaw to cut out some diseased plumb trees and trim a few unruly branches; a couple more loads of firewood in the tractor back-box ready for chopping. The back-box is great and I’m sure I’ll bore you all with a post about it, including photos, one day; but today as well as transporting our tools to the house it also carried the ‘bean-crock’ from stable to piec for a good slow cooking for tonight’s meal which we shared with Steve and Dorota; very nice it was too, company and food. We also took the opportunity to rack off the cider we made together about a month ago and we are now the proud owners on about 45 litres of a pleasant tasting amber nectar (copyright Fosters) . We have stored it in various containers and hope to produce a sparkling, a strong and a mature cider for Christmas; I’m hoping Dorota will blog in a little more detail and with photos 🙂 When she does I’ll re-blog for you all. I hope it turns out well, we have access to more apples and we discussed making a late vintage; but it may have being the cider talking 🙂 Which may also explain any mistakes you see in this post just before I fall into bed!

Back on the ranch, no Skype or email, but we have a bath

So after nine days back in Rzemien to respect the ‘All Saints’ holiday and let me fit in two English teaching days, we headed back to the ranch with the intention of ‘getting things done’. Easier said than done it seems as our enthusiasm wanes along with the sun. We did manage to clear most of the wood that we cut down to make way for the electricity cable to supply the new house, which is just as well as we need to feed the koza (wood burner, it also translates as goat) a fair amount to heat the water and to keep us warm in the stable. We do have a good stock of wood that we have seasoned over the last two years, but it’s all too big for our scaled down wood burning goat, so a good four or five hour stint dragging the culled silver birch and willow to the stable to be reduced to 20cm (ish) lengths by lopper and chop saw filled the fuel buckets and boxes for the next week or so. I may have mentioned this before, but the old saying that wood heats you up three times is as true today as it was when it was first thought up; first when you fell it, second when you chop it and a third time when you burn it, I was reduced to wearing a T-shirt despite the cooler weather.

Keep feeding it and you can cook, heat up water for the bath and keep the stable warm!

Talking about burning wood, we also fired up the piec for more than half an hour, building up day by day, to today’s big burn of about six hours. It heats up nicely, with the brick structure slowly retaining heat but I need to make some fine adjustments to the cast iron hot plates as they don’t quite sit right; the grinder needs to come into play. We also fired up the bread oven, but we have to take this a little slower, giving it more heat every day for a month until it will be finally ready, we intend to add some fire bricks to the base as well to help retain the heat more so it will double as a pizza oven 🙂 If only the house doors had arrived as planned then we may have kept some of the heat in the building!  As we were in the house we managed to strip the protective film from the windows and frames, removed all the wedges holding the widows in place whilst the wonder that is expanding foam set and in turn filled the new gaps with more expanding foam. If I had of known that the window fitters would have worked to such a wide margin of error I wouldn’t have spent so long with the frames; my 2mm tolerance could have been 20mm, it would have made little difference to the final fitting! Still as they say in Poland ‘Z tego sie nie strzela’ (You don’t have to shoot from it)

With this saying in mind Gosia and I decided to take on the soffit 🙂

The wild boars have made a few more appearances whilst we were away, or should I say they have left evidence; nobody has actually seen them yet, but I fear its only a matter of time; dogs close by, knife in pocket whenever I go out past dusk, it’s that time of year. It also means that the deer are coming in closer as well and it’s almost a daily event to see them on the land now, sometimes at the side of the road (track) that leads to our land, only running off at the last-minute, within 20 meters or so of us in the van. The same can be said of foxes as well, maybe not as often, but they are a frequent sight; are chickens such a good idea next year? Will they be feeding us or will we be feeding the foxes?

There you go you see, I started to ramble on without mentioning the big event this week; we found a bath, or should I say that whilst we handed in the scrap that we have collected over the last couple of months, old tin cans, beer cans, rusty nails and the like, Gosia spotted an old rusty cast iron roll top bath and after a brief negotiation with the proprietor we handed over 140 Pln (about £30) this was after we had received 43 Pln (about a tenner) for the scrap we handed in. Gosia has high hopes, whilst I’m glad we don’t have to fork out a small fortune for a new one! Remind me of this statement when I’m cursing the bath as I try to re-enamle it next year! I will follow-up with a photo when I have a fully functional laptop again. At the moment I’m limping along running my operating system from a USB stick, but not to worry, Amazon are sending me a new hard drive and I hope to be back to normal with Skype and email after the weekend.

Sheep, mutton, hogget and lamb.

Our first attempt at keeping livestock

As I mentioned in Ba ba Black sheep we kept a couple of lambs over the summer to fatten up for the freezer and we intend to do the same again next year, possibly keeping a couple of ewes long term, I thought it would be a good idea to document things in a little more detail.

Armed with a book I found a book on ebay a couple of years ago ‘ Backyard Sheep Farming’ I thought we had enough information to get started; first things first though, lets look at the equipment list:

  • Fencing: We decided on electric as it was cheap and flexible, very important if you intend to move your sheep about. We managed to pick up 500m of wire, 100 insulators and an energizer that can be powered by battery or mains for less than £60. We had wooden posts left over and reclaimed from when we set out our batter boards marking the house foundations and I utilised the orchard trees if they formed the perimeter of our paddocks. I also just happened to have a couple of old spare car batteries that I have kept in cold storage, just waiting for a purpose. Once charged up I alternated the two batteries once a month to keep the system live.
  • Housing: As a Yorkshire man I had not imagined keeping the sheep indoors, even if that’s what people do in Poland, however it does get hot in the summer so I knocked up a shelter against the side of the old house to provide shade if required. The shelter is about a meter and a half square made from old shuttering planks and some ashfelt left over from the foundation damp course, all very thrifty stuff.
  • Food: What’s green and grows all over the place? Grass, and we have plenty of it; although I had read that sheep don’t like long grass, so I topped the long grass in the orchard with the tractor a couple of weeks before the lambs arrived. We also invested in a ‘salt lick’ which supplements the trace elements if they are not present in the normal diet. The salt lick was placed in the shelter. We also used a bucket and plastic trough for water, both positioned in shaded areas to stop the water heating up in the sun. We did splash out £10 on the trough, but it later became one of our mixing bowls for the earth plaster on the house, no doubt it will be a trough again in the summer 🙂
  • Lambs: Apparently you are able to buy lambs on the black market in Poland if you know the right people. We bought two and completed all the paperwork (which I won’t bore you with) They were about 3 months old and weaned. the lambs cost around £120 for the pair, although this cost was shared with our friends Steve and Dorota; the deal being that we would keep them as long as they arranged the slaughter; a deal which worked out well.

I initially set out the fence with two wires spaced at 30cm and 45cm from the ground, providing about 150 square meters of grassland around an old wild plumb tree for shade along with the shelter that I had built; this took me about 3 hours to complete.  After the short journey from their previous home, quite stressful for all I think, we reversed the van to the paddock, let them find their way out and closed the fence behind them; easy!

I did stay and observe them for some time to check on their general well being and to make sure that the fence did the trick. I have read in several books that electric fencing is not the best solution for sheep as the wool can insulate them, the one thing that isn’t often mentioned though is that sheep are quite intelligent and once they have had there first shock (about 30 minutes after they arrived) they stayed away from the fence; or at least for the first month or so 🙂 I did become a little worried in the first week as they didn’t appear to be drinking, but then the water level started to slowly go down, I did later read that they get most of the water they need form the grass, especially when its freshly grown. However we still provided fresh water on a regular basis and if you watched them for long enough you would see them taking a slurp or two. As they lived relatively close by to the stable they were checked every day at least once, more often than not several times a day. They became quite a draw for any visitors, especially if they had children; many a time I made the mad dash to turn off the electric fence before a small hand reached out to touch the sheep:) Unfortunately I didn’t always remember to turn it back on again which may explain the few times that an escape took place.

After about 10 days I decided to expand the fence to cover the entire orchard, splitting it in two to create a second paddock. The intention was to graze them in one half, then the other, to prevent the build up of worms and parasites; in reality this never happened and they ended up with around two acres of grass and orchard to charge around in, more than adequate I thought, but I will plan better next year.

We then settled down to a long hot summer and with the generous help of our neighbors added beat leafs and oats to their diet, only a fist or hand full each day. They also enjoyed a couple of young fruit trees that I had inadvertently left within their reach along with windfall apples and plumbs; seeing the plumbs go in and the stones spit out was funny to see. We also discovered that they had a fondness for dried bread which then became the treat food that they would follow you anywhere for. In the end we could call them from over 50 meters away and they would come running (bouncing) towards you for the promise of a little dried morsel. This allowed us to open the fence up every now and again and let then run free around the barn and stable and the greener grass on the other side; I even took them for a walk to see the house and surrounding area, well over a miles walk!  I have since read that they are as intelligent as dogs (don’t tell Jackie and Scooby) and can recognise faces, which goes some way to explaining their tame behavior  Incidentally the dogs showed the lambs no aggression and we had a few entertaining face off’s between them and the young male who always seemed to chase the dogs off in the end 🙂

In the end though we knew they had to go, it was something that we had planned right from the start and especially as the male was starting to get boisterous;  I was worried about my ability to handle him anymore, even with a loaf of dried bread to hand 🙂 I wont go into detail of the slaughter as there is not much to tell, it was over and done with quickly and we split the carcasses so that we could share out the meat with Steve and Dorota. We did our own butchering and have enjoyed several glorious meals to date; a couple of roasts, a curry and a shepards pie; the meat is sweet and tender,although I would like to hang the carcass next time to improve the flavour and make butchering easier.

For the record we collected over 50Kg of meat, for £120 plus capital expenditure of say £80; which should be be spread over say five years; £16 per year, so 50Kg for £136 = £2.72 per Kg. The cost to cure two fleeces was around £38 if you include transport costs.

Lessons learnt and plans for next year

  • The electric fence works well, but can be breached if they really want to, so keep your sheep tame(ish) and they will be less likely to go too far if they break for freedom. You could of course build an expansive fencing system.
  • Make sure that you have separate paddocks to allow the movement of the sheep to prevent worms and parasites; I have further reading to do on the subject but the principle should be followed.
  • Buy some Verm-x, organically certified worming treatment.
  • Make sure that any male lambs we buy are castrated and the tails docked (male and female)
  • Buy two ewes from a registered source for future breeding, preferably a recognised rare or traditional breed.
  • Use an abattoir for the slaughter and slaughter later in the year, November onward. Consider keeping one on as a Hogget (12-18 months old) before slaughter.
  • Make sure the carcass is whole and hang for a least 10 days, as long as the slaughter is done later in the year it should be possible to do this at home.
  • Keep the fleeces, I want that jacket Gosia 🙂

Anything to add? Any pearls of wisdom will be received with gratitude, especially if specific to Poland and in English 🙂

And if your interested and want to read more there are some great things on the web as well: The Accidental Smallholder  is a top read covering a wide variety of smallholder subjects.

Knife crime!

As you walk down the streets of many of the rural villages at this time of the year you will be surprised by the number of people carrying knives; not just young people, but middle-aged and even pensioners, all brandishing a variety of sharpened cutlery. Now if this were England then the local constabulary would have a field day rounding them up on charges of carrying an offensive weapon; thankfully Polish law hasn’t gone too mad yet and having a knife on your person is in no way considered strange even less so if you also happen to have a wicker basket in your other hand and especially if there are mushrooms in the forest waiting to be picked and trimmed with the veg knife and placed in said basket.

So, as we are back in Rzemien for a religious holiday (wszystkich swietych) we thought it best to join the rest of the village in the hunt for mushrooms; after all last year was a poor crop, so the intention is to pick and dry enough to last two years, just in case. Personally I thought that after the frost and snow we had last week the mushrooms would have packed up for the year, but as the temperature rises again and the rain reaches the forest floor new life is popping up all over. So the van is brought into service and stools from the kitchen provide temporary seating for extra passengers as five of us set off to the heart of the forest, Gosias mum navigating. Right left and straight on where some of the first words I learnt in Polish (Pravo, levo, prosto) and I have had a few opportunities to practice as I’ve taken polish speaking only hunting parties out in the past.

Our main crop this time is the Bay Bolete with the occasional Cep thrown in for good measure but then, just as we have decided to head home as we have no more space available in the five baskets we collectively carry, we stumbled upon five of the biggest Orange Birch Bolete of the year. So big in fact that decided to take a photo of the better specimens.

It is advised that you discard the stalks, they can be eaten but they are tough unless cooked for a long time; the flesh is fantastic used in a sauce, or like today, on top of a pizza. The young bay bolete will be pickled or dried, the older specimens will probably be a sauce to go with Sunday lunch.

Update 4th November: Back out on the hunt today, I have requested a bigger basket!

Update later in the day: don’t ask for a bigger basket, you will jinx the hunt; not so full baskets today, better luck tomorrow morning.

Update 5th November: Defiantly a jinx, took a smaller basket this morning and we all returned with aching arms carrying full baskets 🙂

Bay Bolete identification below, notice the pours and the way the flesh turns blue when cut. The brown cap can lighter or darker in shade, the spores are always yellow when young, becoming darker as they age.

Ba ba black sheep

Well not anymore as we picked up our two sheep skins from the tannery, all soft, white and fluffy.

If you didn’t know we kept a couple of lambs over the summer as an experiment on ourselves to see if we could keep and kill animals for our own use; all part of the future self sufficiency dream ….or necessity.

DSC03736 DSC03949

We fed them well; beet leafs, grain, plumbs (as they fell from the trees) not to mention the apples, all supplemented their usual diet of grass; they had the run of the orchard. We even discovered that they were very fond of dried bread, which was handy as it allowed us to call them and move them about quite easily; even to their eventual journey in the back of the van to see ‘the man’.

They had a good life, no doubt longer and happier then they would have had otherwise and in the end we have and have had some great food, and as of today two lovely sheep skins. I think Gosia has her eye on one of them to make a hat and maybe some slippers, I wonder which one I get for Christmas Smile

It’s not a very popular meat in Poland, it seems to have gone out of fashion quite a long time ago, and peoples memory is of a very strong tasting meat; no doubt from mutton. Mind you, slow cooked in red wine with some garlic and rosemary and we have managed to convert Gosias family; we have orders for next years flock already, so don’t be surprised if you see me in a sheepskin coat next year!