Spring

I mentioned in my last post that I had a few in drafts, but as often happens the moment is lost and I have decided to write an update encompassing those posts and more, otherwise it could be October before I post anything!

Animals

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One of the posts was about a dog attack on our rabbits, ten of twelve lost including Mummy rabbit and Peter rabbit, who between them kept up a steady meat supply. So much so that we had reached one of our goals, to become self sufficient in meat. The pigs, a lamb in exchange for crops, a dozen or so meat chickens and the occasional bit of venison helped in the mix.

Luckily one of the females that survived was pregnant and our supply will resume again in the near future and the cages and runs will be reinforced with a welded wire mesh. Lesson learnt, although we still don’t know who the dogs belonged to.

I mentioned before that we are are now up to six female goats, two in milk, three kids and the last doing an impression of a bus as she waddles around with who knows how many additions to the heard inside her huge belly. Expect an update on this soon. Of course having so many goats means that we have more milk than we can drink, make cheese and of course soap out of, so the cats and dogs get their share as well. It will be good to have pigs again soon so that we have something to eat all the whey that we seem to produce. Thankfully Gosia has developed a market for the cheese, I can only eat so much!

It is worth noting that with all these extra goats (three were an unexpected gift in the autumn) we ran out of hay and oats so we have had to purchase extra. My profit from pigs and rabbits was ploughed back into the business so to speak. A bit more planning this year, more oats and more hay, both achievable with the land we have and we have had an offer to use a neighbours field if required.

Wood

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Oats and hay are not the only things we ran out of this year, we also ran out of wood! The old wooden house that we demolished two years ago was finally returned to the earth as ash and smoke, not to mention what I thought was a good pile of firewood from the land. Alas the colder than normal winter and its duration whittled down the pile quicker than I expected and to make sure we could get through the final throes of winter we had to buy 3 cubic meters (about a cord).

Keen to avoid the same fate again this coming winter I have made inroads into our woodland and cut out and chopped a good 10 cubic to season over the spring and summer. We also have the promise of some ash, which was struck by disease, in exchange for some help moving and chopping, so I’m hoping we will be good.

With all the tree felling we decided to invest in a branch chopper that fits on the back of the tractor, it pretty much devours anything up to 5-7cm (2-3 inches) in diameter and spits it out in 10 cm (4 inch) lengths. This frees up a lot of time that would otherwise be spent doing the job manually and provides extra fuel that would otherwise have been left in piles to rot down as we never seemed to be able to borrow the neighbours implement of destruction! Recently aware of the cost of buying wood we calculated that the investment will be paid off in a couple of years.

Airbnb

I don’t know how many times I have said that the house is almost finished, but the house is almost finished! The only thing of any significance that needs doing is the terrace railing\barrier….the thing that stops people falling off! We have employed the skills of a local carpenter to make the components and we hope to be fitting in the next month or so. This will ultimately make it safe for guests to stay which is what had always niggled in the back of our mind and stopped placing the advert. Of course many dangers still remain, six goats with horns, potholes that the dogs have dug in search of moles, wild rabbit killing dogs, I better stop before the list becomes another reason why we cant take guests.

Of course anyone out there that may be reading this is welcome to contact us directly and make enquiries about availability, we would love to hear from you and offer a commission free, blogger discount!

In fact I’ll offer a free long weekend (short break) to anyone who can take decent photos to help promote our B&B, all you have to do is get to Krakow or Rzeszow airport and we will look after from there. Having looked at my poor attempt below I think we need something better.

Composting toilets

I know that many of you want to know how things are going with the pile? Well I’m pleased to say that I have just emptied one of the four piles that we are running at the moment, this was added to the second pile that has reached maturity over the last 14 months and between them we have at least 1000 litre’s of sweet smelling, crumbly, nutritious compost.

I have taken a slightly different approach whilst emptying  the piles this year by digging out from the centre, which leaves a nice giant whole to fill with new manure. I watched a few videos on the Humanure Handbook website and this seems to be a better method. I can tell you that once emptied the whole is filled again with eighteen 20l buckets of manure and 4 buckets of kitchen scraps. Topped off with straw and up to temperature (50c\120f) over the last month. I may try and do a time lapse on this pile, a picture every month, you may be surprised, if not interested!

Soap

I expect some of you fecophobes would like to wash your hands after reading the last bit, well help is at hand with Gosias hand made soaps!

Although there is nothing new on the site you can always get in touch via the contact form at www.winkos.co.uk or www.zielonakoza.pl if Polish is your preferred language. Or comment below. And for those of you who have bought soaps of us for the first time or as a repeat order, thank you, your support is very much appreciated!

Gosia must be doing something right as she recently received a request to run a workshop and demonstration in a local hotel, to a visiting group of about 30 guests from the UK!

Gosia has also teamed up with a friend, Iza, who is felting the soaps with her own designs. We are expecting a selection for the Easter markets so I will take some  more pictures, the only one we have left at the moment is a hemp oil soap. I’m sure you will agree that Izas artistic talent adds a new dimension to the soaps. So if you are looking for a unique gift idea then we have the answer.

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More

Probably, but it’s taken me a week to write this! The weather has been great and the tractor busy getting the oats sown and compost spread, I actually got sun  burnt whilst working out in the field!

The sad news is that Sunday, the pregnant goat, had stillborn twins. Mother is well though and shows no signs of on-going infection so we will put it down to one of those things. Nature can be cruel at times.

 

Early start, late finish.

It has been a funny start to the season, late March, early April showed so much promise with temperatures reaching the mid twenties (77f). The noise of traction could be heard all around as farmers rushed to get seed in the ground. We were no exception and with a new array of tractor tools fashioned from old horse drawn equipment I set too and managed to prepare the ground for a dusting of oats by the 5th of April. A good early start to the years crops.

Continue reading “Early start, late finish.”

A very passive April

It’s a bit overdue and only a short post, well at least that’s what I think as I start to type it, but I promised Pat over at Solarbeez a run down of our solar water heating system. It seemed relevant now as we are starting to feel the benefits, in fact we felt the benefits in April with a whopping eighteen days heating free.

Ok, that’s not entirely down to the solar system, or entirely true, in that the house captures quite a bit of heat as the sun shines in the morning and evening and then retains it pretty well. The midday sun stopped heating the house in early April as the height of its arc moved beyond the terrace roof, I had worried that this was a little too early and that we would benefit from a slightly higher roof, but as it happens, with the warm weather, the timing is about right. The little white lie I slipped in is that I did fire up the boiler on occasion to get the water up to a minimum 50c but not for more than an hour or so on the days when the sun just wasn’t strong enough for long enough. Incidentally I read that most domestic systems heat the water to a minimum of 60c to prevent the very small possibility of the bacteria that causes legionnaires disease forming.  It is an extremely small risk and so we save our wood and 50c is more than hot enough for a decent shower.

Ok, here’s the technical bit, except it’s not that technical as I didn’t get that involved other than to specify that we wanted evacuated tubes. So we ended up with 30 one meter evacuated tubes fitted at a 40 something degree angle on our south facing roof. These are feeding a 300 litre multi element tank via a 14 watt pump which circulates the fluid as it heats and transfers that to the water. My observations so far show that as long as we have a clear day with the sun shining the outside air temperature has to be about 15c to provide us with a full tank of 50c+. Conversely a 25c day might only heat the water to 40c if it’s cloudy; it’s all about the sunshine!

Our boiler is a big old wood burner with coal auto-feed attached just in case we need to run the heating for prolonged periods in really cold weather although it was relatively mild this last year so we stuck to the wood (except for a few lazy days)

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If we ever finish the house then the boiler will heat 12 radiators and the kitchen and bathroom under floor heating. It’s main job at the moment is topping up the hot water on cloudy days, like today, and an arm full of old chopped up pallet board took the water form 35 to 55c in about half an hour. More than enough for our ablutions, the washing up and indeed most of tomorrow, by which time the sun will have done it’s job.

All in all I would recommend a solar water system if you live it the appropriate climate, despite the rather long return on investment for us as we are only saving the burning of wood which is free (other than my time and the chainsaw) If you are lucky enough to live in a country offering rebates or other incentives then I’d say go for it if you have the money to invest, if only Poland was a as forward thinking and as green as some of it’s European counterparts.

Mind you, now that we have pigs (more in my next post) maybe we can start to generate electricity from the methane The Good Life way!

Straw bale on the BBC

It’s always good to see any news on straw bale building, but it’s normally resigned to the likes of Grand Designs or YouTube channels, so when I first heard the report on Radio 4 and then read further on the BBC website about a couple of straw bale houses going up for sale in Bristol (UK) I just had to read more and spread the news. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31156579

Now I know that there are a lot of enthusiasts and traditionalists out there that may ridicule the construction methods and declare that this isn’t really a straw bale house, but I would argue that this is indeed the future f straw bale.

If straw bale is ever going to become mainstream then it has to adopt to modern techniques and technology, rather than trying to adapt old methods to meet todays exacting standards.

Of course I would never even consider building a house based on this new modular and factory fabricated methodology, but then I’m an enthusiast not a builder and I like curvy walls 🙂 I like the aesthetics and the fact that our timber frame and infill method was very accessible for someone with no building experience to tackle. For the brave you could even try the Nebraska load bearing method, but for us the additional skills, uncertainty  and possible problems with planning were things that we decided to avoid.

The point is that the new technique still ticks most of the boxes that people who decide on straw bale say they ticked when asked why they decided on this method of build. It’s environmentally friendly in the materials it uses in comparison to the other modern building systems. The high insulation properties mean that the running costs leave a small carbon foot print over a long period of time and it creates a healthy living environment free of harmful toxins that may otherwise exist in synthetic buildings.

It’s just not curvy!

It may not be as accessible to people who want to self build on a budget, stick to the niche books and websites like this, but it is most definitely the future of straw bale and for that I’m happy to shout about it.

All that remains to be done is to invent a usable composting toilet system that people are happy to use 🙂

A busy week

Well I should say three days, as my brother in-law and two nephews turned up on Thursday to help out on the cold and neglected upstairs!

Of course I had pottered about early in the week finishing many small jobs that remain on the ground floor; finishing the bathroom door frame, putting a few more touches to the kitchen, chopping more wood and planting garlic which I had completely forgotten about until now. I’m not sure how it will fair, but I always remember that I would plant in November or December back in the UK as I once read that a frost is good for the cloves, helping to promote strong growth. We will see if the couple of rows I put in come up later in the spring.

Anyhow, back to the family visit, which was announced about a week ago, Bartek had a couple of days off and offered his services along a couple of school free nephews who are enjoying their winter break at the moment.

It did kind of put the pressure on me as I had to have all the electrical cables in before they put up the battens, insulation and ultimately the plaster board ceiling. I also needed to tidy up the electrical consumer unit so that the basement and ground floor where complete, to lessen the spaghetti like mass of wires that would become unfathomable with the addition of extra lighting circuits! Still, I work best under pressure and everything was in place and I even managed to keep ahead of the workers as I second fixed my ceiling roses leaving a flex for the light fittings. In the end I was short of about 12 meters of four core cable, but this can be retrofitted within the stud wall, again I was happy that I didn’t hold the workers up.

Two mattresses came out of retirement and our food consumption tripled for the duration but it’s amazing the difference those three day made as we now have, apart from the area above the steps, a wired, insulated and plaster boarded ceiling on our second floor. I ventured upstairs again today and as the lads had done a splendid tidy up job I could see quite a few tasks I can tackle before the spring. A very positive move forward.

No pictures of the work at the moment, I wasn’t expecting to write a post, but then I had a few few beers! Mind you this is what it used to look like back in May last year, an encouraging reminder of what we have achieved in the last eight months.

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I just thought, I now owe you a kitchen, a bathroom and a second floor. Oh and how can I forget, a Winkoloo! It’s coming….soon, very soon.

The missing photo

I suddenly realised that I didn’t add a crucial photo to my last post, a picture of the curved wall! Now whilst I could wait until my next post, I thought I would do a quick post now as I have the time and the inclination.

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You may also notice the bricks on the floor, the foundation if you like, of our hand built kitchen. Of course I’m still building it, but what we have at the moment is functional and I’ll try and bring you some pictures in my next real post.

Filling in the gaps

As I reported in a recent post, it is extremely important to fill in the gaps between windows doors and framework of the building to keep out the drafts especially when the east wind blows.

However I thought it equally important to fill in some of the gaps I left in my absence from blogging, almost eight months without posting a single update!

First a quick recap on what the house looked like in May last year.

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Functional for a workforce, not so good for a baby, so I spent a little time on our stable accommodation, plaster boarding the ceiling, patching up blown plasterwork from a freezing winter and installing an electric heater. All in all quite habitable during the warm summer months, even for Malina.

One of the first tasks was to get the final coat of lime render on the walls, having decided to complete downstairs before we moved up a level. This was completed fairly quickly the stud walls for the bathroom and pantry, the only two real rooms, followed fairly rapidly.

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I did spend a little time of the pantry as I envisaged a curved wall on the leading corner from the main door to draw you into the kitchen area. After experimenting a little I decide to try my luck with reed mats, we still had a few left over that we purchased for bridging gaps on the outside of the building, so it was using up otherwise surplus materials.

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As you can see it works in a very similar way to the old lath and plaster technique that used to be used before the advent of plaster board. The plaster is squeezed trough the gaps and as it sets grips the mats. I actually used plasterboard on the lower level section to provide a flat surface to make fitting the worktop easier, at least on one wall 🙂

I really like the end result, the bumpy contours flow from the bale walls giving the impression of an internal bale wall, very organic! So much so that I hope to use the same method upstairs in the corridor that connects the bedrooms.

More to come in my next post.

Two out of three aint bad

Was that the title of the song or the line I can remember? Either way this is not a post about music or food.

You may remember that I was running a tight schedule to try and get a few things finished for Gosias names day last weekend (18th Jan)? Well the news is that I almost finished on time!

Actually the two items I did complete were for Malina so that she had somewhere to sit to put her shoes on and also somewhere to hang her coat 🙂

The bench was in a sorry state when we bought it for £20 about two years ago and I think it’s life in our barn didn’t do it any favours either, but I’m certain the woodworm is from times past and the only rotten wood was on the arm.

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The bench design is a classic in Poland, almost certainly homemade, it is the original bench bed. The seat lifts and the lower section slides out to reveal an overlap of planks making up the base of the bed. The bedding would be stored inside until needed. Sadly I only thought about pictures after I had started on the repair.

I managed to make a replacement upright for the arm and with copious amounts of glue and wood filler, a dowel to keep things in place and a nail or two you would hardly know that it’s a botch job!

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Still once I had taken off the lose paint, smoothed down the edges and gone to town with the paint brush it started to look ok. Gosia mixed up the colour using an assortment of paints and only changed her mind once (after the second coat) turquoise, green, graphite, white and cream apparently, given a passable duck egg blue finish. And of course Gosia made the pillows, her many boxes of collected materials coming to good use.

You will be pleased to know that I have no pictures of the coat hook shelf thingy build, but it’s essentially made from a few planks left over from our scaffolding and off cuts from the terrace decking. We did buy the hooks in and nails and glue were involved, but other than that it’s a freebie. Let me know if you want one making Smile

 

I did actually finish the bathroom door as well, essential for the guests on the day, but it was only a temporary installation as I still need build the frame, so I left it out of the shot until it is eventually finished.

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It was a great day by the way, Gosia forgave my slack schedule and we had quite a few first time visitors who generally gave there approval to the house so far. The composting toilet was well used 🙂  Talking of which, that’s my current project, so avoid this space if you don’t want to see how my prototype Winkoloo turned out.

The great God of Thaw!

No crash of thunder or flash of lightening; no, just a gentle warming, trickle of water and a chance to see the grass again below the snow. I like Thaw, he’s a nice God, and he came to visit us three days ago.

After our first imprisonment this year, we were finally released from a seven day lock down on the use of the vehicle. Whilst the snow wasn’t that bad, the drifts that covered our two possible escape routes were way above the Nivas sump and without one hell of a lot of shovelling there was no way out other than on foot.

To be honest it’s wasn’t that bad, we did run out of milk, but not for long as Gosia hitched a ride with the neighbours to get provisions. A short walk down the hill and a longer walk back with a rucksack and shopping bag!

It has been cold, which on it’s own is no real problem, but it was backed up with some pretty strong winds which pushed the limits of our poorly sealed windows. Unfortunately one of the jobs I never completed last year was the external window sills and insulation round the French doors onto the terrace, so the wind kept finding it’s way in and keeping the temperatures down on the few extreme nights we have had.

Not that it’s that bad, don’t get me wrong, I keep the boiler stoked and the temperature stays close to 20ºC and we have only resorted to using coal twice when the temperature dropped to -16ºC and that was more for Malina than us. I’m just a little disappointed with myself that I never sealed the building better.

Still it will be spring soon and whilst the weather is dry and sunny, like it was today, then we pick up quite a bit of solar gain through the windows. There was no need to fire up until the sun went down today and we picked up a tank full of hot water (48ºC) from the solar panels and it was only 8ºC outside! Anything free is always sweet to a Yorkshireman.

Anyhow, just a short post to keep me in the swing of things, I’m busy fulfilling promises I made which must be completed by the weekend for Gosias birthday and names day, these Catholics have a good deal!

And now to try and catch up on a few of your posts I haven’t read yet.

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Vampire update

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Well I said I would update you once I had tested out the wooden stakes and so far they are holding, as expected!

I wish I had pictures of this old handmade cup holder before we smartened it up a bit.

Recycled cup rack

We found it in a friends barn along with some other bits and bobs which we liberated before they became firewood. A clean up and sand down, added a bit of beading to make sure the plates stayed put, plus some creative work with old pallet boards, a wooden cake tray and some panelling off cuts to replace the missing draws. A coat of home made chalk paint topped off with some of Gosias pottery. A worthy piece for my three wooden stakes, I think.

Incidentally Gosia made the curtains from an old duvet cover that she bought at the market for less than the cost of a loaf of bread, luckily I wasn’t hungry!

A couple of pointers

Having recently discovered Malina with her jaws clamped firmly around a teddy bears neck, not to mention her demands for black pudding and other blood rich foods, names of which I can’t think of at the moment, we have finally accepted the fact that she is probably a vampire.

Conscious that these things can quickly spiral out of control, having watched several seasons of True Blood I know what I’m talking about, I headed down to the cellar\workshop and fashioned some wooden stakes.

Unbeknown to me Gosia had already tested Malina with garlic, holy water and a couple of mirrors and so as I entered the house from the basement, with wooden stakes in hand, I was relived to know that they would no longer be needed for the original purpose, Malina is just teething!

Still I had quite a number of stakes, as you can never be too careful, so what to do with them? Gosia as ever had the answer and declared that one of the kitchen walls looked a bit bare and that she had a couple of old plate\cup racks, that she had waved a wand over, and they needed fitting.

Now anybody who has a straw bale house will know that you can’t just get the drill out, drill a hole and fit and plug and screw, no first of all you have to put something in the wall to screw to. Luckily I had some wooden stakes to hand, so I set about setting them about the wall to form anchor points for our latest storage solution.

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Mark up
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Make a hole
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Knock in a stake

 

After carefully marking where you need the screws to fit, knock a hole in the wall and drive in the stake. These stakes were about 20cm long made from 5 x 5 cm wood. Additional wedges can be used if the wood has a bit of a wobble on it, although you would be surprised how rigid they are in the compacted bale.

Once you are happy then plaster over and leave to set over night, making sure you leave some kind of mark to remind you where the centre of the wood is.

Next day you should be good to drill your pilot hole through the plaster and into the wooden stakes giving a sturdy mounting point for anything from kitchen cabinets to curtain rails. I’ll update with a photo once the plate racks are in place and fully loaded, just in case 🙂

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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.

That was the month that was

I just had a quick look at last Aprils posts to see what the weather was like and it looks like we had a good spell then as well, although we had a fair amount of snow in the first couple of weeks , so this is definitely a better start to the season.

This is evident in the blossoming trees; the whites of the plum, cherry and pear are giving way to the pink of the apple and I enjoy driving through the villages as everyone seems to have a fruit tree of sorts in bloom at the moment. A good year for apples this year I hope, a good year for cider!

Malina continues to grow at a rapid rate and it’s just as well that I’m working on the house and building up my muscle tone because it will be a struggle to lift her soon! I’m also increasing my stamina by chasing after Denis, the pup that no one wanted. Not quite the truth but after Timmy, Bruder and Gruba all found new homes to go to, we were left feeing a little flat, so Denis was destined to stay with us. Denis incidentally is in memory of the late Mr Denis Brown of  La Moye Garage, times past. Affectionately known as Brownie, Denis just had to be named after him, despite her gender.

Things are moving on fast at the house, I took the advice from Lupe and Phyllis in their book ‘How to Design and Build Your own House’ and Gosia called in a plumber. Having inspected the work I had done so far it would seem that it was a good idea as my pipes where ripped out and new trenches dug in the basement for drainage! I was quick to explain that my work was only temporary to facilitate last years wedding, but it was a feeble defence and I hid behind the language barrier and smiled sheepishly for the next hour or so.

Of course the notion that we wouldn’t be having any flushing toilets in the house took him by surprise and he made several attempts to change our mind, thankfully Gosia is fully on-board with the composting toilet idea and so put up a good fight and our drainage pipes to the first floor are of the small bore variety. After working on site for a couple of days and completing stage one of the work he did point out that he had left me a full sized drain in the basement should I want to install a toilet when I’m old! I thanked him with a broad smile and nodded my appreciation. The local builders merchant told stories of his shock at the sanitary situation as he went to pick up more pipes, I’m sure we are now talk of the village.

Once the drains were in I levelled off the floor with sand, put down a water proof membrane and called in some concrete. Not the most environmentally friendly approach but as I have said before you have to be realistic and practical about these things and this, for us, is by far the best solution available. This sub floor will then take any hot and cold feed pipes that are required in the basement, be topped with 5cm of insulation and then another 5cm of concrete, eventually to be finished with tiles of some sort. Drains have been placed in the three rooms to aid with cleaning, as I said to the plumber ‘to wash away the blood!’

We have placed the order for our staircase, very English style with a carved banister and turned spindles finished with oak treads, which will be made by a friend of ours who worked in Jersey for several years making and installing staircases. Fingers crossed that we are ready in time for the installation.

I have built the partition walls on the first floor which helps us to visualise the layout a little better and provides the opportunity to measure up for tiles and wooden flooring, which we are going to view more samples of in the next few days. We have also started on the first coat of two coats of lime render inside, things are starting to shape up and there is a real feeling of progress. I am currently living in the house but progress is also been made making the stable good for Gosia and Malina to move over once the weather has completely turned the corner. Next week I will be trying my hand at plastering the newly clad ceiling!

And whilst all this is going on Gosias family have visited a few times and planted a mass of vegetables in the top field, including 2000 M² area of potatoes (more than twice as much as last year). I know this sounds like a lot but it’s all part of the master plan and a good proportion will be used in the feeding of the pigs, which we hope to take on later in the year. We have discovered a Polish rare breed that is very similar to the English Berkshire and we hope to visit a nearby farm to discuss our requirement soon. Mind you it’s sometimes best not to make too many plans.

So that’s were we are and that was the month that was, helped along by the weather, willing friends and family, with a welcome and resting Easter break in between. I hear that the weather is going to turn by the end of the week so it’s full steam ahead until then and with May Day holidays heading this way I might get a few extra days off.

Drip, drip drop, little April STORMS!

As the temperatures stretch into the mid twenties and beyond the site has become a time lapse photographers dream; people come and go in their vehicles loaded with materials, friends and observers pop in to help and say ‘Hi’ and the landscape around us and in the distance is transformed into neat rows of hope.

Drains in, partitions built, quotes accepted, tiles ordered, samples viewed, late night discussions, decisions made and changed. Seeds selected, weeds tamed, rows hoed and staples planted on mass, the promise of freshly picked salads draws closer.

The clatter of thunder marks the end of the day and I hurry to get things under cover, and whilst the arcing circuit sparks to the sky are no sure sign of rain, if it does then it comes down as if it’s the last chance it will ever get. The road to civilisation can become impassable by anything other than welly clad foot as it becomes river and I am reminded that I must put in some road drainage, one day! The van is moved to higher and more solid ground.

With hardly time to think to count between the crack and the flash the storm is upon us. Dogs return from adventures to seek shelter and the increased throttle of a tractor can be heard in the distance as the final row of potatoes is sown, just in time. The darkening sky sends the omnipresent dandelions to sleep, and even the birds leave the trees to hiding places unknown as the first scouting raindrops hit the tin roof of the house with a hollow flat note, soon becoming a hurried drum roll punctuated by a dripping gutter. I must fix that!

As the wind races around the house a clear and sunlit patch of ground can be spotted to the south east and I know is heading this way, and no sooner have I finished my cup of tea then a birdsong melody replaces the drum solo and the clouds settle over the next valley finding a new home on higher ground. Now as a distant observer I look on in awe as the electrical show continues and my slow quiet counting confirms that the storm is visiting lands further afield, but the rumble can still be heard for an hour or so after, a last word reminder that it will be back again tomorrow.

 

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!

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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.

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Natures finest
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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.

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Lots of lumps and bumps to even out.
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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!

So what am I doing?

I know I went a little off topic on my last post so I thought it was time for an update on what I’m actually doing.

Obviously the young Winkette is taking up some of my time, but with sleep dominating most of her day and night my involvement is minimal. The occasional nappy change, rocking to sleep and singing of The Kinks to her (badly) seems to sum up my fatherly involvement; there isn’t a great deal else I can do!  My domestic chores have increased a little, but even then as we are still living with Gosias parents the family support group steps up and in with most tasks. Gosia of course is the perfect and devoted mother, I just get in the way!

All this is fantastic, especially as the weather in Poland is unseasonably warm and I have unhindered access to the land; Gosia is glad to see the back of me as I head off to continue work on the house, the snow drifts and ice of last April are a distant memory and the only thing I have to be cautious of is the possibility of getting stuck on a muddy track as I drive to the house. I think it will be quite a few years before I tackle the road, but it is on my to do list!

My first trip, two or three weeks ago now, left me a little deflated as I realised the scale of what I have to do to make the house habitable and child friendly. So much so that I looked for lots of other jobs to do culminating in me achieving nothing. Of course thinning out the woodland, planting willow whips, tidying the barn, giving the stable a spring clean and fresh coat of lime wash, burning rubbish, spreading compost on the veg gardens to be and even trying to get the old well working again after the missing bucket incident of last year are all very valid and necessary jobs, it wasn’t until my third two day visit that I plucked up the courage to move into the house and focus.

Two solid days so far, cleaning up the mess we left behind from last year as we hurried to finish the earth plaster indoors and I am happy to report that I can  see the floor again! Finishing the earth plaster was essential to keep out any unwanted house guests over the winter; I may have said it before but the declaration that more than one of the many straw bale building books makes that ‘mice are not a problem’ fail to qualify that by adding ‘once the plasterwork is finished’

Other than seeing the floor again, which is great as we can start to plan where our walls are going to go, I can also asses the walls that we plastered. Quite a few cracks have developed and it is clear that I have a bit of patching up and levelling off to do before we can look at putting any lime render on. Incidentally the cracks are quite normal although some may be bigger than usual as we used quite a wet mix when we put it on the walls and as the water evaporates the clay shrinks leaving cracks. Mind you that’s not a priority at the moment; my first job, I have decided, is to put some concrete down in the basement and the section immediately outside the back door to make the passage of materials a little less fraught with danger and dirt. Of course this means that we first have to decide how the basement will be configured so that I can put in any necessary drainage pipes in place. I already have a main drain leaving the building but it will be nice to get others set into the floor now for the future, including one for a drain in the floor itself for easy cleaning of what will probably be a tiled floor in the future.

So that’s were we are at, not much further on, but pointing in a forward direction. I’ll be back again on Monday and Tuesday to finish the big clean up and if the weather continues to improve a family outing is probably planned for later in the week, grandparents included to help out with the garden and wood clearing.

It’s good to be back 🙂

By the way a quick mention for Tree Following I’m going to give it a go once I have picked or even plated my tree!

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Nuts, lumps, bumps and pumps

I know, I know, it’s a while since I posted; what can I say!

Events as ever have moved us (me) in unexpected directions and all I can do is try and stick to the road and hope that I don’t pick up too many points on my license on the way! And whilst this brief account of recent events only scratches the surface these are certainly the highlights.

Nuts: I reckon about 50Kg, maybe more; it’s very hard to tell for sure, but the plastic trays and cardboard boxes that littered the floor of the house indicated a good harvest of walnuts.

It almost seemed to happen overnight, the cold air crept in, the wind kicked up, the rain came down and the nuts began to fall; at times it was almost dangerous to be under the half dozen walnut tress, that we inherited with the land, for fear of concussion.  This windfall also coincided with the annual mushroom hunting season and the pear trees lightening their load, so my morning walk with the dogs often saw me returning with a bucket full of walnuts, mushrooms and pears, even the occasional chilli; as well as two well exercised dogs after a good long outing.

Lumps: One thing you can be certain of when you are building a straw bale house is that you will always have lumps in your clay, although our tactic of using refined clay from the brick factory has taken quite a bit of work out of the whole process, it can still resemble a badly made industrial strength custard on occasion. Needless to say that we ploughed on with the rendering of the house with clay slip and then clay render, lumps and all,; firstly with the help of friends of ours that stayed on after the wedding and then with new volunteer Sam and a return visit from volunteer and friend Paul. Many thanks to all involved. Gosia and I even managed to finish the first and second coat on the second floor before the cold snap crept in and everybody had gone home the the relative and respective warmth of Ireland, Scotland and England.

Bumps: Whilst the pictures may not show, the reality of living flesh clearly indicates that Gosia is with child! I know this seems all very sudden and the thought of shotguns may be in some peoples minds, but the wedding was planned, unlike the bump, and no one was struck down by lightening at the alter despite the countries high religious values. I have to say that we are both delighted and excited, especially me as I will have an addition to the workforce in three or four years time! But with only four months to go until out little girl is born, a new urgency is upon us to get the house habitable as soon as possible, certainly for next winter.

Pumps: Of course we knew the news quite a while ago, so much so that I put a few feelers out for work at the wedding, and as luck would have it a job offer came my way from long time friends of ours back in Jersey. I have to say that this has turned out far better than I could have imagined as not only do I have a job at the local petrol station, I’m also lodging with my new boss for the winter just 500 yards away from work. A full shift plus ‘special projects’ to keep me occupied is exactly what I needed to fund the heating system and keep me occupied whilst returning to my old home of Jersey. Having spent so much of my adult life here I still have affection for this small Island in the Channel and I hope to post a few pictures of my favourite spots whilst I visit.

So there you go, a brief account of the last month or so, filling in, but leaving many gaps for my later recollection. I would of course tap on the keyboard a little longer and I hope to do so soon, but for now my job is done, I have at last updated the blog; I can sleep well tonight 🙂

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My new desktop, to keep me motivated whilst working over the winter.

From sugar cube to pagoda

For those of you that follow the blog then you will have noticed my absence, for those who don’t then welcome to Winkos; a blog about all sorts of things centred around the construction of a straw bale house in Poland and our search for a life outside of the rat race.

It’s almost a month since my last post and probably as long since I even read any of the blogs that I follow; you would think that I had lost my internet connection, and in a way it does feel like that.

But it is work and events that have kept me from the keyboard and I’m happy to be able to report that our recent efforts have transformed the sugar cube into a pagoda as the terrace gained a roof and a deck.

If I’m honest this push to get things done on the exterior of the house and complete the terrace, albeit with temporary barriers for safety, was driven by events; as after seven years together and the last 8 months planning, Gosia and I finally tied the knot.

If you know us on Facebook then you will already have seen the photos, which is just as well because I’m not likely to post many on the blog and for now I can’t post any at all as they are in the hands of our friend who took all the photos of the event; but take my word for it it was a truly fantastic day 🙂

And that’s it for now, a short post to announce a big event, hope to catch up with some reading and blog more soon.

No time like the present

OK, you may have guessed that there is no way that I’m going to catch up unless I come up with a radical solution and so, for one week only, I’m heading into a new format to enable me to provide an overview of progress over the last three weeks without having to rely on my memory too much.

The Garden: I thought I better give a mention to the much neglected garden, all the work on the house has meant that many a plant has fallen by the wayside, or taken over the way side as they grow out of control. Of course we have had a steady supply of fresh veg and they are part of our daily intake, be in peas, beans, tomatoes, onions or courgettes; you will always find at least one on your plate, but as I look upon the tangled mass of beans and peas I can’t help but think we could have looked after them better, if only by translating the packets and planting the runners with stakes and the dwarf in rows; something that I only half heartedly addressed as I realised our mistake. Still the older beans will be left to dry on the stalks, a fantastic winter staple and any new growth will continue to be eaten. The same for the peas, old stock will be dried for next years seed and anything fresh popped on the plate or in the freezer.

The humanure tomato experiment continues, although we spotted blight in a few of the main crop plants last week so it’s only a matter of time before the experiment has to come to a premature end. However I can report, without the picture I forgot to take, that both plants are bearing fruit on three trusses and look far healthier than their unfertilised counterparts.

The potatoes have taken a hammering from the beetles and much of the foliage was lost in the last few weeks, but we have dug a few up and they are tasting good, so I’m still confidant of a reasonable crop; we’re just waiting for the harvester to turn up along with the neighbours 🙂 the tradition here is to leave them in the ground for as long as possible to prepare them better for winter storage.

The oats are doing well, although we ploughed back about a third of the crop on the top boundary of the field as growth was slow; hopefully this will help as a green manure.

The House:  As you would expect this remains the main focus for us as we try and get as much done as possible whilst we have the weather on our side. Having the help of the volunteers Paul, Alexandra and Iulia was a massive help, the internal window surrounds were remodelled, the entire ground floor received its first clay slip coat, the timber for the terrace was planed, sanded and painted, along with the basement exterior walls to match the rest of the house.

Not to mention our friend Slawek who fired on with the task of getting the terrace ready for the roof; this final task was completed last week and we have since taken delivery of the tin roof to be fitted by the experts as and when they can fit us into their schedule, fingers crossed in the next few weeks. Meanwhile I have started to fit the terrace decking board which we have all had a part in plaining. If anybody is interested we are selling luxury rabbit bedding 🙂

We also had the assistance of our ever helpful friends Steve and Dorota who came over with the tractor and front loader to do a bit of landscaping; saving my back from carting hundreds of barrows of earth; as ever a big thanks for all and everyone’s help.

As the saying goes a picture can tell a thousand word so I’ll save myself a bit a typing

Nature: As ever I seem to forget to appreciate the things that go on around us, but once in a while something happens that I have never seen before and I become focused and appreciative again. I have mentioned the resident buzzard family on a few occasions, in fact I was a little worried that the recent felling of trees by a neighbour had left them homeless and this was the reason why they hadn’t been there usual vocal self, that was until the recent sighting of the first flight training lessons administered by the two adults to their single chick. We have witnessed this ritual for the last three years and it’s always entrancing, but then out of the blue one of the buzzards pulled back it’s wings and went into a dive, more falcon like than buzzard; or maybe not? I certainly haven’t seen them do it before and it was great to watch; as it never caught anything I’m guessing it was just another subject of the training curriculum.

The young hares seem to be ever present, unfortunately for them Zara has a fare turn of speed, and whilst I feel sorry for them if she catches one I’m also reassured by the large numbers that I have spotted in the area; we don’t seem to be suffering from the decline that is news worthy in other areas of Poland.

The young deer are coming closer and closer to the house, thankfully curiosity did not kill the fawn and they easily outrun Zara and Jackie who have so far kept them away from the veg without putting meat on the menu.

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Volunteers: I know that I have mentioned Iulia,  Alexandra and Paul on a few occasions, but I’d just like to say thank you again for all your help, great workers and great company who made a big difference in the few weeks that they joined us. Paul is heading back again in September, gluten for punishment, or maybe just gluten as he loved the food most of all 🙂 We also have two other ‘possibles’ coming to join us late in August so things are looking good and finishing the plaster inside before the winter may be an achievable target.

We did take a farewell trip to Krakow to visit the town of Oświęcim which is more often referred to and better know by it’s German given name of Auschwitz; it’s my second visit, but it was no less sobering for it.  We went for the guided tour, which takes three and a half hours, but I think Paul summed it up well when he said he would had liked the time to just sit and reflect for a while rather than dealing with the information overload as the guide talked through the expansive and industrialised extermination camps. A worthwhile trip and highly recommended to everyone, but if you get a chance take time to reflect, then do, especially when you see Birkenau.

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Up to date :  Well pretty much so, of course we have had a few parties, BBQs and visitors, but that’s just part of life in Poland, especially when the weather is as good as it is. We are back in Rzemien for the usual Sunday lunch that couldn’t be beat and another week is only a good nights sleep away from us, so until next week (maybe) na zdrowie.

July, almost August, the catch up continues

I’m determined to try and catch up on July before August arrives, as I can see the slippery slope getting steeper and I’m loosing my footing; even so the catch may still be instalments as  I’m relying on dates of photos and the calendar to try and get things in order, not that it matters if things arrive in a random order, but it would be nice to have at least one thing in my life with a reliable schedule.

Having quickly read my last post I noticed that I missed on of the major events of the year; July 30th 2013 saw the installation of our first tap! In fact three taps, one in the kitchen and two in the basement, one of which is feeding the washing machine; yes you heard me right; a washing machine. Hard to believe that so many modern conveniences could arrive in one day, changing our lives forever! With all this water available we even move the bath in from outside and whilst we don’t have a tap to fill it I do manage to rig up a way to empty it!

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Plumbing is easy, it’s doors that make it difficult!
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All mod cons

2nd July:  Paul, out third volunteer, arrived today from The London and the group grows in number and character. Add Slawek to the mix, who has joined us to continue with the terrace, and our evenings are a cracking mix of conversation and laughter, helped along with great food and a modest amount of alcohol 🙂

Paul is planning his own straw bale build in France next year so we have plenty to discuss and we soon find that we hold similar views on many subjects that come up in conversation. Our opposing accents also provide entertainment for our European friends 🙂

The weather is also with us and it’s a great feeling to see things moving along and everybody getting along. Wood plaining and sanding, terrace building, window surround shaping and trimming, and a spot of painting; all in all a good days work.

3rd, 4th, 5ht and 6th of July: It started with the hedge trimmer, not surprising that it’s ground to a halt after the abuse that it has received over the previous 12 months, not surprising at all; a little unfortunate that Paul was using it at the time as I think he feels a little responsible.

It’s funny the noises that you only notice when they stop, like the sound of the grinder with the sanding disk attachment that Paul is wielding and taking out the rough spots on the wood for the terrace. The noise stopped and never started again; never mind I had picked up the grinder at an auction for a fiver so no great loss and I have a spare.

With well over five cubic meters of planks to plain, never mind all he wood for the construction of the frame and roof, the plainer that we have borrowed from a friend has proved to be the most beneficial tool available to us and it seems to run most of the day as Paul and I pass more wood through it. That is until it refuses to start after our lunch time break! After various tests and inspection by an expert it appears that the motor has burnt out and needs to be rewound 😦

Fearful that Paul has arrived with a jinx on electrical equipment I provide him with a hammer and refuse access to the chain saw! Did I mention that the washing machine pump has failed as well….

The progress over the week is fantastic and Alexandra and Iulia make a start on the clay slip coat after finishing the window surrounds with Pauls assistance with non motorised tools!. Paul is quite tall, over 6 foot I’d guess, and the extra height comes in handy.

7th July: No trip to Poland would be complete without Sunday lunch cooked by Gosias mum. It was also a good opportunity for Gosias dad to give Paul a closer look at the machinery in the backyard. The first vehicle on display is a hand built ‘woz’ (or trailer) a combination of a WSK motorbike and Trabant car; six speeds, including reverse and capable of carrying a tonne. The clay for the house was all transported from the brick factory on the back on this  wondrous vehicle; when asked how to stop, Gosias father points to his feet 🙂

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The second specimen is an unadulterated WSK, it might not go very far or fast, but its a classic and Gosia has her eye on it for the future.

And believe it or not that’s all I have time for for now, Sunday lunch is upon us, the first we have cooked at the house; Steve and Dorota are coming to join us and then Gosias family are here to pick the raspberries and join us for a BBQ later in the day; there is also a rumour that we will be heading to the neighbours in the evening, so much for a day of rest 🙂

So another weeks goes by and I’m still a couple of weeks behind, reading and writing, I’m only sneaking in this closing paragraph as the sausages are cooking, the men are in the stable fixing the hedge trimmer and the women folk are discussing the price of fish, or maybe sugar, and whilst it’s hard to be antisocial if you don’t speak the language it’s still polite to make an appearance and supply the refreshments 🙂 Have a great weekend, Eddy & Gosia