June, or is it July already

It seems like an age since I last posted and sure enough it’s three weeks! We have had such a busy time with volunteers arriving, working and leaving, not to mention the on going work schedule which they have contributed to beyond my expectations. I almost don’t know where to start, so I’ll go back to the post I started to write about ten days ago over a pre-breakfast breakfast of Marmite (my last jar!) on toast. And with todays schedule full of family events the update may arrive in a couple of parts; who knows.

24th –27th June: With the impending arrival of our first volunteers (updated 14th July)  we changed focus from the terrace to improving the facilities, number one on my list was to finish off the second composting toilet which I started work on over a month ago; when I say started work on I mean I had thought about it a lot and poured some foundations! Three days later, in amongst other jobs that seemed to crop up, the toilet was completed. Gosia took charge of getting the house in order and we even managed to lay a concrete floor in the boiler room in preparation for the installation of a water tank; one step closer to the elusive tap.

DSC07583

Thursday evening saw us taking a trip to Tarnow to pick up Iulia and Alexandra, volunteers from Romania who have recently qualified as architects and wanted to get some hands on experience. We soon discovered that they had been on quite an adventure staying in France, Spain and Italy over the last couple of months; we hoped that they would not be too shocked with their new home for the next week or so.

28th June: After walking the dogs, having breakfast, tending to the vegetable garden and pottering around in general until about 9am we came to the conclusion that our newly arrived help had decided to call a taxi in the middle of the night to escape the medieval living conditions that had been presented to them the night before.

Or, as was the case, they simply had a lie in 🙂

29th June to 2nd July: Alexandra and Iulia seemed to love the place and where eager to help out, the perfect volunteers, so we offered them the task of painting the part built terrace with the boiled linseed oil that we are using as a preservative. A job well done and completed in a couple of days.

The evenings have started to liven up as friends and neighbours pop in to meet someone crazy enough to want to work for free; beer and bimber keep spirits high, not to mention Gosias cooking, which as ever brings a smile to everyone’s face and a roundness to the belly 🙂

Fresh ideas are bounced around and the observant eyes of our visiting architects spot a potential problem with our windows, or should I say the surrounds. Recent study of French design mean the we knock back the clay and start again to offer a wider angle for light to enter the building. Gold stars awarded and a new task is offered to our willing volunteers.

……..to be continued…..

By the way I have put a few new pics on the volunteers page, but I hope to continue and catch up soon; good night 🙂

Teraz terrace

I’m looking out of the window, just back from walking the dogs, happy that I made it before the storm that is now upon us. After a week of temperatures close to and exceeding 30 C it’s almost a relief to hear the crack of lightening and catch the cooling breeze through the open window; the crops will certainly benefit from the rain and if the forecast is to be believed then we should have a cooler week ahead to look forward to.

It’s been a hectic week or so as our friend Slawek came over to help out with the building of the terrace, working to the suns schedule we put in some serious time and have achieved a great deal, but it has made us realise that when your building a house you have little time for anything else. So we finally made the decision that keeping livestock this year is no longer an option, I think we knew this already and as time has gone by the inevitable conclusion had to be drawn; after all we have struggled to look after the garden this week and forgetting to water  your pigs is a little more serious than neglecting to the water the tomatoes; there’s always next year 🙂

Monday 17th June:

After a trip to the iron mongers to stock up on nails, nuts and bolts we started building the terrace.

Tuesday 18th June:

Building the terrace

Wednesday 19th June:

Building the terrace

Thursday 20th June:

Building the terrace. Emptied the composting toilet! And for those of you eagle eyed and interested people out there who noticed that it has lasted a long time then I can assure you that I have emptied it on two previous occasions, I just forgot to add the date to the Composting Toilet Diary; shame on me.

Friday 21st June:

Building the terrace

Saturday 22nd June:

Building the terrace

Of course it was all a little bit more involved than that and Slaweks woodworking experience shows as he has notched joists and created large scale mortise joints for the supporting posts; no metal angle brackets on this build. Meanwhile Gosia has got to grips with the plainer that we have borrowed from a family friend and the piles of wood shavings are testament to the many cubic meters of wood that have made it past the spinning blades; very sharp blades as the cuts on the back of my fingers prove after slipping when installing new blades. Mind you when you consider the lack of guards and the exposed mechanics of the home made machine then a couple of nicks are needed to earn respect and avoid more serious injury.

Respect
Hard to believe that this plainer thicknesser was hand built during the communist era; if you wanted something back then you built it! And it works a treat.

You may guess that this is a big job and we were happy to have achieved the lower level and get the joists down ready for the decking next week; unfortunately the modrzew (larch) that we are using for the planks is very hard on the blades, as whilst the pine that we have used for the framing gave up it’s outer layers without too much fuss the boards require a little more attention, consequently we have had to order a new set of hardened steel blades. Lets hope they arrive in good time next week.

As I mentioned in my last post the horseflies are having a feeding frenzy and you have to be quick if you want to avoid making a blood donation to the insect world, thankfully we had the help of the yellowhammer. For some odd reason, possibly just because we are there, the horseflies are attracted to the white walls of the building and fly into them kamikaze style; dazed and confused by the sudden interruption in their flight they then fall to the floor and this is the point that our little yellow friends step in and are quick to take advantage of an immobilised lunch. I’m not sure if it’s learned behaviour, but a pair of birds have remained with us all week and they are happy to come within a few meters of us as we worked and of course we are happy with a reduction in the blood sucking insect population.

Bug hunter
Our little yellow friends

It’s easy to take all the wildlife for granted as you get used to seeing the newts, lizards, slow worms and toads, all good food for the visiting stalks and our resident buzzard who has happily started to announce his presence once again after a worrying mute period. Sadly none of these wondrous creatures eat the potato beetle and as the lave that missed our inspection start to grow the potato’s are starting loose a bit of foliage; lets hope this wont affect the crop too much and that our efforts of hand picking pay off. It’s a little disheartening as you see the farmer next door spray his crop, eradicating the pest almost over night; such an easy solution, or is it?

Spuds
Our potato patch

One final note, as I took a quick photo before we left of Saturday, the tomato experiment is starting to show results; the plant on the left seems to be developing a little faster than that on the right, contrary to the result I was hoping for as the plant on the right is the one grown in the humanure mix. Still it’s early days and it’s quite likely that I used two different plant varieties such was my attention to detail when I set up this highly scientific experiment. I only remember which one is which by remembering what right rhymes with!

Humanure challenge
Humanure challenge tomato plants

Beetle mania and mud flinging ticks the box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Pins
All pins in a row

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

Dictated by the weather; the last week of May

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

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

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

Tools of the trade
Tools of the trade

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

Straw staples
Straw staples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did the earth move for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birch Bolete
Soon to be a sauce.

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

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

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

Scaffold for rent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early May

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

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

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

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

Wild plumSweet cherry treeBlossom across the valley

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

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

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

LilacHorse radish in flower

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

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

Zara

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

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

New render around windows
New render around windows

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

Spider dog

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

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

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

Lime blind

If you are lucky enough to go skiing you will be familiar with the concept of snow blindness, so please spare a thought for the straw bale house builders who suffer from ‘lime blindness’ as they paint the lime wash over their hand crafted home; with the sun beating down on the bright white surface it can take you a while to return to normal vision!

Yes, you will be pleased to know that the lime render coat was finished on Tuesday the 30th of April with me fast on the heals with my bucket of lime wash. Admittedly I only managed to complete the first coat of wash and have yet to start my second and final coat for this year, but essentially it’s complete and we can at last admire the imperfect perfection of the undulating (bumpy) surface of the walls.

I just had to take a photo sequence of this last bit of plaster going on the wall, not to mention the wavy walls 🙂

Lime is a fantastic material and whilst it does have an certain embodied energy in its production it is nothing like that of cement and as and when the day comes and our house crumbles into the ground the lime will  easily, without contamination, be assimilated back into the earth. I just wish we could have used it in our foundations.

As the cellar, basement or piwnica; as it’s know in Poland, is made of brick we have had to adopt the not so environmentally friendly polystyrene cladding to provide our toes with insulation. This is pretty much the standard building practice in Poland, bricks or blocks covered with varying thicknesses of cladding and finished of with an almost flexible render.

 

One tip that I would pass onto anyone who ever goes down the path of straw bale or adobe built house and you intend to use a lime finish; get a bath! No what I mean is find an old bath so that you can pre-soak your powdered lime, it makes it so much easier to work with and cuts down of the amount of harmful lime dust that you may inhale; of course you should always wear a mask!

 

Lime bath.jpg

The Fifth Element

I really enjoyed the film, so much so that if it’s ever repeated on TV then I will normally give it the time and watch it again; that is if we had a TV 🙂

The fifth element in this case is the final finish coat of lime render, the fifth layer to help keep out wind and rain and also the prequel to taking the scaffolding down; yay!

But don’t get too excited, we still have to finish this ultimate layer; but with two walls done, once again we are heartened by the progress made and we can mentally tick another box.

It soon became apparent that Chris, our labourer, was far quicker and better at getting the plaster on the wall than me so I quickly took on the role of mixer and painter, whilst Gosia found her niche in floating the surface to a smooth finish.

For this final mix (three sand to one lime) we moved to a very fine sand which also just happened to have an orange hue, so the resulting plaster contrasted against the previous scratch coat, but this wouldn’t last long as I quickly lime washed the drying surface to prevent it going off too quickly. My lime wash mix was 1 part lime to one and a bit parts water, whizzed up with an electric drill; I will be going over the building once again before the scaffold comes down to make sure we have an even finish. This process provides a sacrificial layer for the weather to wear down and should be repeated once a year, traditionally on May Day, so I’m ahead of schedule:)

We were also blessed with two other elements last week, great weather, with temperatures up to 27°C, and water, following the installation of the water pump for our borehole. The latter went smoothly, even if drawing water was not without incident as the battery on our generator packed up, along with the pull start backup; a problem temporarily fixed by using the battery from the Niva which was them replaced by an old jump start pack that will hopefully keep us going for the next few weeks as we wait for the electricity to be turned on.

Of course the house only keeps us busy between 7.00 am and 5.00 pm, with Chris as our motivation, once he leaves we head down to the stable and start on our second job, planting up the kitchen garden and heating up the water for our tin bath; much needed to wash the lime away 🙂

Lets crack on!

In the space of about 12 days we have gone from snow and hard night time frosts to glorious sunshine, in fact the last week has equalled many a summer that you may expect in the UK; 20 + (°C) every day for the last week hitting 24°C on Friday, so warm that the Aleo vera made an out of season appearance last night to sooth my burning back!

And with the good weather comes a new determination to ‘crack on’ and get things done, which is exactly what we have done this last week.

Finished the stable, yes at long last we lime washed the exterior; two years after starting the project that provides us with shelter whilst we work on the house. Of course it doesn’t do it’s job any better now that it’s all painted white, but it’s more ascetically pleasing; it looks prettier 🙂

Poland; October; 2009 327P7060040DSC06555

Finished the soffit, another one of those jobs that seems to have trailed on for quite some time, although as we started the job late last year we were often hampered by the wind, which seemed quite severe 8m up a hand built scaffold. The fine weather has given us the boost and conditions to tick it off our list.

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Prepared the top field for planting, with a little (a lot) of help from our friends. Steve was good enough to pop over with his tractor and rotovator and proceeded to devour almost two thousand square meters of ploughed land in preparation for potatoes and various other veg. In addition Kazek went over the remaining seven thousand square meters with his spring tine harrow, so it’s ready to accept our casting of oats later in the month. Almost a hectare of land prepped in the space of twenty four hours; thank you both, especially Steve who worked into the night to get the job done,I can feel a flaszka (bottle of vodka) or two on the way.

Planted onions, garlic and rhubarb; an odd mix perhaps, but it’s what we had and we had some space by the stable to fill. More planting  planned soon. Talking of planting I also managed to rescue about twenty saplings from our bramble clearing expedition last week, which I have given new homes to on the west side of the land, hopefully creating a wind break in the future as they mature; I also slipped in a few willow whips around the barn to see if they take and hopefully support the banking that has started to subside with the recent thaw.

I should also mention that we spent a day in Rzemien at the start of the week and planted up the kitchen garden there with onions, garlic, beetroot, lettuce, radish, carrots, parsley, dill and…….I forget now; it will come back to me when I see it grow 🙂 We also sorted through last years potatoes store and sorted out four sacks for seed, not nearly enough but with these and others from various sources we should be able to put a decent crop down.

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Wood delivered for the terrace, if you didn’t know the house will be encircled by a two and a half meter terrace; providing an additional 100m² of outdoor living space. Having the wood delivered, which was ordered last year, is a big step forward on starting this stage of the build. Stripping off any bark and stacking the wood has taken almost a day to complete, but we did it; another tick box ticked:)

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Electrical installation started, that is the feed from the Electricity company to our own consumer unit; although a little rusty I think I managed ok with getting the cables in place and connected up with the help of Leszek (Gosias brother) Paperwork signed off, now all we have to do is wait for the meter to be installed and the switch can be flicked; albeit only to supply two sockets and a three phase plug at this point.

And finally, although you can be sure I have missed lots out as I’m trying to think back a whole week, I emptied the composting toilet again this morning after our scheduled visits; that’s seven days usage if you discount the days we spent in Rzemien, excellent performance if you ask me and all that water saved!

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Ok, sorry, I said it was the last thing; but I have to mention as I just remembered,  that we cracked open the first humanure pile this week after about 18 months rest and it is now supplying nutrients to some of our recent plantings; I’ll leave you to ask which if you ever visit and you are offered food:)

A little bit of bread but no cheese

It has to be one of the sounds that defines spring for me, but whilst it’s good to finally hear the Yellowhammer perched on the roof of the old derelict house, I know that by the late summer the melody will have worn a little thin! Mind you, you have respect to a bird that inspired the beginning of Beethovens 5th symphony.

So here we are again, back in the land of the potatoes (Pyrowki). Our normal approach was still blocked by snow when we arrived last Wednesday, so we headed down the valley road to our neighbours to park up and climb the hill. Not so bad, unless you have a car full of supplies to relocate, and after the first assent by foot it was decided to test the Nivas four wheel drive credentials. Lots of wheel spinning, mud flying and random steering to keep us on a relatively straight path; we managed to get within about 100 meters of our barn and stable, good enough for me.

Home sweet home
Home sweet home

Our little stable has faired quite well over the winter and after a quick sweep up and dust down it just need a little bit of heat to make it our home from home. So after a quick sweep of the chimney, i.e.  dismantle the chimney into sections take them outside and poke them with a stick whilst shaking them violently, the fire was stoked up and the temperature began to rise.

Get that fire buring
Get that fire buring

The weather was surprisingly good so after a quick inspection of the house we decided to crack on with a few outside jobs; we had started to clear the patch of land beyond the orchard in the Autumn so it seemed like a good idea to continue with the task before spring sent up a new set of brambles. Work is hard going after such an extended break without much physical activity and after three or four hours we headed back to the stable, breaking ourselves in gently so to speak.

Clearing the brambles
Clearing the brambles

That was until we noticed  the small river winding it’s way down our track, it had sprung up during the day as the snow started to melt and was taking the easiest route to the valley; but not only was it taking this route it was also taking our road, depositing it further down flied! And on top of that the recently filled trench that hid our electricity supply cable had collapsed creating a small canyon, the cleared earth finding its way into the well water. Anyone who says that washing your hair in well water turns it green would be mistaken on this occasion as it would definitely be a dirty orange if you used ours. Mind you it tasted ok 🙂 (Joke!)

So armed with a spade I tried to find the source of the rapidly evolving rapid  and quickly dug a trench to divert the flow a couple of hundred meters further up the hill; a job that carried on the next day as we also discovered a small swimming pool in the basement of the new house! The digging of a swale in the top field and drainage around the foundations have made their way up the list of things to do, although I hope this was a bit of a freak event as many hectares of half meter snow melted over a three day period; that’s a hell of a lot of water and not likely to occur again until next year, is it?

Land clearing, wood chopping, house cleaning and visiting friends filled the last four days quickly and a few beers and vodkas snuck in as we were welcomed back; we have been well fed and watered as we did the rounds. The proliferation of eggs, as everyone’s chickens have started to lay again, is apparent in the food that everyone cooks for you; Friday saw a breakfast of scrambled (4 eggs) a lunch of egg mayo sandwiches (2 eggs) a later lunch of a cheese omelette (4, maybe 5 eggs) and finally a supper with an accompanying dish of  stuffed eggs; I only managed 1 🙂

But it’s not all eggs, oh no, we did finally fire up the bread oven on Saturday and along with a Dahl inspired by Food and Forage Hebrides I made some Naan breads. Whilst Gosia was kind and told me how good they tasted I think I need a little more practice with the oven and experiment more with the distribution of fire; although from the results of the weekend I know that I will be able to make a top notch pizza that should cook in under 5 minutes; with the high temperature that is generated on the brick base.

It’s good to be back 🙂

Blogging: real-time education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

nkosChoice

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

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

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

I made a good choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Thaw

Well that was what I thought last Sunday when all the snow disappeared in Rzemien, just the odd bit hanging about where the wind had gathered the dusty flakes into a drift; that and the slush left at the side of the road by the snow ploughs was the only evidence left of the last three or four weeks of brilliant white.

So with the temperature rising and set to stay around the zero mark I thought I would take a trip out to the house and check on things, just to make sure that the big bad wolf hadn’t blown the house down.

The drive there was perfect, tarmac all the way, but as I got closer I couldn’t help but notice the snow topped hills and sure enough as I ascended to the 400m plateau the snow line became apparent. I’d guess at about 300m the road still had traces of ice and the surrounding fields were only partially green. I started to wonder what it would be like as I got closer.

But rather than trying to explain, I thought I’d take some photos 🙂

So as the road disappeared I thought it wise to park up at our neighbours farm and walk the rest of the way. Of course this been Poland I was greeted with the offer of a ‘drink’ which I gracefully declined as I had to drive later in the day (explained with the usual two arms outstretched holding the imaginary steering wheel moving from side to side) Still I was invited to take a tour of the out buildings to be shown the generator that they had recently purchased or possibly even constructed, as it resembled an old diesel truck engine mounted on a welded steel frame and some electrical circuitry protected by a series of porcelain fuses. It was even turned over and run for a few minutes just to show me how it worked, which I gave my approval of with the three or four complimentary words that I have in my extensive polish vocabulary, repeated several times in varying order. All very happy with this I was then told about the borehole they had just had dug (we started a trend in the area) and how the old pump they had was not powerful enough to pump the water beyond 30m and they may have to (god forbid) buy a new one; although thinking about the generator, I’d imagine a new pump could be fashioned from an old tractor and a couple of bits of bailing twine! I have to admire the reluctance of people to throw things away here and always coming up with a solution with what is available.

Heading off on foot it soon became apparent that the snow up here was here to stay, the ice had set into the snow and for most of the walk I was on top of it, only occasionally breaking through the crust; very slippery going for me and the dogs. But we soon made it over the hill and the house came into sight, non the worse for the recent cold weather.

Heading down to the barn and stable there was clear evidence of deer and some worryingly large paw prints, but then I remembered that Kazek had been keeping an eye on the place and the prints belonged to him and his mountain dog; phew! Mind you the deer had had a good feed on our young apple apple trees and another mental note was made to make sure I protect the fresh trees we plant this year. Its odd they don’t eat the quince trees, just as well as they make a good fruit for one of the many liqueurs that we made in the autumn. I also noted that the snow and ice had taken its toll on the weaker of the silver birch, bending and even snapping some of them, so natural selection has selected them for felling when the weather warms up. By the way, for all you avid humanure folowers of the composting toilet diary; I took a quick picture of the pile 🙂 The snow on top probably indicates that the anorobic process has stopped for the winter, although with no recent deposits to feed the pile I’m it’s probably to be expected.

Once I’d checked on everything, started a fire, talked to Gosia on Skype, walked the dogs and had some lunch, it started to snow again, so I decided to hedge my bets and head back home; I had a flight to catch on Monday so I didn’t want to get snowed in in Pyrowki 🙂

Just a quickie

I suddenly realised that I write more about our life in Poland than the straw bale house that we are building, so to bring you up to speed, that’s if you haven’t checked my website, I have added a  new page ‘before the blog‘.which is now up to date; as you may have noticed from some of my more recent posts, the build has slowed down a bit due to the weather 🙂

And whilst I’m on the subject of new pages, take a look at the dogs, an introduction to our four legged friends 🙂

Please throw another snowball
Please throw another snowball

Frozen Baby Wipes!

After such a long break back in Rzemien we had started to go a little crazy, thinking about all the things we should be getting on with back at the house: walls to trim back ready for the electrical cables and fittings, internal walls to build which will then allow us to start on the plumbing, wood to order for the terrace and floor giving it time to season over winter, paperwork to fill in and deliver to ensure we keep the authorities happy and vehicles to check that the antifreeze is good to keep them ice free. So yesterday, with my teaching done for the week and Christmas fast approaching, we thought we better head out and see what we could achieve before we get caught up in the festivities.

Van packed with freshly washed clothes, food for us and the dogs, laptop, camera and beers; the last three my responsibility, we set off determined to stay for at least four or five days and get some work done. Checking the forecast, which predicted snow showers and milder temperatures of –6°c for the coming week, we thought we would be fine as long as we could get to the nearest farm; park the van and walk the remaining km or so and get the Niva out of the barn and then drive back to get the supplies out of the van; a great plan!

The main roads seemed fine, even if the snow was starting to settle a little, the moving traffic was keeping the tarmac visible; so we were able to make progress at a reasonable speed, but as we drove on we did start to wonder what it would be like closer to home. Not that we had to wait long, as three-quarters of an hour on, as we turned off the main E40 and onto the road for Olimpow. A road with no name according to Google maps, which wasn’t far from the truth as we joined the snow covered track! Now any sensible person would have turned back at this stage, but common sense had long since left the vehicle and we crept along in the hope that we might just be able to make the remaining 20 km, including the final hill that takes us to our planned destination. The 20km yes, the hill, no; not a chance, not even half way. So we turned round and headed back to take an alternate, much longer, route. The new route was a little flatter, but not without event; if I told you that Gosia was close to wetting herself on more than one occasion then I’m sure you get the gist of it, but I managed to keep the van on the road and eventually to our neighbours down in the valley; the new idea was to park up there and walk up the hill to the house, get the Niva…….

So as Gosia stopped to chat and catch up on events in the village I headed up the hill in ever deepening snow to retrieve our Russian built 4×4. Worried about the antifreeze situation I quickly checked the radiator and was happy to see liquid in there and not a block of ice, so I fired up and headed out into the virgin snow; perhaps a foot (30cm) deep. Reversing out of the barn and getting up the first hill proved a little difficult, but once I reached our hand-built road, albeit under deep snow, the Niva found a bit of grip and I started to have some fun; even more fun as I reached the top of the hill and the drifts thickened to a couple of feet (60cm) and with no clear definition to the road I ploughed on through fields in the general direction of the nearest farm. I once read that the Niva was built for Siberia, not suburbia, and I couldn’t agree more 🙂

So supplies transferred, we began to asses our situation; temp outside -4, temp inside -2, so I started the fire, reassuring Gosia that I’d warm the place up in no time, that was when I noticed the water boiling pan was frozen solid; not to worry it will melt, then Gosia shouted from the barn ‘the pickled gurkins have frozen in the fridge, and the eggs!’ Umm, it must have been cold (Kazek recored -20)! Of course as we started to check we discovered all sorts of things had not taken to the cold temperatures too well, including 50KG of apples we had in storage, our 5 gallon water containers and the baby wipes we keep in the outside toilet!!

And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Gosia, the frozen baby wipes, and our plans of a five day frozen retreat in Pstrongowa did exactly that and we decided to retreat back to Rzemien.

At least we brought the Niva back with us, so we won’t be hindered by the weather; should we be daft enough to go back again anytime soon 🙂

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Live from Pstrongowa; the Doors

‘Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel’ Gosia said to me as we made our way steadily to Pstrongowa with our new doors on the roof of the van, we have a roof rack; but the door frame was a little bit wider than that, so it literally was on the roof of the van! Nice and easy does it, we eventually made it safe and sound without damage to the doors or the frame or the van. We had looked at many options for our doors, but it has to be said that Polish fashion does not suite our tastes, and even if it did the cost was pretty astronomical for a hardwood door, so in the end we found a carpenter that was happy to make something up to our (Gosias) design. A few tweaks need to be made, but on the whole we are very happy with the end result.

This all happened two weeks ago, the same day the hunt for water started; which eventually ended yesterday (hurray! :)); a long way down delivering about 3,000 litres per hour if required.

Our carpenter arrived the next day and fitted the doors without too much drama, I helped out with a bit of the lifting; but other than that he was finished by midday. Again the use of expanding foam is much loved in Poland, but not quite as much as the window fitters! I have since laid a few bricks to close the gap to the future floor level and as of today, with the use of more expanding foam, we have a house free from gale force winds 🙂 As ever I never take enough photos, or not ones that do justice to the reality that I would like to portray, nonetheless I have added a few below.

 

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!

Is it a bird, is it a plane; no it’s the bloke from the local garage flying his motorsised paraglider!

Aerial pictures of our land and surrounding area

Not many words in this post, in fact I’m so lazy I’m not even going to sort through the photos and pick out the best; mind you I like all the pictures. Kindly donated by our local fuel supplier, I look forward to going for a tandem flight next year and hope to take to the sky myself one day, well I can dream 🙂 All the photos were taken around the 20th of October 2012.