Tales from the village #2

Its a long time since the first tale, but after hearing this one I thought it deserved a post.

But first of all apologies for anyone who received multiple notifications of my last post We are not vegetarians or indeed didn’t receive a notification or did and then couldn’t find the post, technology, time zones and schedules got the better of me.

So back to the tale, from our neighbours who have the diary farm, and as such they grow there own crops for animal feed, one of which is potatoes. Now the thing with potatoes is that the wild bore like to eat them and if they find your field they can do some serious crop damage in one night, so it’s common for the spud fields to be surrounded by an electric fence.

As the farmer employs a crop rotation system, this year the potatoes are in the field adjacent to his barn separated only by the road, but as  a canny farmer he had put a drain pipe under the road when it was tarmacked about four years ago, meaning that he could power the electric fence via mains power, if only he could get the cable through the pipe.

Long sticks, compressed air, bits of stiff wire, he tried everything but couldn’t get the cable through, but then he had a light bulb moment and grabbed one of his three cats. As you can imagine there was quite a bit of fur flying as the tied the cable to the cats tail and it was only Bandziorek (the third cat) that tolerated, or perhaps understood, the plan and happily scuttled down the pipe with cable in tow.

I haven’t tested the fence but I’m assured it working, plugged into the mains!

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We are not vegetarians

But we do care for animals, so when we arrived at the farm to view the świnia złotnicka that we had found via an advert on tablica.pl we were a little shocked at the conditions that the animals were kept in.

I guess we were a little naive to expect anything else, but after talking to the farmer a couple of times on the phone to check various details we had expected something a little different.

The search for a traditional Polish breed had taken a while and we had expected to have to travel over 200Km to find some that fit the standard, but then eagle eyed Gosia spotted a photo of the desired spotted pigs on the website and we made the call to discuss purchase. We were assured that they were in fact świnia złotnicka and that they were kept on grass. This turned out to mean that the sow was a świnia złotnicka and that they cut grass and included it in their diet fed in a wheel barrow. Buyer beware!

Still we were here and the thought of a 400Km round trip didn’t appeal, plus we had the opportunity to liberate a couple of piglets and so grabbing them by the hind legs I popped a couple into the back of the van.

That was three weeks ago, time which has not been without incident. Initially you think that the electric fence that you put together is sufficient to hold the timid little souls, well it is until they get a bit of confidence and realise that the shock is only a temporary thing and if you are moving fast enough you hardly even notice it! Still no harm done and there is the outer perimeter fence that I put up for the goats to keep them in, the electric fence was simply there to divide the paddock. Um well lets just say that the standing joke now is that I have spent two days putting in fencing that it has taken two days for the pigs to work out away around, or should that be through! Thankfully they respond to my voice and the promise of food, so despite having free range pigs as well as hens I can get them all back in there respective areas with a shout and a rattle of a bucket, the latter more effective.

I know the standard advice is not to name anything you intend on eating,  and my bucket call remains ‘c’mon pigs’, but as our lunchtime viewing is often Postman Pat, Masha and the Bear or Peppa Pig it was inevitable that we had to bring Pinky and Perky up to date, and so Peppa and George it is.

Peppa took a turn for the worse on Wednesday, fading fast into Thursday with a high temperature, no interest in food and buried in the straw of the arc (ark?). Friday morning and she was still no better and all the reading I had done indicated something that would end in death unless caught in time and treated with antibiotics, so we called the vet.

Arriving an hour and a half later he immediately administered three injections and then by our request. although against our organic principles, a worming shot. He even left a shot for George as we couldn’t catch him at the time. 70 Pln, yes that’s about £12.50 or just shy of $18 for a call out and injections. A very small price to pay in the hope that she might pull through. His diagnosis was as vague as mine and he left saying that the next 24 hours would settle her fate.

Two hours later and she was running around like a mad thing, eating drinking, ploughing the field, smiles all round. I guessed one of the shots must have been steroids as later that evening she was back in the same state, although the panting had eased. Expecting the worse the next day we found them both happy in with the chickens (two fences away) and so again our hopes were raised that all was well, but then as the day wore on the same thing. Which brings us to today, and as we set off to serve breakfast to our long and short term guests we discussed the possibility of finding a dead porker.

I headed to the barn to get the various mixes ready for the guests with special dietary needs as I heard Gosia exclaim something that I won’t even type in Polish.

Needless to say that she had opened the back door of the stable to let the chickens out into the run only to discover that someone had come in with a rotavator over night, or should I say two happy brown snouted pigs greeted her with grunts of glee 🙂

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Talking of vegetarians, I stumbled upon Rabbit Food the other day whilst searching for goats! I think Corrie Louise may well fill the food blog gap that Food and Forage Hebrides left, well worth a look.

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!

Room for two more? it’s just a couple of kids!

Gosia and I often talk of livestock; what to get and more importantly when to get it and with spring sprung the choice of young stock is at it’s height. We had some success with lambs a few years ago, but then we put things on hold as we put our energy into the house and of course Malina! Now we have the chickens and following the progress across at Farma Sadlowo we decided it was time to take the plunge. We have considered a cow for a couple of years, heading towards the Dexter as a more manageable breed with its diminutive size, but a cow is a massive investment and unless you have something to do with all the milk can they be a waste of valuable time and resources, and so, like Terry and Marta we opted for a couple of goats.

As heard animals you are advised to always get at least two, and as the future plan is to milk them it seemed like two young does would be the answer. We decided on young goats so that we can train and tame them to make life easier for us in the future. We will also be free of the milking task until next year, given us the much needed time to finish the house and open up for business. Well at least that’s the plan!

Checking the internet for likely orphans we soon discovered a spot selling goats along with lambs at a very good rate and a decision was quickly made to buy two of each, but not quick enough as the offer had expired by the time we made the phone call. Still we went for option two and managed to pick up two three month old kids for a knock down price. Both very similar to look at but from different mothers, which could work in out favour in the future if we start to breed (the goats that is, our breeding days are over!)

I had already taken the hammer, saw and cordless drill down to the stable and after explaining to the chickens what was going on they agreed to give up a section of the holiday let to some new guests. Six pallets, a set of hinges and an old Snickers (Marathon to me) display tray to catch any stray hay and we were in business to take in the new residents. A short drive, two dog leads and five bales of straw in the van and we shuck hands on the deal.

You may recall that the hens had already outgrown there purpose built enclosure so I was glad to give it a new purpose, and after the second day we let the little ladies out to take on the grass that the hens had refused or failed to eat.

And there you have it, two more mouths to feed, but they fit in well with the morning and evening ritual, enjoying extra treats of willow branches cut from any tree I happen to pass on the journey and a handful of oats first and last thing to help to make friends. They already come running when they hear my voice and Gosia and Malina have also bonded with buckets of fresh picked grass.

Goat update.

It’s almost two weeks since we picked up the goats, from this day forward to be known as Sunday and Monday. It should have been Sandy and Mandy, but I misheard Gosia (no she doesn’t have a cockney accent) and by the time she noticed that I had given them different names it was too late. Despite that I thought it would make naming the next five easier and who knows it could be the birth of the ‘Happy Days Milking Company’! Gosia didn’t get it either.

Anyhow, the update is to report that they too have outgrown the holding pen and after a weeks work, forty three posts, one hundred and thirty five meters of wire fencing and an additional gate, I released them onto the bottom pasture. Lots of lovely spring grass and weeds, wild raspberry canes, sloe and hazel trees poking through or overhanging the fence. A goats paradise? Apparently not as they found a gap in my yet to be fixed gate and headed off on a mission for some clumps of grass they spotted on an earlier bid for freedom. Thankfully a willow branch laden with fresh leaves and a ‘come on girls’ and they were back in the fold. Sometimes I wonder if these animals appreciate the work I put in for them!

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103 not out, despite a strong challenge by Barbara

The chickens seem to be settling in well now, it’s over a month since we got them and laying patterns are becoming more predictable and miss formed eggs, caused by stress, seem to be a thing of the past. We have also given them free range of the land and the enclosure I built to protect against foxes has little purpose. We were rewarded with 103 eggs for the first thirty days of board and lodging provided. In addition Kazek, our neighbour in the valley, added a mothering hen with three chicks to bring our guest list up to twenty-three, although this dropped to twenty-two as one of the chicks didn’t make it through the first night. Still this wasn’t enough to satisfy our egg appetite and we had to ship in an extra thirty-five eggs from my mother-in-law to fill a gap when production was at a low ebb. No surprise then that we are now sitting on a surplus of seventeen eggs as production has levelled off at five or six a day.

If you look out of the window most days at around five o’clock you will see a tumble of fur as Zara and Dennis play fight with Barbara, a neighbours dog, who is enjoying his freedom from the chain that holds him for most of his day. Forgive the names but as our Dennis is a bitch it seemed only right the neighbours dog to be given a feminine name, so he was christened Barbara.

Bite, snarl, jump, chase and run, all the time looking for an exposed leg, or tail, or neck, or.. Great fun to watch and despite our dogs enjoying total freedom of the surrounding land,  and joining me on two walks a day, they seem to have endless energy available to them. The fun often goes on for an hour or so before Barbara hightails it back home, Zara and Dennis often in pursuit, not returning until later in the evening. We consider the money spent on vets bills well spent as chastity is not strong in the canine world!

By now you can probably guess where I’m going with this story and at around five o’clock on Monday afternoon (last week), whilst enjoying some homemade pasta with our dwindling supply of tomato sauce from last year, the phone rang.

Kazek had heard a commotion from our chickens and had spotted one in a tree! No sooner had the translation reached me then I was hot footing it down the track to the stable, Jackie sprinting ahead sensing that a chase was on. I’m not sure what the record is for a 300 meter sprint in poor mans Crocs (£3 at Lidl)  is, but I must have been close; just in time to see the back end of Barbara scampering away with Jackie in hot pursuit.

An Indian head dress, a pillow, what do you do with that many feathers? One of the girls must be dead? Well not the mothering hen, she’s perched at the top of a tree, looking down at the electricity pole below her, how the hell! Skirting around the area and beating the drum of the feed bucket chickens start to appear, I count to 21. If we only lost one then we were lucky I tell myself as I coral them into the safety of the fenced area.

It was a slow journey to let the chickens out the next morning, sad that we could no longer let them roam free and that we had lost one in learning our lesson. Then, as I neared the old stable I noticed a lone hen, nestled in a pile of dead grass that we had raked up the day before whilst clearing land. No losses after all, although inspecting the chickens more closely I worked out where most of the feathers had come from!

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How do you fit eighteen into a double bed?

Of course I could go with the original title ‘chicken week’ but then it’s more than two weeks since we got our first batch of chickens and it may be another week before I publish this post and as it stands you may still be intrigued as to why I chose the title I did, despite the clue.

As our belt tightening increases as the excess fat we had falls away on showers, tiles, flooring, stairs and other such fancy things, we decided it was time to commit some time to generating some more of our own food. And with our appetite for eggs outstripping the mother in-laws supply, chickens seemed like the obvious choice. Low cost and low maintenance, once the setup is done, perfect if I am to finish the upstairs in the house this year!

We did experience some really good weather in the middle of March and this spurred me on to fencing an area off for the flock, eager to keep the cost down I used some of the willow I had recently felled for the posts. I’m secretly hoping that they may take root and not rot, fingers crossed of that one. All in all, using the barn as one of the enclosing walls, I managed to create an area of about 200 square meters for them to free range in. I may extend this in future but it seemed like a good area to start with and it used up a 50m roll of wire fence that we picked up cheep!

The old stable, our home for three summers, was the obvious choice for chicken house as we know that it is rat proof, fairly well insulated and provides plenty of space.

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A quick read through a couple of books, plus a scan on the interweb and I concocted a plan for the perch and nesting area. The perch is made up using the willow that seems to be strewn across the land at the moment and is attached to the wall with a handy hinge so that it can be lifted and secured when I do the muck out. Thank you http://www.raising-chickens.org the idea.

As for the nesting boxes, well that’s when the old head and foot board came into play and our double bed was cut up to create eight nesting boxes. By rights you need one box for every four chickens so that’s accommodation for thirty two sorted out, but as the title suggests we ended up with eighteen chucks.

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It could well have turned out differently as we met the man with the chicken van outside the local church to make our purchase, astute as he was, spotting my English accent, he began to pass startled chickens out of his aromatic van counting out the ten layers (ex battery hybrids) and five 3 month old pullets (mixed breed) that we requested. He then added four more layers and five more pullets, mumbling something that Gosia understood to be ‘these ones are on the house’ alas when it came to paying he expected payment for all! Imagine his surprise when Gosia announced that we didn’t have the money for the extras, and so he proceeded to taka back the extras that we couldn’t afford declaring that he didn’t believe that an Englishman didn’t have any money! Still we ended up with three extra at a reduced price and we are now the happy feeders and collectors of ten layers and eight pullets.

By sheer coincidence, as the deal was going down, a police car pulled up and parked within 20 meters of this shady avian exchange and as we set off back on the road we were hailed and waved to a stop. Perhaps there is a law against the trading of chickens within sight of a church? We had seen some curtains twitching when we first arrived and news travels faster the village than by satellite.

As it happens there was a wide load coming through the village (a temporary shop by all accounts) and the police were directing traffic to take an alternate route, so our slate remains clean in the eyes of the law and God, I think!

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Dorrota and Steve, our friends from across the valley,  have built up quite a flock themselves over the last year or two were kind enough to donate a cock and lots of out of date bread to supplement our chickens diet. The bread needs to be dried first and then soaked as required before adding to the grain mix that we have a plentiful supply of. Having under floor heating helps with the drying process!

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So as March ended we reached a twelve day tally of thirty-nine eggs, just about enough to keep me eating the diet I have become accustomed to, although in April we had to ask Gosias mum for an egg injection to get us over the Easter period and the additional salads and cakes that are an expected part of the celebrations in Poland. Still we are averaging about four eggs a day, not bad considering the cold and snowy weather we are having at the moment, roll on this week as the temperatures are supposed to rise. The outside jobs are mounting up and we need more eggs to keep me going 🙂

Where does the time go?

I have started to write a post three times in the last month, each time editing the previous version to make sure the date references were correct and that it still all made sense. I almost got to the point of adding some photos at one stage, so close to hitting the publish button, but it never happened.

Time just seems to fly by and it’s only because the van refused to start this morning (Sunday) that I’m at the keyboard trying again to catch up on events of the past month or so since I last posted. I may even get a chance to read a few of the post of the blogs that I follow!

The big news of course was Malinas first birthday which we celebrated, as agreed, on the condition that she had started to walk! Lucky for her that I wasn’t more specific about the definition of walking and I was willing to accept her ten step efforts. Three weeks later and she is almost ready to go to the shops, unfortunately she hasn’t master orienteering yet and it’s not a straight road to the store, but she is now more than capable of making her way around the house and has discovered new ways to keep Gosia and I running around after her.

As you might expect we had a number of guests for her birthday; friends, grand parents, aunties, uncles, cousins and of course their children, many of whom remembered the house from our wedding in August 2013. There must have been a feeling of familiarity for some of them as they had to walk the last half mile of so to the house. On our wedding day it was because the coach could get no closer on the dirt track road, this time the road was impassable by car as the snow and ice had yet to recede. We had only just managed to dig the Niva free two days earlier after it became stuck for the second time on the top road. Just as well as it was called into service as a taxi for the less agile of the guests.

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I must send an email to Guinness to see if there is a record on how many ‘middle aged’ Poles you can fit into a Lada Niva?

As with the wedding the kids had a great time, space to run around and a mini tractor and trailer to get towed around in, with the chance to get to drive if the owner thought your legs were long enough to reach the pedals! Not to mention cake, lots of cake.

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The occasion was also a great test for the Winkoloo, having only had a two bum testing period to date is was good to have it put through it’s paces by almost 20 guests. I’m sure you know from experience most visits as a guest are of the prime number and so it wasn’t necessary to bring a second bucket into play, although I did have the luxury of several on standby, just in case!

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Checking back on my calendar it looks as though the weather started to get considerably better around valentines day and on the day of the party (15th Feb) we had our first passive day, in that the sun was strong enough to keep the water hot and the house warm. No doubt aided by the extra people in the house, but none the less it was good not to have to fire up the boiler. By some strange coincidence the same happened today, returning after a day out we found a tank of 60 degree water and a house settled in around 18, warm enough not to put the heating on this evening.

Mind you it’s just as well that the boiler isn’t requiring as much attention at the moment as our wood supply has gone down considerably. So much so that I have spent a couple of weeks thinning out our woodland to collect firewood for next winter. Cutting down the willow has been the main job, but we were also left with a few pine, beech and alder by the gas board, who felled any trees that ran too close to their underground line. They have the right to do this without question, as do the electricity board if they get to close to the overhead cables, but it worked in our favour as it saved me a job and cleared some trees that I would otherwise have to get permission to cut down. The only real problem I’m left with is getting to them as they are inaccessible by tractor and trailer, but rumour has it that my father-in-law is building me a pulley to connect to the PTO of the tractor, I can’t wait.

I’m hoping that the willow we have cut will coppice and I have planted a few whips from the felled trees in the hope that they will take. We are also using a number of the straighter willows as posts for the chicken run which I hope to have finished by the end of the month, several young pullets are relying on me for a new home, so I’ll be on the case this week.

Work has continued of the house as you may expect and I have made some progress on a cowl for the cooker hobs, I’ll report back on this once it’s complete.

I should also mention that I started off the chilli and tomato seeds on March the 1st, we opted for a couple of cherry varieties of tomatoes as they seem to be more resilient against the blight that we seem to suffer from later in the season. As for the chilli’s, we planted seed that we collected from last years haul,  Padron, Lemon drop, Hungarian hot wax, Scotch bonnet, Prairie fire and Jalapeno. The latter in great quantity as the pickled variety have become a popular condiment of our extended family, we are down to single digits of jars remaining from the fifty plus that Gosia cooked up. Of course the knowledgeable gardeners out there will say that the chilli’s are too late and the tomatoes too early, but the mood took me and nature will sort out my mess. I can report that the tomatoes have already started to germinate.

A quick mention of last years crop, if only because the drafts in my head had a post title ‘Pumpkins last stand’, we finally harvested the last sixteen pumpkins from the pivnica (root cellar) as they started to show signs of rot. Not bad, as we picked them in October, and I can report that the pumpkins that we left on the stalk lasted far longer. As seeds are the most valuable crop to us in the absence of any livestock to feed the pulp to, I can report that we managed to get about 100g per pumpkin. We also have a LOTS of pumpkin soup in the freezer and ate pumpkin fritters for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a good few days. This years target is two hundred plus pumpkins so that we might try and produce our own oil. very healthy.

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We also used the last of the cabbage, although we have plenty of sauerkraut to go at, and the pile of potatoes is still a big pile of potatoes, despite our best effort to give them away as presents to passing strangers!

It’s Monday now and I can see this post dragging on (even more) if I allow it to so I’ll sign off with two links that may be of interest. The first is to spread the fame of young Malina as she was honoured by Ladysighs: https://ladysighs.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/bench-series-march/

The second is a shout out for anyone who would like to volunteer with the build of a Straw Bale house in France. Paul who helped out on our build is embarking on his own adventure http://planetstrawbale.ning.com/events/straw-bale-house-build-in-france If you have any trouble with the link then contact me direct and I’ll pass on Pauls details to you.

One final thought to put your minds at rest, we counted the guests in and out of the party as well as checked everyone’s necks for puncture marks and all was well. The picture is a result of a bilberry pie, or so the story goes!

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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.

Potatoes and eggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

And for the vampire lovers out there:

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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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Burning down the house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Eight buckets!

No Gold rings, partridges or turtle doves, and whilst the maids a milking may have brought them I was only left with the eight buckets, that’s what my true love got me for Christmas! With a capacity of 20 Litres, standing 33 cm tall and 33cm in diameter, not to mention the snap close, air tight lids and sturdy carrying handles. What more could I possibly want?

The white plastic looks almost food grade and it is polished to a high sheen which is soft and smooth to the touch, it wasn’t long before I had put the first one into service, confidant that it will serve it’s purpose well and will be in service for many years to come.

Having multiple buckets brings many advantages, but most of all I’m looking forward to the balance they provide, although it’s only my theory that two buckets are easier to carry than one? It’s also true to say that I will be able to set my own schedule, no longer a slave to a single buckets capacity, with the added luxury of multiple buckets (with lids) I may be able to wait out even the most inclement weather for the right moment to venture out.

I can’t speak for each individual bucket, but I am confidant that collectively they would save our family over £1500 over ten years in water charges, if we were connected to the mains. And that figure is assuming no increase in the price of water, which is very unlikely, not bad for a £20 investment.

I suppose the only downside to the gift is the work ahead to fulfil the promise that I made once I had the buckets in my possession, but I’m secretly looking forward to the challenge, even if some of my design ideas never passed Gosias scrutiny and exacting standards.

So what are the buckets for?

The composting toilets of course!

Although I don’t like to bore people with humanure facts, I’d like to share the startling calcualation that it takes between 1,000 and 2,000 tonnes of water to deal with 1 tonne of crap in it’s various stages before its released back into the wild. Just because you forget about it after you flush it down the loo doesn’t mean it’s journey devouring resources has finished. So consider this, with a population of only 6 billion there isn’t enough fresh water in the world for everyone to have a flushing toilet, never mind the 8-10 billion we are heading towards by 2050.

Anyhow, must go, nature calls. Smile Happy New Year!!

P.S. I noticed that someone viewed an old post regarding the frequency of emptying the toilet, information that is considerably out of date now. So for the record and to provide some clarity, a family of three (yes Malina is contributing) I am changing the bucket every four or five days. With the added buckets I expect to empty two buckets every week or so and I’m less likely to have to stand up to have a shit!

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Merry Christmas

First of all, thank you to those of you who have sent me messages to make sure we are all ok and offered words of support. We are all very well thank you. We moved into the house on the 30th of November and with a bit of self motivation I hope to start blogging again soon.

But first, as is tradition at this time of year, I would like to present you with a few pictures of Malina, after all Christmas is for children and sharing happiness with friends and family, so forgive the blatant exploitation of a happy child to spread that joy around a little.

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Hope to bring you more soon.

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.