Closed!

Despite the snow that we have experienced over that last 24 hours we are still open for business and any soap orders will be posted as soon as we dig our way out!

But of course this post has nothing to do with business, well ok it has, but a different kind of business, Continue reading “Closed!”

Carnivorous compost

I often write about the many animals that we keep, not only the daily chores and routines that revolve around them, but also the entertainment and companionship that they provide and I’m hoping that we will soon marvel at the wonder of birth when the new goats arrive. Continue reading “Carnivorous compost”

A mild mushroom free May

Its getting busy around here! Just time for a quick update on May before it’s too late and we head into July.

First things first the weather, which despite a slow start, proved to come into it’s own in the latter half of the month and we only lit the boiler once for the heating. I topped up the water on occasion but as a whole the house stays warm and the sun is heating our water, all good. The bees seemed to be absent for the pollination of the fruit trees, but I happy to report then we seem to have an abundance of them now.

The crops went in the ground without any frost trauma from the dreaded Ice Saints. The beans were treated to an extra two wheels and the support structure must look odd to passers-by, that’s if we had any. We scaled back the potato patch as despite our best efforts to eat , feed to the animals and give away, we still have a mountain to go at. And with the extra space we popped in about two hundred pumpkin plants, with the hope of pressing our own oil later this year. We have also sown oats as all creatures great and small seem to like them and we still had our own seed from two years ago. Now that I think about both the potatoes and oats were planted in April, how time flies.

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Another month or so and you wont see the wheels, wires or the posts as they disappear under the Borlotti climbers

Work moved on in the house and the partition walls and ceiling received the plaster board finish with the exception on the hall which I am finishing in reed mat. We even managed to get the first of the shower trays in place, all of the pipes are set for the radiators and I even lime rendered the first room, well the first coat at least. Lets hope we can keep the momentum going!

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A bathroom almost ready for flooring and tiling.

Goats, pigs and chickens all seem to be doing fine and provide endless entertainment for Malina who has mastered the art of chicken catching and goat feeding and pig herding, even if the resulting mess keeps the washing machine busy and results in quite a few pulled faces as the bottom of her boots soil your t-shirt as you provide her transport on your shoulders!

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Note the animals taking cover in the background, Malina is here!

And finally, the composting toilet, it’s a while since I have mentioned it, but it has by no means been neglected. The pile that we closed up in September 2013 was opened up and provided us with compost for the veg garden and the pumpkins, probably close to 1000 litres of top quality humus. Evidence of our wedding remained in the pile as baby wipes had made it into the composting toilet on the day and they don’t compost! Mind you the two hares that ended up in there along with a rat that the dogs killed had all returned to nature, only the occasional bone remained.

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An old photo and now an empty pit, well it was, I have already started to fill it up with animal manure for composting.

For the record we are now emptying four buckets every twelve days, that’s two adults, occasional visitors and a child who I’m sure produces more than anyone else, an unforeseen advantage of reusable nappies is all the extra unadulterated poo for the pile.

Oh, and no mushrooms. I have picked mushrooms every year for three years in May, but this year zilch! The local wisdom is that it’s simply too dry following a mild winter with little snow melt, looks like I’ll have to wait before I have something to accompany my scrambles eggs 🙂

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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That was the month that was

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shice!

Forgive the false advertising, but puppy pictures seem to work on my few Facebook followers 🙂

I have read about it, done the research, even chuckled to myself as I have heard of other peoples accounts of it happing. Joseph Jenkins explains that it happened to him from 1993 to 1997; that’s four years that he knows of whilst he was monitoring!

Even still, the proud feeling from the construction of my poor mans composting thermometer melted away as I checked the core temperature of my humanure pile a couple of weeks ago when I visited the land, I had hit 0°C and I am left with a pile of shice!

Further reading allays my fears and thankfully it’s nothing to worry about, as time goes by it will stop happening altogether, as long as I keep the faith and keep piling on the poo!

Off course I have sprung to action and I sprinkle the pile at every opportunity as and when I visit the land; a valid reason for my copious tea consumption. All I need now is some unadulterated child fec …..now there’s a stroke of luck! Yet another incentive to get the house habitable as soon as possible:)

Talking of child benefits we visited the local national insurance office today (CRUZ) to put in our claim for sleepless nights and nappy changing. Unlike the UK you receive a one off payment and depending on your earnings you may be entitled to a little bit extra and reduced national insurance contributions for the next five years; seems reasonable?

I have to say I was impressed by the officials stance; questioning us, checking our plans, motives and if we were already claiming money from the UK government. They assured us that there is an agreement between the nations and that they would find out if we were the recipients of multiple benefits; I wonder if claimants in the UK are asked similar questions or made aware of the consequences of claiming twice? As it happens I checked up on this and in the UK you are left to make a declaration on the form you have to fill in to claim child benefit; hardly the kind of small print even an English native speaker would bother to read!

I may have mentioned before that I am in the habit of downloading podcasts from Radio 4 to keep me entertained whilst walking the dogs, unfortunately The Archers omnibus only keeps me going for one decent walk and so I have taken to listening to various other broadcasts. One that I favour is More or Less (behind the stats) ‘Tim Harford investigates numbers in the news. Numbers are used in every area of public debate. But are they always reliable? Tim and the More or Less team try to make sense of the statistics which surround us’

One program that struck me more than most was about immigration, the hot topic in the UK that politicians seem to skate around as they don’t know how to separate EU immigration from other immigration for fear of it becoming a racial issue (in my humble opinion) Have a listen here.

The  fact, if you believe what is said in the program, is that EU immigrants have made a net contribution to the British economy since 1995. It is only when you include figures for all immigrants that this figure becomes a negative. An EU immigrant puts in about £6k a year, where as a non EU immigrant takes out about £21k, and as for the UK nationals then we take out about £11k a year. No wonder the country is in so much debt! Well worth a listen if you have the time.

And time is the one thing I have run out of; it’s time to collect some compost 🙂

Just for those who couldn’t see the puppy picture, here it is 🙂

Taking it easy after a feed
Taking it easy after a feed

Going thermophilic

I have started two drafts to try and break the lull in my posting, one is an attempt to provide a round up of events over the last month or so, the second is a brief account of our wedding weekend; but as I reread them I just can’t seem to find the words to finish them, thinking that the subjects within could either do with there own post or indeed need to be posted at all.

Thankfully, having read and commented on a few blogs as I try and catch up, the solution has been provided by Pete of Beetley; I should be catching up with my composting toilet diary, the poor neglected subject that is so close to my heart!

As the proud owner of no less than three composting toilets, yes that’s right, three; I have a certain duty to perform on a regular basis, details of which I have posted on several previous occasions. This weekly event has remained much the same despite the increase in receptacles, I just happen to be emptying more buckets as we have guests and volunteers; that is until the wedding!

Seventy odd guests and only one toilet in action at the time, you may imagine that things got messy and people were off put by the whole idea; but with a last minute printed banner announcing the wooded area to be the G E N T S (thank you Dorrota) a ready supply of saw dust, a upgraded 40 litre container, anti bacterial hand gel and a bunch of flowers in a vase; well I don’t think anybody noticed the rudimentary facilities. Of course as the master of more than one ceremony that day the duty of emptying was most definitely mine, but I was pleasantly surprised that I only had to carry out the procedure three times’; a simple affair with the aid of the mini tractor and with the queue burgeoning to no more than four people whilst they waited for me to refresh the outhouse, I was able to keep all the wee in one place . And for those of you who may think the tractor was a bit over the top, believe me 40 litres of wee logged sawdust is heavy!

So what has any of this got to do with going thermophilic? In fact what is thermophilic? Thermophilic is the stage that a humanure pile or indeed a compost pile goes through as it’s temperature rises above 44°C (111 °F in old money) The microorganisms get very active and can raise the temperature as high as 70°C (158 °F), although such high temperatures happen very rarely according to the Humanure Handbook. This is when the pile kills off all the nasty things that may linger in the pile from your pile, although if you are a relatively healthy person it probably has less things to kill. The higher the temperature the quicker it kills pathogenic microorganisms, viruses and bacteria. Some sources say that 30 minutes at temperatures between 55 and 60°C will kill anything bad within the hour.

So when I discovered, with my newly acquired soil thermometer, that my compost had reached a temperature of 57°C following the addition of a wedding parties converted alcohol and soft drinks, not to mention the food scraps and other so called waste products; I knew at long last that I had gone thermophilic 🙂 Of course I may well have reached this stage many times before, but not having a handy thermometer to hand I never knew; even if I was aware of the steam rising as I pulled back the cover material and watched the heat rise as I made the latest deposit.

As you can imagine all this extra material to hand filled the pile pretty quickly and I closed off my trusty heap for the winter, hastily building another one closer to the house and the newly constructed outside toilet; I also refit the smaller capacity bucket again, getting the tractor out to empty the toilet is a little dramatic 🙂

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An old photo, this pile is now full to the brim and closed off with straw bales at the front; left to cool and mature for a year before adding to the soil to grow…well who knows, I’ll let you know next year.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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

Early May

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

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

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

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

Wild plumSweet cherry treeBlossom across the valley

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

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

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

LilacHorse radish in flower

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

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

Zara

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

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

New render around windows
New render around windows

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

Spider dog

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

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

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

Completing the cycle

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

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

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

Humanure
High quailty organic nutriants: Humanure

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 date for the diary

The composting toilet diary that is.

Before I forget, as is so easy to do, I emptied the toilet of do, so it’s done; Wednesday the 10th of April.

I know it’s a much loved feature of my blog so I wouldn’t want my record keeping to slip.

And just in case you’re wondering, as I know some of you are, you can leave the contents in the collection bucket for quite a long time; up to six months should be ok. Although why would you want to go away for so long?

Knowing that we have a few volunteers heading our way over the summer I think I may have to build an additional privy, something with better aesthetics, a refined design, a waterproof roof and with a door that locks, never mind closes!

I may even blog about the construction, but it’s going to double my workload having to keep two diaries 🙂

That was the week that was

I have now settled at my winter weight of around 85Kg, helped by generous portions of delicious food and copious amounts of alcohol; well maybe not copious; but more than enough! I no longer need to wear a belt when wearing several pairs of trousers (not all at once) and when I do it looks like the next option is a new belt or a hole punch:)

Mind, it doesn’t surprise me as the only exercise I’ve had lately is walking the dogs down to the forest to keep an eye of the latest beaver activity.  The beavers are having a great battle with the locals, after there first dam was broken up they decided to fell a tree across the track; I have an image of the beaver resistance fighters ready to take the last chunk out of the tree as the vehicle approaches 🙂 This happened about 10 days ago and I’ve followed the progress, as the farmer has moved the tree and cut it into manageable lengths; no doubt to pick up and use as firewood in the future; the beavers had an other idea and dragged the new, handy sized, pieces to use on the rebuilding of the dam; stripping the bark for food in the process.

We did manage a couple of days back at the ranch, checking everything was ok and clearing a patch of land of brambles; warm work even with the temperature close to zero. But yet again as the night time temperature inched towards -8°c it became uncomfortable to stay for two long and we retreated back to heating central.

And if you happen to be wondering how the humanure pile is handling the cold weather; well it seems to be ok, despite not making any deposits for quite a while the pile has reduced in size, with a noticeable indent in the middle, so I’m confidant that the little microbes are still working hard to break down those nasty pathogens; either that or rats have moved in and are eating their way through it!

One of our biggest problems is water whilst we wait for the new borehole pump to be fitted. Our 1000 Litre tanks that capture water from various roofs are either frozen solid or empty to prevent them from freezing solid. We did have a contingency plan of four 25 litre containers, but these soon froze solid, even in the stable, and it amazes me how long it takes for them to thaw out, even when we have the wood burner going. I can now understand how the old ice houses used to work with a big block of ice, it’s a very slow melt.

We do have the old well, but this has all but dried up in the worst drought since records began and we are lucky to get a couple of litres in the bucket as a time, good for a brew, not for a bath!

So back to the cake capital of Poland (Rzemien) more food, more drink, more visiting friends back for the season after working away across Europe; all of us calendar watching for the return to work, some on a tighter schedule than others.

It’s an easy life whilst you have some money saved, but we have started to consider looking for work as the cold prevents us from doing much on the house; it would be a better way to spend our time, rather than watching money trickle away as we laze about. Holland looks good at this time of year, lots of plants need propagating and potting  for the garden centres back in the UK.

But that’s enough talk about having to work for a living, we’ve much more important jobs to do, like baking a beetroot chocolate cake, recipe to follow 🙂

Pile on the pile

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

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

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

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

Naay watther

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

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

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

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

How could I forget?

How to save water and the world

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

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

The romance is dead

As I stoked up the fire this morning to get the stable above 10 degrees and opted for bottled water in the kettle instead of heading outside to the well, I remembered that I should have emptied the toilet yesterday. As you know I’m normally quite enthusiastic about the task, happy to share the event with you all, telling you how it can change the world, save the planet and bring world peace. But this morning, with temperatures outside hovering around 0 and a light snow backed by 15-20 km winds I’m longing for an indoor flushing toilet!

Of course by my second cup of tea the inevitable moment is getting closer, although I have considered waiting until later this afternoon when we visit friends with modern facilities, I can’t stop thinking of the old saying’ why do today what you can put off until tomorrow’; but I’ve already done that once!

Not to worry, hat on, head down and lets get on with it; less that five minutes later and the task is completed along with the emptying of the two household composting buckets. It’s worth mentioning that this is an essential part of the whole process. You must compost your humanure along with your other compost items; veg trimmings and the like, its all needed to make the process work. You can add pretty much anything to the pile that has an organic origin; just make sure you make a recess in the pile, add your ‘whatever’ and cover it back up again. The heat haze above the pile was noticeable this morning, so I know that things are happening as they should; I even stopped and warmed my hands a little 🙂