A morning walk

More pictures than words for a change, you will be pleased to know!

The pictures are from a couple of weeks ago when we experienced a spell of exceptionally good weather for the time of year. A change in schedule and tasks for the morning sent me on a route down to the stable, barn and beyond the orchard. There are no real paths, I make it up as I go along, often guided by the dogs and where they want to go next and this is where they took me.

Click on the pics if you want a better view.

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After dropping a fresh bucket of water off to the goats we walk through the orchard and look back at the barn. The patch on the left was cleared by the pigs last year and I have just planted 120 raspberry plants. Recently chopped branches sit on the blue tarpaulin to dry out a bit and also to stop them becoming overgrown and entangled with grass.

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Jackie leads the way down the small wooded valley about a 1/4 mile away, we drop down and back up the other side. Dennis takes a breather!

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Looking back its quite a climb and turning around we have quite a bit ahead, towards the rising sun.

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Reaching a farmers track we have the option to head back towards the house, but instead we carry on away to the right and look down into the village below.

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We walk on for a mile or so, over barren fields, when the sky is this clear you just know its going to be a good day.

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As we reach the old council road the dogs decide it’s time to head home, or at least look to me for guidance. Zara decides to join us after looking for pheasants, or chasing deer.

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We reach the ridge line and look back the way we have just walked and then turn towards to house, not long now before i get my brew 🙂

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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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.

‘C’mon Jack’

From the house I walk down towards the barn, only 250m or so on a slight decline, but on the way back up it can be a challenge; especially after a long day or on the third trip to retrieve something you have forgotten from the barn! I can’t help but notice all the sprouting trunks of the saplings of willow and silver birch coming up after the cull to prepare for the run of the electricity cable last year; amazing resilience.

Jackie runs ahead as ever, checking for danger, things to find, things to chase, things to bark at. She has many different barks, much the same as a baby has specific cries to indicate various needs. On this occasion she goes into the throaty bark that tells me someone or something is on our land and I will be needed to give assistance or guidance as to what she should do next. As it happens it’s an overhead gaggle of geese honking their arrival; Jackie has a specific dislike for overhead threats to the point that she will chase Para-gliders and occasional low flying planes. I assure her that everything is ok and we walk on.

Past the barn and various patches of freshly turned and composted land for this years harvest; the every expanding strawberry beds, raised beds for salads and the like, another patch ready and rotovated for the tomatoes and chillies, a second ready for beans and peas, occasional perennials are dotted around the place as are black currents, red currents, gooseberries, raspberries and after a three year wait goji berries and Russian honeysuckle. I also notice that the rhubarb has decided to come out to play and is spreading well beyond its brick and stone boundary which was set around last years growth to protect it from the dreaded strimmer.

The relatively mild winter has left us with many herbs already in full growth, chives, borage, parsley, oregano, sage, and even coriander amongst the other surprise survivor, some spinach. This works well for me as I have a pre-made curry back at the house and I immediately decide on a sag aloo accompaniment, so handfuls of spinach and coriander are stuffed in my pockets.

Walking through the orchard I can’t help but notice the wild plumb tree in bloom already and it is the play ground for a mass of pollinators, bumble bees aplenty and the noise would be enough to drown out a phone call, I make a mental note to check on the date of last years flowering for comparison.

Everything seems to be doing well, although we have had to say goodbye to one of the old plum trees after three years of waiting for it to recover from a covering of the wild vine that dominated most of the orchard when we first bought the land. It also seemed to have a disease of some sort so we decide it was best cleared, to create more light for the surrounding trees and provide us with some nice wood for smoking in the future. I pass by the vivid coloured stump that remains, maybe I can find someone with a lath and skill to make something from the wood, it has a real beauty about it.

I take a detour into the neighbours’ field to investigate what they were cutting down with the chainsaw last week; nothing much, just some overgrown blackthorn, nothing that will impact too much on my sloe harvest later in the year.

Beyond the wooded area and into a clearing bordered by some agricultural land; it’s a small family plot surrounded by a crude but functional wires mesh fence, protection against wild boar and deer, but not Jackie as she finds a gap and tears across the forbidden field.

I cut back into a second wooded area and notice the recent logging that has taken place, felled beech and birch litter the ground with piles of brush piled neatly around the earth border of the land. I worry about the way the trees are felled in the area sometimes, a small valley on my right was recently cleared of many large trees and I fear that the structure of the soil will suffer and the valley walls collapse and then expand, with the loss of roots to bind things together. We walk on.

Out of the woods and into the open fields long since used for crops, either the farmers are too old or the land not productive enough to reap a harvest, although they will be rewarded by the EU in the form of a grant for giving the land up to nature, not much, but enough for it to be an option. It’s hard to make money farming around here as the land is poor as are the people, so a grant to stop you breaking your back for a pittance is a good option.

I often reflect upon the life that we are now leading, dog walking provides you with the time to do so, and I have to say the thoughts are mostly positive. I certainly don’t miss my old way of life, it may well have had more privileges, but it’s problems and stresses were bigger and without true reward, now I am rewarded every day by the simplest of things if only because I have the time to appreciate them. Of course we still have plenty to do and our future survival in the modern world is very much based on the throw away comment that ‘everything will be alright’, but I do firmly believe that if you think that then it will be. Hardly a convincing business plan, but then I hope we never have to borrow any money 🙂

Jackie finds the scent of a cat; nose to the ground with little use of her sight to provide direction, she is driven by smell alone. Left, right and the occasional look up to see if her prey is near; a spring into the air, spinning 180 degrees as she does so as she tries to spot her victim which must be close by. Another jump, then another, her ears remaining in the air a split second longer than her body giving the impression of flapping wings, the cat bolts deciding it’s a good time to visit the old oak tree only twenty meters away. As cats go this one is fast, although true to form Jackie never quite catches it, where’s the fun in that? Much better to chase than to catch, after all cats have claws and dogs have paws, natures pure design 🙂

‘C’mon Jack, back home’

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A brief update in words and pictures; no sound!

Time is certainly flying by at the moment, I can’t believe it’s so long since I posted last and as ever I feel that I need to provide an update, for myself and anyone else who happens to be reading.

Malina is growing fast and I have to say I’m happy that all her clothes have either come from friends or relatives, as hand-me-downs and gifts, not forgetting to mention the hand crocheted hats and toys that Gosia has crafted. I doubt that my Yorkshire blood would have coped with the expense of buying new for such a short period of use. I’m also happy to report that the reusable nappies that we purchased, all twenty-four of them, are working out very well and the washing machine is only put to the test every second day. It’s good to know that we are not adding to the smell of burning nappies in the air as you walk past some houses in the village nor adding to a future landfill problem. Even the washing liquid is environmentally friendly!

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Look Gosia crocheted a baby!

The pups are also making good progress and we have started the weaning process. Unfortunately nature has left us with only four pups from the original seven, but the ones that remain are fighting fit and willing to take on anything that moves; chickens, cats, bicycles! Timmy, the smallest of the pack, even made a bid for freedom last night and was only found after a two man search with torches at 11 O’clock!

Escape artist Timmy
Escape artist Timmy
Please Zara, can we have some more?
Please Zara, can we have some more?

Indoor sowing of plants continues with tomatoes, peppers, some more chilli’s, celeriac, masses of basil and a whole host of salad greens. Outside sets of onions, spring onion seeds, radish and some broad beans have made there way into the raised beds. We even had the top field spread with some of natures finest bovine NPK mix, all we have to do now is decide on our final planting for the summer. The rye that we sowed in the autumn has done well so far so we are likely to grow the crop on rather than turn it over as a green manure.

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Natures finest
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Two sections of the field with fresh muck. The green band in the middle of the field is last autumns planting of rye.

 

The house is getting more and more attention as the weather improves and I have managed to fill in some of the deeper depressions in the earth rendered walls, ready for the first of the lime coats, although it’s quite possible I’ll do a bit more work on some of the window surround first. I also took the opportunity to relocate some of the sockets I had randomly placed in the walls, deciding that they should all sit at a standard height. The concrete work in the basment that I had decided on was put on hold as I discovered that I can have a premix delivered on the back of a truck, two cubic meters at a time once we are in April, which should save me a lot of work mixing by hand. The cost difference is negligible and it should be a manageable load for one person to lay before it sets.

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Lots of lumps and bumps to even out.
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Open plan living now that the temporary bathroom wall has come down.

And finally, I have spent a good few evenings now building my new website. It’s not ready yet and on reflection I think it is likely to become an extension of the blog rather than a replacement, so I’m afraid you long suffering readers will have to suffer some more. If you have a minute please visit www.winkos.co.uk and if you have another minute tell me what you think of the format so far; any feedback will be appreciated.

Now back to it, the baby needs walking, the puppies nappies need changing and I have to plaster the dogs!

Loose ends

Don’t worry, it’s not a post about umbilical cords! Although I will quickly report that Zara insisted on getting in on the birthing action and delivered five puppies into the world on Wednesday the 19th, so plenty of umbilical cords in my life at the moment; it seems I was destined to be a dad!

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Talking of new life it’s also worth mentioning that the chilli’s have germinated and the first few leaves are reaching for the sky.

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I’d also like to say a big thank you all for your kind words, wishes and poetry, Gosia especially liked the poetry. A few more photos can be found here, for those of you who like looking at baby photos! It also gets a few hits on my website which I am hoping to develop over the coming weeks to replace the blog (or maybe not)

Ok, back to the post, the loose ends that I am referring to are the posts that I meant to write in the autumn but never seemed to get round to, but as my camera is now my best friend again I found myself reviewing old photos and stumbled upon pictures that I had taken specifically for a post, so rather than waste them I thought I’d cram them into a catch up of sorts.

Elderflower beer! Do you remember that? Well I almost forgot about it, that was until we started the clean up and clear out  as we prepared to leave the land for the winter last year, and then I found it hiding in the back of the pivnica, bottles containing a golden yellow liquid, almost fluorescent.

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Not one to shy away from the unknown and casting away the slightly cloudy appearance and sediment in the bottles, I grabbed a jar and tried the homemade tipple. Light, probably about 4% in strength, fragrant with the elder and tasting slightly of the oranges that were used in the brewing process. Mildly effervescent, reminding me of a homemade lemonade and as such perfect for hot summer days; ideal for quenching your thirst after a hard days graft. I will be making it again that’s for sure.

My second loose end is the one coming out of the end of a plastic pipe.

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In the words of Mr Harris, ‘can you tell what it is yet?’ Well, it’s a compost thermometer of course, available from Amazon, www.humanure.com  and occasionally from garden centres for around £20,  except this one only cost me a couple of quid for the standard household thermometer and a bit of invention.

First check that you thermometer will fit in your pipe, then cut the pipe to the desired length (about 60cm or 24 inches in old money), attach string to thermometer, plug the pipe one end with a cork and drop in your temperature guide. Take to the pile, insert, leave for a while and take a reading by pulling on the string to reveal the poo free metron. I look forward to reporting on the spring temperature next time  we visit; next week I hope!

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Phew, that feels better, two loose ends tied in a bow and just in time as my Polish family is congregating downstairs to say hello to Malina; no doubt Vodka will be involved. Na zdrowie!

Scaffold for rent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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