Nuts, lumps, bumps and pumps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From sugar cube to pagoda

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

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

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

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

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

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

July, almost August, the catch up continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 🙂

Beetle mania and mud flinging ticks the box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Pins
All pins in a row

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

Dictated by the weather; the last week of May

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

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

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

Tools of the trade
Tools of the trade

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

Straw staples
Straw staples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

150 Kg P = 900 M²

The equation for chips with everything! Or at least the start of the formula that will be expanded upon as time goes by, ah yes time; x T 🙂

Well maybe not chips as I can only recall having them a few times last year and only twice so far this year when I was in the UK, but it’s certain that we will be eating potatoes in some variation on a fairly regular basis once our crop comes through.

So let me explain, we (Gosia) planted six 25Kg sacks of seed potatoes on Tuesday the 23rd, covering an area of approximately nine hundred square meters, I would have loved to have helped, but as ever I just happened to be doing something else 🙂 Although, with the aid of Kazek, his son Pawel, a tractor and a planting machine the work was done in a little less than an hour. Unfortunately for me the deal is that as I missed the planting I’m now in charge of weeding and pest control!

It has to be said that as the ground hasn’t been worked for over 12 years and with the minimal preparation that we have done, it was considered ‘not too good’ for planting potatoes. However I insisted that we plant as I have read in the past that spuds will dig the land for you; something that my Uncle backed up as he has memories from his childhood on a post war small holding that concur; the best way to bring old land back into play is to plant it up with potatoes; we will see.

This left quite a chunk of land, so we set aside about 1000 M² for vegetable crops and the following day, the 24th, set about broadcasting 150 Kg of oats we had on the remaining 7000 M². Once again I was busy with something else and Kazek and Gosia paced the field for a good couple of hours scattering the seed as they went; I did get involved in setting up top-up points throughout the land to enable easy refilling of buckets, but other than that my input was minimal; thankfully it’s not a crop that needs weeding!

Broadcasting the oats
I was busy taking a photo 🙂

The primary reason for oats is to provide food for livestock in the future; it is also a very easy crop to grow and should do well without any further intervention, even on our heavy clay soil. As a reminder for myself, it is not recommended to grow oats on the same land in successive years, so I will have to investigate what we do next year; but that’s a long way off 🙂

One final note, again to myself, the potatoes were free and will provide any future seed requirements, the oats came in at 100 Zloty (£20) and fuel costs so far 450 Zloty (almost £100). We have of course more fuel cost to come at harvest time so that will have to be added to the equation, but if fuel costs keep going up like this I can see that we will be giving up the stable for a few horses, we should at least be able to feed them next year 🙂