Spring

I mentioned in my last post that I had a few in drafts, but as often happens the moment is lost and I have decided to write an update encompassing those posts and more, otherwise it could be October before I post anything!

Animals

DSC00626.jpg

One of the posts was about a dog attack on our rabbits, ten of twelve lost including Mummy rabbit and Peter rabbit, who between them kept up a steady meat supply. So much so that we had reached one of our goals, to become self sufficient in meat. The pigs, a lamb in exchange for crops, a dozen or so meat chickens and the occasional bit of venison helped in the mix.

Luckily one of the females that survived was pregnant and our supply will resume again in the near future and the cages and runs will be reinforced with a welded wire mesh. Lesson learnt, although we still don’t know who the dogs belonged to.

I mentioned before that we are are now up to six female goats, two in milk, three kids and the last doing an impression of a bus as she waddles around with who knows how many additions to the heard inside her huge belly. Expect an update on this soon. Of course having so many goats means that we have more milk than we can drink, make cheese and of course soap out of, so the cats and dogs get their share as well. It will be good to have pigs again soon so that we have something to eat all the whey that we seem to produce. Thankfully Gosia has developed a market for the cheese, I can only eat so much!

It is worth noting that with all these extra goats (three were an unexpected gift in the autumn) we ran out of hay and oats so we have had to purchase extra. My profit from pigs and rabbits was ploughed back into the business so to speak. A bit more planning this year, more oats and more hay, both achievable with the land we have and we have had an offer to use a neighbours field if required.

Wood

DSC00670.jpg

Oats and hay are not the only things we ran out of this year, we also ran out of wood! The old wooden house that we demolished two years ago was finally returned to the earth as ash and smoke, not to mention what I thought was a good pile of firewood from the land. Alas the colder than normal winter and its duration whittled down the pile quicker than I expected and to make sure we could get through the final throes of winter we had to buy 3 cubic meters (about a cord).

Keen to avoid the same fate again this coming winter I have made inroads into our woodland and cut out and chopped a good 10 cubic to season over the spring and summer. We also have the promise of some ash, which was struck by disease, in exchange for some help moving and chopping, so I’m hoping we will be good.

With all the tree felling we decided to invest in a branch chopper that fits on the back of the tractor, it pretty much devours anything up to 5-7cm (2-3 inches) in diameter and spits it out in 10 cm (4 inch) lengths. This frees up a lot of time that would otherwise be spent doing the job manually and provides extra fuel that would otherwise have been left in piles to rot down as we never seemed to be able to borrow the neighbours implement of destruction! Recently aware of the cost of buying wood we calculated that the investment will be paid off in a couple of years.

Airbnb

I don’t know how many times I have said that the house is almost finished, but the house is almost finished! The only thing of any significance that needs doing is the terrace railing\barrier….the thing that stops people falling off! We have employed the skills of a local carpenter to make the components and we hope to be fitting in the next month or so. This will ultimately make it safe for guests to stay which is what had always niggled in the back of our mind and stopped placing the advert. Of course many dangers still remain, six goats with horns, potholes that the dogs have dug in search of moles, wild rabbit killing dogs, I better stop before the list becomes another reason why we cant take guests.

Of course anyone out there that may be reading this is welcome to contact us directly and make enquiries about availability, we would love to hear from you and offer a commission free, blogger discount!

In fact I’ll offer a free long weekend (short break) to anyone who can take decent photos to help promote our B&B, all you have to do is get to Krakow or Rzeszow airport and we will look after from there. Having looked at my poor attempt below I think we need something better.

Composting toilets

I know that many of you want to know how things are going with the pile? Well I’m pleased to say that I have just emptied one of the four piles that we are running at the moment, this was added to the second pile that has reached maturity over the last 14 months and between them we have at least 1000 litre’s of sweet smelling, crumbly, nutritious compost.

I have taken a slightly different approach whilst emptying  the piles this year by digging out from the centre, which leaves a nice giant whole to fill with new manure. I watched a few videos on the Humanure Handbook website and this seems to be a better method. I can tell you that once emptied the whole is filled again with eighteen 20l buckets of manure and 4 buckets of kitchen scraps. Topped off with straw and up to temperature (50c\120f) over the last month. I may try and do a time lapse on this pile, a picture every month, you may be surprised, if not interested!

Soap

I expect some of you fecophobes would like to wash your hands after reading the last bit, well help is at hand with Gosias hand made soaps!

Although there is nothing new on the site you can always get in touch via the contact form at www.winkos.co.uk or www.zielonakoza.pl if Polish is your preferred language. Or comment below. And for those of you who have bought soaps of us for the first time or as a repeat order, thank you, your support is very much appreciated!

Gosia must be doing something right as she recently received a request to run a workshop and demonstration in a local hotel, to a visiting group of about 30 guests from the UK!

Gosia has also teamed up with a friend, Iza, who is felting the soaps with her own designs. We are expecting a selection for the Easter markets so I will take some  more pictures, the only one we have left at the moment is a hemp oil soap. I’m sure you will agree that Izas artistic talent adds a new dimension to the soaps. So if you are looking for a unique gift idea then we have the answer.

DSC00674.jpg

More

Probably, but it’s taken me a week to write this! The weather has been great and the tractor busy getting the oats sown and compost spread, I actually got sun  burnt whilst working out in the field!

The sad news is that Sunday, the pregnant goat, had stillborn twins. Mother is well though and shows no signs of on-going infection so we will put it down to one of those things. Nature can be cruel at times.

 

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.

DSC0670
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!

DSC06912
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!

DSC06713
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.

DSC07590
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!

DSC05928

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 🙂

DSC07594
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.

Teraz terrace

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

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

Monday 17th June:

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

Tuesday 18th June:

Building the terrace

Wednesday 19th June:

Building the terrace

Thursday 20th June:

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

Friday 21st June:

Building the terrace

Saturday 22nd June:

Building the terrace

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

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

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

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

Bug hunter
Our little yellow friends

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

Spuds
Our potato patch

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

Humanure challenge
Humanure challenge tomato plants

Did the earth move for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birch Bolete
Soon to be a sauce.

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

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

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

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.

DSC06559

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.

DSC06455

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:)

DSC06557

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!

DSC06556

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:)

The Big Thaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
DSC04467
The pile today after its latest top up

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 🙂

Just for the record

Its toilet emptying time again which is much sooner than I expected, we must have had more visitors than usual! So after lasting about two weeks last time we are down to a week; seven days solid of solids. Even still I think the five minutes once a week; not bad.

However let the record show that I will be putting off the task until next week as we are heading off to civilization for a break from all this living in a stable lark. I will edit with the date of emptying to keep the diary accurate.

Emptied on Wenesday; 16th, fresh apple sawdust and ready to recieve.

Toilet time

Well I’m surprised; its more than two weeks since I last emptied the toilet. Given that we have spent a couple of days away over the weekends then its safe to say that the toilet tipping is a fortnightly event. So for the doubters that think that it must take up lots of time then five minutes every two weeks is the official answer on how much maintenance is required. I bet some people spend more time than that cleaning a normal domestic toilet every day!

Don’t stand up, empty it!

Less than 5 minutes and the toilet is emptied into the compost pile. I’m guessing that it’s a week since my last disposal, let this be the start of my records.

It was only 5 degrees this morning and the steam from the pile as I pulled back the cover material was impressive; I must get a compost thermometer to see how hot the pile is running……I know its exciting stuff 🙂

Toilet Diaries, or how to save the planet

Composting toilets, the single simplest thing you can do to reduce the impact you have on the planets resources; plus you get fantastic compost for your garden.

www.humanurehandbook.com There is no need for me to rewrite a book that is already written so follow the link and order your copy now. Or download it for free.

I did think it would be worth tracking the progress of our composting toilet though, if only for my own record. At the moment we are running one toilet which is used by two people everyday and visitors as and when they feel the need; I know they use it as I have found myself explaining the mechanics of it to interested people, normally because they can’t believe that there is no smell even though we are collecting on mass the previous days food!

We are currently on our second composting pile if only because the first one I made, out of old car tyres, was a little small; however it is full and is now in a state of rest and turning turds into top soil. Our second pile was built in May 2012 and has provided storage for the summers offerings and is still less than three quarters full and that includes all non human processed waste items such as veg trimmings, weeds from the garden, uneaten food (not very often), paper, cardboard and even dead mice. With space to spare and the on-going composting process then I’m more than sure that this pile will last for the rest of the year.

The real beauty of  the system is its simplicity, the only added requirement over a standard  toilet is a ready supply of a cover material (we use sawdust) and about 5 minutes of time once a week to empty the poo onto the pile.

Remember every time you use a composting toilet you are not only saving the water you don’t flush, about 10 litres on average; you are also saving the additional resources used to clean that water before it can be sent off to sea or sent back into the system for us to use again.