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 🙂

The missing photo

I suddenly realised that I didn’t add a crucial photo to my last post, a picture of the curved wall! Now whilst I could wait until my next post, I thought I would do a quick post now as I have the time and the inclination.

DSC09842

You may also notice the bricks on the floor, the foundation if you like, of our hand built kitchen. Of course I’m still building it, but what we have at the moment is functional and I’ll try and bring you some pictures in my next real post.

Filling in the gaps

As I reported in a recent post, it is extremely important to fill in the gaps between windows doors and framework of the building to keep out the drafts especially when the east wind blows.

However I thought it equally important to fill in some of the gaps I left in my absence from blogging, almost eight months without posting a single update!

First a quick recap on what the house looked like in May last year.

DSC09321DSC09315

Functional for a workforce, not so good for a baby, so I spent a little time on our stable accommodation, plaster boarding the ceiling, patching up blown plasterwork from a freezing winter and installing an electric heater. All in all quite habitable during the warm summer months, even for Malina.

One of the first tasks was to get the final coat of lime render on the walls, having decided to complete downstairs before we moved up a level. This was completed fairly quickly the stud walls for the bathroom and pantry, the only two real rooms, followed fairly rapidly.

DSC09445DSC09443

I did spend a little time of the pantry as I envisaged a curved wall on the leading corner from the main door to draw you into the kitchen area. After experimenting a little I decide to try my luck with reed mats, we still had a few left over that we purchased for bridging gaps on the outside of the building, so it was using up otherwise surplus materials.

DSC09843DSC09846

As you can see it works in a very similar way to the old lath and plaster technique that used to be used before the advent of plaster board. The plaster is squeezed trough the gaps and as it sets grips the mats. I actually used plasterboard on the lower level section to provide a flat surface to make fitting the worktop easier, at least on one wall 🙂

I really like the end result, the bumpy contours flow from the bale walls giving the impression of an internal bale wall, very organic! So much so that I hope to use the same method upstairs in the corridor that connects the bedrooms.

More to come in my next post.

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.

So what am I doing?

I know I went a little off topic on my last post so I thought it was time for an update on what I’m actually doing.

Obviously the young Winkette is taking up some of my time, but with sleep dominating most of her day and night my involvement is minimal. The occasional nappy change, rocking to sleep and singing of The Kinks to her (badly) seems to sum up my fatherly involvement; there isn’t a great deal else I can do!  My domestic chores have increased a little, but even then as we are still living with Gosias parents the family support group steps up and in with most tasks. Gosia of course is the perfect and devoted mother, I just get in the way!

All this is fantastic, especially as the weather in Poland is unseasonably warm and I have unhindered access to the land; Gosia is glad to see the back of me as I head off to continue work on the house, the snow drifts and ice of last April are a distant memory and the only thing I have to be cautious of is the possibility of getting stuck on a muddy track as I drive to the house. I think it will be quite a few years before I tackle the road, but it is on my to do list!

My first trip, two or three weeks ago now, left me a little deflated as I realised the scale of what I have to do to make the house habitable and child friendly. So much so that I looked for lots of other jobs to do culminating in me achieving nothing. Of course thinning out the woodland, planting willow whips, tidying the barn, giving the stable a spring clean and fresh coat of lime wash, burning rubbish, spreading compost on the veg gardens to be and even trying to get the old well working again after the missing bucket incident of last year are all very valid and necessary jobs, it wasn’t until my third two day visit that I plucked up the courage to move into the house and focus.

Two solid days so far, cleaning up the mess we left behind from last year as we hurried to finish the earth plaster indoors and I am happy to report that I can  see the floor again! Finishing the earth plaster was essential to keep out any unwanted house guests over the winter; I may have said it before but the declaration that more than one of the many straw bale building books makes that ‘mice are not a problem’ fail to qualify that by adding ‘once the plasterwork is finished’

Other than seeing the floor again, which is great as we can start to plan where our walls are going to go, I can also asses the walls that we plastered. Quite a few cracks have developed and it is clear that I have a bit of patching up and levelling off to do before we can look at putting any lime render on. Incidentally the cracks are quite normal although some may be bigger than usual as we used quite a wet mix when we put it on the walls and as the water evaporates the clay shrinks leaving cracks. Mind you that’s not a priority at the moment; my first job, I have decided, is to put some concrete down in the basement and the section immediately outside the back door to make the passage of materials a little less fraught with danger and dirt. Of course this means that we first have to decide how the basement will be configured so that I can put in any necessary drainage pipes in place. I already have a main drain leaving the building but it will be nice to get others set into the floor now for the future, including one for a drain in the floor itself for easy cleaning of what will probably be a tiled floor in the future.

So that’s were we are at, not much further on, but pointing in a forward direction. I’ll be back again on Monday and Tuesday to finish the big clean up and if the weather continues to improve a family outing is probably planned for later in the week, grandparents included to help out with the garden and wood clearing.

It’s good to be back 🙂

By the way a quick mention for Tree Following I’m going to give it a go once I have picked or even plated my tree!

DSC08759 (2)

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.

Lime blind

If you are lucky enough to go skiing you will be familiar with the concept of snow blindness, so please spare a thought for the straw bale house builders who suffer from ‘lime blindness’ as they paint the lime wash over their hand crafted home; with the sun beating down on the bright white surface it can take you a while to return to normal vision!

Yes, you will be pleased to know that the lime render coat was finished on Tuesday the 30th of April with me fast on the heals with my bucket of lime wash. Admittedly I only managed to complete the first coat of wash and have yet to start my second and final coat for this year, but essentially it’s complete and we can at last admire the imperfect perfection of the undulating (bumpy) surface of the walls.

I just had to take a photo sequence of this last bit of plaster going on the wall, not to mention the wavy walls 🙂

Lime is a fantastic material and whilst it does have an certain embodied energy in its production it is nothing like that of cement and as and when the day comes and our house crumbles into the ground the lime will  easily, without contamination, be assimilated back into the earth. I just wish we could have used it in our foundations.

As the cellar, basement or piwnica; as it’s know in Poland, is made of brick we have had to adopt the not so environmentally friendly polystyrene cladding to provide our toes with insulation. This is pretty much the standard building practice in Poland, bricks or blocks covered with varying thicknesses of cladding and finished of with an almost flexible render.

 

One tip that I would pass onto anyone who ever goes down the path of straw bale or adobe built house and you intend to use a lime finish; get a bath! No what I mean is find an old bath so that you can pre-soak your powdered lime, it makes it so much easier to work with and cuts down of the amount of harmful lime dust that you may inhale; of course you should always wear a mask!

 

Lime bath.jpg