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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A brief update in words and pictures; no sound!

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

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

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Look Gosia crocheted a baby!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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!

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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.

No time like the present

OK, you may have guessed that there is no way that I’m going to catch up unless I come up with a radical solution and so, for one week only, I’m heading into a new format to enable me to provide an overview of progress over the last three weeks without having to rely on my memory too much.

The Garden: I thought I better give a mention to the much neglected garden, all the work on the house has meant that many a plant has fallen by the wayside, or taken over the way side as they grow out of control. Of course we have had a steady supply of fresh veg and they are part of our daily intake, be in peas, beans, tomatoes, onions or courgettes; you will always find at least one on your plate, but as I look upon the tangled mass of beans and peas I can’t help but think we could have looked after them better, if only by translating the packets and planting the runners with stakes and the dwarf in rows; something that I only half heartedly addressed as I realised our mistake. Still the older beans will be left to dry on the stalks, a fantastic winter staple and any new growth will continue to be eaten. The same for the peas, old stock will be dried for next years seed and anything fresh popped on the plate or in the freezer.

The humanure tomato experiment continues, although we spotted blight in a few of the main crop plants last week so it’s only a matter of time before the experiment has to come to a premature end. However I can report, without the picture I forgot to take, that both plants are bearing fruit on three trusses and look far healthier than their unfertilised counterparts.

The potatoes have taken a hammering from the beetles and much of the foliage was lost in the last few weeks, but we have dug a few up and they are tasting good, so I’m still confidant of a reasonable crop; we’re just waiting for the harvester to turn up along with the neighbours 🙂 the tradition here is to leave them in the ground for as long as possible to prepare them better for winter storage.

The oats are doing well, although we ploughed back about a third of the crop on the top boundary of the field as growth was slow; hopefully this will help as a green manure.

The House:  As you would expect this remains the main focus for us as we try and get as much done as possible whilst we have the weather on our side. Having the help of the volunteers Paul, Alexandra and Iulia was a massive help, the internal window surrounds were remodelled, the entire ground floor received its first clay slip coat, the timber for the terrace was planed, sanded and painted, along with the basement exterior walls to match the rest of the house.

Not to mention our friend Slawek who fired on with the task of getting the terrace ready for the roof; this final task was completed last week and we have since taken delivery of the tin roof to be fitted by the experts as and when they can fit us into their schedule, fingers crossed in the next few weeks. Meanwhile I have started to fit the terrace decking board which we have all had a part in plaining. If anybody is interested we are selling luxury rabbit bedding 🙂

We also had the assistance of our ever helpful friends Steve and Dorota who came over with the tractor and front loader to do a bit of landscaping; saving my back from carting hundreds of barrows of earth; as ever a big thanks for all and everyone’s help.

As the saying goes a picture can tell a thousand word so I’ll save myself a bit a typing

Nature: As ever I seem to forget to appreciate the things that go on around us, but once in a while something happens that I have never seen before and I become focused and appreciative again. I have mentioned the resident buzzard family on a few occasions, in fact I was a little worried that the recent felling of trees by a neighbour had left them homeless and this was the reason why they hadn’t been there usual vocal self, that was until the recent sighting of the first flight training lessons administered by the two adults to their single chick. We have witnessed this ritual for the last three years and it’s always entrancing, but then out of the blue one of the buzzards pulled back it’s wings and went into a dive, more falcon like than buzzard; or maybe not? I certainly haven’t seen them do it before and it was great to watch; as it never caught anything I’m guessing it was just another subject of the training curriculum.

The young hares seem to be ever present, unfortunately for them Zara has a fare turn of speed, and whilst I feel sorry for them if she catches one I’m also reassured by the large numbers that I have spotted in the area; we don’t seem to be suffering from the decline that is news worthy in other areas of Poland.

The young deer are coming closer and closer to the house, thankfully curiosity did not kill the fawn and they easily outrun Zara and Jackie who have so far kept them away from the veg without putting meat on the menu.

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Volunteers: I know that I have mentioned Iulia,  Alexandra and Paul on a few occasions, but I’d just like to say thank you again for all your help, great workers and great company who made a big difference in the few weeks that they joined us. Paul is heading back again in September, gluten for punishment, or maybe just gluten as he loved the food most of all 🙂 We also have two other ‘possibles’ coming to join us late in August so things are looking good and finishing the plaster inside before the winter may be an achievable target.

We did take a farewell trip to Krakow to visit the town of Oświęcim which is more often referred to and better know by it’s German given name of Auschwitz; it’s my second visit, but it was no less sobering for it.  We went for the guided tour, which takes three and a half hours, but I think Paul summed it up well when he said he would had liked the time to just sit and reflect for a while rather than dealing with the information overload as the guide talked through the expansive and industrialised extermination camps. A worthwhile trip and highly recommended to everyone, but if you get a chance take time to reflect, then do, especially when you see Birkenau.

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Up to date :  Well pretty much so, of course we have had a few parties, BBQs and visitors, but that’s just part of life in Poland, especially when the weather is as good as it is. We are back in Rzemien for the usual Sunday lunch that couldn’t be beat and another week is only a good nights sleep away from us, so until next week (maybe) na zdrowie.