A little bit of sunshine

I just read last nights post and thought it looked a little bleak, so I thought I’d quickly post this picture from last week.

It was the start of a wonderful sunny day with the sun taking temperatures just above freezing. The house heated up to 23c\73f without having to light the fire, the water warmed up to 45c\113f from the solar water panels and I ventured outside to chop up a bit more wood to make sure we can deal with another cold month.

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From the terrace on the East side, sorry about the drain pipe.

Roll on spring!

Drip, drip drop, little April STORMS!

As the temperatures stretch into the mid twenties and beyond the site has become a time lapse photographers dream; people come and go in their vehicles loaded with materials, friends and observers pop in to help and say ‘Hi’ and the landscape around us and in the distance is transformed into neat rows of hope.

Drains in, partitions built, quotes accepted, tiles ordered, samples viewed, late night discussions, decisions made and changed. Seeds selected, weeds tamed, rows hoed and staples planted on mass, the promise of freshly picked salads draws closer.

The clatter of thunder marks the end of the day and I hurry to get things under cover, and whilst the arcing circuit sparks to the sky are no sure sign of rain, if it does then it comes down as if it’s the last chance it will ever get. The road to civilisation can become impassable by anything other than welly clad foot as it becomes river and I am reminded that I must put in some road drainage, one day! The van is moved to higher and more solid ground.

With hardly time to think to count between the crack and the flash the storm is upon us. Dogs return from adventures to seek shelter and the increased throttle of a tractor can be heard in the distance as the final row of potatoes is sown, just in time. The darkening sky sends the omnipresent dandelions to sleep, and even the birds leave the trees to hiding places unknown as the first scouting raindrops hit the tin roof of the house with a hollow flat note, soon becoming a hurried drum roll punctuated by a dripping gutter. I must fix that!

As the wind races around the house a clear and sunlit patch of ground can be spotted to the south east and I know is heading this way, and no sooner have I finished my cup of tea then a birdsong melody replaces the drum solo and the clouds settle over the next valley finding a new home on higher ground. Now as a distant observer I look on in awe as the electrical show continues and my slow quiet counting confirms that the storm is visiting lands further afield, but the rumble can still be heard for an hour or so after, a last word reminder that it will be back again tomorrow.

 

Now where did that tree go?

A bit of a hurried post I’m afraid, babies and building are top of my list of things to do at the moment, although I did stop to take a few shots and take a closer look at my beech sapling, my ‘tree following’ subject.

Unfortunately it looks like the damage from the deer or possibly hare have taken their toll and it doesn’t appear that much growth is going on above the damage. However on closer inspection the little sapling is trying it’s hardest to cling on and new growth has appeared in an abundance near the base of the trunk. Fingers crossed it will make it through the summer and if it does I’ll reward it with some protection for the hungry gap.

Until next time, hopefully with some better pictures, happy tree following.

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‘C’mon Jack’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘C’mon Jack, back home’

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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.

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.

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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?

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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

Scaffold for rent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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