Potatoes and eggs

It’s clearly blood from a fresh kill in the picture, which has nothing to do with this post, but a picture of Malina is bound to get more readers than a picture of a spud or an egg for that matter 🙂

When I first worked in Jersey, as an excavator of tubers of the royal kind, I was often billeted in humble accommodation, not that this bothered me as I was young and spent most of my time working or down the pub!

One particular farm that I worked on belonged to the Priaulx family and I worked alongside two sons who kept up a relentless pace which they had no doubt inherited from their father. Both of them strong and wily, they would toss around the potato sacks like stuffed toys, which was fine unless you were the person who had to catch the 50lb sacks!

One evening the lads came to visit our barn, the two newly arrived young lady potato pickers from Wales may have something to do with it, and we proceeded to chat about this that and the other, helped along by several cans of Mary Ann Special. Oddly the lads declined any alcohol, but not that strange that we worried about it too much.

The conversation came round to food, probably as we had something cooking and it was time to eat and as polite hosts we asked if the brothers would like to join us. It was probably a curry, spag bol, chilli or some other two ring special if I had anything to do with it!

Both declined explaining that they had already eaten, ‘what did you have?’ was the obvious question, to which came the reply ‘potatoes and eggs’

For whatever reason we must have pursued this further, looking for the the secret diet that had produced such fine specimens of men, only to be told that they only ever had potatoes and eggs! ‘Nothing else?’ ‘Yes, bread and jelly for lunch’.

Now the reason I’m mentioning this is not to ridicule the Priaulx boys, on the contrary, I’m writing this as a sign of solidarity, as my diet, for breakfast at least, is more often than not potatoes and eggs, and for lunch,egg and chips or maybe tortilla!

After a successful harvest of Raleighs finest discovery we were left with more than a tonne to fill the pivnica (root cellar) and given the supply of eggs from friends and family, it would be a shame not to take advantage of this bounty.

In fact the pivnica is serving us well, with sacks of onions, carrots, celeriac, parsnips and swede, not to mention the garlic, leeks, cabbage, sauerkraut, and mass of pumpkins. Every morning, as I take the dogs for a walk, I ask Gosia if she needs anything for the day and I invariably come back with my pockets full.

I always send Jackie first just in case we have any unwanted guests, but to be honest they would be long gone by the time I open the second door. Still Jackie enjoys the task of checking.

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Waiting for the second door to be opened.
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Checking for unwanted guests

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We do go through the easily accessible veg in store at least once a week and recently had to remove about a dozen pumpkins with the rot setting in to take out the seeds for drying. This is the point when I wished we had our pigs already as the pulp would have been great fodder for them. Still we had soup and recently discovered pumpkin fritters on the menu for a few days, not to mention over a kilo of dried seeds to snack on and add to various recipes. Extremely good for you by all accounts and with over thirty still left in storage it will be while before we run out.

Now all I have to do is come up with a breakfast menu which includes them 🙂

And for the vampire lovers out there:

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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!

 

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I like it when it snows, it makes our garden look like everybody else’s!

It’s about the only Chubby Brown joke I can remember that doesn’t have an ‘F’ word in it, and for whatever reason its a joke that always runs round in my head when it snows, as it is doing right now.

You may have noticed that my pledge to head over to the house to try and get some work done was curtailed by the weather; dropping temperatures and snow on a daily basis for the last three days has kept me in my hidey hole, which has given me too much time to think and I began to get all morbid about the state of the world, which is against my optimistic nature.

So the best remedy to this sudden cloud was to look at some old photos and remind myself of the work that Gosia and I put in over the summer and how much closer we are to achieving our dream. One of the little projects that I think warrants a mention is the pivnica.

A Pivnica is probably best translated as a cellar or even basement, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on; or in this particular case a root-cellar; because it is essentially outside and underground. What would this be called in England?

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First things first I had to tackle was the roof, stripping back the earth and tree saplings to reveal a mixture of old terracotta tiles, asbestos and tin sheet, old polythene fertiliser sacks and the occasional old coat, which served as the roof. Once removed we were left with the rotting remains of a wooden roofing frame, and under this the earth that was piled over the top of the stone built domed structure.

Once stripped bare we had to tread carefully as the earth was starting to fall in on the inside on the pivnica and it was soon decided to leave the earth in place and create a wooden frame to support a new tin roof. Luckily for us we had retrieved quite a bit of wood from the barn renovation  and whilst it may not have had the structural integrity of fresh timber it was fine for this task.

Controversially I keep all our old engine oil and mix it with diesel to create our own creosote for treating of wood; I know some people think this might not be environmentally friendly, but in my opinion it’s a far better use than taking it to the dump and not knowing what happens to it once you wave goodbye; it hasn’t any real value so my suspicion is that it would be tipped into landfill or burned off, so treating the wood in this type of construction seems like a sensible thing to do. Thinking back to the initial cost of treating the barn with a commercial product I know what I will be using next time it needs a fresh coat.

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So frame in place, followed by a waterproof membrane of a low cost roofing felt we dug deep in our pockets and purchased new tin sheet to top it all off. Tin roofs are surprisingly common in Poland, in fact its the most common roofing material used, so we where able to pick up a basic pattern for a reasonable price and from what I have read it has a low embodied energy compared to some of the modern alternatives so I’m offsetting any harm of the home made preservative 🙂

I’m sorry to say that on reflection we will probably remove this roof and replace it with a living roof, but don’t worry the tin will be used on my chicken shed project 🙂

So that’s the outside, what about inside? Well as this was most definitely a joint effort Gosia was busy with her rubber mallet and sacks of empty bottles creating a new glass bottle floor! Its was an idea I came across on the web when I saw a few examples of people making paths with old bottles, inverted and hammered into the ground and as a glass bottle lover it seemed like an ideal solution for putting our rubbish to good use. Having said that we soon realised that my beer consumption would never provide enough material, so we employed the help of friends, neighbours and a local bar to provide us with the three thousand plus bottles required to complete the entire floor. We also inherited quite a few screw top bottles with lids, so they were preserved for future home brew projects:)

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Hats off the Gosia who completed the entire floor on her own, about the only thing I added was encouragement or criticism, but once finished I had the back breaking job of lime rendering the internal arched walls, so revenge was sweet for anything that I may have said out of turn.

And there you have it, an underground root cellar which should keep things cool in the summer and prevent freezing in the winter, I can vouch that nothing went above 12°c in the summer, but until I set up a reliable thermometer for the winter I’m not sure about protection against freezing, but my guess is that it will be good.

When people first see it they worry that the bottles will break, but belive me you could jump up and down on them, it’s solid and by all accounts provides very good insulation.

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It looks like I never took any photos of the end result, but you get the idea of how it came along; as soon as I battle through the snow and cold I will add a few more photos of the finished product…or I will find the photos I’m sure I already took 🙂