Early start, late finish.

It has been a funny start to the season, late March, early April showed so much promise with temperatures reaching the mid twenties (77f). The noise of traction could be heard all around as farmers rushed to get seed in the ground. We were no exception and with a new array of tractor tools fashioned from old horse drawn equipment I set too and managed to prepare the ground for a dusting of oats by the 5th of April. A good early start to the years crops.

Continue reading “Early start, late finish.”

Bringing home the bacon

I know, I know I said bacon and the picture is of sausages!

March already, when did that happen! So much for my resolution to try and post more on the blog. It’s not like I haven’t had anything to report, as we have kept ourselves busy and the house becomes more of a house everyday. Continue reading “Bringing home the bacon”

Happy Christmas 2015

I know it’s been a while, in fact it has been far too long, but once again I’m using the time of year as an excuse to post on the blog after a six month break. I hope to write more again next year, at least once a month, but for know I’ll take this opportunity to wish any one who is still reading a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year!

As you can imagine lots has happened over the last six months, although it probably comes as no surprise that the house remains unfinished, oh well!

Malina as ever remains our main focus and her progress in walking, running, climbing, talking and jumping up and down in muddy puddles keeps at least one of us busy and both of us entertained. Any frustration and annoyance that she may cause us is melted away in a second with her smiles and loving hugs, and she knows how to work a crowd. The years ahead promise to be full, eventful!

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The house has moved on, just not as fast as we had hoped, but the rooms upstairs are taking shape and if the carpenter ever bothers to turn up after letting us down on several occasions (I hope he reads this) then we will be able to complete the corridor and have clear passage to the two rooms we have completed so far. Knowing that there is a bath upstairs has tempted us to make the trip on a few occasions, but I’m looking forward to the day we can slip out of it and into bed without a change of footwear.

The animals keep us honest and continue to reward us with the egg tally well over 2000 for the year so far, although our foray into keeping chickens for meat only filled the bellies of the local buzzard population which seems to have grown along with their girth. Our one time flock of 54 chickens is now reduced to 16 and I have had to bring them back into the fold and construct an elaborate system of fishing wire and old Microsoft software CD’s to keep chicken off the bird menu. So far Small Business Server 2003, SQL and Exchange are doing a good job, it’s certainly the best use I have had of Bill Gates legacy so far. Thankfully the pigs are providing us our selfish protein requirement and we have branched out into rabbits as an alternative and additional meat source. The goats continue to receive free board and lodgings, although there is a rumour that they will be meeting a young chap called Billy on the 30th of December, so we may be getting milk to help balance the books by the middle of next year.

The harvest was good on the whole, despite the near drought conditions over the summer and into the autumn, everything except the onions exceeded our expectations, although we only planted what had done well the year before in our heavy clay soil, relying on the in-laws to grow the things we didn’t and exchanging for spuds which we had in abundance once again. With close to two tonnes of oats and enough tomatoes to have our very own La Tomatina, both barn and pantry are well stocked and will keep us going until the next harvest.

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The future is where it’s at and we are looking forward to it. Hopefully I’ll be announcing that the house is complete and we are taking guests, along with news of more kids, although only if Sunday and Monday (the goats) are receptive! I’m also hopeful that I will be able to point you in the direction of Gosias website, where she intends to sell her handmade soaps, bath bombs and salts, crocheted items and….well who knows what else she will start to create in the meantime. I’m all for it, just as long as she can keep me in the lifestyle that I have become accustomed to!

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Bye for now, hope to see you next year, sooner rather than later. After all, I have to update you on the composting toilet!

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Tomato ketchup from courgettes, yeah right!

I didn’t mention in my last post that we (Gosia) cooked up the first batch of tomato ketchup. Her mum stumbled across the recipe about three years ago and sales of tomato sauce have taken a serious hit in the village ever since, some shops see no reason to stock it all!

No pictures, just a copy of the scribbled notes from Gosias recipe book, an increasingly thick binding, with a few notes on preparation.

You will need:

2Kg (4.4lb) of Courgettes. You know the big ones that appeared in your garden overnight that could be marrows!

1/2Kg (just over a 1lb) Onions

400g (1lb) Tomato puree

200 ml (7fl Oz) Strong vinegar (10%)

400g  (1lb) Sugar

Handful Dried Basil

Handful Herbes de Provence (mixed herbs)

2tsp Sweet paprika

1tsp Chilli powder

Handful of salt

We scaled up the recipe to 6Kg and it made a total of 42, 200ml jars, the meaning of life perhaps!

What you need to do:

Peel, deseed and then grate the firm flesh of the courgettes and onions, or finely chop. (we do this ‘washing up’ bowl scale)

Add salt, mix in and leave for 4-6 six hours

Come back to the bowl when you remember about it and squeeze the mixture to remove the water.

Put in a big pan, cook till soft and mushy

Add the rest of the ingredients

Cook for a further 10-20 minutes to thicken it up a bit, them blend for a smoother sauce if desired

Add to jars and then pasteurise in a big pan of water for about 10 minutes

Enjoy

We will make another two batches before the courgettes disappear, dropping the sugar and vinegar content slightly as a matter of taste. One batch will also have added fresh chilli’s to keep BBQs entertaining.

You could of course make your own tomato puree, if you had a bumper crop, you could also use your own herbs, it’s also possible to make your own vinegar, which would just leave the sugar and salt as the shop bought ingredients making this a seriously low cost ketchup. But for now we bought it all in bar the courgettes and onions, and the cost still only came in at around 15p for a 200ml jar.

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A bug free, cherry full, jam making June

What a great month we had, the weather was warm but not overly so despite a few days exceeding 30C, the orchard is providing fruit by the bucket and we didn’t see a single mosquito or horse fly. If you ever decide to holiday in Poland then June is the month to do it. Rooms available from Easter 2016!

With the good weather I happy to report that the house heating has now remained dormant since early May, although topping up the waters heat is still required on occasion. Of course the downside of the sunshine is the lack of rain, although despite a slowing of growth on the crops everything is managing to hold on without human intervention. The watering can came out for some late plantings, but I like to let things fend for themselves if possible.

Our first cherries of the year came around the 10th of June and we thanked the previous owner for their foresight in planting successional fruiting trees. As one tree finished the next came of tap and we are still picking cherries now, in the middle of July. I thought my tree climbing day were over!

The strawberries came and went, leaving many an empty flan dish and nine jars of jam, made from a mixture of cultivated and wild fruit. Contrary to Mrs Beeton’s recipe of 14lbs of sugar to 12lbs of fruit, we use half as much sugar to fruit and the result is a jam that tastes of the fruit used, 4Kg (9lbs) of fruit 2Kg (4.4lbs) sugar in our case.  Cost per 400g (1lb) jar works out at about 15p (for the sugar and heat) Mrs Beeton noted that it cost 7d per jar in 1904, I wonder how the two compare?

Official jam taster Malina gives the nod f approval to the latest batch of jam.
Official jam taster Malina gives the nod f approval to the latest batch of jam.

The freezer is also starting to fill up with vegetables and our decision to hold on with the chest freezer purchase until we have the pigs to fill it may have to be brought forward. I noted the advice given on a blog about freezing fruit and making jam in the winter when the heat of the stove helps to heat the house, sound advice and something I think we will do next year, as long as the pigs leave some room!

Despite the increasing harvest and crop maintenance (weeding), Gosia and I managed to continue work in the house and a week with Gran as babysitter saw the upstairs plastered with the first coat of lime. Another step closer.

I’m reminded of Orwell’s Animal Farm every time I visit the stable, as the pigs seem to be slowly edging themselves towards a higher station, already they have taken up residence in the stable leaving behind the arc that I lovingly crafted for them! Thankfully the goats have other ideas and a butt to the butt is a comical site if there is a tasty morsel to be had and the hierarchy is to be maintained.

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Out my way!

Mind you I can see a pattern of weight throwing going on and it’s only a matter of time before King George will be crowned. The pneumonia that Peppa suffered from, costing more in vet bills that her purchase price, seems to have cleared up, however her weight gain is slow as is typical of the condition (so I read). Still it’s good to see her healthy and enjoying her food at last.

The chickens remain oblivious to the targets that I set, although at 275 eggs for the month they almost received their bonus. With the addition of an extra hen donated by a friend and the more of the pullets coming on line, a dozen a day is more and more common in July. 300, 400 eggs a month, where will it end? My ability to count them in on a evening is becoming more difficult and to put even further stress on my fingers and toes we invested in 10 broilers and 5 cockerels, food for the future and a test for my convictions.

Given all the food that has to be prepared for the 55 mouths that now reside in the stable, it would be good practice for running a restaurant. I’m just glad we are getting by with our own feed from last years harvest, I dread to think how much it would cost if we bought in the commercial offering. We are keeping a close eye on cost to plant and harvest this year so we have a good idea how much our food is costing. Of course it’s more important to us to know how the animals are treated and what they are fed, but if the cost is comparable to that of a supermarket then we are quid’s in.

One of the old battery hens showed signs of illness early in the month, refusing to leave the nesting box, I thought her days were over and expected to find her dead. After about a week of this behaviour it struck us that she may just be broody, so we put a clutch of 12 eggs underneath her. More mouths to feed, or more chickens to feed us? As an optimist I go with the latter.

Reading back over this post I’m reminded how quickly time goes and how much we still have to do to be up and running for next year, a target that sometimes seems unattainable. But then we have a day like yesterday (18th July) with the delivery of 60 cubic meters (about 70 tonnes) of crushed rock to spread over the dirt track that passes as our road. A big job for Gosia and I, but then the a Gran and Granddad, a brother and two nephews arrive with rakes, sledge hammers and shovels at the ready. I’m happy to report that despite the heat of the day we all enjoyed a BBQ and a beer by 3pm with the job completed. I even had time to pick a bucket of cherries, as nothing says thank you quite like a bucket of fresh cherries !

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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 🙂

I need a bigger hat!

Egg production is on the up, yesterday was our first 10 egg day!

We have had 12 before now but that included Lillie’s secret stash of 4 in the goats hay rack. Lillie is the Lilliput hen than Kazek gave us a month or so ago.

Mays total was 181 and believe it or not we consumed them all along with an extra 20 that the mother-in-law shipped in with two brother in-laws who visited for a week to help out with work on the upstairs.

Despite the loss of one of the older hens the first batch of pullets are coming into lay and I expect that we will top 300 eggs this month.

And to make sure we have a steady supply through the winter we purchased 10 more pullets, about 10 weeks old, which should start laying in September and brings our flock up to a total of 30. ‘Enough’ I say as Gosia sets about making yet another cake! Although I do like cake.

With young pullets only costing a couple of quid each it’s a no brainer, 20 eggs each and they pay for themselves, based on the cost of inferior the low cost supermarket eggs. Our running tally of 360 eggs so far covers the cost of the first 18 that we purchased back in March. It will be interesting to see how quickly they pay for all the other sundry equipment that goes into their care.

Omelette anyone?

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We are not vegetarians

But we do care for animals, so when we arrived at the farm to view the świnia złotnicka that we had found via an advert on tablica.pl we were a little shocked at the conditions that the animals were kept in.

I guess we were a little naive to expect anything else, but after talking to the farmer a couple of times on the phone to check various details we had expected something a little different.

The search for a traditional Polish breed had taken a while and we had expected to have to travel over 200Km to find some that fit the standard, but then eagle eyed Gosia spotted a photo of the desired spotted pigs on the website and we made the call to discuss purchase. We were assured that they were in fact świnia złotnicka and that they were kept on grass. This turned out to mean that the sow was a świnia złotnicka and that they cut grass and included it in their diet fed in a wheel barrow. Buyer beware!

Still we were here and the thought of a 400Km round trip didn’t appeal, plus we had the opportunity to liberate a couple of piglets and so grabbing them by the hind legs I popped a couple into the back of the van.

That was three weeks ago, time which has not been without incident. Initially you think that the electric fence that you put together is sufficient to hold the timid little souls, well it is until they get a bit of confidence and realise that the shock is only a temporary thing and if you are moving fast enough you hardly even notice it! Still no harm done and there is the outer perimeter fence that I put up for the goats to keep them in, the electric fence was simply there to divide the paddock. Um well lets just say that the standing joke now is that I have spent two days putting in fencing that it has taken two days for the pigs to work out away around, or should that be through! Thankfully they respond to my voice and the promise of food, so despite having free range pigs as well as hens I can get them all back in there respective areas with a shout and a rattle of a bucket, the latter more effective.

I know the standard advice is not to name anything you intend on eating,  and my bucket call remains ‘c’mon pigs’, but as our lunchtime viewing is often Postman Pat, Masha and the Bear or Peppa Pig it was inevitable that we had to bring Pinky and Perky up to date, and so Peppa and George it is.

Peppa took a turn for the worse on Wednesday, fading fast into Thursday with a high temperature, no interest in food and buried in the straw of the arc (ark?). Friday morning and she was still no better and all the reading I had done indicated something that would end in death unless caught in time and treated with antibiotics, so we called the vet.

Arriving an hour and a half later he immediately administered three injections and then by our request. although against our organic principles, a worming shot. He even left a shot for George as we couldn’t catch him at the time. 70 Pln, yes that’s about £12.50 or just shy of $18 for a call out and injections. A very small price to pay in the hope that she might pull through. His diagnosis was as vague as mine and he left saying that the next 24 hours would settle her fate.

Two hours later and she was running around like a mad thing, eating drinking, ploughing the field, smiles all round. I guessed one of the shots must have been steroids as later that evening she was back in the same state, although the panting had eased. Expecting the worse the next day we found them both happy in with the chickens (two fences away) and so again our hopes were raised that all was well, but then as the day wore on the same thing. Which brings us to today, and as we set off to serve breakfast to our long and short term guests we discussed the possibility of finding a dead porker.

I headed to the barn to get the various mixes ready for the guests with special dietary needs as I heard Gosia exclaim something that I won’t even type in Polish.

Needless to say that she had opened the back door of the stable to let the chickens out into the run only to discover that someone had come in with a rotavator over night, or should I say two happy brown snouted pigs greeted her with grunts of glee 🙂

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Talking of vegetarians, I stumbled upon Rabbit Food the other day whilst searching for goats! I think Corrie Louise may well fill the food blog gap that Food and Forage Hebrides left, well worth a look.

How do you fit eighteen into a double bed?

Of course I could go with the original title ‘chicken week’ but then it’s more than two weeks since we got our first batch of chickens and it may be another week before I publish this post and as it stands you may still be intrigued as to why I chose the title I did, despite the clue.

As our belt tightening increases as the excess fat we had falls away on showers, tiles, flooring, stairs and other such fancy things, we decided it was time to commit some time to generating some more of our own food. And with our appetite for eggs outstripping the mother in-laws supply, chickens seemed like the obvious choice. Low cost and low maintenance, once the setup is done, perfect if I am to finish the upstairs in the house this year!

We did experience some really good weather in the middle of March and this spurred me on to fencing an area off for the flock, eager to keep the cost down I used some of the willow I had recently felled for the posts. I’m secretly hoping that they may take root and not rot, fingers crossed of that one. All in all, using the barn as one of the enclosing walls, I managed to create an area of about 200 square meters for them to free range in. I may extend this in future but it seemed like a good area to start with and it used up a 50m roll of wire fence that we picked up cheep!

The old stable, our home for three summers, was the obvious choice for chicken house as we know that it is rat proof, fairly well insulated and provides plenty of space.

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A quick read through a couple of books, plus a scan on the interweb and I concocted a plan for the perch and nesting area. The perch is made up using the willow that seems to be strewn across the land at the moment and is attached to the wall with a handy hinge so that it can be lifted and secured when I do the muck out. Thank you http://www.raising-chickens.org the idea.

As for the nesting boxes, well that’s when the old head and foot board came into play and our double bed was cut up to create eight nesting boxes. By rights you need one box for every four chickens so that’s accommodation for thirty two sorted out, but as the title suggests we ended up with eighteen chucks.

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It could well have turned out differently as we met the man with the chicken van outside the local church to make our purchase, astute as he was, spotting my English accent, he began to pass startled chickens out of his aromatic van counting out the ten layers (ex battery hybrids) and five 3 month old pullets (mixed breed) that we requested. He then added four more layers and five more pullets, mumbling something that Gosia understood to be ‘these ones are on the house’ alas when it came to paying he expected payment for all! Imagine his surprise when Gosia announced that we didn’t have the money for the extras, and so he proceeded to taka back the extras that we couldn’t afford declaring that he didn’t believe that an Englishman didn’t have any money! Still we ended up with three extra at a reduced price and we are now the happy feeders and collectors of ten layers and eight pullets.

By sheer coincidence, as the deal was going down, a police car pulled up and parked within 20 meters of this shady avian exchange and as we set off back on the road we were hailed and waved to a stop. Perhaps there is a law against the trading of chickens within sight of a church? We had seen some curtains twitching when we first arrived and news travels faster the village than by satellite.

As it happens there was a wide load coming through the village (a temporary shop by all accounts) and the police were directing traffic to take an alternate route, so our slate remains clean in the eyes of the law and God, I think!

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Dorrota and Steve, our friends from across the valley,  have built up quite a flock themselves over the last year or two were kind enough to donate a cock and lots of out of date bread to supplement our chickens diet. The bread needs to be dried first and then soaked as required before adding to the grain mix that we have a plentiful supply of. Having under floor heating helps with the drying process!

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So as March ended we reached a twelve day tally of thirty-nine eggs, just about enough to keep me eating the diet I have become accustomed to, although in April we had to ask Gosias mum for an egg injection to get us over the Easter period and the additional salads and cakes that are an expected part of the celebrations in Poland. Still we are averaging about four eggs a day, not bad considering the cold and snowy weather we are having at the moment, roll on this week as the temperatures are supposed to rise. The outside jobs are mounting up and we need more eggs to keep me going 🙂

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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Burning down the house

No, nothing to do with the 80’s classic from the Talking Heads, nor the last desperate act of a father on the brink, it’s just that it’s rather cold and we ran out of wood!

But before you worry too much its not the house we are living in that we are torching, despite what you might think about a house of straw they don’t burn that well, rather it’s the old derelict house down by the barn.

Eighty or ninety years old, maybe more, it holds many memories for some of the local people. Only this Boxing day we met an elderly lady who remembers visiting the house as a young girl, visiting your neighbours was all the rage back then. The house itself was considered big for its time and its design is one that typifies the Polish countryside for me, with many examples still sanding, nestled between the modern freshly built houses of the last 20 years. If you ever visit Poland I would suggest a visit to one of the many open air museums, http://openairmuseum.pl/ they offer a unique glimpse of Poland’s past architecture and way of life.

Still we made a deal with my father in-law in the autumn, that if he demolished the house he could have half of the wood for his own winter fuel supply. No sooner was the deal struck then the family and quite a few friends descended, although it has to be said the bulk of the work was carried out by mother and father in-law.  We were left with heavy beams, cut to the length of the van for transport back to the family home, piled neatly under tarpaulins and whilst most made the journey quite a bit was set aside for us.

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In the end half of the house was left standing, the weather turned against us and it made sense to keep the shelter in place as there is still a couple of tonnes of clay in there! Which is handy as I want to build a straw bale cottage there in the years to come.

So here I am, cutting with chainsaw and chopping with axe, almost a hundred years of history to warm a new generation. Marvelling at the giant hand carved dove tail joints that held the old house together, it seems a shame to burn it somehow.

But burn it does and it burns wells, too well in fact as the old dry timbers are a honeycomb of wood worm burrows and rot that has set in over the years. I just hope that it lasts us the rest of the winter as I’m not sure what to burn next…um maybe this bit of old furniture in the basement!

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!

Its chilli time

As I briefly alluded to in my last post I have started the propagation of this years chilli plants. In the past I have relied pretty much on my own seed from the previous years harvest and have always had reasonably good results; other than the frost disaster of a few years ago as I pushed the boundaries of local gardening knowledge and planted out before the second week in May.

We have two main types growing, a cayenne and one of the many bush varieties, both of which produce a reasonably hot chilli that find their way into many of the dishes we cook and a couple of warming condiments for the larder. But remembering a post I read last year at food and forage Hebrides I decided it was time to expand upon the varieties we grow to extend the range of heat and flavour available to us as we spice up our diet. The climate in Poland also seems to favour the chilli as the hot summers help to ripen the fruit in extra quick time, although you have to get a good head start at the beginning of the season.

If you have ever looked for chilli seeds online then you will soon discover that the catalogue is vast and the choice seemingly endless, so to save time and prevent headaches I went back to a seed provider that I have used in the past sowseeds.co.uk Not only do they have about sixty chilli varieties on their virtual shelves, but they also have a diverse mix of other seeds, and to top it all they ship to Poland; although I have to admit that I had my final order shipped to Jersey and then sent onto Poland to save a few quid.

So with sixty to choose from I narrowed it down to eight.

Poblano (ancho): I just had to have the key ingredient for ‘Mole Sauce’ even if I didn’t know what it was until now!

Jalapeno: I have grown them in the past and look forward to pickling them in the future, a must have jar on the shelf and topper for a fiery Pizza.

Hungarian hot wax: As requested by Gosia as their large size makes them ideal for stuffing.

Tabasco: We don’t want to have to buy it, so why not make it; how hard can it be?

Prairie fire: One for the windowsill to keep us warm in the autumn.

Lemon drop: I liked the sound of these and I’m interested to see how the citrus flavour comes through and the colour looks amazing.

Padron: Having consumed an unfathomable quantity of these little beauties in the guise on Pimientos de Padron (lightly fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt) in the tiendas of Galicia, north west Spain, I just have to try and rekindle the memory.

Scotch bonnet: I had to have at least one hot one on the list and the scotch bonnet is a familiar contender, so on the list it is. Although further reading only ranks it four out of five on the heat scale, that’s more than enough for me.

Propagation is relatively straight forward in a seed tray with a light (5mm) covering, although the trick is to keep the temperature above 22 centigrade otherwise germination can be a bit erratic. If you have a heat mat or heated propagator then you’re in luck, we just stick them on the windowsill which has a radiator below and just hope that Gosias dad keeps the boiler stoked:)

I used to cover my seed trays with black polythene to help keep in more heat as light isn’t required for germination, but this year I have gone for a clear plastic cover because that’s what we had available. Mist lightly with a spray and wait; they should say hello within the next two to three weeks. I’ll update you once we have the first signs of life.

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Crop report

Unlike our friends over at City and the Mountains I haven’t taken the time nor had the patience to weigh the produce we have collected from our kitchen garden; maybe in the future I’ll try to keep better records as it’s interesting to see exactly what comes of all the hard work.

On the other hand we do have a fairly accurate record of the yields from our top field, probably because we only planted two crops!

As I detailed in one of my earlier posts we planted 150Kg of potato seed over a 900 M² area back in late April, the land wasn’t considered to be good for spuds, or anything for that matter, but I wanted potatoes and so I got potatoes! So when we finally picked them in early September, with the help of friends, family and neighbours, I was disappointed to find that we only harvested around 700Kg (maybe a bit more as we dug quite a lot by hand for the wedding). A combination of poor soil, a very dry summer and no doubt a little lost foliage eaten by our friends from Colorado all conspired against a good crop. Looking at the price of potatoes, twice that of last year, it would seem that everyone was blighted by the same problems. Gosias aunty lost all of their potatoes as a result of flooding in June, their lowland location meant that the tubers were trapped under water for many weeks, so the family is thankful that we at least had something to show for our efforts.

Putting this all into context we have to look at the cost to produce these potatoes and dividing the fuel cost between rye and potatoes, adding a bit more for the harvest, I’d say we have spent about 300 Pln (£60). That works out at roughly 50gr (10p) per Kg. Considering that you can buy them in the shops for about 1Pln (20p) per Kg it might seem like a lot of hard work, but then they are ours and they are free from fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides; which adds more than monetary value in my book.

The oats on the other hand cropped well, when we harvested in early August, with the help of the neighbours Massey Ferguson 307, we managed to reap about 1500Kg; a good fodder crop for when we eventually get some livestock on the go. Lets just hope the rats and mice don’t help themselves to too much over the winter!

Once again putting a cost on this is essential to determining the viability of future crops, so adding the fuel, seed and harvesting costs together we reach the sum of around 650 Pln (£130). In actual fact the farmer harvested the oats free of charge as part of our wedding present, but I have added the cost as if he had charged.  So that comes in at about 22 Pln  (£4.40) per 50Kg sack of oats; the going rate at the moment is about 25 pln (£5) per sack! A waste of time? I think knowing that the crop is ours and free of any additives does make a big difference; if we intend to feed it to our pigs, sheep, goats etc. in the future then at least we know what we are feeding them. Ideally we would like to stay away from commercial feeds altogether, even if it means that livestock takes a little longer to mature, knowing what fattened them up would sit well with me and hopefully add a premium to their value should we ever sell outside of our community.

I’ll make a quick note about the other ‘vegetable crops’ that I mentioned in my original post, if only to reiterate how poor the land is as a growing medium. Our cabbages are little more than cricket ball sized and the pumpkins just about reached the softball court. Mind you we have still had quite a few coleslaws from the cabbage and the pumpkin seeds are drying on top of the cooking range; an extremely healthy snack and very versatile cooking ingredient.

So what plans for the top field next year? Well we have already planted rye where the oats where (the 24th September), and we plan to plant clover and beans in the area that we had the spuds, cabbage and pumpkins; hopefully adding some much needed nitrogen to patch for the future. The very top of the top field that we left in oats as a green manure will be the potato patch for next year, but we hope to ship in some manure in the spring to help them along and increase the yield.

I was going to post a little about the kitchen garden but I can see that you have most likely lost interest if you got this far; I know I have, so beware I’ll leave it for an other post. Until then and hopefully with an update on the house in between, I’ll leave you read something more interesting 🙂

July, almost August, the catch up continues

I’m determined to try and catch up on July before August arrives, as I can see the slippery slope getting steeper and I’m loosing my footing; even so the catch may still be instalments as  I’m relying on dates of photos and the calendar to try and get things in order, not that it matters if things arrive in a random order, but it would be nice to have at least one thing in my life with a reliable schedule.

Having quickly read my last post I noticed that I missed on of the major events of the year; July 30th 2013 saw the installation of our first tap! In fact three taps, one in the kitchen and two in the basement, one of which is feeding the washing machine; yes you heard me right; a washing machine. Hard to believe that so many modern conveniences could arrive in one day, changing our lives forever! With all this water available we even move the bath in from outside and whilst we don’t have a tap to fill it I do manage to rig up a way to empty it!

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Plumbing is easy, it’s doors that make it difficult!
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All mod cons

2nd July:  Paul, out third volunteer, arrived today from The London and the group grows in number and character. Add Slawek to the mix, who has joined us to continue with the terrace, and our evenings are a cracking mix of conversation and laughter, helped along with great food and a modest amount of alcohol 🙂

Paul is planning his own straw bale build in France next year so we have plenty to discuss and we soon find that we hold similar views on many subjects that come up in conversation. Our opposing accents also provide entertainment for our European friends 🙂

The weather is also with us and it’s a great feeling to see things moving along and everybody getting along. Wood plaining and sanding, terrace building, window surround shaping and trimming, and a spot of painting; all in all a good days work.

3rd, 4th, 5ht and 6th of July: It started with the hedge trimmer, not surprising that it’s ground to a halt after the abuse that it has received over the previous 12 months, not surprising at all; a little unfortunate that Paul was using it at the time as I think he feels a little responsible.

It’s funny the noises that you only notice when they stop, like the sound of the grinder with the sanding disk attachment that Paul is wielding and taking out the rough spots on the wood for the terrace. The noise stopped and never started again; never mind I had picked up the grinder at an auction for a fiver so no great loss and I have a spare.

With well over five cubic meters of planks to plain, never mind all he wood for the construction of the frame and roof, the plainer that we have borrowed from a friend has proved to be the most beneficial tool available to us and it seems to run most of the day as Paul and I pass more wood through it. That is until it refuses to start after our lunch time break! After various tests and inspection by an expert it appears that the motor has burnt out and needs to be rewound 😦

Fearful that Paul has arrived with a jinx on electrical equipment I provide him with a hammer and refuse access to the chain saw! Did I mention that the washing machine pump has failed as well….

The progress over the week is fantastic and Alexandra and Iulia make a start on the clay slip coat after finishing the window surrounds with Pauls assistance with non motorised tools!. Paul is quite tall, over 6 foot I’d guess, and the extra height comes in handy.

7th July: No trip to Poland would be complete without Sunday lunch cooked by Gosias mum. It was also a good opportunity for Gosias dad to give Paul a closer look at the machinery in the backyard. The first vehicle on display is a hand built ‘woz’ (or trailer) a combination of a WSK motorbike and Trabant car; six speeds, including reverse and capable of carrying a tonne. The clay for the house was all transported from the brick factory on the back on this  wondrous vehicle; when asked how to stop, Gosias father points to his feet 🙂

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The second specimen is an unadulterated WSK, it might not go very far or fast, but its a classic and Gosia has her eye on it for the future.

And believe it or not that’s all I have time for for now, Sunday lunch is upon us, the first we have cooked at the house; Steve and Dorota are coming to join us and then Gosias family are here to pick the raspberries and join us for a BBQ later in the day; there is also a rumour that we will be heading to the neighbours in the evening, so much for a day of rest 🙂

So another weeks goes by and I’m still a couple of weeks behind, reading and writing, I’m only sneaking in this closing paragraph as the sausages are cooking, the men are in the stable fixing the hedge trimmer and the women folk are discussing the price of fish, or maybe sugar, and whilst it’s hard to be antisocial if you don’t speak the language it’s still polite to make an appearance and supply the refreshments 🙂 Have a great weekend, Eddy & Gosia

Elderflower beer; my first attempt!

About three years ago, soon after we bought the land, I also bought a chain saw; the brambles and brush were so thick that the strimmer just wasn’t up to the job. I also had big plans about clearing some of the trees to provide firewood in the future, but that’s another post in itself.

One thing we did have lots of was elderflower, most of it overgrown with wild vines, so out came the chainsaw and I did my best to clear an area round the old house to provide access to the orchard. One thing that I hadn’t anticipated was the elders survival instinct. Every one of the stumps has since coppiced and sent out multiple new trunks and now, three years on, we have more elderflower than we know what to do with.

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So what to do with all of this elder? Why not try some beer 🙂

Elderflower beer, a work in progress recipe based loosely on the words I found in a book at a garden centre many years ago; who knows how it will turn out!

First of all you need a hot sunny day as that’s the best time to pick the flowers, when they are fully open and dry; pick about one litre of flowers. I pick them on the stalk then use a fork to strip the flowers off.

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Six oranges, lemons or grapefruit; ideally a mix. I used two oranges and three lemons as that’s all we had.

A kilo of sugar.

Chop up your fruit and put in a pan with 4.5 litres of water, bring to the boil adding the sugar to dissolve, simmer for about half an hour and leave it to cool.

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Once cool add the flowers and leave to steep for a couple of hours then strain the mixture into your chosen receptacle to ferment. There should be enough natural yeast in the elder flowers, but you could add yeast if you wanted to be sure of fermentation. Leave to ferment at around 20c for three or four days

Once fermentation is over, bottle it up and leave in a cool dark place for three or four months.

What does it taste of? I have no idea, I’ll let you know when I crack open the first bottle 🙂

Or you could try this great recipe for cordial http://underthelindentree.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/time-for-elder-flowers-and-strawberries/