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.”

Straw bale on the BBC

It’s always good to see any news on straw bale building, but it’s normally resigned to the likes of Grand Designs or YouTube channels, so when I first heard the report on Radio 4 and then read further on the BBC website about a couple of straw bale houses going up for sale in Bristol (UK) I just had to read more and spread the news. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31156579

Now I know that there are a lot of enthusiasts and traditionalists out there that may ridicule the construction methods and declare that this isn’t really a straw bale house, but I would argue that this is indeed the future f straw bale.

If straw bale is ever going to become mainstream then it has to adopt to modern techniques and technology, rather than trying to adapt old methods to meet todays exacting standards.

Of course I would never even consider building a house based on this new modular and factory fabricated methodology, but then I’m an enthusiast not a builder and I like curvy walls 🙂 I like the aesthetics and the fact that our timber frame and infill method was very accessible for someone with no building experience to tackle. For the brave you could even try the Nebraska load bearing method, but for us the additional skills, uncertainty  and possible problems with planning were things that we decided to avoid.

The point is that the new technique still ticks most of the boxes that people who decide on straw bale say they ticked when asked why they decided on this method of build. It’s environmentally friendly in the materials it uses in comparison to the other modern building systems. The high insulation properties mean that the running costs leave a small carbon foot print over a long period of time and it creates a healthy living environment free of harmful toxins that may otherwise exist in synthetic buildings.

It’s just not curvy!

It may not be as accessible to people who want to self build on a budget, stick to the niche books and websites like this, but it is most definitely the future of straw bale and for that I’m happy to shout about it.

All that remains to be done is to invent a usable composting toilet system that people are happy to use 🙂

A busy week

Well I should say three days, as my brother in-law and two nephews turned up on Thursday to help out on the cold and neglected upstairs!

Of course I had pottered about early in the week finishing many small jobs that remain on the ground floor; finishing the bathroom door frame, putting a few more touches to the kitchen, chopping more wood and planting garlic which I had completely forgotten about until now. I’m not sure how it will fair, but I always remember that I would plant in November or December back in the UK as I once read that a frost is good for the cloves, helping to promote strong growth. We will see if the couple of rows I put in come up later in the spring.

Anyhow, back to the family visit, which was announced about a week ago, Bartek had a couple of days off and offered his services along a couple of school free nephews who are enjoying their winter break at the moment.

It did kind of put the pressure on me as I had to have all the electrical cables in before they put up the battens, insulation and ultimately the plaster board ceiling. I also needed to tidy up the electrical consumer unit so that the basement and ground floor where complete, to lessen the spaghetti like mass of wires that would become unfathomable with the addition of extra lighting circuits! Still, I work best under pressure and everything was in place and I even managed to keep ahead of the workers as I second fixed my ceiling roses leaving a flex for the light fittings. In the end I was short of about 12 meters of four core cable, but this can be retrofitted within the stud wall, again I was happy that I didn’t hold the workers up.

Two mattresses came out of retirement and our food consumption tripled for the duration but it’s amazing the difference those three day made as we now have, apart from the area above the steps, a wired, insulated and plaster boarded ceiling on our second floor. I ventured upstairs again today and as the lads had done a splendid tidy up job I could see quite a few tasks I can tackle before the spring. A very positive move forward.

No pictures of the work at the moment, I wasn’t expecting to write a post, but then I had a few few beers! Mind you this is what it used to look like back in May last year, an encouraging reminder of what we have achieved in the last eight months.

DSC08814

I just thought, I now owe you a kitchen, a bathroom and a second floor. Oh and how can I forget, a Winkoloo! It’s coming….soon, very soon.

Filling in the gaps

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

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

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

DSC09321DSC09315

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

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

DSC09445DSC09443

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

DSC09843DSC09846

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

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

More to come in my next post.

A couple of pointers

Having recently discovered Malina with her jaws clamped firmly around a teddy bears neck, not to mention her demands for black pudding and other blood rich foods, names of which I can’t think of at the moment, we have finally accepted the fact that she is probably a vampire.

Conscious that these things can quickly spiral out of control, having watched several seasons of True Blood I know what I’m talking about, I headed down to the cellar\workshop and fashioned some wooden stakes.

Unbeknown to me Gosia had already tested Malina with garlic, holy water and a couple of mirrors and so as I entered the house from the basement, with wooden stakes in hand, I was relived to know that they would no longer be needed for the original purpose, Malina is just teething!

Still I had quite a number of stakes, as you can never be too careful, so what to do with them? Gosia as ever had the answer and declared that one of the kitchen walls looked a bit bare and that she had a couple of old plate\cup racks, that she had waved a wand over, and they needed fitting.

Now anybody who has a straw bale house will know that you can’t just get the drill out, drill a hole and fit and plug and screw, no first of all you have to put something in the wall to screw to. Luckily I had some wooden stakes to hand, so I set about setting them about the wall to form anchor points for our latest storage solution.

DSC05929
Mark up
DSC05931
Make a hole
DSC05933
Knock in a stake

 

After carefully marking where you need the screws to fit, knock a hole in the wall and drive in the stake. These stakes were about 20cm long made from 5 x 5 cm wood. Additional wedges can be used if the wood has a bit of a wobble on it, although you would be surprised how rigid they are in the compacted bale.

Once you are happy then plaster over and leave to set over night, making sure you leave some kind of mark to remind you where the centre of the wood is.

Next day you should be good to drill your pilot hole through the plaster and into the wooden stakes giving a sturdy mounting point for anything from kitchen cabinets to curtain rails. I’ll update with a photo once the plate racks are in place and fully loaded, just in case 🙂

DSC05925

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.

That was the month that was

I just had a quick look at last Aprils posts to see what the weather was like and it looks like we had a good spell then as well, although we had a fair amount of snow in the first couple of weeks , so this is definitely a better start to the season.

This is evident in the blossoming trees; the whites of the plum, cherry and pear are giving way to the pink of the apple and I enjoy driving through the villages as everyone seems to have a fruit tree of sorts in bloom at the moment. A good year for apples this year I hope, a good year for cider!

Malina continues to grow at a rapid rate and it’s just as well that I’m working on the house and building up my muscle tone because it will be a struggle to lift her soon! I’m also increasing my stamina by chasing after Denis, the pup that no one wanted. Not quite the truth but after Timmy, Bruder and Gruba all found new homes to go to, we were left feeing a little flat, so Denis was destined to stay with us. Denis incidentally is in memory of the late Mr Denis Brown of  La Moye Garage, times past. Affectionately known as Brownie, Denis just had to be named after him, despite her gender.

Things are moving on fast at the house, I took the advice from Lupe and Phyllis in their book ‘How to Design and Build Your own House’ and Gosia called in a plumber. Having inspected the work I had done so far it would seem that it was a good idea as my pipes where ripped out and new trenches dug in the basement for drainage! I was quick to explain that my work was only temporary to facilitate last years wedding, but it was a feeble defence and I hid behind the language barrier and smiled sheepishly for the next hour or so.

Of course the notion that we wouldn’t be having any flushing toilets in the house took him by surprise and he made several attempts to change our mind, thankfully Gosia is fully on-board with the composting toilet idea and so put up a good fight and our drainage pipes to the first floor are of the small bore variety. After working on site for a couple of days and completing stage one of the work he did point out that he had left me a full sized drain in the basement should I want to install a toilet when I’m old! I thanked him with a broad smile and nodded my appreciation. The local builders merchant told stories of his shock at the sanitary situation as he went to pick up more pipes, I’m sure we are now talk of the village.

Once the drains were in I levelled off the floor with sand, put down a water proof membrane and called in some concrete. Not the most environmentally friendly approach but as I have said before you have to be realistic and practical about these things and this, for us, is by far the best solution available. This sub floor will then take any hot and cold feed pipes that are required in the basement, be topped with 5cm of insulation and then another 5cm of concrete, eventually to be finished with tiles of some sort. Drains have been placed in the three rooms to aid with cleaning, as I said to the plumber ‘to wash away the blood!’

We have placed the order for our staircase, very English style with a carved banister and turned spindles finished with oak treads, which will be made by a friend of ours who worked in Jersey for several years making and installing staircases. Fingers crossed that we are ready in time for the installation.

I have built the partition walls on the first floor which helps us to visualise the layout a little better and provides the opportunity to measure up for tiles and wooden flooring, which we are going to view more samples of in the next few days. We have also started on the first coat of two coats of lime render inside, things are starting to shape up and there is a real feeling of progress. I am currently living in the house but progress is also been made making the stable good for Gosia and Malina to move over once the weather has completely turned the corner. Next week I will be trying my hand at plastering the newly clad ceiling!

And whilst all this is going on Gosias family have visited a few times and planted a mass of vegetables in the top field, including 2000 M² area of potatoes (more than twice as much as last year). I know this sounds like a lot but it’s all part of the master plan and a good proportion will be used in the feeding of the pigs, which we hope to take on later in the year. We have discovered a Polish rare breed that is very similar to the English Berkshire and we hope to visit a nearby farm to discuss our requirement soon. Mind you it’s sometimes best not to make too many plans.

So that’s were we are and that was the month that was, helped along by the weather, willing friends and family, with a welcome and resting Easter break in between. I hear that the weather is going to turn by the end of the week so it’s full steam ahead until then and with May Day holidays heading this way I might get a few extra days off.

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!

Michalina toys
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.

DSC08881
Natures finest
DSC08883
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.

DSC08860
Lots of lumps and bumps to even out.
DSC08877
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!

DSC08759 (2)

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 🙂

IMG_0276
My new desktop, to keep me motivated whilst working over the winter.

From sugar cube to pagoda

For those of you that follow the blog then you will have noticed my absence, for those who don’t then welcome to Winkos; a blog about all sorts of things centred around the construction of a straw bale house in Poland and our search for a life outside of the rat race.

It’s almost a month since my last post and probably as long since I even read any of the blogs that I follow; you would think that I had lost my internet connection, and in a way it does feel like that.

But it is work and events that have kept me from the keyboard and I’m happy to be able to report that our recent efforts have transformed the sugar cube into a pagoda as the terrace gained a roof and a deck.

If I’m honest this push to get things done on the exterior of the house and complete the terrace, albeit with temporary barriers for safety, was driven by events; as after seven years together and the last 8 months planning, Gosia and I finally tied the knot.

If you know us on Facebook then you will already have seen the photos, which is just as well because I’m not likely to post many on the blog and for now I can’t post any at all as they are in the hands of our friend who took all the photos of the event; but take my word for it it was a truly fantastic day 🙂

And that’s it for now, a short post to announce a big event, hope to catch up with some reading and blog more soon.

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.

DSC07795

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.

DSC07646

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.

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!

Plumbing
Plumbing is easy, it’s doors that make it difficult!
100_0358
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 🙂

100_0392100_0389100_0390100_0395

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

June, or is it July already

It seems like an age since I last posted and sure enough it’s three weeks! We have had such a busy time with volunteers arriving, working and leaving, not to mention the on going work schedule which they have contributed to beyond my expectations. I almost don’t know where to start, so I’ll go back to the post I started to write about ten days ago over a pre-breakfast breakfast of Marmite (my last jar!) on toast. And with todays schedule full of family events the update may arrive in a couple of parts; who knows.

24th –27th June: With the impending arrival of our first volunteers (updated 14th July)  we changed focus from the terrace to improving the facilities, number one on my list was to finish off the second composting toilet which I started work on over a month ago; when I say started work on I mean I had thought about it a lot and poured some foundations! Three days later, in amongst other jobs that seemed to crop up, the toilet was completed. Gosia took charge of getting the house in order and we even managed to lay a concrete floor in the boiler room in preparation for the installation of a water tank; one step closer to the elusive tap.

DSC07583

Thursday evening saw us taking a trip to Tarnow to pick up Iulia and Alexandra, volunteers from Romania who have recently qualified as architects and wanted to get some hands on experience. We soon discovered that they had been on quite an adventure staying in France, Spain and Italy over the last couple of months; we hoped that they would not be too shocked with their new home for the next week or so.

28th June: After walking the dogs, having breakfast, tending to the vegetable garden and pottering around in general until about 9am we came to the conclusion that our newly arrived help had decided to call a taxi in the middle of the night to escape the medieval living conditions that had been presented to them the night before.

Or, as was the case, they simply had a lie in 🙂

29th June to 2nd July: Alexandra and Iulia seemed to love the place and where eager to help out, the perfect volunteers, so we offered them the task of painting the part built terrace with the boiled linseed oil that we are using as a preservative. A job well done and completed in a couple of days.

The evenings have started to liven up as friends and neighbours pop in to meet someone crazy enough to want to work for free; beer and bimber keep spirits high, not to mention Gosias cooking, which as ever brings a smile to everyone’s face and a roundness to the belly 🙂

Fresh ideas are bounced around and the observant eyes of our visiting architects spot a potential problem with our windows, or should I say the surrounds. Recent study of French design mean the we knock back the clay and start again to offer a wider angle for light to enter the building. Gold stars awarded and a new task is offered to our willing volunteers.

……..to be continued…..

By the way I have put a few new pics on the volunteers page, but I hope to continue and catch up soon; good night 🙂

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.

Bug hunter
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?

Spuds
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

Beetle mania and mud flinging ticks the box

Yes I’m still here, although if you had asked me the same question this time last week I may have provided a different answer. Yet again I fell into the bimber trap (Polish moonshine) at yet another neighbours barbeque; we are still the novelty guests in the village and after turning down an invite a few weeks ago we could not say no a second time. As you may have gathered saying no isn’t that easy for me and the resulting grill left me in no fit state to type, drive, walk or talk that much on Sunday; my usual catch up day. A family member’s names day on Sunday afternoon sealed my fate, as I was plied with more vodka and bimber, in the end I was having trouble catching up with myself never mind the blog!

But at last, Sunday has come round again and after an early start to the day (6am) we have managed to walk the dogs, pick a bucket full of cherries for Gosias family, driven out to Rzeszow to exchange some faulty door handles that we purchased last week and made it back to Rzemien for Sunday lunch. On the way here we noticed that a number of people at the side of the forest road selling bilberries, so I can feel a trip is on the cards later in the day; although I’m hoping I can get out of that one as the mosquitoes are thick in the woods. Bilberries taste so much better when picked by someone else J

There you go, rambling on, I better try and catch up, although I’ll try and make it brief, like my notes 🙂

Monday 3rd June: My first tick! Now you may find this is odd but it is a big moment for me as I thought that Polish ticks didn’t like Yorkshire blood, as I have until now, never had a tick. Ticks in Poland can be dangerous and if one latches on it is possible to contract Tick-borne Encephalitis . Gosia soon removed it from my neck with a pinch of the tweezers!

An article I did find that may be of interest regarding ticks and preventing them, although I haven’t tried this yet, its worth a read. https://organicdailypost.com/7-ways-make-yard-hostile-ticks/

I started my first batch of Elderflower beer; recipe to follow.

Tuesday 4th June: The rain keeps coming down and the trenches that I pumped dry of water yesterday are full again; a little disheartening. The weather is so odd at the moment, 23°C and sunny then thunder storms with hail; hail so big that roof tiles are reported as smashed and a friend’s car is dented; mind you it was a Fiat 🙂

Still plenty of work going on in the house, forming the windows and stuffing the gaps and quite a bit of mud flinging; or clay slip to be more accurate.

Wednesday 5th June: My daily mushroom hunt whilst walking the dogs in the morning is paying off, most days I come back with one or two; today I found the Daddy and we had a splendid breakfast of scrambled eggs with mushrooms.

Big daddy
Enough for breakfast for two, with 6 eggs 🙂
Chopped and ready to fry
Chopped and ready to fry

Thursday 6th June: Rain, sun, sun, rain; working between the house and outside on the veg when we get a dry spell; we are now checking for potato beetles every other day. Initially we must have picked a good couple of hundred, but the numbers seem to be reducing, no sign of lave yet which is promising.

Paul, Ringo, George and John
Not much screaming in the crowds, just the snap crackle and pop of drowning beetles (once I added water!)

Friday 7th June: All downstairs windows are now complete, all formed and covered in a thick layer of clay slip; this should provide a good strong base for the next coat once it has dried.

Saturday 8th June: One final push to finish weeding the potatoes, we are joined by Kazek, Kasha and Pawel from next door as they tackled there own patch of spuds; so banter and a few beers fly between the fields. Word must have got out in the village that we were working in adjacent fields as Gosia received a call from another neighbour on Pawels phone; the fated invite to the BBQ. Spuds cleared of weeds by 7pm, tin bathed and out for 8.30pm, home way past midnight.

Monday 10th June: Allowed to drive again! The weather seems to be improving so I pumped out the trenches again and got cracking with the waste pipe out of the house. As we are only getting rid of grey water, sink, bath, shower, washing machine etc. then all the pipe is 50mm, this saves quite a bit of money and it fits together nice and easy. Pipes in, trenches filled, job done.

We noticed that the straw and clay above the windows is sagging a little under the weight of the wet clay so we added a few props to take the pressure off; I reckon on another week at least before they have set.

Window support
Window support
Window support 02
At least a week to set and then we will see if this worked.

Tuesday 11th June: The old cherry tree is at last giving up it’s fruit, the event is normally marked by the arrival of the ever squawking jays as they top feed off the tree, but as yet I haven’t heard them.  My new dog walking route is set to go pat the tree so I can grab a feed every morning 🙂

As ever though there has to be a balance to this new bounty and this is marked with the arrival of the horse flies, or bonk as they are called in Poland. We are fortunate that we only occasionally get mosquitos around the land, but the horse flies certainly make up for is during the day and they often draw blood if your not quick enough with your slapping hand.

News comes through that a friend of ours, who has always said he would help with the building of the terrace, will be here later in the week. Suddenly kicked into gear with the news I start to dig the post foundations.

Wednesday 12th June: The weather has at last returned to its normal self and our mood is improving; just as well as the post foundations are over a meter deep through hard clay and my enthusiasm is tested; luckily there are only ten to dig!

Took some time to sort out the wood for the terrace, we have borrowed a plainer thicknesser to plain the wood for the construction; so trying to get things in some kind of order.

Thursday 13th June: More of the same with some weeding thrown in for good measure. Life is good and we are starting to reap the rewards for all our work in the garden. Not a day goes by without the consumption of one of our crops; strawberries have been a daily desert for almost two weeks now and every meal is served with a salad of spring onions, lettuce, radish and any number of fresh herbs.

Friday 14th June: On with the terrace, or at least marking out and marking up; we are planning to rest the upright posts on pins set in concrete from the ground, a little more elegant than the metal shoes that you often see. One friend has welded some rebar to 12 mm threaded bar to provide a more solid fix in the concrete and Gosias uncle is cutting some steel plate for the bottom of the posts; I have to admire the way that the problems are solved in Poland, the land of invention 🙂

Post Pins
All pins in a row

Saturday 15th June: One cement, two sand, three gravel; or should I say half a bag of cement, four shovels of sand and six shovels of gravel per load. Roughly two and a half loads per hole and we had the job done by lunch time, a job well done; I even managed to get some foundations down for the second composting toilet I’m building. And whilst all this was going on Gosia was busy getting to grips with the plainer and the smoothed wood was piling up. I’m looking forward to Monday and the start of the framing.

Dictated by the weather; the last week of May

After such a great start to the month we had become a little complacent and simply assumed that the warm weather would continue, why wouldn’t it? This last week has given us a good shake and reminded us that you should never take anything for granted, that and to make sure we dig a drainage system to prevent the road from deteriorating anymore as it turns to a river every time we get heavy rain!

I must also apologise in advance for my mixing of tenses as I write this, some is written as it happens, to remind me it happened, and some is written from memory to fill in the gaps; I get confused easily and even though I try and correct things before they are published there are so many mistakes that’s it’s inevitable that some get through 🙂

Monday 27th: The rain almost convinced us to stay in Rzemien, but the prospect of lazing around all day, looking for things to do, was enough of an incentive to head off back to the ranch; not so bright, but early. A straw bale house will not build itself, so with a plan of attack agreed upon we set about trimming the walls with chainsaw and hedge cutters and then forming the window surrounds with chicken wire. I have heard chicken wire called blood wire, for good reason, as the cut ends can be vicious and gloves are a must.  Once a corner is formed and stuffed out with loose straw we covered the area with a thick coat of clay slip; at this stage it is an experiment to see how the corners form and how ridged they will be for the next coat of sand and clay.

Tools of the trade
Tools of the trade

Incidentally the mesh is pinned to the straw using homemade landscape pins; 3mm galvanised steel wire shaped into elongated staples about 10cm long.

Straw staples
Straw staples

Tuesday the 28th: The sun decided to make an appearance so we headed outside to pay some attention to the potatoes; they are coming on well and need to be weeded. We were still weeding at 5pm when we the rain decided to visit once again and we had only managed to clear half of the patch! One of the reasons it’s taking so long is that the ground is full of old sods (that must be the first time I have used that term in its correct context 🙂 ) so we are taking this opportunity to clear them; we have used the resulting piles of turf to help fill in the recently dug trenches that have sunk with all the rain. The weeding also provided a good chance to check the potatoes for Colorado Beetles, their eggs and larvae; three adults found and destroyed so potentially 1800 eggs less that could have been, I must make a mental note to check again soon.

A badly stitched photo of the top field, potatoes on the right
A badly stitched photo of the top field, potatoes on the right

We had a rare treat later in the day as Steve and Dorota invited us round to share the last leg of lamb from last year; very nice it was too 🙂

Wednesday the 29th: Back in the house and more of the same, once the walls are trimmed then any gaps need to be stuffed and there are more than you might think; attention to detail now will ensure that we reap the high insulation value of the straw in the future. I also tackled my first internal window sill, one of the two that will become window seats; it’s only the frame at this stage and I’m sure I will change the design as I move round the rest of the windows, but almost everything is an experiment and you have to have a starting point 🙂

Thursday the 30th: Today is a Polish national holiday based on a religious date in the calendar so any work we tackle has to be behind closed doors, as it was raining this wasn’t a problem. More trimming, stuffing, forming and experimenting! The heavens truly opened up at around lunch time and our hand built road became a river once again; Gosia insisted that it was our fault for working on a religious holiday 🙂 (not really) The storm continued for quite some time and the wind came in from every direction, throwing hailstones in for good measure; a good test for our house of straw. We later learned that several houses in the valley had flooded, so I didn’t complain as I bailed out the knee deep water of the trenches at the side of the house which I have yet to pour foundations in to support a couple of retaining walls. At about 6pm we received a call from our neighbours telling us that we had half an hour to report to a BBQ, the rain had stopped and we had had enough so a quick wash and we were there 🙂

Friday the 1st: Just say no! If only it were that easy, still the resulting hangover reminded me for the rest of the day what I should do next time.

So what do you do on a dry but cloudy day with a body and head that are still dazed and confused from a binge of alcohol? Cut the grass. Yes that’s the job for me, especially as I have the luxury of an Iseki 2160 with Kubota grass topper that I shipped over from Jersey after spotting it going cheap a couple of years ago. The tractor is so small it fits in the back of a Ford Transit, but it does a great job of cutting the grass and moving things around; it’s even been known to assist a few vehicles out of muddy predicaments.  But even with the extra horse power to hand the grass cutting it is still day long job to clear the orchard and bottom field; more than enough for me today. I still need that big tractor Pete, just as soon as you win the lottery 🙂 I dread to think how long it would take me if I used Terry’s method over at City and the mountains. I have to admire his determination and enthusiasm.

Not me but my nephew; helping out last year
Not me but my nephew; helping out last year

Saturday the 2nd: Back in the house with the straw as the rain comes down yet again; I did manage to dig a few trenches across our road to redirect some of the water as it runs of the surrounding fields but I must work on a more permanent solution. The French drain around the house seems to be performing well, some good came of our recent efforts.

Two and a half walls trimmed and stuffed with the majority of window surrounds and two window sill frames completed by the end of play; it’s slow, but it’s progress. I can feel some clay slinging coming on next week, always good fun, especially if the sun is shining.

One advantage of working in the house is that the range gets fired up and a pot of something is always on the go; even if it’s just food for the dogs. We have made Pizza and our own bread this week, recipes to follow; one day:)

Always something cooking if we are in the house.
Always something cooking if we are in the house.

Did the earth move for you?

Monday 20th May: Another slow start to the week for us as we had more paper work to complete for the EU amongst other things and we didn’t reach the ranch till gone 4pm; still the weather was good so we set about the garden weeding, planting, inspecting and detecting. I spotted quite a few ants on the broad beans, a sure sign that the black fly are about, so I gave them a good sprinkle with by nettle brew diluted 5-1; it worked last year so fingers crossed.

For the record the nettle brew first started life as nettle beer, I collected almost a kilo of nettle tips with the intention of adding yeast and sugar to complete the brewing process, but time went by and the nettles had decided they wanted to be plant food by the time I got my act together. So I added water to the bucket to cover the nettles, weighed down by a plate and stone, then let the mixture infuse for a good week or so. The resulting liquid, which by the way smalls quite a bit, can then be used as a plant food mixed at 10-1 or an insecticide against aphids mixed at 5-1. For a few more ideas on what to do with your nettles try  The Foragers Year, Food and Forage Hebrides or Under the Linden Tree. My beer recipe will have to wait for now.

Tuesday 21st May: At long last I started to put the electric fence up, some how we just don’t seem to have the motivation for the house and besides other jobs need doing, so I opted for the fence! We had the call in the afternoon that the digger is turning up in the morning so I cracked open a fresh bag of lime to mark out where we want him to dig; the French drain around the house, the trench for the water pipe from the borehole, the grey water waste drain and quite a bit of landscaping; he’s going to be busy! I managed to finish the fence 🙂

I also managed to empty the toilet, just in case you were thinking that we had two buckets! How we managed to go so long between disposal is anyone’s guess, maybe we are eating less or just using more of the food we eat? Looking back we have spent a few extra mornings in Rzemien, so this probably explains things 🙂

Wednesday 22nd May: After explaining what we wanted to achieve we were told that there was a couple of days work, considering you pay by the hour this wasn’t the best news we had heard in a while, but then a JCB is a lot quicker than me with a shovel, especially when the French drain had to go in almost 2 meters deep, so we asked him to crack on.

I can only describe the next ten hours as ballet with heavy machinery, each swing of the arm was matched with the tip of the bucket ready for the next gouge in the earth or sweep of debris; this man could dig! In the ten hours that he was there he only stopped to wait for me to empty the bucket of gravel as I shovelled it out and into the trench for the drain; his lunch was eaten on the move and he refused the offer of coffee, tea and beer on several occasions, I’m sure he was using his feet to make those hydraulics frolic the way that they did. Just shy of 100 metres of trench dug at varying depths, backfilled and a whole area landscaped in 10 Hours, we can’t praise this guy enough; a fantastic job done and in half the time expected. The earth certainly moved for us!

Thursday 23rd May: At last the weather has broken, it had threatened most of the day yesterday, but the rain held off until now and today we are dealing with a fifteen degree temperature drop, a persistent drizzle and the threat of thunder in the distance. Tough and delicate negations had to be made first thing in the morning to determine who was going to get out of a nice warm bed to put the kettle on and get the milk from the fridge in the barn next door; at least I had brought in the water from the well the night before; valuable ammunition to bring to the table!

As the day brightened up as we experimented with chicken wire, chainsaws and hedge trimmers in the house, then we decide that as we now had a fence up we should get the remaining plants out in the top field. That kept us going for the afternoon and the house was left to wait another day.

Tomato tyres
Each home to a tomato plant each; with different ‘soil’

Friday 24th May:  Even the best negotiators know that it’s all about give and take and whilst I took the tea yesterday I was happy to give it back as coffee today 🙂 The rain really is here now and the house has us back within it’s heart and the task of stuffing gaps in the straw, making noggins for the floor and sills for the windows have taken priority. The occasional sunny spell sees us out in the garden and at long last I have planted two tomato plants for the humanure experiment. Two tyres, two plants and two mixes of compost, one shop bought the other home made; planted with an equal mix of mole hill soil to bulk things out and set up close to the stable and close together so that they get the same treatment; we will see how it develops.

Saturday 25th May: More of the same and my first window sill is complete, the template for the next four windows of the same size. Having an early finish today as we have to pick up the plainer thicknesses that we are borrowing from a friend, I say early, it’s close to 5pm before we leave.

Birch Bolete
Soon to be a sauce.

But how could I forget, Gosia found our first mushrooms of the year, a bit eaten but non the less very edible and free of worms; I haven’t checked to be certain but they look very much like Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum); the combination of rain and a full moon played their part no doubt. The dogs will be happy as their walks will go further afield now as I try and hunt down more of our favourite free foraged food.

All in all a good week, a bit thin on the ground with the photos but my hands have remained dirty for the duration and I’m cautious about going out in the rain with the camera; I have to make it last, however I did managed to get a few shots of the first signs of fruit on the trees and the now glorious Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)  in bloom around our out door dining room.

Walnut.jpg
A good year for walnuts?
Pear.jpg
If the apples fail at least we will have pears; I’ll have a Babycham!
Guelder Rose.jpg
No cut flowers on our table 🙂
Guelder Rose02.jpg
A purple garlic flower trying to get in on the action.

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
Cherry tree
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!

Deer01
I wonder if thats a dog?
Deer02
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 🙂

Early May

Ok, I’m trying out my new idea for the format of my posts to see if it works; it will also give me an opportunity to catch up on events, if not for you then for me. And if you are wondering how I have found the time to type this then it’s down to the weather and administration; the weather has turned wet and Gosia is in town ticking boxes for those nice people at the EU donations office. I don’t have long, so I better work quick!

A couple of things from April first, things that need to be recorded; the wild plumb tree came into flower on the 26th of April, the sweet cherry, sloe berry and plumb not far behind on the 29th. Apple, pear and quince just starting; looking over the valley you can spot all the fruit trees in flower indicating a house, occupied or indeed derelict. One worrying thing seems to be the lack of bees, I have only spotted bumbles so far; Gosia recalls a lot more buzzing last year, I guess the proof will be in the crop as it is highly dependant on pollination, although I not sure if this is exclusively from bees though?

The swallows are here at last, although they don’t seem to have taken up residence in the barn, not to worry; I know they must be nesting nearby as they are taking mud from the pit on the building site.

The coppiced trees seem to be doing very well, I’m getting about a 50% success rate with the silver birch and almost 100% with the willow. We have also had unintentional good luck with the elder which I cut two years ago to get rid of them; they have all coppiced and we now have an abundance of greenery soon to become flowers and berries!

Wild plumSweet cherry treeBlossom across the valley

5th, 6th of May: Looking at the 10 day weather forecast we convinced ourselves that we should be frost free from now on so we headed for the garden and top field; I think we also needed a bit of a break from the house. 45 or so pumpkins in along with maybe 20 butternut squash. These were joined by about 20 courgette and 20 sweet corn on the 10th. I will check for damage later today when we return, I think we are tempting fate by not putting up the electric fence.

As the dandelions are up I had a quick wiz round with the mower before they set seed; a job that will have to be repeated more often than I have my hair cut 🙂

I heard the first cuckoo of the year and the oats that we cast are starting to sprout, giving the top field a new look of dappled green. Also noticed the Lilac tree flowering and the odd sight of horse radish in flower, which I had never noticed before. We have lots growing around the land and we are careful to avoid them when strimming as they are a key ingredient in many pickles and preserves.

LilacHorse radish in flower

7th of May: Good news, bad news; the electricity was finally connected without drama or tripping fuses, I’m all set to tackle the rest of the house now. Bad news, the plaster around the windows is cracking. A combination of vibration from the opening and closing of the windows and our poor attempt at getting lime render to try and stick to wood and expanding foam; the fiberglass mesh we used to help the process has failed to perform as we had hoped. The rest of the day was spent chipping off any loose render so that we could have another try. I guess we were lucky that we hadn’t started to take down the scaffold!

8th of May: We have been thinking about getting another dog and Gosia has looked at quite a few dog rescue websites to find a suitable playmate for Jackie (not quite true as Jackie doesn’t like other dogs) but you never know. Gosia finally found what can only be described as a Springer, Setter cross’; Zara. We headed off  first thing in the morning and she was part of the family by noon.

Zara

We think we have a solution for the window surrounds; the render that is used for the polystyrene insulation is quite flexible, so we have decided to give it a go. First coat completed by the end of the day, ready for a second tomorrow.

9th and 10th of May: Whilst the new render solution isn’t ideal in that it’s not a natural product, it does seem to be doing the job. second and third coats applied as required, then sanded down to blend in with the lime surround.

New render around windows
New render around windows

Jackie fell off the top level of scaffolding! All I heard was the thud as she landed on the bottom level, about 4 meters below and Gosia shouting for me to get there asap. I ran round the building shouting to try and find Jackie’s location, heart beating fast and a sense of dread; but of course I couldn’t find the black lifeless shape of a dog anywhere, she had already dusted herself off and was heading back up the scaffold! A heart stopping moment and a ban on dogs on scaffold has now been imposed.

Spider dog

And just in case you are worried about an overflow, I emptied the composting toilet, although this was in no way related to the events of Jackie falling off the scaffold:)

11th of May: Final sanding down of render and painting with a primer so that the lime wash will take, a good tidy up, a weed around the various plots of land and eviction notices left for the few mice that seem to think that our house is available for occupation. Chicken soup tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it.

Monday 13th of May: Catching up with the blog 🙂 Hope to read a few before we head off later today.