A little bit of sunshine

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

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

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

Roll on spring!

The great God of Thaw!

No crash of thunder or flash of lightening; no, just a gentle warming, trickle of water and a chance to see the grass again below the snow. I like Thaw, he’s a nice God, and he came to visit us three days ago.

After our first imprisonment this year, we were finally released from a seven day lock down on the use of the vehicle. Whilst the snow wasn’t that bad, the drifts that covered our two possible escape routes were way above the Nivas sump and without one hell of a lot of shovelling there was no way out other than on foot.

To be honest it’s wasn’t that bad, we did run out of milk, but not for long as Gosia hitched a ride with the neighbours to get provisions. A short walk down the hill and a longer walk back with a rucksack and shopping bag!

It has been cold, which on it’s own is no real problem, but it was backed up with some pretty strong winds which pushed the limits of our poorly sealed windows. Unfortunately one of the jobs I never completed last year was the external window sills and insulation round the French doors onto the terrace, so the wind kept finding it’s way in and keeping the temperatures down on the few extreme nights we have had.

Not that it’s that bad, don’t get me wrong, I keep the boiler stoked and the temperature stays close to 20ºC and we have only resorted to using coal twice when the temperature dropped to -16ºC and that was more for Malina than us. I’m just a little disappointed with myself that I never sealed the building better.

Still it will be spring soon and whilst the weather is dry and sunny, like it was today, then we pick up quite a bit of solar gain through the windows. There was no need to fire up until the sun went down today and we picked up a tank full of hot water (48ºC) from the solar panels and it was only 8ºC outside! Anything free is always sweet to a Yorkshireman.

Anyhow, just a short post to keep me in the swing of things, I’m busy fulfilling promises I made which must be completed by the weekend for Gosias birthday and names day, these Catholics have a good deal!

And now to try and catch up on a few of your posts I haven’t read yet.


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.


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 little bit of bread but no cheese

It has to be one of the sounds that defines spring for me, but whilst it’s good to finally hear the Yellowhammer perched on the roof of the old derelict house, I know that by the late summer the melody will have worn a little thin! Mind you, you have respect to a bird that inspired the beginning of Beethovens 5th symphony.

So here we are again, back in the land of the potatoes (Pyrowki). Our normal approach was still blocked by snow when we arrived last Wednesday, so we headed down the valley road to our neighbours to park up and climb the hill. Not so bad, unless you have a car full of supplies to relocate, and after the first assent by foot it was decided to test the Nivas four wheel drive credentials. Lots of wheel spinning, mud flying and random steering to keep us on a relatively straight path; we managed to get within about 100 meters of our barn and stable, good enough for me.

Home sweet home
Home sweet home

Our little stable has faired quite well over the winter and after a quick sweep up and dust down it just need a little bit of heat to make it our home from home. So after a quick sweep of the chimney, i.e.  dismantle the chimney into sections take them outside and poke them with a stick whilst shaking them violently, the fire was stoked up and the temperature began to rise.

Get that fire buring
Get that fire buring

The weather was surprisingly good so after a quick inspection of the house we decided to crack on with a few outside jobs; we had started to clear the patch of land beyond the orchard in the Autumn so it seemed like a good idea to continue with the task before spring sent up a new set of brambles. Work is hard going after such an extended break without much physical activity and after three or four hours we headed back to the stable, breaking ourselves in gently so to speak.

Clearing the brambles
Clearing the brambles

That was until we noticed  the small river winding it’s way down our track, it had sprung up during the day as the snow started to melt and was taking the easiest route to the valley; but not only was it taking this route it was also taking our road, depositing it further down flied! And on top of that the recently filled trench that hid our electricity supply cable had collapsed creating a small canyon, the cleared earth finding its way into the well water. Anyone who says that washing your hair in well water turns it green would be mistaken on this occasion as it would definitely be a dirty orange if you used ours. Mind you it tasted ok 🙂 (Joke!)

So armed with a spade I tried to find the source of the rapidly evolving rapid  and quickly dug a trench to divert the flow a couple of hundred meters further up the hill; a job that carried on the next day as we also discovered a small swimming pool in the basement of the new house! The digging of a swale in the top field and drainage around the foundations have made their way up the list of things to do, although I hope this was a bit of a freak event as many hectares of half meter snow melted over a three day period; that’s a hell of a lot of water and not likely to occur again until next year, is it?

Land clearing, wood chopping, house cleaning and visiting friends filled the last four days quickly and a few beers and vodkas snuck in as we were welcomed back; we have been well fed and watered as we did the rounds. The proliferation of eggs, as everyone’s chickens have started to lay again, is apparent in the food that everyone cooks for you; Friday saw a breakfast of scrambled (4 eggs) a lunch of egg mayo sandwiches (2 eggs) a later lunch of a cheese omelette (4, maybe 5 eggs) and finally a supper with an accompanying dish of  stuffed eggs; I only managed 1 🙂

But it’s not all eggs, oh no, we did finally fire up the bread oven on Saturday and along with a Dahl inspired by Food and Forage Hebrides I made some Naan breads. Whilst Gosia was kind and told me how good they tasted I think I need a little more practice with the oven and experiment more with the distribution of fire; although from the results of the weekend I know that I will be able to make a top notch pizza that should cook in under 5 minutes; with the high temperature that is generated on the brick base.

It’s good to be back 🙂

Hall of Residence

The one thing I can say about my sister is that she has taste, which is probably why she had her own interior design company once upon a time; back in the day she was very well known and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Kevin McCloud before he hit the TV screen, and refitting a fifty room manor houses was not unknown. Sadly a number of reasons, including ill health, have meant that she is no longer whisked off by helicopter to Chivas whiskey distillery to rearrange the decor.

But true to form, when she moved back to Yorkshire from Spanish Galicia, she picked an absolute gem of a house and in a perfect location.


Hillary Hall in fact, late 17th, early 18th century, grade II listed building; my new temporary Hall of residence.

Of course the downside to living in an listed building is that the landlord was unable to put in double glazing or make too many alterations to try and keep the heat in, and it gets a bit nippy; my first job of the day is to get the fire lit 🙂

In saying that, with all this cooking and baking I’m doing the kitchen stays nice and toasty and I have a decent view out of the window when I’m busy cleaning up MY mess 🙂


I wish I’d have taken the pictures yesterday when the sun was shining, although that may have been a false representation of what the weather is normally like ‘up north’ Maybe once I’ve finished sprucing up the garden I’ll get a few more shots, rumour has it that the sun may shine again later this month.

A change of view

As you may have noted in my last post I was due to catch a plane last Monday, which I managed to reach on time; the weather in Poland remained subdued and I was more worried about the snow at my destination. Thankfully the snow in Manchester had pretty much disappeared on my arrival and although the air steward said I might have trouble crossing the border to Gods own County, the trip with my nephew was safe and without incident; arriving around midnight to a warm wood fuelled living room and a glass of red wine; fantastic !

Now I know I might have pushed up my carbon footprint for the year, but when I saw a return flight for £62 I just had to take it; I’ll offset the damage done with my composting toilet in the summer 🙂

It’s just about a year since I was last here visiting my sisters and nephews and it’s great to be back, there is also a good chance of finding a little bit of work to fund my visit and maybe even put a little bit a side; with the added bonus of the glorious Yorkshire countryside. Unfortunately the baggage restrictions have left me without my camera, but I managed to get a quick snap of my new backyard on Wednesday morning with my sisters happy snapper before the battery went flat. I plan to take more once I get out and about a bit more.


Oddly enough it feels colder here than in Poland, I’m guessing because of the damp in the air; where Poland is a very dry cold, does that make sense? I checked in with friends back in Poland and they said they had a meter of snow on Thursday, so maybe I’m better off here.

As I said it’s great to be back seeing family, but with all the catching up I have suddenly found myself not having the time to blog as often, I’m sure that will change soon; I can feel the urge 🙂

To coppice or not to coppice, that is the question

One of our hopes for the future is to be self-sufficient in wood as a fuel for our heating and some of our cooking, I would say all of our cooking but I don’t think it will be practical or realistic  to cook on the wood burning piec in the height of summer; 35ºC is not uncommon in July, August and September and the extra heat might just push us over the edge!

So back in  the spring of 2011 we purchased our first necessity (toy for me) for our future smallholding, a chainsaw; believe me Gosia is hard to convince when it comes to spending money so I had to have a solid argument ready before the go ahead was granted, but it was an easy sell with the above argument for self sufficiency laid of the table. Oddly enough once the novelty wore off and the initial felling of some of the larger diseased fruit trees was done I went back to using a bow saw, or even a pruning saw to thin out the woodland that we have; the chainsaw only comes out when really necessary.

As an experiment I decided to cut a section of trees down, not the really young trees, but ones I guessed to be five or six years old; about 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) in diameter., to see if they would send out shoots. The majority were silver birch, which I had read would coppice if they were under ten years old or hadn’t started to send out seed; there were also a few willow the odd oak and a few unknowns; and then I forgot all about them. So when I noticed new growth on the tree stumps that remained after I cleared a path for the new electricity cable trench, I was reminded that I must check on the previous years experiment.

 As you will see by the pictures we have had a degree of success with this birch and neighbouring willow; in fact as I inspected the area that I cut it would seem that about 30 % of the birch has coppiced well and sent out multiple shoots all of which are almost 6 feet high (close to 2 meters) All of the willow seems to have done what it is renowned for and exceed the growth of the birch by a foot or more, even the oaks have sent out shoots, although as would be expected the growth is a lot slower at about 2 feet (60cm). A great success?

Thinking that this was proof that we could have a sustainable source of wood in the future I thought I better turn to the internet for more advice of coppice management and from what I have read so far it may well be a false economy to coppice as the space requirements for a coppice to perform well may well be better allocated to many individual trees! I will of course continue to read  and may well report back once I’m convinced either way. Any advice happily received 🙂


Don’t  panic, not A fire, but THE fire; or should I say the ‘goat’.

We returned to the ranch on Tuesday after a relaxing time back in Rzemien and the weather has turned into what could only be described as British; thick fog, still air and drizzle. I was hoping for something a little colder and crisper, but then I’m sure it’s all to come; surely global warming can’t change a country’s climate that quickly!? The temperature is hovering just shy of double figures by midday and the nights are sticking pretty close to zero degrees C, so as you would expect we are relying on our little goat more and more once the murky sun disappears; 4pm sees me heading of to start the fire to try to get our living quarters up to temperature, especially if you intend on taking a bath.

Unfortunately try as I might to get the stable up to a comfortable 18- 20c I was constantly battling against blow back from the chimney and having to clear the room of smoke and heat in order to breathe. During the  last couple of weeks Gosia had found a pile of coal in the old house, hidden under weeds and rotting wood and I had started to add it to our fuel mix, was this the problem? After a very short brainstorming session we decided we needed a taller outlet to draw the air better. A journey to the builders merchant to buy the required pipe and clamps and I would have everything need to solve the problem.

As with most things there is always something else that has to take priority and the arrival of our doors (at last) and the ‘Studnia’ (bore hole digger) on Tuesday and Wednesday took our minds off the smoke-filled and chilled accommodation; that is until today. Determined to solve our heating problem I took everything apart to install the new pipe section to create more draw; whilst doing so I noticed that the pipes had accumulated quite a bit of soot and thought it would be a good idea to clean this out, after all I had already dismantled everything, and guess what; three hours after lighting the fire we are sitting here in 22c water boiled for the bath and the washing up already done, in T-shirts! It just goes to show that problems can be easily complicated and the easy solution often overlooked, a lesson learned and an entry in the diary to clean the chimney more often 🙂

Back on the ranch, no Skype or email, but we have a bath

So after nine days back in Rzemien to respect the ‘All Saints’ holiday and let me fit in two English teaching days, we headed back to the ranch with the intention of ‘getting things done’. Easier said than done it seems as our enthusiasm wanes along with the sun. We did manage to clear most of the wood that we cut down to make way for the electricity cable to supply the new house, which is just as well as we need to feed the koza (wood burner, it also translates as goat) a fair amount to heat the water and to keep us warm in the stable. We do have a good stock of wood that we have seasoned over the last two years, but it’s all too big for our scaled down wood burning goat, so a good four or five hour stint dragging the culled silver birch and willow to the stable to be reduced to 20cm (ish) lengths by lopper and chop saw filled the fuel buckets and boxes for the next week or so. I may have mentioned this before, but the old saying that wood heats you up three times is as true today as it was when it was first thought up; first when you fell it, second when you chop it and a third time when you burn it, I was reduced to wearing a T-shirt despite the cooler weather.

Keep feeding it and you can cook, heat up water for the bath and keep the stable warm!

Talking about burning wood, we also fired up the piec for more than half an hour, building up day by day, to today’s big burn of about six hours. It heats up nicely, with the brick structure slowly retaining heat but I need to make some fine adjustments to the cast iron hot plates as they don’t quite sit right; the grinder needs to come into play. We also fired up the bread oven, but we have to take this a little slower, giving it more heat every day for a month until it will be finally ready, we intend to add some fire bricks to the base as well to help retain the heat more so it will double as a pizza oven 🙂 If only the house doors had arrived as planned then we may have kept some of the heat in the building!  As we were in the house we managed to strip the protective film from the windows and frames, removed all the wedges holding the widows in place whilst the wonder that is expanding foam set and in turn filled the new gaps with more expanding foam. If I had of known that the window fitters would have worked to such a wide margin of error I wouldn’t have spent so long with the frames; my 2mm tolerance could have been 20mm, it would have made little difference to the final fitting! Still as they say in Poland ‘Z tego sie nie strzela’ (You don’t have to shoot from it)

With this saying in mind Gosia and I decided to take on the soffit 🙂

The wild boars have made a few more appearances whilst we were away, or should I say they have left evidence; nobody has actually seen them yet, but I fear its only a matter of time; dogs close by, knife in pocket whenever I go out past dusk, it’s that time of year. It also means that the deer are coming in closer as well and it’s almost a daily event to see them on the land now, sometimes at the side of the road (track) that leads to our land, only running off at the last-minute, within 20 meters or so of us in the van. The same can be said of foxes as well, maybe not as often, but they are a frequent sight; are chickens such a good idea next year? Will they be feeding us or will we be feeding the foxes?

There you go you see, I started to ramble on without mentioning the big event this week; we found a bath, or should I say that whilst we handed in the scrap that we have collected over the last couple of months, old tin cans, beer cans, rusty nails and the like, Gosia spotted an old rusty cast iron roll top bath and after a brief negotiation with the proprietor we handed over 140 Pln (about £30) this was after we had received 43 Pln (about a tenner) for the scrap we handed in. Gosia has high hopes, whilst I’m glad we don’t have to fork out a small fortune for a new one! Remind me of this statement when I’m cursing the bath as I try to re-enamle it next year! I will follow-up with a photo when I have a fully functional laptop again. At the moment I’m limping along running my operating system from a USB stick, but not to worry, Amazon are sending me a new hard drive and I hope to be back to normal with Skype and email after the weekend.

Piec off!… then on again, then off again, then on……..

It’s the moment you have all being waiting for, the highlight of the month (as long as I post it on time) the pinnacle of my blog so far, the post that will push my readership up to at least three if not four.You will notice how I have built up the tension, mentioned the piec on a few previous posts already, even tempted you with a photo of the first days work by the ‘zdun’. Well today I can show you the result of all his hard work as the piec was completed on Saturday. I would have posted sooner, but a recent tangle with the laptop power supply lead and my foot, resulted in the laptop crashing to the floor, ultimately leading to a crashing laptop hard drive. Its just as well I stockpiled lots of spares in my previous life in I.T., although I have yet to fix it….don’t worry I wont blog about it 🙂

And just to add a little more suspense I thought it would be a good idea to add a photo of what the inside of the house looks like as you enter through the big hole in the wall (I have since added a temporary door)

As you can see we have lots of work to do inside; this is one of the reasons we decided to have the piec built first. Not only will it provide heat, it also gives us a starting point in deciding the layout of the kitchen.View from the door

So here we go ‘here we go, hold on tight’ as they used to say on the Waltzer! The Piec.

Piec01 Piec02
Piec03 piec04
Piec05 piec06
piec07 piec08
 piec09All built in three and a half days, using about 600 bricks, 15 meters of reinforcement bar cut to various sizes, a few old hinges that we had knocking around from old doors, the hardboard back of a chest of draws (which I must put back) and a mix of clay and sand (1-2). Two of the doors we managed to find at an antiques fair; made from cast iron and built to last, and the hob and bread oven that Gosia is demonstrating in the last photo were bought new.I now have proof why women always burn themselves on ovens; they keep checking to see if they are warm!.

Once finished I had hoped to fire up and start to get some heat into the building, see what kind of heat could be generated and stored in all those bricks. But then of course something that is built in a traditional way, using a natural mortar needs time to dry and as with any new installation you are provided with strict instructions. Burn twice a day for 30 minutes on a low heat for at least three days, then build up slowly in the following weeks until it will finally be dry in about a months time and finally ready to be piled high with wood and coal as we see fit. So we are hoping the weather doesn’t get too cold over the next month and that we can survive in the stable a little longer. I’m getting use to waiting for things in Poland 🙂

As ever lots goes on around the big exciting events, I chopped lots of wood in eager anticipation of the piec, it’s very true what they say about wood heating you up three times; cutting it down, chopping it up and burning it (it still owes me one). We had a visit from lots more wild boar who kindly cultivated an even larger patch of land than last time; unfortunately not where we intend to grow crops, rather the road to the stable and around the new house. We got stuck in the van after heavy rainfall last week and had to be rescued by Thunderbird 1 (our friends Steve and Dorota in their Unimog) The first of the snow arrived, although I’m told this wont last and the temperature should lift above zero later in the week. The steel arrived for us to install the soffits, but I managed to put this off claiming that the weather was too cold and windy! And we made it back to Rzemien through the falling snow in time for my English class; but I think I’ll leave that for another post.

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