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Friday, 28 August 2015

Thank you

Just a short post to thank all those readers, old and new, who have pushed my page views past the 100,000 mark. I find it astonishing that my ramblings are of interest to anyone but family.

And a special thank you to those who comment. I sometimes find it hard to find stuff to write but getting comments makes me realise some people really are coming back for another read and keeps me going.

To anyone who is starting on a new and adventurous phase of their lives, I really would recommend you keep a diary on line. It not only keeps family up to speed, but also friends who might forget you otherwise. It is also useful to look back on, especially when you are waiting for the walnuts to drop or migrating birds to appear, little things like tiny kittens making their way here, new life and a reminder of those little lives in your world who have moved on. The journey over here, what to expect of the seasons, how much wood you used last year. All the little things you might want to check on and which others contemplating the move will find useful to know.

And I have a terrible memory!

I try to answer all comments, but occasionally there is one I don't understand and I just don't know how to respond (sorry). I know only too well that not getting an acknowledgement is frustrating. If someone is kind enough to read what you write then leave a comment, I can certainly spare the time to reply. I know that when I leave a comment on a blog I am following that is not recognised I feel that maybe I shouldn't bother to check in as the writer doesn't care if no-one reads it.

So thank you all. Big hug.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The rain came...with mixed blessings.

Four days of rain we had, and very welcome it was too. It was cool for a couple of those days and we actually had to get the 4 tog duvet out on two nights, though it didn't stay in place, it wasn't as cool as we thought and it has now been sent back to the spare room.

So it started slowly and dampened the ground before setting in to heavier periods of very warm rain. you could almost hear the parched garden sigh, the poultry, dogs and cats took on a new lease of life, and we sat and watched it. Of course we soon got fed up and told it to stop as there was enough moisture in the soil, but it took it's time doing so. A couple of days after stopping the temperatures rose and we are up to around thirty again, but the nights are longer so we see a little more cool in the early morning.

I have to say here that again we have been lucky. Just the other side of the mountains, and nearer the coast, people have once again lost their lives in floods. My heart goes out to all those affected, so terribly sad.

So how has it affected things here? Well....everything in the garden has put a spurt on for one thing. From flowers to fruit to veg, there is a resumption of growth and bloom. Unfortunately the few butternuts we have are suffering from the sudden drenching and have started to split. This has been offset by new growth (yes, in just a few days) and flowers. Once they start to grow the fruits are very quick to put on size so there is a slim chance that we may get some more. smaller fruits. Also flowering and looking healthier are the courgettes, but we have had enough for this year so the animals are the ones who will benefit if they produce any more. The tomatoes are looking really sad, with the fruits also splitting from so much rain, but they are showing a small flush of flowers so there may be some autumn fruits to come. There are still enough to keep us in fresh and sauced for now. The sweet potatoes are also putting on new growth, throwing out glossy leaves. I am told they are good to eat, but we have other stuff so I will leave them for now. The chard is also enjoying the damp...had a lovely chard and goat's cheese tart today.
Our largest squash...split the whole length

Rhubarb come alive...should be able to get through the winter now

Courgette flower...a few more of these and we have a new use for goat's cheese

Squash flower

Fresh bronze growth on the sweet potatoes

Oh dear....split tomatoes
We are suddenly getting masses of raspberries, the rain came just in time to save them

And the beans...well, twice I have been ready to pull them out, but all three varieties of climbing bean have come back to life, masses of flowers forming and given good conditions we might just get some more pods, same with the peppers, they had all but stopped producing but have masses of flower buds.
Climbing French bean...cobra

Runner bean white lady

Runner bean achievement

Masses of buds on the peppers

As I have mentioned before, I have been wanting to get some seeds in and was running out of time. But as soon as Dave could work the ground he rotovated, taking out the strawberry plants and incorporating compost from the heap, laying weed suppressant fabric and re-planting the plants, to be followed by more from the market when they become available. So, despite the neigbours' disapproval we have sown carrots, beets and peas. (And yes, I know carrots don't like freshly manured beds but we are going for taste not beauty) In a trough we have started lettuce seeds which will over winter, radish, parsley. I hope the weather plays ball and we can show our neighbours that you can grow something besides cabbage and leeks at this time of the year.


....and covered. The lonely plant, we are told, is a black grape so we will allow that to grow next year.

What are past helping are the caulis, romanesco, broccoli and kale which are from spring sowings. They can all go into the animal pen and will keep them happy for a few weeks. We did have some sprouting broccoli today with lunch (at least, I think it was broccoli) but it was strongly flavoured and tough. The more recently planted plants are looking OK now they have had rain and have had to be fenced against Tilly, who is inclined to stop off for a munch as Dave tries to get both goats through the garden to the gate for a walk!
I think I will call these idea what they are supposed to be, but taste full of goodness! And some rather small peppers

Oh dear oh dear, poor caulis....

....and romanesco. Happy animals.
Strawberry popcorn, given a cob by a friend to try. The cobs we have harvested a three times the size of the original and look a lot healthier than my 'regular' sweetcorn did

In the flower garden scabious and veronica have both started on another round of flowers, as have the zinnias and dahlias. The bees will be happy, the sunflowers have finished so opefully these will help. The nicotiana were cut back before the rains and are also producing a new flush. We have picked the cornel fruits and it's looking good for next year...the flowers are already forming ready for spring and plenty of them.
Pretty shield bug (?) on the faded echinops

Scabious come to life

As has Veronica. This has been flowering since spring

Another shield bug on a seed head

Cornels for the neighbour's rakia

Out and about, where there were many storks in the fields, on nests and fishing in the river (it seems to have been a good year) they have thinned out dramatically as the young are now old enough to make their way to the winter haunts in Africa. We are seeing a lot of buzzards hunting in the fields, as well as hare and jackal, but the ploughs will soon be out to bury the stubble and sow over wintering crops so they will all be more difficult to pick out against the brown earth. Many trees are looking sick, with crispy brown leaves, but it's surprising how much better most of them look after a wash.

Of course, with damp, humid weather comes a new batch of flies...and biting ones at that. Being one of those who are intolerant of their venom I am now covered in red lumps once again as I get back into the garden. Out on the roads it seems the young swallows are following the tarmac catching flies, but they are not yet road savvy and there seem to be many pathetic little corpses littering the roads, often accompanied by another live swallow. So sad.

Back home the poultry are looking a lot less stressed, though our beautiful boy Sevi is looking a bit rough. This may be due to a bad moult which might have sapped his strength. I am hoping he will pick up now he is feeling cooler. He is eating and drinking so fingers crossed. The youngest chicks are really growing now, hopefully they are too big to be of interest to the English neighbours' cats, two of their four have had to be chased off. Our new boy seems to have a new healthy respect for all things fowl and keeps out of the way. Ducky is still being a pain and we have advertised for a new home for him but have had to put a price on him....we haven't raised him to be a free meal for anyone! We are still getting one or two eggs a day from the ducks despite all the hassle, and the hen's production is picking up. One poor soul laid a huge double yolker (98g as opposed to the usual 65g ish) That must have hurt! The three amigos are still running riot and at least one of them is croaking. I think there might be three boys, I hope I am wrong!

Been a bit busy in the kitchen. Made more honey cake and gave a small, two person size to the neighbours to try. We were all at the cafe yesterday and she was telling her friends about the lovely honey cake....she had shared it between five people! I should have realised, most stuff is shared with or given to the daughter's family. I have also done some pickled carrots with what were left in the ground splitting, in honey mustard flavour. We tried some and they are really nice, very moreish, but the mustard hasn't had time to develop the flavour yet and I found them a bit sharp. Dave said they were sweet! We had some added to some braised cabbage and they were very nice, still crunchy despite me leaving them in the waterbath for an hour too long when bottling them,

New for me...I started up a sourdough starter. I am keen to try sourdough and at least I won't have to worry about running out of yeast

Honey cake, the neighbour's cake on the left, and we had one the same size with Bird's custard (not enough eggs)

Very nearly the last of the gnarly carrots

Eight jars of honey mustard pickled carrots

I have also used some honey to sweeten the latest round of cordial. The grapes which hang over the path and which have ripened first were clouting us on the head because the weight was dragging the vine and wire down. So I decided the neighbour could spare them and brought a crate in for juice. Some had whitecurrants added, some blackcurrants (trying to make space in the freezer) and just enough honey to sweeten the juice. A short while in the waterbath to help with preservation and we have enough juice to last till next year...though I still have some blackcurrants, I am keeping them until some of the other juices are used, blackcurrant being everyone's favourite and it goes so fast. I have a bottle for the neighbours, but they will have to be warned it is not as sweet as the last lot...I think nicer, lighter, but they have such a sweet tooth....but no doubt the family will appreciate it.

Hanging grapes

A whole crateful from just the small stretch over the path

With blackcurrants to the left, whitecurrants to the right

Very refreshing, just add iced water...

We have been practicing with goat's cheese. It's amazing what you can do with basic soft cheese. We hade the tart mentioned earlier, which was just chard, a couple of eggs and garlic and pepper cheese, lovely. Then we had slmon ravioli wit ricotta, a casserole of our veggies and chive butter....plain with chutney....halloumi, love that fried...our first mozzarella, lovely on garlic bread with cauli cheese....
Tasty tart

Salmon and ricotta, who knew pasta was so easy? One salmon fillet is plenty for two

Casserole of our own veg


Our first mozzarella, needs a bit of tweaking but not a bad attempt
Goes well on garlic bread

Now....must find a use for kilos of gooseberries......and quinces....and hopefully medlars.....and, thought I was winding down for the year

Finally, a couple of pictures of our local hoopoe, taken on the lane. Lovely birds.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Spud's gotcha....and Ducky grows up

In two days it is one year since Splash (now commonly known as Spud or names appropriate to his behaviour!) came tottering down the track to complicate our busy lives. What a learning experience it has been, full of worry, pain (insert nasty name) joy and cuddles...and not a little disruption, but how could we have ever turned such a pathetic little scrap away?

The start of the story is here, half way down

He is not easy, as some who have followed the blog long term will know. I am not a cat person, I was cured of them many years ago, though Dave is. But no animal lover could have resisted that poor little, gungy eyed, hungry and noisy scrap...called Splash because of the flash of white on his back, but he's sort of grown out of that name and most of the other names he is called are a bit rude for here, so Spud it is. A nickname I suppose.

Saying all that, he has grown to be an amusing companion, all the animals tolerate him except Bella who was the object of his play instinct and got wary of her face being attacked by a ginger and white bag of bones with very sharp claws and teeth who has no idea of manners or where to draw the line! Bella get's a bit anxious when Spud is in play mode but generally they are good friends and when he plays nicely they still charge around chasing each other.
Helping in the garden

As he grew and started to want to stay out later at night I would anxiously keep an ear out for fighting cats or pleas to be let in. He would alternate between jumping all the way up to the bedroom window (he soon wrecked the fly screen) and scrabbling at the door downstairs usually about 11 15. Once in he would sleep until 3am ish when he would wake, jump all over us, the bedhead, bedside tables and chest of drawers, knocking stuff flying, playing with the digital clock, and making Bella anxious (Bonnie is oblivious in her own little geriatric world!) Sometimes putting him out worked to an extent...but if I heard cats or martens in the garden I had to get him in....that was me getting anxious. We had broken sleep for a long time, even when he found he could open the door himself, I still had to go down and shut it against unwelcome visitors. The door, at that time, wouldn't lock from inside
Worn out after all the night time activities

But we have made adaptations, mainly in fitting a cat door (and fixing the lock) and now he has his new friend, the grey rescue who came to us called Mishco (on his passport) and has now been stuck with Herbert (he is from Lom) Dave tells me Herbert Lom is someone to do with the Pink Panther???? Herbert is smaller than Spud with excellent cat manners, has attached himself firmly to Dave , happily sits on the dogs (though Bella is wary...just in case) and is a little sweetheart to live with but a ferocious hunter, he changes completely when hunting. So Spud, after a lot of swearing and spitting (because he has no cat manners and is always in scrapes) has a playmate when he can be bothered (H) as he is a real couch potato. Spud still goes out for most of the night, no idea about H as he doesn't come upstairs...he loves his couch....and comes in once the Babas have gone to bed, they find it highly amusing that he sits watching them chatter from the garage roof, and Venka and Jordan have taken a liking to him too...I hope he keeps his claws under control! If we are round there he will sit on their flat roof looking down and joining in the conversation, then follow us home. He comes in for a sleep then takes himself off early morning before waking us up for food. He then spends all day on the bed! It is lovely to see him playing chase with H though, the trees making great places to excercise....but I wish they wouldn't hunt hawk moths!

Herbert, the couch potato. He would rather lounge than play, but not all the time

That's my boy! Tall, skinny and bad mannered, but we love him

Keeping an eye on the Babas as they catch up on each other's news (otherwise known a gossiping!) in the cool of the night


Well, this week Ducky has realised he might be a duck after all...and is causing havok! He still gets a little confused at times, turning his attention to one of the more amenable ex-batts which luckily her crouching seems to confuse him even more. He is chasing the female ducks, then a couple chase him back, then the drake chases Ducky...the noise is awful. At night he is still going into the hen house and wants to be with Mum Cagney, but is jealous of the chicks so Cagney and the chicks now need to be shut away. He then tries to take his frustrations out on the three amigos who have a lower perch which means they are just out of reach but they are getting nervous and the adults (who take no notice) will not allow them on the higher perches.

So something will have to be done. We can't have two drakes but who goes? Ducky who we are rather fond of and is a very handsome boy, but who a couple of the females won't tolerate or the drake with no name, who has (ahem) looked after his harem all summer and is now a drab and worn out shadow of his breeding self? We will have to get it sorted before someone gets hurt.
                                         The drake is the one who chases Ducky away

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Somebody stole the river....

We called in as were passing and there is only a very little water in it. There's a lot of weed, lots of fish and it's clear enough, but there will be no dipping in there.

There is also a mass of rubbish as people call down for a dip or a picnic, made more noticable because the grass and weeds have been cut, presumably to lessen the possibility of fires. There have been a good few forest fires lately as the blisteringly hot, dry weather continues, one of which was scarily close to a friend of our's. It seems to be the thing to have a fire when out on a picnic and there are always those who think they are being so careful they will never cause a fire, but it only takes one spark.....
A hoopoe in the distance showing off his colours

Gravel banks have appeared, not enough water to dabble your toes!

Fed up water baby

Can you see the pond turtle?

This shows how the level has dropped since winter

Lots of weed has appeared
The garden is continuing to dry up. The autumn raspberries which looked so promising with masses of flowers, are drying on the canes. We are getting a few, enough for a taste of summer through winter, but not the promised glut. We have had to buy more cabbage plants as the ones we put in recently are looking streesed. Some of the tomatoes, the ones with thin skins, are looking as if they are cooking on the plants. They look a bit withered but as you go to touch them they are very soft and juicy and your fingers just go through the flesh. These were supposed to be our late autumn fruiters but they are not producing any more flowers so it's unlikely. The ones for chutney are almost finished even though the plants didn't even reach three feet tall. Leeks are still stagnant, we have used the last of the beetroot and we still have some carrots. I've given up on most brassicas but the sprouts have suddenly picked up for some reason. We finally got around to dead heading the flower borders but unless we get some rain soon we will have just dahlias, antirrhinum, nicotiana and roses flowering. Still, we can't complain, we have had a wonderful display this year again.
The grapes are ripening early, but though they are for wine not eating  we have set some to dry to eke out bought raisins. We are told the one by the dunny which we have kept cutting down is a black that will be allowed to grow now, to be trained somehow....

As expected the peppers have started arriving over the wall, one lot chopped and chunked and in the freezer, the second bucket full will hopefully be chargrilled and frozen whole. Melons are also still coming over, handy having two fridges so we can put them in the empty fridge upstairs. In return we have picked the cornel fruits for their rakia and Dave has been helping with little jobs
Beautiful red peppers, they must water all day to get these

Thousands of very astringent cornels. A lady was picking them from the other side of the wall the other day thinking we didn't want them,  Dave jokingly said they were five leva a kilo. It seems the kids like them. Weird taste!

We have finished extracting the honey for this year, leaving plenty to feed the colony over the winter. We have ten kilo buckets and ten jars, five of which have gone to neighbours. This is more than we can use but it will keep. I will have to find some good uses for it. Already I have made a honey cake which I am told is scrummy, but as I didn't get any I will have to take their word for it! Will make another soon and if I agree I will post the recipe. I am also saving some of the wax cappings which I am trying to purify at the moment to use for lip balm. More of that later too. Meanwhile I have honey on toast or fresh bread occasionally, (I don't eat much bread) or in yoghurt. (Dave sticks to his blackcurrant jam and doesn't eat much dairy)

Out in the yard, the goats are settling into a routine of going for a walk every day though they can still be a bit skittish. Milly is allowed off the lead once they are out of the village (Tilly runs free) but that sometimes when a dog suddenly appears from the undergrowth and startles them! Tilly tends to think everything is a game bless her.
Tilly using Mum's haunch as a pillow

And in the hen house moulting is still underway, meaning few eggs and unhappy looking chickens, especially when they have the heat to cope with too. Ducky is being a nuisance and decisions will have to be made on which drake we keep. He is getting rather jealous of the chicks, wanting all Cagney's attention. It is time he had some duck ladies and it won't be our's as long as his Dad is in charge. We need him out of the hen house!

We had weather warnings for last night, thunderstorms and flash floods. It didn't happen here but it may have elsewhere and I do hope it doesn't cause hardship. We desperately need the rain but not enough to wash away people's gardens or knock all the immature walnuts and apples from the trees. It is not yet 6am at this moment and poor Bonnie is panting hot already. It is 24C even this early and still dark and we do desperately need a storm, but I feel for Bonnie who hates them and will be even more distressed when it happens.
Not exactly helping to keep Bonnie cool, this cat loves the warmth, a real couch potato.
And finally a kitten fix....not that \I like cats. These are a friend's and I couldn't help taking a photo of them snuggled up in fliflops....there's one missing....three still need homes....

Ah, here's the missing boy!