December 21, 2013

Solstice Muse

Looking back over the last year, the biggest impact on progress on all fronts was the unbelievably long winter. It just went on and on, with spring teasing and beckoning but never quite arriving until well into April. 

Then suddenly it burst into a high speed transition into summer. Delicate blossom appeared for the briefest of moments and vegetation shot up on all fronts, making for bumper hay crops and endless weeding. 

June brought action to the farm, as many hands made light work of our crumbling stable - now the perfect hibernation for our two goats (and of course the chickens).
Throughout the summer, trips to the lake were plentiful making up for all the sun lost during the dull winter months. The vegetable harvest was once again abundant, although fruit certainly suffered from the short spring.

Autumn has remained mostly mild and fresh and we look set to have a brown Christmas.

Bracing ourselves for winter proper at the start of the new year, we look ahead to plans for beginning a CSA here on our farm. We envisage a small group of up to 40 individuals (approximately twenty families) from Görlitz and surrounding villages ready to nurture a culture of seasonal celebration and appreciation of the abundance of nature through their involvement with the farm.

This time is all about drawing down the details of how exactly this thing can take shape. The level of interest is high enough to give some confidence, but the challenge is to maintain sufficient momentum to keep the interest flowing.

As we continue to chip away at our kitchen and our future plans whilst stoking the many fires that keep our little flat cosy and warm, we look forward to all the surprises ahead of us and to spontaneous visitors, both regular and new.

October 14, 2013

Making Time

It has been a ridiculously long time since I have posted. I am sad not to have found more time for it, but that is also an indication of how busy the summers have become. It is now very definitely in the past, with autumn in full throttle, the trees on fire with colour and the animals on heat.

We now have a beautiful ram to join our five timid sheep. He has settled in very well, quietly raising his magnificent horns to observe his domain.

The goats are next in line, but the compatible billies are all out on loan, so patience is the order of the day.

Another quirky addition to our motley crew are seven Indian Running ducks! We acquired ten back in August as a swap for vegetables with a local Swabian restaurant. Three then made their way to our persistent mentor Merziowsky in exchange for two fat 'wart ducks'! They are a curious pair but apparently ideal for a Christmas roast!

Our hens have stopped laying for now but our colourful harvest makes up for rationing eggs. We have been inundated with huge courgettes and I have discovered that they make just as good Bread & Butter Pickles as the cucumbers did last year. Harissa has been another abundant preserve and both have sold well. We have to rely on selling preserves to get our cashflow higher over the coming months. Throughout the summer and early autumn a handful of veg boxes have kept some Görlitz families very satisfied and our coffers lined, if only a little.

The new kitchen is now tangibly close, with the double glass doors fitted at last, just in time for the onset of cold. The floor tiles are set to arrive this week, ordered from Poland and an attractive compromise for not being able to afford the ancient-looking hand-crafted terracotta slabs so beloved by restorers and people of the South.

Electricity and water cables have also been laid between the two dwellings, the mammoth digger job courtesy of a visiting friend. Electric cables now run throughout the little house – a job carried out willingly by the boyfriend of one of my English students in lieu of future private lessons. So all that remains is a willing workforce to plaster the place and fit it with the necessities of life to enable guests to stay in style. Any experienced and hard-working volunteers... you know where to come!

All eyes on impending winter, and the sincere hope that it won't be quite as long as last year...

Let the dreaming continue (whilst we 'dig' for all we're worth)!

July 16, 2013

A New Friend

Our broody hen has now been sitting for just over two weeks. We have had to separate her from the others to give her some peace. They would try at every opportunity to add eggs to her nest and (perhaps out of jealousy) to nudge her off. She is now in the neighbouring stable room in the rabbit's old hutch and sits - calm and unperturbed - for days on end.

We have been told to lift her off every few days (if she doesn't try to do so herself) so she can stretch and offload. It feels counter-intuitive to interfere at all, but she seemed grateful for it.

Advice comes in abundance these days from a new acquaintance, an old man who lives at the far end of the village. He knows everything about everyone in the village, and if some new folk turn up, he makes it his business to know about them too.

He lives in a ramshackle old place with no obvious entrance. The first thing you see from the road is a creatively stacked wall of old bricks, tiles, rusted metal and wood, useful for something, some day...

Then a tidy path flanked by freshly cut hay, strawberry beds and lettuces - all neatly maintained – and a beautifully oiled, sturdy frame for peas.

Through a little gate, the chaos begins: stacks of potentially useful objects litter the space filling every available corner with something to attract your attention and make your head spin! A few hanging baskets with flowers decorate the junk and lead you deeper into the labyrinth of narrow, makeshift gates and skinny pathways snaking off into what feels like a neverending back yard. All kinds of ducks and chickens reside in unexpected enclosures as we pass, making agitated noises and busying themselves about, making the best of their quirky little homes.

We came to look at Laufenten (Indian 'running ducks') - reputedly the best slug-eaters around. We had heard of Mersiowsky through the vague description of a neighbour, but couldn't work out exactly where he lived. Then an ad for ducks in the local paper gave the address but no contact number.

Our presence on the old Halle Hof had somehow escaped Mersiowsky's attention, but now he is making up for lost time.

June 17, 2013

Action on the Farm

The last few weeks of preparation finally resulted in an intense five days of early starts, endless work and long, jolly evenings: a group of nine students and their two tutors from Belgium arrived on Sunday evening, ready to crack on with transforming our stable.

They needed a project to consolidate the skills they have been gathering during their years at Duurzaam Wonen...

and we have projects galore. There are so many things that need our attention, but our stable was the most urgent - with no proper roof to protect the existing walls, the building has been rapidly deteriorating as the seasons have passed.

We spent the week before their arrival – as soon as the rains abated – salvaging bricks from a heap down the road and building two walls on the rooftop to create a solid base for the new roof.

With most of the materials on site and our carpenter friend on hand to explain his designs, Sunday evening was a lively affair - eating and drinking around the fire whilst shaping up plans for the week ahead.

Bogumila and I spent most of the week in the kitchen (sadly still our tiny temporary hovel) cooking up mostly vegetarian food from scratch with as much as possible from our store and garden. Needless to say, the food was eaten with relish with rarely anything left over.

The lads worked tirelessly constructing a timber frame roof to match the angle and style of the roofs on the other buildings; cleaning and plastering the outside walls of the stable; and hauling in old roof tiles from a building site near Görlitz. The tiles have been traditionally hand crafted and double fired with a black protective layer of fired clay. They have weathered well but required a good deal of chipping free of old plaster. Due to their irregular shape, they had to be individually plastered onto the roof.

The yard took on the air of a Moroccan souk - the sounds of chipping stone, clanging metal, sawing wood, shouts and laughter echoing between the buildings...

It was a mammoth task. At one point it looked as if not enough tiles had survived the transportation and clean-up, but in the end, the roof is complete with just thirty tiles to spare!

The building looks fantastic. It feels as though it has always been that way, the old roof tiles lending an air of age-old tradition and stability.

It has taken a while to recover from the constant action and we are slowly regaining more sleep. It was very sad to see them all go and the place is now once again very quiet.

However, there is no real rest in sight: the weather has been almost constantly sunny and relatively dry for over a week now with the temperatures set to rise into the thirties. So the scythes are out and hay making begins in earnest.

It has been hard to anticipate anything stable in the weather after weeks of flood warnings and horror stories of burst damns across the country. Yet thankfully, our little corner of the Oberlausitz has remained safe. Our landscaping efforts following last years floods have proved very successful and we have continued as normal, almost oblivious to the havoc being wrought elsewhere.

On the other hand, the land work has been severely held back due to the long winter and the rains. There is now a real urgency to get as much ground prepared for planting as we can. The big field has been sown with green manure (at a precarious time I might add, as the rains came just after. It is hard to estimate how well the seed has survived) and we have reserved a long strip along the fence for planting up our field crops.

Other news: our family has now expanded to include two little goats barely three months old! They are so friendly and desperately keen on human attention - such a pleasant change from our wild and fearful sheep. We tether them for a few hours each day in the long grass before returning them to their makeshift pen on the north-west corner of the building (an existing ramshackle sheep shed that will eventually be pulled down to create a terrace).

We look forward to introducing them to their new home (when time allows for the finishing touches) beside the chickens in the Belgian House.