Sunday, May 21, 2017

Will it ever be summer?

Spring sure has been taking its time this year. The coldest spring in over 150 years I heard some say! And I can believe it. The first half of may has past and I do not think we could fill one week with daytime temperatures reaching double digits in celsius.
But then, as I browsed a bit through earlier posts, I came across a post from exactly 2 years ago. And there too was the mention of a cold, grey and windy spring. So maybe it is not all that abnormal at all, but still.... the coldest in 150 years....
But improvement is on its way! Temperatures are on the rise and before we know it we will be complaining about grass growing at astonishing speed! And it is about time too. In 4 weeks time the kids will be having their summer holiday and it still felt like early spring.
All we need now is a good amount of rain, even though plenty would complain about that too in no time. Local water levels in lakes and flows have dropped severely already and in many parts of Sweden warnings about water shortages are being issued. Some places already put a ban on using water for watering the garden and such! In order to prevent problems with that in the future we have started to take precautions; we got ourselves a large watertank, which will be filled with lake- and/or rainwater. I was even thinking greywater, but that would involve some serious rearranging of plumbing, so I'll put that off for the time being. But it might materialise in the future....

And then.... it happened!
We got hit by a sudden wave of warmth!
The wind shifted and the temperatures rose to well over 20C overnight with a very high humidity. And all the green stuff just went *BOOM* An explosion of green all around us. I swear I could see the grass grow! As if all the greens had been bottling up the growing energy, waiting for these circumstances to happen and now unleashing that energy. What a transformation.
And not just the greens, bugs and beasties too. There are insects, flying, crawling, creeping all over the place. I am not glad to report the ants are back too...

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What is done is done

Things are set in motion at our place.

One of the major jobs to be done around here, probably the biggest, has been completed; the sewage system. And in the process my favorite place in our garden has been absolutely destroyed. But....
This new system is a lot better for our immediate livingarea and surfacewater. No more waste gets released into either of them, which is a massive win in itself.
A good deal of trees had to be taken down. More than the anticipated 3-5. We ended up with 11 downed trees. 2 of those were at my request, one being a fullygrown rowan which dominated the entrance toward the house and which had started to die. Bark had started to fall off and a large crack all along the length of the trunk became visible. The other being the large pine dominating pretty much everything, both view to and from the house. But..... all that wood will be warming us on many a cold winter's day. However before that will come to pass I will need to acquire new skills; how to handle a chainsaw.
Another plus is that now our house is much more exposed to sunlight, which most likely will be most noticeable on sunny, and thus cold, winterdays as well. Now the sun can warm the stone lower half of the house and blaze right into our current livingroom without the shadow of that large pine ruining things. That will cut down on heating. Besides we hope to have the greenhouse ready before coming autumn, so the effect will be greatly enhanced.
Another benefit is the addition of at least 40m² more or less useable planting area onto which we have sown a variation of cover crop plants and bee friendly plants. The soil has been greatly disturbed and needs to resettle. We need to recreate soil life and feed it with biomass.

But right now we are "mourning" the loss of that special, little place.....

Saturday, May 6, 2017

A word from one of my idols.....

an icon in the world of nature, preservation, knowledge and passion of and for all of Mother earth's beings...

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Foodgrowing season has started!!

And so it has begun.....
Greenhouses are up and ready. Or at least were until we had some pretty strong winds. The greenhouse we bought last year from Denmark got blown over and the frame mangled. The 2 bottom bars, connected with a simple, longer bolt were ripped out. The receiving end proved to be very weak, but that we already learned last season. The tubes were badly bent on one side. Also did the foil get torn up in one corner. All in all this greenhouse has turned out to be one disappointment. Low quality from one end to the other.
But as the saying goes, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys....

We had a couple of very fine days these last few days; sunny and nice temperatures. It really makes one come to life again. Energy levels go up and flabby muscles get worked again... However this fine weather has a downside. We are already facing the very real possibility of a drought. Lake waterlevels are at a low and there is no sign of any rain. This is something we need to look into; a proper watersupply for gardening purposes.

But we have finished the first step of the season; sowing!!
2 days of filling pots and planning what to sow where and how much... And going through all these little bags is so much fun; dreaming about what it will turn out like... All sort of cabbages and beans, flowers and herbs. The herb-section is pretty extended, since I am going to try and grow them for tea!

And now the work is done. All I need to do now is water them and wait. Although I still have some empty pots....

And in a week or 2 we'll be sowing directly into the soil as well. By that time it should have warmed up enough. The cats are already checking the location. Probably laying in the sun on a bed of hay is wonderful. Or is it the hint of chicken manure that clings to it??

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

May and spring jumped on us!

Finally may came and with it spring!!
However during the final period of april we did have some occasional bouts of fine weather and we tried to make the most of that, despite the icy wind that never seemed to stop, only to change direction.

An intricate pattern of pieces of reed, blown into the shore of one of the lakes and a miniature daffodil, a remnant of my time as churchyard gardener. They were a lot bigger, when I took them home, but here in the garden they grow no taller than 4-5cm.

During april's last week we had "some¨ unexpected guests. Some really is not the right word however. We saw a huge gathering of migrating birds. Apparently they had gathered in this area to wait for warmer weather to come in, so they could journey further north. We had large groups of thrushes of several species, and finches too. Lots and lots of finches! The noise they made was earsplitting at times and when they started calling each other in the morning..... Now that was one heck of a wake up call. Just not at 04:00am.
But now they all have gone. All but the robin that lives in our garden and the loons that inhabit the lakes, their calls echoing across the surface, answering one another. And new summer residents have come in too! I saw the first few swallows dash through the air the other day.....

But spring did come at last.....
But before that we had the traditional walpurgis night or valborgsmässa. We decided to visit the place where we went the first time and where we used to live in our early Sweden days in order to catch up with old friends.

Between that and slaughtering roosters, this sudden arrival of sun and warmth initiated a sudden burst of energy and activity! Besides getting our greenhouses ready to finally start sowing, inspecting our garden for hidden and growing surprises. For one thing we, quite spontaneously, decided to visit one of the local farms, where they sell their own produce and have loads of livestock. The one thing I was interested in, besides being plain curious, were their African dwarf goats. I just had to see them for real.
And guess what..... We think a few of those just would fit in with us! Looking at their size and the size of the area we had intended for them and the size of the area they had, we figure there'd be more than enough room for 3 of them. We would have to buy additional food anyway. So another project will be undertaken over the course of the next few weeks/months!

But the fun did not stop there. Oh no!
The visit to said farm inspired us to come up with more ideas. As we sat there, having coffee and waffles with marmalade and whipped cream, I noticed they had vines growing along a south facing wooden facade.... without any protection! So I asked what kind it was. A baltisk staketdruva (or Vitis labrusca) was the answer. A blue grape, suitable for consumption as fruit, not wine. Exactly what I wanted! Now I found a grape species I can have outside the glass greenhouse! We have a nice, south facing stonewall, sheltered from blistering winter gales, so the vine should thrive. So we are getting one of those as well. Oh by the way..... 2 hazel shrubs are on order too....

Another thing that inspired us, was their so-called farstu; a semi-enclosed area in front of the frontdoor. We had already been thinking about having one, since they make ideal places to take off dirty shoes, boots or working clothes, before you come into the house. and theirs was just the style we had in mind.

All in all a very good 1st of may!
Hope everyone will have a good season and summer!!

Monday, May 1, 2017

The tale of 2+2 cocks

It finally happened again.... We really needed to remove 2 cocks from our flock.
It had become obvious that Dr. Watson was a very weak cock. An outcast, constantly being bullied and harassed by Weasly. He was no longer part of the flock, sat by himself in a corner of the coup or roamed the garden all alone. He also was weak physically, not making a healthy, lively impression no more.
Weasley on the other hand was a splendid cock, full of vigour and colour. Unfortunately he had a meanstreak. Not only did he bully and harass Dr. Watson, but also Sirius and the other chickens. He would not tolerate anyone near him, when feeding and we often caught him attacking the others apparently out of the blue, causing a lot of stress within the flock. When they were out however, it was Sirius who kept an eye of everyone and stood on watch. Weasley did not show much signs of vigilance. A cock that was no contribution, except aesthetically. And I do not do aesthetics..... Well, not much, when the prime requirements are not fulfilled.
Life in the country isn't always fun, so the last day of april had a bit of a sad note.....

The procedure we followed this time was quite different from the first time. Now a quick and decisive blow to the back of head, while we held the animals up. Then we waited for the eyes to close and the animal to go limp. With the hatched the head was then severed, but still the body responded. Holding on firmly is still required, but it ended soon.
Then we plucked them. This is made much easier, when first dunked in a bucket with hot water (60C) and by removing small tufts of feathers at a time. Cleaning out the inserts was practically the same...
I have to say that this time I was not as shaken as the first time, but I still am reluctant to do this.
But this slaughtering session also had a lot of upsides. Dr. Watson was put out of his misery and he really was miserable as we found out when slaughtering him. His weakness showed in that he not only had footscab, but also lice. Around his neck feathers had felted together too. It would only have been a matter of time until he would have gotten sick. With Weasley gone, we really hope peace and quiet will be restored and levels of stress will be reduced.
On a practical note my wife has now a decent collection of feathers to use for her angel making. She will be using those feathers as wings. Our oldest daughter had decided to join us and watch how we killed and plucked Weasley. She then helped plucking him, so a first hands on experience for her! And she did not chicken out. She plucked some beautiful feathers for herself as well. We sat there and looked at the feathers; their colours, their structure and we were amazed. We also learned how new feathers grow as we found some. They start out as paintbrushes... sort of, a tiny brush of filaments in a shaft. Very hard to pluck, so next time I wait until they are done moulting.

But May came with happy tidings!
The weather improved considerably! A not unsubstantial rise in temperature and sunshine!!!
And I made arrangements to get two new cocks. Same race as we have now; hedemora and 8 weeks old. May I present......

Malfoy and Lupin
(can you tell we've got a Potter-thing here??)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The inbetween season

While I was cutting firewood I saw a couple of chickenhawks today. After I heard one call I started looking around to see where the calls came from and spotted one circling overhead, gliding effortlessly and I had the distinct feeling it was watching our chicken coop. Then I heard another one call somewhere behind me! I wheeled around, just to see that one attacking a magpie! That one got away, but the hawk involved was bigger then the one I was looking at. That means no free roaming for our chickens for a while! And that after they are allowed to do so again after the bird flu "epidemic" (which was more of a panicky reaction to a totally blown out of proportion string of events). And speaking of chickens.... they act kind of weird, whenever they hear us opening the door and walk into the garden....
Unfortunately 2 of the 3 cocks have to go. One, Weasley, is a mean son of a bitch and the other, Dr Watson, turned out to be a weak cock. He is not only being bullied all the time, but a complete outcast too. Those two will make a good "cock au vin" someday (soon).

Spring is inching its way across the land.
But winter is not giving up. Not just yet. We have had a few days of sunshine and warmer weather, but these quickly became outdone by a new spell of cold weather. Temperatures barely reaching the plus side of the Celsius Scale during the day, dipped well below during the night and we were treated to snow showers. Not many, but still. Last year I started sowing on this day, but this year I will wait a little longer. It simply is too cold.
Gardening is slow, nothing much to do yet but the lakes are all but icefree. That could mean that the frost has left the ground enough to start work on that; finishing the fencing around the garden, so the dogs can be outside... And shed their hair there!! It is a hairy mess ínside, because of it.
It gives me plenty of time to think over the projects for this summer. As said there is the fencing and we need a doghouse too. In a month or two we (hopefully) will be done with exchanging the sewagesystem and in order to get that going we need to take down a handful of mature trees. That means a lot of sawing and cutting. Splitting and stacking too, but that can be put on hold for a while. There is also the greenhouse that will be built onto the southern wall and we want to reuse the timber framing from the garden shed for that. It has to be taken down anyway in order to have room to manoeuvre when doing the sewage-job. And if that's not enough there will be the sowing and planting and, depending on the outcome of the sewage-job (and the spread of the lilies of the valleys we have), we will be building a goathouse and -pen. That means more building and fencing.
And for bad weather days we have some plans too!! The heatingsystem for one. By the looks of it we finally will be able to get and install 2 hotwatertanks, meaning decent showers for all, a steady temperature in the house during winter and, unfortunately, a higher consumption of wood. But if we simultaneously install a batterypack and solarcell charging system, we will have independent heating and hot water supply year round. With any luck taxreturns will cover those costs.  Another project will be the reversing of the livingroom/kitchen arrangement. Those will swap places, meaning more day/sunlight during winter in the kitchen, where we reside most and less in the livingroom, which we use mostly during evenings anyway. Kitchen will be a lot bigger too, so more room for all of us, reducing the risk of bumping into one another or getting in each other's way. But these are projects that can be put on hold for those late autumn days, too. Practically everything we need for that we already have, except for some new plumbing.
How are we all going to do that? No idea just yet. The whole sewage business will be taken care of by a professional, so not much for us to worry about. We need to take care of the removal of the trees and I will not try to do that alone! The same goes for the installation of hotwatersystem, so all that means a lot less work to tackle by ourselves.

Eggs died with red cabbage, onionpeels, kurkuma and paprika..
In the meantime I hope you all had a good easter. Kids are having their  spring break/easter holidays and already are bored witless and I am waiting to start the sowing. It simply has been too cold for that, but apparently we will see the nightfrosts disappear. The lakes are all but icefree too now, which would mean the topsoil will be workable. I ordered a bunch of seeds; tomatoes, cucumber, but mainly herbs. Herbs for tea-making! Given our love for coffee and tea, we want to give making our own herb teas a try. Too bad we can't grow our own coffee though....

But before the spring break came, there was a day of open doors at the school of our youngest daughter and my wife, who is now a teacher there. Such an occasion is not only good to see what's going on in school or meeting other parents. It sometimes holds pleasant surprises too. I could not pass by the schoollibrary ( of course) and behold..... they were selling off "old" books. You can see where this is going, can't you......? Yes, it cost me dearly. A whopping 15sek. For the whole lot! A good thing our to-be livingroom will be divided into a tv/launch half and a library/study half. We are running out of bookshelfspace!

Other books have found their way into our own library this year too....
The first were part of a great deal (real cheap) including some military history books (not relevant here) and the latter I got to support a local writer, despite having read them, so I went for the pocket versions... A couple more moved over here, but these are subject of a next post, since they proved to be of a very significant importance.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

An update on vacuum sealed food

Since we have taken up vacuum sealing food quite recently, there still is a lot we need to learn about it. Scouring the internet for information on the subject, I came across the following article and thought it might be a good idea to share it with you.
It comes from and was written by Tess Pennington.
if you follow the link you will find more information about oxygen absorbers and related topics too.

Vacuum sealing, or ROP (Reduced Oxygen Packaging) slows down the process of spoilage by reducing atmospheric oxygen, and creates an anaerobic environment that  limits the growth of aerobic bacteria or fungi, and prevents the evaporation of volatile components. Vacuum sealing is often used in combination with other packaging and food processing techniques.
As effective as this food storage source seems, it could put your health at risk. There are certain types of bacteria that prefer low oxygen environments and will grow on foods that have been vacuum sealed. Knowing the dangers that these bacteria possess can help you avoid them and keep your food storage safe.

Botulism and Listeria Monocytogenes

Even in an oxygen-depleted environment, Anaerobic organisms can proliferate, potentially causing food safety problems. Botulism and Listeria monocytogenes are examples of pathogenic bacteria that cause food borne illnesses from growing and thriving in an anaerobic environment. Moreover, these bacteria have the capacity of growing at a faster rate in vacuum sealed foods due to the oxygen-free environment as well as the fact that these bacteria are not in competition with other spoilage bacteria. These bacteria often do not produce noticeable changes in the foods; therefore, relying on sight, smell and taste would not be helpful. However, only a tiny amount of these spores (a few nanograms) need to be present in order for them to be deadly.
According to the FDA, the following are dangers associated with vacuum sealing food sources:
  • Facultative bacteria (most foodborne pathogens) grow under aerobic & anaerobic conditions
  • Most spoilage organisms are no longer “indicators” for temperature abuse
  • Extended shelf life could allow “slow growers” to reach high numbers under refrigerated conditions
  • Secondary barriers such as low pH or aw are not always possible with cook chill and sous vide packaging
  • Potential for temperature abuse at retail and in the home is great
  • Cooking and fermentation destroy most vegetative cells but spore formers survive

Safety Guidelines for Vacuum Sealing Food

If you have  taken proper steps in preparing your food in a clean and uncontaminated environment, then this should not be a problem. However, if there is any question about the safety, then err on the side of caution and do not vacuum pack the food, as you would be creating a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
Follow these guidelines to properly vacuum seal food:
  1. Vacuum sealing food does not replace the need to pressure can or water bath home canned foods.
  2. Wash hands before and during the vacuum sealing process.
  3. Try not to touch food with your hands. Use clean spoons, tongs or something else to handle the food.
  4. Be sure to keep utensils, cutting boards and counters clean.
  5. Keep vacuum sealed foods in the refrigerator or freezer. Dry food, like crackers and nuts, can be stored at room temperature.
  6. Freeze low-acid vacuum packaged foods and consume immediately after heating. Never heat a low-acid vacuum packaged food and allow it to stand at room temperature in the vacuum package.
  7. Ensure that you do not cross contaminate food.
  8. Properly label food sources with type of food and date packaged.
  9. Ensure the seal is complete and that there is no debris in the seal.

Which Foods are Safe and How Long Do They Store?

Shelf life of vacuum packaged foods
FoodStored InNormal Shelf LifeVacuum Shelf Life
Large cuts of meat: beef, poultry, lamb and porkFreezer6 months2-3 years
Ground meat: beef, poultry, lamb and porkFreezer4 months1 year
FishFreezer6 months2 years
Coffee beansRoom temperature4 weeks16 months
Coffee beansFreezer6-9 months2-3 years
Berries: strawberries, raspberries, blackberriesRefrigerator1-3 days1 week
Berries: cranberries, huckleberries, blueberriesRefrigerator3-6 days2 weeks
Cheese – hard, semi-soft and pasteurized cheeses.*Soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, Ricotta, Cottage and Teleme MAY NOT be vacuum packagedRefrigerator1-2 weeks4-8 months
Cookies, crackersRoom temperature (periodically opening)1-2 weeks3-6 weeks
Flour, sugar, riceRoom temperature6 months1-2 years
LettuceRefrigerator3-6 days2 weeks
NutsRoom temperature6 months2 years
Oils with no preservatives, like safflower, canola, corn oilRoom temperature5-6 months1-1.5 years
WineRefrigerator1-3 weeks2-4 months

Above table adapted by Tilia Inc. from Dr. G.K.York, Dept. of Food Science & Tech, U of California, Davis
Vaccum sealing food can be a productive way to maintain your food source as well as prolong its shelf life. Ensure that you take the proper steps in handling and storing your  food to reduce the presence of bacteria in your food storage.

vacuum sealing can be hazardous to your health

Monday, March 27, 2017

A sad day....

Spring is here!
The sun is shining and the thermometer is pointing at 19C in the shade.
The air is filled with birdsong and calls. Flights of geese, swans and cranes pass overhead all the time and in the garden the snowdrops and crocus are blooming. Virtually no snow or ice remains in our garden.
However it is a sad day. The one thing(s) that I really was hoping to see, did not emerge. No bees....
So I opened the hives and both were stone dead. The probably cause is famine. There simply was not enough food for them last year to gather enough and build a strong hive. I tried to help them by feeding them sugar water, but they would not take that very well.
Checking hive 1, the weakest of the two, I found that many bees were stuck inside the cells trying to get the last food and died there. The main clusters were covered with mould, so I think they died some time ago. There were thick clumps of dead bees beneath these and these were decaying pretty bad already too. When I brushed off the dead bees from the wax there too many bees were stuck inside the cells. They had only built 2 combs, but not filled them, so this was really a very weak hive.
One I sort of expected to not make it, but both? That is a blow....
So I checked hive 2 as well. Same scenario, but with a difference; there was one comb still filled with capped honey!?? And they had been expanding pretty well, building 4 new combs too.

Be that as it may, it is back to square one again. Well, not entirely. We already have the hives and the gear.
Just no bees.....

This is the capped honey left in hive 2.
There is a similar patch on the other side too!
Plus a lot of uncapped honey....

The combs in hive 2.
They have been building after we transferred them, but then it seems they just stopped.
Nothing's filled or used....

Monday, March 20, 2017

development and growth

The birds are singing, the snow and ice are all but gone. We have passed the springequinoix and brighter days are ahead. The first migratory birds are returning. There are male blackbirds all around us, whooper swans up in the skies and in the field. Buzzard were seen soaring through the sky above the vantagepoint above our village and last night the first four cranes passed over, announcing the coming of spring with trumpeting sounds.
We can smell the lakes and the soil again, mixed with an unmistakable sweet scent. Sap's rising!

As an afterburner from my previous post, questioning the viability of continuing this blog, I decided to go for it after all. I like doing it too much to just quit and in becoming silent I would see myself as a part of the problem(s) I address regularly here.
One of the key guidelines I try to live by, is being the change I want to see. And by showing that I hope to set an example and maybe even lead by it.
Another thing I like to do, is to challenge and analyse myself. For me this is a prerequisite for personal development and growth. Changing jobs or surroundings, leaving comfort zones, despite clinging to them and trying new things, although I really do not like change..... all these things happen regularly. Thinking out of the box and questioning common ideas/beliefs or official policies are part and parcel of my everyday life. In other words, trying to remain open to other points of view. And every once in awhile that means letting go of things too.
So I cleaned up my act, left a number of forums, cleaned up contact lists and removed a number of blogs that I used to follow. All the things that did not give me anything new or only confirmed my current point of view. This cleaning up business had another, more profound reason too. Turned out I was not nearly being as openminded as I thought.....
Another thing I have adopted, is a challenge I once read on a Swedish bookreading network. Every once in a while pick up a book of an author or on a subject one would usually not read or even completely out of one's area of interest in order to open up to new views and/or facts. Personally I feel that the latter would be very demanding in as reading a totally uninteresting subject would make it a struggle to finish such a book and by not finishing it, it might just add to the prejudices one might have. So I compromised somewhat. There had to be some relation to me, just to make it through the book.
The first one I picked up was written by a Pakistani - Qaisar Mahmood. The book in question is called "jakten på svenskheten" or The hunt for Swedishness (free translation by me) and was actually recommended, and I fully agree, to both immigrants and Swedes alike. Both sides really would learn a thing or two!!

Another author I am currently reading/studying is Richard Dawkins, an ethologist, evolutionary biologist and passionate atheist. I came across him in a highly unlikely manner; him being featured on the latest cd of a Finnish metalband called Nightwish and their latest album Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Now I usually do not have much with music, but this album to me is special in as it touched me deeply both in sound and in lyrics.

Now both authors were/are completely new to me as are their subjects. However both authors also do touch some common ground with me. Mahmood in being an immigrant, seemingly struggling in or with Swedish society, wanting to find out what it means to"be Swedish" and Dawkins by questioning religion and its effects on society and history.

But in the meantime I have gotten into a bit of a tight spot. One that had the potential to completely overthrow my life..... and not just mine.
Due to various reasons, up to and including my own emotional and mental spiral downwards towards the gaping abyss of ever lasting doom, my wife delivered me the shock of my life, by announcing her wish for a divorce.
And that shook me to the core. With that announcement she dealt me such a savage blow that I finally got some sense knocked into me. I will spare you all the details, but thankfully she did not press on. The only thing stopping her were my pleas to not do so. Turns out it was an act of desperation from her side and that move eventually created room for dialogue. It also ensured that I first went through an emotional discharge, unleashing a lot of bottled up feelings, anger, pain and frustration, clearing the air for myself as well. But most importantly it made me realise and understand what was going on and how much I actually still loved her.  And that still is with all my heart, even after knowing her for almost 30 years. And the feeling is mutual.
So for now a relational disaster has been averted and we are working on growing toward each other again instead of apart, We are confident that our future together still exists. So much so that we are willing to go through with another change we were considering; a move.
Yes, we actually are considering leaving this place...