Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Spring is inching its way up here!!

Yes, spring has finally come to the north again.
These past few days saw ever increasing numbers of geese arriving. Well, we actually heard them more then we saw them, since they apparently prefer to travel during the night. As I wrote before, cranes and whooper swans already made their way here and more and more summer residents are coming back. The numbers of blackbirds increase daily, the cooing sound of pigeons can be heard in the forest and a group of redwing or rödvingetrast (Turdus iliacus) visited our garden yesterday. The most notable ones have gathered in a large flock that is very audibly present in the trees in and around our garden right now; Bergfink or bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla). Dozens have gathered here and you can not get around hearing them!! They are fine looking birds too.
The now unused horsepasture across the road sees the arrival of a group of starlings and everyone keeps a healthy distance from a pair of crows that patrol the area on foot. They appear massive and huge next to the finches!!!

What I can also hear, is the pelting rain..... It is pouring right now and these next few days the forecasts hold the promise a lot more of these heavenly waters. Daytime temperatures have dropped to single digits again and it has been grey and
damp for a while now, so it is hard to feel like spring is here. But the rhubarbs are budding, the garlic, which came from England last autumn is also showing its sprouts and the crocus are blooming.... sort of. The sweet scent of sap rising and wet soil fills the air. That same scent, or a variety thereof also fills the house and than it quickly becomes less romantic; wet dogs, muddy paws and damp clothes. The winterboots have been replaced by rubber ones and the wintercoats by raincoats.
I miscalculated (mis guessed is more accurate) the amount of firewood we'd need until spring, so now we are burning slightly damp wood. The quality of the wood is not as good as the wood we had during winter either. Right now we are burning the cut up potato crates and other woodwaste, which were made out of spruce wood or occasionally holds a splash of paint. They also contain tons of nails and screws, so the ashes will end up in the garbage bin.

Slowly the days of idleness will be replaced more and more by days of activity and we these days we are busy building beehives. yes, again. But this time we are building topbar hives.
We are using Phil Chandler's plans for building those, which you can download here . It used to be for free, but now he charges a very modest fee. I have been reading his website a good number of times and got his book "The barefoot beekeeper" too. I really do like his philosophy on beekeeping.....
here's his website address:
I went and ordered both his books on topbarhives; Balanced beekeeping 1 & 2, Building a topbarhive & managing a topbarhive. So expect a review of these sometime during the summer.

So far we made the tublike body, using "scrap" wood. My father in law used the manual I downloaded to do the numbers and instead of going out and buying new saw timber (and spending a lot of cash in the process) we reused the planking of a wall he had torn down in his garage. It is 22mm thick instead of the "required" 25. He glued the planks together and when those had set properly we got to work. Luckily he has the right tools for the job, saw tables and all....
They look kind of funky with the partially painted outsides, but the insides are clean. The dividers you see are the molds for the followers that will be made later on. An issue with glueing planks like this, is that you will never get them to be perfectly straight and thus the followers probably never will fit perfectly either. But I figured that if folks in Africa make fully functioning TBH's with timber they can find and work them with relatively crude tools, why become anal-retentive with saws and planes, exact geometrical designs etc...

My father in law continued after I had gone home....

Another fun experiment I did, was sowing tomatoes. That's all over the internet these days; cutting tomatoes in discs, put them in the ground and see what happens. And so did I...
A few tomatoes went bad and mouldy, because they got damaged during transport home. I took one of them, cut a few discs, put them in pots, covered them lightly with soil, punt them on the windowsill and kept them damp.
The first thing that grew was the mould!! It formed a pillow right across the surface and no wonder with all that nurturing soil and water. Bad after a few days the first sprouts started showing too! And now there is a cushion of green sprouts growing over the cushion of grey fuzz. The sprouts do not appear to be affected at all by the mould.
Now one thing to remember here; It is very likely that store bought (ecological) tomatoes, like the one I used, are grown from hybrids and as such will not reproduce from seeds! It is equally likely you might end up with tomatoes that are nowhere near as good in taste or form as the one you planted!
But it is a fun experiment and ideal to do with kids, since the result is showing quickly with the minimal amount of effort. A good way to teach them the basics and to grow plants.

Now the muddy paws bring me to another subject that has kept me quite busy so far; Rex and Lester... The honeymoon weeks with Lester are over, so to speak and the grim reality of everyday life has taken over. And at times it is a tad grim. Or maybe more so; demanding.
Having 2 dogs is less easy than just having one. For one thing there are the contrasts between the two. rex has always been a heap of bundled, nervous energy, whereas Lester is a very easy going, quiet, leisurely dog. The coming of Lester has increased Rex' jumpiness. It is almost compulsory. This inevitably leads to conflicting situations and a good deal of irritation and frustration for us.
When walking the dogs we quite often almost get torn in two. Rex pulling on one end of a leash and Lester refusing to move an inch on the end of the other leash. First Rex sniffs a place and pees on it, then jumps away like a spooked rabbit and is off. But Lester of course has to sniff too and he always takes his sweet time, so rex is janking on the front, because he just wants to go go go and Lester digs in like a stubborn mule, because he ain't done yet..... One 5 meter long leash never touches the ground, the other one drags across the ground in a large curve, weaving from side to side.
Rex prefers the open road, so he can go go go and Lester likes to rummage around through ditches and undergrowth. He's a master at getting his leash entangled there too. A sort of Houdini in reverse...
And when they play Lester shows when he's had enough, but Rex does not get it. He just continues to charge and these charges get fiercer the longer it takes for Lester to engage. And since Lester is physically superior to Rex already, the latter resorts to foul play and he is vicious!!
I kind of fear the day when Lester comes of age and we will have a fight for dominance.............
And then there are the issues of Lester's lack of intelligence and Rex' inability or unwillingness to share attention or affection. For starters Lester really is dim. I suspect there is something not quite right with him and I have had that suspicion ever since I discovered the right eye facing outward and the slightly flattened skull/eyesocket at that side. He really is the sweetest and happiest dog, but stupid. Almost 2 years old, but hops around like a 6 months old puppy and sometimes he looks at you with those vacant eyes.... or downright ignores you.
And Rex is jealous. Of course he gets a little less attention now. It has to be divided between him and Lester, but we make sure they both get an equal share and Rex regularly a little bit more. Yet still he constantly and actively demands attention and when we meet other dogs he gets even more aggressive towards them then before. I get the feeling he is scared that he will have to share attention with those too and thus feels threatened.
What am I getting at with all this? I am actually rethinking the whole dog ownership, since there is a third factor involved: me. Right now I feel trapped by having these two. I am homebound, because I have to walk them four times a day and we can't leave them alone for a length of time anymore, because of the fear the Rex will destroy yet another object. He doesn't just pick a shoe or something. No, he deliberately picks an item from a place he normally would not go and chews it to pieces; a kuksa he plucked from a nail of the wall, a wooden horse from the furnace mantle, a boot puller from its place on the wall..... stuff like that. Frustrated. And I regularly lose my patience....
It is not that we have the wrong kind of dogs. No, I am thinking that maybe I am not the right caretaker for these dogs after all. As far as I am concerned I will postpone the execution until we have had the possibility to fence in a large part of the garden, so they can be out. Hopefully that will help and if it does we will go and ask for help training them, but above all socialise Rex!
But if that doesn't work........


  1. The notion that hybrid plants won't produce fruit is an old wives tale. You'll get tomatoes. They might or might not look like the parent tomato but they'll produce. You'll get something related to one of the hybrid's parent plants. It's a great experiment! I have "grocery" peppers growing. They came out of a yellow bell pepper from the grocery. I'm curious to see what I get from them.

    1. Hi Robin, what I meant was that they will not reproduce like the hostplant. I don't know the correct english term for that.