Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Was it worth it?

Sitting out there on  the balcony..... a sunny quiet late may morning...
Not a single man made sound to be heard, listening to the birds calling, hearing the buzz of the bumblebees as they visit the blooming comfrey; a favorite of them. I can not help but wondering if i should really cut that down. It is starting to overgrow that slope and spreading like wildfire, but the majestic massiveness of the plants has a beauty of its own. Topped by those delicate blue flowers so eagerly sought after by those fluffy buzzers. Buttercups, the downy heads of seeding dandelions and comfrey in bloom.... a lovely image.
I hear a gull screaming up there somewhere and my eyes trace the light blue sky above...
There!! There it is, fighting off a buzzard that apparently came to near the gull's nest. They swirl and dodge, flapping wings and extend talons. Then the buzzard is chased away far enough and everything turns ''quiet'' again.
I keep looking at the buzzard as it continues drawing circles against the blue. Not a single flap of the wings,  only slight adjustments to capture the airflow and alter its course.  Buzzards seem to like this particular spot; meadows, lakes and clusters of trees, all concentrated within a few 1000 square meters. Good hunting grounds and good thermals I suppose.

I rush in  to grab the camera. I have to try..... and then my eye starts seeing other things too; the way the sunlight illuminates the land and plants, the different shades of green in the leaves. The aspen a bronze green, the birches a slight greyish green, the bird cherry a deep green, the rowan a full, bright green. I noticed how full the bloom of our new appletree is. Saw that on other apples in the area as well; large clouds of white embedded in the green of the land. Large patches on the meadows have turned a deep yellow with blooming dandelions. I just wished the bees would have been here already!! They'd have a feeding bonanza! No, I will not cut down the comfrey. I'll let it grow and try to limit it to one area. Too valuable a plant as a feeding source. And of course as an addition to the compost and as a liquid fertilizer as well.

I look across the garden. How overgrown  it has become in such a short time. How lush and colorful too. I think of the grass trimmer I bought. It sure will come in very handy to keep that growth under control.
I also think of the mistake I made in purchasing that one, thinking I made a good deal by buying last years model for a good price..... only to find out after delivery that it did not come with  battery or charger! Had to buy those separately. And they were no longer in stock so I had to order those elsewhere. It set me back more than I liked!

And then my mind turned to all those other purchases we made recently. The extra greenhouse, the car and trailer. The beekeeping stuff... Many small bits 'n' bobs too. The trip we needed to make to Stockholm, to the Dutch embassy, 2 visits to the dentist for my wife, paying back the social service......  The only thing that wasn't actually necessary was the military tent, but I will need that in february and it will come in handy during the summer... hopefully. Why is it that when you get cash, you need to pay big bills or have large expenses all of a sudden? Or is it the other way around??
And the funny thing is that I often calculate such purchases in time, not money. How long do I need to work in order to get the cash I need to buy something? The trimmer cost me two 12 hour workdays and that hurt. It will make the gardening a lot easier later on, but still.  The little greenhouse a little over one day, but that will repay itself in fresh tomatoes, peppers and paprikas. Well, that actually isn't exactly true. I sold my 4x4 opel and paid for the greenhouse and beekeeper gear that way.
The money for the Pajero and the trailer we had to borrow and that I really did not like. It is a relatively small loan however and the merits of that are already showing. Now we do have the room for all of us, including dogs. Now we have vastly increased logistical capacities. And that is already paying off.... I hauled to full loads of transport pallets home for free. These will serve as basis for our cosy gardencorner and henhouse. Much of the wood can be used for the construction of the latter too and the rest will serve as firewood coming winter. We can also transport cattle if needs be and it turns out that that is becoming increasingly possible and may be necessary next year...
The trip to Stockholm was another costly issue. A 400km round trip, because we had to buy new passports for both me and my oldest daughter. My wife came along, since that was mandatory, according to the info on the homepage. Turns out it was not.... One complete workday wasted. However we did get some new information on changing citizenship and that made a lot of difference. Of course we went shopping and we thoroughly enjoyed the visit to a café and had a huge cappuccino with a Dutch stroopwafel and generally enjoyed being there. We so miss this; being able to go out to a cosy café, have some good coffee or a drink and just enjoy the good life, preferably with friends, but together works just as well. We also came home with some books. So was it worth it? We could've saved a lot of cash if some bureaucrat wouldn't have been so tight up. It wouldn't have made the least bit of difference to her. On the other hand it was great to be out, spend the day with the ladies the way we did, we got some valuable information and a couple of very nice and very useful books.

Later today I heard another racket. Several gulls were calling loudly and now some crows had joined the choir. The buzzard had returned and it had brought its mate! The calls seemed to rally more birds as I saw a handful of jackdaws rushing into the "arena", immediately charging at the crows! But their attention was quickly diverted and with joint effort 3 species of birds worked together to fight off a forth one. Amazing!!
I also did try the trimmer and I was reasonably impressed by its capabilities! It definitely will lighten the workload and save me many an hour of grass cutting. And this means that the plan with the removal of the wood chips and ground cloth will be put into practice.

So one can ask one self:"Was it all worth it?".
I for one can say:"yes, it was". Every spending, no matter how big or small, will yield a substantial reward. The car and trailer increased logistics, the coffee and closer relationship with my daughter, based on shared time and experience, the books wisdom and ease of mind, the beekeeping stuff is self explanatory. Heck, in case of an emergency with the car, trailer and tent we are even capable of relocating fast and still have a heated place to live in!
That is what we have learned these last years, even decade. Spend your hard earned cash wisely. Sometimes you need to take a loan. More often you don't need to. Our current economical system is based on impulse buying or a false feeling of need. Think and rethink.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Patience and poverty fatigue

A post on Corina's blog (marblemount homestead) about death & dying people and on living your dreams and Renee's responses to that prompted me to do something with that. To do a post on that.... since I can really relate to all of that.
Now where to begin?
I wrote about Jenkinson's book "Die wise". Those who read my posts on that know a little, those who read the book know a lot more on the subject. The final realisation that it could be my, our turn at any given moment made a big difference in the way I live my life these days. I try not to take things for granted anymore. Not my life, not that of my wife or our children and not that of those around us; human or not. All that we see, do or experience every new day is a gift and it has made me appreciate that so much more. Yes, I do get annoyed, angry or argue with others (well, the kids mainly. I do not bother with the rest that much anymore, really), but I also try to make sure that our ways do not part having hard feelings. I do not say "I love you", since I feel that those are mere words. I try to make them feel and understand from within that I do. An extra hug for example does so much more than words, especially if you really open up when you do it. Words are just air and sounds. Actions is what defines someone.

Now the impatience part is something I have written about and it still is an issue regularly. But I am working on it. I remembered that a colleague, who was pretty close, once told me that I am an emotional man. I live by and with emotions, I feel my way through life. Feelings dominate my being... She was so very right.
And sometimes I feel I am running out of time, that I do not have enough time to accomplish all I want to do within the timeframe that I want to do it in. And that goes for small things, like walking the dogs in a pleasant and calm way to big things like creating a fully functioning homestead with all that that implies.
And that is where the gardening comes in. I once read that gardeners grow old, because they need to practice patience to see things grow and to plan long ahead. The need to live to see their plans unfold. And it is true. I can actually be patient enough to watch a plant grow, see it develop over time and see my plans unfold over the years. So I am trying to use that knowledge on other aspects of my life as well. I picture my kids growing up, finding their own way, seeing them develop their own characters and in turn that makes me see them differently today. The same goes for the dogs; I try to see them as fully trained, happy, active dogs, plunging through a foot of snow, their tongues lolling out on one side of their mouths, almost with a smile on their face as they pull a sled. It makes me smile and it quiets my bubbling temper.
I still do get impatient and temperamental, of course. It is hard to unlearn a behavioural pattern, but I will get there in the end. I will see myself grow and develop into that wise, white bearded grandpa.... if I am given that time. if not, I will make sure the ones I leave behind will have good memories of me, until I completely fade away in time.

And than there is the issue of poverty and how it shapes you, can push you down and wear you out. Living your life for years having to flip every penny tenfold, before spending it.... It does wear you out. It really does. But is also shapes you, defines your life, colors it and makes you so much more appreciative on the things you do have; material or immaterial. Enjoying the scent of freshly cut grass doesn't cost anything and if you have nothing else, you will enjoy it so much more. Buying that wool sweater at the second hand store for a few bucks makes you enjoy its comforting warmth for years to come. That jar of homemade marmalade, made from handpicked fruit, cooked and canned in your own kitchen makes that it tastes so much better than store bought and not simply because the ingredients are better. There is satisfaction in it and there is no better flavour enhancer than that!

We have had our years of poverty and these last few months we do not have to struggle that hard any more. But it has changed us fundamentally. Now when we get our paychecks we spend quite a bit of cash. Oh yeah. But everytime we do it, it almost feels wrong. And often not even almost! We feel guilty, when we spend money on a cup of cappuccino at a café and we feel almost equally guilty when we buy "trinkets" like a "new" phone for one of the kids or something like that. Another car for instance. Now that one almost physically hurt, especially since it is not an exactly economical car.
We think and weigh, discuss and rethink..... We no longer just rush off and spend. We have become much more conscious about it. And we enjoy and appreciate the things we do buy.
So yes, it has colored our lives too.

And that's when I realised that it are things like these that give color to our every day drab lives! It is things like the up and down, especially the little up during longer downs that give flavour to the daily routine soup.

People who experience things like that..... They are the lucky ones!!!

Friday, May 27, 2016

The progress of our garden

I am reconsidering the use of the sideboards or wooden planks on the sides of the plant beds. The frost has made them rise from the ground, creating an opening under which the "weeds" were able to move in.
I am also reconsidering the use of those woven, weed suppressing groundcover cloth and wood chips. First of all that is manmade, artificial(plastic) fibre that doesn't break down. A less than environmental friendly alternative, both in manufacturing and in waste. I would need to exchange the stuff already in use, since that turns out to be absolute rubbish, tearing up like paper. The other side is that, in order to get those woodchips, I need a machine that requires energy to operate and more twigs and branches than my garden provides, so extra transport. Again, not as I would like to have it.
However once everything is in place it would be virtually maintenance free, apart from spreading out shredded material the garden provides every once in awhile.
Our youngest daughter thought of a way to keep our hens and rabbits; flexible "pens"; stakes of metal with netting or mesh attached, creating a flexible and flowing enclosure to contain chickens and rabbits. She drew this idea out on paper, when we were discussing various ideas and options to keep chickens and rabbits (things like mobile coops and such) and first we and than I developed the idea further; we could use the grass(over)grown paths between the beds. The animals could be feeding on the grasses, weeds, seeds and insects, yet without gaining access to the plant beds and the crops therein! Feeding animals, clipping the grass and weeds AND pest control all into one, whilst using all the space we have available.  This solution however would mean the purchase of bunny- and chickenproof fencing and quite a lot of it, given the length of the paths.

In between the cold and wet weather, including some not unsubstantial amounts of snow, we had warm and sunny days and this triggered an explosion of green. Birches went green within a week and the grass grows an inch a day... or so it seems. And that made me reconsider the bunny 'n' chicken-idea once more. They could never, ever keep up with that! Let alone control it!
Another issue is the limited space between the beds, which makes it highly impractical to wield a scythe
So I had to compromise; for now we bought a battery powered grass trimmer, just so we can keep up with the growth and keep the grass and other plants in check, until we have decided what to do. I might end up combining the latter 2 options. Don't know yet.

Oh... yeah.... the old horse manure I spread over some of the beds last year?
Turns out that that was packed with seeds...... Seeds of plants I did not want to see really..... So along with the favorable weather, those germinated and had ample amounts of nutrients.... *sigh*

One week long delay in weeding made that I felt that I had been overcome and overgrown by this green explosion and seeing the parts I did weed, turning green again is not exactly encouraging either. This is the toughest month in gardening around these parts. Things will slow down considerably in a month or so.

As far as the seeds are concerned; most are growing quite well!
A cold snap killed the tomato experiment however and none of the green beans germinated. (None of the Dutch brown ones either). Except for the ones around the metal feet of the old swing. I guess the warmth of the sun got conducted downward into the soil, warming that just enough to make the beans sprout! So I have to redo that and I now know to sow those a lot later. Maybe even as late as the first week of june.
The spinach I had sown around the garlic is not showing, but it did not show up last year either. Maybe the seed is too old? Or I need to sow it later too? I'll give it another go soon.

Yet another mistake I made was to not exactly and meticulously mark what I had sown where outside the greenhouse. I was in too much of a rush I guess, so now I know one bed contains carrots, beets and several species of onions in alternating rows, but I do not know what is where.
Cats using this bed as a toilet complicates things even further....

So...... There's a handful of lessons I am learning "the hard way". But that was and is exactly what I had expected.

Is it all misery and doom, then?
No of course not!
The cherrie- and plumbtrees made it and are blooming wonderfully and now they have gotten company of an appletree too. We could "save" that one for a good price. Folks needed to get rid of it, due to constructional work and since it was a recently planted tree there (2014) it could be dug up without trouble. Being only 2 meters (or a bit higher) meant that transport was no issue either.
Another plus is that we have more rhubarb than anticipated now. I needed to replant a big one and it simply fell apart. Now we have 3 plants instead of that 1 big one, bringing the total to 6.
We also got a rooting branch of a black gooseberry bush, so that should give us some more berrybushes as well soon.
A seedling exchange with one of our neighbours meant that now we do have tomato plants as well as leeks, some white cabbage and a few flowering plants too.
From my mother in law we got one of my all time favorit flowering plants; an older New dawn-rose. I love those! Their bright pale pink flowers, the smell..... and when it has become high enough I'll add a nice, dark clematis. That is always a sight to behold!

yet for now the rain keeps pouring down......

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

An epic trip in the making...

Well, maybe not epic, but quite adventurous!!

Via BCUK the idea was launched to have a meeting in the arctic/ above the polar circle during winter.
I was interested before, but finances forced me to back down.
Now the situation is a bit different and I could even take the dogs and a sled, making bringing a tent, a stove and plenty of food a lot easier.
Much of the things needed I already have, some of the knowledge too, a bit of experience with winterconditions and I would not be alone out there either.
And then the idea came to me; this would be THE opportune occasion to do what I have been thinking about for a long time; to initiate my son into manhood. If you can camp in the arctic during winter before you turn 15, you have the right stuff to be a man!
This trip, and above all all the preparations needed for it, would enable me to spend qualitytime with him, which is quite rare, since our interests are so completely different. When I told him this his reluctance seemed to lessen quite a bit....

Destination would be the area around Suorva (Stora Sjöfallet/Stuor Muorkke national park), roughly 115km northwest of Jokkmokk..... with the Sarek national Park very close by!

source; svenskaturistföreningen.se
During the initial planningstage I started looking for a suitable tent. It would have to house me, my son, 2 large dogs, a stove and preferably our gear too. I figured some other folks might be interested as well, so I sent out some invitations. Odd (Skaukraft) is considering to join us and I hope Matt (weekend woodsman) too. So I started eyeballing a socalled "förläggningstält 12", a Swedish army group tent.
The really weird thing is that I did find several, ranging from almost 9000kr down to 5000. And right after I had written a reply in the BCUK-thread about being busy looking for one, I came across a sales ad selling one for 3000kr. I took the bait...

Not this one, but one like it.
imagesource; surplesbuy.se
I included a link on how to erect one such tent, so I could find it again, too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Dogs and lessons

I guess it is time for a little update on the dog-story!
Both are doing just fine! They are the best of mates, playful, lively, pretty close and still trying to figure out their relationship to one another in regard to dominance. Lester is a gentle giant, powerful and sweet. Rex is a lot less strong, but more mean and not always fair. Whenever he can not "beat" Lester fair and square, he uses foul play. But his dominance is regularly being challenged!!
It has become obvious that Lester has hit "puberty"....
Lester has also become strong. Very strong! And he isn't even fully grown yet.... So far he has torn 3 leashes apart. A white woven one just ripped apart, one of the newly bought green ones, ripped apart the stitching lengthwise and on the inside! The makeshift leash with clip did not even stand a chance....

So now we use what we have, being 2 leashes that are not equally long and that actually worked out very well! Now Rex automatically is in lead and Lester automatically falls in behind. The issues when walking them have drastically lessened. The same goes for my frustration and both my patience and understanding with and of them has increased...
All is well then? Well, mostly, yes. But we all still have a great deal to learn and sometimes it simply is a clash of characters. I am in a not too good mood, Rex is unable to restrain himself or Lester is being totally unreachable.... or he annoys and teases Rex, who responds fiercely and I get tangled up.
Or they are being goofy and boisterous and I nearly end up  peeing myself with laughter.
Be that as it may, we have had some help and got some good tips on how to handle them better and that is paying off.

Lester has helped Rex getting over his fear of water!
There is this ramp on one of the lakeshores and there we often stop. There are interesting smells there and they can drink. On one of those occasions there was a bright red bottle floating there; a boy or marker for a crayfishcage. Lester was very intrigued by it, but it was to far off. On the other side there is a concrete ball with a ring on top of it for mooring a boat. Now that was equally interesting and a lot closer! 
You can see the bottom of the lake where the dogs stand. Where it gets darker the bottom drops..... Lester jumped..... and went under completely! The look on his face, when he came up and out! He shook himself so vigorously that his hindlegs were thrown left and right. He turned around, stared at the ball and was preparing for a second attempt!! But was uncertain if he would take a plunge again.. 

We will continue to work on and with them and on ourselves as well. I am quite convinced that we can achieve our goals together with our boys, but it will take a great deal of effort and time. They both do show that they missed out on a lot in their early days. It has shaped them and we have to learn to work with that....

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The buzz of the bumblebee...

May came and with it came the sun and warm spring weather!
Oh, the joy!
And with that the first swallows too. I really do like those birds; their agility, their aerobatics..... and later on in summer their calls, when they soar through the skies with their buddies, chasing flies and outmaneuvering each other.
The daffodils bloom, the grass is growing (I'll be cursing it in a week or so) and the trees are shrouded in a fresh green veil. The seeds in the greenhouse are sprouting nicely and the first seeds have been sown directly on the ground too. One bed is dedicated mostly to onions; 3 species with alternating rows of carrots, parsnip, radish and kamomil in between. I also planted several rows of small bulbs, just to be able to compare later on. Whenever there turns out to be rooms left I will plant or sow something compatible there too. The potatoes went in the ground as well, but I had to plant the majority of them in a bed I had fertilised last year, so I have to see what will happen there. We bought a small box with 3 species; Rocket, Arrow and Mandel and when following the advised planting distances these turned out to be more than 1 large planting bed can take. So I had to plant half of the Mandel in an unprepared and unfertilised bed. A nice way to try out and compare them later on this year.
The garlic I got from Hugh of englishcountrylife.com last year is going very well and I have sown some spinach around and in between it.
So far I also planted 5 krikon (ramson) offshoots and there are 2 elderberry bushes waiting to put down their roots into our garden. We bought those, whilst attending a guided tour through one of the local plant nurseries. It was quite nice, but we had hoped on more background information on how they grow their plants. We were not particularly interested in promotion tales on several decorative plants. They actually have very little in terms of edible plants and they seem to specialise on pelargonium, lobelia, petunia and fuchsia, which they sow and grow themselves. The owner quite clearly had a passion for those and for his profession. A stack of syngenta plant labels however triggered an immediate red-flag-respons...... On the other hand it is the same nursery we bought our cherry- and plum trees last year and we are quite happy with those. They deliver quality goods, plain and simple.

Animal life has returned to the garden too. A garden thrives whenever there is wildlife around.
We are lucky that we have a lot of it; woodpeckers, dozens of birds, several species of bumblebee, loads of butterflies etc. There is also a good deal of not always equally welcome wildlife to be found; hare and deer do not mix well with a vegetable garden, at least not from a gardener's point of view. The animals probably disagree. A fox as an immediate neighbour (within 75 meters) makes having a chicken coop a challenge. Not to mention the martens and ermine that roam the area. And then there brother badger too.
And we have several forest ant highways through the garden. One directly across the front lawn and I am not too happy about that. We have tried several environmentally friendly remedies, but to no avail. I really do not want to go the chemical way, since there'll be bunnies there too in a few weeks/months. So I guess we'll have to live with them for now.
Watching a bluetit snatching a lemon butterfly in mid air, fly to the nearest pine tree where its mate was waiting and handing over the butterfly, after which the mate disappeared into a cluster of needles and twigs is quite a sight.
There are a lot of "blue stars" or blåstjärna (scilla) blooming in the garden right now. We never had this many. And they are very popular with bumblebees, of which, as said, several species are buzzing about. Rex is not too fond of them, especially the big black/yellow/white ones. He backs off, whenever there's one buzzing around his nose.
And those bumblebees were the key to some exciting discoveries!
On kristi himmelfärds (ascension day) I was cutting firewood and my youngest daughter was playing outside. She started telling me that she was scared of bees. I told her there was no reason to be and that I'd show her when they'd arrive. Then the conversation went to bumblebees and their stings and that there were so many of them in our garden, so I put down the saw and we went to look at them up close. I showed her that you could actually touch them and that they'd just move on. Our oldest daughter joined us and I asked her to get the poster I have of bumblebee species, because I saw several different ones in one place. And while I was waiting for her, a surprise showed up; a honeybee!! The first one I've seen since we moved here!! I was quite excited to see her. And since there are no beekeepers around or none that I know of, I assume that this is a "wild" bee, which means they might swarm. I am going to get my Warré hives ready to act as a swarm catcher.... just in case.
Oh... we identified 5 different species of bumblebee.