500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

Winter’s End


Today, at the beginning of March, there are just a few patches of snow left in the valley. The land is khaki brown, devoid of fresh colours for the time being. Each tree is completely bare. The ground has thawed and mud now oozes out plentifully, but there is still snow in the air. We are living in the bated breath of spring.

I’ll be turning forty in a few days. My husband pointed out this means that I’ve spent a quarter of my life with him.

I have spent the winter productively and now have eighty thousand words which form a mildly amusing account of our adventures in the Czech Republic. I wanted to write something for us, before we forget, and also for my grandmother – now ninety three, her health issues now prevent her from coming here to visit.

I really enjoyed the process of writing, especially when the plot unexpectedly thickened into a narrative. Now I am leaving the first draft to settle – three months is necessary, though this will bring us to mid-summer – a time for scything at dawn rather than sitting in front of a computer. Currently, I keep thinking of things that I have left out of the first draft, but I’m resisting the temptation of running back to it.

It’s now time for active life again – to plant seeds in pots, repaint and repair the winter damage. The snow was the greatest excuse. It did not so much cause as disguise the disorder, and some part of me wishes it back.

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What’s watts with winter solar


Over the previous month I have been spending my afternoons soldering on. We have a kilowatt of individual solar cells to stick together to build our own photo voltaic system.
As ever, it has been a learning curve. First, watch a lot of youtube videos. Second, figure out which of the youtube videos are made by people who have natural self confidence rather than knowledge or ability. There is a neophyte tendency with some to share their experiences, without then following up to admit when things go terribly wrong.
I am glad that our experiments have not, so far, been caught on camera. The first thing we learned was that the solar cells are extremely fragile. They have a similar consistency to eggshell, and must be handled delicately. Our second discovery was that only four fifths of them worked. Those that don’t tend to come in batches, so if you don’t test them first, you end up with whole strings which will decrease the efficacy of your system.
The cells themselves are fragile and also need to be protected from the elements – so that they don’t rust or become interesting places for various insects to set up home. For this you can use a type of silicone which will not discolour in the sun, or EVA plastic sheeting. We will try both, though the silicone is suspiciously expensive in small quantities.
Currently we have strings of twelve cells placed around the windows of the house in the twenty centimetre gap between the two layers of glass. We are getting a good number of volts, but the ampage is not high, meaning the overall power produced could be better. It’s also important to remember that at present the ground outside is completely snow-covered, meaning that there is a lot of reflected light. During the rest of the year, with no snow and the sun higher in the sky, we might actually get less light in those positions.
We have the inverter and charge controller necessary to build a system which will power the house from batteries when possible, and switch back to mains power when this runs out. We would need to have permissions and different equipment for a grid-tie system.
It takes about an hour to solder one string of twelve cells, so at least I can be doing this while we are learning about the other aspects of the system. I think that methods of encapsulation (and the pungent chemicals required) should wait until later in the year so that we can work outside in the fresh air or with lots of windows open – not possible right now when it’s quite so cold.

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Mid Winter Break


Our five hundred metre millrace joins a stream to our lake, providing fresh water for fish and, I suspect, the surrounding houses. The neighbour hires out the valley upstream to a horse farm. Our land is not fenced off, and at the end of the autumn there was quite a lot of rain. The horses then stood under the trees on the edge of the millrace and trampled down the edges of the bank until it was destroyed and the water poured out into the valley. We discovered this when the ground was already frozen hard, so there was nothing to do but be sad about the wet valley.
Luckily, there has been a period of warm weather between Christmas and New Year, so we have been able to spend a pleasant couple of days repairing the millrace by putting the bank back together with spades. Hard work, but after the excesses of a typical Christmas, it’s been a pleasure to be out working in the fresh air.
The horse farm put their electric fence, to contain the horses, on the far side of the millrace, meaning it isn’t protected. I hope that they will play nicely and not allow their horses to cause such damage to our land in future.

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Alone Time


The winter may be fast approaching, but, for us, snow means solitude. After such a mixed bag of visitors this year I am thoroughly ready for a break. I need time to rediscover my enthusiasm for hosting the motley crew who wash up on our shores as lately I have felt really quite frustrated.

Activities with “help” take ten times as long as when I am working on my own. I guess few people choose to become managers; here I am teacher as well, but with all the teaching and managing, it sometimes feels that very little progress is being made at Novy Mlyn.

This is certainly not the attitude to have when hosting volunteers; perhaps it is time to investigate different ways of working.

Finally, finally, we are alone again.

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Halloween – a perfect time to bury some ghosts


As ever, October has whipped by at a rate of knots.  We’ve had both sunshine and snowfall.  A couple of weeks ago I spent Saturday afternoon sitting outside reading in the sun, and just last weekend we watched as our surroundings were blotted out by snow.

Building on the planning that I did in September, and with the help of Eva and Ricardo, the Homesteading Diary is now in print. There are a couple of changes I’d like to make after receiving the first physical copy – swapping a comma for a semicolon, and altering the line spacing on the to do list as it clashes with the lines on the facing page and so looks ugly where it shows through the paper onto the following notes page – which  would make it elegant.

So – as well as making our first batches of soap, producing the diary, getting apple juice pressed and bottled and getting a lot of sorting out done in the garden, this month we have also created a geocache at Nový Mlýn (a point on a treasure hunt – a bit like Dartmoor letterboxing but on an international scale) – this is something that I’d thought about doing a long time ago, however it took the visit of a keen geocacher to make this happen – it’s so good when people arrive with skills and enthusiasms that spur you into action.

“A Grave Error” refers to the lost history of the Hussite battle up the valley- commemorated by the Cubist Chalice memorial but elsewhere forgotten, as well as the errors made at the starch mill which lead to the explosion in which two people lost their lives, and finally the fact that there is actually a grave up by the lake – the architect who committed suicide and so the Church would not permit him to be buried in consecrated ground.  I hope that people find the story interesting:



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October Planning Diary


First frost predicted 16th October

(1) Finish hay making

(2) Scythe nettles

(3) Apple compote

(4) apple drying

(5) apple pressing for juice and cider

(6) Finish painting radiators

(7) tackle hallway window renovation

(8) Plant coriander

(9) plant peas for salad

(10) Prop up Ark so wood off ground & cover with tarp

(11) Repair apple press.

(12) Move geraniums inside – hallway?

(13) Move blue planters inside

(14) Move trees

(15) Plant spring bulbs

(16) Put up winter curtains

(17) Insulate hen house

(18) Mulch asparagus, artichokes, garlic, vines

(19) plant peas for spring & mulch

(20) Harvest willow after leaves drop

(21) Make tree protectors

(22) Halloween!

(23) dig up soil for winter toilet

(24) Harvest and store carrots

(25) Vacuum floor in attic

(26) Whitewash in attic

(27) Paint utility room & finish floor

(28) Dig up nettle babies

(29) Natural plaster around radiator pipes

(30) Repair paintwork around windows

(31) Rehome hibernating ladybirds and vacuum up hibernating cluster flies


Keep an eye on the night time forecast – Geraniums, tomatoes, aubergines & peppers  will  need to move inside if below 3 degrees.

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What to do with a tonne of apples


We now have a few years of experience with our apples so I think it’s time to consolidate this knowledge – ironic really, as our crop was almost totally destroyed by frost this year. Luckily there are plenty of freely available windfall apples growing by the country roads around these parts.

Dried Apple

You can dry apples by slicing them finely and using your oven as a dehydrator, if the sun is not strong enough to put fruit in your car to dry it. These make excellent additions to muesli and also very nice apple tea. You can also use dried apple  in berry jams to provide the necessary pectin so that the jam will set.

Apple Compote

Again, a great way to preserve apples. I recommend that you create a lot of different flavours though as this really encourages people to make use of it. We use lots of different berries, herbs& spices, and also use apple as the base of fake Lime pickle and a  fake Mango chutney which we serve alongside curry. If you are able to offer people the choice between blueberry and basil compote, cinnamon and raisin compote, blackberry, rhubarb, etc it is a delight to serve. Also, when I make oatmeal porridge I heat up a jar of compote to go alongside. In Belgium it’s very common to serve hot apple sauce  with a meal, and not a tiny teaspoon full but a healthy dollop.



Alongside the pasteurised juice which we serve with breakfast, we have finally cracked cider making at .

Firstly, DO NOT WASH YOUR APPLES IN BLEACH. You’ll never get it all out. Washing off loose dirt with water is just fine. If your apples have chemicals sprayed on them I’m sorry but I don’t know what you can do about that  – even if you peel them, which would be a massive amount of work, they’re probably contaminated inside.  Buy organic?

It’s important to crush up the apples before you put them in the press. They are just too strong and will withstand many pounds of pressure meaning that you get a paltry quantity of juice. For the task we have a baseball bat shaped stick, which we use to pound one apple at a time in a rubber bucket with a wooden board placed inside it.  Once the apple is a mash, it’s much easier to extract the juice in a press. Even if you cut up the apples with a fine slicer they are still too strong, it really needs to be a mix. We tried using a purpose bought paint stirrer drill attachment, but this was really not nearly as effective as a big old stick and some muscle power (not to mention – excellent exercise).

Once we have the juice we do the very first part of the fermentation in the bathroom – which has a slightly sloping drained floor. We put the juice in plastic containers with wide mouths – during the first couple of days the process will create a lot of froth which you can allow to spill out as it will carry out with it any tiny solids which have made their way into your juice. After a couple of days we then pour the juice into the very large glass bottles we keep on the stairs in the winter. This makes it easier to syphon the juice out in the spring when you need to put it away in airtight containers to age.  It’s important to keep the temperature above freezing so you don’t end up with shattered containers.

The glass bottles are stoppered with a one-way air valve so that nothing comes into contact with the cider – if it is in contact with the air you’ll end up with vast quantities of cider vinegar – which is no bad thing, and has a reputation as quite the cure-all. We have a recipe for a balsamic style apple vinegar which is a really tasty addition to salads.

You’ll be able to see when the first fermentation stops because there will be no movement in the air valve.  It’s perfectly fine to leave it as is – we tend to decant the cider into five litre screw top demijohns in the spring, and then put it on shelves in the cellar to age.  At this stage, the cider is extraordinarily dry as all the sugars from the fruit have been turned into alcohol. Most people will not like it because we’re used to sweet and fizzy commercially produced cider.

The next fermentation you can do a week before you want to drink the cider.  This gives the cider a little bit of sweet and a little bit of fizzy. You need clip-top beer bottles &  honey & water mixed in equal parts and heated to a good boil.  You wash the inside of the bottles with the hot honey & water solution so that the whole of the inside, including the lid, is coated, but there is no excess. You then fill it to an inch from the top with the cider, close it, and leave it for a week.

After a week it should have a nice fizz, and can be kept without danger of explosion.  It can be consumed as is, though some people will prefer the more familiar taste of commercial cider – to achieve this, just mix it half and half with lemonade.

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Nový Mlýn Homesteaders’ Journal for 2013


For reasons too dull to expand on here, I’ve spent rather a lot of time during the last month capable only of light activity – I worry that I’ll be developing the muscle tone of an office worker – the horror.  One upside has been that I’ve had time to work on the Homesteaders’ Journal – ironically something I’d been planning to do for quite some time.

The journal takes the form of a week to view diary and includes a meal planner, weekly chores list and other project to-do list.  Each month there is also a fold-out list of main jobs. It is now available as a pdf file – you can just print it out and either repurpose and old book by sticking the sheets into it, or stitch bind it together (the dates are only on one side of the paper so you can double print it & order the pages as necessary).  We will be working on a fully-finished version which will be uploaded to Blurb -  we plan to add a four season apple tree animation in the corner – and we’ll need a nice cover, of course.

Diary sheets stuck into an old book

Print your own diary for 2013

So – if you want to print your own planning diary for 2013 you can find it here: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BzVwxf87Am3lMUV0SnByQThCaFE

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Homemade Jewel Syrup & Pink Lemonade


Balsam in the garden

Sometimes we would sneak into the house soaked to the skin; less often we would be caught wet handed, or a pile of damp clothing soaking into the bedroom carpet would give us away.  The fact was that the outright ban on playing by the Beck – our parents didn’t know enough to be specific – no ‘coasteering’ along the banks of the ravine; no setting of man-traps in the water – was often, even regularly, contravened, and we were rarely caught.  Short of ‘grounding’ the whole gang of us, there was little our collective parents could do. Had they formed some kind of parents’ union for Station Road they may have gained more bargaining power; this was never suggested.

A friend from school told me that two children had drowned in the water some years before, and that if you were lucky you could visit the dark pooling water in the forest, close enough that you could hear the sea, and watch their ghosts acting out the traumatic last moments over and over again. But that was all the way down the ancient sea cut by Scalby Mills – at least a mile away, and before we were even born, so we were not at all discouraged from our misadventures by this tale of woe.

The smell of Himalayan Balsam, by which name I didn’t know it at the time, is integrally linked to my memory of growing up in a small Yorkshire village, and especially of late summer, school threatening, when it grew prolifically in the secretive spots we preferred. As you brush by the chandelier droplet shaped seed pod, it explodes throwing seeds an impressive distance, great entertainment for those who have homework to be getting on with.

Though in itself beautiful, Himalayan Balsam or Jewel Weed is an invasive species in these parts. It is voracious, very attractive to bees and all parts of the plant are inedible apart from the flowers and seeds – luckily if you eat these you’ll dent potential regrowth for future years. We now have a growing supply of it in an untended corner of the garden and it is time to take it on.

Why the name jewel weed? Maybe because of the droplet shaped seed pods, or maybe because of the vibrant colours of the petals.

Never wanting to let anything go to waste I did a little research and the following  recipe is the best I found: a beautifully coloured syrup which can be used to decorate cakes, dilute as cordial or simply spread on toast; with a side order of delicious lemonade. The petals have a very subtle flavour but the colour they impart is almost magical.

100 g Himalayan Balsam (Jewel Weed) flowers

50g water

250g sugar

1 lemon

1 lime

In a pan mix the sugar, water, lemon and lime juice & boil for a few minutes until the sugar dissolves into a clear syrup. Chop up the lemon and lime skins and keep to one side. Add the petals to the syrup and boil for twenty minutes.

Wash a jar and heat in a microwave for a minute allowing the jar to be sterilised by the water turning to steam. The high sugar content of the syrup will mean that it doesn’t need to be kept refrigerated, however you don’t want blooming on the jar from yeast or spore contamination.  Warming the jar also means that it won’t be cracked by the hot syrup being added to it.

The syrup will turn a dark pink as the petals give out their colour. When the size of the bubbles begins to grow the syrup is nearly ready. To test it put a drop on a cold plate and leave for a minute before pushing a spoon through it. If a clear line can be made on the plate, the syrup is of a good spreading consistency. Sieve the syrup into the warmed jar and leave to cool.

The syrupy petals can now be returned to the pan. Immediately put hot water through the empty sieve into the pan to wash off as much syrup as possible. Finally add the chopped lemon and lime skins. The amount of water you add depends purely on how sweet you want the lemonade to be.  Bring the mixture to the boil then cover and leave to cool. As will all home made lemonade, this needs to be kept in a fridge and used within a couple of days.




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Around and about – things to do (and eat) around Nový Mlýn


We are planning a night away in North Bohemia. I wanted to ask the host some questions about specific points of interest in the immediate vicinity of the accommodation, as well as the very important question of food! Are we able to use the kitchen at the b&b 0r are there restaurants or pubs which do food within walking distance or a short drive?  This made me realise that we don’t have such info about Nový Mlýn easily available – so here it is:

The nearest restaurant is Hotel Mlýn in Černovice – 4km from the house. Their kitchen is open till 9pm – (but try to be there to order by 8pm) – basic Czech style food with a good selection of local fish.

Červená Lhota is a red château in a lake located 18km from Nový Mlýn. There is a theatre with outdoor performances at the weekends during summer months, as well as an international restaurant which is open during the day and summer evenings – please note that when they say they close at 9pm – they mean that they want you to leave by 9pm.

Self catering – there are a number of shops in Černovice (4km away), and one which stays open until 7pm  on Saturday and Sunday.

The Jewish Memorial in Černovice, close to Hotel Mlýn,  is a unique recognition of the impact of the Holocaust on the life of a village in Central Europe. It can be contrasted with other Jewish cemeteries in South Bohemia – where whole populations were wiped out – for example the unkempt and vandalised state of the cemetery by the swimming quarry at Kamenice Nad Lipou.

Walks – you are free to wander in any direction through the forests surrounding the house.  It’s nice to follow the course of the stream – down towards an ancient willow tree bridge or up through pretty forest dells to a Cubist chalice commemorating the Hussite battleground in Křeč.
“Monument commemorating the 500th anniversary of the last battle of Tabor, unveiled 22nd September 1935. A stone monument in the shape of the cup is on the left side of the road leading from Křeč to Černovice, the alleged location of the battle. In this battle defeated Ulrich II. Rosenberg army camp and before this defeat in 1435 ended the Hussite wars.” (translated from the village website).

Finally, you can go 8km west towards Choustník, from where hales the famous Bohemia Chips. The ruins of the castle are on the hill, from where you can see a fantastic sunset over South Bohemia, including our very own Mordoresque Temelin power station, and otherwise picturesque. The castle is open to visitors during the summer months, at other times of year you can carefully walk around the walls of the castle to a lookout spot on rocks above a forested ravine.

Kamenice Nad Lipou is 17km from Nový Mlýn. On hot days the quarry, close to the Jewish cemetery, is the best place to swim in South Bohemia. The water is crystal clear and there is a convenient jumping off point for the more adventurous.  The town is named after the Lime tree which grows by the castle – it is said to be between 700 and 900 years old. There are several restaurants in Kamenice Nad Lipou offering decent quality Czech food. We like the one by the railway station.

The railway running through Křeč – at the top of our valley via Kamenice Nad Lipou to the main town of the area - Jindřichův Hradec – is a curious affair. It feels almost as if run as a hobby by some eccentric millionaire. This completely uncomputerised narrow gauge system operates trains with single carriages and still issues linoprint mechanically printed cardboard tickets, stamped with a number. It is possible to travel by steam train during the special summer service.

If you would like to go and meet camels, lama, goats and pot-belly pigs there is a mini petting zoo on the road to Chynov, 13km from the house. You can also purchase free-range milk here (a rare find due to industrialised farming methods in these parts).

The places above are all accessible by foot and/or public transport. We also have old fashioned road bicycles that you are welcome to borrow.

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