500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

Waterworks

April3

Since the beginning of the year we have been working on the pond. It’s filled by a mill race – a constructed waterway which eventually connects to the stream at the bottom of the valley.  First we had to redam the stream, and then solve the problem of the water leaking out of the half mile long mill race so it actually reached the pond.

The use of concrete or plastic pipe would have been expensive and ugly. Cursory research would suggest that this is now the only possible way of waterproofing, however that’s not how the millrace was built originally, some hundreds of years ago.   After further research we took inspiration from pigs (and the gley technique for sealing ponds). Pigs can be used to seal ponds as they like to wallow in water. They compress the earth which stops the water leaking out. We don’t have pigs, and the millrace would be an awkward shape to try to pen in pigs, but we do have feet, and wellies. I have spend several hours down the valley in the water. The dog comes along out of curiosity and the sheep and goat follow to be part of the herd. I wallow around for a bit in the water – which means basically standing welly deep in mud and tramping it down until it stops feeling sticky underfoot.  It’s noticeably more difficult below trees that are right on the bank – these are probably spots where the water continues to leach out, however it’s made a marked difference in general. Areas of the valley are now dry even after heavy rain.  It’s important to remove wood and stones in the bed so that the layer can be compressed properly.  We had been thinking about digging out the dead leaves which had fallen in the water, however these, apparently, will add to the waterproofing layer.

The pond is now beginning to fill. It has a huge surface area so it’ll take some time. Also, there are several pipes coming out in various spots around the barns and garden.  The ends of these are currently hidden in the reeds and grasses at the side of the pond so I’m spending some time searching around for them. Once the water is about a foot higher the sheep and goat can graze on the other side of our land, without hopping over into next door’s garden and eating their fruit trees. We can stock the pond with fish (the plan is to purchase rainbow trout fingerlings) and we can even think about putting in a turbine for electricity generation. For the time being, my ambition is to hold an Easter Monday duck race.

As the weather warms up, I hope that we can get out there and wallow in our bare feet. The water looks nice and clean, and will have a constant supply of fresh, oxygenated stream water going into it, so maybe this year we will be brave enough to use our natural swimming pond.

South Bohemian Stuffing Loaf

May15

When I tell people in the Czech Republic that we don’t use stinging nettles as a vegetable in the UK – I’m met with incomprehension – “don’t nettles grow in Britain” was one response.  When cooked correctly it’s almost indistinguishable from spinach in appearance, with a nice flavour, a natural organic – those stings protect it from most bugs, so pesticides are unnecessary, and zero food miles if there is any patch of unused ground close to home!  However, most people in the UK  have in mind an image of the deodorant eschewing as typical consumers of nettles. The nettle marketing board has a way yet to go.

You use the top couple of inches of the plant as a vegetable, so when you’re weeding next time, put this part of the plant aside for dinner, rather than on the compost heap.

Of course, you need to wear protective gloves while picking,  and wash them thoroughly as they grow close to the ground.  The best method for cooking I’ve found so far is to put them in a covered pan on a high heat in as much water as sticks to the leaves after washing. Within about 5 minutes (heating from cold)  they will have wilted down – take them off the heat as soon as they look like cooked spinach – you don’t want to destroy nutrients by cooking longer.  Use them in place of spinach in any recipe.

Sekanice is a local Easter recipe here which, according to my students, requires between 30-50% nettles. In my version of the recipe I substitute smoked tofu for bacon and soya for boiled pork – much to the chagrin of my Czech students. I have tested the recipe on non-hippie meat lovers, it didn’t last long despite the perceived weirdness of the ingredients.  Traditionally Sekanice is made for the Easter weekend. You can eat it hot, straight from the oven, and then cold, cut into slices over the next few days.

Sekanice uses nettles as the green because in the old days before we had vegetables flown in from Kenya, it was the first vegetable to come up after the snow.  The word Sekanice means sort of “Cut thing” – because you can harvest baby nettles using a scythe, and then you can cut the Sekanice into slices when it comes out of the oven.

Vegetarian Sekanice (pronounced Set can it say)

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 block of smoked tofu, chopped into small squares
  • 1 pack of soya chunks – soaked for an hour in vegetable stock, then fried in a generous amount of  butter or olive oil
  • sage
  • a handful of chopped chives
  • 3 bread rolls torn into chunks
  • 2-3 large handfuls of stinging nettles

Method

Prepare the soya – once it holds the same amount of fat and salt as boiled pork, it loses it’s holier than thou taste.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees c. & grease a large ceramic  baking dish (if you use oil to grease with, it’s really easy by the way).

Separate the egg yolks from the whites and mix the yolks with the bread chunks.  Whip the egg whites into a frenzy (in Czech, they say whip it into snow – when the egg whites are fluffy and form peaks).

Chop the tofu, bread & chives. Combine all the ingredients apart from the egg whites, mixing well. You will need to add quite a lot of salt and pepper as tofu and soya are not salted when you purchase them, like pork and bacon are.  Finally, fold in the egg whites and turn the mixture into the baking dish. Cook for 40 minutes or until the top has gone a nice baked brown.

Bohemian Flapjack

April28

We try to avoid buying junk food at Nový Mlýn, and instead encourage our visitors to bake when they have the urge to eat something sweet.  This is a super-easy flapjack* recipe for those with absolutely no baking skill or experience – or if you want to make something really, really quickly. We use honey in preference to sugar because of food miles, and oil is easier than butter, as you don’t have to melt it first.

Ingredients

  • Honey (a couple of hundred grams ish or  2 cups)
  • Olive oil (a couple of hundred mls ish  or 2 cups)
  • Rolled oats (up to 500 grams or 5-6 cups)
  • A hand full of  dried fruit, nuts, orange or lemon peel, chopped – what ever you have in the kitchen.  If you choose just two,  it’ll have a clearer flavour.

(or – equal parts honey and oil, with equal parts dry to wet ingredients)

Method

Heat the oven to 200 degrees c. and oil a metal baking sheet.

Combine the olive oil and honey in a large saucepan and warm over a medium heat. When it comes to the boil, turn off the heat and add the two or three types of flavouring ingredients – I normally stick to two so that it’s ingredient A and ingredient B flapjack – Almond and Lemon flapjack, or Walnut and Ginger flapjack etc … three flavourings becomes too much of a mouthful to say, if nothing else. Once these are mixed together, add as many rolled oats as you can – ie completely coated by the honey & oil.

Turn the mixture into the baking sheet and pack it down with the back of a wooden spoon. It needs to be an inch or 3 or 4 cms thick. Once it’s packed down, you can use a spatula to cut it into portions, then pack it down again. This’ll make getting it out much easier.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at a medium heat  for 20 minutes, or until it’s a nice golden brown. Let it cool before eating.

* Traditional Flapjack is something like American Granola bars.

Eating the weeds

April16

Over the last few weeks since Joann left the house has seemed very quiet.  We’ve been outnumbered by the animals. Jaakko has been concentrating on building the hen house, and I have been moving rubble out of the garden by the wheel barrow load. I’m really happy that reinforcements arrived yesterday in the form of American Chris and Hollander Michiel – it’s great to have the house busy again and hear interesting stories of other lives.

Slowly things are becoming green, but as yet there are no leaves on the trees. Some of the seeds that we planted inside have germinated – the broccoli, onions, wild rocket and sorrel have made an appearance, but none of the others… it’s possible that they didn’t react well to the cats climbing in the boxes. Today we’ve transplanted broccoli, and companion planted Nasturtiums with it (another edible plant). Michial has built a sturdy frame to protect the puny seedlings, and we’ve experimented with a few different techniques of plant protection using the cuttings from the apple trees and old net curtains. Read the rest of this entry »

The big spring melt…

March25

… is under way. This is the longest winter I have ever experienced, and now, at the end of March, we still have snow on the ground. It first fell in mid October – so that’s a fair few months of sub zero temperatures. It rained the other day – wetness falling from the air is a completely new experience for our 5 month old puppy – who we seem to have inadvertently snow toilet trained.

Last week Joann and I went on an expedition to collect willow switches with which to plant a living willow fence at the bottom of our land. It became a bit of a mission when we had to clamber through soft snow of more than a foot deep… carrying our bundles of sticks with our lively pup either pulling on the rope tying the willow together, or wrapping me up very effectively with her lead. But – it was a rare day of winter sunshine and it was beautiful to be outside nonetheless. The area we were gathering from is now completely flooded with melt water. Read the rest of this entry »

Speakovame dobry čekliš (Czechlish)

April22

We spent the weekend with Jerry and his family in their cottage. We had not been very sure of the invitation – it says a great deal about our level of Czech that at first Mike thought that Jerry was phoning to remind him that he danced like a chicken. However, when we arrived in Slabčice, we realised that it was simply a common Czechlish error.

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blossom.JPG wheatfield.JPG ostrichfarm.JPG

Guitar.JPG Walk.JPG imag0436.JPG

TheGamesBarn.JPG

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Exhausted & crying

April16

Yet another incident fraught attempt to travel. This time via bicycle. We bought M a bike on Friday, so that we could reach the house (20km, no Saturday bus, no car because we don’t have paperwork yet). After 5 km it had started misbehaving – the bit the pedal was attached to had worked loose.

Luckily we were able to fix it – with the help of a stranger innocently working on his garden in a small Czech village. He even gave us the tool we needed! Some people are so nice. We managed to get to Novy Mlyn, though stopping every so often to tighten up the loose fitting. The countryside was beautiful (something we’re nearly taking for-granted now) and the journey felt like very good exercise (i.e. it is nearly constantly up hill from Tábor). Read the rest of this entry »

Novy Mlyn – what first?

April3

First of all, spurious pictures. Something I’ve not seen before – balls hanging in trees to celebrate spring:

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Look, no footprint – inspiration from New Scientist

March21

My first day back working in Birmingham. I am sharing my office with aimag0374.JPG parrot. He is called Sid and is 25 years old. We’re not sure about each other yet.

Yesterday I caught the train to London for a meeting with the Water Works UK, based in Wood Green. I left my laptop at home as it doesn’t travel well & spent the journey reading the New Scientist. There was a thorough article on carbon offsetting called ‘Look, no footprint’ – raising concerns about the efficacy of tree planting as a method of carbon offsetting.

One strong concern was that it may only postpone the problem – when the natural life of the tree is over , carbon will be released back into the atmosphere. I think this will only be a problem if we have not a) developed cleaner energy or b)developed better CO2 capture in the mean time. Therefore, I think that planting trees is fine, and as long as they are not then chopped down to use as firewood, will give humanity time to develop other solutions.

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