500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

A path well laid

September1

It’s hard to believe that autumn is almost here, but I’ve noticed the sun is very definitely lower in the sky – mists and mellow fruitfulness to follow.

One thing I loved about my previous life as a city girl was libraries. I would regularly go and draw out as many books as I was permitted, and then start reading them all at once, finishing first the one that held my attention the most.  Though we have a book swap shelf at Nový Mlýn, and there are swap shelves in hostels and restaurants in Prague, this really hasn’t given me the range of reading material I needed.  Mike recently bought me a Kindle – and this, combined with Project Gutenberg has been my literary saviour.

Previously my genre of choice had been travel writers, however on Gutenberg I am beginning to explore authors who can help me here and now.  Gutenberg contains thousands of books which are out of copyright – meaning that the author died more than seventy years ago.   So far, I’ve found several books by people who have, like us, moved from city to countryside. To hear these voices ring out clear and true is a strange experience – they are long dead, but I am so grateful they wrote about their lives. We have so much in common, and I have so much to learn.

“The best things to scrub the churn and all wooden articles with, are wood ashes and plenty of soap.”

Our Farm of Four Acres and the Money we Made by it by Miss Coulton

Giving thanks to Workawayers

August16

Visiting my great aunt on the way back from the UK last week really brought home to me how important our visitors are.  My aunt – always the most lively person at any gathering, has decided to return home after eleven years as a foreigner.  The main reason seems to be that she spends a lot of time alone – at first there were lots of other British couples about, but for one reason or another – exchange rates reducing pensions or homesickness, they have gradually dwindled.  We arrived back from our trip to a house full of eight, six of whom I’d not met before.  Though many don’t envy us our choice of lifestyle – house-sharing is always a careful balancing act, this constantly evolving group has saved us.

I was nervous at first – as most people would be, but I’m getting to know our new guests. I’ve cried with laughter on at least two occasions in the last twenty-four hours, and we have had some AMAZING food.  Rosie made a tagine in a Squash accompanied by a delicious beetroot and fennel salad – all from vegetables growing in the spiral garden. I’m cooking lunch. There are ten of us here right now and the standard has been set very high.

As we don’t have children, and the countryside in this area is depopulated of young(ish) professionals, without our volunteer visitors we would be rattling around this big old house alone.  It can sometimes be stressful coordinating the activities of so many people, however, in general, our visitors are creative, intelligent and willing, and committed to living a sustainable lifestyle. I am incredibly grateful to spend so much time amongst people with whom I can share ideals, and meals.

Notes from the garden…

October20

May – the Nettles were young and fresh & quickly provided us with a source of greens. We harvested a lot for the freezer while they were young and good. We’ll see how many packets of these we use through the winter.  They take up space, but are an excellent source of iron. Last night I used them as an addition to a curry, but they work well in place of spinach in pretty much anything. The combination of weeding the garden as well as gathering food is very satisfying – Marigold washing up gloves protect you from the sting until it’s been removed by wilting the greens.

June – Lambs Quarters popped up on beds we’d prepared for other things, primarily where we’d used an old carpet to suppress the weeds. The plants were best in June, and by the end of July had begun to go to seed. By August the plants could be as big as trees, but the branches were too tough to be edible. We had some peas – which we ate mange tout style, however they needed more support & keeled over into a tangled mess. The broccoli was completely destroyed by slugs. The nasturtiums weren’t.

July – we had abundant chickweed for salads, we also planted pea greens (dried peas soaked for a few days till they sprout, then put in a window box for convenience – delicious in salads). The forest berries also appeared – strawberries first, then bilberries and raspberries – these were still going strong through August. Colorado potato beetles were another less welcome discovery. We dedicated some time to removing these little stripy creatures from the potato crop by hand – they excrete a foul smelling goo when handled.  However, the potatoes didn’t seem to suffer. We will have to rotate them next year – into the front garden as that’s as far away as we can get. During early communist times there was propaganda that these crop destroyers were actually dropped over the USSR by Americans.

August – the courgette and pumpkin plants started to thrive. We have enough people here not to have a glut of anything. By the end of August we have many green tomatoes, but nothing ripe yet. The first frost date around here is 15th October – we need to find an elegant way of growing tomatoes under glass as we use them a lot – and I wonder how the pumpkins will get on in this time. We have also realised this month that we’ve planted spring onions, not the large ones we wanted. The apples came into season and we started to experiment with juicing them and making cider, as well as drying slices on racks in the garden.

September – greens such as Ground Elder are now finished – no new plants springing up in shady spots, luckily the Sorrel continues to prosper so we’re using this a lot in salads and other recipes. We have courgettes!  Though we are not inundated, and so far we have only spotted 3 pumpkins – not the masses we though we would be facing. September is peak apple season, so we have been picking and juicing on an almost daily basis. Apple pie abounds. I was upset that August was not hot enough to do a lot of apple drying – as our rationed supplies of dried apple always ran out before it was time to open a new jar during the winter and spring – however we’ve discovered that we can use the oven instead. I have masses of cardboard trays for eggs which I slice apple onto and then put five of these stacked up in the oven, set at it’s lowest temperature, on fan, with the door open. They take a couple of hours to dry.

October – time to get the Geraniums inside. Disappointingly, the tomatoes did not ripen before first frost, and the plants are now destroyed by the frost, though we have a fine collection of green tomatoes inside.  By the end of the month we still have chickweed for salads and sorrel for a cooking green. We’re  using nettle from the freezer, and the ground elder and lambsquarters are a distant memory. Even the types of mushrooms have changed – now we’re onto Hedgehogs and Winter Chanterelle with the very occasional Porchini.  We’re busy bottling applesauce and juice… more on that later.

The willow we planted in the autumn did not take, but the living willow fence we put down in the spring has thrived – so at snow melt in 2011 we’ll be able to take cuttings from this to re-plant our fuel supply. As well as using the land on the other side of the lake, we’ll put a row down the very long strip of land we own down the valley – only a couple of metres wide so perfect. It would also be great to have some hazel to coppice – something to think about for the future.

Sustainable Foodie Culture

August11

A few different people have commented recently about how central food seems to be to our existence at Nový Mlýn. The kitchen is the heart of the house (even though the kitchen is currently in the lounge, with no drainage or running water). As the dishes are put away after one meal, it’s about time to start preparing for the next.
We eat, on average, 3 or more times a day – the usual times plus elevensies or afternoon tea if someone decides to bake a cake, make cookies or flapjack. After some hard physical labour, food tastes particularly nice, and we deserve the extra calories! If people weren’t working hard, then they would risk gaining weight staying here.
This summer we’ve started making our own pasta, basic cheese and bread (with the help of a fantastically useful bread maker). We also incorporate wild food into every meal – nettle & lambs quarters have replaced spinach, ground elder is a tasty bulky herb and chickweed appears in all our salads. We also have Burdock root (a Japanese vegetable), wild sorrel and watercress around and about. Of course, we’ve been picking the raspberries and bilberries from the forest… and adding these to honey to make a syrup. The terrible weather in recent days has also meant that we have fantastic mushrooms right now.
This is also our first year of growing vegetables at Nový Mlýn – a crop of potatoes (complete with a colony of Colorado Potato Beetles), a forest of courgette plants – though only two actual courgettes so far, many tomato plants, peas, carrots, parsnips, rocket, essential coriander (the green seeds are lovely in salads) – however it is the edible wild greens that we’ve had the most success with – I plant peas, and lambs quarters appear…
We also now have 8 hens, who each lay on average six days out of seven. When we have more than 4 guests with us (frequently over the summer) we have to top these up with bought eggs, unfortunately, so we should maybe plan on having more hens here next year.
Finally, 2010 has been the year that we’ve started to experiment with cider making! The valley is full of apple trees, after all. Our first batch from windfalls is busily bubbling away. The neighbour didn’t seem very optimistic about our prospects, but Czechs don’t have a Cider culture – they drink either apple juice or distil it into hard alcohol. You can only buy (very expensive) cider in specialist pubs here. We eagerly anticipate the results of our experimentation.

Nový Mlýn Garden Salad

June12

This year, with the help of Joann and our other workawayers, we have the beginnings of a vegetable garden.  I planted salad ingredients such as sorrel, wild rocket and spinach, and as they began to grow discovered that we had wild sorrel in the garden already,  as well as the peculiarly named leafy green Lambs Quarters which are very, very similar to baby leaf spinach in flavour and appeared everywhere in early June, just as nettle season ended. We also have abundant chickweed – which has popped up in any place where the ground has been cleared for planting, and of course, stinging nettles which we used as our spring green up until the time they started to flower, and the ground elder, which is still producing some young leaves we can use.

My acid test of any gathered food is my husband… if he is prepared to eat it then it’s fine. He would absolutely not consume something just because it was good for him.

We have many, many pea plants this year… partly because I threw onto the vegetable patch a bag of dried peas that I had soaked for sprouting.  It’s ridiculous not to soak dried pulses for a day or two before you use them, and the nutritional content of a seed which is in the process of germinating is  infinitely better than those long dead relatives you get in cans. However,  the young leaves on garden peas, are tastier again than the sprouts, so I’m glad I had too many and had to scatter them around the place.

Chickweed is an interesting plant – it is sold as a health supplement to people who want to lose weight – and not because of it being such a tiny green plant. I’ve not read anything in the New Scientist about it, which is a shame, because my personal experience is that it does seem to help you feel full after a meal. My friend Sara says this could be because it’s so nutritious that your body isn’t looking for more vitamins and minerals – non-nutritious food starves our bodies of essentials and causes our appetites to remain unsatisfied. It would seem perverse to dry chickweed out and put it into tablets, though, when it’s so abundant and tasty thrown into a salad. Ironically, if you search for chickweed on google you get  ‘how to kill chickweed’ – this terrible, invasive, nutritious & tasty salad ingredient…

And chive flowers!  What a discovery.  They are delicious.  After you pick the whole flower head, just nip the stalk away and you will have a handful of delicate, little, blue, crunchy, chive flavoured bells to decorate your salad.

So, on to the recipe:

  • 100 stems of flowering chickweed
  • 100 stems of lambsquarters
  • 50 sorrel leaves
  • 10 chive flower heads
  • dressing of your choice – half balsamic vinegar, half olive oil & a dollop of mustard, for example.

Mix and serve.

Ten extra pairs of hands later…

September25

I registered Nový Mlýn on a website called workaway.info earlier in the summer.  I was looking for volunteering opportunities – so I could go and stay on a farm where I could learn about looking after lamas, or organic apple farming. The deal is that you provide food and accommodation, and your volunteers will work for 5 hours each day, 5 days a week.  It took me a while to realise that people might want to come and stay with us here on that basis, but filled in the application form as prettily as I could. I had no idea how much interest there would be with a project like ours…  but quickly discovered that a calendar was necessary to organise visitors!

Up to today we have hosted Jess, Rosie, Sian, Caro, Helen, Rachel, Rosie (2 – our research shows that 66% of English women are called Rosie), Esther, Matt and Andrew… ten people…  and only three people have ever left!

We started in June with individual visitors – though the house was often full with family, friends or the Global Agents for Change (team of 20 riders plus film crew). We doubled our numbers when Sian and Caro were here at the same time… then Rachel arrived as well. Caro and Rachel have formed a crack baking team – they’ve really shown us how far you can go with the new oven – with a constant production of cakes and pies to keep our energy levels up.

Currently we have Rosie and Esther here too … they had been volunteering at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales for the past year.  I have heard a lot about CAT so it’s wonderful to have visitors who have spent a considerable amount of time there.  It’s been really great to compare notes with them about all sorts of eco technology – high and low.

Sian is leaving today. She has worked like a trooper and is incredibly strong – she also blasted a lot of my students’ stereotypes about women… her job back in Australia was working in explosives in an iron ore mine – and her ovaries are fine!* Sian single handedly shifted tonnes of rubble away from the kitchen & we suspect would have dug her way back to Australia given too long. We now have a cellar with lighting and a concrete floor, walls in the hallway, stripped and varnished floors in all the bedrooms, a hot shower, washing machine, oven and freezer – (all post Sian developments). She’s been great fun to spend time with and we’ll really miss her sense of humour.  Our plots to keep her here have so far failed – (finding a Czech for her to marry – for example) but we hope she’ll come back some time.

It has been really useful seeing how the house operates with 7 visitors… though Matt and Andrew (also from Australia) have their own camper van so I didn’t need to find a bed for them. Andrew has contributed way more experience in chopping wood than I was expecting from a design specialist!

Over recent weeks we’ve eaten some really fantastic meals (though, now, cooking for nine, people are a little more daunted by the task!) and been introduced to the idea of desserts (not at all usual for us two). We’ve heard lots of new music and been educated in many different ways. By the end of October we’ll be down to one or two visitors and things will quieten down for mid winter – I can’t now imagine Nový Mlýn with only us here!

(*My Czech students often warn me that certain types of work are bad for the ovaries and so, as a woman, I shouldn’t dig or lift heavy things).

Foundling

August28

A kitten was put (unnoticed) into the car of a friend when he was at a petrol station today. He discovered it when he got to our house, and offered to take it out and leave it in the forest ‘to let nature take care of it’ – he doesn’t like cats very much.

The kitty is ginger (like Jiri and George the second), weighs 300 grams, has all his front teeth and wobbles as he walks – which means he’s over 3 weeks old and should be fed every 5 hours. I’m feeding him soya milk formula. He needs 80ml of formula every day. I have a 1ml syringe with the top cut off which seems to be working as a way of feeding him – so 16 lots at 5 hour intervals. He arrived at about 2pm and so far he’s not pooed… but at least he’s eaten (he’s had quite a lot of soya milk).

There is no cat’s protection league here, so we can’t just hand him in. Luckily there are websites like kitten-rescue.com to help.

He’s way too young to be away from his mother, but we’ll try our best. This will make for an interesting day tomorrow… we’re going to Cesky Krumlov with our Aussie visitor, then collecting a couple of Taiwanese couchsurfers before going to camp overnight at the cottage of a Czech friend who is having her 50th birthday party… all with a 3 week old kitten in tow.

A butterfly flaps it’s wings in South Bohemia

August6

I saw a fascinating video recently about how to fix the wings of a butterfly – I think  made by someone who works in a sanctuary – rather than someone who lives with a cat who likes to hunt them. Today Pavouk turned up with another flightless specimen and I knew what to do… rather than rescue it to allow it to spend the rest of it’s hours earthbound.  As there was less than 40% of the wing missing – I held the two wings together and snipped them so that they were even – and he flew off. I wonder what distant storm will be caused.

Panning for gold

August5

Rosie and I went gathering mushrooms the other day. It had been raining heavily so excellent weather for it – we found a great patch of Chanterelle, a couple of Porchini – including the Luridus variety, as well as Chamomile and some wild raspberries.  While we were out I got us (a little bit) lost and we had to hop across a stream to get back on course. It was there we made our discovery…

Gold! Well… Clay! Which you must admit, is just as exciting (and far more malleable at ambient temperatures).  When we got home I referred to the self sufficiency book Dad bought me and it provided detailed instructions on how to test the clay for PH balance, treat and process it… that book is so good. If we ever loose the Internet & civilisation, we’ll be okay.  So, we ignored the instructions and got straight on with making stuff. Rosie did a ceramics course recently – so she’s the expert!

The next day I got out my enamel kiln. The kiln is not large – in fact you could just about fit an apple in it. It was given to me by a friend of my mum’s – when I was a teenager – because she knew that I liked all sorts of crafts – and I’ve kept it ever since.  Apart from a little smoke it seemed to be working fine and the (dinky) pots were successfully fired. The clay turned from grey to fleshy pink – with lovely sparkly bits (which John says are puwer gowld!).

So far I’m a little stuck on what we can actually make from the clay – smaller than an apple, yet not tat. We’re fine for tat – we can make loads of it.  I could make ends for my home made knitting needles… bottle caps to keep wasps out of beer in the garden… John says that literally anything can sell in his gift shop in Bechyne – so the challenge has been set.

Water woes, shocks and explosions – high drama at the mill.

August1

So at last, last month, we finally caught up with (what passes for) civilisation.  We had our new (second hand) Whirlpool washing machine and a shower attached to the boiler in the bathroom. It felt really great. For a glorious moment… then I got electrocuted by the tap on the shower – (luckily before I’d started running the water). The washing machine had blown up and taken out the boiler with it – leaving the taps and shower live.  At least it was me, rather than a visitor who got the shock.

The problem was that a plug in the bathroom (which was part of the old wiring) had been wired the wrong way – reminiscent of the copper wire that had been used to bypass the fuse system (which we discovered in the early days). Luckily nobody died either time – but it does leave the lingering impression that the house had been booby trapped.

So, yet again we are without hot water and a washing machine. When the weather is good we’re fine as we have the solar showers and bath outside. The repair cost for the boiler was greater than the cost of the boiler itself – so we’ve ordered a new boiler with three inputs – meaning that we can heat the tank from a back boiler on a stove, from a solar system input as well as a backup in the form of electricity.  That’ll be arriving next week, and the Whirlpool washing machine has been repaired – they phoned us to ask us what the maximum we were prepared to pay for the repair would be – then they charged us this amount. Our cheap second hand washing machine has stopped being.

Still… we hope to rejoin the 20th century again this week.

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