500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

Nový Mlýn Garden Salad


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.

Rain, rain, go away…


It chucking it down. Raining cats and dogs (or raining wheelbarrows as they say in Czech). Oh the irony of our relationship with water.

On Saturday we were forced to change the drainage system for the water leaving the house. After we had bought rods for the drain, the neighbour told us that the pipe was actually broken about two feet from where the drain entered the ground. Why? A question which remains unanswered.

Instead we are feeding the water round to the (lower) front of the house (through the cellar). On Sunday I started digging in the reed bed filtration system. This is a set of troughs which will contain various special plants which use various things found in grey water from houses as nutrients (grey water is not contaminated with sewage – which has to be separately treated for safety reasons).  I’m just waiting for the list of species required. Luckily there is an institute of botany specialising in aquatic plants in nearby Třeboň, so I will be able to see which of these are native to the Czech Republic and available locally.

Today we dug up the drive way into the property as there was no drainage under it, meaning that a stream of water would pool in front of the house in heavy rain. Minutes after Mike, Dad and John put down their spades, the heavy rain started and we were able to see how effective it was.

Now the valley has flooded and it’s still raining – there have been deaths due to the floods in other areas of the Czech Republic and this water will now be headed down to lower ground. I went and checked on our neighbouring horses, who were not happy about the thunder and lightening, but able to stand on a bank out of the way of the water.

Our visitor from workaway.info helped me construct a ‘goat’ today – ie a wooden frame on which we can hang the solar showers over the stone fish pond (drained). We have moved the old bath over to the back of the garden, by the pond, so that when we have multiple guests (such as the twenty cyclists who are coming to camp in a couple of weeks) we can heat water in the bath – it has a black cover and gets hot in the sun, which can then be used to fill the solar bag showers. This seems like a distant dream right now… with this torrential rain.

(British children’s rhyme: It’s raining, it’s pouring. The old man is snoring, he went to bed and bumped his head and couldn’t get up in the morning).

It’s a pity…


In a rare show of workmanship in electrical goods imported to the Czech Republic, my portable stereo has worked well for 15 years – okay – so the casette player died some time ago, but that’s a dead format innit?  I bought it when I lived in Prague for a while in the mid nineties – and it withstood at least 11 house moves. I’d marked my favourite British radio station – Radio 4 – on the dial with nail varnish, but to be honest, hadn’t given the stereo a second thought after discovering how bad the music played on commercial stations could be here.

Not a second thought until… I saw it in the car of our teenage neighbour. He has been hanging around at the house a lot recently, and we even gave him the job of cutting the grass because he seemed lonely… living with his grandmother in a tiny hamlet with not a single sign of friends or a girlfriend. He’d sat on the porch and watched old Czech films with us, and we’d played football together a few times.

When we asked him what the stereo was doing there, he said that he’d bought it in a nearby town. We could have been prepared to believe him about this, well at least there was a type of explanation which wasn’t completely implausible… until he returned the stereo with the radio frequency dial smashed off – it had been there (nail varnished proof and all) half an hour before, when the stereo was sitting in the back of his new car.

If he’d asked if we had an old stereo he could have I would have been happy to give it to him, but instead he took it, which makes him the prime suspect for the break in we had in the winter and the dissapearance of lots of tools from the house.  It’s such a pity. What a stupid, stupid boy.

Moth repellent revisited


Last year I researched which essential oils were disliked by moths and put little glasses in various cupboards and drawers to ward off unwanted visitors.  When I went back to them, the scent had faded and a sticky oil residue was left on the containers – which was a pain to clean off.

I cheated a few weeks ago and bought a commercial bio  ‘lavender’  moth repellent – but it stank out the room – even with the wardrobe door shut, and I started having difficulty breathing.  The lavender I planted earlier this year is not yet thriving.  I would be happy to have a good supply of it.

Eventually a solution has occurred to me… I’ve gathered some pine cones from the forest and put the essential oil (geranium to deter flies, and peppermint and cedar to keep moths away) on these – it’s soaked in without touching the shot glasses. Tomorrow I’ll add some chilli and cloves to the glasses and put them about the house.

Foul Play


The drainage out of Novy Mlyn stopped working soon after we started using the inside toilet fully.  Last year I converted it into a liquid only loo (partly due to our lack of info about the complete system, and also because all available water for flushing it was rainwater carried by bucket – so best to keep things simple). It worked well for number ones, though it was a delicate issue having to explain the procedure to visitors – we politely request you poo in the garden please. Soon after we reconnected the water in the spring, we decided to use it as a proper – no holds barred  type of toilet and almost immediately the drainage failed and we discovered the loo was emptying out of the top of a pipe near the back porch. Unpleasant and disappointing.

Husband had a poke about and said it was blocked solid.  A firm of plumbers visited last weekend and offered us a quote for a new system – I wasn’t at the house at the time or I would have insisted they try to rod the thing – but they didn’t.  “If you want a job done properly you have to do it yourself” is a saying I hate in respect of the prospect of sorting out a blocked toilet. But, as a last resort I decided to have a look for myself. Armed with a long stick with a nail stuck through it, I was able to retrieve a pair of trousers, a sheet and a t-shirt from the part of the drain before the bend. The neighbour looked on, with a cross expression which I cannot fathom. The drain is not unblocked – but there may be other items of clothing etc round the corner – for which we need more specialist equipment than a stick with a nail through it.

Why would someone want to sabotage our toilet? Is it the kind of thing one goes to the police about? I don’t feel angry… like when the barns collapsed within an hour of our first visit to our new home, I feel that we’ve coped with far worse than that in recent years.  Anyway, I made use of the bath in the garden after this vastly unpleasant task.  We can’t use the bath inside because of the lack of drainage, but I can’t imagine a better place to have a long soak than a solar heated roll top bath in the sun.

Mushroom Roulette – rules to live by.


Today we ate a new type of mushroom – well – new to us – not to Czechs who’ve been eating it for hundreds of years.  Amanita Rubescens (known locally as Masák –  meaty) is a relative of both Fly Agaric (the hallucegenic red mushroom with white spots popular in fairy tale illustrations of pixies)  and the Death Cap or Destroying Angel (there’s a clue in the name) – so careful identification is essential. It is therefore important to know how to identify those which are poisonous, especially those which share similarities to edible mushrooms. About 20 people die every year in the Czech Republic because of mushroom poisoning – with Death Cap being the principle culprit – combined with human error (aka – guns aren’t dangerous).

The first time I try any mushroom I identify it using several different sources (both books and Internet based), I also get someone else to identify it, seperately, then cook it thoroughly, and only taste a tiny amount (ie cubic milimetre).  The second time, a few days later, it’s okay to eat more. Sometimes you discover that a mushroom is edible, but not enjoyable.

Some types of mushroom share a chemical element with kidney beans – so must be cooked thoroughly in order to prevent poisoning, others are poisonous when combined with other stuff – like alchohol and the Ink Cap mushroom (now used as a treatment for alchoholics) combined together cause illness.

The variety we ate today was delicious. It tasted a lot like crispy fatty bacon bits (would to somebody who has avoided pork and bacon for many years) – but perhaps because we fried it in a mixture of olive oil and butter, with lots of salt.  No matter how certain I am about identification, eating wild mushrooms feels like taking a risk, and I’m left with unsettling self doubt until they are thoroughly digested and I live to tell the tale.

We have visitors over the summer and I’m not yet sure what our mushroom strategy should be.  I think we should only cook Porchini and Chanterelle for other people – as these are very clearly identifiable and differentiable from poisonous species. We have many books available if visitors want to go into the forest themselves to hunt for different types… maybe we could find a mushroom expert who could help?

George the Second


Beware the dangers of inaccurate communication…  we now have a kitten on our hands (quite literally – pouncing on me as I try to type).

When we visited Jerry and Vladka at the weekend, we met a kitten. He was like a baby George (the cat we lost last autumn), and wanted to play football, even though the ball was twice his size. Jerry told us that he belonged to his neighbour, and had been a present and we said ‘lovely, how nice’ etc. Once everyone started calling him George (Jiri)  it transpired that Jerry had actually said ‘our neighbour will give you the kitten as a present’. After a few drinks it didn’t seem like such a calamitous error, and on Sunday morning we came home to a not-so-enchanted-by-the-new-arrival Pavouk (sister of lost George).

The kitten now has the rather grand title of  Jiri Druhy – George the Second. It’s been ten months since we last saw the original George. I hope he was catnapped by a family who love him as we did. Jiri Druhy has a lot to live up to.

Waterless weekend – but nearly not


water trench borehole spring

Sell photos on photrade | By EveryDayEnglish


We had envisaged a celebration of water on Saturday – in true catalogue style – happy smiling people running through sprinklers in the sunshine.  By 10.30pm – with the house in darkness, we stopped work. We’d achieved a hole, a tap and a pipe, and with friends and family had grafted all day…  with not a drop of a shower to show for it, let alone a sprinkle, or a shower.

We were so close to having water…  but the pump is faulty, therefore we spend 8 hours trying to figure out what the problem was – ruling out anything other than a faulty pump.  This will be returned to the shop, who may or may not make us wait 30 days for a repair (yes, on something that is newly purchased and faulty, and essential to our water supply – compared with the UK, the Czech customer is always wrong.).

It’s been such a long time the house has been dry… it’s been so limiting.

water trench borehole spring

Sell photos on photrade | By EveryDayEnglish

posted under 2008, June, Summer, Water | No Comments »

Solar collector to be…


Today we chose the windows which will go in the south slope of the roof.  I would have liked to use Genersys Solar panels – they are made in Slovakia (the former partner of the Czech Republic) however I had the following problems:

  1. The local supplier has not written back (to an email written in Czech by a fluent friend)
  2. The cost
  3. Time (we need an affordable solution now)
  4. Materials (reuse is best as far as I’m concerned)

Instead we will install standard roof windows on the south side of the property, and under these place old radiators, painted black. Water coming into the house is at a constant 10°c.  In summer this is far below the ambient temperature. In the six months that the temperature here is above 10°c we will send water up to the roof to travel through a set of old radiators placed under the windows. This will raise the water temperature to 25°+ for much of the summer, even without heat from the sun.

The windows will provide a massive amount of light  in the attic – and we had planned to put windows in the roof anyway, and having all the windows in a south facing row will make the job of the roofers much easier. We are planning to add insulation under the attic floor & will monitor summer temperatures. We can always add a reflective film to the windows to cut down the amount of heat entering, or annex & ventilate that part of the roof if it really is too warm… but any additional heat in the winter will be very welcome.

In the winter, we will drain the system as soon as the temperature in the attic falls below 10°c. The reduced hours of light in winter months also means that any type of collectors would be less effective during this time. Happily this coincides with when our wood burning heating system will kick in. We are planning a range cooker in the kitchen with a back boiler to heat water & this will be on the go once temperatures fall in the autumn & winter months.

As well as fitting with the mantra of ‘reuse, recycle’ instead of always buying shiny, new things, our radiator solar collectors have the advantage of being elegant – ie completely hidden from view, as well as very easily accessible for maintenance. The radiators are to be located under 8 Roto windows (wooden frames inside, WITHOUT any special E glass) with dimensions of 740×1400 mm – which will cost the same amount as a single solar water heating panel.

15 months later… we have permission for water


I heard last night that our speedy project manager (8 months) has managed to get our permit to pump water sorted.  We were told it would take a month.  Recently I have been phoning him every day, and though he has never taken the call, this seems to have done the trick.

Unhinged bureaucracy has left us waterless since we bought Novy Mlyn over 2 years ago.  And the fact that the neighbour laid claim to the well supplying the property originally, and denied us access.  Our lawyer said it would be easy (and cheap) to put in a new well. It has been neither.  In short, dealing with the permit office, and various other service providers (such as the people who put a bore hole down 26 metres when there was water 8 metres down), the project manager who would never answer the phone,  the survey company who refused to help us with forms, but insisted we needed a survey (untrue) etc. has totally convinced me that it would be a nightmare to run a company in the Czech Republic. We are living in the wild west – honest business people are a real find – the general attitude is that cheating strangers out of money is what business is all about.  I hope that attitudes are changing, but this immature form of capitalism, with such short term vision, damages the economy from the grass roots up.

posted under 2008, June, Summer, Water | No Comments »
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