500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

The British discuss the weather as the Czechs discuss the mushrooms


This summer, the heat seemed endless.  We had moved to a  country of pleasant summers and snowy winters, however the last couple of years the winters have been mercifully short, with very little in the way of snow and frost. Not enough to allow us to scrabble around on cross country skis, and there has been little to none in the way of ice skating on the pond.  In 2014 the garden was green right up to Christmas, but the lack of precipitation is beginning to have consequences.  For the last two years the Summer meadows of South Bohemia have grown in a thick tangle, with farmers harvesting 50% more than is expected, leaving barns overflowing with the stuff.  It was so hot that I had to adopt Mediterranean techniques – any hard manual labour – the scything – obviously, and anything which was more than a saunter about the garden, had to be conducted in the early morning or late evening.  When outside is body temperature, then working in shaded water is your only option…

After the dry winter, this summer has also been hot and dry.  What mushrooms need, certainly at first, is warmth and damp.  Those that are particularly prized – the Porcini – called Hrzib by the Czechs – will only grow when night time temperatures are above ten degrees. Now we know that they also need damp feet.  Not just a good downpour, though that would normally help, but a constants supply of relative dampness. This year, it was just too hot. The rain clouds passed us by.  They pretty much passed all the way over to Scotland.  And now, when usually we’d be inundated. Besides ourselves with so many, eating delicious Mushroom Lasagne with Porcini, Chanterelle and a little tarragon, porcini in our scrambled eggs in the morning, that mushroom risotto with a little grated carrot in at the end for crunch… this year – only chicken of the woods.

When you catch chicken of the woods young enough, it has the texture of chicken – so you can really confuse people with your veggie food and sentence structures. We found it to be great in strongly flavoured foods like bean chilli and curry.  It’s very meat-like texture has that density which, when combined with the same quantities of fat and salt as you’d find in meat is just plain confusing.  Unfortunately it doesn’t stay like that for long.  If you find it a little late, you’ll be eating something more akin to a bitter chipboard.  This is why chicken of the woods has such a mixed reputation.   What reputation it does have, like with the hedgehog mushroom, is not often discussed among the locals, hence our ability to find this mushroom growing on trees on roadsides in full and constant view of passing motorists.  Long may it be ignored by everyone else.

So – how can we predict what will survive the winter?  Will we have five months of snow, or hardly a frost?  As the weather patterns change, and we have longer periods of weather conditions that could easily mean that we have Siberian conditions for weeks and weeks on end. It’s just been a matter of luck that we had the clement weather last year and North America got hit hard with the cold.  The only thing I can do is plant all I can, and then protect.  We will see what comes out on the other side.


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A path well laid


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

Nový Mlýn Dried Apples


This year, we wasted not a single apple at Nový Mlýn. In terms of sustainable living, the two of us could probably live on apples alone as we have a vast number of trees here. Experiments in the past which failed included storing apples in the cellar wrapped individually in paper in 2007 (out of sight equalled out of mind, and we never got round to using them before they turned bad), cooking apple sauce for the freezer in 2008 (which is still in the freezer), cutting them up and putting them raw into vodka – which created great apple flavour vodka, but not so great vodka flavoured apples which we didn’t use. I tried adding apple to recipes such as West Country Stroganoff – however Mike wasn’t keen, and in general we don’t eat deserts – so though the Tabor Apple Bomb was nice, it wasn’t going to use up even a small percentage of apples.
The process of juicing the apples was really messy (especially before we had water here), and we need a device to crush the apples before putting them in the press. This is something we need to work on when we have a larger apple crop. We plan to make cider in the future – I do hope that the apples are of a good variety for this.
So, this year, as soon as apples started falling from the trees, I began to experiment with sun drying apples. At first I carefully cored each apple and sliced it using a kitchen mandolin from a Moseley jumble sale. It’s possible to prepare the apples really quickly – you need a very narrow sharp blade to cut out the core by cutting a circle the size of a ring around the stalk. As you slice the apple, you can pick off any bits of seed, and the fibrous flakes around the core are no problem as they are sliced so thinly.
Leaving them in the sun directly dried the very thin slices of apple out quickly, but was way too interesting for all sorts of flying insects – a layer of muslin above and below the apples solved the problem. I needed some kind of wire rack so that air could circulate underneath, and came across two wired bed bases in the attic – once we’d cleaned these up, they were perfect. We positioned them in the middle of the garden – for maximum sunlight and apples would dry out within a couple of hours on a hot day.
Once the apples were dry, I put them in large jars with a piece of fabric held in place with an elastic band as a lid. These were placed in the kitchen window so that they could continue to dry if necessary. They have been a great success. We put them out on the kitchen table as snack food in the evening, and they are quickly devoured. I’ve now labelled the jars with the month for consumption so that we can share them with visitors throughout of the year.
A note: the first apples were not so ripe and produced sour apple rings – which were good, but different from the sweet apple rings later in the season. We tried pear, however these dried rather differently – rather thin and lumpy – Rosie & Esther’s Pear Chutney was a far better use for them.

Ten extra pairs of hands later…


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).

Mortgage problems


We thought we had it sorted… after a ridiculously long process we had agreed the mortgage and drawn down the first payment to cover the cost of the roof and rewiring… until a call today.

Apparently, we have some buildings missing.  Because of this, the Czech government register of property will not enter our mortgage on the property register.  Potentially this means that we are not meeting our side of the mortgage agreement. And this means… that the bank could ask for it back. After all, banks need money at the moment.

We’re totally stressed out at the moment, with George missing and the house in such a mess. Extra pressure is the last thing we need. With my doom-mongering head on, I think they’ll take the house off us and sell it.

The missing buildings have been gone for years – but somebody should have let officials know about it. Let’s hope we can get this sorted out, and quickly – unlike the water permit, which took 18 months.  My positive motivation is nearly completely destroyed.

Project Management for beginners


We have been drifting. Drifting, and meeting new friends, and slowly figuring out how Nový Mlýn works, and appreciating our good fortune to be here and now, however, drifting. It’s time to take charge of our destiny & put the Nový Mlýn show on the road.

When I lived in London, I wanted to do an MBA (masters in business administration), but there was no way in hell that my employers would commit to this. Instead I researched the syllabus of a decent MBA & studied each area in turn, using resources such as the library system. I don’t have the kudos of the qualification, but what I learned has been incredibly useful.

So… I will employ the same technique to learning about project management. I’ve project managed before – market research, events & playschemes, but I’ve had an inkling that there must be more method to complex projects than a business plan and a Gantt chart. Read the rest of this entry »

Eat local… but who’se heard of Cep mushrooms in Britain?


Something has happened in my brain… I seem to have lost the ability to hazard a guess at English pronunciation of unfamiliar words. My pronunciation has completely czechified, as a result, I shall now be teaching people here the Italian word for Hřib mushrooms: Porcini. I think that very few British people would know what Cep were, or that they are the very same thing as those very exclusive Porcini mushrooms:


Read the rest of this entry »

Eat Local: Tábor Apple Bomb* recipe (traditional custard cooked in an apple)



An easy & speedy dessert recipe which can be made for one person. The inspiration for this recipe is the English custard tarts I love and have not yet found in the Czech Republic. Using the apple itself for the casing means less cleaning, and incidentally produces a gluten free pudding.

*Mum used to make us apple bombs as children. It’s not the name she gave them, just the result of the occasional apple explosion. Read the rest of this entry »

www.blackle.com – eco clever technology in action


www.blackle.com might be gimmicky – but it is a perfect example of the way that mass action can have massive reactions. In this case, using a search engine designed to use less energy in lighting up your computer screen, has so far saved 203,250.862 Watt hours. And if you set www.blackle.com as your home page, you’ll see the figure going up as well. I just wishe they’d bother to add all the other functionality you get with the higher energy version.

It’s a shame you can’t see a similar measure of energy saved by mass scale repetition, such as switching to low energy light bulbs, or making sure your electro equipment isn’t left on standby.

Tábor Meetings


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