I am going to apologise for posting an imageless blog but with a combination of good weather, external work commitments and a hectic schedule there simply hasn’t been time. I’ll catch up the images on the next post.
Terry has found the core plug for the digger during the melt and the urban giraffe was kicked into life after a winter hibernation. It needs more hydraulic fluid but there was enough to move 2 of the garden woodpiles. Having zoned out land yesterday we teamed up and whilst I laid angled iron fence posts Terry banged them in and then Trojan that he is, he installed pig wire around our immediate zoned growing areas. This was precipitated by allowing the pigs the opportunity to go out to pasture. What a difference to the pigs, their behaviour and how much they’re eating. Mostly their sheer joy at being able to root is a pleasure to see. They really can clear an area with speed and alacrity. However when they began to clear my onion patch the fencing went up! The electric fencing is up and ready for some training as soon as the weather clears again. We’re both a bit apprehensive because “training” the pigs not to charge through the netting is going to be an exercise in vigilance and patience. Grubbe got tangled up yesterday and tried to bolt. Within 3 paces he was so suitably trussed up that if we’d cut his head off and wiped his “nether-yaya” he’d be ready for the oven! All that pig wire that we Freecycled and laboriously rolled, secured and transported over has been a godsend. Top tip – bring as much as you can from your home country. You know the standard of workmanship and durability of most things you use. The cost of transporting goods will be offset by the number of replacement items you will pay for before realising there is a definite difference in quality of items from mop buckets, to handles, tools and accessories to white goods and mattresses. So far we have a stand alone air conditioning unit that lasted 3 weeks. A 3 month old fridge freezer that can’t cope with the temperature and an oven that suddenly shoots to 230 degrees in a minute despite being on the lowest setting. Also temperature related. The latter 2 work when the weather warms up. The guarantee service here is excruciating. Boxes, leaflets, receipts have to be returned to the purchasing store. The problem is then lodged and you return home with your appliance and an engineer visits your home! It can be done in some case over the phone – if you have a translator. We’re also on our 3rd toilet! However our 10 year old larder fridge and chest freezer we Freecycled have been absolutely nonplussed by the temperatures. Branded tools are expensive but the accessories are exorbitant.
On the plus side you can find the most amazing range of garden tools that suit the soil here. There is a tool that is almost like an angled hatchet with a long handle that is used to break and till the soil. Another that looks like a walking stick but has a sharp curved blade that can take out small, low lying branches or off-shoots with a simple flick of the wrist. The double glazing is also of an excellent standard and almost a quarter of UK costs. Rotovators can be found almost everywhere and there is nothing wrong with the home brands. They are developed for this land. We paid about 500 leva for a rotavator that has all the attachments for tilling, to potato planting. We paid over the odds because the model we picked has a rotating handle that doesn’t require the driver to walk to one side of the rotavator when planting. It was also of a suitable weight for me. Some of the local or Soviet models were sturdy, efficient and about twice the weight of the model we chose. Ours can also pull a trailer if necessary and can be legally driven on the roads!
We’ve reused 2 of the old inset wooden window frames and placed them under the Sliven tree, filled them with earth and would have been fitting the window panes back on top this morning. These cloches are the next step from sowing in containers and before the plants go into the ground. Soooo excited! Currently I have sown lettuce, peppers, chard, cabbage, spinach, cauliflower, carrots, beets, parsley, thyme and aubergine. It is way too early for planting out but it’s prudent to get ahead. When the sun starts to shine the temperatures move up the thermometer in leaps and bounds. There is also the preparation for 2nd and 3rd sowings. I have got about 2 weeks before I start planting into the soil and I’m in a tizzy trying to work out plant heights, spreads, companion and enemy planting – I expect it’ll get sorted out. I work better under pressure and I’m non flummoxed by failure – it’s a life lesson.
We’ve had expressions of interest in the puppies, 3 to be precise. I have absolutely no compunction that the pups will all find homes. We’ve had some comments about more dogs requiring homes from the jobs worths of social media. I think once a vet tells you your dog is unable to become pregnant it is fair to assume they know what they are talking about. We most definitely would not have planned for puppies. We were about to take up the living room boards and replace with the same boards as the dining room but that is now on hold till mid April. In turn the boards we’re taking up need to go to another location in the old house renovation. Another evolution! The current living room floor boards are beautiful and are blue pine so have lovely markings but they don’t match the far more durable, thicker and wider boards we found for the dining room. We found out that the petchka is formidably heavy by itself let alone filled with wood. The living room boards have bent slightly under the weight of the petchka. The dining room boards are shouldering the weight admirably. We also need to have some kind of insulated backdrop for the Petchka – the walls get almost as hot as the cast iron itself. Note to Dave and Carlien about wood cabins and solid fuel burners. We’ve found bit bits of timber that have fallen next to the Ptchka have actually started smouldering. That was when we instigated the separate wood box away from the Petcjkas immediate heat. Perhaps centrally situated in an all wood environment?
The downstairs hallway is tiled and the skirting board is fitted. What remains is the final sanding and varnishing of various bits of the wood and at some point a tarting up of the janitorial cupboard. As the weather is grim today we’re inside to finish up the last bits and pieces – we forgot the bannister still needs fitting. Terry is going to Pleven for hydraulic fluid and I’ll stay and grout the hall floor tiles – I thought I’d finished wire brushing off adhesive and grout from matt tiles 😦 James and Pete are arriving 6th of March and as it stands at the moment there is nowhere for them to sleep. James’s house is not ready and ours currently has 1 usable bedroom and the walk in wardrobe. So as we are unable to stay in bed past about 5am and are asleep by 9pm we’ve decided that the lads can share upstairs in any combo they fancy and we’ll take the blow-up bed downstairs. We will of course have the puppies as companions during this time. It’ll be like sleeping with Sooty and Sweep – they squeak and wirrell endlessly. Joy!
It’s moved forward to Tuesday morning and rather gallingly we’ve got to drive to VT to pick up 2 oil drums and a trough we’ve found on 1 of the online selling sites. They’re going to solve the animals water needs in the garden and feed troughs. The drive to VT and Trinity Rock Farm turned out to be a great visit. We also bought 8 large metal trays for polytunnel shelves, a large manual cast iron mincer and a steel cheese press. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned the poly tunnel. Terry being Terry we now have a poly tunnel 10m x 4m. the first layer is on and the second is going on tomorrow. That man moves at lightening speed. How did we do it so quickly? Cleared the land, cut and made stake ends out of the surplus scaffold poles and banged them into a rectangle formation. We then cut 4 lengths of external water pipe housing and stuck then into the scaffold poles till we had the basic hoop shape. Then we put in horizontal and diagonal batons for structural integrity. We had rolls and rolls of the thick polyurethane sheeting we’d used under the concrete floors. We rolled these out and went over the hoops securing the ends on both sides by digging out trenches which we’ve filled with pig manure and straw, rolling the sheeting over this and covered again in soil. This will provide low grade heat for the winter and some fantastic compost for next year. We also used baton to roll the end of the sheeting in order to attach it to the baton support struts. Terry’s at work with the digger today so we will finalise the 2nd layer of sheeting and the fashioning of a door at 1 end and a window at the other.
In between all this furore we had decided to have 1 of the pigs castrated, Grubbe to be exact. We have been going backwards and forwards on the “taint” issue. Castrated pigs are not affected by a sows season and neither is their meat. Uncut pigs will have a surge of hormones as soon as a sow comes into season and this is what can give meat a taint that renders it inedible even for animal use.
Soooooo on a beautiful sunny morning Ilia our neighbour rocked up with the “Doktor”, an urbane chap who spoke no English. Ilia motioned me to get the chosen pig into the pen. So I jumped up with alacrity (in my holey, work worn trackie bottoms and a vest top and strode purposely forward to the pig pasture and started chanting “pig, pig, pig” over and over again and the pigs good naturedly ambled over to me and into the pen. As I turned I saw the vet, Ilia and Terry rocking with laughter and chanting “pig, pig, pig” as if it were the funniest thing in the world. The castration was all rather matter of fact, noisy and quick. Poor Grubbe was wrestled to the ground by Terry and Ilia. Ilia picked up the rear legs of the pig off the ground and Terry was motioned to cross the front legs and hold the front end of the pig down. Scalpel and other assorted tools were laid out in an old enamel chipped bowl and with a quick clean the vet cut into the testicles and believe you me the pig screamed like a man in a similar situation would. And it continued to scream until the procedure as over and he was sewn up and cleaned. Terry had blenched and was grey and wearing a far too taut smile. I was pragmatic.
Before scuttling off the vet injected al 3 pigs against parasites. Cost for this home visit; 20 leva, about £8. As we took the vet to wash up Ilia hopped excitedly and motioned us to show the vet around the house. He was most impressed but not as impressed as when he clapped eyes on our fat puppies. He told us that not only are our pigs in rude health, they are extremely well sized and so were our puppies. He questioned us again and again on the age of the puppies and the pigs. In the end I got a calendar and indicated their birth dates. He and Ilia then had a con flab in which I grabbed bits of disparate information. As it turns out the vet has 30 pigs of his own. He suggested we had Goyle the large black boar we’d been thinking to mate with Maud, also castrated. He was fairly to the point in saying that we would be feeding a 300lb sperm donor all year around and the meat would also degrade over time. He offered the use of one of his boars as and when the time arrived for Maud to be covered. He also said that Goyle was probably too large and might need anaesthetic to knock him out. We arranged that he’d come back another day. Terry and I were very proud of our animal keeping skills. Grubbe went immediately to the wallow and cooled his gonadless nether regions and Terry and I cracked on with the polytunnel in absolutely glorious weather.
3 days later and in 70 degrees of wall to wall sunshine, Terry off working in his digger and I hear a “hallooooo” from the gate. The dogs race out barking and growling and there at the door is the old man who had cleaned our well last year. Behind him was the vet. The creases under my buttock cheeks, my palms and my forehead began to glow like spark plugs when I realised they were here to castrate Goyle and Terry wasn’t here. The pigs were also out to pasture. Long story short as I turned to try and get Goyle in I hear “pig, pig, pig” from the duo of Balkan comics stood behind me. I managed to get all three pigs into the pen and as soon as they eyeballed the vet they ran into their sty and point blank refused to come out. I crawled in with my witches broom and no amount of threats would get them out. In the end the well cleaner motioned me out and crawled in himself. All that could be seen of him was an very rounded backside clad in utility khaki slacks that were tight in all the wrong places. But it was as he leaned forward and grabbed Goyles tail and started chanting “pig, pig, pig” as Goyle struggled manfully for his family jewels that all 3 of us dissolved in laughter. The vet was holding his sides and chanting “pig, pig, pig” until he could barely breathe. Eventually Goyle was removed from the sty and Maud and Grubbe locked in. The well man picked up the business end and I had to do what Terry had done, ergo, hold down a 50kg pig so it didn’t struggle. Oh how I wish someone was there to film it. It was over quickly and Goyle returned to his peers who rather touchingly stayed in the sty on either side of him for 2 hours. This visit cost 20 leva because Goyle was significantly bigger and the well man had to have his cut. If we do this again it’ll be when the male piglets are a week old and we’ll be better prepared. I took the usual gift of the pigs testicles and we said our goodbyes. I declined to eat this second set, delicious as the first pair were and fed them to the dogs instead. And as an aside it was the fact that the pigs came to me like dogs that the “pig, pig, pig” thing was so hilarious to the Bulgarians. I woke up last night in a cold sweat after I dreamed I was walking through the square in the village, passing the “mens cafe” when a chorus of “pig, pig, pig” rises from the ranks followed by a cacophony of laughter. I think we are enough of a curiosity as it is!