If we ever want to live on our own food all year through we have to learn how to preserve what we have an abundance of in the summer. There are plenty of ways to do this, stick it in the freezer would be the obvious one, but we want to avoid a mains hook up on our house in the future, so we need something a little less energy hungry.

I started with two easy ways: Making Alcohol & Jarring.

I had quite a few tomatoes that were beginning to turn, and which were a a little blighted, so I cooked them all up and jarred them. It’s easy to do, a bit of outlay on jars the first time, unless you managed to collect your old jam jars (which I did but now don’t know what happened to them), but it pays in the end. So just make the sauce the way you like it and then completely fill jars that have been in the oven at 150c for 15mins or so. This is easier said than done, and it was a a good thing I didn’t video it, I may have had a few choice words for the jars as I burnt my fingers. But all worked out well in the end, although we’ll have to see what the contents is like in a few months.

Next is something I’m very interested in learning about. One of my little pleasures is a beer or drop of wine in the evenings after a hard days work. Ensuring I can make my own is very important for my survival. We have a few old elderberry trees about so I thought I would give some elderberry wine a try as my first attempt. This is my method so far:

  1. Pick 3lb of elderberries, make sure they are nice and black.
  2. Boil up 8 pints of water.
  3. Mix some wine yeast with a bit of warm water and leave for 25mins whilst doing the other bits.
  4. Meanwhile pick of the berries into a bucket and mash up with your hands.
  5. Pour half the boiling water into the mashed up berries. Allow to cool.
  6. Pour other half into another container with 3lb of sugar.
  7. Pour berry mixture into the sugar water container through cloth.
  8. Add teaspoon of citric acid and the yeast.
  9. Pour into demijohn and seal with bung & airlock.

My only real problem was that I didn’t have a big enough bung for the demijohn and didn’t have an airlock. Solved the 1st problem temporarily with some electric tape wrapped around the smaller bung (suggested to me by the guy down the hardware shop in the village). Next day got an airlock and bigger bung, it is now bubbling away nicely. I also wasn’t quite sure how much yeast to put in. My packet said enough for between 10-35 Litres. I had 5L, so put half the packet in, we’ll see.

I have to research the next steps but I know I have to wait for the fermentation to stop first, I also know I wont be able to taste it and find out what I did wrong for 8 months or so. My next project is cider, I don’t think you have to wait as long to drink this.

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This week I did a lot of planting and pottering around in the allotment. Everything is growing very fast now, I know from my old allotment how much things change through the year. I thought it would be interesting to have a look around the allotment now in early spring so there is something to compare it all in the Autumn.

Pumpkins.

Looking S.W.

Peas & Beans

Peas and Beans

Video Of Allotment:

 

Also did a bit around the house with Tadeusz (Marta’s Dad)

 

I was bought a scythe a while back and I’ve been itching to use it. A couple of weeks ago I did some research about how to sharpen, set it, and use it. Last week I managed to put it all to the test.

My research showed that the best time to scythe is before dawn. There are various witty quotes, which I can’t find now, which say by the time the sun is up and the dew has gone you should be resting with you work done.

With this in mind I started my first session just after 4am. It was a beautiful morning, already quite light. My first swipes of the blade didn’t seem to cut much and I was tempted to give up. I carried on and started to get a bit of technique going. I ended the first day at 8:30am, extremely tired and feeling quite sick. I should mention another quote I found on http://www.scytheconnection.com/adp/docs/movement.html  “If you cannot rest yourself while mowing, you are not doing it correctly”. From this I deduce I am definitely not doing it correctly.

 

I had another go a couple of days later on a nicer piece of land, with less mole hills and trees. I found it a little easier going but I’m still not cutting the grass close enough to the ground. There are three things that effect cutting: Blade sharpness, blade position/angle, and technique. I pretty sure I’m a bit out on all of these. Now I’ve had a good go and I have some internet I’m going to do a bit more research and do some more cutting next week.

So it is getting a little warmer, the snow is starting to melt and it feels like spring is definitely on the way. The official Polish sign of things changing for the warmer is the first sightings of Storks, there has only been one of these, which can be considered an outlier, so there is still some way to go, nevertheless I can’t hold back any longer.

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I have been putting off sowing the first batch of seeds. From my first year of the allotment I learned a valuable lesson. On that occasion I sowed early batches in Jan (this was in England), I ended up with a lot of tomatoes ready to be planted out, and other things, way before the weather would allow it. I ended up with 50 odd tomatoes plants squeezed into a very small greenhouse that I had made. Looking after them was very time consuming, taking them out of the house every morning and putting them in at night, to avoid the frosts, took 15mins a go at least, not to mention they all ended up a bit stressed out; the batch I planted early April ended up giving fruit the same time as the ones I sowed in Jan.

https://cityandthemountains.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/tomato-dreaming/

https://cityandthemountains.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/tomatoes-re-potted/

So not to make the same mistake twice I have sowed into some trays that I think will keep the tomatoes in good shape for about 8 wks (based on my previous experiments). This gives me until early may. The average last spring frost date here is 26th May, which means I will have to have my poly-tunnel ready and I will have to come up with something clever to keep it over a few degrees in there overnight. I read in John Seymour (guide to self-sufficiency) that you can put a compost heap in the greenhouse, if it has plenty of hoarse manure and other goodies high in nitrogen it will produce enough heat to keeps things snug over night. We’ll see…

I sowed:

Tomatoes (36): 12 each of three varieties.
Aubergines (24)
Globe artichokes (12): Don’t know much about these other than they are perennial. Not sure how long it takes from seed to plate. When I have some details I’ll get back to you.
Red and White onions (seeds) (56 of each).

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Proverbs 24:27

‘Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.’

This has been on our mind a bit. We have a dilemma,  nothing in place for food production and nowhere to stay. There is still plenty of snow on the ground here and the temperature is still below freezing, however, we are sure spring is around the corner. We are getting ready to hit the ground running as soon as the weather improves. There are a few projects which are going to be tricky to schedule, these we are planning at the moment. Getting lots of prices, measuring, working out a budget, what we really need and what we can do without for a bit.

Our main task is to get our food production under way and to make sure we have fuel (seasoned logs) ready to burn next winter.  Below is a list of the things we are getting prices for, finding suppliers, and planning. I’ll give more details on each when I have something presentable:

  • Fruit trees: where to put them, where to get them, who pollinates who (wasn’t aware of the need of pollinators).
  • Forest trees:  to restock the ones we cut over the next few years
  • Polytunnel: I want to make this myself. If anyone has experience with this I would appreciate some guidance.
  • Plan allotment plot: price seeds and tools, and work out long-term crop rotation etc.
  • Work out soft fruit: where to put them (they will be there for a while), how many, where from.
  • Fencing: find supplier for allotment fence, 200m odd.
  • Hedging: find bushes to eventually replace the wire fence around the allotment and to provide more wind protection.
  • Accommodation: Planning materials for making a room comfortable to live in. Until we’re there a bit more regularly, people will keep ‘borrowing’ our things.
  • Tree cutting; working out how to work and service my new chainsaw, and where to get safety clothing.

I thought it might be nice to give you a bit of a look around the land. The map below shows my route. The video is a bit shaky but at least the music is good!

Video Route

Video Route

I thought it would be interesting to do a bit of a stock take of the lay of the land and the natural resources on offer. I’ve given a couple of google satellite images and broken them into sections giving names to help discuss them. I might put this up as a page on its own so you can refer back later. I do hope we’ll all come up with some more inventive names, although they may well be in Polish, so these unimaginative ones may be more practical for a bit.

    sitebreakdown

Large field:

This year we are letting another farmer plant and harvest corn in this area. It is too much for us this year so in exchange for a few quid, literally, the land will be ploughed, sowed, harvested and hopefully manured again.

largefield

Small Field:

This is about 6000m2, and will be the site of our vegetable and soft fruit patches. We are planning to use 1000m2 for this, dividing it into 8 or 9 rows 5*35m. We will use one row for perennial crops, which will stay the same over the years, and then rotate the other rows giving one row a rest every 7 years. Initially we will be fencing this 1000m2 odd to protect from dear and wild boar, not so many rabbits hear as in England. There are a few ideas about the rest of this section, maybe a vineyard, maybe a section of woodland. It is relatively dry and sandy soil. The allotment is the priority this year, so we’ll se what happens with the rest. We would love a vineyard but will have to do a bit of research on varieties that will survive the harsh winter.

Smallfield

Woodland:

I haven’t worked out the size of this yet, but it is crucial to our self-sufficiency plans. Eventually all our cooking, heating and hot water will come from wood. In Poland the forestry people technically own any forest land on your property. You have to ask them for permission to cut down trees. We had our guy come out this weekend and he showed us what we can cut. Most of our trees are no good for anything but the fire (I’m not sure what they are in English yet). We have about 7 decent sized trees to cut, as well as a load of smaller ones. Unfortunately our forest guy found the evidence of people cutting down loads of our trees sometime in the last year whilst we weren’t staying here. This is a shame, but I think we have enough wood for a few years. Our plans are to plant another woodland area with Birch. These trees are cheap here, about 1000 trees for £200, and they are fast growing. Not sure how many we will plant the first year but we want to build up our woodlands to enable us to be self-sufficient in fuel in 5 years odd. Lots more of my wood management education to come. I have a chainsaw now, courtesy of my wife’s parents (excellent birthday present!!), and we need to cut the trees by the end of March. Can’t do it before we are staying there a bit as the wood will just get stolen.

woodland

I’ll carry on with this in another post, I’m sure that’s enough to read for now. Any ideas or comments welcome! I’m off to price up and try to design a poly-tunnel.