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Thursday, 29 August 2013

Rain and stoves

Sad to say we lost the small male chick. We were worried that the lone female chick would not thrive on her own, but in fact she is doing OK. We had an anxious time when she realised she was on her own, it's been a bit hot for anything to be running around, and her cheeps were getting louder. So Dave gave her a mirror and she calmed down. Tiny feathers are starting to appear on her wings already.Dave is muttering about a house chicken.....hmmmmm, don't think so!

The next lot are due to hatch this weekend and we hope for at least one friend for her. We decided not to look for chicks in the market as we don't want to bring in any nasties. I very much doubt any of them are vaccinated and though we went to the market, I scooted past as I hate to see the way they cram them in to crates. I have seen some of the conditions they are kept in. There were some exceedingly cute ducklings though....noooo, too much mess!

It has been very hot and humid the last few days, not good when you have hatching eggs. There have been frequent bouts of lightening and thunder, and our internet signal has been badly affected (apparently, they are magnetic storms) so no telly either. Evenings have been spent chatting to each other. We didn't realise what a routine we had got into, watching telly as soon as it gets dark. Though to be fair we go to bed at 9.30 as we are early risers, so it's not for long. Although Bonnie has nearly gone into melt-down with the thunder, and last night surround lightening flashes, we really needed the two short bouts of rain to liven the garden up, and get the grass in the countryside growing, it's very crisp underfoot out there. At least we won't feel obliged to water the flipping peppers and tomatoes for a while!
The flowers are loving it, and the rhubarb I am growing from seed for the chap who gave me the original five ladies.

Some chooks just can't keep their beaks out!
We went to find the Prity showroom to see if we could pick up a stove yesterday. We know we can't get it delivered so we have to buy them one at a time. We couldn't find the showroom, though we have found it OK in the past, but we stumbled on the factory and when Dave went to ask directions to the show room he was told we could buy from there. So that's what we did. Of course we couldn't remember which one we had settled on and had to choose from a picture, but the one we got has the fire, oven and top plate for a kettle that we wanted, so it might be the same. It was mighty heavy though and I worried all the way home about how on earth we were going to get it out of the car and into the house. But we managed. All we need now is someone to fit it...and to buy a small one for upstairs.
Dave has been busy building a framework for the old vines we are resurrecting in the garden since 7am, hoping it will give shade and privacy next year. We intend to buy a sweet eating vine to put in a gap, and will underplant with cottage garden plants. Unfortunately the Yucca is still there, might have to disappear that over winter. The vines have been cut down by the last owners' property 'managers' for the past six years, along with a huge fig and peach in the same patch of 'garden' We will see how the latter two do and decide on them next year.

Today's wonderful wildlife is a male red backed shrike. Why wonderful you may ask? Well, it seems he likes wasps! How amazing is that? Shame they are territorial, we could do with a few more in the garden.

We have been comparing the photos of the Shumen with the way they are looking amonth on, and the change as remarkable. Gone are the bald patches and fluffy bottoms are appearing, the wing feathers which were clipped before we got them are growing out, and Sevi's tail, which was mutilated by fighting with another cockerel, is growing back really well.

I'd like to take the time to thank Ky for all her help since I have been thinking of and keeping chickens, both here and in the UK. So thank you Ky, for your support and help over the last couple of years.

And thank you everyone who reads and comments on my ramblings.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Mixed emotions.

We are still being plagued with incubator problems. We paid out for a new fully automatic one before leaving the UK and have had nothing but trouble with it. Of course, no chance of activating a garantee.

With our first clutch of silver wyandotte eggs, set shortly after we arrived in Bulgaria, the first problem was the stoems and with them, power cuts. Nevertheless some eggs were developing. Then the automatic turner packed up, followed by more storms, resulting in losing all the chicks at different stages, a couple at almost full term.

When we got the Shumens the hens had been with an unrelated cockerel, so we collected their eggs for incubation for two weeks. The first ten were set into the new incubator which seemed to be working again after making sure all connections were good. But then it started developing problems with temperature and the humidity alarm kept going off. And they stopped turning again. So before the next batch of eggs went in they were transferred to an old incubator which seemed to be holding it's temperature ok. Dave diligently turned the eggs three times a day and lo and behold, on the 21st day three were pipping, trying to fight their way out. They were all from the same hen. The others have shown no sign. But then the first one gave up and died before getting any further, the second one hatched with no problem and is strong and vocal, as did the third, which is noticably weaker and still vocal. They are so tiny, but then they have come out of small eggs.

Later, Dave checked the eggs still in the incubator and found, although most were fertile, they had died a while back, so it must have been down to the move. We are leaving the second lot of eggs in, they should hatch somewhere at the end of the week if they are viable.

So a bit of a sad time. We don't hold out much hope for the second chick. They are now under a lamp and quite active, but we are going to go to the local market tomorrow to see if there are any day-olds to keep the strong one company if the worst should happen. Luckily chicken feed is cheap and we will have something  to sell at the beginning of next year. Good job we have plenty of sheds!

Bella is fascinated. She was in the bedroom as often as she could make it yesterday, as was Bonnie, listening to cheeping. And now they are in the shed she is desperate to be on chick watch. I think she would like to wash bums! We are off out to buy more chick crumb as the stuff we bought from the vet is full of moths.

We had another visit from the black dog yesterday. Luckily I saw it arrive and make for the chicken pen and Dave shooed it back to where it came from and put more stones at the bottom of the fence. The electric fence is being activated at night and hopefully if it comes in it will get a shock and leave. Unfortunately our English neighbours are not bothered about garden visitors so have not mended their fence in the four years they have been here, so the dog can get into there and from there to our's, which is down and hidden beneath lots of rhus growth. That will be dying down soon and we will be able to get on with fencing animals out...and our girls in.

Venka came over with a plate of figs and a couple of cucumbers yesterday, and another bottle of veg sauce, this time it looks like peas in tomatoes. She indicated the ripe tomatoes and peppers still on the plants and we had to tell her we just couldn't use any more, then showed her a picture of the laden shelves in the cellar. She laughed and understood! Even so, Dave felt obliged to pick a large bowl full this morning.

We had a visit from a hoopoe on the lane outside the house. I have been trying to get a photo since we moved here, and this one seems to have taken pity on me.

We got the chick crumb, but as we were out we thought we would make a detour and find the lakes and river we had been told was quite good for wildlife watching, though it is too late for the breeding season. At least we will know where to go next spring, and it is close to us. We found it OK, and it was fairly busy with people fishing and horse and carts whizzing here there and everywhere. There are a couple of areas being used as a tip which is a shame. Generally everywhere is looking very dry and crisp away from he tree-lined roads and rivers. The sunflower and maize harvests are nearly in, and if it wasn't for the blazing sunshine you would think we were in autumn.

So, I have managed to snap my first wild mammal. This is a European souslik, (ground squirrel) which is on the vulnerable list, one step from being endangered. It is an important food of several raptors and martens...and very cute!

We saw plenty of lizards, but only briefly, before they vanished. But we did see a lot of frogs, thousands of fish fry and some lovely scenery.

Also a beautiful flower which seems to be a sedge

And thousands upon thousands of small white snails attached to plants, looking like flowers, there were so many.

So then we come to the not so pleasant, but a good reason to return when we are more able to sit and wait to see what turns up. Two lots of poo, or spraints, which we think the larger one will be otter, there are lots of fish scales and other bits, as there are in a small one. Hmmmm. Don't know if there are mink around here. Definitely worth returning with Dave's camera.
Also we were being tracked by a pair of birds of prey. At first we thought they were ordinary buzzards, but their cry was unfamiliar to us. My camera could not pick them up, mainly because of the sun on the view thingy. Whoever decided to remove the eye viewfinder and replace it with a screen you can't see in the sun on digital cameras needs a good talking to.

And did I mention that Dave cleaned the car yesterday? Oh dear, look at it now!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Checking the chimneys

We don't have a clue how woodburners work, only that they need a chimney. Most rooms here have a chimney, which has a round hole plugged with a cast cap, presumably for a flue, and lower down what seems to be access for cleaning. Our's are all painted over as the house has no heating due to it having been doneup to be a holiday home. We are wanting a small burner upstairs to keep the worst of the cold at bay, and one downstairs with oven. There is a chimney in the small living room/ktchen for the stove, and any excess heat can be directed into the new extension and up into our bedroom. We are struggling to decide how to do things upstairs. There is a large landing so although the freezer is there at the moment there is no prblem with space for a small stove. But as in most Bulgarian houses it means directing the flue across the room as the chimney is on the outside wall. No doubt someone will put me right, but I assume these flues act as radiators, using waste heat effectively. But they are not very pretty.

Anyway, to find out if the chimneys are open Dave had to open the lower door in the chimneys in the spare rooms. He got a bit of a shock though, as this is what faced him!
It looked as if a chicken had a secret nest! So out came the gloves and Dave gingerly started to empty it out.
The first egg on the left was a shell with a very neatly removed top. The second was whole. There were a couple of dessicated rodent bodies, then a couple of.....chicken legs! Lots of bits of mortar and dust. Then a pair of black feathered chicken wings. It seems that some carnivore had been using the chimney as a stash. Gruesome. We are presuming pine marten as there are plenty around. It must have smelled sooo bad when it was festering, no wonder they had difficulty selling the house! So, interesting find even if yeuch!

I made my first batch of lemon curd yesterday, a tasty way of using surplus eggs. I had made a sharp lemon and yoghurt cake and the lemon curd was to enhance the flavour. And very delicious it was too. I even managed to scoop a little cream from the milk to have with our first slices. Well, the cake was low fat!

The milk doesn't last long, it is straight from the cow, still warm in it's coke bottle. I left a jug full out overnight to start some cheese experiments, added a squeeze of lemon juice next day and strained it, salted it and put it away for a while. No idea what it will be like, but with all this cheap, fresh milk available it is a good time to try things out. I wouldn't presume to make sirene, the local feta like cheese, but I might try making halloumi one day. I do like a nice bit of grilled cheese. Now, where to get some sheep's milk for that authentic taste.....

We had a visitor in the garden last night. Bella was being a pain and 'huffing' at the neighbours, who were out tending their preserving fire after we went to bed. She settled after a while but at 12 ish suddenly barked and jumped on the bed to look out of the window, waking us and Bonnie. We (both) told them to settle down, which they reluctantly did. We often hear animal sounds in the garden, screeching, squealing or squabbling, and the dogs usually ignore it now. But if there is a dog in the garden they both react. But at around 1am we were woken with the sound of a small dog yapping, very close to the house. Dave shone a torch and there was a dog in the garden. He went down as it seemed to be stuck in the chicken pen, to find it was entangled in the electric (off) mesh, held fast by it's collar. Of course it panicked and made things worse, and Dave spent ages quietening it down so he could free it. It must have been struggling for a while as the whole side of the fence had been pulled up. A lot of the dogs around here are un-socialised and spend their lives on chains, and the heavy leather collar and D-ring on this dog suggested it was used to being tied up, so it is a worry that he might have got bitten. I handed him some scissors and he reluctantly cut the mesh to free the dog, who by now was quite happy with Dave and decided he didn't want to leave! There are several ways he could have got in, but we had never seen him before so we had no idea which way to send him. Eventually we heard him yapping a little way off, so we knew he had found his way out. Dave saw him in one of the gardens behind us this morning, and there was a lady out there too so we are assuming he lives there. Some hole blocking is needed today though, something we were planning on doing in winter when the foliage had died down. We are both zombied today. Could have done without it.

We seem to have got the mouse problem sorted for now. The gap under the door where a piece had been sawn off to accommodate the wonky floor tiles has` been plugged. A new piece of timber screwed over the threshold and a draught excluder on the filled and no sign of mice since.

We have had a quote through for the extension. It was more than we hoped it would be, but still a lot cheaper than it would be in the UK. Work will start at the end of September. Unfortunately it means we will not be able to afford a kitchen, so Dave will have to hone his skills so he can make me an island so I can get some work surface. Then, though he doesn't know it, a full size sink can be fitted and the splash back tiled and gaps filled, cupboard doors sanded and painted and....and........ lots to do over the winter.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Is Autumn coming?

Well, the bottles found in the attic have scrubbed up really well. We are assuming they are demijohns, they are about three gallons in old money. In the UK we would maybe plant small tropical plants in there. We will no doubt find some use for them eventually.
Dave continued with his sun-dried peppers and tomatoes. The tomatoes were bottled in oil with garlic. A sample of both were proudly taken next door to the neighbours. I'm sure they don't want or need them, but hey.
Unfortunately it prompted a new delivery of lutinitza and a large bottle of mixed veg, and next morning a pile of fried rolls and another bottle of something which was made with apricots, as I had a lond explaination as Venka waved at our huge apricot tree. We will probably never know as we can't get the lid off!

The chickens are doing ok. We are still getting the odd softy, but the other day there was a lovely collection of seven eggs from seven hens.
Someone is trying to lay on the perch, but we don't know who as they are all seen regularly in the nest boxes. Whoever it is laid a double yolk soft one yesterday. They all seem well at the moment, but I do worry as we had one who had problems in the UK and she was quite ill a couple of times, it was a relief to us when she decided on a life of leisure rather than as a layer.

They had spaghetti as well yesterday, for the first time. They were totally underwhelmed. We have been led to believe that chickens get excited over spaghetti as it looks like worms, but of course we hadn't tested the theory in the UK as feeding kitchen scraps is banned by DEFRA. Either worms are not common (no surprise at this time of the year) or they would rather have sauce on it. They ate it eventually.
I have touched on the trees and the wonderful seed pods making them look amazing, and now the rowan berries are all colouring up. It is hard to think that Autumn is just around the corner when it is still so hot. But the trees are definitely fading, looking tired. But more crazy is the gathering of the swallows this morning. I heard a heck of a din while I was making bread and went out to find the neigbour's apricot tree full of twittering swallows. I've never known swallows to gather in trees, have only noticed them on wires. As with all villages, we have a plentiful supply of wires for them to gather on, and we had a small amount on some, but I live and learn.
Everywhere is quiet now, except for the red-backed shrike which has been scolding the world for the last few days.

Dave is definitely getting better at not throwing anything away, unlike in the past. All things just might have a new life, including the skeleton of a parasol which only lasted a few weeks. I came across a little stash of off cuts of wood in the cellar. Very tidy.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Eggs and solar power....

We waited so long for eggs, and now, of course, with seven laying hens, we have too many! Not that I'm complaining, there is so much  you can do with an egg, and any surplus can be frozen for use in winter when the chooks stop laying. We have had a couple of soft shelled eggs now, which is mildly worrying, but I am still hoping that it is teething problems. We have also had a couple with holes in, and the shell is thin, but again, hopefully this will resolve itself. I worry as one of the chickens I had in the UK had similar problems, which caused a lot of worry as she was not well for a while, and she eventually stopped laying all together. I must say it was a relief that she didn't lay, at least it meant she wasn't struggling, and was, after that, a happy and healthy girl. Her name was Clara, a black rock, who was a scrawnier version of our own Venus. The larger egg laid earlier turned out to be a double yolker, which was duly used to make creme caramel. And very nice they were too. Well, I had to make something that the Bulgarians make, and although Dave suggested the other two should be given to the lovely neighbours, I thought that they would not be up to their standard and we had better try them again ourselves...just in case! Oh the greed, I'll never lose weight this way!

All the chickens are now happily sleeping in one shed now. I say happily, there is sometimes squabbling which is chickens for you. There are two perches and if they don't get on there is plenty of space. But considering there are eight in one space they do OK. Sevi is still besotted by the big girls.
But sometimes they just want a bit of peace. It won't be long before we see them in the garden. I will have to point them in the direction of toms and peppers!
Talking of toms and peppers, Dave has taken pity on me and decided to dry some. He has made a solar drier from the box top which came with the freezer, covered it in foil, and draped it with a mosquito net which climbed Kilimanjaro. And it worked very well. He did a bucket of peppers, deseeded and sliced them himself, and has a large Kilner jar full of crispy peppers. He has now started on the tomatoes, putting the drier next to the white wall to get more reflected light.

I have read recently that I should not be eating any of the nightshade family as they are all bad for arthritis. This could be a problem as the family includes tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and potatoes! Added to that I should cut down on calcium so no dairy, leafy greens, eggs and fish (I can feel the bones brittling as I write!) no wheat, red meat....the list goes on.I think I will put up with painful knees rather than starve to death, though that would be good as I need to lose more weight!

Today Dave had a nice simple job to do, just right for a Sunday. I have mentioned the windows before, how there are two sets with six or so inches between. In the gap the former owners fitted roller blinds, but in the last six year, with the sun, they have rotted and any rough handling makes them tear. So as they are torn they are being replaced by curtains. The one in the bedroom gets the most sun and has now given up, so we bought a pole, they are cheap here, about £6. He started drilling a hole....and promptly went through an electric wire leading to the fan plug. The wire was about two feet from the line of the plug socket, there was no way of knowing it was there. So off he went into the loft space, through the little window he fixed the other day, to see where it came out. But we will have to find an electrician. He did find two huge glass jars, about two gallons, which he has brought down and is very excited about. Not sure why. And a smaller one which is very light in weight.

Till next time.........