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Saturday, 31 May 2014

The weather has caught up with us

It had to happen. Most of Europe seems to have had a milder and drier winter than usual, but now rain, and worse, huge hail stones, are causing havoc here in Bulgaria.

We had a lovely spring, with fruit and nut trees setting well and it looked like being a good year again. But it was very dry and we have been watering for a while and wishing for a little rain. You know that old saying? Be careful what you wish for? It was bound to happen, other parts of the continent have been having floods for a while. We are relatively lucky here, but half an hour, and even less, from here people have been flooded, the river Yantra is swollen and looking dangerous, no doubt impacting on nesting birds such as kingfishers. There are rivers running down the roads in villages, many of which have no mains drainage. A friend of our's who lives further up the mountains has posted photos of huge hailstones which have not only damaged cars and properties, but wrecked fruit and nut trees and crops in fields. With barley already turning yellow there is not the suppleness there to help it right itself. Even here there are branches on the roads from just rain and wind. It is a sad situation for those living in rural areas who rely so heavily on the trees in their gardens and planted veggies to not only feed them through the year but also bring in a little income to help with utilities. We are told we have another ten days of thunderstorms with rain and hail, I hope the weather forecast is wrong as it usually is, but often the only time they get it right is if it is going to be bad.

So here on our little plot we are in a very soggy, muddy situation. We have had small damage in comparison to some, just a few broken plants, rather a lot of fruit and nut fall, and unfortunately the loss of one of Cagney's chicks. We have no idea why, but they are very independent and wander off all over the garden...although they also go with Cagney when she lays if they happen to be around. But they have taken no notice of the weather though there are plenty of places to go to keep dry. Now, we could try keeping all of them in somewhere, but I am not sure if that is fair. One day they will be big enough to be stopped by the fence, but they forage in the garden all day at the moment and they are developing into really tough little birds. They have never been confined and to do so now would not be best for them, they are fully feathered and we have no idea if it was the weather or not. It's sad to lose one, but it had a nice, if short, life.

So why are we in here mum?

Can anyone join in?

Bit crowded in here. Can't you kids go out to play?
The geese, however, have had a change of house. They had outgrown the nursery shed and as they are growing so fast and feathering up it was time for their own pad. So they have moved to the garage where they can be confined with plenty of space when the weather is so bad they would be paddling in mud. They have the best of food and graze as much as they want, whether on the lawn, round the wilder parts of the garden or out on the lane. But they have to taste everything and my poppies have become must-have grab and go snacks. Dave tries to move them past as fast as he can but they are like naughty kids. It can be a problem though. One managed to find some twine and got it firmly wrapped around it's tongue. There is all sorts of stuff buried in the garden and unfortunately the chooks unearth undesirable things from time to time. So out came the scissors and a very relieved gosling went off to tell it's friends all about it's adventure. The same gosling later got it's head through the fence and couldn't work out how to get out. Kids!

One other side effect of all the rain is the rate that veg are growing, courgettes have to be picked every day or we have marrows. I am having difficulty keeping up with peas, mange tout an sugarsnaps and have lots of all three in the freezer to perk up winter meals. The Bulgarian peas have almost finished now but the British ones have started and seem huge after the petit pois. We have also got plenty of broad beans now so will be starting to freeze those today. The spinach which had started to go to seed has perked up. I have been chucking the seeding ones in to the chooks but now the chicks  are chomping on the fresh growth which means we have spinach to eat with chunks taken out of the leaves. Carrots and beetroot are swelling well too. So many lovely veggies. Heaven. And the potatoes....they are better and fresher than any expensive Jerseys, absolutely delicious.
The smaller courgettes, the big ones went to chook and gosling

So, hopefully the plants which have suffered will perk up again, the nicotiana are so fragile but will re-generate. The sunflowers will hopefully stand up, the courgettes lost some leaves but that will not slow them down, the big hydrangea will have to be cut back again as it did last year, and will be split into smaller, more manageable plants...though four bits were chopped off and re-planted last year before it was cut to the ground and it has come back just as big with just as many flowers this year.
Poor hydrangea, such a flop

My gorgeous rose, all soggy and ruined

Flattened sunflowers

Broad beans bent over

The first poppy chose now to bloom

Dave is feeding the bees every day too as they are not getting out and about as they should. Luckily sugar is cheap. When they do go out they are very busy though, coming back laden with pollen.
Of course, being confined to the house, it would have been a good opportunity to get some chutney made or cakes baked for the freezer, but with the electricity going of at intervals I decided being lazy for a couple of days was a better option. But I did put in a lemon surprise pudding...the biggest surprise being that it was orange! And lovely it was too. And Venka has been busy with the jam pan and sent us some strawberry jam, I didn't mention I had just made six jars.

And finally, one very small moth who took shelter from the rain. Tiny but incredibly intricate, just look at that fringe!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The wood has arrived

The garden is starting to look colourful as well as productive. There are roses everywhere and the bedding plants are starting to flower. There is strong scent at night as the nicotiana really starts to get going. We bought some crocosmia and yeloow cannas (to complement the ones Venka gave us) at the car boot sale at the weekend. I just knew it was not good to be parked near Morgan's Plants. Good quality, good price and really nice service, a lovely man. But will you please not park near us! We don't need more plants......
Nicotiana, strongly aromatic

The surviving stock

Dave insists this Californian poppy is wishy washy, I like it!

I can't believe what good value anemones are, still flowering like crazy

Dahlias budding

Sweet peas, it's said it is too hot in summer for flowers which is why we put them on the north side of the apricot tree

The veggies are still going great guns. We have lots of peas, mange tout and sugarsnaps in the freezer to brighten up winter dinners. Some of the spinach has gone to seed but the chard is looking great. The broad beans should be cropping by the end of the week, some of the pods are about six inches or more long and just need to fill out. The courgettes are really producing and we will be making more chutney soon, there are only so many you can eat. The runners are now over five feet, Dave is worrying that they look a bit spindly....shows how much notice he has taken in the past! The garlic is starting to yellow so will be pulled soon, leaving room for something else. Salad will not be re-sown now, it can't cope with the constant high temperatures, nor can spinach. I will sow some more at the end of summer. Not sure how the land cress will do, at the moment it's going strong. The potatoes we are eating are truly delicious and I had just a bowl of potatoes and peas with a little butter for supper yesterday, yum yum. Tomatoes have little fruits setting with the cherry types in the troughs having trusses of mini toms, and the cucumbers are fruiting now that they have come out of sulk. The little pears over the chicken pen are doing well, they are a very early, small variety and are great for bottling. Peaches are! All in all, everything is looking promising.
Pretty in pink, borlotti bean flower

Purple sprouting broccoli

Garlic, nearly ready

Long beetroot

How can you resist?

The cue, out of sulk


Grape vines flowering


I hope this doesn't grow any more!

We had a fairly successful car boot sale at the weekend, selling most of the chutney, jam and cakes and a few cards. But although we were busy, it costs for a stall and is a good distance away so not sure if it's worth the journey, which is a shame as it is quite a large, busy site. With proper loos. And a great view. And bacon butties should you desire.

Amazed to see the barley ears have bent over and it's turning yellow.

There is a lot of philadelphus lining the roads now

Although there was a lot of interest in Dave's paintings as always, people were still reluctant to buy. But the painting which took pride of place ('scuse the pun) of Tejas the male lion, has been sold to someone in the UK. Linda has a real thing about lions and we are very happy that she has agreed to buy him as we had decided to stop trailing him around in case he got damaged and put him on our wall. So he is off on his way to the UK. Thank you Linda, it is lovely that he will be appreciated. He also has a new commission to paint a friend's five dogs so all good.

Dave put his brave pants on this week to have a look in the hive to see what was happening. He has been feeding the bees till they settle in but now they are very active and coming back to the hive laden with pollen. The gentle bee man is due to come and check them sometime soon. Dave is getting more and more relaxed

Pleased with himself

We had the winter wood delivered on Friday last bread baking and also cake making for car boot day. Luckily it was a cooler day and four truck loads were duly dumped by the garage. We had agreed that we would take our time moving it, clearing the gateway so that we could shut the gates. Started OK, Dave running back and forth between the gate and the wood shed at the other end of the plot, while I stacked. But Dave being Dave, he decided he would try to get it all done in one day. Just before breaking to make lunch (cucumber and yoghurt soup...yum!) I had slowed to helping unload the wheelbarrow. But with the help of Venka for an hour we got it all done, Dave scurrying about at top speed while Venka loaded and I unloaded. After a drink and a wander round the garden (she approves!) she trotted off with a slab of banana cake and a couple of pelargonium cuttings. So hopefully that is the winter wood bought and paid for and one less thing to worry about. Just the car to get sorted and everything is paid for the year.

The geese are getting proper feathers now. I am staying away. Apart from them being noisy and dirty, they are starting to develop personalities and there is no way I want to see that! Two are booked out for Christmas and Dave still wants one himself. The chicks with Mum Cagney are getting ever more bold and independent. They have been seen in the onion/garlic bed and are regularly in the tomatoes and roots. Every so often they will panic and run for home, but that is getting less. They now have to go through the third hole up on the netting so they will soon be too big to get through. They don't bother sticking together unlike the incubator hatched ones.

In the kitchen it's all fresh spring veg with everything, but the Greek style dishes are coming in now, with dips and fritters and summer salad veg. Dave has also been introduced to another cold soup, this time Bulgarian yoghurt and cucumber soup which is rather like watered down tzatziki, very refreshing and a favourite of mine when we go next door to Venka and everyone else has meat soup. It is simply finely diced cucumber, garlic, yoghurt, mint and salt, let down with water to a light soupy consistancy. I have made my first ever sweet pickled beetroot with the long baby beets, then another with quartered beets. We will try them in a few weeks to see if it worth doing more. Today Dave came home from the market with four kilos of  strawberries so I have made a batch of six jars of strawberry, raspberry and rhubarb jam. It tastes totally different to the last batch, but just as delicious. There is now a batch of straight strawberry on the go and a large bag of fruit frozen. I have to admit I am not keen on making strawberry jam, there is such a fine line between a set and a scorch, despite the addition of apple and lemon. But the cost of strawberries....under a quid a kilo, makes it worth while trying.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

One year on

Well, we have been here one year and two days. And what a year it's been. We have learned so much and worked so hard. I thought we had come here to retire! But we are loving (most of) it. We have wonderful neighbours, a beautiful country, amazing weather generally, great wildlife. We have time for each other, know more people than we knew in the UK. We eat lovely food, more and more of it home grown.

On the negative side. We will never come to terms with the lack of animal welfare. There is so much poverty in certain areas. I wish ex-pats of all nationalities could get on with each other and enjoy this beautiful place. Dave, being more sociable than me, misses friends and colleagues in the UK and the mental challenge of his old job. And Bonnie hates thunder, June is going to be horrible for her.

We are feeling more positive about being able to stay here long term, always the goal but a worry about how the money will last. We don't need to work, just to earn a little to eke out our pennies. This year we should be much more self sufficent in food, hoping that we will only have to buy staples such as dairy, flour, rice and pasta once all the potential produce has been processed. We are hoping that jams and chutneys made from the produce will pay for the sugar, vinegar, gas and bottles we need to process our own food stock. And that the eggs we sell while the hens are laying well will pay for their food. That we get enough from the chicks to pay for rearing them, though they have not been a real success and we are not going to do much of this in the future. The geese will pay for themselves, already two are booked for Christmas. People are getting to know me for cakes and cards and asking for specially made products. Dave has now had on average more than one commission a month for his pet portraits, not a huge amount made, but a little goes a long way here.

I have had an amazing 30,000 page views for my blog, it is hard for me to understand why people from all over the world would want to know what we are up to. Fittingly, this figure was reached just after midnight the day after our arrivel anniversary. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support, for sticking with us, and especially for the comments and feedback we occasionally get, it is much appreciated and thank you so much.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

We have bees!

Just as we were wondering where the bees were we got a message to say they were on the way. Very exciting. The bee man is a very gentle soul who chats away very quietly all the time. He spent a lot of time telling and showing Dave how to put the hive together, how to find the queen. How to feed, smoke and check all is well....all in Bulgarian! Luckily with all the videos and books he's read Dave managed to follow what he was telling him and got really brave with the bees. So they are installed and we (Dave) needs to feed them for five days while they settle in then the bee man is coming back to see how they are doing.

Looking for the queen

Job done

The geese have a new pool. Our neighbour gave us half a roof box and it makes a great place for a play and wash. We had looked at children's sand pits which would make a nice pool, but they are very expensive here so we waited to see what would come up. Just as they outgrew the cat litter tray this was donated. So for now they are very happy, going for a dip regularly as the temperature rises, then retiring for a rest under the tree. They are so big now, they sound like a herd of horses charging down the path with their feet slapping on the path.

And because we can't leave the chickens out, her they are destroying a branch from the apricot tree, complete with masses of green apricots and bugs.

The garden is looking very floral now. The roses are coming out all over the place, our surviving stock is out and the tobacco plants have started to break. There are loads of buds on the poppies and the Californian poppies are coming on. The geese are inclined to take a swipe at any poppy as they pass so they are looking a trifle ragged.

The warmer weather we are having now has brought the cucumber out of sulk. The last of the peppers and chillis are planted and the greenhouse can come down now. The runner beans are three feet up the poles so I am hoping they have now made enough growth to cope with the hotter weather. I have started to use the onions in earnest now and am planning on freezing some of the over wintered ones when they are ready as they do not keep a long time. The rest we will use as and when we need them and for chutneys. The garlic will be ready to lift soon leaving some space to put more beetroot and carrots in. We are continuing to pick and freeze peas and the sugar snaps have now started so they are being grabbed and eaten as we pass. I even caught Dave eating peas straight off the plant yesterday. I worry about the broad beans though. The plants are great with masses of flowers, the bees are very busy, but the beans are just not growing despite the warm, damp weather we have been having.

Unfortunately the warmer weather has brought out a pest we have been dreading, the Colorado beetle. Luckily the potatoes are flowering so even if they take hold we should still have potatoes to keep us going a while. We may put some more in later once the Colorado breeding season abates. Dave found a good home for these in the septic tank which is nearby.

We have had a few strawberries and Venka has sent some over, so I have neen freezing what we don't eat ready for jam. We also bought  kilo of fresh cherries from the market (cost about 80p) That same day our rear neighbour brought us three branches from his cherry tree. Not sure which one as he has several, including one by the bee hive which I have been coveting as it is heavy with fruit and I can't touch it! So I have started making jam. I had some raspberries I bought for trifle for Christmas in the freezer, so with the strawberries and a few sticks of rhubarb and some stewed apple from last autumn, made a delicious mixed fruit jam. It only made three jars and a bowl for tasting. I'm not a jam eater but this is great and I now have to decide if I am going to take it to the car boot sale with three jars of cherry jam or keep it for us. I have started to make some glace cherries too, that takes two weeks!
From the market

From the neighbour

Six jars of jam. Do I keep or sell?
And finally, a pic of a stork wheeling over the garden. I just hope they don't poo while they fly!