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Wednesday, 7 January 2015

What stood out in 2014

There is little going on at the moment in our little patch of Bulgaria so I thought I would look back at some of the highs and lows affecting us and some of the Bulgarian citizens.

The biggest impact by far to affect the whole country one way or another was the weather. I know we Brits like to talk about the weather, but this year we and the Bulgarian population had a lot to talk about.

The year started with a very early spring. We had a very dry and mild winter for our first, which in a way was good as we worried a bit about reports of being unable to get out for weeks. As it happened we had only a couple of spells of really cold weather. We got spring planting of peas, beans and potatoes in in very good time with the ground being dry and didn't seem to lose many to mice. The garlic and onions planted in autumn were a bit late coming through, possibly due to the weather.

Then thunderstorms started and fog, rain and hail. All parts of the country had problems, there were crops washed away, fruit and nuts knocked from trees, many a plot in the villages decimated, floods all through the year, many people died. Though it was said it was not as hot as other years, the humidity brought on by the rain meant moving was unbearable and this older lady spent a lot of time hiding inside with the dogs. We were lucky though, most of our problems came with rotting veg and diseased plants....and weeds. The weeds have been incredible, they've loved the weather. Hoeing became useless as cut and dug up weeds would re-root it seems once we were driven in by the next storm. Insects were a problem too. We had much less grasshopper and crickets than the year before, possibly because we had less lush weed areas, but biting insects loved the weather. Where we could go out at certain times to weed the year before, there was no repite this year and they were active even in the middle of the day. We feel so sorry for the people who rely on their gardens and what they produce to see them through the winter, there has been a lot of hardship. Even the older Bulgarians say they have never seen anything like it. I really hope we have seen the last of it and they can look forward to decent produce from garden and trees this year. At the moment the cold, snowy but bright days are enjoyable, even though we have been confined to the village for a couple of weeks due to the roads being sheet ice. It won't be forever.

So, we have learned a bit from our first growing season, though again, with the weather being so wet some things not usually grown by the villagers did well, like runner and French beans, smoothe butternut squash, kale, purple sprouting broccoli. I will be planting less of all these things, but hope we don't have a drought as they won't like it!. Apricots, which were so good the first year, produced plenty of fruit but they were so diseased we had to puree the fruit and make chutney. Had we been more organised we could have bottled juice, something I need to look into before the season starts. We had a decent amount of white peaches from the rather weedy tree by the dunny, a surprise and totally delicious straight from the tree, in another world to the ones we have been used to in the UK. Best eaten while cooling in the pool because of the juice! Even the tree which regenerated after being cut to the ground every year for six years produced fruit and the blossom was stunning. Our early mini pears did well again and we passed them over to Jordan to make rakia (and a superior drink they made!) The walnuts were a disappointment but at least we had plenty. I think at least half had bugs or mould in them, sad for those who rely on selling them. But we at least had some, a lot lost them in the storms.

In the veggie patch there were mixed fortunes. The strawberries were poor, the weather again. The fruit we did have were squishy with rain, something the varieties here are not used to. Rhubarb, lettuce, carrots, squash, raspberries, beets, chard, peas, broad beans, borlotti, runner, French beans all did well. Onions and garlic got very waterlogged and when they started to look a bit suspect, instead of trying to keep them I sliced, wedged and froze most, kept a few strings of garlic and red onions and the rest were dehydrated as an added precaution. It's worked well. Tomatoes were mixed too. We had plenty for chutneys, bottling, pickling and eating, plus loads for the geese and chickens. But that was because we planted so many. They were diseased and we lost a good few. We gave the neighbours tomatoes (cherry) and melon (canteloup) before they had any ready, and courgettes which we grew too big and sent over for their animals. The melons weren't brilliant in quantity, but they were very sweet and juicy. We planted two sorts of conrn, only one variety did well and was very nice.

The real failures in the veggie garden were peppers which just failed (but we were given bucket loads) aubergines which were hit by Colorado beetle (same) potatoes which were nice what we had, but a lot didn't grow and the beetle got them too. We missed a second planting due to the weather. And sprouts, cauli, romanesco were all disappointing, though the ones we got were delicious.

So this year we are planning less tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, climbing beans (we can't get used to them frozen) squash and courgettes. And more peas, broad beans, sweetcorn and potatoes.

 Another first were Dave's bees. Surprisingly we actually had some honey in th first year. This year we are hoping for better yields.

It's been a strange year with the fowl too. Hatching Shumen chicks was a total disaster. We ended up with several pens of chicks, most of which were male. They are not maturing the right colour, they should be black or blue but they have been all sorts of colours.We lost quite a lot too, a shock after losing none the year before, but asking round it seems we are not the only ones. (Weather again!) We had two hatches from broody hens, both reared well but all the first died after getting soaked. This year the only Shumen will be if a hen goes broody. We will not be incubating any. Last year we also lost araucana (twice) Poland and maran chicks during incubation or soon after. It is not only sad, but expensive. We were lucky to home all the males, one couple had eight! We sold some which died later. All very bizzarre.

Geese. We tried. The five goslings did really well and grew large with no problems. But they were for eating and after doing the first one (a gander who was getting aggressive and too heavy for his legs) he decided it wasn't for him, so we sold them. Another lesson learned. We bought a couple of ducks after they went. Pets with no names yet.

The biggest emotional happening was the arrival of the kitten Splash (he rarely gets called that now, usually something rude!) I don't like cats, they poo all through my veggies. But I had been saddened when some kittens were born in the loft and had been killed by a pine marten. I had told myself that if they survived we would give a home to the little ginger and white one as Dave wanted a cat, but it would be a yard cat, specifically for mousing. But it was not to be. Then Splash arrived at 3 or 4 weeks old, mucky eyed and painfully thin, and asked to stay (or more accuarately, demanded a home with food and company and every want) Kittens are not as easy as puppies. Bella was a challenging puppy, but a saint in comparison to Splash. At least a puppy can be trained, a cat will train in what he wants when he wants, and wants.....

But he is here to stay, and I do worry if he goes ut at night for more than ten minutes, thinking of the pine martens we've seen, bruiser cats and a pack of dogs which has taken up residence on the lane. And he tries to follow anyone he knows so we have to make sure he is in when the dogs are walked. He is a nuisance, keeps us awake, plays rough and hurty, persecutes Bella (she loves it!) wakes us at 3am regularly, jumps on computers, legs, cardmaking or painting. Can't use the kitchen table for anything which might not want a cat walking across it or played with. But we are stuck with him, he's got character.

The most surprising new thing for us last year was car boot sales. I was a bit unsure about what we could make and sell. Dave does his paintings and I make cards. But I also like cooking and of course we might have spare veg to sell. But what actually happened is that I started making jam and chutney and it took off! It is not something I have done a great deal of, we don't eat much of either. But it started when I was clearing ut the freezer and came across tomatoes, peppers, garlic and apples, as well as some miixed fruit. So we bought some bottles from the market and some onions, sugar and vinegar and set to work. And it took off! I only use whatever there is too much of in the garden, plus the jars...the man on the market is stocking matching ones for me now. We cover costs but it is not a business, I don't want that pressure. But while I am doing other things I make the jams, chutneys, jellies and pickles and have sold hudreds of jars. Not just to Brits either, but to Dutch, Bulgarians, Americans and Asians. Not sure what will happen this year, the last thing I want is a business as I would have to charge huge amounts to cover the costs of compulsary accounts etc. Just not worth it. It's a hobby, the same as the cards and paintings.

I have to admit I was dreading these sales. I am not a sociable person and was dreading meeting people and trying to understand Bulgarians. But by the end of the summer I was looking forward to the two per month we attended regularly and have made some lovely friends and acquaintances and have regular customers seeking us out. I am now looking forward to catching up with them in spring, some of whom go back to the UK for the winter, most of whom live a distance from us. But will miss one couple who are returning to the UK after eight years here after a year of the most appalling events with their animals. I will miss them.

So bring on the year. The first seeds are being sown this week, we are planning more ducks, I will start making preserves once I know what we need to use up, the cards left from last year have been reduced and I have started a new batch. Dave has painted several paintings for an exhibition in April. Bring it on!


  1. It is interesting to read what you have done in 2014, and what has been successful and what not. Good luck with your chutneys etc at the Boot sales - are there any regulations covering foodstuffs sold, or is it more like "buyer beware"?
    Your little Splash looks adorable, but I well know the problem of training (or not!) feral kittens. Our little Bib joined us at about 6 weeks old, and she is still a bitey wee thing. She seems to show affection through biting. When she wants attention, that's it. We have to give her attention NOW! But we wouldn't be without her.

    1. Thank you. There are laws about selling foods as there are everywhere in Europe, but up to now car boot sales are largely left alone but all that will change as things are getting more strict. All those who buy know I am a hobby maker and if I make lemon curd, for instance, it only goes to those who know it has to be refridgerated and used quickly. I have a catering background so know the rules.

      Yes, Splash is adorable sometimes, though at others his feral background comes out and I still think he had some sort of trauma to his back at a tiny kitten, he has a very strange gait.

    2. Aragon was semi-feral when we got her from the SPCA. She used to nip the back of our ankles when she wanted FOOD. Now a dignified old lady, she wouldn't DREAM of biting. Moi, nevair !?

  2. Thanks for an interesting read. Get Splash de sexed if you can, it really calms them down.

    1. Yes, it's certainly on the cards. But our vet won't do it till he's seven months old. Not long now.

  3. It was interesting to read about your year. I always look forward to your updates. Good luck with the garden this year.

  4. What an interesting post! So much has happened. I hope the winter calms down for you and the spring and summer turn out to be beautiful.

    1. Thank you Tana, we hope that last night was the last of the very cold nights. At least we have sunny days at the moment.