Day to day events mostly cataloguing my complete lack of understanding and common sense!

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Sunday 6th August, 2017
Category: 2017/08
Tags: pond

One of the most relaxing images in the world, I think, is cool water in a stream, trickling over shady, moss covered rocks with electric blue damsel flies delicately hovering here and there and the air coloured green from overhanging trees. Actually I'm probably describing the scene down at the Yantra river where I quite often take the hounds for a walk, and I guess it's the actual sound of the water which is so soothing and restful. So when I was in the UK, one of my purchases was of a small solar powered water fountain, with the idea of making a little pond for it in the garden.

I tested it out in the UK in a basin of water and it worked really well, with different shaped nozzles for varying heights of fountain. The only oddity is that if a cloud covers the sun, the fountain doesn't start up again when the sun reappears. First you have to wave your hand over the solar panel and that triggers it to start again. Annoying in the UK where there's a cloud every two seconds, but not a problem over here.

After one of the bouts of heavy rain recently I began digging a hole for the pond (taking advantage of the softened soil. This was left half finished for over a week as the novelty suddenly wore off, but a new burst of enthusiasm saw me finish the basic shape last week. I'd originally planned to use some of my old summer tyres to edge the pond, but in the end couldn't face the faff of getting someone to saw the tyres up, so just decided to go with a plastic liner.

I've always got tons of nylon sheeting around so I dug out some suitable sized pieces and proceeded to line the hole. A few rocks to hold it all in place and then the magic moment of filling it with water:

The black is some old weedroll fabric which is being used to help hold the soil mound in place.

I was already quite excited by the look of it, and couldn't wait till morning to see how the water would hold. Unfortunately there must have been some tears in the plastic because the water level around the shallow edge soon dropped.

A quick trip to Gabrovo saw me purchase 6 meters of stronger plastic sheeting - enough to fold over to make four layers. Back at the pond I decided to widen the central deep hole and extend the shallow ledge to make it easier (hopefully) to edge with stones and gravel which would protect the plastic. The four layers were then gradually squashed in place and the pond refilled with water:

This time success! The water was still at the same level the next day.

The next stage was to cover all the exposed plastic in weedroll which will hopefully give it some protection from the sun until plants get established.

Then it was time to add the fountain. I put a big brick in the bottom of the deep bit and a flat stone on top. The fountain was wrapped in some nylon material to help filter the water before it enters the pump, and then tied to another stone to stop it floating. Once placed on the brick the spout was just clear of the water.

Add some flat stones around the edge to create ledges for insects and possibly small creatures, and then space for some plant pots:

And here it is so far with some moss added to the stones and a few herbs in the pots.

Eventually I will cover the edges of the pond in soil for it to grass over, and then plant some taller things such as the day lillies or red hot pokers behind. Then I'll add to the plants growing on and around the rocks. But even as it is, laying there in the shade of the tree listening to the steady splash of the water and watching paper wasps coming down for a drink, it's quite perfect!

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 31st July, 2017
Category: 2017/07
Tags: Mazalat hiking veggies weather

At this time of year the veggie patch starts to bear fruit, and I develop an ever stronger urge to patrol the rows of greenery several times a day to chart progress, harvest crops and urge on the stragglers.

After a slow and troublesome start earlier this year, the raised beds are doing a fantastic job, with the only weeds being the ones sprouting from unrotted manure (mostly grass) and these are very easy to remove.

I've just done a mad photography session with the new camera (practising with different settings to see which give the clearest results) so here's a quick round up of what's currently growing in the garden: Turnip; beetroot; mange tout; kale; chillis; cucumber; 4 kinds of beans; potatoes; spinach; peppers; parsnips (sadly only a few); butternut squash; sweetcorn; asparagus (not to be harvested until next year); white and green courgettes; 5 varieties of tomato; lettuce and rocket. Add to that the garlic, onions and shallotts which have already been harvested - I'm beyond thrilled! The potatoes are much nicer this year (last year's were savaged by underground slugs) and as soon as I get any sprouting bits I shall pop them back in the soil to see if I can get a late autumn harvest too.

We had some mad weather late last week, with torrential rain, thunder, lightning and even a hailstorm. Luckily there was no damage to anything in the garden. This pic shows the build up of storm clouds one day:

I was really luckily that the stormy weather didn't hit a day earlier because I was away at that time hiking in the mountains with a couple of friends!

We'd gone up to Uzana and then along a lane to one of the hiking huts (Partizanski Pesen) where we'd left the car. From there it was about a three hour hike to the next hut - Mazalat.

It's a lovely place with dormitories holding around 10 beds, proper toilets (always a luxury), plenty of hot water for the shower, and inside and outside seating/dining areas. The scenery round about was, as always, stunning.

We checked in and then left much of our baggage in the bedroom before continuing our day's walking westward along the trail. Our first target was a place known as the Singing Rocks.

This photo was taken sitting amongst the rocks which are part of a cliff edge overlooking a steep wooded valley. They get their name from the sound they make whenever there's a strong wind blowing up from the south, but unfortunately for us we were there on a hot calm day and the rocks didn't make a peep. (I bet they were belting out some songs in the next day or two with the storms!)

There was plenty of noise from the insects around though as all the moorland was full of wildflowers of all kinds. One insect we saw a lot of were these huge grasshoppers:

They were all actually on the narrow walking path and didn't hop out of the way when you walked by. On closer examination they all had their long rear spike wedged into the ground which made us wonder if they were all laying eggs.

At one point as we climbed higher and higher we passed a large herd of horses amongst whom were several gorgeous little foals:

I must admit I found the hike a struggle which surprised me because last year's walk to Botev involved a much higher climb and carrying a large pack, and I don't recall huffing and puffing half as much. This time I found myself stopping ever more frequently to catch my breath and foolishly didn't take anywhere near enough water to drink and so had to ration it a bit. Maybe it was the heat that made the walk more tiring, but we continued onwards until about 4pm (hoping to reach the Thundering Forest) but by that time we were a good 3 hour walk from the hut and so turned about and headed back.

From where we were walking we could see across to Uzana, Buzludzha, Gabrovo, Sevlievo and Mt Botev at various points.

Back at the hut we showered and had a much needed drink, and then later on had some dinner. We chose Shopska salad and a hearty dish of shredded cabbage in a sauce with a massive chunk of tender pork. We took it out to the shelter to eat, where there were benches and a huge fireplace. A group of Bulgarians next to us were cooking a mixture of tomatoey beans and sausages in a huge pan, and when it was done they brought us a bowl and some bread to share. Boy was it tasty!

We sat in the shelter playing cards and talking till night fell, and then I headed up to bed.

The next day we had a breakfast of French toast and jam before hiking back to the car. From there we drove back into Uzana and had a quick look at one of the new stone shelters which have been built down one of the tracks. It's a big stone structure, open on one side, with wide wooden benches down two sides, a wooden table and log seats, and a massive stone fireplace at the far end. Apparently anyone can turn up, light a fire and spend a night. So our plan is to pick a warm night, bring our sleeping bags and some food etc, and then spend the night there in front of the fire (which should keep any hungry bears at bay!) Always love having an adventure to look forward to.

 

Wednesday 19th July, 2017
Category: 2017/07
Tags: pickles electrical problems fancy dress

It's been a busy couple of weeks and several things are already being slotted into place: ordering the winter wood, lining up some renovations, stashing food for winter... ah, it's a hard life. It's not all work though, there are plenty of opportunities for a bit of fun and last Saturday a lovely couple in the next village hosted their annual fancy dress barbecue party. This year's theme was Hawaii and after a bit of lateral thinking I came up with this:

Luckily most people spotted the link with the theme straightaway as it had been a lurking dread that I'd spend the entire evening explaining my outfit. Even better than that... it won! I claimed first prize out of the girl entries and came away with a beautiful bag from Australia and a 'stubby holder' which is like a padded cup holder just the right size for a can of Fosters or in my case a glass of fizzy cherryade.

Despite the constant unseasonable rain it was a great evening even if I spent much of it in a tipsy haze - all for medicinal reasons of course. Let me explain.

Wednesday evening I'd felt the first hints of a developing sore throat and by Thursday morning every swallow felt like I had a brick stuck in my gullet. I dosed up on painkillers and lemsips thinking that it was just a summer cold, but by Thursday evening my lips had started to burn and were looking really red and sore on the inside.

After a very restless night I headed off to the doctor to see what was wrong. I explained about the sore throat and burning lips and as she examined the inside of my mouth she kept nodding and smiling and saying 'efta' (at least I think that's what she said). It turns out I had a mouth infection and there's a bit of an epidemic of it at the moment. She gave me a prescription for a cream called Daktarin which I needed to apply to my lips three times a day and to also swish a small amount around my mouth at the same time. She said it would clear up in 3 or 4 days.

I bought the cream and slapped it on while still sitting in the car, hoping it would bring relief, but it just stung like mad. The next couple of days were awful - I'd literally feel like my mouth was on fire for half an hour every time I put the cream on, which would then die to a throb the rest of the time. I couldn't bear to eat anything remotely savoury so had chunks of cucumber and mushrooms, and all drinks had to be sucked through a straw (the kind woman at the village shop gave me a bunch to use). I was determined to go to the party though, so dosed up on painkillers and smothered my lips in vaseline and then proceeded to work my way through a bottle of wine (sipped via a straw of course).  Dancing drunkenly in the cooling rain kept my thoughts away from my infection and the evening was thoroughly enjoyed.

Thankfully the cream has indeed started to work and I'm now pain free with just the odd tingle in my lips, though I shall continue to use the cream until it seems 100% cured.

Being unable to tolerate any stingy foods has meant I've not yet sampled my very first try at pickled onions, although to be fair the recipe did say to wait at least a month to let the flavours infuse.

My onion harvest has been plentiful but mostly from the shallotts I planted last winter and because they are fiddly buggers to peel I thought pickling them would be a faster way to preserve them. I found a recipe and gathered together the ingredients for the flavour:

The onions were then soaked in boiling water for a while so that the skins just slid off, and then they were all soaked in salt water overnight:

And here they are after adding the flavoured vinegar and processing in a water bath:

The black bits aren't dirt, just some of the spices!

I have a small jar in the fridge and when the month is up (and the mouth normalised) I shall have a sample. If they're okay I might do a few more jars as I've still tons of small onions I can use.

Sadly my skills in the kitchen don't transfer to other areas and last week I had a thoroughly blonde experience with the kitchen lights.

When I returned from the UK I found that neither of the two sets of lights in the kitchen were working and presumed an electrical surge after a storm had blown the bulbs. Unfortunately after putting a new bulb in, the light still didn't work, so I asked Mitko the milkman (who's also a trained electrician) to come and sort it out.

After putting up with a temporary extension lead and light bulb draped across the kitchen for two weeks, Mitko arrived with tool box and proceeded to check the socket. All the connections in the light switch were fine so he got up to examine the fitting. He took out the new bulb I'd put in and declared it broken (damn you Kaufland and your dodgy bulbs for sale). Luckily I had one more new bulb and as soon as he put it in, the light worked!

Ah, but what about the light over by the stove, I asked. After two seconds fiddling around he discovered a switch round the back of it and turned it on. Unbelievable. Luckily, unlike in the UK, I wasn't stung for a massive callout fee. He merely asked for a token 2 levs for his time (about 90p) so I gave him an extra one to keep quiet about my stupidity!

 

 

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