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

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Wednesday 8th March, 2017
Category: 2017/03
Tags: stork ladies' day garden

Today, the 8th of March, is Ladies' Day in Bulgaria, which I always think is nice as it includes every female rather than just honouring mums or wives. No doubt the florists are making a killing!

I love this time of year in Bulgaria. One minute the ground is still frozen solid and everything is either brown or grey, they next there are signs of new life bursting out everywhere. Birds are singing like crazy, especially the jays which at the moment seem to be bustling around in large groups making all sorts of noises from harsh squawks to soft chatterings. I had a couple of wagtails land in the garden the other day (much to Poppy's excitement as she crouched in the veggie patch wondering which one to chase first). I think they might have been white wagtails as they had very distinct black throats and heads. Then yesterday, I saw three storks circling overhead as they made their way across the village. That definitely signals the imminent arrival of spring and of course means that the red and white Martenitsas can now be hung on the fruit trees. (I put mine on the red currant and loganberry bushes as they need encouragement).

The veggie patch is looking great now that all three raised beds are full of manure, and some areas have already been sown.

Plastic grids to provide a bit of insulation whilst seeds germinate.

The spare manure was just heaped on the ground where the courgettes and sweetcorn will go. The wire grid in the foreground is over the onions to stop the cats and dogs digging them up!

The long strip on the left is where the tomatoes will go, once I've built the megaframe for them.

There are onions and garlic, rows of radish (already germinating), parsnips, carrots and leeks, and a couple of patches of spinach. Indoors I have pots of tomatoes (all growing nicely), and peppers, chillis and aubergines. The greenhouse has trays of lettuce and various kinds of cabbage as well as some flowers. Every day I go and check on progress and never fail to get a buzz of excitement when that first little green shoot pops through the soil.




Tuesday 28th February, 2017
Category: 2017/02
Tags: Trifon Zarezan vine festival weather shelves

The weather here has finally returned to normal; most of the snow has gone and the thermometre registers above zero, even at night. The sun shines most days signalling the start of many happy days playing in the garden without first donning multiple layers of woollens and heavy duty wellies.

The moles seem to have gone crazy in my garden whilst all the snow was there, and had actually made tunnels right along the surface of the soil, making it look like the ground was covered in veins, but these have mostly been levelled now although there are always one or two new mounds each morning. They're all in the area where I spent most of last summer killing bindweed, so it will be interesting to see if the naughty moles have conveniently churned up and scattered lots of new bindweed seeds for me!

Two weeks ago today we celebrated Trifon Zarezan which is a vine festival. Each year we head up to the vineyards for the ceremonial first pruning of the vine. The man cuts the vine and the woman pours some of last year's wine onto the cut end in the hopes that the coming year's harvest will be plentiful. Crowns are then made out of the cut segments of vine which people hang up at home, again for good luck.

We were very fortunate this year in that some villagers invited us into their vineyard to watch the pruning, after which we shared in some warmed rakia and pickled veggies. Normally I hate rakia because it just burns my lips instantly, but this warmed stuff (brought out in a little green kettle and served from a tray of green rakia cups) was actually very tasty and went down a treat standing there amidst the snow under a clear blue sky.

I noticed something at the edge of the vineyard like a metal post box, and asked about it. Apparently it's a portable handwashing device commonly used and consists of a container for collecting rainwater and a tap at the bottom to rinse things under. In the old days they'd often take such a thing on picnics and fill it with river water for washing all the plates etc after. The Bulgarian name is 'умивалник' which just means a hand wash stand/basin.

We still did the more ceremonial pruning with people in national costume after which I asked Raicho to explain how you know what bits to prune. He pointed to a place where a branch had been cut last year and said that from this cut piece you get two new shoots growing. On one of these shoots you count off two buds from the base and then snip. This branch will produce grapes for this year. On the other shoot you count off just one bud and snip. This branch will produce grapes for next year. It all sounded quite straightforward but then he complicated it by saying it all depended on the variety of grape, whether they were for eating or for wine, whether it was an overhead vine or just a bushy one... Luckily my vine is only two feet tall and needs no pruning at all yet, though Raicho has volunteered to come and do a personal demonstration when the time comes.

No Bulgarian celebration is complete without the feasting afterwards at which I learned something new about Bulgarian hosting skills. In the UK if someone's drink is getting a bit low it's customary just to top the glass up. Not so in Bulgaria. Here you're supposed to wait until the glass is empty, and here's the reason why. At the cemetery people would often have a little pot of oil with a wick in it to keep a flame burning by a loved one's grave. Each time they visit the grave (maybe once a week) they would top up the pot of oil to keep the flame alive. Naturally the living must be treated differently, so their pots of oil (or rakia) must be empty before being topped up, so as to not be treating them as you would the dead. Little cultural snippets like these fascinate me!

It wasn't long after the vine festival that the snow down my side track melted enough for me to finally arrange a delivery of planks and battens to create my new mega storage system. I hate clutter, especially in the house, and so had the idea of putting up some shelving in the garage, boarding out part of the roof space in there, and also making a huge set of shelves in the shed for all my boxes of treasure (junk I can't quite bring myself to part with yet).

When the wood arrived it still had huge chunks of ice stuck to it in places though I'm hoping that through the summer it will dry out pretty quickly and then I can treat it with preservative.

I'd planned on two long shelves in the garage, though after installing the top one it occurred to me that sometimes I need the car door to be opened right up to the wall, so the second shelf was a half length one (good job I thought of this before making it).

Then lots of planks were heaved up onto the big roof beams to create a nice platform. This is where I can shove big bulky things like empty boxes and spare drainpipes etc.

The project I was most keen to get done though was the shed shelving and actually went to the trouble of doing a few sketches to plan out the construction first. Then came two solid days of measuring, sawing, drilling and assembling, in between shuffling tons of stuff round to make space to work in.

I was going to try and fix it to the upper beams to stop the whole thing potentially toppling over, but in the end I just tied it to the back beam and shoved an old bracket at the front. It occurred to me that a lot of my boxes are pretty heavy, so I made some little reinforcement frames to go up the centre of the whole thing, so now the shelf planks don't bounce at all!

Actually putting everything back in place took longer than I thought, but now it's done I'm thrilled with the results. Everything to hand and lots of clear workbench space for my little projects.

Monday 13th February, 2017
Category: 2017/02
Tags: weather woodworm

You know how they say everything happens for a reason? I'm a firm believer in this, even when it includes throwing an entire roast chicken on the floor. Let me enlighten you...

I popped into Gabrovo last Wednesday to get my hair cut and to purchase a set of weighing scales (for people) which were on special offer in Lidl. My current scales are a set I found when I moved into my old house in Barnsley back in 1997, and, being the sort with a needle, I find I can't actually see the result without crouching down, causing the reading to swing wildly between skeletal and obese. These new ones turned out to be even better than I'd thought. Apart from having a nice big digital reading which stays there after you've got off the scales, it also does all sorts of fancy things like tell you your body fat, bone and water content before happily announcing you should treat yourself to a chocolate eclair. Very user friendly.

Anyway, whilst in Lidl I noticed they were selling off whole chickens, so I bought a couple, and when I got home, stuck one in the freezer and the other in the oven to cook. At this time of year the oven is the one in the woodburner, and a couple of hours later it was time to remove the succulent fowl. Just as it was coming out of the oven my grasp on the tray slipped, and the entire thing crashed to the floor amidst the dust and ash of the stove, splattering fat all over my heap of logs. Five second rule though - and it was swiftly retrieved from the grime and drumped back into the pan. Don't worry - I wasn't cooking for guests.

Having sorted the dinner I left the cats to eagerly lap up as much of the puddle of juices as they could, and then later on headed back with a bowl of water and some kitchen spray to try and remove the rest of the mess. It was whilst I was down there scrubbing away that I noticed the corner edge of the bottom step on my staircase looked like someone had had a nibble out of it, as several fragments of wood were sticking out. Had Bella been having a midnight chomp to take her mind off her itchy leg?

I got closer to investigate, and as I touched the bits of wood I was horrified to see a pile of sawdust falling out of the stair. What the heck! Grabbing a screwdriver I then began probing around and discovered that a massive part of the edge of the step had been completely eaten by a very fat woodworm.

The amount of sawdust coming out, and the depth the screwdriver could go was quite alarming.

Fearing the entire staircase was under attack I then had a good stab with the screwdriver all over it but luckily didn't find any other crumbly bits. I'm sincerely hoping that it just so happened that this piece of wood already had a little woodworm egg in it when the carpenter started making the stairs, rather than it being an infestation after it was finished and installed.

I must admit I've been finding a few of the horrible longhorn beetles in the house this winter, but had assumed they were coming from the logs for the fire, because when I've split some of the logs they've had a lot of longhorn larvae in them. Needless to say the beetles are being destroyed as soon as they're seen and hopefully before they've had a chance to mate and lay eggs.

If I hadn't dropped the lovely roast chicken, I'd never have known!

I'm not surprised the beetles are coming out in the lovely warmth of the house, as it's still absolutely bitter cold outside. This makes doing laundry a bit difficult as I discovered the other day when my jeans decided to come back indoors by themselves.



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