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

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2015/03
Saturday 28th March, 2015
Category: 2015/03
Tags: repurposing damp

Made a horrifying discovery today when I decided to do a mad spring clean of the house. As I pulled out a big cardboard box from the corner of my bedroom, with the idea of having a rummage through to see what forgotten goodies lay hidden inside, I noticed that it was hiding a nasty patch of mould growing on the wall behind it! In panic mode I then investigated behind all the other bits of furniture and found two more similar occurances - one was in a quite advanced state of disgustingness in the spare bedroom.

These have all appeared over the past year at most because it was only last April when I decorated upstairs. The mouldy places were all where something has been close to the wall: a cardboard box, a couple of briefcases and a chest of drawers, and they are all by external walls. I'm wondering if the excessive rain last year has created a very humid atmosphere in the house which has been effectively sealed in by the new super efficient double glazing.

I managed to clean off the offending patches with bleach though the back of the chest of drawers had to be removed and thrown out unfortunately. I then gave the walls a quick spray with Bochemit which is a chemical I use to treat new timber against insect, water and fungal infestations. It's not meant for walls but it hopefully won't do any harm until I find a more apt solution. I've got the bedroom windows all open a bit as well to give the rooms a thorough airing and of course the mouldy corners are all furniture free for now.

I must admit, when I first started using the central heating around last October, the upstairs windows got a lot of condensation on them for the first week or so, and it did have a general damp feel about the place. I shall have to keep a close eye on things over the coming months to spot the first signs of any reinfestations, and maybe do some additional fungicide treatment of the affected areas. I sincerely hope it's not going to be the start of something major.

On a happier note I had a great find whilst out walking Alfie the other day. We quite often head down past the cemetery to where the lake path starts, which we then follow for a while. Shortly after joining this path it crosses over a small stream which unfortunately is often strewn with various bits of rubbish, as is the banking round about. On this occasion my attention was caught by what looked like a large glass flagon half hidden in the weeds. When I went over to check I saw it was indeed one of the big bottles probably used for storing wine after it has matured in the barrel. The bottle was completely undamaged, just rather muddy, and that's when I noticed there were several more scattered about.

After foraging around I unearthed a total of five bottles in varying sizes, four clear and one green one, and all in perfect condition. The next task was to hunt around for something to carry them home in, and the rubbish heap provided a couple of old sacks for the purpose.

Once home I set about cleaning out all the muck which had collected in them, using some gravel and soapy water inside the bottles to help scour the sides, and leaving them to soak now and then.

I plan to make some very thinned down paint using the acrylics I have and some turps, and then paint bold designs on the bottles. I shall probably have to fill them with water so that the weight can give them stability (maybe I'll even use coloured water), and then they can be put on display on the garden wall. What a great find!

My other scavenging has been more of the planned variety. I'm always seeking ways in which to make the veggie patch more efficient and one of the things which takes a lot of time is weeding. So I've been investigating various ideas for a weed free garden, and one of the things I came across was using hay as a weed suppressant.

Now my first thought, and probably yours too, was isn't hay chock full of grass and weed seeds which will make the veggie patch even worse? Ah, well here's the clever bit. Apparently if you make sure the layer of hay is at least a foot deep then the seeds don't have enough light to grow. And before you raise the next question - you make little gaps in the hay for your veggie plants to go in so they can have enough light.

There are other bonuses to this system: The hay rots into the soil over time which improves the condition of clay soils like mine. The layer of hay provides warm insulation for the soil which helps crops that are left in the ground over winter such as leeks and cabbages. The thick layer means that during heavy rain the muddy ground isn't splashing back up onto your plants which can cause disease (my tomatoes suffered this way last year).

As luck would have it, a friend who keeps goats told me there was often a lot of unused hay as the goats prefer to eat it fresh and the old stuff has to be thrown out. This gave me the perfect supply for my garden. So this week I took along a supply of old sheets and tarpaulins to bundle the hay into and we made two journeys in a pick-up to bring it back to my place.

The hay was first piled into a big heap in the garden ready for me to carry across into the veggie patch. It smelt gorgeous - all warm and farmy - and of course the brood went straight over to examine it. Alfie got all excited and rolled around snorting wildly whereas the cats preferred to pounce on any strand of hay that dared to move.

At the moment I've put the hay where the tomatoes, beans and courgettes will go. There are onions just starting to sprout in the other places so I want to leave them to get a bit bigger first, and the area where there are seeds can't be covered at all. It will be interesting to see if the hay does all it promises or if I spend the summer desperately searching for my crops among my newly sown meadow!

Tuesday 24th March, 2015
Category: 2015/03
Tags: VT day garden wood shed

The sun's shining, the blossom is emerging, the Martenitsas are off... spring has sprung!  You always know when the weather's behaving itself as I start playing outside all day and of course neglecting this site, so prepare for a rather lengthy update as I ramble through the past 10 days or so.

The weather has indeed been gorgeous for the past four days and this has induced a flurry of garden activity. The new greenhouse has been utilised every day to give the seedlings lots of warmth and sunlight to encourage their growth - not without mishap of course. I've taken the precaution of sticking a thermometre in there so I can keep an eye on the temperature, and open the lid and/or doors to try and keep a steady mid 20s range. Of course the first day I forgot about the little propagator lids which were still on the pots of seedlings until several hours had gone by, by which time my beautiful little cucumbers had all wilted along with some of the tomatoes.

 (More seeds cosy by the stove)

Undeterred I re-sowed some seeds and took a little more care to keep the pots uncovered whilst in the greenhouse. I tried leaving a couple of pots of flower seeds in the greenhouse overnight but it was too cold for them - more casualties! Ideally I'd like to buy a couple of little oil lamps - I think we used to call them hurricane lamps - and have them burning in there at night to keep a bit of heat going. I've looked around several DIY type places lately but haven't yet come across any suitable ones. So for now everything gets carted back in the house in the evening and then taken out again in the morning.

My biggest delight is that some peppers have germinated. This is a first for me as for the past two years not a single seed sprouted (luckily Baba Ivanka gave me a whole bunch of her pepper plants last year to make up for my failures).

My sweetpeas are coming up nicely and there are green shoots in several of the other flower pots, though at this stage they might well be weeds. Today I did some pots of herbs - dill, basil, loveage and some yellow dust-like seeds my neighbour gave me, the name of which I have completely forgotten.

The carrot, beetroot and leek seeds have gone directly in the garden though covered by plastic for now, mainly to protect them from the kittens who regard my veggie patch as a giant litter tray.

I'm a very impatient gardener and always start to stress if things don't show signs of germination after a week or so. I then go into panic sowing mode and scatter dozens more seeds into the pots, probably smothering the ones which were just about to poke through the soil. Still, with the warmer temperatures, hopefully it won't be long before this years veggies are well under way. (If not, I shall cheat and buy plants from Sevlievo fruit and veg market!)

I was very annoyed with myself at not storing all my lovely gladioli corms properly during the winter. I dried them all out thoroughly at the end of summer but then stupidly stored them in a plastic bag where they promptly all went mouldy. The little tiny baby ones though still felt quite firm, so today I made several trays of soil and planted as many of the babies as would fit. Perhaps with a little luck, some of them may still grow and after a few years I will again have the lovely variety of gladiolis I had last year.

I mentioned last time about trying to sort out the problem of the little river flowing through my wood store. Well now that the wood shed is devoid of wood (here's hoping there are no more sudden snowfalls) I thought I'd try something a little more than the simple ditch I carved out last time. 

 (Scale model of the Suez Canal)

I lifted the metal sheets again to inspect the sludge underneath and although still very wet, there wasn't actual water movement happening. Now that it was less soupy it was easier to dig the channels a bit deeper, afer which I brought in a few bucketfuls of gravel from the heap out by the garage, and filled the ditches. The stones should let the water flow but prevent the clay soil from collapsing into the grooves under the weight of the wood.

I then had the bright (or mad) idea of making use of various chunks of packing polystyrene I had stored in the shed. I've laid them all over the dirt floor to help raise up the metal sheets a bit, to make it less likely that water will trickle over the edge and onto the wood.

Once that was done I put some plastic sheeting down as a sort of border round the edge of the metal sheets which were dropped back on top. There's some heavy rain forecast later this week so it will be interesting to see how well the water flows out of the shed and how dry the top of the metal stays this time.

The menagerie are all doing well. The two kittens are now permanently outside though still being fed of course. They refuse to use their bedroom box and either sleep on the chairs by the table or in one of the many roof spaces in the sheds. They seem happy and healthy and are growing quite big now. Molly is of course delighted to be the only pet allowed in the house again and has been a bit more tolerant of the kittens as a result. She and Poppy will stand no nonsense from Alfie and will both growl and try to claw him if he gets too close. The same cannot be said for Finlay and I must admit I worry a little for his safety around Alfie.

Alfie can get quite exhuberant at times and will come pounding up to Fynn, nudge him with his nose and then go flying off down the garden again. At times though he looks to be getting a bit too rough and starts mouthing Fynn's body. I've watched these occasions and noted that Finlay doesn't appear unduly afraid and shows no sign of being hurt at all. Today, however, Alfie got too rough for my liking when I saw him trying to  actually tug Fynn out from under a chair. This earned Alfie an immediate telling off and he was put on his chain to restrict his movement. Fynn didn't seem hurt when I examined him and was keen to run off and play again. I'm hoping he will stick up for himself and not just put up with it if Alfie does start to hurt him at any time - I'm sure a noseful of cat claws would soon calm Alfie's roughness.

Last Sunday was Veliko Tarnovo's special day (22nd March) and as part of the celebrations there was to be a 3D laser and firework show at the Assen Monument in the centre. A large part of the town was closed to traffic and huge crowds of people filled the streets giving the place an wonderful festive feel. I was hugely lucky in that some friends were actually staying at a hotel which overlooks the monument and invited me up to see it from their balcony. The large building behind the monument (I think it's an art gallery) was the backdrop for projecting a series of 3D images onto which would portray events in Bulgaria's history.

 (Felt like Caesar on the balcony above the surging masses)

The show began with the release of maybe 100 Chinese lanterns which all floated up into the night sky, and then as the rousing music began, lasers beamed out in all directions and the story unfolded. It was incredibly beautiful! The lasers flashed around lighting up the houses which cover the steep hillsides, and now and then the display was punctuated by fireworks. After the lasers there was a proper firework display to end the show on and the whole sky was filled with colour. A fantastic spectacle and something I definitely want to see again.

Click for video clip of part of the laser show.

Click for video clip of some of the fireworks.

Sunday 15th March, 2015
Category: 2015/03
Tags: rain tap

Today's blog entry definitely has a watery theme.

As if the snow wasn't bad enough, it has now been raining for pretty much two days straight. Southern Bulgaria has been horribly affected; some places were swamped by over three meters of snow, can you imagine?

This photo is from Kardzhali and shows a snowplough which is itself 3m high. Places have been without electricity for a week and they've been told the damage is so extensive that it'll be another two weeks before repairs are made. Now, of course, as the temperatures rise, they have the added horror of flooding as the snow melts. It makes me very glad indeed that Gostilitsa isn't affected this way.

I'm getting close to the end of this winter's wood supply and I noticed during the past year that the metal sheets I've used as a floor in the wood shed sometimes had some water trickling across them. So, before I transfer next year's wood stash in there I wanted to lift the metal sheeting and put down some plastic to keep the wood totally dry.  When I lifted the first metal sheet I was expecting it just to be wet ground underneath, but I was shocked to see several channels carved into the dirt where literal rivers have been flowing! No wonder the water crept up over the metal sheets. It looked like rats had been creating their own maze down there. The floor was absolutely saturated, with fresh water still seeping in from next door, presumably from melting snow and water running off their house roof and then coming down the yard to hit the dividing wall.

So my first task was to enlarge the channels and help encourage the water to flow more swiftly out under the shed door and onto the garden. Like I said, the ground was pure mud and, being clay, very difficult to dig out. After half an hour or so I had managed to remove enough claggy heaps of soil so that the 'rivers' were now flowing more swiftly out down the path and onto the grass. Having done this I then put down a layer of plastic sheeting which stuck out from the metal sheets and went up the walls a foot or so to prevent water creeping over the top of the sheets under the weight of the next load of wood. Having done that I then dropped the metal back in place.

It was amazing how fast the water was running out and of course  duringthe past two days with all the rain it has been flowing again, but as long as it stays under the metal floor and not above it the wood will stay dry. In a couple of weeks when the wood has totally gone I might relift the metal again and dig some much deeper channels and fill them with gravel to stop them collapsing, and then buy a big 4m wide square of plastic so that there's a decent barrier around all the walls. In the summer when (or if) it's dry for a good week I shall get some cement and make a little guiding funnel across the concrete path to direct the water straight onto the grass and away from the next shed. Next time I go round next door I'm going to have a sneaky peek to see if I can spot what's causing the excessive water at that point and maybe think how it could be diverted (like with a 20m drain pipe into someone else's garden!)

As if there isn't enough wetness outside I've also been creating problems indoors. The kitchen tap has been leaking underneath for quite some time though a simple pot to catch the drips has been a decent solution till now. However, a week or so ago the tap itself began to drip; a drip which became steadily faster as the days went by. On Friday I got fed up enough with the constant splash splash splash to have a go at fixing it myself. You'd think by now with all the problems my attempts at DIY cause that alarm bells would have been ringing, but no. In my head I knew I could sort out the problem.

I shut off the water and then removed both the taps to see if I could spot a worn washer, but surprisingly they were all fine. A quick browse of the internet (fatal) told me that probably the ceramic discs inside the taps were faulty and that these were not something which could be repaired. Damn! Ever resourceful I wondered if maybe just sticking an extra random washer inside the hole where the tap went would make up for the damaged discs, and, having inserted a nice rubber washer, began to screw the tap back in. Unfortunately there was now not enough room for the tap to fit, so of course as I screwed it in, the force of it simply tore the casing in half completely. The tap was now completely and utterly destroyed and the water couldn't be turned back on. Disaster!

Luckily I had a big 10 litre emergency bottle of mineral water so I could have drinks, and the rain meant I could fill some buckets from the garden for toilet flushing. I'd also just had a shower that morning so wasn't desperately stinky.

Having ascertained I could buy a new tap in Dryanovo, I got up bright and early and set about unscrewing the entire tap unit so that I could make sure I got one a similar size to fit the sink. Well, it was totally rusted up and wouldn't budge at all, even after several doses of WD40. Time for my usual back-up plan - use brute force and don't worry about what gets destroyed along the way. I think they have a name for this... MIY - Machiavelli-It-Yourself.

The metal washer holding the tap in place from beneath the sink was duly twisted and mangled and the hole in the sink somewhat enlarged with the aid of a screwdriver which itself got bent to a 90 degree angle, but eventually, with a lot of wriggling, the tap was freed from the sink. I headed off to Dryanovo and was disappointed to discover the shop had only got taps more suited to bathrooms. However, needs must, so I just bought the cheapest one they had and got two hose attachments for under the sink thrown in for free.

Back home and armed with my shiny new non-rusty toys I figured installing the tap myself would be fairly simple and remarkably it was! I'm proud to say I had taken the precaution of labelling the hot water pipe when I removed the old tap so I even connected up the pipes the right way round. There was no washer to go round the top of the hole in the sink to seal it, so I cut one from my foam aerobics mat and used that instead. Once it was all done I very gingerly turned the water back on and was thrilled to find the tap worked and there were no leaks anywhere.

So now my kitchen has a lovely new bathroom sink tap which means I have to remove the washing up bowl in order to fill the kettle, but hey, running water and no drips!

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