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2015/02
Saturday 28th February, 2015
Category: 2015/02
Tags: Garden

The weather has continued to stay dry for several days now, so I've been able to tackle some more preparatory work in the garden.

I decided this year to make a list of all the seeds I have and to plan which ones are going to be sown directly into the garden, and which ones need to be started off in pots. Last year I remember having to re-sow several of the veggies either because I'd planted them too soon or they got damaged by unexpected bad weather, and the re-sown ones actually grew just as well as. So, according to my list, I'm going to do courgettes, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and runner beans in pots, and straight in the garden will go onion sets, lettuce, rocket, spinach, beetroot, leeks, carrots, radishes, sweetcorn, 'bob' beans, cabbage and some kind of winter root veg, possible swede. The butternut squash will hopefully just grow all by itself on the compost heap like last year.

Speaking of compost, I finally got round to turning it all over the other day (first time since early summer last year I think) and was thrilled to find that the soil lower down is absolutely full of tiny little red worms - a great sign that the compost is being actively broken down. I've used one of the old metal roof sheets to make a barrier in front of the heap and have turned and piled all the unrotted stuff behind it. Whilst doing this I managed to fill a large sack with good soil which I'll used for the seeds this year. I'll leave the compost uncovered till July so that it gets regularly rained on through spring, and then I'll cover it tightly in plastic so it gets really hot which will hopefully help it rot much more quickly.

In the shed I got all the empty yoghurt pots put out on trays and filled them with soil from the compost corner. There are 47 yoghurt pots altogether and they've been piled up in the mini greenhouse for a few days so that the soil can warm up before I sow seeds in it:

Last October I sowed lettuce seeds in a nursery bed, and although they grew fine they've remained only a few inches tall because I didn't have a decent cloche for them to develop under. They're all still fit and healthy though so I've transplanted some under the polytunnel for this spring.

The first major job in the main veggie patch though was getting all the tomato stakes in ready. I've planned to have 14 tomato plants and am having them at the end of the veggie patch nearest the house. I've used taller stakes this year and left a wider space down the middle, so that hopefully instead of trying to squeeze around the plants to pick tomatoes I can just have a wide walkway down the middle of them all.

In my head I can picture a lovely shady tomato archway, with me strolling down in dappled sunshine harvesting tons of juicy toms. Reality may be somewhat different!

I bought some red and white onions at the market last Friday (for three levs I think I have several hundred onions) and I've begun planting them. There are white ones between the lettuces and in a narrow bed where I've also sown carrots, and the red ones are along where the tomato plants will go. I've marked out where I'll plant the cucumbers and have scattered some more onions in and around those spots. Onions, onions, onions... and there are still half of them left!

Today I had a happy hour up on the landing planting seeds in the yoghurt pots. So far I've done cucumbers, two kinds of courgette, three varieties of tomato and two lots of sweet peppers. I'll leave the runner beans till later as they tend to germinate and grow quite quickly. The pots are all in mini-incubators or covered by half plastic bottles to keep them warm and moist. Hopefully by the time they germinate and get a few leaves it will be warm enough to have them out in the little greenhouse.

So, that's the preparations up to date. Oh, and a lesson learned from last year: Don't write seed labels on paper which then gets soaking wet and from which the writing disappears! Instead I've cut up some old detergent bottles into strips and written the labels on them in permanent marker. Very posh!

Thursday 26th February, 2015
Category: 2015/02
Tags: ceilidh

Last Saturday we had the first of hopefully many international celebrations in the village. It was organised by Jan along with her husband Ken and his band. I think I mentioned the band before when we had the jubilee concert late last year in the community centre. There's Ken who plays guitar and sings, a couple from Turkincha who play violins and Jacob, a Bulgarian who speaks flawless English and sings with the band. They call themselves The Wayfaring Strangers and perform a wide range of music including folk songs.

 

(The band minus Jacob, specially decked out for the occasion)

Jan and Ken hail from Scotland (as you might guess from the photo above), so Jan had the idea of holding a ceilidh during which we could have a go at Scottish folk dancing with Jan calling the instructions to us. As luck would have it the new smaller theatre room, which has been renovated from a dusty old store room over the past year, was almost ready for use and would be good enough to hold the ceilidh in. There was a bit of confusion about what exactly a ceilidh was and the Bulgarians got the idea that it would be a sit down concert with the audience just watching, so there had to be a bit of reorganising of chairs and tables, but come Saturday all was ready.

The new theatre room has had a stage built at one end with wooden steps leading up on to it and stage lighting added. The rest of the room is quite long and has been painted white, had the windows repaired and curtains added. The wood burner has been brought across from the old pensioners' club room and installed about halfway down the hall. It's bright and cheerful, and with the sun streaming through the windows along with the burner it was beautifully cosy. The only thing that's really left to do is some kind of flooring as at the moment it's just bare concrete. I think they would ideally like terracotta tiles but of course this is probably the most expensive option.

Some of us practised a few of the dances after aerobics on Wednesday so that we'd have an idea of what to do and could help the others (in theory!). Jan had no idea how many people would turn up but as it happens we were all shocked at the great response from the Bulgarians. I think all the seats were filled and some people were even standing. There were some drinks and snacks put out on the tables for people to help themselves to and then the concert began.

The band played some songs to begin with and then there was the first of our folk dances. It was mostly the ex-pats who joined in with the dancing though we did manage to persuade a couple of the Bulgarians to join in after a while. When you put poor timing, a lack of coordination and the inability to hold instructions in your head for more than five seconds together, the results are two hours of tremendous fun and laughter! Everyone, whether they danced or not, had a great time and the feedback from the community centre has been that the Bulgarians loved it. As an added bonus 100 levs was raised to go towards the new flooring in the hall which is a great result.

I really hope this is the first of many such events in Gostilitsa. With such occasions along with all the Bulgarian festivals, our village will not be one of those that fades slowly into non-existence but will be alive and thriving well into the future.

Thursday 19th February, 2015
Category: 2015/02
Tags: Trifon Zarezan Yalova Ponuda greenhouse

Last weekend was very busy in the village as there were two important celebrations. On Saturday 14th February it was Trifon Zarezan - yes it was also St Valentine's Day, but red roses and a box of choccies weren't a patch on our celebration. Trifon Zarezan is traditionally the day when the vines are pruned and the first cuttings are woven into a crown for the vine king. Women bake a round loaf decorated with the shape of a vine leaf and share it with neighbours, and any trees which did not bear fruit last year are cut down.

St Trifon was actually martyred during the Roman persecution of Christians but he is honoured as the patron saint of vineyards (he apparently did own a vineyard in real life).

Saturday was beautifully sunny so it was decided that we head off up to the top of the village where there are some picnic tables where we could have a shared meal. When we got up there we first cleared the snow off the benches and then the guys set about lighting a bonfire which we all gathered sticks for. Whilst the fire was building we unpacked the food we'd brought and shared it out, along with the wine of course.

Later on the embers were deemed hot enough to cook over, so the guys brought out the little metal grill to lay over the fire, greased the bars with chunks of pig fat and then laid out sliced onions, pork cutlets and a big curly sausage to cook.

I had some of the onions when they were cooked and they tasted delicious! We sat up there for several hours as the sun was so warm and had a thoroughly lovely afternoon.

On Sunday it was Yalova Ponuda, the day when the women of Gostilitsa go on a man hunt. Apparently there was a practise in the village in times gone by, that if a woman was childless for whatever reason the 'productive' hubbies were freely loaned out so to speak, in order that all women could have the chance of bearing a child. Nowadays the symbolic hunt begins with the women, dressed in their national costume, heading out to the shops and bar to accost any men they come across (who take it all in good sport).

When a man is found, the women start to lift him in the air under the threat of carrying him away unless he buys his freedom. The man then drops some money into the apron of one of the women. To encourage generous giving, Deshka carried a baby (okay a doll) strapped to her back and another in her arms and pleaded for money to help feed the hungry children.

As usual, some men scarpered and tried to hide but they were soon rooted out.

After the hunt there was the fertility ritual for the women which consists of sprinkling some herbs on to a shovelful of glowing embers to create a lot of smoke, and this is then wafted between your legs. I guess it worked for me last year as I now have two more cats and dog which I didn't have before!

The money is then spent on food and wine for a celebratory party.

This coming weekend we have a ceilidh and then it will soon be time to make martenitsas, celebrate Baba Marta, decorate eggs for Easter... the Bulgarian year just isn't long enough for all the festivities!

I've started preparations for the veggie garden this past week or so and have been trying to come up with solutions to the problem of how to give the seedlings the best start. Germinating them is no problem as the house is plenty warm enough, but the lack of light is an issue, even more so with the roof extensions over the balcony and patio. I found last year that the seedlings began to get leggy and yellow but it was far too cold to put them outside even during the sunny days. So I've set about creating some cold frames.

You might remember the plastic bottle greenhouse project I've begun. This is still underway but the bottle collecting is taking some time and so won't be ready for this year. Instead, I've come up with two other ideas.

The first is a more efficient poly tunnel. In Praktiker they were selling metal grids, 2 by 1 meter, for just under 6 levs each. I bought twelve and have put a double layer of plastic sheeting between pairs of them and used cable ties to fasten the grids tight over the plastic. I then bent up the two ends of the grids so I can weight them down with rocks. The grids are then curved to create a tunnel under which I can have young plants growing, protected from heavy rain, snow, frost etc.

At the moment I've got lettuce seedlings in there but as the year goes on I can use the grids flat to make a cage over taller plants. I can even prop the grids up on the balcony to stop snow blowing in. Multi purpose protection!

Of course this is just for plants once they're in the ground, the seedlings need somewhere even warmer. For them I've built a mini greenhouse out of the old wooden windows which were removed last year when I had the new double glazing put in.

The front windows open so I can get the plants in and out easily. I'll probably make some sort of shelving too so that I can have two or three layers of seedlings in there. I put the thermometer in there to check. It was 12 degrees outside in the sun, and within a few minutes it had gone to about 25 inside.

Today I put the geraniums, pepper plant and rosemary in there to get a good dose of sunshine. It stayed beautifully warm inside (high twenties) though by about 3.30pm it began to drop to 15 degrees so I brought the plants back in. Considering the outside temperature was only just above zero all day I think the greenhouse worked great.  Hopefully this year the seedlings will get nice and strong even if we have a cold wet spring like last year.

 

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