Tuesday - October 9, 2012

I am finding space again to do some short daily updates … that signifies a good thing for me ๐Ÿ™‚

Andreea is still away attending to another home-birth in Bucharest. There are signs that birth is nearing … so hopefully she’ll be home again in a few days (before heading out to another birth … and then another).

Today I finished assembly and finishing of our new winter door. It’s an outer door in addition to the existing door. Currently in its place we have a light summer-door – which is a framed net to keep flying things out during the summer. The new winter door is essentially a wooden box (though with a few neat, for me, tricks) which houses a 5cm thick layer of insulation. Maybe this year out kitchen won’t kitchen/hall won’t freeze like it did last year.

I’ve almost finished insulating the water pipes inside the house. It has turned to be a mean project. I had to take apart quite a bit (almost everything) to get the insulation on properly. This seemed to lead to a leak from the main water supply into the house (the whole thing was already fragile from freezing last winter) from both the main connection and from the flow-splitter attached to it. I’ve assembled a replacement assembly for this … now waiting for someone to be here with me so that I can disconnect the old assembly and put in the new one without pushing the water supply hose outside.

A couple weeks ago I finished insulation the grey-water line existing the house. Today I built an ad-hoc cover (from scrap wood) to our “hole-in-the-ground” grey water treatment facility. Next it will be covered by straw-bales and plastic to keep the rain off … so hopefully that doesn’t freeze either.

There is still some insulation work to do on the concrete man-hole boxes (one with the pump next to the well, the other where there the supply is splite to numerous destinations).ย  A guy was supposed to come here today to help me do that (in exchange for some work I let him do in my workshop) …. he didn’t show up ๐Ÿ™ Except for a few small touches that should keep us with running water through the freezing winter … I hope!

In the coming days I hope to resume the last big project for this year … the second rocket stove for our day-room (last year we spent almost the entire winter in the bedroom). I have almost all the materials … but I need to get back into the “rocket zone” to do this properly.

And all the time cutting more wood … some of it for this winter, some of it for future winters (unlike typical Romanians we prefer to feed our rocket stoves with dry wood).

Also collected another batch of dried apples from our solar driers … great stuff … if the sun comes out tomorrow I hope to get another batch in ๐Ÿ™‚

Flock is fed and watered, dog are fed … I am hungry … so off to whip something up for dinner and take a load off.

How Not to Change Romania

This morning I came across this video via BucharestLife – it’s in Romanian so you may want to turn on captions (a “cc” button appears after play begins):

I happened to come across this because I live in Romania and a bit more attentive to it then other places in the world … but I imagine this is a scene that repeats itself many times all over the world … which just makes it all the more powerful. The behavior of the police was most disquieting.

It’s already quite obvious to most people that economic patterns we have taken for granted all of our lives don’t quite work for us. But I believe the problem goes much deeper then economics. Here we can see that the legal patterns we think protect and uphold society us are also collapsing.

I feel privileged to be witnessing intense evolutionary changes happening on so many fronts. And with that in mind I return again to Robert Pirsig’s insight on this subject:

If you donโ€™t like our present social system or intellectual system the best thing you can do โ€ฆ is stay out of their way.

Permaculture Reality Check

I am undecided about Paul Wheaton’s podcasts. Many (most?) times I feel like I need to patiently wait through annoying chitter-chatter … however I do occasionally come across ones that are interesting and valuable. I just finished listening to one of my all time favorites The Realities of Practical Permaculture – Dell Artemis Farm.

Very few things in real life are as they seem to be in the books (this is true for Permaculture and almost anything else I can think of). Theoretical knowledge is one thing and practical application a whole other thing. I think a warning about this gap should be placed in large bold type-face on every permaculture publication … kind of like the warnings they have on cigarette boxes. But this isn’t the case and as a result learning about permaculture and sustainability creates illusions … and those illusions come crashing down when you hit the ground … and that pain can be avoided or the fall softened. This podcast does just that. If you are thinking of embarking on a permactulrue-esque life … listen to this podcast.

Nothing is ever as easy as it seems to be in the books or articles or even classes. Circumstances (soil, climate, culture, finances, skills, resources …) trump theories every time. If you are not prepared to experiment and fail and experiment and fail … again and again … a lot … then don’t head out on this road.

I completely agree with the notion that self-sustainability is a bullshit notion which is more likely to lead to misdirection and frustration than to inspiration. There is practically no such thing as self-sustainability. You can move towards a more self-sustainable life but true sustainability can only be achieved within circles of community. Community is one of the most complex and mysterious concepts I have come across … don’t take it for granted.

For example: we built our hugelkultur beds in the spring. It was too late for them to absorb water and get us through the summer drought. Yet we did a few experiments and lost most of our produce … we learned a lot but produced very little food. We were able to do this by purchasing the food we needed from neighbors. Those neighbors are growing food in traditional farming with a lot of work and risks and depletion of natural resources. They are supporting our research efforts. Those research efforts will hopefully come up with alternatives methods of growing food which they will be able to learn from and adapt to their needs. That is community.

Infrastructures first. Every time. Andreea is dying to bring a couple of goats on the farm and I am constantly the bad guy (and also the one who shoulders most of the regular tasks that need to be done around here) by refusing to even consider it before we have the necessary infrastructures in place (pasture and paddocks, yearly food cycle and supply, water, winter sheltering …). Those infrastructures will take years to build (once we have the money to get some of them started). Infrastructures make the difference between a life of pleasant work and a life of slavery. I did not come here to become a slave.

 

Crafts

This is one direction I’d love to see develop in Romania and become a key local and national resource:

Via Grant Blakeman

Joy & Jam

Joy

Twice a week we purchase fresh milk from a family in a neighboring village. It can be a pleasant walk if weather is nice, but I usually drive there. This brings with it an odd joy. I say odd because (1) I don’t experience much happiness (not because it isn’t there but rather something about me) and (2) for the ife of me I cannot understand why this, of all things, does, actually make me happy. I usually forget to bring my camera with me, but this morning, as I was stepping out, I remembered to take it.

The dogs usually come running after the car. Indy is always there and goes the longest distance. Rex will usually come along for the run but won’t go as far as Indy. Ricky will sometimes come out and if she goes far enough I stop and take her into the car so that she doesn’t get into trouble with other dogs on the way (she is a small dog). This morning all three joined me.

This is Ricky running alongside the car on the way there (just before I stopped and took her into the car):

This is Rex heading in the same direction:

This is Indy on the way back. This is my precious moment of joy. I just love watching her run trying to lead the way and then diving into the corn field. The images don’t quite work … she was ahead of me and I was trying to catchup with her to shoot her through the window … so I was driving faster then I should on an downhill dirt path through a field looking in the wrong direction ๐Ÿ™‚

I never grow bored of watching Indy race me home through a field of corn. It keeps making me … inexplicably happy ๐Ÿ™‚

Jam

This morning came with an extra bonus. The older generation of the family we get our milk from were busy making prune jam and I got to witness some cool village-tech – and thanks to the dogs I had my camera with me. They have this super contraption setup where an electric engine is used to drive a mixing paddle in a giant metal pot sitting on a fire in which they are cooking their prune jam (from prunes harvested from the yard directly behind them).

Last week Levente came by and I helped him fix a similar wooden mixing paddle that broke off at the end. The paddle itself is + shaped and is contoured to fit snugly to the bottom of the pot. Levente’s version was a manually operated one with a lever that swings from side to side. We are still amateurs and use a big wooden spoon ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

Thursday - September 6, 2012

It’s been a while since I’ve written anthing here … that is mostly due to me slowing down a bit … my breathing told me I reached a point of over-doing … so much so that I couldn’t ignore it anymore and decided to slow down and due less. I’m still doing quite a lot but I am leaving aside anything that doesn’t feel highly important … and that included writing.

Still much has been happening … and I am still not inclined to do a recollection … however I do want to make a note of this day.

We are already well into our winter-food-preservation efforts. Yesterday we went to purchase from Ildi & Levente tomatoes for making tomato-sauce (some of which we use for making other preservatives – namely Zakuska – and most of which we keep as is). We purchased “second-rate” tomatoes that are not “presentable” enough to be sold to customers … they were not visually pleasing and over-ripe and some of them were stained on the bottom due to a calcium deficiency due to lack of water) … perfect for tomato sauce.

This morning we set out toย  make the sauce. This is our second time doing this so we already have some kind of routine. The freshly squeezed tomato sauce was absolutely delicious … very sweet … and because the tomatoes were very ripe … they were loaded with juices … so we realized we were going to get much more sauce out of every kilogram of tomatoes. We quickly realized that the pots we had would not be sufficient … so we borrowed their large iron pot. When I went to pick it up, Ildi greeted me with another carton+ of tomatoes she wanted us to have (she was uncomfortable selling us the lower-grade tomatoes, had just collected these tomatoes and had no time to process them) … so now we had even more tomato sauce heading our way.

The pot worked amazingly well on the rocket-stove. At one point we realized we could use some help if we wanted to get this done today so we asked Maria (our neighbor) if she can spare us some time. She gladly came to help and sped things up. We wanted to make ~25 liters of tomato sauce. About two hours after Maria joined us we were looking at a 69 liter pot that was almost filled. This was my first time this close to a 69 liter pot … and seeing it full … is well … a site to see ๐Ÿ™‚

We ended up bottling 45 liters and the rest (~10 liters) we gave to Maria. It was a long day – 12 hours of physical work. The weather was a blessing. It was cloudy which meant we could work through the whole day (our work space gets direct sun for 3 or 4 hours during the middle of the day – making it uncomfortable to work in when its hot out). It even started to drizzle … so we asked the clouds to wait a little longer … and the drizzling stopped. At the end of the day the clouds parted and let in beautiful golden end-of-the-day light.

Our flock had a wonderful time feeding on the leftovers … they love to help on such days ๐Ÿ™‚ This time of year is probably their favorite ๐Ÿ™‚ The color of their poop changes according to what we are making … on a day like today … it gets reddish ๐Ÿ™‚ Much of the “waste” is still sitting outside … tomorrow our flock will have another go at it and the rest will go to Maria’s pig.

We are very tired and very content. This is a kind of day that leaves us immersed in a feeling of simple and powefful abundance – a blessed existence.

Walking Away From the King

I’ve donated to a Kickstarterย  project called Money & Life. You can read more about why I donated to it on my personal blog. I am continuing to take in any existing video content I can find and I arrived at this too-short video … which touches precisely on the movitation for Cutia Taranului. I invite you to watch it and head over to the Kickstarter project page and make a donation. I really want to see this film and I want it to be available for many others to see.

 

This is the video that introduces the project:

Animal Report – Summer 2012

There’s been an accumulation of animal-related anecdotes that we’ve experienced … though some may seem unimportant or funny I do feel there is a lot to learn from them … so I’ll just put down those I can recollect for us to remember and you to do with as you please ๐Ÿ™‚

Chicks and Chickens

We had an egg fertility problem with the chickens. Very few of our eggs hatched. We believe it was because there were 2 cocks for 6 hens. ย The cocks were constantly running interference preventing each other from mounting the hens … which may have resulted in poor fertilization. We eventually (too late to matter for this season) culled one of the cocks. We had 4 brooders – one of our own hens and 3 lent to us by our neighbors. The first two hatched 3 and 4 chicks which have been living together as a group of 7. The third sat on eggs from our neighbors and had a much better clutch of ~12 chicks. The fourth hatched 4 chicks.

We were actually “fortunate” that not many of our hens became broody because when hens are broody they don’t lay eggs. If you only have 5 or 6 hens and some of them are broody then egg production can drop pretty fast. For us even 2 or 3 eggs a day is way more then we need … but this can be an issue.

During all of this we moved chickens into the electric-netting and mobile shelter setup. Quite a few of the chickens jumped over the net. We clipped most of their flying wings … and most have taken to staying put inside the net. However one stubborn hen is the third broody (our) broody hen that sat on eggs from our neighbors. We have clipped both her wings and still she jumps over the net. Naturally, her chicks followed her as they are still very small and can simply walk through the netting (even though it is netting made especially for chickens).

We moved mother and chicks back into the fence perimeter a couple of times but then gave up on it … it seemed pointless. A few days ago we heard a sudden disturbance – we lost 2 of the roaming chicks to a fox in the orchard behind the house. One chick disappeared and another I found lying dead in the grass.

In addition, in recent days the hen has decided that her mothering role is over – she is no longer calling out to the chicks, she is allowing the cock to mount her and we think she is laying eggs. We have put her back into the fence perimeter and she is staying put. We have also put the chicks into the fence perimeter and they are not staying put – they are all over the place. We can (and have many times) herded them back into the fence … but they quickly go roaming again. We are not fighting it. We send them back whenever we can, we are hoping they will soon grow to be too large to leave … and hope that until then most survive predator attacks.

Ducklings and Ducks

We had 18 muscovite ducklings. We have kept them in a small mobile shelter together with their mother. We move the shelter around to keep them on as much green as possible. We let them graze freely a bit at the beginning of the day (on their way into the shelter) and at the end of the day ย (on their way back home to the barn) – they stay together and make the journey either way pretty much on their own. During two “end-of-the-day” journeys we lost 5 ducklings (2 the first time and 4 the second). We’ve been keeping a closer watch.

Side story: My grandmother on my father’sย  side used to make a typical Romanian dish … a kind of gelatinous pie made from boiled chicken feet. It has some chicken meat in it and is much loved in our family. My grandmother on mother’s side was Polish … she didn’t really like cooking but did enjoy having the family over. She was also in a kind of popularity competition with my other grandmother. At some point she too started making the same Romanian dish. However since she didn’t really care for cooking this dish came out a bit more “dangerous” when she made it because it had some pieces of bone in it … you had to eat it carefully. My younger sister was very small and I recall feeling discomfort whenever she ate the “dangerous” version of the dish. She was used to eating it in a care free way because my Romanian grandmother was very pedantic in her cooking … there were no bones. But I would cringe every time she ate the “dangerous” version in the same care-free way.

Ducks, being water fowl, are fairly clumsy walkers (compared to chickens). They are relatively heavy and strong animals and have impressive/massive webbed feet. Mother duck trampled two of her ducklings. One we found stiff-dead with a broken neck,ย  the other we found lying on its side and managed to recuperate. I used to think it was cute the way the little ducklings follow their mother around in a single line. Now I cringe, much like I did for my younger sister, for the ducklings directly behind their mother afraid she will crush them without even blinking. Oh well.

Dogs and Bites

Andreea has mostly healed from her encounter with Rex the latest member in our pack of dogs. During the first days he was tied but now he is free most of the time. He is a great dog. He is very responsive, very energetic and very soft (even when he is bursting with energy). There is still friction between him and Loui … both will soon be castrated and that should help them get along better. For now we have to be attentive to them and let them know that neither one of them is in charge … that we are. Loui is usually the instigator … so he usually gets most of the attention.

When they share a common enemy the dogs are a very cohesive pack. They run out into the field together, attack together and bark together during the night. Rickyhas “grown” but is still a ridiculous excuse for a dog. A few days ago I found a dead fox lying in the grass between the house and the raised beds. I felt (a) sorry for the fox; (b) proud of our dogs; (c) relieved for our flock. The fox has been tossed into the compost pile (as was the dead chick).

Bees and Honey

The first of our hives is very well established. We have added and the bees have populated many frames. When I inspected it a couple of weeks ago there were quite a few frames filled with honey – even though we have had a rough season bee-wise (too much rain in the spring, disappoint acacia tree blooms, too hot in the summer).

A few days ago when I went out to harvest a couple of frames I was surprised to find that the bees had consumed quite a bit of honey. I decided not to take any for now. We’ll check again in a month or so and see what is available. Our priority is to leave the bees all the honey they need for winter so we don’t know if we’ll get any for ourselves this year.

The second hive is also coming along quite well. It is lagging behind the first hive because we made its transition a few after the first hive. There isn’t too much honey production but there is quite a lot of brood and they are making very nice progress building foundation. If necessary we will transfer some of the honey bars from the first hive to the second one to make sure they get through winter OK.

The third hive did not catch on. There are still some bees in it but there isn’t a queen and not much brood left. There was some brood and signs that the bees were trying to raise a queen but it doesn’t look like that worked out well.

Just Plain Funny

A couple of days ago I am standing on the gravel road that leads to Bhudeva and all four dogs are all around me. Suddenly, out of the weeds/grass appears a small creature that looked like a cross between a ferret and a mouse. In it’s mouth was a beautiful green lizard it had probably just caught. It shot into the middle of the road, ย found itself amongst 4 dogs and a giant (me) and there was a looooong moment of silence. The creature dropped the lizard … still silence. Then everyone snapped … some of the dogs went after the creature, some stayed to examine the lizard. I called out to Andreea to come and see the lizard in the middle of the road … and most of us lived happily ever after ๐Ÿ™‚

Farmageddon

Farmageddon is one example of what THEM can do … AND THEY COME WITH GUNS … this is what “naturally” comes together with “comfortable” supermarket chains and their agro-businesses cousins:

Again I am thankful that Romania is “far behind” enough to still try reaching away from and beyond such grotesque aberrations.

As I write these words the entire movie is available for viewing:

Last Minute Cacellations

It’s summer time and people are naturally moving around more … goin away on vacation … and this has generated some friction with Cutia Taranului. People have been making last minute cancellations. Sometimes the cancellation is done responsibly … the peasant is notified a week in advance or by email. But sometimes they are occuring irresponsibly … cancelling by telephone or email a day or two before delivery or even not being at home and not answering a phone when delivery is already in progress.

It is fairly clear, to me and I hope to others, that the irresponsible behavior is … well irresponsible, inexcusable, disrepsectul … and should simply not happen. That is easy and obvious. However it is the “responsible” cancellation that I want to address.

Cutia Taranului is about fostering a mutual, complimentary and stable relationship between peasants and members. That last part … stable is a key ingredient. It is a peasant’s responsibility to grow and deliver food regularly … that is obvious to everyone (though it is far from trivial). But what about a member’s responsibility to stablity? If this is to be a mutual and reciprocal relationship … how should a member who goes on vacation for a week behave? The easy and again obvious solution is to cancel the delivery for that week. But is there a better solution … one that is built around a mutual aspiration for stabiity and reliability? For example, if you are going out of town for a week how about giving your box to a neighbor or family relative? Maybe they will enjoy it so much that they too will want to join the box?

If you shop in the supermarket then one of the inherent luxuries is that you only shop when you need and want to. Is it obvious that this behavior should be applied to Cutia Taranului? We can tell you for a fact that in some cases peasants DO NOT sell available produce in city markets because they prioritize and set it aside for their Cutia Taranului boxes. We can tell you for a fact that some products such as baked goods begin days in advance … the boxes are prepared fresh and by order. How can you, as box members reciprocate this commitment? Should you? I don’t have a clear answer … but I do believe that the question needs to be asked and that conscious and responsible decisions can be valuable. Don’t you?

If you have udeas on how to deal with this situation responsibly as a box-member then please leave a comment so that others may benefit from your approach to this issue.