Cutia Taranului – Celebrating Romanian Peasants

During the time we’ve been here in Romania we have taken an interest in the way of life we have chosen for ourselves – a sustainable and abundant peasant(ish) life. One of my first impressions of Romania (from my first visit here in 2009) was of the market in Piatra Neamt – I was blown away by the abundance, quality and affordable prices of vegetable produce in Romania. My jaw literally dropped, especially when I realized what a heaven this could be for a vegetarian like myself. Mind you this was in December – winter time when there the market offerings are not nearly as rich as in spring and summer.

However when, less then a year later, we arrived in Cluj, my impression of the market was … disappointing, especially since I expected to find an even richer offering since Cluj is a larger city and in Transylvania (west Romania) which is considered a more economically and culturally developed then Moldova (east Romania). The market had much less to offer and the prices were much higher.

Since this is intended to be a celebratory post I will keep my rant short. The peasant way of life in Romania is under a relentless attack from many directions. However we believe that the peasant way of life is not just a wonderful path towards an abundant life but is a strategic national resource in terms of sustainability. Simply put: Romania is still a country that can feed itself and that makes it a rare and special place on this planet. We feel that should be nurtured and protected.

With that in mind and heart, and as a celebration of both spring and Romanian Peasants, we are excited and happy to share with you a project, one that has been slowly brewing for almost a year. At first it was just an idea we tossed around openly. Then, shortly after moving out to Mociu we met Ildi and Levente, neighbors and peasants from whom we purchased most of our winter food supply (an abundance we are still enjoying), who, despite their justified skepticism listened to what we had to say and ultimately agreed to partake in our little experiment. Our idea was to create an alternate sales channel that would enable peasants to directly bring their produce to city-customers in a simple, reliable and sustainable way (bypassing the existing obstacles and abuses peasants have to deal with). The code name for the project was “Peasant Box” which in Romanian translates into “Cutia Taranului”.

The idea isn’t original, it has been applied in various forms in many places around the world. Peasant families offer boxes of produce that are delivered directly to customers in the city. Customers in the city can choose a box they would like delivered to them but not it’s exact contents. The contents of these boxes are a result of a delicate and miraculous collaboration between a peasant family, their work and Mother Nature. Therefore it changes with the moods of nature and the seasons of the year. By joining a box customers get healthy fresh food and a direct, continuous and co-supportive relationship with a peasant family.

Currently the project is an experiment with one peasant family. All it takes is 50 families in the city of Cluj-Napoca for them to sell almost all of their produce (available as either a small or large box). It would guarantee them a steady and reliable income without having to pay the outragous fees of the city markets and without having to stand in the markets long days. There are other long term benefits – but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves πŸ™‚ If this experiment works we hope to see many more boxes being offered by peasants to cities all over Romania.

All that is left is to invite you to have a look at Cutia Taranului, and if you live in Cluj-Napoca maybe you too can enjoy the wonderful produce that Ildi and Levente grow πŸ™‚

Sunday - March 18, 2012

strange day of soft doings … really warm weather … we hired a local to clean out the front yard (may take 2 weeks) … took some photographs of/at Ildi and Levent, I saw bees in hives incuding eggs and a queen … and … well … feeling calm and tired – strange mix πŸ™‚

Saturday - March 17, 2012

Another sunny and even warmer day … bare arms were spotted in the fields πŸ™‚

I started with (finally) installing a light at the entry to the house. I couldn’t detect a current in the existing -lamp wires and we prefer to avoid playing with any existing wires so it doesn’t crumble and fail the entire house. So I installed new cable running through a broken part of a window into the bedroom – and to turn on the light we need to plug the cable in. Clumsy … bet there is light πŸ™‚

As I was doing this I saw that our neigbhors were pruning their trees and they had piled together a bunch of cut branches and were preparing to torch them. I sent Andreea to them and she stopped them and we got two nice piles of tree trimmings. We carried to our property the trimming that had already been cut and they were kind enough to carry the additional trimmings close and onto our property. They couldn’t understand (a) why we were collecting their garbage and (b) how come we really weren’t turning the land in our fields. Hint – the two are connected – raised beds πŸ™‚ We’ve already started piling up bits of trees for our first raised bed … and they made a nice donation to that effortΒ  … more to come on that soon.

Then we got on with our main project for today – getting started with the temporary green-house for getting our seeds started early. We hacked together a slightly raised frame (all scrap wood) in the field next to the well (so watering should be easy). Andreea filled it with cuttings (see above mentioned neighbors pile) so there to we would enjoy some water retention capabilities (and be less dependent on watering).

In the cuttings we found two that looked like willows – so we planted them too … potentially two new trees πŸ™‚

And to bring the work-day to its end I hauled up 4 wheelbarrows of horse-manure – also a gift from our neighbors (who’s son hauled up the 5th and last batch). That was a difficult (uphill) task … pooped (some pun intended) me out πŸ™‚

Next up is putting in arches from willow cuttings, filling it with dirt mixed together with the horse-manure, buying a plastic cover and setting up a fence around it to keep the chickens out (hopefully in a few months the chickens will be fenced in … making gardening life easier for us).

Friday - March 16, 2012

Today was a special day. The sun came out, there was no wind (the two previous days were very windy and we didn’t feel welcome outside to work), snow has almost disappeared (except for a few patches here and there) … and we had a lovely day of work. At first we both dressed in our thermal layers but we both quickly came back inside to take them off. It was really warm.

Our project for the day was organizing the half of the barn in which the flock lives. We are getting plenty of eggs and even the ducks have begun laying. Brooding season is just around the corner and we prepared nesting and brooding boxes (which we can completely isolate when necessary) for the flock to get used to. We converted two old crates that were lying around into “duplex nests”. I got the tops detached and built separators in each box while Andreea cleaned them out and painted with with lime. We also built an improvised space that can be closed off for two more nests for the ducks. So we are pretty much good to go. We have started setting aside eggs … so … now we wait πŸ™‚

And …. drum roll … we spoke to the internet guy again … and he apologized, said he had no more excuses and will come next week to get everything going. That would be soooo great πŸ™‚

2nd 1st Shower

The day before yesterday I managed to get running water into the house again. Yesterday morning I was relieved to see the infrastructure survived the still freezing night temperatures. It was flowing just fine. Yesterday evening we showered again .. for the 2nd 1st time … and it was just as wonderful as the 1st 1st shower.

Warning – true story ahead. Some years ago (while still living in a city in Israel) I needed to make a large batch of tea (I don’t remember why). I remember standing in the kitchen wondering how to go about it. In my mind I saw a bunch of cups on the counter with a tea bag in each. It felt too complicated. Andreea caught me pondering and suggested I simply put the tea bags in a large pot with hot water. At the time it seemed like a genius solution … and no I am not really that stupid I was however “programmed” to doing these a certain way. One things “programs” fail to do is deal with things for which they aren’t programmed.

Living here in Bhudeva has drastically changed the way I do things. Not only am I required to learn lots of new things (right now there are more new and unknowns in my life then there old knowns) but I am required to change how I learn. What does all this have to do with a shower?

Well showering is a program like any other. When we first arrived here we didn’t have running water. My “shower programming” went haywire. Fortunately Andreea knew of an alternative “village bathing” program. It’s pretty simple: All you need is a small plastic tub (large enough for you to sit in), some heated water mixed together with cold water and a small rag. You start with your face when the water is cleanest and soap-less. You can sit in or over the tub for washing your genitals. Then you use the rag to wash your body part by part. If you happen to be a couple then a “village bath” can be a wonderful gift of grooming … and beyond πŸ™‚

I was fascinated to learn that it is possible to bathe without electricity or running water. I was also amazed at how little water is needed for it (talk about sustainability). But more importantly I learned (yet again) to be adaptive and flexible. I felt empowered by it.

If you live in a city and depend on electricity and running water and they fail (which they occassionally do) there is nothing you can about it. You are helpless. When we purchased our pump I remember thinking what we would it should if fail? should we get a spare pump? what it if fails in winter and we are snowed in and we can’t get to the city to get a new pump? Well those questions have been answered … and the answers are simple and peaceful. When we were without running water for a few weeks we still had waterΒ  – of course we had to schlepp buckets from the well … but we had a well with water for shlepping. Our rocket stove (which requires schlepping of wood) continues to generate heat without electricity. Our practiced ability to live and function independently is empowering and liberating – it is a core skill in moving towards a sustainable life.

However it was fantastic to stand in our home-made shower with running hot water again πŸ™‚

Friday - March 9, 2012

We have been going through another period of freezing temperatures in the night, some days warm up others do not.

In the last few days I have renewed my effort to restore our running water. It was quite an obstacle course. First getting the pump working indicated a pressure problem which led me to check the pipe going into the well only to find it was ruptured due to freezing. So we had to go to the city to get a new pipe, got the wrong size (long story – take nothing for granted is all I would say at this point … got pissed off. Tried to make use of the wrong sized pipe. Failed. We drove to the city again (this time also to check up on an opportunity to buy a second hand polytunnel – which turned out to be not that good of a deal) … got new pipe.

Today I got back to work. Almost everything had frozen again … and after a long day of work I am happy to say that it looks like we have running water again. I honestly do not know if it will survive a freezing night … but at this point all I can do is hope for the best. Everything is better protected but still not fool-proof. Tomorrow I will take care of the plumbing leading water out the house and maybe we’ll be able goΒ  shower at home again πŸ™‚

Thursday - March 1, 2012

We’ve been silent because 1) not too much has been happening and 2) Andreea was ill after which 3) I was shortly ill. We’re both much better now … though both bodies are still slowly recuperating.

We had a really nice today – March 1st is considered the official beginning of spring in Romania … and it really came off as such. After two freezing days, today was sunny and relatively warm. It’s a new sensational experience for me – white still being the dominant color in our south-facing hill across from the house … yet warm. The mud is a giveaway – white is slowly giving way to brown. I am not yet at peace with mud … especially ours which is clay-rich … so really slimy and extra muddy. It’s amazing (for me) to see puddles on exposed earth – indicating that the soil is saturated with water.

We went out to the village center for a small celebretory cake and coffee. We got before the guy who brings our milk (he usually leaves it there and we pick it up later in the day) and so we met with him too, paid him for the February milk and collected the fresh bottle. We spoke to my parents to let them know we are both well, picked up a couple of things in the hardware store, postoffice … and headed home. Andreea took in some sun while I changed to work clothes and got to work.

Yesteday Levente was here and helped me work on getting our water flow restored. I won’t bore you with the details … we made great progress (though still no running water) … and we had to protect everything from freezing again (as we may still get frosts during the night). That included covering the well itself with a temporary plastic cover – the well acts as a cold sink … and the pipe running down into the water can freeze. So today I headed into the workshop and got to work on a proper well-cover. I had a great time … hacked together a cover that is partly anchored and partly opening. Got it done and assembled and all went well. It was a f first “all nail” project … except for drilling the concrete (I really hate working with concrete) of the well-casing.

Meanwhile Andreea got to work on our deteriorating kitchen space and cleaned stuff up there. We are now indoors, the rocket is warming up the room, water is heating for a “Romanian village bath” … and evening is upon us.

It’s nice to be gradually coming out of winter hibernation. This will be out first spring here (we first saw the place in winter and moved here in the following summer). We’ve got a current list of projects to get started on … and as weather permits we are heading into another round of creation πŸ™‚

Weather Report – February 2012

I am not sure this post will be of much interest to others readers. It is intended more of a short documentation of weather patterns for us to reference in future years. I am writing it now because we are seeing a clear transition into spring and it seems worth noting.

Winter started early with a 2+ week wave of frozen tempretaures (everything outside frosted white) in late October. It was very cold and dry – we didn’t get much rain neither in the summer nor in the autumn. At first it felt like we skipped over autumn directly into winter but then the temperatures went up again – drastically. It was surprsinginly pleasant outside and we were gifted with more days of work … we worked all the way up to Christmas eve … and still there was no snow.

There were only occassional days of sunshine in December and January, more, though still relatively few, in February. I do not recall how it was during November.

Snows came in January and while other of Romania were covered by snow we had a pleasant snowfall. I think that in the open undisturbed fields it accumulated to ~70cm.

Spring emerged suddenly a week ago (~Feb 21) when we awoke to windows without any ice and drastically warmer temperatures. At first with some sunshine and on the 3rd day we had full sunshine.Β  We were told that temperatures reached as high as 10c. There were signs of snow-melting all around. Then, after the sunshine, came two frozen days … ice on the windows and on the door handle.

Today we had partly cloudy weather and it became windy. The levels of accumulated are definitely coming down. Most of the south-facing land is already completely melted and the view that was white is now brown. All of the rest of the fields are still snow-white and areas around the house are a mixture of snow, slush and mud.

 

24 Hours of … I Kid You Not

Yesterday we had a city day. We went to pick up the chainsaw that was finally fixed and to do laundry (and shower πŸ™‚ at Nora’s place (no running water at home). The day started out with doubts about going it. We had a fresh snowfall and I wasn’t keen on testing the car and my driving skills in fresh snow. The forecast was that even more snow as expected in the coming days so after going back and forth about it we decided to head out.

The car was fine as was my driving. The most difficult part is the 200 meter road immediately leaving Bhudeva, the next though less difficult part is the road after that (another kilometer or so) and after that its pretty much smooth sailing. The main roads are kept clean and driving on them is fine. We made two or three small stops to get a few things then collected the chainsaw and then headed to Nora’s place. Two washing machines, two showers and about 6 hours later we headed back home. The drive back was OK (we took longer then we had hoped for so we drove back on the dark) because there wasn’t too much snowfall that day.

When we got home I tried to pull in to the driveway, as I usually, do in reverse. That’s when things started to take a turn – my instinct is to say “for the worse” … but I don’t really feel that way. After a bit of back and forth and trapping the car in the snow we decided to give up and get back to it next morning, in daylight. We left the car literally blocking the road to Bhudeva – no one could enter or drive past us (not that anyone does).

Andreea went ahead to open the house while I started carrying some things inside (mostly the wet laundry we wanted to hang to dry and not leave in the car to freeze during the night). Inside Andreea realized that once again, divine intervention was working for us. The wood on top of and next to the rocket stove had burned completely – only ashes were left. We keep as much wood as close as possible to the rocket so that it dries before we use it. This has never happened to us while we are at home. This is 2nd time it happened. The previous time it was minor, this is time is was more drastic. It can only be divine intervention that prevented more damage to the house or its contents.

However we had a smoke filled house. Needless to say our plans for hanging laundry to dry and a quiet evening went out the door – as the door was open so that smoke would leave and fresh air would enter. Everything in the bedroom is covered with a thin dark film of I don’t know what. All of our remaining clothes now reek of smoke and some of them (the top ones in every pile) are also dirty. We went to sleep with watery eyes and heavy breath. Sleep isn’t really the right word here … as the entire event had an entire mystic context that went on throughout the night and does not have a place in this blog post.

We got up the following morning … dazed. We started to get things in order and had plans to go visit with our neighbors Ildi and Levente. At one point I walked past the car and noticed that one of the tires looked a bit flat. I kept an eye out on it until it became clear we had a flat tire … well not yet flat … but definitely heading in that direction. So we paused everything and headed out to the village to get the tire fixed. There are to tire-repair shops in the village. One was closed because its owner broke his leg. The other was closed because the owner was away for the winter months working in another country.

So we had two options. One was to change the tire to a spare (which I had never seen, let alone knew its condition) and the other was to drive to the next closest repair shop – just outside Cluj – a 30km drive. We were bummed by having to drive almost all the way to Cluj because we already had plans to go back to Nora to do a whole day of laundry (complete with drying). Levente suggested we come to his place to change the tire so he can (a) help and (b) if things didn’t work out with the spare – he could take the tire and get it fixed as he was planning to go to Cluj the next day or the day after.

So we decided to go to Ildi and Levente. However I accidentally took out of the car a bag with some flour they asked us to bring for them from our visit to Cluj the previous day. So we drove back home, picked up the flour and I changed into work clothes … and we headed back out.

Now remember we have a tire that is slowly flattening out. As you read through the next events try to keep in the back of your head a hissing sound … it was as imaginary to me as it will be to you … but the tire was slowly losing air and we were asking it to pull us in 4×4 mode through snow.

We neared a junction where we needed to make a kind of u-turn. As we neared the junction we saw two large carriages drawn by horses both carrying huge loads of hay. I paused at the junction to (a) choose if I wanted to start maneuvering this turn or to just continue straight and turn later on where there was a convenient place to do so and (b) decide if I want to start maneuvering before or after the horse-carriages arrive at the junction. I decided against maneuvering and drove ahead of the carriages.

We were moving along OK until a few seconds later Andreea noticed someone lying in the snow on the side of the road. We stopped to see what was going on and if we could offer help. We found an old man who fell in the snow, so drunk (which is why he fell) that he had no idea what was going on.

By the way … can you still hear the hissing sound?

We helped him up (it took the both of us) … he wasn’t to good at staying up. We asked him where he lived and he pointed in the general direction which we were planning to go (still the opposite direction – since we had not yet turned around). So Andreea invited him to get in the car and a ride home. I think he accepted … but it doesn’t really matter. What did matter was that we couldn’t get him in the car. Andreea tried to help him in, he went in head first, had one knee on the floor of the car … and that’s as far as we got.

Fortunately, by now the horse-carriages arrived and Andreea asked for help. The guys laughed … apparently this isn’t the first time this old man is found fallen drunk in the snow. One of them was large and strong enough to lift the man and place him in the car. Then they told us with better approximation then “there” where he lived. We thanked them and all went our way. We continued a few more seconds to the place where we planned to turn around … and surprisingly that worked out fun.

hiss …

We started driving back in the direction we wanted to go. We past the horse-carriages one more time, this time heading in the opposite direction, and waved a greatful goodbye to them for the last time (today). Abotu 30 seconds later we arrived in the vicinity of the man’s house. We found a partially plowed road/path that led in the direction of the house. I hesitated to take it … but take it we did. Shortly AFTER we passed a foot path that led to the house he told us that we passed the house. Now this is barely a one way path – turning around really isn’t an option.

hiss …

So we continued with the path until we reached it’s end … which was the house of the plumber we didn’t hire because of his high prices. The only promising place to turn around was right next to his house where there was a small driveway. We drove in only to find the drive way was occupied. We started heading back out in reverse … hoping to be able to make a forceful turn around. By now the plumber had come out and was looking at us.

hiss ….

We headed back in and Andreea went out to speak to him. He came to the car, looked at the old man and smiled. Yep, he is a regular. He told Andreea exactly which house we were looking for, went inside, came back with his car keys and backed his car out so we could turn around … and we did. We reached the foot path and stopped.

Andreea helped him out of the car and began walking him home. I took over and Andreea went ahead to see if anyone else was at home with him to take over. At this point the old man decided to strike up a conversation with me in Romanian. I told him I don’t speak much Romanian, but that didn’t have the desired effect. He asked me where I was from, I said Israel. A few seconds later he asked me if I was from Spain.

hiss …

While I was having this non-conversation with a drunk old Romanian man Andreea reached the house. She stopped at the gate because of a dog and called out. It took some time until the door opened. At the door appeared a man which looked even older then the one I was escorting. He quickly figured out what was going on … though he didn’t move away from the door. Finally as I was nearing the gate he too came to the gate and we handed the old (younger) drunk man to him and were on our way.

Apparently they are brothers. When the at-home brother saw me helping his brother home he said to Andreea that he keeps hoping that one day his brother would fall in the snow and just stay there. So there you have it.

So we headed back out and made it safely to Ildy and Levente. Levent came out to greet us, Andreea went inside and we stayed and played mechanic. We dug away an area of snow so that again I could get the car turned around. We found the well-hidden car-jack and how to release the spare from under the car. The jack refused to work at first (it is a fancy-shmancy jack that uses compressed oil). Levente got it to work and we managed to change the tire. Great relief.

We are back home, on an improvised bed – the sheets on it reeked of smoke, other sheets were in the clost and also well-done, the only clean ones are half frozen since they came from the laundry but were not yet dry. The rocket stove is running fine. Soon there will be tea. Tomorrow we will be going to Nora again and doing Laundry all day (with a stop to fix the tire). The day after we will continue to clean the after-math of the almost-fire … and … well we’ll see what comes.

Water – Pump Installation

Finally we get to the point – installing the pump. This just goes to show you how long a journey it was … at the end of this post there will be an image of joyous water flowing πŸ™‚

However as I write these words we are are at the peak of winter (soon the hardest part of winter will be behind us) and we have no running water due to freezing problems. I will try, in this post, to address what we did, what should have be done and what we will be doing to fix this problem so that hopefully, next winter, water will continue to flow.

What We Did

The pump was installed on the concrete stage set for it in the concrete box. It was bolted down (though we’ve seen been advised that it is enough to place it on the screws without actually bolting it down – it was a pain to close the bolts and a pain to open them when we had to take the pump out for thawing). The pump is bolted to an expansion tank.

A ribbed flexible hose runs from the well, through a mechanical filter to keep debris from going into the pump. The pump outlet drops to the floor where it is hooked up to a 3-way flow junction. One (the only one connected at this point) goes to the main house, another is designed for a future connection of the barn and a third is for a water supply in the field.

What We Did Wrong

This is easier to demonstrate with a diagram.

Β 

The frost-depth in our area is 80cm. When we did the digging we went to somewhere between 100cm and 110cm. We thought that would be enough margin – and it was. However it you look at the diagram you will see that the physical characteristics of the pump bring it to way above the required depth for frost protection. The pump itself sits on top of the expansion tank. Its inlet is at its mid-height (the expansion tank and then some) and its outlet comes out on top and reaches even higher then the pump itself. The result is such that water reaches as close as 40cm from the surface … way too high to be protected from frost.

Once frost gets hold in one component of the system it quickly sucks energy out of the entire system and ice spreads throughout. The entire system froze: the pump, the plumbing next to the pump, the entire pipe running from the bottom of the well to the pump (even though the water in the well has not frozen), and some of the pipe (we don’t know how much) leaving towards the house.

What We Should Have Done

We should have taken into account the pump itself. We should have dug deeper (at least another 50cm) so that the pump inlet would be at just above floor level and inline with the passage-hole of the pipeΒ  from the well into the concrete box. This would have kept everything below frost depth.

Β 

In addition it would have reduced the need for bending the pipes. The less bends and the softer the bends are – the better flow there will be through the pipes.

Junction Box

A similar problem exists in the junction box – the 2nd concrete box (please excuse image quality).

The main supply is split into two flows – one for unfiltered water in the field, the other for indoor use. Indoor water is passed through a filter (for hard-water deposits – not yet to our satisfaction) and then split into three valves – one of which is currently used and goes to the house. Here most of the plumbing is at floor level – so it should be frost resistant (however since the system has been out of use for a couple of weeks it too has frozen). However the filter is installed again way too high – way into the frost depth risk.

Having the filter indoors would have protected it from frost and would have made it easier to maintain – however we would then filters in other future stuctures where the water supply may go.

What We Will Do

I don’t expect that we will be redigging the bottom of the concrete box – as that may destabilize the concrete itself.

The entire well assembly was taken apart. The pump and plumbing attached to it was brought indoors to thaw.They have since been returned to their place and properly insulated with mineral-wool. A sheet of mineral wool covers the entire pump and will be removed in spring to prevent overheating.

Using rags soaked in hot water I’ve managed to defrost at least the beginning of the supply pipe that exits the well assembly. However since water does not flow out of it I am assuming that it is still frozen deeper inside. I don’t know what to do about that.

The long pipe running from the well has been pulled out and is slowly thawing indoors.

The junction box, after it’s thawed out, will also be insulated with mineral-wool – all the plumbing and the filter.

Pump Doesn’t Pressurize

When the pump is unable to pressurize (when its main valve is shut so that it’s isolated from the supply line) there is a very good chance that the problem is with a no-return valve which should be installed at the end of the pipe that is lowered into the well. This valve keeps the water from flowing back into the well (gravity) when the pump is inactive.

We purchased a special set of pipe with a fitted valve – and the valve failed. When it leaks the pump loses its priming (=when it is initially filled with water until the entire pipe down to the water level is filled with water) and cannot pressurize properly.

I would suggest keeping a spare valve at homeΒ  – this seems to be a relatively common problem (I guess they don’t make valves like they used to).

Pipe, Stay

Finally, we had a problem keeping the pipe running into the well properly oriented and in the water – it got twisted (because it was too long) and floated. So, first thing is to get it to the right length – general wisdom seem to be that it should be ~60cm above the floor of the well.

The anchoring solution came from our neighbor – tried and true Romanian villager know-how.

He first destroyed one of our buckets by drilling holes in it. Then he placed a rock in it. The hose itself is tied to the two sides of the bucket. This way the supply pipe will never touch dirt, will always be immersed in water and will always be properly oriented. How cool is that? πŸ™‚

Great joy came when we finally had water flowing from a pipe near the entry of the house πŸ™‚

Next up is getting the water into the house πŸ™‚