Sunday, May 17, 2015

Swallows and soil

Spring is here, yet it is a cold one, a wet one, a grey and windy one.... even if ticks seem to become pretty bad this year...
I saw my first swallows of this season the other day. Swallows in the air, soil beneath my feet. Because that is what feel like the main thing these days; soil.
For the first time in a long time I am no longer living in my head, thinking, worrying...
For the first time I am very much down to earth, in the earth, feeling grounded, rooted...

I look a lot like my dad in this photo and I couldn't help but wondering how he is or where he is...
Haven't seen him or spoken to him in almost a decade.....
We didn't get along very well

Slowly but surely our garden is starting to take shape. We had a long weekend last weekend due to a celebration within the christian church. That church is quite present in our lives these days, even if we are not actively involved. The girls have their after school activities linked to it, my wife sings in the churchchoir. It has become my employer for (hopefully) the next six months and many social activities and festivities start there or are linked to it.
But then I come home and spend much of my sparetime on my knees, hands in the dirt, digging, cleaning, reclaiming.... spade by spade.... I had to remove 2 young aspen trees and all of their roots... These were everywhere!!
Not bad for 3 days of work, including relocating some berrybushes, lending a helping hand sawing twigs for stickpuppets and other work, but then again I did have help..... The soil seems rich, is nice and dark. Not sandy, but no heavy clay either. Firm, with loads of life in it. We spend a good deal of time looking at what we found; worms and ants and all sorts of grubs and larvae.... We need to get a book on those remarkable little creatures, so we know what we're dealing with.

I did try our gasoline driven tiller. You can see the result to the left; a tangled mess of soil, grass, weeds and roots. I had to give it a go, but ended up with some severely aching shoulders. Should've know that controlling that machine as it bounced and ground its way through the garden would exert exactly the wrong kind of excess stress in the wrong places. Guess I'll be digging up the rest of the beds, all 9 of them, by hand as well.
It'll leave me stiff and sore, but at least I can use my arms in the days after that...

Of course there still are struggles. There always are....
One of them is with Rex these days. He is maturing and he's getting more and more dominant, trying to rearrange the social order within the family... or at least the animals therein. His behaviour sometimes borders on aggressive and he really needs to be handled firmly quite regularly. Having other unneutered males around makes him act even more territorial and females in heat in the vicinity make it all the more challenging to coexist smoothly.... Despite the fact that he really has become much more socially acceptable with other people.
One of the things to spend some of my first paychecks will be spent at the vets. He will be relieved of some weight between his hind legs soon!  By then he will have matured and it will not affect his physical development all that much anymore.
And he's bored..... He needs to use his overabundant energy in another way than chasing cats around the house, clawing at me or biting me in the hand while playing or charging at or chasing after other dogs, rabbits, squirrels or any other fast moving object, including leaves. And I think I have just the thing...
I found this great little book on sleddogs, their ways and how to use and train them. A new world is opening up with loads of potential. I think we will find ways to constructively incorporate our 4-legged boy into our family and beginning homestead. And it'll be a great way to spend time with him and the family in the slow period of the year; winter.

We're also making more plans for the future. I called in a family meeting last friday to discus the possibility of having a small flock of sheep. Why? Well, it would mean a serious redesign of the chickencoop, since I figured it might be an idea to shelter both chickens and sheep under the same roof, even if being separated by a wall. or fence. They could keep each other warm and company during the winter months.
As for grazing, there are a good deal of unused patches of meadows and grass around which would be useable when surrounded by some electrical wire. The meeting was called in to ask the kids if they were willing to chime in, since my wife and I can not do it all alone. The girls were all in favour, of course, but our son was sceptical. It would be a good way to teach all of us all about taking care of animals and for the kids about chores and responsibilities, but above all about life with other creatures.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Fast forward

It seems like my life is in fast forward mode these days. Many things are happening all at once.
The new woodstorage is done and filled. The pile of wood and wooden pallets from the garden are processed and cleaned up. It looks like a garden again instead of a junkyard.
The day before starting my new job I managed to reclaim a piece of the garden for growing plants, both beautiful and edible. It isn't much, a little over 2x2 meters, but it is the start. I replanted the base around the aspen tree with wild geraniums. One of my favorite species of plants. The location of the 4 josta berrybushes (a crossover between blackberries and gooseberries) determined the shape of the flowerbed and I started to fill up the empty space by replanting a rhubarb and a paeonia there, along with a few handfulls of daffodils. Thinking about edible perennials for the rest of the flowerbed... I think I will go for strawberries as a groundcover.....
After giving it some thought I decided to keep the aspen tree. I really like it. It is a beautiful species. And I like the sound the leaves make when there is wind. It sounds like running water. Plus they turn a gorgeous golden yellow in autumn.
All flowerbeds are to receive such a framing to keep the compost and fertilizer around the plants and the woodchips on the paths.

I laid on a layer of gathered gardendebris, like twigs, dry leaves and patches of moss. Occasionally I toss on a small patch of grass that I weeded out nearby, making sure some soil is still clinging onto the roots. Makes the whole thing look older, tones down the roof and hopefully will become a rooftop garden someday.

Here's the patch that will be vegetable garden, some 20x20 meters. Little smaller actually.
The slope in front of the house is full with comfrey, which spreads like wildfire, but is quite good as compostmaterial. And bees love it! To the right the newly constructed compostcontainer, the choppingblock and a cherrytree..
Started my new job the day the full moon of may reached it's peak; may 4th. The anticipation of starting a new job, my first real, more than 1 month. 8 hour a day job since we moved here and the full moon did not make it easy to get a good nights sleep.
Now I get paid pretty well for what I like doing best; gardening. Despite the weather dampening the joy, (it felt like a cold , wet, gray and windy late october day instead of may), it felt real good to be doing what I was and where I was doing it. But in a few weeks time my workplace will look like this again;

I can get used to that, knowing many are off far worse...
And nature all around us is one explosion of green waiting to happen. A few days of warmer, sunnier weather and it will be a challenge keeping up with it all.....
I enjoy the company of a small group of colleagues, which feeds my need for social contact without overburdening my systems and the occasional meeting with visitors. I get to use my language, so it becomes more fluent and better. What I really like is that one of them feels and thinks about today's society in pretty much the same way I do! I am no longer the lone conspiracy theory idiot around here!! It is great to be able to talk to someone about what we feel is wrong with the world today, about downshifting our way of living, growing food and keeping animals etc....

And through a strange coincidence I got another backpack in my possession. Yet again old Haglöfs, but in new shape! No stains, wear or tear and not even the paint was chipped anywhere. And it came complete with original top straps. This one however has one very neat feat.; an in-build seat! No, it is not one of those backpacks, where you have a (double) frame on the outside, that folds open. No this one has a neat little frame inside the pack, under the top lid! And a shaped foot of the frame so that it is quite stable. The main compartment seems bigger than the other one's I have and it has 2 side pockets.
I'd like to tell you the story as to how I got it.
I am a member of a group on facebook (yes, I know) that gives away things for free. The Swedish site has many of such groups actually. Second hand stuff for free or real cheap. Anyway, one of the members of said group was looking for a backpack for her younger brother, who wanted to start hiking. Always a good thing to stimulate younger folks into that area and I had a cheap knock off replica of a German army backpack (like the one I have) in touristcamouflage, meaning no real camouflage. I offered that one to her/him.
At the same time another woman offered her another backpack, said Haglöfs. I saw the pictures and told her I really liked that one..... In the end lady 1 wanted my backpack and lady 2 said I could have the Haglöfs for free. I told both we needed to go into town to do grocery shopping, so I could deliver and collect the backpacks. I was chuffed like a kid on christmas morning when I examined my new one!!

It folds up, when you open the backpack....

Folds down over the main compartment and the cloth is kept tight by the weight pressing down the front tube....
and the specially bent frame provides stable footing.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Day of fire

Winter's gone. Spring has officially begun. The old has been burned to welcome the new.

I had a good day actually; being able to do it twice. The first time by myself, in daylight to literally remove the old to make way for new and the second time in good company, with songs and fireworks to say farewell to the old season.

At the hembygdsgården there were large piles of wood debris and clippings, cut down branches and trees. These had to be removed to make way for enlarging an existing grasscovered parkingarea and even more importantly to enlarge an neighbouring garden that will be well kept and give joy. Right now the entire area is completely overgrown and the apple trees therein are in a serious state of neglect. They will be taken care of, so they will keep on bearing fruit again for everyone to pick.
It was quite enjoyable, standing there, tending to the fire, piling up the wood- and plantremains, seeing it being consumed by the roaring flames. I guess it is the boyish joy of having a fire and to make it big... The crackling and roaring of the flames has a strange mind calming effect too and looking into the blaze I noticed something I never saw before. After a while, after the large centre mass of the pile had burned the main central flame became transparent and all along the edges, where the remains of the branches and such were not burned up yet, small, much darker flames rose straight up, encircling the large, almost gaslike flame. They hardly flickered or wavered, but were like small jetflames. Hard to explain, but a fascinating sight! Standing there I could not help but thinking what a waste it was too. Here I was, burning a lot of vegetational matter for no reason but to clean it up, while it could have heated a house for quite a long time too.
The heat was intense and I saw the reason for that after the pile had mostly burned off. A number of logs, full grown trees lay hidden beneath it all and now they were burning a bright red and white; glowing embers and ashes. I had fun for a few hours, until the fire reached the bottom of the pit 1-2 meters down and practically everything was gone. Surprisingly little non-natural debris was in that huge pile.

The fire at night was of a completely different nature; smaller yet brighter. This was a fire with a very different reason and nature. A fire deliberately made to see off the past season of darkness and cold and to welcome the new season of light, warmth and growth. A fire with a very social function with songs, laughter and chatter. Meeting people, coming out of their winterburrows and strengthening weakened social bonds.

In between those 2 events I busied myself with something very new to me; inoculating plants.
From one of the villagers we got a load of really good and tasty apples last autumn and I asked him if I could take some clippings from the appropriate tree.
Odd (Skaukraft) and I have been discussing the possibility of inoculating apples onto a rowan-base, so that's what I wanted to try. For safe measure I also made 4 cuttings from that tree and planted them directly, since I think it is a species, not a variety, so it should give a good tree. I do hope they will grow roots!
From another villager I received some plums root offshoots. The parent tree is several decades old and does pretty well in her garden. if anything I could later on use it as a donor for other cherry- and plum inoculations, but I hope for good fruit. I also received a few clippings from a pear, which should do well on rowan too, according to her.
Just to top things off I received 2 smaller marjoram plants and a handful of garlic and shallot bulbs, which had started to sprout and which, with any luck, will be the hosts for future crops of those. Speaking of which.... Much to my surprise the handful garlic cloves we planted 1,5 years ago resurfaced and are going strong! I'll leave them alone until autumn and then will see how much they yielded, before splitting them up and replanting them, along with the ones I got.

The apple:
I opted for a so called "crown" oculation, since the other rowanshoots I had selected were too thin. I'll leave them for future projects, since it is actually advised to take cuttings in autumn and keeping them buried over winter. We'll see....
It is a lot fiddlier work then I had thought, mainly due to the bark of the rowan not coming loose easy and me not having the right equipment. I made due with a pruning knife, ribbons cut from plastic bags and painters tape. I did get a blob of oculationwax, but read it can be made easily yourself as well by heating and melting spruce or pine resin and mixing it with beeswax. Here's a shot of one of the pear testcases amidst the upcoming lilies of the valleys.
You can see the terrain I am working in; Rocks, boulders, mosses lingonberries, although the latter never bore fruit since we lived here. Same goes for the junipers by the way.
Anyway I figured if rowan could take root here, it could also support a fruittree, since the roots have been established already. Planting a tree would be near impossible. So I am hoping to utilise this wild, unworkable piece of the garden this way. It now is home to 4 blackberries, gooseberry both white (1) and red (3), apple (1 double) and pear (2 single) if they make it, juniper (3 healthy ones) and lingon (all over) if they would bear fruit and all the while it just looks like a piece of forest with birch, rowan, aspen and birdcherry. I am told the rowanberry makes good winter chickenfeed, when dried.
And if all fails, I still have a piece of garden where roedeer like to roam and feed (might cause a problem) in winter. And that might create opportunities too some day....

Speaking of changing times and opportunities; I will be starting my seasonal job next monday and that will create an array of other possibilities. Temporarily our financial room to manoeuvre will expand considerably and I want to take advantage of that by doing my hunter exam, which will license me to acquire and have hunting (fire)arms and to hunt legally. The plan is to hunt small game and leave moose to others. There's plenty of roedeer and hare around here. Grouse too and even beaver, if the damage they did last winter is anything to go by. And boars are ever expanding their territory northwards and have reached our region.
Other things on the wishlist are schooling in the use of a chainsaw, because that means not only an accepted education here, but also the legal possibility to operate one anywhere and knowing what and how to do it. We also need to get accumulatortanks installed. We were kind of lucky with mild winters, but those tanks would mean a more equally spread and controllable warmth and warm water supply. I want to get a hydrophore installed too. That means having plenty of water at hand and a means to regulate temperature in the food cellar. I also want to see to it that our food cellar is fully equipped and stocked by the time winter comes. The same goes for the waiting wood fed kitchen furnace.
But for now I am mostly thinking about how to get that and the garden done AND do a day job. For the first time in a long time I feel like I am short on time. But still I am burning with anticipation and am pretty fired up about working again.....

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Winter reading II - the theme of the lone wolf

Actually meant for the cold season with a cup of hot cocoa next to a crackling fireplace, but equally enjoyable during summer, in a hammock, under the clear sky with a longdrink and buzzing mosquitos.... I had this one in my "to publish"-list and now that I am forced "to take a day off" ( a damn cold according to me. Release of build up tensions says the mrs.) I figured I might finish it and hit the publish button....

Here's another group of books I enjoyed. The theme "lone wolf" is appropriate, since these books deal mostly with the one man alone in the wilderness-subject.
It is mainly about men leaving behind society and living by themselves miles away from the modern world. I got these book when I myself was dreaming about that; leaving it all behind, moving to the woods and being there alone, by myself. I really enjoyed these books and I have read most of them more than once. However I have to admit that I could not do what they did; indeed living alone for extended periods of time. I am after all to much of a social animal. I need folks around.
Many in the outdoor/bushcraft-community idolise those men and especially Dick Proenneke seems to be a rolemodel for just such a life, where as people like Mike Tomkies are hardly mentioned. These people are seen as great men, independent, totally free and able to take care of themselves.
Whatever these men (and occasional woman) did, for whatever reasons they left society and went living by themselves, they all have similarities in their stories. The main thing, apart from (re)building a cabin on their own for their own, is indeed a still strong connection and/or dependence to that society. A lifeline. They still depend on others for support, supplies, sustenance. So no, they are not completely independent. Far from. Another thing is the inability or unwillingness to submit to society's rules, expectations and pressures. They chose to leave that behind and flourished, despite hardships, but they did not make it entirely on their own. Typically the Yukon pops up regularly.... or similar places in the northern hemisphere. I can fully understand why.
Be that as it may, I truly enjoyed all of these books, devoured and reread them.... apart from Thoreau's book. But I think that is because English is not my native language, although I do think I master it quite well. I will not elaborate too much on the contents as I do not want to spoil the fun, but all I can say is that each book was worth every penny/cent I spent on them! Even if my sidetable is filled with books of a different nature these days....
Anyway, here they are... in random order... (by the way I plucked the images from the net. Didn't feel like fiddling around with cellphone, camera and what not... Just took a shortcut here)

The good life, up the Yukon without a paddle - Dorian Amos
paperback, pocket 191 pages
The tale of a couple, Dorian and Bridget, leaving a relative comfy/secure life in Britain and exchanging that for a new start in the Yukon, Alaska, without really (or actually) knowing what they were getting into. They suffer from the shock of reality, face the grim brutality of winter's nature in the Yukon, struggle through hardships (real ones!) and come out triumphant, often living apart for prolonged periods of time, yet sharing their love and warmth with and for each other and becoming parents in the meantime...
The book is basically divided in sections; the first section being the dream.- and planningfase, told in a more general fashion, followed by the actual move, part 2 is in a diary fashion, part 3 is a sort of doubleview window, with each of them giving their view on events side by side, followed by the final section, being Bridget sharing her story in short.
I so absolutely loved this book! I envisaged this being me and my wife, relating to many things and knowing how (or imagining) we might be dealing with the circumstances they faced. They had the great fortune, as did we, to be able to share it all with each other and growing closer because of it.
I can not wait until I can finally get my hands on their second book. Through this book I really got the feeling that these are real people, genuine.... The sequel is very high on my wantlist.
Get this book! You will not regret it!!

Walden or the life in the woods - Henry David Thoreau
paperback, pocket 216 pages
Another book greatly admired by the previously mentioned community, but I must admit I failed to understand why. I had serious difficulty understanding what the man had written. I simply failed to not just understand the language he used, but because of that also much of the meaning of what he wrote.
What I did (think) I understood, is that he claims that our lives today have become too cluttered, too complicated and that he strongly urges the reader to simplify. Reconnect with the essentials, the basics for we as a species need that to live and to thrive. Well, that is as actual today as it was back then. The book dates from 1854. Also his love for the woods is quite apparent, even to me.
I never finished the book, despite several tries. I just can't get through it....

Call of the wild - Guy Grieve
paperback, 383 pages
Guy Grieve, an office employee, hating his job, covered in debt, decides he's had enough.
He decides to leave behind his wife and family to try and live a year in, again Yukon, Alaska. He needs to do this for himself....
Amazon puts it like this
"Trapped in a job he hated and up to his neck in debt, Guy Grieve's life was going nowhere. But, with a stroke of luck, his dream of escaping it all to live in remote Alaska suddenly came true. Miles from the nearest human being and armed with only the most basic equipment, Guy built a log cabin from scratch and began carving a life for himself through fishing, hunting, and diligently avoiding bears. Packed with adventure, humor, and insight, this is the gripping story of an ordinary man learning the ways of the wild."
While I can fully understand this need and the way he hates the life he leads, I could not help but from the core of my being not agreeing with him for leaving his family behind in the good, old UK while he would be off, throwing himself against nature and himself in one of the most inhospitable areas in the north. He not only put himself at risk, but also the locals, who agreed to help him, despite the odds. He goes in poorly prepared, but he makes it. 
Yet I also must admit that I got caught by his determination, his resourcefulness, his resilience and his general view of and on life. It truly is an adventure of a lifetime and a life changing one at that. I did get caught by the way the story is told and by the many turns it makes. It never is a dull read.

A last wildplace - Mike Tomkies
paperback, 250 pages
Here's one of my all time favorites. My copy arrived in a well read fashion and I do understand why. The state of the book has become even more well read. ;)
I love it. Here's a single man, travelling the world, leaving the world of celebrity, settling in isolated places before finally settling on a lochshore in Scotland to immerse himself in nature, photograph it and write about it. No glamour, no false pretense. Down to earth, humble even, yet the love for what he does shows through in all he sees and writes about. You do not need pictures to see what he did. 
One of my favorite passages is where Mike sits down in the forest and describes it as a cathedral; large, imposing and serene, but than discovers it actually is a theatre with many scenes and actors. The way he does that really is capturing the imagination and I was there with him. I loved the way he describes his battles in his boat on a roaring loch, his treks, alone and later with his shepperd Moobly, through the hills and mountains and how the seasons change the land.
I can not wait to get my hands on some of his other titles, just to see if these are as good as this one.

One man's wilderness, an Alaskan odyssey - Dick Proenneke
paperback, 224 pages
Now here it is; THE soloawayfromsocietyoutdoorexperience by THE man.
And I can understand why it is so heralded and talked about. Here is a man, who after his early retirement leaves modern, western civilisation behind and build himself a logcabin far out into the northern wilderness and to go and live there by himself. He goes in, alone, with his bare hands and a pile of tools and raw materials and builds himself a home. I must say I am impressed by the man's accomplishments, both during the building proces, but also by his life afterwards there.
The whole story is being told without and bravoure or boasting and I really liked the sober tone. This tone however does not bring down any of the achievements, encounters or adventures he had and tells about. It is written with the same simple purity as the land which is described. No posh glitter, but fresh mountain air.
Dick has a keen eye for detail and is able to tell his story in such a fashion that it never gets dull, heavy or otherwise unpleasant. I found it hard to put the book down and I read it within a week the first time.
This one is another absolute keeper for me and another one I really recommend.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Some days just do not work out alright.

Today I would have really liked it to be a nice, relaxed day of celebration.
My wife is trying out a stand-in job in taking care of a handicapped person and she had had her first 12-hour nightshift in years last night. While she was asleep I got a phonecall telling me I have a fulltime summerjob; 40 hours a week, may to september. In order to enjoy this good news and to let my wife sleep in peace, I took Rex for a long walk in the woods. Some woodstime.... It has been way too long....
Unfortunately this did not work out quite as well as I had hoped. Rex was in a mood...... that did not contribute to a smooth cooperation and interaction between man and dog. He has been like this for a while now, but since a week..... charging at the cats, actively hindering them from seeking our companionship, disobedient, restless, chewing on things and hard to hold back. Playing with him almost instantly becomes violent and when he spots another animal..... He is walked 4 times a day with 1 time being more than an hour, but it is never enough.

Today was little different. In some respects he was worse. More and more Rex is showing a combination of 2 characteristics that I do not like to see in a dog simultaneously; very energetic and with a strong mind of his own. I like a lively and playful dog and I do not mind a dog having a mind of his own, but when his master calls he has to stop what he's doing and obey. Preferably at the first command. maybe at the second, but shouting for 4-5 times at a dog before he even responds and then decides if he is going to obey.... Not good. A dog walking his master; not good. When he gets told to not do or stop doing something, you see him glare at you...... and then quickly do it anyway. And you know he knows he's not supposed to do it. Lately I am seriously wondering if he is the right dog for this family. For me. Yet mostly he really wants to be friends, to be good. It just doesn't always work out that way.
The view for much of the walk
It might all be, because of his fase in life; a teenage dog. So for now I will shorten the leash so to speak and be more strict with him and see where this is going. But I do not like the fact that I have to be so firm, almost oppressive in order to get him to do even the simplest of tasks, simply because he just doesn't want to. One of those tasks is to go easy... He just will not go slow, especially on the long leash, no matter how often you slow him down or correct him. He merely turns his head.... and is off again, dragging you along. I have to keep my eyes fixed on the ground, just to see where I put down my feet, so I miss all the details, like a large buzzard sitting on a perch in plain sight, no 15 meters away from me. I noticed him when he took off as Rex came storming along the path. It doesn't really make it any easier to see wildlife, when you constantly have to bark commands at your dog either.
And that was when following the paths. In between the trees he not just pulled, but did that in all directions, nearly slamming me into trees or making me fight for balance on the rocky surface. He acted like a frickin' ADHD dog on a sugar- and caffeine rush!
The walk in the woods was anything but a leisurely, relaxing stroll and, despite a saying that you can not remain angry for long in the woods, but 2,5 hours later I came out pretty irritated (steaming is a better word) and we went home. I kept Rex short this time and he knew he blew it.
Yet, on the few occasions he managed to stand still, when I told him too and I could take some pictures or look briefly at an object of my interest.

Youngsters cheating in order to be bigger sooner.
A hefty burl with an odd shape

No words.....

The buckled area where root becomes tree
A cave of green

The grandeur of the forest as I like to see it!
Feast your eyes on it, as it will be gone soon.
They have begun to cut down the area...

Shortly after we came home I heard a familiar noise coming up the road; a pair of bitching and bickering girls coming home from school.... Great.
I had hoped to bring the good news as a surprise to the family over a nice dinner, but a) the surprise got ruined and b) a major ingredient for the dinner I wanted to make had run out, so I had to improvise and cook up something completely different. Still good, but now what I had in mind...

The dog is snoring in the couch now, the wife off to work again. The kids are off to bed and I am left here rethinking the day...... I think I'll have a beer.....

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Blisters, splinters and dirty fingernails

The body aches, the hands are sore, the fingers damaged and painful.... but it feels so good, because that means work is being done again! No more sitting around idle, but actually being busy fysically. Body tired, mind revived, soul satisfied....
Spring is here and it makes it hard to sit still, creates restlessness, urges mind and body to become active, productive, doing... Labour strengthens the flabby muscles, blood pumping through the veins, washes away the numbness of a hibernative state of mind.....

Lately I busied myself constructing an extra wood storage from the wood I got. The uneven ground proved to quite a bit of a challenge, because the whole contraption is standing on its own. No attachments to the housewall in order to avoid moisture transfers into the walls, which then might freeze up and fastening it into the ground was a no go too, because that would require a huge drill or dynamite. Nothing but rocks and stones..... But after a few days of measuring, sawing and constructing we had quite a nice extra storage right next to the house. It holds about 4,5m3 and all I have to do, is to open the basement window next to it and toss the wood into the receiving container and from there right into the heater. Saves a lot of carrying in winter over slippery surfaces. In fact the total amount of firewood in the container in the basement, the new storage and the storage next to the backdoor should at least see us through 4 very cold months. Again this whole thing did cost me nothing more than screws and nails I got from a local thrift shop; all in all 75 SEK. The roofing felt (those tar rolls) I found under the stairs to the frontdoor. They had been lying there for years, covered in leaves. Too bad it was not enough of one colour, but that doesn't matter. It was just enough as it was. We have different plans for that surface anyway. We want it to blend in, so it'll get covered with moss and grass and hopefully flowers will establish themselves there some day too.

Of course I didn't do it all by myself....
I had help!!
Last tuesday was a planting day.
The day before we went and got the fruit trees I ordered; 2 cherry and 2 plumb trees. They turned out to be quite a bit taller than I had expected! I thought they'd be about 1,5 m high, but the cherries were at least a meter higher and the plums reached a good 2 meters too. That's a good start!
From my father in law I got 6 more blackberry bushes, another josta and 3 red gooseberry bushes. So all in all a good deal of digging had to be done. A good way to give the high quality spade I got for my birthday a run for its money. Got to take care though. I am notorious for breaking shovel handles...
Digging out the bushes was no issue at all, but digging the planting holes at our place...... was quite a different matter all together! Stones, rocks and firmly compacted clay undersoil made digging 4 plantholes an all-afternoon enterprise. Crowbar and spade work..... yet clawing around in the soil literally made me re-earth... if you know what I mean.
The otherwise pretty useless, as in foodproduction wise, piece of garden is being enriched by all those berrybushes and with any luck I will be inoculating half a dozen existing rowan saplings with another, local species of plumb and apple.

Our little patch of earth is getting pretty crowded with birds these days. A fieldfare has chosen our garden as his territory, many of the usual suspects have teamed up with a mate and we even still have a couple of bullfinches. They usually disappear when spring arrives. And spring most certainly is here with sunny days and high temperatures. And as if to officially confirm that a pair of wagtails made their appearance with a little aerial display.
During a break we were sitting on the balcony and enjoyed a cup of the last bit of Dutch coffee. We saw the sun shimmer on the surface of the lake, whilst listening to the calls of loons, gulls, woodpeckers and countless other birds. We listen to the buzzing of bumblebees and witness a gull chase a hawk through the sky....
On days like these, life is good...

Monday, April 13, 2015

Building a Warré beehive

My hives are ready and are put in place! I hope to be able to attract some appropriate tenants for permanent occupation soon.

I mentioned my sources for the build previously, but for good measure; Warré buildingplans

The process in itself is very straight forward as I almost literally followed the plans. I only had to adjust the measurements to the size of the wood I used. Some planks were not quite 21cm wide, but close and the thickness is not 2cm, but 2,5cm. That means extra insulation in winter and extra bulk, when the hive is empty. The lifting handles were cut with a slope on top, so water can run off.
I constructed 6 boxed and carved a slit 1x1cm along the top of the short walls. Here's where the topbars will rest. I then put the topbars in place, using a 12mm thick piece of wood as a template. I then drilled a small hole through the bars into the underlying box walls. The holes in the bars were used as a guide to saw slits into the ends. Into the holes in the walls I inserted toothpicks, so each bar fits. This makes easy replacing bars at the right spot later on.

The quilts were even easier to make. A 10cm high squareframe, burlap at the bottom and a fitting board on top. The burlap was an old shoppingbag. At some point last winter a mouse got into it and died there. During the decomposition process it bodily fluids had stained the plastic liner and seams and we deemed the bag unfit for further use.
The day before making the quilt I treated the burlap as per instructions in Warré's "Beekeeping for all", meaning covering the burlap in a flour paste. This paste consists of 1 liter of water and 3,5dl of wheatflower (in my case). Warré himself suggests 5 soupspoons of preferably rye flour. To make this paste you slowly cook the water, slowly adding the flour, while continually stirring.
When I pasted on the goo it looked a mess as it thickens even more as it cools and I took off the excess paste after letting it soak for a while. No idea if I should do that or not. While the burlap is still wet, fasten it to the quiltframe! When it dries it will put itself taught. Then just cut off the excess burlap and you have a box for your insulation.

The insulation itself is sawdust (not the powdery version). That stuff  is also used for insulation on addicts around these parts and we have loads of it. The topboard was once a tabletop from an old diningtable.
The top was a bit trickier. I made a calculation error and had to redo one of them. But still it is quite straight forward and there even is a simpler version, which has only 1 slope. Of course I went for the harder one. Just looks better I think.
Next step was the bottom. Here too I used the old tabletop, sawing 2 squares of 35x35cm; the outer measurements of the hives. I then tried to fashion an opening for the hive entrance with a small slope. That did not go as I had hoped, but I hope the bees will forgive me. Do not forget the landingplatform in front of the entrance.
Now the legs.... Here I did do something I normally would not do. I used pressure impregnated wood. Simply because I still had that as a leftover from a job I did last year. I used 4 3x3cm normal wood legs (inner legs), but covered them with the impregnated wood (outer legs), so that the top of that runs over the edge, while the legs sit under the hive bottom. I cut the top of them outer legs in an angle so rain and meltwater can run off.

I did NOT need to buy;
2 broodchambers of whatever size or material
2 bottoms
2 tops or inner covers
4-6 supers
2 queen excluders
frames, usually 10 per box
waxsheets for each frame

The whole thing cost me one box of nails from the thriftshop..... plus the hours of labour. And if I can build them, really anybody can!!!

It truly is a people's hive; plain, simple and cheap. I hope effective too!

For now I have 2 hives with 2 boxes each. Only used 3 for the pictures. The remaining 2 boxes will serve as a makeshift swarm catcher, so I have 3 locations covered, enhancing my chances of attracting a swarm. I treated the bottom of the bars with wax as suggested/instructed by David Heaf.
See my previous post for links and extensive information on the subject.

Now go ahead! Make some! It really is as easy as it looks.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Of birds and bees.....

and other animals... ;)

More and more birds are returning; terns and gulls appear in numbers and buzzards circle the skies.
Last week we got an unexpected visitor; a young buzzard. Swept in low over the house and trees and landed right in the aspen in front of our livingroom window! Of course I grabbed a camera, but as I went outside, it turned around, lowered its head and gazed at me, before taking off. It made a few slow circles and then disappeared all together..  And on friday afternoon I heard loons calling on the main lake. They're back again!! I don't know what it is, but I love that sound of their eery, mournful calls. Untamed nature, perhaps?
As far as the bees go.... The bumblebees were out buzzing away last friday too and I saw one or two smaller, solitary bees as well. I think one of the bumblebee queens has chosen the wood supply next to the backdoor as a place for a nest. I guess I will not be taking that wood indoors just yet.

The beehives are nearing completion. It took some measuring and sawing, both of which I am not that good at. Difficulties with numbers and shoulders... Good thing I was able to loan my father in law's sawing table. I followed Warré's instructions pretty literally, but had to alter some of the measurements, due to differing board thickness. The ones I used are 25 to 26mm thick instead of 20. That makes the boxes a good deal heavier, but also provides more insulation in winter. I not only used the wood I got for free, but also nails from a local thriftshop and jute from an old shoppingbag.
The days before the weekend my wife and I spent quite some time measuring and sawing and I spent most of the saturday nailing, measuring, remeasuring, sawing and building again. We made a mistake with the tops. They were 1cm too narrow.... After I had built one hive roughly (no interior or insulation yet), I put it in its place, just to see the result. I was quite pleased...
I will do a separate post on the building process and show everything in more detail.
On sunday the stability of the still empty hive was being tested. We had a day and night of rain and stormy weather, but the hive still stands firmly.
And because sunday was mostly about wind and skywaters, we revisited a friend of my wife, who has a farm of her own called Utah Farm and who quite recently has gotten "in the business". She breads with sheep and chickens, has a few pigs and sells meat, eggs, lambskin and in starting a small shop with related, natural items on her farm as well and on sunday she had "open house". I got another chance to ask a handful of questions and to take a look around. Learned a thing or two... We had been there earlier this week to deliver some of my wife's woolen angels and we talked a good deal of course. Turned out they have roughly the same ideas and visions we have... Always good to meet likeminded folk!
Our girls enjoyed petting ducklings and some lambs and especially our oldest daughter adored the black chicks. I loved the black and white coloured lambs, a crossbreed they have and they even have blotched pigs with fur! Forgot the breed, though...

And of course we came home with a handful of eggs....

...which tasted real good, together with the knäckebröd my wife baked herself in the woodfed ovens of Skedvi Bröd, one of the very few bakeries in Sweden, where they still use open woodfires to bake the hard bread. A handcraft and a local item of pride.... Take a look at the link. You'll find some clips on how they do that.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The beginnings of beekeeping

A picture of last year's course
At least for me.
Now bear with me... I am no expert. Not even near. I am an absolut beginner. Just had my introduction to beekeeping last year through a course in ecological beekeeping. Plus a lot of reading...
Ever since the course I got the buzz. Standing next to an active hive is thrilling, exciting. Especially if you forget to close the front zipper of your beesuit.... Working with the bees had a strange yet powerful and positive effect on me. It literally made my day! Plus I want to do whatever I can to keep the bees from further decline... Since we need them. Need them desperately! We need them as pollinators and the honey and possibly some wax are very beneficial byproducts... to me.

Of course I did start out talking to a former and a present beekeeper and did a course. I used my library card well and I did read a handful of books on conventional beekeeping like the very elaborate book by Åke Hansson; Bin och biodling. I loved that large bee-overlay, where you can see the inside of a bee, layer by layer. Excellent book! And I will still get one if and when I can afford it.
But still there was this nagging sense of something being wrong..... Forcing the bee in every way to adapt to the beekeeper.

the original image is found here
Quite appropriate I think...
Now the caretaking-part;
One thing that struck me as strange, later turning into wrong, was the "harvest" of the hives. Taking the excess as a reward to the keeper, fine. Taking it all.... not. I feel that that is pretty much the basis for the trouble in the beekeepingworld.
Taking away their food and substituting it for sugar water to me is the same as what the foodindustry is doing to us these days. They have taken away our real, healthy food and given us back tons of junk and crap. Result; we get sick. Following this line of thinking leads me to the conclusion that bees get sick too and are therefore less capable of fighting back infestations and disease.
Why many modern and traditional beekeepers keep yelling that their way is the only way? Well, why do myriads of people still go to Mc Death? Why do hordes of people still stuff themselves with all that killing crap? Because they can not or will not look beyond. Because they can not or will not make a change. Because that requires rethinking, leaving trodden paths, leaving the old, known and familiar, even if it is wrong, behind.
Plus for beekeepers today there is another, probably major,  keyfactor; profit!! One kilogram of honey is much more worth than 1 kilogram of sugar. So they take the bees natural, healthy food and substitute it for cheap junkfood, claiming that that has worked for many years or even decades. Sure, the bees survived.... sort of. But why is it then that we are seeing so much beekeepers and bee societies in trouble? Why so much dying bees? It's like a mass extinction! I do not believe that it merely is the use of pesticides, although that is a major contributing factor, Nor is it the mass infestation with varroa. I do believe that the latter and other diseases can get a foothold and create havoc, because the bees themselves are seriously weakened, just like the human species is weakened by bad food over the years. And, just as with humans, pumping the bees and their hives full of antibiotics and chemicals only make a bad situation even worse. Keeping otherwise doomed populations by feeding them even further decreases a populations strength by eliminating natural selection.
Speaking of natural selection; tempering with a bee's genes is not a viable option either. Destroying the genepool by creating bees that do not swarm, that do not mate freely, that yield a for humans productive species, while at the same time eradicating characteristics that make bees hardy and able to survive.... No more natural selection of the strongest... And if that's not enough alien species are being introduced or even lab created!
And still scientists the world over have no idea what causes that massive demise in bee populations...

So I believe we should go back. Treat the bees right and giving them the right conditions to breed, work and thrive. That means no longer plundering their food supplies. That means taking away the factor of financial profit!!Take a little, but ensure the bees can survive on their natural food during winter. If that should mean you worked a summer for next to nothing; tough luck!
Stop using "medicine" to cure them. If you have to pull every trick from the hat just to keep the colony, it probably isn't very strong and pretty much doomed anyway. Back to step one; create healthy, strong bees. Stop supporting weak ones.
Another factor is the choice of hive. I choose to use a hive that mimics natural conditions as much as possible. Not a hive that is easy to work with and pillage. Besides, those latter hives use sheets of wax to steer the buildinginstinct of the bees, even further suppressing their natural instincts.... and contaminated wax seems to be yet another issue in the vast array of traditional beekeeping methods.
So hives without prefabricated waxsheets or frames.
A third factor is one that already made me butt heads with my course teaching beekeeper; the choice of species. I want a species that is native, that is adapted to local climate and that is on the verge of disappearing altogether; Apis mellifera mellifera. I don't care if other bee species are more productive and I certainly don't care that crossbreeding with other species might give aggressive bees! Because that is the argument I was presented with. Crossbreeding of the native species with non-native or even artificially created breeds would do just that, much to the discomfort of other beekeepers. Well, maybe other beekeepers should ask themselves whether their species is the right one..... Besides I am far enough away from any know bee colony to prevent cross breeding. And after all there still are wild swarms around here, so they might create the same problem. If that even is the real concern....
This whole philosophy is a perfect example of every aspect of current society; "progress" for the sake of progress. Profit is everything. Maximising profit by any and all means. Man controls it all and nature has to submit. Millions of years of evolution are swept aside with one move in favor of man's arrogance or should I say God complex?
And I already know that I will be at a ramming course with others over this..... *sigh*

All this I found in a beekeeping method as advocated by abbott Warré.
Here are some links which might help me make my decision, based on, to me, sound and logical grounds;
Nordbi - They work hard to maintain and even expand the presence of the indigenous species in Sweden.
the practical beekeeper -  who makes a pretty strong case for the arguments I just stated
the barefoot beekeeper -  same as above
warré beekeeping - this site provides all the information in downloadable bookform for FREE. including building plans both in metric and imperial measures. Anyone willingly sharing information or books without financial benefit automatically steps up the ladder of trust, because there is no financial gain for them involved. They do not need to sell their idea for profit. They share their ideas because of passion or belief. Cross referencing of such sources is still advisable though as it is with any.

As I was pondering over the ideas, plans and uses I came across a thought that might spoil the whole thing. I do have this annoying physical issue that messes with me everytime certain moves are made, causing strain in certain areas. Lifting is one of those moves, especially if it is a bit on the heavy side with repetitive movements over prolonged periods of time. And the Warré hive, despite its very appealing nature to me, still has multiple, heavy, honey filled boxes that need lifting....
The barefoot beekeeper seemed to have an answer; the top bar hive. It's like a warré hive, but on its side... sort of.
The barefoot beekeeper's site also offers free information and building plans and specifically stated that no heavy lifting was required, whilst providing all the key specifications I want. No lifting of boxes, only combs. The plans and ideas he provides are adapted for northern climates, since it is of African origin. Problem is that I can not find any references that might indicate that this sort of hive would be suitable for our climate. I do have my doubts...
I guess I still have quite some reading and studying to do.... The beekeepers I talked to said beekeeping was a science on its own, but having read I can not help but feel that they missed a point. A vital point! See what the bees do themselves naturally!!

So I chose to be a bee caretaker, not a honeyproducer....

Well, time to start to put all that wonderful theory into practice! Let's see if all this "know-it-all"-ness will make me land flat on my face... Or not.
The materials are largely in place, the plans are ready and the tools are being prepared!