Saturday, May 31, 2008

Curious Cows

Today, while I was pegging the laundry out on the clothesline, I felt I was being watched . . .

Did you notice how the camera went a bit odd next to the laundry I have hanging out? I like to think that even the digital camera was dazzled by the whiteness of my laundry. Next to Polly, one can see the big tarpaulin that has been set out to dry. Once it has dried out, we'll fold it and put it away.

It has been a warm, bright day. The Man of the Place and I have been pottering about getting little odd jobs done.

These guys remind me of neighbour kids coming round to see if I've done any baking.

I just watched this second clip and in addition to the grunty noises the cows are making, there is a black bird going bonkers up in the tree. Usually when a bird is making that much noise, a predator is too close for comfort. Julio must have been out and about.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Missed a Visitor

As it is a beautiful day, when I got home from work, I started to potter around in the garden.

After a bit of digging and planting out the courgette (zucchini) plants, and getting things sprayed, watered and tidied up, I got bored. Well not so much bored as getting hit with the desire for company. There was nobody here to talk to while I forked over the dirt. Julio who is usually so helpful was nowhere to be found.

I came in the house to see who had posted what, check on e-mail and other computer intensive distractions from gardening. When I got up from the computer desk, I noticed that the highchair I had loaned to my friend Helen had miraculously appeared by the back door.She had also left some flowers in my looks-like-a-hurricane-hit-it kitchen.
This meant that I had missed a visit from my friend. I didn't even hear her knock. NUTS! Had a stuck with the digging, I would have eventually had company.

Years ago, I had a whole lot of black currant bushes at Whitelees. If my memory serves, there were 24 blackcurrant bushes here. They all ended up getting grubbed up to make way for the front lawn. I don't miss them all that often because it seems that when we had them, it meant that dealing with the harvest of all those blackcurrants kept me busy through the entire month of July. One of the things left over from the days when we had blackcurrants are the flowers that I had planted underneath them.
I read a book by UK gardening guru Bob Flowerdew about companion planting. The basis behind companion planting is that two different kinds of plants grow better together than they would on their own. Poached egg flower limnathes douglasii planted underneath blackcurrant bushes attract beneficial insects such as the hoverfly that eat aphids that spread diseases. Poached egg flower is an annual that self seeds very effectively, so I just let it do just that. This means that I have loads of sunny flowers at the end of May.
Hen on duck eggs update: She is still sitting tight on those eggs. We've had them under her one week now. Three more weeks to go. (There is an official count down at the bottom of this blog.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Broody Chicken

One of my hens has gone "clucky" or broody. Hens that have gone broody act and sound different to the other non-broody hens. I'll try to get a bit of video of her when she makes her once-daily journey off the nest to eat, drink and have one almighty poo. You will see then how obvious it is that a broody hen acts differently.

The hen that has gone broody is a hen that was hatched out here at Whitelees a couple of years ago. Her father was Rocky, the handsome Welsummer that died last March.
As she is a Welsummer cross, she is much more likely to go clucky than the hybrid layers that I picked up in September. Hybrid hens have had the tendency to go broody selected out of them to make them much easier to manage. A hen that has gone brood stops laying eggs.

The more astute reader will remember that I never replaced Rocky after he died. Whitelees Cottage is a much quieter place because of it. In addition to being quieter, none of the eggs that are laid by my hens will be fertile.This is a bit of a difficult thing if a chicken decides that hatching out some of her eggs would be a good idea. None of those eggs would hatch. All her efforts would be wasted.

Yesterday, I obtained some fertile eggs from another source and did a switch. I swapped the infertile eggs with some lovely DUCK eggs. The hen never knew the difference even though they are a different colour! Duck eggs are blue. It will make removing the infertile chicken eggs that some of the other hens may lay next to her much easier to identify.

Chicken eggs have an incubation period of 21 days, three weeks exactly. Duck eggs take 28 days, an added seven days to hatch. In addition to not noticing that I've switched duck eggs for chicken eggs, hens can't count either. She'll sit on those eggs until they hatch. So, if all goes well and this hen doesn't give up the job, we will have baby ducks on the 17th of June.

It has been a number of years since we've hatched ducks here at Whitleees. I had a hen hatch out some duck eggs a number of years ago for somebody in the village. The day after the little ducks hatched out of their shells, we gave the ducklings back along with the loan of the mother hen. The Man of the Place helped me move them. I grabbed the mother hen who was fiercely protective of her little ones and TMotP put the day old ducklings in a mixing bowl in order to transport them safely to the village. On a cuteness scale of 1 to 10; 1 not being very cute to ten causing your head to explode because of the cuteness, these baby ducklings were at about 9.5!

Let's wait and see what happens!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New Camera!

We are now the very careful owners of a new camera with a non-scratched lens. It is the same manufacturer as the old camera (Olympus) so many of the features and icons are the same as they are in the old camera.

Here are this morning's efforts:Dobos torta - My first attempt at the traditional Hungarian cake. The layers are uneven and it looks a bit amateurish, but boy oh boy it tastes nice! Recipe can be found here!

Here is what a slice of a commercially produced cakes looks like.This photo was taken with the old camera. I know you can't see the scratches in this picture, but I can. Trust me , they are there.

Now that I've looked at the commercial version more carefully, they have obviously not poured the molten sugar layer directly onto the cake but placed it on carefully after construction. I must investigate this method as it seems much tidier.

Julio in the car.

Behind Julio one can see the audio book I am currently listening to and the set of French language CDs. I am trying to brush up on my French these days. I want to progress from sounding like a caveman when in France (mostly nouns).

Big Red Bumble Bee on Centauria.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Spring Things

I have started to dig over the vegetable plot. At the far end, I'm digging in lots of builder's sand. This is for the carrots. The soil can be quite sticky when it's wet. Carrots especially like sandy soil. When the carrots are not longer here, the sand will help the over-all soil structure.
Because we've not had a lot of rain lately the digging is very easy, but I am still taking it slowly. I don't want to do myself any mischief. I am saying this quietly so the Rain Kachina can't hear me and return with a vengeance. We really don't need any rain just yet.
I've started at the end of the plot where we've had lots of bind weed or wild morning glory. Its a terrible perennial weed and the roots, though shallow are fast growing and brittle. I've been trying to clear the little bit that I have for a couple of years now. There is certainly less of it these days so I think I'm winning the battle.Bind weed roots - to be put in the bin so they can't torment me any further!

It is all hands to the pump for the next couple of days. I have decided that it is time to plant stuff out! The little plants I've been babying along in the greenhouse can go out into the cruel world to make their fortunes. This means bean frames, pea sticks and dirty hands and knees.

While I'm at it, has anybody seen my good rake? I found the springy rake that we use for leaves, but the sturdy rake I use in the garden has sprouted legs and walked.

In other parts of the garden, I am pleased to report the use of Bordeaux Mixture on my fruit trees at the very beginning of spring (well before the leaves were out) has worked beautifully! I sprayed in February. If I remember correctly I also sprayed a bit in the autumn. The cherry tree, which had been suffering for a couple of years with some sort of scab disease seems to be completely clear of spotty leaves. I'll keep a sharp eye out for return of any disease.Cherry var. Morello Don't those leaves look great! No spots!

The apple tree var. Discovery also seems to have been cured! I'm so pleased about this! It makes me feel like a proper gardener when I can get rid of the pathology on my plants. Now let us see if I can't get rid of some very persistent black spot on the roses. . .

This clematis montana var. Elisabeth is threatening to take over the world! When it is done blooming, it will be getting a good cut back. It is actually lifting some of the roof slates! These are vigorous growers! To the right of the clematis, the mint is visible. It is also being a bit of a thug. I've got to rip most of that mint out if I ever want to grow anything else at the front of the house.

This is snow-in-summer - Cerastium tomentosum. It decided to be at its peak of perfection today. It is a good thing I noticed!

Hiding next to the snow-in-summer is a little wild strawberry, also looking very nice.

The Mayfly is hatching at the moment. Photo by Dean of Mostlymacro

If one is doing anything out of doors in our neighbourhood, you have to do it with a closed mouth! The Mayfly is everywhere! Our swallows are taking full advantage of these long spring days with lots to eat.

As ever, Julio (perched on the top of the chicken coop) is being helpful.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Carlaverock Castle

Nothing weird happened to my camera. The missing photos from the weekend was due to 'operator error' again. I had taken the photos off the memory card myself and put them in a new and unmarked folder and then wiped my own memory of the action.One of the fun things we did on Saturday was to take Rick and Stephanie to Carlaverock Castle just outside Dumfries on our own lovely Solway Firth. Here is Rick pretending to throw his petite wife into the moat.

I found this video on YouTube which shows off this place very very well indeed.In the end Rick didn't toss Stephanie into the water.

This castle is one of our favourite places to take visitors. If anybody is up this way, I'd be happy to take you here. The castle is a wonderful building and it has a moat!
This is the crest of the Maxwell Family (Clan) above the impressive main door of the castle.

Rick and The Man of the Place are always deep in conversation. While on the walk the conversation deteriorated (with the help of George) into a wrestling match.Rick

A view of the earth works at the front of the castle. It is very difficult to storm a castle if the ground has big ditches in front even before you get to the moat. The castle was attacked by Edward I (Edward Longshanks) in 1300. The only thing under siege these days is the grass by these huge black slugs!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Things in Bloom

In some parts of the world, the lilac is in full bloom. The week before last, the lilac was at it's seasonal peak in Hungary. That means that now two weeks on, the Budapest lilac will be past it's best. This is the state of the lone Whitelees lilac. It looks as though I still have a week to go before I get a good sniff of my own lilac blossom.
The apple blossom buds are opening now too. One tree's bloom is fully open and my other tree is threatening to be in bloom tomorrow. If the apple blossom survives and doesn't get hit by a late frost, we'll have some apples this year! Go apple trees go!

Over the weekend we had guests. Rick and Stephanie, formerly from Atlanta, Georgia now living in Brussels. Rick has been a friend of The Man of the Place for (gulp) almost 18 years. I met Rick when he attended our wedding almost 16 years ago. Henry has seen him a couple of times since when traveling in the southern United States. It was the first time I'd met Stephanie, Rick's bride of six years and it was a real pleasure to get to know her. They are both such great people and are welcome to visit again any time! We are lucky with the guests that come to visit. Our are always so fun, polite, well mannered and tidy.

I took a bunch of pictures when we took them to local beauty spots near the house but here's the odd thing. The camera was empty when I went to upload the photos! Any guesses as to how the were emptied off the camera? Because I sure don't know what happened. The camera was in my car so I don't think the photos were wiped of the memory card by anybody. Maybe the camera itself just deleted them.

We went to The Lake District on Sunday and had a great time despite the rain.Photo of Rick returning to the car after photographing more sheep for Stephanie. It was so odd that there was thunder and rain in Cumbria because at home at Whitelees just north of the border, there was warm sunshine!

I would hate to jinx the good weather, but we've had really great weather since I got back from Hungary last week!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Home Life

I do love to travel, but I am always happy to be back at home again. I belong here.

We have had some lovely weather this week, lots of blue skies and warm dry days.Julio seeks the shade of one of the cars. He has been very busy catching shrews, not eating them and leaving the bodies in odd hiding places for us to find a few days later. George mowed the lawn on Sunday - He always tries to add an element of fun.

On Saturday morning a swallow was zipping around our back garden. They have returned to us! Let's hope they reinstate the old nests stuck to our house. I pray that they are successful nesters this year and raise loads of chicks.

One flew right in the kitchen door and into the front room. I had to get it before Julio the great hunter realized what was going on. I caught it quite easily and had The Man of the Place take a photo of this incredibly beautiful bird.
While I was holding the bird, I could feel its heart beat. The heat beat was going so fast, it felt like a buzz. While I held the swallow I realized that the poor thing was covered in bird lice. It really had a terrible infestation as some were crawling onto my hands in the moments I held the bird. I have some louse powder that I put on my chickens when they get avian lice. So before I released the bird and using very small amounts, I gave the delicate bird a dusting of louse powder. Lice on newly hatched chicks will weaken their condition and a very bad infestation could cause them to die.
Doesn't my new Hungarian tablecloth look so sunny on my dining table?A daisy filled detail.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Fun We Had

I know you shouldn't wish your life away, but I can't wait until next year!

If you're going to visit Budapest don't miss the House of Hungarian Wine on Castle Hill. They have a fantastic wine tasting that helped us on our way to becoming insufferable experts on Hungarian wines.
The Great Market in the center of Budapest closes at 2:00 pm. The upstairs where food and drink is sold, stays open until 3:00 pm. If a bottle of Tokaj wine is being shared out between five people, we start behaving like siblings and ensuring that each glass has the exact amount in it and nobody gets more or less than everybody else.

A dinner cruise on the river is a great way to get some excellent photos. Gordon's photos of the city from the river at night are gorgeous!

If you go late to Széphalom Vendéglo you may be denied desert. This happened to us the first night. (I know! The horror of it all!) Picture all the staff in their street clothes leaning against the bar waiting for those tourists to leave so they can go home.

This desert, Chocolate Strawberry Dream was denied us the first night. BeforeAfter

Do not under any circumstances miss out on going to one of the baths that Budapest is famous for! We went to the Széchenyi baths and had so much fun! The weather was sunny and warm with only the lightest of breezes so all those outdoor pools were crowded. This didn't diminish our enjoyment one little jot! The raging rapids part of the 23 degree pool and the bubbles were especially invigorating. Oh, and I had a massage! There actually were people playing chess in the pool. They were over in the 40 degree pool.

Have an ice cream! It is as tasty as it is stylish. Nom nom nomHave some cake!
If you get to Budapest, don't forget your camera! The city and country are so beautiful. You will want to get photos of everything! Buy some souvenirs! I recommend some of the beautiful embroidery. Louise bought this beautiful top and I bought a tablecloth.
Bring an umbrella for the occasional shower!

If at all possible, you should try to see Budapest with these people. They are the best hosts and traveling companions a girl could wish to have!
If you are not able to travel with those people, you will need a map. If you don't have a map, try GPS!