Category Archives: home grown produce

It may only be January…

…but our thoughts are already looking towards the garden!


Rotovating soil

Before moving to Hungary neither myself nor my wife could be accused of having green fingers, however, given that we now have 5,500m² of land devoted to growing our food we have become a little obsessed! We are now in year three of growing food after spending our first year renovating the house, and three years in the crop rotation plan is now getting a little more complicated! So following on from blogs about photography, cooking, travel nightmares and public art why the hell not add one about gardening into the mix?

Rotovating soil

We did not particularly decide that we were going to go Organic for ethical reasons, we were driven in that direction by our poor understanding of the Hungarian Language. We had no idea what on earth we would be buying if we were to extensively use pesticides and I really did not fancy eating stuff that I was unsure of. So we did a load of research and seem to have a good system going and other than a huge problem with blight in 2010 that wiped out almost all of our tomato and potato crop we seem to be working well. We find that empty eggshells and nasturtiums work wonders at dealing with cabbage whites and that the only cure for the Colorado Potato Beetle is to get out there and pick them and their eggs and kill them on a daily basis… The tobacco hornworm caterpillar (below) that we found out about last year is a beast at about 10cm long and is something that we need to keep an eye out for in future as they can devastate a tomato or potato crop!

Tobacco Hornworm Caterpillar

At the heart of any good organic food production system is a sensible crop rotation plan and knowing what to leave in the ground, what to take out and when and how to leave things alone. We have divided our land into twenty-four vegetable plots half of which are 36m² and the other half 48m² (due to an epic measuring tape failure) and an single area approximately 1,000m² set aside for growing chicken feed. January is the time when we can ascertain whether we have got our balance right in terms of the amounts that we are growing and also gives us a little time to work out what can or cannot be planted on the plots that were vacated from last year and what ideally should be planted after last years crops… We have tried a number of methods to work this out including little bits of paper and spreadsheets and the only commonality is that it is always complicated, a little bit haphazard and always very frustrating!

Fresh grown organic vegetables

As I have mentioned in previous posts, winter this year certainly does not feel like the winters that we have come to know and love, we have only had a couple of occasions so far where daytime temperatures have been below freezing and we have had almost no snow to speak of. This means if things stay as they are we should be planting up our beast of a polytunnel with goodies in the next 3 weeks, at 22 meters long and 8 meters wide it is larger than our back garden was in the UK and it is great to get a head start on getting seedlings, particularly Tomato and all things Capsicum. It is amazing that the 250kg of tomatoes that we harvested last year is looking to be about the right amount but we seriously need to be doing a great deal better with peppers and chillis next year, we are also going to be needing an extra plot of peas as the 10kg we harvested last year ran out this week!

Fresh Garden Peas

So as you are all settled down for winter this weekend I will be sat indoors observing my traditional “listening to the football with a beer” ritual whilst trying to work out a planting plan for 2012… Or maybe I will leave it till next weekend 😉

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Life Under A Big Sky


Sunset Over Graveyard

I took a stroll out of the village yesterday to amble to our nearest ATM, a mere 8km round trip, naturally I took my camera and was musing on the way back how big the sky is… We live in the middle of the Pannonian Plain in the east of Hungary, the flattest plain of land in Europe which is bordered by the Carpathian Mountains, the Alps, the Dinarides and the Balkan mountains, all very well and good but living in the middle as a photographer means that I am at least over 160 Kilometers away from the nearest hill! This presents a special challenge to the photographer, shooting landscapes when the land is as flat as a bowling green in all directions means that your focal point becomes the sky itself and it offers so much more than just sunsets and sunrises, although they are pretty special too!

After the storm went away

Being bought up in a city means that the sky was something that appeared between buildings and the horizon was something rarely seen, over the last couple of years I have been trying to learn how to take landscape photographs when there is no “landscape” to speak of and try and maximise the glorious nature of the sky!


Composition


Massive cloudscape

Using the sky as your muse means that you need to think very differently about the composition of your photograph, the usual conventions of the golden ratio or the rule of thirds never seem to work, images tend not to convey the sense of enormity of the subject if you compose an image traditionally. It may have something to do with a combination of inhabiting a flat landscape and a strong maritime trading tradition but the Dutch Masters of the 16th and 17th Century painted many landscapes with a very different composition with the foreground (or land part of the landscape) filling just a quarter or a fifth of the final image with the majesty and textures of the sky becoming the focal point of the painting. I spent many hours at the Birmingham Mueseum and Art Galery when I was younger and these pictures fascinated me and always seemd so much more majestic and dramatic than the landscapes of Turner and Constable and I guess it is somthing that I have tried to mimic in my photgraphs…

Colour


Massive cloudscape

Not all Skies are made equal when it comes to tonality and colour, if you ask a child to draw a sky you will get a vast swathe of blue and a dot of yellow for the sun, however, if you spend any time looking skywards you will notice that there is a bewildering array of colours that appear above your head. Everything from an almost lead colour in storm clouds through to the most vibrant reds, oranges and purples as the sun head towards the horizon, not to forget of course the azure blues of a clear day! There are a host of filters that can be used to emphasize the tonal contrasts in the sky like polarising and GND filters although I do not at present use any of them and tend to nudge my pictures a little in photshop by adding graduated filters to improve the balance between the sky and land or bring a little more detail out in the foreground with a selective shadows and highlights adjustment.

Massive cloudscape


Texture


Massive cloudscape

It may sound odd but there is also a textural quality to the sky that really is incredibly photogenic, as with many textural images they tend to really pop in monotone images. Something happens to images when you shift from a full colour gamut to just tones of the same colour, it is almost as if you mind is no longer distracted on the “shouty” colours and is able to absorb the full textural nature of what is on front of it.

Approaching Storm


Hopefully I may have encouraged a few people to consider looking upwards when taking landscape photographs and consider the sky to be just as important as the land. A lack of rolling hills, majestic mountainscapes or vast canyons should not mean that there is nothing to photograph and there is so much more to the sky than sunsets, or for those of you that get up early, sunrises 🙂

If you like these images there are many more in my landscapes gallery and you can also order prints with an enticing 15% discount if you enter the code “happy2012” at checkout before the end of January.

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Another year in paradise!

2011 was a fantastic year for us, it seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye and it is hard to believe that we have been in our rural paradise for over 3 1/2 years!

January


Rainbow in the back garden

January is the month when Winter really hits home for us we have generally spent 3 months relaxing and we are chomping at the bit to get stuck in out on the land. However as is normal, January 2011 was a cold and frozen month with the exception of a couple of days when I managed to take a picture of the complete rainbow above, we had no idea at the time but we had a fair whack of winter left ahead of us! However life was good, we still had a fair amount of food that we had grown in 2010 left in storage (despite the poor harvest due to terrible weather) and we had plenty of planning to dig through for the coming year ahead, I cracked upon the idea of selling some of my photographs through Stock agencies and we also made contact with a couple of clients that wanted some other freelance work doing which helped keep us from twiddling our thumbs!

February


Snowdrops

Usually by February signs of Spring are starting to show and the first of those are the snowdrops that we have in front of our window, the first of which in 2011 started to poke through the snow back at the end of January. But that snow never seemed to disappear and whilst this winter was not as cold as some we had experienced over here it still dropped to -20°C on several occasions, the length of Winter was a bit of a shock to us, we had almost 5 months with daytime temperatures below freezing point. Ordinarily we would be out planting our first crops in our poly-tunnel by the middle of February, this year we had to wait another 3 or 4 weeks which certainly affected some of our crops.

March


Cherry Blossom

Finally by the middle of March things had started to improve and it was almost like someone had flicked a switch and it went from mid winter to mid spring in a single week, our fruit trees in the garden changed from a collection of twigs to being full of blossom, it is a glorious time of year and the noise of humming wasps and bees after the pollen is nothing short of remarkable. March also marks the passing of another birthday for me which in it’s turn means that it is time to break out the rotovator and clean up the lawn mower and really roll up our sleeves and return to the world of work, Mother Nature has become a tough old Mistress to us and we have to work really hard from March right through till October to reap the rewards over winter. This march was no different to the others we have spent here so far, we go from slouching around doing nothing to back breaking manual labour day in and day out and there is no time to ramp up, everything all needs to get done and get done right away so that you are not working all hours in the day in the baking heat of summer!

April


St Georges Day in Rural Hungary

By the time we had got through to April we had planted out in all of the plots that we could, 2010 was a very wet year by Hungarian standards and the long and frozen winter had not really helped us out any so the bottom part of our land was still very much water logged. We still were, as you may very well expect, very busy indeed but there is a single day in April that we always set aside, the village we live in is home to some 400 folk and it’s name literally translates as New Saint George and it would be simply rude of two English folk not to attend a St Georges Day Celebration! Now I’m not really much of a patriot and I can think of just about as many reasons to be ashamed to be British as I can to be proud to be British but we ambled along to this little “festival” a few years ago when it was first held and it was tremendous so we make a point to make the “long” walk down to the “heart” of the village every year. It is an odd old experience, folk dancing in traditional dress, good hearty gulyas, mind numbingly dull tombolas, odd comical soliloquies that we do not understand but they seem to go down well with the locals… The list could go on, but it is just one of those days where you amble around scratching your head not quite sure what is happening other than a really great time!

May


Fresh Strawberry

May is the time when things got exciting in 2011, just 3 months before our plot was a barren waste land into which you sunk 15cm in your wellies, by May we were watering every single day and we were drowning under fruit and vegetables. The strawberry season may only be 10 weeks long but we harvested some 70kg of them in 2011, some went to make a cheeky strawberry wine alongside the more traditional jams and syrups, we even have some frozen up as they make a superb winter crumble with a little balsamic vinegar (sounds odd but it tastes amazing and is a fantastic treat in the depths of winter). It is difficult to know which way to turn at this time of year you can almost do two harvests per day on Strawberries and Peas and you have to be careful not to neglect the Elderflowers as having no Elderflower Champagne on a summers afternoon would be terrible… Cherries, don’t forget the cherries they are also in need of harvesting. Did I mention May was a busy old month 😀

June


Baby Chick

As the temperature rises then the work rate drops and by June this year we had a nice little schedule worked out, we were up early watering the land and getting work done and pretty much chilling in the afternoon preparing tomatoes for soups, pasatta or ketchup or some other type of vegetable that had ripened. June 2011 though was really rather special, we may have pretty much taken our shell of a house and built it into our house, taught ourselves to grow and rear our own food, brew our own alcohol and largely be able to communicate with the locals, in an albeit cack handed manner… But nothing compared to the pride we felt when our egg laying device (chickens) started sitting, we were interupting the poor old bird everyday checking on the eggs but when we went in and found our first chick words cannot describe how giddy we were with excitement. Those that have met me would attest to the fact that I am not the “giddy” kind and as for being “giddy” at the site of something sweet and cutsey they would almost certainly scoff! I have only one thing to say to that scoffing and that is guilty, you should have seen me when the chicken hatched a duck egg 😀

July


Raspberries

July 2011 saw our worst weather of this summer, although it was nothing compared to the dramatic storms of 2010, but it did coincide with a visit from a couple of friends from the UK who we hadn’t seen since we left the UK. Their journey was quite the eventful one, they had planned to come over on a motor bike but the plan was scuppered in France when the sump of the Goldwing was torn by an entrance to a car park at their first overnight stop, so their journey, after some fraught re-jigging continued in a Peugeot Bippo. It may very well have been fortunate in the end as their two week road trip around Europe saw them traveling through some pretty serious rainstorms that did not really stop for us until they had landed safely back in the UK after a pit stop at a wedding in Italy. For us it was a frantic 2 weeks work to get ahead before they arrived and a frantic 2 weeks work after their short stop to get back on top but it was fantastic to catch up with great friends although we really should learn to advise against ordering both a starter and a main course in a rural Hungarian restaurant!

August


Harvest Time

By the time we got to the middle of August we had already harvested in excess of 500kg of fruit and vegetables and the harvest was getting pretty intense, everywhere we looked something needed collecting and either preserving, cooking, drying or setting aside in a cool dark place. 2011 was sure to become the first year where we would be able to grow and harvest all the fruit and vegetables that we could eat and have plenty left aside to try and hand off to our unfortunate friends and neighbours. Our female duck was also firing out an egg a day so I spent several afternoons on pasta duty and when temperatures are in the upper 30’s it aint fun, it also lead me to the conclusion that I am never going to challenge an old Italian woman to an arm wrestle, boy does it take some work to make pasta properly!

September


Wine Grape Harvest Time

The temperatures began to cool a little by September this year, still above 30°C but only just and we just about managed to harvest our grapes and get them crushed before Julies Mum arrived for her second visit of the year, we did the same thing as we tend to do when we are expecting guests… Work all hours to try and get as far ahead as possible before they arrive and then do the same after they have gone so we can actually relax and chill out and enjoy ourselves. Since we got rid of our car in December 2010 we have been on public transport and I am impressed, we live in the middle of nowhere but we can do all we want to do by using our local buses and trains. We met Julies Mum in Budapest and spent the night in the City and I used it as an opportunity to head out at stupid o’clock in the morning to take some stock photographs before heading back home and relaxing for a week enjoying the local Thermal Spa’s and towns.

October


Debrecen Nagytemplom

And relax, unusually we got to October this year and we had all but finished, the plots were harvested and tilled and set away for 2012, in 2010 we were still working hard on the land right through until the middle of November. It would seem that we had largely cracked this whole “grow yer own” malarky, admittedly that “Harsh Mistress”, Mother Nature had been very kind to us this year but other than our pepper crop we got it nailed… Not bad for a couple that used to drive computers for a living and in the space of just 3 growing seasons too, the interweb is a wonderful place. It was great to spend the late Hungarian “Summer” relaxing and getting out and about to places like Debrecen with friends (above) which is something we only usually do in early spring or winter as time in summer is too precious!

November


Infinity Bridge Stockton on Tees (UK)

If you have been following my blog you know that November 2011 saw me taking my first trip back to the UK in over 3 1/2 years, my Mum had an accident so I went to visit. She seems to be getting a little better know although still has on wrist in plaster and looks to be staying that way till well into the New Year, whilst it was great to catch up with friends and family the journey was horrendous with delays to pretty much every form of transport I took after hitting the Big City! It did not really come as a surprise but the trip was somewhat overwhelming and other than catching up with people was not particularly enjoyable and more than anything else I missed my wife like crazy, who would have guessed that 6 days could feel like an eternity.

December


Christmas Chestnuts

That pretty much brings us right up to December and Christmas, a time where we lock the doors and hide and spend time doing even less than we usually do in winter, most of which you can catch up with in my recent blogs. Christmas itself though was a little odd, we were only chatting to a friend in Budapest a couple of weeks ago about how we never get ill, well didn’t you just know that was going to come back and bite me on the backside! I had been feeling a little groggy, just a little cold, but I could not sleep on Christmas Eve (not due to excitement) and when it got to Christmas Day I was in a proper state although it amused Julie that I had lost my voice, in fact I think it was her favourite present 😉

Looking back 2011 was a fabulous year for pretty much everything and hope that you all have a 2012 as enjoyable as my 2011 was and I am looking forward to whatever 2012 has to offer!

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