After an easy winter and a dry start to 2016, the weather turned wet, with a rain shower almost every day until mid June. What followed though was the driest summer we’ve seen and our 13,000 litres of backup water storage wasn’t enough to keep us and our house low maintenance! Even now at the end of the year, when the Autumn rains should have replenished the water table, the river is still as low as in the height of summer. So once again, water is our most dominant element and we are always learning how to improve things, like obtaining a more suitable container as the neighbouring villages have plenty of water available but 120 litre barrels aren’t easy to manoeuvre!
Watering the garden became low priority after the guesthouse and animals but I still managed to produce a lot of organic veg. Unfortunately the potatoes suffered but due to a pest, the Stink Bug. Something I had never encountered in England, a flying bug that looks like it has armour plating and emits an odour when squeezed. I didn’t realise it was them causing devastation to my plants until too late. Sadly I had, quite literally, small potatoes! A huge shame as the seed potatoes were generously given to us by a man who lives in a distant village and brought them all the way on horseback.
The devastating news is our lovely dog Jakal is no more. He went out for a scarper one night, like he did every night, but didn’t show up for his breakfast. We searched the mountains, calling his name, for days and still glance in his kennel in case he comes back, but we know. Maybe it was a snake bite like the one we were able to save him from or maybe it was a fight over a female dog and he lost. He was getting old and stiff jointed but whatever happened, we remember him as a gentleman, kind and caring and the best dog we could have hoped for. He was loved by every visitor and I really miss my walking companion. So he left us the same way he arrived, an enigma. We have considered another dog but we believe when the time is right, our kennel will be occupied again. For the moment it is very peaceful in our village and we are seeing a lot more deer and boar on our doorstep.
Luckily our cat is still wonderful and I love her to bits. Apart from waking me up at 5am she is very low maintenance, self-cleaning and even though she accidentally got shut in when we went away for a holiday, she only left one ‘present’ and was very happy to see us return and carry on mousing. And she still sleeps in the small box we gave her when she was a kitten. OK she overspills the box now but she is still tiny.
The second loss is Mumun. His health has deteriorated and will not be coming back to live. He was always the most jovial of our neighbours’ and his cheerful whistling is missed most. I have added his chickens to my flock and am still looking after his donkey, Meko (meaning Soft). We have grown really fond of him and it is a pleasure to see him mowing our lawn, though he is naughty and ate 5 of the 6 peaches from my young peach tree! He has a very easy life and spends most of his time grazing in the large field his stable is in. The only downsides there’s no water source in his field (but that’s next years DIY job!) and Cow Wars. Cows are free range in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains and when the grass becomes thin on the ground, they cast their eyes over Meko’s field. They know the weak spots in the fence and after a few attempts, manage to break in. In wintertime it becomes almost a daily occurrence as the natural fence, made of mainly of bushes, brambles and bracken, dies back and the foraging wild boar make holes in it. The wandering herd from the next village follow suit. Almost every day I look down to Meko’s field and see one or two cheeky bulls and they know they are not supposed to be there but they eat as much as they can before I get close and they turn and run. They often forget how they got in and break some more fencing to get out. How annoying! I know the best answer would be to build a proper fence but time, resources and labour are not proliferate so I have to console myself with these Cow Wars having a benefit – chasing them out and rebuilding fences keeps me fit!
Sadly another neighbour died this year. She was a wonderful woman who was always smiling. So our village population is dwindling but also expanding with one renovation nearly finished, work just started on another house and more potential house purchases on the cards. Getting out of the rat race is becoming epidemic and its not just Westerners. A Bulgarian man, born in our village but who lived and worked in Turkey, retired at age 47 (yes, 47 and a lorry driver) and came back to his home. He has jumped into the ‘Good Life’ with a big vegetable garden, home improvements and his endeavours are greatly appreciated. Not just because he likes rakia and is very keen to help make use of the multitude of fruit growing here! We have the still and he has the time. Cherries, plums and grapes have done well, despite the water shortage, but alas our idea of making rakia from quinces did not happen. They’re always the first tree to blossom and the last to fruit and being such a hard fruit (you can’t eat raw, you have to cook) we thought it would withstand the dry weather conditions but we were wrong. Nevermind, we’ll just have to wait until next year…
I’m always amending or improving my animal enclosures, like adding extra rooms hutches to cope with increasing numbers, but this year, as the rabbits were suffering so much in the heat, I wanted a roof extension to cover their whole run. So I came up with a great way of utilising the bracken that grows here with a vengeance by erecting a wooden framework, high enough for humans to enter their pens, latticed and covered with the ferns. I had seen this principle used here on garages and it has made the perfect cover, giving shade from the scorching sun. It has worked so well I remade it stronger to survive the mountain winds and give protection from the rain and snow. Happy bunny’s 🙂
My chickens have their own story to tell this year as unusually, after egg production dropped while moulting and growing their winter feathers, not one hen resumed laying. I kept hearing the cluck-cluck of ‘I’ve laid an egg’ but on looking inside found the nest box empty. Previously, one hen had been laying soft shelled eggs and, as can often happen, I thought maybe another hen had developed the taste for egg and was eating them. The village advice was to ‘find the culprit and despatch’ though I hadn’t got time to watch each hen and decide who it was so, after a bit of research, I put a egg-shaped stone in the nest box to stop this habit and waited. Though each time I checked, there was only the stone egg. Until one morning I opened the door to let them out and the stone egg had gone! I checked everywhere inside the house but no, the stone egg, as big as a normal egg, had completely disappeared! We had seen a 3ft snake in our garden earlier in the year so maybe he now has a bit of constipation! What is even more bizarre is there are no holes in the hen house big enough for an egg to pass through!!!
But then it turned colder, hibernation time for snakes, and still no eggs. I realised because we had been having a lot of birds of prey activity over our gardens, the scared chickens were spending most of the day inside their house. Not good when a hen needs 14 hours of sunlight to lay eggs! So I rigged up a light on a timer and now egg production has resumed 🙂
Wishing everyone all the best for 2017 🙂