Preparing for Winter

Busy, busy, busy. I am tired and there’s still more work to be done than I can manage. Currently, the theme of the day is preparing the garden for winter.

You may remember that this year I have been experimenting with growing potatoes under grass clippings, without tilling the ground or preparing it in any other way. And given that I have planted only about 1 kg of pea-sized potatoes, it was a huge success, I harvested about 40 kg of reasonably large potatoes, although the blasted voles did again do some damage. Here is a picture of a small sample.

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Because of this, I have decided to repeat the experiment on a larger scale, on our proper vegetable bed, about 40 square meters. It was several working day’s worth of work to gather all the old and recent grass clippings from piles around the garden and spread them all over.

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It would be better to dry the clippings first, but alas that was no longer possible for the last mowing of the grass since the weather is now cold and wet and the days are too short for the sun to do much even when it shines. So about half is covered in dry clippings and half in fresh ones. I do hope it won’t cause problems, it should have enough time over the winter to settle. I hope. In the spring I will probably add a few bags of woodchips and shredded reeds from the sewage cleaning facility.

All in all this year was a mixed bag, gardening-wise. We had very few tomatoes and patypans. The weather at the beginning of the summer was way too hot and the plants, although they are warmth-loving, had stunted growth despite being watered enough. And when the weather subsequently cooled in July, it was again way too cold for these. In short – most of the summer the temperatures were either above or below the tomatoes’ metabolic optimum.

The beans that grew this year on the big vegetable bed as well as behind the house were a moderate success. The voles destroyed some plants early on but the rest grew vigorously and I harvested nearly 6 kg of beans and about twice as much of green bean pods that my mother canned in vinegar for later use. It is less than we could have under better conditions, but enough for our needs.

My only apple tree fell victim to water voles and continues to slowly die. I expect that it won’t wake up next spring. But I got over 30 kg of strawberries, over 10 kg of pears, and several kg of raspberries. Most of those were dried for winter too, some were made into marmalade. The plums and figs harvest was small, only a few kg, but it was enough for me to sit one whole day and make all-natural, sugar-free plum butter and to dry a few jars of figs. Plum butter is the best filler for pies, IMO, and it too should be enough for a few years. And lastly, we got again enough walnuts to give them away. The cellar reserved for preserved food and vegetables is full.

And I also had to replace the bird feeder, since it was starting to slowly fall apart. I have made a completely new one, from a few wood offcuts sorted out of my firewood. I hope it will last at least as long as the previous one. To help it last longer, I have charred all surfaces with a propane torch and I soaked it with old boiled linseed oil. That should make it somewhat resistant to humidity and fungi.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Basically, it is the same design as the previous one, only the central column is not round and made from plastic tubing but square and made from wood. And the roof is a bit higher so the birds have slightly more space to sit and still have a good view of their surroundings. I did not include any perches so far, maybe I will do that later.

I have also made an additional feeder, a kind of gibbet for hanging walnuts, suet dumplings, and various other things.

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The weather is still warm and I did not see very many birds on the feeder yet. But the food keeps disappearing so they are definitively coming. I hope to get some pretty bird pictures again this winter. I did not use my camera for way too long this year.

The last step in winter preparations is to move indoors all plants and flowers that cannot stay in the greenhouses and put the bonsai below the benches to protect them against frosty winds. And to re-plant in the pollard all walnuts, hazels, and oaks that sprout all around the garden from nuts hidden by jays. And several other things. Busy, busy, busy…


The Story of A Succesfull Medium Sized Company

Imagine a small metalworking business that started shortly after WW1 somewhere in Germany. Metalworking, as in making forms for the ceramics industry that the little town is known for. The business grew in the time between wars, it survived WW2 and continued to grow well into the second half of the 20th century. At that time a new market for metal forms began to emerge – injection moulded plastics. The family owning the business latched onto that new market in an ideal way that capitalism is portrayed, by investing in developing new know-how to give them an edge over the competition. And they succeeded, making a name for their company in the business that became a synonym for high quality, albeit at a high price. As a regional employer, the family business had a good reputation too, with some people literally working there from finishing school until retirement and earning wages well above average. It was said that at the end of each fiscal year, the door opened for new modern machinery and a new workforce.

Then came an international giant housed in the USA, interested in the know-how. And since the family no longer had an interest in actually running the business, they sold it to this giant wholesale. The plant became a part of a branch in this corporation, a branch that specialized in injection moulding. Things did not go well from that time on, although it still took decades to become really apparent. For one the prices for customers remained high, but the quality began to drop due to cut corners.

The international corporation had no real interest in keeping the know-how and employment local, despite saying the opposite. The wages were undercut by increasing working hours so in real terms they de-facto stagnated. It was still worth it to work at the company, but it no longer was a job to envy someone and some people started to leave – and as it is, the best ones were the first to go. Attempts to unionize to counter the slow squeeze were crushed by threats to ship the jobs to Eastern Europe and China, something that should not work in Germany but it did. And then the jobs were slowly shipped to Eastern Europe and China anyway. The know-how however is not so easily transferred, and since replacement workforce was no longer educated on-site and the older force started to retire or just leave, it started to get lost.

Then came a worldwide recession. The corporation started to cut corners again by firing thousands of employees worldwide, all the while the CEO and shareholders were despite the crisis earning more than enough money to keep these people employed and still be filthy rich (the CEO alone earned more than 150 (corrected typo) times more than an ordinary employee). The employees finally got fed up and unionized, for what it was worth. As it turns out, it was too late.

After the recession was over, the whole corporation was bought by another international corporation, this time housed in Germany. Things started to look brighter for a very short time since German corporations actually treat their employees better than American ones. But optimism did not last long. The purchase was driven by a desire to own one specific part of the corporation, and injection moulding and manufacture of metal molds were not it. So to offset the immense costs of the purchase, the whole branch was sold off, to another international company housed in the USA.

The new corporate owners swore day and night that they really, really wanted to keep the local businesses and nobody needed to fear for their jobs. There were even articles in local newspapers about how they project to grow the locally employed workforce at the plant I am writing about to more than double, over 400. Yet somehow the number of employees and contracts for this specific plant continued to only go down all the way to 60. At 60 the count stopped and the plant was finally closed, probably because with that few employees it was no longer feasible to actually make money in this business, not to mention that the know-how it took to assemble for half a century was at this point irrevocably lost.

Imagine all that. I do not need to imagine it, I lived through a significant part of the end of that story and I just a few days ago learned how it ended.

Boo Stead

Today was the day – we finally got an appointment at our GP to get our yearly COVID-19 and flu shots. One in the left shoulder, the other in the right one. I forgot which was which, but both shoulders are slowly starting to ache. I expect to be completely useless tomorrow. Last fall I got both boosters at the same time too and it was not as dreadful as the previous two COVID-19 shots were. Still, I am not looking forward to tonight and tomorrow.

Regarding other things, I did not comment on recent events for a while because I just barely manage. Just to clarify one of the latest issues – I do not support the killing of children or innocent people of any age when Hamas does it, and I do not support it when IDF does it either.

My Lucky Pear Tree

About a decade ago, a pear tree sprouted just outside my garden in a patch near the fence where the meadow owner can’t mow the grass with a tractor so he does not bother with it at all and it is up to me to keep the growth there in check. The tree did have some tiny pears last year, edible, but nothing to write home about. I thus thought the tree wouldn’t be worth anything and I left it to grow in order to fell it for firewood when it is big enough to be worth it, like I always do with trees that sprout near the outside of my fence.

This year the tree was covered in pears, many small, but also many fist-sized. I forgot to take a picture of that, so here is one with my ladder against the tree and some last pears on the topmost branches. I had to take those off with a stick, I could not safely reach them.

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The tree was so covered in fruit, that one branch unfortunately snapped under the weight before I got some time to pick it. And the fruit is dee-licious! I do not know what the odds are of getting a good-quality fruit from a pear seedling but I do strongly suspect that they are not in favor. Thus I consider this my lucky pear tree.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

When left to ripen, they become incredibly sweet. Indeed there were many -not in this picture – that were damaged by wasps. But even when still green they are very tasty. This suits me since I do in fact prefer fruits when they are still ever so slightly unripe.

There is no way to eat this many pears before they spoil so we are processing them by cutting them up and putting them in a dehumidifier. We had to buy a second one this year so we could process all the fruit from the garden and mushrooms I brought home from the forest more expediently. We will go into this winter with an overabundance of dried pears, apples, strawberries, raspberries, and prunes. And walnuts. I intend to experiment with making my own bowel-scouring müsli from all of it and also I will try and mix some of the dried fruit in teabags to see if I can manage to make tasty homemade fruit tea.