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Growing Green

All that rain from last month seems such a long time ago now.  It’s been a stonking hot June & necessitated the mental watering regime again already.  But the results are fab (mostly).  This month we’ve been picking:

  • Mixed lettuce (Cut & Come Again, Iceberg & Cos).  They’ve cropped so well compared to last year but I fear we are running out of time now – seems its already too hot for the seeds to germinate…

  • Rocket (Salad, local Rocket & wild)
  • Silverbeet
  • Sorrel
  • Fresh herbs: coriander, chives (garlic & ordinary), parsley (curled & flat-leaved), tarragon, sage, dill, fennel & basil (purple & Genovese)
  • Marrows (the one below is ready for stuffing & seeds are scooped out & saved…)

  • Courgettes – some beauties already, this one’s nearly a kilo in weight

  • Broad beans – against all odds…  Take that you nay-sayers!  Please note the adorable new shoes in the shot below courtesy of dear friend Ditsch.

  • Peas – probably the best crop we’ve ever had ironically, because this year I just shoved the last of the seeds in the soil to get them gone, irritated that they usually crop poorly…  Note the beautiful shiny new aluminium worktop surface!

  • Peppers – well just the one so far actually.  The plants are laden with fruit already and it looks set to be a good year for them although no sign of them reaching epic, Fiona-like proportions so I shall no doubt still have pepper envy at the end of the season.  Still, since we didn’t pick these green crisp beauties until much later last year & had a mere handful of them,  I am very happy with progress so far.

  • Chillies – loads of them!  And a perfect temperature.

  • Tomatoes!  Yes, finally are tomatoes are ripening.  We’ve only picked a small handful so far but we look forward to July being full of them.
  • And talking of sweet red things… Yes it’s strawberry time again.  Sadly the crop has been very poor & although the plants look happier in their new position, it doesn’t look like they are getting quite enough sun now!  Time for a soft fruit re-think.

The pumpkins are growing away well and tiny squashes are forming on the Butternut plant. This was shot a couple of weeks ago now – the fruit is already turning a gorgeous yellow…

And the aubergine plants are well ahead this season, with Stripey Eggplants forming already:

Disappointments so far: carrots & spinach.  Carrots should have gone in the ground in February like last year but me being in the UK in Feb set things back.  I had carefully sowed thinly so I could succession sow in all the rows but first the rain washed the seeds away and then the sun was suddenly too hot already.  I’m gutted because I had sown some Atomic Red and Purple Haze carrots this year & frankly it’s not looking good for them.  We’re going to try experimenting with shading one half of the carrot bed to see if it makes an appreciable difference.

Not sure why the spinach failed again – I think it just got too hot too fast & the plants bolted.  Poor germination may be due to old seeds.  I’m going to purchase some fresh seeds from here and try to get a crop going in September.

With regards to flowers – well, what a difference a month makes!

The streamside beds and the tyre wall are awash with colour – blues of the cornflowers, borage & lobelia; pinks of the petunias, snapdragons & cosmos; oranges of the marigolds & zinnia and red geraniums…

The Bo-Flo-Grove remains a massive disappointment – and more importantly a waste of water.  I am refusing to give up on the few remaining tobacco plants and the odd zinnia & marigold but it will not be a stunning display by any means.  Next year the area will be given over to shrubs & comfrey plants & will only be watered twice a week.  We’ll give some thought as to how to retain moisture up there – the ground is ridiculously well-drained & impossibly stony.

Baking & Making

The loquat tree at our house in Topla was laden with fruit this month.  Once picked I needed to process them fast so I found a chutney recipe that used most of the fruit and made a salsa with the rest.

The chutney has fast become a favourite – deliciously sweet & gingery with a spicy kick.

I finally started sprouting seeds this month too.  I’ve successfully sprouted alfafa & mung beans  – in a jar, nothing fancy, rinse them out twice a day – and today I started chick peas off too.

And I’ve been making ‘comfrey stew’!  I need to feed my peppers & tomatoes & squashes but only 100% organic will do, so I’ve harvested a load of comfrey leaves and shoved them in a bucket with some water:

No, it doesn’t smell as bad as it looks – it’s MUCH worse than that!  But in a couple of weeks it will be organic yumminess for our plants.

Reading

Douglas Kennedy’s ‘The Big Picture’ was an enjoyable read, if far-fetched & mostly unbelieveable.  It’s hard to talk about the book without giving too much away but suffice to say that the reader is asked to accept too many contradictions…  The man who purportedly loved his family so much he put up with outrageous behaviour from his wife to keep the peace, does stuff which estranged him from his family forever; the guy who was so meticulous about stuff makes a sloppy error that means everything comes undone…

It wasn’t the world’s best written book it didn’t have a gripping plot or characters that make a lasting impression but it kept me entertained for a few nights…

I am now reading Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ which was given to me by Marie & Jan the  German cyclists we befriended.  It’s for me to keep safe until they come to pick up their stuff again in the autumn but they insisted I read it in the meantime.

It’s a strange book & I’m not sure I’ve got into the rhythm of it yet.  More of that next month…

Work

June has been a game of two halves…

The month started with some busyness &, remarkably, some guests returning from last year!  It was great to see Roy again and we welcomed Jim back too, this time with his girlfriend Annie – our first Swedish guest.  Jon & Kirstie were a super couple from the UK who arrived at the beginning of June – and Steve was delighted to learn they had found us through Flickr (so all the effort he puts into updating his photo stream is finally vindicated – just got to get a guest or 2 via this blog now & all my efforts here will be worthwhile too!).  Then there was the wonderfully quirky German guy, Jorg, who fell for Daisy in a big way.

Kirsten was hiking in the nearby mountains & stayed for a few nights.  Shane (Australian) & Dave (Canadian) turned up around the same time and inspired by Kirsten did some hiking too – 1 night turned into 3 or 4.

Erick & Steve cracked on with getting stuff done whilst my time was pretty much taken up with watering the gardens (the compost tea tanks sure fills up quick with 10+ people on site!), cooking & cleaning.

I promised pics of the caravan – so here they are.  You can see the steps that Erick sawed up & dug in.  It actually looks a little different now.  The weather has been unsufferably hot the past few weeks so we have erected a sail over the front of the van, to create some shade for the early morning, and have velcroed mozzie nets over a few windows so we can keep the windows open all day & night.

And inside our cosy home…

The new fridge cupboard got finished:

And the kitchen got a re-vamp.  The shelf for the cups & glasses was moved into the new tea/ coffee making space – a dedicated ring is available for the kettle at all times without disturbing my cooking and all the drink making stuff is in one place.  A new shelf has been erected in its place and now all my herbs & spices are up out of the way, leaving the worksurface free from stuff & with maximum space available for food prep.  Erick & Steve beat aluminium sheeting into submission and covered the top of the kitchen cupboards to give me a shiny new surface that is easy to clean & durable.  Gone are the tiles that used to go manky when water got underneath them – goodbye potentially germ-harbouring material, hello hygiene!

Erick mowed the main campsite & did some strimming up on the top plot too, which was restored somewhat with the lads re-erecting the toilet & the shower.

Steve turned electrician again and completed our most exciting, money-saving project of the season yet – the 12v lighting system!  Having picked Sebastian’s brains whilst he was with us last month, Steve decided to put into play the solar panel & LED strip lights he’d purchsed from our mate John when back in the UK getting the caravan.  We’ve now got the solar panel charging a battery all day and then we use this battery at night to illuminate the building.  It’s fabulous and has considerably reduced our use of the  generator, which is saving us precious pennies.  We don’t even have to start the genny to charge laptops or mobile phones any more because these can be charged via the invertor connected to the battery for our solar powered fans.  We are generating way more power than we need to run the fans so the excess is being stored in a battery and being used via an inverter.  Genius!

Then there was nothing else for it but to make a start on the dreaded stone wall project.  Rocks were collected and assembled but it startd to really heat up and working with huge rocks became problematic other than for a few hours in the morning & at the end of the day, so the project stalled for a while.

Erick left and so did all the guests, just in time for us to host our big Family Camp Out for all our friends with kids.   25 adults, 18 kids, 12 tents, 1 camper van & some dogs made it a day to remember!  Despite all our (well, Steve’s) reservations it was a storming success – the kids had an absolute ball, the parents all got to chill with good food & alcohol with the kids asleep nearby and, importantly for us, folk got to experience camping Full Monte-style.  People were bowled over with their tents and comfy beds and frankly it was good for business!

It took us a day to dismantle all the tents and get the site back to normal but it was worth it – possibly even to be repeated at the end of the season!

Our next wwoofer, Tom, turned up just after the family madness (good timing dude!).  He was a laid back character from Oz but but by the time he got to us he’d pretty much had enough of travelling.  He was pretty jaded and also he didn’t get the experience that he wanted from us because it was only us 3 there – no other guests or volunteers – so he only stayed a few days but long enough to do a fantastic strimming job & to help Steve move the stone wall project on a bit further.

And so the second half of June has been dead quiet.  No guests, no volunteers, few enquiries & fewer bookings.  Instead of stressing (really, what can we do that we’re not already doing except chill & keep the faith?) we embraced the time & have had ourselves a lovely little holiday…

Oh, but we did manage to put up the second gazebo & finish sanding the table that Tom had all but done and restore it with some oil:

Yesterday we had a lovely Slovenian couple turn up unexpectedly.  They had been in Dubrovnik the day before & randomly met a Dutch guy who had stayed with us for a couple of nights 2 years ago.  He recommended that they visit us, so they did! What an incredible coincidence!

So, it seems our luck is turning again.  The enquiries are starting to come in thick & fast again and we have a few already converted to bookings.  Jim & Annie return tomorrow for their 3rd visit of the year and things are looking up on the volunteer front with a stack of people wanting to join us in July, August & September.  Maybe those stone walls will get re-built after all…?

Play

We took advantage of having someone around & left Erick in charge of the campsite a couple of times.  We escaped to party on Zanjice beach with Fi & Dave & some classic car enthusiasts who’d been travelling across Europe in their various gorgeous old cars (one of which was their mate Colin – a lovely guy we’d met when he visted the campsite a couple of years ago with Dave).  They’d ‘hired’ a bunch of beautiful young things (most of them loonies too!) to help them kick up a storm at the end of their epic trip and a proper DJ.  The theme was Underwater Kingdom & it was a riot!

Before all the guests buggered off, it was great to sit around the dinner table in the evenings with a bunch of folk from all around the world all swapping stories of travels & life & enjoying good food together.  And despite this being ‘our job’ we really did have a lot of fun.

There was lots of game playing going on too.  Roy had got hooked on Tac Tic when he visited last summer so was keen to play again.  Jon & Roy teamed up against me & Kirstie and then there was another couple hooked!  I introduced Dave & Shane to Quattro which they loved and played for hours and a few nights with a bunch of us round the table, we played Dice.

The best thing about the quiet period we’ve just had is that it coincided with our local friends being around.  Blazo came back from his latest stint on the ships and came to visit with the Denovici crew.  We shared the night of the Summer Solstice with them and gorged ourselves on fish, beautifully cooked by Nikola.

Then they came back a few days later to celebrate Blazo’s birthday.  We had amazing food – stacks of meat & yet again Nikola on the BBQ – great Rakija, lots of laughs & even some music-making… Nikola & Sasa took turns on Steve’s battered guitar & out came bongos & shakers & lots of singing with gusto into the early hours.  A fabulous, fabulous night.

And Daisy had fun too:

As luck would have it, our mates Katie & Tim were also having a quiet week in their yacht chartering business so they invited us to come & sail the Monty B from Bijela to Sveti Marko and overnight with them.  We locked everything up, left Daisy in charge and escaped to the water for 24 wonderful hours.  We had our first swim in the Bay this year, off the back of their beautiful sailing ketch on 28th June – shockingly late in the season to get in the water but hey ho…

We ate delicious food together, drank chilled wine in the sunshine & made merry.  It was the perfect day – not too hot that it was uncomfortable to lay out in & the evening was cool enough for us to get a decent night’s sleep.  All in all a wonderful treat…

And here’s us proving that 13 years of marriage is a good thing… (Happy Anniversary to us a few days before this!)

Nature Watch

June couldn’t have been more different than May weather-wise.  Not a drop of rain and stonking hot temperatures that take some adjusting to even for us.  We are filling the water tank to the brim whilst we can but in a week or so the pool we take from will be dried up and we will be monitoring our water use obsessively again.

The air has been filled with butterflies – Swallowtails, Scarce Sawllowtails, Mourning Cloaks, various fritillaries and a few we’ve yet to identify, notably this little monster:

It may be pretty but these critters were EVERYWHERE a week or so ago – bordering on plague proportions, flying out of the compost toilets every time we lifted the lid, generally a nusiance.  Does anyone have any idea what this is and how we would control invasions from them??

Here’s another butterfly yet to be named, much more benign…

And now its the crickets that are driving us mad.  There are tons of them in the building and I wouldn’t mind them being around except for the fact that they poo everywhere!  Sinks & surfaces have to be cleaned everyday and it’s getting really tedious.  Plus we’ve found them inside the bread bag having a chew, so the gloves are off and we’re letting Daisy do her worst!  Chasing these weird creatures as they jump about insanely keeps her entertianed for hours although they do end up with rather less legs than they started with by the time she’s done with them…

The edible doormice are back & taunting us with their scampering about in the roof space.  But at least we don’t hear them squeaking at nights anymore – YET!

This has been Mulberry Month, with the many trees in the neighbourhood laden with fruit.  Daisy and I trample over them every day as we go for our evening walk, through the clouds of buzzing bees that feed on the nectar and resolve to figure out how to get into these trees to pick the fruit, some sunny day.

And this is a rather cool glow worm that we’re seeing a lot around the campsite…

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Mel & Awen from North Wales were the first guests to arrive.  Despite all our concerns, they did not take one look at the place, turn tail and run.  It may have helped that they hadn’t been camping for years – they seemed impressed with Full Monte Mansion.  After unpacking they were straight in the shower to wash off the journey and still no wails of disappointment!  The compost toilet didn’t faze them, although like all of us they couldn’t get used to not having to flush! By the time Mil had driven Nik to the airport & back to pick up his 2 friends, they were already making themselves at home.

Our first guests

The arrival of Jo (from Belgium, now living in Portugal) and Anita (Portuguese, married to Jo) and the cracking open of the penultimate litre of Loza made from the grapes at Nik’s place in Bijela (which he had been saving for this special occasion and we had been chilling all day) – really got the evening off to a great start.  Jo & Anita had brought Portuguese Brandy to share and Marmelade – a sweet delicacy made from marmels (somekind of a big quince, we think?!).

We had arranged for Mel & Awen to have a day’s nude sailing with our friends from the sailing yacht Monty B, so they also joined us for dinner along with their 2 cute dogs – an instant hit with the guests.  The 10 of us tucked into chilli & rice and the beers & wine flowed along with the conversation.  It was a wonderful first evening and lovely to share it with special friends as well as guests.

First night at Club Full Monte

We were keen not to run the genny for longer than necessary in the evening out of respect for the neighbours (although there is no-one nearby we’re not sure what sound bounces back up off the terrain – the acoustics around here can be very strange).  How would our guests react when plunged into relative darkness?  It was no problem at all – there was a little cheer when the generator was silenced and was replaced by candle light and gas lamps.  We managed to only run the genny for 2-3 hours every evening and the lighting of the candles and gas lamps became part of the evening routine.

On Monday we had to pop back to our house to pick up a few bits and pieces and whilst we were there the phone rang.  The landline at home rarely ever rings so imagine our surprise to answer it and hear a  Hungarian voice asking if we had room at the campsite that night!  We couldn’t figure out how they had got our landline number until we realised that currently it’s the number on the website – we hadn’t updated it with our mobile numbers.  How spooky that they called for the very short period of time we were in the house!  In all the confusion, Steve totally forgot to ask how many people in the group and how many tents – we just assured them it would be fine and hurried back to the campsite to look at potential pitches.  The poor folk had a long wait at the border into Montenegro so didn’t arrive until after dark.  There were 2 young couples, each with a tent and not at all worried about having to pitch up in the dark or having a cool shower.  They produced a bottle of Grandad’s homemade walnut liquor and shared it with us.  They were up & off first thing in the morning making their way to Durmitor, one of Montenegro’s National Parks so we didn’t even get a photo of them but they were lovely young people and we were very chuffed that on only our 2nd night of opening we had over 10 people staying from 5 nationalities.

I’m glad to say that Mel & Awen stayed 4 nights with us in the end.  The Dish of the Day was a big attraction to them as they really did not want to cook for themselves especially when there were such delights as ‘Purple Pork’ (pictured below) on the menu!

Purple pork

Steve, Nik & I are all big game players but Jo & Anita are even more nuts about playing games than we are and Jo has a passion for elaborating on every game he learns to make it more complex, more involved.  Mel & Awen took all this in their stride and participated with good humour.  We had them trying to balance spoons and cocktail sticks on their noses, figuring out riddles, sat around with rizlas stuck on their foreheads trying to figure out what famous character they were and Mel had plenty of good games and tricks of his own.  Here we are playing Tac Tic on Mel & Awen’s last night:

Games with our guests

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