Wild Thyme Organic Farm and Eco-holiday, Palamartsa, Bulgaria'The days when you could walk a sow down the road to a boar are more or less over.' That is a quote from the ‘Backyard Pig and Sheep Book’, which was written in 1977. Admittedly, they are talking about the UK but that practice has certainly not died out in our corner of southeastern Europe. Back in February, we led Ellie through the snow to the other side of the village. She had a hot date with Rumi’s boar. That day was one of the coldest in what was a very cold winter and it is hard to believe that since then the temperature here has risen 65 degrees. Yesterday it was 44 centigrade in the shade. As the temperatures rose Ellie produced 7 piglets, two months old today. Five have been sold to various people in the village to be fattened up for Christmas meat and we have kept the two smallest, Stumpy and Squealer to rear ourselves. In a piece of perfect symmetry one of them has gone to Capka and Petko from whom we bought our first two pigs, including Ellie, just over a year ago. 

In other news…. Claire learned how to make cheese from Anna and her mum, Baba Gana, so we are using up the milk we get from Denny. The latest recipe uses thyme and oregano. Stephan and Galia sheered their flock of sheep in June and gave Claire two fleeces for spinning yarn. In exchange she has to knit Stephan a pair of socks with the wool by next year. So far, our neighbour Hristana has shown us how to wash the fleece. 

The festival season is in full swing with folkloric dance and music events for the Palamartsa Ensemble virtually every other weekend. The final exciting word is that we have our first Bed and Breakfast guests this month and fifteen French film-makers will arrive on their Kinobus for five days to make a short film. Watch this space.

Cherry Ripe

It is lovely to find yourself doing the same things as a year ago.  The cherries are ripe and we are starting to pick and process them just like we did in 2011.  Last year I think they were ready slightly earlier and there was David, Bree and Gav here to help with the pitting.  After a spell of hot weather we are currently having a lot of rain but the garden is happy.  Read more…

The Wild Thyme Project!

It's been a while since we’ve been in touch but we’ve been busy. Dennie the goat had a kid in March. Her name is Clairey and she is growing fast. Apart from planting up the garden, we have also been finishing work on the Ivanov Kushta eco-cottage.  Shortly after we moved in we bought the derelict house next door and we’ve been working hard ever since to make it into a sustainable little ecosystem.   This is what we’ve done, with lots of help from our friends! 

To recycle water, we’ve installed six 1000 litre tanks and a few smaller ones to collect rainwater from the roof.  Greywater from sinks and showers gets recycled into mulch basins in the ground which irrigate fruit trees, bushes or shrubs.  We’ve made an odourless compost toilet which doesn’t use water. There’s also a straw pee pot.  Straw is a great mulch but robs the soil of nitrogen and pee is full of nitrogen.  So they make a good combination.  Carbon rich sawdust is thrown into the compost toilet after a poo.  Again this kills the smell and helps make rich compost that can be used on fruit trees after a couple of years.  

For energy, we’ve tried to go as solar as our budget would allow. Our solar PV system of 1000 watts is enough to run lights, an energy efficient fridge, a laptop, recharge phones and power a CD player. To heat water, we’ve installed a 300 litre water tank on the roof above the showers. The water is heated directly from the sun.      

Most waste gets fed back into the farm.  What Ellie, the pig, doesn’t like goes on the compost heap for the garden. Most of our food is grown but we can’t be completely self sufficient.  Sugar, rice etc we buy in and this creates some waste through packaging. 

In the garden we’ve rebuilt a mud brick wall and restored the barn using mud plaster finished with limewash and clay paint. There’s a herb plot by the back door and we’ve started a small forest garden. In the long term, it will be a self sustaining plot with perennial fruits, herbs and vegetables.   

The house has been restored using natural and sustainable materials. The walls have been plastered with mud and straw and painted with locally quarried clay paint and the mud floors on the first floor have been repaired. On the exterior, we’ve restored the ornate art deco plasterwork and painted it in its original striking colours.

….so what now? Well, from 1st June we’re doing bed and breakfast and from mid June, the whole house will be ready for holiday rental. If you know anyone who would like an eco-holiday on an organic farm in a little Bulgarian village or wants a peaceful place to run a workshop, we’d love to hear from you. Here’s our website: www.wildthymefarm.org

Salami and Snow

The snow is starting to melt. The salami is hanging in the window. We have spent the last two months in the kitchen by the stove, reading books, looking after the animals and getting ready for the spring and summer in the garden. The tomato seedlings on the window sill are already looking good. It has been a long winter by any standards and even the villagers have said that it's been unusually cold with temperatures regularly reaching minus ten. The pig’s water bucket was frozen solid for over two weeks, day and night. Thankfully now she has something to drink and not a moment too soon as she is going to have piglets. We led her through the village in a blizzard to the house of Rumi, our neighbour Yvanka’s cousin. Rumi has a huge boar. So, all we have to do now is wait the 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days and we will have a dozen or so wee piggies. Denny the goat is much further advanced and she will be having her kids in three weeks. 

It seems like a long time ago now but we had a visit from Alex, Josh and Dani in January. It was lovely to see them. One night we all went out to Popovo Disco and danced the night away to Chalga, Balkan cheesy pop folk. No photos survive thankfully.

Claire went back to Ireland for two weeks and on the way we stopped for a day in Bucharest. Previously we had only ever driven through but getting out of the car and walking about the old town gives you a completely different view. It’s a beautiful city with some lovely architecture. 

Finally here are a couple of poems written by Chris over the long winter months.

The garden under snow
The day the snow came down
like icing sugar puffed from a broken bag,
burst and filling the space above the earth.
With an old eider down
but fresh as milk, it smothered the garden. 
Under the covers the brown soil was suckling.
Night came behind the flakes.
And it was quiet, time stopped 
and nothing ever happened again.
Not a single thing.
But then, months later
The first teeth erupted, nibbling on grit.
Tiny fingers groped through worm holes to the surface.
The skeletons of birds were alive with flies
whilst insects re-fleshed the bones with dust
and iced water fizzed and bubbled in a tall glass.

Stalactites in a cottage kitchen
Saltpetre and spices
Shrivelled like cold fingers
Or teddy bears in Mother Shipton’s Cave
Severed body parts wound with skin
The large intestine
Scraped and dipped in salt
Then cured in a magical wind
Sentinels hang smoky from darkened beams
Sausages and spells
Dried totems, sliced
And pressed as charms in paper packets

Underground, overground, wombling free

Last week we met Great Uncle Bulgaria in a Varna bookshop. But where were all the other wombles? We thought it would be nice if they could come and visit their great uncle so they have become the names for our garden plots. They are spread about the garden like a map of the world. Orinoco top left, Tobermory in the middle, Tomsk in the far northeast and Wellington down under. 


The coming winter is going to be harsh but this is hard to believe at the moment as the sun is shining all day long. Nonetheless, we are preparing for the cold weather; chopping wood, clearing the grape vines, mending fences and sowing lettuce, onion and garlic. Hopefully the young plants will survive cuddled up under a metre or so of snow. 
After the dogs of capitalism saw off most of our brood, we are left with one cockerel and a chicken, but at least we are getting some eggs. However, time is now running out for these two. We are going back to the UK in two weeks so I'm afraid the freezer beckons.

This village is a model for sustainable small-scale agriculture. Each household has its own land for growing vegetables, outbuildings for keeping animals, hay lofts for winter feed, fruit trees and grapevines. But these households are not entirely independent. Much of the agriculture is still organised communally. There is a village shepherd, a goat herd and a cow herd. Everyone with animals sends them out with the Palamartsa flocks each morning and then collects them again at night.  There are also communal woodlands and fields for growing winter fodder.  We are not sure whether this system goes back to soviet communism or is actually much older. Maybe when our Bulgarian gets better we may find this out. Someone has at last answered our advert for Bulgarian lessons. The first session is on Thursday at 6. Watch this space. 

Finally, check out this video posted by Robin and Amanda on their web site. http://mangomanjaro.se/2010/11/12/the-bulgarian-dream-meet-chris-and-claire/   
A and R have reached southern Turkey but are having trouble finding people to do the chicken dance..