Sunday, May 08, 2016

Practicing for old age

Fascinating blog about the people who live in remote corners of Romania, perhaps the last "untouched" traditional agricultural communities in Europe. Wild Transylvania. There are a lot of interesting stories in it, and a great deal of writing about the local ancient agricultural practices of these people. But one story really stood out.

Maria Dogaru is an elderly lady who lives by herself with her sheep and cows, in a high mountain.

"Since Maria's husband died 35 years ago she has lived alone in a small house with no electricity or running water. She uses oil lamps for light and collects water from a spring 200 metres away for drinking and cooking. When she needs to wash her clothes, she carries them down to a nearby river. She lives in a single room with an earthen floor, small bed, stool, stove and a low lying table. It was a cold day but her room was warm and comfortable. Maria liked sitting next to her stove which she would feed occasionally with small pieces of wood cut by herself. After catching up with her family members who visit two or three times a year, she gave us some food, painted eggs from the recent Romanian Easter, bread and salt. Everything Maria eats is produced from her land and the small number of sheep, hens and one cow."

I have a kind of daydream about this sort of life. Maybe it's just a fantasy. I don't know why, but it seems terrifically appealing. But I think I could live this way very happily. All it would really take is a bit of land.

"Maria, why do you choose to live here in the mountains, when you could live a more comfortable life in the village lower in the valley?" She replied, "because here I feel free and because I never liked gossip" She also found it easier to graze her animals on meadows that surround her house. In the village she would have to shepherd her livestock along roads to reach the meadows at the edge of the village. 

I then asked her about her health. She said she has always been fine until recently. Her family took her to hospital where she was diagnosed with hypertension, she was then prescribed medication but she said she never takes it. I asked her what medicines if any she uses for other ailments. She said she only uses herbal remedies from herbs she forages for in the forest. She also eats wild fruits, mushrooms and makes soup and sauces from nettles. 

What intrigued me was Maria's fitness. The route down to the spring involved steep inclines which I personally struggled with just carrying my camera. Maria does this everyday carrying two full buckets of water in all kinds of weather, in all seasons! She also walks nine kilometres down to the village church every Sunday and back again uphill.

It reminds me of Suora Charia Barboni.

I still dream of those things.


Lots of garden work today, starting with some weed clipping and pulling in the back where the path goes up to the house from the car port, and one last turn-over of the veg bed to pull out the last of the sprouted acorns. Oh.. the acorns! Life! It just won't quit!

I planted out six kale seedlings, companion-planted with a whole bunch of garlic, and some nice dark pink gladiolus that should perk things up. The weather has warmed up, so I finally put in the six tomatoes that have been living on my bedroom windowsill. But I completely forgot to add in the rosehip squeezings I have so carefully saved for weeks from the rosehip wine, that was going to go under the poms for fertiliser. I'll have to dig it in tomorrow. I also read that garlic and nasturtiums are good companion plants for poms, since they both tend to discourage aphids and other pests, so another trip to the farm shop  is in order, where the sprouting garlic are for sale for 50 cents each. I've still got loads of nasturtium seeds.

There's still quite a lot of room, and I've got beets, little onions and some butternut squash seeds to go in. Six pumpkin plants have started from the seeds I saved last year, and are happily growing in the east-facing window, but I think I'm going to experiment with these. Instead of the ground bed, maybe put them in a big pot each, and do them next to the fence that gets sun all afternoon, so when the fruit comes, they can be hung up in nets from the fence so they'll be away from slugs and bugs and fungus.

Big plans. Always things to do, especially this time of year.

A whole bunch of the wildflower-mix seeds I buddy-planted with some rucola are starting to sprout in a little tiny terraced step I made in the slope, along with more of the nasturtiums and two more pots of mystery-seeds. The lavender that just sat in its pot and sulked all summer last year has suddenly sprouted and is getting ready to burst forth in flower, and the slope is completely covered in wild purple campanulas. It's been raining pretty steadily for weeks, so the lack of sun has kept them from opening, but the slope is completely covered in them and it can't be long now. The upper part of the garden, that I'm just letting go wild, is completely covered in these wild white ombrellate flowers, that I can't remember the name of at the moment, and all the poppies are coming out in between, like little living scarlet flames.

The slope continues to be a puzzle. I've rescued it from further careless mowing by the Old Guy, but the years and years of careless handling has kept anything from growing up there much. I have found a big patch of wild thyme growing in another section, and I've read that clover fixes nitrogen and is a ground cover that will survive in nearly any conditions. The plan is to cut little plugs from the established thyme - that is a great spreader and ground cover and can grow in almost no soil, and then buy some of the clover seeds that the farmers get for their haying. This, I hope, will fix the soil and stop wind and water erosion, and start building up the nutrients.

The Eruca Sativa I found on the verge and dug up to rescue from the town mowers has finally perked up after transplanting. I thought it was a gonner. It's a nice looking plant with lovely flowers, and is a particularly healthful Brassica, with very peppery tasting leaves that are ridiculously rich in iron and vitamins and antioxidants. It was an unusually handsome specimen, and I couldn't bear to see it killed by the town guys and their horrible gas-powered death-machines. But the day I dug it up I was in a hurry and it was the full heat of mid-day, and the thing was already in full flower. Just about the worst possible conditions. It sat in its pot and drooped, and refused to come out of its funk. I almost gave up on it, but it seems the constant rain has had an effect. It's even producing new leaves and flowers.

To my complete delight, the rose canes I cut in the very early spring and just stuck in pots to make a rose trellis for beans and some other climbers, have actually sprouted. Rose family plants are really resilient, and I knew the canes can often propagate by themselves, but I had left them to dry for quite a long time, and wasn't expecting this. But I cleared away the oak leaves I'd put in the pots to protect from frost, and there they were, four little green leafy shoots of Rosa Canina. Now I think I'm going to go get some more and stick them all over the place.

The other day I brought home some aquilegia and wild strawberries from the Great Outdoors, and they seem to be doing pretty well in planters. I also rescued all the poppies that were growing up in the place where the Old Guy with his death machine comes once a month or so to kill everything. I couldn't bear to have them mowed so now they're all jammed together in one long planter. They were very quick to recover and are now happily producing flowers.

I seeded a bunch of wild poppies last autumn in the pots with the roses, and now they are towering up over my neatly trimmed rose bushes, with huge fuzzy flower heads on them. They bloom until June here, so will be quite lovely.

My big pot of potatoes is recovering from the freak frost night we had in April, and the surviving beans are starting their secondary leaves. Things have been slowed by that awful night of cold. It outright killed all the wisteria blooms in town, just as they were reaching their peak... a tragedy, and it has blighted quite a lot of the trees. Even some of the very hardy tilia and oaks, the ones that had late leaves, were affected.

Quite a lot of the oaks and nearly all the sumac all over the place are affected and some so badly that they are obviously not going to produce any leaves this spring at all. I wonder if a tree dies when that happens. Maybe they'll come back next year, but quite a few of the trees, even the flowering locust and some of the walnuts, have only got little black rags of dead leaves on them and no new growth at all. I'm surprised that the local trees are so delicate. Surely this isn't the first time there has been a late frost.

Most of the flora is just fine though. A short walk in the Marcite yesterday revealed that the elder is about to burst forth in blossom. I'm going to have to bottle that rosehip wine to make room for the elderflower champagne and cordial.

Brother Michael has come home from his beekeeping course. The St. Anthony's nuns keep lots of bees. I wonder if someone would be willing to teach me.



Gerard Brady said...

I have just put up a couple of bait hives hoping for a freebie. Unfortunately a lot of the feral bees have died out here because of varroa mite so I will be dependent on any local beekeepers missing a queen cell at their spring visit.

Eugene said...

Hilary when will you welcome paying guests, who would love to go on retreat there?

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Well Eugene, I'm afraid I would not be able to accommodate guests if I don't know them very well. But certainly lots of people do come to Norcia for retreats. It is possible to stay with the monks if you are man, or with the Benedcitine sisters if you are a woman. The Poor Clares have quite a lot of good accommodation, and I think also have room for families. Of course, they don't charge, but they appreciate donations to cover costs. Also, there are a lot of nice rooms and good hotels that are very reasonably priced. B&Bs galore, and self-housekeeping apartments. Norcia is a VERY popular destination, particularly among Italians. And it is a special place, particularly if you have an interest in the Benedictine traditions.

Eugene said...

Thank you Hilary for the info. Having spent the first 9 years of my life in Italy, your description of the area makes it sound very enticing.
God willing I will be given an opportunity to visit.
God bless you for all the good you do.