Home-Grown Food – From Meadow to Veggie Patch

Creating a garden, or a veggie patch to be precise, from scratch isn’t a picnic… it’s a whole load of hard work but it is work which at the same time as being hard can also be surprisingly satisfying.

Creating a garden, or a veggie patch to be precise, from scratch isn’t a picnic… it’s a whole load of hard work but it is work which at the same time as being hard can also be surprisingly satisfying.

When we were buying our new house we knew that a part of our land would be made into usable garden space with eatable thingies growing in it. As it ended up our new home had no dedicated garden space at all. The former owners of our place didn’t grow anything besides tons of beautiful flowers including about 100 bushes of roses. They did, however, support the local bee population by having some well-developed wild meadow… All good but we needed to make the room for our veggie patch 🙂 The plan became obvious, we had to turn part of our meadow into a veggie patch!

Our preparation work began in autumn. Luckily for us, a local man in our village called Ivan owned a mini tractor and plough and was kind enough to come to us with his tractor and plough our designated field. Then nature and the harshest Bulgarian winter in 65 years did their job. Over the winter months under piles of snow, the soil began breaking down and all the wild plants and grasses turned to mulch… super, everything so far was on course for getting ready for spring.

Once the snow melted it was time for step two… rotovation. But things aren’t always going to go according to plan. The snow melted, the sun came out to play but with it came also the rain. We were told that Ivan will be able to come on the 4th day after the last rain, so we waited… One day with no rain, two days with no rain, then the rain came… and so the countdown resets and begins again… after waiting for almost 2 weeks without the needed 4-day dry stretch we decided to start to clean up the soil by hand. It was a hard task, especially for two unfit people who have never done any gardening and had spent most of the last winter chilling indoors by the fire recovering from all of last years’ stresses. But day after day, meter by meter we slowly progressed… Until finally last Thursday at about 9am the doorbell rang, it was Mimo with the good news, Ivan is on his way as today was the 4th day pass the last rains. Around an hour later of precision driving and our entire patch was all turned and cultivated.

Time for step three – root removal 🙂 After Ivan had finished rotovating the soil this task became much easier. It took us a further 3 full days to finally finish our patch. We stood at the edge and looked upon our huge area of lovely brown crumbly soil set within a backdrop of wild meadow and marvelled at the transformation and felt deeply satisfied, it was a good life moment.

At this point, we were ready for marking the veggie plots out and the essential pathways. After some arguments and lots of running about with a measuring tape, a giant ball of string and an armful of marking sticks we had completed the task and created 9 even(ish) plots plus a 10th designated for root vegetables. Happy times!

One would think that this was it, but evidently no… after we marked out our plots, it was time for the final clean-up of the soil. I was not convinced and must admit to a fair amount of whining about unnecessary extra work but Mark started turning the soil over with a spade in one of the plots, I sank to my knees and started picking up anything that shouldn’t be there. I still mumbled about the stupidity of our actions till I tried to tug a root that wouldn’t move. I blamed my exhausted arms for their lack of power and asked Mark for help. He couldn’t pull it either, so being a bloke and refusing to be beaten by a mere root he started digging, and digging and then more digging. Turns out my little root was attached to a medium sized root that was in turn attached to a giant root that finally ended in a tree stump! 2 hours of digging and pulling and just a hint of swearing and the root was out. Mark turned to me and simply said: “A waste of time hey…” I resumed picking up old roots and didn’t mutter a word. Then, at last, all the remaining roots had been picked, we raked until all was flat and smooth and we were done! All we have to do next allegedly is plant our seeds.

I don’t know if you have any experience with gardening and growing veggies but if you do, please tell me, does it get any easier? Because right about now the concept of going to the local supermarket and buying a basketful of veggies is making an awful lot of sense. We were told this is the hard part and that now until next spring it is easier, but at this point, it is really hard to believe in it.

How To Choose The Best Food For Your Dog

Canines are the perfect domestic pets because they can adapt to living with humans very well. Many people prefer dogs over cats for many different reasons, but this decision should be considered carefully. Be sure to consider your needs, lifestyle and schedule, before inviting any puppy into your home. Start by doing some research on puppy care, feeding schedules, dog foods and housetraining. Once you have made up your mind that you are ready to make the transition, it will be time to start looking for that new puppy.

Getting a pup is just the beginning, now, you have to decide what to feed it and this choice can be very confusing. The right food is key to the good development of your new family member, so make it a wise choice. I know some of you were not overly keen on the raw diet I wrote about lately so let’s talk about shop bought feed for a change. In this article, you will discover several tips on how to choose the best dog food for your furry friend.
As a rule of thumb, in general, a dog’s food shouldn’t be changed too often as this will cause problems but as soon as your dogs’ circumstances change you should consider changing their diet too.

Dog’s Age

Dog food manufacturers often offer a variety of dog foods to us the consumer. The type of dog food will be determined by the pet’s age. For instance, puppies will require far more nutrition than a middle-aged or senior dog, because they are still growing. The manufacturer labels each of its dog foods, so we can easily find what we are looking for. Don’t be tempted to buy that bag of senior food for your 3-month-old pup just because it’s on special offer, the distinctions between foods were made for a reason.

Dog’s Activity

As well as the age, the dog’s activity levels will play a crucial role in picking the right food. An almost housebound dog, which rarely gets taken for a walk (yes, dogs like this exist all over, just look at some of your neighbors which proudly walk them only on a weekend, or the thousands of miniatures used as “accessories” that get carried everywhere in a handbag or under an arm) these dogs will have totally different needs than say a working breed, which runs around for most of the day. Mixing it up may well result in the dog becoming overweight or malnutrition.

Branded Food

A sad reality of modern life and shrinking budgets is that many pet owners will end up choosing a brand because it is more affordable. This can be a huge mistake, as some generic brands will not offer the same nutritional value as some named brands. Now, this is not to say that all generic brands are out of the question, far from it but I do recommend reading the labels and seeing for yourself what’s going into your dogs’ food. There is a reason some kibbles cost 3 times more than a superstore brand, for example.

Brand / Food Research

As mentioned above, named brand dog foods are deemed to be much safer and more nutritional than generic brands. However, this is just an opinion and not an actual fact. Instead of taking the advice of others, you should do your own research. You will find an array of websites that offer genuine customer reviews on many different dog food brands. Yes, I know that customer’s reviews are just an opinion but if you find a food with a majority of negative reviews it might be a good idea to stay clear of it.

Canned / Dry Food

When comparing the cost of canned dog food to dry, you will see a major difference. Canned foods come with a higher price tag, making them out of reach for some consumer pockets. This is generally the reason why dry kibble foods are so much more popular, plus many of the brands will actually provide the same nutritional benefits. If you have difficulty making a decision, you may want to consider mixing the two together. Many owners will utilize the dry food as a mixer to create a tasty feast just like we did for years, add a few spoonful’s of canned food into kibbles just to make food a bit more attractive (from a human’s perspective that is as the dogs didn’t really care about aesthetics)

And if everything looks too confusing, you know there is always the raw diet option… just saying 🙂

Moving Abroad – Do’s and Don’ts

For some moving abroad might be out of necessity for others a planned choice. For some, it may feel like a nightmare, for others an adventure, a new beginning yet whatever your reasons or feelings there are some basic DO’s and DON’Ts which will apply in any situation.

DO your research

Even if it is only basic research, as some is better than none. Moving abroad on a whim isn’t a good idea, no matter how adventurous you are. A good basic knowledge about your new country, its people, traditions and customs is a must before you pack your bags.

DON’T talk, do

I know quite a few people who talk and talk about making a move but never actually get around to the moving part… Well, we’ve been there… we talked for three years or so before we actually took the plunge but we did do it. If you want something, take a deep breath and act on it. Life is way too short to just talk about the changes you want.

DO invest in a lawyer and /or translator

All countries are different and some can be vastly different to what you are used to. They will have their own laws and procedures and without a person on the “inside”, it can be really easy to get caught out with something you will come to regret in the future. Even if you do extensive research beforehand and you really know all the basics, you will not possess all the knowledge about local unwritten laws, laws which are in use but can’t be found within any written Acts. Getting the proper legal advice is really important, it will give you piece of mind and potentially save you a lot of money. DON’T skip it.

DON’T forget about your income

When moving abroad especially to a cheaper country a lot of people forget that they still need money to live off… yea life may be more affordable but it isn’t free; even if you decide to live off grid you will still need some cash. Depending on your abilities you might move and think about work later but if you don’t have any transferable skills, it might be hard or nearly impossible to find work, so DO remember to find a realistic plan on how you can feed your bank balance.

DO pick the right place to move to

I am not talking about the right house, I am talking about the right part of the country, district or even street. When we were searching for our house, some offers seemed too good to be true… well, once we actually visited the once in a life-time deal we would discover why… the house was just as advertised, borderline perfect but no one mention anything about its neighbourhood, or the giant factory just across the street or the subsidence, the mildew and damp etc.

DON’T remodel your house right away

The chances that your new place will be perfect are slim. Once you move in or even before you move in, most people feel the urge to make it feel like theirs, renovating before actually living in and bonding with the house never works well. All that painting, decorating and putting your own mark on the place hardly ever works in the long run. Move in, live in the house for a few months, get a feel for it and then make more informed decisions about what or how things need to be changed – this approach will save you a lot of nerves as well as money.

DO insure your new house

House insurance is always a controversial topic; if you are buying a house and you have a mortgage you have no say in that matter, insurance is a must but what about buying it out right? A lot of people don’t pay for building insurance thinking that nothing will ever happen to them… well, in 8 years in our old house in the UK, we claimed house insurance twice – a burglary and a leak in the roof… needless to say, our monthly payment for house insurance paid off.

DON’T be a hermit

You moved to a new country so go mix with locals and become a part of your new community. It’s quite scary to see Brits living here for 5+ years with no real abilities to communicate with their neighbours or having any local friends. I know people are different but I personally don’t get it. Why move 1000 miles away and mix only with other expats?

Oh and most importantly DO enjoy yourself!

Have you ever considered moving abroad?

How to Improve Your Food Photography in 9 Easy Steps

“A photographer is like a cod, which produces a million eggs in order that one may reach maturity.”
George Bernard Shaw

One would think that getting a brand new latest model camera like the Lumix DH5 Panasonic Compact System Camera, Nikon D810 or Canon Mark IV for example, would allow you to become a pro photographer… well, one would be wrong! The equipment you are shooting with is important for sure but it isn’t everything. I am not a pro, and I still have a lot to learn but at the same time, I already possess some knowledge which I can share with you, knowledge which hopefully will allow you to shoot more mouth-watering pictures. I focus on food photography because this is what interests me but you can adapt my tips below to any still life subject.

So, let’s get started – how to improve your food photography in 9 easy steps!

Know your camera

Seems like a no-brainer, does it? But be honest with yourself, when was the last time you actually reached for the manual? Do you really know what all the buttons or sliders actually do? It doesn’t matter what camera you have, if you don’t know all its functions, you will never be able to get the most out of it. Most people buy a new DSLR, set it on auto and hope for the best… well, this really isn’t the way to go.

Invest in some photo lighting

You can have the most expensive, top of the range camera but without some good lighting, you still will not be able to take a decent photo. It would be ideal to be able to shoot in all natural light all of the time but this isn’t always a realistic option. And no, you don’t have to sell your car in order to obtain some photo lights. Check eBay or Amazon, you can get a set of continuous softbox lighting for £30 or so… and yes, they do work well…

Understand the light

Once you have the lights in hand, you need to understand how to light your object. Food should never be light from the front. Ideally, you want to backlight your dish or set the light on the side (try an 11 or 1 o’clock lighting position) but never in front. In addition to your new light, play with diffusers or fill cards… it all depends on your needs; they will allow you to mellow the light or reduce harsh shadows especially if you are shooting with one light only.

Take care of your background

The dish is always the hero of your shot but everything else you see around it is equally important. Most people struggle with backgrounds but actually, the lack of a nice background is very easy to fix… look for inspirations all around you – wallpaper, tiles, wooden or vinyl flooring boards, old cupboard doors… Pop to your local DIY shop and ask for some samples of pieces of wallpaper you like, buy a length of clip on flooring and when you get home simply cut it into 3 shorter lengths and connect them as intended and tada… you have a wooden looking board done.

Work on composition

When you are setting your shot, look through your camera, pay attention to all the details you can see. Make sure your background is clear of clutter as well as clear of any dust or stray hairs… Decide on the angle of the shot, prop accordingly and frame. Remember about the rule of thirds, negative space and a colour wheel. Sounds like a lot but practise makes it easy.

Pay attention to props

I know that props can make or break the food shot. I personally lack in this department, I have an entire cupboard full of cooking props but I hardly ever use them… like I said before I am still learning and it looks like I am kind of stuck for the moment on the styling front. Summer is coming and with it car boot or yard sales, which are perfect for stocking up with unusual kitchen utensils like old plates, cups or glasses.

Plate your food right

Your food is your hero so make sure it looks as good as possible. Don’t just flop a spoonful of mashed potatoes on the plate next to your beautiful, juicy steak… place it with purpose, shape it and keep the plate clean. I see so many pictures of food which to all intents and purposes looks like road kill… it might be the best pasta bake ever created but if you present it so it resembles a dog’s dinner no one is going to cook it, trust me. Some dishes are hard to plate nicely, maybe try shooting them as the bubble away in your cooking pot or for baked goods whilst they are still on the baking tray… not everything has to be presented on a plate.

Shoot in RAW

No matter how great a photographer you will become or are now, your pictures will need some editing, even if it is just emphasising a small burst of colour, or the contrast… there is always something which didn’t go according to plan or could be improved. To make editing as easy as possible and to keep as much details as possible you have to shot in the RAW format. There is no compression between RAW and a .jpg file during and after any editing process and once you start shooting in RAW, you will understand why…

Practise, practise, practise

This is the best advice I can give you. Practise makes us better, we learn from our mistakes and next time we will know how to fix what went wrong during the previous shoot. Practise with your camera settings, with different angles, different lighting or colour… there is no better way to learn than practise!

I could write and write and write, as the topic of photography is never ending but as I am not writing a novel I will stop here. I hope that those few tips will help you understand what’s important and allow you to start taking better pictures.

Good luck and if you have any questions you know where to find me.

Would you add anything to my list?

* This is a collaborative post.

5 Benefits of a Raw Diet

To fed your dog a raw diet it should consist of RAW meat, bones, organs, eggs, vegetables, and fruit… sounds simple enough but is it good for our pets?

Well, just like with everything else there are some who are pro and some who are against. The best answer I can give: read, research and make your own mind about the raw diet… I can only speak for myself and share my own experience about it.

For years we struggled with Bunk’s allergies, we have spent literally 1000s of pounds on the best dog foods we could find, only to find out that a few month later his skin rashes have returned. Gluten free, grain free, hypoallergenic, holistic… we tried them all with no real success stories. I’ve considered starting a raw diet some time ago but I was a bit sceptic so we kind of took a half measure – raw mixed with kibbles… well, this didn’t really change anything as Bunk was still suffering from his allergies, that is until now… because for the last 6 months both Bunk and Lilly have been on a pure raw diet and they are golden!

I am not trying to convince you to go raw, all I want is to share with you my own observations after this diet change. So what did we observe?

Healthy teeth

Bunk didn’t really have any problems with his teeth but Lilly did. Maybe due to her age or maybe due to an earlier diet but her teeth were full of plague and tart and we were planning a professional teeth cleaning session for her but it’s no longer needed. Her teeth got better! The plague and tart build-up are gone and her breath has finally stopped being so unpleasant.

Good weight

You will know if you are a regular reader of my blog that Lilly has always had a weight problem. For years her weight was like a roller-coaster – up and down and up again… we tried different diets, more exercise and it all worked… until it didn’t… Now, she is lean, her weight doesn’t go up and down and finally, we could put the dog obesity problem to rest.

More energy

Both Lilly and Bunk have much more energy. They are alert, playful and seem happier. I don’t know if this is purely due to the new diet, but I am convinced it had to have a lot to do with it.

Smaller poops

One would think that this one is beneficial to dog owners only as they have to clean up less but actually it has a great benefit for the dogs too – healthy anal glands. No more vet visits with Bunk to empty the glands.

No more allergies

This one is super important especially for us! I am super glad as I no longer have to look after open sores, washing them on an hourly basis, buying and applying antibiotics but most of all Bunk doesn’t suffer. Most shop-bought pet food contains additives, preservatives, grain or other ingredients which cause allergies… a raw diet doesn’t!

So what do we feed our dogs these days?

Well, they get a mixture of raw meat on the bone, fine grated vegetables and fruit with an addition of fish oil, coconut oil and homemade turmeric paste. Once a week they will have fish or organs and some raw eggs. In reality, it looks like this… I pop to my local shop and buy 20+kg of raw dog meat on the bone, some organs and a pile of fresh veggies and fruit (whatever is in season). Meat goes to the freezer and fresh produce goes to the pantry. Every three days I take a pile of carrots, beetroots, leeks, celery or broccoli (or whatever I could buy at the farmers market) and shred it in my food processor, then move it into a large plastic tub and pop into the fridge. In the morning I defrost some meat, so it’s ready come dinner time. The meaty bones get mixed with the shredded veggies, some chopped apples and bananas will be added into the bowl, then oils and turmeric and it’s done! Dinner time! Another highlight for us is the fact that the dogs take their time eating, no more wolfing it down in under a minute, now they can take 10-15 minutes to eat their food making it more of an event for them and they are still licking the floor and bowls half an hour later looking for every last scrap.

Have you ever considered feeding your pets a raw diet?

 

For more information please read: “Top 50 Most Frequently Asked BARF Questions Newcomers Ask”. Hopefully, this will answer all the questions you might have about a raw diet.

 

To fed your dog a raw diet it should consist of RAW meat, bones, organs, eggs, vegetables and fruit… sounds simple enough but is it good for our pets?