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.

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?

Moving Abroad – Top 5 Things I Miss About the UK

Moving abroad is never easy, no matter how wonderful the new place is, there is always something you are going to miss. Christmas and the incoming New Year’s celebration have put me in a reminiscent mood, so I’ve decided to share with you all those little things I miss about the UK.

Moving abroad is never easy, no matter how wonderful the new place is, there is always something you are going to miss. Christmas and the incoming New Year’s celebration have put me in a reminiscent mood, so I’ve decided to share with you all those little things I miss about the UK. Friends

Well, this is always the biggest downside to moving away. Years ago when I moved to the UK, I had to deal with the same dilemma, leaving all my friends behind… despite having some experience with this no one ever said that the second time round would be any easier, and it wasn’t. I miss my friends and there isn’t a lot I can do about it… yes, there are phones, Skype, emails and all the other social media updates but this simply isn’t the same as some face to face contact. I hope with time things will get better and my friends will someday make the effort to come to us, with a visit.

Car boots

This might not be a big deal for most people but I did love and still do love car boot sales. Every Sunday I would take some “me time” and spend a few hours at my local car boot sales. Sometimes I would bring home a discovered bargain but to be honest most of the time I would come back empty handed, even then I would still be happy and relaxed and fired up for a week to come. Apparently there are some car boot sales here but they only operate during the summer season so hopefully, I will get my next fix soon.

The roads! But not the traffic

Think what you want but the roads here are in places totally diabolical! I can’t even describe them with any justice, just to say it’s bad. The first thing we had to do after moving here was to get ourselves a 4×4 so we could actually move around without huge garage bills. Yes, people do use “normal” cars here but I truly have no idea how… how are they surviving with all those holes (craters) and how do they make sure their car doesn’t fall apart every time after hitting them because you just can’t miss them all! I truly do miss simple, straight and flat tarmac… sad I know! The roads here are hideous, maybe with the exception of the new motorways which are super smooth like a babies bottom and a few country roads that somehow have been dragged into the modern era but the rest…ouch. On the other hand, there is a huge silver lining… there is no traffic… that has to count for something, right? After three months of driving around everywhere, I have not once been in a traffic jam, not even a little one and that includes driving around the cities.

Lottery

I was never a huge Lotto fanatic but every now and then, like most people, I would buy a “lucky” ticket in the hope of winning the jackpot and of course while away some time dreaming about just how I would spend all of that money. Now, as I officially no longer live in the UK, I can no longer participate in the lottery. Luckily for me however, I’ve discovered Lottoland, which doesn’t put any restrictions on your address and I can still indulge myself with the occasional “lucky” ticket, or should I say slip to be precise. Yes, I no longer have the satisfaction of having my paper ticket (which actually isn’t such a bad idea as I do tend to lose things) but I am also not restricted as to what to play. Next time I am feeling lucky I might even try the US Power Ball 🙂

The ease of shopping

Discovering new things is fun, don’t get me wrong but shopping in a foreign land with no real ability to read what is stated on the label can get a bit tedious. Again, with time this will disappear or at least get a bit better but for now, I truly miss going to the store and knowing what it actually is that I have just put into my basket. My friend once told me that discovering new things, especially foods is good for us… and yes, I do agree with the sentiment but then again coming home with a bag of something you thought was caster sugar and then discovering it’s definitely not can get a bit annoying.

 

All that being said, with all these things that I miss about the UK, I still swear that we have made a good choice. I am sure with time some of these issues will fade away and other different things will come to light but such is life… it is never perfect, is it? But this is the closest we have ever got to it.

Bulgaria 1O1 – Two Months On

It’s been two months since we moved to Bulgaria. A steep learning curve is being climbed but I have to admit, despite all that’s weird and different here, we are loving it!

Moving is stressful in general, now imagine moving to a foreign country without any real knowledge of the local language or even the ability to read their letters… madness, wouldn’t you say? Well, yes yet we decided to call it “an adventure”… it’s been a bit of a crazy roller-coaster but in the end, I claim it was worth it.

Bulgaria 1o1 - Expat journal from real life in rural Bulgaria... It’s been two months since we moved to Bulgaria. A steep learning curve is being climbed but I have to admit, despite all that’s weird and different here, we are loving it!

So, what’s different?

Weather, for a starter.

It’s so different to your typical English weather, Mark still can’t believe it. Last weekend we had 15C, hitting 30C in the sun… perfect summer weather one would say yet the calendar definitely shows December! We had breakfast in our cotton shirts in the garden and then BBQ’ed some goat legs for lunch and dinner later during the day. A few days later and a wake-up call, the snow hit, temperatures plummeted and now it’s stunningly beautiful and dazzlingly white everywhere. Crazy hey? It might be crazy but at the same time it’s wonderful, do you know why? Because of the sun! The sun comes to play every day. It might be 2C outside but after putting the washing on the line in the garden it is dry in a couple of hours, come on… this would never happen in the UK in December with its freezing cold rain and the almost constant gloominess from the perpetual grey skies. The sun shines here on average 300 days a year and when it does it is always accompanied by a majestic deep blue sky with the occasional scattering of little fluffy clouds.

Food!

Well, the food here is truly a wonder to behold and try! The almost total lack of supermarkets means most produce is truly local and let’s face it healthy (or at least much healthier than all that factory farmed mass produced stuff designed to the strict requirement of various superstores). The food here taste delicious, even a simple meal has so much flavour, it is pure pleasure to eat.

Prices.

Most people who have some general knowledge about Bulgaria will probably know that it’s less expensive here. Well, for the most part, this is true. Bills, which used to take a fair chunk of our income in the UK, don’t really amount to anything here. For example take the council tax, we paid over £2500 a year for a small, standard 4-bed cookie cutter house, now, it cost us less than £20 for property triple the size. Water, gas, electricity, road tax they all cost a fraction of our old bills but they are some things which cost more… Things like milk for example… if you like UHT milk, not a problem, it’s everywhere and its cheap but if you want fresh milk then you have to pay a premium for it, therefore bottled fresh milk from the store is hard to find and more expensive than in the UK but there is a way around it… you can simply take a more local approach, just like we have, and order some from a local man who just so happens to own a cow, fresh milk straight from the cow or even a goat, pasteurise it yourself at home and enjoy!

People.

People here are so unbelievably friendly! The fact that we don’t speak the same language doesn’t seem to faze them at all. They can chat to you for hours, will smile and wave when you pass them by and give you any help you need even if they have less than you… this is such a culture shock! Let’s face it in England we all have our circle of friends and associates but if a stranger knocked on your door and offered to help you fix a problem they spotted whilst passing your house how would you feel? Would you invite them in and accept them at face value, would you be cautious, maybe tinged with a sense of mistrust. In Bulgaria it is normal, a cultural thing it’s different here to what we have historically felt and thought but extremely satisfying as your faith in humanity is restored brick by brick.

We are kind of snowed in and enjoying piece of quite! Life couldn’t be better. Have a happy Saturday everyone!

A photo posted by Agata @BarkTime (@hunhun007) on

During our time here we have learnt a lot of new things. Some have said to us that we have gone backwards in time and regressed back to olden times and ways, but you know what… it’s good, and if you are of a certain age (lets’ call it middle-aged) it’s not that different to what England was like when we were kids and it makes us happy. Yes, I would probably prefer to have central heating and not have to worry about burning wood logs in my petchka to stay warm but even this has its charm especially in the evening sitting by the fire, not many can say that back home… and with time you simply get used to it.

Don’t get me wrong as I gush about living here, life here isn’t all perfect, there are quite a few things we will want to change in the years to come but for this moment I think we made the right choice. We are genuinely happy, more content and OMG so much more calm than we ever were in England. We get to enjoy daily sun, good food and unbelievably kind and friendly people every day… after all isn’t that what life should be all about?

A Shout Out to The Farmers Market

* by Mark

I am a sinner, for I partake in the nasty habit of smoking and so I am often relegated to the cold and wet outside to satisfy my cravings. Over the years I have grown accustomed to the downside of my habit and accept it as a norm. Oh yes before you think it I have tried to quit and sure one day I will quit with the help of vaping but for now success eludes me. So you may now be wondering what on earth this has to do with a farmers market, let me explain…

We smokers are often told from learned and wise people that one of the many downsides to our habit is a reduced or even the total loss of our sense of smell and taste and as they are indeed wise I for one took them at their word.

In a busy and hectic modern lifestyle we as a society have reduced our foraging for food down to the weekly visit to one of the main supermarket chains, its normal and everyone does it. Now as I wander around the fruit and veg section of our local supermarket the smells are muted and in many cases missing, even in the cut flower section. Once home and dinner is prepared my taste buds experience the same muted sense. It must be because I smoke right, my fault right….

A Shout Out to The Farmers MarketNow we live in the deepest darkest corner of Bulgaria, miles from anything resembling a supermarket and having missed the summer so the veg patch is currently bare we have to go foraging in a new way. So to the farmers market we go on a chilly but sunny Wednesday morning to browse a hundred different stalls stacked high with seasonally appropriate vegetables and fruit. This is where I had one of my life changing experiences.

Maybe it was a miracle, maybe Bulgarian cigarettes are made different whatever it was my sense of smell was reeling from all the inputs. I could smell everything and in many cases I didn’t even have to be an inch away but several paces away was close enough to smell the produce. It was an amazing experience and has left a lasting impression on me. When we returned home and prepared some of our newly acquired food my taste buds also joined in with the revelation of working again as the taste of everything was distinct and filled my mouth. I am hooked.

…and yes I still smoke, probably more now than ever as the novelty of £2 a pack makes quitting just a little harder!

So why, I was left wondering, why have my senses returned to me so suddenly after all these years of being dormant. Turns out if you eat stuff grown in clean soil, that’s clean in the sense of not being saturated in chemicals and in a natural environment as it is meant to be grown as stated by Mother Nature the end product smells and tastes amazing. If you eat stuff grown out of season, stuff that grew in a polly-tunnel and that was fed chemicals to facilitate the fastest possible growth cycle to maximise profits the flavour and smell is muted. It is all to do with the micro-organisms in the soil, all the creepy crawlies who defecate and die in the soil, the rain water and the whole ecosystem that the plant grows in. Things we probably don’t want to think about as we are eating but are vital to the amount of smell and taste we experience at the end of it all. Commercially grown stuff tends to be shielded from all that stuff and we pay the price.

So I return to my starting point, with a huge shout out to the farmers market, they are not perfect but they are a far better option than the supermarket shelves of commercially churned out produce. So support your local business person and visit your farmers market and spend a little extra cash, trust me your nose and tongue will thank you.