Armed with soap, warm water and a washboard

  • 2014-05-01
  • By Mike Parr

GOING GREEN: Parr’s dream of rural and sustainable living also means hand-washing the linens.

ALUKSNE - A new chapter is starting at Lightning Tree Farm: I have just accepted responsibility for the upkeep of another, disused farm. The deal is: I provide security and maintenance of the buildings and in return I can apply my agricultural ideology across the Latvian countryside.

This new farm will be run using old fashioned methods, crafts and tools, with one major difference: I will be opening the farm to visitors who are interested learning how I am coping with operating a farm using ‘traditional’ methods.
Initially, visitors will see how I am setting the farm up. I will explain the thought processes behind the tasks I am carrying out, and of course they will also have the opportunity to meet the cast of Lightning Tree Farm - hopefully this cast will include some new arrivals.

Set on just over five hectares of land, the farm consists of the original farmhouse - complete with bread oven, some half-converted barns, and a guest house that will require some refurbishing for guests to stay.
With growing season upon us, my first task is to take the goat gang on the short trip to their new home. As part of my workforce, their task is to clear the weeds and unwanted bushes from around the farm prior to planting - a task I am sure they will apply themselves to with a passion; there is nothing like a huge bunch of weeds and saplings to make a goat happy, and happy goats produce lots of milk, which in turn makes their farmer happy.

Over the Easter weekend, I set about making my first serious batch of goats milk cheese. It was a simple process of heating 11 litres of milk, then adding salt and some vinegar. The vinegar reacts with the proteins in the milk to form curds and whey. It’s then just a case of straining the curd from the whey and leaving in to hang in a cheesecloth (or clean tea towel) for a few hours and ‘hey presto!’ Cheese!

I left my curds hanging overnight; the end result was a firm, 1.5 kilo, ball of cheese that I can slice just like you would for sandwiches. I’ve halved the ball and put one aside to mature - I am interested to see if leaving it for a month or so will develop a stronger flavour. The next cheese making challenge that I have set myself is Camembert. Now, if that works out as planned, I am going to have to get the bread oven in operation and make some crusty loaves to go with it.

Living in the countryside can take a toll on your clothes, particularly when you have to haul old brambles or move the compost heap. So, in between my cheese making fun I finally got around to using my new washing machine this weekend - fortunately, there is a lot of waiting around when you make cheese. I have to say: I was amazed with the results. There is no “pre-wash,” “delicates,” or “rinse-cycle” with this washer: it’s an old wash board I came across when clearing out a shed.

Armed with a bar of farmhouse soap, a bowl of warm water, and the washboard, I set about scrubbing my dirtiest pair of jeans. After five minutes of rubbing soap and scrubbing, they came up cleaner than they have in a long time! Plus, I am sure it’s good exercise for me. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, maybe I was doing it wrong, but I ended up with a pair of clean jeans hanging on the washing line drying in the breeze - a positive result from a simple task that means the washboard stays and I continue to enjoy clean clothes.

Living a simpler life has been my objective since I moved to the countryside. I am lucky to be living and enjoying this lifestyle. Now I must go to explain to the goat gang that we are all going on a short trip and hope that they will enjoy their new home.