Archive for June 25, 2010

How to Make Lavender Essential Oil

Luck would have it that in owning an illegal still for making alcohol can be easily explained
to the authorities by saying that you are not making moonshine brandy, but are in fact creating essential oils, which is completely legal and for which you need
a still. Two birds one stone comes to mind.

To keep my bees happy and to add a bit of a twang to my honey I grow quite a lot of lavendar in my garden as well as plant lots of the stuff around the village.

A Lavender Plant

It also has its other uses when in the oil form though. I use it in small quantities in my beeswax polish, and have used it whilst making candles also. To make the essential
oil you will need a still with a condenser, freshly cut lavender, and a bit of patience. The lavender is suspended above water in the still, as the oil is best extracted
using steam rather than just placed in the water. I use some chicken wire to make a basket which I suspend above water. When the steam condenses with the essential oil
it is quite easy to seperate out from the water. You do need an awful lot of lavender though. I got about 200 ml of essential oil from about 4kg of cuttings from my lavendar plants.

Day Trip with The Imam

The mosque in the village of Fotinovo is looked after by one of my neighbours. His name is Hussain and he is an 80 year old man, with a cheeky smile
and a voice like Pavarotti. He would no doubt put many other octagenerians to shame with his vitality and enjoyment of life.

Last month I bought a new scythe, to cut grass and make hay. I was under the impression that these came off the shelf and ready to go. Little did I know.
After smashing my grass for several hours working up an almighty sweat, I consulted the oracle of Samodiva, my friend, barmen, shopkeeper, part-time
electrician, and all round good guy Hikmet. I showed him my scythe and said that it was not working properly. I knew something was up immediately.
A smile was appearing on his face!

‘Nov Dominik?’

‘Da, Hikmet nov’ (This is my normal approach, repeat what you are asked with either Da or Ne in front of it. Works for me.

‘Zashto?’ (why)

‘Niz Nam Zastho’ (I don’t know why?)

‘Iska ramont.’ (It needs mending?)

Now in the UK if you buy something ‘new’, you don’t expect it to require fixing after you have just bought it. However, this is Bulgaria, and
although not true with all purchases, in the case of a scythe it needs mending after buying it new.

It turns out then that one of my other neighbours Hussain is the ‘maestro’ of fixing new scythes. They require grinding down and sharpening, I was
stopped from attempting this myself. They have seen my attempts at DIY and thought I should be kept away from sharp instruments (probably wise).

Three days later my new scythe is delivered back, with an edge that would put Gillette to shame (below).

My New Scythe After Fixing

I then enquire what he would like in exchange, be it payment (no Beer he is an Imam), or whatever. He asks that next time I travel to the market in Djebel
that he comes with me as he has to refill his gas bottle and this is a hassle if done on the bus. No problem I am heading there tomorrow.

And so begins my day out with the Imam.

On arrival in Djebel (15 mins after departure it is only just down the road), we proceed direct to the gas pump and refill his canister. Park the car,
and I am directed to the cafe.

Djebel is a small ‘grad’, which translates into city, but is really just a big village. As much a real city as St.
Davids in Pembrokeshire. It has however a ratio of cafes to people nearing 1:3. There are the new modern cafes (bars) where the ‘mlads'(young people)
hang around staring at girls, and conversely there are cafes for the older generation. We headed directly for a cafe where every occupant could have
been my grandfather. Hussain, it now appeared knew everyone one in the cafe and introduced me to just about all of them. My Turkish is still at
infancy level, but I was introduced as his friend and neighbour from the village, ‘and he is English don’t you know’ was always tagged on the end of it.
It was absolutely wonderful; everyone greeted me with a smile, showing me their remaining teeth, and shook my hand in iron like grips. We eventually found
a spare table outside, as Hussain has given up smoking, and you didn’t need to smoke to get lung cancer inside the cafe.

Two proper Turkish coffees later (very strong Expresso with 5 sugars), and greetings to everyone that passed by. Hussain decides that we should continue
are shopping, I have to buy a new handle for my ‘dutch’ hoe, he needs a new metal sieve (something to help make his cheese with). Walking down the street,
we cannot proceed for more than five metres at a time without being stopped and greeted. I now know what the Queen feels like shaking everyone’s hand,
absolutely great. Our shopping is done and packed away in the car. Hussain is not ready to go just yet though. We head off in the direction of the
cafe again, but not into it to my relief, and into the restaurant next door.

Hussain orders lunch of Beef and Potatoes, and a local delicacy of ‘taratesh’ which is a sort of yogurt and salad cold soup. Absolutely delicious, and
accompanied in traditional Bulgarian style with half a loaf of bread each.

We head back and I deliver him to his door and help him with the gas bottle. His wife then gives me 3 litres of fresh milk from the cow, and general
instructions on how to pasteurise it (boil it).

Hussain then offers me money for the fuel. I should point out that he had already paid for the coffees and the meal in the restaurant much to my annoyance.
I stoutly refuse and explain that the favour really should have been on me, for fixing my new scythe. He just smiles, and tells me I am his new best friend.
What an absolute gentleman. This just would not happen in the UK. I am really am so lucky to be living here.

PS I have since been back to Djebel on my own, and although not greeted by quite so many people, there are quite a few who remember being with
Hussain previously. I now follow in his tradition and have a coffee with old guys before doing any shopping that is needed. I am pleased to say they have
just as much trouble with my name as I do trying to remember all theirs. I have been called ‘Phylis’ by Muhmoon who mistranslated ‘Ingleez’, and ‘Domli’ which
I have been informed may have another meaning in Turkish and am yet to find out what.

Double Glazing The Truth

The continuing saga of a computer engineer slowly turning into a mr fixit.
Well almost. I have not owned a television since 2000, but I know that it was, or maybe still is filled with programmes on interior design
, changing rooms type programmes, and all other such tosh of interior design. Well being a typical non effeminate bloke
I can happily say that I have never rag rolled anything in my life or owned a scatter cushion. I like my houses to work. If it rains I don’t
want to get wet. If it is cold I want to be able to light a fire and make it warm, when I turn the tap I want to see water come out of it (not always guaranteed
in Bulgaria). All other aesthetics really are for people who are
bored with life and have too much time on their hands. How painter and decoraters turned themselves into camp Interior designers that
charge you money for telling you what colour to paint your room, rather than just painting it is beyond me. I have even overheard a converstaion
between too middleage (35-40) women discussing a visit to a colour consultant. Having worked in IT I know what a consultant is, it is an engineer who
charges twice as much and does half the work. Colour consultant though, you tell me.

So if you are reading this in the hope of seeing some pictures of my house to inspire you to decorate yours, let me save you the trouble ctrl+alt+del now.

Double glazing

Not only for keeping you warm in winter, which you definately need in Bulgaria. Here is a pic of my garden after a light snow shower.

Snow in the garden

But they also keep your house cool in the summer, (todays temp 29C – 18 June, goes upto mid 30’s for most of Aug). This is practical enough
even for me to understand. So double glazing it is. Now we have had double glaze salesman leaflets aplenty to burn in the UK. The price
for windows and doors in the UK is a complete rip off, and I really do mean extortion, I trully believe there must be some price fixing
involved, because we had 4 large ‘Profilink’ double glazed windows and 1 extra large exterior door, all fitted for £350 here in Bulgaria.
I mentioned this to my builder of a brother and was told that the equivalent in the UK would have set me back 2 – 3 thousand. Same windows.
No salesman. No marketing. What you are paying for is the leaflets and slimey sales people. I will stop ranting, I am beginning to remind myself
of Bill Hicks. ‘No, if you are in marketing do the world a favour, kill yourself.’ He does it far better than me
here. By the way he swears – you have been warned!

Bill Hicks DVDs

Next up (central) heating……. here is a clue.

Bulgarian Central Heating

Basic Beekpeping

Bees really are a gardeners friend. Not only do they make free food in honey, but without their help in pollination there would not be much
left growing in your garden. It is quite possible to keep a hive of bees with absolutely no garden at all. They are just as adept at collecting
pollen and nectar in urban areas as they are in the countryside.

Lots of people may be put off keeping bees due to the fact that all worker bees have a sting which they are not scared to use even though this
will cause their death. Having kept bees for the last two years I have been stung, but this is more down to my own idiocy, rather than any
malice on part of my bees.


A hive – most modern hives are made from wood and contain removable frames on which the honey is deposited by the bees. The frames each have a wax
sheet on them, with the hexagonal pattern of honeycomb printed on it. Here is my first bee hive which I bought for 40 Euro’s

My First Bee Hive

And here is one I made for 2!

Homemade Hive

Between the brood chamber and the 2nd floor, I have a “Queen excluder” which prevents the queen from laying eggs in the frames that I am going to steal
honey out of. This is basically a wire mesh with gaps big enough for the workers to pass through, but not the queen.

Protective clothing really is essential, although my friend whom I got my bees from has over 30 hives and has never worn any protective clothing in
over 40 years of bee keeping (he is slightly mad though!)

My removable frames with wax sheets!

Smoke machine – in which you burn cardboard or wood, to simulate the smelll of a forest fire which tricks the bees in to preparing to flee the hive
and so fill up on honey ready to make their escape. When a bee is full of honey they find it very difficult to sting. Don’t use to much smoke though
or they might really flee the fire!

My Smoker!

Honey Extractor – When your frames are filled with honey you want to be able to get it out, an extractor work as a centrifuge and spins the honey out
leaving the frame intact to be re-inserted into the hive and filled once again.

Bees – After you have kitted yourself out you will need some bees, which you can buy off a beekeeper, or hive a swarm if you can find one. I have done both
here is me hiving a swarm

For a comprhensive guide on all bee maters you can do no better than the collins beekeeper’s bible. It covers absolutely everything.

Making Mead

Mead is believed to be the oldest known alcholic drink known to mankind, it is made by the simple fermentation of honey and spices. I have put the basic recipe below, but you can add all sorts of your own flavours
and each type of honey will add its own charaacter to the flavour. Mead takes upto twice as long to ferment as beer does.

Recipe for Original Mead

  • Ingredients for 10 Litre Fermentation
  1. Water (10Litres)
  2. 3 Kg of Honey
  3. 1 Lemon
  4. Wine Yeast (not beer)
  • In a large pan bring the water to the boil, then allow to simmer
  • Add the honey and stir, skimming off any scum as it appears
  • When no more scum appears add your flavourings, including the juice and rind of lemon and allow to cool.
  • When cool add the wine yeast, stir in and transfer to your fermentation recepticle (fermentation upto 60 hours)
  • Decant after fermentation to sealed containers avoiding the yeast at the bottom.
  • Serve chilled and enjoy
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