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The Good Life in Aggtelek National Park Part 83: Opening of Irota Ecolodge, Szendrő Turns 20 and Garden Processing

irota ecolodgeLast week we had the winter firewood delivered. According to the little moisture meter I bought, for the most part the dry wood we ordered seems to be fairly dry. Firewood should be under 20% moisture. Norbi has cut it up and we will get it packed into the wood shed this week. The first year we used about 7m3, last year about 8m3. With the new insulation, new chimney, repaired stoves and dry wood, I hope we will be able to reduce our firewood use by 20% this year.

The mushrooming season continues to have its ups and downs, but it is still far better than last year. This week I picked a load of peppery milkcaps and flirts in Szalonna, and another basket full on tour with the Miskolc Mushroom Association between Zubogy and Ragaly. Kata and I also found a few blushers to throw in with the flirts and make a delicious mushroom pâté - photos and species list.

The garden is very hit or miss. It could be the organic seeds we sourced from another company, it could be the climate, or it could be both. We have also been plagued by a number of garden pests. In fact, I seem to pick up more ticks (even with the injection and sprays) in our garden irota ecolodgethan in the woods.

Of the surviving tomato plants to make it to the 3-leaf stage, only half survived planting out. So of the 103 we planted out, less than 50 now survive. These finally began to grow and strengthen with resolve last week. I planted abundant coriander around the potatoes to protect them from potato beetles, but the coriander has done nothing against moles. The moles have avoided where I planted onions, however, mole crickets are rampant this year and have been actively chewing their way through the roots of our rhubarb and just about everything else. I followed a well-regarded any pest recipe on the Internet involving cayenne pepper, garlic, onion and dish soap but this has done absolutely nothing to deter the aphids which cover the otherwise successful sunflowers and sage. A number of vegetable seeds did not even sprout (even when we tried twice), or remained at the 2-leaf stage and died: basil, carrots, garden rocket, Swiss chard, peppers. The corn we got from Joe Walker sprouted, but then disappeared except for 2 plants when we planted out - perhaps the birds. I turned to our huge oregano and marjoram plants for basil substitutes in pesto. The garlic is doing well and starting to go to seed, but we had problems with nematodes again. This means we need to rotate the crop next year, and/or start anew with new garlic bulbs. Nematodes look like small lumps of shit covering slugs on the leaves. The oak-leaf salad is an exception, and we have more than we can possibly eat even if we ate salad every day. None of our cucumbers sprouted, but luckily we got a bunch from Jeroen and Lennard and we hope they will flower soon. Two of the 4 zucchinis we planted out have survived and flowered - a must for Kata's zucchini bread and zucchini chocolate cake and my zucchini-lemon cookies. Some of the cantaloupes fell to mole crickets, but 5-6 have now begun to flower, as have a couple butternut squash. Last year we harvested several watermelons, but only one plant survives at the moment. Only a few of the beets and a few of the other salads came up. We are trying chickpeas for the first time this year, and it seems so far-so good. The runner beans also seem to be doing well in various locations, but the meter beans that were so successful last year are lagging behind. The sweet peas are a nice surprise. We planted many more than last year and the trellises are covered with pods, and in retrospect should have planted even more. We harvested about 600g, which were enough for pea stew and a couple soups. The poppies that took over our garden last year, and this, and have caused us more weeding problems than the weeds, survived the winter and continue to grow with no sign of flowering. The plum trees have dumped their unripe fruit, and I have seen only one apple on our big tree, but we have had some success with our sour cherry tree. Last year we literally only managed to save a handful from the birds. This year, although attacked by caterpillars, we harvested 5.6kg. It does not sound like a lot, but if you need to pit them it is more than enough. Kata put 2kg into a jar with sugar for a week in the cellar to make "cellar cherries," a childhood favourite. With an organic garden we never know what will happen year to year, that is our choice, our frustration and our joy.

The first cucumbers have been fermented and we have 2 jars of kovaszos uborka. For anyone who does not know the secret to crunchy fermented pickles, it is sour cherry leaves (thanks Lajos' mom!). The first 5 cukkini have been processed into 6 jars of sweet and spicy bread and butter pickles, and 3 bags of grated cukkini for later use in cukkini bread. The lavender has all been cut back out of which we made 8 bottles of lavendar cordial. We still have a forest of peppermint, actually 3 forests, so I made another batch of mint liquor that should be ready in 3 weeks. Another 2kg of cucumbers will be processed into sweet and sour or dill pickles today. I was lucky enough to be at the mayor's office a couple days ago when someone mentioned that her mother was getting in apricots at 250 HUF/kg in the afternoon if anyone wanted in. We immediately ordered 5kg, out of which we made 13 jars or jam and a pot of cold apricot soup with miskolc dixieland bandmint. The apricot pits when dry, will be cracked and the seeds toasted. For anyone that does not know this treat, the seeds taste like almonds.

The neighbouring village of Szendrő celebrated 20 years as a city last week. Among other programmes was a concert by the always enjoyable Miskolc Dixieland Band. Kata and our granddaughter Lili couldn't help but dance. Imre the trumpet player is from Szendrő, and is also the director of the local music school.

Kata planted carpets of marigolds. Marigold petals can be made into a very effective hand cream, so we set about gathering the other ingredients. For the pig fat we cycled to Büdöskútpuszta between Szendő and Szendrőlad and bought 70dg of organic mangalica fat from the Baris, a local older couple that make organic mangalica sausages. On the way home we got 20dg of bee's wax from newly Aggtelek National Park-certified beekeeper Janos Ambrus and his mother. Following Janos' instructions, we melted the bee's wax in a metal can and let it cool slowly. The grit settles to the bottom and can then be cut off. In practice, this did not seem to work, but it was the best we could do. Two cups of marigold petals were added to the hot melted pig fat. After this cooled a bit, the petals were squeezed and removed, and the bee's wax was melted in with a few drops of lavender oil. The concotion was then poured into 7 irota ecolodgecontainers and left to set.

Our friends Jeroen and Lennard held the official opening of their EcoLodge in Irota on Saturday. The Ecolodge also won certification as an official Aggtelek National Park product this year. On the way to the event, Jeroen called me and asked if I would translate for the Dutch Ambassador Gajus Scheltema who would say a few words and cut the ribbon. I was caught completely unprepared, but there was nothing I could do but say yes. The ambassador told of how he had first met Jeroen and Lennard - he had been looking for another Dutch person, Elisabeth van Aerde who runs the Move2Hungary guesthouse in Szakacsi, when he got lost and asked directions to find the Dutch person in the area. He was directed to Lennard and Jeroen. The ambassador is an avid birdwatcher and first visited the area last year, getting a private tour from Roland Farkas, one of the park's bird experts. He was interested in going on one of the national park's corn crake tours, Hungary's bird of the year 2016 which exibits a very strange barking call, but the window to catch a glimpse of this elusive bird was over last month. In attendence were also Zsolt Berger and Szilvia Karadi of the Karadi-Berger Vineyard in Erdőbenye, who along with the Abrahams were our first winemakers to give a winetasting back when I hosted the Bitch, Moan and Wine Club at Treehugger Dan's Bookstore Café. Don't forget the annual Bor-Mamor-Benye wine festival in Erdőbenye August 11-14. Folk music at the event was provided by Csender Zenekar, who we have seen several times at the annual Egerszögi Opera Festival. Deer and pig stew was provided for lunch (sadly nothing for vegetarians) cooked by the local ladies, and the Templomi Kert Restaurant in Edelény ran the open bar. Many of the children took advantage of the naturally stream fed swimming pool, while the Alfa Zenekar played and the adults danced. Best of luck guys, in an endevour which will surely be successful.