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  • We are full

    The garden is in peak production mode. Mornings consist of harvesting climbing beans, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, watermelon, pears, figs, mountain tea, and potatoes. We've bagged and delivered the veggies to the neighbors and local family. We are a household of three and the amount is overwhelming. Send recipes. First round of figs. Finished the red and green plums and are still waiting on the sweet sugar plums to ripen. The pomegranate orchard was trimmed, cleaned and few irrigation lines were replaced and new drip nozzles installed. We've noticed late flowering on several trees. We are anxious to see what October brings. The changes month to month are always dramatic but so lovely. The vineyard is super full and the trelices are holding the vines. It's great to have full shade underneath the vines for the chickens and the hammocks. Mid June shot of the homestead. We did step away for two days of fun. One to celebrate Art's birthday at the Lake Shkodra Resort. It's about fifteen minutes from the homestead and a seasonal RV park with a small restaurant set on the lake. We had enjoyed the setting and the strong winds created a nice melody of sea noise that enhanced the ambiance. We also had the chance to check an item off our Albanian bucket list. We took a ride down the Lumi i Shala. This river has ferry boats that take you back to a cove with small cafes, accomodations, restaurants, and beach bars. The waters in the cove are crystal clear and ice cold. After a hearty lunch, four out of nine of us took the icey dip in the frigid waters including Art and I. It was great way to cool off before the boat ride back to the ferry terminal. It's a two hour drive from our homestead to the ferry around the beautiful Komani Lake, but the last fifty minutes of the drive is very rough but otherwise the trip can be done as a day trip from Shkoder. I am very curious to see what this ride will look in early spring as the snow melts and early fall when then leaves change. Would you add this to your bucket list? June brought in some new additions to our chicken population. We currently have six mama hens and about fifty baby chicks. The evening feed round is when they choose chaos over order. We spend a good five minutes every evening redirecting the mamas to their correct condo. We also moved the first two rounds of little chicks into the hoop coop in the back and they are now going back on their own. Average egg count is back up nine after a dip in the heat wave. We had to refill our deep freeze with more protein so Figgy got a new companion whom we've named Houdini. His first night here and he managed to escape our piggy pen and hung out near the fence line visiting his mama next door. But he has officially made friends with Figgy. Our bird game from the front porch has been overwhelmingly Old World Sparrows but we did manage to capture a few new birds in June. Do you have a favorite? We have a summer project that we hope will be ready to share soon. Stay tuned for more information.

  • Food Forest and Mini Adventures

    Our homestead's transition to May came in strong with new baby chicks, an epic mulberry season, sweet plums, nectarines, and is ending with a swoon worthy garden. We've already enjoyed the bounty of the garden including squash flowers, zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic, potatoes. kale, dill, basil, spring greens, chamomile, strawberries and of course fresh eggs. We've been in full on clean up mode cutting grass inside the garden, cleaning up the vines (taking the extra leaves below the first grape cluster plus tying and trimming the tomatoes and peppers. One hundred percent worth the effort. This week we had mama hens number four and five with 11 and 8 baby chicks move from their nesting box in the coop to their mama condos. Bringing our new total to 44 baby chicks. And three mama hens still sitting on a few eggs. We've extended our fence and installed a green netting around the back side of the garden to fox proof the garden. It intruded three times and attacked a mama hen and on the second and third time he managed to kill two hens. Our neighbor has had the same issue and lost a few chickens this month. So fingers crossed we can keep the critters out and our chickens safe. The mulberry season came in early but did not disappoint. We made two rounds of pekmez aka mulberry molasses. And Art really tested his climbing ability this year. Our trees are huge and he handled it like an absolute champ. Our food forest includes many seasonal fruits. And our fruits of the month included white and black mulberries, plums, peaches and spring pears. And our beloved pomegranate orchard is thriving although we have not tackled the tall grass. Art wants to wait until the last of the spring rains, reducing the window of grass regrowth. This has reduced our daily stroll through the orchard. But it's stunning. The pomegranate trees in the garden are popping up left and right. The bees are loving it! If you are thirsty this fall swing by for a nice refreshing glass of pomegranate juice. And fig season is just around the corner. We've noticed nearly every fig variety is full this season and we are already discussing how to manage the bounty. We've dried figs, made jam, baked them with prosciutto and goat cheese, and even frozen whole figs all which are great but fresh figs are amazing. What is your favorite way to consume figs? The vineyard has been cleaned and the grape clusters are nice and plumpy. We've been monitoring the grapes for any hail damage after a short storm hit but so far minimal damage has been found. We did take a day off and rode our bikes out to the lake. A new campsite and restaurant called Liqeni Agroturizëm Restorant & Camping has opened and we had the whole place to ourselves (it was a Monday). The food was amazing and had a few options that aren't found at other places up north including great handmade pasta. Three little tiny homes are being built facing the lake and the Montenegro mountains. Also a shower house for the campers. And this is located at the base of our favorite place to hike and collect wilde pomegranates in the fall. Who's coming for a visit? That makes two tasty lake front options to enjoy a few miles from our homestead.

  • Circle of life blossoms to fruit (we hope)

    Each spring we enjoy the transformation but come May we are faced with the reality that not all blossoms result in fruit. Our peach tree looked majestic in March but by the end of April. Our tree pharmacist here suggested removing all the damaged leaves. We added more nitrates to the soil around the tree to hopefully save it for next year. A second pretty tree to fail was our dwarf cherry. We've about given up on this little one. It's been the same size for several years now and has yet to produce a single cherry. It was a late bloomer this year and looked great for about two weeks but most of the fruits have died and are falling off. Our garden is thriving. We have planted potatoes, peppers, eggplants, watermelons, tomatoes, climbing beans, bush beans, cucumbers, zucchini, more salads and a few new herbs. It is a great circle of life here at Homestead Albania. We've hatched 29 baby chicks so far this year. But our mature hens have been a little under the weather. A few got better with medication. Thanks to Art for tackling that task of catching the hens and feeding them meds a few mornings in a row. We sometimes experience a little anxiety waiting on our pomegranate blossoms to arrive but it's always late April before it explodes. It's worth it to walk the orchard and check on the trees showing little dazzling ruby buds. We also took a few days off to show some friend around the homestead and some of the best views of the Albanian Alps. I cherish hearing the first reactions to the place that stole my heart over six years ago. The weather held out, spectacular sunny weather was an added bonus their exploration. What are you waiting for?

  • Awakened

    We are only three days into a beautiful April and it's like the switch flipped. All the bare and naked trees are alive and green. We've been embracing the change on our daily walks that start in the garden, around the orchard, through the woods and then the vineyard. IT IS MAGICAL. The birdies are singing loud and proud and we are soaking it all in. Garden update. We've got spring onions are thriving, salad greens are tasty, and potatoes are popping up. We planted tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Art has prepped the beds for bush and climbing beans. We have several starter roma tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, melons, and hot peppers plants. Our herb garden is growing with our bay leaf tree, chamomile, mountain tea, lavender, mint, hithra, and parsley. Our pomegranate orchard has rapidly changed from bare limbs to ruby glowing gems. We are patiently awaiting the bulbs to arrive. Around the vineyard we have dozens of trees that are blossoming and the bees have been busy. But we did have a few pests take out a few green plum blossoms and the peach tree. The bad part about being organic and not using pesticides, we take a few losses. Overall the pears, mulberries, plums, quinces, nectarines, cornelius cherries, and grapes are pushing their blossoms away revealing tiny little fruits. We have two mama chickens about to welcome baby chicks this weekend. And we have two more that are ready to sit. We've narrowed our roosters down to three which means less chaos and fighting around the garden. We are still averaging 18-22 eggs a day. And our ducks are now laying a single egg everyday. Our morning bird watching during our coffee time on the front porch has been taken to a new volume in song and species. We are beyond entertained. If you love birds and are curious about the species we have around the homestead check out our Birds Watching You channel on YouTube. We have another project started that we are dubbing the OGT. Add your guesses in the comments below. More details to come soon.

  • Ladybugs, bees, and butterflies

    Our tree's are blossoming and the bees, ladybugs, and butterflies are in full feast mode. We've restarted our morning walks of the garden and are enjoying the fragrance of the plum trees. It is lovely to see it all transform from dull bare bark to beautiful blossoms. The pure joy on Art's face every morning reminds me why we pick the homestead life over a concrete jungle every day, all day. And the vast amount of eggs (20-24) everyday doesn't hurt. Just take a look at our lovely flowers popping. I wish I could give you a scratch and sniff version. We've also had a successful harvest of our lion's mane mushrooms. Art has been busy grafting trees and prepping the salad beds for the kale, collard greens, spring greens and arugula. And our new onions are popping. We've started seedlings for cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers as well. A little pops of color are happening in the orchard. Our pomegranate trees will get new irrigation lines later this spring. One of our many tasks to maintain the orchard and care for our 800 trees. The pigs have had full reign over the winter but will be shut out once we lay the new lines. We've been patiently waiting for the trees around us to go green but it's getting closer everyday. We've been busy documenting the song singing birds around the homestead over the last month. The number of species was quite larger than we ever expected. Below are few of our favorites we captured. We've also added a new audiobook to our publishing house Homestead Albania Print over at KimMalaj.com. It is the second book in the Ember in Time Series. Art and I narrated this title and we have two left to record and produce this year, Protectors of Time and Guide Time Inside. We have a bit of rain in the forecast for the next ten days so we have to wait to plant our potatoes and additional veggies. Stay tuned for a very busy and productive spring.

  • Reset has begun

    Every winter we dream of spring. Art was busy the entire month of January pruning the vines, trees, and transplanting a few trees around the garden. He's even pulled branches to create archways through the garden and in the back I was away for a few weeks celebrating my matriarch's 90th birthday. When I returned last week to the bare homestead I was greeted by the buds on our thana (cornelius cherry) trees were popping with their yellow flowers. This week we transformed the garden to prep for spring planting. And we've planted additional onions, next up potatoes. We are still harvesting spring onions, spring garlic, spinach and parsley everyday for our omelets. Speaking of omelets our hens have been pumping out the eggs and we are collecting 14-19 eggs a day. We expect that number to grow as our youngest chicks are still maturing. It becomes a game to discover where said hens have laid these eggs. We've found them outside of the nesting boxes in few places around the homestead including a plastic crate below our bedroom window, the wood shed middle shelf and top shelf and drum roll....the old out house now repurposed piggy pen. We took the bikes to the lake. It was great to stretch my legs and take in some beautiful scenery. It's our go to afternoon spot at Syri i Sheganit Bar and Restorant. When we returned from the lake, Art worked on expanding the swimming pond for our little ducks Jolly and Polly. He cut a plastic barrel in half and buried it near there nesting box. Our morning coffee time is normally spent on the front porch and the weather has held up this last week. We enjoy the chickens and ducks roaming around the vineyard but as the warmer days are coming we've noticed a few more birdies. We've added a new youtube channel to share more videos and photos of said birds at https://www.youtube.com/@BirdsWatchingYou Rooster Hawfinch Black Redstart Hooded Crow Common Buzzard Magpie Long tailed bushtit Old World Sparrow Great Tit Eurasian Chaffinch

  • Wrap up to 2023

    Homesteading has many challenges but the rewards are bountiful. As winter has stripped away all vestiges of life from most of the trees and vines we have plenty of chickens, ducks and pigs to keep the spirit alive till spring. Speaking of chickens, we quadrupled our chicken population this year and with the addition of the hoop coop they are sheltered from the winter rains and cool temperatures. Art has repurposed the muck from the coop to fertilize new pomegranate trees planted to round out the orchard to just over eight hundred trees. That's right we are 800 strong not including the two hundred various trees in the garden. We've created a food forest that produces from May to December. Our garden transformation this year included a few new additions to the annual raised beds from aronia, mint, chamomile, bay leaf tree, strawberries, wild mountain tea, lavender, hithra, and blueberry bushes. We have restocked our herbal tea supply which we drink daily. After assessing the shelves, our food storage and canned food surplus from the summer will last until late spring before the garden starts it evolution of life. The wine is aging nicely in the oak barrels. We've bottled last years wine and are enjoying it a little at the time. Art brewed the last batch of grape raki last week and the quality was top notch. We did venture out and collect another round of wild pomegranates and squeezed another 100 liters of juice to freeze. The hike to the fort over the lake was not as bountiful as years before. Mostly, because we were late but it was a stunning day to hike. We received a new partner for Polly the Duck. His name is Jolly and they are very happy companions. Quacking along and love intimidating the chickens. Art and I have explored many caves behind the house but haven't been back to a few in years because the paths were overgrown. We cut through to check them out and were surprised that one had nearly collapsed but the other was still holding strong. And may try our hand at growing white, portabella, or lion's mane mushrooms. We are constantly discussing on how/where to build an accommodation on the property. Ideas from a tree house, tiny a-frame, garden hut, yurt and RV. We haven't landed only on a game plan yet but know that we are working on it. I want to share this with others and in order to do so we need to expand our footprint a bit. Fingers crossed we can make that happen in 2024. I have also hit my max storage capacity for images here on this blog so check out our year end video to see what we've been up to.

  • Oh Duck.

    November came in wet and chilly. We've had the ultimate pleasure of hosting some family and sharing our tasty fall treat. What tasty treat you ask? Yes, we are still talking about dried persimmons. We've stock piled about as much as we've eaten/shared. It's a healthy sweet and savory snack but HIGHLY addictive. You've been warned. Between rain showers we picked the remaining pomegranates from the orchard and the wild pomegranates from in and around our homestead. Squeezed and freezed about 150 liters so far and have one additional haul to squeeze before we pick again (if the rain lets up long enough to venture out). In prep for our family visitors we said goodbye to Poncho the Pig and hello to Figgy the Piggy. Jozi and Figgy are still discovering their affection for each other. And made a large batch of bone broth to add to our winter canned goods. Deep freeze and shelves are full as we saunter into an early winter including temperatures below freezing months ahead of schedule. And the mountains that surround our valley are painted with fresh white snow. And before our family visitors left we were gifted a new addition to Homestead Albania. Polly the Duck. Art made a very small pond and we've housed Polly in a mama hen condo for now. She's adapted well so far. The quacking added to the chorus of chickens is very entertaining.

  • October Squeezing and Adventures

    We had a very eventful October. Art decided to build a cement foundation for the hoop coop, which meant we had to move it. Cheers to old water pipes as wheels. We had two visitors from the States and played the role of tour guides this month. We visited Lezhe Castle on our way north, stopped off at Mrizi i Zanave Agroturizëm for a farm-to-table experience before heading to the Homestead. We gave a guided tour of our homestead, orchard, vineyard, and the mountain behind our property. Art guided them to Mokset Castle, and I met them at the old fort with glorious lake and mountain views. We took some road trips to show off the Albanian Alps. The fall foliage did not disappoint. Art moved this year's wine to an oak barrel to age while I was away. Sorry, no footage. Our last mama chicken hatched 11 chicks and is SO protective. She lost 11 chicks this spring to a fox or hawk in the early morning hours. So, this is her redemption round. As our visitors moved on to a few other Balkan countries, we worked on squeezing our pomegranates. We've squeezed approximately fifty liters of juice and even pasteurized one batch to test its shelf quality. We still have a few hundred to collect in the orchard and more wild pomegranates from the garden and the hillside. When our visitors returned, we headed south. We stopped in Saranda, woke to a beautiful sunrise over the Ionian Sea before heading to the ancient ruins of Butrint. Picked up a few tasty gyros from a roadside vendor and headed to Gjirokaster. We made it up the steep cobblestones to our hotel, explored the castle, and the small artisan shops in the bazaar. It's not for the weak ankles, but it was very pretty. Woke up to a stormy morning before heading to Apollonia, another ancient ruin site, and the weather cleared. We ventured through some small towns to the city of windows, Berat. We enjoyed a farm-to-table-style dinner before walking the long promenade. The next morning, we took a walk in the fort and village above Berat. It offers a stunning view of the valley, town, and river below. Once back at the homestead, I helped Art pick persimmons. We discovered that dehydrated persimmons are an amazing treat last year. To capitalize on this, we have three dehydrators running at once! We pick them just before they soften, peel, slice, and dry for 24 hours. We pack them in jars and store them (out of sight). If they are within sight, they are gone in a minute. SO GOOD. In other news, we've added a new title to the Homestead Albania Print. Ernie Meets Figgy by Kim Malaj. An illustrated short story. The fall colors have arrived here, along with a bit of rain that started today, and so far, November looks WET. We had to chase a few new chicks that transitioned to the big coop in the rain. Cheers to October.

  • It's Here...

    Vine to wine season has begun and fall is here to stay. The temps are falling to perfection. We love this time of year. Why you ask? Because we make wine, pick & squeeze pomegranates, and enjoy bug free hiking. We walked the orchard to inspect the trees. We are happy to see the progress. It was great to reflect on where we started to now. Next years we expect to have our first 'You Pick' pomegranate season. We picked a round of grapes this last week as we had some rain in the forecast. This year is all about the quality of grapes. We have had large batches in previous years but this year we are going small. The main reason, hail. We did a massive vine clean up in early June to reduce the vines to three clusters of grapes max per stem. This allows the vines to concentrate on the growth to only a few clusters of grapes, but what we didn't account for was a massive hail storm. Our pristene clusters were damaged and some beyond repair. Although our choice of grapes were limited we believe we'll have some amazing wine. We pulled about two liters of mushti which is basically grape juice with a kick. And it was so tasty, it didn't last two days. We'll continue smushing the wine twice a day for the next ten days. Once it's fermented for a bit we'll filter and transfer the wine to a new barrel. The original crushed grapes will kept for a round of raki. Our garden is still producing tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers. The spring onions have popped and the garlic is slowly coming in. Art added new spring greens to our spinach beds and our hot peppers are still poppin. Our trees are bountiful figs, jujube, sugar plums, quince and fall pears. We have about a dozen chestnuts and walnuts on our young trees. And the pomegranates are nearly ready to squeeze and the persimmons aren't far behind. We can't wait for both! We've also added a few new chickens from a neighbor that was off loading some livestock and have another mama hen sitting on another generation. Art has already started plans to expand the hoop coop and improve the roost section to allow room for more and make space for rude/bully hens. And we caught a coyote carrying away one of our chickens. And let's just say his days were limited. The pigs got an upgrade to their pig chalet. They now have a secure dutch door and insulated walls for the winter and have moved out of the temporary house. We picked new one liter bottles for pomegranate season and plan on pasturizing some of the juice this year. We've always squeezed and freezed. If you have any tips about pasturizing large batches of juice for a long shelflife please let us know.

  • Creating Memories

    August has always been a very busy month for tourists and ex-pat Albanians that come back for the local wedding season. And this year was no different. We've had our first non-family visitor in a long time. She hailed all the way from New Zealand, a daughter of a friend and former colleague when I lived and worked in NZ. We took a few road trips to show her what Art likes to dub "The Kingdom of the North" aka Lepushe, Vermosh and Boge. We even took a dip in Lake Shkoder and explored the Rozafa Castle of Shkoder. All and all we loved sharing our homestead and experience someone's first time seeing the beautiful northland. Our nephew from Michigan was along for the ride and his presence helped even the playing field. I am most definitely not 22 any more and neither is Art but shh don't tell anyone. He still claims he's in his twenties if you dare ask. We spent another few days up north in the Alps with family and to avoid the hot temps rising in our valley. There they hiked a path they've started a few times in the past but never made it to the top. Art captured the highlights of their picturesque hike to Pojanice. Would you follow him? What scenery takes your breath away? We've experienced a shift of seasons in our garden. We've pulled the last round of beans, peppers, potatoes, but still have fresh tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers. And the second round of mountain tea is nearly ready to pick. We have a few apples almost ripe but the main source of fruit at the moment is our figs! We have been enjoying the daily bounty of fresh figs and are considering different ways to cook, preserve or store figs. We've made fig jams, dried figs, baked figs with some goat cheese and bacon. What's your favorite way to eat figs? Art has been pruning the pomegranate trees in the orchard. We've almost reached the time of year where less watering and more of a waiting game for them to ripen. The grapes sustained a bit of damage by a hail storm in June but what clusters we do still have are ripening to deep purple. We're on track for a late September/early October vine to wine harvest. Our hoop coop has reached a new occupancy status of 33. We've introduced two large hens, and three rounds of chicks. We have four mama hens and their chicks to move in but overall they've adapted to their new home quite nicely. Our cornelius cherries (thana) are ready to harvest. We typically collect the thana for a batch of raki but still have plenty of raki in the cellar so I believe the pigs will consume the bounty this year. Have you tried this fruit?

  • Farm to Table Season

    We've entered food overload season. We have mass production in the garden and are picking new veggies, herbs, and fruits everyday. Our plates are covered with fresh eggs, pork, beans, garlic, onions, eggplants, watermelon, cantaloupe, melon, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, spring greens, spinach, parsley, pear, peaches, or potatoes. This year we had root rot with our bell peppers but we have jalepenos! And our onions took a hit after a wetter than normal late spring. But overall a great year and amazing food. One of our favorite recipes here at Homestead Albania! We've also have been harvesting a massive amount of tomatoes. We've made a large batch of sauce and a smaller batch of salsa to can and save for the winter. And we also harvested our bush beans. Our stockpile is growing every week. We've tripled our chickens. Our mama hens have been busy and our need for additional secure housing became priority one. We are still on predator watch for our chickens as we found evidence of an attack in the orchard. Fox is a likely suspect. Art has been busy creating our own version of a chicken hoop coop with a run. We've chosen to place it at the back of the property that is shaded between our two mature mulberry trees. It's post season for mulberries and we'll be adding wheels to the coop so we can move it during season. What do you think? Next up is fig season and our grapes are maturing everyday. Plus the orchard is doing great. We've got pomegranates!

  • June = Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

    Starting off June with quite the show of nature. The bees investigating the pomegranate blooms and lavender, a new mama sparrow carrying her dinner to four new checks, new swallows, and the butterflies dancing over the wild flowers in and around the garden. The garden has transformed and we are actively picking potatoes, chamomile, onions, garlic, spring greens, mint, strawberries, spinach, plums, peaches, zucchini, and mulberries. We have loads of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and eggplants filling up the rows. And the melons, beans, popcorn, watermelons, mountain tea, and carrots are coming along nicely. If you ask Art, the cherries and peppers are the biggest disappointment so far this season. But we have planted jalapenos and they are doing well. It's been a rocky road in the chicken department. A few days after my last blog post we lost 11 chicks and 2 hens in less than a week. We did go on the offense and Art engineered two live traps to capture the predators. And so far three predators have been caught. We have a new mama hen that are hatching now. It's her first time. I counted four baby chicks this afternoon. Fingers crossed our live traps prevent any additional loss. We've found three turtles so far this month. We had six roaming around last year and hadn't seen them until now. And they love our mulberries. We hope they stick around again this year. The pomegranate orchard has transformed. We have trees with hundreds of flower buds and some with just a few but overall they've recovered from a late frost that damages a few of the trees. We look forward to see the continued growth and a you pick season! 800 Pomegranate trees and counting. In other news, we've been busy working on our audiobook catalog. And added Who Is Maggie and Twisting Hercules. Art and I had to the honor of narrating the books and are planning our next project. You can request the titles at your local library or purchase at your favorite audiobook vendor. We do have the MP3 or iTunes files available at our publishing website. KimMalaj.com Happy Summer Reading/Listening!

  • It May Explode

    We've entered the wait and see stage of spring. Everything is planted and it's been a wet week of rain and even hail. The transformation from just a month ago to now has been significant, with only a few duds. Speaking of duds. Our two mature cherry trees. We had beautiful flowers but ZERO healthy cherries. Another dud was a beautiful pear tree that dropped all the fruit. But we have some winners! Our peaches, plums, mulberries, quinces, nectarine, apples, thanas, and walnuts are doing wonderful. The vineyard has taken on new life and the grapes are starting to sprout. We have full shade in the hammocks under the vines in a manner of two weeks it filled in nicely. We have added to our chicken population since my last post. And another mama hen about to hatch another round this Friday. On average we collect about 10 eggs a day from our hens and are down to one rooster (for now). We do have a few predators stalking our baby chickens. Possible suspects include a falcon, pied crow, and an owl. Our orchard took a hit with a late frost but is bouncing back and showing signs of life. Art has been working on the grass between the rows on the sunny days. And our roses are blossoming and the fragrance our driveway is intense. And the wildflowers are not disappointing. And we found an old friend in the garden. Spike is back! We are collecting garlic, onions, spring lettuce, spinach, chamomile, and strawberries. Our bookish adventure has lead us down the audiobook path. We've narrated Who Is Maggie and have added that to our other two audiobooks at KimMalaj.com. We are currently recording Twisting Hercules.

  • Bee Obsession

    Our daily walks through the garden have been transforming every day. I've taken the camera along to document the homestead over the last five years. One shot I've repeatedly taken are the bees. Art waits while I click away when there is a few bees nearby. Here are a few of my most recent shots... We have delayed our spring veggie crop one week because we had a late frost that damaged some of our potatoes and a few of our pomegranate trees. Thankfully we waited because we ended up with hail with our latest rain showers. Next week after the showers we'll cover the beds and plant the veggies including tomatoes, various peppers, eggplants, climbing beans, squash, melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, popcorn, and bush beans. The orchard is growing quickly. Thankfully the late frost hit before the blossoms were due. They've recovered and are showing popping. We have baby fruits are popping the mulberries, pears, peaches, nectarines, and plums. And the vines are taking off. Over the last two weeks we have seen so much growth. Our baby grapes are popping too. We have a family of birds that has made a nest in the corner of the house but Art put together a new home and they took it on the first day. We've added two additional houses that we rescued from the mulberry tree from his uncles property. Hope to set up a camera or two to capture them soon. We've had one new addition to our pig squad. So we have Sancho, Pancho, and little Josephine. And we have two mama hens sitting on some eggs. They are about a week apart. Our current mama hen fended off a hawk that tried to take one of our baby chicks. We are collecting between seven to ten eggs and some tiny from our newest hens. The changes on our hillside have started to transform changing my love of fall to the spring! Photos are just two weeks apart! It's kind of magical! What do you think?

  • Spring Awakens the Soul

    We've finally hit the stride of warm sunny days and nights in the 10 day forecast. And the plants are showing their appreciation. March on the homestead is all about the transition. We've kicked off the season with our ritual morning walks to check the trees and plants as they come back to life. Art shared with me this morning that he recalls making the morning rounds with his grandfather Gjeto to check the garden and any game traps. I love that some traditions stay steady on this beautiful land we cherish. It's a rapid transition as the bare trees comeback to life with bits of color, buds, and some flowers are popping already. Pear, peach, pomegranate, cornelius cherry, quince, mulberry, nectarine, plum, fig, grapes, kiwi, blueberry, and apple. We've seen the new onions pop and have transferred the spring green and spinach starters to a newly constructed raised bed with a cover. We also recycled our tires and transferred some of our strawberries that were a little too crowded in our annual beds. And with a new season we have new additions. Our mama hen is tending to seven new baby chicks. On average our other hens produce 7-9 eggs a day. We celebrate my birthday every year with a day trip and this year I wanted to go check out the waterfalls in the Albanian Alps. And it did not disappoint. We shared lunch with a Belgium cyclist braving the climb on a windy and chilly day. Love meeting new people and hearing about their love and appreciation of stunning Albania. Art and I are also busy recording the audiobook for Who Is Maggie. I hope to have a release date coming soon. We have also prepped and trimmed all the pomegranate trees in the orchard. They are starting to show pops of red. If you haven't added Albania to your list of travel must see. What's holding you back?

  • Early Prep for Spring

    Here in northern Albania it's always a bit of a mood during February. This year the mood is blue skies and sunny days but super chilly nights and frosty mornings. Last year was cold, gloomy, and rainy. So we've taken advantage of the warm days and started the prep for garden a few weeks ahead of schedule. We harvested the remaining broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower then removed last years plants, support sticks, irrigation lines and the black plastic. We have spring garlic and onions thriving plus we have added a third row of 9 kg of onions. We are prepping the next row for potatoes. Art has extended our annual bed to transplant our blueberry and aronia bushes from the vineyard to the garden. Strategically to protect them from our chickens and we have 50 new vines to plant. Replacing the blueberry row with forty vines and planting the other ten on the far end of the orchard that will introduce a new pink grape to our four varieties. We have several plants thriving in the annual beds including lavender, mountain tea, a small bay leaf tree, rosemary, hithra (nettle), strawberries, mint, spearmint, and transplanted more chamomile. We are introducing black tea this year and maybe chickpeas again. We've also been tracking to new blooms in the garden. The asian persimmons have tiny fruits, the bright yellow cornelius cherry (thana) blossoms and the bulbs of the green plum trees. Spring is Art's favorite season here and our mornings will soon be busy inspecting each new flower on all of our trees. Art cleaned up thorny weeds in the orchard. We have inspected the trees and will do some trimming before they blossom. We've taken advantage of the nicer weather with a bike ride to the lake and a hike up the hill. Both add variety to our day to day routines and the views are equally as stunning. The lake ducks are always entertaining! We've also prepped the mulberry wood barrel and are officially aging our grape raki. Art built a beautiful wheeled cart to support the barrel. I am near the halfway point with my newest novel Twisting Hercules, a small town mystery. Coming this spring. Cheers!

  • New Year, New Gear

    Art and I have upgraded our scythe/shovels to a dom dom (tiller) with various attachments. It was in large part due to maintain the grass between the pomegranate trees in the orchard. And a new microphone to start the process of producing audiobooks for Art's book, Northern Albanian Folk Tales, Legends and Myths and my fantasy series, Ember in Time. We (mostly Art) have been busy trimming the vines back and clearing overgrowth in the woods next to the orchard. We've discovered many large moss covered boulders and several fruit trees that were suffocating under red thorn bushes. The amount of sun bathing this area has already made the spot more magical. And I've been polishing a new small town suspense novel. It's nearly ready for my editor and I have managed the courage to set a date for the release on March 1, 2022. It's a new genre for me and is fictionally set in my old Missouri backyard, so to speak. And with 2022 we are planning to tear down the old stone building and rebuild a new building to store our wine making equipment that will include a tasting room and fingers crossed, a studio or two to host guests here on property. Stay safe, stay well my dears!

  • Winters on the Homestead

    I, Kim, returned after a month away to a very different landscape. The mountains are capped with the fresh snow. The homestead has been trimmed of all vestiges of our fruit bounty. It's been picked for the season. Art kept very busy trimming the vines and trees, making raki from our grapes, and planting new hazelnut and plum trees while I was away. He cleaned up bramble and old trees along a fence line in the back of the orchard and made room for a few more pomegranate trees inside the orchard. Plus Art collected the remaining persimmons for a small batch of raki to brew in the spring. The garden producing a winter bounty of broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, peppers, fresh parsley, cabbage, and leeks. Over a year ago, we dropped off mulberry wood from the garden to be crafted into a barrel to age wine and raki. Art picked it up while I was gone and the pictures really don't do it justice. IT IS GORGEOUS! The finish on the wood is so smooth and shiny. Art says we may use this for raki only, we'll shall see. Next up on our agenda is to complete the cleanup of the vines and the rest of the trees. I insisted he waited to trim the large mulberry trees until I returned. It's back to rain for the week and we'll start recording the audiobook Who Is Maggie. Cheers!

  • Seven years and many adventures...

    Last year, we attempted to dry whole persimmons but the outcome was tossed in the compost pile. But with the purchase of a small five tray dehydrator it's been a game changer. We pick firm persimmons, peel, thinly slice, dry for just over 24 hours, rinse and repeat for the last two weeks. I'm obsessed. We have three full mature trees and we are racing the clock. Once they go soft we can't slice for drying. They are too gooey to place on the trays. They are crunchy, chewy, and sweet but not too sweet! I had to check the dietary effects and was very pleasantly surprised. Dried Persimmons are a good source of vitamin A to maintain healthy organ functioning and fiber to regulate the digestive tract. The fruits also provide small amounts of vitamin C to strengthen the immune system, potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, and calcium to protect bones and teeth. So I call this this a great snack alternative to anything sugar related. We've stored them in several large jars and I'm hoping they make it to spring but I make zero guarantees. And we are looking to buy a second dehydrator and will consider packaging these next season. Would you be interested in all natural dried persimmon slices? Our garden is in full winter mode. Hot peppers, cabbage and leeks are ready to be picked as needed. The spring onions and garlic are doing well and we have one giant pumpkin left. And we have four lemons, one orange, countless persimmons and few grapes left on the vines. Last week, we managed to squeeze the remaining wild tart pomegranates on a chilly afternoon and took a small hike up the hill. We also celebrated St. Nik's with a fireside roasted lamb. Art finally got to use his motorized rotesry set up. I'll spare you the pictures of said lamb. And this week, we celebrated seven years of marriage with a day trip up to Boge, Albania and some foraging of wild rose buds (kaça) for our tea collection. The road up above Boge was clear which is rare this late in the year so we drove up to a restaurant with an incredible view of the mountains, and had lunch. Art filmed part of the drive while I was driving. We enjoyed the snow but were happy to return home where snow is only just visible on the peaks of the mountains. It was below freezing the but views absolutely stunning. Art and I have dedicated our long winter nights to narrating and recording my novel, Who Is Maggie. We're new to this and are taking it slow but so far it's less terrifying than I originally thought. I've also looked at manuscript with a finer comb and found some areas on where I can improve upon in a future edition. But we hope to have it ready by spring. And speaking of books the cat's out of the bag. I'll be returning to Missouri to visit family and kick off a second book tour. Celebrating the release of Guide Time Inside, the fourth book in the Ember in Time Series. It's the final book of the series and closes the chapter on my first fantasy series. I look forward to seeing friends and family plus fellow readers on my journey across the pond. While I am away, Art plans to brew our fermenting grapes and make more raki on a few clear sunny days in the forecast. And of course manage all things homestead in my absence: our many chickens, dog Bobby, and our three little pigs. Yes, three. This will likely be my last post of the year but we have a busy year ahead so check back next month and we'll share our plans for 2023. Happy Holidays to your and yours. Cheers!

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