Self sufficiency in Transylvania

I am documenting as much as possible before too many changes occur within this unique community situated within the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania. The Szekely are thought to be descendants of Attila the Hun who have followed a simple, traditional and sustainable life through the centuries. Their culture survived communism but will it survive capitalism? Since Romania joined the EU young people are leaving the village in droves to seek earnings in Denmark and Germany 10 times greater for the same amount of work received at home.

Harvesting with Scythe

Harvesting with Scythe

September - It is not unusual to see whole fields slowly harvested using a hand held scythe. Produce is then gathered using a rake and loaded onto a horse drawn cart.

Horse & Cart - Transylvania

With ever rising prices in local shops it pays to be as self sufficient as possible. Traditional farming methods are a well established part of rural life in Transylvania, with skills and knowledge past down through the generations. Everyone is busy making the most of the fair weather seasons in preparation for the long and harsh winter, which regularly plummets below -20oC. Each day is treated as a window of opportunity to get all the necessary chores completed, promoting the best harvest possible. Not only are fruit and vegetables grown in abundance but grass too. Once the grass is cut by hand using scythes, it is then left on the fields to dry before being gathered as hay. This is essential fodder for livestock housed through the long winter in large village barns. 

Bringing in the hay

Returning home from the fields

Collecting cabbages - Transylvania

Bringing in the hay

The yards in Ojdula are full of domestic animals, which are a vital part of the villagers diet. The nearest supermarket is half an hours drive away and relatively expensive, so rearing your own animals makes a lot of sense. When a chicken dinner is prepared, you first hear the commotion of one of the family running around the yard to catch one first!

Magdi preparing a chicken

Suckling piglets

Suckling piglets

September - Gyafi, my friend has one of the biggest sows in the village, estimated to weigh 300kgs! It is difficult to give scale to the size of this animal, but if an average man weighs 75kgs, then that should help. This sow gave birth to seven piglets two weeks ago which are putting on weight fast as you can see in the photos above.

Gyafi bacsi cooking potatoes for the pigs

Gyafi has six other medium to large size pigs that require a lot of feeding. Above Gyafi is preparing breakfast for the pigs. This contraption is like a large pressure cooker. Potatoes are loaded into the top and cooked until soft, this is then mixed with table scarps before feeding to the pigs. A very healthy and organic diet, which is reflected in the quality of meat that is produced.

Wood store ready for winter

There are several kinds of shepherds in Transylvania. Those that take their own animals to the hills which are mainly for their own consumption. Then there are roving transhumant shepherds that live outside with their animals in makeshift homes, which can be dismantled and moved to pastures new. The third type of shepherd is a man paid by other villagers to look after their livestock allowing them to do other work. There are no fences to prevent domestic livestock from roaming wherever they like, so whatever style of shepherding is adopted it is apparent that the livestock cannot be left to their own devices. For one the fields of crops would be constantly raided and there are also far too many predators such as wolves, lynx and bears which would pray on the flock. All shepherds have a pack of dogs with them to protect the creatures in their charge.

Shepherd with flock - Transylvania

Picking apples - Transylvania

October - Apple picking is an easy affair if the tree is short. Simply pick the apples by hand or if out of reach use a ladder. However, some apple trees are too tall to pick the upper fruit which is where the 'long arm' comes into play. This simple contraption not only enables all fruit to be picked, but in careful hands brings down the crop in good condition too. 

Picking apples - Transylvania

Bringing in the hay - Transylvania

Pista bácsi my neighbour is out in the meadow for several hours a day with his small flock of sheep and goats. To get there he first has to negotiate a small narrow track, making sure his animals don't eat crops on the lower slopes of the village. He remains with them whilst grazing as there are no fences here, and he and his dogs will have to keep a watchful eye as the upper slopes are patrolled by wolf and bear which are known to prey on livestock.

Sheep & Goats grazing

Shepherd and flock

Picking wild herds for medicinal teas

July - Nothing is wasted and it is a regular feature of everyday life to see villagers combing the meadows for mushrooms. This lady was also picking wild flowers to make a medicinal tea. 

Picking wild herbs and mushrooms

Burning weeds and ploughing

April - It is the everyday life in and around the village that absolutely fascinates me. Now the good weather has arrived there is plenty of activity in the fields, ploughing, burning and planting crops. Although the villagers tend to grow some of their vegetables at home they also have strips of land surrounding the village where they grow their main staple, potatoes. Many people do have small tractors for ploughing but it remains a common site to see this performed the traditional way using horses. 

Ploughing before planting seedling potatoes

Potato planting - Transylvania

Potato planting - Transylvania

Muck spreading using branches

April - We came across this villager preparing his strip of land on high ground close to Ojdula. This soil is not suitable for vegetables, but very good for growing grass, which will be harvested as hay for the winter. Manure had been loosely spread by hand thrown from a cart and now he was working it in with this home made contraption. Basically it was a piece of log which he placed on top of a big bunch of branches. He then sat on top of the stump which was dragged along by two horses.

Muck spreading using branches

Strip farming - Transylvania

April - I thought it would be nice to show you an example of strip farming, especially as each villager works their land at slightly different times and sometimes planting different crops. This all leads to a variation of colours to the strips, nicely demonstrated in the following photograph. 

Pista guiding young kids to the teat

February - Lambing has started and the goats are at it as well. I have been helping Pista my neighbour out and there are new born lambs and kids everywhere. These two were born twenty minutes ago and were having difficulty feeding. Pista gave them a helping hand by guiding them to the teat, and once latched on were well away. 


Goat feeding

Young kid standing on mother's back

This three day old kid found it much safer on Mum's back. No matter what I did to distract it, it sprung back onto her back within seconds! 


Two of the kids were very hungry, and it turned out that their mum wasn't producing enough milk. So we had to hand milk the cow, fill two empty brandy bottles with milk, attach teats and the kids will need feeding three times a day. 


At the end of a hard days lambing, there is nothing like returning to the kitchen to drink a little home made wine to end the day!


Bringing in the hay - Transylvania

May - Travelling back from Katrosa I came across these villagers stacking their cart with hay just outside the village of Szentlélek. A large pole is attached to the front on the cart, then laid centrally down the full length of the cart and fixed at the rear. This anchors down the hay and maintains balance to the high load when transported back to the village.

Bringing in the hay - Transylvania

Bringing in the hay - Transylvania