Saturday, September 29, 2012

Easy Pickles

One of the easiest pickles to make is Bread and Butter Pickle, it is also our favourite, we grow ridge cucumbers just for making this lovely relish. It goes well with any cold meat or cheese and is very simple to make.
4lb cucumbers, 1.5 lb of onion.2oz of salt.
Peal and finely slice the cucumbers and onion, place in a large bowl cover with the salt ( to draw the excess fluid out) and leave overnight.
Next day.
Rinse the salt out from the vegetables and drain very well.
Heat 2.5 cups (1pt) of wine vinegar with 1 cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of mustard seed and 1.5 teaspoons of Turmeric, stir to mix it all together then add the veg and just bring to the boil, cook for 5 minutes , then using a slotted spoon, scoop the veg into clean warm jars, fill them to the shoulder of the jars, then top up with the remaining spiced vinegar mixture. I always used greased proof paper under the metal lids to prevent the lids from corroding. try to store the jars for at least two weeks before eating, they improve with storage.

We seldom get to the two weeks before we start them, they really are a favourite.

The leaves are now starting to change colour, I love this time of year, store cupboards full of jams and pickles, and bottled fruit. A nice warm fire to sit by and the garden more or less put to bed for the winter. It leaves time for craft work and painting, we are hoping to go on a pottery course in the next few weeks, something we have not done before.

Simon has been busy putting the finishing touches to the sunroom, the floor is now tiled and he is doing mosaics for the window ledges, two have been completed so far, and I think they look great, far more interesting than plain tiles although they are quite labour intensive.

My experiment with freezing eggs worked well, I had done them in bags of six and tried out the first lot by making a cake , they worked as well as fresh eggs. But we do now have a regular customer for our eggs, which helps when we have so many.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Autumn Harvest and adventures.

September continues to be a warm month, the grass is still growing faster than the rabbits can graze it and seeds are still germinating. One of our favourite spring time flowers are wall flowers and we had planted a couple of long rows earlier in the year, they were doing well until they were mistaken as weeds by a helper, any easy mistake to make as we have a lot of wild mustard which has appeared on our land, it's leaves are similar to wallflowers. As the weather has been so good I decided to take a chance and plant more seeds, they have all germinated and are now at the true leaf stage so with a little bit of crop cover I am hopeful that we will have wallflowers to plant out in the spring, they might flower a little later than normal but that doesn't matter.
The tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes are now abundant. This year I grew a yellow cherry tomato, the flavour is fantastic and it is a heavy cropper, far too many fruits for us to eat so I will bottle most of them to use later on in stir fries and bolognese sauce. The cucumbers are always grown to make Bread and Butter Pickle, this is a combination of cucumber and onions with mustard seed and Turmeric, very simple to make it goes beautifully with cheese and also cold meats.
The sweet-peas continue to flower in abundance, I have even run out of vases for all of them and am now using jugs as vases, I had only planted two dozen seeds of a mixed collection and they have been the best display I have ever had. They will continue until the first frosts. 

The Peacock butterflies have at last put in an appearance, we have had plenty of tortoiseshell butterflies along with other ones but it is only in the last week that the peacocks have made their entrance. There also seems to be more red squirrels around, at one time it was rare to see this lovely little creature but we seem to be seeing more and more of them, maybe it is the time of year, they will now be collecting nuts for their winter larder, rather like ourselves , storing food for the months to come.

With such beautiful weather we decided to have a day out, we had planned on visiting the Cliffs of Moher, however, this was the day that our sat nav decided to play games with us. We ended up somewhere in Connemara, where we were we will probably never know but the scenery was breathtaking, mountains that reached down to the shore of a beautiful lough, small islands and lots of granite outcrops. A place full of history, mystery and mists.
The West of Ireland is truly a beautiful place, one where history can be clearly seen, of times past imprinted on the landscape.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ducks and Marmalade.

I hate change, especially when something gets changed when it worked well before the change. It might take me some time to do today's blog , as the format of Blog Spot has now been changed. We were given due warning and I suppose I should have looked at the proposed changes before it happened. I get comfortable with things and rarely do I see any benefits of New or Improved , this seems like change for changes sake, but no doubt I will get used to it, or not.

The first of the ducks are now in the freezer, only five got slaughtered, one had escaped it's run and taken it's self off to the  second flocks run, maybe it had sensed what was going to happen. As it turned out we would not have had room in the freezer for the the escape.We ate one over the weekend and it was beautiful and so tender.

 We have now bought a third freezer despite saying we would only need one, there are still nineteen ducks and seven chickens to be slaughtered over the next month. Next year we would hope to have more chickens for the freezer, it takes time to build up breeding stock, we are keeping two of the La Bresse pullets that we hatched and hopefully we have found a supplier for the cockerel who had imported eggs from France, with luck we should have good strong stock. It rather went against the grain to buy chicken at 15euros a time for Sunday dinner, I can buy a joint of Organic beef for less, but the price of  Organic chicken does reflect the true cost of production allowing for the heavy mark up of the supermarkets.

Inspired by someone else's blog I decided it was time to make marmalade, not orange marmalade but lime, this was a childhood memory for both of us, Roses Lime Marmalade, always reserved for the adults in the family, we suspect it was very expensive or it was decided that children would not like it, we were both in our late teens if not older before we tried it, although marmalade is not the easiest thing to make it is worthwhile, even though it is a two day process. The end result, seven jars of marmalade for the store cupboard.

At last some good news on the GM front. At last a long term study has been done on the safety of GM's and the use of Roundup. Instead of the twelve week safety assessment, a two year study has now been done and Peer reviewed, funded in part by the French Supermarket chain Carrefour. The outcome? GM maize causes tumours as does Roundup. This is a debate that I have been involved with and followed for twenty four years. Maybe now governments will stop issuing licences for  growing these poisons and withdraw the licences for allowing Roundup to be sold, but I very much doubt it, after all when you have a ex legal representative of Monsanto in charge of  the FDA in the USA, corruption will reign supreme.
RESOURCES: The new paper can be found here
Intro to key findings and related resources    

Saturday, September 15, 2012


So far September has been a warm and dry month, ideal weather to get the garden prepared for it's winter sleep, we have now built four raised beds ready for next year. We have not done this because the land gets wet, our land is very free draining too much so in fact, but we hope that by having the raised beds we might stand more of a chance against the weeds and slugs, the other advantage is that having deep dug the beds and making them a width that can be worked from both sides they will not require further heavy digging, just cover them with manure and compost in the Autumn cover with black plastic or cardboard and let the worms do the rest. We used to use this method before when we lived in Ireland and it works well. The garden had got quite overgrown and we had forgotten that we had planted some Pink Fir Apple potatoes so were delighted to find we had a bonus crop nearly a bucket full, plus some stray main crop potatoes.

It seems to be a good year for blackberries so we went foraging and returned with over four pounds of fruit picked in a very short time, I didn't want to waste valuable space in the freezer so I bottled them instead, this is a very easy way to preserve fruit for the winter, we ended up with twelve jars, ready to make apple and blackberry pie come the winter.

From time to time we have had our rabbits escape from their runs, normally they are easy to catch or even return to their runs, however, there will always be the exception. Bunsey free ranged for well over three weeks, she was living in the hedge row but still expected to be given her feed every evening, she and the cats became friends with the cats being very curious as to why this rabbit was running around. Our attempts at catching her failed even though we have a large net and she had no fear of us when we were outside. After hearing a fox calling one evening we thought it was time that she was caught and returned to safety, she must have also been aware of the danger as our next attempt was successful, she is now reunited with her sister Goldie . We had no intention of keeping three females but there is no way that she will end up in our freezer, we admire her too much the way that she adapted to semi feral living.

We were pleased to find several frogs around the garden although a bit puzzled as to why they should still be showing their breeding colours, although the seasons are well out of line. We have primroses and Aubretia in bloom and Sweet Williams that I had grown from seed for next years blooming are blooming now.

The Sweet Peas have been spectacular this year and are continuing to bloom, I am hopeful that they will continue until the first frosts come but thankfully their is no sign of that happening yet, the trees have not started to turn colour so we might have a little more of this pleasant Autumn weather.

The butterflies are now coming into their own, at last we have seen Peacocks and masses of Tortoiseshells plus many other varieties but no Red Admirals.

In these very hard times we do not understand why more people are not producing at least some of their own food, we live in a very rural area yet veg gardens are very few and far between, Ireland, like Galicia has ideal growing conditions and although in Galicia all rural dwellers would grow vegetables it was very limited as to what they did grow, the Spanish don't seem to have much use for vegetable unless it's to feed to animals. But here in Ireland people do eat vegetables so why don't they grow some of their own? It can't be lack of time, that's something that people have plenty of, given the unemployment rates, maybe it is all to do with the grant culture, if a farmer is not given grant money from the EU he wont produce stuff, not even if it helps to feed his family.
But this is not just restricted to farmers, most people have large gardens in such a rural area, but they prefer to let the rush take over or use glyphosate rather that dig a garden. As we look around at our own small piece of Ireland we know how quickly the land can become productive with out any chemical inputs at all. We've been back just fourteen months, the freezers are full and in fact we have had to buy yet another one to take the duck and hen harvest, we have a winters supply of potatoes, carrots, onions , a cupboard full of jams and bottled fruit, plus all the cabbages and chard which remains over winter in the garden. Not knowing how to grow stuff is not a valid excuse, there are a number of Grow your Own clubs in Ireland to help the novices get started. Is it just that people are now so far removed from how and where the food they eat comes from? A kids reply to this is simple, The Supermarket. That's all most of them know, what will happen when the world can no longer import from one side of the planet to the other?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Harvest moon

We have had the harvest moon and there is the feel of Autumn on it's way. The blackberries are now ripening, first of the new season free food, soon it will be time for the mushrooms.
The potatoes have been lifted and are now in store for the winter, we grow a variety called Sarpo Mira, blight resistant and also apparently slug resistant as well, we have had much damage caused through slugs this year but the potatoes are fine, it has also been a bad year for blight but we have escaped it and we have a good crop, hopefully enough to last until the new season. The outside onions are also now harvested, the crop can only be described as reasonable, I'm not too sure if we will bother growing onions outside again, the early over wintered ones in the tunnel did far better. The main-crop carrots have done very well, unfortunately the look does not match up with the taste. We grew a variety called Flyaway, resistant to carrot root fly, probably due to the fact that they have very little flavour. We will not be growing them again, we will take our chances with the root fly and just net them, we like flavour in our carrots. Fortunately I had planted some Nantes in the keyhole garden, they are growing well, this is the variety we had always grown and they are full of flavour. Both runner beans and French beans have been a disaster. The first lot of runners were enjoyed by our rabbits, the French beans developed rust, curled up and died, my second planting of runners were doing well, lots of flowers and beans setting, I had planted them in the tunnel as the season was getting on. A few days ago I noticed that they too were showing signs of rust and definite die back , then the penny dropped. Tomatoes! I had forgotten the basic rules of companion planting, some plants are beneficial to each other, some are definitely antagonists, beans hate tomatoes and I had planted tomatoes in the French bean bed and the runner beans I had planted in a bed where there was a tomato plant growing. A mistake I wont make again.
Most of the young rabbits are now in the freezer, with two exceptions, one very pretty girl that I had called Goldie, not a good idea to name anything you wish to eat, the second one is living a totally free range life. Ten days ago we had a mass escape of the young ones, all were captured the same day with the exception of one. She has taken up residence in the hedge row but each evening appears in the drive way waiting to be feed her wheat, she pays no heed to either our cats or dogs and neither do they bother her .She is quite happy for us to be outside close to her unless we happen to have net with us, then she dives back into the thick hedge, knowing we can't get her. I'm hoping that when the weather gets bad she will want to return to the comfort of her hutch and run but I'm not holding my breath on that.
The wild flower meadow mix that we had planted has done well for the first year, and we are hoping that everything will self-seed and continue for many years to come. The insects and butterflies love it.