Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summer's here and gone again.

We had summer, yesterday. Yes, we celebrate when we have a day of summer. To be fair, March and April were lovely, in the main, but July, although mild has been wet as opposed to soft! Soft here in the west means damp, but not cats and dogs. But with the rain come growth, grass, weeds and the veg, even the flowers are thriving. There is even a primrose in bloom, I think it has got a little confused with the seasons. We have had a bumper crop of broad beans,now in the freezer, our main crop potatoes are good, all the cabbages are looking good and the calabrese now has it's second flush, carrots and all the spinaches are thriving. It's hard to remember that we have only been back a year, our adventures in Spain just a distant memory, and despite the rain, we are still glad to be back. What was just two fields growing grass only is now providing us with our food, veg, meat and eggs.
Today's rain was a little too much for our older ducklings, it was a case of a quick bath, eat breakfast and then back into their house where they remained for most of the day, just popping outside for more food, we have half of the run covered in polythene, so they can reach their food dish without getting wet.

We realise how fortunate we are to have the knowledge to be able to grow our own food. Yesterday we watched a program on TV, where a farm in Wales gives holidays to children from city's, many of these children have never seen a field, one child remarked that she hadn't realised that the food they were eating had come from the ground that they were working on, she thought it came from shops.
We were the lucky ones, we both came from a time and area where there was farming, our parents grew their own and we helped, I had my first bit of garden when I was seven, a small plot allocated to me by my Grandfather, Simon and his sisters were brought up helping with the garden, goats and the hens. It seems such a shame that so many children now grow up with no idea of where their food comes from before it arrives in the supermarkets, many of these children will never learn how to prepare a meal from fresh ingredients. Many of these children will be watching the Olympics and will see the signs for 'MacDonald's' the official restaurant for the Olympics. What sort of message does that send to the young?

Besides the veg that we grow, we also have many herbs. Growing herbs is easy and very therapeutic, many of the culinary herbs also have medicinal properties which is just as well given my distrust of Doctors. Many also have beautiful flowers. It is lovely to brush against some of these herbs or just to run my fingers through them and to breath in the aroma. I have several types of Thyme, the bees love the flowers, Sage, Oregano,Parsley, two types of Mint, Bergamot , Echinacea, Lovage, Sweet Cicely, Rosemary,Fennel, Lemon Balm , Feverfew , Basil, Bay and Calendula to name some of them, throughout the year they will all be used in one way or another. Nature has a cure for most things, and she is a darned lot safer than Pharmaceuticals.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Gone to new homes

The first of our hatches this year have now been sold, it was sad to see them go as they had all been hatched in the incubator, so we are now two Buff Orpington, two Light Sussex and one Jersey Giant less, I know they have gone to a good home, the lady who bought them is chicken crazy and it does pay for a few bags of feed.

Our latest ducklings, the ones that we had so much trouble with the hatching are doing well, but they are so different to the first lot, they are the ruffians of duck world, they don't seem to like their brooder to be clean and dry, I cleaned them out yesterday and within half an hour the litter was soaking again. I had spotted an animal bowl on a stand yesterday whilst out shopping and thought that maybe this would act as a drinker rather than a bath for them, so l cleaned out again and placed the new bowl in with them, went back half an hour later to find them having a great time, although raised up they can get into it and they have now had their first swim, not what I had intended at all.

Some of the rabbits are now in the freezer and one had escaped her run, she was living quite happily for the last three days totally free, we have now managed to recapture her, I think maybe she was fed up with just eating the veg, and seemed quite happy to be reunited with her sisters, maybe she knows what is in store for her.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mother knows best?

The hatch from the Muscovy's did not go as planed, we had thought that they had been sitting firm for the required 35 days, not counting the first day when they first sat .
We thought we had a problem a few days before the due date as we had found two ducklings still half in the shells dead just outside the house. We blamed this on Magpies, they get blamed for a lot of things.
It now rather seems that it was our fault allowing two broodies to share a nest, quite what happened we will never know, but lesson learnt, never let two mums share a nest. Although it does work with chickens.
We fenced off the house and netted above the run so Magpies could not get near any remaining ducklings, and we waited.
On Tuesday we discovered that we had three ducklings so we were a bit happier, however the next day when we went to clean out the house and nest we found that one of the little things had been trampled, the remaining two were brought indoors and put in the brooder.
The mums by this time were out and about so we looked at the now deserted nest and saw that there were still nine eggs in it. We candled them and could see that seven contained ducklings, we don't know how long the nest had been left, the eggs were cold but we thought we had nothing to lose by putting them in the incubator. By Thursday four had hatched, Friday another one had pipped, but by Saturday it had not progressed and I thought it had died, taking it out of the incubator I heard a cheep, so a gentle helping hand to pick away more of the shell, it still made no progress although by this time it's head was free, I offered it water from a pipette which it took readily, I continued with this all of yesterday and at six in the evening I got it out, it is a fine little thing and as large as it's siblings, by eleven last night it was demanding food, so I gave it mashed up hard boiled egg and put in in with the rest of the brood where it is doing fine.
When I got up this morning I checked the incubator and found that we had another one hatched, this one was quick as there was no sign of it pipping last night, this one is also in the brooder. We will candle the remaining egg later on, but we are happy with what we have. Two rescued from the mums and six that would have died if we had left them in the nest. It would seem that mother does not always do things right.
We used to keep ducks years ago, but in those days we had little or no bio security, the ducks would take themselves off, lay their eggs and return several weeks later with a line of ducklings, sometimes as many as two dozen! We never found the nests, and never lost a duck to a fox, but they survived.
There is still one more duck sitting but we are not quiet sure when she is due, but again we will fence her off and put netting above the run. This will be the last hatching for this year, and it seems as though we will be having roast duckling twice a month.

The first four of the rabbits are now in the freezer, the others have a reprieve as despite buying a second freezer we have run out of space, but the next years meat is now assured.

Garden wise things keep growing, this includes the grass and weeds, we have dicovered some yellow rattle growing near by so we will seed harvest and spread the seed around the edge of the veg garden in the hope of keeping the grass growth limited around the edge and prevent it from encroaching into the veg garden.

We are still getting a lot of butterflies visiting the flower garden although it is now what is described here as a soft day, this means it's raining! Not the heavy stuff, just a gentle drizzel which I think makes you wetter than a downpour.

Monday, July 16, 2012

New ducks and meat for the table.

We aim to be as self-sufficiency as possible, Sunday dinner was entirely home produced, chicken, potatoes, broad beans and cabbage, I like to think that one day we will eat like this everyday. The chicken, or rather rooster was one of four that we slaughtered on Saturday, one of the Light Sussex, it was full of flavour as chicken used to be and tender. The veg were straight out of the garden, so very fresh and tasty.

Knowing that we will be slaughtering our own poultry in the future I thought it might be a good idea to buy poultry plucking fingers, I found them on Ebay and all you need is a good electric drill to fit it into, the end needed a arbour welding onto it and our local garage did this, free of charge. The result was a chicken plucked in less than five minutes. Cost, just 33 euro, good value.

Our home made yoghurt is now perfect, just by adding a spoonful of double cream to the milk, success every time, it now costs us just 1.98 for two lt of Organic yoghurt instead of 6.80 for the same amount of shop bought, it's so much nicer as well.

I have always wanted an excuse to have Indian runner ducks, I think they are so comical, they seem to march around like little solders. After reading up on them we decided that they might help us in the battle of the slugs. Simon has been out night after night killing slugs, anything from 100 to 300 hundred a night, they certainly seem to like our veg, so yesterday we picked up four from the person we had bought our last Muscovy's from, they are about twelve weeks old , and real cute. They watched while a hole was dug to insert a half plastic barrel for their pool, as soon as it was filled they were straight in. I've been down to them three times today, each time they have been lazing around in the pool, so it meets with their approval.Although ducks dont need water to swim in they do need to have sufficient water to submerge their heads, a ducks sinus very easily becomes blocked, especially if you are feeding them pellets or grain both of which contain dust particles, they also need water to help the swallow their food, in the wild they would be gathering food from the bottom of a pond or river. Not too much dust there!.

Our baby Muscovy's are now in their outside run and they seem to like it, we still have a lamp in the house for them as the nights are chilly and they are only just over two weeks old. One idea that I came across on a poultry site was to use a paint tray as a bath for very young ducklings, this seems a very good idea as it is easy for the little ones to get out of and no fear of them drowning or becoming water logged. Although they have only been outside for a day, this morning as soon as they were let out they were straight in for their morning splash. Ducks are so cute, and I'm finding them far more interesting than hens. We are hopeful that our two broody ducks will hatch their eggs OK, they are due now, so the run has been netted around against the drake and wild birds, we are keeping or fingers crossed.

Many people are saying there are no butterflies or bees around this year, we have no shortage of bees and have four different types that visit us, i woundn't expect to see honey bees as there are no hives a anywhere near us, we also have butterflies, but not as many as we would expect, in the last few days I have seen gatekeepers, small whites and a lovely tortoiseshell enjoying the sun on a Calendula flower, the bees and hover-flies also seem to like this plant.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Permaculture and skill sharing

This years Permaculture gathering will be held near Strokestown. Co Roscommon. This is to be a three day event. - - - - - - - - - - - -
All-Island Permaculture Gathering
Strokestown, County Roscommon
3rd-6th August 2012

The past couple of months has been a hive of activity in preparation for this event, including skill share. This has covered many things, making a bee hive, sheep shirring, dry stone walling, and last weekend bread making. One person demonstrated making bread that needs no kneading , this is not a quick bread to make as it requires you to make a mother culture the day before, you then keep back a little of the culture to make further loaves, it was interesting, although not to our taste. We demonstrated just how easy it is to make 'normal' bread, one loaf we made entirely by hand and the second one we used our Kenwood chef for the Kneading. We use three different types of flour in our bread of equal proportions, Organic strong white flour, spelt and wholemeal, all Organic of course. I don't normally like reading other peoples recipes, I also find recipe books boring, there was however one bread that was demonstrated that was quick, easy and delicious, it can also be made gluten free.
Soda Bread.
So, breaking the habit of a lifetime, this is the recipe.
1 500ml carton of yogurt ( soya yogurt can be used.)

2yogurt carton full of oats.

2 Tbs of oil, good quality olive oil or rape seed is best.

2 Teaspoons of bread soda.


Mix all together using a spatula or wooden spoon and pour into a greased and floured tin. Bake at 190 for about 45 minuets. It should be baked immediately.
This is a very simple and quick bread to make and delicious.
Unfortunately there are no photos of the soda bread, by the time it was cooked we were all very hungry so it was devoured, straight from the oven with lashings of organic butter.

Despise the best efforts of our large slug population the garden is producing well for us. We have a bumper crop of broad beans, so my evenings are spent preparing them for the freezer, we have had a very good crop of calabrese and a lot has been frozen, also mange tout peas. Hopefully next year I will be able to add Blackcurrants and raspberries to the list.

The local hedgerows are now full of wild flowers, amongst them, Meadow Sweet, good to make wine from, Lady's bedstraw, makes a good substitute for rennet for cheese makers, also gives a lovely colour to the cheese , Common Valerian, the root was used as a sedative, and Yellow Rattle, useful to grow in areas that you wish to control grass growth. Nature is wonderful, and finds it own balance and I can not understand why people think that by spraying their land with glphosate they are improving the look of their land, not to mention the damage they do to the environment and wild life.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Chickens and Ducklings

Maybe it's the novelty, but I am finding ducklings far more endearing than chicks, we ended up with just six ducklings from the incubator as we now know it is not working correctly but the six that we have are lovely, they are far more responsive than chicks. Today they had their first waddle, I gave them a slightly larger drinking bowl, with out the marbles in it, they thought it was wonderful, first dipping their heads under and then plunging straight in. They still have the electric hen in with them so were able to dry off without catching a chill. In a weeks time I have to take them off heat and the week after they should be going outside. This is the last hatch that we will do in the incubator this year so hopefully I can get it serviced and running properly for next season. It will still have it's use during the winter, making yoghurt.

Making our own yoghurt is something we have done for years but since our return to Ireland none of the batches had worked out, I had tried every brand of so called live yoghurt as a starter, and four different brands of milk, so what was going wrong? Well it turns out that milk is being so diluted here it just does not contain sufficient fat or protein, eventually I found a full fat yoghurt recommended by someone on a poultry site, I added a tablespoon of double cream to the milk and hey presto, lovely thick yoghurt again at a fraction of the cost of shop bought.

Our keyhole garden is working out well. everything that I had sown has germinated well and so far the slugs have not discovered it. I think a second one will have to be made.

Our last batch of chicks are now outside and doing well, eight la Bresse four Jersey Giants and two light Sussex. It's amazing how quickly they grow once they are outside.

I have found four beautiful rambling roses in the hedge in our drive way, these are an incredible colour and the perfume is truly amazing, I think it is best described as a damask rose, I will take lots of cuttings in the Autumn, we just could not have too many of these beautiful roses around. Our sweet peas are also doing very well so the house is never short of perfumed flowers.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Rarer than hens teeth.

It is now over a year since we last had pork, this is due to one single fact, it is just about impossible to buy free range or organic pork in a butchers, certainly not in the west of Ireland. The way pigs are farmed is to our view barbaric, even more so than battery hens, so it was exciting to find an advert for Free Range Pork on the poultry site that we read.
A phone call later and I was well assured that this gentleman knew what he was talking about and that his pigs do indeed have the best life possible. A quick dash over to a friend who had offered to lend us a spare freezer and we were set.
As they say, 'It's a long way to Tipperary' which is where this farm is, well it's more a smallholding, John, I know he wont mind me mentioning his name, has a bit of everything, a few sheep, a share in a cow, plus all his lovely chickens, geese, and goats, who of course had to show off and broke into where his young apple trees were growing.
These goats had had a very close friendship with the pigs and we were shown lovely photos of them all living as one big happy family.
When ever possible we buy Organic meat, but as I thought about this I realised that the pork from John was in fact far more environmentally friendly, raised on locally produced grains and fresh fruit from a wholesalers, the pigs are slaughtered by a local butcher, so no trauma to the animals of being transported miles to a factory. It's a shame that it is so far, but it makes for a day out. I am looking forward to dinner tonight.

Our trip out also gave me a chance to see a Dryad's Saddle fungi, it's been a long time since we had seen such a good example.

The ducklings are doing well and are now in the big brooder, now we know that our incubator is not working as it should, hopefully we will be able to get it repaired and get better hatches next year.

June was apparently the wettest since 1910, I really had not noticed, I have had no problems in getting washing dry, which is rather how I define wet or dry weather, but as I walk around the garden I realise that the grass is very tall and needs cutting, an elephant could hide in it, never mind a fox, the veg continue to produce and the flowers don't seem to mind it either.

There are now five table birds up to weight and awaiting their fate, they have put on weight well with the sprouted grain so depending on taste this will probably be the way that we will finish our birds in the future.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


I think it's easier hatching chicks rather than ducklings. We had set eggs under a broody Jersey giant and although she sat the full time not one egg hatched, on autopsy of the eggs, one had died in shell just a few days before due date, one had died a bit earlier than that and the others were addled, this of course could have been the cause of the two deaths. We should have candled the eggs each week, but the hen would not allow us to touch the eggs.
We do have ducklings hatching from the incubator but once again over a three day period, as the later ones are all from one end of the incubator on each hatch, we have concluded that it is not working correctly.
So far five have hatched but unfortunately one has died, why we don't know, it's the first time we have lost a new born but it's still sad, there is something so appealing about ducklings, more so than chicks.
We also two ducks sitting on eggs, they are sharing the nest, so hopefully they will manage to produce some young for us.

The garden is still giving us an abundance of veg, we are spoilt for choice, lots of Calabrese and beans. We have come to the end of the first flush of strawberries, we have been eating them since April, so now I will clean arround the plants, remove any dead leaves and then give the plants a good feed of seaweed, hopefully the will then produce again up until November as long as we get no frosts.

I have a mystery with Sweet peas, although I planted a mixture of colours into modules and had no way of knowing which was which colour when I planted them out, all the flowers in the containers have turned out deep purple and the ones in the flower beds are all pink, no sign of the white ones. A similar thing has happened to a friend of ours, but this time with Lobelia, she had put a pinch of mixed colours into modules, they are now in bloom, purple with purple white with white and pink with pink, very strange considering how small the seeds are.