Sunday, October 28, 2012


chickenplaque.jpg  I recently joined a GIY forum, (Grow It Yourself}, hoping to find many more like minded people, I was surprised, to find that still only 2% of the population grow their own veg.The site receives very few posts although it is well set. It not a case that people don't know about it, it has been well publicised on local radio and in the press. There seems to be no reason why more people don't grow there own here, after all Ireland is land rich, and has a very high unemployment rate so time is not the reason. I suspect it is the brain washing from TV commercials where even if a super market is running the ad. it is always for pre packaged food and veg.
People have come to believe that this is where food comes from and they have a wide choice. Is this really a fact , the wide choice?  Certainly there are many brands, but it is all the same things, rarely will you find an artisan produced food, and when it comes to meat you have two choices, Organic or meat that says nothing. You will seldom find anything labelled 'Free Range' apart from eggs or chicken and if you look at the regulations for 'Free Range' it is meaningless. Other silly labels, Farm Fresh, Country Fresh, Freedom Food ( this gives the very basic welfare standards allowed without being prosecuted for cruelty). The only way that you can buy meat products or eggs that are GMO free is by buying Organic, and again in the case of eggs or poultry, apart from the feed, once again the term is largely meaningless.
In California in a few days time they are having the chance to vote as to whether they want their food labelled GM  or not. Proposition 37, Sadly I think the yes vote will be defeated due to the vast amount of money that Monsanto and other's of their ilk have thrown at the advertising campaign for a no vote. Three reasons 'THEY' have put forward against labelling food is that it will cost more to produce the labels, the consumer will become confused ( really?) and it might scare people. OK I will give them the last one, it might, and rightly so.
 Americans seem to think that we in the EU have our food labelled, well we don't. Meat and eggs are mainly produced here using GMO ingredients and they are not labelled.
 We recently came across packets of pop corn in a well know German super market chain, on looking at the label carefully we found that the maize had come from either the US or Spain, both countrys are contaminated by GMOs  so it is highly doubtful that this Pop Corn is GM Free, but there is no label to tell the consumer this fact.
On the GIY site there is a young farmer wanting ideas of how to feed his pigs not using soya because of the GMO status , he has a market for his pork providing he can source non GM protein. Apart from going Organic, his choices are limited.
Apart from producing your own food there is little you can do to avoid GMs, herbicides and pesticides. Which is why we chose to do it, we have plenty to chose from veg wise plus the rabbits, chickens, ducks and eggs, and now we have mushrooms. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

The tomatoes keep coming.

For us it has been a bumper year for the tomatoes, and they still keep coming. I have given up weighing them, but we will have plenty of bottled ones to last us through winter. I can't even claim that I had given them much TLC, if anything they got rather neglected, but I did resist planting every one of the side shoots that I removed, I replanted just three of them. This is such an easy way to increase the number of plants that you grow, but the danger is you will be taken over by tomato plants. I ended up with nine vines, all of which have and still are producing well.
I had expected to lose the Sweet Peas when the first frosts arrived, but I am still picking them and they are still full of perfume.

The Sarpo Mira potatoes produced well for us, some of the tubers are huge, this one weighed in  at 1lb 4oz.
We also have a very good crop of Brussel sprouts  this year. This is a crop that we normally have a problem with, and it has rather surprised us  at how well they have done. They prefer a heavy slightly clay soil, or so they say. Our soil is the complete opposite.

 Over the last couple of weeks we had a lack of eggs coming from the pullets house, more correctly we had no eggs coming from the pullets house. These are all young birds who have only been in lay for a couple of months, they are all fit and healthy, no sign of mites or lice, so where were the eggs? I was looking out of the window a couple of days ago and spotted a Magpie, she landed on the roof of the house, jumped down onto the door, peering into the house. It got me wondering, was this the culprit. Admittedly I didn't see it go in, nor have we found any empty eggs shells  but it was clear that it was well used to having a look inside. So I suggested to Simon that it might be a good idea to make a pop hole as the hens entrance, rather than them using the big door, it was only half an hours work to do this and today we have eggs again. I rather think this has proved who the thief was.

 He also made a pop hole in the original house, this had not been done before as the house is made of plastic sheeting, it was one we had brought over with us from Spain and in which we had stored all our furniture whilst waiting for the big move. We had always planned for it to double up as a hen house as soon as we arrived. We don't like bought eggs, even the so called Organic ones, knowing that the birds who produce these eggs are merely called Organic due to the feed. So once again we are flooded with eggs. time to make more Ice Cream I think.

The veg garden has now been put to bed. The raised beds have had a good mulch of compost and then covered with black plastic, with the exception of the bed reserved for the carrots and parsnips. The raised bed for the new strawberries has also been covered with the woven ground cover, this allows the rain to get through but keeps the weeds at bay. The new plants are due sometime in Nov. The area for next years potatoes has also been covered with black plastic, this is a new area of ground and by covering it this way will make it far easier to dig over come the spring.

This has been one of the most colourful Autumns we can remember. Vivid yellow and reds, rusts golden browns. These are Sycamores on the edge of our land. Hopefully next year we will also have lots of colour from the trees that we have planted.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The worms have arrived.


There was great excitement today, our worms plus bins arrived. We weren't quite sure what to expect as we unopened the huge box, inside were the three separate bins which we had to assemble, plus a kg of live worms to go in each bin, a couple had managed to escape out of their bag, but I don't think the delivery man is in for any unexpected live stock in his van, as the boxes were so well packed.
In anticipation of their arrival I had been doing a lot of reading up on worms, mainly on breeding them as food for the hens, I discovered a fantastic web site, The   Written by Harvey Ussery.
 His site is full of useful information including producing worms  and sprouting grains as feed for hens. He is also the author of a poultry book, 'The Small Scale Poultry Flock' with foreword by my Guru, Joel Salalin.
Although we have kept poultry for very many years  I am always open to new ideas, especially if they don't involve reliance on ready made feed  and the use of chemicals, this includes anything from pharmaceutical companies. I have ordered his book as I'm sure I will learn from it.

So the worms are now installed  in their bins. I was surprised by some facts on worms, once they have settled in , 1kg of worms will consume .5 kg of waste food per day, after three months they should have doubled their numbers. This will of course mean more bins for them, these we will make ourselves, Simon is working on the plans as I type.

Our second batch of ducks are now in the freezer, their cleaned weight averaged out to 4lb per bird. It just leaves ten ducklings and two La Bresse to be slaughter and that is the  freezer stocked for the next year, when the cycle of food production will continue.
Once the last birds have gone and we only have our breeding stock it will leave us free for other things, craft work, days out, or maybe just hibernation for the winter.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Alternative feeding for hens.

With poultry feed prices increasing rapidly, 8% in the last month alone and set to rise even further it is time to have a rethink on the way we feed our birds, certainly the table birds. We have now done the costing of production at the previous feed costs, ten euro for a 2.5kg bird, which compared to the Tesco birds is worth while doing . The Organic bird from Tesco is around ten euro per kg, fifteen euro for a 1500 gram bird.
 I have spent considerable time trying to work out a feed that is possible to produce at home and that is not price and time prohibitive. It is quite easy to produce the required amount of protein by sprouting grain, this can increase the protein content by up to 30% in seven days, plus it increases the vitamin content, the stumbling point is always the amino acids.
This brought me full circle to research  that I had done years ago when synthetic amino acids were removed from Organic poultry rations, there was a good chance that they would be derived from GM sources. Worms seemed to be the answer, but our poultry inspector would not allow us to set up worm banks. Now we are no longer involved with bureaucracy we can do as we please.
 I have found that a lot of research has been done into this subject, Russia and Africa in particular, it also seems that you can even buy dried worms to feed to your hens. Worms will give the birds the essential amino acids that they require. Having worked out that we need to produce somewhere in the region of 20.000 worms per growing season it has become clear that we need to set up a proper wormery, in fact three wormery's and stock them. We could make up our own bins but a company in Northern Ireland has offered us a special deal and three bins plus 3kg of worms so this is what we have gone for. Hopefully they will arrive sometime next week and we can start producing sufficient worms for next years need.
Of course there is the additional beneficent of worm compost plus liquid gold to feed our veg on, it should be interesting.
The feed will consist of spouted wheat and oats mixed with a little cod liver oil , three to four worms per day per hen, plus oyster shell for the calcium.

I have done some seed harvesting in the last week or so, mainly flower seeds, I had hoped that our very colourful sweet peas would set seed but in fact only the very dark purple ones have done so, they are hanging in the sun-room now to fully ripen, I had collected Aquilegia  and Valerian seeds a few weeks back, we also had a lovely yellow daisy growing but I don't know what it is, I think it must have come out of a packet of country garden  seed mix, it had set seed well so hopefully we will have a good display of them next year. they are still blooming after six months.

The veg garden has now had it's final plantings for this year, some spring cabbages, broad-beans. over wintering onions and garlic.
The newly made cloches have been put to good use.
We are still awaiting our tree order, hopefully they wont be much longer in coming.
I will also be planting some Cambridge favourite strawberries, and old variety but they have a good flavour.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sunsets and rainbows.

The end of last week was a mixture of rain and sunshine, some of the rainbows were spectacular, unfortunately I can never quite capture the true beauty of them on camera, I love to imagine the little people burying a crock of gold at the end of the rainbow, they must have been busy little people here in Ireland.
The first few days of this week have been warm but with a silver frost most nights, the sunset last night was beautiful and true to the prediction we had yet another lovely day today. I love this time of year, it is so colourful with the autumn colour now coming into it's own of the trees. This week is  Irish National Tree Week, it would be nice if the new trees that we have ordered turn up this week but I don't think they will so today we bought a Virginia Creeper and a Rhus Tifina, I have always called this a tree of heaven although I am probably misnaming it, this time of year it has the most amazing colour, but we will have to wait a year or so for it to really come into it's own.

The last lot of tomatoes we picked are now bottled. I changed the method I normally use, this time I cooked the fruits for a few minutes until they had released their juice, the tomatoes were then placed into the jars, I then reduced remaining the juice, topped up the jars, capped them and then sterilised them in the hot water bath for ten minutes. I will be able to make a direct comparison between the two methods later on when we start using them. Four pounds yielded  three large and one small jar.
This time last year we planted three crowns of Rhubarb,Timperley Early, they established so quickly and although you should not pull the stems on the first year I must admit we have, several times, this has seemly had no ill effects on the plants. The plants have grown very big and look as though they will need splitting next year, but we will see. I think the secret with rhubarb is to keep it well feed with compost, it likes moisture, but not too wet and by keeping it well mulched seems to have paid off.
The grass is still continuing to grow and still requires cutting, the rabbits do their part, but
                    even they cant keep up with it. Talking of rabbits, Peter rabbit is once again a father, in the year we have had him  he has sired over fifty kittens, only twelve for us, but over  thirty for a friend of ours, although we feel that her doe should be given a rest and two days ago another friends doe produced kittens, she made her nest in a compost heap which seems a very good place, a centrally heated nest! clever rabbit.
The rhubarb is looking good.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Garden Cloches

The latest project has been making cloches for the garden. Now we have four raised beds I want to compare growing over wintered onions outside with tunnel grown ones, and broad beans planted outside and planted soon with the ones done a bit later  in root trainers started in the tunnel and then planted out in spring. I feel that if this is successful I can put the tunnel to better use although I'm not too sure what I would be doing that is different. Once we had worked out the design for the cloches they proved to be easy to make.

Each hoop is 8ft. 3/4 inch thin wall plastic water pipe , and the supports are 6mm rebar cut to 2m. Each frame has four hoops and five support rods, this give a cloche that will cover a bed just over four feet wide with a centre height of about eighteen inches, tall enough for onions and beans to over winter. Each cloche can overlap the previous one to give a continuous length.
Once in place they are covered with tunnel plastic and secured by an inch of split plastic pipe.

When cutting the pipe we gave a good allowance for insertion into the ground. If  we find they are disturbed by high winds, we seem to get a lot of those, we can put rebar into the ground and push the ends of the hoops onto them.

The covers are easily removed in the spring and the frames could then be covered with crop fleece or carrot netting. The total cost for forty meters x 4 ft of cloches was eighty euros, much cheaper than the ready made type. We had the rebar cut to the lengths required at the store, no extra charge.
Two  hoops from each frame have 5, 7mm holes drilled at equal distance to insert the rods through, the end hoops have 6mm holes through one wall to give a tight fit at the ends. The ends of the  rods were inclined to slip a bit so the rods have been   secured with water proof tape.

Next season I have plans on growing strawberries under one of the cloches, I will try one of the old breeds, the  Cambridge Favourite, this strawberry is supposed to produce even in bad weather and the cloche can be covered with a crop fleece rather than the plastic as the fruit

One cloche has already been put to use, covering the chard and also the new wallflower seedlings, I'm still hopeful that we will have wallflowers blooming next spring.

 We are wondering if this design could be adapted to make runs for the rabbits, at present their runs are made from wood frame work, this has three disadvantages, it makes the runs quite heavy to move, the runs distort slightly each time they are moved and the rabbits like to eat wood.

 Peter rabbit has eaten his bedroom wall so that has to be replace, he has also had a very good go at his run and the whole run needs to be replaced or remade, so maybe the plastic hoops idea will be able to be adapted some way, I don't think he will eat that.

Below is a picture of the pipe clip, just sawn along on side it then will open up to clip over the plastic cover,

 Our cherry tomatoes have been brilliant this year, so far they have produced over fifteen pounds of the best tasting tomatoes we have ever had, with probably as many to come providing we don't get any very hard frosts that effects stuff in the tunnel. Any that remain green will be made into green tomatoes chutney.

 We did have frost last night so we probably have come to the end of the sweet peas, but who knows, they might continue.

The La Bresse table birds have worked out very well, we have kept two of the pullets to breed from next year and are going to look at a cockerel next week.  We had two other pullets that had not feathered well and seemed to be rather small but in fact they killed out at 2lb 5oz cleaned weight, we have done one cockerel  
so far and he weighed in at 2.5kg about 5lb 5oz cleaned weight at 129 days,  when we start to breed them we will be hoping for male and not female chicks. These to us seem the perfect bird for the table, slow growing but not so slow as to make them too expensive to do. With the increase in feed costs, we are now paying twenty euros for a bag of growers, I will try to work out a formula that we can make at home and maybe reduce the cost of feeding a bit, but that still gives the birds the correct amount of nutrients to thrive well.