Monday, February 25, 2013

Almost a drought. Seed sowing.

Camelia now in bloom.
It is now eleven days without rain! must almost be a record, the days are warm, clear sky's and real sunshine but the night time temperatures plummet -3 to -4 with heavy frosts, this is good for the land however, drying it out and the frosts breaking up large clods of soil making it light and friable, just right to plant seeds when the soil warms up. The parsnip seed is now  planted, the frost will help their germination and the first seed trays are now completed.
 It takes time to sow seeds in seed modules, I plant just one seed per cell, it's fine with the larger seeds such as peas and beans, they are easy to pick up with tweezers but when it comes to the small seeds, unless you have very good eyesight, it is hard on the eyes , as the seeds are too small to use tweezers on I use a flat very thin bladed veg knife, it is quite easy to get just one seed on the knife if the seeds are in the palm of my hand. I plant this way for several reasons, seed is quite expensive so you save by not wasting seed, I don't like pricking out, to me it is a waste of seed, I also think seedlings do better if you don't have to disturb them. However I do plant several seeds per module with sweet peas, they seem to do quite well when you plant them out in small clumps. The trays are now in the mini green house, with some trays in the heated propagator. This seed sowing  will now be a monthly job until June. All our root veg seed is planted directly into the garden, root veg do not like to have their roots disturbed. The main crop potatoes are now being chitted, ready to plant out towards the end of March.
First peach bloom.
The peach tree now has two blooms out with many more to come, so fingers crossed on getting some peaches this year.
Two Indian runner , one Muskovy duck eggs.

Our Indian runner ducks have just started laying, it nice to have a blue egg for a change, I do wonder what a bird thinks, (if they do think), the first time they lay an egg, it must be a very weird experence.
Roast duck and four veg, entirely home produced.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Nine days and counting.

Joking apart, chickens are a must have for selfsufficiency, as long as you have good housing and  good food for them they will reward you with the best  and freshest eggs you have ever tasted. Well kept hens are mostly free of problems, as long as you can keep them safe from predator's  and provide them with a dry clean house, clean water and food they will keep you well supplied with eggs, our problem is too many eggs and we seem to be forever baking.
We have now gone nine days without rain, the land has dried out and the hens are back to dust bathing. It is cold at night though and the rhubarb has had to be recovered with straw, we even saw a few flakes of snow today. But spring is just about here, the birds are gathering material for nest building, the daffodil's and crocus are out, the willow is in bloom and the hazels have catkins.
I have at last heard an owl, a long eared owl I believe, we have the right habitat for them. I am now waiting for the return of the Snipe, colloquially the Sky Goat, so called because of the sound it makes by drumming it's tail feathers, it sounds just like a goat calling.
Seed planting has started, Leeks, Brussel sprouts and more broad beans, so worth growing as they freeze  well, sweet peas and tomatoes, tomorrow I will start the first cauliflowers, the first of the french beans, calabrese , physalis and more sweet peas.
 The new peach tree is just coming into bloom but as there are no pollinating insects around I will have to use a soft artists brush to pollinate them, hopefully we might get a crop.
 The only seed to plant in the garden at the moment are the parsnips, the seed is in the freezer at the moment as they like a cold spell to germinate, but given the night time temperatures we could have planted them straight out.
The first ducks eggs are now in the incubator, we will add some La Bresse eggs to these on the 7th March and hopefully the ducklings and chicks will all hatch at the same time, providing of course the the hens don't let us down.
We have recently met another couple who are on the self sufficient road, they are also doing rabbits and  chickens, also they have goats, they make their own cheese as well as growing their own veg, but again they are not Irish, we now know of four people who have rabbits for meat, three are Brits and the latest couple are Swiss, I'm sure there must be some Irish people who do raise them but we haven't met them yet, we do know that you can buy rabbit in selected butcher shops and I'm sure they are not stocked just for incomers. Maybe as the recession gets worse more people will start producing more of their own food, especially meat, at least they will know it's not horse.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Fresh and seasonal.

There is no mystery to growing your own veg, magic yes, there is something very satisfying in going into the garden and picking veg that you have grown, knowing that there are no food miles involved and that no chemicals have been used, the taste of freshly picked veg cannot be beaten. Our garden has continued to produce all that we need throughout the winter, we still have a lot of carrots, they did particularly well last year and despite it having been so wet have stood well, the kale likewise has produced throughout. We had an excellent crop of brussel sprouts although they are now coming to the end, we have been picking them for over four months.

 We had a months gap with the chard but that is now regenerating and we have had our first picking, add to that the cabbages and purple kale we have had no shortage. We had an excellent crop of potatoes which will last us beyond the first earlies which have now been planted in the tunnel. We might however run out of onions, we always seem to under estimate how many onions we use in a year.

The broad beans planted last Autumn are now well up so we should be picking them by May. The Rhubarb will be ready for the first picking in a week or so.
Many people consider that food is expensive, yet they spend only about 12% of their income on food, and in the UK, can on average afford to waste around seven hundred pounds a year on dumping food.

This week we decided to have a joint of beef, boned and rolled rib, this came from our local butcher who had bought the animal from a farm just four miles away, this joint will work out to around 1.80 per portion, less than you would pay for a sandwich or half a pint of beer, so it can not be described as expensive. We can also be sure that what we are eating has not traveled from one side of Europe to the other and that we are eating locally produced meat of the highest quality.
In the wake of the horse meat scandal the supermarkets have come in for a lot of criticism, they have now in retaliation blamed local councils for driving food costs down, suggesting that as councils are responsible for school meals, prison and hospital meals it is their demand for cheap food that has lowered the standards and prices, there might be a degree of truth in this, however, supermarkets have been doing this for the last five decades, whereas outside catering for council run establishments is a fairly recent event.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Rain and yet more rain.

Brother and sister, mother and son.

We had a brief respite from rain last week when the snow fell, it didn't last and was gone by lunch time, we have had a couple of days in the last week without rain, and they have been bright warm and sunny , but quickly forgotten as the next band of rain moves in. The hens are getting fed up with it, the ducks so far have not produced any eggs although they don't mind the rain, but the cats are thoroughly fed up with it, they now take one look out the window and with a sigh head into our bedroom to sleep on the warm bed.
Tommy and Zara (front) monkey and Suzie (rear)

 They would all prefer to be out, catching shrews but not in the rain!

 We would also prefer to be outside, not catching shrews but working in the garden, but even if we were prepared to brave the rain it is not good practice to work the land when it is so wet, it destroys soil structure, so a bit of work has been done in the tunnel, planting more onions, hedging our bets really, in case we don't get a good crop from the outside ones. The first of the potatoes will be planted this week, again in the tunnel in potato bags, we still have plenty of potatoes from last year but we so look forward to the first early baby new potatoes, they have a flavour all of their own.
A touch of spring.

We have a strange cat around, he has taken up residence in the hay barn and unknown to us also uses  the donkey stable, only discovered when Simon threw some fresh bedding into the stable which must have landed on him, he came tearing out, most irate. He's a large ginger cat, but not friendly to humans, although he looks in good condition he is almost certainly a feral cat, so I don't think we will be making a pet of him.
 The horse saga continues, to quote Sir Walter Scot, 'Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive'.  There are now eleven EU countries implicated in this scandal. It also turns out that 70.000 horses were exported from Northern Ireland to the UK on false passports not so long ago, yet this never made the news. So far no mention has been made about horses from the US being imported into France via Canada. It is illegal to slaughter horses in the US for food. A large number of these horses will have been treated with pain relieving drugs which are banned from the human food chain, and in theory these horses are supposed to be kept drug free for six months before slaughter and export, I wonder?
Out of interest we did a quick examination of labels on meat products in lidl yesterday.  Chicken curry and korma is made from chicken from Thailand and Brazil, yet the farmers here only get 34 cents for a whole chicken, how can chicken from halfway across the world be cheaper than 34 cents?
Whole wild Pheasant, reared and shot in Scotland, processed in Germany, Quail reared in Spain, again processed in Germany. At least the labels in Lidl seem to give the required information, but I wonder just how true they are, after all the burgers stated they were made from beef.
With such a long paper trail, how can anyone be sure what they are eating if they chose to buy from supermarkets. No doubt fraud has been committed, but the ultimate blame must fall on the supermarkets, who demand cheap prices to compete against other supermarkets so they can get the biggest slice of the cake.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Winter is here.

Snowy scene.
We have so far seen very little of winter but last night it started to snow and we awoke to an inch or so of snow, it looked very pretty but the hens were totally confused, help, our grass has turned white!
What has happened to our grass?
The donkeys were fine wandering around the forest where the grass was still showing.
Pippa and Poppy.
Poppy, the foal.
 Tess first tried to eat it and then just played in it, she was quite matter a fact about it all.
Tess having fun.
 However the sun soon came out and by midday it was all gone. I like snow, not too much mind you, but there is always a quiet magic about it, it has a totally different silence to normal silence, a listening silence. The forecast tells us that we may get some more this weekend.
 Our small wild birds are very appreciative of the food we hang up for them, we have lots of tits, mainly coal-tits, great tits and blue tits, at last we have a resident Robin and a pair of Blackbirds and several Wrens. Soon we hope to hear the Sky Goat again, this is the Snipe, which when calling for a mate sounds just like a goat bleating, it make this sound by it's feathers not it's voice, it is quite an eerie sound.
Looks good enough to eat.
Snow on the ground is always a good incentive to bake, we bake regularly, including all our bread but today having so many eggs Simon decided to make a pound cake,  just about the easiest cake in the world to make, a pound of everything, flour, sugar, butter and dried fruit and six large eggs, a handful of crushed walnuts,  plenty of spices, a pinch of salt and just mix it all together, bake in a slow oven until golden brown, about two hours. This cake turns out perfect every time.
The horse meat saga continues , yet another burger making company has been found to have horse DNA in the imported meat, 75% this time, the highest yet, this company seems  to have no link to the other four companies and they called in the Dept. of Agriculture to test the imported consignment. In turn the Dept. of Agriculture has now called in the fraud squad. This story seems as though it will run for a long time yet.  Burgers anyone?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Meet Bobby.

As the song says, 'It's a long way to Tipperary ' the journey took us three and a half hours, just to get a buck rabbit! Crazy, maybe, but it was the nearest place that we could find a replacement for poor Peter who was killed by a fox. As we keep rabbits for meat production it is essential to have a buck, also there are  three other people who rely on us having a buck. It was a nice day out, one that should have been spent in the garden as it was warm and sunny all day, however the breeder works six days a week and yesterday was the only suitable day.

We have called the new boy Bobby, he is still a bit young to start him working but we will test him out at the end of this month to see if he is fertile, maybe we should start charging for his service. Rabbits, well meat rabbits, are expensive here, both as stock and to buy for eating, the rare butchers that have them for sale charge twelve euros for a rabbit weighing two kg, that makes them more expensive that an 'Organic' chicken.

As we knew we were going to out for most of the day we decided to take Tess with us, eight hours is a long journey for a pup but it is also a long time to leave her at home without us. She was as good as gold, we stopped several times for her to stretch her legs and to have a pee, but none of the grass seemed suitable to her, she was interested in the new smells, and took well to being walked on a lead, only the second time we had used a lead with her.

 Robbie our very old Jack Russell was probably pleased to have the house to himself for the day in stead of being pestered by her for a game and welcomed her home by growling and baring his remaining teeth.
Robbie is now twelve years old, eighty four in human terms, so I suppose he is entitled to be a grumpy old man

The young quail are all doing well and growing fast , a second batch have been set in the incubator and are due to hatch on the 17th of February.
It seems that the contaminated meat scandal is not yet at it's end after pork DNA was found in Halal meat 'due to unforeseen circumstances' I wonder what that statement means, unforeseen as in the company concerned did not expect to be found out?
We long ago came to the conclusion that any food produced in a factory should be eaten with caution, we do look at labels out of interest and it never ceases to amaze us the amount of things listed as being added, we just wonder how many things are added but not listed, thank goodness we don't have to eat the stuff.
 We also wonder how many people understand the consumer advice labels, Best Before, Sell By and Use By. So much good food is thrown out when there is nothing wrong with it, in the case of the UK it works out to nearly seven hundred pounds a year per household, yet food banks are being opened at the rate of four a week for people who cannot afford to buy food, there seems to be something very wrong where many people cannot afford food yet other people have so much that they throw it away.     

Friday, February 1, 2013

Imbolc. The first day of spring.

 The Goddess Brigid was one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Her feast day was the feast of Imbolc, and the cross made of rushes today is very likely the descendant of a pagan symbol whose original meaning may have been locally understood even into the early 20th century in rural Ireland. One remnant of that tradition in the meaning of the Brigid's Cross today, is that it is said to protect a house from fire. This does not fit with any part of the Christian story of St. Brigid, and so is likely a part of the older polytheistic tradition behind the feast day.

Imbolc is one of the four Gaelic festivals, the word Imbolc is derived from the Old Irish word i mbolg meaning 'in the belly' which is reference to the pregnancy of ewes, the start of the lambing season. It is the start of spring , buds are beginning to come to life , the promise of a new season,, to plant and sow. For me it is the season of hope, everything being renewed. The goddess Bridhid was a fertility goddess, it is thought that St. Brigid was based on her.
Today we gathered rushes to make our own cross of St. Brigid, to celebrate the goddess Bridhid and the start of spring .

Story of the Christian St Brigid and her cross

In Christian religion, St. Brigid and her cross are linked together by a story about her weaving this form of cross at the death bed of either her father or a pagan lord, who upon hearing what the cross meant, asked to be baptized. One version goes as follows:
A pagan chieftain from the neighbourhood of Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived, the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful. Brigid sat down at his bedside and began consoling him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked, his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he converted and was baptized at the point of death. Since then, the cross of rushes has existed in Ireland.
The presence of the cross in Ireland is, however, likely far older.

The primroses have been out for a while now, I had hoped the the first of the daffodils would also be fully out, they are showing colour and a few more days like today which has been sunny and very spring like they will be in full bloom.
Just a few more days of sunshine.