Saturday, March 30, 2013

Controlled by the weather.

The sun is hot, the ground is dry and yet it's still freezing. Temperatures struggle to make it to 6c during the day, - 2c at night, this time last year we were enjoying temperatures of 20c. There is still an easterly wind which is stopping the sun from warming things up. We have now covered the strawberry plants in the tunnel as the flowers were getting frost bite.
 The daffodils have come to a grinding halt , they remain half open, still it will mean that we have a prolonged blooming of them. Fortunately none of the fruit trees had come into bloom, just the start of the flower buds forming, like us they are waiting for warmer weather.
The potatoes however can wait no longer, the bed has now been dug,  the trenches are formed and filled with donkey manure and are now covered with black plastic, hopefully by mid day tomorrow the trenches will have warmed enough by the sun to plant the potatoes.
Flowers which I would have been planting in the soil have now been planted into containers and put into the tunnel, just to keep them warm, I will be able to move these containers to various places in the garden when things warm up. Keeping the container watered makes for more work and it can only be done in the morning as the plants would end up with cold wet feet over night, no plant likes this.

The rhubarb however has not suffered but we have kept it covered with straw when this cold spell arrived, we have picked the first sticks, I made some Panna  Cotta which goes beautifully with rhubarb. We should have a good crop this year, with plenty to freeze.

The first batch of quail are now in the freezer with the second lot due to join them next week, weighing in at 6oz average, with one at 8oz.
 The first of the la Bresse eggs have now hatched, out of  nine eggs we ended up with six chicks, three eggs were infertile, the next lot will go into the incubator sometime next week as long as they don't go off lay. The duck eggs though have so far failed to hatch, we will give them a few more day before we discard  them.
Tess continues to grow, she likes to please and will sit when told although not for long, her attention span is not too good. Unless she is asleep she always has to have something in her mouth, maybe this is a trait of  Labradors. She has a favourite cat, Emily,  although an elderly cat she loves to play with the pup, games of chase, take place several times a day, that is the cat chasing the pup, not the other way around, sometimes it's bedlam around here.

When we first moved to this cottage we were surprised how few wild birds there were on our land, each time a new bird arrived we got quite excited, it was only by following another blog that we decided to have a count up of what we now have here, in total thirty different species to date, plus the summer visitors, yet another benefit of being Organic. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Where has Spring gone?

Hot Cross buns! Hot Cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot Cross buns!
If your daughters won’t eat them,
Give them to your sons;
But if you have none of those little elves,
Then you must eat them all yourselves!
Easter is nearly here yet the weather is more like mid winter, we seem to be doing far more baking than normal as it's warm in the cottage but cold in the garden, still the digging is getting done and as soon as the weather warms slightly we can get the potatoes planted, we are hoping over the Easter weekend, maybe!
Still we should not complain, it seems that the UK has had very heavy snow, something we have escaped.
Last night Simon decided to make our hot cross buns, it's doubtful if they will last until then but they are easy enough to make.
 Like so many customs it is hard to find out where and why hot cross buns originated, Elizabeth the 1st banned them apart from Good Friday, Christmas and funerals, some link them to Passover, others to the Crucifixion of Christ, and other sources say they are a Pagan symbol, the cross signifying the four seasons, or the four phases of the moon. Whatever the origin they are delicious, but no good for the figure.
Frost bitten strawberry flower.

The night time temperatures have been cold, cold enough to frost the flowers of our early strawberries which are in the tunnel, we were picking strawberries last April, we wont be this year, this coming winter I will cover the plants with either fleece or straw so we can get an early crop again, too late to do it for this season though.

Red squirrels seem to be making a comeback in this part of Ireland, today we saw one not half a mile from where we live, we have yet to see a grey squirrel here. The increase in the reds is supposed to be thanks to the Pine Marten, the greys being heavier are unable to escape the Marten where as the reds being smaller and much lighter can escape by going onto thin branches. So maybe the Pine Marten is not all bad news.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patricks Day.

Shamrock or Clover?
St Patricks day, the day we should have been planting our potatoes, unfortunately the weather is far too cold to inspire either of us to get out and get planting, so they will just have to wait. Also waiting to be planted are fifty hedging bushes, they were such good value at only 49 cents per plant that we could not resist buying them, they have been earthed into a large bucket and put into the tunnel until the weather is more congenial to planting, they are a mixture of hedge roses, for bees and birds, hawthorn for bees, and field maple for Autumn colour. This will all add to wind protection for the garden once they have established, plus food for the birds and bees.
Bees need all the help we can give them as the EU failed to ban pesticides containing neonicotinoids in a vote this week, despite good scientific evidence that this is the cause of empty hive syndrome.
The young Quail are all doing well, we now have to make up our minds to what we are going to do with them.
 Many years ago we had a quail farm and sold both the prepared birds and the eggs, there was a good market for both, but things change. We would now not be able to sell the prepared birds, but we can sell the eggs, so we have to see if we can find a market for them that makes it worth our while doing them for eggs.
We have the correct boxes and have designed a label, now all we need is the outlet. We have a couple of ideas and will go canvasing next week. Our nearest big town has a couple of health  food shops and delicatessens so they will be the first places to try. We now have a good market for our duck eggs, so they are paying for their selves, if we can get a market for the Quail eggs that would subsidise the hens way of life.
All the shops this week have been selling Shamrock, well what is Shamrock? This is a plant that in reality does not exist, it can be clover or trefoil amongst other plants, they all get called Shamrock. Still it's the symbol that counts, signifying the Holy Trinity.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mysterys of nature.

There's a bit of a mystery in the back garden, we seem to have bulbs that have moved from where I planted them, the bulbs in question are crocus and dwarf daffodils, I know where I planted them but they have managed to migrate into the middle of black grass, the grass is where I planted it, it's the bulbs that have moved.
 Very strange, we don't have mice, if we did they would have eaten the bulbs, we don't have moles or voles, we only have pygmy shrews and as far as I know they don't burrow, the bed has not been weeded, and only annual seeds got planted, just scattered on the soil. I think this is one that will forever remain a mystery.
Migrating bulbs.

Time seems to go very quickly, it is two years today that we bought this cottage yet is seems as though we have been here for far longer, in fact we have only been here for twenty months as we had the long delay getting all the animals passports sorted out. We now have a well established veg garden where just a bare field had been, lots of fruit and other trees planted, plus several flocks of hens, ducks,  rabbits and the donkeys. Spain is just a distant memory, the only thing I really miss are the good friends that we made there.
More Organic lemons are in Lidl, this time I have bought them to freeze, I first removed the zest with one of the most useful kitchen tools I have, a zester.
A zester, a most useful tool.
 I then put the zest into ice cube trays, each cell takes half the zest of one lemon. the lemons themselves I cut in half and popped into a freezer bag. When I want to make lemon meringue all I have to do is take two lumps of the zest and two half's of the lemons and proceed as normal. All the time consuming work has already been done. I might jus make some more lemon curd while Lidl still have the lemons, we have already eaten one jar that I made last week, and one jar I gave to a friend, so already we are down to three.

The last few days have been very cold, far too cold to continue preparing the veg plot for potatoe planting, yesterday we took a trip out, just exploring lanes we had not traveled before, very little signs of spring but I did spot a beautiful old tree.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Time for a Pedicure.

Things go at their own pace in Ireland, normally slowly, last year we had asked one of our neighbours who keeps horses if he could recommend a farrier to us, 'no problem' he said, 'my horses and donkeys need their feet doing, I'll get him to do yours at the same time, maybe next week'. That was last November, we asked him several times when could we expect a visit, the reply was the standard 'probaly next week'.
This week our neighbour arrived to help get our donkeys secured in their stable, 'the farrier is due tomorrow' he says, and sure enough, the next day a charming Belgian guy turned up, he turned out to be a bit of a horse whisperer. Poppy and Pippa behaved beautifully even allowing Paddy, (strange name for someone from Belgium) to put on their head collars, once confined they allowed us to pet them and even took carrots from our hands, up until now they have been very standoffish with us, we thought that maybe now we could become friends with them., but no, once released, again they are back to being standoffish, they now know that we will not harm them, in fact humans are good but they still will not come close enough to be petted.

 We now have the phone number of 'Paddy the Farrier' so will be able to make direct contact with him, I'm sure if he says 'next week' that is when it will be, not sometime in the far distant future.

This week we had a nice surprise when we popped into Lidl, they had Organic lemons for sale, these are something we had never seen before in Ireland, neither had we seen them for sale in Spain, even though they are Spanish lemons. We bought a bag of them, four to a bag and had pancakes for our desert that evening. The taste was so different, a much sweeter and fresher flavour. Delicious.
We decided to go back the next day and buy more to make some lemon curd, clearly we were not the only people who had bought them, there was just one bag left, which was a pity as I had planned to make quite a bit of lemon curd being so swamped with eggs. I managed to get five jars out of the seven lemons and use ten of our eggs, organic butter from Tesco and fair trade sugar. This curd will stay fresh for a least a month, if we don't eat it all before hand, all that was needed to sample the curd was a fresh loaf of bread.

Spiders, love them or hate them they are quite fascinating things, at least I think so. this week we had a beauty turn up in the sunroom, I think it is a wolf spider although it was not the normal colour, it was black. Simon did not take too close a look at it, he is one of the hate them brigade.

Friday, March 1, 2013


Sixteen days, and still no rain, this must be some sort of record, especially for this time of year, the land is now nice and dry and the very cold nights have gone, the grass is growing, buds on trees swelling, but there is no sign of any type of bee. This time last year the bees  were very busy, maybe the cold nights have stopped them from making an appearance, however we do have the dreaded midges around, now those I can well do without.
We have been busy stocking up on wood for next year, we dont have many mature   trees  on our land but we do  have a couple of large ash, one which needed some branches removing, this has now been done by a very able tree man who seemed to have some monkey in his genetic make up, watching him swinging from branches was quite nerve racking, he did a good job and even cut the branches into logs for us.

A good load.
Then we had a visit from one of our neighbours who told us of someone selling  hardwood logs at what we think is a reasonable price, so we rang him up and got a delivery of a trailer  load, he had arranged to be with us at three thirty, five oclock came and no sign, we had to go out and of course, no sooner had we arrived in the village when  we got a  phone call saying he would be with us in five minutes. Fortuantly we had guessed that this would happen and we had left the money for him in our post box, so all worked out well, we were delighted with the wood and will be ordering again.

One of the pleasures of living in the country is being able to leave money out for deliveries, Im not sure if I would be willing to risk it in a town.

Quail eggs.
Once  again we have far too many eggs,  of all types, fortunately our nearest town has a shop that belongs to one of our old customers, he will take as many duck eggs as we can supply, he is trying out the quail eggs. He  will be talking to people that used to buy our Organic eggs, hopefully we will be able to supply them again although we can now  no longer call them Organic  as we are no longer registered, all we can say is that they are produced from hens fed on Organic feed.

An exhausted pup.

Tess still continues to be a delight, she is learning basic commands, but she does not understand that cats have a different type of play, she loves to present them with her toys, expecting them to play with her, she is still surprised by their indifference to these gifts. There is one cat however that does play with her, Emily is a large black elderly cat, she is coming up to thirteen, she loves to hide behind a door and then jump out at Tess, she sometimes takes it a bit futher and jumps onto Tess's back, at least Tess has one cat that understands her.