Sunday, June 30, 2013

One day on.

Just a day after starting the new raised bed it is now completed and planted.
We have planted things fairly close together so they can give support to each other and form a micro climate, we are inclined to plant this way with most things, the plants seem to grow faster this way, trying to out compete each other, when they have outgrown their space we can then split them and produce more plants. We also use this method with a lot of our veg, it helps to cut down on the weeds and keeps the moisture under the plants, this year has been quite dry and we would have had to water the veg if we had planted further apart.
Two years ago our fields had little in them in the way of wild flowers, the land used to be cut for hay and also it was let for horses to graze, now with no cutting and just two donkeys grazing we have a lovely mix of flowers growing
including a mass of spotted orchids possible hybridised with the  marsh orchid,
and plenty of clover, both red and white.
The only flowers that were here two years ago is the most perfect rose, I don't know what it's name is but it is quite vigorous and heavily perfumed, it also is an easy rose to take cutting of, most of those I  did last year struck, I will take more cutting this year, we have plenty of hedges in which to plant.
We are now being spoilt for choice with the veg, tonight meal is spinach and mange tout peas and of course freshly dug new potatoes, we have  plenty of Swiss Chard and broad beans although the crop is not as good as last years, a cold spring and lack of pollinating insects at the right time, French beans will be ready later this week  Calabrese in a week or so. We also have runner beans, garden peas and fennel to look forward to .

Tess is growing into a very big dog, she is also very well behaved and loves her cats, Emily is her favourite. Poor Sparky is still having a very hard time from the older cats but Susie did join in a game of ball with him this evening so maybe they will become friends again.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Time for some harvesting.

To many people Mint is a pest and hard to control, we however have had trouble for years in growing this most useful herb, all our other herbs have always thrived, but not mint, however things have now changed. We bought a pot of mint in one of the garden centres a few months ago, we decided to plant it in a large container so it would not have to compete with anything, we used just our garden soil in which we have tried to grow it before, not really expecting it to take off but it has and has now totally  filled    the  container.
At last we have mint! As it is now so well established I have cropped it, minced it finely, and put it into ice cube trays for use during the winter for either mint sauce or better still, chocolate mint ice cream.
Oregano is another herb that we grow, this goes completely mad for us, so it also has been harvested and hung up to dry, ready for use during the winter, it is a herb that I use quite a lot of, so I can never grow too much of it.
It is now coming up to two years since we moved to this cottage, when we bought it we knew that we had some hard work ahead of us in the garden, if there had ever been a garden here it was many years ago and no evidence of it remained apart from some lovely old fashioned roses in the hedges. The  previous owners had extended the cottage and renovated it, but they only used it as a holiday home.
 There is about a quarter of an acre around the house that had been covered with stones, but no landscaping and no flowers.
 A flower garden to us is important, not only to look at but to provide food for bees and butterflies, but not bedding plants. I can never understand why people spend money year after year on plants which might give colour but last just a few months and are no use to wild life or to seed collect to grow in future years.
  The first thing was the veg garden which is now well under control providing us with just about all the veg that we need with some to spare, then came the planting of fruit trees and fruit bushes, we might see a few apples this year and plenty of blackcurrants, but pears and plums have so far failed to set fruit, maybe next year?
 The Rhubarb has done very well, giving me plenty to bottle and strawberries of course but we are still struggling to establish raspberries which is a little surprising as they grow wild in our hedgerows.
All of our beds have been started in the same way, a good layer of cardboard or paper sacks , then manure and the  soil piled on top. It's not completely a no dig system but near enough. The worms do a lot of the work for us.
We have built some raised beds for herbaceous plants using stone for the edges and these beds are now blooming well providing me with cut flowers for most of the year. Now we have turned our attention to the front of the cottage which is our most visual part of the garden from inside the house.
 Who wants to look out at stones covered with struggling weeds, by weeds I mean things like Mares Tail ( although it does have some beneficial uses, it's a menace!) Dock, very long tap roots and not much use for anything, and Ragwort, although it is host for the Cinnabar  moth we have never seen them in this part of Ireland.
We have now found a source of used scaffolding boards, these are cheap, just three euros for eight feet lengths, probably due to the downturn in the building industry, treated with a dark wood preservative this is what we are using to form our new herbaceous bed.
The larger stones have been removed, the small ones stay, the ground is then covered with a good thickness of paper feed sacks and cardboard,
a good helping of donkey manure and then covered with soil and peat which was dug out when we built the new barn. All that remains is to plant with shrubs,  perennial flowers and spring bulbs, we will then have completed our garden, that will be tomorrow .
Todays work has been overseen by Susie, one of our lovely cats, he likes make sure we are not  disturbing the pygmy shrews which are using the scaffolding boards as a sanctuary from him. This lovely boy was the first to befriend Sparky, unfortunately the novelty has worn off, Susie does not like being  bitten or jumped on, Sparky has to learn that to gain  friends and influence people you have to play nicely.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Gifts from the sea.

Knocknarea, site of Queen Maeve's grave in the distance.
Sunday we had a trip to the coast, we had gone to a poultry sale in Ballina, one of our favourite places, to try to get a replacement Muscovy drake, our boy unfortunately had died a few days earlier from a heart attack, maybe overdoing it with the three ducks. There was very little for sale, it was a poor turnout, and no Muscovy's of any age, but it gave us the excuse to play hooky and have a trip around the Mayo/Sligo coast.
 The weather was not the best, but then this coast is best seen on stormy days, many of these beaches are renowned surfer beaches.
 We had come prepared with plastic sacks to collect washed up seaweed to earth up our potatoes,
Free gift.
seaweed is a wonderful fertiliser with over eighteen trace elements, it also gives protection against potato blight and the salt on it helps to keep the slugs at bay, there is no need to wash it first, it also rots down very quickly, in all we collected six sacks of this wonderful gift from the sea.
I love these stones.
We also found some very pretty stones which have now been incorporated into our rockery,
and a lovely tree stump which will also get used somewhere in the garden.
Moy river.
We travelled back home over the Ox mountains on a road that we had never been on before, crossing the Moy river several times.
Nectar for moths.
A beautiful trip, the wild flowers are now in full bloom and the air was perfumed with Honeysuckle.
We had decided that we would not have the customary Summer Solstice  bonfire, the only day that you are permitted to have a bonfire here unless you have a licence, rather like Spain, and very sensible given the amount of forest and moorland fires that Ireland has. If we had had a bonfire it would have meant burning things that we have a use for, tree and hedge trimmings are of more use to us chipped and used on pathways or composted, and paper feed sacks and cardboard are used to start new beds or as a mulch, so we had nothing that we could burn.
We now have Daffy duck and her sister Dilly sitting on eggs, plus the incubator is full, a friend then offered us the services of his broody hen, I think her name is Betty, she has already hatched out one lot of hens eggs this year and she is now sitting on ten Indian runner eggs for us, another friend had asked if we would hatch some Indian runners for her as she wants them for slug patrols so hopefully we will have some ducklings for her next month.
The perfume is Heavenly.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Unexpected Delivery.

Our female rabbit is a temperamental doe, she has been so since we got her, she calmed down a little last year after becoming a mum but soon regained her spirit, we had put her to Bobby our buck a few weeks ago but she appeared to be having none of it, and in fact attacked him, she had had one false pregnancy earlier in the year although there was no chance that she could have been in kitten  so imagine our surprise yesterday to find a seething mass  of fur in her sleeping quarters,
we have no idea how many kittens she has, we know that some of them are big for new-borns' as she had been given no additional bedding, after all, we were sure she was not pregnant so we will have to wait and see, she is very protective and growls if we go near and we don't fancy being attacked by a mad rabbit.
We lost two of our Muscovy ducklings to ravens, they had got separated from mum so we only have two left, I have eggs waiting to go in the incubator later this week when our last hatch of La Bresse are due, we have also bought nine Aylesbury X Chiltern ducklings so we should have enough meat for the coming year.
I am hopeful of having a fruit crop this year, the Blackcurrant bushes have a lot of berries, there's  even a few set gooseberries, the apples seem to have set, but nothing on the pears or plums, maybe next year. The veg garden is looking good and the summer flowers are now coming into their own,
at last we have a rose out, I have never known them so late.
The bees are now very busy, they love the foxgloves and the poppy's.
I noticed today that our large Beech tree has beech masts this year, a sign maybe that we are having quite a good summer as this is the first year since our move that we have seen them or maybe the conditions have been just right for them this year.
Kitten shows no sign of calming down despite the discipline that the other cats are now dishing out, he has now been named Sparkey, as he is like a fireworks display with large explosions of teeth claws and energy, he is very entertaining, but we keep him separate from Tess, I'm not too sure that she would accept being attacked by this little ginger fire ball.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

You can't get fresher.

One of life's pleasures is real food that's fresh, and you cant get fresher than growing your own, from the soil to the plate in the time it takes to cook which in the case of todays potatoes is just twenty minutes, they only needed a quick wash and they were ready for the pot, mixed salad leaves plus a few herbs and the first of this years spring onions.
No food miles and no harmful chemicals, the salad leaves didn't even need washing, and I could find no sign of slug damage, I wonder where they have disappeared to, maybe it's having a couple of ducks that are ranging freely, or maybe it was just too hot for them over the last couple of weeks.
The garden is now looking lush and very productive, it's hard to remember that just two years ago all that was here were two fields of grass and a couple of mature trees, since arriving we have planted around three hundred trees of various sorts, some fruiting,
some flowering and some for coppicing. We still have more to plant, five Horse Chestnuts which we raised from seed last year, another Sweet Chestnut, also raised from seed plus Sea Buckthorn and roses all from cuttings plus thirty seven trees which we had from the 'Plant One Million Trees in a Day' scheme.
The new pond has settled down well and the planting is now complete, Daffy duck and her sister come for their daily dip which if they are keeping the slugs down is a fair exchange.
'No Name' kitten is growing very well, he remains nameless as we keep changing our minds, he is the liveliest kitten we have ever had, he is also the most wilful kitten and can throw quite a paddy if he doesn't get his own way.
He also eats us, he greets us with huge purrs and then sinks his teeth into what ever part of us is unprotected, it's very painful and something that we have to break him of, he also does it to the older cats who are now exercising discipline with him , not that he takes any notice, he will not back down despite getting his ears boxed on a regular basis, they had been very patient with him to start with, still he is only eight weeks old, so I hope he will learn in time.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Shopping as it should be.

'Shopping as it should be'  used to be the slogan of Irelands largest food chain, in fact it might still be, we don't watch adverts so wouldn't know, but I would dispute the claim from any supermarket that that is 'shopping as it should be'. A super market for us is somewhere where we HAVE to buy our milk and butter, we have no choice, it's the only place where we can buy Organic milk and butter,  the only other use we have for them is cat and dog food and toilet paper.
 This week we discovered we were running short of meat, we are down to ducks and some rabbit until the next  chickens are ready. We had run out of beef, we had tried the local butcher but due to a late spring the beef was not particularly nice, it clearly was not grass fed.
We had heard a couple of good reports about the Farmers Market in Boyle, a small town about 25k from here so decided that we would make the effort to get up early and pay a visit, we had been warned to get there early as the Organic butcher sells out if you leave it too late.
We arrived just as the stall holders had finished setting up, everything looked beautiful and so fresh! There was also a very good variety of things, the bread smelt wonderful but we always make our own so it was not something we were looking for. Everything on the butchers stall looked wonderful, so we have stocked up for the next couple of weeks, a lovely beef joint, two different types of sausage, pork chops and minced beef, price wise we can't comment, it all seemed reasonable to us.
We also bought some un-dyed  smoked haddock and fresh asparagus, something neither of us can resist. Tonight we will have a gourmet meal, Organic pork chops, new potatoes, our own! and fresh asparagus, followed by yet more strawberries.
I am pleased that we arrived early as by the time we left it was very busy, with a long queue for  the butchers stall.
We were all gently serenaded by a harpist, so lovely,. Now THIS is what  I call shopping as it should be!
The broad beans will be our first summer crop, beans have set well, hopefully by next weekend we will have our first feast of them. Every seed that I had sown in the key hole garden germinated, three different type of true spinach and swede, unfortunately this will have to be thinned, and it's not a plant that transplants well so a lot will have to be wasted, I had thought that I had sown thinly, clearly not thinly enough.
The pond is now just about finished, it looks very nice, all we need now is some rain to help establish the plants!
Water beetles , pond skaters and water boats men have already taken up residence.
 The grass is growing very fast so it has now all been strimmed back, we will let it wilt down a little and then use it as  mulch around our young trees to help retain the moisture around them, we  will  also have to have a purge on slugs, as the comfrey  is  now growing well I will cut some leaves and place them where we wish to control the slugs, as soon  as comfrey wilts,  slugs head for it, it is then easy to pick them off  and drown them, if left in the  water for a few days, this can then be used around susceptible plants as a further slug control although it stinks, it works.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Hotter than Spain.

The last few days have reminded me as to why we moved from Spain , it was too damned hot in the summer, it seems that we have overtaken Barcelona for temperatures, Monday was hotter than Barcelona, according to the weather forecast is  going to get even hotter in the next couple of days. The farmers must be rejoicing , grass is growing very quickly but if the hot weather does continue the next complaint will be lack of water and the grass not growing again  although there is a very heavy dew at night. What ever the weather does someone will always complain, and that includes me, it's too damned hot!
The garden is now catching up at last, most of the veg planting is done but the weeds are trying to do a take over bid. We have had very good germination on some things, mainly the roots, but peas and beans are struggling, but the season is still early so we can replant things that have failed to do well. The potatoes are doing well and need their next earthing up, the first ones in the tunnel are now ready for eating.
 It's hard to keep up with the strawberries, although much later than last year we are now picking at least a pound a day, there has even been enough for me to make four pots of jam.
The  Rhubarb is also cropping well and I have bottled some for the winter months. All the trees are looking very good with plenty of blossom and the blackcurrants and gooseberries have all set fruit, so there must have been some pollinating insects around, we have seen real bees and hoverflies in the last couple of days, I hope the hoverflies start work soon on clearing the roses of greenfly's, we have not had sufficient stinging nettles to make our aphid control, I think I will try using rhubarb leaves as a stop gap.
Now that the veg garden is just about planted for this season it has given us a little time to dig the garden pond, we had hoped to have had this done some time ago but there was always something more pressing to be done.  There was a huge amount of stone in the area where we wanted the pond, but it will get used up somewhere.
 Once started it was done quickly, just four days, thanks to Simons hard work, it has been very enjoyable planting up the rockery and find plants to put into the pond, as this is pond is to increase wildlife habitat we will not be having any fish in it, we hope that it will accommodate frogs and maybe smooth newts.
We do have a lot of frogs on the land so I hope they will enjoy the pond, it has already been used by one of our ducks, Daffy, she has always been the friendliest of our ducks and seems to think that we have made this especially for her.
A welcoming lick from Sussie.
   After five months of looking we at last  have a new kitten, I would never have thought it would be so hard to find a kitten, maybe more people are at last taking note and   having  their cats spayed or neutered.
As yet we have not given him his permanent name, maybe Mungo as in Mungo Jerry or Monte, we will wait a little longer and see which name fits him.
With the seasons being so late we are still enjoying what should be spring bulbs, the parrot tulips have been wonderful this year, I love the deep purple ones which are growing close to the bronze fennel, they look wonderful together.