Sunday, July 28, 2013

Growth at any price.

Over the last six decades people have lived with the belief that the worlds resources are infinite, and there to be exploited, this belief has been encouraged by most western governments, after all if you can get the people to spend, spend, spend it must mean growth for the countries economies, but this idea has failed.
 The world resources are fast running out so the governments are now searching for yet more solutions.
 Fracking is one of them,  to obtained the oil or gas, millions of gallons of water have to be used, another resource that is not infinite, cement, for the pads for the rigs, the manufacturing of which is one of the most polluting processes. Only a very small amount of gas or oil is recoverable in any case. What is left behind is an industrial waste land. The UK government is going ahead with this unproven technology, without consultation with people who will be affected by this. They are also pushing ahead with new nuclear power generation.
 Our government is no better and seems to think that Fracking will solve all our problems as well. At no time do these powers that be look at ways of reducing the consumption of  power. Spain has addressed the problem to a certain degree, each house is given a certain amount of voltage, 2kva, which is not a lot, if you exceed your amount your electricity trips out. You can be upgraded to the next band, 3.5kva, but this costs considerably more and in fact several people that we knew who had upgraded found no difference in the amount of power coming into their homes.
Having lived for four years off the grid we soon found ways of reducing our consumption of both power and water. We had to transport our water from the nearest village which was four miles away, we found that we could live quite comfortably with 1000lt every ten days, water never got wasted, only full wash loads were ever done, and never at any higher temperature than 40c, this is plenty hot enough even for whites, we found that by using washing soda our whites were whiter than white and soft as well. All grey water got recycled for the garden, washing up done once a day, and taps never left running for teeth cleaning. Flushing of the loo only when  necessary.  Water used in the house requires electricity, either what you are producing yourself or if you are on  a mains system, by the water board. Maybe if governments would put a little more thought into reducing power and water usage the world would not find it's self in the position that it is now.
We grow all our own vegetables, plenty for us and enough to share with friends, we produce all our own poultry and eggs but are reliant on grains to feed the poultry, we no longer produce our own milk or butter as we are too old now to start over with larger live stock, but we make sure that we buy 'Irish'. We are now rain water harvesting by means of five 1000lt water containers, even if we have more droughts we should have sufficient to last us five weeks for all our household needs.
I came across some interesting statistics this week in the Smallholder magazine.
 70% of the worlds food is produced by smallholders. This would rather lead me to believe that it would be possible for all the worlds food to be produced by so called peasant cultures if they were to form co-op's,  surplus to share and sell, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they would be exploited by the corporations that control the worlds  food supply.
61 % of the UK farmers would grow GM crops, but only 15% would eat GM. Clearly corporate greed has taught them well.
Meanwhile, we continue to harvest, the first lot of onions have now dried and have been strung, we still have another crop to harvest.
The early potatoes are being dug as we need them and the main crop is looking great.
Broad beans are ready for picking and freezing and the garden peas are looking very good, again these will be frozen. The first lot of chickens are now in the freezer and the first ducklings are now ready for eating, weighing in at seven  pounds live weight.
We also   hatched four Muscovy ducklings today in the incubator, these are supposed to be one of the most difficult breeds to artificially hatch and we well believe it, we lost three that had pipped but did not progress, we should have intervened and helped them out, but we know what to do in the future.
The weather has now at last broken and we have comfortable temperatures again, there has been some fantastically coloured skies when the storms have been approaching.
The flowers in the garden are all looking good and very grateful for some rain. The sweet peas are again coming into their own as house flowers, the perfume is beautiful.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tomorrow will be cooler.

Each time I look at the weather forecast it tells me that tomorrow will be cooler, I guess these things are relative, it is cooler than last week but not by much, for a week now rain has been predicted for tomorrow, well we did get one heavy shower today, just enough to dampen down the dust but not much more than that. Oh well, maybe tomorrow.
Things are now growing at a pace in the garden, it is very hard to keep up with it all,
             the main onions have now been harvested and are drying ready for plaiting,
                                   beans, peas and cauliflower keep on coming,
 it has been too hot for the spinach, we managed to get two pickings but it then bolted, I might sow some more if the weather does cool a bit.
 Tomatoes are now ripening and we have picked the first ones, they taste so different from anything that you can buy.
Ringlet Butterfly.
Due to the hot weather there are lots of different butterflies, we have seen small blues, unfortunately moving too fast to take a photo of, Red Admirals, Gate Keepers, Tortoiseshells and Meadow Browns are plentiful, we have also seen a Ringlet which I managed to get a photo of.
Cinnabar moth caterpillar.
 Cinnabar moths have made use of the Ragwort that we had left. This moth has been introduced to several countries including North America , Australia and New Zealand to control the spread of Ragwort, in many countries this is a reportable weed and very hard to control, but this moths caterpillar can strip the leaves of one plant within hours. Who needs herbicides? 
There also seems to be far more wild flowers this year, or at least they are more noticeable,
                                                  masses of Bog Asphodel,
Twayblade Orchid.

                             we have even found some Twayblade Orchids.
Wild Carrot flower.

Last night was not a good night, we had our first ever mink attack, the electric fencing had burnt through a filament on the fencing causing it to miss -function, how the mink knew it was not working heaven only knows, it managed to kill Madeline, one of our La Bresse  breeding hens, it damaged her mate, Pierre, and our four Indian Runner ducks, although they had been bitten quite badly they seem to be recovering. All we can do it keep an eye on them and keep them as quiet as possible, they have made it to this evening and seem to be eating a little so hopefully they will make it. We have borrowed a mink trap from a friend and baited it with tinned sardines which we are told is one of the best things to use, so hopefully we will trap the blighter and dispose of it before it can do more harm.
We have had a couple of good hatches this week, seven Indian Runner ducklings from our incubator and five more, hatched under a broody hen which belongs to a friend of ours, they are all so cute,
with several of them having a punk hairstyle, where that came from we do not know.
 They are so fluffy and cute. We keep Indian Runners for their slug eating abilities, they are lighter than many other ducks so do very little damage to plants in the garden and our little flock has reduced the numbers of slugs considerably.
Whilst driving to a friends house we came across this wonderful tree hosting Bracket Fungus, to me fungi like this are natures sculptures, far more beautiful than anything that man can make.
Finally, yet another picture of Sparky, who is becoming a beautiful and very purrey boy.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Summer fruits and flowers.

Because of the lateness of the seasons this year the flowering period of the wild flowers  seems to have been compressed, the Blackthorn didn't flower until May and the Hawthorne didn't flower until June the same with the Elderflower, when they did bloom there seemed to be far more blossom than usual, now it is the turn of the high summer flowers,
Lady's Bedstraw.
I have never seen as much Lady's Bedstraw as there is this year. This is a very pretty plant and has many uses, I'm surprised that it has not been cultivated as a garden plant, the leafs and stems give a yellow dye and the roots red. It can also be used to make cheese and gives a golden yellow to cheese, I used it for this purpose many years ago, it was very successful. It also has herbal uses as well as being a host plant to the Elephant Hawk moth, a very underrated hedgerow plant.
Trefoil or Vetch? Need to look at the leaves.
The hedges are full of vetches and trefoils, purples and yellows seems to be the colour of the month.
 Seedpods of the Yellow Rattle.
  Common Valerian  and also Hemp Agrimony are blooming and the Knapweeds along with Meadow Sweet and Rose Bay Willow herb, but we have not spotted any Loosestrife yet, if it wasn't so hot we would go on a plant hunt, but we have now been without rain for twenty three days and the temperatures have not really dropped in this time, there is no rain predicted until Sept according to an amateur weather forecaster from New Zealand, he has been pretty accurate so far this year, maybe Met Eireann should employ him. However this morning at 5am I awoke to thick fog, I know the plants would have appreciated this hint of dampness.
I always feel like a squirrel at this time of year, there is always something the needs to be frozen, bottled or made into jam.

Todays task was blackcurrant picking and processing, normally we would prune the blackcurrants when cropping but as everything was late getting leaves they are still a little tender and would not benefit from pruning whist so hot, so the currants have just been picked, with pruning to be done later on. In all we had twelve and a half pounds of currants, not bad for two year old bushes which we grew from cuttings. I have made twelve pots of jam so far, with a few more to be made tomorrow, the rest will be bottled. I would normally delay jam making until later in the year when it is cooler but we have very little spare room in our freezers so it all has to be done in a heat wave!
Blackcurrant jam is one of the easiest jams to make, always a brilliant set, as long as you cook the fruit before adding the sugar otherwise you will end up with bullets in your jam.
Bottled Plums and more lemon Curd.
I have also bottled some plums which our local veg shop had on offer, at only ninety nine cents a half kg it was worthwhile buying the fruit.
Real Butter! Yum.
We have now found that we can buy real butter from the farmers market, we made scones today especially to test the butter, it was delicious, with home made strawberry jam, the only thing missing was the clotted cream.
Maybe next year.
We have had a very small handful of gooseberries and I do mean a VERY small handful, still it's a start and hopefully next year we will have a crop worth talking about.

Monday, July 15, 2013

A brief respite and a glut of veg.

Today has been perfect for temperature, not only am I breathing a sigh of relief but I'm sure I can hear the  plants doing so as well. Many of the roses and leaves of trees have been scorched by the sun, normally being a country of high rain fall the growth of plants is that much softer than the same plants growing in dryer climates and they are not so able to stand up to the heat, they will all recover when normal weather returns, but the forecast is for more very hot weather.
The veg is producing far quicker than we can eat it, so things are now being frozen on a daily basis, it has all come at once, beans, peas,
1.6 kg, that's quite big. 3lb 6oz in old money.
 cauliflower , calabrese and spinach, we are spoilt for choice.
We have not needed to water at all, we always plant close together for most things, this way each plant gives it's neighbour protection, helps to retain moisture and helps to keep the weeds under control, it might look nice to have well spaced orderly rows of veg, but in our experience they do not do as well as those planted close together. Although we have very good soil here we also use large amounts of compost and manure, this improves the organic matter in the soil and also helps to maintain the right amount of moisture, especially important with raised beds.
Rhubarb has been particularly good this year, with plenty more to come, most of this will get bottled, and the outside Cambridge Favourite strawberries are producing well for their first year, they would probably have done even better if we had had normal Irish weather which is why I chose this variety. The blackcurrants are now ready for picking and will have to made straight into jam or bottled as we are going to be short of freezer space again, the first of the chickens are now ready for dispatch.
The Dahlias are early this year.
Although the season got off to a very slow start things caught up and some plants are now in advance of their season. It looks as though there will be a very good crop of blackberries this year, the bushes are full of blossom and I have never seen so many blooms on the Elderflower trees, we haven't collected any this year as we still have plenty of elderflower cordial that I made last year, we also have nearly a gallon of elderflower champagne, shame we don't really drink except when we have visitors. For anyone who is thinking of making either cordial or wine, remember to smell each tree, some elderflowers smell distinctly of cats pee, ignore these trees and find the one where the blossom smell of Muscatel.
Sparky is now calming down a little, he has been taught some manners by the older cats, most of them now like him, he has been taken under the tuition of Tommy, a lovely tabby boy , eleven years old, who has always liked kittens, he is teaching him how to play nicely!
Monkey is also very patient with him, but games with Susie are strictly on Susie's' terms.
Butter wouldn't melt! I'm just so cute.
My arms are healing nicely and it no longer looks as though I have been fighting my way out of a bramble patch.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Some like it hot.

Today it's 29c, a degree cooler than two days ago, some people like it hot, Simon is one of them, I however just want to go into hibernation until we have proper weather, at best all I can manage is to stake and tie up a few plants, work in the tunnel is impossible although both doors are open. Simon on the other hand is out mowing, strimming and weeding and loving every moment of it. There is of course an upside to this heat wave, slugs hate it and most plants love it, last year very few things set seed, this year everything is setting seed so I should be able to enlarge our plant collection without any cost, and still have plenty of seed to share with friends.
Last night was so hot that we slept with the patio door open in our room, the air was sweetly scented with roses , dianthus and honeysuckle, it's rare enough to be able to sleep in Ireland with the doors wide open, so I must not complain.
The roses are loving the heat, and cuttings taken in Spain are now blooming,
also our Spanish Oleander has blossom with more to come
and a self seeded plant, whose name I forget is also in bloom, this is a very pretty plant which grew all along our driveway in Spain, clearly it is enjoying the weather.
We are always on the look out for old fashioned roses and plants when we go out for a drive, there are so many derelict cottages around many of which used to have lovely gardens, in the last couple of weeks we have found three different types of old fashioned roses, all highly perfumed, one a dusky pink, one pure white Moss rose and
the latest one that we think might be 'Filipes Kiftsgate' this has the reputation of being the monster of all roses and can grow over forty feet in height, I have taken five cuttings from this rose, despite the warnings given on the internet about it, it is so pretty, with large clusters of small white single blossom. the perfume is divine, a mixture of honey and lemon blossom. I may live to regret this, but I hope they all take, we have plenty of places to grow them without them taking us over.
People around us are busy, footing the turf, which is very hard work, but this year they will have no trouble in getting it dry, I remember well the days when we had to put our turf in the range oven to dry it before we could use it, we no longer use turf, but now burn wood and I'm ashamed to say a small amount of coal, without the coal we would not get the range oven temperature hot enough to cook in, but it has to be better than using oil.
We now have regular customers for our eggs, all local people, so I no longer have to rack my brains on new ways to use eggs. We might even have surplus veg this year so possibly some for sale.                                      
Nice job, but I don't think it will float.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Dictatorship , Global spying. Unacceptable.

There has been several events over the last few months which to us are totally unacceptable.
 The US spying on whoever they choose is Unacceptable, to be spying on the EU offices is totally Unacceptable, why would they do this? Are the EU not supposed to be allies of the US? Or is this tied up with the trade agreements which the US is keen to foster?
 Is this a back door admittance of GMO's into our food chain, spying on Ministers to see who can be bought to further the cause of Monsanto and other GM companies. What ever the reason, it is Unacceptable.
 Clearly Owen Patterson, Minister of the Environment in the UK has received his instructions and anyone who has read his recent speech must have wondered who he works for and just who he represents.
 His speech was full of total inaccuracies and lies, and read like a publicity statement for Monsanto, yet he  got away with it.
Recently we contacted the major supermarkets following their announcement that their own brands would no longer be produced from GM free ingredients, only one supermarket is continuing to be GM free, Waitrose. The replies that we received from the other supermarkets were stock answers, taken largely from Patterson's speech, Tesco did actually engage with us, but then gave up, stating that 'clearly they would not be able to change our minds' on the subject.
 Around 80% of people in the UK still do not want GM's yet they are being ignored. This is Unacceptable.
Here in Ireland many people are suffering from the Ostrich syndrome, so few people question what is in their food, even worse, so few people care. Our water is dosed with Fluoride and Chlorine without our consent. This is unacceptable.
Also up for discussion at these trade talks is the importation of American animal products.
 US animal welfare standards hardly exist, the EU on the other hand do have standards, not brilliant ones but they do allow for no animal being treated the way they are in the US animal feed lots, they have some sort of life. If these cheaply produced products are allowed to enter the EU they will undercut the EU farmers, forcing them to either lower their standards or give up farming. This is unacceptable.
Feverfew, it's use is banned in Ireland but not in the EU!
A couple of years ago a great many herbal remedies were banned from sale, this was to protect  public health, so we were told, despite the fact that herbs have been used for healing for thousands of years and are the basis for many conventional drugs, yet a pharmaceutical company can produce a drug, Diclofenac, know for over twenty five years that it increases the risk of stokes by 40% and still be allowed to continue selling it, even though there has now been a public heath warning issued on this drug. This is unacceptable.
In the Western world we are told that we live in Democratic states, our governments invade countries to bring 'Democracy' to these other countries yet many of these places are countries that are largely self sufficient in both food and power, they may or may not have the freedoms that we are told we have, but just how much freedom do we have? Whether we like it or not we are controlled, if we are silly enough to read or listen to mainstream news we are manipulated, we are told what to think. If we shop in supermarkets we are persuaded what to buy, we might think we are making choices but it's an illusion. And it is not acceptable.
I will continue to buy what we don't produce from the Farmers Market in Boyle, high quality and fresh organic produce and good conversation, meeting up with like minded people who still have the ability to make their choices of what is important in life, to talk to people who know that things are so wrong in the world now but are doing their bit to make things better.
Rosa Rugosa, grown from a seed swap.
I will grow what I chose, I will save and swap seed and plants, I will not be dictated to.
I will continue to grow herbs for their medicinal uses, if I want to grow and use Feverfew who is going to stop me, if I wish to go out and gather St. Johns Wort, no one can stop me.
 If I have too much of something I will swap it with someone. This week we have had three barters, firstly a sack of wool shoddy to use as slug protection, in exchange we swapped eggs, then we were given a leg of venison, which we swapped for a whole sea trout , and today, we gave cuttings of old fashioned roses plus a doz eggs in exchange for two pots of lovely home made jam and chutney. Many thanks Bridget, we will enjoy! 
Who needs supermarkets if you have a garden, this is the first of our Calabrese.