Friday, September 27, 2013

Mistaken Identity .Straw Bale Progress.

Earlier in the year we were given some Pumpkin and Squash plants, the squash we were told were the Spaghetti variety, the Pumpkins just Pumpkins. Well the Spaghetti Squash turned out to be
                                       Custard Squash, which have sort of turned into giants,
 normally they are about three to four inches across, the first one we have harvested is just over ten  inches across and weighed in at 5lb 2 oz, it looks lovely,
I will probably be making lots of pies with it, the remaining ones aren't quite so big and they do store well, a good addition for stir fries.
The first Pumpkin weighs 8kg, so lots of Pumpkin pies to be made, the seeds will be fed to the hens as they help to protect against worms and the hens enjoy them. I'm not too sure what the friend who gave us these plants ended up with, I do hope he has ended up with some nice pumpkins or squashes, I will feel guilty if he hasn't.  I do know he has some very nice ornamental gourds, whether these were planted by design or fluke I'm not sure but he will not be eating them, he tried that last year and they were  bitter. Maybe this is  a good reason to label things, something I often failed to do, you can end up with some interesting surprises, now I am more organised , I even label collected seeds, something I never used to do thinking I would remember what was what, I never did.
This month has been on the whole dry and very mild, some days have been hot, so far we have not needed to light the wood burner in the lounge, however we have still managed to find some wild mushrooms,
                                                   only  Inkcaps, but they are still nice.
 I think back to our Spanish days, we were spoilt for choice there even to having Chanterelles growing in the forest just below our farm. We have been told that they also grow here,  in the Dublin area, a bit too far to go foraging.
This is the time of year that we seem to get the best sunsets, most evenings we are treated to a very colourful sky, maybe we just don't notice them earlier in the year as we are inclined to be inside when the sun is setting which is very late during the summer months.
The straw bale project is progressing well now that we have the straw, we had ordered what we required and arranged for it to be delivered, unfortunately, although you might be given a day for delivery it seldom happens when it is expected, after all the years that we have lived in Ireland we should be used to this, but we are not. Two further trips to see the man who sells it, who clearly, although he had written the order down, had forgotten and we got the delivery yesterday, three days later than expected. I just hope the weather holds, as it is the building has to be put to bed each night covering it with silage cover, just in case we get unexpected rain,
about one third of the walls have been erected, so maybe sometime next week the roof can go on. When we get to the plastering stage it will be a learning curve for us,  we used Lime Putty before, this time it is a powdered lime which has to be mixed with quite a lot of sand for at least fifteen minutes, this type of Lime Render will even go off under water, whereas Lime Putty requires temperatures of 50f + to cure, something we are very unlikely to get in Ireland during the Autumn. The glass for the small windows has also been ordered, it should be here on Monday, then I can start the glass painting.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

West country Apple Spiced cake. Knockvicar Organic Gardens.

I was determined to make the best of the two apples that fell from the tree in the last wind, we could have had one each but I wanted to make them last, simple,
make a West country Apple Spiced Cake, now I come from Dorset where they are always called Dorset Apple cakes, Simon comes from the neighbouring county, Devon, and yes, there they are called Devon Apple cakes, so the compromise is West Country Apple cake,
our two apples made eight servings, who says eight into two won't go? We are down to half a cake, this will last us until  Tuesday with luck, then we will have to wait another year.
Yesterday was another beautiful day, a trip into Boyle for our weekly shop at the farmers market, it's so nice to have pork and bacon back on the menu. Knowing the conditions that pigs are kept in on commercial farms throughout Europe we will not buy meat that has been produced this way, pigs are highly intelligent animals, and to confine them in pens that they can barely turn round in is no way to treat them. So called bacon is sold just a day after the pig has been slaughtered , pumped full of chemicals and water, the process take little more than two hours, pig butchers, when asked will always deny this, but it is a fact.
 The bacon  and  ham that we buy  is dry cured, using nothing other than salt and sugar, when we cook the ham joint we end up with the same amount that we started with, not a load of water and grey gunge.
From the Farmers Market we had a quick trip into Ardcarne garden centre, I needed some seed trays, but the real reason was for a cup of coffee in their recently opened Café, it is truly the best coffee we have tasted in Ireland, it is on a par with the coffee that we got so used to in Spain and well worth visiting just for the coffee.
 From there we headed to the Knockvicar Organic gardens where Lazlo, the manager was hosting their annual Harvest Feast, everyone brought something that they had produced from their gardens,
we brought potatoes which were baked in the clay Pizza  oven, Lazlo had provided Pizza dough which the children had great fun with, rolling out and piling on the herbs and veg, then cooked in the clay oven. It was a lovely day and everyone seemed to enjoy it.
These gardens were set up fifteen years ago as a FAS scheme, these schemes were to give training to long term unemployed people, those people who were selected got an additional payment on top of their unemployment money.
At Knockvicar there was always a waiting list of people wishing to train there, nowadays I believe it is just a training centre,  in fact since Lazlo took over the gardens eleven years ago it seems to have gone from strength to strength
and now has ten tunnels,  a green house,
plus crops grown in the open, all this on less than an acre. Lazlo is a very dedicated and knowledgeable gardener, as well as a great human being.
Once again the weather is beautiful, so many butterflies,
today we had over a dozen on our Buddleia bush at one time, we also have a lot of wild honey bees maybe they are being attracted by the perfume of the wall flowers which for some reason have been blooming most of the summer,
I just hope we still get blossom in the spring but they look lovely mingling with the late summer flowers.  One strange thing is one of the Hollyhocks which has  multiple petals,
it is very pretty, a soft ivory colour and looks more like a Gardenia than a Hollyhock, the thing that is strange is this was saved seed from a friends garden in Spain, all her Hollyhocks were single petals. I just hope that it hasn't bloomed to late to set seed.
The Hubbard chicks are growing well, they are now fifty three days old and a quick weigh in tells us they are doing what they should with an average weight of 1.5kg hopefully they will be ready at ninety  days thereabouts, rather different from the supermarket chickens which are slaughtered at less than forty days.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Making Progress, Rabbit Problem.

The Straw Bale project is so far going well,
a lot of the rubble that was lying around has been incorporated into the floor base
The floor is laid, it looks good.
and the slate floor has now been laid, the door posts are also in place. There's still a bit of work to be done before the fun side can be started, maybe later next week we will be ready for the bales.
We have also decided to have a small window per wall, these windows will be for ornamental and light only, they wont be opening, the ornamental part will be my project, glass painting, I did this when we lived in Spain in the kitchen that we created, originally cattle housing, as is normal in Spain with old farm houses, the people lived above the animals. Ventilation was from arrow slots, these lent themselves beautifully to small windows just begging for crafted glass work.
We just hope the fine weather continues, I have memories of our Straw bale house building, starting work in November in Ireland is not a very good idea, especially that particular year as we had very heavy snow on St. Stephens day.
Last bottling this year.
All the bottling has now been done, pears from which I had a lot of juice left over, never wanting to waste anything I added some gooseberries and turned it into fruit jelly for our desert, it was yummy, far better than any commercial jelly.
The Sweet peas and Dahlias continue to bloom despite strong winds, and the Runner beans still keep producing,
First of the leeks, plenty more to come.
we have had the first helping of leeks, they also have done very well.
The wind removed what little fruit we had, two apples and a plum, at least there's enough to make an apple pie or maybe apple cake, the plum we will share, we also had two figs! Hoping for better next year.
Our spring bulb order is now placed, quite a big order as I wish to get everything planted once, and not keep adding to the garden. Our garden plan is now completed,  there will be no more room for more. Just to keep the flower garden maintained will be good, with permanent plantings.
If the vegetable garden does as well next year as this year we will be happy, although we had ordered three types of potatoes, somehow we only ended up with two, I'm not sure which earlies we had, they were nice but nothing exceptional, the main crop was excellent, Sarpo Mira, they have very good blight resistance, although they have been around for over ten years now they really have not caught on in Ireland, probably because they are not a 'flowery' potato which the Irish prefer, Golden Wonder and Records are the two which are grown in Ireland, we find them dull, and yes, very 'flowery' described in green grocers as 'Balls of Flour' , if I want that I will make some dumplings.
Yesterday we were going to mate our rabbit Flopsie, unfortunately on picking her up Simon discovered large lumps on her belly, we were certain that it was cancer, but to be certain we called the vet, she confirmed it. It appears that a doe should be matted every ninety days, we had not wanted to over breed her,  it was the worst thing we could have done, so Flopsie has now been put out of pain.
 It appears from further research and talking to our vet that this type of cancer is common in does which are not breed frequently, and rabbits kept as pets should be neutered, so we have learnt something from this unhappy event.
  Her replacement is a twelve week old New Zealand X Californian , she will be ready for breeding the end of December. Lets hope it all goes well for her.   

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Straw Bale project. What is Permaculture?

Our latest project is underway, a Straw Bale Quail House.
Step one, mark out the base.
Ever since we sold our Straw Bale house on our last farm in Ireland I have missed it and have looked for an excuse to build this way again. I didn't know what, I just knew I wanted another Straw Bale building.
Since we started breeding Quail again, our fourth bedroom com workshop was the only place we had to house them, our three barns are filled with ?. OK one is filled with logs and turf, one was supposed to be the garage, but houses all manor of things, everything except the car, the third one is my better half's workshop, hopefully this will be used to create funky things for the garden, rustic seating, totem poles, etc.. So the Quail had no other place to go. Before suggesting it to Simon I had all my reasons ready, he was bound to find objections. How wrong  I was in that assumption. Before I knew it out came the sketch paper, rulers , and lists of what we already had and what additional supplies we would need . We had decided the ideal place would be in what we call the keyhole garden, so named as we have a keyhole garden there, but in fact it will become the secret garden.
Step two, build up the sides and fill base with old rubble.
It is a area that previous owners had used as a dumping patch, and lots of rubble from walls that had been pulled down, ideal to use as a base and not too far to move it. So work has started. It will be hexagonal, as was our old house, and will have a living roof, again the same as our old house, it is going to have a solid floor, finished in quarry slate, we have a big pile of it, left by the previous owners who had used it for the kitchen and hall floors, each wall will be eight food long, this was governed by the scaffold boards that we had acquired. The roof, when the compost settles will be planted with either wild flowers or clover, we have plenty of seeds of both, clover might be favourite as it forms a good matting of roots and doesn't seem to mind lack of water, should we ever have another summer like this last one. The big question is will it be used for the Quail, or will we find another more urgent use for it. Time will tell.
I often wonder what is meant by Permaculture, it seems to mean different things to different people. We have several friends who say they use Permaculture principles, one even teaches Permaculture design, yet their definitions are different. I have to wonder if it is just the newest 'IN' word.
 To me Permaculture was practiced in the Monasteries, where they grew their own food, selling or giving surplus to the local communities, they worked together for a common cause, their belief in 'God', every one depending on another, break the chain and the community becomes divided, maybe the Amish people are also Permaculturalists, they work together, as one, for the community's good.
We try to work with nature, we feed our soil, we expect it to feed us. We produce most of our own veg, fruit we are still working on, the meat we produce is strictly poultry only, any meat we buy is from the Farmers Market, all Organic and produced locally.
Soap Wort, a gift from a friend last year.
We seed save and seed share,
Some of this years rose cuttings, looking good.
ditto cuttings,
Last years cuttings, now two feet high, waiting for their permanent place.
we companion plant, nature knows best, we skill share and do quite a bit of bartering. We observe our land, we are working out where we need to plant shelter belts to provide micro climates, we  get a lot of winds here. This would be counted by some as 'Permaculture' but I don't think it is, I think you have to be part of an integrated community to be truly a Permaculture holding. Although we do everything Organically, we can not call anything that we produce 'Organic', that is a legal definition for which you have to undergo inspections, yet a surprising number of people will sell produce as Organic without certification. This is very unfair to registered producers, their licences cost a lot.
Several weeks ago we collected thirty bags of spent mushroom compost, no longer allowed under Organic regulations, (due to the risk of GMO contamination in the animal feed on which mushroom compost is based) it is however when composted a wonderful soil improver,
it also has the added benefit of producing lots of free mushrooms.
Yesterday I cut four pounds of these Chestnut mushrooms, I thinly sliced them
and dried them on trays in the range, the cottage smelt wonderful,
Good result.
 the result was just over three and a half oz of dried mushrooms which I will use in stews and soups, I am thinking that I might also have a go at making Mushroom ketchup, it is delicious with so many things, also on hot buttered toast.
Time will tell with this .
Also made is the Bread and Butter pickle, cucumber and onion with herbs and spices and bottled in Apple Cider Vinegar. This is something I have been making for years but this year there might be a problem, the first stage of making this is covering the veg with salt for three hours to draw out the moisture, it was at this stage that I realised I was short of what I call proper salt, i.e.. sea salt, with nothing added, we have been using quite  a lot of sea salt for the runner beans, what I did have was table salt, bought to control slugs, as you have to rinse the salt off the soaked veg I gave it no thought, what I have now found out is this type of salt penetrates, and although I  rinsed everything five times the salt persisted. It's not too bad, but it is salty to our taste, we will try a jar in a couple of weeks to see if it is OK, or if we need to do a rethink on it, it's not a pickle we would want to be without as it goes with anything cold, meats, cheese  and salads. Here's hoping it will be alright in the end.
Wine bubbling away, especially for Lauren.
The dried Elderflower wine is now bubbling away in it's demijohn, it smells lovely, so here's hoping it will be ready for Christmas. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Storing the harvests. An Irish Funeral.

The last few days have been even busier than normal. On Sunday our computer contacted a very bad virus and required immediate medical attention and a two day spell in intensive care. Our computer man lives an hours drive away in a very pretty village so we thought we would take advantage of the trip to do more exploring and maybe do a bit more Blackberry picking, we took  a picnic lunch with us as we anticipated being out sometime.
We quickly found a wonderful spot, absolutely laden with fruit, a tiny lane that is very infrequently used judging by the grass growing in the middle of the lane. Lots of birds and
Speckled Wood butterflies, we filled our bags and then dined alfresco, it was another sunny day and we have to take advantage of these in Ireland.
 Seeing a sign for a 5th century Abbey, we then took a slight detour, in fact nothing of the original  Abbey remains except the ring fort that it had been built on, but there is the ruin of an 13th century  Abbey church on the same site, in fact built within the boundary of the Ring Fort,

the church had some lovely carvings and the remains of what must have been a very beautiful window.
 We also spotted the ruin of what might have been a small castle or a large Manor House, close to the banks of the River Suck, it would have been an imposing building in it's heyday.
On returning home we found that we had picked  over twelve pounds of berries, I wanted some to make more Bramble Jelly and the rest to make Blackberry Cordial. Having  previously read up on the nutritional value of Blackberries it turns out that they are every bit as good as all these so called super fruits! The only difference is they are free, they just need picking and processing. We have picked over thirty two pounds of Blackberries this year, certainly a record for us.

The last batch of Bramble jelly has now been made, the remaining fruit is in the freezer waiting for kind friends to drink some beer and pass on their empty bottles to us. Thanks in anticipation, Matt and Liz!! 
Marrow and Ginger Jam, more Bramble Jelly and the first bottled Pears.
Thanks to a friend I have been able to make four and a bit pots of Marrow and Ginger jam, our courgettes have done nothing this year except produce male flowers, but our friend had too many, one of which became a Marrow. Lidl has had organic fruit and veg on offer this week, I could not resist buying the Organic Pears for bottling, and also Peppers, which I have frozen, we did grow peppers last year but they were not too successful so we decided against growing them again.
Also on the go is Bread and Butter Pickle, a lovely cucumber and onion sweet pickle, I have done about half of it so far, but our week has been busy.
 Tuesday we had to pick up our repaired computer, so another two hour round trip. On arriving home we were given the sad news that our only neighbour had died, she was a lovely old lady, eighty eight years young, always with a twinkle in her eye and a great sense of humour, we will miss her evening visits and our visits to her. She was the first person to visit us when we moved here. It was clear from her lovely Grandson that we would be expected to attend all the stages of an Irish Funeral. This is not a simple matter as it is in the UK or even Spain. Firstly there is the paying respect to the family and the deceased, either at their home or at the Funeral home, wherever the departed is resting, the coffins are often open, as was the case with Babs, our neighbour. Everyone in the neighbourhood attended, even if they had never met her, this is expected, it is the loss a member of the community. Judging by the queue to view we think there must have been between two and three thousand people. Next comes the actual removal of the deceased to the church, in this case six miles away and well over an hour later than had been planned. This is the start of the religious ceremony. The following day, today comes the Mass, in this case the Mass of the Resurrection, it was a beautiful service, so much lighter and happier than ones I have attended in the past in the UK which were always so gloomy and mournful. Then comes the internment, so it was back to the town where the Churchyard is. Churches here seldom have the Churchyards attached to the church, I don't know why, I shall have to ask. Then comes the wake, again, nothing mournful, just lovely anecdotes about a super old lady.
On a lighter note , this week I received seeds from a blogging friend in the USA, Sweet Annie and  Nepeta, now we can get Nepeta here but not the true cat nip one, I had spotted a photo on her blog of her cats going crazy over the stems of this plant, she makes cat beds  and stuffs them with this herb,  she offered to harvest some seeds for me. They were packaged well, inside a cardboard envelope and that was inside a lovely card, I left the card on our table for a few moments, only  to find our cats in total ecstasy over it,
Sparkie our kitten was foaming at the mouth. I hope these seeds grow well for us, we will have some super happy cats next year. Many thanks Carole. Her blog can be found Via:
This bed is only just over a couple of months old, amazing growth.

Friday, September 6, 2013

My new Pet. More blackberries Jelly making,

Meet David.
Meet David, my new pet, found lurking in the potato patch, named after David Cameron who always looks like a misshapen potato, a bit insulting to this poor potato, that weighed in at two pounds,
                                              not all veg can be good looking.
The Blackberries we picked last weekend have now been processed. Two kg are fermenting away in a fermentation bucket, tomorrow this will be strained and then the liquid goes into the demijohn  for a few weeks before racking and then bottling. Depending on which web site you chose to believe the wine will be ready  for this Christmas or in a years time! We will test it in Dec and then decide.
With the Elderflower Champagne being such a hit with our friends I decided not to wait for next years blossoms and ordered some dried flowers from www. . This is a company based in Galway and sells a full range of wine and beer making equipment, I and a friend were  also short of wine yeasts and the Peapod wine had 'stuck' so I also got some restart, so I am now well set up to resume wine making in earnest. I am hopeful that the next lot of Elderflower Champagne will be ready at Christmas.
The rest of last weeks Blackberries have been made into Bramble Jelly, after straining we ended up with just over two pints of juice, this  made four pots of jelly which has set very well. As four pots wont last too long with us, Bramble jelly on freshly baked scones is even better than Strawberry jam, we decided that we would pick more, a quick trip out and we have gathered a further 5.5lbs which are now in the freezer until Sunday. This should give us another two and a half pints, enough for five more jars. There is no mystery to making jellies, but you cant hurry them, after the fruit has been cooked and well mashed,
the result has to be strained either through a Jelly Bag or muslin, this takes quite a long time, I left ours overnight. For every pint of juice you need one pound of sugar and the juice of one lemon. You add the sugar and lemon when the fluid is boiling, I found that setting point was reached in less than half an hour. The result is a delicate but strongly flavoured jelly. Lovely.
Our Strawberries are now giving us a second flush and better flavoured than the first ones, they will probably keep producing until the first frosts.
Despite the erratic watering in the tunnel the tomatoes are doing very well, we must get the irrigation sorted out for next year as the cucumbers have not fared so well, I will have enough to make Bread and Butter pickle, but none to spare.
We are also disappointed with a heritage variety of carrots that we have grown, there should have been a variety of colours, from purple, the original colour of carrots to white and yellow, we seem to have only yellow ones and although some of them are a foot long, they sadly lack flavour. Fortunately we have grown two other normal variety's so we wont be without flavour.
Whist out picking blackberries today Simon spotted a lovely plant growing in a hedge row, I had a vague idea as to what it was and one returning home looked in the RHS plant finder book. It was what I thought,
Tropaeolum Speciosom , common name Flame Flower, although we picked some seeds,  reading up on the plant it is very hard to propagate this way, so the search is on to find a nursery that has them, I love unusual plants, and this is one that should do very well in Ireland.