Thursday, October 31, 2013

Samhain or Hallowe'en

Today is Samhain, a Celtic festival celebrating the end of summer and the harvest and the start of winter. This festival falls on the eve of All Saints day which is followed by All Souls day when people are supposed to remember their dead. This has now emerged into Hallowe'en, and a commercial opportunity, the shops are full of imported rubbish, and supermarkets full of lovely edible Pumpkins. The idea of Trick or Treating goes back many centuries. Children would go from house to house asking for a penny or a candle, they would light their way with a Jack O' lantern, normally made from a Swede or an Mangel Wurzel. At the end of harvest it was a time of plenty and food was stored, Swedes were widely grown and clamped for winter food, Mangel Wurzels were grown for over wintering animal feed. Pumpkins were unknown when we were kids, end of season woody Marrows were often used being of no use for food, or Swedes with the inside careful removed  to that it could be cooked and not wasted.
We grew Pumpkins this year from plants donated to us but we would not dream of wasting such a fruit that has so many uses. So far I have only used one, to make Pumpkin pie, but they can be used to make fantastic soup, added to breads, cakes, stir fries. The internet throws up over five hundred recipes for Pumpkins, and they store very well. Most of the ones on sale in the supermarkets will have been imported, what a waste of the farmers time and energy to cut silly faces in them and to throw away the flesh. Makes no sense to us to waste food, especially food that has been imported for a celebration that many people neither know or care about the origin.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Creating space. Straw Bale Progress.


We started off with one Freezer, trying to convince ourselves that one would be sufficient, this was an upright drawer type, the theory being it would be easier to find stuff, we also promised ourselves that we would not freeze veg or fruit.
 It soon became obvious that one freezer would not be sufficient, so a second one was bought, again a drawer type, quickly followed by a small chest freezer, just for poultry, then the forth one joined us, for the over flow! We might just have well bought a large chest freezer .
 We still can't find things, as soon as you take anything out, to make space it's impossible to get stuff back in with out leaving air space which costs to keep cool.
 Plenty of veg found it's way into the freezers, why do veg all have to come at the same time? Broad beans freeze well as do Peas so they got frozen, French beans and Fennel also freeze OK, Runner Beans, Cauliflower and Broccoli don't do well but that hasn't stopped us with the exception of the Runners, which we have salted.
 Then there is the fruit, Lemons, Oranges, Gooseberries, Blackberries and Raspberries all found their way in the freezer, but now is the time for the poultry to be slaughtered, the Hubbards are up to weight as are the La Brese and the Cornish Game fowl we also have quail waiting to be slaughtered. Time to start processing fruit.
Marmalade, again.
We were out of Marmalade, so more has been made.
Such a beautiful colour.
The twelve pounds of Blackberries have now been turned into Blackberry Cordial, these yielded six pints of juice which after straining through the jelly bag overnight
Boiling the juice.
then boiled with sugar and cardamom,
then into sterilised bottles which are then boiled in a hot water bath for ten minutes
Vitamin C in a bottle.
      to complete the process,
Fast running out of jars.
the Gooseberries have now been bottled.
 Raspberries and Lemons will remain until we need to use them in a dessert, they don't take up too much space. Whether we have created enough space for fifteen birds plus the quail remains to be seen. We won't be short of food this year that's for sure.
The apples that we bought last week at the Farmers market have now all been sorted, those which are perfect have been wrapped in news paper and stored in a box in a very cool spot, the less perfect ones will be used or bottled in the next week if I can find any bottles that is.
I now have plenty of apples for the West Country Spiced Apple cake, it's a simple cake to make and quite delicious.
The Straw  building is progressing well, the first coat of internal plaster has been applied and our helper, who is quite an artist has used the natural contours to create  sculptures,
the living roof is now growing, we haven't planted it yet it's just seeds that were in the compost already, I still hope that we will have mainly Clover on it though as Clover forms a good root mat.
For the door panel.
      I have done the last of the glass paintings for the
         windows and door,
Magic Mushrooms. 
 and Simon is busy carving mushrooms for the garden.
With luck the whole area should be quirky and full of character.
Jasper the latest kitten is a little unwell at the moment he has an infection so the vet came out to him and gave him a couple of injections, Sparkie is a little upset as his playmate is rather quiet, but he has decided that kitchen towel is a great thing to play with and is doing a cat version of the Andrex puppy.
Thanks Sparkie, just what we need, lots of shredded kitchen towel all over the kitchen.
Mico at work.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Blaze of Autumn Colour. Apple Delights.

Saturday is shopping day, the day we get our essentials from the Farmers Market in Boyle, to us that means a ham joint and whatever other meat we may need and don't produce ourselves, this week we will  have beef stew with our own veg, spaghetti bolognaise, boiled ham, Sunday roast this week is shoulder of pork, all supplied by Deidre our Organic butcher. Her meat is superb and we can eat it with a clear conscience knowing that it has been produced by animals who live their lives free ranging on organic land and feed on Organic feed. It shows in the quality, and none of it is expensive, the farmer is named and the meat rarely travels more than fifty miles from where it was produced.
We had a great surprise in the market today, one of the Organic producers who we have known for years had apples, both cooking apples and eaters, I have been trying to find these for several weeks now after having made the mistake of buying conventional Bramley apples in a local store, I should have known better as although they were supposed to be Irish they were far too early to be this years crop, probably last years and kept in cold store, plus the skins felt like wax, no doubt some nasty chemical coating them to make them appear fresh.
Although it was a wet morning we decided we would visit
Forest park in Boyle to catch some of the wonderful Autumn colours, which this year seem more vivid than usual.
As we had our helper, Mico with us we showed him Boyle Abbey, plus some of the beautiful loughs we have in this area.
 We are somewhat mystified as to the purpose of the glass walkway at Boyle Abbey, and once again the entrance was closed , again we have been foiled  to walking around the Abbey, one day, maybe, we will find this Abbey open to the public.
From the Abbey we proceeded to Forest Park to enjoy the lovely colours of Autumn,
then onto Lough Arrow and the Abbey at Ballindoon,
there are still swans a swimming, they seem to have taken up permanent residence.

Back onto the N4 and the viewing point over Lough Key, again a blaze of colour.
At this viewing point there is a very large metal statue of an Ancient Celtic Warrior. It is a beautiful work of modern art.   

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Taming the Jungle. Winter Veg.

The Poly Tunnel rather got away from us this year, it produced plenty of crops for us including early potatoes, onions, peas, beans, celery and squashes, strawberries, lots of tomatoes, all the herbs we could ever need and we now have Cape Gooseberries. Along with this abundance came the weeds so that the area looked more like a jungle than a food growing area, there was so much excess growth a tiger could have been hiding (if we had tigers in Ireland) and we would have been none the wiser. It was time to attack and have a rethink about weed control. Most of the weed had originated from the pathways which we had used various coverings on, from straw which is supposed to deplete nitrogen, to shredded bark, but the weeds still broke through, I should add that we had used this so called weed control membrane as a base. Our conclusion on that is unless you use glyphosate before laying the membrane down it does not work, for us using chemicals of any kind is unthinkable, let alone anything remotely connected to Monsatan, sorry, Monsanto.
What we do seem to accumulate is heavy duty plastic sacks which our wheat and oats come in. Our current helper attacked the pathways and did a great job clearing the weeds,
New pathways, Cauliflowers plantlets, and Cape Gooseberries.
Simon has now put to use the plastic sacks, and they have been covered with a fine gravel, even the dreaded mares tail, Equisetales will have to work hard to break through this.
Our tunnel is laid out with raised beds as have all our previous tunnels, we do this for several reasons, firstly it is far easier to work and build up soil fertility if the bed is confined, to us it makes no sense to build up fertility on something which might be walked on, we keep the beds at a width that can be worked from both sides, no point in getting the soil into good condition if it has to be walked on to plant,  it also makes rotation very easy. Next years planting have now been started in the tunnel, so far winter cauliflowers have been planted, rather held back I'm afraid in modules waiting for some time to be planted out, hopefully they will produce for us. The garlic is also planted, once the tomatoes have finished cropping they will be replaced by onions which we have found no matter where we are living do better in a tunnel than outside.
Strawberries have to be sorted.
The celery will remain in situ and picked as needed, again it has done far better under cover than the celery outside. Cape gooseberries should keep producing until Christmas, I will then cut them back and transplant into another bed as I have found that they will come back for a second year when treated this way. The one thing that we have to sort out are the strawberry plants, I'm not sure where they are going to be moved to, I have two different types I want to keep these under cover as they produce early and late crops but they also take up a lot of space. We also have an outdoor old variety Cambridge Favourite which were newly planted this year.
                                      Although we are still picking tomatoes and squashes
                                          the winter veg are now coming into their own.
 In Spain our Parsnips were always an embarrassment to us, they were so big and had to be mined out of the ground,
A  modest Parsnip, just the right size.
here they are a more moderate size, here it is the Carrots, the ones we have pulled so far have all had roots more than a foot long and weigh in at over a lb each, we have planted three different types and they have all produced tremendous roots, clearly they like our soil. Our Swede has also done well
These turnips have changed my mind about this veg.
and the very late planted Turnips, this is a crop that we have not grown before and only did so as an after thought as a stew needs turnips in it to give a good balanced flavour, these Turnips don't taste like ones I have used before, which I have always found rather bitter,  these have a mild and sweet flavour to them, maybe it's a crop that like Parsnips needs a little frost to bring out it's full potential. I might even try them as a straight veg and not a veg just for stews.
Last of the Romanesco Cauliflowers.
Cocks Comb Amaranth in full glory.
The outside cold frame is now filling up with seeds I have either saved myself or given to me by friends, these are all perennials or biannual,
Amaranth seedlings.
I am very thrilled to find that the Amaranth, Cocks Comb has germinated and that a small cutting of the
                                                  Scottish Flame  Flower, Tropaeolum,
The first shoot of Tropaeolum has appeared.
has produced a small leaved shoot, such a beautiful plant, we will nurture it and find just the right spot for it.
The Hubbard birds have now reached the minimum date that they could be slaughtered , 84 days, we have however found that they are hard enough  to get to a finishing weight despite increasing their food considerably, they are gaining just half a pound a week, 250 grams, the average weight at day 84 was 2.9 kg just under six and a half pounds so they have a reprieve for another couple of weeks. Cost wise we will not have gained much, we can buy an 3kg Organic oven ready chicken for sixteen euro, we haven't done an exact costing but it will be somewhere around the ten euro mark, this does not include bedding or our labour. If we do them again we will cut down the ranging area, we had doubled the Organic requirements, doing our self no favours. Still it is an interesting learning experience.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Alternative Capers, Crabs and Nest Box.

As we no longer live in a country where we can pick wild Capers I thought it would be a good idea to collect some of the green
                                                    Nasturtium seeds and pickle them as an alternative, I have done these before and they make a very good mock caper and are used in the same way, good for making Tartar sauce or adding with almonds for fresh trout, there are only so many seeds that you can save for planting next year and Nasturtiums seed very readily. Besides being very pretty and prolific they make a good companion plant for all brassicas being a host plant for the dreaded Cabbage White butterfly who's caterpillars  can devastate a cabbage crop, they also have a nasty habit of turning up as added protein on the dinner plate hidden in the heads of Calabrese, Ugh!
                              The two and a half pounds of Crab Apples have now been made into jelly,
it's such a beautiful colour and set very well, I could have used more water and made them go a little further but I ended up with three jars so I'm happy, another thing that is so simple to make if you can get the Crab apples in the first place. I am looking forward to our trees cropping for us, maybe next year.
We have now come to the conclusion that the bread is better cooked in the range as that is a dry heat unlike the gas oven which is a wet heat, although this might not be the reason, as years ago when I was doing my cookery training Chef would always place a pan of water in the bottom of the oven, I wish I had asked why.
We are still waiting for Autumn to really arrive, up to a couple of days ago it was still warm and sunny with only one frost so far, the trees are still in full leaf and roses still blooming and only a couple of the hens have started their moult.
I thought this week I would make a wild bird nest box ready for next year, a friend has a beautiful one which I have long admired so I decided to have a go at doing something similar. I am pleased with how it has turned out,
I hope the Finches will also like it and use it to produce their young next spring, I will make another one but this time for the Blue Tits, the Robins will have an old tea pot if I find one in a charity shop, I had seen one on sale in a gardening catalogue at thirty euro! Crazy, but I suppose some people will buy them.
Talking about crazy, many people are complaining about the rise in food costs, food never has reflected the true cost of production, food is too cheap, it does not reflect the true price, conventional agriculture is supported by huge subsidies, paid for by the tax payer, yet here in Ireland every person produces 280kg of waste each year, 37% of this is food waste. In the UK they manage to produce 7.2 million tons of waste per year, for the average UK family this represents £640 per year of wasted food. Clearly if people can afford to waste food it is too cheap, not too expensive.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ancient Woodland. Suprise Fruit.

Yesterday we had to go to Roscommon, this is normally a once every six weeks place as it's a 60k round trip and we try to limit our use of the car, as we had to go out of our six week period we decided we would visit St. Johns wood which is only ten minutes on.
This is one of Irelands oldest continuous woodland, pollen samples prove that there has been woodland here for 7000 years. The woods have over the millennia  been used for coppicing and building timber, it covers an area of over three hundred acres.
There are well maintained pathways throughout but not much in the way of signs, there are areas being coppiced to allow the larger trees such as oaks to grow to maturity,
Elephant...? Elf....? It is what you want it to be.
      there are some lovely rocks amongst the undergrowth,
                                     and huge ferns .
We had expected to find fungi but they were few and far between, it's been rather too dry for them this Autumn.
 It is a lovely area, but rather too peaceful, the one thing that we noticed was the absence of birds  squirrels or even badgers, yet there would be plenty of food for all. There are a lot of Hazel trees all dropping their nuts, but no sign that there is any animal activity.
  The wood is on the shore of Lough Ree where there are very interesting stones,
                               the locals call them moonstones.
 A little further around the lake is a peninsular with the remains of a medieval village and Rindoon Castle.
The castle was built in 1227 by Henry the 3rd but was only occupied for one hundred and fifty years. We didn't make it to the village or the castle, this is a trip for another day.
We found a crab apple tree which had plenty of fruit high up but we still managed to gather over two and a half pounds of windfalls which I am turning into Crab-apple Jelly, an ideal accompaniment to poultry or game.
There were still plenty of Blackberries and surprisingly,
                                   blackberries still in bloom.
 Hazel trees already have the catkins on them ready for next spring,
                        masses of sloes hung from the trees,
 some the size of small plums, such a shame that I can find no use for them, neither of us like sloe gin.
We were especially delighted to find a Spindle tree in full berry, it's one of my favourites trees,
                   the berries are so colourful this time of year.
 We have planted several of these trees in one of our hedgerows but it will be a few years before they show their full beauty, although they did flower this year.
Our planted tomatoes are now coming to the end but a surprise awaited in the tunnel,
one of the self-seeded tomato plants from last year delivered us with over two lbs. of beautiful ripe fruit.
The first frost arrived a couple of days ago, fortunately it was only a light one, we still had a
pumpkin and custard squashes in the garden, these have now been harvested and no sign of frost damage to them.
 Over the next few days non hardy plants will have to be moved into the sunroom.
Nearly two weeks into October and we have only had a couple of days of rain.
We are still getting beautiful sunsets , golden light shines over the forest. It is a lovely time of year.