Monday, January 28, 2013

Horse trading, part two.

Our Minister for Agriculture has now announced his latest findings on the 'Beefburger' or should that be 'Horse-burger' saga? Having stated previously that the contamination had come from either Spain or Holland in the form of additives, in his latest statement he has declared that in fact the horse meat had been imported from Poland and not in additive form but as fresh meat. This whole story opens up a load of questions, but I doubt very much that any of them will be answered publicly.
 The very fact that it has taken so long to identify the source of the horse-meat indicates that traceability is rubbish.
 Why has any imported meat been used at all? The UK and Ireland are two of the biggest beef producing and exporting countries in the EU. Spent dairy cattle can and are used in cheaper cuts of beef, mince and burgers are two such products.
Why was imported meat used, one can only assume it is on price, so where does the blame lay with that? This brings us back to supermarkets, they want to keep their shareholders happy, to hell with the farmers, as long as a product can be produced cheap enough and not kill anyone, what the hell does it matter where the raw ingredients come from?
If this raw meat came into the country improperly labelled why are heads rolling in the factory's with management being removed and replaced , or did they really know all along what was coming in to the plants?
Why is it made so hard for small producers to sell their goods? A small producer takes a pride in what they produce, most would be personally known to their customers, they don't take short cuts, they want their customers to be happy and come back for more, yet our government makes it nearly impossible to sell any artisan production without huge expenditure to the producer and way over the top health regulations. Yet these products are truly traceable, ask any small producer about their product and they will tell you, chapter and verse.
More marmalade, we know where the fruit comes from and the sugar.

Years ago we used to make Christmas puddings for a couple of small supermarkets, we also used to make jam and supply them with Organic veg, blackcurrants, herbs, and bags of mixed leaf salads, (long before this became a mainstream product) as well as our Organic eggs, at this time the only thing we required a licence for were the eggs.
 Now it would be impossible to sell any of these things without complying with masses of red tape. You can't even sell washed veg in a farmers market here without first having your water supply analysed. But the big company's produce what is basically rubbish but are allowed to sell it as long as the paper work appears to be right. Paper does not refuse ink, and had it not been for a random DNA test the burger saga would never have come to light unless somebody had become ill.
Frosty scene.

Ireland has the least amount of trees in the whole of the EU, yet the IMF has now demanded the trees from our National Forests as part of our bailout from the IMF, so much for planting trees to help with global warming. Fortunately there is a charity here in Ireland that will supply trees free of charge as part of their 'Plant One Million Trees' in a Day project. Over two thousand land owners have signed up for this scheme including ourselves. planting day is scheduled for the end of March. As Tesco liked to say, every little helps.           

A few days ago we awoke to glimmering frost,it looked so pretty, but very cold. The holly is not a variegated type, just the ice crystals that had formed around the edges.

The little quail are all growing well, they have lost the bumble bee look and now at a week old are looking like their parents.
So sweet.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

That time of year again.

Several things happen at this time of year. 
The first signs of spring.
 Marmalade making.
  Foxes on the move.
The first signs of spring are when the willow buds start to swell, the snowdrops appear and the first primroses bloom, the willows were early this year, a week or so before Christmas, the first primroses appeared three weeks ago and also the snowdrops. Although the last few days have been chilly we have avoided the snow that some parts of Ireland have had.
Preparing the fruit.

 This week saw the arrival of Seville oranges into selected shops, they are hard enough to find nowadays, I suppose not too many people can be bothered to make their own jams or preserves, but the difference between the shop bought and the home made is incredible, besides the fact of knowing what has gone into your pot. When we lived in Spain it was impossible to find Seville oranges and had to use fruit from a friends tree, although the result was nice, it was nothing compared to the real oranges. Marmalade making is time consuming, most recipes require the process to be carried out over two days, this time I decided I would try  Nigel Slaters recipe, this has turned out to be the best I have ever made. › Life & styleNigel Slater recipes
Slicing up the peel.

I  deviated very slightly and used two kg of oranges instead of twelve oranges, two kg being three more oranges, increased the sugar to 1.5kg and added slightly more water, finding muslin would have proved a problem had it not been for some friends, the same ones that gave me the tip off as to where to find the oranges, they had stocked up with muslin nappies whist they still lived in the UK.

The end result.
There are several stages involved with making marmalade, one requires the shredded peel to be cooked until is opaque, this took about forty five minutes, the most important part is of course reaching setting point, this took forty minutes. The result is a beautiful deep gold jam which when I turn the pot upside down stays put, so I guess we have a good set.

Foxes on the move.
 Foxes are opportunists, Saturday we had friends over for a meal, the hens had already been locked up for the night but the ducks are reluctant to go to bed too early so they are left until later, unfortunately this was the one night that the electric fence had not been turned back on and the fox killed and removed a lovely chocolate Muscovy duck. 
We also keep rabbits, they have their houses with what we thought were fox proof  runs, and they also get locked in later than the hens, the same time as the ducks.
 The following evening after the duck kill ,the fox managed to kill our beautiful buck rabbit Peter, although we must have disturbed him as this time the body was left behind. The two does that we now have left have been moved into wire rabbit cages in a barn, and don't seem to mind their freedom being restricted. New runs will be made, this time out of metal bars, and a new buck rabbit has been ordered, again a New Zealand White, he will not  replace Peter, but will be a replacement for him. Maybe he will be as sweet a rabbit as Peter was.
Due to the loss of Peter we now have bought an additional roll of electric poultry fencing, the new rabbit runs will be contained within this new outer barrier.
Tiny little bumble bees.(Quail)

The quail have hatched although we did not have as good a hatch as we had hoped for, less then 50% , it is however a little early in the year so hopefully we will have a better percentage on the next hatch. They are like little bumble bees, and not much bigger, dashing around their brooder, they seem to always be on the run.

This week we realised that we have eaten for seven days entirely from our own production. I am sure we have done so before, but had not paid any attention to the fact, it was only that this weeks meals had been planned for once . Sunday was roast chicken followed by cold chicken on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday chicken and celery pie, Thursday is Veggie crumble, Friday and Saturday will be rabbit stew with  the remains of this meal being turned in to a pie. Not too good for the figure,but hey! Spring is coming and maybe we can work it all off in the garden.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Age is just a number.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Just  after Christmas each year a Christmas dinner is organised for the old folk of the parish, although we don't consider ourselves as old folks, apparently we are and have been invited for this meal for the past two years.  It is a good way to meet neighbours as we do not attend the church,  but we still feel as though we should not be there, we don't feel old.
Eighty years young, our neighbours.

 Most of the people who attend are around the eighty years plus  mark although some look much younger, and some are considerably fitter than we are, walking several miles a day, but none of them seem to garden, strange!

The young.
 After the meal we were entertained by a group of Ceilidh musicians, some of who are really old, yet they still play in the local pubs, this year they were joined by some young musicians which was great, it is nice to know that young people are still interested in the old ways.
The old.
Young and old.

I did make a discovery whist eating our meal of turkey, potatoes, carrots and Brussel sprouts. Brussel sprouts are bitter when not cooked fresh, straight from the garden, maybe this is the reason why so many people do not like them.
It was a nice afternoon with good entertainment, but we still do not feel old, maybe next year.

Last summer was below average temperatures and although many plants did set seed some did not drop them, whilst Simon was having a rummage through the garden he came across the wall flower plants that flowered last year,
 these had set their seeds OK but the pods had failed to open,  the result, seeds germinating in the seed pods still on the plants.
 We have now cut off the pods and planted the emerging seeds into pots, whether they survive remains to be seen.

These must be mine as well.

 Tess is growing very quickly, she is also very spoilt and considers anything and everything are  her toys, she spotted a bag of small balls on the worktop that we had bought for the cats, managed to get them and open the bag although she quickly lost the ball under a sideboard, she hasn't quite got the message that she has to retrieve things herself after all she can lay down on the ground expecting us to come to her rescue instead.
Now to relax.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Horse trading.

The latest food scandal has hit the headlines in the last couple of days.
 Do we really know what is in our food?
 Well in the case of beefburgers, ready made cottage pies, beef curry's and lasagne you could be eating up to 29% horse meat .
 There is now a major recall of some of these products in Ireland and the UK and Tesco shares have dropped 300.000000 pounds in one day.
 The problem was first discovered back in Oct 2012 when the FSAI did DNA testing at factory level , when the first results came back the FSAI informed their counterparts in the UK that both equine and porcine DNA had been found in some of these products, further independent samples were taken which again showed that these 'beef ' products contained other animals DNA and this has led to the recall.
We have been assured that there is no safety risk, this is a food labelling problem, but  the bulking agents (pink slime) from where this contamination came from was not labelled horse/ pig,  it was labelled beef.
  Under EU regulations all additives must be listed. So how did this all come about?
 Once again we have to look to the supermarkets, they sell cheap food, this they tell us is because the consumers want cheap food, is this really the case? They are there to make big profits for their shareholders, (I guess Tesco shareholders are not too impressed at the moment) they contract the manufacture of processed food to food processing plants who have to give a consistent product, at the price dictated by the supermarkets even if this means sourcing from different countries.
We now know that this meat protein was imported from Spain and Holland, as they are both EU states and therefore have to comply with the regulations regarding labelling, something seems to have gone very wrong with their system traceability and inspection.
Meanwhile, back in Ireland the public are blaming our government although I cant follow this reasoning.
Both Ireland and the UK are major beef producers, in Ireland it is the main export commodity, we could well lose this export market due to  other EU states bad practicice.
Tesco is not the only big name to be involved with this scandal,  Asda,  Lidl,  Dunns , Iceland and Aldi amongst others.
Supermarkets have a lot to answer for, lowering of farming standards,  demanding lower prices from their suppliers, and destroying the life and soul of small towns.
 We live four miles from our local town,  population 3000, this would be from a catchment area of about eight miles radius, at one time our little town had four butchers, now down to two, five shoes shops, still here,  four pharmacy's still here,  three veg shops down to one,  at least one fresh fish shop, none now,  several bakery's, down to one, and numerous grocery shops, which would have been at the heart of the town where people would meet and absences would have been noted and enquiries made. We still have one small grocery store and  in spite of it being next door to Lidl  it is still a very busy little shop and often cheaper than Lidl or Supervalue, our other large supermarket.
The butcher that we use has been there since Noah was a boy, now run by two highly skilled real butchers, but both are coming up to retirement age, although they have sons, this next generation is not interested in becoming butchers. So yet another shop, and real skill will be lost giving the supermarkets even more power over what we eat.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Longer days and shorter nights.

Last years hatch, Jersey Giant pullets.
As soon as Christmas is just a memory the days suddenly seem to become longer very quickly. It is still light at five pm and the birds don't start heading to bed until five thirty, just a couple of weeks ago they were all in an hour earlier.
Nine month old Light Sussex cockerel.

The longer nights are a time for planning the next seasons growing and rearing of animals for the table.
First of this years hatching eggs, quail due around the 22nd.

 Only having one incubator we have to plan our hatching program well, the first eggs to be incubated are the quail eggs as they only take eighteen days, and we have the first ones set and due around the 22nd of Jan, we will probably follow this with a second batch of quail which will then bring us to the second week of Feb when hopefully we will be able to do the first of the La Bresse, this is of course subject to them continuing to lay .
 We need to raise quite a few of these birds, chicken is something that is so versatile and in an ideal world we would raise about forty for a years supply although I doubt whether we will be able to produce anywhere near this amount. It is not just the incubation but the brooding, it takes time and space, not to mention money.
If you are doing any kind of livestock production it is hard to compete with prices for meat in a butcher or a supermarket, but if you want to eat meat produced with good welfare standards and no GMO in the feed, you either have to do it yourself or buy from a small producer, but it will not save you money.
Whatever enterprise the selfsufficient small holder engages in there is always a cost involved, animal housing and feed costs do not come cheap, neither does fencing, and then there is the time involved, and unless you have a large bank account you have to do it yourself.

For us, where ever we happen to be calling home, our priority has always been to get the veg garden set up and we have been lucky in being able to feed our selves from the garden in the first year. It might take a few hours, well quite a few actually, but it is amazing how quickly you can establish a garden if you are prepared to put in hard graft for the first few weeks and to have a plan.
 All the nice bits can come later, such as landscaping if you have a plan and the will to succeed. There is so much information on the internet now, some of it good, some not so good, but we have always found the best way to learn is to ask other people who have done it, they have the first hand knowledge and you can ask questions. Most gardeners love to tell you how to do it.
By producing some of your own food you have food security and growing veg is cheap apart from your labour and the essential tools, but if they are good tools they will last a life time.
Tess's first bone. Yummy!
 Tess continues to be a delight, she is a perfect pup, willing to learn and please and has done nothing wrong, no chewing things she shouldn't.
 We gave her her first real bone a couple of days ago, this was taken everywhere with her, she also does this with her toys making a pile of them. She also presents her toys, including bone remains to us as a gift.
 Today she had her first round of inoculations and true to form she was as good as gold and offered no complaints. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New experences.

Tess the pup has settled in very well, although it is only ten days since we bought her it is as though she has always been here. She is quick to learn and very eager to please although she wishes she had been born a smaller breed as she would love to be a lap dog.
If only I was smaller I could be a lap dog.

 She loves toys and in fact has been spoilt with them, our friends Matt and Liz arrived a couple of days ago bearing a gift for her, a fluffy boot, this is carried around with her , she places her toys in a pile and selects what she wants at any given time, but they all end up in the pile, her latest toy a fluffy fox is a squeaky toy, such fun.
  What can I do next?

Yesterday was her first bath, after the initial shock of being placed in water she soon found it was a very pleasurable thing and laid down in the bath and wallowed in the warmth, she was very reluctant to come  out and did not understand the water disappearing on her.
Today she met the electric fence, she got a belt from it but could not understand why this thing had bit her, looking all around her to find the cause of her discomfort, I'm sure she will encounter it again, maybe tomorrow but after a second encounter I doubt she will go near it again.
So far she has shown no interest in either the poultry or the rabbits, but she loves the cats, they tolerate her, but love might come.
You can't get fresher.

The weather is still very mild and damp,  not heavy rain, just damp, the fields are resembling quagmires, if the ground gets any softer we will sink in it, but the veg continue to flourish, and despite our promise to dig and store the carrots they remain in the ground.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Who pays the price?

For several decades now supermarkets have taken over the way we eat, they promised cheap food and that is what they sell, but at what cost?
 It all looks the same and by and large it tastes the same no matter what country you might be living in, but how many people ask how has this food been produced so cheaply, and by who?
 As everyone knows farming is the starting point, animals are reared on farms, it may not be the type of farm that many people imagine a farm is,  but it is still a farm, grain, fruit and veg are all grown on farms.
 Wine comes from grapes, again a farm although not called such.. The producers of our basic food stuffs are by and large very hard working, and are always complaining that there is no money in farming. Well thanks to the super markets that provide the outlet for the farmers crops, there is indeed no money in farming or at least, very little for the farmer.
Last night we watched a program hi- lighting the plight of the Irish poultry farmer. Chickens sell in the major supermarkets at 6 euros, great for the consumer, but how much does the farmer get?
Just 37 cents! This is not clear profit either, the processor/ packers provide the farmers with the day old chicks and the feed and  the poultry catchers, and this is a big part of the price of the chicken that appears in the supermarket, but nothing compared to the profit that the supermarket makes for their shareholders.
 Out of the 37cents that the farmer receives he still has to pay the heating costs of the houses, the litter ( we are talking deep litter production here) general maintenance and upkeep of the buildings and cleaning out between flocks,  disposal of the manure and  bio security .
The processor/packer gets around 35% about 2.20 per bird which sounds good but they provide the birds,  feed,  catchers and megga investment in the processing plants and are major employers.
The supermarkets on the other hand make a whopping 58% on each bird produced, basically just for renting out their shelf space.
Most people are aware of fair trade goods, normally sugar, coco products and fruit juices, mainly from third world countries and parts of Africa,   but is it not time that our own farmers are guaranteed a fair price for their product and a fair return for producing their products.
I know that this scandal does not just apply to the poultry industry,  our own farmers must receive a decent price regardless of what country we live in, if they are not we will all find ourselves buying  food from very dubious sources with no local production and land being left to revert to scrub land.
When we were producers we had a recommended retail price, we had worked out our cost of production , we then added the same amount again for our profit and reinvestment, we then used these figures for the recommended retail price, so our shops got one third, we had a profit of a third and the production  was one third .
 We did supply selected supermarkets, but on the understanding that they would not hike up the price, but we were dealing with the stores directly, not their central distribution offices. In the time we were producing we only had one shop that decided they would sell at a higher price than the one we recommended and they were not a supermarket. We withdrew our product as we did not want the consumer to be ripped off.
I don't know what the answer is to this problem, love them or hate them, supermarkets are here to stay and without them the farmers would have few options as to where to sell and would go out of business, but the writing is on the wall, it is only a matter of time before we lose our farmers and are entirely dependent on goods imported from far away. Supermarkets should be held to account, they should have some responsibility to their counties farmers and not just to their shareholders.
Each country needs a 'Fair Trade for our Own Farmers' campaign before we lose them forever.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year and Spring is coming.

Once again it has so far been a very mild winter, damp yes, but no snow and only a few frosts. The buds on the willows are swelling and we have the first primroses out. Several of our roses have continued to bloom throughout.
 Our hens have kept up good production throughout the winter, far too many eggs for us to keep up with, and you can only eat a certain amount of ice-cream. The quail are also in full production,  this week we will set their first eggs in the incubator. The carrots have all stood well in the garden and the ones from the keyhole garden have also done well, the first one was accidentally pulled today while collecting chick weed for the quail, we should have plenty until the new ones are planted. Today I noticed that the buds on the peach tree are greening up as this is planted in a container in the sun-room we will hopefully have better luck with the first one we tried.
Christmas itself was very quiet, it seemed strange without our big dog Shannon, and without Jason so we decided that we would get another dog. We have never had a Labrador but everything that we knew about them from friends that have them and information on the internet decided us that this would be a good dog for us to have.
Just arrived.
 I made a couple of  'phone calls, the first person that I contacted I suspect was operating a puppy farm as he asked which puppies I was interested in, naming three types of dog, the guy was also not going to give me any information as to where he lived either, suggesting that we met in a car park some forty miles from here and he would bring the pups with him for us to choose. We decided against meeting with him.
 The second 'phone call was more successful with clear directions of  where they were and we had a choice of four pups. The following day we got our new pup, it was so hard to chose between them, they were all bouncing bundles of energy, two male and two females, in the end it came down to the easiest one to catch. We didn't have a preference as to whether we were having a male or female except that I had no male names in mind but I did have names ready for a girl, it was lucky that the one we caught was a female and her name is Tess, a suitable name for a Labrador I think. She was quite happy to come with us without a backward glance to her mum or siblings and travelled well, four hours without a murmur.
 Once home she was given a close inspection by our cats and approved of, she was also accepted by Robbie, our very elderly Jack Russell who is the original 'grumpy old man '. She is now part and parcel of the animal kingdom that we share our lives with.

We had put on hold our Christmas celebrations until the 29th as we were having friends to stay for a couple of days. Lauren is a helper that had come to us several years ago when we lived in Spain and we have stayed in contact with her,  she had also come  for a holiday  while we were still in Spain. It was lovely to see her again and her delightful partner, Jason who we had heard a lot about but had not met before, they certainly made it a special Christmas for us.
 We celebrated with an entirely home grown dinner, duck , chicken, carrots and sprouts,and of course roast potatoes, followed by Christmas pudding and especially for Lauren, a sherry trifle which should carry a government heath warning!

 For the last two years they have both been teaching English, firstly in Italy and then in Hong Cong. Their next destination is Spain for a year so hopefully they will be able to visit us again before they return to the far east. The world is certainly their oyster, and they really lives their lives and their dreams.
Sherry trifle, especially for Lauren.

 It will soon be planting time again and our seeds are ordered, including the potatoes which apparently will be in short supply due to the very wet weather that the UK had last year. The beds are ready for planting and then the whole cycle will begin again. I am hoping that we might have a few less slugs this year though, they were a pain last year.