Saturday, August 31, 2013

Another ruin and getting back to work

The final trip out with our friends was to Ballindoon Friary, on the shores of Lough Arrow, just a mile away from our old farm,
                           taking in Lough Key, just out side of Boyle on our way.
 Ballindoon  Friary  was built in 1509 but dissolved in 1585 it is now a very beautiful ruin.
 Once again the setting is perfect and I think it is one of the most photogenic ruins we know. Although  a place that I would have driven by and normally stopped at on a daily basis I never got tired of photographing it, it seems to change with the seasons and has a magic about it.
We then visited our old home, a straw bale house, now stood empty for ten years, still in near perfect condition just waiting for someone to move in. Unfortunately the people we had sold the farm to found it too much like hard work and left after fourteen months. Lauren and Jason loved the place, I however have not gone inside, too many good memories,  it makes me sad to think of it stood empty.
We then took them to the Knockvicar Organic community gardens, run by Laslo it is a real flag ship of organic growing. We had decided that we would not grow asparagus, however when Laslo offered us plants at a price we could not refuse we came away with six year old plants, now all we have to do is create the trench for them and we should be having our own crop in two years.
Now that our friends have left it's back to work, veg does not stop growing even when you have guests, we are picking and processing runner beans daily, this year we are salting them.
We have tried for years to freeze them but it is one crop that is not worth doing for the freezer, so it's back to the old ways,
 salting them as they would always have been done before freezers. We know it works although we have never done them this way ourselves, but our families always did and they always tasted nearly as good as fresh and they keep their firmness.
The second sowing of French beans are also cropping well but we can probably keep up with eating them. All the beetroot has now been lifted and stored, the carrots will stay in the ground. Celery is looking very good, for us well worth doing as we use a lot of it.
The Indian runner ducks are now nearly grown, four of them have pompoms on their heads, they look so funny, just like Tamo'shanters, one of them has just one feather sticking up from her head, she looks like an Indian Squaw.
The second brood of La Bresse are now a good weight, cleaning out at 4.5 lb at 126 days, last year they were slower , taking 140 days to come to that weight. We will find out tomorrow if the meat is as good as last years lot of birds.
It is now nearly Autumn and there is a night time chill in the air,
the garden flowers are looking wonderful, so much colour and I have never seen as many butterflies as there are now.
With the shorter evenings we are now planning next years garden, the bulb catalogues are already out, so much to choose from, but I must show some restraint as I have done a lot of seed saving and already have seedlings from this years seeds, all will need a place to be planted next spring.

Friday, August 30, 2013

A trip to the seaside. Seaweed Gathering , Food for Free = Moules Marinieres.

We never need an excuse to visit the coast although we don't go that often because of the distance, our favourite coast is about an hours drive but when we go we always try to make it worthwhile to justify using the fuel.
 Our trip last week was to show our friends the beautiful Sligo coast , to gather more seaweed for the garden and if the tide was right to collect mussels, killing three birds with one stone.
We were in luck, it was a beautiful day, warm with very little wind although we did have a shower, and we were in luck with the tides.
Eventually our friends are hoping to have a smallholding and be self-sufficient, so we took the opportunity to show them how to gather food for free and gather seaweed which is one of the best fertilisers you can use to grow vegetables.
Seaweed collecting at Strandhill.
There are over twelve thousand different types of seaweed, many are edible but for us the greatest advantage would be as a fertiliser and as a compost activator. The main seaweed that we find washed ashore is  Kelp and Bladderwrack. It is OK to gather unattached seaweed but not to cut or pull it, for that you have to have a licence, but there is always plenty of loose weed to be found, we ended up with four large bags. This is not the beach that I would normally go for mussels, but it was getting late, and
as the tide was out I suggested we look for mussels as with the exception of Simon we all love them, they gathered ninety shells, just right for a lunch time snack the next day.
They don't come fresher.
Although they take a little time to prepare,  removing the barnacles and seaweed that is attached to them they always taste better than the ones that you can buy from a fish monger, and of course they are free.
Should have collected more!
 We dined the next day on Moules Marinieres with hunks of fresh home made bread, the herbs and onion coming from our garden, the wine and cream we had to buy so not a completely free meal, but delicious, we could all have eaten double the amount.
Sun going down at Strandhill.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Eagles Flying. The purple Onion and Glouceter Old Spot.

One place that we like to visit is Eagles Flying in Ballymote Co. Sligo. We always take our guests there, many people having never had the chance to get up close and personal with these wonderful creatures.
 We have long had an interest in birds of prey and were fortunate enough to live in an area of Spain where we had many of the big ones and had a chance to observe them in the wild.
Eagles Flying is the Irish Raptor Research Centre and is run as a scientific sanctuary by a zoologist. It opened to the public in 1999 when it became apparent that there was public interest in birds of prey.
 The centre has some 350 birds, some having come to the centre due to injury or neglect. Twice daily they fly the birds for the public.
Eagle Owl.
As it is fairly close to where we live we decided to go on Saturday as we had a table booked for a meal at our favourite restaurant that evening. Although there was a very light drizzle it did not detract from the wonderful display of the birds flying.
Harris Hawk on Laurens arm.
 Lauren was especially thrilled to have the Harris Hawk land on her arm, the hawk must have taken a real shine to her as it also jumped up to her seat and sat along side her. The Harris Hawk is about the size of a buzzard, so big!
This is a hawk that is often used by falconers, several have escaped in Ireland and breed with the buzzard which is a native bird, the off spring of this mating is naturally enough called a Hazzard.
There were many children there and  were captivated by all the birds especially as they got to hold some of them and were able to stroke them as well.
A thing of beauty, the Barn Owl.
I think they all fell in love with the Barn owl , now counted as a native bird it is believed that there are only about 130 breeding pairs left in the wild in Ireland unlike
Native long eared owls.
the Long Eared Owl which is found extensively throughout Ireland, we have heard them in the forest behind our cottage and even saw one recently in daylight flight in a woodland close to Cave Town lake near Boyle.
A lovely afternoon out followed by an excellent meal at the Purple Onion Restaurant in Termonbarry, Co. Roscommon.
 This is a restaurant that takes pride in serving Irish produced food, it has an extensive menu which is changed according to season and availability. Every thing fresh and simply served.
Gloucester Old Spot Pork with Colcannon.
 Fortunately they still had Gloucester Old Spot pork on the menu which I had had on our previous visit and had raved about to our friends, they were not disappointed.
Walnut Whip with home made Iced Cream.
 It is not often that we find a restaurant that we repeatedly go back to, having trained as a cook I am far too critical, however with this place there is nothing to criticise,
 they even have a selection of real ales as well as a good wine list.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lough Corrib, Inchagoill Island and Christian myths.

Having friends to stay always give us a good excuse to go to places that we have not yet visited as well as taking them to places that we know and love.
 Our first trip of their stay took us to Lough Corrib and a lovely two hour boat trip to the Island of  Inchagoill, translated it means the Island of the Foreigner, the foreigner in this case is believed to be St. Patrick, his sister and her son. They are said to have been banished to the island by the Pagan priests of Cong. What happened to St. Patrick after his banishment is not mentioned, but it's a nice myth.
Lough Corrib is some forty miles long, nine miles wide and 152 feet deep at the deepest part,  it is the largest lough in the Republic of Ireland and considered to be one of the best fishing lakes in Europe, it boasts around 365 islands, ten of which are still inhabited.
On the banks of the lake is Ashford Castle the foundations of which date back to 1228 A.D built as a Norman Fortress by the De Burgo family, falling into disrepair in the 1800's it was rescued by the Guinness family, it was sold to the state for a mere twenty thousand pounds in 1939, today it is leased to Irish American investors and is a renowned hotel. It is certainly very imposing.
A forty minute cruise brought us to Inchagoill Island which covers some 104 acres and is the site of two church ruins,
5th Century church ruins.
one dating back to the 5th century,
the new church being built  in 1180A.D, little remains of the earlier church, just four walls but the church yard is interesting.
Grave stone of St. Patricks nephew ?
 Legend has it that one of the graves is that of St. Patricks nephew and navigator and the inscription is said to be the second earliest Christian inscription on any grave stone in Europe, the earliest being in the catacombs in Rome.
The New Church. Circa 1180
It would have been nice to have had more time on the Island and to have been able to explore but you have to stay with the guide. I just wonder what other things are on the Island given that it was inhabited for two thousand + years and the last resident left in 1948.
We enjoyed a picnic near the quayside, everything having come from our garden and home baked, desert was wild blackberries, what could be better? 
From the lough we then visited the Monastery at Cong, this dates back to the 12th century and would have had some 3000 inhabitants comprising of monks and lay scholars.
 Not much of the Monastery remains, but it would have been very imposing in it's time,

of the twenty four cloister colonnades remaining not one is the same, the stone carvings are lovely.
The setting is beautiful on the shore of Lough Corrib, the monks would have wanted for nothing, they certainly knew where to build.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Costing the Earth, Another Planet.

Lauren and Jason doing a great job on the weeds.
We have friends staying with us for the next week, a lovely couple who we came to know when Lauren came to us five years ago as a helpx'er, we have stayed in contact and she has come back to us several times, as a friend but always giving us a hand as well. She and her partner work as teachers of English in different countries and during the summer break teach in private academies that run summer schools for rich kids who's parents wish them to learn English. This summer they had a six week stint in London teaching teenagers from many countries, the one thing that most of these kids  had in common was a lack of values, they knew the price of everything, but the value of nothing, pocket money ranged from two hundred  to two thousand one hundred pounds a week, these kids range in age from twelve to seventeen. The object of these summer schools is for the kids to learn and use English, to learn about the British culture and heritage, and the culture of other nations.
 With the exception of the Germans and the Japanese this was not what these students wanted,  trips to shopping malls, Oxford Street and designer boutiques however was a different matter, the most important item for one sixteen year old Italian was where he could buy a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes for his girl friend, at nine hundred and fifty pounds I guess he was planning to impress her. MacDonalds also featured highly    on their agenda.  To these kids this is their normal way of life, and they took great delight in showing off their latest purchases to their teachers, expecting them to be impressed, in the case of our friends they failed.
They were however an ambitious lot, their futures already waiting, CEO's of daddies company, diplomats, daddy already was, and one is going to be an ambassador. They will be able to continue being mega consumers, this it what they have been bred to do. As long as they can continue to consume they will have a happy life. What a life, where is the value in it? What will they contribute to society? Nothing that we can see, except more pollution and more worthless personal possessions. How many worlds will they need to live their lifestyle?
Lots of recycling in this room.
We enjoy making the most of what we have and transforming things that many people would take to the tip. When we moved in to this cottage we inherited various pieces of G Plan furniture dating back to the 1960's, some of it needed a little repair, but nothing that wood glue couldn't fix, a good sand down and a coat of paint and they were transformed. Bedside shelves were made from spare skirting board, book shelves from floor boards, bed side lamps came from a charity shop, the bedhead was rescued from a friend who was going to take it to the tip,
everything was painted to match the wardrobe and chest of drawers , bits of coloured glass ware bought for a few cents from the charity shop completed the guest room. Bedspread and cushions were bought as a end of line bargain, the total expenditure on the guest room was forty euro.
Our little Muscovy ducklings are now enjoying the great out side, within a couple of minutes of being put on to grass they were eating it, in the five days that they have been outside they have doubled in size.
Beetroots are growing well, rather too well, we pulled three of them today to use on our picnic tomorrow, one of them weighed in at a pound and a half, we thought it might be hollow or even a bit woody but it is perfect.
There is now an abundance of butterflies, not the easiest things to photograph,

we  managed to capture a Peacock and a Tortoiseshell feeding on the Buddleia, we have even seen some honey bees which is nice after all the bumble bees, but I have only seen one ladybird, I wish there were more, we have plenty of greenfly for them to feed on, they seem to head for the new growth on our roses, we will have to spray again with nettle juice.
Sparky and his best friend Tommy.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Muck and Magic.

Two years ago we moved to our new home, the land consisted of two acres  one acre either side of our driveway. One field we had planned to turn into a small forest but this changed when we got the donkeys, the other field was split into three parts one for trees for future coppicing or pollarding, the mid section for veg and the largest amount for poultry. The area that we have cultivated is small, about one tenth of an acre, from this we eat daily with plenty to spare, in reality we could feed another two people with comfort.
May 2011, all we had was a field, friends came to help us get started again.
Our early potatoes have now been harvested, we have been digging them for the last month but now the weather is warm and humid, just right for blight to strike, apart from using a small amount of seaweed on the earlies they have had no helping hand to protect them, so they have now been dug. They yielded 120lb of perfect spuds, not bad from 5kg of seed.
Blight resistant Sarpo Mira, who needs GM's?
The main crop are blight resistant so they have been left in the ground for now, Simon however could not resist lifting one plant to see how well they have done,
this one plant has produced 3.5kg of tubers, we are now expecting to harvest about 700lb of main crop, not a bad return from 10kg of seed, a bit of work and plenty of manure to start with.
The Florence Fennel also gave a fantastic return, these have now either been eaten or frozen so the veg store is looking good, next to be harvested will be the beetroots, again they have done so well, as I don't like pickled beetroot we will try clamping them in straw.
Such a pretty colour.
We will take a couple more pickings from the Rhubarb and I have bottled six large jars of it, it looks so pretty when bottled, good enough to eat.
The first lot of garden peas have been picked and frozen, Sugar Snap, Sugar Flash, although this variety is meant to be eaten whole I podded them as we wanted to make pea pod wine, this is now merrily  bubbling away. There is still plenty of blossom on the peas so we should be eating them for a while yet. When we do come to the end of them we will cut the plants down the same as we do with broad beans and the runners and leave the roots in over winter, as they are legumes they will help to fix nitrogen in the soil, they will get removed when we need the bed next spring, the roots will also help to protect the soil during the winter rain. We try to keep all our soil covered during the winter and we are coming to that time of year when the soil will have next years compost and manure added on top. This will help keep the soil together, and maintain a little warmth as well. By next spring most of it will have been pulled down by the worms so just a light hoeing should be all that's needed. We are strong believers in the No Dig System. Dig once, Dig deep, keep adding manure,  let the worms do the rest.
Although we have four compost bins plus the donkeys, rabbits and poultry we never have enough compost for our needs so we do an annual collection to a mushroom farm that uses no chemicals, veg love this and so do most trees and soft fruits, the exception being Raspberries which hate it, as we found out this year.
The first of many we hope.

We have picked our first Runner Beans, just about my favourite veg, but we will do a rethink on where to plant them next year. We have a very exposed site and get frequent high winds so we need to find a more sheltered spot for them.
The one failure we have this year is the Brussel Sprouts, they were planted in a raised bed so the soil was quite light, Brussels need a heavy soil to produce well, last year they did well but that was in a new bed on the flat. All the other brassicas have done well and the kale is looking very good.
The carrots are sweet and succulent, so different from anything you can buy in a shop and the parsnips are looking good.
Before the paint job.
In between all this harvesting, freezing, bottling and wine making Simon has now painted the barn that we built last year. we had a barn here already but it was what I call a Dutch barn, here they call them hay barns with a rounded roof, it didn't look right for the cottage so a barn with an apex roof was built,
Four hours later.
it looks nice now it has had a coat of white weathershield on it and the facia boards painted red to match the cottage. Simon has also planted some hop plants one end of it, hopefully they will like it there and give a nice covering on the block work.