Saturday, November 29, 2014

Reluctant Christmas.

Try as we might we find it impossible to ignore Christmas completely, every week in the lead up there are craft fares and we both love these.
Last week we attended one not far from where we live in a small village called Kilmovee, we had gone to this one last year and were quite impressed with some of the crafts that we had seen. This year the intention had been to buy a hand knitted hat for my sister-in -law, from a lady that keeps Jacob sheep and does her own spinning and dyeing, unfortunately she didn't have a stall this year and although there were other knitting stands there they had nothing that excited us.
Lovely turned wood gifts.
We did find a nice hand  crafted book mark, a lovely turned wooden bowl, a beautiful turned mushroom and some hand made ear rings, plus some local honey.
That more or less completed the Christmas shopping with the exception of the hat which is now being knitted for us by a friend who has a source of Organic wool, hopefully this will be done in time for the final date of posting to Canada where my sister-in -law lives. It was a very enjoyable afternoon and we met some nice people but the thing that struck us as odd was most of the stall holders were English, if it had been in a largish town we would have understood it, but this is a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. Very strange indeed.
Jumble sale find.
Today saw us at a jumble sale organised by a friend of ours in aid of the Sligo Donkey Sanctuary, we had expected a lot of people to be there but I guess there is too much else going on elsewhere, there were very few people who turned up and those who did were mainly...... you've guessed it, English. Very very strange. There was lots of  nice stuff, people had been very generous with their donations and lots of real bargains. Once again we met some very nice people who all knew the organiser and all of whom we knew by reputation and it has been decided that we will all meet up once a month for coffee and a chin wag starting off with a Solstice party on the 22nd of December. It should be fun.
Next weekend it's our turn to have a stall, organised by Knockvicar Organic gardens,
A big mix.
I have been up to my elbows making Xmas puddings, a doz in all, far too much mixture for a bowl so the wine making bucket got seconded.
Puddings done, ready for packaging.
All that remains to be done is the packaging and the essential labelling on which I can't state that the ingredients are Organic even though they are! Such are the laws of labelling. I also have to make time to make some Blackcurrant jam and to finish off some glass paintings. We won't be too bothered if we don't sell much, for us the important part is giving support to a very worthy project. We know we will sell one Xmas pudding however, it's already booked by the baker from the farmers market!
Winter veg. are now coming on,
The leeks are delicious.
we have had the first leeks,
Caulis are still looking good.
and the cauliflowers are still standing well, now they seem to be minus the extra protein so I no  longer have to soak them in salt water to get rid of the creepy crawlies.(Slugs)
A blue green house, not quite the right colour.
After twelve years of not having a green house I now have one, mainly made from re-cycled materials it has cost very little, the double glazed widows were completely free, a coat of paint is needed around the windows, ( you can't have a green house painted blue, can you?) Measuring 10X9. I will be able to bring on all of the seedlings in it, leaving the sunroom free of propagators, seed trays ect. The main reason the green house was built was to protected a grape vine that a friend had given us, but there is plenty of room for the vine to share with other things.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Communal Living.

I have always liked spiders, and tolerated their presence in my home, however they are now threatening to take over the work room. This is a big room, seldom used for anything other than storage and for rearing quail, quail attract flies as do all birds. The local spiders must have thought that a fast food spider restaurant had opened up, they moved in and set up house.
Spider Town.
The web that they have made spans two fourteen foot walls, just how many spiders are living in this gossamer apartment we can't tell, but they seem to be living in harmony together, not a fly in sight, so they are doing a good job.
A couple of weeks ago I ordered a special offer of David Austin roses, I love roses but they have to be perfumed and the old fashioned type, which Austin roses specialise in, the large package arrived in perfect condition, what had not been said about the offer was that they would be including flowerseeds and bulbs as a free gift.
Yet more bulbs, this time for free.
In total this free gift contained seventy bulbs, I'm just not sure where I am going to plant them, I have already planted over six hundred new bulbs this autumn, but these were planned for. Also included was packet of Petunia seeds, I will pass these on to friends as I don't 'do' hanging baskets or have anywhere that they could climb.
And still they bloom.
We still have roses blooming in the garden but if we do have a hard frost we will probably lose them, however all the roses bushes have buds on them so they might go on a while longer.
The garlic and onions that were planted in the tunnel in October are growing well, the garlic is now up nine inches and the onions about three inches. We have a frost warning for tonight so this will benefit the garlic which requires a cold spell to make good cloves, we are hopeful of having another bumper crop next year as we did this year.
Since we moved back from Spain we have rather got out of the habit of entertaining, in Spain someone would be holding a dinner party every week normally for eight to ten people who were all in our circle of friends. Here dinner parties are not a usual occurrence, except within families. Last night however we had friends over for a meal which made a nice break for us and also for them.
Rich and Spicy.
I decided to play safe with the menu and cooked a Hungarian Goulash with Lyonnaise potatoes followed by Lemon Meringue pie as we have plenty of eggs and it's a good way to use them. I love guests that eat! Our friends really appreciated the meal, little was left,
Every ones favourite.
the Lemon Meringue was voted the best they had ever had, which pleased me.
 We had friends in Spain that always requested my Lemon Meringue pie when they dined with us, and in fact it was something that I always made for these particular friends birthdays and other special occasions. Although we and our friends don't drink nowadays we still managed to consume a couple of bottles of good French wine. This wine is a mystery to us, where did it come from? We didn't buy it, we still have two cases of Spanish wine that we brought with us when we moved back here, the only alcohol we ever buy would be Guinness for making Christmas puddings and Specked Hen real ale if we have helpers coming. We seem to have a wine fairy.   

Friday, November 14, 2014

Almost finished.

After over three months, at last the front porch is almost done. The windows are in,
the glass painting completed, all that remains is for our builder to put in the ceiling ,plaster, and to lay the tiles, this he is doing tomorrow. This is all work that Simon would normally have done but as we have such a gem of a builder we decided to let him do it.
The cats have inspected this new 'room' and have given it their seal of approval, it faces south west so gets the afternoon and evening sun, just right for a cats sun bathing spot.
 This is the last thing we can do to make our cottage as energy efficient as possible. The roof space is insulated up to the hilt, cavity walls filled with insulation granules, solid walls insulated externally with four inches of polystyrene block. The Stanley range provides us with all the hot water we can ever use, it also does the radiators and the cooking  and is fuelled by wood. We are still debating producing our own electricity.
 It always surprises me that in new houses  little attention is paid to  insulation. Last year when we were out driving after snow so many of the new houses were devoid of any snow on their  roofs,  a sure sign that roof insulation was missing or insufficient.
Yesterday we received the  last wholefood  order for the year, we are now well stocked up with various herbs and spices, bulk buying saves a lot of money on most things and it is almost impossible to buy a reasonable size pack at a  reasonable price from health food stores, supermarkets just don't stock organic herbs and spices, just small jars of Schwartz at silly prices.
 Our order comes through a friend, a long time organic farmer who is now giving up farming and putting most of the farm into forestry. She lost her husband suddenly five years ago, the first thing to go were the pigs as they were too much work for her and her daughter, she continued with the sheep, but  there is very little money in lamb production ,a  lot of hard work for an animal who main objective in life is to try to find new ways of dying. We would agree with her, we used to keep sheep, but they really are more bother than they are worth.
 Her daughter is a fully qualified permaculture designer, and has tried very hard to get some community based enterprise started but has been unsuccessful, so yet another well establish organic farm is going, along with the wealth of knowledge that they both have. It seems that to have a community spirit and to want to grow your own food you have to live in a town or a city where land is at a premium. It wasn't always like this, up until sixteen years ago we had a very active organic growers group, we met once a month formally, but would meet up in between times, we swapped produce, plants, ideas and marketing leads. We were all smallholders, some with a few acres and some with considerably  more, all earning a living from the land. Then the new boy arrived, fresh back from the  U.S to take over his fathers farm, he decided to 'go' Organic, not through any belief  in the movement but he thought it would make him money. Well it has, through grants he set up a co-operative, he is very well paid, through grants, yet there is no one that we know that has gained  any benefit from this except him.  Our happy little group disbanded. I think our friend was the last remaining member to still be farming as a certified farm.
This month is proving to be very wet, we live two hundred metres from a river and normally we cant see it from the cottage, the last two days we can, maybe we should build an ark, just in case. The hens are not impressed with this weather, the ducks love it. Me, I just want to hibernate, but I still have loads of bulbs to plant when the land has dried out a bit.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Tunnel clearance.

Last of the tomatoes.
Although we still had tomato plants  producing fruit in the tunnel we decided to call it a day and clear them out, we need to get other things planted in the vacated beds for early crops next year.
Two beds planted with garlic and onions.
Two beds for the garlic and onions had already been cleared and are now planted, the long centre bed has been cleared but is now taken over by scaffold boards for them to dry out so we can 'Fence Life' them before constructing the new raised beds in the main garden.
Lots of compost needed for this bed.
What I need now is lots of compost or manure to top up the centre bed and for the new beds. We get a reasonable amount each year from the poultry and the donkeys, but vey little from the rabbits. We compost everything we can, grass cuttings, weeds and what little veg trimmings we might have that don't get fed to the rabbits, plus mushroom compost and seaweed but we never have enough. We could get cattle manure but it is a very cold manure and unless you can get the heat up in it, it just brings in more weeds. Whatever seeding grass cattle eat comes out the other end already to germinate, this makes cattle very good for maintaining pastures, cattle can be used to stitch in clover just by feeding them the seed. I wish we had stables near by but we will have to depend on more mushroom compost and seaweed when we next get to the coast.
Tess looks on.
Tess, our Golden Lab has now appointed herself as supervisor for any work that we do,
she also likes to keep an eye on the ducklings making sure they do not venture out of their paddock into our/her part of the garden. Naturally, Felix one of our cats also had to inspect what was happening in the tunnel, the scaffold boards  make a very good place to sharpen his claws or so he thinks.
Handsome looking bird. 
All the young birds that we hatched this year are looking good, the first of the Copper Marans are now twenty two weeks old, hopefully we will have eggs from them before Christmas,
The one in the middle is a Copper Maran pullet.
unfortunately, out of the twelve that we have hatched six are cockerels, unless we can find someone wanting to breed this variety of bird the spare cocks will end up in the freezer, they are the most beautiful looking cockerels, the hens should lay a mahogany colour egg.
 We only did one small hatching of Buff Orpingtons, three pullets and one cockerel,
Mr. Buffy jnr.
 this boy will stay as we lost his father last week, or I should say he had to be culled. He developed a swelling on one side of his face and for the first time ever we used antibiotics but to no avail, when it was clear that he was getting worse we took the only course open to us. Poor Mr. Buffy, he was a beautiful gentle giant, but his son lives on. In the meantime we located a new rooster for the three pullets, he is also a very nice bird and today found his voice, it is still very much at the practise stage, but he is only eight months old, so time enough for a full blown crow.
Young Muscovy's.
The Muscovy ducklings have grown fast, they are almost ready for the freezer when we can find space. The next twelve months meat supply is secure.
The idea  of the front porch being finished this week was pie in the sky. When the double glazers said it was ready what they meant was that the frame work was finished but that they didn't have the glass, so a further delay. Tuesday they turned up and installed the frame work, then went off to get the glass. Three hours went by, no sign of the glazers, by which time it was almost dark. Then came the 'phone call, they would not install the glass until the builder had done the roof in case he damaged the new glass, this was all very well but the builder had put off another job on the say so of the double glazing firm, so he has had to rearrange his schedule. It beats us why these companies can't stick to what they say or say what they mean. The builder has been great, but then we would have expected no less, he's English. It seems that if you want a job done, and done well and on time you employ either Brits or Polish.
 Even the company that did our external insulation, although an Irish company, employed only Polish or English workers, that rather speaks for itself.
 Maybe next week this job will be completed, but once again we are not holding our breath.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Selective Reporting.

Listening to Radio Four news over the weekend I was very surprised to hear coverage of the Anti Water Charges marches which have taken place here in Ireland, seldom does the BBC cover news relating to Ireland. What made this reporting  even more surprising was the BBC's total lack of reporting on the UK's Anti-austerity march which took place in London back in June. It was something that they must have found hard to ignore given that that march started outside Broadcasting House in London. I just wonder who made that decision or was it a gagging order from No. 10 ? One thing is for sure, if you want real news don't look to the mainline media to deliver.
The weather is now decidedly changeable, warm sunshine followed by heavy rain, but so far no frosts, we are still getting ripe tomatoes from the tunnel, this is the latest we have ever picked them and that is including when we lived in Spain.
The cauliflowers and calabrese are giving far better heads now than the summer grown ones, and the Roses continue to bloom alongside
White foxgloves with Rose Campion in the background. 
Foxgloves an early summer flower ,and Rose Campion a midsummer plant, also blooming are Chrysanthemums and Nasturtiums.
Fresh from the garden.
Three seasons flowers all rolled into one.
Little by little it's getting there.
A little more headway has been made on the straw bale project, more grass turf has been added to the roof but any hope of finishing it this year has now gone, we can probably lime wash it but the pargetting will have to wait for warmer weather again as lime putty requires 60f to go off, still we will be able to use the building once we have decided what we are using it for.
Wednesday is supposed to be D day for the front porch to be completed but as we were told that it was ready last week we won't hold our breath, I just hope the double glazer doesn't upset the builder with yet another change of date.
As Autumn slowly moves towards winter the seed catalogues begin to arrive, I will be resisting ordering new varieties, seldom are they truly an improvement and we have saved a lot of our own seeds this year including tomato seeds, I might get tempted to try another variety of first early potatoes though, not that there is anything wrong with the ones we have grown for the past three years except we can't remember what variety they are.
Upper Lough  Macnean.
A day trip out to Enniskillen gave us a chance to explore the area around Marble Arch caves, one day we will go into the caves but on this particular day there was a coach load of children visiting.
It is a very beautiful area, with lots of lakes and an interesting geology,
time seems to have stood still around here with a landscape changed only by farming. A day out is never complete without a picnic so I made some
Spanakopita, (spinach and feta cheese pasties) to take for the picnic plus a couple slices of Dorset Spiced Apple cake,
Plenty of holly berries for the birds.
we prefer to take food with us and find a nice spot with views and the sound of silence rather than visit what normally turns out to be a mediocre cafĂ© where other customers feel they have to share their 'phone conversations with everyone around them.