Sunday, July 27, 2014

Secret Gardens of Sligo.

Since we returned to Ireland we have been promising ourselves trips to the Secret Gardens of Sligo, these are small and some not so small privately owned gardens which the owners open to the public on just a few days a year. There is no charge but donations are received for various local charities, to date well over 17.000 euros have been raised for the charities.
There are twelve gardens in all, one is well known to us as it is owned by friends, just outside of French Park.  One of the  other gardens is owned by an X near neighbour of ours when we lived in Sligo, we will look forward to visiting this one as when we left the area eleven years ago there was no garden.
One of the many herbaceous beds.
 Today we visited a beautiful one acre garden in Screen, which is in the Ox mountains, owned and lovingly  tended by Ann and John Preston, mainly herbaceous beds which are a riot of colour, and so many must have plants! We have come away with a long list of plants to track down for our own garden.
Unfortunately I only took one photo of the flower beds and we missed the wonderful views from this garden as it came on to rain very heavily , another day maybe.
There are several more garden open days coming up and we will try to visit some of them this year. It's lovely to see what other people do and grow in their gardens and makes a great trip out.
                               Driving through the Ox mountains there are some superb views,
Harebells, now rare enough.
lovely wild flowers, the landscape so ancient and unspoilt by humans, the odd cottage, some still inhabited, the only noise, baaing of the mountain sheep and babbling streams.
One of the many streams in the Ox mountains.

Our garden is now bursting with the latest crops, today we have picked the first runner beans,
                                                  the first tomatoes
First of the carrots.
and the first carrots, Courgettes, French beans and the Mangetout peas can't be kept up with, I haven't dared look at the cucumbers, I know there will be a lot waiting to be picked. Hopefully we will have a second crop of Strawberries, the plants have all come back into bloom.
One small disaster, our Peach tree was so weighted down with fruit that the top third of the tree snapped, unfortunately this part of the tree contained the most fruit, thirty four peaches have been lost, we had intended to prune the tree in the Autumn, nature did it for us,
                      but there are still seventeen peaches left so we will still have a feast.
Our flower garden is still full of colour, plenty of flowers for the bees and for the house.
The weather is now a little cooler, we have been putting off killing the Hubbard table birds as it has been too hot to hang them but hopefully this job will get done this week, the birds are all far heavier than we would have liked, many will have to be jointed rather than left as whole birds for roasting.
Convolvulus, it might be a weed but it's still beautiful.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pesky birds.

We seem to be feeding every Rook and Jackdaw within a twenty miles radios at present, no doubt attracted by the good food that we seem to lay on buffet style for them, they tried to relieve us of all our soft fruits, so all the bushes had to be netted, they helped themselves to the organic hen feed at 18 euros a bag, they then turned to attacking the potato crop as soon as we had cut back the haulms, even digging in the soil to get to the tubers. Clearly something had to be done. Scarecrows, old CD disks even Aeolian harps made from plastic bottles failed to scare of these persistent pests.
Ladder Trap, hope it works.
Simon has now made a ladder trap, these are said to work, the birds go into the trap but because of the ladder at the top they can not get out, the birds can then be captured and released elsewhere or dispatched. We wait to see how effective this will be. Last year we were plagued by Jackdaws who were stealing eggs as soon as they were laid, this year although we have seen some around in the donkeys field we have not had a problem with them, maybe the word went round in the jackdaw kingdom that severe penalties awaited them if they stole eggs.
Redcurrant jelly, the colour of rubies.
The jam making season is now for me almost at the end, the last of the redcurrants are dripping through the jelly bag, the last kg of gooseberries are cooked just waiting for me to add the sugar and boil up into jam, it's too hot at the moment to stand over a hot stove with boiling fruit, at the weekend I will make the last of the raspberry jam, and that will be it until September when the Crab apples will be ready to make into jelly. Both Crab apples and Redcurrant jellies are lovely with roast or cold poultry, pork or lamb.
I have had several emails asking how to make jellies, they are very easy.
Barley cover your fruit with water, boil until soft.
 Allow to drip through a jelly bag or muslin cloth overnight, do not squeeze the bag unless you don't mind a cloudy jelly.
Measure to fluid, for every 600ml of fluid allow 450 g of sugar.
Boil up the fluid, add the sugar stirring all the time to dissolve it.
Gently bring to the boil stirring so it wont catch the bottom of the pan, start testing for a set on an ice-cold saucer after about ten minutes, set is normally achieved after twelve minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool for five minutes  give a good stir  and pour in to hot sterilised jars, seal immediately.
Jams are more or less the same, allow the same amount of sugar to fruit, always cook the fruit so it is soft before adding the sugar, once the sugar is added the fruit will not cook but remain hard, not what you want, you want something that is spreadable without hard lumps.
 With the exception of Strawberries all berries are high in pectin, so there is no need to add lemon or to use jam sugar which has added pectin.
 Jam and jelly making is one of the easiest ways to presurve your summer fruits.
The vegetable glut continues, keeping up with the Mange Tout peas and Courgettes has proved impossible but the pigs are enjoying them. Some have been frozen despite our vow not to freeze veg this year. The last of the Broad beans have been picked, they will also be frozen.
Fresh from the garden.
The flower garden is now very colourful, the sweet peas are blooming well and the roses are still looking good giving me a plentiful supply of flowers for the house, we also have a lot of red foliage plants which look great in a flower arrangement.
There is also lots of colour in the hedge rows from the wild flowers,
Blue Sow Thistle.
including the Blue Sow Thistle, this is probably not a wild plant at all but a garden escape, but it's lovely to see it, we will collect some seed head from this plant as it would be
                   a good addition to any cottage garden.
This week we became reacquainted with some old friends. On one of the poultry sites that I belong to someone was advertising for La Bresse birds from a different line that they had, I responded as we had a very good ten week old cockerel, far too good an example of his breed to eat. We duly arrive at their house, way up in the hills of Leitrim and realised that things were familiar to us, waiting out side was Peter, someone which we had not seen for over twenty years, he has a good stock of birds and was very pleased with our boy who we swapped for one of his pullets, we now have three different blood lines and Peter has four. Although they live quite a distance from us hopefully we will see them in the not too distant future.
View of Arigna and Lough Allen.
We had forgotten what beautiful views there are from the hills in Leitrim, although we will never forget the poor soil and mud, not something we would want to suffer again, but the views are great.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hatching problems.

Hills of Sligo.
Tuesday should have been hatching day in the incubator, nothing happened, Wednesday came and still no sign of chicks, by Wednesday evening we were convinced that we had just wasted three weeks of incubation, then the first one pipped then a second one, by Thursday morning no progress had been made so I chipped away some shell to give a helping hand, something that is normally frowned upon. During the course of the day more started pipping but their progress was very slow, all had to be given a helping hand. We double checked our dates, they were correct, humidity was correct, then the light went on in my brain, if chicks dont hatch after twenty one days they are either dead, infertile eggs, or the temperature was wrong. When you hatch eggs in an incubator you increase the humidity for the last two days and decrease the temperature by .3 of a degree. How stupid can we get, we had failed to put the temperature back up from the last hatch, so the poor little mites had been incubated at 37.2 instead of 37.5. I know it doesn't sound a lot but to an embryonic chick it is. Unbelievably it turned out to be the best hatch we have had this year with only three eggs not hatching, one was infertile and two died at the point of pipping.
 It was an important hatch for us as a friend had kindly given us a dozen Copper Maran eggs, this is a breed of bird that gives the darkest of all eggs, a rich Mahogany colour, the rest of the eggs were Buff Orpingtons from our own birds, as our cockerel ( Mr Buffy) is now over three years old we wanted to make sure that we have young birds and hopefully a nice Buff cockerel to take over when Mr. Buffy is too old to do his job. All the chicks are now safely in their brooder; eating, drinking and running around. Next time we hatch we will double check everything, but we do feel very stupid when it's something we have been doing for a quarter of a century. Old age is definitely catching up with us.
Most of the soft fruit has now been harvested, there is still one bush of redcurrants to pick which for some reason has not ripened as quickly as the other bushes. Six pound of these lovely berries are now in the process of dripping through the jelly bag ready to make into redcurrant jelly tomorrow, to be enjoyed with chicken or pork during the coming year.
Supper time.
The pigs are coming along very well, this week our friend Kay came over to inspect them for us, declared them as looking very good and should be ready in about six weeks, she is a pig expert having run a large organic pig herd with her husband before he died. Kay has had to give up keeping pigs now she is on her own, just too much to do for one person, although she still keeps sheep although her opinion of sheep is much the same as ours, a lot of hard work with very little return for an animal whose main objective in life is to find out new ways to kill themselves. Pigs are certainly easier both to feed and to care for and give a far better return than sheep ever could.
Food for free, just a few minutes work.
Last week we managed a couple of days out with our helper Felix, again we headed for the coast
Ten minutes later all done.
and this time managed to collect a bucketful of  Mussels and four sacks of washed up seaweed, this time we  remembered to check the tides.
We then went up to Dromahair in Co Letrim, to visit the Herb Apothecary who were hosting an open day, on the banks of the river Bonet, the cottage is in a lovely setting just down a little lane from the

Creveelea Friary.
Creveelea Friary which dates back to 1508 and is now a national monument. There is some outstanding scenery in this area, a lovely place for a day out.
River Bonet, Dromahair
The weather is warm and rather humid so rather than take chances with the potato crop the haulms have now been cut  off in case of blight, we would hate to loose a years supply of spuds just because we failed to cut them back. They have finished blooming so would not get any bigger.
Forest at Lough Gill.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Too much of everything.

A stately swan on Lough Arrow.
At the moment it seems like we have just too much of everything in the garden, we can't keep up with the veg and we have promised ourselves that we will not freeze any veg this year, we have already broken this promise by freezing cauliflowers, but we will not put anymore in the freezer. We should have plenty of winter veg and veg is always best fresh. I just don't know what we will do with it all, maybe feed it to the pigs, all of our friends grow their own and we would not really have enough  to supply a veg shop, and given how much is thrown away by the shops I don't think that is a good idea.
Current glut is Mange tout peas,
The glut has started.
courgettes, broad beans, perpetual spinach and Swiss chard, soon it will be Runner beans, French beans and Sweet corn and cucumbers. It looks as though we will have a good crop of tomatoes, they are easy to deal with if there are too many by bottling or making tomato puree.
The strawberries have now just about finished but it might be possible to get a second flush in the autumn if I clean up the plants now and give them a liquid feed,
7 lb. of gooseberries.
we had a nice crop of Gooseberries, first time ever for us,
Nail clippers are great for topping and tailing.
and we are looking forward to the Redcurrants which will be made into redcurrant jelly.
Plenty of raspberries.
The raspberries are really giving us a good harvest, some we eat fresh and the rest get frozen to be enjoyed in the winter with homemade yoghurt. The rhubarb keeps coming, we have been picking it since the beginning of March.
The word Blackcurrant is now a dirty word as far as I'm concerned, so far I have toped and tailed forty five pounds of them with another fifteen pounds waiting to be done and still a few on the bushes. Jam has been made, many jars have been filled and processed, the rest have been bagged up and frozen. We are just hoping that we have enough room to store two pigs, who are fast coming up to their slaughter weight, and a dozen chickens. We certainly will not be picking any Blackberries this year, we don't need them and we have no space for them, I'm sure the wild birds will enjoy them.
Elder flower cordial, such a pretty colour, tastes great as well.
A couple of weeks ago we were given some red Elder flowers by a friend, this we made into elderflower cordial, it looks so lovely and is delicious.
Calendula and lavender flowers for  healing ointments.
I have also made some Calendula ointment, handy to have in the kitchen to treat burns or for any cuts.
As we have a helper with us at the moment we have taken him out a couple of times to see beautiful Co. Sligo,
                                     taking in our favourite Priory at Ballindoon on the shores of Lough Arrow
                                                              and a trip to the coast.
A builders armchair.

He seems to be enjoying himself and finds time to relax with Tommy the cat and Tess the golden Lab. 
Beautiful Co. Sligo.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Summer Fruits.

According to Met Eireann, June was the hottest for seventy years, given how much soft fruit we have this year it did not come as a surprise. We have been picking pounds of Strawberries for the last few weeks,
First pound of raspberries.
we have had the first good picking of Raspberries with plenty to come, the Loganberries are also full of fruit and the Gooseberries are so laden the branches are on the ground. The Blackcurrants I'm trying very hard not to think about,
Lots of work topping and tailing.
I have already topped and tailed and bottled over three kg, only another 20 kg to go! I might not top and tail all of these, just remove the stalks. There are also several pounds of Redcurrants nearly ripe. Simon has netted all the bushes, we would hate to think of all our hard work being eaten by birds, even the outside Strawberries ended up being netted, the wild birds were helping themselves.
The Rhubarb continues to produce an abundance,
Rhubarb and Elder flower, a lovely combination.
to enhance the flavour I am adding Elder Flowers to the pan when I cook it, this gives a lovely delicate Muscatel flavour.
We have also made some pink Elder Flower cordial, from flowers given to us by friends, a lovely drink on a hot summers day.
Last weekend we had a visit from a lovely young couple from Dublin, I had hatched some La Bresse chicks for them and they had come to collect them. It was so nice to find youngsters, well to us they were youngsters,  they were in their twenties, who have chosen the path of Self Sufficiency. The girl bakes all their own bread and cakes,  bottles her fruit and makes jam. She knits, sews, and grows all their veg, they are also keeping chickens for the table and hope to get pigs later in the year. It was  nice to meet a young couple who are not  part of the consumer society, they are an example to their peer group.
We have now been living here for almost three years, we have learnt what grows well and what struggles, also what needs protection, mainly from the wind. Most of the fruit trees are fine, but the Quince is suffering from wind burn, we had thought of moving it, but think it's best to leave it, it is close to a hedge that we have planted and this should afford it some good protection next year.
A perfect rose, and wonderful perfume.
                   Roses do very well,
Vibrant red self-seeded nasturtium.
nasturtiums self seed, as does feverfew,
             the Arum lily has doubled it size and has been blooming for weeks now.
                                                      One of my favourite cottage garden flowers
Brilliant colour offset by the lovely silver grey foliage.
 Rose Campion ( Lychnis coronaria) is thriving but it does not seem to self seed here so I will have to seed save from it. It is such a wonder vibrant colour, a must in a cottage garden.
Weeds certainly thrive here, it seems like a full time job to control them,
Freshly weeded, it looks  good until the next lot of weeds.
but once a bed is weeded it looks so nice for a few weeks before the weeds take control again.
After we lost Sparky the cottage seemed very quiet, the other cats were certainly moping, so we decided we would get a kitten, not to replace our lovely boy, he could never be replaced, but to liven things up.
                 Well instead of one kitten we ended up with two,
Double trouble.

                                              and Shadow,
 they  certainly have livened things up, both fluffy, and full of mischief. The other cats are interested, more from a pushing around aspect, but they have accepted them. Zara our silver Persian loves them and tries to mother them which is so nice to see.
We have a helpxer coming this weekend, his priority job is to chicken wire all around our perimeter hedges, hopefully this will keep the cats safe from idiots that use a single track lane as a race track.