Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A little rain goes a long way.

At last we have had a little rain, overnight and during the day we had a fall of 5.5 ml of rain, it doesn't sound much but it added one hundred and twenty litres to each of our water tanks, this gives us a further five days of water to bring us back to where we were before last night. I have managed to catch up with all of the washing which is great. Most people take the water that comes out of their taps for granted and so much water is wasted, when you depend on rain water you don't waste a drop. We have now ordered another four one thousand litre containers to collect the rain water from the barn roof doubling our storage capacity, this will assure us of a supply for two months and it is unheard of not to have rain in Ireland for that length of time.
Yesterdays harvest.
The tomatoes continue to produce at an alarming rate, we have had around forty pounds so far, most has been processed into soup and frozen, and a few pounds given to friends. it certainly has been the year of plenty, so many cucumbers , courgettes, runner beans peas and French beans, we have given away far more than we have used ourselves. We have even had a nice crop of sweet corn, now all frozen. Physalis, (cape gooseberry) are now ripening, normally we would not be picking them until late October through to December, and the strawberries are now giving us a second crop.
It would be nice if our fruit trees produce as well as everything else does, we had lots of lovely peaches and  we did have a nice crop of Victoria plums, but only three Damsons, one Bramley apple,
A perfect Russet, wish we had a tree full.
           three Russet apples
and one other eater, it was nice but we have lost the tag so don't know what variety it was. The birds got the cherries before we had a chance to net the trees. Maybe we will do better next year.
The key hole garden is now in it's second year, it is incredible how well and how much food can be produced from such a small area, just four m2.
Plenty to eat here.
This year it is full of Swede, Turnip, Spinach and Chard,
                           and a rich compost .
Key hole gardens would certainly be the solution for people with very small gardens who want to grow some of their own food, it's no wonder that these have been so successful in parts of Africa.
Not only do they look good, they are easy to work and very productive.
Last year I was admiring a spectacular flower in a friends tunnel, she kindly gave me some seeds which I planted in pots, they are now in full bloom. Cocks Comb, Amaranth.
For something so unusual I was surprised how easy they were to grow, I will certainly collect seed again this year for a real splash of colour next year.
Top of the world for Misty again.
Misty has become a full blown tight rope walker, anywhere that there are curtains she skims up them to investigate the top of the room, Freddy just looks on not at all impressed by his sisters'  antics.
Tortoiseshell butterfly sunning it's self.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Everything but the Squeak.

The last stage of the pigs processing is now completed.
Smoking completed.
Just over thirteen pounds of bacon was dried cured and then smoked,
 Looks a good colour.

Much easier and quicker with the bacon slicer.
 this has  been sliced by a local shop and now frozen.
The last time we cured bacon we had found it was rather hard by the time we were down to the last pound, so freezing it ready sliced seems a good option, (we hope) .
This bacon will last us until the next pigs are done, to us bacon is now a luxury item, we had more or less done without it for a number of years except on the odd occasion when we splashed out on some organic bacon.
Commercially produced bacon is full of water and it's very off putting to see white gunge (all manner of chemicals) appearing as you fry your rashers, plus the problem of animal welfare. Even in this day and age commercial pigs are kept and treated in the most appalling way.
We have already sampled the bacon, it's good but a little sweet for my taste but fine for Simon, next time we will cut down on the amount of sugar that we use. We used the River Cottage recipe this time, we will use the recipe we had tried first time round in future.
The cheeks of the pigs were brined for two weeks, in a wet cure then boiled for two hours, skinned, rolled in breadcrumbs then tightly rolled in clingfilm for two days to set the shape of a typical Bathchap.
Bath Chap.
Simon had never tasted this before although he comes from the West of England where it is a delicacy . He has pronounced it a hit. One is in the fridge for lunch time snacks, the second one in the freezer for use in the future.
The very dry weather continues, if it doesn't rain in the next four days we will once again be in a official drought.
Lots of Crab Apples.
The season seems to be at least a couple of weeks ahead this year, we went foraging for crab apples a couple of days ago and picked twelve pounds, this has given us thirteen jars of jelly to go with our pork or chicken.
And more.
The crabs are three weeks earlier than last year and a bigger crop. We had hoped to find some edible fungi whilst in the woods but it is just too dry,
all we found were some Honey fungi growing on dead trees.
Birds eye view.
Misty, the black kitten now fourteen weeks old is turning into a little tom boy, she loves to climb, for once I was in the right place at the right time with a camera on hand when she decided to investigate the ceiling of our bedroom,
Quite comfortable.
scaling the curtain,
I meant to do this, honest!
she then did an imitation of a tightrope performer
And this,
until she missed her footing
but this is not such a good idea.
and then became monkey hanging from the curtain pole.
That was fun.
Freddy her brother just sat and watched, he is far more laid back than her and spends a lot of time thinking, she just goes for it, I hope this doesn't lead to problems when they are allowed out into the big wide world.
The builder that was recommended has turned out to be a total gem, in the past week the chimney that was causing damp has been removed, the roof made good and the chimney flue filled with builders vermiculite, no more damp and no more drafts. The utility room and adjoining bathroom floors have been tiled, this is a job that we had intended to do ourselves three years ago, other jobs became priority so it was on a very long finger. Tomorrow he starts work building the front door porch, again, a job that we had intended doing ourselves but have not got round to. He is a brilliant worker and very reasonable so there is little point in doing the work ourselves and killing ourselves in the process. He will also be re- plastering the kitchen ceiling which got damaged when we had a burst water pipe as soon as we have moved here. We would recommend him to anyone, and he turns up on time!
The garden is still blooming well,
This weeks flowers.
this weeks flowers are Sweet Peas which have been blooming since June, Bergamot and Rudbeckia.
Last week I was saying how few birds of prey we seem to have, well we have now seen a Kestrel hovering over the donkey's field, and talking to a friend today who lives a few miles away she has Merlins. It would seem that the bird of prey population is growing, or maybe we are just being more observant.    

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Indian Summer.

Two weeks into September and just 1.1ml of rain it probably was not the best time for us to have planted a new hedge, according to the long range forecast there is no rain expected for the next ten days.
The weather has been very unpredictable, July was the driest for five years, August was the wettest, September, unless things change looks set to be very dry. As we are on our own rain water collection system we cant take the chance of using it to water plants, we just have to hope that the dew and collecting our grey water will be sufficient to keep the new bushes alive until the rain falls again.
A welcome visitor.
Frogs have taken up residence under stones or plastic, anything that will keep them moist, gardening this week we were very pleased to see what a large number of frogs we have, all those dam slugs probably seems like a fast food restaurant to them.
The vegetable garden keeps on giving, the calabrese has given us a second flush, much smaller heads than the first lot, but still very tasty.
The Purple Loosestrife in the damp hedgerows and river banks has been wonderful this year, I'm surprised it isn't grown as a garden flower,
From the hedgerows.
it last so well as a cut flower and looks lovely when arranged with Honey Suckle.
One thing that we have both missed about Spain was the wildlife, especially birds of prey, of which there were many, so we have been very pleased this week to see a Marsh  Harrier and two Sparrow Hawks close by, also a Red Squirrel only about 100m from our land, in this part of Ireland we are fortunate to have a good population of these lovely creatures, much redder than the ones we had in Spain which were a black red. We have never seen a grey squirrel here although I do know that Ireland has them.
For many years Simon has told me of a chutney that his mother always made when there was a glut of plums, Old Dower House Chutney, the recipe would have come from an old copy of Good Housekeeping, first published in 1903. When the opportunity arose to get some cheap plums I couldn't resist although I didn't know if I would find the recipe, I needn't have worried, good old Google to the rescue, of course some of the celebrity have their versions,[why do they always have to jump on the band waggon?] I wanted as near to the original as possible which with input from Simon I found,
A years supply of chutney.
so fourteen jars of 'Old Dower House' have been made and have been stashed to mature, I will look forward to trying it as I have never tasted it, I hope it's as good as Simon remembers.
Finally some very sad news.
 Our latest kitten Maddy died today, she was only eight weeks old. A week ago she was sick and brought up dead worms, the following day she brought up more so we whisked her to the vet, poor little mite was so infected with them it had caused toxins to build up. Despite everything the vets did over the last week, including feeding her every two hours and rehydrating her by a drip she finally lost the fight. She was with us such a short time but was so much part of the family.
                                        We miss you little one.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

The best tomato Soup Ever.

Another seven pounds of cherry tomatoes.
It's not often I see Simon smiling as he eats, normally he devours his food without comment until the end, however the tomato soup that I made earlier this week brought smiles and yums from him.
Add a few simple ingredients.
Normally when we have a glut of tomatoes I would either bottle them or make tomato puree, but I have run short of bottles and storage space so tomato soup it would have to be. A slight tweak to the recipe in 'Cranks Recipe Book' and we had the best tomato soup either of us have tasted.
End result, a lovely bowl of steaming soup.
For anyone who has a glut of tomato's and likes soup this is my adapted recipe.

2 oz of butter.
2 lb of Tomato's, cherry tomato's do not need peeling, larger ones probably do.
1 medium  potato, chopped into small cubes.
2 small sticks celery, finely chopped, you can use some of the leaves as well.
1 Medium onion, finely chopped.
2 decent size garlic cloves, chopped.
3 Bay leaves.
3/4 pints of veg or chicken stock
3/4 pints of whole milk and cream, half and half of each.
Freshly ground black pepper.
Sweat the chopped onion until soft and translucent. Do not allow to brown.
Add the rest of the chopped veg and stir so they have a covering of onion butter over them, add the tomato's, add the stock and bay leaves, bring to the boil then cover the pan and simmer for fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and add ground pepper and salt if needed, according to taste.
 Allow to cool then blend through a blender, return to pan and add the milk/cream, reheat and serve with either croutons or grated parmesan cheese.
Enjoy and Smile.

The second batch I have made has now been frozen with more to follow, we will enjoy this in the cold winter months.
Basket full of plums.
We have had our first real crop of Victoria plums, although the tree is five year old it produced seven pounds of delicious fruit for us, most of these I have bottled, ready for the winter.
Sweet corn free from marauding livestock.
We have also had a good harvest of Sweet Corn, most of which is being frozen. The last time I grew Sweet Corn in Ireland we still had cattle, Jersey cows in fact, they broke into the garden and ate every one of our precious crop, I rather gave up then.
Looking Good.
 In Spain we used to grow Maize for the goats and the Geese, but every year, either the goats or the geese or both would break into the plot and try to help themselves, there must be something in fresh maize and corn that really attracts animals to it. I'm just pleased that our donkeys have no access to our vegetable garden.
Last weekend we went to the last of the Secret gardens of Sligo, in fact there were two gardens open and we had planned on visiting the second one on  the Sunday, but the weather was awful, not the sort of day to even go out let alone go round a garden.  Still there is always next year to look forward to. The one that we did make it to was lovely,
          with a beautiful Japanese inspired pond,
Impressive onions and carrots.
as well as a very small but highly productive veg garden and lots of herbaceous beds. It was the first time that Katherine had opened her garden to the public and she said that she had found it a strain, I do hope that she continues to have visitors though, the whole garden was lovely, very well thought out and maintained.
Maddy relaxing.
The newest kitten Maddy has now settled in well and has won over all the other cats, so it is one big happy family, although sometimes a bit crazy when they all decide it's playtime.
  Reliability, this simple word, seems to mean different things to different people.
 When we lived in Catalonia we quickly learnt that unless it was car repairs never depend on a Spanish trade person to turn up when they said they would or keep to the price that they had quoted, or even do the job that they were supposed to be doing, and never employ a British xpat, especially if it involved building work! So many horror tales that we witnessed, I could fill a book. Consequently the Rumanians quickly became employed, did a good job, on time and cheaply.
In the UK there was a standing joke that if you wanted a plumber  find a Polish one, reliable, good workers and turn up when they say.
Here in Ireland we learnt many years ago that it was easier to do the job ourselves, and after one disaster too many we swore that we would never employ anyone to do a job that we could do, given time.
 If you try to get a builder they might come and give you a quote, but never at the time that they say they will be with you, not even the same day as they have said, if you are lucky it might be the same week.
 The past couple of months I have been trying to get a builder to do a couple of jobs for us. We thought that we had found one, recommended by a friend, good quote and a date was set, this came and went, plus a couple of weeks during which time I tried to contact him and left messages, none of which were replied to. In the end I gave up and set about finding someone else.
 In total we have had six quotes, five from Irish companies and one from an English guy who  two local Irish people highly recommended, not one of the Irish companies turned up on the appointed day. For the same job, the quotes varied in price by a massive 420%, clearly we were seen as a soft touch by some of them.
 The English chap not only turned up on the appointed day, he turned up exactly at the time he said he would be here. He was also the best quote, only by fifty euros, but the main thing is he was ON TIME!.
 No prizes for guessing who has been given the job. Hopefully by this time next week we will no longer have a roof that leaks and I will be able to decorate the breakfast room.
Speckled Wood Butterfly.