Friday, October 31, 2014

Kelli's Northern Ireland Garden: Happy Halloween

 Kelli's Northern Ireland Garden: Happy Halloween: It's the end of October and no frost as of yet (but surely soon to come). This is a great time of year to go for Autumn Walks and on ...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cabin Fever.

The last few days have been very windy, not at all congenial weather for gardening. I have managed to get another forty spring bulbs planted but gave up, the wind was relentless. Maybe the week will improve a little. Time to start getting out the glass paints again or catch up with some sewing, although I would rather be outside.
Simon on the other hand braves the weather, at last the cladding on the sunroom has been done. this was one of the long finger jobs. We built the sunroom nearly three years ago but could not decide what cladding to use on the block work, rendering it was one idea or stone cladding,
in the end we decided to go with wood. This was brought about by having to make a decision on the front door porch cladding. This is a job that we have actually employed a builder to do for us as it involves cutting into the roof. It should have been a simple job, however finding a good quote for the double glazing of it has proved rather more problematic. The company we had wanted to use, the biggest one in Ireland would not do it as we have the outside insulation, they were worried that they would not get a good fix despite assurances and instructions from the company that had installed the insulation. We have now found a company, very local, but like anything else you have to wait. We were told two to three weeks, that was three weeks ago. Anyway between us and the builder we decided that wood cladding would look right for the porch, which meant that the sunroom would have to be done the same to look right. I am very pleased with the result, it has added a more rustic look to the cottage which has been so modernised as to have lost a lot of it's character.
The other job which the other half surprised me with is the putting up  of wind break fencing in the straw bale garden.
The wind break fencing should help.
We have already lost an Acer in this garden, the other one was looking very wind burnt as was the Lilac. Putting up this wind brake should create a micro climate for this area.
One of the thing we love about Ireland is the amazing amount of  archaeological remains that litter the countryside.
 One of these remains is very close to our local town. Rathra is just four k outside of the town and is very impressive but not the easiest place to photograph.
Archive ariel photo of Rathra.          
Archive ariel photo of Rathra.

There is very little known about this Rath, it does not appear to be defensive,
Possibly this was one mound but has collapsed in the middle
 the central mound  is possibly a burial mound, other thoughts are that is was a ceremonial site. It is rumoured to have passages beneath it.
The ramparts are over six feet in height.
 The three ramparts would have been stone clad but throughout the century's these have fallen away although they are still visible.
 It has never been excavated, dating back to the Bronze age, 2500-500 BC it is a very interesting site with fantastic views all around.
Latest catch.
We are still being spoilt for choice from the veg garden, the calabrese and cauliflowers are better now than the earlier ones, but I do have to soak the caulis in salt water before cooking, they come with added protein!


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Re-thinking the veg garden.

When we first moved into this cottage three years ago there was no garden and no evidence of there ever having been one. We had two one acre fields both surrounded by low well maintained mixed hedges and a couple of very old and mature beech trees, a couple of ash trees and some sycamore trees. Although surrounded on three sides by forestry we had no idea just how windy the area was. This we discovered in the first month that we were here so we planted a new hedge half way down in what was destined to be the production area, the new hedge itself had to be protected by wind break fencing. We had planned how the veg garden was to be set up, but as they say, 'The best laid plans'.
We have always gone for the raised bed system for ourselves, but not  when we were growing a commercial crop. Although it takes time to make raised beds it does cut down on the work once installed providing they are in the right place to start with and the right distance from each other which we have now decided ours are not. A couple of the existing beds will remain, the strawberries and the Asparagus, but the new beds will be at the start of the veg garden in the area where we had grown the potatoes this year, the timber from the old beds will get re-used for the new beds, the beds will be six inches narrower, Simon is tall and can reach to the centre of the existing beds, I cant, the pathways will be wider and the beds increased in height by nine inches, I will be able to weed sitting down on my gardening stool, hopefully no more back pain,  we will be able to get a wheel barrow down the pathways rather than lugging heavy buckets full of weeds and spent plants destined for the compost heaps. Quite where all the soil and compost is coming from to fill the new beds has yet to be worked out, we are nearly out of garden compost, just enough left to mulch around the Rhubarb plants and top dress the Asparagus. We never seem to have enough compost, hence the visits to the mushroom farm. We do have hen manure and the donkey manure, but none from the pigs as they were free range and pigs don't mess in their houses. If our maths are correct we require ten cu m of soil and compost for the seven raised beds which is a lot! Each bed is eight foot long, eighteen inches deep and three and a half foot wide. We can relocated some soil from the old beds, although that's a hell of a lot of shifting.
Not bad value, they will need a coat of stain.
 We are using old scaffold boards to make the beds, they are still fairly cheap at four euros for eight foot lengths and there is a supplier not too far away. I think we might be rather busy over the next few months, shame we hadn't planned the garden better, but we didn't count on getting older.
There are many reasons for using raised beds.
They are easy to work out for crop rotation.
Once installed correctly they truly are a no dig system, just mulch each year with compost or manure and the worms do the rest.
They are much easier to work as you get older and much easier on the back.
You are concentrating your soil fertility where it's needed, not on walk ways.
It is far easier to pick off the slugs from a confined raised area and slug barriers are easier to put in place.
The are also easier to put cloches over that don't blow away.
There are probably some reasons against them but we cant come up with any cons. 
Felix testing our the roof of the dome.
The first of the hens willow domes has now been tamed and the heavy braches coppiced for firewood, this years new growth has been re-woven, they are strong structures, the cats thought it was great fun to run up the sides and sit on top, just where we were trying to weave the roof.
Woven and tied it looks neat now.
The hens love them and used them to shelter when it was hot as well as sheltering in them from the wind, hens do not like wind.  The willow arches have already been tamed.
Tomatoes are  still ripening in the tunnel and the calabrese is doing well.
I have finished planting up all the winter planters so we have colour all through the winter months, they look very pretty.
 One surprise flower, the  Kaffir lily has suddenly burst into bloom, I had forgotten that I had planted it, it was one of the  plants that we had  from the plant swap earlier in the year, it has lots of spikes on it and hopefully we will not have any early frosts so we should have a bit of colour in the garden for a little while longer.
 Also now showing lovely colour are the Red oaks, we had brought six of these from Spain with us as they are so cheap there; now establish they are six feet tall, they can grow to seventy feet so a long way to go yet.
The Green Tomato Chutney has now been made, I decided that I would spice it up a bit with a couple of chillies, so it is sweet and spicy, ideal to use as a cook in sauce for pork or chicken.
                             Felix had the wind in his tail and tied himself up in the Russian Vine.
Anemones giving a splash of colour.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Stormy weather.

Autumn seems to have arrived with very strong winds, last night the wind howled all around and the rain lashed down, the water containers are now full to overflowing, the winds have continued throughout today but little rain and once again very warm sun, I wonder what tomorrow will bring? It's hard to plan what work is going to be done with the weather so changeable.
 The latest project is an inside job, or rather a workshop job, waterproof feeders for the hens.
 Two of the hen houses are large enough for the feed to go into the house but five of the flocks have their feed outside which is OK when it's not pouring with rain, but a lot of feed gets spoilt when it does rain which could be every day for the next six months.
 We have tried various feeders, none really successful, either the wind blows them over, or the rain still spoils the feed, or the plastic disintegrates quite quickly.
 Once again I turned to Google for inspiration and found exactly what we needed, a wooden feed shelter, the price however was very off putting, plus they don't appear to be available in Ireland.
They were still standing after the gale.
 I showed the design to  Simon, can you make something like that please? An hour later and the first two were made, three more to go, cost? One quarter of the ready made ones. Thank goodness I have a useful hubby. They got tested out overnight with the storm raging all around, they hadn't moved or blown over and there was no rain in the feed dishes either. Hens have now tested them out and seem to like them which is what matters. Another job successfully done.
The straw bale barn is still not finished, it  needs painting and more compost on the roof, but at least we now have a stack of mushroom compost that we can use,
Lots of spent mushroom compost.
we collected it from the farm on Monday with plans of using it for the new raised beds, still we can always get more, probably this coming Monday. Spent Mushroom compost is a wonderful waste product, it improves the soil and fertility, the worms flock to it, and it's free.
The late cauliflowers are standing well, so far none of them have bolted so we wont count them as a glut, we can just cut them as we need them.
The tunnel is slowly being cleared ready for the winter planting of garlic and onions, however the tomatoes are still producing and ripening, I will however pick some green ones tomorrow so I can get the chutney made, this will be the last preserve I will make this year until the Seville Oranges are around for marmalade making, by then we will looking towards spring and another season of growing, planting and weeding. Time seems to move so quickly.
The flowers continue.

The flower garden still continues to bloom and give us flowers for the house although the season does seem to be very muddled, we still have Foxgloves in bloom alongside Delphiniums and Aubrietia, all a bit strange, but colourful.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Indian Summer continues.

It might be October but the days are still warm, the last few days it has been too warm to wear a cardigan working out in the garden, with this warmth the weeds and grass continues to grow, not time to put away the mower yet.
The tomatoes keep on coming.
Being warm the tomatoes are continuing to ripen, I have lost count just how many pounds we have picked this year, even more tomatoes soup will be made to put in the freezer.
 We had hoped that by now the tunnel would have been ready for clearing and the garlic and onions planted but I don't want to waste the tomatoes and I'm hoping for some green ones to make more chutney, we don't want to run out which is what we have done with the marmalade, we thought I had made plenty to last until the Seville oranges arrive, but suddenly we found we were on the last jar, ordinary fruit jams are not the same for breakfast, nice, but they don't wake you up like marmalade does in the morning.
First of the late cauliflowers.
The winter cauliflowers are now ready for picking, we  picked the first one today, I am hoping that we can leave the rest growing without them spoiling rather than picking and freezing them, we will keep an eye on them and hope that they stay firm and don't blow.
Roses continue to bloom.
Flowers are continuing to bloom including the roses, they give a lovely splash of colour plus perfume as we move towards winter, this is not that unusual for Ireland, I have several times picked the odd rose on Christmas day, just as the first spring bulbs are blooming.
Today being Sunday we decided to have an unusual treat, a fry up,
Eggs tomatoes and home cured bacon, brunch fit for a lord.
eggs, bacon and fried tomatoes all produced by ourselves, delicious, and no food miles.
Yesterday whilst we were out and about we spotted half a dozen crab apple trees on some waste land, the trees were still laden and although clearly people walk on the bit of land, apples were trampled into the ground,  it seems no one had bother to collect any and make something from them, I guess it's easier to pop to the supermarket and buy jars of stuff full of additives than to collect fruit and make your own.
More foraged fruit.
We picked over eight pounds in a couple of minutes, tomorrow I will start turning the free gift into more crab apple jelly. It seems that so few people bother to forage, when we lived in Catalonia Mulberries were ignored by the locals as were Quince, yet they bought Membrillo in the shops, Pomegranates also grew wild but never picked. Mushrooms on the other hand were fought over, there was a large cash value to these, especially the Ceps and the wonderful Chanterelles.
The plaster is slowly drying out.

At last the straw bale building is nearly completed, the external lime  plastering is done,
Lime plaster needs touching up around the windows.
         the glass painted windows are in,
Wiring needs to be tidied up, but it's almost done.
the roof has been modified, it still needs  more compost on it and then seeding but that wont take long, and the outside  needs lime washing, a few more days and then we can move on to other things, such as connecting up the new water containers.
 We have bought four more 1000 L  plastic cubes, these will take the water from the barn roof, two of the containers will be for irrigation of the tunnel when we have found the right type of irrigation pipes for the job, it will beat lugging buckets of grey water from the kitchen to keep everything watered. These new containers will bring out water storage capacity to over 10.000 L of water, a bit of effort, and a few hours work, no water bills and water that does not contain fluoride or chlorine in it.
 Finally, a very undignified picture of  Suzy, our lovely ginger boy.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Going Abroad.

This week we had a trip into Northern Ireland, although part of the island of Ireland the contrast between north and south is quite noticeable. The people are as they always were,  friendly but very impersonal. Everything is far tidier in the north and the pace of life faster than the south, so much traffic! Yet we were only in Enniskillen, just twelve miles from the border.
We were 'up north' to pick up some wood cladding from a wood mill that we have dealt with for years in Florence Court, not only is the wood far cheaper than in the south it is mainly Irish grown and properly treated. In the south treated wood is normally just painted with a wood preservative, the wood yard that we use tanalises the wood, which means pressure impregnation of the wood, it last far longer done this way.
As we were 'up north' we thought it would be a good idea to get some paint that we needed, we had been told by a friend how much cheaper it was  there, she was right, allowing for the exchange rate paint is half the price than the south. We will certainly be going to the north again next year when we need the paint to do the outside of the cottage, we will need a lot of paint and the saving will be tremendous.
A work in progress.
We also took the opportunity to go to the walled garden in Florence Court which is gradually undergoing re-instatement, these gardens are around two acres and are being restored by volunteers, certainly it will be a project of love and dedication,
Scorched earth syndrome, there are far better ways to clear land.
such a shame that they are using glyphosate to kill of the grass for new beds.
 It is planned the  vegetable gardens will provide the vegetables for the Florence Court House restaurant. I hope they don't claim them to be 'Organic!'
The walk through the woods, about half a mile is delightful, huge trees, including the Irish Yew from which all Irish yew trees are said to originate, red squirrels , rabbits
60ft up, a birds eye view.
                        and a roosting Heron.
We just loved this gate made from Ash.

A small bridge with a lovely little gate crosses the river into the rose garden,
 it is very pretty and well worth a visit.
Florence Court House.
One day we might even make it for the house tour. The house it's self is early 18centery.
Autumn is taking a long time to get here, the days are still mild and so far dry although rain is supposed to be arriving tonight.
 September gave us just half an inch of rain,
Plenty of colour still.
summer flowers and veg continue to grow,
we are still picking calabrese, tomatoes, courgettes, strawberries
Rhubarb from March till Oct, can't be bad.
               and rhubarb,
              the Sweet peas are still blooming
               as are the Delphiniums
and Roses, we even have a Papaver poppy about to burst into bloom, four months later than it should be.
The grass is still growing , weed seeds still germinating, time for it all to slow down, we don't expect to still be weeding and cutting grass this late in the year.
New arrivals.
Another surprise this week was the hatching of two ducklings, the poor duck had tried twice this year to hatch without success, third time lucky, I'm not sure if we or the duck were the most surprised, but they are doing fine and she is a very protective mum.
We are lucky to have an acquaintance who is a champion fisherman, none of his family eat fish so he keeps us well supplied with trout and sometimes salmon,
Fresh from the lake.
this week we were presented with four beautiful trout, unfortunately our freezers are near to bursting point so we could only freeze one, one we had the day we received them, the other two we gave to a friend who had helped us with the pigs when they went for slaughter. I hope he enjoys his as much as we have ours, lovely and so fresh.
Cosmos are still blooming.