Sunday, January 25, 2015

Spring can't be far away.

The first snowdrop.
There are signs that spring is just around the corner. The branches on willows and the dogwoods are becoming brighter as the sap starts to rise.
 The first snowdrops are opening up
and the first primroses are in bloom. All positive signs that spring can't be too far away. Our drakes are all showing off to the ducks, but so far no duck eggs,
La Bresse cockerel.
the spare cockerels had started sparring with each other so have now been put into a bachelor house, without hens to fight over they now live happily together.
Two very handsome Black Copper Maran boys.
We had a near disaster a few days ago with one of the Copper Maran pullets, clearly she was a favourite with the lads, Simon found her when he went to lock up, trampled into mud, unable to move and totally hypothermic. We quickly washed her several times in warm water to try to get the mud off of her, but I was afraid that in between washes she would get even colder so we dried her as best we could with the hair dryer trying to brush the rest of the mud out of her. Feathers take a very long time to dry, so she was placed in a box of warm straw and left by the range to dry off.  A few hours later she was standing up and taking notice, we kept her in her warm box for the next couple of days in a spare room. She has now returned to her flock, none the worse for her ordeal. From this experience it was clear that the spare boys would have to be rehoused until we either sell them or put them in the freezer, which would be a pity as they are pure bred birds and
                  very good examples of their breed.
Broad bean seeds have now been planted in root trainers and are in the propagator, these are our own seed saved for last year. Some  early potatoes saved from last year had chitted so they have been planted in one of the beds in the tunnel, we have tried doing potatoes in bags but have never had a decent crop. The peach tree which became too big for the sunroom was relocated into a far bigger pot and put into the polytunnel, the buds are now beginning to swell, hopefully we will have as good a crop as we did last year.
The land is still too wet to start preparing for this years crops so we will just have to be patient, plus we need still more scaffold boards and compost to complete the new raised beds, now that the mushroom farm that we used has closed down we are wondering if we should get a seven ton load delivered from the remaining farm's contractor, we can easily use seven tons over the next couple of years, I guess it will depend on how much he charges.
Misty and Freddy get some rest before their next escapade.
The two kittens are now seven months old so it was time to get them to the vets to be neutered. We are very impressed in how our vet did Misty, the little fluffy black girl, her scar is little more than a quarter of an inch, with just two stiches, the ends of the stitches are not even visible so no chance of Misty removing them, unlike other cats that we have had done these two didn't  suffer any ill effects at all, tearing around as soon as they were home like a couple of lunatics, unfortunately this entailed skimming up the curtains together. Curtain poles are not designed to carry a combined weight of fourteen pounds of swinging cats, both the curtain pole curtains and kittens ended up on the floor, another job that Simon has to sort out.
Tess remains very tolerant of the puppy who has now had her vaccinations,
she allows her to sleep on top of her and
I want that bone!
even to remove food from her mouth, considering how greedy Labradors are we find this remarkable.
No peace for Tess.
Meg, although so small does have a short fuse, she allows no one near her food, and is none too happy if Robson  the very elderly Jack Russell tries to take over her bed, Robson also has a short fuse but only one tooth so he unlikely to do her any harm, maybe just teach her some manners.
Tonight is Burns night, as Simon is half Scottish I suppose we should be celebrating with haggis and swede, especially as Robbie Burns had written a poem about Simon's great, great, great grandfather, 'Death and Doctor Hornbook', an openly rude poem, decrying John Wilson's abilities as a healer, in fact he was a school teacher. They remained friends despite the poem!  Instead of the  traditional meal  for the celebration,  we will be having leg of pork, but maybe Simon will raise a glass of whisky to his memory.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A sign of the times.

Over the weekend we were invited to friends for dinner, during the evening the conversation turned to the usual topic, growing food. The property that our friend have is rented and when they moved in the garden was for want of a better description, a junk yard. Gradually they got it cleaned up but realised that what little soil remained was rubbish, in fact it was mainly stones with no invertebrate activity at all so they built raised beds and filled them with whatever they could get, farmyard manure, turf (peat) mould, old bales of straw.
 They have now been there for three years, within two years they were self-sufficient in vegetables, eggs, chicken and pork, all from a plot of less than a quarter of an acre. They started with no soil, and now have a productive garden, but soil needs feeding by means of more compost. We told them the best places to get washed up seaweed, invaluable for the garden, this got added, and we took them to the mushroom farm for spent mushroom compost that we had used for many years. This farm was a smallish concern with a dozen or so mushroom tunnels, a family run business that provided employment for several local people in an area where the only local employment would be at the coal depot.
The day before our meal with them they had phoned the farm to arrange to pick up a load of spent compost only to find that this farm was now out of business. I don't know how many years they had been there, I do know that for the past quarter of a century we had got our compost from them, but small is now no longer beautiful, they could not compete with the big farms.
 I spent  most of yesterday afternoon trying to find a mushroom farm within our province, there is just one left, they have forty tunnels, but do not allow people on site to collect it, instead they have contracted out the collection to one person.
 Every one was very helpful, including the contractor and he would deliver a load, a load being seven tons, that's one hell of a lot of shovelling and for us not an option, we can however go to the contractor's place and he will leave a load out by his gate but it will be loose, not in bags.
For us this is doable, for our friend I doubt it as he suffered a series of strokes just over a year ago and now has limited mobility. Some how we will both get it sorted, it will just take some time to work out the logistics of it all, even with our hens, rabbits and donkeys we always need more compost.
Incidentally, the meal was superb, all home produced and the company was excellent. Many thanks guys.
Corkscrew Willow.
The last week has been very snowy, only a couple of inches at a time but it has proved very revealing. We have a pair of foxes that do the rounds of our driveway, and fields. They have inspected the hen fence boundary all round, they have however made no attempt to go over the electric fence to get closer to the poultry. Now I don't know why foxes don't jump over what we have, having been assured is an easily clearable height for the foxes that live in this part of Ireland, our fence is 1.2m high, but someone we know has had foxes jumping cleanly over a sheep fence 1.25m so in theory our foxes would be able to get into our run. We have used this type of fencing for years, in fact when we had the farm  we had five acres of hen paddocks fenced this way and never lost a bird inside the runs to a fox. I suppose there is always a first time, and maybe I'm tempting providence by believing that our hens are protected from Mr and Mrs fox,
Felix footprints, the only cat that wants to venture out .
Fox footprints.
but the foot prints show that the fence has not been breached, the snow has also shown us that no other mink has so far taken up the vacant territory left by the previous killer, long may it continue.
Fox and crow footprints.
The snow is very pretty,
it shows off the trees wonderfully but it rather curtails any out door activity. The seed box has been sorted and whatever new seeds are required have been ordered. This year we will cut down on the amount that we plant, we could easily feed a family of four and there is only the two of us, we will grow the same number of varieties, just less of them. We should have  a reasonable crop of asparagus, and the only other new thing is watercress. I don't particularly like salad, (the lettuce type) but a salad with watercress as it's base is different, plus it's high in iron and makes lovely soup. Every year I plant various lettuce as Simon does like his salads but well over 95% ends up as hen or rabbit food so I feel as though it a waste of my time planting a crop that only one of us enjoys.
Meg is now well established, she gives poor Tess hell, pulling at her tail and her thick hair, Tess however is a very laid back dog and takes it without complaint. The cats on the other hand are finding her a pain in the proverbial, and are mainly staying clear.
How am I expected to relax?
They can't even enjoy a box without her trying to annoy them, but they are good at giving her lessons in respect, and she is learning.    

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Every thing I want to do is Illegal. Book Reveiw.



I hope readers will forgive the cut and past of my review of this book for Amazon, I'm being lazy and couldn't be bothered to write it all out again.
 I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in real food and where and how food is produced.
 If you buy your food from supermarkets and really believe it's fine you wont want to read it, if you buy your food from supermarkets but have doubts about it you will enjoy it and probably change the way you buy your food. If, like ourselves you produce a lot of your own food and buy from local farmers markets or the local butcher it will confirm that you have made the right choice.

Although this book is based on Joel Salatin's experiences of being a small farmer in the U.S most of it is equally relevant to farming to produce real food in the EU. For anyone who is interested in eating food that's fresh, has taste and texture and wonders why this food is not available in supermarkets this book explains very well the reasons why, 'The Food Police'.
The Food Police are the inspectors that enforce the laws made by people (FSA) who represent big food corporations. These people seem to have no understanding that farming should be a soil based occupation, or that food produced by farming should be healthy. The food that most people buy has travelled hundreds if not thousand of miles, has changed hands many times leaving it wide open for contamination of various types before reaching the supermarket shelves. This type of food is deemed safe, yet the local farmer who sells to local people is deemed a criminal who's sole intention in life is to poison his customers.
The sad fact is that most meat whether it's produced in the US or the EU is fed an entirely un-natural diet, produced by animals who seldom if ever see the light of day and are kept in entirely unnatural and cramped conditions. Poultry and pigs are omnivores, which means like humans they are designed to eat meat as well as vegetation, however the powers that control food production have decreed that these animals can be fed no meat products. Bovines are ruminants, they eat grass yet they are fed grains, mainly maize and are fed silage ( fermented grass) this is not a normal diet, for bovines. For animals who are kept and fed in this way there is good reason to have FSA regulations, after all they are being massed produced in what is essentially a factory. However to inflict the same 'one size fits all' regulations on the farmer who rears his animals in a natural way, has them slaughtered in a local abattoir and deny him access to the local markets is absurd.
Highly process fast food is deemed safe, yet most people know it's bad for them, factory made cakes and bread which contain so many additives many of which the average consumer cant even pronounce let alone know what they are deemed safe, however the neighbour who makes excellent bread, cakes, jams or pickles with just a few basic ingredients is not allowed to sell these products unless they have jumped through every hoop the Food Police can dream up .
If you choose to smoke or drink to excess that is your choice even though you know it is bad for you, all responsibility for acquiring real food should be your choice yet is largely outlawed by the Food Authorities.
This book gives the real reasons why such bodies such as the FSA and the USDA exist, and it has nothing to do with making sure, you, the consumer is kept from harm.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

It's that time of year.

It's at this time of year that the Seville oranges arrive and marmalade gets made.
It's this time of year when snow might arrive, (although to listen to the forecasters you would think it is unusual)
It's this time of year that predators are at their worse.
 and it's this time of year you think spring will never come.
Removing the pith takes time, this goes into a muslin bag with the pips to add natural pectin to the jam.
The first two batches of marmalade have now been made, I had bought a boxful of Seville oranges before Christmas but realised I did not have time to start making any marmalade so the oranges got frozen into 2kg bags. Friday and Saturday was spent making the first batch,
Then the skin has to be shredded, a Stanley knife makes a good job of it.
I have found that the two day process gives the best results with a good set and great flavour.
First lot done.
After making the first batch I realised that what I had in the freezer would not be sufficient to make an entire years supply so on Monday we popped to our local green grocer to pick up another four kg. Two kg makes eight 1lb jars,
Had to make sure it was OK, just checking!
and as we have marmalade most days for breakfast I calculated that we would need at least forty eight jars for the year. The second batch was started yesterday and finished today, four more batches to go and our years supply will be done.
There is nothing on the market to compare with home made marmalade besides being much cheaper than the shop bought we know that the oranges are all organic and fairly traded. It seems that in this area at least, all the Seville oranges are from one Spanish organic cooperative.
One jar = one euro.
The cost is just one euro per one pound jar, I doubt that even Lidl have marmalade that cheap.
Today we awoke to a light covering of snow. To listen to the forecast or the forecasts in the papers you would think we were about to enter another ice age with Orange warnings being given. Get over it forecasters, this is winter, this is Ireland, we expect to have some snow. The problem is if they give Orange warnings for something that is no big deal just -1c and 3cm of snow, people will ignore warnings of -10cand 30cm of snow, that is worth an Orange warning.
* Weather update, it's now midnight and two inches of snow has fallen and it's still snowing, maybe we will be snowed in by the morning.
Predators. Today we finally got a mink in one of the traps, she was large, 2 foot long from nose to tail, they might look beautiful but they are vermin, and have no place in our ecological system, they are not a native species.
Such  beautiful fur, but a lethal animal. This one can do no more damage.
I hate to see any animal killed but this mink, and yes we do think it was this particular one, has killed a total of twelve of our poultry in less than a month. The traps will remain in place, we are sure there are a lot more in the area.
 Mink like foxes don't just kill for food, they kill for the sheer hell of it, but give me a fox anytime, foxes can be controlled and your poultry kept safe by electric fencing, mink seem to be immune to even two layers of electric poultry fencing .
Even when we had the commercial laying flocks we can count on just one hand how many birds we lost to foxes and that would be over a decade or more, the hens were always protected by proper poultry fencing. I just don't want to think how many birds we have lost to mink and in Spain, Pine Martens.
Bulbs are poking their heads above ground but it will be a few weeks more before we see any flowers,
A bit of spring cheer.
I do like fresh flowers both in the garden and in the house so cheer the place up I finally succumbed and bought a bunch of springtime.
Megan, Meg for short, now acts as though the owns the place, she has her own bed complete with a nice comfortable cushion and blanket,
Only the best for Meg.
however her place of preference is an antique chair, we have still not seen how she get up onto it, why she prefers this chair is anyone's guess but I'm sure her own bed would be more comfortable.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Coals to Newcastle.

I received some good books this Christmas, two by Joel Salatin.  Joel is well known within the real food world, both in the US and much further afield.
A good read.
 His book 'Everything I want to do is Illegal' pulls no punches when it comes to exposing the stupidity of so called ' food safety' both in the US and Europe. Just about all the laws passed in the name of 'food safety' are to cover the backs of the large food corporations and supermarkets and to make sure that the small producer who is producing a quality and safe product can not be expected to compete. Governments do not want the small farmer, the small farmer does not have lobbyists to swell the coffers of different parties, and they certainly don't want real food.
In the US eggs are washed,  in the EU it is illegal to sell a washed egg unless it is pasteurised. The US store eggs in a fridge not so in the EU. Washing an egg removes the cuticle which is a natural  protective coating, this allows all manner of pathogens to  pass into the egg, fridges are a good source of contamination, storing an egg in the egg compartment of a fridge which is nearly always in the door of the fridge subjects the egg to a variation of temperature which can cause the shell to effervesce, allowing even more contamination. Yet pastured hens are not encouraged, pastured eggs are rather different from 'Free Range' which normally describes a system where 4000+ birds are kept in one house with access to pasture. Pastured hens are birds who live in small flocks, in the case of Joel,  the house being moved daily, yet these eggs can't be sold to any food outlet only directly to the end consumer, the same law applies in the EU. unless you are registered as a producer. I know which one I would feel safer with.
The US has now removed the ban on imports of Irish beef, the discerning American consumer wants 'Grass Fed beef' they do not want feed lot beef, and who can blame them, but to supply this market from Irish beef when there are many US small farmers producing grass fed beef is crazy. It might be good for Ireland but it is not good for the small US farmer. So why don't the US farmers give the discerning  consumer what they want? Food safety laws. In the US unless you have an animal slaughtered in a Federal abattoir that animal can not be taken  across state lines. Many states only have state abattoirs, so the beef is safe to eat in that state but deemed unsafe if sold into another state. Crazy.
The UK has a major problem with campylobacter in their chicken supply, with 80% of the chickens tested showing positive, this might also apply to Ireland, if so its being kept quiet. There are just a hand full of poultry slaughter houses left in the UK ( I think it's six) and most table chicken will have come from battery houses.  I would be very interested to know if small free range chicken units are also contaminated, I suspect not. We eat our own produced chickens and have never had any tummy bugs, but I can guarantee that if we had chicken in a restaurant we would feel the effects, it is something that I never have or would eat in a restaurant, I just do not trust mass produced food, but I would have no problem eating at friends who serve their own chicken.
To me it stands to reason that if you are buying or eating locally produced meat you will know where it has come from, it  will have been killed on farm or at a local butchers. It has not travelled heaven knows how many miles and handled by so many people.
For anyone wanting to know the real truth about  food safety I can recommend this book, it is a good read, frustrating but funny, and it is equally applicable to the EU as well as the US.
Reception committee.
Keeping poultry is never easy, although we have a large population of foxes in the area we have never lost a bird to one, this we put down to the electric poultry fencing, we have four 50 m rolls protecting the birds against the fox, this has worked even when the fence has not been switched on, a fox gets a belt and learns.   Not so with the mink, the mink may get a belt but it will be back, it only takes human error, like forgetting to turn the fencing back on after bird feeding or egg collection and the mink will take full advantage of the opportunity. We have had three attacks in as many weeks, the first attack was at night, the mink got through a 35mm gap at the top of the house and killed six birds. Mink don't eat the bird they just kill by puncturing the neck, Simon found the birds the next morning when he went to let them out. The second attack was at dusk, between giving the birds their grain scratch feed and looking them up half an hour later, the birds had already gone to roost, the mink attacked leaving three more dead birds behind. In both cases the fencing was not on. Time to take stock. Each time the paddocks were  entered the fencing  had to be turned off, it is easy to get distracted and forget to turn it back on again. With the reduced stock the paddocks were rearranged, extra fencing bought and a main paddock gate made. The fencing is now doubled, two rolls on each section and each paddock contained within the outer boundary has it's own gate way. However, between the time of creating what we hoped would be Fort Knox and a ten minute tea break once again the fencing had been left off, once again the mink struck in broad daylight killing a La Bresse pullet who had just come into lay.
A quick  poke just to make sure.
This was in the run not five yards from our back door with Tess our not  so good guard dog on duty. She is great if there is a fox around and will give chase but mink she appears to ignore. The mink was still in the run or rather under the hen house trying to pull the bird underneath the house. Simon tried to get it with a spike each time it stuck it's head out, eventually the mink run off, through the turned off fencing into a ditch.
Traps have now been set, a total of five I think, the electric fence no longer has to be turned off to get into the runs and we have invested in a vermin killer in the form of a Jack Russell puppy.
An object of curiosity.
We have named her Megan, Meg  for short, she comes from a long line of working terriers, her mother has killed Pine Martin, even more vicious than mink, hopefully she will grow up to be our ultimate mink control. The cats love her,
Time for siesta.
 Tess thinks she is wonderful once she realised that this tiny thing was in fact a dog and not a toy, even Robbie our geriatric Jack Russell has welcomed her, he is a grumpy old man but has always got on with puppies and cats.
Do I eat it or clean it?
Meg will have a lot to learn, not to chase cats or poultry but being only  nine weeks old she should learn quickly.
Mink are deadly creatures, they are not a native species, they were released from fur farms when the bottom dropped out of the fur market, not to mention the actions of the Animal Liberationists. If you trap a mink you must be prepared to kill it, it is illegal to release it, they devastated wild life,
At least the blue tits have survived the mink.
especially ground nesting birds, we did have a good population of wrens around us, I have not seen any for months now, I suspect they have also fallen prey to these vermin.
Things are growing in the garden, bulbs are showing their leaves,
A three year wait,but worth it.
and this year the Mahonia that we planted three years ago has rewarded us with masses of yellow lily of the valley scented flowers.
We still have an abundance of vegetables growing, it has been very mild so far this winter although rather wet since  Christmas, but the days are getting longer.

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year? Whoops, we forgot.

Christmas came and Christmas went, we enjoyed the company of friends, I enjoyed cooking. The last of our visitors were vegetarians and I wanted to do something a little different, thanks to another blog that I follow,  'Cornish Chickpea' I was inspired to make a lentil bake served with twice cooked jacket potatoes filled with cheese, our friends and Simon all enjoyed the lentil bake, I can't say the same for myself, it is reminiscent of Pease Pudding although with far more flavour, I just do not like Pease Pudding, but the twice cooked jacket potatoes were great. I must say it did look very nice though, although unfortunately I forgot to take a photo. Another variation of ensaladilla for starters and fresh Chocolate Mousse for desert, I hate to think how many calories are in this decadent desert.

Chocolate Mousse.
250 ml dbl cream, beaten until it thickens.
4 organic eggs, separated, whites beaten until very stiff.
Egg yokes lightly beaten, blend in two tbs. of Cointreau to the yokes ( you can use Brandy)
Zest of one half orange (optional) stirred in at the end.
6 oz Green and Black Organic dark chocolate I used 80%, well broken up, melted over a pan of boiling water with a nob of butter, do not allow the bowl to touch the water.
Fold the egg whites into the cream, fold in the yoke mixture, gently fold in the melted chocolate . pour into individual dishes. With a teaspoon gently scrape off the  remaining chocolate which will have set, to decorate the mousse.

Double cooked Jacket potato.
Scrub the potatoes, boil for about ten minutes, remove and place in baking pan, sprinkle with salt and drizzle with olive oil.
 Bake in hotish 400f oven for half an hour, test that they are soft before serving.
This will give you a light fluffy potato inside and a lovely nutty outside.

So back to the title of this post, we forgot it was new years eve until we switched channels and found a  Queen concert on BBC 1, by the time the penny dropped we couldn't be bothered to go anywhere or even to find a drink in the house.
 In Spain the new year is seen in by eating twelve grapes at each of the chimes, we had bought the grapes in readiness, they also were forgotten, it was only today that I remembered that we had them. So the  new year has come and we missed it.
Things are growing in the garden, don't they know it's still winter? rhubarb still trying to get above the mulch and the asparagus is showing shoots, and I still have not planted the broad beans.
A very belated Happy New Year everyone.