Sunday, February 22, 2015

Learning a new craft.

For as long as I can remember I have always loved stained glass and have longed to 'have a go'.
One of our contacts in the Farmers Market makes some lovely things with stained glass and talking to his wife last week we found that he also runs two hour work shops, so we signed up.
The work shop was supposed to last two hours, but he is a very patient man and we were there for three hours. The work shop is mainly to give you the feel of working with glass,
Grinding the edges to a smooth finish.  
the correct way of cutting it, the buffering of the sides so there are no sharp edges, then the correct way to apply the copper edging and assembling the item ready for soldering.
Cutting plain window glass is fairly easy, cutting coloured glass is hard, or we found it so, although Rainer made it look easy. I guess it's one of those things that comes with lots of practice.
Buffering the sides was easy as it is a high speed water cooled diamond buffering stone, you can also do  a certain amount of reshaping on this machine.
Copper taping the edges.
Applying the copper tape requires a steady hand and good eyesight , neither of which I have, I found it hard to get the glass edge exactly centred on the tape.
Soldering the bird together.
The soldering part was fairly easy, but both of us have done soldering before although not on glass but on plumbing, where you don't have to be too accurate.
Simon's humming bird.
However, we both finished our first project, with quite a bit of help from Rainer.
My butterfly.
Will we have another go? Yes, I would like to do a stained glass panel for the inner front door, but it will have to wait until  the Autumn , there is too much to do in the garden to take time out for hobbies.
We both enjoyed our introduction and are pleased with what we managed to make. Unfortunately it is not a craft that can easily be done at home, you do need certain equipment which unless you intend to do lots of stained glass work would not justify the cost, so we will content ourselves with the odd workshops.
As calm as a mill pond.
After we had left it was still sunny and felt quite warm, as we crossed over the Boyle river  we stopped to take a few photos,
Lovely light reflections.
 the river was so calm it was like a mill pond
The Boyle river.
and reflected the early evening light beautifully, but just twenty minutes on we found ourselves in a blizzard, the sky turned from pinky blue to steel grey and suddenly we were in a white world. The snow persisted all the way home and we awoke the following morning to a light covering of snow, it seems winter is not done with us yet.
Meanwhile seed planting continues, salad bowl lettuce, calabrese, cauliflower and mange tout peas have been sown in trays and root trainers, these will be grown in the poly tunnel for early crops, the new raised beds are warming under polythene and the first early potatoes, Duke of York and Maris Piper are chitting ready to plant out on St Paddies day.
Colour is now showing on the Daffodils, another week and they will start blooming, colour is also showing on the Camelia bushes, and the primroses are all out. Spring is nearly here.
Shredded branches to use as a mulch.  
A garden shredder, bought two years ago has, at last been tried out, we are very pleased with it and it will shred  dried branches up to an inch with ease. I am hoping we have enough dried branches around to make a worthwhile mulch for the outside strawberries and some other crops.
More hedging bushes have been added to our shelterbelt hedge row, which is half way down the garden field, more Rosa Rugosa which do very well here, plus ten Hornbeam and ten Field Maples, this hedge row will in time give good protection to the vegetable garden as well as attracting the wild birds and the bees.
Pilot cloche project, to see if it withstand the winds. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Never too old to learn.

Straw bale gardening.
 A concept we had never heard of before until one of my blogging friends mentioned it, ( thanks Carole). We are always interested in trying new things, especially if they appear to be labour saving or  easier on our backs. We have already increased the height of the raised beds for outside crops but the strawberries in the tunnel needed some thought, then Carole mentioned this idea. The more I read up on it the more it appealed, especially for the strawberries, last year I must have wasted as many as I cropped as the beds are too low and a little to wide.
The concept is simple, take a bale of straw and condition it, this takes about ten days and involves soaking the bales daily and adding a high nitrogen fertiliser every other day. Straw locks up nitrogen so this must be replaced. As the bales start to decompose they will heat up, they can reach a temperature of  135f after ten days or so, they will then gradually cool down. When the bales have reached to 38c or around 100f you can then plant  into pockets filled with soil or compost. Because the bales are still warm you should produce crops a couple of weeks earlier than normal and the growing season should be extended. As bales are around 20 inches high it seems an ideal method for strawberries, no more back breaking cropping. I suspect you would only get one or maybe two seasons growing in a bale but what you will be left with will be a mound of lovely rich compost already in the right position.
Bales installed, far right, garlic looking good.
So the centre bed in the tunnel has now been planted with straw bales, they have had their first two soakings and the first feed, we had two buckets of liquid feed left from last year, one of stinging nettle juice and one of comfrey, we will also use seaweed meal and dried blood fish and bone, wood ash will also be added.
We will also do a direct comparison with tomatoes, we only need four plants, two will be done in a straw bale and two in large buckets, as we did last year. It will be interesting to see if there is any difference  in yield, flavour and cropping time.
A few days ago I received an online news letter from the GIY ( grow it yourself) website advocating the use of lime. No mention was made about doing a soil test to see if in fact you did need to lime. Liming is said to sweeten the soil, it also raises the ph. We had done a ph test when we first moved in, we were 7 which is neutral, ideal for growing most vegetables, but since then we have added a tremendous amount of manure and compost. Manure can raise the ph level.
A soil test was needed before we rushed to lime anything. I glad we did.
Way to high.
We are now bordering on a ph of 8 which is far too high for most things. We could use sulphate of ammonia but that is a chemical compound, or pine needles. We are surrounded by Sitka spruce forests so Simon gather a sack full of fallen needles which he macerated, he then did a ph test on the result, ph 5, so that added to the beds will over time lower the ph again, in the meantime we will have to resort to using some peat which we would have preferred not to do, but it is Irish and the production is carefully regulated.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Shopping as it used to be.

Last week we made the trip to our nearest big town, we make this trip about four times a year, mainly to stock up on Organic butter but always try to coincide our visit with other needs only available from a larger town.
 This visit I needed some material to recover our bedhead. I had vaguely been aware of  a drapers shop in town but had never visited it.
 From the outside it looks small, rather scruffy, and somewhat outdated, however when you go in you are greeted by an Aladdin's cave of haberdashery. Stacked floor to ceiling, every type and colour of ribbon, lace trim, cord trim. Buttons! not the type that come in inconvenient amounts on a card so you are forced to buy more than you need, buttons sold loose, from tubs, so you can have exactly the amount you require.
 As you walk down the aisle you realise that this is not a small shop, it is a Tardis. The wool section must be forty feet long at least, stacked high with every type of wool you can imagine, including Organic wool. They sell webbing for reupholstering seats, every grade of hessian, from the very fine for tapestry to the coarser type used for sacking.
Then I discovered the upholstery section, I was spoilt for choice, however, at that stage a male assistant appeared, ( rather like the genie out of the lamp) and asked if he could be of assistance. I told him that I wanted to recover a bedhead, Oh, we  sell material especially for this , he said, come this way. Although I have been making soft furnishing for years I never knew there was a special material for bedheads! They have just about every colour you can imagine would be used for bedheads.
We selected a soft lilac colour in crushed velvet. This is a shop I will certainly be returning to, if only to give me inspiration next winter for a new project.
The bedhead is now done, it complements the new paint work beautifully, and I have sufficient material to make a couple of throw cushions for the bed, a project for the next rainy day.
Every one of the broad beans Simon planted in the root trainers germinated, they are now being slowly hardened off. The raised bed that they will go into has been covered with black polythene, this serves three purposes.
 1. Weed strike, the warmer temperature under the plastic will help germinate any weed seeds lurking in the soil, they can then be removed before planting out the beans.
2. Slugs, any slugs around will be tempted by the warmth under the cover, they can then be dispatched.
3. The black polythene will warm up the soil and give the beans a good start.
By coincidence I had a news letter this week from the GIY network. (Grow it Yourself) One of the topics was raised beds. Apparently the ideal size  is 42 inches wide, including the wood, and path ways should be 32 inches wide to allow for a wheel barrow to pass easily and to give sufficient width to be able to kneel down for weeding and planting. Simon had not measured anything, he just worked with the materials available. By luck or maybe some judgement the beds just happen to be 42 inches wide and the pathways 32 inches!
On our way back from a new farmers market last weekend we decided to make a small detour, it is in fact a new bypass road 13.5k long and cost 60million to build, the powers that be said was much needed to by pass a small town which is already dying. However there has been some nice landscaping done along it and some very nice willow sculptures.
The road was somewhat lacking in traffic and we managed to photograph a couple of the sculptures, a donkey
and a hare, unfortunately we missed the best one, a pig, but I will make sure to get a photo the next time we use this road.
 It was a lovely day, sunny but a bit chilly so again we took a detour on our way to deliver eggs to one of our customers,
our trip took us past Lough Gara with the Curlew mountains in the distance. It is a very scenic and peaceful  area,
I doubt it has changed much over the last few hundred years although at one time it would probably have been surrounded by oaks.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Preparation for the new season.

Last year we decided to cut down on the quantity of vegetables that we grow, there are only two of us and we do not need beds sixteen feet long, eight feet is plenty, but what we did need was for the beds to be higher than ten inch , so the vegetable garden is undergoing a make over.
We now have five raised  beds and one more to go, eight foot by three foot six and twenty inches high. With pathways wide enough to get the wheel barrow between with ease.
Just one more bed to go.
This should make life easier and will certainly help our backs, I should even be able to sit on the edge of the beds for weeding. We still have two long beds, one is the asparagus bed, the other was last years root veg, this will be planted with peas and beans which will help to fix the nitrogen in the soil, the following year it will be planted with leafy things such as spinach and chard. We will still have to do some growing on the flat, potatoes, which need a lot of space and some of the brassicas, which don't like a light and free draining soil.
The broad beans which were planted in the root trainers two weeks ago have now all germinated,  our own seed saved from last year, these will get planted out in March, possible covered with crop cover depending on what the weather is doing. This time next month seed sowing will be in full swing, where did the winter go?
The rhubarb is looking good.
The rhubarb is coming on well we should have our first picking at the start of March, again this depends on what the weather does.
We always look forward to the first of the rhubarb, a real sign that the new season has started.
One thing we are never short of is fresh veg,
Leeks, swede and parsley.
we still have plenty of leeks, swede, beetroot, parsnips, turnip, artichokes, herbs and some cabbages as well,
1st of the purple sprouting broccoli.
the Brussels sprouts should last out until the end of the month and the purple sprouting broccoli has  formed it's flower heads, the Swiss chard is starting to show  new growth.  We  also have curly kale growing but this has rather been overshadowed by the sprouting broccoli, you can't win them all.  We should last out with the onions ,
Sarpo Mira.
we have plenty of potatoes but a shortage of carrots, we lost one entire bed to mice so will have to buy some before the new seasons are ready.
Winter flowers are now starting to bloom, the first of the Helleborus is about to burst out,
I think this one is Helleborus Orientalis, it's very pretty when it's fully out.
Snowdrops are growing all over, even in places that I don't remember planting them, it must have  been the fairies.
Tommy trying to control Meg.
Meg the puppy is now a fully integrated member of the family but shows little respect to any of the cats or even Tess.
The face off.
Tommy our eldest cat tries to control her
she has now found out that cat claws can hurt. Tess today however had had enough, the pup would give her no peace, Tess's solution? Pick up Meg by the scruff of the neck and dump her into her bed. Unfortunately I didn't have the camera at the ready so missed the shot, maybe next time.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

First day of Spring?

Imbolc or St. Brigid's day is deemed to be the first day of spring in the Celtic calendar, falling halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, like so many Pagan festivals this one has also been adopted by the church although the festival dates back far before Christianity. Many homes will make a St. Brigid's  cross from rushes, said to protect your home from fire and evil.
St. Brigid's cross.
As it is too cold to do much outside I also made my own although we had to hunt for a clump of rushes, by keeping them cut twice yearly we are just about free of them now.
  I must  say it does not feel much like spring at the moment, we have had several falls of snow over the last week. Yesterday was my birthday and normally we would go out for a meal but the thought of having to drive for an hour or more to get to a decent restaurant was not appealing so I settled for fish and chips from our local town. It wasn't bad, in  fact the fish was very good but the chips are not worth talking about. Hopefully this weather won't last too much longer and then we will have our meal out.
When we first moved here there was a great restaurant only two miles away, good food, all Irish, good atmosphere , it even had a decent wine list, it always seemed to be busy. Why it closed is anyone's guess.
From earth to plate, how does your food get there?
I received two books for my birthday, both should be a good read.
'Teaming with Microbes' tells the story of what goes on in the soil, I have only dipped into it so far but it is fascinating.
With the weather being as it is it seemed a good time to redecorate our bedroom, it is one room that we have not done, in fact I doubt it has been done since the previous owners built the extension. We had bought the paint for it some time ago but the garden always takes priority. As it will now have colour, it was just plain white before, I have decided that I will also need to recover the bedhead, the nearest place to get material is an hours drive away, but, we also need butter! Yes, we can buy butter in our little town, normal butter but we only use that for cooking not for eating. There is only one place that we can buy organic butter and that is the dreaded Tesco. Now I hate shopping, I especially hate Tesco, badly stocked with the most unhelpful staff you will ever meet, but they sell English Organic butter. So every three months we  make the trip, normally clearing out their supply of butter. We always manage to combine this trip with other things that we need and are only available from a large town, this coming week's trip will be for the material to cover the bedhead and  gas cylinders which we can get for nearly seven euros less than in our local town, so the trip will be worthwhile.
Once again we are in an egg glut situation, and it's too early and cold to start hatching eggs, normally I would make lemon curd, but we still have two large tubs in the freezer
Patata de Tortilla freshly cooked.
so I made a  'Patata de Tortilla'. Most Spanish cafes serve this as a tapas, each one would have their own special recipe, our favourite one was made by 'Mama', the mother of our favourite local cafĂ© owner,
With sweet peppers.
she always added sweet peppers,  in some cafes it would be peas and in some parsley, but the pepper one was always our favourite. Unlike a normal omelette which takes at most ten minutes to make,  'Patata de Tortilla takes an hour and a half, but it's worth it. Lovely, and freshly cooked as a change from normal potatoes it is also good cold for a picnic.