Tuesday, March 31, 2015

You get what you pay for.

Less is more. After finding that the word 'mature' when applied to cheese is more often or not meaningless we went on a hunt for properly matured Cheddar cheese. Our little town has three supermarkets, one we never go into, one we use for essentials such as pet food and our milk,  one which is an Irish company we seldom use having been a supplier to this chain and frankly we don't like the way they treated their suppliers, however we thought it would be worthwhile looking to see if they had any real matured cheddar. They did , two different types, both Irish,
one is matured for 15 months,
                         the other for two years, we bought both.
They are quite different from each other, both slightly crumbly, which you expect with a real matured cheese, and both very good. The price difference was just two euros between them. Even though we don't like this store, we will be buying our cheese there in future, although it is roughly double the price that we had been paying, we concider it good value for good cheeses.  I just hope that they are treating their suppliers in a decent way.
 I have to admit, until today I didn't know what we were paying for the cheese that we had been using, a mere 7.40 per kg, had I looked at the price before I would have realised why I was so unhappy with the flavour, I'm guessing that the word 'mature' on this cheese means a good dose of chemicals to enhance the flavour.
An interesting read.
Living in the countryside it is always interesting to see how people turn to alternative enterprises to created employment for themselves.
Yesterday we saw a flock, or is herd,  of llamas, twelve in all, the guy that has them will be using them for their wool which is a high value product.
They are lovely and very interested in people. Another enterprise that we saw this weekend is being done by a friend of ours, making garden sculptures and furniture from flat steel which he welds. Some of his pieces are beautiful, unfortunately I didn't have the camera with me. Someone else that we have met keeps Jacob sheep, mainly for their wool which she spins and sells into selected markets in the US. Other friends of ours are bakers, they make fantastic bread which is sold at the farmers markets, there is always a queue for their bread. There are ways of earning a living when you live a distance from a town but it is rather a case of identifying a unique product. I'm sure that there is a living to be made from growing garlic in Ireland, most of what is sold here is imported yet it grows well here. Watercress, the 'new super food' would be another enterprise, I've yet to see watercress sold here, but the Irish love rocket, it was one of the things we were most frequently asked for when we grew herbs, yet watercress is far nicer. There are so many ways that it is possible to earn an income from, but it requires thought and market research. At least we get Irish daffodils, they arrive early in the shops, someone identified a niche market and supply Lidl, it's nice to see Irish grown anything, rather than stuff imported.
Strawberries are looking good.
Everything is now growing well, especially in the tunnel,
 the first potatoes should be ready in about six weeks,
the first peas have just started climbing,
spinach should be ready for a first pick in about three weeks as well as salad bowl lettuce.
We also grow herbs both outside and in the tunnel,
the flavour from tunnel herbs is always far more intense that the outside crop
we always have a ready supply whatever the weather.
There is a fine crop of fungi growing on the straw bale strawberry bed, Blister Cap, (Peziza Vesiculosa)
It is poisonous , but it's pretty and shows that the bales are doing what they should.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Just what are we eating?

No matter how hard some people try to be self sufficient it is virtually impossible to be entirely self sufficient for your own food supplies, there are some things that have to be bought. We buy as little as possible but we still buy milk, butter, tea coffee sugar, grains and cheese.
 When it comes to cheese we would always go for a 'matured' Cheddar. Being very stupid people we believed that the word 'mature' meant just that, a cheese that was made from milk, rennet, salt and then matured for several months before it arrives in the shops. We were wrong. Cheese can now be made and sold as 'mature' after as little as 78 hours. We are being conned, yet this is apparently  quite legal.
 Bacon is sold as  cured bacon, yet it is often made from pig to shelf in just two days, this is not curing meat, it is pumping it full of chemicals to make it appear cured.
 Many of the chemicals used in manufacturing food does not even need to appear on the label, things like enzymes, used on ready to eat fruit salad and prepared vegetables, they help to make the product 'appear' fresh. Washed salad leaves, washed in what? Apparently in chlorine, then packed in a controlled environment, what does that mean? The food has been treated to a gassing process to maintain the 'freshness' of the product.
We are being conned, big time. We don't buy ready made anything thankfully, we like to think we know where our food has come from but does the label on the food mean anything? Not a lot. 
How could it be that a pizza analysed by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, which carried a “country of origin Ireland” label, came to be made with 35 different ingredients that had passed through 60 countries on five continents?
For an insight as to what is happening in the food industry click on the following link, you will be in for a big surprise. As for us, well cheese is off the menu until we can find a matured cheese that is just that, matured by age, not chemicals. 


Last week saw us eating out, for us a rare occasion, we had missed going out for my birthday at the end of January, I just could not be bothered to get ready and then for Simon to have to drive the best part of an hour to get to a restaurant that serves food worth traveling for, plus we wanted a change, but good restaurants are few and far between in rural Ireland, however talking to friends the subject came round to food, or rather good places to eat , they gave us several recommendations. As last Wednesday was our wedding anniversary  we headed out to one of our friends recommended eating houses, we weren't disappointed, the food is quite retro, maybe that's the latest thing,
but the garlic mushrooms were great, the homemade soup was delicious,
Excellent steak and prawns.
followed by Surf and Turf, (steak and tiger prawns). They even managed to cook my steak as I like it, blue, most places always overcook steak too much for me.
 Simon opted for a curry, something that I never make as I don't do hot or spicy, he declared it very good, it's unusual for Simon to describe anything as very good.
 The let down was the absence of any craft beers which are at last catching on here, so we opted for a bottle of  Rioja, it was superb, this was reflected in the price! However it was probably one of the best Riojas we have ever had. We are now looking forward to trying some of the other restaurants that our friends have recommended.
Suddenly spring seem to be with us. We have a greenhouse full of  seed trays, plus the propagator is full, spinach, spinach beat and parsnips have been sown in the raised beds and the spring flowers are all in full bloom. The  Snowdrops and most of the crocus are now over and have been replaced with
Daffodils, Hyacinths lots of Primroses and Primulas 
and the Camilla's are looking fantastic, we have more blooms this year than we have ever had before possible due to the good pruning I gave the bushes last year. Soon the tulips will be out
and the first Anemone is in bloom with lots more showing buds.
Bumble bees enjoy a touch of spring.
We have even had bumble bees seeking pollen and nectar from the winter pansy's and the Hyacinths that are in the window boxes.
It's always an exciting time of year, seeing plants that you had forgotten suddenly make their appearance. Even the Prunus Nigra  is in bloom. It might still be chilly at night, but spring is here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Problem with the sexes.

Spring is rapidly moving forward, blossom on the peach tree, swelling buds on the plums and leafs opening on the female Kiwi, the male however is still thinking about it, his buds are only just swelling. This is going to create a problem, with the female so much more forward she will bloom earlier than the male and we need the male flowers  to pollinate the female. I just don't know why the male should be so behind, they are the same variety, grown quite closely together, so the same conditions. This is not the first time we have had this problem, it also happened to us in Spain with our outside Kiwi's. If anyone has a solution to this problem please let me know. Meanwhile I shall try to produce more warmth for the male vine and see if I can get him to get a move on. If memory serves me correctly the flowers bloom in May so I have time to try to advance him.
1st rhubarb picking.
I am always impatient for the first picking rhubarb, today was the first day, six days later than last year and the stems are not quite as long as last years but they are thicker, we had a colder February this year, which explains why it's that bit later. The Purple Sprouting broccoli is producing an abundance of spears, this should continue for at least another month by which time we should have plenty of spinach, early peas and maybe even some asparagus.
Frogs spawn, hopefully it will survive.
Frogs have found their way to the pond, we have a load of spawn, whether it comes to anything remains to be seen as Daffy duck still likes to have her afternoon bath in the pond, but at least it has been visited by the frogs and found to be a suitable place to lay their eggs. If they don't survive we will have to exclude Daffy next year, we need frogs!
Reading one of my blogger friends posts yesterday she made mention of a Filipino dish made with shoulder of pork, it just so happened that we were having a shoulder of pork joint for Sunday roast and I had the rest of the ingredients to hand,
Pork, roast potatoes, swede and spinach, 100% home grown.
It's called Hamonada, there are lots of variations of this recipe on the internet, I kept to the recipe that she had described, it was delicious, certainly one we will do again. Many thanks Linda.
For desert I made Crèma Catalana, more or less the same as Crème Brulee,  one of our favourite deserts.
More willow sculptures.
We have discovered even more willow sculptures, I would love to know if they are the work of just one person or if there is a whole network of willow sculptors in the area. They are all lovely and real works of art.
Geese enjoying the grass.

On our way back from delivering eggs on Saturday we spotted several small flocks of geese all enjoying life around Lake Gara, not near any farms or houses we wonder if they are wild geese or escapes, we were unable to identify the breed, so maybe someone is missing a gaggle of geese, in all, there were over twenty over a distance of a mile or so, lovely to see and they would be safe from foxes with such a large lake to escape in.
Tomorrow the early potatoes have to be planted, St Patricks day is the traditional day to do this, the main crop will follow in a couple of weeks at Easter. With all these potatoes being planted we will have to get pigs to eat them all, Simon has given up eating potatoes due to gout, in the two weeks since he has given them up the condition has improved, now he has to come to terms with eating no sweet peppers or tomatoes and that will be hard for him.
A river running into Lough Gara.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Incredable value.

Most days I hear  reports of the housing crisis in the UK, people wanting to own their own homes but can't due to the high cost of housing over there or wanting to downsize into a county area but are unable to sell their homes as they are too expensive for the younger generation to afford. Many end up emigrating to Spain, Portugal or France, mainly people who have taken very early retirement, want a debt free life and a little bit of land. At one time these countries did offer real value for money but for a cheap property you will normally end up with one that needs extensive work doing. Spain and Portugal are hot in the summer but can be very cold in the winter, insulation is virtually unheard of and there is also the language problem. More and more people are choosing a place much nearer to home. Ireland, easy to get to, easy to go back to the UK to visit friends, no language problems and a fantastic cheap housing stock.
Fantastic value.
 I wonder where else you can buy a three double bedroom house with a fantastic kitchen dining room, one and a half bathrooms, two living rooms, full central heating, needing no work, orchard, vegetable garden, lovely views, set in three quarters of an acre?
The asking price for this gem is just 130.000 euros, less than £100.000. There are many properties like this around Ireland, especially in the West of Ireland.

Anyone who might be interested in this house just leave me a comment and will put you in touch with the owner.
Peach tree is looking set to deliver a good crop.
It seems as though spring has finally arrived, in just four days all the daffodils have burst into bloom, and buds are swelling on the trees, even the peach tree is now full of blossom and has had it first hand pollination done, this will be repeated in a couple of days, there are still a few buds not fully open. Although we lost one third of the tree last year, it was so heavily laden the top third snapped, we still have over fifty blooms on it so look forward to a good harvest again.
The two rebuilt beds.
The tunnel  now resembles some order, two of the  beds have been reduced in width and increased in height, making them easier to work, they had previously been the strawberry beds,
I couldn't bear to throw out these plants.
well one still is, despite my good intentions. Although the straw bale bed so far is looking good I want to make sure that we end up with a good crop of strawberries, so the plants have been severely thinned and cleaned and replanted in one of the new raised beds.
Looking fine.
Not that I think I needed to worry, the plants in the straw bales have all taken,
Ten days ago.
Ten days on.

produced incredible growth
and many of the plants now have flowers, all in the space of ten days.   I think it must be the increased warmth from the bales. We should be picking the first fruit around the middle of April, only a couple of weeks later than normal.
Set for an early crop of new potatoes.
 The first early potatoes in the tunnel are growing well, another couple of weeks and they will be ready for the first earthing up.
The spare new bed in the tunnel will be for  calabrese and cauliflowers, all the seeds geminated and are now at the second leaf stage and will be ready for transplanting in a week or so, the first mange tout are ready to be planted into the tunnel but will only need half a bed so they can share with the half bed of onions, the outside onions will get planted tomorrow, this leaves us with one spare bed in the tunnel, I will probably plant some French beans in this to give us an early crop.
Four out of the five tomato seeds germinated, which is fine as we only needed four plants, but for the price of the seed I would have expected 100% germination, it works out to fifty cents a seed which I think is expensive, these are Sun Gold, a lovely cherry tomato and an excellent cropper, but pricy!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Pesky weather.

The week started with snow,
real snow that stayed for a couple of days, although it did not feel cold there was nothing that could be done in the garden so more seeds were planted in modules and seed trays and placed in the propagator, all the previous seeds germinated well.
 I am so pleased that Simon built the greenhouse, it stays above freezing and seems a good place to harden off the seedlings. So far we have had very good germination, this might be due to the new compost that we are using, a certified organic one, it's the first time we have found a properly certified compost, it is very fine, and retains moisture well without being water logged, ideal for seeds and so far there has been no damping off.
Exactly what is needed on a snowy day.
The snowy weather was exactly right for a bowl of hot tomato soup,   I  made a lot last year when we had a glut of tomatoes and had frozen lots of  bags, they have come in very useful. A quick lunch time snack on a snowy day. No sooner had the snow cleared than wind returned, with vengeance.
We have numerous wild birds that come to our feeders , amongst them are  blue tits,
great tits,  hedge sparrows and a couple of robins and wrens. For little birds they get through a tremendous amount of seed and fat balls. They are lovely to watch and so far the cats have left them alone, preferring to watch them through the French windows.
Suzie thinks the silk throw is just right for him.
The new bedhead and cushions are now completed, any craft work will now be on hold until next winter.
At last the first daffodils are out,
A dwarf Daffodil makes it's appearance. 
a week later than I had expected,
primroses have been out for sometime, they don't seem to mind the weather,
the hellebores likewise.
Today we spotted the first of the irises, and the Camellias wont be long,
they are now showing swollen buds and lots of colour, so spring is doing it's best.
The straw bales have now finished the conditioning process, they warmed up very well and seem to be composting as they should, I have started trying to sort out the two beds of strawberries, the best plants being transferred to the straw bale bed, in theory this should leave  two beds free in the tunnel, I however would prefer to err on the side of caution, and keep some of the strawberries in an existing bed, just in case! Just in case of what say's Simon, well just in case the straw bales don't work, of course they will he replies. The problem is I hate to throw away healthy plants, I'm just as bad with tomato plants, I can never resist planting the side shoots that I remove and end up with a tunnel that resembles a jungle. I must try to resist the urge to replant anything and everything and try to keep some order in the tunnel.
Daffy duck wondering where the grass has gone.