Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Meandering Min

St Patrick's Day goose egg
Regular readers may remember the fun and games we had last year with a wayward Sussex Ponte hen who decided to lay her daily egg away across the fields in a hedge. We named her Wandering Wendy (though we never really were able to tell our 5 Sussex girls apart) and we used to try to predict when she'd slink off and try to follow her or even get ahead of her by running down the lane. These 'Operation Chicken Watch' manouvres did eventually lead to us discovering her stash and being able to bring it home and she has since mended her ways. Today we got 10 eggs out of the 11 current hens (a new record!) and ALL were laid in sensible places, the rabbit 'Maternity Ward' hutch in the chicken house (currently empty of bunnies and left open), the official nest boxes or the Cuckoo Marans' out-station coop.

St Pat's Day Breakfast fry.
No, it is the Guinea Fowl hen, 'Min', who has today caused us a bit of concern. I saw, out of the corner of my eye when standing in the kitchen, a shaggy collie type dog sprint down the neighbouring 5-acre field past the gate. Naturally I went out to check 'we' were OK and whether there might be people in the lane who had let their dog get out of control. I later saw this dog skulking off down the lane westwards, still with no attendant humans, apparently sniffing at all the rubbish in the verge, so maybe lost and hungry, or dumped and scavenging. Returning to base we realised that we had the cock-bird Guinea Fowl 'Henry' but no sign of Min. We thought that Min was not missing due to the dog, as there had been no 'shouting' or trauma and Henry was wandering about happily with the chickens, very quiet and unconcerned. They make a devil of a racket if ever they get separated, even by just wandering to either side of a wall or bush, so we couldn't imagine he'd accept having his wife snatched in front of his eyes with such lack of drama.

Donkey cart, pig in cage, geese on roof
and goat and sheep tethered behind.
The Guineas are probably our most wandering of birds and we regularly see them at the boundaries, often nipping through into the 5 acre field, or down beyond the 'allotment' and orchard (to our North) and still, more worryingly, occasionally in the lane where they are, at least, very sensible and street-wise around the traffic. We also know that Guineas will often lay their eggs in a hedge and ignore all your nice tidy, hay filled and INDOOR boxes. As we are now in March, we therefore hoped that the missing Min was just a sneak off to lay an egg and that Henry had been told to go 'act natural' so as not to draw suspicion. I had a quick look round but could find no sign of Min though we did see Henry gazing under the caravan at one stage. We left them to it and an hour later we were both relieved to hear Min's 2-tone "buck wheat buck wheat" call as she had arrived back on site and was now summoning up Henry, who rapidly appeared. We have no real idea which direction she came from (this time) but Liz thinks it was from the front garden or lane. We wonder whether the silly girl has decided to lay her eggs (and then go broody?) down across the lane somewhere. We will have to do a bit of Operation Guinea Watch, see if we can track her hidey hole down.

No man's land.
(Other) Regular readers may recall that we are gradually working our way through the site here 'designing' bits of garden to suit the area but that (again) last year we realised that we had a bit called, jokingly by us, "The bit we don't talk about". It was between the hay barn and the orchard, and has now become the big pond, the paths and the raised beds edged with scaffold board. Well, now we have another one which keeps prodding at us. It is a small section between the bottom of the yard, the top of the gulley, 'the bit behind the wall' and the 'back of the goose house. It is an awkward sloped area which had also suffered the indignity of spoil from the yard being dumped on it during the build, so it is a lumpy bumpy mess of clay-wrapped rubble, rushes and poor drainage. We are now looking at it with sharp and critical expressions on our faces.

Busy Bees
You may have spotted the plethora of St Patrick's Parade pictures. We decided to do St Pat's properly this year, having the fried breakfast and attending the parade in nearby town Ballaghaderreen, followed by a Guinness or two in town (for me; the lovely and very generous Lizzie offered to drive) and then a supper of bacon, cabbage, mash, carrot and parsley sauce. The parade was quite fun, though small and very 'Balla' flavoured (by which I mean that all the local issues seemed to have a float to publicise their cause; 'Leave the By-Pass and shop locally!' and 'Stop the lines of pylons!', for example)

Bypass the Bypass
There were five or so marching bands from local schools etc who all seemed to be playing "Star of the County Down" as they passed us and a more grown up marching band (Ballagh Pipe and Drum) playing "Forty Shades of Green". There was a nice float from a petting zoo which featured a cart pulled by a donkey containing a cage housing a pig, geese on the roof and a sheep and a goat tethered behind. There were nursery groups (we loved the Busy Bees in their yellow and black stripes!), bikers, classic cars including a Cadillac with acres of 'hood' and 'trunk', tractors, tow trucks, an open-sided lorry, a racing car, fire engines and all manner of noisy and brightly dressed people. All seemed to be going well.

A good crowd of watchers
And so we retreated to Durkin's bar for a well earned Guinness or two and thence home for a lie down. Much later came our patriotic supper - 'bacon and cabbage'. These daughters of Steak Lady, though, they do not just do the veg and ingredients and whack them onto your plate snack-bar style. The cabbage (green), mash (white) and carrots (orange) get laid out onto the plate to represent the Irish national flag.

The 'bacon' was also a bit special and an eye opener to me. Liz had heard of a recipe in which the bacon joint is boiled for a while in, among other things, Coca Cola. Neither of us drink Coca cola and we would never normally have it around the house, but we had a couple of cans left from one of the visits last summer, so in it went to the Nigella Lawson recipe. It was only a mass-produced supermarket bacon joint but I have to admit that it was sweet and delicious cooked that way.

Finally, in a less well known aspect of 'Paddy's Day', it is the day by which you are 'meant' to have your seed potatoes in and your onion sets. I am happy to say that after the dry, warm week leading up to The Day, all my ground had a chance to dry out and I have been able to get 'out there' and plant my 3 nets (6 kg total) of Sarpo Mira (main crop), plus 2 kg each of Sharp's Express and Rocket (First Earlies) as well as my white, gold and red onion sets. The season has started.

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