Friday, 20 February 2015

In The White

Plumbing bits.
Learning a whole new skill this week, I have been indulging in a little Farm-Plumbing. The local tradesmen need not fear me taking away their business, there is little skill involved, I will not be bending any copper pipes or blow-torching any solder joints in a professional, leak-free manner. All you need for this kind of plumbing is to be able to saw through a plastic pipe straight and do up a plastic fitting to a sensible degree of "hand-tightness". Oh and if you let the rubber ring seals fall out of the fitting or take out the white plastic "olive", then you need to be able to put them back in the right places and the right way round (hands up if you spotted a fact drawn from personal experience there!).

Step-down fitting from the IBC's
big-bore outlet.
We have had the big 1010 litre pallet-sized water butts (they are properly called IBCs or Intermediate Bulk Containers) on site for years but the one on the east end of the house has never had any of the stored water drawn from it or used, it has just sat there full, waiting for me to buy and plumb in a sheep drinking trough just 10 m away in the East Field. For this mission, I didn't even need to know what fittings I needed - the guys at Connacht Gold down in Castlerea are so used to farmers wandering in and saying "I need to connect a pipe from x to y.... what fittings would I need?" that as long as you are using their standard "half inch bore, heavy" pipe, you're away on a hack. I told them I needed a step-down from the 2 and a quarter inch thread outlet of the IBC and (because I do have a rough clue what I'm doing, thank you!) a T junction to cope with a possible future T-off to a pig drinker, and because I was buying the trough from them, the guy dipped a hand into a few of his drawers and rapidly assembled a small stack of fittings. He even dissembled some and put them back together to show me how they should 'go'. The pipe even comes pre-marked in metres, so the guy just had to read the metre number of his previous end and then add the 12m I asked for and cut there. Simples.

Sheep drinking trough all plumbed in and filling nicely.
Back home, all I had to do was pick-axe up a trench across the 'drive' (only compacted gravel), saw my pipe to length and then assemble it all, test my pipes and back fill the trench. Job done. No great shakes for you seasoned farm-plumbers but this was my first go at it, so I was quite proud of it, all be it it runs quite slowly as the float-valve thingy is designed for mains pressure and ours is just working as a 'syphon' from the IBC, just over a metre of head pressure.

A clearer pic of the lamb's ear tag.
We were smiling, though at the thought that we would now be able to take the Government's "Water Conservation Grant" money with a clear conscience. British readers may not know about the uproar going on 'over here' as the State tries to introduce water charges nationwide. Brits grow up in a land where paying water 'rates' is just what we do. You try to get a job, try to buy a house and there after you just pay all the utility bills that go with it, water and sewage included. Not so here, water has been free, certainly for recent decades though we did have to pay €1900 to get connected 3 years ago and now, under the umbrella of austerity measures borne out of the crashed economy, Ireland is going water-metered and getting charged for its water.

 The Irish, in general, are not happy and in some cases they are 'not happy' enough to be objecting fiercely and even violently - refusals to register as water customers, marches, lots of  'frank and open' discussion, even attacks on meter installing workers and court cases leading to imprisonment. The widely held view is that the Government have not handled this at all well, bungling the consultation, hiring hugely expensive consultants, delaying for ever being able to tell anyone how much they would be charged and then drip feeding out concessions as if forced to by the loss of control of the story. There are now concessions for areas where the tap water is not fit to drink (still under a 'boil-water' notice), there are allowances of so many thousand litres of free water per child under 18 per household and, most recently they have published the charge amounts but said that each house will be able to apply for a "Water Conservation Grant" of  €100 as long as you register. Amusingly for us, the charges for the first year(s) at least might be as low as €80 per annum, so the grant will more than pay for it in year 1. I would (cough) have been very troubled taking this generous hand-out (cough) had I not done my bit of water-saving plumbing. Mmmm.

Line-caught North Atlantic mackerel.
Meanwhile, back in the garden you may recall that we have been hankering after some single snowdrops to pep up our 'bee-food' range in the pollen for February department; that is assuming we ever get weather warm enough in the snow drop season  to attract the bees out on any significant foraging flights. The one snow drop fact I am certain of from reading, listening to GQT and my own experience is that the best way to buy snow drops is 'in the green', i.e. when the bulb has finished flowering but still has green leaves.

Healthy snow drops in Una's garden.
In Kent we had a fine population growing, spreading out from a gnarly old James Grieves apple tree. Every year we'd buy another 25, 50 or even 100 bulbs in the green from special offers we saw advertised in national newspapers (The Telegraph one year, I recall). We wanted to do the same here and we were disappointed that none of these offers 'worked' in the Republic of Ireland; we think there must be a regulation against shipping growing plants across country borders, even root-washed.

What we aspire to; neighbour Una's magnificent drift
of flowers along her drive-side bank.
There is one Irish website which purports to be a snowdrop specialist nursery (with all the weird (and sterile) double and triple flowered varieties, species and variants ( )) but as far as I can see it is defunct - I have never managed to get a reply out of it, anyway. We were therefore at a bit of a loss. I found a couple of tiny clumps in 'no-man's-land' in a  roadside ditch, so we appropriated them. This year, though, we have had a result as eagle-eyed Anne spotted a local florist selling pots of snowdrops still in flower ("in the white" we guess?). We snatched up 5 of these at €2 per 3 inch pot.

Our starter population, a filched mini-clump
and 5 potted bunches. 
At first sight we thought they were a bit pricey, 2 'yo-yo's for a tiny clump of 4-6 stems, but when we did the sums, five pots of 5 plants, 25 plants for a tenner, was not that different from the special offer prices we'd been paying for in the UK. In addition, we may have found another light at the end of the tunnel. An internet chum who is a professional gardener has heard our plea and reckons he can do us a batch of 'in the green' from his own stocks when they are done flowering (Thank You, Anchs!). We'll get there. These garden jobs are always best done slowly and patiently, we never did go in for the 3-day make-overs of Alan Titchmarsh and his "Ground Force" team.

These few snowdrops have gone into the lump of ground under the trees we jokingly call the 'Shallow Grave' (see 19th Feb 2012 post at ). When we first exposed it by clearing tall nettles we found the heels of 2 farm boots sticking up perfectly placed to suggest that someone had pitched a dead body in to a hole head first, legs spread, and then buried him leaving the heels sticking out. It's actually not so much 'fertile, well drained soil' as a heady mix of soil with broken glass, bottles, jars, plastic and metal bits - a right old rubbish tip which it's not safe to work without tough gloves. Every time I use the handfork to create planting holes I keep a feed-sack with me for the rubbish, but it is a nice, picturesque mound in which we are growing fox gloves, pulmonaria and hellebores as well as, now, snow drops. Watch this space, but patiently?


Anne Wilson said...

I'm just not sure whether it's fact or fiction about planting in the green.The first snowdrops we planted here were in the green, they bloomed for one year and then disappeared, we have since planted straight bulbs, and in the green, given to us by a gardening friend, both lots are blooming well, in fact the ones planted as bulbs the year before last have multiplied very well, time will tell if the planted in the green will do the same, they were planted last April.

Matt Care said...

You could well be right. We've always had good success with the green and I've only planted two sets of 'dry' autumn bulbs, both of which came to naught ("so far" in the 2nd case - they were planted in 2014 and have not emerged yet.) Meanwhile I see we have real snow again this morning, with a load flurrying down on a squall about 8 o'clock, so any snowdrop not yet woken up is probably hunkered down underground waiting for June!

Anne Wilson said...

We met a friend to today who is a professional gardener, the same one who we got the 'in the green' from, and asked the question, she laughed, it is a fallacy!! the reason they are sold in the green is laziness! They are easy to see and dig up without harming the roots when green, when they have died back it is much harder to find them and dig up without damaging the roots. The ones we planted as bulbs were planted at the same time as our summer flowering bulbs, around the end of April start of May, the bulbs were very plump so I'm guessing they had recently been harvested.

Matt Care said...

That she laughed doesn't surprise me. I expect half these garden 'truths' are invented by companies trying to sell us stuff! Interesting that you say your April-planted bulbs were plump and fresh looking. Where did you get them? This may turn out to be the real key factor - I have only been able to buy dried up shrivelled looking ones in, I think, Autumn