Friday 5 May 2017

Her Royal Honkiness

Our amazing dry spell continues all be it recently with a chill East wind taking the heat off unless you can find shelter. We are mud-less and puddle free and we are loving it but it is certainly too dry for some. The local forestry, bog-land and tracts of scrubby gorse are tinder-dry and wild fires burn across the hillsides for days, keeping the local fire crews busy. Here we are safe enough, being in the middle of a beef-grazing area (though we do have stands of trees and this house is pretty much surrounded by tall black spruce) but we see the big, wide-base plumes of dark smoke on the horizon. One fire was within 15 minutes drive, near Frenchpark. The wind will also be giving those guys problems.

Meanwhile, back here, a post full of miscellaneous jottings across a variety of subjects. First up, with the pigs arriving on Tuesday, I finally got round to creating the little nameplate I do every year so that their ark begins to resemble a much-won trophy with each year's plate attached. This year we have gone with names from literature, being the Empress of Blandings and the Pride of Matchingham.

Literary-minded readers will know that these were two Berkshire pigs competing for the local livestock show "Fattest Pig" prize in the PG Wodehouse books. PGW being, of course, he who wrote about Bertie Wooster and his manservant, Jeeves. Well, these pigs are not Berkshires (They are OSBs again) and neither are they both sows. Nor will they be overly fat but I like the names, so Empress and Pride they will be.

Plenty of blossom on our James Grieves, mainly a pollinator tree
The other sign in my pic is one I was asked to do by a good friend (Hi, Margaret G) when she saw a pic of my last year's ones. Her pigs are long-standing, breeding age beasts. "Honky" from "Her Royal Honkiness" is self explanatory but I always smile at 'Parker'. Parker was the long suffering, nasal-speaking manservant/chauffeur to Lady Penelope in the Thunderbirds series when I was little. "Yes..... Be-Lady" and from Margaret's feed on Twitter, it sounds like Parker is always having to give way to Honks as she claims the lion's share of new warm bedding, any new ark, food or pretty much ANY resource that a lady-pig could monopolise!

This week saw us at the end of this goose-egg season. The ladies in that frame have now gone broody, so they are keeping any more eggs well hidden under their skirts and we are happy to let them. They started laying on 14th November and we have had goose eggs continuously since then. I haven't counted them up yet but if we can't spare them a few to go 'Mumsy' on then we are not doing the welfare "Freedom to express natural behaviours" thing properly in my view.

Give me your tired, your poor, your
huddled (swarming) masses yearning to
(come and live in a nice hive).
I have also deployed our honey bee swarm lure/box in the big ash tree just coinciding with the very warm (swarms a possibility) weather turning to our present bitingly cold Easterly breeze (swarming unlikely). We caught no swarm last year and I don't really expect to this year as at least 2 local bee keepers have come out of bees and there are very few apiaries where our box would be within scout-bee range.

Our first 2017 asparagus puts in an appearance.
Even so, I have baited the box as advised with old frames, a bit of honey and some sprigs of lemon balm. It is possible that if our own hive swarms and I can't get at the swarm (too high up, vanishes over a hedge while I'm not paying attention etc), the scout bees from that might find my box during their "house-hunt" phase and helpfully come nearly home again. Possible, but not very likely. 'First Prize' would be if I am there on the day they swarm, and they adjourn to a nice, low-hanging bit of hedge nearby where I can scoop them up.

Some gardening course output
Other than that, our main 'excitement' has been a gardening course offered to the Village for free, funded by local Training body "GRETB" (Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board) so accepted by Liz in her role at the Centre, publicised and marketed widely. Liz and I would know quite a lot about gardening, of course, but there is always more to learn and we also wanted to support the endeavour.

A very old, tumble-down apple tree at the bottom of our land
manages to show lots of blossom despite always looking as
if it is on its last legs.
Even while the play was on we made sure there was at least one of us present. It has been (it's still running) a very enjoyable course. The guy, Richard, is a lovely bloke full of neat tricks-of-the-trade and also very generous with his training materials - plants grown in his nursery, peat bought in bulk, even tubs and pots. We have had a great time and learned lots. We have been able to bring home no end of seeds sown, trays and tubs planted up. Liz has also had a wealth of 'stories' to keep the website fresh.

An old pile of brushwood with nettles growing through it?
Yes but dead centre, the dark hole is a sneaky chicken nest
hole - another secret outdoor stash discovered.
So where does that leave us? Pigs are just around the corner. The orchard is pretty with blossom and I spotted some first asparagus breaking surface today. I have been walking the dogs away from here in my car-ride sites, Kilrooan and Kiltybranks. At Kiltybranks this morning I not only saw a hare, but also 'found' a colony of sand martins digging nest-burrows into the vertical face of some newly dug peat.

Sweet chestnut.
The big diggers cut the blocks of turf out from a 3m "cliff" moving across the ground dropping the ground-level as they horizontally go. In this case the 'cliff' backs a dug out 'sump' full of water so the martins presumably think they are on a river bank. The peat is lovely and dry after our weeks of no rain and now drying East wind so must be easy digging. I do worry that Digger-man might come back and take another bite out of the cliff nests and all, sending the birds down through the hopper, extruded like toothpaste and laid out to dry for burning this coming winter. Stay safe you sand martins.

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