Tuesday 28 August 2012

Strength to Strength

Another of my 'catch-up' posts which rambles around a few subjects never really knowing where it is going to alight next. The kindergarten go from strength to strength as well as increasing in size so that the pups are starting to look like young dogs rather than  puppies. They also discover the delights of rolling in 'muck' and are continuously exploring new bits of garden, so return covered, for example, with goose-grass seeds from the woods. Both can now happily sprint upstairs and get down again safely, un-aided. The kittens look more like young cats now and they too are expanding their boundaries. They find they can climb quite high into the spruce trees. The bark is nicely rough and grippy and the branches wide and horizontal for a goodly length away from the trunk. The picture shows the pair (in red circle). You can imagine Mum was getting a bit anxious! The four-man pic is a try at getting all 4 faces into one shot, with Aoife (Rhymes with Deefer) the Vet, grappling 2 puppies as a favour after she'd injected all 4 animals with their first or 2nd shots.

A ridiculous amount of rain falls over Sunday night; it keeps us awake with its 'roar' on the roof and its hammering against the windows. It falls onto already very wet ground and Dad is horrified to find that his drainage moats round 4 of the 7 new fruit trees are brim-full with water, the poor trees sitting glumly in a mini lake. Dad quickly digs slit trenches out from each moat downhill to allow the moats to drain. This is a worry.

On the Monday is Mum's birthday. She has a lovely quiet 'private' kind of a one in which Dad gets to do all the fussing around, shopping and cooking and Mum gets a good rest. Dad has managed to find a white Hydrangea which Mum has been after for a while, plus a couple of other bits. She is particularly delighted with these pink 'Hunter' wellies sent by Diamond and wears them all of Tuesday and threatens to wear them to bed too. We think they are really cool!

With most of the garden now pretty much under control (at least scythed and mowed) Mum and Dad  turn their attention to the possibility of doing a pond in the bit formerly known as "The bit we don't talk about". Already known to be a bit boggy (hence the not talking about it- it was a mess of rushes) and in a slight saucer collecting the run off from the car port this area will be the same 'geology' as the rest, ie a foot or so of top soil lying over good old yellow Roscommon clay with rocks in it. There is space here, unlike in Faversham to create a tidy sized pond - maybe upwards of 20' by 10' (all be it they will have to dig it by hand!). We hope that the clay will allow us to make it waterproof by puddling the bottom and smearing the puddle stuff up the sides to ground level, across the topsoil to stop the sides leaking. Mum and Dad tentatively mark out a likely position, size and shape using a long electrical flex and then white emulsion paint on the grass. Today they had a bit of a poke about at one edge with the pointy shovel to try to establish the depth of topsoil and to confirm that the clay might be 'puddle-able' and could be made waterproof. There has even been chat on the internet poultry website about a few ducks, possibly even the multi-coloured 'Mandarin' ducks, but don't hold your breath for those just yet.

Finally, today, the talk of breeding rabbits has to include the construction of some private 'nursery' hutches in which the lady rabbits can spend their 'confinement' while they 'kindle' (produce their 'kittens'). Dad decides to do this in the calf house using the existing structure of the mangers which you may recall from when we first had chickens and they used to roost there. He does this using left over tongue-and-groove board from the hot press door project, waste span planks from Sparks's attic conversion and spare plywood left from building the log store. Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. Organic, Sustainable Anne and Simon would be proud of us!

The Deefs

Making New Friends

We have made some new friends locally; a small-holder couple called Anne and Simon. They live quite close. They are just a few kilometers south of the local village of Lough Glynn as we are a few kms north. Dad first 'found' Anne on an internet poultry discussion forum website and when they got chatting they realised how close they were each to Castlerea. It was Anne who suggested Mum and Dad go to Castlerea Agricultural Show where they had such an enjoyable day. Dad and Anne had swapped mobile phone numbers with a plan to text each other at the Show and maybe meet up for a burger or a coffee. In the event they nearly missed each other and met up for a quick chat and a chance to meet and put faces to names in the car-park as they were all headed home. Mum and Dad and Anne and Simon promised to invite each to look round the two small holdings.

Anne and Simon are a bit older than 'us' and have been at the small holder game far longer. This one is their 4th or 5th; they have 'done' a couple here in Ireland and then one in Galicia and one Catalonia and have now moved back to Co Roscommon, even though they are both, actually, Brits. They are both mad keen 'organic' farmers who were in at the start when the organic movement first kicked off in Ireland and Anne was a lecturer on poultry management in the Organic Centre at Rossinver, Co. Lietrim and they do a lot of the 'permaculture' stuff and sustainability techniques as well as playing with African-Aid style "Keyhole beds". They are pleasantly 'old hippy'-ish. They keep the place going despite not being in the first flush of youth or the pink of health and they have dozens of chickens in 3 main breeds (including Buffs and La Bresse) as well as 2 donkeys (just to keep the grass down!), many ducks and huge meat-rabbits. Successfully burgeoning fruit and veg are everywhere and there is a well stocked poly tunnel. They also have 9 cats and 2 aged dogs all of which they brought back from Spain with them through all the hassles of rabies control and import vetting.

Mum and Dad were invited down for a visit and a look round on Thursday 16th, arrived with a jar of our blackcurrant jam, and came away with a jar of lemon curd and 4 blackcurrant plants. They returned the visit on Thursday 23rd arriving with 6 big duck eggs for Mum and Dad. They fell in love with all we dogs and puppies and, especially, Anne loved the kittens. We were all a tiny bit anxious, as if we were going to be 'inspected' but we needn't have worried. They were delighted with the place and impressed by the amount of work which has been done to get it to where we are now, all be it we are miles 'behind' Anne and Simon in the getting-established stakes. On both visits the chatting was fascinating and Mum and Dad learned so much. We are now all firm friends and the 'cultural exchange' visits are likely to continue into the future. Next stop is for Dad to take our lady rabbits, Ginny and Padfoot down to 'meet' their meat-breed Californian White buck, Peter. (Don't worry, Rogers is still here and his turn will come but for now he is still a bit small to be taking on the chunky girls). We hope that nature will take its course - that will happen on about the 6th September and 28-34 days later we may be in the baby bunny game.

Friday 24 August 2012

Irish Reg' for the 2CV

A landmark moment arrives as Dad finally gets hold of his Irish registration plates for the 2CV. Known as "Clara Bow" because of her C692BOW UK reg, we are not quite sure what to call her now! Dad picks up the plates as he is at our very helpful local garage in Ballaghaderreen and our friendly lady there, Helene enquires how it's all going. Dad tells her he is having the divvil and all job getting hold of a replacement windscreen from the UK due to our good friend 2CV Llew's fairly relaxed approach to getting the one he has onto a courier. Helene suggests she look locally on websites and through suppliers she knows, and (ta daaaa!) finds one (allegedly) available at a place called Sligo Windscreens. The garage will let Dad know the price, get hold of it, fit it, sort the ignition (Clara does not idle very well at present) and an indicator-repeater bulb and pre-NCT it for us. We might actually get her on the road! Dad celebrates by firing her up and taking her for a spin around the west field!

Meanwhile here is a nice picture of the Kindergarten, just because we have taken one. Left to right at nearly 3 months, are Poppy, Towser, Blue and Rolo.

The Orchard and the Cattle Fence

With a good start from the apple and pear trees from Steak Lady, we get all inspired to carry on with the orchard. We have space in the western field (and therefore space inside the as-yet-only-imaginary sheep paddock), for 4 rows of 5 trees each at 5 metre spacings, i.e. 20 trees. This is an amount of space our trees in the so called 'orchard' at Faversham could only dream of. We had crammed them in as whips and could barely give them 5 feet between trunks so that the fast growing quince and greengage quickly dominated the space and the poor cherry and damson felt very left out. Not this time. The trees here can go 2 and a half metres (8 feet or so) radius out from the trunk before the branch tips touch, so we are hoping for some good shaped big  productive trees.

So we nipped off on the Tuesday to seek out cherry, greengage and plum. We scored the GG and a 'Morel' (sour, cooking) cherry at the garden centre in Balla-D and later a sweet cherry and a Victoria plum at the one in Castlerea. They just about fit in Mum's little car if she sits in the back behind Dad and the pots go in the front passenger footwell, the top branches just inside the rear hatchback window (which we know from buying wood for building, is just over 8 feet away!)

The main issue here, says local advice (and we'd know from Dad's many failures of allotment crops this year) is water logging and drainage. Plums and "stone fruit" in particular do not like their roots to sit in the wet. Dad therefore adapted/created a special planting method which he calls the Volcanic Cone Method. You cut out a circle of turf as you would anywhere but so that this does not create a sump or pit for the rain to collect in, you dig within this effectively a raised bed for each tree. This leaves you a cone of soil with a circular moat for drainage, and the tree hole is dug into the top of the cone so that the whole thing looks like a flattened volcano cone. Dad then staked the trees against the prevailing SW winds (Atlantic Gales!) and covered the cone in black plastic sheet to both stop any weeds and also to further shed any water. So far they seem to have worked and they should (as we say talismanically about everything we plant) "get away nicely". Mum usually adds "Grow you bugger!" for good luck. Dad's comes from Geoff Hamilton's TV show Gardeners' World and Mum's from the magazine of the same show but much later when Alan Titchmarsh was in charge and writing pieces for the back pages each week.

Meanwhile our fencing guy, Paul, shows up to erect the cattle proof fence to run down the west side of our east field just outside the trees. This will stop the cattle that will rent the grazing out there from coming into the garden, onto our 'primrose lane', and out the front gate onto the road, so it was vital that we do it before Mike the Cows would entertain letting his cows in. They will come and go from our Vendor Anna L's land 'round the back' of us (to the North) through a gap which is currently fenced off. Readers will know we have already had 2 batches of cattle from the lane 'escape' into our ground and smash up the soft, soggy lawns (see picture) so that we are anxiously waiting for local forge Tully's to create our entrance gates. I will probably have to bark at them as they loom ever closer over the yard wall!

Paul turned up with posts and wire and then came back with a post whacker attached to the back of the tractor. This is a brutal and dangerous weapon, capable of whacking an 8 foot long, 10 inch diameter pointy-ended post down 4 feet into the Roscommon clay in minutes, thumping it from above. Paul tells us he has heard many stories of people losing fingers or hands, mainly those who only hire the kit once in a blue moon. Our Irish friend in Kent, Rona D tells Dad they are known locally as the 'Widow Maker'. Anyway, Paul used it and came out unscathed and we have a lovely taut fence running 83 yards down the field and into the ditch, secured by three strands of green-coated barbed wire. That should keep Felix and his ladies and the children out.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Steak Lady

Monday sees the first ever visit by Steak Lady and Mr SL to this house and Dad claims to be as nervous as when he was a-courting Mum and had to go meet the In-Laws for the first time. Then it was, "Will they think I am a suitable partner for their precious No 1 daughter?" Now, 20 years later it's all about whether they'd like the house and home we'd created and would they approve of the potentially mad thing we've done stopping work, selling up in Kent and moving to this Brand New Life. Mum was, I suppose, a little nervous about whether Steak Lady would think she was a good housewife and home maker. There was a bit of tidying frenzy, menus were drawn up and some special foods prepared. Zero hour was 11 and the stage was set. Sparks texted us an ETA having lent Steak Lady his satnav and set it running for them. The plot was afoot.

In the event we need not have worried. Steak Lady and Mr SL seemed delighted with the place right from the off. They loved the tour showing them all the rooms and they were impressed thoughout by the clean, light, newness and obvious build quality. Mum sat them down with a quick snack of toast with mackerel paté (from yesterday's beardy-Skipper's fish), fancy ham and cheese and Steak Lady piled in with relish. "I WOLFED it down!" she told a friend who called to see how things were going. Then we all got our wellies on and showed them round the fields and garden and, again, they were delighted. We adjourned to the sitting room (now set up as a clean 'best parlour' after the eviction of all kindergarten beasties). Here I schmoozed up alongside Mr SL who made a big fuss of me. He loves dogs anyway, and has 3 Yorkies one of whom is (the late) Coco's brother and litter mate. Kitten 'Blue' adopted Steak Lady's lap.

We were called through to lunch, which was a delicious fish pie plus peas and curly kale from the garden and everyone piled in again so that the dish was soon scraped clean. Steak Lady then produced from her car three lovely stocky healthy fruit trees with which Dad can start his planned orchard, a 'Katy' and a 'Red Windsor' apple and a Conference Pear. These needed a drink, so were stood in the tin bath for a while. They will not need watering much once they are in the ground here in Roscommon if this summer carries on the way it has been going, but the rain held off for our tour and for Dad to mark out the position of the trees in the planned orchard. They also produced for Mum's imminent birthday, a lovely fancy table cloth from Montenegro, where they'd been on holiday as part of a cruise.

And so the visit ended and Steak Lady  and Mr SL headed back to Dublin with the satnav re-set to home. They had been a bit nervous that we were 'so far away' and that it would be a difficult and exhausting journey. Now they were delighted that it wasn't so bad after all, 2 and a half hours of easy, mainly major road and motorway driving. They will be back, they promise. Safe journey, you guys! Sláin Abhaile.

By the time they arrived home, Mum and Dad had started the orchard, planting those first three trees, but that's for another post.

Hooker Racing

On the Sunday (19th Aug) we return to Kinvarra for another try to see Hooker racing, but this time we are more familiar with the race programme's talk of 5pm starts and 6pm high tides and we don't even set out for Kinvarra till 2.30pm - it's an hour and a half drive. This gives us plenty of time in the morning to garden and do some logging plus Mum, who has now had a phone call from Steak Lady saying she and Mr SL will be visiting on Monday, to have a bit of a tidy up round the house.

Heavy rain on the way down frightens us into thinking we'll not see any racing without getting very wet, but this clears as we arrive at Kinvarra and stays away long enough for us to have a brilliant time and get plenty of pictures. We have time to park up, stroll round the harbour looking at the 'trade stands', buy an ice cream and watch some race preparation. In hooker racing this takes the form of loading coal sacks with rocks filched from the beach and placing them low in the boat as ballast. These rocks can then be jettisoned during the race if they have done with 'beating to windward' and are 'running' home downwind. They are only needed to help keep the boat upright battling into the wind.

Before the race starts we move back out to our Parkmore Pier viewpoint where we get talking to some locals (including some ex-pats who prove to be an RAF armourer called Fergus and his Thames-born, Essex Girl lady who 'knows about' Thames barges and has heard of Cambria. The racing, as predicted, passes close to us and the sun shines on the ochre-red sails and Dad is able to get some beautiful pictures, a million of which we will not bore you with here. The racing is close and exciting and we see one close shave where the bow sprit of a boat nearly entangles with the back of the leading boat.

I have a lovely time racing about the pier meeting dogs, race-watchers and anglers all of whom seem to want to make a fuss of me and Mum and Dad swear I am remembering narrow boat holidays and all the fun jumping on and off boats. At one stage a fishing trip-boat pulls in to the pier to land its party of sport fishermen. It is skippered by a superb beardy character who then nips up the pier and jumps in his rowboat which is tied to the pier and loaded with his old bicycle. He rows the rowboat back to where his fishing boat is and loads the bike on board, tying the rowboat to his fishing boat so that he can tow it away. The 'Essex Girl' approaches him and asks to buy some mackerel which he has in a crate on deck, left over from the trip. He is selling them for 4 for €2 which is too much for Mum and Dad to resist so we buy 4 and that's supper sorted.

The run home, with Mum driving is notable for its 'Biblical' rain with massive puddles and flooding and aqua-planing opportunities. At one point Mum is doing 33 mph with the wipers going double-speed and she is still a bit worried. Probably the wettest drive either of them can recall. Back home we find the middle gate closed and cattle foot prints all over the place. There has obviously been another escape in our absence and we are doubly determined to quickly buy an entrance gate. Luckily only the 'hay stack' is knocked about and no damage has been done to veg, the rabbit run or any other important stuff that wont repair easily. The beasts can stay on the tarmac outside next time, and not mess up our grass.

High and Dry in Kinvarra

 On Saturday 18th we return to Kinvarra hoping to catch some Galway Hooker racing as part of the traditional boat festival, "Cruinniú na mBad" (Gathering of the boats, or 'Harvest' of the boats). Only having seen the harbour last Thursday at half tide, we do not appreciate how low the tide goes or how the water all drains away leaving the harbour as acres of rocks and bladder wrack. High tide is promised for 6pm and the boat racing and events on Saturday start from about 4pm but we thought we would be able to see a few coming and going, jilling about in the harbour or practising. We'd left home at 10:30 and were there around midday. Not a bit of it. Everyone is high and dry. Dad takes a few picture of the hulls and rigging, some from walking about on the rocks and sea weed. I get a nice run around among the rocks hunting out crabs and nasty dead sea things to roll in.

Dad wondered if we moved further down the Kinvarra Bay to a place called Parkmore Pier we find some water and some boaty activity, so we re-load into the car and drove the short distance to there. Here there was one Hooker swinging at her moorings but still no activity. Never mind - this looked like a good place to take pictures from as it was near the narrow bay mouth and the boats were bound to pass close by. Easy range for Dad's 400 mm 'pap' lens.

At this point we gave up on Kinvarra for the day and decided it was way too early to head home, so we'd go home the scenic route back through 'the other Kinvarra' (See 2 posts ago), Connemara, the Maamturk Mountains and Cong. This time it would be Mum's turn to drive so that Dad could drink in the scenery but we had also brought a picnic, so we'd find a scenic spot and get out the metaphorical hamper.

This is just an awesomely beautiful drive and even in the cloudy change-able light it still took our breaths away. The picnic we took at the top of an inlet where the peaty stream emptied into the sea under a lovely stone bridge. There was a slipway, and I could have a paddle. The drive was as quiet and traffic free as before, with only a few rangey mountainy-rams with curly horns and the odd creamy coloured Connemara pony for company. Only at one point we were driving down a steep twisty lane following a dodgy looking tractor which pulled a livestock trailer and a smaller trailer with wobbly wheels 'in train'. The livestock trailer was open at the back and seemed to be stacked to the roof with bags of turfs, some of the bags threatening to avalanche out of the back. Perched in the back was an old guy leaning back on the load as if to keep it from falling and although we couldn't hear a word he was saying and presumably neither could the tractor driver, his jaws were working away as if he was having a right old swear up rant. Every so often he would cling to the side of the trailer and try to keep his balance while adjusting the position of a tumbling turf sack. If the whole rig made it safely home with the winter fuel we'll all be amazed, Mum sneaked a chance to overtake, not wanting to be stuck behind that lot and ferrying the poor bloke to hospital if it all went pear shaped.

Sometimes the old ways....

We turn our attention to "the bit we don't talk about", the only bit of the new garden and grounds without a proper new name. Mum and Dad realised they had been making great plans for "The West Field", "The East Field", "The Pottery", "The Front Terrace", "The Woods", "The Secret Garden" and so on but there, staring them in the face was a chunk of 'neither here nor there' where long grasses, rushes, willowherb and bush-vetch grew, where tractors occasionally passed and where there were still heaps of 'spoil' left by 804-Pete's mini-digger. Something was going to have to be done or it would stay an eye sore in the middle of all the good stuff, right in the line of site between favoured evening seating area (The Pottery) and the sunsets the sitters were trying to watch.

Dad had had a bit of a poke about with the 'Old Father Time' scythe but the thatch was too tough and the mower struggled with the amount of cut material it had to spew out before it could bite off any new. Even a strimmer would struggle here trying to battle the cut stuff which would fall down where it was cut. There was only one answer, the old fashioned Sussex "Grass-hook" hand-scythe accompanied by lifting out the cut swathes and stooking them up to clear the ground, allowing you a clear swing on the next pass.

It was a scorcher of a day and working in shirtsleeves Dad quickly had a good old sweat going. He was thankful every now and then that the 'annoying puppies' would stray too near and give him a break from swinging the hook from a kneeling position, making him stand up and fork some 'hay' away with the hay fork.  In the end he was standing in the 'aftermath' dripping with sweat and feeling like it was the 70's again and he was back in the student-jobs pitching straw bales. The grass had been so long that the bases, down in the dark, were straw coloured anyway, so it looked like a field of stubble, and the piled up grass, all be it wet with dew and rain from previous days, looked like a miniature version of an old fashioned hay-stack. The old style pitch-fork and hand scythe added to the impression. Pure pleasure, confessed Dad. Funny what makes the old bugger happy!

The hot still day finished with a chance to drop another tree and create some more logs, in this case a dead spruce which proved, on counting the tree rings, to be about 49 years old. These are nice and easy to fell and to log up and , being dead standing and nearly bereft of side branches, easy to clean too. The log store is filling nicely.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Galway Hookers

There's no point in being in this lovely part of the world if you can't go out and do 'tourist' once in a while, and (says Dad) there's no point in being the official blogger on a website devoted to working sail boats of you can't occasionally indulge your passions for the West Coast traditional sailing work boat, the Galway Hooker. In these days of puppy and kitten overload, I am occasionally indulged with a car trip rather than be left alone to kill the kindergarten and so it was today that I was loaded into the car for a bit of touristing.

The plan was to look up the Hookers in the centre of restoration excellence, Kinvarra, but there are several Kinvarras on the map. We headed first for the one in Connemara - we knew that the hookers were mainly used to ferry turf, supplies and livestock between the islands and headlands of Connemara, so this seemed logical and anyway, gave us all a superb scenic run out through Ballyhaunis, down to Ballinrobe and then threading out between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask and on through the Maamturk mountains and down to the first Kinvarra. This proved to not be a sea harbour (all be it very scenic) so we headed on south and the east along the North shore of Galway Bay, stopping for a picnic on the beach, where I got a nice run a round.

From there we headed on through Galway and south again to the Kinvarra near to the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren. Not only did the town signs have Galway Hooker logos, but as soon as we set eyes on the harbour we spotted the lovely black hull of a big hooker (Cliona na Toinne). We parked up and went for a walk, spotting another couple of hookers including the small type they call púcán. Dad took a million photos (it takes all sorts). Mum spotted a poster advertising a Traditional Boats Festival running tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday

Hands up who thinks we'll be going back?


Wednesday 15 August 2012

Lazy Beds

With the guests gone and the evidence of their visit squared away, Dad can get back into the garden and check out progress on the vegetables after the week of beautiful sunshine. The warmth has brought on the peas and broad beans beautifully, so we can have a first portion  of peas with supper on Monday night. The broads will be a few more days yet but the runners and French beans are starting to flower profusely. We are also looking at some courgettes soon in the kitchen garden from which we have already been enjoying various cut and come again salad stuff.

The broader picture, though, has Dad needing to finally give in to the local method for raised beds or lazy beds and trenches. It's just been too wet this year gardening on the flat, to hoe or control weeds, so that we have a depressing embarrassing lawn of weeds between the rows of crop so that a mower is sometimes more appropriate than a hoe. The crops sulk in damp, cold misery, succumb to slugs or general malaise so that often 'we' have just given up on them and ploughed them back in.

Way back, when Mike the Cows was tractor-ploughing and tractor-rotovating he did suggest ridging it up (which is quite easy, I now know, with a couple of changes to settings on the rotovator) but we didn't really know what we were about back then and Dad thought he meant into potato-style ridges. We declined the offer, thinking we'd be able to plant rows 2 feet apart and simply walk-behind-rotovate up the rows like you would in Kent to keep the weeds down. Then came the rain for most of May, June and July and the flat rotovated land saturated and could not drain.

It was John Deere Bob who explained what was meant by ridges - three or four foot wide broad ridges (what they'd call 'breeds' in the Fens) with deepish trenches between but with the ridges/trenches aligned down the slope (we'd done our initial rows across the allotment, effectively parallel to the contours). You can either dig the whole site over and then make trenches or use a traditional Irish method which saves quite a few square yards of digging and that's called 'Lazy Beds'. You skim the turf (or 'lawn of weeds in Dad's case) off where the trench will be, folding it over to lie upside down on the edge of the ridge, grass to grass. You then shovel out the trench and use the soil to bury the rest of the ridge and the flipped over turfs. You can also then cover the whole with plastic to further supress weeds. We used plastic sheeting left over from the building project, plus we recycled the ground sheets from Mr Silverwood's thrown-away tent. We have since seen pics of raised beds and Lazy Beds in the Museum of Country Life in Turlough, Co. Mayo, so we now feel very authentic!

Now we're talking. Now the soil in the ridge tops is drying out and does not water-log and Dad can stroll up and down in the trenches easily getting at the weeds even on the wettest day. The rest of the allotment will be converted to raised beds as it comes free after we have harvested the current crops of beans, cabbages etc.

My final pictures on this catch up are just a nice shot of the High Hopes pink rose climbing up the Tígín wall and a nice box of 9 eggs showing 4 dated today (15th Aug) just because all the gals are now in production.