Sunday 23 September 2012


Readers will have seen plenty of photo's taken from our new place looking outwards but with the pups now big enough to take it, and the Charolais cattle (and Felix the bull) now moved off the land surrounding ours, Dad decided we could all go for a nice walk around Vendor Anna's parcel of land. Anna's bit surrounds ours to the south, west and north, running down to the stream (amusingly named the River Suck, this is the Suck's upper reaches where it is just a 6 foot wide, peaty coloured drainage stream). We bought the 2 and a half acres to the centre and east boundary, giving us a good shaped square with the house at the centre. Anna has given us permission to stroll at will as long as we don't upset the cattle of her tenant (and our chum) Mike the Cows.

 Anna also owns the tract of turf-cutting bog, now abandoned and overgrown with rushes to the north of the River Suck, reached by crossing one of the concrete or railway-sleeper "kesh" bridges. My first picture shows the view out NW over the main 'kesh' out past Ballaghaderreen and on towards western Sligo, eastern Mayo, Castlebar etc. The sandy coloured vegetation is the thigh-high rushes in the abandoned bog. Dad was thinking of going to dig a bit of turf for a laugh here but John Deere Bob tells us you'd really need a huge excavator to chop off a yard or so of rushes, roots and top rubbish before you got to any meaningful cut-able turf.

My 2nd picture is again looking out across the bog but more to the NE, so into Balla-D and on to Lietrim and (eventually) Donegal. This is all Anna's land (Well, actually, land owned by the Three Sisters, but it is Anna we deal with, so we tend to think of it as hers, as opposed to "Ours"). 3rd pic is one of the keshes, this one with a small weir under it and a very beautiful westie on top......(coughs modestly).

It's nice too to be way out there and to look back at how our house and its surrounding trees, which are  mainly the tall Black Spruce trees they call 'Dale Trees' round these parts, how it all sits in the landscape.

My 4th picture shows the view from the kesh back up (southward) the slope to our house. On the skyline central are the trees which were planted around the 'Secret Garden' with our house behind them from here and the trees to the left are those along our SE boundary with the lane, the 'headland' of our east field. This is one of 'Anna's' fields, our land starts at hawthorn hedge at the top of this slope and goes on climbing for another 15 or so feet.

My last picture is from the 5 acre field out west of us (the Charolais' favourite) looking eastward back along our ridge to the house which is among those trees. Just left of centre on this pic is the gate through by our hay barn. To the right on skyline are the spruce trees of our 'wood' in the Front garden, and the spruce trees of the Secret Garden to left of centre.

So now you've had the tour. You must be exhausted from all that ridge-climbing. Come in. sit down and have a cup of 'tay' and a scone.


Comments are Welcome

Just to let you know that we have just officially taken the plunge and moved this blog over to an Irish email address. Up to now it's been running with the old British Telecom address which, although we stopped paying for the service in October last year when we left the Whitstable Road address, is still up there and seems to be working. We now use a Google-Mail address for most things ( but, bizarrely, this domain name is not acceptable to, so we have been unable to "move". To Hell with all that, we said and today we signed up for an Eircom email address (we are paying Eircom for Broadband anyway) and tried that on Blogger and it was accepted.

Which if all that sort of thing goes flying over your head without touching a hair means, in short....

YOU CAN NOW COMMENT ON THIS BLOG and we will get the comments and, if appropriate, answer them. We would love to hear from you and to know that someone out there is paying attention and, hopefully, enjoying what we do here.

My site meter, incidentally, tells me we are now approaching 30,000 page views, so somebody must be in and looking.

Meanwhile, Thank you for your attention and support in the past.

Coo, don't I sound 'official'?
The Deefs.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Settled In

Readers will be pleased to know that the sheep have settled in OK and are all thriving on our nice moist green grass. 40 shades of Green and all that. In this case, obviously "The Green and Red of Mayo" as these ladies were born in Irishtown, Co.Mayo so should be supporting Mayo in tomorrow's All-Ireland GAA football final and if Dad can get them a green and red flag for one of their fence posts he probably will. Our mission is to settle them down nicely so that they are calmly eating and putting on weight. They arrived at respectively 31, 32 and 33 kg and a good slaughter weight would be in the range 46 to 60 kg, 46 for lean meat, 60 for more fatty meat.

Looking at the various websites, carcass weight is about 48% of live weight (although that depends on about a million other factors) and the offal bits that Mum and Dad love (hearts, kidneys, liver) are on top of that. A big old shoulder joint here can be around €27, and the lamb meat can be from €5 per kilo for scraggy stewing bits, up to €21 for rack of lamb. The theory is that having bought these girls for €80 each (€2.44 per kilo live weight) we should still win and have the fun of owning sheep, followed by a freezer full of lamb slaughtered and butchered up by our own tame butcher's "behind the scenes" meat factory, Cuniffe's.

There is, though, a 2nd option which may be called into play. These are healthy, good quality girls who would easily take being bred from to produce our own lambs. This obviously involves keeping them  alive and fed through the winter and then putting them to a hired or bought in ram at the appropriate time and then coping with all the lambing fun and games. Mum and Dad are not sure if they are ready for all that yet. Meanwhile, there's an acre less for Dad to mow.

All the hand feeding and making friends is mainly about getting them so used to us that we can slip a halter onto each one and lead them about the place, including onto other grass like the front lawn. You get them used to the bucket of 'nuts', goes the theory and they will follow you anywhere, so you can get them to the lawn and 'home' again when required. You can also tether them to the fence by their front end while you clip any 'dags' off (I'm not going to explain) round their bums to keep them clean and prevent fly-strike.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Connie, Dora and Flo'

In 'Small Holder' terms and exciting and momentous day when, without a lot of warning, we end up owning 3 sheep. Yesterday saw us finally get a visit from the fencing contractor, Paul M (Paul the Fence) who had been 'going to do' our sheep paddock for what seemed like weeks without ever showing up or phoning and Dad was just getting to the stage where he would do it himself or find another contractor, when Paul phoned to tell us the price and ask could he start "tomorrow". It was all agreed and Paul duly showed up Tuesday evening to drop off the wire and posts. He'd be back 'first thing' he said.

On the cattle-fencing job a few weeks back this had taken us all by surprise by meaning 0800 so this time Dad was ready after an 0700 alarm call. Foolish Boy! Of course, Paul rolled in at 11:30 with his tractor mounted post-whacker. Dad and he got stuck in and worked all day round to 6:30 pm creating the paddock, hanging the gate and so on. Very nice it looks too and the puppies and I are interested to note that the sheep wire has smaller holes at ground level and is puppy proof (and grown-up dog proof also). Mum did sterling service catering, supplying bacon sarnies at lunchtime and scones and jam / Greek Stafilia at 4pm. Paul seemed to very much appreciate this and happily piled into the home made bread, homemade jam and lemon curd, and the Greek 'Stafilia' which is a syrupy sweet grape confection.

 With the paddock built, Dad this morning contacted our friend, stilt-walking plasterer and sheep farmer, Kenny O'C (Kenny the Sheep) to let him know to start looking for 'our' sheep, but warned him that with Dad in the UK soon on a  Mon-Fri, to avoid those dates, thinking we'd get our sheep after that. Not a bit of it. Kenny was delivering some of his own sheep to the abattoir today and would happily let us have some of the 'remainder' sheep which had not yet made the required weight. Mum and Dad had decided to go with three ewe lambs this time while we find our feet and Kenny has some Texel x Jacob ewes at around 32 kg which will do nicely.
He was able to deliver them tonight so, a bit sooner than we had all expected, we find ourselves sheep owners. Kenny arrived at about 6pm in his huge shiny 4 x 4 with sheep trailer attached with our three sheep in the trailer and his young son Oisín in the cab  (it's pronounced "Urshin"). This was backed up to the gate in the pouring rain and with all dogs confined to in the house, humans blocked exits and guided the three into the new paddock. They stood around admiring the animals and talking sheep for a while and then retreated to the warm dry indoors to do all the necessary paperwork.

 Since foot and mouth there are now plenty of forms to fill in with every movement of every sheep around the country and each one is uniquely tag-numbered
These ladies are 4 months old and were born in Irishtown, County Mayo. This is only their 2nd address. To the government they are called IE045492600051B, 61C and 62E respectively but Mum has decided to name them after three sisters of the PG Wodehouse character Lord Emsworth, so to us they are Constance (Connie), Dora and Florence (Flo). Good luck girls. You mission is to achieve weights of about 50-60 kg by about Christmas and for Mum and Dad to not fall in love with you (too much)


Funny Old Season

We are coming at last to the end of this very unusual, frustrating season in the garden. Everyone round here (and further a-field) has had the same cold and wet as we have done and have commented that it has been the worst year ever. We, though, have also had to live with the fact that we did not finish building the house till the end of April so that (with the exception of a few spuds from the 'Secret Garden') nothing even got sown till May and in the Kitchen Garden 3 of the raised beds did not exist till June. Dad says he would not normally have the nerve to be publishing this stuff. We are only now, in September, able to pick our first few sweet peas and harvest our first chard and "Summer" squashes.

Roses here seem to come from the Garden Centres forced into flower outside of their normal season so that you buy them and plant them and the shop flush of flowers dies off. The rose then sorts itself out and consolidates its root system before eventually, producing a proper flush of flowers. In our case this is now, in September as for the Joseph's Coat climber above. In the garden we are more concerned with getting ready for Winter than 'first flushes' of bloom.

On that score we have had another result akin to the discovery of buried coal and anthracite in that heap in the Pond Garden (formerly the 'bit we don't talk about'). That is the discovery by the side of the drive of piles of buried and overgrown gravel for the drive. The drive as we bought the house was graveled with very nice round small pebbles, all be it well buried under 15 years of spruce needles and now bearing a fine layer of turf. The gravel seems to be of a type now described as 'decorative stone' and therefore commanding a premium. Whenever we have bought gravel since it is called "804" grade and is crushed, sharp-edged pieces of stone which bare feet do not enjoy walking on. These piles have presumably been scraped off the drive at some stage or were delivered and never spread a round but we have decided to use them to do the paths around the kitchen garden. Some of these were starting to muddy up as we head into winter and we don't want to be puddling around when picking veg, so some nice free draining gravel is the perfect solution (more shoveling for Dad, though!).

We have two more good results to report, as well, of gift plants. First the tiny lupin self-seeds donated by Vendor Anna have finally got into flower, just in time, hopefully, to set some seed which we can use in 2013. As we come into the end of the season we are already, like good gardeners, thinking and planning about Spring and how we'll do things differently given a proper 12 month long year to go at.

And the fig tree below which has pulled through a time of great trauma and is looking good going into winter. This is a 'Brown Turkey' fig tree obtained as a cutting from Pud Lady a couple of years back and grown successfully in a half barrel (also a gift) on the back terrace  in our old house in Faversham. When we came to start packing to move we knew we had to root wash it as you are not allowed to import soil, so it was brutally decapitated, uprooted and root-washed and then taken to Hastings, where Dad and us dogs lived for a few weeks. It spent the time sitting in a bucket of water till it could be moved over in a car with us on 10th Dec 2011. From there is was heeled into the front terrace here, but it showed no sign of growing. Only the thumb-nail dent showing green sap-wood saved it from the scrap heap.

Then one weekend while we were not about the JCB came to dig out the trenches for our drains and his chosen way in was across the terrace and then to bulldoze through the end of the terrace, the hedge and the bottom of what became known as the Primrose Path. I suppose it all looked like a rough old building site and the driver will not have even seen the 12 inch naked 'trunk' in among the stones and herbage. Poor old Brown Turkey, bulldozed, we thought and gone for ever. We looked around in the piles of spoil but to no avail.Then Mum decided to look at pictures Dad had taken of the area and including the planting site and worked out that the JCB must have missed the fig and it might just be 'here' under these waste boulders. A scrabbled dig and removal of 'over-burden' proved that this was true and the poor buried flattened fig trunk was persuaded back up to 45 degrees from horizontal and now protected with a ring of big boulders making the site obvious. Slowly slowly a couple of tiny buds started to expand and now, a month later, we have 2 short side branches and a couple of true leaves! One tough fig tree! May it go on to great things at the end of our terrace!


Tuesday 18 September 2012

Tsipouro! Yammas!

Mum returned from Greece with a small amount of a drink which was new to Dad, it being the local fire-water, "Tsipouro". Absolutely clear in colour this is 'pomace brandy', pomace being "the solid remains of grapesafter pressing for juice. It contains the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems of the fruit". It is around 47% proof, so not quite as lethal as good old Irish over-proof Poitín (Potcheen) and, it will not surprise you to know, was first produced by some Greek Orthodox Monks (weren't all these dodgy spirits?) up a mountain. According to Wikipedia (  ) " Depending on the time of year, tsipouro is used either as refreshment or as a hot beverage, and depending on the time of day, it replaces the drinking of coffee or wine. Tsipouro and tsikoudia, as with all alcoholic beverages in Greece, always seem to coincide with various social gatherings, as their consumption had a festive and symposium-like quality.
It is usually served in shot glasses, very cold, often with meze, walnuts, almonds, raisins, feta cheese, olives, or accompanying halva or other desserts in restaurants.
In 2006, Greece filed a request to recognise tsipouro as a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) product.
We say 'Yammas' (Cheers) to that!

Much to everyone's amazement, I reach my 6th Birthday (on Monday 17th), and so, too, do my sister, Ellie, back in Faversham, and my Brother Archie, back in Maidstone. The word is that I have matured into a very sensible, capable, well balanced dog and a good 'Auntie' to the kindergarten. Cynics say that this is because I was always wishing I was a favourite only dog and I am happier that way so that I just had to contrive to remove Megan, Haggis and Coco from any position superior to, or threatening, mine and I'd be home and dry. All I have to do now is make sure Blue, Rolo, Towser, Poppy, assorted rabbits and poultry and any other arrivals stay subservient and I should remain well adjusted to the end of my natural puff. Yammas to that, too.

Mike-the-Cows's herd have now pretty much eaten off all the grass on Vendor Anna's land and on our bits so, yesterday, were moved off to give the grass a chance to recover and for them to get some grub on less grazed turf. Dad loves that the local farming mags talk about something called the 'rate of thrive' which is basically the rate at which cows put on weight in kg per day. These are beef animals so success is all about the weight of the carcase at slaughter. The farmer either buys them in at a known weight or breeds them himself, but then has to spend x amount of money on grazing or on concentrates per day, hoping that at the end the weight will have gone up sufficiently that they have made more in carcase value (weight) than he has spent getting them to that weight. I gather it can be a bit knife-edge at the moment with a poor Summer having given them poor grass growth and a lot of them having to eat into stored silage which was meant to see them through winter. Also, says Mike, with cows being worth anything from €700 up to and over €3000, you've only got to lose one to sickness or an accident and you may have no margin left this year at all. Mike seems to be doing OK, though he'd never admit that!


Saturday 15 September 2012

Poros and Portmarnock

We can now reveal that Diamond has got married to the main man John W on Poros Island in Greece back a couple of Thursdays ago, on the 6th. Of course we knew this was going on but we were sworn to secrecy. We have just been up to Portmarnock, Co.Dublin to collect Mum back from her 10 days in Greece supporting Diamond as "koumbara" (a combination of Lady in Waiting, Chief Bridesmaid and Sponsor in the Greek Ceremony, even in the 'Civilian Version'.

Anyone who knows Diamond will know that she takes almost every 'foreign' holiday on this same Island and has done ever since she was a 27 year old and was taken there by her Mum. She is so regular that she seems to now know everyone on the Island and is like family to many of them. She never sits in the ordinary touristy bits of cafés, but is always gathered up and taken to where the family eat. Most of the guys who are now café owners, she has bounced on her knee in nappies when their Fathers owned the place and many of the men she knew back then are now ancient and venerable or have passed away. One old girl living up in the hills in among the lemon groves is blind and still being looked after up there by her 84 year old Brother in Law. (Please correct me on this Diamond if I have any of it howlingly wrong)

 Mum has been there for the last few years with Diamond and was introduced around as Diamond's best friend, so is now also accepted and John W more recently. It's probably true to say that Diamond has more and closer friends on Poros than she does in the UK and certainly there are more 'out there' who she'd choose to have present on such a special occasion. So it was almost a 'given' that when Diamond accepted John's proposal, that the Ceremony would take place on Poros. The happy couple had to do a load of official stuff in the UK first, to obtain permission to do the deed in Greece but, that done, they booked flights and let the locals know what was going on. Mum flew out on Tuesday 4th, with Dad driving her to the airport in Dublin. We live 20 minutes from Knock Airport but there were no cheap flights to be had to Athens, so Dublin it was and the 5 hour round trip for Dad

Since then, of course, we have been holding the fort here while all the wedding plans were coming to fruition in the Med. Amusingly we had the job here too of 'sharing' the story including the attached picture of the cake. The locals do not really do English, and their alphabet is, anyway, the Greek one which doesn't use use the ABC but rather the Alpha to Omega, "Bicameral" script, derived from Cyrillic (said this dog, quoting widely from Wikipedia) so we were amused by their use of the 'b' instead of 'd' in the cake icing. Happy Webbing, Diamond and John!

And so, home came Mum and we were off to collect her from Portmarnock. She'd got into Dublin Airport in the middle of the night, so Steak Lady had collected her and given her a bed for the rest of the night. Our job had been to collect her the following morning, driving up from here via a nice leg stretch and walk along Portmarnock Beach. Steak Lady fed Mum and Dad with a superb roast chicken dinner with salmon pasta starter and a goodly cheese board. There was loads of chicken left over so we dogs (myself and the 3 Yorkies, Rosie, Tutenkhamen and Rameses) piled in.

Now we're all home and Mum says she feels like she's "First Day Back at School" going mad cleaning and blitzing. No reflection, she says, on the way Dad has looked after the place while she's been gone..... We are not so sure.


Wednesday 12 September 2012

Mary, Mary, (2)

This post continues on from "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" and is my Garden report. Mary Mary (1) saw us in the west field enjoying the vegetable crops.

Moving on round we come to the 'secret garden', the first bit Dad tried to start gardening in while we were all still living in the caravan, snatching the odd hour of gardening opportunity by getting up early and getting done before the house build work started at 0800. This has turned out to be way too much of a leafy shaded glade to do any vegetable gardening in now that the leaves have come on the beech to the west and the ash to the east. Pretty much everything went all spindly and etiolated although the spuds did, amazingly crop. This was even though they were hit badly by blight all of a sudden - one day perfect healthy green leaves and when we looked again about 3 days later, no living tops at all. Luckily, by then, the spuds must have formed underground because we were able to dig a few meals worth of nice, if rather small, new potatoes with very few blighted tubers.

The main problem with the secret garden bit is the HUGE black-spruce trees which we know from Vendor Anna L were planted by TK Max in the late 50's or early 60's as saplings for a windbreak. Muppet! Apparently according to our man "Oliver Splits" local tree surgeon / tree feller / log splitting contractor these were planted all over County Roscommon and many many houses now have these huge tress all roughly the same age and size. Keeps him in work, he says. The are called "Dale trees" locally but Oliver agrees with me they are probably black spruce (Picea Mariana) as identifiable from the long cones, the flattened leaf shoots, the blue cast to the new foliage and the white bands under the individual needles. These trees are now a good 60' tall and would need some kit more serious than Dad's little chainsaw to get them down. Oliver reckoned 2 days work for him and a mate (€300 a day, ker-ching!!!!!) plus hire of a cherry-picker machine at €140 and that would be without him splitting them up for logs, or tidying away the trashy small branches. Big shredders are also €140 a day to hire. €1000 or so to make a veg garden tidy and use-able? We think not. Dad will just abandon that space as a veg plot and 'do it all' in the raised beds. The chickens can have it as their run.

 In other news, the keyhole bed we described in an earlier post is now complete and filled and just needs something growing in it. Look carefully though and you can see the small green splash of a thyme plant which came from Steak Lady along with all the other cuttings and which got built into one of the cracks as the outer ring wall was being assembled. And finally, just for fun, the 'cauldron' of snap dragons now doing very well outside the front door. These plants were from a worn out, bedraggled old tray of exhausted, dried out, pot bound specimens which someone cast off to us. They did OK didn't they! I think you could say they are fully recovered and we hope they will self-seed around the place. The other matching cauldron has bright yellow winter pansies in it. We look very colourful out front at the moment.

And that concludes the garden update.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Time, I feel, for a garden update. You've had house building, projects, chickens and small animals to saturation point now, surely. Time to put down that trowel, take a seat in any one of the nice sunny sitting positions about the place and maybe accept a glass of chilled pink and take the weight off. Look around you, see how much we have achieved in such a short time, bearing in mind that we only started in May, that three of the railway sleeper raised beds only went in in June, and allotment raised beds are only since July and we only started attacking the "bit we don't talk about" (BWDTA) in August. Some bits we're very pleased with; other bits have been disappointing or are still very much 'work in progress'.

The front lawn is an area where we have definitely won just by dint of almost weekly mowing. When we moved it was a rough  area of rushes and tall thistles and creeping buttercup but the rushes proved to be shallow rooted and could almost be sliced off the turf and the rest is no match for regular mowing. We had one setback where some cattle got in from the road and pock marked it with hoof dents but Dad has put hoof-sized wedges of turf in these and in the rush-digging holes. We like the 'huge expanse of green' look and will probably keep it like this, with just the low box hedge up at the house end.
Against the front wall we started a small flower bed intending it to be filled with the 'imports' from the Faversham garden we love so much - Californian and welsh poppy, hollyhocks, erigeron (Spanish Daisy), love in a mist. The Calif. poppies have started to do OK and we hope will now self seed, but the welsh and the erigeron never showed. The hollyhocks have done some nice rosettes of foliage against the wall so we are hoping for some action next Spring.

Just inside this wall on the left was where we put the old inherited TK Min tractor tyres in which we planted purple verbena and a perennial wall flower but have since added a strong erigeron plant we found at a local garden centre. Behind these covering a goodly area went 3 crates worth of assorted cuttings and slips from Steak Lady, under planted with 2 generous nets of assorted daffs. Whether these poor things will love us for sticking them in Roscommon's cold wet clay, we don't know yet, but we live in hopes.

Continuing our clockwise perambulation we pass through the BWDTA and into the west field. The BWDTA was called that because it sat looking balefully back at us when we watched the sun go down over the 5 acres field out to our west, a mess of tall weeds, dumped heaps of spoil (one of soil mixed with coal, anthracite and stones), long rotten and overgrown hay bales, black plastic. Eventually we could stand its embarrassment no longer and Dad was put to work with the old Sussex 'grass-hook' scythe to cut off the trash on top and expose the actual topography underneath. Then we'd know what we'd got. The spoil heap was sorted through to extract the useful fuel and good stones and the soil could then be spread out flat.

'What we'd got' turned out to be a reasonably flat saucer shaped parcel of land which was a bit boggy and had been used as a tractor route from front garden to west field(s) so was also a bit smeared up and not well drained. We had a bit of a 'light-bulb' moment and could see a big pond! Mum and Dad are keen wildlife gardeners as you know, and have always had ponds. We also know that under a foot or so of good soil round here is good ol' sticky yellow Roscommon Clay so we are hoping that if we can dig down to this and then puddle what's there and smear it up the sides, we may end up with a waterproof pond which does not need a liner. That's the plan anyway.

2 bits we are now delighted with are the kitchen garden (with it's railway sleeper raised beds) on the immediate west end of the house and the allotment now we have started to turn it into dug, 'lazy' raised beds. In both of these the veg has been enjoying the raised status, up out of the cold, damp, waterlogged flat soil and we have started to see some good crops of beans (broads, French, climbing French and runners) and peas, of green cabbage and red cabbage, curly kale and 'Cabalero Nero' (black) kale, as well as various salad leaves and pak choi type stuff. This is all a bit late. The leeks only went into the nursery beds as seeds in June and are only now, in September, reaching transplantable size, but Dad has optimistically planted out a raised bed full in the allotment (pictured) and these may or may not produce an edible crop in the remains of the summer.

I am getting a bit nervous of the size and vulnerability of this post as yet unpublished, so I am actually going to pause here and publish this bit, just in case of kittens climbing on my keyboard. I will continue in the next post.

Thursday 6 September 2012

Hands off our Bog!

Non-Irish readers may be interested in this one, a bit of local 'culture'; especially Diamond who is convinced we have "gone to live in a bog". Well, we haven't; we are about 75m above sea level but it is true to say there are tracts of turf cutting bog all around here and there is even an old tract of previously cut bog within vendor Anna L's land, just down in the valley to the north of us. There is a great tradition of turf cutting here and many local people are involved. Enshrined in local law is a clause which puts turf cutting rights with each 'chimney', so our Deeds to our house even mention the rights to cut turf even though we bought the piece of land which excluded the actual bog area.

Cutting by hand is strictly for the tourists by now, ( although there are hand-cut turf classes in local 'Flower Shows' and Agricultural Shows and we have a good pile of old hand cut "sausage" turf under a sheet near the horse drawn hay rake and you can still buy the special spade or "slean" (pronounced "Shlorn") in Castlerea at the right time of year (May-ish). Nowadays turf is cut out of the ground using a hydraulic excavator; the standard tracked ones you see on building sites. The digger is used to fill a 'hopper' ( which is a special trailer towed behind a double-tyred tractor. This hopper mashes the turf and extrudes it through a row of about 6 'tooth-paste tubes' onto the ground, so that it lies there on the surface in long strips about 3 by 4 inches. It is left to dry for a while and then broken into lumps about 12 to 18 inches long which are stacked in a variety of style stacks to dry over the Summer.

Whole families get involved in this, and many have their own rented bog going back generations. They all go down to help stack it for drying, re-stack it if need be and then collecting it and bringing it back to the house. Our own near-neighbour and friend, John Deere Bob (pictured) has been doing this all his life and still has his bit of bog, although everyone is telling him he's too old and should just buy a load from the contractor. We have been advised that the economics work out quite well if you are prepared to put the work in stacking etc. You can rent a tract of bog for about €300 p.a. and clear a good €1000's worth of turf from it. Turf is much lighter and much less dense than coal, so the thousand Euro's stack is a good 8 feet front to back and 5 feet tall in a 12 foot wide bay of e.g. your hay-barn.

This widespread turf extraction has led to over-exploitation in some areas and alleged despoiling of fragile natural environments. The curlew, for example is almost extinct as a breeding bird in Ireland, partly because of habitat destruction, though the other side of the argument holds that this is caused by peat extraction for gardeners, and nothing to do with turf for burning. The government body "Bord na Móna" (Peat Extraction Board) has tried to limit extraction and has banned turf cutting in some areas. This has brought them into conflict with local culture who have ALWAYS been allowed to cut turf for generations and fails to see why some Dublin blow-ins can tell them not to. On the road from Castlerea to Ballymoe you can see a big Irish flag flying and big signs saying "Hands Off Our Bog!"

The Comings and Goings of Cows

We are now, to all intents and purposes, surrounded by land grazed by Mike the Cows's Charolais herd. Well, mainly Charolais, the nearly white beef breed, but the group of 20 or so does include a couple of black Angus and some more Hereford-y gingery beef animals with the Hereford white face. Those are Charolais crosses. The bull, Felix, is purebred Charolais. Many of these girls have calves at foot, and/or are in calf at the moment. They will be taken back to Mike's Grand-dad's farm to actually have their calves, which won't be long now. They are very broad in the beam.

You'll already know that I drive Mum and Dad nuts by my regular chasing out across the fields to the west of us to shout at the cows if I think they are coming too close to our gate. I get up quite close to the cows. They mainly ignore me but occasionally I have to nip back a bit quick because one of the Mums has a little go at charging at me, especially if I'm a bit close to one of the calves.

We have now (on Monday) opened up the gap at the bottom of the east field now that we have the new cow-proof fence keeping the beasties off the garden and the lane. The grass in the east field, not grazed at all this year, is nice and long, if a little infested with docks and rushes but it's a welcome bite for the cows who were struggling a bit on the short, over-grazed land around us owned by Vendor Anna L and grazed almost continuously through the Summer.

The pups are getting quite interested in all this cow activity and I have sometimes tried to lead them astray into the cow fields but they are not that brave yet, and seem to take my barking as a cause for concern, so they don't come that far into the field and nip bacvk a bit smartish if Dad does his "Pupuppuppuppup!" shout.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Kindergarten at 3 Months.

On 3rd September the pups and kittens all make it to 3 months so this is an un-ashamed excuse to publish a few cute pup and kitten pictures. I can also include Buck Rogers in this group as he is nearly as young. He is developing bizarre tufts of fur on his cheeks and his head. We have heard of a type of rabbit called a 'lion' variety, so we wonder whether this is maybe what that is all about. Buck is a bit small yet to be looking after his ladies, so Dad is taking Anne and Simon up on an offer to allow their bigger, meat-breed buck, Peter to do the deed first time round. Peter is a Californian White, a breed commonly used in rabbits-for-meat enterprises.

Also 'we' successfully fledged a family of three baby swallows from the nest in the Tígín. They flew around an returned a couple of nights but now seem to have left the nest for good and may be among the birds wheeling around and gathering in our telegraph wires preparatory to the long migration to Africa.

In the two pup pictures, Poppy has the sticky-up ears, Towser's are still a bit floppy. Nobody minds this. They may stand up eventually (His Father's (Maxwell's) apparently took and age) but Dad thinks he looks quite cute anyway and we can easily tell the bu**ers apart, anyway! Mrs Silverwood is rather meanly calling them Poppy and "Floppy" on Facebook. Poor devil will probably end up with a complex.

The tabby kitten, Blue has grown some rather fetching ear tufts and has in the past also had nice long whiskers but these are currently a bit short due, we think, to his keenness to get onto the dining table and wander close to the candles. This is a battle Mum and Dad are determined to win (they won eventually with a previous cat 'Utsire'). He climbs onto the table and is ejected by the scruff. He climbs back on and gets ejected again. After a couple more warnings he is scruffed into the living room and gets to spend the meal behind that closed door. He'll learn. In the lower picture he fails to notice that a robin has landed on the wall beside him. Dad only sees this as it flies off but it's there in the shot when we go back to look.

Next up is the tortoiseshell kitten Rolo who may not have the fancy ear tufts of his brother but at least he has intact whiskers. And finally let us not forget William the Conqueror, now a magnificent, manly, brave and fearless Rooster with the start of a tail. When he arrived he was fresh out of a large pen in which he lived with 150 'hins' all of whom must have been taking a peck out of his tail as he passed. No respect some hens. He had a rather sore, pink parsons nose from which sprouted two broken feather bases sticking straight up. Now he is a bit meaner and ruffty tuffty and doesn't take any such nonsense from his new ladies, it has started to grow back in a gorgeous iridescent dark green, almost black. It is about 3 inches long now but should form a proud arching 'rooster tail' like on the Cornflakes packet. He hopes. He is doing a good job now marshaling and protecting his ladies and utters low growls at any threat and charges with ruff expanded, chest spread and wings out to make him look as big as possible. He even tries it on Dad but kinda goes off the idea as Dad looks him in the eye!