Wednesday 27 February 2013

A Drought in February?

According to textbook Meteorology a 'drought' in the British Isles is any period of 15 days without rain. My paper-diary had it's first mention of "warm sunny spring-like days" on Feb 14th so if we manage tomorrow without rain (and it looks as if we might) we are officially in a drought situation in County Roscommon in February. This is unheard of! Given that if felt like we had rain every day through November, December and January it is a very pleasant change and we hope that it is a portent of a decent spring. We are starting to enjoy plenty of 'signs' by now. We have primroses open in the 'Primrose Path' and our daffs are starting to turn down prior to showing the first colour. The buds on the cutting dogwood from Vendor Anna are opening and plenty of other plants have signs of expanding buds.

Our rabbits in the big run had grazed their grass down to the clay and were running to the fence to 'ask' me for food as soon as I appeared in the garden. They were gobbling up cabbage leaves and broccoli stalks, carrots, feed wheat and the last remaining 'Fast Lamb Crunch' mixture like it was going out of fashion. They have now been moved to their new runs and the front lawn, where they will graze the whole of their 1 m by 2.5 m area in one day and we are moving them on to new grass each morning. They are leaving a snooker-table-like baize with a few pellets of poo in their wake as they proceed across the lawn.

We nipped out to beyond Carrick to a place we had heard sold poly-tunnel plastic sheet by the yard and bought enough to produce the Mark 2 version of my raised-bed cloche. The Mk 1 was only made out of an old bit of plastic wrapping and had been shredded by the first decent gale. You will know from reading the job list a few posts back that I had in mind to create a 'greenhouse' using a wooden frame and corrugated transparent plastic, maybe fibre-glass. Mentor Anne (who had played this game before!) suggested  that while we were out at the poly tunnel place (North West Tool Hire, Kilclare, Co. Lietrim) we ask the guy for a price on the corrugated. She was suggesting that it might be very expensive and was steering us in the direction of poly-tunnel plastic, at least for sections, if not a poly-tunnel itself.

 Well, Anne, you will not be surprised to know that the corrugated sheet plan is now withdrawn. The plastic alone was going to come to €1400+ and that was without wood, screws and so on. Instead we have been persuaded that the way to go is actually a poly-tunnel, so we have ordered one measuring 20 feet long by 14 feet wide (and 7'6" tall) which will fit in the same space. It was only €700 all in and is being delivered, we hope, this weekend. We have spent part of today clearing the site which is, you will recall, the western bay of the former hay barn. Liz is now planning all manner of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and basil to cram it with.

With the soil nicely drying out in the DROUGHT (did I tell you we were nearly in a drought?) I have got back into pond digging. It is pure pleasure. The shovel-fulls are so much lighter when not weighed down like a sodden sponge and the barrow loads bounce across the firm ground. The plan for this is to not need an expensive rubber liner (estimate €860) as two 'spits' down, we hit yellow Roscommon clay. I have nearly taken the first 'spit' off so you can clearly see the shape of the pond now. I will then come in a bit all round and start on the next level. When we get down to clay I am hoping that we will be able to 'puddle' the clay into a waterproof layer or at least. waterproof enough that the replenishment from the rain (when we are not in DROUGHT) would keep up with any seepage.

I have just noticed that the picture above appears to show a headless chicken. This is just William preening his right side out of sight. The strange grey cloud which you can just see rising to the left of me (as you look) turns out to be because one of his daft hens decided that the old bonfire ash would be a good place for a dust bathe. She got well involved in this and was there for half an hour at least rolling and writhing about getting completely covered in the grey ash and sending up plumes of dust into the windless air. She got up, shook herself and was obviously well satisfied with the result but spent the rest of today looking decidedly grubby compared to her sisters and with very grey wattles and comb. If we'd not seen her bathing we would have been very concerned for her health. Oooh. She does look poorly!

Meanwhile we have started planting some of the Wispy's and Ardcarne plant purchases. We are trying out a new sort of raised bed as an experiment.  This is Liz's cunning method. We make a circle of stones to mark the patch out from the grass, drop a layer of well rotted straw-bale onto the grass and then shovel on a mound of spare soil from the pond. The chickens and rooster inspect this for worms and grubs and then sign it over to Liz for planting, in this case with foxgloves, Ismene (Hymenocallis = "Peruvian Daffodil") and geraniums. It then gets a chicken-wire cover to deter the geese for the first few days while the plants get established. The picture is the first ever one, a Pilot Project. There!

Did I tell you we might have a drought? Oh yes, so I did.

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