Tuesday 25 February 2014

Bee Space

We progress! We received today through the post, our Pig Herd Number and the paperwork we are required to keep all the time we are pig keepers; all the triplicate, multi-colour forms and A4 blank proforma sheets for such as our internal Register. This makes us all official and is required by the responsible breeders before they will allow you to buy and take away their pigs. Still a way to go, of course; we have to do fences, build an ark and actually go and get some pigs, but we are all excited for those days - it will be another new adventure for us. Neither of us has had anything to do with pigs before.

We have also been to Longford again for Lesson 2 of "Bee School", this one a nice lecture by an experienced bee keeper from Co Lietrim, name of Eamonn T which he entitled "The Hive and Its Inhabitants". He brought along a hive similar to the one we are building (a UK National Modified Hive) and talked us through the parts and their functions before then moving on to the bees and how they go on inside, frequently referring to our own local expert, Dieter, to compare experiences. I would not even want to cover all that was included but there were 2 aspects that were new and worth noting. The first was that bee keepers now think that there are no longer any 'wild' (or feral) honey bees about and the second was the subject of 'bee space'.

It is the varroa mite (which you may have heard of) which seems to have done for the feral colonies as it is so successful a parasite that it easily spreads between colonies, especially via the male 'drone' bees and easily between domestic and feral colonies. In domestic (hive) colonies the mite can be controlled using pesticides and its numbers stay low and the colony can thrive, but in the wild situation the bees get no such protection and the mite wipes out the colony which would be in a roof or an old hollow tree. The Department scientists here are now sure that this has been so bad a collapse that the only bees here in Ireland now are in hives or in recent swarms from same. It makes the beekeepers job even more vital to the bee-pollinated crops and wild flowers so it is good to see that our own group and the training classes are so well supported - there is a huge surge of interest in bee keeping going on at present.

Bee hive entrance, 7 mm high give or take.
I was also fascinated to see demonstrated and hear Eamonn's stuff about "bee space". You may be able to see in your mind's eye a typical hive - ours are a 19 inch square set of stacking wooden 'boxes'. But inside they are not just an open void full of random bees. They contain a set of ten or eleven hanging wax frames looking a bit like short files in a filing cabinet. Bees in an empty box would build a similar arrangement of vertical sheets of honey comb hanging from the roof but you'd struggle to get in to examine them, check on them or harvest the honey, so we give them a blank 'brood nest' on which to build and the frames can be slid out vertically.

One of the Bee School hand-outs
The bees move about within this box and between the 'files' like  people in a library, facing the shelf of books but with their backs almost touching the shelf behind. If the space they are moving in feels too 'wide' they build out more comb from the foundation till their backs are again touching the comb 'behind' them. The hive design is set so that bees will build comb from either side of an 'aisle' to the depth required for storing honey or housing the growing baby bee (larva) and to recreate the 7 mm "bee space" between the two sheets of comb. Give them too much space and they will build deeper ('brace') comb which can make it difficult to ease out the frames. Give them too little and they will not be able to go into the 'aisle' and will seal up the gap with resinous 'glue' called propolis to stop the draughts and glue everything very tight together. So hives not only have their frames at the correct distance apart but also have to have all the cross-ways tunnels and pathways of that spacing too - above the frame tops, along the side under the ends of the frames, moving around the floor of the hive, between its layers of frames and across the 'ceiling'. It's all a pretty exact science and they say that if you are going to DIY your own hives then you can do what you like with wall thicknesses and exterior detail as long as you can build to exactly the right internal dimensions. It's called the 'Bee Space' and it is almost sacred.

In one area, though, we are tapping our fingers at lack of progress. We have, as you'll know, our 'magnificent' (our unbiased opinion!) wildlife pond all planted up and filled and bristling with skaters, boatmen and fly nymphs. We have deliberately stocked it with NO fishy predators. We have seen frogs and newts among the long grass in 2013 and some of these we have dropped into the pond just so that they know it is there. We have seen people's pictures of frogs spawning in December 2013 in Cork and now in Kent in February. We have sent out invitations. We have even seen road-kill frogs on the lane here this week, so we know they are starting to move about, seeking out those breeding ponds. We have NOT, however, seen a single frog or newt in our pond. Patience, you wildlife gardeners. If You Build it, They Will Come.......

Sunday 23 February 2014


Following on from my 'Sickness and Health' post a couple of days back, here is the 'Doctor's Rounds' update as of today. It is all great news with both the main patients 'fixed' and discharged from the sick bay. The rooster, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Bufton-Tufton* never really did look sick with anything specific (no discharges from eyes or nostrils or beak, good colour in facial features, no coughing or rasping, OK poo, good feathering, no signs of trauma or damage) - he was just moopy, limp, sleeping a lot and not eating anything we offered, or at least not while we watched. We think now that he probably just had a chill-type infection. We took the advice of all our known experts and isolated him indoors in the warm and dry and 'fed' him (by dribbling liquids into the side of his beak) sugar water and cod liver oil and using Charlotte-of-the-mini-horses, dosed him daily with by-mouth broad spectrum antibiotics. He dozed mainly and a couple of times a day woke up and screamed his Cock a Doodle Doo messages answering shout for shout with our other 'roo' William, outside.

Now, far be it from me to slur the character of a high ranking Army Officer, but by day 5 we were starting to think that he might be malingering and Charlotte suggested turning his heat down a bit so that he got less comfy and either woke up to do something about it, or just went into a sick decline of sulking. So today, with the sun coming out I decided that it was exactly this 'kick in the arse' that might spark him up and I am delighted to say we were right. Straight back in with the gang (having been accepted and quickly reminded who was boss by William) he was suddenly alive and well, scratching and pecking the ground with gusto, mixing it with all the other birds and even trying a bit of tentative 'treading' of some of the hens.

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Bufton-Tufton, centre with his gels
We stayed with him, supervising for an hour but he was doing so well doing 'normal chicken' in the sunshine that we left him to it and just made sure he got to bed alright in the roost this evening (which he did). So he's fixed. We just need to keep an eye.

Goldie the rabbit has also been successfully cured, by 5 days of daily gloopy ear drops which clean up the mites and soften the hard wads of 'citrus peel' scar tissue and being cleaned out by wetted cotton wool pads wrapped round a finger tip and rooted about down the ear canals. She is back to clean, pale-pink ears which she carries much more upright and comfortable and just needs a check up in a week's time to make sure she has stayed clean.

Our sincere thanks to our medical advisors Anne, Steve and Ray but also to Charlotte who has got properly involved in these two cases as part of her 2 weeks of work experience with Aoife-rhymes-with-Deefer. She has been like a whirlwind of activity and we have especially felt the benefit. She has probably seen more drama in 2 weeks than you'd maybe want an 18 year old to see but I guess if you want to do 'vet' then some of the horrors come with the territory and Roscommon's farmers and animal keepers would be as good and bad as the next county's.

Our first primrose of 2014
She has seen heifers put to massive meaty bulls who then gestate calves which are way too big to fit through the birth canal and have to be cut out C-section or die and have to be cut up to get them out. She has seen bodged attempts by farmers to pull out big calves which have resulted in broken legs and even one calf with a broken back. She has pulled smelly rotten lambs out of ewes in putrefying chunks.

...and a first Winter Iris.
She has, though, also seen some lovely things - the live, healthy lamb they found hidden 'behind' the dead one and got breathing. There was also a genuine, knowledge-able guy who called in because a ewe had been trying to lamb for 2 hours and then stopped. He feared the worst, but Aoife and Charlotte pulled out twin lambs. The bloke was delighted but Aoife dipped in again to make sure and found a third, Triplets! I am a softy myself and I was in tears as she bubbled this story out to us! Charlotte finished her work experience on Friday and came away with a glowing report and Aoife telling her she will make a great vet one day. She can't wait to start and is annoyed (tongue in cheek) that she has to go off and finish her college course before she's allowed to play that game! Aoife has said she can come back on any weekend or Wednesday when there are no lectures at college to keep her hand in. Everyone's a winner.

Geese all matey on the mini-pond.
Our geese seem to have all decided that they like each other and George, the gander is no longer insisting on his one-woman man routine. They all stay together when I throw grain in to the orchard, rather than George driving Goosey away so that he and Goocie can have it all. Goosey surprised us yesterday by arriving back in the goose house after I'd shut her into the orchard. She must be able (even if it was a one-off) to fly over the fence and wanted to go back 'indoors' to lay the egg she's not 'finished' during the night. That's a bit of a worry. If she starts to make a habit of it we have to be clipping some wings again.

Boy-pup Towser with his "incorrect" ears
Meanwhile, if Charlotte has 'seen' some stuff this past fortnight, then I think I may have 'seen it all' now on the daft things people do to show-dogs. You'll remember that my boy-pup Towser has floppy ears instead of the pricked up ears which Westies are 'meant' to have We don't mind - he's not a show dog and he looks cute to us. You may also know that some breeds of dog which are 'meant' to have pricked ears are 'enhanced' by wire or plastic inserts installed surgically if they are not pricked enough for the show folk. Well down the lane lives a lovely Irish Terrier pup, name of Gripper. I've always thought he looked great but his ears stick up like Towser's are 'failing' to do and this is BAD (apparently). The owner, at his last haircut, has had his ear tips glued down to his head in a semi-flop like Towser's natural look where they will remain glued for 10 weeks while the cartilage 'sets' so that he can have the 'proper' Irish Terrier look. Yep... seen it all now.

* Pronounce this 'Lef-tenant, please. Only the Navy and the Americans say 'Loo-tenant'

Thursday 20 February 2014

In Sickness and in Health

Brian 'Sparks' on this week's visit
We seem to be 'enjoying' a succession of minor ailments moving through the 'farm' recently. You'll know about the limping Guinea Fowl (now fixed) but tonight's post is a bit of an animal health round up. I am going to start with the humans - me in fact. Monday into Tuesday saw us playing host to Sparks, Mrs Sparks and their lad, Brian all down for a meal and an overnight. They came equipped with B's new telescope, a present from Santa, which I wanted to try out too, so we were hoping that our pollution-free and light-pollution-free skies would be clear. No such luck on that bit - 10/10 cloud and for B, none of the usual baby animals to look at and cuddle, plus sloppy mud preventing him from charging about like usual, but it all went OK.

Buff Orpington rooster needs the sick bay.
For me though, almost on the last mouthful of Liz's delicious roast chicken dinner, a resounding crack as I accidentally bit down on a bone, told me a tale of a broken tooth or filling and a trip to the dentist. As I type this I am just back from there with one tooth fewer and a jaw as numb as numb can be, miserably waiting for the numbness to wear off and the pain to kick in. The tooth proved to be cracked neatly in half along the jaw line and the dentist, (a very nice bloke despite his trade!) is involved in writing exam questions for trainee dentists. He asked if I'd mind him photo-ing my tooth for use in one which he thought would really make the trainees sweat. So I may have a famous tooth. He is emailing me the pic, but I will put it up here as an optional link - not everybody wants to see a manky, much-filled, 56 year old tooth, no matter how clean and impressive the crack.

The offending picture is now on


but don't go there unless you are strong of constitution!

Lieutenant-Colonel, Sir Bufton Tufton 
Next up in our tale of woe came our Buff Orpington rooster who announced his sickness first thing Tuesday morning with a rather odd gurgling version of Cock-a-doodle-doo and then spent that day mooping around in the hedge banks, standing still with his head sagged down looking decidedly miserable. First port of call on any chicken problems is Mentor Anne, of course and she was quickly able to put me on to a couple of very experienced experts (Thanks Anne, Thanks Ray, Thanks Steve). The current thinking is that this came on too fast to be worms (everyone's first suspicion) and is probably just a chill infection due to the cold wet long horrible winter. The treatment is therefore isolation but in the warm and dry, tempting food, water plus dribbling sugar-water into his beak, or a few mill of cod liver oil. Anne also gave me a fun suggestion which they have used successfully while living in Spain, and that is to smear a little Marmite onto the beak which gets the bird licking its 'lips' and can stimulate the appetite. The first part worked - he was slurping away at the Marmite like a good 'un with evident pleasure, but just not willing to translate this into pecking up the food. Well, he made it through the night and looks no worse. He has now had some broad-spectrum antibiotics (Tylosin) and is settled down to roost in the spare room / sick bay.

Goldie pinned down by all four feet!
So, we move on to rabbits. If Anne is our go-to adviser for the chooks, then Charlotte of the mini horses, down the road, is our rabbit expert. Our male meat-breed only-remaining-son-of-Goldie is currently down with Charlotte, doing his duty as stud. Charlotte had noticed that he had some grot in his ears, possibly as a result of fighting with his other young male chum, or maybe ear mites. Rabbits are terrible for ear problems deep down in the ear, because the skin, once broken or damaged comes back as a soft, orange-peel type layer which itches the rabbit, who then scratches some more to try to relieve the itch.

Caught early it can be treated. Left, it covers the whole ear and starts to move down to the neck etc and you have a sorry situation especially if your bunny is a 'spare' living-larder rather than a belovéd pet. If it's mites, it is also highly contagious and you need to race round all your rabbits checking deep inside both ears of every one. Luckily for us, we have Charlotte now in full-on Vet-Nurse training mode doing her work experience fortnight with Aoife-rhymes-with-Deefer (our vet) and passing by our gate each evening already clothed in wet+cold weather gear and wellies. It was like 'Animal Hospital' that day as we grabbed up each rabbit in turn and shone torches down their ears. Ginny and Padfoot were clear but poor Goldie, our big female had some signs.

Ear mites and/or general 'mank' in Goldie's ears
We brought Goldie indoors - she's a big docile softy, so she doesn't mind being wrangled in and laid on the 'operating table' but no rabbit likes it when you wrap a finger in a cotton wool pad and poke it right in to the ear canal down deep, so I hung onto all four legs while Charlotte cleaned her out. We also now have, from Aoife, some anti-mite, anti-infection, anti-itch, anti-inflammatory jollop called 'Surolan' so Goldie has a 5 day programme of being jolloped and cleaned out to look forward to. Poor Golds.

Probable double yolker from one of the Hubbard hens
Continuing on our rove around the other animals, it's all a bit healthier and less of a worry. Cody is awaiting his gelding operation which we have to squeeze into the narrow window between the risk of frost (which interferes with blood clotting in the open wound) and the re-awakening of the horrible flies which might 'blow' the wound with their maggots. Goocie is now showing signs of having been mated by George (feathers missing from the back of her head) so we are letting her now start to build up a clutch of eggs and maybe go broody. She lays one every other day but we have been stealing them for cooking. On pigs, Paul-the-Fencing showed up today out of nowhere, with no warning, keen to do a bit of fencing for Vendor Anna and I asked him to come and have a look at my pig-fencing plans. He was happy to do this and is now going to give me a price for a day of helping (or leading) me. He has all the proper gear for making holes, straining the wires and so on, plus the know-how and experience. I could probably have done a passable job but I'd rather have a Paul-job done.

So, there you go. We live in interesting times. I will update you on all these patients in the next post.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Mapp and Lucia

I named my first dog 'Megan', my current boy-dog 'Towser' and our Rooster 'William' but usually it is Liz who names the animals as they arrive here. She seems to have an inexhaustible fund of names based on fictional characters, characters from films and names from funny radio shows. Our 2013 sheep were Constance, Dora and Florence, named for Lord Emsworth's sisters from PG Wodehouse. Last year's first three sheep were Larry, Curly and Mo, the geese were Goosey, Goocie and Gander and the Guinea Fowl are Henry and Min (from the Goon Show).

Bramble jelly from the freezer blackberries.
The pigs we are likely to buy this year are still open to debate but Liz rather fancies 'Mapp and Lucia'. Liz is much wider read and has seen and heard more films and radio shows than me, and these two names were new ones on me - another gaping hole in my education! I felt I needed to at least know who Mapp and Lucia were before I could realistically name our first pigs for them, so Liz nipped to our extensive library and pulled a paperback from the shelves, "The Complete Mapp and Lucia (Part1)", written in the 20's and 30's by one E.F. (Fred) Benson. If you know these characters you will know that they are not pleasant at all! The books are very nicely and cleverly and amusingly written, but Miss Mapp and Mrs (Lucia) Lucas are just awful people.

Kir Royale, Feigh style; Prosecco and home made Cassis
Lucia is the self-crowned Queen of her village and seeks to control and lord it over all social events and who gets invited to what, like a nasty child in the playground. She is nosy, pretentious, manipulative, devious, cunning and such a snob. Mapp, living in a fictional version of Rye in Sussex is just plain nosy and seeks to know exactly what everyone is up to, who is seeing who, what all her friends are about to wear to parties so that she can out-manouvre them, engineers herself into being the focus of all the juicy gossip and dumps horribly on anyone who she imagines has crossed her. Ideal role models, then, for our two impressionable, baby piggies!

Nice marketing idea, Heart shaped Coeur de Neufchatel.
Valentine's Day arrives and we are nearly 'kiboshed' on our plans to create a special romantic meal by an extended series of power cuts born, we guess out of the recent wind storm damage and snow in the skirts of Storm 'Ruby'. Our land-line phone chirrups in its 'You have lost power' way at around 01:00 but I ignore it thinking they normally only last a few hours. It is still out in the morning and we phone around and find that Carolyn is calling it in. Power comes on mid morning while I'm out at neighbour Una's but only for ten minutes. It is lashing rain and blizzarding snow but we are delighted to be visited by an ESB Networks guy in Hi-Viz clothing who wants to look at the power lines that run to the north of our property, He (in a van) is joined by 2 other lads and 2 more vehicles, who scurry around working heroically in the bad conditions. We get power back at midday for 2 hours, then again properly at 4 pm. The Valentine's Day meal is saved and we know we are really very fortunate. There are people out there, especially around Galway and the south and east coast counties who have been without power for days, we only had 13 hours; the freezers stayed frozen and our candlelit supper was by choice.

Home made ice cream made with home made lemon curd.
Meanwhile 2 pieces of news concerning boys called Henry. Henry the Guinea fowl had injured his leg somehow but after a few days of decided limping and looking sorry for himself, suddenly recovered and is now back to full strength and a full compliment of working legs. Our other Henry is 2 years old today (Happy Birthday little fella) and son of Carolyn of the Miniature horses. We are invited down to the house for the party, where an army of friends and relatives have gathered while he is having his mid day nap. He wakes up as bemused and dozy as anyone who is fresh out of bed and copes very well with his house being suddenly full of people plying him with presents and party food. He gets into his stride as the present opening gets into full swing - he's mad for anything car shaped, he loves a big petrol pump to go with his sit-in pedal car, but the winner on the day is definitely a junior-sized but fully equipped drum kit with stool, bass drum with pedal, snare drums and even a cymbal. He is soon whacking 7 bells out of all this lot and doting rels are videoing him on their smart-phones. Brilliant! When we last heard all the grown ups were retired, exhausted and Henry was still going strong. He should sleep well tonight, bless him!

Tuesday 11 February 2014

First Day in (Bee) School

Rain or shine, the dogs need walking
It has begun. Last night saw us off into the night of forecast rain and wintry showers, headed for Longford's "Teagasc" (pronounced "Chug-usk"; it is the training rooms and meeting centre laid on in the middle of town by the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, a big concern here). This was for lesson one in our 'Bee School', actually a lecture on Bee Health given by our new friend Mary H of "The Two Marys". It was a big room and there were 15 or so of us in class, taking this Preliminary Certificate from the Federation Of Irish Bee Keepers' Associations (FIBKA) and the lecture was a Power-point style presentation (mercifully lacking in all the worst Power-point excesses of animations and zoomy graphics) with hand outs to save you having to write too many notes. We now know more about keeping your hive stress-free and healthy, promoting colony health and sorting out those diseases that do arise, than any two people should know who have not yet met their first colony.

I also got from Mary the two hive frame 'runners' we failed to bring away with us when we went to collect the flat packs, so that today I was able to finish my (empty) hive. In the 'any questions' section at the end we were also able to establish that, yes, rabbits are OK as a method of keeping the grass short around hives - the rabbits will not upset the bees and vice versa and also that yes, we can paint the whole thing (outside only) in gloss white. This as long as we check the paint tin first to check that it doesn't say 'harmful to insects'. We have six of these lectures at fortnightly intervals and some practical apiary sessions leading up to our exam in May which is part written and part practical at the hive. We will be experts before we even own a bee but that, I guess, is only right. They are vital livestock with an important role on the 'farm' and also potentially dangerous as well as possibly being involved in the production of food which you might want to sell to the general public.

You can see from these pictures that the advance of Spring took a bit of a back seat today and let winter have another go at painting the scenery white; a little bit Christmas Card. It had frozen overnight (which is always a welcome relief to me in the morning when I am doing my feed and release rounds - I am nipping round on ground as hard as putty and crunching over little ice patches which were formerly shallow puddles instead of slopping through the mud and wet). It started snowing at about 08:30 and then kept on all day doing light but impressive 'blizzards' which then gave way to sunny gaps which cleared up the preceding fall before the next. Bob was round this afternoon predicting a heavy fall tonight which will 'stick' but we'll wait and see on that one. Met Éireann have us getting the next anti-cyclone in the neck overnight, this one called 'Ruby', but they have been famous for their rain rather than snow. I have no idea how we got to 'Ruby'; I am sure the last two were Christine and Brigid.

In the pigs department, I have found and booked myself onto a pig rearing course down in Co. Tipperary in early April. We have also found a possible source of Tamworth piglets down in Co. Kildare. These babies are currently only a glint in their Mums' eyes. The breeder had just finished selling his first batch of Tamworth x Gloucester Old Spots (50 of them!) and was now getting his Tammy gilts back in pig but by a Tamworth boar this time. Pigs gestate for the conveniently easy to remember period of 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days, bringing us round to June, and then would need 6-8 weeks weaning, so we are looking at July. That gives me plenty time to go on the course and to do my fencing and build my ark.

Bramble jelly drips through the bag.
The limping Guinea Fowl, Henry is still limping, no better but no worse. He seems to be getting about OK, still mixes it with the chickens and jealously protects the pecking order slot of his lady, Min as well as getting his own share of any food. We'll just keep an eye on him and hope that he starts to get better soon. We rediscovered our batches of frozen blackberries picked from Bob's hedgerows and decided to turn them into bramble jelly. I seem to have lost my 'jam-setting' mojo and struggled at first to get this slop to set but then Liz suggested chucking in more sugar and suddenly I had it setting in spoons, on test saucers, in the scum-scraping spoon and nearly in the jam pan. I got it into jars in a bit of a hurry and I think it's going to be OK. Pass me that kango hammer, I need to chisel off some jam. In the egg dept I just need to report a 'personal best' / house record: 9 eggs today from 11 hens plus a goose egg. Go the girls!

Lastly I was amazed and flabbergasted by the reaction I got to the picture of washing drying on the line, I posted a few days back. 'What's amazing about washing?' I hear you ask. I had posted the pic as a joke because it was the first time we'd been able to dry anything outdoors since about December, what with all the rain. A friend from college days now living in the USA told me she was amazed and was thinking of doing it that 'old way' which she'd not done since leaving the UK in the 80's. In fact, she said, it was actually illegal to dry your washing out doors and that lately people had been objecting to this ban and there are whole political movements and serious politicians involved. It all came out of some rich folks living in posh 'gated' communities thinking that someone else's undies flapping in the wind was an eye-sore and was presumably latched onto by the white-goods manufacturing industry. Now the move to re-instate it as an activity is coming out of the green, energy-saving factions. I was just gob-smacked and completely thrown by this. Only in America, I would think.... but you never know.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Keeping in Touch

SB Cambria; Picture by Susan Martin
Naturally. 99% of our time these days is taken up with the 'new life', the farm, the livestock, the new place and our new friends and acquaintances. Every now and then, though, our 'old life' gets a look in and we are staying in touch with some of our old Kentish interests and contacts. One of the biggest ones for me in those days, as you'll know from reading this blog, was the restoration of the Thames Sailing Barge S.B.Cambria. During the 3 and a half year restoration I was heavily involved as a working volunteer but also described all the adventures by writing the blog on their website which started as a quite modest affair managed by a small family firm based in the Kent town of Sandwich.

Well, now the restoration is complete and the barge relaunched and back on the water operating as a proper company on a charity basis. The website was moved from the Sandwich team to a bigger provider company called 'Blue Ant' based in Faversham and at the same time, I was asked to take over the management of the site content as well as continuing to write the blog and, more recently, Liz and I have also been asked to take over the production and writing of the 3-times-a-year Newsletter. The website

( http://www.cambriabargecharter.co.uk/ )

is quite a big and full one with many pages which are quite time-sensitive; there is a calendar, and there are pages entitled 'recent events' or 'future plans' all of which go out of date if you are not in there fairly frequently re-writing them and you need to keep posting new pictures so that the site stays fresh to any 'surfer' coming back for another look. I've put in a good few hours lately re-writing chunks of this, updating pictures and writing blog posts. Liz and I have also spent the time needed in producing the January 2014 Newsletter which will be published soon and I will post a link here to that. Obviously all the real work is happening 500 miles away in Kent, so this has to be done at a distance but in these days of the internet, digital pictures and e-mail this makes little difference except that I am heavily reliant on the locals to take the pictures and feed me the stories. It keeps me out of mischief.

Not starving with Liz away. Lamb chops and Cajun roast veg
Welcome back to Liz who has been away for the week ministering to the poorly Mrs Silverwood and wrangling children on school runs, taxis to Karate and baton twirling. She has been supervising them though homework and cooking fridges full of future foods to keep the family going while Mrs S, now home from hospital and mixing interesting cocktails of three drugs with long names, continues to recover. Liz is exhausted, she says, and takes her hat off to all the 'real' Mums who do this kind of thing as a full time job, not just for the one week. On the Saturday , Steak Lady (and Mr SL) rode in like the cavalry to relieve Liz and unloaded from their car, catering quantities of the type of high class 'ready meals' that the Portmarnock folk sometimes use for dinner parties when they do not want to cook, huge trays of top-of-the-range lasagna, chicken curry, cottage pie, stuffing them into Mrs S's fridge till it cried "Enough!". There was even a chocolate cake for us - Thanks Steak Lady! The relief effort work there was done and, after one more round of taxi-ing to karate and baton twirling, Liz could drive home.

Assembling the flat pack hive.
Of course, I miss her being around but I keep myself pretty busy coping with the 'farm' on my Jack Jones and there is always plenty of food stacked up in our own fridge and freezer and I am a pretty good cook, so I cope fairly well. My speciality at present is roasted veg seasoned with Cajun seasoning - I use our own, huge, sweet parsnips, onions and (shop) tomatoes and butternut squash, as well as sometimes including our own Mira spuds roasted alongside the veg. In the case above, there were also our own sprouts and lamb cutlets. Delicious.

Clara climbs up the ramp from yard to cattle race.
I also fired up the poor, neglected 2CV and took her for a quick blat a few times round the house, through the yard and up through the cattle race just to make her feel a bit loved, to get the oil circulating, some fresh petrol into the carb, the brakes freed up and wiped clean of rust and the suspension moving about. She is actually off the road at the moment and will be put on a Statutory Off-Road Notice (SORN) in May, a month before her current tax expires. The tax was only €99 (it goes by engine size here) but it will be nice not to have to pay the insurance. The latter always annoyed me - it seems that in Ireland you cannot insure a car that is more than 15 years old, for more than 3rd Party, not even fire and theft. If I damaged her or she caught fire or was stolen I would just be taking a 100% loss on the chin. She's not worth a great deal, but with an NCT would probably get you €1000. In the UK you could at least get a fully comp deal on a pre-agreed value (the national 2CV club would do an estimate for the insurers) and a limited mileage (I only ever did 2-3000 miles per year). I will be happy to not have to pay our Irish insurer for that one.

Egg glut
The geese and chickens are now cranking out record amounts of eggs each day; sometimes I have had 2 goose and 8 chicken eggs. Even one of the Marans girls has come back into lay (Bless 'em, they have got to be 6 years old at this stage!) That's a lot more eggs than I either can eat or palm off on neighbours when I am here on my own, so Liz returned to something of a glut, a dozen in the 'posh' box plus 5 goose eggs and a good 9 chicken eggs in the overflow bowl. That called for a blast of baking to use some up, so the table is now groaning with home made lemon curd (lovely and sharp, the way we like it, made with un-waxed, organic lemons), home made mayonnaise, blackberry 'clafoutis' (posh tart), sponge cake and Liz's famed 'chilli, cheese and bacon biscuits'. We also foisted some eggs on Carolyn (K-Dub is back from his motorbiking Bavarian Forest 'Elefant' adventure and it is little H's 2nd birthday soon, so she's baking too) so the glut is looking a lot less glut-like now.

Fancy a stroll down the Lane, Henry? Why not, Min?
Meanwhile, the Guineas seem to have temporarily given up on their wanderings down the tarmac lane (the picture here was taken while I rounded them up and shoo'd them back into the drive one more time) but only because Henry has managed to hurt his right leg and is limping. Poultry tend to be famous for either being fully fit, or dead, with only very quick 'sick' intervals between. Each work-a-day bird is also usually only worth a few Euro. Hence few poultry keepers call the vet to their hobby birds and most vets, anyway, have little experience of fowl. We tend to try to isolate them, keep them quiet, ensure they have food and water and hope for the best. They either fall off the perch or perk up, problem solved either way. We cannot see any obvious cause on Henry, so we think he has pulled a muscle higher up his leg, or bruised himself, maybe in the hip, knee or 'ankle' joint.

Recent damp has put green algae on our Kentish
fallow deer antlers. But look at that blue sky!
Guinea fowl also tend to be very strongly pair-bonded, always scurrying about on foot as a pair. If they ever get separated then they call anxiously to one another and this can be quite loud. Henry's injury has slowed him up a bit, so Min takes off at the usual sprint and poor H is left behind. There is a lot of noisy calling till they can be re-united. But he does get about, hopping along favouring the poorly leg in a new characteristic bounding gait. We fancy that each day he seems to be slightly better; we hope this isn't just wishful thinking. He is not, anyway, getting any worse, so we live in hope that he will recover and go back to aggressively running at all the hens to drive them off and secure the food for his 'Min'. The thought occurs that he may have got injured by trying this on with one of our roosters and been taught a lesson by them.

But, some days are definitely 2-yolk days and Saturday was one of them, with Liz having a problem free 2 hour run up the roads and motorway from the Silverwood's to here, home in time for 'wine o'clock'. It is good to have her back. This place works so much better with 2 of us knocking it into shape and enjoying the fruits (and veg's!) of our labours. Thank you Mrs S for allowing her to come home. Get well soon and enjoy all that 'sugo', cock-a-leekie soup, chicken curry, lasagna and cottage pie.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Bitty News

Sometimes I get a bit busy for 'proper' long stories on this blog and my news comes in little bite sized pieces. I hope you enjoy them anyway.

First up, this blog passes the 70,000 page views landmark today. I have long since given up on the dream that I will suddenly go 'viral' (as they say) and turn into JK Rowling, or even Barbara Kingsolver. Naive 'innocent abroad' that I am, when I finished the latter's book a couple of days back (It stayed brilliant to the end) and thought it would be nice to send her an admiring e-mail and offer her this blog address so she could see what we were up to here. Some chance! I forget that these best-seller authors are now so hidden behind walls of agents and secretaries that they do not even have 'Contact Us' links on the websites, probably to protect them from getting 70,000 idiots like me every day trying to cram their inboxes!

Down in the Silverwood's, Mrs S is having her own little medical drama and has spent some time in Tullamore Hospital, So Liz has polished up the shining armour and dragged the milk white steed out of his stable, she has zoomed off to the rescue, ready to do a bit of babysitting and house keeping to let Mr S go to work. Mr S works in the same outfit as I used to do and I know they run a lean, mean machine, border-line under staffed; they can rarely spare you to take time off. They allow but definitely begrudge time taken off for such 'silly' reasons as "wife rushed to hospital". Liz was last heard of up to her oxters in making 'cock-a-leekie' soup and 'sugo' (pasta sauce) to keep them all going. Steak Lady rides in on Friday to help out too, relieving Liz, I hope, to come home for a while. Mrs S is back home now, at least. Get well soon Mrs S.

2.515 kg of lamb leg.
By chance, prior to us getting the call about Mrs S, Liz had extracted a 2.5 kg leg of lamb from the freezer intending it for supper. We couldn't re-freeze it, so I was left on my own to cook it. It got a smear of anchovy and garlic and was roasted for 2 hours at 175 degrees C. It was delicious, even though I carved a laughably small amount off for my supper, barely scratching the surface. No matter. The cold remains have now been stripped off the bones into four by 250 g bags for the freezer and a bag for my supper cous-cous. These animals are nicely butchered by Ignatius G who leaves the long shank attached but folded round, so we get three nice bones off these leg joints. Handy when you have three Westies. The house, as I type this, resounds to the gnawing of happy dogs. They pin their three respective chunks down under front paws and grind away with their bums in the air in each of three rooms, well separated from their fellow dogs, so the gnawing comes at me from under the kitchen cupboards, over by the range and above my head on the bare boards of the landing (my computer station is under the stairs). It's a bit loud.

Ginny the rabbit escaped again. I have built a new run at the bottom of the allotment on a patch of lanky grass under an ash tree, in the protected spot where we intend to put the bee hive. The plan is for Ginny and Padfoot to keep this mowed and clear ready for the buzzing crowd. The run is a rather bodged, temporary affair and the chicken wire, though buried, is not fixed taut, tall and upright and Ginny had sussed that in one place if she stood up on her hind legs and leaned on it, it would sag enough to make a ramp up which she could hop onto an allotment ridge. She came into the yard to wish me goodnight and let me know she was out (!). Ginny, though, is not a very convinced escape artist and by morning she is looking to me for a carrot, back in the run, so she follows me about as I release chickens and shepherd geese about and then, this morning, was waiting by the new run gate to be let back in and given a carrot. Daft animal.

Our next dose of wind and rain. Map from AA WeatherWatch
The geese do not fly much and never high - they go in for a running charge with lots of honking and wing flapping which just occasionally has them enough lift to be a little bit 'flying' just above the ground. While the gander, George, is still doing his one-woman thing, I am shepherding them home separately, the happy couple first, down the left hand side of the out building to their door, then going back to the orchard to gather up the 'gooseberry' girl who comes down the right hand side and round to her door in the yard. She has, up to now, stood around in the orchard chuntering to herself while I do the pair though she is quite happy to come waddling home when I go back for her. But not yesterday. Yesterday I was part way home with the pair when I suddenly felt the whoosh of heavy wing-beats and Goosey (the loner) rocketed past me on my right at elbow height, cleared the pair of geese just above their heads (they ducked in surprise!), landed, and pulled up just short of the building. She had decided to fly home. Blow all this patient waiting mallarkey! Noisy chaos ensued while George tried to protect his woman from this airborne 'assault' and get by her to his door. She tried to work out where she was and how to find the yard from this new unfamiliar angle. We got there in the end.

Unusual sight lately - washing drying OUTSIDE!
We've had a break from the wind and rain these last 48 hours and the ground quickly dries out, the puddles draining away nicely. I was able to barrow the latest load of calf muck round to the heap, all be it going the 'long way' through the yard to avoid the sloppiest ground. Just as well, as I got another call from Bob, who was ready for me to go collect more. We seem to have got into a routine now and these collections are once a week. No doubt Bob is delighted to have someone else muck out his bullocks, but my heap is starting to get big enough now - it all needs to rot down for 6 months or so before I can use it on the garden. I don't want to say no to Bob, but I am eagerly awaiting his decision that spring is done, the ground dry, the grass growing and he can let the cattle back out onto the grass. This probably not till April, I guess, so I have at least another 8-10 muck-outs to accommodate on my heap. It will take several seasons to use it up, so I don't know what happens next winter. Thank you though, Bob - it is all good stuff.  AA Weather Watch have pictures of the next storm coming in from the SW today and through tonight. This had me nipping out to rescue the washing as the wind rose and the sky turned dark. Batten down the hatches (again), people!

Sunday 2 February 2014

Foodie Memories

Bathchaps - traditional West Country fare
Mentor Anne, we know, is exploring the possibilities of pig ownership as are we. She too has obtained a half carcass to practise the processing and food making part of this project on, the sausages, butchery and so on. But Anne is a West Country girl and her memories hark back to traditional foods she would eat as a youngster growing up so her most recent post on her blog, which I follow, talks of "Bathchaps", brined, rolled and boiled chunks of pig cheek meat (and lower jaw sometimes) which taste reminiscent of ham.


I have never met these before and apparently one of the last manufacturers of Bathchaps (working in Bridport) may be about to stop production. We may be able to correct this omission soon as Anne is trying to get some exported to her and will also be trying to make her own when she gets to the 'pig's head' stage. Till then we have been going down the brawn route, as you know.

Traditional Dublin Gur Cakes
Here, in contrast, it is a glut of eggs which is exercising our bakers and the Irish women in our circle have been looking at sweeter fare from their own childhood tradition, namely Gur Cakes. These traditionally Dublin confections involve pastry top and bottom but a filling made with stale bread moistened with 'tay' and treacle and mashed in with all manner of dried fruits. Another one I have not knowingly eaten but which looks like my all time favourite type of cake, the Eccles Cake.

First make your bread go stale!
Gur Cakes would have been a way of using up your stale left over bread. Round here, bread does not hang around long enough to go stale, especially when there is brawn to make into sandwiches, so Liz found herself having to deliberately 'save' some bread to then make it go stale! I look forward to trying out the Gur Cakes and maybe also a sliver of Bathchap to taste.

Meanwhile we chug on gently through our Irish Garden Bird Survey, which runs from December right through to the first week in March. We have not had any unusual surprises but have had regular counts of all the usual suspects - the 15-strong mob of chaffinches which tidy up the left chicken corn in the yard, the grey-bodied hooded crows which are the only type we get here and a single 'drive-through' by our raven ('Quoth'). We have regular goldcrests and tree creepers in our black spruce, normally around 7 blackbirds, 5 robins and a couple of fieldfares.

One poor little mite which will not be featuring in any more weeks of the survey is this wren, one of the 5 or so we see regularly nipping about in the ivy and the log stacks and walls around the yard. Unfortunately Rolo the cat caught this one last night and Liz only saw him bringing back the tiny brown shape by chance. She rescued him and told off the cat (much good will that do!) and we almost wrote him off, but in the warmth of my hand he seemed to come to a bit.

RIP An Dreoilín, caught by the cat, Rolo
His little eyes opened and he seemed to be taking an interest in things, so we left him quietly in a warm, dry box to maybe recover through the night. Sadly, he never made it and his stiff, cold little form was there in the box this morning. Presumably shock or internal injuries caused by Rolo's attentions. Rolo was scolded and made to write out 100 times "I must not kill anything with feathers" on the blackboard before he was allowed to go home from school. Poor little wren.

Flatpack bee hive and protective outfits
On Saturday we drove through the sleety wet snow, back to our 'Two Marys' beyond Drumshanbo to buy some bee equipment, taking advantage of their January sale prices. We'd intended to only buy the hive in the sale which was going to be a flat pack which we would build but, to cut a long story short, we took shelter from the rain in the clothing store and got tempted to start trying on the caps, veils and over-trousers; our bee keeper "space-suits". Liz was sorted easily but this gear is made in India by small people and we struggled a bit to find sizes which worked with my long arms and (cough cough) broad shoulders. You do not want cuffs too tight or arms too short which might pull up while you are working, exposing the flesh of wrists and forearms to the bees' stinging bits.

We got there in the end and came home happy with our car load. Still no bees, yet. Too cold for them till June, but our names are now down in black and white on the waiting list for our Nucleus ('nuke') box. The other thing we are waiting for is any of the wax 'foundation' sheet used in the hive frames. These sheets are pre-moulded with an 'embossed' hexagon pattern to give the bees a clue where to start 'drawing out' the wax tubular brood cells and (later) honey comb. The manufacturers do not like making the foundation or shipping it about when the weather is too cold, as the sheets are very brittle. They wait till the weather warms up and the sheets become more pliable.

Last but not least, another year has come round to Feb 1st and the day we make our St Brigid's crosses from the local rushes. Far fewer rushes about now we are pleased to say, after all our hard work mowing, scything, strimmer-ing, sheep grazing, goose grazing, rabbit grazing and horse grazing but we found enough to do a cross a-piece to keep in with the tradition.