Thursday 31 July 2014

2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back

Some lovely heads of calabrese coming off the 'allotment'
Poor aul' Pirate the Cat seems to be taking a step back for every 2 forward at present. In general he's improving; he's getting good food into his system at present, so he's putting on good weight and we can no longer feel each individual vertebra or rib, his skin and fur are coming on a treat and we know he has been wormed, spayed and systemically de-flea'd. But just when he was nearly over the last bout of vet treatments, his empty eye socket popped open as the dis-solvable stitches parted company and he had to be taken back today for a 2nd attempt. Not only is the (lack of) eye a bit spooky to look at, it is basically an open wound which would for ever be picking up dirt and infection, so it needs stitching up closed; all his 'insides' should be inside and not exposed to the open air.

'Blue Salad' and 'Sharp's Express' salad potatoes
Hence the lad was back down to Aoife the Vet today for a 2nd attempt and, reading between the lines of what she was telling us, I think that this time she has not only used tougher (but still dis-solvable) stitches, but she has also created shallow 'wounds' in the top and bottom eyelid, so that they will bind together and heal over as a pair, better, closed. Sorry if you're just having your tea! So the poor old fella was back to us at 5 o'clock tonight all groggy from the sedative, ravenous from the fasting and grubby and filthy from the various anti-septic 'goo's and medical fluids. You had to pity him. He was trying to eat chunks of cat food from the bowl but not managing it, so he took to hooking chunks out of the bowl with a paw. He could not seem to bite them from his paw in his addled state, so he'd flick his paw and send the chunk flying off across the caravan and lose it. Liz decided to try him on a feline version of 'egg flip', a whole egg whizzed up with whipping cream! He scarfed two of these in quick succession. We have now put him to bed in the caravan so that he can give in to the battle for sleep and recover over night.

A batch of fencing materials delivered today.
Wrapped around our runs to and from the vet, we have played host to a knitting chum of Liz's who had been playing host in her turn to 4 grand-children down from Dublin for a week. She was looking for ways to entertain the kids and had accepted Liz's invitation to bring them to eat cakes, drink drinks and look at the animals, so we were in 'petting zoo' mode again - the children enjoyed feeding apples to pigs, stroking bunnies, talking to geese and goslings, quietly watching our broody hen and fussing the excited dogs. We are happy to be of service.

Garden flowers for the table
Also slotted in to this eventful day was the delivery by our fencing supplier of the 'posh' wood for our fence around the front lawn by Sligo firm, McHale Sawmills. In all of our build and heavy work we have never had such a skilled and careful lorry driver. We have had the lawn edges 'trodden down', gate piers leant upon and all manner of 31-point turns and struggles, where you are tempted to offer to drive the man's lorry for him. This guy was into the drive in a whisker and up into unloading position without hitting anything. Then when it came to backing up round a 90 degree turn through another gate way he was round in no time with only one 'bite' at it and off down the drive forwards to swing easily out of the gate onto the lane. "You've played that game before!" I commented. He smiled. "Yes, a few times" he smiled as he waved me away. Good to watch.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Mr Fox is Back

Heaviest Hubbard 'roo' carcass this year - 2.873 kg.
Mr Fox has been around a few more times but has not had any more success hunting our birds and beasts (Touch Wood!). The first of these visits, a few nights back set off the big rabbit 'Goldie' in thumping the ground with her back feet to warn all the rest of the bunnies of danger. She probably did better than the hoped, as she was inside one of the run 'bedrooms', with a plywood floor a couple of inches above ground and a box shape with even a 'sound-hole' - the 'BOOM BOOM' was probably audible for miles! It certainly had all the dogs awake and therefore, pretty soon, ourselves, so we were up and shining torches through windows. The fox was in the middle of the lawn, close to the bunnies, but scarpered.

Funky new apiary gate.
The 2nd time we heard but did not see 'him'. He seemed to us to be working his way down the lane from up by Una's, down towards Bobby's place, and shouting that soft-ended yowly bark every few yards as he slowly made his way. In theory we know that a vixen will make a noise called 'the Vixen Scream', and this bark would be a dog fox but we have since explored the sound clips available on You Tube and apparently both sexes sometimes do both noises, as well as various other play, fight, warning and mating call shouts. We're going with 'dog fox' for now but it makes little odds, either way we wish he'd leave us alone. We hope he is only showing up repeatedly following his keet raid success, hoping we'll re-stock the run for him!

Plentiful greens. I am in a strange position having just
sprinted into shot!
If 2013 was 'Year of Beans' here, then this year is promising to be 'Year of Greens' and I am becoming a bit of a bore with my statements of "Look at this! This is definitely the best xxx I have ever grown!" The beans did so well last year - bumper harvests of French, runners and broads (as well as peas) that we are still working our way through the bags in the freezer, so I decided to grow no runners this year, instead I did runner "Borlotti" beans. These whiz up canes like normal runners but you leave the pods on the bines to ripen, the pods turning dry and papery and the beans drying to lovely patchy colour schemes of purple and white. You store them dry as you would lentils. But it is the greens which have taken me by surprise this year and I have huge forests of ball-head and pointed cabbage, red cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, black (Tuscan) kale, and calabrese. We are going to be very well off for greens this summer and autumn.

Honeycomb 'drawn' out on our new frames and starting
 to be filled with honey. The dark cells to the right are
 pollen stores.
Hard at work too are the bees. Bizarrely they still refuse to forage in our own garden, but they are off 'out there' somewhere gathering plenty of nectar and pollen and are expanding the colony well into our first 'super' (honey store box). We only do weekly inspections (mindful of the Two Marys insisting that we don't fuss them!) but each time we crack open the lid and peer in, a few more areas of the flat, embossed beeswax "foundation" have been drawn up into the hexagonal tubes everyone knows as "honeycomb".

The girls admiring their new, pristine
honeycomb tubes.
Some of the areas have tubes part filled with nectar. You may know that the bees have to convert this into honey before they cap the cells over with wax as stores. Nectar is quite wet, runny and liquid and contains mainly complex (disaccharide) sugars. The bees have to process it in their 'honey stomachs' using enzymes to 'invert' the sugars into simple sugars (glucose, fructose) and to get the water content down to below 20%, aiming for 17% to stop it fermenting. That is a fascinating subject on its own- the way bees will avoid upward pointing flowers after rain because the nectar will be diluted, and will follow the sun round hunting dried out flowers with more concentrated nectar; but it's probably not for here!

Leeks from 2013 in flower - a feeding
frenzy for bumble bees and wasps less
than 20 feet from the hive. Not a single
honey bee on them!
You may have noticed the picture of our lovely new blue and white wooden gate through to the apiary (= Ginny and Padfoot's run, too). It was a neat piece of recycling. Regular readers will know I built a pig ark recently and this involved cutting two 4 foot radius half-circles out of two 8 by 4 sheets of floor ply, leaving me with 4 off-cuts which seemed too good to throw away.... The gate needed to be roughly 4 foot by 4 foot.

Wasps doing the pollinating here.
Sunday saw us off to one of the local garden centres, Horkan's out towards Castlebar. Generally Ireland doesn't 'do' garden centres to the same degree as the UK, and those that do exist are like the most homogenous, commercial UK ones - just a limited range of varieties of plants that "are popular". There do not seem to be any specialist nurseries so we have to do anything a bit different by going on line, Future Forests for the trees, Johnstown (up near Dublin) for unusual plants, etc. We have started to get into growing things which 'do well round here' (lupins, crocosmia, aquilegia and so on)

A bizarre mobile - chunks of belly pork
salted and now drying in muslin bags
as bacon. 
This time though we were more in search of ideas than specific plants, so we found ourselves taken by things which had attracted a good few bees in the display racks (a nice blue Nepeta was covered in bumble bees) but also at our regular comb through the "sad and lonely" (discount) racks. We always feel sorry for the lost souls you find there, looking like they are near death and we like the challenge of getting them well again (plus the fact that they are one or two Euro!) Several of our now thriving huge plants arrived here in this sorry state, rescued from the Sad and Lonely racks.

Friday 25 July 2014


One of those happy garden coincidences, two nice
purples next to one another.
These are stultifyingly hot days. We are reduced, by lunchtime, to pathetic, drippy, exhausted shadows of our former selves, crashed out somewhere in the shade to keep cool. I have taken the mower to bits to rid its airways  and throttle mechanism of dried (and some black scorched) grass, and I have painted undercoat on wooden parts of the trailer and the new gate into the bee-hive area / rabbit run and I have walked the dogs, but that's about my lot; Liz has battled through a load of laundry. At least now there is a tiny breeze. Mad dogs and Englishmen? We are sitting under the terrace furniture parasol sipping cold drinks.

Only the bees continue to show any enthusiasm and it is in their job description; in hot weather you go foraging. The hens are all laid up in the shade of trees at the top of the Secret Garden, the rabbits under their shade sheets on the lawn, or in Ginny and Padfoot's case, the shade of the big ash tree. The pigs are making good use of the rain water ditch as their wallow, as was the plan.

and there let us wallow in glorious mud.
When we were doing the build we connected up all the rain down-pipes to 4 inch underground drains running under the yard and joining up just by the end of the chicken house. These tip out into a deep ditch to the right (East) of the Secret Garden which takes the water away down to the stream at the bottom Anna's land. We had this cleared by mini-digger but inevitably it has since become a glory-hole for stinging nettles, ground elder and over hanging hawthorn and ash. The piggies quickly discovered it almost on Day 1 and reveled in nipping up and down it under cover like taking the subway from top to bottom of their patch, popping up at either end with a quick and impressively nimble gallop up the almost sheer bank. Since then they have enjoyed the wetness of the place after rain, when the rest of their patch can be a bit dry and pine-needly, good for dust bathing but not so useful as a wallow.

Spring onions - "scallions" in these parts.
Mapp in particular seems to like a good wallow and regularly comes to supper in an attractive (?) pie-bald version of herself, ginger above the plimsoll line, black below. Black too from her nose to her eyes, so that you can see she's been rootling down to a good 6 inches but has kept her eyes out of the mud. The pair are still charming me and amuse me regularly with new versions of 'play' especially when they emerge, full bellied from supper to join me and the dogs for a conversation through the orchard fence. The dogs are off the leads for their evening half hour running about and the pigs gambol over, 'talk' to them and then play running up and down the fence, dogs one side, pigs the other.

Guinea fowl Min is still laying eggs, usually hidden so we
never know the dates. This one was in the clump of mint.
Yesterday I put the following in Facebook."The pair are relaxing with full bellies, lying on the grass. Mapp lies on her right side, eyes shut. Lucia comes up and shoves her nose in under Mapp's belly, amidships and hefts upwards. Mapp gets flipped over , rolling across her own spine, her legs flopping over in a great arc till she whacks down on her left side, still apparently asleep with her eyes shut, grunting with joy. Lucia works her way around so she can flop her sister back over. Very funny to watch. Mapp seems to just suck it up, completely un-bothered." Daft as a brush the pair of them.

Finally, our membership card to the Bee Keepers' group
"Gardens, like cities, are store houses of personal myth and memory. A tree, just like that particular chair in that particular courtyard café, has its place in many other stories besides your own. Who knows who planted it, and why; who stole a first kiss under it a hundred years ago; who sat beneath its branches looking up at the sky the evening war was declared, or paced up and down around it while his children were born upstairs? We think of gardens as 'ours', when really, all we are doing is adding our own chapter of experience and memory, along with the plants we plant or the seeds we sow, to a long-existing story" Amen to that Elspeth Thompson, late garden writer for the Sunday Telegraph, whose book I'd forgotten we had and which I grabbed recently off the shelf when looking for something to read. I love it for its descriptions of early fumblings and beginner-ish exploration attempting to do 'organic' in a small city garden and an allotment and I love it for being in small weekly-column bite-sized pieces. It can go a bit weird on you, possibly as she was by then a famous newspaper type and prey to all manner of creative types suggesting ideas for her garden and column (which they could then, presumably sell to the readers). In one article she is visited by a garden feng shui expert who is looking for twisted underground energy (chi) lines and unblocking the energetic log-jam with dowsing rods and hammering in metal 'acupuncture' needles. Each to his own, I guess; I just 'clicked' on through. Rest in Peace, Elspeth. The book is 'Urban Gardener' pub 1999 Orion, ISBN 0-75282-699-9

Sunny snooze for Pirate
Meanwhile Pirate the cat has settled in nicely and, as far as we know, now stays around the caravan and 2CV and is always there for his regular meals, which he no longer feels the need to wolf down, gorging himself. His over all health is improving nicely and we have had only one setback - the empty eye socket, stitched shut with dissolvable stitches has now popped open again once the stitches dissolved. He will need to go back to the vet for another try but this means sedation and Aoife is loath to sedate him too many times a month, so he's waiting till next week.

Enjoy the heat and sunshine. I'm off to find another ice-cooled elder flower cordial.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

An Epic Jambalaya

Flavours from the Deep South y'all.
The food at this 'restaurant' is (in my unbiased opinion!) always gorgeous and often new and interesting; Liz is always trying out new flavour combinations and new recipes for tried and tested favourites. This leads in turn, to the left-overs also being varied and exciting, with some bizarre combinations left for your blogger to use up on Liz's 'Knit and Natter' evening. A couple of days ago we had a lovely combination of sheets of ribs from our own lambs, marinaded in a mixture of honey, ginger, garlic and soy sauce plus rice from a packet mix by 'Zatarains', a genuine New Orleans company specialising in Creole, Cajun and other New Orleans and Deep South dishes.

Holiday snaps - Outside 'Mother's restaurant in 1998
We love all that kind of thing ever since our visit to New Orleans with our very good, Mississippi-resident, Westie breeder friends Marlane and Norm' C in 1998. We love the 'Po' boy' drip-down-your-chin beef and mayo sandwiches, the seafood dishes, the gumbos and the jambalayas. I am not sure whether "Mother's", spiritual home of the 'Po' Boy' is still there and running after Hurricane Katrina did her destructive worst but I hope so.

Top right - getting ourselves round those Po' Boys
Anyway, where all this waffle is leading is to tonight's epic DIY jambalaya which was pretty much these left over lamb rib sheet cut up a bit, the rice and the meat juices and sauce plus a little water to let it all flow again, eaten with some gorgeous (Lizzie) home made wheat/rye wholemeal bread. Epic. I don't generally starve myself on these Liz-less nights but this one was a cracker which, sadly, will probably never get reproduced. The Zatarain's mixes are not (as far as we know) available here, so we buy them in Macknade's in Faversham when ever we are over and eke them out through the in between times.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer' doing very well
Monday afternoon has now become our regular bee hive inspection time and we are delighted to say that the colony is thriving and rapidly expanding into the 'super' (top box) we added to the hive stack recently. They are an active, contented looking crew and certainly deserve the old clichéd moniker of 'busy'. When I am exercising the dogs in the orchard of an evening, I like to sit down on the grass in the top left corner where I can see the hive flight path and the bees launching themselves off the hive and up at their standard 20-30 degree climb; where I am sitting they are back-lit by the sinking sun and show up well against the dark, shady side of the hawthorn hedge. Just out of curiosity I counted the take-offs recently and saw 46 bees ping away in a 30 second period. Similar numbers return, zig-zagging down or spiraling like planes approaching a busy airport.

Some first hollyhocks. Seed saved from our Kent garden.
One small doubt concerns us. The bees are obviously very busy and productive, and the pollen for larvae, nectar for honey and the ingredients for beeswax are obviously being collected from somewhere but that 'somewhere' does not seem to be OUR garden. If we're honest, we find this a little bizarre and our noses are a bit out of joint. What's wrong with OUR flowers. you ladies?

Yellow 'Bishop' related dahlia
We always garden in a bee-friendly way and especially this year we have specialised in pollen-rich and insect friendly flowers - we do crocus, ox-eye daisies, nasturtiums, hollyhocks, geraniums, ribes and so on; Blimey, we used to win Gold Awards for it in the Kent Wildlife Gardening competitions, and became judges. There must be 5-10,000 bees in that hive by now but I am lucky if I've seen half a dozen foraging in our garden. I have had dozens of bumble bees across at least 3 species, we have a rake of wasps flitting between flowers like bees and we have a good population of the bee-like hover flies. We have a forest of Phacelia tanacetifolium, we have 2013 leeks left to go to flower just now opening and we have the autumn fruiting raspberries all breaking out in bloom, but go look at them and bumble bees will be all you see - the honeybees will be whizzing over your head, up to hedge-top height and then spreading out across the fields and bog-lands all around 'us'. You can lead a horse to water, I guess.

An "artist's" impression of the new fence
Our next big project, it will not surprise you to learn, is some more fencing. That is what most of the previous ones have been, after all. This time, though, something a little different. We are going to fence around the front lawn so that we can graze it with sheep. The rabbits are doing a good job, but cannot keep up with it and it offends me every time I have to mow off all that lovely, nutritious grass and let it rot. But sheep fencing, as we know, can look a bit 'industrial' with its tree trunk posts, green high tensile barbed wire and the square section 'sheep fence' itself. OK where you would expect it, like round a field (!) but not all that beautiful.

Ball head cabbage grown from plug plants
So Liz has put her foot down with a firm hand on this one and when she sits at the terrace furniture outside the front of the house in the sunshine, she doesn't want to be looking at a barbed wire fence. We have set our contractor, Paul-the-Fence (he says it 'fince') the task of doing us a nice post and rail, sheep-proof fence up the drive and along the front of the house. He will then join up the out of sight bits with the barbed wire stuff to give us all-round security, and we will have a gate nearest to the yard so that we can move sheep easily between the East Field and this one without any going astray. They will also be able to enjoy the browse in the hedge base and around the new keet run and tidy that up for us nicely as did the Jacob cross ladies in 2012.
The ever growing goose family
Hopefully we will look most picturesque to any visitors coming up the drive. Pricey though, this post and rail, and we need 54 metres of it. Ker-ching.

I will leave you with this pic of the geese. The two 'babies' are to the right, still fluffy but taking shape. George Junior (centre face on) is fully feathered and looks for all the world like his Mum and Aunt.  

Friday 18 July 2014

Bust Squared x Length x 69.3

Taking the 'bust' measurement of a 99 day old Tamworth
Bust Squared x Length x 69.3. It's not every day we do 'sums', but this formula is a good standard used around the pig world for estimating the weight of your pigs. 'Bust' is a measure of the pig's chest just behind the front legs. 'Length' is  the length of her back from between the ears to the base of her tail, both these being quoted in metres. The formula in my title line then gives you weight in kg. Doing these today, Mapp, who we knew was slightly smaller, comes out at 31.8 kg and Lucia is 36.3 kg.

According to 'The Good Book' (Liz Shankland's (Haynes) Pig Manual), "traditional breeds reach pork weight at between 5 and 6 months old", pork weight being 55 kg or there abouts. Baconners are normally much heavier ( more like 80 kg ) and there is an in-between standard called 'cutters' which is kept for 9 months to produce bigger joints than you'd get from a 'porker'. We think we are therefore doing OK, with ours having reached 30 kg in 3 months.

Apparently you do have to watch it with Tamworths lest you just build up 2 inches of back-fat all along the spine which weighs a load but is not really cook-able unless you like very fatty bacon. It will be interesting to see how ours do compared to Anne and Simon's cross bred trad which are a good 2 months in front of us and are being fed on a little (organic) pig-nut but mainly fruit and veg obtained from shop back doors, a way more cost-effective solution than our 'mainly pig-nut' diet. Ours get some fruit in every meal but it tends to be a cut up apple, nectarine and tomato between them per bowl of nuts. We get the fruit from the Supermarket 'reduced' bins, a bag of apples for a Euro style. Anne thinks hers will be ready in about 6 weeks.

Hole ripped by a fox.
Meanwhile a tragic end to our Guinea Fowl keets saga, 3 rips in the chicken wire of their new run, one where the wire had been pulled out of the staples and a place where the wire had been torn up from buried under soil and rocks, a few sad feathers and some blood, but all 5 keets gone. We thought at first this might have been a mink but Anne has looked at the run, the big holes and the complete absence of bodies, and thinks more than one fox was the culprit, possibly parent animals out with learning cubs. The big rip was an entrance hole and the smaller ones may have been foxes snatching keets through the wire as they panicked trying to escape.

Goldie is in clover
We are kicking ourselves again - it is always the human's fault. We are meant to keep the birds out of danger. I know in theory that chicken wire is no protection against a fox and the run contained a perfectly fox-proof house, but the keets were devils for not using it and preferred to sleep in a huddle among the rocks on the ground. You cannot easily persuade guinea fowl to go where they do not want to go, so we had stopped trying to lock them in the house at night and instead trusted our belief that we did not really have a fox problem. Famous last words. Poor things. It can't have been a very nice end.

Pirate tucks in to home made fishy cat food.
Better news in the Pirate department. The lad is doing very well on his week of incarceration in the caravan being fed lots of lovely food, antibiotic tablets wrapped in salami, and having his good eye smeared with ointment. He is also warm, dry and not having to fight rival cats, dodge dogs, scramble through barbed wire fences and bramble thickets so he does not get new cuts, scratches, tufts of fur missing and a bloody nose every day.

Bulging tummy on a skinny cat!
He is looking cleaner and whiter every day and must be enjoying not always having to nurse sore cuts and bruises (all be it he may still be feeling a bit sore around the surgically closed eye-lid and the... um....manly bits). He is still quite thin and you can feel all his vertebrae so we are always quite amused by the view down on him from above when he had eaten a great wodged belly-full; his stomach sticks out either side like a cartoon snake after it has eaten a big animal. Liz got a couple of enormous fish-heads from our fish-van lady yesterday, poached them down to make stock but then peeled off any edible bits ('neck' muscle, brain, gills etc) and created a delicious (to cats) cat food to which she added back the oil rendered in the stock. Pirate thinks this is WONDERFUL stuff and cannot get enough of it.

He is also getting very affectionate towards us and who ever is feeding and medicating him sits down in the caravan for a nice long cuddle and fuss which he cannot get enough of even though his full-to-groaning belly must be telling him to go for a lie down. He is on this regime for one more day, after which he has completed his course of antibiotics; we will probably keep giving him the eye ointment till we run out of that too. But he's not house trained (why would he be?) so he is making a bit of a mess of the caravan despite our giving him a litter tray, so we are now in two minds whether to confine him for a week or more longer till he 'really gets to know this is home', or whether to throw open the caravan windows and let him come and go at will.

Elder-flower 'fizz'
Time enough for that decision on Sunday. Tonight we are relaxing with some of this year's very successful elder flower 'champagne'. It's always a bit of a judgement call - stop this wine too soon and you end up with bottles going off like soda syphons, too late and you have flat wine. We are pleased to have got it just about right this year. It comes chilled from the fridge and we open it at a lean, then smoothly (no glugging, no allowing it to pour back into the bottle) decant into a chilled jug. It stays crystal clear that way for your 2nd glasses and the dog end! Cheers.

Oh, and that pig-weight formula applied to me? That'll be 'bust' 1.25 m, 'length' 0.82 m, so weight 90.1 kg. Now that'd be nice! I will be claiming that my legs are 'extra' and not really piggy shaped.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Extreme Weeding?

Weeding a bit close to the hive for comfort (yellow arrows)
I felt like I was taking my life in my hands today, weeding on the raised bed veg plot but having now got all the way down to the bottom of the ridges and very close to the loud-buzzing beehive. It was a warm day and there were bees pinging everywhere, a good couple of dozen out at the front of the hive, taking off, landing, flying 'circuits' or 'taxi-ing' at any one time. I needed to get down that last 'path', round the end just under the hive's launch ramp and then back up at the left side of this picture.

'Extreme weeding' it may have been but you would have smiled at the lack of bravery of this hands-and-knees weeder. I had my wide brim straw hat well down on my head and my head down so that the bees might not recognise me as human (!) I pretty much slithered over the ridge at the bottom, arms bent, chest nearly in the dirt - I must have looked like either a Commando-crawl or (more likely), Gollum out of Lord of the Rings! I was not raising my profile more than about 18 inches that close to the colony. Then I was round the corner and racing back up to the left of this picture ripping at the lank grass, white clover, nettles and plantains like a madman, anxious to get back to about ten feet from the hive. The bees, of course, were just calmly going about their business - a hive will buzz gently on a warm day when they are happy and contented and we all read and re-read the 'fact' that bees will not attack you unless they are convinced you are about to attack them but when you are that close to the hum, your faith can wear a bit thin.

A 2013 Hubbard goes broody.
Back in the comparative safety of chicken-land we have had 2 nice coincidences happen, which may well add up to a happy third. We have long been thinking that we like the Buff Orpington as a breed and may well shift, by what they used to call 'natural wastage', from our current motley crew of hens centred round the original Sussex Ponte 'Lovely Girls', over to Buff Orps just by replacing all our deaths and culls with that breed. As it happens we have among our troops a breed-able pair of Orps which came as eggs last year from Mentor Anne, and the rooster is our only roo' at present, so if 'Mrs Buff' is laying fertile eggs, then they will be Buff Orp pure-breds.

17 Buff Orpington eggs 'set' in the incubator
No good though when she was laying any old where in among all the other hens, but recently she started laying in a secret place among the nettles where only she was laying. What is more she was reliably laying every day, more than you could say for the other reprobates. And then one of last year's Hubbards decided to go broody. This bird would be a new Mum, so you'd not trust her with valuable eggs but we came up with a plan to collect the Orp eggs and re-borrow the incubator from Charlotte (Thanks, Ch), we could then stick half a dozen mixed eggs under the Hubbard and she'd be hatching them just as the incubator set hatched - an opportunity to sneak the new hatchlings under a real Mum for some 'proper' rearing. This plan got even better when we asked Anne and Simon whether they might have a few Buff Orp eggs to throw into the mix, and we were delighted when they were able to lay their hands on nine to go with our eight. So today I was able to 'set' (as we say) seventeen eggs in the 'Incy'. Wish us luck. We hope we are not guilty of too much chicken-counting with all this might and if forward planning.

Purring away like crazy with his eyes closed in ecstasy,
Pirate is a very happy affectionate lad.
As well as the weeding and messing with eggs today, we have been round to Una's for a 2nd pick at her black currant bushes and we have stripped our own for black currants and goose berries. The main off-site task today, though, was to finally get the disreputable feline, 'Pirate' off to his date with vet Aoife. We'd had to catch him Sunday to make sure of having him today and the lad had lived, apparently calm and happy, in a dog-crate in our caravan for 48 hours. This morning we just had to persuade him into the cat basket and drive him the short distance to Lough Glynn village and Aoife's surgery.

Ongoing 'meds' for Pirate
We were relieved and delighted when instead of throwing up her hands in despair and horror, Aoife took a good look and then calmly took him from us, assuring us that he looked OK and that she'd sort him out and phone us this afternoon. As good as her word, she texted us to come and get him at 3:30 p.m. (it was already 10:30 a.m. when we dropped him off). There he was, still a bit droopy from the sedative but she had cleaned him up a bit, sewn up his empty right eye-socket with dissolvable stitches, spayed him, treated him for worms and fleas and given him a whacking dose of antibiotics for anything else that ailed him.

We are to keep him in the caravan for 4-5 days while we work him through the rest of the dose of antibiotics (Kesium/amoxicillin) and try to get some eye ointment (Maxitrol) onto his left eye twice a day and so that he can also get over the soreness of his neutering op and the stitches in his bad eye. He does not seem to have any problems with this and is very soppy and affectionate when ever we go near him, racing up to us, nuzzling and rubbing himself against our hands and legs in ecstatic purring, rolling over to get his tummy tickled and so on. He is, we think, going to prove to be a very loving little lad but, of course, once he is released from the caravan the whole lane and all his old haunts are once again his oyster. It is not a prison, just a haven.

Mussels, wild from the Irish Atlantic shoreline
Thank you very much, Anne and Simon, too for a generous gift of some wild mussels from the Sligo shore-line. They had been to the Strandhill / Lissadel area to show the Irish Atlantic beauty off to their current student/helper and had gathered a good haul  from the beach. They were very flavoursome, gorgeously fresh and smelling beautifully of the clean sea-side. (I say 'clean' here because coming from Hastings, "smelling of the sea side" would not be anything you would aspire to, and the reader would have worrying images of human sewage, stinking tourist debris and rotting dogfish carcasses discarded by the beach-landed local fishing fleet. No. This is clean Atlantic surf crashing onto a beautiful Sligo shore, a very different kettle of 'fish' altogether).

Mussels cooked 'naked', the sauce was on the side. 
Liz purged them with a couple of changes of water and cooked them in just fresh water so that we could enjoy the pure mussel flavour. There was a sauce of cream, mustard, red onion and brandy, but that was kept on the side as an option. They were delicious. It was actually Bastille Day and we would normally do something French but that had slipped our attention, so we were glad we'd had 'moules' even if they were 'sans frites' and definitely 'Irlandais' rather than French. There was a French dressing on the salad but I don't suppose that really counts.

Friday 11 July 2014

Wheel Tappers and Shunters

Cylindrical "Sausage" turf
Way, way back when I was a student (70's?) there was a rather silly variety show on TV known as the "Wheel Tappers' and Shunters' Social Club" about which I can remember very little, but the name, which I found intriguing. It derives from the fact that in railway engineering there was a task to check whether the steel wheels of rolling stock (carriages, railway trucks etc) might be cracked and this was done by whacking each wheel with a hammer and listening to the ring, or otherwise. Sound wheels rang, cracked ones answered the whack with a dull 'clonk'.

Achillea millefolium (a Yarrow cultivar)
I only mention this because we had 'The Man from ESB' (Our electrical supply company) all around the property and surrounding fields this week testing the "telegraph poles" for soundness in exactly the same way. Walk round whacking them high and low with a hammer and listen (I presume knowledge-ably and skillfully) to the noise. If a pole proved to be suspect, then phase 2 of the process involved hammering a 6 inch nail into the wood and seeing how easily it sunk in. We got chatting to him and he proved to be a fascinating bloke, brilliantly chatty and a mine of local lore to listen to.

One of two hugely spreading "Orion" geraniums
We have a pole on this property which has been concerning us because it is (now) well buried in the earth bank and surrounded by elder trunks and branches as well as having our previously mentioned buried clamp of 'sausage' turfs at the base. We wondered whether the burying of the first 5 feet or so of the pole would have given it damp-rot and also then whether our works to unearth all the turf and re-model the bank might undermine the pole (cutting off power to the rest of the lane!).

New Keet Run
Well, the pole is one of a batch now about 52 years old, most of which are still sound (others in the area, only 11 years old are rotting badly already) but our particular one is indeed rotten and is now marked for replacement in the next 2 months. The sausage turf is not, as I had guessed, ancient, hand-won stuff. It is cut and extruded by a machine like the modern (rectangular) stuff, but a different machine which favours the wetter bogs and is still in use in much of Mayo. So it could well be from our previous owner, TK-Min's days on the farm, maybe only 20 years old or there-abouts.

Keet run from the south end.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we have met our ever-growing Keets' need for more space by slotting a clever little run into a bit of waste-ground between our 'Primrose Path' and the Eastfield. This is basically a 6 foot tall, 9 feet wide and 30 feet long rectangle with a coop and gate at one end. It was cheap as chips. The 'walls' are made from a donated roll of 6 foot high 2" chicken wire, held up on the big trees or existing fence posts, and the roof is a piece of fruit-cage bird-netting held up by polypropylene 'rope' and the gate wrangled out of rough-cut 2 by 1 and a half inch timber.

Keets at 5 weeks explore the new big space.
We successfully moved the ten half-grown guinea fowl keets (babies) which are now well able to fly and to run much faster than Liz or I can (!) using a cat-basket method suggested to us by Charlotte (Thanks, Ch!) who was reported to have been in fits of laughter telling her Mum how we had originally proposed doing it, but I will draw a veil over that bit. There was one small hiatus when we went back to check on them and saw, sitting cutely in a row on top of the coop (inside the run), a row of nine keets. Nine? Didn't we have ten? Number ten was sitting up on the polyprop rope on the top of the run - he/she had found a tiny corner where we had left a gap twixt wall and roof and got out somehow. That one was quickly rounded up and gap closed with a bigger, more powerful cable-tie (Thanks again, Ch!) and we have had no escapes since.

We were not actually looking to sell these keets (yet, anyway) so we had not advertised them anywhere, but John Deere Bob had let a friend know we had them, when talking to the guy and finding out that like us, he had lost his male bird. We had no sooner released them into the new run and I had snatched these pics of the ten, than this guy (Declan G) arrived wanting to buy 3 (un-sexed) birds hoping there would be a replacement cock-bird among them. We sold them for €8 each which will nicely pay for most of their chick crumb and growers' pellets. I have since had a 2nd call from a lad who wants 2 more, so the word may be spreading but we will not sell any more after that - we want to know what these guys taste like after all this hard work!

It's not ALL glamarous cooking - a first go at
home made pizza.
We also managed to sell, at last, a couple of baby rabbits. We seem to be plagued on the local 'classified ads' website, with getting very few bites and a huge percent of those who make contact prove to be time-wasters who do not phone back when they say they will, or don't show up. You also get short text conversations which end without apology or 'goodbye' when they say something like 'where are you?' and you say County Roscommon.

Possibly the best Black Currant Clafoutis ever.....
It seems to be perfectly OK here to just stop texting. There is no need, apparently to finish with 'Ohh, that's a bit far, I'll pass' or 'OK, sorry to trouble you'. I am not alone in this - plenty of sellers complain of the same problem. One trap I have not fallen into yet and do not intend to is to hang around the house waiting on a call or a visit. If I'm in, I'm in. However, you do occasionally get the exact opposite, a serious, well meaning, polite buyer willing to drive all the way from Galway; in this case they got a bit lost en route and took 3 hours but still turned up. They were a Lithuanian couple, again brilliant people who we felt would have stayed and chatted for hours. They took 2 female bunnies at €20 each. They had actually wanted a breed-able pair but ours are all brothers, sisters and litter mates. They will keep hunting for a Giant breed buck.

Hubbard rooster at 10 weeks, carcass weight 2.012 kg.
Rather early, on Day 72, we decided to start 'harvesting' our Hubbard chickens, delivered as 1 day old chicks on May 1st. Although they are a bit young yet, the roosters in particular are already starting to look huge and are starting to clutter up the place - we get that feeling of too many chickens under foot when we walk in the yard. So, pretty much as an experiment, this guy got the chop and turned out to have a live weight of 3.016 kg, a carcass weight of 2.012 kg (plus 232 g of 'bits' (liver, heart, gizzard for us and the neck for the cats!) Not bad for a free range bird only just over 10 weeks old!

Pioneer gardening. Liz hefts a rock.
So that's about it for recent adventures. Opening up the run for the keets showed us that we have yet another untamed bit of 'garden' which needs sorting, so Liz has been out pioneering in the stinging nettle proof gloves and rock-proof wellies, breaking off only to study the gardening books for the 'dry shade under trees' species. Convallaria, anyone?