Saturday 27 September 2014

Pig Race

Pale purple Phacelia is now enjoyed by the bees just 30 feet
from the hive.
Liz is away on Phase 2 of the parental house move. The first stage got them as far as all the boxes moved in to the new house but there was a hold up on the paperwork somewhere else in the 'chain' so they had to wait a week before they could claim the keys and start opening boxes. John Deere Bob has a brilliant local expression. "Ah, those solicitors always manage to turn it to shlobber!" That is all now sorted ('de-shlobbered?) and they are all down there this weekend to unpack. Meanwhile Steak Lady has been cheering up all the local shop keepers by buying stuff for the new house; 2 new double beds for starters.

New 'race' from pig-gate up to the trailer 'socket'.
I have been bimbling away doing tidy-up type jobs, weeding and readying bed for broad beans (which seem to do best here in over-winter mode, planted about now and getting a few inches of growth up before the frosts, then getting an early start in Spring), extending trellis for the climbing roses, gathering more dry turf from the "mine", a bit of fencing and a bit of 'fedge' weaving.

I let the geese out for a bit of an explore in the sunshine.
As the piggies approach the end of this year's 'project' (yes, that is a euphemism) we are getting the exit ready in terms of creating the 'race' that we will use to bring them up from the gate of their pen, to the waiting trailer, which will be on higher ground so that I do not get a problem pulling it out, loaded with pigs, if the day proves to be wet. I have built a fence 5 feet or so from the main orchard fence and running up to the orchard gate so that I can reverse the back of the trailer into this gap creating a pig-proof joint. With the trailer 'plugged in' to this and the ramp down, the plan is to coax the pigs up the race and in to the trailer, bravely clippety-clopping up the unfamiliar ramp coaxed by tempting food in the trailer. We have actually practised this manouvre already and the pigs slowly but calmly explored the new set up so we are reasonably confident this will work on the day. The day is currently looking like soon after October 10th. They will be 6 months old on the 10th and, we think, 'finished' (i.e. heavy and big enough).

Sorry for the poor picture - my woven willow fence/hedge
The 'fedge', for those who have not met this expression, is a living, growing, woven willow fence/hedge. Most people start these with willow rods cut to length and stuck into the ground at perfect angles to do basket weaving on the way up, with rods already leaning at 45 degrees left or right so that they can be woven. Typically we didn't do anything as well organised as this, instead planting a long line of prunings about 6 inches apart, planning to do something with them once they were rooted, established and growing.

Jam labels, did not quite work as intended.
Needless to say the prunings took or did not and then grew at different speeds and with differing amounts of branching all along the line. My weaving is therefore a bit rough and ready and you would not call it 'art' but it does look nicer now than before I started and it will hopefully improve with age and be a good wind-break for the orchard.

Also in the 'not quite as beautiful as planned' category, we had a go at designing some jam pot labels using the old image we have of the house in 1900 with the two pony and traps loaded with smartly dressed family. The plan was to fade the image, already lacking in contrast as it comes from a photocopy, into the background as a watermark, and write the jam name across the top. You can see from the picture that this works OK close-up. Unfortunately when you look at the pots from longer range, the grey house picture just looks like a dirty inky grey finger-smudge, which rather spoils the effect. Back to the drawing board.

Our new 'visitor' this stray collie.
Meanwhile Carolyn of the mini horses pointed me in the direction of that rare thing, a brilliant company giving speedy and efficient service. This was for the periodic sharpening of my dog grooming clippers which eventually go blunt battling through the furry coats of Deefer, Poppy and Towser. In Kent we got very lucky with this, with the European service centre for the company 'Wahl' (who make the clippers), being a ten minute drive from where we lived. Here in the West of Ireland I guessed we might have problems but no, step forward "Clipsharp" who live on Achill Island, just off the western extremity of County Mayo. Carolyn assured me that there would be a 2 day turn-around and that proved to be the case - I posted them off on Tuesday and they were there, cleaned, oiled, sharpened and packed in individual sleeves, in my post box on Thursday morning! I was very impressed, especially as I had visions of some poor bloke taking them out to the island in his boat; I am only slightly less impressed now I know that Achill Island is so close to the mainland that it is linked by a bridge and has been since the 1887 (there is now a newer bridge, built in 2008).

My final picture is of a lovely, friendly, soft-coated male collie who has been hanging around. We have had him before and he apparently comes from north of the bog-land which is between here and Ballaghaderreen. He is good natured and affectionate and just seems to want a fuss making of him, he has not, to date done any harm, eaten any chickens or chased the sheep. Last time his owner eventually came a-hunting for him, saying that the dog's brother never strays, but they are not strong on 'under control' or 'on the lead' with dogs in these parts. I had the man's number but have since deleted it from my phone, which is not now that useful. Perhaps he just wants a hair cut?

Tuesday 23 September 2014

The Céide Fields

Looking down from the Visitor Centre to Killala Bay
No point in wasting these last few sunny days of our beautiful and welcome 'Indian Summer' so we decided that if Monday 22nd turned out nice, we would finally get ourselves off to a bit of touristing, specifically the Céide Fields (locals here pronounce it "Kay-juh"). The 'Heritage Ireland' website has it that...

"Beneath the wild bog-lands of North Mayo lies the Céide Fields, the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world, consisting of field systems, dwelling areas and megalithic tombs. The stone walled fields, extending over thousands of acres are almost 6,000 years old, the oldest known in the world. They are covered by a natural blanket bog with its own unique vegetation and wildlife. The Visitor Centre has won several awards, including the Gold Medal for architecture. It is located beside some of the most spectacular cliffs and rock formations in Ireland and a viewing platform is positioned on the edge of the 110 m high cliff."

45 minutes worth of duckboard walking protects the blanket
bog from the thousands of tourist feet.
This is fascinating stuff and came highly recommended by Anne and Simon as well as 'locals', but we'd never been. This despite it being only an hour and 20 minutes drive away in the beautiful county of Mayo. We are very remiss when it comes to local tourist attractions.

Award winning architecture.
Well, our day did indeed, dawn misty but clear above, so that we knew the haze would soon burn off. John Deere Bob, though, who is a confirmed politics-man and well in with the Fine Gael party, had promised he'd be bringing Councillor Michael Creaton round door to door, canvassing for support for FG's by-election candidate, Maura Hopkins. While we waited for that caravan to trundle through I had time to quickly buzz cut the dogs for the final time this year; they can now grow shaggy through the winter.

In the event the politicos re-scheduled or changed their route, so at 11 am, with the sun beautifully up, we were free to go. Our route for this one did not use the dreaded 'sat-nav', but instead used the home-spun technology of me looking at the map book and saying "Hey! There's a road here that looks interesting - it goes round a mountain and past a lake.... do you fancy that?" and Liz saying "Sounds good to me". We nipped up by Knock Airport, then through Swinford,Foxford and Ballina,to Killala Bay and Ballycastle.

Dogs at Lough Cullin
The dogs were with us, so we were always on the look out for good dog walks; we found the first at Lough Cullin,near Foxford. This is an inland lake, one of a pair with Lough Conn connected to the sea by the River Moy and we could not see how it would be tidal, but it managed to have a sandy beach and rocks just like a bit of coast, plenty of space for doggie exercise and no other people about. It even had an apparent 'upper tide line' where something a bit like marram grass was being used to stabilise the sand bank. Curious, but good for the dogs anyway.

Unusual lighting on these seaweed-covered rocks at Killala
Loaded back up we headed for Killala Bay and another nice empty beach at Ross Strand. Readers may recall that I painted my stock trailer with a paint called 'Killala Bay Blue' and wondered whether Killala Bay could really be THAT blue. Sorry - I still can't tell you, the tide was well out and the water was brown with sediment. We had a lovely stroll down the beach with the dogs loving being off the leads (they don't get many opportunities at home) and chasing in and out of the sea. Round the ragged rocks the ragged rascals ran? Nice cliffs showing exposed sedimentary rocks and a curious old building with what looked like a ruin of a boat house with a slipway, too for us.

An old boat house (?) at Ross Strand (Killala)
By now the dogs were well exercised (as well as covered in sand) and we were sure we could get away with a quick nip into the Céide Fields Visitor Centre. It wasn't hot (it had clouded over by now) and we left car windows part open; not ideal but we got away with it. Céide is a fascinating site and we surely did not do it justice; we are determined to return dog-less so that we can watch the audio-visual displays film and do the guided tour. The display materials in the centre were rather simplistic, presumably for children or tourists who have no idea about bog-land and Irish history, perhaps the film and tour will give us a bit more of the science and the archaeological explorations which are still continuing.

A sustaining lamb stew and dumplings to restore us.
All in all, we had a lovely day and we are glad we sneaked it in on the Monday, because that Indian Summer has now collapsed on us as forecast, with today being a proper autumn day with 10/10 cloud, a chilly breeze and even some splattering rain. We have retreated indoors to enjoy winter-warmer style foods and the chickens are taking themselves off to bed at 6:30 pm instead of the 7:30 they were doing on the sunny evenings. Every thing is wet again, though only enough to lay the dust at present.

Anne tells me that August was a record breaking wet month but that September had been rainless for nearly enough days to be officially a drought. Met Éireann's says that 'Absolute drought' is defined by 15 consecutive days where rainfall is less than 0.1 mm at rainfall measuring stations. We have surely had that by now.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Revolving Doors

The Ivy flowers are now open. Go for it, you bees!
We are thinking about fitting revolving doors to the house. Lately it seems that one or the other of us is out on a trip and it goes almost by return of post, one in, one out. First there was my trip to the UK visiting friends, relatives and the barge, and then while I was gone, Liz's parents finally got their moving date, for the same week. Liz had to pretty much collect me from the airport, we came home for her to enjoy just one lie-in (a break from the livestock she'd been attending in my absence), and then she was packing her own stuff for the trip to Dublin.

This worker bee is foraging Phacelia tanacetifolia, so her pollen
baskets are purple from the pollen.
There she helped pack the family home into the van, blitz-cleaned the place, and then followed the van down to the 'new' house down near the Silverwoods. Here they all tipped the van into the house but then hit a snag; some kind of paperwork issue in the 'chain' which meant they could not unpack, move in or claim the key. They had to fill the house with packed stuff, hand back the key and walk away, all promising to return on Friday-next by which time the issue will (allegedly) be resolved.

Pig 'muesli', pig nuts and blackberries!
Another trip for Liz but meanwhile I took a call from Kent friend Diamond to say that her own house move (in which Liz had also promised to assist) had been moved earlier. The carpet man has given Diamond a cancellation for the 30th Sept, so they are moving over the 2nd and 3rd of Oct, this one a short one across Faversham in Kent from one end of town to the other. That brings us round to the 7th of October when, we think, all this jet-setting and gallivanting will take a break.

Red Kuri Squash
Meanwhile back at the calm, mill-pond that is our smallholding, the ivy flowers have opened in the warm, Indian Summer weather, which is good news for the bees. The bees, though, seem to have finally decided that it is OK to forage inside the home garden and are giving my various clumps of the 'green manure' plant Phacelia tanacetifolia, a good going over. Phacelia is such a good bee plant that I usually let it go all the way to flowering instead of digging it in green. We noticed today that the bees were taking pollen from the long stamens as well as taking nectar and that because this pollen is purple in colour, the bees had purple pollen baskets on their legs instead of the usual orange or yellow. There will presumably be purple cells in the 'honey comb' too.

Good sized fruit.
The hedges all around are still laden with delicious, big, sweet blackberries so although we have picked our fill for the freezers, jams etc, I still collect a load each time I walk the dogs, to bring back for the pigs, to make their lunchtime pig-nuts a bit more interesting and varied. Just out of curiosity, Liz offered blackberries to the dogs and all three seem to have fallen in love with them. When I am walking the dogs and I stop to pick berries for the pigs, I now have three little dog noses pressed into the hedge nibbling off any fruit at westie-height. I have seen pictures of foxes doing this, but did not know that the domestic dog might have the same tastes.

25 kg of mixed daffs.
We have been impressed by the crop we have on our 'Red Kuri Squash' plants. We had never heard of this beast but last year, Mrs Silverwood passed us a couple of the fruit she had bought in a supermarket but had not then got around to cooking, mainly because she did not know what to do with them that the children would actually eat. Well, we knew what we'd like to try, and that was a roast of wedges done with chunks of pepper, onion, tomato, lemon and a splash of olive oil; this is how we treat butternut squash also. The Red Kuri were gorgeous, so we decided to save some seed round to this year and try a few plants. They have done very well and we now have this season's crop to play with.

Pirate. He might never be 'handsome'
but he's a lot cleaner now with no cuts
scabs and missing tufts of fur.
In other news, we spotted that the local farmer's co-op (Aurivo; formerly Connacht Gold) was selling 25 kg nets of mixed daffodil bulbs. Our front at present is just a green verge and the nice tidy (but boring) privet hedge, so we decided that a row of daffs along the front might look nice in spring and some hot-red nasturtiums clambering through the privet in Summer might pep it up a little. Just need to dig a 100 foot trench then.... that's me tired out for the day!

Wednesday 17 September 2014


Buff Orpington youngsters go free range at 6 weeks
We are still very much enjoying the unseasonable warmth and sunshine of this 'Indian Summer' but we know that the year is on the change, leaves are starting to turn colour and fall and the garden is a lot about seed heads rather than new flowers. For the bees, though, the most important season of their year is just about to start; the ivy flowering season. Not many people outside of bee keeping know that 'our' Irish dark bees (Apis mellifera mellifera), sometimes also known as 'black bees' or 'Buckfast bees' show a behaviour unique to the subspecies, that of keeping brood (i.e. larvae) alive all through the winter months.

Ivy flowers almost open
Our bees in summer are like any other type, with the colony made up largely of a succession of fairly short lived worker females, each lasting about 6 weeks but capable of 'rearing' in that time, an average of 3 younger 'sisters', so that the colony can rapidly expand in spring up to the 20-30,000 population typical in a late summer Irish hive. Come September, though, there is a significant change with the larvae being produced being physiologically quite different. The winter workers can live up to 6 months and can lay down fat in their bodies in autumn to see them through as the honey and pollen stores start to dwindle.

Ivy covered old farm house.
These workers shrink the colony down from 30,000 bees till it can be massed in a dense, football sized 'winter cluster' in the middle of the hive, with the queen and some brood kept warm at the centre of the football by the warmth generated by bee bodies. Bees do not hibernate as such, though they do go quiet and do not leave the hive unless outdoor temperatures are over ten degrees or so.

More ivy than ash. A well covered tree
As is the way in these 'co-evolution' set ups, the plant partner to all this is the ivy which not only flowers this late in the year (starting about now) but also has pollen which is uniquely very high in fats and oils giving the Irish bees what they need. Ivy is very very common here, growing in ditches and hedge bottoms, covering walls and abandoned farmhouses, climbing high up into the canopy of big ash trees and way up trunks of the big spruces. It even commonly climbs all the way up telegraph poles leaving them completely encased in a shaggy blanket of foliage as if they themselves were some kind of bizarre palm tree. It is a real saviour for the bees as long as the weather stays warm enough for them to forage through the flowering season. I have not seen any flowers actually open yet but it cannot be long. We have high hopes.

Ivy on Black Spruce
With me back from the UK and the Buff Orpington youngsters now making 6 weeks, we have let them out free range. They love the access to the grass (which probably could do with a mow!)  but do not yet go far, hanging around by the home run and the house end of the big pond. They know the two-tone whistle and the tap of a plastic beaker full of growers pellets and come sprinting over to get fed at meal times and they take themselves off back to their familiar (rabbit) run as it starts to get dark, ready to be shut up for the night, safe from Mr Fox. We fancy that they are starting to show the enlarged combs in the possible cock birds and we are fairly sure we have at least 4 'boys' in the dozen. It will be nice if it is no more than that; 8 hens to add to the laying population!

Fodder beet for the pigs
The pigs, meanwhile, have been enjoying some fodder beet I grew for exactly that purpose. This was a new crop for me but I have done OK with it. The seed was pelletized with a fungicide and an insecticide (oops) and was a bit variable in germination, so I have gappy rows and a lot of variation in size. Some, though, are good weights and when tasted, raw, are quite sweet, like an over-sweet carrot. The pigs approve and grunt with delight as they chow down, taking either complete half beets which they carry around so that the other sister does not get any, or eating them pre-chopped into wedges.

Mapp and a chunk of Fodder Beet
Having had my turn at 'holidays', I am now taking my turn and looking after the place 'solo' as Liz took the call yesterday to say that the expected house move by the parents from Dublin down to nearer the Silverwoods was suddenly all go for THIS WEEK, today in fact! She hurriedly packed a bag and her 'Kim and Aggie' cleaning basket and jumped in the car, her job being to help with the last of the packing up in Dublin, then blitz the 'old' house ready for the buyers. This will be followed by a hike down to Silverwood-land (My ol' man, said foller the van?) to help clean up and then unpack enough stuff that Mum and Dad can move in. She's going to a tired little scullery-maid by the time Mum's done with her! Poor Liz. She was so looking forward to getting a lie-in once I was back. She only managed the one!

Finally, a Happy Birthday to my UK-born Westie girl, Deefer-dog who gave her name to this blog (and started it?). She is 8 years old today. Many happy returns, the 'Deefs'; may you have many more and live to see the ripe old age of your predecessors, Megan (13) and Haggis (15).

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Planes, Trains and Automobiles......

The house in Hastings where I grew up.
"Just write about what you did in your holidays" - that clichéd old instruction in English Composition classes at school when you were first back from the summer break. Once a year I get the urge to 'go home' (all be it 'home' now feels very much like here, rather than Hastings or Kent), to catch up with Pud Lady (now 87) and my brother, Tom, to drop in on Kent friends and, of course, to get a fix of the 'Thames Sailing Barge' drug. I do all these in one trip, leaving poor Liz in charge of all the livestock. She asks for a check list in case she misses anyone, and gets handed one running to 4 pages of a note book this time (!). She tells me she loves it for a couple of days but by night-5 she is missing her lay-ins and cups of first-thing-in-the-morning tea and she is happy to hand the gang back,

Pud Lady cooks up the next cheating
devious manouvre in scrabble!
In these days of cheap flights it is all reasonably priced and we are delighted to be only 25 minutes drive down country lanes from Knock Airport. We both remember with horror those traffic-clogged trudges to Gatwick (and hour and a half each way on a good day) and some nightmare runs all the way round the M25 to Heathrow (2 hours if you were very lucky). I fly Aer Lingus to Gatwick, hire a small car (VW Polo this time), and trundle down to Kent always in awe of how many cars there are about; I am used to my quiet roads of the 'Wesht' by now. This time I dropped in on former neighbours, the 'Angel Betty' and Jim for a lovely chat and a coffee, then headed for Diamond's with John for supper, a visit from Mazy and a comfortable night's sleep.

Sailing Barge Cambria at night in St Katharine Docks
Thursday saw me down in Hastings catching up with Pud Lady and Tom, helping with and then sharing lunch and then being beaten badly by PL at Scrabble. She will read this, of course, so I can't be too rude, but we do have a good laugh with the Scrabble because she is always dreaming up devious cheating manouvres which she tells me are allowed when you are over 85 years old. There is a rule somewhere, apparently. You can write words upwards, diagonally or even detached from the rest of the grid, plus you can use shamelessly foreign words like "quinze" (15) or initials like 'TT' (tee-total) if it means you can lay your cunning word alongside an existing one in order to put your 'X' or 'Z' on a triple word. Who am I to argue? Just the obedient son........ To be fair in her defence, I should add that she also got lots of genuine and very clever, high scoring words without breaking any rules, 'Friezes' for example across a treble letter, completing 2 other sizable words into the bargain.

Those famous poppies at the Tower of London
From Hastings, back to Diamond's via Mazy's near Faversham for another lovely chat and to collect a cake and a jar of tomato chutney for the barge folk. John and I bought fish and chips (Ahhh the nostalgia) from our old favourite outlet, the Park Fish Bar in Faversham. Diamond is, as regular readers will know, not at all well and did not feel up to the fishy feast but she enjoyed us enjoying it. Local pub, The Elephant also operates a draught beer take-away service, where you can buy 2 pints of any of their guest draughts in a 'Tetra-pack' style container to bring home. We chose the mild Kent stout 'Canterbury Ale' and the paler (Rother Valley Brewery) 'Boadicea', both excellent.

Boozy reception and boaters' prize giving on board Cambria
And so to London to hand back the car at Gatwick and find my way through to St Katharine Docks to "join my ship". This was the Sailing Barge Cambria which was in town as part of Boris Johnson's "Totally Thames" festival and St Kat's "Classic Boat Weekend". Cambria is always a big attraction at such things - she is huge and tall so she can be seen for miles, she is free to enter (donations welcome!) and because she has no engine or terribly 'dangerous bits', parents and kids can come on board and go pretty much anywhere, up and down the three companionways.

Raffle prize - a nice jeroboam of red in
a hand painted bottle.
We make sure there are plenty of volunteers about to act as guides, to man the boarding stairs, to work the shop and, this year, the teas, coffees and cakes. I love to do the guiding and I am told that I have a natural gift of the gab (Blarney?) and often get a rapt group of listeners as I waffle on about 170 tonnes of cargo, 11 inches of free board amidships, lee boards and sprit-sail rigs. We opened the barge on Friday afternoon, plus all of Saturday (where we saw a record 1705 souls come through and hosted a gang of shanty singers who wanted to raise money on our behalf by passing round the bucket used for sluicing down our deck) and on Sunday till 4 pm (1125 people). We were exhausted, aching of foot from standing up all day and sore of throat from speechifying.

Former Mate on Cambria (in trade), Dick Durham (left)
judges and presents the champagne prizes. 
At 4 we closed the shop and became Reception Venue of for a fun and lighthearted prize giving for the boat owners at the festival (71 more people!). There were all manner of daft categories as well as the 'best dressed' (with bunting) award - fizz went to the best fairy lights, a 'travelling light' award to a Belgian guy who had left his clothes behind, to a bizarre combination of best dog and deck furniture, and to the 'spirit of the Festival', a guy who found some lost jewelry in the Marina washrooms and managed to return it to its owner. It was all a bit mad and great fun. Judging, invention of categories and prize giving were done by friend and former in-trade Mate of the barge, Dick Durham, now a writer for Yachting Monthly magazine.

St Kat's Marina is now all 'done up' and renovated as chi-chi posh apartments, cafés and restaurants and the Marina had arranged for boat owners to get a discount card, so we ate in the evenings, in those eateries, sipping our house red and watching the marina's comings and goings and the beautiful lights on the craft, reflected in the water. They were all warm, sunny days and balmy evenings; we were very lucky with the weather.

Mapp and Lucia kill a blown cabbage
My journey home was going to be another 'innocents abroad' job. Although I had traversed London calmly enough on Friday to get to St Kat's, that was at lunchtime with no frantic commuters about, just me and a thin selection of ambling, confused 'tourists'. An early flight on Monday meant that I'd have to travel home during rush hour. I had visions of me clinging to an underground walk-way wall, face like a rabbit caught in the headlights, watching the torrent of determined and unsympathetic 'suits' flow purposefully past me.

My Bee's Lemon survived the slugs
No such drama in the end. I'd set the alarm for 06:45 and walked to Tower Hill tube by 07:15 with nobody much about yet. My District Line train to Victoria filled up but I'd bought my Gatwick Express ticket on Friday, so I marched through the crowds in Victoria to grab my seat on that, made Gatwick with half an hour to spare before I needed to check in, so checked in anyway and went to find some breakfast.

Roast Guinea fowl 'welcome home' supper. Not one of
our birds!
It was a nice easy flight home with the plane only 1/3 full, so nobody next to me in '25A'. Liz met me from Knock and delivered me home. I love the trip and the Cambria stuff but it is always lovely to be home to Liz, one of Liz's welcome home meals (Guinea fowl roast followed by raspberry and blackberry 'cranachan'), to the livestock and to our own bed. Happy, weary traveler.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Slugs with Chainsaws?

Bee's Lemon Kniphofia
After many years of gardening and searching, having seen one in a book, we have got hold of a nice example of a 'red hot poker' (Kniphofia) but in the less common colour of pale lemon. We have been searching for the variety 'Bee's Sunset' for ages; well this one is Bee's Lemon so it will do for now. It stands proud in a half barrel full of a goodly mixture of our good loam and some muck from the mini-horses and after spending the summer as a tuft of leaves, has now produced an excellent stand of flower spikes. So far so good!

Slug damage to a Kniphofia stem.
Maddeningly though, the early spikes were being knocked over by something and being full of sap and brittle, they appeared to be almost snapped off. I suspected clumsy chickens but then noticed that at the 'break' there was not an actual break in the stem, but a 'cave' dug out, starting as a small pit in the skin of the stalk but then being hollowed out till there was just the skin at the 'back' of the stalk. The skin on its own was not enough to support the heavy flower head, so my 'vandal' was felling them. Pale brown slugs were quickly found to be the culprit. They were felling a stem and then getting bored (or full up?) and leaving them. They were proceeding through my stand of 'pokers' like a logging gang with chainsaws, felling a stand of forest. We are trying to be a bit organic and wildlife-friendly here, so I could not reach for the slug pellets; I am reduced to sneaking out at night with my head-light on, picking the little devils off and either flinging them as far away as possible or stomping on them on the gravel yard. This battle seems to be working reasonably well and I have, at time of writing, almost a dozen flower stems now starting to open.

These flies are everywhere, confusing me by looking very
like our bees. You are OK once you get your eye in; the
flight and eyes are wrong and only one pair of wings.
On the tenth of this month, the pigs reach 5 months age, so needed measuring again for the 'bust squared' weight estimates. They have now reached 66-70 kg so they are fast approaching 'ready' We are going for pork weight (carcass at 55 kg-ish) rather than baconers (80 kg) so it is looking like our 'bible' (Liz Shankland's (Haynes) Pig Manual) could be spot on with her 6 months estimate. Liz is already eye-ing them up in terms of joints of meat and recipes; she has an evil glint in her eye as she compliments their 'magnificence'. I need to get organised on creating the 'race' up from their field gate to a place I can get to with the trailer so that we can get them used to exploring, finding the trailer and enjoying the treats and straw there-in. That way the final journey will not be too traumatic of difficult for either us, or the pigs. We are not looking forward to that day, but it comes with the territory.

A possible white cornflower from an 'insect friendly' seed mix.
We had a nice treat today. John Deere Bob needed driving to nearby town Ballyhaunis to collect some money from the meat factory where he had sent 5 bullocks. He wanted to thank us for our help and invited the two of us to join him for lunch in a pub in the town. You never know exactly how much money you will get for cattle, he tells us, as it depends on a variable pence per kg figure and on the final, cleaned carcass weights of your beasts, but he was very happy today and proudly showed us the paperwork. He is not 'rich' for long, though, he joked; on Thursday he has to go to Castlerea mart to shell out for ten replacement 'weanlings' he has bought.

Californian poppy (Eschscholzia)
The pub was excellent. Called 'Val's Bar and Deli' it is a lovely pub with excellent service and delicious food. We three all had the fish but with differing choices of veg and salad. The lady saw that we looked like a hungry crowd and threw in a great bowl of chips for us. For me, too, a rare chance to get some Guinness down me with Liz offering to drive home. I love the 'black stuff' but amazingly I have now lived in Ireland for over 2 years and have probably drunk fewer than a dozen pints in that time. It is a pub drink (the cans or bottles are just not the same) and we are rarely in pubs as one of us would have to drive home. It is lucky, I guess, we did not buy a house within walking distance of a Guinness pub!

Finally a picture of Pirate enjoying a bit of sunshine in the yard - we are enjoying a week of 'Indian Summer' which is much appreciated after our rather wet chilly July and August.

Sunday 7 September 2014

The Loneliness Of......

Friends will know that neither Liz nor I have a whole lot to do with jogging, running, athletics or other sporty pursuits but today we managed to get involved a bit in a Half Marathon. We had no idea such an event was to puff, sore-legged and aching of lungs, past our front gate, till a red car pulled up and a lady hopped out to drop a letter into our post box (and set off the dogs a-barking). This note told us that the 'Ros go Run' Half Marathon and 10 km were happening today (Sunday) and subtly asked that we, the locals "ensure our pets are safe and secure during the run" which we took to mean "please don't let your doggies chase our runners!"

The note's writer also thought we might like to join 'Ros go Run' on the day as a participant (unlikely!), by cheering on the runners or by 'leaving out bottles of water'.  Naturally they had a Facebook presence and there was also a website where we could see the route and found that it passed us at nearly the 12 mile mark, almost home, and was going eastbound, so would crest the hill at Una's, just up the road, and then relax (comparatively) with the long down-slope to 'Shannon's Cross' junction. We decided we could have some fun setting up an impromptu water-station with a sign 20 yards out, our table full of cups of water, and then our wheelie bin for the spent cups a few yards further on.

I had a go at recreating the font of the logo and added 'Downhill from here'; green fence paint and red gloss on an old (unbleached organic cotton, no less!) duvet cover. We woke up and got organised on the day so that we could do all the morning jobs, walk the dogs and be through lunchtime sandwiches by the time the first runners, on their 11:30 am start were likely to pass (about 1 pm, in fact). We had lots of marshals and organisers 'bibbing' us up and throwing thumbs-up signs as they drove by and the Parish Priest even stopped to chat and to thank us for "such encouragement". Most of the 60 or so runners accepted a drink, some just up-ending the cup over their over-heated heads and many exchanged banter and joked with us as they jogged by. By the 12th mile they were well spread out so that we only had one or two in view at any one time and I could not take my hoped for 'knot of runners' picture. The loneliness of the long distance runner? Fair play to them; by the time they reached us they'd run about 11 miles more than I could manage, and were raising money for MS Ireland, the Éire Óg GAA Club and Lisacul Community Development ltd. We could hear the cheers and tannoy noise going on at the GAA Club just down the road as the runners started to pull in, their Half Marathons completed. Eventually, about 2 pm, the course closing car came through to tell us we had 'had them all now'.

At last, colour break on the beef toms
We enjoyed the event and we assume our little bit of volunteering was appreciated by the club and the locals; it certainly was by the thirsty runners. This was the first such run organised by the Ros go Run team and is described as 'inaugural' on the website. They were pleased with their 60 entry as the event clashed with a bigger run in Westport which was thought to have maybe drawn 'the Mayo lot' away, and today was also a huge day for the GAA sport 'hurling', with the All Ireland Senior Final happening in Dublin. Just in case they come this way again next year, we will keep the sign.

7.2 kg of blackberries in about an hour and a half.
In other news, John Deere Bob invited us down to pick the blackberries in his home fields. It's a job we both like and it was a lovely warm afternoon, so we wandered down and picked 7.196 kg between us in a leisurely hour and a half. In some places the berries were so close packed on the ends of branches that it looked like there was a 'super-berry' made up of a dozen or so berries and in others individual fruits were better separated but very big, approaching the size of the top of your thumb. Thanks you very much, Bob.

Onions tied into ropes in the car port
Pirate the Cat is settling well now in his 'compromise' accommodation, our Utility Room. Although not part of the indoors, it is an indoor style room with dry-lined and plastered walls, lighting and a central heating radiator. It is also warmed by the 'exhaust' from the three freezers one of which, at least, will be extracting the heat from all those blackberries. We have pegged the cat flap half-open and he is happy nipping in and out through that. He does not like the cat flap to be closed as he bonks his nose on it, failing to see the transparent flap.

One of our apples and a slice of Liz's apple cake.
Now that we know him better, we are sure he has only around 25% of normal sight and walks into things which he does not know or realise are there. He will come in through the front door and then try to walk out through it even though it has been closed - it is dark red so we think he assumes the opening is still there for him. If I move the bits of sheep wire around to manage sheep movements, he will walk into any new barriers I create - sheep wire is fairly thick gauge but a 4-6 inch square mesh so I guess does not cast much of a profile on clouded cat-eye retinas. However, the Utility Room will stay unchanged for the foreseeable future, so he will get to know where his bed and food bowl are and the access 'hole' so he will be safe and sound, as well as warm and dry.

101 uses for an old barn roof. Shoring up the pig defences.
Finally, those who predicted I might need electric fence for the pigs might have a smile at this paragraph. Although the sheep wire with its ground level strand of barbed, has worked everywhere else, down in the ditch/wallow I have not been so sure of it. The ditch started as a nice 'V' shaped 4 feet deep cut, about 6 feet wide with the East Field fence a good 2 feet from the edge of the ditch. But the piggies have enjoyed the wallow and have expanded the width of it by rootling into (and undercutting) the banks, so that it is more like an 8 feet wide 'U' shape, with the edge now creeping up on the bottom of the fence. I am in the UK soon for a short while and I did not want the pigs to decide to break out while Liz was in charge, so I have shored up the bank with some of the curved corrugated sheets which came off the hay barn (see, sometimes we 'hoarders of junk who keep old scrap because it might come in useful some day' get it right!)  so that the pigs cannot rootle any further into my banks and pop up, butter-wouldn't-melt, among the sheep!