Friday 31 July 2015

The Ten-Stitch Blanket

Flushed with the success of the red and white striped jumper shown in a recent post, and needing a break from a more intense, complicated, ribbed Aran knit number she is knitting for the Sparks, Liz has nipped off down a completely new side-road on the knitting adventures this week. Browsing the internet recently on a tip off from an internet chum, she came across the 'Ten Stitch Blanket'. You'd think to knit a blanket you'd need an enormously long pair of needles and you'd be there for weeks just casting on, but this cunning design has you only casting on ten stitches and then working your way out in a rectangular spiral ten stitches wide. For the interested, this is all described by one Frankie Brown (though inspred by an "Elizabeth Zimmerman design") in a website called (as follows).

Frankie says "All my ravelry patterns are free to download but, if you enjoy them, you might like to consider making a donation to the Children’s Liver Disease Foundation, a charity which funds research and supports the families of children with a liver disease. You can do this easily by going to my fundraising page 
Happy Knitting!"

As long as you know how to turn the corners and then stitch in to the knitting to your left as you go, you can presumably go as big as you like, but Liz is using a very chunky wool bought for a different purpose and using up only a few small balls so, though she covers the territory quickly enough, will only get to just over tea-tray size. Maybe this will be a cat or dog blanket.

The pigs get a treat of strawberry 'offcuts'
Meanwhile, back on the 'farm' we suddenly have a strawberry glut, with all the fruit on our 8 by 4 patch coming big, bright, red and fully ripe all at once. We have been eating them as fast as we can, but we are unable to keep up, so we have frozen some. In my head I have the idea that you should not freeze strawberries because as they freeze the water in them forms into long, needle shaped ice crystals (I have the word "pipcrakes" in my head for some reason) which lacerate the  cells of the flesh so that when you thaw them back out they are reduced to mush but they should be good for cooking or maybe dropping, frozen, into a chilled glass of elderberry 'prosecco' like a fruity ice cube.

The gift that keeps on giving. 2 more barrows of turf from our
earth-bank drying in the yard. 
A surprise beneficiary of all this was the pigs, Mary and Isabelle, who found themselves thrown a half bucket of offcuts - the calyx end of fruits, pieces with slug damage and ones which had already gone a bit over for human consumption or beauty. They have no such scruples and hoovered up the fruit with delight. I have invented a new game with them. When I am cutting grass they love to be given a couple of mower-bags full of cuttings to rootle through and, if I get there before they have finished spreading the grass about, I lob in some apples cut into 8ths which disappear in among the grass pile and have to be rootled out by the pigs. It is fascinating to watch how they quarter the ground (or grass pile) with their directional noses. You can see them questing around and then suddenly dive off to their left or right to track down every last, buried piece of apple. They know when it has all gone even though there must still be apple-y smells hanging around, and come back to me to "ask" for more. It's a good game.

Turkeys #3 and #4 coming up to 4 weeks.
We have had to get hold of vet, Aoife, today as the young male cat Soldier has now reached that stage where he is smelling more of tom-cat and has unfortunately started 'spraying' indoors including (foolish boy!) in Liz's favourite chair. Rather than have our house smelling like the proverbial mad cat-lady house, he is now booked in for his op. The downside of this as far as 3 year old Westie bitch Poppea is concerned, is that she gets to be part of the package, and she too, will be spayed.

The Gang of Four. 
We had been happy to keep her entire, though we had no intention of breeding from her and could cope with the 7-monthly 'events' (at least we knew what stage she was at as she did the behavioural changes, the blood spots and the change to straw-coloured discharge in text-book fashion). The locals, though, do not in the main, believe in confining their dogs, which are to a man, allowed free run of the garden and nearby streets. When we walk on-heat Poppea down the lane for that week we are inadvertently laying a scent trail from the village right back here and we attract a regular supply of the local 'bowsies' coming to see what this hot woman is like. Unfortunately our sheep do not like strange dogs coming around (though they are now well used to ours) and get very nervous. They start running around and trying to get some distance between them and the dog, even though the dog is (so far) completely un-interested in the sheep. There is a risk that they will try (or even succeed in) jumping fences and hurt themselves on barbed wire or (in Feb/March) miscarry or abort their lambs, so it is much simpler if we do not have visits from stray dogs. Sorry Pops, but that is just how life is.

In the sheep dept, I think I have mentioned that we have bought (but not yet seen) a third ewe with lamb at foot, from our chum Mayo-Liz. This might not seem sensible but Mayo-Liz is well inside our "trusted supplier" category as she also supplied us with Polly and Lily. I have now had the tow bar moved across from the old car to the new, so we can now pull the trailer again. I have been able, then, to contact Liz who wanted a few days notice to seperate the new sheep from the flock down in the bottom field and we await her call to say that they are ready and we can nip across and collect. We just need a name. Polly (Garter) and Lily (Smalls) are named after 2 female characters in Dylan Thomas's 'Under Milk Wood' as it was an anniversary of DT when we bought those two. I should probably go back and check UMW to see are there any more ladies names in that story.

Monday 27 July 2015

A Soft Day

Well, there was a nice surprise. Here in Ireland we all woke up on a Monday a couple of weeks back to find we all now had shiny new post-codes. We'd known it was on the cards, of course, but I assumed it was way off. Not so. Liz turned on the phone that morning and fired up Twitter to find notification - it was all switched on, websites running, messages all over social media and a lot of our friends logging in to find out theirs and what it was all about.

The best strawberries I have ever grown.
It is an impressive and cunning system and seems a bit ahead of the UK system we had all been used to 'over there'. Most importantly the 'Eircodes', which are made up of 7 alpha-numerics starting with a letter-number-number for the region (ours is F45) are unique to each building where as in the UK your post code was shared up one side of a street and could include dozens of houses. This makes them compatible with sat-nav systems and internet mapping (eg Google Maps) software if they need to be so that Mr Postie can pull up right outside your house and know he is at the correct place, even in this land of few road signs and fewer house numbers. There is also an 'app' (application) which will run on smart-phones which can generate directions from one address to another.

The turkeys did leave us a few currants. The raspberries and
strawberries are safely out of their thieving ways.
I am told that the last 4 digits, being numbers or letters allow for city housing densities throughout so that in the unlikely event that someone wants to build a 2nd capital of Ireland in Roscommon, they could actually accommodate all the houses and buildings without having to re-shuffle the codes round and about. Anyway, we have sent ours to everyone we could think of who might need it; if you are ever likely to write us a 'snail mail' letter then email, PM or text us for the code.

That fabulous beef rib roast from the last post
Our only experience of it so far is that it may work too well. I foolishly sent off a pre-paid letter containing a survey result and wrote the 'sender' address on the back including the new post code. The next day this envelope arrived back in our letter box instead of having gone to the survey company! I can only assume that either someone is being a dunce, or the OCR software spotted my Eircode on the back of the envelope and, not having one on the real address, let it prioritise mine. The envelope went back into the post office with a white jam-jar sticker over my sender address (and didn't come 'home a second time!).

There is plenty of colour in the garden just now, so we can
assemble a pretty table decoration.
There is an Irish expression which most Brits know even if they think it is just another piece of cod-Oirish along with 'to be sure, to be sure' and 'Be Jay-zus' and that is "A soft day". I reckon most think that this just means 'wet' and is merely the Irish being colourful and flamboyant in their speaking. Not so, again. A soft day is a day in which the rain is of a uniquely Irish type which I never experienced in the UK - continuous heavy drizzle. You get drizzle in the UK and, of course you get light rain and heavy rain, but heavy drizzle is a seeping, silent, insidious thing which sneaks up on you and wets you through without any of the violence of a good downpour. Without even the hiss or roar of proper raindrops.

Cherries splitting badly from the wet July while still unripe.
It seems to fall all day, evenly from a uniform grey sky, as if an uninterupted, wall to wall layer of cloud was just at tipping point. There are no threatening black patches, no funny lighting effects, no patches of blue and no fluffy, cauliflower-like billowings on a true soft day. The grey can be dark or even quite bright and thin, as if the sun is about to break through and the drizzle can ease (for minutes) and return (for hours) just to tease you but you will be tempted to go out in not your most waterproof coat (ahhh, it doesn't look THAT bad!) and you will suddenly realise that your hair is sopping wet and the wet has got down your neck and is all across your shoulders without you having felt any rain drops hitting your skin or scalp.

Greek thyme.
Why am I telling you this? It rains in Ireland, so what? Only that we had an absolute classic 'soft' day yesterday and even the Irish were commenting on it. It will have been a fairly wet July over all by the time the month ends - I have cherries splitting on the trees as a result of it. Ah well, we'll no doubt survive. Oh and I did once hear an Irishman actually say 'to be sure, to be sure, to be sure' - he was our Estate Agent, John (Sean) Callaghan and we were making small talk in the jungle that used to be the front lawn. Liz spotted me about to react and gave me a swift kick in the shins.

Greek wild mountain thyme
So if we've wanted sun this month, we've had to dream it up and mentally import it from sunnier climes. When Liz was over in Poros (Greece) last month, she was lucky enough to come home via a friend's place in Athens  and was driven about by the friend. They headed for the mountains outside Athens where there was a smallholding owned by another friend and Liz was presented with a small bundle of the local wild thyme plus instructions to dry it in a paper bag and then seperate the leaves from stems. She could then use the leaves as herbs for eating, or to scent a room in a pot-pourri or whatever. That thyme came up to the 'threshing' stage recently; basically you rub the leafy ends between your hands and all the leaves fall away. You pick out the few twiggy bits which try to get threshed out too and, lo!, a beautiful scented handful. An interesting smell, says Liz, like a mix of thyme and mint... quite pine-y. Very evocative of Greek sunshine too.

Like a couple of Greek fishermen mending their nets?
Then, like a couple of old Greek fishermen mending our nets in one of the rainless periods we had the job of sorting through the yards of fruit cage netting I had taken off the big keet run (now vacant for the moment). This is under the black spruce trees, so in 2 years the fruit cage mesh had accumulated quite a few dead twigs and 'pine' cones and we wanted to disentangle all these and clean up the netting before we rolled it up to pack it away for some future use (turkeys and fruit comes to mind!). We sat down with the net spread out in front of us and gradually walked through it with our fingers, teasing out the twigs and letting it fall between us clean. We were just amused by the look of the job - more Greek memories for Liz as antidote to the 'soft' weather here.

Friday 24 July 2015

Day-Glo Green Pollen

Not the best picture but you may be able to make out green
pollen baskets on 2 of these returning workers.
Part of the pleasure of beekeeping to me is the simple act of relaxing and watching the bees come to and from about their foraging work and we are always reassured when we see the pollen baskets on their legs laden with pollen. Pollen is high protein food (well, an ingredient anyway) for young growing larvae, so when you see pollen being brought in you are reassured that Her Majesty is inside and laying well. I was taken by surprise this week when I spotted that some of this pollen (which I knew could come in all colours depending on flowers foraged) was a bright orange-red and other bees were bringing in pollen of a very bright green. Neither of these colours had I seen before.

Favourite flower with the bees this week is our huge and spreading
blue geranium "Orion". 
A quick flurry of research on the net and a few questions to beekeeper contacts on Facebook revealed that other Irish beekeepers were also getting the red and the bright green. It also pointed me at some websites where colour charts have been set up for you to match your pollen with and marry that to your known list of plants currently in flower within the likely forage radius (about 2.5 km) of your bees. The green, which is described as 'very bright' by most beekeepers and "almost day-glo green" by one is thought to be coming from Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). That works for me - we have loads of it here; it follows from Queen Anne's Lace (Cow Parsley; Anthriscus sylvestris) and the Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) in all the verges and hedgerows.

Saving the goose pinion feathers - my fellow
members of the Longford Beekeepers use them
as 'bee brushes' in their hive work.
The bright red is more of a problem. It is thought to be from either Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) or the 'Henbit' dead nettle (Lamium amplexicaule). I have seen some of the scabious down on the bogs when I am out dogwalking but so far not with bees on the flowers, but the dead nettle, if it is round here in quantities big enough to get the bees interested, has eluded me so far. Never mind - it is all fascinating detective work and good to know what is going on with the bees in my local area. I have seen plenty of purple pollen being collected, of course, but that is from the deliberately planted stand(s) of Phacelia tanacetifolia just yards from the hive; you can see individual workers nip out from the hive, buzz around the flowers (it takes them half an hour at least to load up, so I don't follow the same bee around, but you get the picture) and then nip home to unload.

Out in the big wide world, the "Gang of Four"
We have had a nice warm week, all be it interupted occasionally by showers, so we have been progressing the 'rearing' of our various baby birds. The first hatch turkeys are now big enough, and the young Guinea Fowl settled enough for us to be confident letting them out of the rabbit run to go fully free range without the young cat Soldier, who scared us a bit when we tried this a week or so back, hunting them.

Not a bad job, sitting in the sun supervising the first exploratory
ramblings of the 'Gang of Four'
We do this on a warm dry day when we are all caught up with jobs and can afford to sit for an hour or two watching the birds take their first tentative steps out into the wider world. In this case, too, some first try-outs of the wings - these guys seemed delighted that you could actually take off and do little practise flights up to about 3-4 feet, not anything they could really do in a rabbit run only 45 cm high. They were perfectly behaved in the event.

I'll sit this one out, then. Goldie's daughter Nugget chilling.
The 2 guineas and 2 turkeys have settled in as a solid tight-knit group, whom we call the 'Gang of Four' and they stay together when exploring and meeting any other of our birds. We did wonder whether the guineas might naturally gravitate towards love-lorn widow-bird 'Min', and the turkeys to their biological parents, Tom and Barbara. No sign of that so far. Min is still a loner, shouting her 'buck wheat buck wheat' mating cry from any echo-y corner, so we guess the young swains are still too young to be giving her back the right answers and chat-up lines. They may be hens, of course. Tom and Barbara acknowledged the presence of new birds but Tom has looked disdainfully at them and Barbara has given one a small nip to get it off "her" food.

Pirate adopts my woolly jumper as a bed when I leave it on the
wood store 'deck'. 
No matter, they have now been out for three days and are dead easy to round up at night; they are suckers for a bribe of finely diced tomato. I go out there at about 6 pm with tomato in my hand and they all spot me and race to follow me home. I let them out again when I do my first feed-and-release rounds at 7 a.m. So far they have stayed in the yard, but I expect they will venture further afield as their confidence grows. Soldier? He took a quick look at these more beefy birds and decided that they were some kind of chicken and therefore best avoided. He'll wait, he says, for the second hatch birds to be "offered" to him when they are still not much bigger than the sparrows he thinks are his birth-right. Obviously, I jest here. We will offer him no such prey - he scared us too much last time.

Purple sheep foot prints on the concrete can only mean one
thing - we have been at the pedicures again. 
Those second-hatch birds are now in their third week, so they have been moved 'up' from the small plastic brooder crate to our 'patented' 2nd stage, 2 big cardboard outers from supermarket potato crisp packaging glued face to face. These boxes make a pen easily big and deep enough for 2 growing turkeys. They are still under heat at night but on warm days we turn the heat off during daylight. This morning, in the bright sunshine, we even gave them their first look at Roscommon grass and sunshine in another rabbit run. We rescued them back indoors when a shower darkened the sky.

4 kg+ beef rib roast from our 'new' beef butcher. 
So, you'll know that we are pretty much growing our own chicken, lamb, pork and sometimes also goose, rabbit and now guinea fowl and turkey, but we have not so far done anything about beef, which we still have to buy like any other shopper. Thank you then, Sue, for a superb tip-off about a proper old fashioned beef-butcher with a shop in the village of Frenchpark, not 20 mins drive from here. This guy grows and despatches his own animals and hangs the meat for 2 weeks before cutting it for you, which he does to order in the front of the shop.

Half of one of this butcher's steaks.
He is also famous locally among those in the know for his 'bones-for-the-dogs'. He cuts his joints and steaks etc to suit the Irish customer - those customers prefering their cuts well clear of any bone, membrane and sinew, so the bones and scraps left can end up very meaty. Sue gave us a lovely square-foot of rib cage to demonstrate, which had the dogs chewing happily for 2 meals and showed us a 'trimming' which you could have fried off as a perfectly good, if a little thin, steak. His prices are also excellent compared to local (e.g. supermarket) suppliers - we came away with a big rib-roast (about 4 kg), a huge steak which easily did 2 of us, and a whole heart all for €40. That's about £28 for my English readers - I think you'd struggle to beat that in a Kentish butcher.

Good work, but a turkey-challenge?
In the craft department, Liz finished a lovely red and white striped jumper. This is cunningly knitted so that the broad stripes match at the side seams but also from the back/front into the arms. I take my hat off to her. Unfortunately, since she started this garment, we have discovered that our male turkey, Tom does not go a bundle on red and white clothing and has actually attacked Liz once while she was wearing red and white PJs. She has, then, a beautiful jumper which she cannot wear outside here during turkey breeding season. A shame but not a massive problem. Liz is so often down at Silverwoods babysitting various family members that she keeps a mini-wardrobe of clothes down there. The PJs and the stripey jumper will be moved down there at the next opportunity and will not trouble Tom again. We also need to be advising any visitors, I guess, not to wear such things, lest we have to bodyguard them from car to front door like 'celebs' at a Film Premiere.

Monday 20 July 2015

Fending Feathered Friends off Fruit

Red currant bush stripped of all fruit from ground to the
height an adult turkey hen can reach.
There is a technique which is a big part of gardening which you won't find so described in any gardening book - "Savannah-ing". This is our word for what is probably called 'raising the skirts'. When we get a shrub, bush or tree up to a decent height we prefer to clear the ground tight around it and cut away all the shaggy, leafless bottom branches to let a bit of light in under it so that its shape resembles one of the trees or thorn bushes in the African Savannah (or trees in a 'Capability Brown' landscape) and has a browse line. Up to now we have had to do this ourselves with secateurs and the hand fork.

No saw-fly this year but the turkeys did a good job of
stripping these goose-gogs of their leaves.
Step forward the adult turkeys, Tom and (particularly) Barbara who turn out to be quite keen to do this themselves especially on any fruit bushes they come across. We have a row of them in the Kitchen Garden which regular readers may know we call the "Jam and Chutney Hedge" (aka Jam and Jerusalem Hedge) and we have never had a problem before with chickens, but we now have red currant bushes stripped of all fruit below a couple of feet in height while the fruits were still green.

Well protected strawberries.
The gooseberry bushes are all below 2 feet at the moment, so they have lost all their fruit (while still hard and immature) and most of their leaves, like the worst kind of saw-fly attack. The poor little fig tree is also fruitless. We do not want to fence this whole area off again (and anyway, turkeys are great fliers and wall-jumpers), so we are looking at letting these bushes grow into a "standard" shape - the lollipop format used for roses, to see if we can get them to do all their fruit up above turkey height. Meanwhile we fenced the birds completely out of the strawberry bed when we caught the turkey parading around and, again, pecking at hard green fruit. We then caught her pushing her head and neck so far through the 2 inch chicken wire to reach more fruit, that she was bulging the fence, so we had to add another 'layer' of fence. Thus protected, the fruits are now ripening and we were able to taste our first strawberries today.

Tree protection against geese. 
The geese, meanwhile, give us a rather different problem in the orchard. Geese are stronger, tougher birds with toothed beaks and an obsessive nature. They will try a few pecks at the young bark of your new fruit trees and if they find it tears or breaks, they will keep at it, returning to it like a terrier with a stick, worrying it so that the hole gets bigger and bigger. Quickly they will ring-bark the tree. We have tried plastic spiral tree guards which are cheap and work for a while but eventually they become brittle or the tree grows enough to burst the spirals open, exposing bits of bark which is still young enough to be interesting to geese.

We got some fruit through to 'ripe'!
Some of our trees are in full sized sheep guards from the first year, when it was sheep we were fending off. (Sheep are a whole different story, as their damage is browsing as well as leaning heavily on the tree and rubbing to try to relieve an itch). Our best solution for the rest and one which, were I writing the book on keeping fruit trees safe from geese I would describe, is a cylinder of 1" weld-mesh (aviary mesh). The stuff we use is 90 cm (yes, sorry about the mixed units) tall which is taller than a goose at full stretch and the one inch mesh is too small for a goose to get even a beak through. The stuff lasts for ever and certainly for longer than it takes the bark within to become too old and gnarly for geese at which point you could still take it off and use the collar for another young tree. This stuff may be expensive but these are just bits left over from when I was building rabbit runs many moons ago.

One of the new Guineas (left) and a 6 week old turkey (r)
In other bird news, a few pics of the kindergarten. Turkeys #1 and #2 (Christmas and Noel?) are now 6 weeks old and starting to tower over the new Guinea Fowl. They are also starting to out-grow the rabbit run they are in and look keen to get out amongst it, free ranging. We will probably let this happen in another week or so when we feel a bit more confident that they will not fall prey to the young cat 'Soldier'. Turkeys #3 and #4 ('Janus' and 'Hugh' apologies to any Terry Wogan fans. Don't ask) are now 2 weeks old and starting to outgrow their first brooder-crate, so we need to scrounge a couple more big potato-crisp boxes and move them on a stage, but they have to stay under heat for the first 4 weeks.

OneChick is now 8 weeks old.
'OneChick' (as we have named the chick of 'Hen with One Chick') is now 8 weeks old and has started becoming independent from Mum. You do still see them together but you also see the chick just mingling with the rest of the flock and both of these now sleep in the main coop, Mum having decided of her own accord to move house from her little nest next to the camping toilet about a week ago. She looks to us like a hen, which is good news, she can be our replacement for the Sussex Ponte we lost recently.

The two chicks at 3 weeks old.
The two chicks of 'Hen and Two' are now 3 weeks old exactly. They look well and healthy and seem to be thriving. They are feathering up well. The buff-coloured one looks like he/she may be another pure-bred Buff Orpington but the white one is probably either a Sussex Ponte hybrid or even a Hubbard cross. We kept 2 hens out of one of the batches of Hubbards (a red and a white, the 2013 birds) to see how they would end up and be egg-layers. They are definitely part of the gang and are regularly 'trodden' by our roosters. Time will tell.

Examining an old frame of ivy honey now being cleaned
by bees in the swarm box. 
Finally, in the bees dept, we have had a good amount of interest in the swarm box so that I wondered if a colony had actually moved in. I needed to examine the box for queen and new brood; if we found these the colony would need moving from the swarm box to the new hive before they got too well established (and started to build their own comb in the box). Well, no worries in fact (and a bit of disappointment; I would have quite liked a 2nd colony). There were 100+ bees in the box and it was busy but these are just 'robber' bees exploiting an undefended source of stored honey. I don't think they are my bees - the flight path is straight south away from the box, not nipping across the 30 feet to our hive. They are there in force cutting away the cappings on the honey comb and nibbling all the solid honey out. I should be left, in a few weeks with some nice clean 'drawn' comb which I can re-use if ever I do get a second colony. That may well be next year by now, the swarm season seem to be over. Never say never, of course; these ladies can swarm as late as October if they are desperate enough.

Friday 17 July 2015

Shears, Ribs and Bee Stings

Sue's ewe, 'Pink' back in March, when the lamb was new.
Shaggy enough then, never mind in July
A big ugly weather system rattles on through and does for our warm July weather. It's a cracker - a deep 'Low' with three fronts (warm, cold and occluded) all centred on us like the three-pointed star of a Mercedes Benz logo. We get 48 hours of strong, blustery winds from all round the compass and a rake of squally showers. It's not quite enough to pin us down indoors but it definitely feels a bit un-necessary for mid July. It is all accurately forecast, though, so it does not stop the main event for this post, a bit more sheep shearing.

Amusing "half a job" shot shows how they can change
'size' when sheared.  These pics by Rob.
This was 'Pink', Sue and Rob's semi-pet ewe who got missed last year so now had 2 years worth of fleece (and dags) wrapping her up like a 4 inch pile carpet. 'Pink' because when they got her, she had a big pink spray-on flock-mark on her rump. Now she was seriously shaggy and daggy and in need of a clip. Many thanks to Sue and Rob who allowed me to practise on their precious sheep; they got a free shear but this was only my 3rd ever sheep, 4th ever try (our 'Lily' took 2 'bites') and my first try at doing someone else's animal. If you mess up your own sheep you can hide them in the back field and never post pics on Facebook, but if you mess up someone else's, it's all a bit more public. I was nervous.

Not a bad job - just the one tiny nick and no bleeding!
Pink is also trained to a head-collar so might give us a chance to shear her up the right way, standing on her own feet, which has got to be a lot less stressful for the animal than all that wrestling and up-ending them. If Rob could secure the front end and whisper sweet nothings in her ear, I could work away at the daggy end without her leppin' about. Her back end was completely obscured by the long and thick wool on each 'buttock' which joined together like 2 thick daggy, dread-locked up curtains, completely hiding the delicate bits which I must try to avoid cutting at all costs (udder and vulva) but with Rob holding her I had a hand free to part the 'curtains' and could slide the clippers in and around safely. Sorry if you're having yout tea!

I'm the sweaty one recovering here. Sue, the "client" definitely
looks like she is weighing up the job quality. She pronounced
herself very pleased and praised the result generously. 
Anyway, it all worked and I soon had her back end completely clear and was able to strike some 'blows' all up the spine and round the flanks and belly at which point we stopped as Rob was going to get sheared if he stayed where he was. Hence the amusing "half sheared" shot above which is a stage you'd never see on a "proper" shearing job. We took a breather, then Rob was able to move back and just hold head and collar, with Pink increasingly used to this idea, so I could get up her shoulders, forelegs, brisket and neck. Job done. Everyone gathered then to say nice things about the result before we moved Pink back to the field where the ram welcomed her home and she now looked smaller than her March-born ram-lamb . There is just a mountain of daggy fleece to pick up and clear away. It had been a good afternoon.

Towser ripping into a big raw beef rib. 
While we are 'on' all things Sue, she has also found a lovely beef butcher in nearby village Frenchpark. This guy apparently slaughters and butchers his own animals and hangs them for 2 weeks in between. The meat looks lovely and is cheaper than town and Supermarkets but even better, the guy cuts joints to suit the Irish customer which means well away from the bone and membranes surrounding them. His 'scraps' and bones for the dogs are therefore the meatiest we have ever seen and Sue showed us a 'trimming' that was so meaty and non-bony that you could have actually fried it for a steak for your own plate. She passed us a sheet of ribs a foot square and the dogs had (bits of) that for supper - much shlurping and ripping till the ribs were 'handed back' to us stripped "to the bone" like some dry white sun-bleached skeleton in a Western movie.

Common spotted orchid on the verge
actually ON the nearby bridge.
There are apparently around 30 species of orchid native this Island and plant spotters vie with one another to try to find them all. Even good experienced spotters only manage around ten and I am sure I've only ever seen (and definitely identified) one. That is the common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) which we found, to our delight, on the local bridge; actually in the verge on the bridge structure, that mess of old leaves and bits not trodden by the passing of car tyres but on top of the tarmac. Anne (who knows more about these things) tells me I might also find the greenish white 'Lesser Butterfly Orchid' (Platanthia bifolia) on my Kiltybranks (bog) meanderings but they are off to a special known site near Sligo town tomorrow to try to spot a few more. We were up in Sligo today but only for shopping.

Ouch - don't grab a bee when you go to pull up that
flowering weed!
Meanwhile, 'note to self'. If you are weeding near the hive in the sunshine, do go careful how you grab up those fistfuls of weeds. Don't go grabbing up a bee with them or she will sting you on the thumb. I have now been stung 4 times since we had bees and while I am delighted to find I am not a 'reactor' with all that anaphylactic shock drama, I get the sharp 'stab' followed by a mild tingle on the day but then a painful swelling overnight. Not enough to stop me handling the sheep shears but not nice.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Live 'Trad' Music.

Live music at the Village Inn, Lough Glynn
I have always loved Irish music. It is one of the reasons I love this country and its culture and people but I have always hankered after finding "real" music. Finding a music session laid on for tourists with the musicians paid for by the pub is easy enough; go to any pub in a decent sized town and you will see a chalk-board outside proclaiming "Live Music" or "Seisún ceoil anocht". We went to plenty when we were courting and living in the UK but back then when we came to Ireland I, at least, was a tourist. They were nice enough and I also went to a few proper concerts where Christy Moore, for example, was doing his thing but I still dreamed that one day I'd happen upon a genuine spontaneous 'session' in some pub or other. Anyone could turn up with their instrument(s) and just join in.

An army of instumentalists fill one end of the pub - flutists,
squeeze boxes, guitar, fiddle, bodhrán, penny whistles and
a banjo.
Well, we may not be quite 'spontaneous' (the pub announces them as being every Tuesday through July and August but "all musicians are welcome") and John Deere Bob tipped us off rather than us just happening upon them, but we have come pretty close at the Village Inn in nearby village, Lough Glynn. This being Ireland, they don't start till 9:30 pm but they do go on till 01:30 (on a legal bar extension, this is not some dodgy, clichéed "lock-in").

2 squeeze boxes and 2 penny whistles kicked it all off, the
banjo player turned up later.
The start is a bit low-key; at 10 pm when we got there the line up was just 2 squeeze boxes and 2 young ladies playing penny whistles but these were soon joined by a superb banjo player. Then at more like 11 pm all manner of other musicians arrived - flutes, a fiddle, a guitar, harmonica and bodhrán (hand drum). There were 12 of them in the end plus contributions from singers not at that end of the pub (which they filled). The format seemed to be that you arrive, unpack your instrument, the land lady brings you a drink, you wait for a pause to tune up and then just everybody knew all the tunes/songs. Nobody needed sheet music. One player would be invited to kick off a song or group of tunes and you could see everyone clock it, work out what their own part should be and dive in. On the livelier, foot-tapping stuff all 12 would be giving it their all, but then when a more sensitive passage was the order, players would pause or go really quiet to let the main featured instument do his/her thing

As well as the tunes (jigs, reels, airs etc), there were songs including one beautiful un-accompanied song by Landlady (Tina), "Bright Blue Rose" originally by Mary Black. Also what are known as "Recitations", a word which everyone seems to say with a kind of delicious loading and the announcement greeted by ironic cheers from the pub customers as a whole. These are long stories or doggerel poems on all manner of subjects, funny farming tales, long 'shaggy dog' stories about local characters or (last night) a moral tale about the dangers of over spending during the 'Celtic Tiger' years and having to pay it all back now we are back in the economic doldrums.

John Deere Bob and Liz enjoy a photo Liz has taken on her
phone. Sorry about the 'finger on lens' beginner error - this
was not my normal camera. 
There is even one old boy, a local character who likes to get up and do a rather random, clumpy dance, a bit of Irish Jig crossed with clog-dancing. The whole pub has taken this guy to heart and he is cheered, woop-wooped and wolf whistled as he launches into it full of beans but then gradually slows (he is quite an old lad) as he runs out of breath, till the 'muso's eventually take pity and come to a crescendo halt and he can go and sit down again. It is all excellent fun and and the atmosphere is definitely within that well known Irish must-have, "great craic".

We had actually been to a couple of these sessions a few years back, when we'd only just finished the build but then they seemed to dry up and we've not been able to find a similar event locally for ages. Well, now, for a few months, we can and JD Bob tipped us off, so we offered him a lift. Liz agreed to drive, so it even meant I could enjoy a couple of pints of Guinness (another reason for enjoying Ireland, though I've had remarkably few pints in the 3 years we have been here).

Red currants ready soon but we need to
fend off those turkeys.
Meanwhile, back at base, what else have we been up to. We have settled the new guinea fowl in with baby turkeys #1 and #2. #3 and #4 are thriving upstairs in their brooder crate with the 'electric hen' warming plate as 'mother'. We had another big pulse of interest by bees in the swarm box and I thought for a while that we might be getting that beekeeper's bonus, a free colony. There seemed to be enough bees going in and out to represent a new swarm moved in or at least some house-hunting scouts from elsewhere looking for a home. We have now looked inside during a lull and now think it is just opportunist robber-bees, robbing out the old, hard dry, set ivy-honey from the old frames with which I loaded the 'bait lure'. You should not really allow or encourage 'robbing' or your stronger hives may start attacking weaker colonies but we only have the one hive, so I am happy to leave the bees to clean up the old comb so that I can re-use it all spruced up.

Quick and cheerful 'Spanish Tortilla'. A long way from the
real McCoy but a good way of using up eggs. 
Then today we had a bit of a flap on when I saw a small but roaring cloud of bees coming up the 'allotment' moving south, away from the hive. Swarm on! I raced to fetch Liz and we donned bee suits as the bees moved up across the pond, past the car port and down towards the driveway. They went, we think, across the lane and into the feilds opposite but we do not now think that this was a bona fide swarm. It was too small - maybe 500-1000 bees in a spherical-ish cloud about 10 feet diameter. We think this might have been a new queen out on a mating flight - they will generally go a-wooing accompanied by a group of (hopeful) drones and a retinue of protective workers hoping to decoy any swallows or house-martins trying to pick off their queen. Safety in numbers.

Either way, it is an interesting development because our original queen is/was wing-clipped, so she aint flying no-where. We wonder has she faded or got lost and is now being replaced by a new queen, or possibly the hive is doing that natural, painless thing, a "supersedure", where the old and new queens are both allowed to lay eggs in the hive for a while, till the old, exhausted queen is 'removed' by the workers. Talking of new breeding females, we think we have now found our third breeding 'yow'. This lady comes with a young (June 2015) ram lamb at foot. We have agreed a price though we've not even seen the sheep yet. We just need to get that trailer tow-hitch fixed to the 'new' car, and we can go collect them. More on this story when it happens.