Friday 30 October 2015

Two Vets

Poppea - Westie cross fruit bat at 3 months
A day for two vet visits, both successful but with very different outcomes. First up, Poppea's visit to the town vet to get her stitches out. Being a bit of a drama queen as dogs go, I was expecting her to squeal and scream at every stitch, and was joking that we might have to warn up anyone sitting in the waiting room to make sure they didn't de-camp, thinking that the vet was torturing the animals that morning. In the event, no such worries. The vet had me lift Pops up onto the table and then stand her up holding her front legs and head/chest off the ground, so that her belly was stretched out in his full view. He tinkered around out of sight with Poppea barely twitching but looking at me a bit anxiously. "OK, all done" he said. He'd nipped out all of her stitches in a few minutes and brave soldier Pops had not whimpered, squeaked or squealed at all. Proud of her.

Pirate enjoys a good brush out.
Then this afternoon, not so much fun. RIP then, poor aul' Pirate, former diseased, emaciated stray cat with lots of bits missing. We had him put down today. Never the most handsome cat, we called him 'Road-crash chic'. He never did get over the missing eye, open to infections thing and recently picked up a bad infection of the chest, face, possible whole head, Poor aul' sod. Didn't really get any good numbers in life's lottery, but at least we gave him 18 months of being warm, dry, safe and fed. Now he's in a bit of garden where the golden autumn beech leaves shade him and the slanting evening sun lights up the grass and his memorial 'rock'. We'll miss you, Pi.

As for you fellow chicken keepers, when you are carving out your Hallowe'en pimpkins, remember the chickens. We all knew that pumpkin seeds and innards were a natural womer, didn't we (?). I had certainly heard it from 'people' but I did wonder whether it was one of those old wives' tales, with no grounding in real science. Up stepped biochemist/chicken nuts 'Martin Woods Farm' with the following.

"If you're planning on carving a pumpkin this Hallowe'en, don't forget your hens! They will adore all the insides of the pumpkin and, as an extra bonus, the seeds act as a natural wormer for chickens.

Pumpkins are part of the Curcurbita family and the seeds contain a naturally occurring chemical called Curcurbitacin which can paralyse worms in the digestive tract (I love it when my 2 passions, chickens and science, come together!). As well as this, pumpkins are also a great source of Vitamin A, Vitamin E and Vitamin C! What a winner! Make sure your birds have grit available to them to help digest the seeds and, as with all treats, feed them in moderation and as late in the afternoon as possible."

So now you know.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Unwelcome Noise

Young white rooster at 4 months.
There is a sound you don't really want to hear at this time of year from a small holder chicken flock and that is the young, quavering try-out "Cock a Doodle Doo" of an adolescent rooster practising his new vocal skills. You don't want to hear it because it means that one more 2015 hatchlings has grown up a boy instead of a useful, replacement, egg laying hen. That can only end badly for him in a flock which already has a good pure-bred cockerel and a useful p/b heir.

Poppea finally gets a bit of that beef.
Being a hybrid there would be no market for him (It's difficult enough selling p/b roosters for the simple reason that roughly 50% of chicks are boys but people go for more of a 7:1 ratio in the adult flock. I'm sure you can do the sums). Unfortunately his path lies down the plucking and freezing route but he's young and will be a nice tender bird so he won't go to waste. That was this morning when we both heard the unfamiliar crowing (obviously we are well used to our two existing roo's and the noise they make) coming from the yard, when we knew most of the chooks were out front, so I nipped round and there 'he' was, looking a bit self conscious, the only bird on the scene.

The two new 'windmills' at Roosky Farm now complete and
spinning away in the brisk breeze. Blues skies and puffy cumulus
He is the white chick from 'Hen and Two' hatched at the end of June, so he is about 4 months old. When we look at him now, of course, we can see that he does have a very upright stance, more so than the other chick, who is buff coloured but with a dark tail. Ah well, no need to react just yet. We still have plenty Hubbard meat in the freezer and he can put on a bit more weight before he gets into any fights with our main men.

Tomatoes still ripening well in the polytunnel.
Meanwhile, our amazingly merciful late season continues to delight. The dry, settled weather collapsed a bit over the weekend into showers and breeze but for the most part the sky has stayed blue with just puffy cumulus shower clouds and warm sunshine keeping us up at 14ºC day times and 7 or 8º at night. As is the way of these things, it will probably get announced as the warmest driest October for yay amount of years. Our polytunnel continues to pump out very flavoursome tomatoes and the veg plot is doing chard, kale, mange tout and a few last broad beans. The weeds, of course, are also growing to forest proportions.

Cowslip flowering in October. 
In the front garden bed a confused cow slip has come into flower. Just today some pelargoniums we bought admittedly very late and quite small and backward opened their first flowers. We watched them sulk all through July and August and began to worry in September whether they'd manage to do anything before the frost wiped them out.

Pelargonium doing a good effort. 
In October we saw flower buds forming and for days now we have been seeing them show colour at the bud tips and have been saying, "One warm week is all they need, you'll see!"

Dylan, Suffolk Down lamb born in June
Other than that, not much to report as we continue to wind down a bit into autumn. The sheep are enjoying a bit more fussing and human contact now that young Rambo has gone home and does not try to monopolise all the forehead scratching and chin caressing (Yes, we're ruffty tuffty, hard nosed shepherds alright!) and also lets me into the field with the ewes. I have gone back to coming into their field with the feed as opposed to lobbing it over the fence, and they all come over for a fuss and a gentle 'lean' on me. Dylan, the June-born lamb who came to us with his Mum, Myfanwy is 4 months old now but still not big enough to 'finish' so he's good for roughly Christmas before he becomes an issue. They are a happy little flock and doing a good job on trimming the front lawn, the East Field and, soon, a new bit which we will fence in to let them tidy that up.

Monday 26 October 2015

An Extra Hour in Bed?

1,28 kg of 'Golden Hornet' crab apples. Our best tree this year.
We come to that weekend when we change all the clocks back and out comes that cliché that "we get an extra hour in bed". Indeed we held to that view when we had 'normal' jobs with fixed hours. This is always followed by a spate of Mums protesting, "Extra Hour? Not if you've a three year old child waking up" and now that we are out here doing the small holdering mallarkey, we have moved over to that view. We have no need of curtains in the windows here so the daylight comes streaming in 24 hours after it did yesterday and the westies don't know that it's now "only 7 o'clock" instead of 8 a.m. GMT.

The lovely golden pink of crab apple jelly.
They start bouncing around, wide awake so that you know they'll need a 'comfort stop' soon. The roosters are cock-a-doodling like billy-oh and the sheep start calling for their breakfasts. We are up and at 'em. In my case I was off 'buildering' in Sligo and Liz knew she had a load of crab apples to turn into crab apple jelly and we both knew that we'd have a normal length day with that odd jet-lag evening where all your senses are telling you that it is bed time but the clock says "No, not yet".

Too meaty for dogs? This chunk of beef spine/rib. 
If you are not familiar with UK or Irish TV you may not know of a recent successful advert for which the punchline has now gone into common usage in the same way as "Go to work on an egg" or "For Mash get Smash" did back in the day. That is the ad for the optician and spectacles shop, 'Specsavers' and the quip comes out when ever anyone has done something suggesting they are blind or poorly sighted, "He should have gone to Specsavers". The ad used amusing film of the sheepdog barely escaping the shearing shed where he'd been (badly) shorn along with the sheep.

Beef braised slowly in beer, to an adapted Nigel
Slater recipe. 
Where am I going with this? Nearby there is a butcher specialising in beef but who cuts the joints and ribs to suit the Irish customer. They love to see meat cut well clear of any connective tissue, cartilege, sinew etc and "well boned out" with the result that this butcher's scraps and "bones for the dogs" have so much meat wrapped around them that customers in the know joke delightedly with each other that the guy must have poor eyesight to have "missed" it and (inevitably) should've gone to Specsavers! To us he is now referred to as the 'Specsavers Butcher'.

I remember that my Mum (Pud Lady) had similar luck - she frequented a game shop near Hastings where the 'bones for the dog' were frequently casseroled into a very meaty venison casserole for us humans before the bones went anywhere near the dog. We recently came by a superbly meaty bit of spine/rib (Thank you generous benefactor - you know who you are!) which I converted into a superb braised stew taking a Nigel Slater recipe and swapping out his suggested Rioja (that must almost be a criminal act... Rioja indeed!) for beer and adding more veg. I reckoned that if I slow-cooked it long enough we'd be able to slap one of the big 2-vertebra chunks onto the plate and then forage the meat off that, with the veg and gravy doing a good job of mushing into the mashed potato (not too buttery, advises Nigel... keep it fluffy/floury to better take up the gravy). That was a very successful meal and the left overs, cooked up some more, may become a future pie filling.

Paired off? Belvedere now seems very attached to the widow
bird 'Min', here with inseperable buddy 'Squawk' the Marans
Way back when, our first Guinea Fowl were called Henry and Min after the daft Goon Show aul' folks, because they walked around stooped over like the old folks on the 'Old People Crossing' roadsign. Then, readers may recall, Henry met with an accident out on the road and Min has been driving us mad for 12 months calling her lonely mate-seeking 'Buckwheat Buckwheat' call. We acquired two young birds hoping that at least one would grow up a cock-bird and pair up with her.

Dylan tore his eartag out on a fence but we have found it
so we should be OK handing it in to the butcher with him
when the time comes. 
These 'guys' were named Apollo and Belvedere (it's a long story involving that 'Min' might actually be the Greek Goddess 'Minerva', so she'd need an Apollo for her mate and that there is a famous Renaissance statue called the Apollo Belvedere. We had two possible boys, so we needed 2 names. With me so far?). Well, it now seems that one young bird (Belvedere) has paired off with Min. He abandons his former gang (young turkeys and Guineas) for big chunks of most days and you can find him trotting along or mooching about closely paired off with Min and (inevitably) her inseperable buddy, the Marans hen 'Squawk'. Poor Squawk will be feeling like one of those less pretty  'best friends' who gets left behind when they grow up and her prettier friend starts to discover boys before she does.

The other young Guinea we think is almost certainly a hen but may be a bit confused as to her species. You see her doing a very flirty dance with the young male turkeys, where she runs in circles with her wings splayed, then squats down on the ground in front of the chosen boy. The chosen male turkey gets all excited and also start running in circles calling, but never quite works out (mercifully!) what he is meant to be doing, so the Guinea Hen runs round some more and squats again in front of him. Maybe he looks, to her, like a big Guinea cock-bird. Should've gone to Specsavers?

Friday 23 October 2015

Ram a Lamb a Ding Dong

Rambo has a lie-down while he waits for his taxi home.
In which we bid farewell, for this season, to our splendid and handsome borrowed ram, 'Rambo'. We collected this lad 5 weeks ago and he has worked his way round our three ewes, Lily, Polly and Myfanwy, showing what, to our inexperienced view, looked like an appropriate interest in each. We trust that they are all now 'in-lamb' and by our calculations ahould be each lambing at some point between the 14th Feb 2016 and 23rd March 2016.

Rambo (left) enjoys some last grass while he waits for his lift
Rambo was pure pleasure to 'own' for a while and good experience for we beginner shepherds. We are very grateful to his real owners, Sue and Rob, who came to take him home today back to his wife and son and we have made a tentative agreement to use the boy again next year. Regular readers will know that Rambo comes with a sheep's bell attached because, although he is soft as grease most of the time, when he is with the ewes he is a bit of a one for nipping up behind you and butting you in the thighs or bum. "He can have you over!" warned Sue. We had walked him to the trailer like an obedient puppy dog getting him here and he was grand with me for a few days, but soon started this butting thing.

Handsome lad.
The answer was to stop moving them from field to lawn each day and to stop going into the field to give them their 'crunch' (feed). I moved the trough over to near the fence and took to feeding them by leaning over the fence and aiming scoops of feed at the trough while trying not to let the sheep get their eager faces and heads in the way. Rambo's agressive trait seemed to fade away again (as did the musky, lanolin 'male' smell which he had started whiffing of!) once he had got around all the ewes and, presumably, they had all gone off the boil. We hope this is because they are pregnant, obviously, but whatever the reason, Rambo was as soft as grease again for today's loading for the return trip. He followed the bucket obediently from field gate to trailer ramp and made no attempts to sneak round behind any of us with evil intent.

Rob checks on the boy for his journey home.
It is the jangly bell that had me naming this post as I have. It is a lovely noise and we will miss it while we are Rambo-less; you can hear it out there in the dark and you know he is safe and well out in the field with his women. It reminds me of childhood holidays when we would all be out up some Summer Alp (French, Swiss, German - we worked our way round most of them over the years and the Jura etc) and you could hear the cow bells as the mountainy cattle wandered about their summer grazing.

The 'Ram a Lamb' thing also has me reminded of a favourite restaurant from our Kent days, Read's of Faversham. This was always (and still is) at the pricey end of things, so we'd only use it for BIG occasions, like round-number anniversaries, but we were always delighted and impressed, as well as lighter in the pocket. One such was our 10th anniversary and I can remember the lounge full of easy chairs where you could wait for your table to be ready, and also that you had your own sommelier looking after your bottle of wine; he'd nip over and top up your glasses as soon as he saw them coming empty, but then whisk your bottle away back to a chiller or the rack so that it wouldn't clutter up your table.

Filling tonight's pie (chicken, ham and leek)
I am afraid I can't remember what I had for main course, but I recall Liz was intrigued by the menu choice "Ram a Lamb a Lamb" which turned out to be a collection of amuse-bouche sized portions of six or seven lamb-based foods - a little individual shepherd's pie, a  little cutlet, small slices of roast lamb, a paté and so on. These came arranged in a little circle around the plate. Brilliant. I know that Read's is still there and going strong because a former work colleague was there recently and posted a story on Facebook, so if you are near Faversham and have a bit too much cash burning a hole in your pocket, I can thoroughly recommend it as a place to eat. You will be treated like a King or Queen.

Home made hummus.
And while we are on catering, a quick mention of our entertainment tonight. We are invited to the village's annual "Tea Party" which happens in the Community Centre and where any group or outfit takes a table and brings along food and drink to suit themselves. The local 'Active Age' gang take a table, as do the folk involved in the youth group (Foroige), the pre-schoolers, the Drama Group and so on. I don't think they go quite as mad as the parties who would arrive at the open air fireworks concerts at Rochester Castle with their wicker picnic baskets, champagne coolers and table chandeliers, but they do run to cold roast chicken salads and so on.

Apple sauce from our own orchard.
This one will be Liz's first time for going public on her catering skills under the gaze of the village ladies so if you know Liz, you can imagine that she would not like to be found wanting. "This is not some picnic at the beach," she says, "this is a FRIDAY NIGHT SUPPER". There will be no gritty 'hang sang-widges' or Thermos of 'tay'. Oh No. The catering department had gone into full swing with an impressive spread; a gorgeous looking chicken, ham and leek pie with a suet crust (our chicken and suet, obviously), there is home made potato salad, home made coleslaw, home made hummus with 'crudites' of sliced peppers and what not, Liz's famous chilli-cheese-and-bacon biscuits, chilli 'jam' and elderflower cordial. Our table will be up there, for sure.

Getting the hall ready for the Tea Party
On a related topic, the change to windy wet weather had me whizz round the orchard picking the very few apples and pears still left standing, except for the crab apples which we will get this weekend. The total remaining amounted to barely a pound of fruit but as I was cooking pork chops that night, I decided to 'render' them down and sieve to make a delicious smooth apple sauce - no sugar or spice required. Very tasty.

Finally in a bit of a throw back to the table quizzes we used to do for the Hort Soc in Faversham, I compiled a daft little anagram 'quiz' page for all the tables at the Tea Party based on local place names. It would never work unless you were local, as the place names can be a bit complicated - Corracoggil South becomes "Go Us Gothic Corral", Cloon Bunny (I kid you not) becomes "Bunny Colon" and our beloved Ballaghaderreen becomes "A Green Herbal Lad" - but all the locals seem to know the set up here like the backs of their hands. What could possibly go wrong? The prizes for anyone who gets them all are our standard Hort Soc 'Smarties' for being smart.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Mr and Mrs D?

When I left you at the end of the previous post, our visitors D+D were just leaving us, belly-full of dippy goose egg breakfast, off on the next leg of their surprise (for lady-D) holiday tour of Ireland, bound for Galway and then Bunratty Castle via our suggested scenic tour of Connemara. The 'public' intent was to enjoy a Medieval Banquet at Bunratty. However, as well as the whole trip being a surprise for lady-D, it seems that Mr-D had one more plot twist and 'present' up his sleeve. Bunratty was just a cover story.

Year 2 of the living willow hedge
The couple drove through Connemara enjoying the scenery and (we are told) stopped at a likely lake to get out, stretch their legs and enjoy the view. Lady-D promptly took off down the 'beach' "babbling on" (she says) about how much fun it would be to get the canoes 'up here'. It took her a while to spot that it had all gone a bit quiet behind her and that Mr D was not keeping up with her, or, indeed, part of the canoe conversation. When she turned round she found that this was because he had gone down on bended knee and was clutching an engagement ring! Congratulations the pair of you, D and Mrs D to be. With the banquet now off the books, they adjourned to a fine pub also in Bunratty called 'Durty Nelly's'.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we have finally run out of the miraculous 20 days of windless and rainless weather. We just squeaked D and D in at the end of it which was very nice for their 'petting zoo' stuff. The purple wellies stayed clean and dry.

The cat 'Soldier' is pretty much over his operation and dashing about inside and out like before, eating us out of house and home.

Unsubtle hedge-bashing down our lane.
Poppea, always more of a drama queen (and also, to be fair, subject to a much more serious operation) is healing a bit more slowly. She reminds us occasionally that she has a sore place as she gets down from a chair, emiting a piercing shriek or a whimper, but she has joined in the walks again and joins the rest of us for the half hour off-lead exercise in the orchard. We have to take her back to the vet on Friday week to have her stitches removed. That is going to be a bit of a squeak-fest too, I should imagine.

Roadside hedge or a row of coppiced ash trees?
On a sadder note, we remember our great friend, Liz's closest and longest term Kent chum, frequently mentioned in this blog, 'Diamond' (Diane Loraine Walsh) who died this day last year. Diane's ashes were scattered by husband John at a favourite canal-side site in Surrey and John has driven up there today with our other friends Mazy and Anne to remember her and to scatter flower petals at the place. Thinking of you all. Sympathies at this sad time.

Sunday 18 October 2015

B'n'B for D'n'D

Make it count, Soldier. It is the last food you'll see till
tomorrow evening. 
We finally managed to nail down a vet to do the spay operations of 3 year old Westie bitch, Poppea and young tom-cat Soldier. They were booked into a practise in town for Friday morning so for them (and all other dogs and cats because it is easier that way) starvation from 6 pm on the Thursday evening. This is not a problem with the dogs who are not used to food between meals, but the hungry young cats live a life of harrassing us into feeding them at any time of day or night by just making nuisances of themselves, climbing the shelves, lying on your computer keyboard, pushing things off tables to see if gravity works, climbing all over your lap, shoulders and head purring madly. Subtle in their demands they are not and the only way to shut them up is to realise that it must be HOURS since their last feed. Days maybe. Weeks even....

Poppea, still very woozy from her operation gets sniffed
by the other two. 
Well, we held our nerve and managed to do a convincing job of being forgetful about breakfast come the morning. Come 9 o'clock, we extracted Blue from the cat basket so that we could put Soldier into it and got a collar and lead onto Poppea and her out of the door without the other two joining us, I ran Liz to work and went from there on to the vet's in Castlerea. The patients would be 'done' in the afternoon and we'd get a call to say we could come and collect them.

The makings of a very fine gumbo
We collected them at 5:30 pm, by which time Pops was trying to come round from the anaesthetic under a cosy heat-ray lamp in one cage, and Soldier was still sparko in his cat basket. The cat woke up that evening and was up and running, eating and wanting to go outside very quickly. Our little drama queen is a bit of a different story and is milking it over the whole weekend for all it is worth. She even went all day Saturday without eating and had her first breakfast this morning. We don't mind that. She's not going to suffer for lack of walking for a couple of days and we just have to keep the other dogs from being too boisterous around her. Poor little mite. Get well soon, Pops.

D and D in da house.
Main event this weekend, though, was a superb first-time visit from a second-cousin and her man, these two with very similar names so called, for the purposes of this blog, D and D. She is the daughter of one of Liz's very close, same age cousins from their childhoods, Cathy. Although Liz had met her a few times, she mainly remembers her as a pregnant 'bump' so this was going to be a nice chance to get to know D and her 'fella' better. D is young yet (well, compared to us!) but is madly in love with the idea of small holdering when she retires and keeping livestock. I expect there will be such a project in her future but she had read all about us on Facebook and in this blog and was really looking forward to meeting the animals.

Paté, then slow roast pork, then chocolate mousse with
raspberry coulis for supper.
D-the-man knew, obviously, that she wanted to come back to Ireland where she was born ( she left when she was only tiny) and had conspired deviously with various friends, contacts and family, including us, to organise this whole trip in secret. We had her completely fooled. She did not know till the morning that she was going on holiday and was a bit fed up with her normal friends for being all non-commital or "otherwise engaged" over what looked like being a lonely, boring weekend. D presented her with a simple map-of-Europe jigsaw  and announced that they were going on holiday to the country on the missing piece. Nice one, D!

D falls in love with the turkeys
They had a stop in Dublin to catch up on the friends and rels that end and then headed down this way to arrive about 3 pm. Liz LOVES all this kind of thing - hospitality and hosting and was ready with a menu fit for these honoured guests. They were going to have a quiche and salad stop-gap on arrival, then a superb supper of paté followed by slow roast pork with a dessert of chocolate mousse, raspberry coulis and cream. Breakfast was going to be 'dippy' goose eggs and toast soldiers and/or soda bread with smoked salmon. As many as possible ingredients were from our own produce and there was, naturally, a good but sensible amount of drink about the place.

D's "selfie" with Rambo.
They wanted a good show around the 'farm' and to meet the livestock. D thought she'd like the geese best but ended up being swept off her feet by our charming turkeys. They also seemed quite taken with her and followed her around chirruping happily and in one case even let her stroke his head. She was quite taken with Rambo too, who came loping over to see her every  time she appeared at the gate, 'asking' for her to stroke and scratch his head (Yes, now down a bit.... ooh, and just that bit behind my ear.... ). If a ram could purr, Rambo would be purring. D even took a 'selfie' picture of the two of them on her phone. D and D also asked if they could help on the first feed and release rounds. No problem, but I have to admit I doubted whether they'd get up in time. They did, and were even dressed and with wellies on. There's enthusiasm from a volunteer.

This rose bud came on a branch which had snuck in under
the shed roof so was in the dark out of the weather. 
We'll call that a successful visit, 'topp hosting' from us and perfect 'guesting' by D+D. Everything you could want from guests - they enjoyed everything we did, ate the food, fell in love with the animals and were pure pleasure to "entertain" (i.e. no bother at all to keep happy). Their next stop is Galway and then Bunratty Castle where they are booked in to a medieval banquet. We took them on a quick diversion out to the Sligo rebuild house to show them the more scary end of the "buying a place in Ireland" spectrum (serious buildering) and then set up their sat-nav for our scenic route to Galway through Clairemorris, Cong, Maam Cross and the mountains of Connemara.

Dippy goose eggs.
We went back home to a standard Sunday, dog walks and tidying up after a visit, gently recuperating the patients and sympathising with the turkeys who are behaving as if they have lost a close friend as well as enjoying all the Facebook stuff put up there by D+D. That is, I think, our last inbound visit in 2015, though we do have a couple of away-games to come. We do love these visits and the chance to do hospitality so a huge thank you to our guests and you know that you are always welcome back.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Snugging Down the Bees

'Tis the (goose egg) season says Liz with this
picture posted onto facebook.
We are still thoroughly enjoying this lovely run of windless, rainless days, often with bright blue skies and welcome sunshine begotten of the series of high pressure systems which are dominating our weather for what feels like a fortnight. It has given us a lovely flush of crops hanging in there which by now (mid October) we'd normally expect to have finished - the broad beans, mange tout peas, poly-tunnel tomatoes and herbs like parsley, chives and thyme.

Our first grass-frost on 13th October morning.
We have welcome late (re) flushes of some flowers which you'd normally call summer flowers - all the roses are still pushing open new buds, a yellow geum is going great guns and our three-big-tub group in the yard is a picture of yellow red-hot pokers, yellow dahlia (a 'Bishop' relative), nasturtiums and Welsh poppies. In the keyhole bed an accidental self-seeded red campion has been flowering away as a bush-sized dome since June and shows no sign of flagging.

Frosty sunrise through the trees
As I said, we have been enjoying the warm sunshine, but clear skies and high pressure in October inevitably means the arrival of chilly nights and some first frosts. The first crunch to the grass came this morning with a mist-less morning live-stock round. The internet tells us we might even get views of the Northern Lights but I have not seen them so far possibly because 'North' to us here is one of the few bad sources of light pollution, the cluster of street lights in the town of Ballaghaderreen. Balla-D tends to light up the northern horizon with that well know sodium-light orange glow and may be out-glowing the Aurora Borealis.

The bees finally get their snug 'loft insulation', the (oiled wood)
foam block filled 'eke' on top of the hive here with the standard
roof about to be put on top.
I had been holding off snugging down the bees with the days being so warm and the bees still being so active. They will be foraging the remaining heather and soon move onto the ivy when that starts to open - the ivy flower buds are plentiful but still shut tight so far here. It is a truism in beekeeping circles that it is not the cold which kills bees, but the damp, especially if you have a thin roof on the hive where condensation forms and cold water then drips right down the centre of the hive, into the brood cluster.

A chilly morning for our cattle neighbours in the 5 Acre Field
We think it was a combination of the cold/damp/condensation and having too much space (fresh air around the cluster) which did for our 2014 colony in spring 2015. This can give you a bad 'chimney' effect with the warm cluster pulling in cold air through the mesh floor, and losing warm air through the roof-vents but you are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. You must somehow find the right balance between enough ventilation to discourage condensation, (including that moisture which bees have to pull out of nectar in order to make honey) but enough cosy snugness that nobody dies of hypothermia. Our solution this year is to part-block the bottom by sliding in the varroa-mite counting board but then to completely seal the top with a 3 inch block of house-insulating foam slotted tight into an oiled-wood square called an 'eke'. I am hoping that the warm bees will then thus be so well separated from the snow on the roof, that no condensation will form on their 'ceiling' and drip down. Time will tell. That is now the last time this year we will open the hive to look into it. From now on we just watch the comings and goings and hope that continued activity means that all is well. Good luck you bees.

That is quite a hole we have made in the house!
Meanwhile over in the Sligo rebuild house we have done the complete opposite and smashed a huge hole in the back. This is one of those 2 foot thick walls we know and love from our own rebuild, but in this case the stone is much more helpful, being mainly flat chunks a bit like broken paving slabs. In Roscommon our stones were hard sandstone and the shape of your head so we wondered how the builder ever managed to stack them into walls - we suspect that they did no such thing and just poured the stones and concrete down into a shuttered gap.

Not a dry stone wall, but a stack of good stones salvaged
from the demolished house walls.
Out in Sligo it is all much more professional and 'stone mason'-ish, with the flat stones laid 'bonded' like brickwork, big squared off 'coin' stones at the corners and impressive broad slices as door and window lintels. These are interwoven with proper old fashioned lime mortar so that when you knock bits of wall down it is fairly simple to tap the good stones clean of mortar and stack them for re-use.

Tom the turkey has regrown his tail and is back to his
magnificent best.
I had to smile - the two of us had been hard at this rubble-wrangling all morning when Mum came out to the site with the makings of 'hang sang-widges' and a huge thermos of coffee but brought along young son 'H' (3) so that he could see progress and enjoy some time with his Dad. His Dad must be as tired as me from the rock-bashing but still has the energy to load H into a wheel barrow and run round the site like a fair ground ride, running him up and down gravel heaps, bouncing over boulders and balancing along scaffold planks with H clinging on for dear life and wooping with delight. H is also one for the quick observations "You've made a hole in the house!" and follow-up accusing questions as to who did it and Mum and Dad have been enjoying getting me into tongue-in-cheek "trouble" by blaming me for everything that's 'gone wrong'.

The 2CV gets fired up just to keep everything freed up and
working. Look carefully here and you may see exhaust fumes
centre right. 
The gravel piles I moved with the digger were, in fact "H's mountain" - he had been climbing over them that week and claimed them for his own. "That was Matt!", they grassed me up helpfully "He stole it with the digger!" He wasn't so accepting of the blame for the hole in the house. "I think it is BOTH of your fault!" he said, Judge Jury and Executioner.

Polly and the sunrise.
He was also a bit concerned that the room he had previously chosen was now rapidly disappearing, open to the east winds but is now reassured that he will get a new, nice, bigger room 'upstairs' eventually. If Dad and I don't get arrested for stealing Sligo's mountains in the meantime.