Saturday 28 April 2018


Carsten is quickly adopted by Towser indoors
and our turkey 'tom' Excelsis out of doors.
Welcome aboard, then, latest Help-X student, Carsten. Carsten hails from SW Germany and the town of Dudenhofen which is, by all accounts, quite similar to our local market towns of Castlerea and Ballaghaderreen. It is in the Rhineland "Palatinate"; Mrs C loves that this expression is still in use. Plenty of her most recent history 'pods' have involved the Palatinate but she had thought that this was an old name, no longer in use. She is delighted that "they still have the Palatinate". Dudenhofen is also in the main asparagus growing area of Germany.

Adopted by the male turkey out of doors
Carsten, in his early 20s, is studying teaching of English and Sport and as part of the language chunk of this, he has to go and live in an English speaking area for 3 continuous months. He has chosen Help-X as his method of getting accommodation and Ireland as his destination. We have him for the first week of this 'tour', round till the middle of next week.

He is an excellent guest - all the good things you can say about Help-X volunteers - fit and strong, willing to work hard and try his hand at all manner of jobs, happy, friendly, relaxed, easy to talk to and thoroughly enjoys any food The Woman of the House puts in front of him.

By his own admission he is very new to this travelling thing and this is his first adventure alone, so he gets a bit wary around trying to connect up legs of the journey, changes of train and so on. He managed to mess up the journey here from Frankfurt airport (Ryan Air) and, in Dublin, managed to get on a bus which missed its train connection at Athlone.

Instead of him pitching up at Castlerea at 8pm for me to do a 15 minute taxi run to collect him, we got a series of phone messages ending up with him stranded in Athlone and needing us to drive the 2 hour round trip to rescue him. Never mind. No harm done and Carsten was safely under the roof by 10 pm where Elizabeth could feed him soup and pizza. Poor lad had not eaten since breakfast at the parents' house that morning.

All looking a bit Spring-like. Love those hot orange tulips.
After that late night, we took pity on him and decided we'd not start any work that next morning, taking the day, instead for us to get to know each other, for him to get a look round here and meet the livestock, plus we could go for a little drive around in the car shopping etc if he needed wellies or gloves.

Now, four days later, we are properly in the groove and have done some good, productive work. The weather has been dry and warm, so we have been able to get 'out there' and get long overdue garden tasks done. We have emptied two big compost bins and top-dressed three railway sleeper beds and one of the long beds in the polytunnel with a good 6-8" thick layer of the lovely rich stuff. We have cleared up all the wind-blown branches in the East Field onto a fire-pile for burning.

Food for baby ducklings. Chick-crumb (slightly wetted), finely
mashed hard-boiled egg (incl shell) and finely chopped lettuce
(which they will completely ignore, of course!)
We have chopped up quite a bit of the Storm Eleanor larch and spruce which had been seasoning in its round 'cakes' sliced out of the trunks. Then we crowned all that yesterday by mucking out a bullock barn for a friend. This latter involved me getting a 'fix' of tractor driving - I was hauling the mucked loads down to the dumping pile. Nearly an 'oops' for me there to match Carsten's Athlone mess-up.

It survived the winter!
That's only a 2 wheel drive tractor and with the link box full of muck it's so back heavy that the front is almost rearing up off the ground. In the destination field there was (unbeknownst to me) a very soft patch and I started to sink my left rear tyre in. I was sweating a bit, wallowing around there praying that I didn't need to make the embarrassing rescue phone call to get myself extracted. That would have taken some living down!

Plenty of bee activity in this warm weather.
That was a full day. We were already tired from the compost barrowing and the log splitting, so when we went down to clear "just a couple of boxes" and then fell in with the mission-creep to "the whole barn" (5 boxes), my aul' bones were definitely starting to creak.

A beautifully hearty neck-of-lamb stew. Our own lamb of course.
This morning, I am as stiff as a board and very glad it's the weekend. I was joking with Carsten that I love working with the Help-X lads and I get much more than twice as much done as I would on my own, 2-handed. This mainly because I get lazy and I don't actually do anything in between the Help-X-ers. I need them to motivate me of a morning. May not be 100% true but certainly seems that way sometimes. I find myself 'saving jobs up' for the next Help-X-er, which translates as "avoiding those jobs till I get help" :-) (smiley face)

I started doing these ten-packs with "all the colours" through
the honesty box. They sell very well.
All we have planned for today is a nice breakfast and bit of driving around. I am taking Carsten over to friends Sue and Rob for him to meet them and see their place. Also to look at some new baby kittens from which two may be of interest to 'Sparks' and his lady. We were going to select the two as Sparks was thinking that the lady would find them all equally cute and it did not matter much which they were given. However, I understand that she has now seen the pictures and chosen her kittens, so we are just going to say 'Hello' and admire them, presumably.

Pears coming into blossom.
I am on strict instructions not to slip up and fall in love with the other two. WE HAVE ENOUGH ANIMALS was how it was phrased. No arguing with that.

There's snout to see here. Move along.
I think that is probably enough for this one. More on Carsten and our adventures in Help-X-ing in the next post. Good luck now. Get out and enjoy that sunshine.

Monday 23 April 2018

A Weighty Tome

Event poster for the Spring Day
I am sneaking this post in before the normal 'due day' (Tuesday) because a) I have plenty to say already and b) I am likely to be too busy tomorrow evening what with the arrival of our Help-X volunteer. Reason 'a' has largely to do with Elizabeth playing an absolute blinder and finding me a lovely day's entertainment on Saturday. This took the form of a day of walks and talks "celebrating Spring" based in the 'village hall' buildings of nearby Kilmovee village.

Yomping through the woods
What had caught her eye was the involvement of our main man at the National Biodiversity Database, Liam Lysaght; it turns out that his brother was setting it up. After what feels like 6 months of wet and Winter, the weather came up trumps too and the day took place in lovely warm sunshine. However, there is no point in re-inventing the wheel, so it is easiest if I just reproduce here the text of a review I offered to write for the Kilmovee website. Here it is.

Mammal Atlas (cover)
Many, many thanks today to the team at Kilmovee for organising the excellent ‘walks and talks’ event, “A Celebration of Spring”. This was a brilliantly assembled event full of interest and healthy exercise on a gorgeous Spring day which had arrived hot on the heels of a long, wet March and April – a welcome break.

Mammal Atlas (Fox pages open)
We started in the ‘classroom’, the village’s Thatch Roof Building attached to the Village Centre with fascinating presentations by Liam Lysaght of the National Biodiversity Database on the need for that resource, by Chris Huxley on bird migration and by Lynda Huxley on the conservation of swifts, swallows, house martins and sand martins.

The ever-more-massive lamb, Bábóg. Compare this pic with
the size of her 6 weeks ago.
Our first walk was down to a woodland around 20 minutes south of Kilmovee which was pure joy in the sunshine ‘armed’ with our assembled experts in many ecological areas – bird song, Summer migrant and other birds (we were quickly ‘shown’ willow warblers, swallows, blackcaps,  mistle thrushes and chiffchaffs and even a buzzard came zooming through with a hooded crow in hot pursuit), butterflies and bees, plus botanists to point out wood sorrel, anenomes, greater stitchwort, pig-nut and the not-quite-ready bluebells.

A 4th bag of Lamlac is needed.
There are some impressive ancient beeches in that wood too, which had us hankering for a local historian to tell us some of the past of this site.

We adjourned back to the thatched cottage for a superb lunch of soup, soda bread, sandwiches and biscuits plus, of course, tea and coffee.

Not the tidiest drinker. Bábóg gets sprayed liberally on at least
one side of her face with milk.
Refreshed, we were back into the ‘class room’ for a lovely, relaxing, post-prandial talk by local poet and writer, Terry McDonagh who is also an expert on local, famous, 1700s poet Anthony Raftery, blinded from age 10 by smallpox and the “last travelling bard” famous for his poems about Spring.
The final entertainment was a walk out to the local stone-built and excellently preserved ‘Cashel’ – a ring-wall 2m thick and 2.5m high on private land just outside the village.

Duck eggs in the incubator start 'pipping'
Delightfully, the village is currently host to a stone-mason training course with 8 or so lads all learning the ropes just beside the thatched building. A 1000 year old stone cashel would be right up their street, so they were invited to join us as we got a look round the place and an excellent presentation by University Historian, Dr Yvonne McDermott (GMIT). Dr McDermott had done us a brilliant job but it was nice to receive some input at the Q+A from the lads coming at it from the actual builders’ point of view.

Very recently hatched - still wet.
All together it made for a thoroughly enjoyable day and if anyone was thinking about going and then decided not to, you missed a real treat. There is talk of this possibly becoming an annual event – mark it in your diary. Thank you very, very much to the whole team at Kilmovee and to all the speakers and volunteers who made it all so good.

...and that was that.

3 out and dry, now moved to the brooder box for food, water
and the warmth of an electric 'Mum'
Friends of the Blog will know that my main involvement with Liam is through recording all my flora and fauna sightings onto the Biodiversity Database, which I have been doing now for as long as I've known it existed. They may not know that this data gets used by the team there in a whole host of ways, one of which is to produce periodic books and atlases mapping the distribution of the sightings. They had advertised that a mammal atlas was coming out in 2017 and I'd added it to my 'Dear Santa' list but we had had no luck finding a copy. The chance to actually finally MEET Liam in the flesh seemed like an equally good opportunity to obtain the book - he would surely bring me a copy down and I could pay for it there. He even autographed it for me.

It is a lovely book full of fascinating information and all that data. I get a special wee thrill when looking at the maps knowing that most of those little (10 km) squares around the north end of County Roscommon are my own data/sightings. In the back of the book is a full listing of all the 2500-odd people who contributed data and there are the names of the Woman of the House and myself.

A weighty tome. My new sheep book.
While we are on books, I also came by a new sheep book on the recommendation of a sheep expert who I respect mightily, Tim Tyne who wrote my all time favourite sheep-for-smallholders book. When it arrived I wondered quite what I'd done. A weighty tome indeed - 690 pages hard back and weighing 1.7 kg, it looked worryingly like a medical dictionary. I spend enough time now fighting off people who think sheep are just single track animals looking for new ways to die; was I going to end up like one of those Wikipedia/Google self-diagnosers who show up at the GP claiming to have bovine tripanosomiasis? You'll be pleased to know it is a whole lot better than that and written very well to explain sheep issues to farmers who are not fully trained vets.

All 9 sheep have their noses down. Well rested grass on the
front lawn is filling up their bellies. We'll have them weaned
in no time!
Meanwhile, you will see from the pictures, that the ducklings have started to hatch. We have 3 so far from a set of 16 eggs and they are doing very well. More on them in the next post.

Friday 20 April 2018

Teenagers Leaving Home

Silvergirl with her chicks.
In a story which will be familiar to all parents who have seen their babies grow up to and through teenager-hood, our 5 baby chicks hatched under 'Silvergirl' were sent on their way this week. They are 6 weeks old today and fairly well feathered but still look very tiny and vulnerable to me, but Mum and Mother Nature know best.

A final lesson in sunbathing for the chicks
Two nights ago at lock-up time I found the five in the yard happily milling about as they had every other night, waiting to be led into the Tígín (lambing shed) where they hatched, by their Mum. But where was Mum? Nowhere to be seen. I soon tracked her down to the main chicken shed where she had gone to roost up high on the perching ladder where there was no chance of the babies joining her. They'd been abandoned.

Silvergirl's chicks quite well feathered up
We are used to this, of course, at about the 6 week stage, so I shoo'd them into the 'bedroom' and left them to find a suitable corner to sleep in. They chose the normal corner and huddled up without Mum. It was a lovely warm night. She is not, in fact, as fiercely negligent as this would suggest.

I'd been waiting for some blue skies to show
the flowering cherry off to good advantage.
They finally arrived yesterday.
When I released the birds in the morning, the 5 rejoined their Mum and spent all that day off and on together or happily apart. That evening she left them again and I repeated the bedtime shepherding. By chance tonight they were together at bedtime, so I shoo'd them all in including Mum but I think they are pretty much done, reared and chucked out of 'home'. Silvergirl has come back into lay and may well take up 'Stumpy's baton and go for a 2nd bite at the broody-ing cherry. We'll see.

The pigs have found the ditch.
A couple of bits of catch up news. Remember our recent visit from (Mr) Dan, the "struggling writer" who was over here to write his LSE Thesis? As he flew home he'd not quite finished dotting the i's and crossing the t's but was confident he'd finish and submit by the Thursday 08:00 deadline. Well, he did and sent us a celebratory message through Facebook saying "It's dooooooooooone!" We all have to wait for the marking system in LSE to know how he has done and how well received. He is hoping for, and reasonably confident of, a 'Distiction'. Watch this space.

Funky socks for my Birthday.
Our Ozzie visitors finished the last leg of their tour of Ireland and Facebooked us all (if that is a verb) with various updates as they handed the hire-car back, caught their shuttle-bus to the Departures building (3 pm yesterday), boarded their plane (half past 5), stopped briefly in Abu Dhabi (03:00 this morning) and finally arrived home at 3 pm this  afternoon, sending a final message that read "Home safe and sound! Can barely keep my eyes open so night all". They must be exhausted. Good luck you guys. We may see them again but it won't be for at least 18 months, they think, just for the cost of the flights.

Not easy to 'get' in Ireland. At least, not here in land locked
Co. Roscommon, but Elizabeth found some yesterday on our
wonderful local fish-van. Scrummy.
Not too much else going on. We are in a gap between all those visits finishing and the arrival of our first Help-X student, a German lad named Carsten early next week.

Our always reliable plum tree covered in
In the gap, both of us had a serious go at collapsing with chest colds, possibly picked up by me at The Play and generously passed on to the Lady of the House because... you know... sharing. Mine was quite quick - just 2 nights of coughing like an auld git but then followed by a gurgling left ear for 2 weeks which clears and re-blocks disconcertingly.

Latest knitting project is a fancy shawl and
a ball of nice blue yarn has also arrived.
Elizabeth converted this to a more normal "flu like symptoms" with the mandatory runny nose, coughing, aching tiredness and retreating to bed for long naps during the day. Fortunately the naps could be slotted into empty gaps in the schedule and she has not had to take a 'sickie' from any appointments, work or college.

We are both recovering now and should be able to shake it off in time for the Help-X lad.

Tuesday 17 April 2018

April Showers

Back to the roots? This house was formerly owned
by Steak Lady and Theo.
My last post saw Australian cousins Dee and Luke head off from here on the final leg of their family-finding tour of this island. They were headed from here via Strokestown House and the Famine Museum to visit 'Sparks' and Kim, from there up to north of Dublin to call in on Auntie Mary, back to Dublin for some hotel-based exploring and then the lengthy flight home on Thursday (19th).

Good egg yields at present.
It has been good to be able to follow some of their adventures on Facebook where they regularly post pictures and update stories. Last time I looked there were 247 pics of the "Ireland Family" in an album. One bit I did enjoy was Dee and Luke's little diversion to try to look up a street in Dublin where both families lived in the 60s just prior to the emigration. Dee's family lived in house No.1, Elizabeth's family in No. 3.

Scrambled eggs don't come much yellower. Elizabeth had been
making meringues and there were 4 yolks left over. I added two
'whole' eggs to thin it out a bit. 
All the kids' playing was done out in the street in those days but it was a cul-de-sac and you were only allowed "down" as far as the line in the tarmac where it changed from the cul-de-sac to the MAIN road and all the Mums (or probably all the grown ups) were allowed to clip the ear of any child who strayed, no matter who 'owned' the child, and send it back up to the permitted area.

April Showers brewing up.
It turns out the street and the houses are still standing, although No. 1, being on the end, has seen some major extending. Dee was able to stand on the ground where she had once played and even spoke to the owner of No. 3 (The nicest garden in the street!) who had bought the place from Steak Lady and Theo all those 48+ years ago when they had sold up to move to the 'new estate' in Portmarnock (N. County Dublin). Top roots-chasing Dee and Luke!

Bottoms up.
Dee and Luke actually managed to time their visit here to perfection in terms of finding a gap between the wet bits. As they arrived we'd enjoyed a good week of drying weather after a very wet March and April, so they were able to explore and meet the livestock with minimal wellies involvement. As they left another huge Atlantic storm brewed up with all the associated warnings for rain all up the coast. This storm was subsequently named 'Irene' though not till after it had passed dumping huge amounts of rain on us, joining up all our puddles again. One heavy shower today even had the ducks running for shelter, which was a new one on me.

Luke found some good beers in his travels. I'd not met the stout
version of Galway Hooker, or this superbly labelled 'Hairy Goat'
None the less, we still believe in Spring. Our first swallow turned up on the 9th and I have since seen them in threes and fours every day diving about between the rain drops and wind gusts, fuelling up on flying insects. They don't usually nest here since our cats became too athletic and too good at snatching them from the air as they dived from the bright sunshine into a shaded barn (and were briefly blinded, presumably). I also saw today that the local pair of coal-tits have come back to their nest hole in the gable end of the goose house.

Light reading for the Birthday Boy.
Not too much else happening except that, having got through the family visits, we have re-opened the humble abode to the Help-X volunteer students. We were advised that to increase the chances of your 'farm' being spotted on the website by prospective helpers, you should update your sales pitch. The website apparently brings fresher updates to the top of its look-up queues. As ours has said for the last 6 months, we are "closed for Winter", the simplest update seemed to be just to change that to "now emerging from Winter" and we are suddenly of interest to a German lass, an older couple of bee keepers from Canada, a French lad who fancies August, and a German lad who wishes to come this month. More on these as and when they work out.

Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Group 'merch'.
I think I will leave it at that for now. Talk to you again when we have dried out a bit.

Saturday 14 April 2018

Dee and Luke

Dee, Luke and some sheep
Happy Birthday to me! 61 today and starting to wonder just how long you can go on saying "Yes, but that's not REALLY old...." We had planned for a nice quiet weekend, relaxing, eating and drinking maybe a little too much, avoiding doing anything unpleasant or arduous, and we had no idea we were in for quite a treat from an unexpected direction. This would rather snooker the "quiet" bit of the plan but left everything else intact.

Dee takes her turn at the bottle
feeding of Bábóg
Welcome to the happy home, long lost cousin Dee and her son Luke. Dee is the same age as Elizabeth but her whole family emigrated to Australia back in the 60s when the girls would have been only 6. There is famous family story that when Dee (and the rest of the children) were being brought round Dublin to say farewell to the various cousins and relatives, young Liz so didn't want to lose her playmate that the pair conspired to hide Dee in a wardrobe buried under a pile of clothes.

Luke, Elizabeth and Dee
Well, it seems the missing Dee was eventually liberated from her hidey-hole and taken away to the airport. Dee has never been back since and grew up and had her own family out in Gold Coast, just south of Brisbane in Queensland. One of those family is eldest son Luke (30) who has joined Mum on this trip.

The by-now-traditional dippy Lisacul goose-egg breakfast. All
our guests seem to love this.
48 years later, Dee decided on a trip back "home" - a 3 week mission to see a bit of Ireland and to catch up on as many of the rels she had left behind, as she could. She already "knew" us a bit from Facebook and this blog. She and Luke are now 2 weeks into this and have done a lot of the tourist-ing and have met 'Steak Lady' and the 'Silverwoods'. This weekend is our turn before they head on to Mullingar to find 'Sparks' and Kim. Thanks for coming, Dee and Luke, you have been a pure pleasure to host and you are welcome back any time.

Dee is obviously delighted with the toast.
One amusing anecdote from all this is that Dee has only now found out how her old family name "should" be pronounced. She has spent 50+ years saying it with a hard 'T' and a long 'U' vowel, as kott-yule-y. When she arrived in Ireland 2 weeks ago she found they were all calling themselves with the very different pronunciation , 'kotcherly'. It was quite a surprise, she says, like suddenly finding out you are adopted. She has a whole new family.

Fox deterrent - 3 dogs, a male turkey, a human and a
smokey fire
That visit has obviously eclipsed the rest of the news, such as it was. I'd just been quietly bimbling around enjoying the increasingly warm weather, the spring flowers and everything warming up. It was nice to be able to spend some quality time outside.
Making smoke
One of the mornings I decided to burn some of the brushy wood brought down from the larches by Storm Eleanor. This would kill 3 birds with one stone. I would be out there for hours in full view of any foxes peering in. I would burn a pile of brush behind which the fox could keep hidden while getting dangerously close to the chickens. I would also remove that same pile which the turkey had been trying to lay an egg in when she got mauled by our foxy friend last week.

Flowering cherry
So, we are all tidy now and that risk is removed. It is a bit ironic that we spend all day trying to stop our chickens dying at the hands of the fox but then, occasionally, we have to 'off' one ourselves. This was the fate of a surplus rooster recently. This bird was becoming increasingly aggressive and amorous so that a level of stress and intensity had built up in the chicken flock without us really noticing. Once we'd ended his little run, we are both delighted and amazed by how relaxed calm has descended once more.

Flowering currant.
You can go outside and watch the birds for hours - nobody is squabbling, battling or trying to sneakily 'tread' anyone else's harem. That's the way we like it. Millpond smooth and still-quiet. That's if you don't count the bleating baby lamb, the 'buckwheat buckwheat' cries of female Guineas, the gobble gobble and chirruping of turkeys, the occasional cock-a-doodle-doo and dogs barking and the cackle of a successful and proud egg-laying hen. Or 15.

Horse chestnut "sticky bud"
Ah well, That's enough for this one. I must away back to my guests and my Birthday.