The Larder

Larder cupboard

I wasn’t going to bother to update this blog. I kinda have an idea for it. But circumstances changed this year, so here goes. Bear with me, I may wax lyrical.

Last year I had no help (Woofers, Workaway, Helpx) and stuff ran away on me. The place went to hell in a hand basket. I was trying to run a small business, baking cakes, that was hellishly time consuming, but literally paid nothing. I covered my costs but my time was free. That’s unsustainable is anyone’s books and to add insult to injury, my beloved animals were suffering and the place was falling down around me. I had worked so hard up to this to try to restore the outbuildings and get the garden up and running but I just couldn’t do it all. Something had to give.

This year started off differently. My amazing neighbour helped me paint the house. I got all the out buildings painted myself because I was on a roll. Then I began to get applications from Workaway. My first one was an Italian who did a lot of weeding and painting.

Then I got the most surprising application of all. An Austrian lassie who was a carpenter. I had put on my profile, more in hope than expectation that I needed help with carpentry. She replied that she’d like to come here. I said yes and sent her my mobile number and suggested she communicate from now via WhatsApp. I arranged to meet her off the bus in New Ross. But I got the days and dates mixed up and sat like an eejit for 40 minutes waiting for her while she was doing a tour of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. She was arriving the following day!

True to form I hadn’t really read her profile. I get so many applications that I just say yes to the vast majority because as you enter into a conversation with them you sort the men from the boys. Generally when I tell them what I expect, I never hear from them again. And what I expect in return for full bed and board with fabulous food (I haven’t had one nationality not be flabbergasted at the food here), is not a lot. I figure if they’re not prepared to do what I ask, they’re no loss. So I had only read her profile as I was sitting waiting for her on the wrong day.

Early days

So when I actually read it, I got a shock. She was a carpenter who worked as a cabinet maker. I suggested to her I really needed a storage solution for a corner in my kitchen that had a washing machine and a cupboard in it when I bought the house. I didn’t want a washing machine in the house so put mine in the shed opposite. I then installed a dishwasher in the kitchen and removed a cupboard to do so, putting it where the washing machine had been. But due to my general baking obsession and the business, the worktop above it had become storage space for tins, bowls and boxes of flour. It was a towering, tottering mess.

We pulled out the cupboards and got a plumber cum electrician to seal off the plumbing and move the socket up to accommodate my 30+ year old microwave. But we discovered a builder’s melee of heating manifolds and a power unit. Any larder cupboard had to make access to this mess a possibility. We sat at the kitchen table and drew a plan. Then we started to measure. This house, although renovated is probably well over 200 years old. The floor sloped as did the ceiling and the walls were plaster board.

Measuring up

We went to buy the wood. Holy God, the price of the stuff. Thanks to Brexit and Covid (well they’re given as the excuse for absolutely everything now) the cost was eye-watering. A very nice man in Foulksmills Stores suggested we use mdf and ply and trim the ply with wood. We ordered what we needed and they agreed to deliver the next day. In the meantime the Austrian told me she had never made anything out of a dedicated workshop and she needed tools. The only tool I had was a swanky Dewalt drill I’d invested in a week before. But as usual neighbours here came to the fore. ‘What do you need’? They had circular saws, clamps, supports, hand tools, screws, rawl plugs. You name it. One neighbour wheeled a mucking out wheel barrow full of stuff to my gate, shouted at me and said ‘here you go, shout if you need anything else….’

Workshop in my yard

She found lots of problems. She was used to having the right space, the right tools. I kept telling her that my dad, an accountant, was a hobby carpenter who built a summer house in our garden without so much as a drill. He built dog houses, guinea pig houses, benches, cupboards, shelves, doors etc. and he hadn’t a fraction of the tools or workshop space she was used to. Then I took her down to the local joinery, who were delighted to give her a tour and tell her the exact same thing I had told her (re my dad). They bemoaned the fact that modern carpenters can’t do anything when there’s a power cut (no computers). She listened. She took it in and she rolled her sleeves up.

Local joinery

In a couple of days I had two units built, painted by me, (I wasn’t sitting on my hands) and installed. Then we cut the doors and went back to the joinery who loaned her a nail gun to put the trims on. In the picture below she’s adjusting the legs from the kitchen units (Cedarwood Kitchens) that we’d removed to reuse. She designed a removable board that allows access to the pipes etc and also access via a kickboard and a side panel.

We put one door on. We adjusted the shelves, we designed the spice rack for the door. We painted and installed the trims, the kickboard, the side panels, the architraving at the top and the handles. I made so many runs to the local hardwares for bits and pieces then I went to buy the paint. I intented going with Little Green but their mixing machine was broken so I went with Colourtrend. The doors are Kimono red, the little repurposed chest of drawers (bought in a junk shop place) Foxmount and I went with a cream colour called Nude Bisque for the interior. I wanted to unit to be totally unlike the shiny, white modern kitchen that was here when I bought the place (which I hate and want to change).

Repurposed chest of drawers

As we had cut the chest of drawers in half but she had left an overhang to support my ancient microwave, I said why don’t we make a narrow shelf unit for wine bottles? We did and it worked.

Spice rack

We then designed a spice rack to go on the smaller door. We went to the joinery to buy off cuts and get them to cut it. They misunderstood her units and when I went back to collect it, they were great big chunky pieces. The joinery owner said they’re her measurements and she’s a carpenter so basically don’t argue. I replied well she’s the carpenter but I’m the client and I don’t want a great hulking unit like that. When I got home she told me they’d read her metric units as imperial. In fact we went back to plane more off. We ended up with a class rack.

Stuffed to the gills

The photo above is with kitchen stuff literally thrown in. I had stuff all over the house (the house is small) and I just had to remove it. But it’s already almost full. It’s a bit like the M50, the more lanes you build, the more cars use it.

But the thing that most impresses me is this young woman. A farmer’s daughter set to inherit the farm who went off to train to be a carpenter. She’s sharp, intelligent, smart. She could do anything. If she was here, she’d have been browbeaten into university because everyone knows that if you’re intelligent here you go to college. Except why? There wasn’t an option when I was leaving school to learn a trade. I was smart, intelligent but I hadn’t a bloody clue what I wanted to do. In my fantasies I wanted to be a vet or a doctor (told I wouldn’t get the points), a journalist (told I wasn’t good enough at English). I know now I was more than good enough for all the above but I was also very good with my hands and have a keen eye (did photography as an elective in UCD and was told I had ‘a good eye’.) But no one ever suggested anything like carpentry. If they had my life might have been so different.

Neighbour’s granddaughter teaching her to ride.

I think we all need more options. This Austrian is here learning about the Irish way of life, learning to ride, caring for horses, preparing horses for the sales (with my neighbour), discovering she’s a talented carpenter who can manage without a workshop and state of the art tools, learning to cook, learning English.

Making larders. She turned to me at one stage and said ‘maybe we could go into business making larders…..’

The Knowledge

Spring veg

I read something this morning that really made me think. It was lamenting the fact that our food is globally, intensively, mass-produced. There’s almost no sense of place to it anymore. If you landed from outer space in any country in the world, could you tell where you were by the food? You more than likely could in Italy, parts of Spain, France, South America but here?

In all the countries mentioned, food is inextricably linked to their very being, their culture, their life. But the more global our food supply has become, the more we’ve lost that sense of place.

And I’ve read all the articles saying we could, as a nation, feed ourselves sufficiently with dairy and beef, lamb etc. in the event of a global catastrophy but we’d be at a serious disadvantage for fruit and veg. Go into any supermarket now (even the high end ones) and all you will find is generic imported mainly from glass jungles in Almeria, Spain and mostly distributed through Holland.

It’s all very well to tell people to grow their own. But growing your own apart from a bit during the summer, takes a skillset and space. Most urban dwellers if they’re lucky enough to have a house spent most of their time working to pay the mortgage or the rent and tend to be time poor.

Markets are popping up in urban areas but in rural areas if there are any, there tends to be a dearth of growers. I’ve seen market stalls, farm shops etc. selling organic veg but it’s invariably imported.

Wouldn’t it be great to see farmers being encouraged to diversify into fruit and veg and given all the supports, incentives and financial aid to do so. And along with this build a local market where this produce could be sold. Instead we see government, farming bodies, farming advisory boards encouraging farmers to intensify, get bigger, spend more and lose control of their product the minute it goes out the gate.

I’ve been meaning to take four photos in my local SuperValu, one for every season to see the variation on the shelves but I’m fairly certain you could barely tell Christmas from Summer.

In a local market you would have apples in autumn, strawberries in summer, tomatoes in summer, root veg in winter, cabbage in spring/winter, asparagus in summer, beans/peas in summer. You could literally tell what month it was by what was in season. You’d have kohl rabi, celeriac, purple sprouting broccoli, kalettes, chard, multiple varied salad leaves (summer and winter), rocket, leaf celery, mizuna, artichokes, 5 varieties of kale, cabbage, parsnips, turnip, aubergine, courgettes. I don’t know about you but I have never seen chard in a supermarket. I asked for it once in a posh one and was told by the person in charge of the section they’d never heard of it.

Most people think stuff is in season all year round. In fact I don’t think they understand seasonality at all anymore. I see asparagus, green beans, strawberries from Nigeria or Nicaragua or wherever they’re imported from. They’re totally tasteless particularly the strawberries and for some reason tough but that doesn’t seem to bother most.

The joy of biting into a juicy, sweet Wexford strawberry in June is worth waiting for. Likewise the first Irish tomatoes that bring back memories of sandy, soggy sandwiches huddled in a windbreak after spending too long playing in the sea. You were starving and freezing and they tasted so good with a luke warm cup of sweet tea from a flask. Tomatoes I grew last year brought back this memory as I sat at the kitchen table eating them with Spanish olive oil and salt and I felt nostalgic. I hadn’t tasted tomatoes like that for such a long time. Back then presumably supermarket tomatoes tasted of tomatoes?

The purple sprouting broccoli in the photo above was the first I’ve picked this year. I was hoping to have it long before now having smugly planted some in the tunnel which grew huge, luxuriously green leaves but nothing else. I used the leaves as cabbage so not all was lost. The irony being that what I picked the other day came from plants that were decimated by caterpillars and I mean totally decimated.

I had chard all winter. In the veg garden it struggled a bit during the really heavy wind and rain as the stuff in the tunnel thrived. It really is the most versatile vegetable because it has the crunchy colourful stalks and the leafy green leaves. I have leaf celery in the tunnel and some that seeded itself outside. It has so much more flavour than the traditional celery only available to buy.

Pork belly with veg from garden and wild garlic mash

The plate above was mostly produced here. Pork belly from last year’s Oxford Sandy Blacks, veg from the garden picked minutes before cooking and wild garlic mash (the wild garlic from Tintern). I didn’t grow enough potatoes sadly but hopefully I’ll have more this year.

I would really love to see more markets in rural areas selling local, seasonal veg from local growers who are able to make a living wage. It’s fine and dandy if you’re living in Dublin, Cork, Limerick or Galway but in rural areas it’s a different story.

Wouldn’t be great if an alien landed in a local market in rural Ireland in May and they could not only tell it was May from what was available but they could tell they were in Ireland? It’s not impossible and it is increasingly likely that that’s the route we need to be heading not expanding/intensifying/exporting because at the end of the day none of us can eat money!

The Now

Where to start? It’s been a while. Little did I think when we were in lockdown last March that we still would be this year. If fact I truly believe we will be next year too. But that’s too depressing a thought. I really really hope something changes and people say no more. I don’t hold out much hope for that either.

Since I haven’t updated this blog for ages, I better start with now. Unfortunately it looks like I’ll have no help this year again. I’ve had a few requests from Workaway and HelpX since last summer but none really suitable. Because of this I decided I needed to get on with it and start the endless round of maintenance again myself. So far I’ve painted the house with the help of a neighbour. Next all the sheds and then the fencing. As well as this start the growing season again. It’s been a really cold April which has set me back. It’s difficult to start stuff indoors because this old house has small windows and poor light.

But nature has decided despite the cold, she’s going full steam ahead and my duck has hatched a clutch of hen eggs. She had build her nest under the same rosemary bush as last year. I tried to move her inside last year and she was not impressed, abandoning the nest. So this year I left her. I switched her eggs for hen. I must admit I felt a bit mean but I was fairly certain few if any of hers would be fertile. George my Muscovy drake is ancient. I think 14…. and he’s not great on his legs but he does get a spring in his step at this time of year. His fertility was patchy last year and this year probably even patchier. Plus I’ve decided to phase out ducks. Of the two Appleyards I got last year, one flew off with her son and never returned. I was getting phone calls most days telling me my ducks were on the road/in such and such’s garden/field etc. I have one remaining and a female off spring (not sure if it’s hers or the one that flew off.)

7 various crosses but all half Silkie

So I substituted the eggs and pretty much two days over 3 weeks they began to hatch. Something I’ve noticed with ducks is when they go broody they don’t sit all day from the start. They sit only at night for the first few days. Hens don’t do this so I did wonder if it would affect the hen eggs but it didn’t apart from the extra two days. Of the 8 eggs, 7 were fertile and hatched. So far she’s a great mother.

Last year one of these ducks (I’m not sure if it was her because the one who flew off was identical) hatched one duckling and the other hatched two a few days later. The mother of the pair attacked and killed the single duckling and the duck was distraught. I returned from work to find her calling and calling. I had seen the other duck go for the duckling before I left and I was so sorry I hadn’t separated them. She kept this up all the following day and it was heartbreaking. If it was her I knew she’d be a good mother. Lots of people have told me since that they’ve never seen a duck hatch and mother chicks but they have the reverse. I knew it would work because years ago I had a hen and a duck who mothered a single chick. They were both broody at the same time and only a single chick hatched that they literally fought over. It was the best mothered chick ever!

I keep all the chicks and it doesn’t matter much whether they’re male or female. If they’re female they go on to produce eggs. I keep the males until they just start to crow (and before they start fighting) and then cull them for the pot. I haven’t bought a commercially produced chicken now for over a year. They’re totally different in that they are much leaner and tougher so are really only suitable for boiling. But they give the most amazing stock and the boiled carcass makes great pies, curries, stews etc. Plus the flavour of the meat is much more intense than even a well-produced organic bird that fattens in a couple of months. These take at least 6 months.

Two culled young cocks
Breast and leg meat

Little by little I’ve increased the food I produce here. It’s immensely satisfying and it really makes you appreciate how difficult it is to rear and feed an animal for the table. Even with economies of scale I’m continuously mystified how a grower can make money from a bird thats sold in a supermarket for €3. It means the “farmer” (and I use that term advisedly because I don’t consider intensive factory food production farming) is getting only cents per bird.

It’s the same with pork but that is a whole other blog post. I am working my way through the two Oxford Sandy Black pigs I reared last year but again with no family or friends visiting, I’m not using as much as normal so made the difficult decision not to rear any this. I named last year’s pair, “the little shits” thanks to their propensity for escaping. At least this year that will be one fewer phone call along the lines “your pigs are gone over the road”. Instead I’ve booked half a carcass from an organic farmer who I know rears hers to the same standard as mine.

Breakfast porn (all produced here including double yolker)

Since I posted at the start a photo of a wild garlic focaccia I should probably give you the recipe. I’m lucky to live very close to Tintern Abbey (Wexford) with beautiful woodland walks. It was theoretically outside my 5km but that was just for exercise. Food shopping was deemed by our great masters “essential”. They didn’t mention foraging but I figured foraging is just as valid as supermarket shopping so I combined both especially as it’s wild garlic season.

Tintern

Wild Garlic Pesto

A handful of wild garlic leaves and flowers washed and shaken dry. Put into a small blender/blitzer with a sprinkling of pine kernals or you can use walnuts. Add salt, pepper, grated parmesan and enough olive oil to give a sauce like consistency. I don’t ever measure quantities of anything in this because it’s best to taste as you go. Some wild garlic can be very strong so pick young leaves preferably. If you can’t make something without exact quantities, follow a basil pesto recipe but substitute wild garlic for basil.

I then added 3 good teaspoons to a focaccia dough made with 500g strong flour, 10g salt, 15g fresh yeast (in some warm milk with a pinch of sugar for an hour in advance to give it a boost). Alternatively use 7g dried yeast. Add a glug of olive oil and enough warm water to give a soft dough. Mix for 10 minutes on a low speed or knead by hand for 10 mins.

Prove in a warm place in a covered bowl for an hour or until doubled in size. Then flatten it out onto a baking tray. Decorate with the pesto and some leaves and flowers and sprinkle with coarse salt and a drizzle of olive oil and leave to stand while you heat up your oven to 220C. After 20 minutes place into hot oven with some water in base to create steam. I use the grill pan. It takes about 20 minutes but remove from tray to make sure base is baked and leave on oven shelf or another 5 minutes.

I also made wild garlic soup using some veg I had here (leaf celery in tunnel and some purple sprouting broccoli I had in freezer from last year, ) onion, a potato, wild garlic leaves and some of that fantastic stock from my culled cocks that I freeze in small quantities. Add a dollop of pesto, olive oil before serving to make it really sing. It was so refreshing and delicious that you just knew it was good for you – in a good way not in a penitential way.

The Donkey

I got a mad notion one night recently and decided to “rescue” a donkey (as in take one from the Donkey Sanctuary.) I’d been thinking a lot about one I had actually rescued a few years ago; who is now in a lovely home in Cork. I had called him Sarcozy because his feet were so overgrown he looked like he was wearing high heels (similar to his diminutive namesake.)

Seanie

It came about, because one day I went for a cycle with the dogs and as usual my neighbour’s dog, Bubbles was waiting at the gate. He wore a collar that gave him a shock if he moved outside his own perimeter but the batteries frequently ran down and he was very quick to realise. I didn’t mind because when you’ve 4 dogs anyway, what difference does a 5th make? I’m sure I get called all sorts by the few (very few) who throw their eyes up to heaven and mutter when they have to slow down on the narrow rural road with grass down the middle. Generally I just mouth “pleasantries” back at them..

Anyway one day, the bould Bubbles who paid no attention whatsoever to me and athletically vaulted garden walls to have a nosey, came out of the deserted cottage at the end of the road with a hedgehog in his mouth.

I managed to retrieve the poor little thing and took him back to where I thought he’d been found. I made a mental note to go back later and leave out food for him and his family. It was a bitterly cold, damp day but I was really busy baking all day so didn’t get down until dusk. When I got back he was still there curled up and frozen so I brought him back here and set to action with my syringe and my, by now, fail safe combination cure of honey, kefir and salt.

.

Harry

I put it out on Twitter and asked for advice. Mother of God, some of the replies I got. You’d swear I’d actually set out to torture and maim the mite. Most of them (and they were mostly UK based) were shouting aggressively to take him immediately to a hedgehog rescue. I’m not sure why but most of these accounts assume everyone else on Twitter is (a) English, (b) living in the UK, (c) living in an urban area down the road the road from a local hedgehog rescue open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day! Instead of the reality, in the middle of no where in a goddamn pandemic where travelling is restricted and at 10pm at night. You wouldn’t even get a doctor at that time.

Anyway I digress. I got him warm with a hot water bottle, got fluids into him (switched to cat milk immediately), they can’t tolerate cow’s but kefir would have the lactose fermented so it probably wouldn’t do him any harm, got the fly eggs laid by a bluebottle off him. He thrived and the Kildare Wildlife Rescue got back to me next day after I had left a voicemail on their helpline. They sent a volunteer to collect him and took him into their care.

I was sad to see him go but knew it was for the best. I think that’s why I decided to adopt a donkey.

Incidentally poor Bubbles was hit by a car and trailer just a few weeks later, being driven down the road early on a Sunday morning like a lunatic. He survived a few days after but sadly didn’t make it. I’d say he had internal injuries because otherwise hadn’t a mark on him. He was a beautiful, spirited, gentle, kind dog who did not deserve that. I was heartbroken.

I contacted the Donkey Sanctuary and in a day or so had a reply, then a phone call, then an inspection. My feet hardly touched the ground. I suppose this is the time of year when they need to off-load. I was offered Seanie. Told he had spent his entire 18 years tethered. Of course she knew as soon as she walked in the gate I was a soft touch. She commented several times that every animal looked so healthy and was flabbergasted at the big pigs stretched out snoring in the hayshed.

Seanie arrived a few days later and has settled in really well. He’s the boss over the goats which is just as well. They need manners putting on them. The big pigs are afraid of him too but the small (#littleshits) couldn’t give a damn.

Seanie and the #littleshits

I named the small pigs the #littleshits from early on. I’ve been keeping pigs for 8 years now and these almost cured me of my addiction. They broke my heart escaping. I braced myself every time my phone rang and usually in the middle of baking (one cake in oven with 10 minutes left), another ready to go in and another in process) – for the inevitable “your pigs have gone over the road…. “

They had made firm friends with the goats and followed them everywhere. The goats are cute enough to find their way back in the way they got out but the #littleshits just kept going. I walked out into yard one day and heard the familiar grunt conversations between them, except this time it was coming from the road. I just happened to see them trotting past the gate. They had discovered next door’s dog (poor Bubbles’) food was left outside the back door. They knew the yard across road had a big dung heap that flooded and was marvellous for a wallow. Don’t even ask what they looked and smelled like after that.

The walk of shame

I had them booked in the very last day (before Christmas) I could at the abattoir. But one day I just flipped and rang to get them in sooner. They roared laughing when I told them why.

Yesterday was D day. Everything went smoothly until I tried to pull out of the field. It was very wet but my jeep is 4WD so I wasn’t that worried. But the wheels started to spin. I ran up to my neighbour (the best tractor mechanic in the country) to see could he give me a pull. He arrived down to see. Messed around with the brake lever and said the brakes had seized. He went back to get a trolley thingy and in the lashing rain and the mud, slid under the trailer with a can of WD40 and a hammer. I stood there praying. It worked. He then drove around the field in a big circle leaving massive wide tracks. But I got to the abattoir. I hate doing this with a passion. It never gets easier. Even though they broke my heart, I still feel guilty and sad. But the alternative is become vegetarian because I won’t eat intensive pork.

Today I pulled all the reinforced fencing out and the goats moved into their shed. Life goes on. The goats miss them I know, but they have Seanie now.

The Transformation

From eyesore to landmark. Whatever you think about the colour, you can’t disagree with this statement.

Finally, over a month shy of three years, I got the hayshed painted. I loved it from when I bought the place. But I really, really wanted to get it painted and repaired. I asked around, I asked neighbours, but no one could recommend anyone; until I got the name of a good painter to paint my stairwell. He gave me the name of this chap and despite the “damn disease” which held it up by months, it’s finally done.

I drove up on the Campile road which is a good bit higher than my house and laughed my head off. Before I had to slow down and squint to see my place. Now it’s like a big bright beacon nestled into landscape. It’s wonderful.

The weather is changing after a pretty dismal summer. You can feel the chill in the air early in the mornings. The garden is neglected, the tunnel is neglected. There’s so much weatherproofing to be done yet on fencing. But I had no help all summer so it’s all become a bit overwhelming. Spending so much time baking for Cake Dames isn’t helping as it’s eating into my time.

Ducklings

The ducklings are growing rapidly. One is already bigger than his mothers. The last chicks hatched yesterday. They’re a Silkie bantam cross. The bantam had been sitting on them outside when Storm Ellen or Francis was fast approaching (they came on each other’s heels. I tried to put the top of a cat box over her to give her some shelter but she took grave exception and screeched off her nest protesting loudly. I then caught her and moved her and the eggs inside but she abandoned them. Luckily the Silkie was already on a clutch that hadn’t hatched so I gave her these.

The Little Shits

The weaner OSBs (Oxford Sandy Black) are finally beginning to grow. Blackbum is catching up with his brother. They’re funny, cheeky and into everything. I love the quacking sound they make when they come into the sleeping big pigs only to get snapped at for their trouble. Pigs have a distinct pecking order and whippersnappers are rapidly put in their place. The quacking is a “hello-how-are-you” sound.

Honky is still here after yet another setback. She celebrated her 5th birthday with a packet of chocolate biscuits but wasn’t in great form that day. For now, we’re taking one day at a time and she’s happy, relaxed and eating really well these last few weeks.

HRH

I’m not looking forward to winter but it’s been such a shitty year I don’t think I feel as much dread as I would normally. I just want this year to be over and the world and people to start living again. I absolutely hate the way we’re living now. I hate shopping, I hate going out anywhere I’ve to cover my face. Hopefully we will start to see the light next year.

Bad year for tomatoes

In the meantime I’m going to preserve as much of the food I grew as possible to enjoy over winter. My tomatoes are the worst ever (neglect and blight got the better of them.) The Mickey Mouse tunnel for all its drawbacks produced stellar crops in comparison.

Here’s hoping to a sensible, balanced and intelligent approach to the next year with plenty of people growing their own food because that might be the only good thing to come out of all the craziness. If nothing else we should realise now that our food security is held by a safety pin and it will take very little to disrupt it.

The Aftermath

Finally, we are slowly beginning to get back to some degree of normality. I refuse to say the “new normal” or use any of these dreadful phrases that have become synonymous with this whole disastrous episode in my lifetime.

Perfect imperfection

Life, apart from human life, carried on and nature bloomed and survived and even bettered. It was noticeable early on that there were more insects, even bees about. Somehow the air seemed cleaner. The weather obliged and we pretty much had sunny days since the end of March with little or no rain and now drought conditions.

Bantam and her Silkie chicks

The hormones were flying and both my little bantam and the new Silkie hen went broody. One of the ducks followed suit a few days later. Unfortunately the bantam is notoriously secretive about where she lays her eggs. Even leaving one in a nest is not enough to make her keep using it. She had vanished again and I’d assumed she’d gone broody rather than been taken by a fox. But I had quickly forgotten about her when my daughter appeared at my door back (from Australia) as a surprise. I couldn’t say much at the time because of the outrage that would have caused. She flew from Sydney to Hong Kong to London to Dublin and then came down to visit me. No one died and we had a nice time catching up. But unfortunately I had no idea how long the bantam was missing and it took me ages to find her.

Often they are lying in plain sight but you’d be hard-pressed to see them. This was the case with her. One day when she had hopped off the nest to perform her ablutions, I checked the eggs. They hadn’t been fertilised. How did I know? I shook them and I could hear the liquid swishing about inside. I removed them thinking she’d give up but she stayed put so I got a brainwave and put the Silkie’s eggs under her. I didn’t think for a minute she’d stay another three weeks but as luck would have it the duck went broody so I could pop the eggs under her if she gave up. She was sitting on six. Then the Silkie went broody so I put the remaining four under her.

The bantam stayed the course and hatched five out of the six and two days later the Silkie hatched two. I had broken one accidentally lifting out a rogue egg laid by another hen.

Under perennial cover

I was so thrilled that the little bantam was finally a mother after seven long weeks and what a mother she has turned out to be. In fact they both are. It’s humbling to watch them care for and teach the chicks. Nature really is marvellous.

My poor goat Bad Lola then appeared to develop mastitis and was miserable. I had noticed a couple of days before she wasn’t interested in her feed and seemed hunched and listless. Then I saw her “elder” as they say in these parts. It was engorged and red looking and she had difficulty walking. (Her elder is her udder). I rang the vet and they gave me an antibiotic which had no effect. It was around the time Honky had got sick so I have to say she didn’t get as much attention as she would have done normally. I had assumed it was mastitis. But when the antibiotic didn’t work they gave me another. When I got the second vet out for Honky, I asked him to have a look at her. He told me “to milk all the poison out of her” and showed me how to. It was the first time I’ve ever milked anything but I got the hang of it pretty quickly and it seemed to give her huge relief.

I’m not sure but I said to the vet this looks and smells like milk, not poison but heck I’m not a vet so who am I to argue? The next day I decided it most certainly was milk and the more I milked her the more she’d produce so I stopped. She seemed to get better but to this day still has a huge elder. My son’s girlfriend asked if there were mares and foals nearby. Apparently goats regularly have phantom pregnancies. Not only were there mares and foals beside me but there was a pony in foal in the field with her.

Poor bad Lola

Because I was so wrapped up with Honky I really neglected all my seedlings in the tunnel and they either died from lack of water or damped off. I also planted peas out before a cold snap and they perished. Even the newly emerging potatoes were zapped by frost. The irony being we’d only had a handful of frosts all winter. I also had really really poor germination across a range of seeds. I re-sowed a lot but still nothing. Very frustrating. As a result I’m behind with beans, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Peas and beans

The hens have got in a few times and caused major destruction. The wind blew the doors open one morning I was out walking. Another time the door probably wasn’t bolted properly. Earlier on the ducks got in and savaged all my lettuces and got drunk on the beer in the slug trap. You couldn’t actually make that up.

The lettuce I picked up on the beach just before they shut the country down is still providing. A group of gougers as my dad would have called them had a bbq and left all their rubbish behind them. I picked up one of those “grow in the bag” ones they’d chucked and planted it. It survived the drunken duck attack too so it obviously is the lettuce equivalent of a cat!

I got two new piglets. Pedigree Oxford Sandy and Blacks or OSB for short. They’re tiny. But they’re the best electric fence trained piglets I’ve ever bought in. People selling will always tell you they’re used to electric fencing. But they almost never are. Thank goodness they’re not like the pair of curabucs I had last year. I had enough stress to be dealing with so I went and bought some plastic mesh netting and surrounded the electric fencing with it. It worked a treat but I don’t think they were going to dive through the fencing like all the others did. I only increased their area last weekend and it took them most of the day to venture into it.

Meeting HRH

I decided not to get sheep this year. I still have a freezer full of lamb. I think the Zwartbles breed, although lovely sheep are just too big for me and too lean. The meat hasn’t a scrap of fat on it. I do miss having them though. Maybe next year I’ll go for a smaller rare breed like Jacobs.

And finally after SEVEN, long stressful weeks it looks like Honky is on the mend. I’m almost afraid to type that but I have to have hope that all the effort, time and money I’ve spent won’t have been in vain. I got her portrait sent to me as I saw that the framers was opening after being closed for weeks. It’s absolutely her, The artist, Rachel Dubber captured her essence from a photograph. I left it in last weekend to be framed. I can’t wait to see it.

It’s almost the longest day of the year. Hopefully the second half won’t be as miserable as the first and now we realise what’s important. I can’t wait to start cooking for friends and family again. I can’t wait for people to act normally again and stop looking fearfully at you as you pass. I can’t wait for us to start being human again.

The Lock in

Won’t see this again for a while

As of last Saturday (March 28th) we’ve been on lock in (or lockdown as they say in America). The Friday before, I walked the beach twice. Little did I know it would be the last time for a while. In the morning it was empty as usual and it was glorious. I took the above photo of teenage girls running in and out, laughing and shrieking at the cold.

Then later that afternoon my Scottish neighbour asked would I go with him for his last walk before returning to locked in Glasgow. It had transformed and was jammed with weekenders. Cars were parked on it. A real bugbear of mine. Really can’t understand why they allow this. Duncannon is (was) one of the most beautiful beaches in the country with the fabulous Fort at one end and unspoilt Ballystraw at the other. Between the cars, atrocious planning and really ugly development it has been ruined.

(Incidentally I discovered ancestors with the same name as my own, had lived and owned a lot of the land around Ballystraw. A complete coincidence I ended up living here. It is an unusual name -Kinchela, and one that doesn’t seem to exist in Ireland anymore. There are a lot in Australia, all distantly related to me.)

However I digress, I said to my neighbour it was like a bank holiday weekend in mid-July and was hard to believe we were in a pandemic and people were supposed to be observing strict social distancing. Even the playground locked and with a big Covid-19 notice on the gate had kids in it; who’d obviously climbed over.

Hardly any wonder then, that they were left with little option but to ban people moving about. Now you are not allowed to go more than 2km from your house for exercise. I’m 4km from the beach so that is the end of beach walks for a while and it has seriously affected my mood. I love the beach and it was the main reason I moved to Wexford. Not being able to go is absolutely killing me.

Duncannon Fort in distance

I finally made the decision to get rid of Cedric the cock. In truth, I’d only kept him as long as I did because I knew he annoyed my neighbours (the ones who made up all the lies about Nelly.) I think the final straw was finding three hens with almost every feather ripped out of their backs and it was freezing. I briefly contemplated buying chicken saddles on line but the only place you can buy them seemed to be from UK or China through eBay or Amazon. I refuse to buy anything else from UK sellers because they have a “snail mail” category that takes as long as it would to walk from there to here. There is Parcel Motel but if I’ve to schlep into New Ross 17km away to collect, what’s the point in that?

I was out feeding and watering one evening when I looked up to see him roughly having his way with the poor hen who’s broken leg I’d fixed last summer and who was actually red and sore from him. I picked up a stone to chuck at him and missed, hitting the new polytunnel. Of course it made a hole in it. I saw red and phoned the poultry guy I deal with and booked him in.

Cedric’s last journey

The following day I went back to collect him “oven ready”. The the youngest son carried him out to me half-plucked and not gutted. I looked at him and said no way. I don’t have any decent knives here anymore and I’ve been meaning to go and buy some but as an aunt of mine had on a mug – I never got “aroundtoit”.

They told me wait ten minutes and they’d be back with him. They were and barely an hour later he was in a big pot to slow cook. So far I’ve got loads of glorious stock from him, made a big pie and have two bags of meat in the freezer. The dogs got the rest minus the bones. Alas, poor Cedric, we knew you well.

The same day I rang to book him in, my poultry man said when he heard my voice he was delighted because he had a Silkie hen for me but he’d lost my number. He told me he had bought 10 the previous weekend and he’d only 2 left (at €25 a pop). There’s good money in them! I brought home Mrs Thomas for Silken Thomas (my little Silkie cock) and another hen on point of lay because I don’t like bringing in a single new hen to face the posse here and their pecking order. There’s a reason it’s called “pecking” order! I was hoping he’d have had two Silkie hens but no, he only had a pair left and I definitely didn’t need another male.

I keep new hens in for a week but I’ve devised a series of gates so they have access outside to a confined area. It’s a bit of a pain because when it comes time for the rest to roost you’ve to try get the older ones in without the new ones shooting out in horror. But the new Silkie hen seemed desperate to get out and Silken Thomas was gazing forlornly in through the wire door at her. I opened the gate and she strutted out, with him in abject admiration behind her. He hasn’t let her out of his sight since. It’s very heartwarming because when I first got him, he was the same with his first missus until Nelly killed her. Then he took up with my old broody, Aunty Bessie. The fox got her and he was dejected. I bought a couple of bantams for him next but they didn’t gel at all. Then finally he seemed to pair up with a Bluebell hen but it was very much a one-sided affair and she seemed to play him off against Cedric. The tramp.

Silken Thomas and Mrs Top Knot Thomas

My little bantam is “clockin” as they used say up in Meath. That means broody to you and me. I only discovered where yesterday. She’s really secretive where she lays and anytime I’ve found her clutch, she’s moved on, even if I leave a couple of eggs in it. Still, it makes a change from under the eaves of my old stone shed in the middle of November like last year where the fledglings would’ve needed a parachute when they hatched……

I’ve been transferring tomato seedlings out into the tunnel and sowing more out there because I literally have no space in the house for trays and very limited light (small sash windows). But, although it’s been lovely and sunny there’s a bitterly cold north wind that’s not helping the temperature.

I ordered seed potatoes on line and hopefully will get them planted in the next few days. I also ordered saddle soap and neatsfoot oil to finish off the sheepskins. They’re almost dry. They went through a bit of a stinky stage as the instructions I’m following said they would. They’re hanging up in the roof of my patio/deck area. They seem to have shrunk sideways so are long and narrow and I’m a bit concerned some of the wool appears to pull out very easily. They may end up being dog beds yet.

So that’s all the news for now from the locked in Three Paddocks here in South county Wexford. As of yesterday there were 12 confirmed cases in the county but they say you can add another 100 to each of the 12. Seems a very small number for such drastic measures but who am I to argue. Hopefully and it’s a slim hope I think, this will be short-lived.

The Virus

At the time of writing a strange new virus (Corona/Covid19) has gripped the world and been declared a pandemic. There is pandemonium, panic buying and empty shelves in shops. It’s at times like this I am glad I produce so much of my own food. Today there were no eggs in one supermarket, but when I got home I collected 10.

Madeley kale

In another, the vegetable shelves were bare. Up to this veg here has been fairly scarce but I discovered that the kale I’d planted last summer, which had all but disappeared thanks to caterpillars and then sharp-beaked hens had begun to make a comeback. The leaves are lovely and tender and cook down on a pan with olive oil and butter, like spinach. The purple sprouting broccoli is also just beginning to shoot.

Chicken and wild garlic pesto pie

The wild garlic season is just coming in and already you can pick young leaves in the woods in Tintern. It makes a great pesto until basil season. We also picked sea kale on Duncannon beach. This is also lovely sautéed on a pan in butter and olive oil.

So I think with my freezer full of lamb and the rest of my pork, a duck, a turkey and a cockerel all produced here, I won’t starve for a while!

My first Workaway left today after a month here. She was a terrific success and got loads of jobs finished (mostly inside because the weather’s been so crap). It helped that she had a great way with all the animals, although she was a bit wary of the pigs in the beginning and the goats played merry hell the one night I went away. Honestly they’re like a pair of kids (no pun intended).

Gaëlle and Nelly

In return for her help, I taught her to make sourdough bread and she’s now become proficient enough that I was able to leave her to make bread for Cake Dames. She really wanted to learn and rolled her sleeves up every evening and helped cook. I had been told that Workaways were generally older and more interested than Woofers and certainly with her, this was the case.

She loved Ireland and couldn’t get over how people who don’t know each other stop to have a chat on the beach; sometimes for ages. She found it hilarious that my neighbours asked her in for a cup of tea and she went. She told me afterwards that she felt she would learn more English by speaking to people with stronger accents than me. She jumped at the chance to ride another neighbour’s horses. Finally, before she left she decided she wanted to bake a cake for all my neighbours who she’d had contact with and then trotted off yesterday to give them to them. She insisted on buying the ingredients herself and getting recipes from home.

It really is true when you are open, friendly and interested in people that you get accepted and welcomed by a community. She got so many invites to come back and visit if she returns to Ireland in future.

I began to cure the sheepskins although I’m wondering is cure a big word for the process. They’re probably twice the size of a normal sheepskin and consequently twice as heavy when wet. It takes me all my strength to lift them. I mixed the oxalic acid in warm water as advised and then put them to soak in my water butt barrel. The idea is to stir them around in the salty oxalic acid solution every day for 3 days and I gamely tried with a tree stake. I’m convinced I heard a puncturing sound and panicked and then didn’t try again.

This morning I drained the water out to rinse them and soak them in washing soda but I’m convinced they need another go in more oxalic acid, so I’m going to order more and soak them individually this time. Sure lookit, it will either work or it won’t and nothing ventured; nothing gained.

Draining the water off

A painter here last year recommended someone to paint my hayshed and he (a very strange individual with a funny manner) arrived to have a look at it and give me a quote. So hopefully the weather will begin to improve so he can get started. It’s currently sticking up like a big red rusty sore thumb. To get it painted will really be the icing on the cake. I’m thinking of a nice dark green colour. If only the wind and rain would bugger off though now because the area around where the tunnel was erected is a sticky, slithery quagmire and I’m going to come a cropper there, sooner rather than later. I need to block the hens out and get grass seed down.

Speaking of hens, I cut an opening in the wire on the field gate so they could get out there rather than decimating everything green in my garden. It took them weeks to discover it and only after the dopey ducks did first. But then a couple of them got shocked by the fence and now absolutely refuse to go out. Sigh. They pecked all my newly planted bulbs emerging after Christmas so I have the grand total of one daffodil and a few bedraggled looking tulips.

I’m really worried that with this virus scare, there will be no applications from Woofers or Workaways. I always have maintenance work here in summer, mainly painting. I am also really tied to the place if I can’t get anyone reliable to mind all the animals. This was brought home to me when the young lad I use went to Australia for a month over Christmas and then when I was going to a family funeral in the UK, his grandmother died and I was left high and dry. Only for a massive favour from a friend, I’d have had to cancel.

So fingers crossed they get it under control and we can all get back to normal again. If not I’ll just have to roll my sleeves up.

The New Name

Today we renamed the third paddock (which up to this had been referred to as the hayfield). We planted seven oaks and two beech in it. As we were trundling up with the empty wheel barrow trying to work out how many of each tree we’d planted, I said “we planted seven oaks, we’ve got to call this field Sevenoaks now. “

Cue confused stare from Gaëlle, the Workaway student. I then had to explain how and why fields are named here.

I’ve already planted willow, alder, birch, crap apple and hornbeam as well as a hawthorn hedge. I had to make sure that the big tractors and balers could still get in to cut and bale so they’re all planted at the end of the paddock bordering the massive intensive field where all the hedges and trees have been ripped out. This means the south west wind comes barreling down until it meets my small hawthorn barrier between Sevenoaks and the Pig Field wherupon it laughs and high tails it through and barges into my hay shed.

A lift home

The polytunnel is finally up but the ground within is so wet and sticky, it’s virtually a no go area. The rain the night before they came to put it up didn’t help and the tractor putting in the posts a few days before made massive ruts now filled with water.

Today the fencing was finished beside it, just on time before Storm Jorge arrived.

I planted the peach tree, the vine and the salad seedlings just inside the door because for now it gets the most sun until the sun gets a bit higher and reaches over the hay shed roof, and yesterday I noticed the buds beginning to unfurl on the peach so happy days.

New fence beside tunnel

The wind here is a bastard. It is relentless and damaging. Every gate has been reefed off its hinges. The front gates which are massive heavy yokes have been wrenched out of the wall twice. The most recent time during Storm Dennis. Today I discovered the little green door into the hen shed has been pulled off its bottom hinge. And this was despite being wedged with heavy stones and lumps of wood which every door in the place has to be.

Now hopefully the last of the winter storms is causing havoc outside. The poor newly planted trees have been getting a right battering. But there was evidence of spring this morning in the woods at Tintern and some lesser celandine peeping through the newly emerging wild garlic and bluebells.

Lesser Celandine in Tintern

Last week I collected the lamb from the butcher and tasted it and have to say it was delicious but surprisingly lean. I still miss the sheep and am already looking forward to getting more, this time at least one female to keep.

Lean chops

The goats have been curiously subdued since they left and have been hanging around their shed most of the day only venturing out into the pig field when the pigs do. Have to say I’ve been surprised by this as they seemed to just “argue” all the time with the sheep.

My new Workaway helper is great. I decided to switch from Wwoof as was advised the people coming through Workaway are generally older and more useful. It’s just a shame the weather has been so abominable since she arrived, it’s made working outside virtually impossible. But we’ve had a few good days and last Sunday actually lay in the sun up on Baginbun and inhaled the glorious salty air.

Saltees in distance from Baginbun

It’s right about this time every year when the days begin to lengthen that you long for spring and warm summer days. They can’t come quick enough this year.

The Deadline

For most of the last two weeks it’s been a race. A race to get stuff done that should have been done or at least organised weeks ago.

The sheep should have been long gone but finally the withdrawal period was up and I rang the abattoir to book them in. I got asked could I bring them in that evening because they had an inspection on their normal killing day.

I had to jump to it, hook up the trailer, get it into the field, lock up the nosy goats etc etc. Except when I went out to the fields there was no sign of goats or sheep or pigs.

I found the goats lying down in the middle paddock with the pigs but no sign of the sheep. I called them. Nothing. Bear in mind the sheep have never gone missing, ever. Panic began to well. I ran around like a mad woman calling them. Then went to check the third paddock where they were only ever let into. Low and behold they ambled up to the gate followed by a stray pony….. The relief.

Did they have some sixth sense? I don’t know because I didn’t even know they were going. But for a couple of weeks beforehand they’d become a right pain. This always happens with pigs and pig keepers often use it as justification to make the deed easier. But, they were constantly knocking me over when I went to feed them or getting in my way and I was beginning to lose patience with them.

Anyway I got them back and locked the goats in and was just about to try and get them into the trailer when my neighbour pulled up at my field gate to have a chat with a passing tractor. I called him to ask would he give me a hand. Luckily I did because otherwise it would have taken me ages to get them in. We had them loaded in a few minutes.

I had my shiny new triplicate Dept of Ag. sheep movement book and it needed ear tag numbers which are about 24 letters and digits. How the hell do you hold a sheep long enough to read that melee? I told the abattoir I couldn’t manage this on my own and they said don’t worry they’d read them there.

When I arrived they opened a pen for me and two men helped me unload them and then calmly and gently held each one so we could get the numbers. I have to say I was really impressed at how gentle they were. The sheep were relaxed and were occupied looking at a couple of pigs in the pen beside them. THE most important thing to me is that animals I rear are not stressed or badly treated at the end. If they are it totally undoes all my work.

I had to drive back up the next day for the skins. I had decided I would get them back and send them to a tannery in Wales. I made several phone calls to the veterinary department in Wexford and they were helpful but, what they wanted me to do was beyond ridiculous. Pack them effectively in a coffin sealed for no leakages. Traipse back to the abattoir with them in said coffin for them to open and inspect and slap a Category 3 label on it to scare the bejaysus out of a courier who had to collect them from there and take them to Wales.

I thought to myself what a load of nonsense. I know they have to be careful but honestly they go so over the top here they drive people underground so it utterly defeats the purpose.

I decided to ask my Scottish neighbours to take them over and send them by courier from Glasgow but on my way home began to think about doing them myself.

I started today by salting them and removing some of the fat and tissue.

Then as luck would have it got sent a video which makes it seem unbelievably easy. I just had to order oxalic acid on line which I’ve done on ebay.

Honestly all this sort of stuff was done years ago by every small farmer before Internet or YouTube so how difficult can it be? Well I’ll soon find out.

I asked the abattoir to send me the weights because yesterday Betty, the owner took me into the chiller to show me the carcasses. She was amazed at how big they were but yet not a scrap of fat. She told me a very good weight for a lamb is 29kgs. Mine were 36.6 and 36.7kg respectively. She didn’t believe that they had never had a single sheep nut.

New trees

Before this I’d actually done what I’d been procrastinating about for over a year and ordered some trees from Future Forests for planting in my third paddock. I planted 28 native whips including birch, hornbeam, willow, oak, crab apple, hawthorn, hazel and cherry. I was so thrilled when literally every sod I turned had at least one earthworm and some several. A sign of really healthy soil.

Then I ordered fruit trees from Heritage Nurseries and today planted 5 different apple varieties, 2 different plum and 2 pear varieties. It’s so easy now ordering trees from these sites and Heritage in particular I found really brilliant to deal with. He rang me and asked me all about my location then sent me a list of suggestions of species suitable for wind.

I also ordered a proper polytunnel. So no more Mickey Mouse tunnel which had my heart in my mouth every time there was wind which is basically 350 days a year here. I had to put him off until February 12th because I wanted to get posts put in for a fence first. The posts are in now and then my neighbour who had been promising horse manure all last summer arrived this evening and dumped several loads by tractor. So I am all set now for when they come to put up the tunnel.

I sowed some tomatoes, cucumber, chilli and spring salad yesterday. I can’t wait to get growing and there is already a real feel of spring in the air.

In a couple of weeks I’ll have my lamb back. Believe it or not they are still considered lamb because they are under one year of age, just.