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 Hayshed

After almost three years I’m finally getting the old hayshed painted. I’ve been trying to find someone reputable to do it since I moved in (and not the chancers who regularly call and call me misses and refuse to take no for an answer until I tell them I’ve no say, they need to talk to mister: who’s away working in Dubai). Luckily they don’t chance coming back when they see Nelly, the Rottweiler. Until the next one calls….

The chap doing it was to start at the start of “lockdown”. Don’t think that would’ve stopped him but he’s had a few health issues. Finally he rang the other day to say he’d be here in morning to power wash it. He almost drained my deep well so I switched to the shallow one and the new (2015) pump gave up. You actually couldn’t make it up. Now I’m waiting for the pump crowd to come sort it who promised they be here last Thursday.

He told me go to Foulksmills Stores to get the paint (red, green, grey basically). I asked when the chap showed me the drums on the shelf, “do farmers not care what colour they use?” He said “not really, they just use whatever was used last.”

Not to be deterred, I asked had I other options. Was there a paint chart? He looked bemused and said he’d go and see (with a pesky-women-who-think- they’re-farmers expression on his face). After a few minutes he reappeared with a massive chart. I asked can I pick any of these? I was assured I could. So I stood there scratching my head wondering why everyone paints their barns red, green or grey.

I immediately saw a lime green that I’ve painted all the shed doors with. Too good to be true? I ordered it. I was driving home when I got a phone call. The paint would cost me an extra €50 a barrel (a barrel of the standard stuff is give or take €100). So it’s obvious now why farmers stick to the stuff on the shelf. But I’ve ordered this on the basis of a mm square sample on a paint chart and it’s going on a huge haybarn. This will either be a stroke of genius or a disaster and the pessimist in me is thinking it will be the latter. But can it be any worse than the rusting red it is currently?

Summer has slipped into Autumn (August). Still no help. Lots of applications from HelpX, Workaway but nothing suitable. I’m getting really panicky now because I have no time and so much work to do outside. There are so many fences to waterproof. I got a small stretch done but it’s just piecemeal at this stage.

The tunnel has been overtaken by giant man-eating courgette plants. So much so that my grapevine went yellow. Possibly because they literally suck all the nutrients out of the soil. I got fed up today and lifted three of them outside. Not sure they’ll survive but I’ve two left smothering the tomatoes and beans.

My veg garden is a weed mecca. Probably doing great stuff for biodiversity but not great for me. Today I saw to my consternation that the spuds had blight. I’d been watching them like a hawk and kind of smugly patting myself on the back that the wind here would stop it. Famous last thoughts. I chopped the leaves off today and picked the few spuds the bantam had uncovered. The only hen that can fly over the fence. I eat very few potatoes so I’m leaving them where they are for now.

Normally at this time of the year my freezers would be emptying because I’ve been feeding helpers, visitors, guests, friends but that’s all stopped because of this covid-craziness. Now I’ve freezers stuffed to the gills with pork, lamb, duck, turkey, chicken and beef I bought from a local regenerative farmer. At least I won’t starve if they decide to close the country again.

The ballerina troup (Silkies) are growing fast and I really need to move them on now. Their mother, Mrs Topknot Thomas is sitting on more eggs. The broody hens hatched out 6 French Copper Black Maran eggs between them, thanks to another smallholder pal who provided the eggs in return for sourdough.

Her Royal Honkyness is still here and still staggery but getting in and out and making a lot of noise when anything/anyone displeases her. She’s currently moulting and is bald from her tummy to her mohawk.

Blackbum is eating rings around himself but is still tiny. He might be ready to go to the abattoir November 2021!

And that’s all from Three Paddocks Smallholding. I’m excited that a UCD Ag classmate is calling next week. That’s as exciting as it gets here lately!

The Piglet

Having gone through weeks of hell with Honky I was ready for life to return to normal. To nip out at 6.45am to feed all and be back in bed with a cup of tea at 7.15 to listen to the news before the day starts.

Blackbum

But it wasn’t to be. One morning I noticed little Blackbum didn’t want to get up and had no interest in breakfast. This was highly unusual because normally after a week or so new weaners get into the swing of life here and are out bawling with all the rest as soon as they hear the dogs bark. But these, despite being here over three weeks still hadn’t got into the daily rhythm. They also ate very little.

I had discovered that what little I had left them was being polished off by the goats. The goats barely eat their own food so to see them eating the piglets’ food soaked in milk was infuriating.

I watched Blackbum for a couple of days and saw him drinking a lot. I had a gut feeling all wasn’t well but then I’d go back to check on him and he’d be out rooting. Sick pigs don’t root. Or do they?

Last Saturday I was going away for the day so decided to load him up and take him into the vets first. The more dealing I have with vets (about pigs), the more I’ve realised they know nothing about them. Initially, when I felt he wasn’t right I rang to get the dosage for a wormer I had here. They are both really small and the wormer only had quantities for larger animals on it. The vet said you can’t give that if they haven’t had their iron injections. Bloody hell, free range pigs don’t get iron injections. They’re out with their noses in the soil hours after birth; getting iron the way nature intended. Not like the poor bastards raised in concrete sheds on rubber matting (if they’re lucky).

Anyway I loaded him into the dog crate and she examined him. Said he had pneumonia. My good pal Martha in Wales (who farms free range pigs) said he needed Penstrep. I suggested this to the vet but she said no, Baytril. Vets hate when you make suggestions. She gave him an anti inflammatory and said that would stop him drinking so much. It didn’t. The antibiotic had no effect. I got onto Martha again. She said if Penstrep doesn’t work try Draxxin. I rang the vet. No, she had no Draxxin and it would take days to get it but I was to bring him in, again!

She examined him again. He still had a temperature and he’d lost more weight (which he could ill-afford to). She gave him what she said was a drug in the same family as Draxxin. She also gave me steroids.

When all the scientists were arguing about what cured Covid and what didn’t, some expert concluded that steroids worked. I then saw a tweet from a vet saying that finally the medical profession was catching up with the veterinary one. When all else is failing, prescribe steroids. This flashed through my mind.

I went home with him with literally zero faith he was going to recover but like with Honky, he wasn’t going to die of starvation on my watch. I got milk, kefir, honey, garlic, egg and cream and I made up a daily concoction and syringed it into him several times a day. He fought me with vigour. At times he looked like he liked it but mostly he acted like I was trying to kill him. God knows what the neighbours thought I was doing to him.

My neighbour asked me one morning how he was and my reply was “well he’s still here.” He asked me did I want him to inject him with Penstrep. I said no initially because the last injection he’d been given was a long-acting antibiotic and I didn’t want to overdose him. But then thought what is there to lose, so said yes.

The next day he called in and injected 0.5ml. The vet had only injected 0.2ml. He was only just over 7kg but it seemed a tiny dose. The following morning he shot out from under the straw and ate breakfast. The first time he’d eaten anything in days. He had also stopped drinking gallons.

On left, eating

Since then he’s made steady progress and although he’s coughing like a wheezy old codger on 60 Woodbines a day, he’s out and about rooting and more importantly eating rings around himself. My neighbour who thinks vets are a complete waste of money and also thinks I’m crazy every time I call one out is now nodding sagely saying “I told you so”…..

And what’s worse, I’m beginning to agree with him.

There’s been a dearth of applications from Woofers/HelpX/Workaways and any I’ve had, I felt wouldn’t be a good fit here. But out of the blue I got one from a Uruguayan vet (the irony) who’s been in Limerick for a few months and wants to improve her English but also get experience working on a smallholding. When she asked would it be okay to do an on-line English course for a few hours a day but she’d work mornings, evening and weekends, I said yes straight away. Usually I get asked how many hours they have to work and you know that they’re more interested in the hours they have off.

Now maybe I can get back to normal without worrying about sick animals. I hate when any animal is unwell. It also means that it takes up masses more of my time. Time that I can ill-afford. I’m already so behind on stuff in the garden and polytunnel and there has been literally no maintenance done this summer. I realised during the lockdown that it would be virtually impossible to keep this place running on my own. I need helpers. I also miss having them about the place. And worst of all I’ve a tonne of food in the freezers that needs cooking and eating.

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.