The Last Supper

The bully

Today was D day. The pigs were trained for the last few days to charge up the ramp of the trailer for food. If you do this a few days in advance they have no fear of it and there is no stress on loading (especially for me). Generally I find they gallop up the first day you put the ramp down but if you were to rely on them to do that, it wouldn’t happen. I reckon they’re like horses and can sense your mood. If you’re desperate for them to go in; there’s two chances they will!

They got fed royally for the last few days. I went to Tintern (Colclough walled garden) to get the last windfalls and the gardeners were delighted to help me load up. I’ve promised them sausages and to keep them sweet I made them a blackberry cake. I love getting my own veg here. I take out annual membership of both it and the abbey for €30. Then I can get my own fruit and veg for an additional small donation. It’s all grown the way the monks would have done in the past. Because there’s so much wind here and because they have a huge variety of apple trees, there are loads of windfalls. Most people get them for horses but I’m one of the few looking for them for pigs and the gardeners don’t get sausages from the horse owners……

Apples for the pigs, veg for me

I always feel sad for days before the pigs go. It’s very hard not to get attached to animals (for me anyway) and to be honest I’m not sure quantity would make any difference. I fight with myself if I really want to do this. I wonder should I become a vegetarian more often than I have hot dinners, but the fact is I love meat. And then they do something to really annoy me, like knock me over or escape. But funnily enough these never did. In fact they were the only pigs I’ve ever had who never escaped (and it’s not due to better fencing). And they were a Duroc cross (nightmares apparently). My neighbour looking at all my fencing posts said it looked like a gallops. I think they were permanently confused by the layout and couldn’t be bothered taking a chance.

Multi species training

In training the pigs, I inadvertently trained the sheep and the goats. But with the goats that’s no achievement. They’re that nosy and adventurous they’d jump off a cliff. In fact they’re a damned nuisance. They managed to nibble the insulating tape off the wiring for the lights on the trailer. I hadn’t enough fencing posts to fence the trailer off from them. And I stupidly thought they wouldn’t bother because they’ve plenty to interest them. Never ever underestimate their ability to p*ss you off.

And then the woofer announced she had a dying grandmother. When I heard this I thought to myself – wow, French grandmothers go from alive to dying faster than a Ferrari does 0-60! I couldn’t help but be skeptical as the last French woofers had a dying grandmother as well.

I had been relying on her being here to help with loading. I had also asked her to stay an extra week to mind the animals while I’m away en famille scattering dad’s ashes, at long last. So all my plans were upscuttled.

However, today went smoothly and to plan and next weekend I have the young lad to who minds all here while I’m away (and is very capable and reliable).

Next month I’ll have to do it all again with the sheep. And I’ve decided to try and cure the skins. It’s a shame there are no tanneries left on the entire island. Using sheep skin and wool is far more sustainable than synthetic fibres. How have we become so advanced and yet so backward? So many skills are being lost, rearing your own food, butchering, tanning skins, knitting, even crochet.

Sausage mixes

At least I can rear my own animals for food and I can knit and crochet. It remains to be seen if I can tan skins.

Meanwhile I made up spice mixes for my sausages and gave them to the butcher. Making traditional breakfast sausages is no problem. Making dinner sausages (fennel and red wine and apple and sage) a bit more of a problem. I asked could they use a coarse plate for mincing (they only have one) but normally mince twice. So they’re going to only mince once. I think the solution is to get my own mincer and sausage maker, not the Mickey Mouse one I have.

Speaking of Mickey Mouse, my poor tunnel bit the dust before Storm Lorenzo even hit. But I managed to save the last of the tomatoes and it didn’t do a bad job at all. I’ve a freezer full of tomato sauce cubes for use during the winter and I’ve eaten my fill of fresh.

The last tomatoes

In two weekends it’s two years since I moved in here. In two years I’ve achieved a lot and I’m happy with the progress. I knew it would be a marathon and not a sprint. I’m staying the pace and I’ll get there eventually, but meantime I’m becoming more and more self-sufficient and eating better than I ever could have imagined.

There isn’t any number of stars that can be awarded for that.

The Slimdown

Final days

Next week the winter slimdown begins. The “small” pigs will be booked into the abattoir in Camolin. The sheep will have another 6-8 weeks – I should be able to say of peace – but their main tormentors are the goats who aren’t going anywhere.

They will be fed in the trailer in the field for a couple of days in advance so they get used to it. Then they’ll be driven up the afternoon before and settled into straw-filled pens for the “off” first thing the following morning. I’m sure I’ll feel dreadful when the time comes but right now they are incredibly annoying teenagers. They run straight through me for food and even brazenly annoy the big pigs who swing their heads sideways to spear them with a tusk. I happened to be in the firing line one morning. Thank goodness I had jeans on. I still got a hefty red scrape down my thigh.

I collected the turkeys from the place I get all my poultry. I had booked them months ago but he kept telling me to ring him on such and such a date. Then when I collected them I was almost told tuck them up in bed with a hot water bottle. The questions he asked me. Was I sure I had a good warm house for them, could I keep them separate from other poultry, could I keep them in a minimum of 10 days and then watch them when I let them out……. I finally asked had they just come off a heat lamp. He said they were off it a while but I’m not so sure. Anyway on day 7 they flew over the shed/stable half door so that was that.

I tentatively let them out into the field and they appeared to just be happy to potter about in front of the shed. So I kept an eye on them. Then the ducks decided to take flight. They do this regularly and usually just fly over the high wall out onto the road. But this time they were up a serious height and I knew by the sound they had cleared the neighbours trees across the road. I totally forgot about the turkeys who I had left snoozing in the sun in their open doorway.

I ran across the road but couldn’t see the ducks. Then I caught a glimpse of what I thought was one three paddocks over. All the paddocks had horses in them and all had electric fencing around them. Luckily I could hear my neighbour in the stables so shouted up to ask him to turn off the power. He told me the ducks had been in several times in his dunkel and the pond. They had obviously figured out a way to get back. We walked down through the field but couldn’t see them anywhere. Than lo and behold saw the three of them along the hedge being followed by a line of bemused thoroughbreds. We hunted them back and I caught them and clipped their wings.

I suddenly remembered the turkeys. Yep, they’d vanished. I called the woofer and the two of us went searching in two separate fields. I thought I could hear a commotion at the back of the hayshed so went to investigate. They were sauntering around with a lot of curious pig onlookers. The pigs on seeing me started demanding food and there wasn’t a chance in hell I could shepherd them back safely so I had to try to catch them. I managed to grab one and handed her to the woofer. I had to corner the other in the middle of a big pile of nettles and just reach in and grab her.

After this I decided I’d have to move them back into the sheds off the yard. The fields are just too open. The problem is that even though I’ve got four sheds, one is for feed and since the hens decided to lay in it I’ve had to move the dogs out, particularly as Nelly is very partial to an egg and has perfected the art of cracking it and eating the contents. That meant the last shed had to be converted for dog shelter when I’m out or away. There was only one thing for it, move them into the duck shed and hope the ancient grumpy Muscovy drake wouldn’t decide to eat them for breakfast.

I cleaned it out and put their straw bale in. Then set up a sliding door so they’d be at the back and the ducks at the front. Cedric the cock flies up onto a ledge at the back. This morning all were still alive.

New home

Yesterday when it started to rain in glimpsed out to see them trying to get out through the gaps in the green gate instead of turning and going back into shelter. My cousin reminded me that my grandmother always said they were the most stupid of all the birds. She kept goats and poultry. My mother had a school friend, a Jewish refugee called Annie Polesi (during the Second World War Castlebar took in Jewish refugees and they set up a hat factory). Annie was scared of the turkeys so my mother devised a system where she left stones on the pier telling her she’d left for school so she didn’t have to come up the driveway to call for her. She always laughs that Annie was scared of the turkeys. Geese I’d understand.

The last woofer of the year arrived a week ago. I need to get the last of the painting finished. So far it’s taken her a week to give the balustrading on patio one coat and with a bit of a push (from me) the gates. Last year it took the two wonder woofers two days to completely finish two coats. I think I’m done with wwoof.com. I registered with HelpX but there’s a fault in their system so if you don’t constantly update your listing you slide down the heap and get no enquires. So far I’ve only got mostly Americans looking for a convenient B&B.

It’s a shame really because the right people can benefit so much from it. 25 hours work in return for full bed and very good board plus a chance to experience another culture. But I suppose human nature being what it is, the vast majority see it as a cheap holiday.

Rachet straps to tie down cover

The Mickey Mouse tunnel has almost done its job now although the tomato crop has been very poor. I think I stuffed in too many plants and they got mildew. Plus they are so late ripening. Some are only starting to ripen now. The wind began to pick up the other day (even more than usual). I have last year’s cover over this year’s, as it’s ripped in different places in an an effort to give 100% cover and some wind resistance. It’s worked so far but it was looking like it would take off last week. I got a brainwave and borrowed rachet straps from my neighbour. If I can just keep it on another few weeks……

I’m getting a proper tunnel for next year but as there’s a 6-8 week lead in time after ordering decided to wait until early next year to order it.

I’m not looking forward to the winter. I think I hate it a little bit more every year. It’s not the cold that gets to me but the dark. I live for light and the sun. The evenings getting darker and darker are soul destroying. The sooner they abolish daylight savings the better. Give me darker mornings any day. It means you get to wake up slower which can’t be a bad thing.

For now the push is on the get everything winter ready and to slim down the animal population and minimise the workload for the shorter days.

The 2nd Summer

Hard to believe it’s my second summer here. Of course it’s nothing like the first but then I never expected it to be. I hear and see people complaining about it, but I’m out in it every day and believe me; it’s not bad at all.

Like last year, the hayfield (now named that officially) was cut and baled on schedule and in glorious sunshine. I opened the gate and all the animals streamed in, two by two as in the ark. They sniffed disinterestedly at the shorn grass and then headed for the margins where they all grazed happily as the sun sunk slowly on the horizon and the tractors across the gripe raced to cut the barley.

Cutting the barley

Woofers are thin on the ground this year apparently. I received an email telling me that some counties had little or no applications and as a result they had to lay off staff at HQ here. I was inundated but they all want to come in July or August. Obviously I would prefer they could be spread out a bit more, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Of all the applications I received, one couple weren’t put off by my grumpy reply telling them they would be on a week’s trial. I have found this sorts the men from the boys. They agreed by return so then I had to continue with my grumpy replies “sorry, I’m full”. I feel its only manners to reply. Unfortunately few reciprocate.

So far they are getting on fine. They won’t set the world alight but they remember to feed and water all and that’s the most important thing here.

Baginbun Head

They work here in the morning then have the afternoon free until evening feed. If they decide to go off for the afternoon on the two bikes I’ve arranged for them, then obviously I do the evening feed. But surprisingly most afternoons they hole up in their bedroom on IPads or on Facetime to friends and family. I don’t know, maybe it’s old fashioned to expect them to maybe want to see the area? I know if it was me I wouldn’t want to waste a lovely sunny afternoon in my bedroom.

They have finished painting the purple fence. I realised last year it was a monumental mistake but it had cost me a fortune so I decided to live with it. In trepidation I went to pick another colour. The guy who advises in my local hardware is a whizz and told me I really would have to use the same brand as anything else worked better on virgin wood. So because only a few shades come in 5 litres, I was restricted (the purple didn’t and that’s why it had been so expensive).

I chose cornflower blue and I’m happy with it.

Blue and green should never be seen…..

They are out there now touching up the lime green on the doors. Then when they finish that, some of the lime wash on the gable end of the old stone shed has come off (I think because the application was too thick) so that has to be redone.

The grass is struggling to grow thanks to a severe drought (the ground here is like a rock) and the hens. I had seeded the area and the hens were in constantly scratching and pecking so I fenced it off from them. It began to grow and appeared to be really thickening and greening up. I walked out there recently and realised it’s a dense groundcover of everything but grass. However, I’ve let the hens back in and I’m getting lovely deep yellow-yolked eggs again so at least they’re happy.

Beef tomatoes

My veg garden is beginning to grow after a very poor start. My tomato plants are drooping with green fruit, the courgettes are flowering and beginning to leaf up. I’ve been eating my own salad now for a few weeks and have started picking peas. I have kale ready and purple sprouting broccoli and cabbages coming on fast. The beans in the tunnel are flowering and the hanging baskets of strawberries and tumbling tomatoes are starting to produce. I’m not the most patient gardener. I get disheartened at failure. But I’m doing a lot better this year than last when I literally had no place to grow stuff. I tell you I’ve a heightened admiration for gardeners. Rearing animals is a hell of a lot more straightforward.

Rainbow chard and various brassicas

The fruit bushes I planted won’t do much until next year mainly because they were just kept alive for most of last. The raspberry canes were making great headway until the goats got in. I’ve now reinforced all the fencing and the gates and if they get in again it will be due to human stupidity.

Rhubarb and strawberry crumble

I made a rhubarb and strawberry crumble with some of my own strawberries and rhubarb I picked in the Colclough walled garden at Tintern Abbey. I had lunch a few years ago in a two star Michelin restaurant in Carcassone in France. I was underwhelmed by it to be honest, except for the way they had made the crumble. They had baked it first adding water and putting it in the freezer for a while before baking. I spoke to chef to winkle this information out of him.

It’s basically half butter to flour, rubbed in not too finely. Add sugar and then a couple of tablespoons of cold water to get it to clump. Stick it in the freezer for at least 10 minutes then spread out on a baking tray and put it in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so, scraping it in from the edges to prevent it burning.

You obviously need to soften your rhubarb in a pan with sugar first so it’s a bit more palaver. But believe me it’s so much better than soggy, half-raw crumble topping.