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 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.