The 2nd Autumn

New chicks

The summer slithered into autumn as it always does but somehow it seems to do so earlier and earlier every year. It’s not even September but already there’s a definite morning chill even on a glorious sunny day. The work outside has somewhat stalled due in part to the rapid and early departure of the last woofers. But I was glad to see the back of them. I’m getting another for a month on 23rd September and already wondering if it’s a mistake. I think the key with woofers is to have somewhere for them to stay away from your house so everyone has their own space. A lot of these young kids are very clueless and don’t seem to have grasped the concept of personal space. Plus I will never take a couple again. Suffice to say you don’t get twice the work but you get twice the food bill.

The Airbnb ramped up a pace after a very slow summer. I discovered my place wasn’t coming up on searches for the area and got onto their helpline. They admitted there was a problem and worked to sort it. It’s still not at a level where it’s worth my while so I decided to up my prices. I don’t want clientele coming down here for a weekend drinking. I don’t want the budget traveller who just wants a bed for the night. Funnily enough when I raised my prices, much to Airbnb’s consternation (“you are now so many % more than similar accommodation” ) I got more bookings. I also decided to offer a cooked breakfast rather than the inclusive continental one, at an extra charge and got customers for it.

However, despite providing a better breakfast than most 5 star hotels I don’t think they are impressed. (And I have to say in my defence I judge hotels (for an award) for many categories, breakfast included. I know if I got a breakfast anywhere of even half the quality, I’d award full marks.

So now I’m wordering is Airbnb the right fit for here or should I try and get on a “farm stay” site. I think there are so many places around doing Airbnb already, it’s a scrabble for the visitor who hasn’t come to rent a holiday home or is in their own camper van or tent.

In the midst if all this, I decided to set up a business. Myself and another baking-loving woman bought a wonky black van to sell coffee and cakes from, at markets, festivals and events.

Cake Dames

We have officially set up the company, registered for tax and been cleared to start baking by the EHO. But there’s a lot of stuff still to do including lots of recipe testing, costings, sourcing environmentally friendly packaging, finding a coffee supplier, a coffee machine, a generator, sign writers. The list is endless. But all going well we’re looking at a launch date beginning of October with prosecco on tap, jazz and of course cake.

The pigs have grown so much that they’re almost ready for the off. They’re getting to that annoying stage now. They’re big and strong and very greedy and will run straight through me for food. Yesterday one even attempted to vault the electric fencing like she sees the goats doing. The goats are like grade A showjumpers, the pigs like a badly-mounted cob out hunting.

Long and lean

The sheep will probably stay here until early November although they too have grown and have taken to head butting me to make me move faster to the trough. One has even shoved between my legs and carried me backwards and I’m not light.

Wooly bums

And so inevitably autumn will slide into winter and my freezers will once again be full. The circle of life will continue and next spring begin again.

In the meantime I’m loving the 5 chicks scurrying around after their mother who clucks continuously to keep them in line and tell them where she is. The limpy hen who I found with a broken/dislocated leg and splinted is making a great recovery and everyone is enjoying the Indian summer.

Chicks
Limpy

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.

The Wwoofers

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Walking on Hook Head in evening sun

I decided to get Wwoofers (officially stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). I had heard of the organisation before I moved here but assumed I wasn’t “farm” or “organic” enough. However, turns out as long as you practice a mostly organic ethos you qualify and it doesn’t matter how tiny you are. So one night in the depths of winter I took out membership to be a host.

I had loads of queries. But one thing I learned very quickly is; you tell them – yes, they can come and then you never hear from them again. I accepted three Israeli girls who sent me a long apologetic message that they appreciated most places wouldn’t take the three of them but they really, really wanted to stay together. Close to the time I emailed them did they want directions. They replied “oh sorry, we’re not coming, we thought we had told you…..”.

So then I told them all they could come. Most I never heard from again but I ended up with a crossover of two serious ones. More of that anon but the funniest had to be the message from two German guys driving around Ireland. Hi, we are two German guys who love the look of your farm. We would love to come stay with you for a week but don’t worry you don’t need to pick us up…..!” Read that as we’d like free accommodation at your place because it’s close to the sea….!!

My first Woofer didn’t come through WWOOF. I had worked in the US as a student on my year out. Somehow being deeply persuasive I had convinced the dean of my faculty that a year out in California would really be good for experience in temperate climate plants…….! I told you I was persuasive. He okay’d it despite his better judgement. Anyway to cut a long story short, as my dad used say; I ended up in California in the Los Angeles Arboretum, San Diego Zoo and a National Trust equivalent – Filoli (famed as the location for Dynasty, The Fall Guy and Fantasy Island where I met and had a photo taken with Pierce Brosnan long before he became famous, amongst others.) I met the first woofer’s mother at work there and subsequently his father when they were just boyfriend and girlfriend. I later attended their wedding and then we kept in touch for years only to lose contact but get reacquainted by Facebook – as you do!

She messaged me one night that he wanted to come to Ireland Woofing. I said he could come here and that was it. He began the lengthy process of painting all my outbuildings to match the startling white of my house.

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Conor from Seattle turned out to be ace at painting having the patience to dabble pebbledash to within an inch of it’s life. Here he is in blistering heat painting the pebbledash gable end of the shed. I was at the field side scraping off the loose grey paint from years ago. I almost got sunstroke because I never thought to put a hat on. My neck got fried.

He painted most of my outbuildings while he was here. I had been persuaded to leave the goddamn yellow front door so I wanted to paint the shed doors with something that would match. I settled on this lime green that I think has done the job.

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These little sheds on a hot evening reminded me of a Greek taverna

Conor left to go on a jolly around Ireland and I had Elio the French student next. Somehow I’d got it into my head he was 19 (He was 25). I had to pick him up at the bus outside SuperValu, New Ross. I arrived and parked in the car park along the quays opposite and sat waiting. I had decided I’d wait and see what he looked like before making myself known. If he looked scary I’d just drive off. Thankfully he looked like someone I’d be happy to have. I did tell him all this later and we had a laugh. I’m so glad I didn’t drive off because he was a pleasure to have. He was a superb worker as well as mannerly and all the animals loved him.

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Pigs at his feet

He had asked to stay for a month but I really didn’t want to commit to that length of time in case we didn’t get on or he was useless. I like my own company and independence and the thoughts of having anyone in my space for that length of time horrified me. However, he did stay a month and it flew and I was sad to see him go. He went off at weekends which gave me breathing space which helped too.

The first day he was here I asked him to stack the rest of the wood that had been split and was thrown all over the hayshed floor. I thought it would take him the morning. He had it done in an hour and I had a panic attack that I would never have enough work for him. But needless to say in an old place like this, there is always something to do. He finished off the painting so that everything is now a gleaming white and can probably be seen from space.

I had been making mutterings about the old stone shed and had begun to chip off the grey paint that was flaking off. It had been painted over lime wash years ago and in winter I noticed that when I leaned against the inside wall to pull on or off my wellies, the wall was wet. This was because the paint was preventing the old building from breathing as lime mortar and wash traditionally did. I spoke to several people who all sucked in between their teeth and looked at me like I was somewhat touched. Then they all muttered about “big money”. Read that as they didn’t want to be bothered to do it but if I insisted they would charge me handsomely. How hard can it be to do it myself I wondered. And as always, thought if people with little or no equipment, access to the internet etc could do it years ago, why couldn’t I? I began trawling through Google and just got completely confused by all the technical terms for lime – hydrated lime, slaked lime, lime putty etc.

I went down to the big Homevalue place in Wellingtonbridge to ask. They were totally honest and said they hadn’t a clue but called a man over. He turned out to be the owner. He asked for my phone number, there was someone he knew who had done a job for the OPW and by coincidence he had been in earlier. He would give him a call and then let me know what he said. He also told me ring Byrne’s in Carlow. They turned out to be The Traditional Lime Company. I rang and the man I spoke to told me he’d ring me back, I had disturbed his morning cup of tea………

The long and short of it was I convinced Elio to have a go. He didn’t do that Gallic shrug thing the French are wont to do, so that was encouraging. He didn’t look thrilled though. What had been his downfall was showing me photos of the stone wall he had built in the last place he had been on the Cork/Waterford border. He understood stone and that was nine tenths of the battle as far as I was concerned. I was sitting at the table outside on the patio with him and Michelle, the German Woofer (the crossover) having lunch when I suddenly decided; as I do a lot, to jump in the car and drive to Tullow in Carlow to buy the NHL 3.5 lime, the 0.5ml sand and the lime putty. Michelle on hearing it would probably take me most of the afternoon to drive there and back asked how far it was. She burst out laughing when I told her 60km odd. Twisty turny roads and up over Mount Leinster doesn’t make for much speed. I got it and the next day we set about mixing the mortar. Once more Larry the neighbour came to the rescue. I reckon I’m providing endless entertainment here because a neighbour can rarely pass the gate without having to stop to see what’s going on. He offered his drill and a mixer attachment to mix the mortar.

Elio and myself set to it but it became apparent that he was a natural and I was just annoying him. He told me to go away. He got half the front done in no time and then was itching to lime wash it. We probably should have waited another day or two but I was dying to see what it would look like as well. He put on the first coat and stood scratching his head. Is it supposed to be so watery and all running down the wall? We thickened up the mix and applied a second coat. Then stood back to admire the gleaming white. He headed off to Dublin to run the Half Marathon for the weekend and myself and Michelle stood looking at it in horror the next morning. Drizzley rain overnight had washed most of it off.

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However, when he came back on Monday he applied several more coats and this time they stuck. He finished the back and then showed Michelle how to do it. She’s out there now slowly and forensically finishing it off. She does everything slowly and forensically including surgically removing weeds which is a skill that should be on her cv! She was one of the others I said yes to when she requested to come and then promptly forgot all about her. That was why I had a crossover for a couple of weeks.

I said yes to a big hairy Spanish chap who says he’s an electrician and carpenter but although he initially replied, I’ve had no definite confirmation from him. So when Michelle leaves next month I may not get anyone else.

The little shed is looking mighty fine now like the grand old dame she is. A neighbour thinks it may have been the original farmhouse on the property as it’s got a mezzanine. There is also has the remnants of the old milking machine and pressure guage inside plus the little annexe they put the calves into when they were milking the cows. I keep my feed in here and for now my new hens are in it until they get accepted by the existing bullies.

Having Woofers turned out to be a very positive experience and one that I will definitely do again. I think we all gained from it. And once you get over the horror of someone in your house long term, it’s absolutely fine.

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Job done