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.