The Now

Where to start? It’s been a while. Little did I think when we were in lockdown last March that we still would be this year. If fact I truly believe we will be next year too. But that’s too depressing a thought. I really really hope something changes and people say no more. I don’t hold out much hope for that either.

Since I haven’t updated this blog for ages, I better start with now. Unfortunately it looks like I’ll have no help this year again. I’ve had a few requests from Workaway and HelpX since last summer but none really suitable. Because of this I decided I needed to get on with it and start the endless round of maintenance again myself. So far I’ve painted the house with the help of a neighbour. Next all the sheds and then the fencing. As well as this start the growing season again. It’s been a really cold April which has set me back. It’s difficult to start stuff indoors because this old house has small windows and poor light.

But nature has decided despite the cold, she’s going full steam ahead and my duck has hatched a clutch of hen eggs. She had build her nest under the same rosemary bush as last year. I tried to move her inside last year and she was not impressed, abandoning the nest. So this year I left her. I switched her eggs for hen. I must admit I felt a bit mean but I was fairly certain few if any of hers would be fertile. George my Muscovy drake is ancient. I think 14…. and he’s not great on his legs but he does get a spring in his step at this time of year. His fertility was patchy last year and this year probably even patchier. Plus I’ve decided to phase out ducks. Of the two Appleyards I got last year, one flew off with her son and never returned. I was getting phone calls most days telling me my ducks were on the road/in such and such’s garden/field etc. I have one remaining and a female off spring (not sure if it’s hers or the one that flew off.)

7 various crosses but all half Silkie

So I substituted the eggs and pretty much two days over 3 weeks they began to hatch. Something I’ve noticed with ducks is when they go broody they don’t sit all day from the start. They sit only at night for the first few days. Hens don’t do this so I did wonder if it would affect the hen eggs but it didn’t apart from the extra two days. Of the 8 eggs, 7 were fertile and hatched. So far she’s a great mother.

Last year one of these ducks (I’m not sure if it was her because the one who flew off was identical) hatched one duckling and the other hatched two a few days later. The mother of the pair attacked and killed the single duckling and the duck was distraught. I returned from work to find her calling and calling. I had seen the other duck go for the duckling before I left and I was so sorry I hadn’t separated them. She kept this up all the following day and it was heartbreaking. If it was her I knew she’d be a good mother. Lots of people have told me since that they’ve never seen a duck hatch and mother chicks but they have the reverse. I knew it would work because years ago I had a hen and a duck who mothered a single chick. They were both broody at the same time and only a single chick hatched that they literally fought over. It was the best mothered chick ever!

I keep all the chicks and it doesn’t matter much whether they’re male or female. If they’re female they go on to produce eggs. I keep the males until they just start to crow (and before they start fighting) and then cull them for the pot. I haven’t bought a commercially produced chicken now for over a year. They’re totally different in that they are much leaner and tougher so are really only suitable for boiling. But they give the most amazing stock and the boiled carcass makes great pies, curries, stews etc. Plus the flavour of the meat is much more intense than even a well-produced organic bird that fattens in a couple of months. These take at least 6 months.

Two culled young cocks
Breast and leg meat

Little by little I’ve increased the food I produce here. It’s immensely satisfying and it really makes you appreciate how difficult it is to rear and feed an animal for the table. Even with economies of scale I’m continuously mystified how a grower can make money from a bird thats sold in a supermarket for €3. It means the “farmer” (and I use that term advisedly because I don’t consider intensive factory food production farming) is getting only cents per bird.

It’s the same with pork but that is a whole other blog post. I am working my way through the two Oxford Sandy Black pigs I reared last year but again with no family or friends visiting, I’m not using as much as normal so made the difficult decision not to rear any this. I named last year’s pair, “the little shits” thanks to their propensity for escaping. At least this year that will be one fewer phone call along the lines “your pigs are gone over the road”. Instead I’ve booked half a carcass from an organic farmer who I know rears hers to the same standard as mine.

Breakfast porn (all produced here including double yolker)

Since I posted at the start a photo of a wild garlic focaccia I should probably give you the recipe. I’m lucky to live very close to Tintern Abbey (Wexford) with beautiful woodland walks. It was theoretically outside my 5km but that was just for exercise. Food shopping was deemed by our great masters “essential”. They didn’t mention foraging but I figured foraging is just as valid as supermarket shopping so I combined both especially as it’s wild garlic season.

Tintern

Wild Garlic Pesto

A handful of wild garlic leaves and flowers washed and shaken dry. Put into a small blender/blitzer with a sprinkling of pine kernals or you can use walnuts. Add salt, pepper, grated parmesan and enough olive oil to give a sauce like consistency. I don’t ever measure quantities of anything in this because it’s best to taste as you go. Some wild garlic can be very strong so pick young leaves preferably. If you can’t make something without exact quantities, follow a basil pesto recipe but substitute wild garlic for basil.

I then added 3 good teaspoons to a focaccia dough made with 500g strong flour, 10g salt, 15g fresh yeast (in some warm milk with a pinch of sugar for an hour in advance to give it a boost). Alternatively use 7g dried yeast. Add a glug of olive oil and enough warm water to give a soft dough. Mix for 10 minutes on a low speed or knead by hand for 10 mins.

Prove in a warm place in a covered bowl for an hour or until doubled in size. Then flatten it out onto a baking tray. Decorate with the pesto and some leaves and flowers and sprinkle with coarse salt and a drizzle of olive oil and leave to stand while you heat up your oven to 220C. After 20 minutes place into hot oven with some water in base to create steam. I use the grill pan. It takes about 20 minutes but remove from tray to make sure base is baked and leave on oven shelf or another 5 minutes.

I also made wild garlic soup using some veg I had here (leaf celery in tunnel and some purple sprouting broccoli I had in freezer from last year, ) onion, a potato, wild garlic leaves and some of that fantastic stock from my culled cocks that I freeze in small quantities. Add a dollop of pesto, olive oil before serving to make it really sing. It was so refreshing and delicious that you just knew it was good for you – in a good way not in a penitential way.

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 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.