Cead Mile Failte !

A 'hundred thousand welcomes' to friends of all things Irish, organic, and environmentally friendly. I hope you enjoy my anecdotes and little vignettes. I appreciate comments. If you like it, why not become a follower? Click on Archive and then scroll down to the very bottom for the beginning of our story. Or see: http://Ioncehadafarminireland.blogspot.com/

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Additions to the Family

Spring eventually arrived. To my surprise, the 1 May is the official start of summer in Ireland, in contrast to Germany where the equinox marks the beginning of summer. To my utter surprise later in the year, while I was still counting on some hot days in August, Ireland’s autumn begins on 1 August already.
Our daughter, Amy, 7, started school locally. She had been in Primary School in Germany while learning English for 6 months at home with me as her teacher. She was almost fluent by the time we arrived on the Irish shores. For our son, Patrick, 4, I found a little Montessori school, a very down to earth little place in comparison to the German Kindergarten he had left behind. My heart almost broke to see him there among other children who didn't speak his language. He had no inclination of learning English. “Why don’t they learn German, or Amy can translate?" So now for you!
Our family grew by four –lambs that is, Michelangelo, Donatello, Rafael and you guessed it- Leonardo. Don't think my kids were young art connoisseurs! That year "The Ninja Mutant Hero Turtles" were all the rage, however, and Amy and Patrick named the new arrivals after them. These 4 high-fallutingly named lambs were the starter of our herd that would eventually increase to about 100. We fenced the house garden area in with electric fence, carefully protecting the flowerbeds and shrubs. They liked to lie under a little weeping willow I had planted the summer before. They were also in charge of the old apple orchard, grazing to keep the grass down which allowed us to forgo buying a lawn mower. Not a bad thing in a country where you have to mow the lawn from February onwards. First, they had to be bottle-fed, however, for a week or so. Later in the summer, when they were stronger, the children had great fun trying to ride on them. Unfortunately, those fleeting moments weren’t caught on camera. Years later, when my kids mutated into teenagers, I called them the "Mutinous Hero Teenagers" in reference to their childhood pets. Those were the days....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Trip to a Farmers' Market- a Déjà Vu

Yesterday I made a trip to one of the local so-called farmers’ markets that have sprouted in the area. During the week the local radio station had promoted it and others that are scattered all over the city. Where does this fashion-trend come from suddenly? They asked and uttered a caveat: Some produce had been sitting in Californian crates. I had to check it out.
A pleasant outing when the weather is dry and fresh –as opposed to Florida’s humidity in the summer. About 30 stalls were scattered in a park-like area. Mostly artists who made jewelry, dog collars, ceramics, shells-creations, soap vendors, a Gelato man, who was nowhere to be seen, however. Only the generator of his presumed ice-cream maker was purring, four sellers of reusable shopping bags and a weaver. Then there was one baker who allegedly had German breads. That had lured me there in the first place. Two stalls selling home-made jams and relishes. We found three stalls selling vegetables and I struck up my usual conversation. "Do you grow the veggies yourself?” Some did, others got it from other farmers nearby. None grew anything organically.
A good find at the end was a Mark who sold shrubs. He had a cardboard sign: Fresh eggs. Talking to him he said: Organic seems to be the latest! -Thank God, it finally found Florida! I started it over 20 years ago. He used the straw the chickens run or live on, including the manure, as fertilizer for his shrubs. “And we recycle the egg cartons”. I did too when we eventually had enough surplus to sell I produce as a Farmer’s wife including herbs, veggies, fruit and relishes. A veritable trip down memory lane….I went home, planted the arugula I bought and swore to nurse the remaining bell peppers still on the plant, but suffer from sinking temperatures at night and start losing their leaves.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fully Loaded- with Pesticides

In my last posting I mentioned that conventionally grown vegetables mostly retain more pesticides than organically grown counterparts. Here is a list of the top 10 foods containing the most pesticides, according to the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C.
These 10 are considered high-pesticide foods: strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, peaches, Mexican cantaloupes, celery, apples, apricots, and green beans. For more information and possible substitutes that contain less pesticides but make for tasty alternatives check out this website:
Whether you base your planting decisions on this list undoubtedly depends on the planting area available to you and the climate you are in. At the least, it may influence your produce purchasing decisions. If you can’t buy everything organic because it is too expensive, this list helps to set priorities.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Humble Spud

Potatoes were high on our planting list because homegrown ones, organic potatoes do taste different to conventionally grown ones. There is no scientific evidence I can quote, only the anecdotal one. They taste like when you were a child…like real potatoes. Conventionally grown potatoes are full of nitrates resulting from high use of artificial fertilizers that make them grow faster, produce more water in the potato, however, and that waters down the taste. Same is true for mushrooms.
The weather picked up a little bit after Easter so that the Plow & Harrow job, eventually, got completed. I would have planted the first row of potatoes there and then; however, I wasn't the farmer, only newly transformed into a "farmer's" wife. The next step before successful planting was getting a cultivator to rake through the still pretty big and rough ground, generally loosen it up and aerate it, and then rake it. There was still a lot of grass left in the soil because the ground had always been grassland, never cultivated.
If you don't own a cultivator and don't want to spend hundreds of $, tool rentals are happy to take your money, although you never know what you get at a rental place. Ours clearly had some problems. It was self-propelled and ran away with Mac. Many drops of sweat were shed until the joke broke down about 1 hour into the booked rental time. The shop was 30 minutes away; a substitute was procured eventually and the job continued, although not finished before closing hours. It being a Saturday and closing time early, this added another day to our bill as we could return it only the following Monday.
But now the ground was properly prepared. I can only advise to choose a day during the week and test the rental in the shop! We all got down on our knees to help planting the potatoes. Well, the farmer had a tool for it, called potato planter which ‘himself’ was wielding, a manual one. Not unlike your post pole diggers. You open it up like a tong and put one potato in, then close the tong which places the potato in the ground. You pull out the planter and repeat the process. One potato makes one plant which will yield up to dozens spuds. It is more useful for light soil and can do damage to the potatoes, however. For commercial use, there are huge machines available.
Potatoes need to go in about a spade deep, growing well in acid soil with a PH over 4.6. Originating from South America, they don’t like it too cold or too wet. So you want to wait until the frost is over- or take a gamble. Any frost will kill the leaves and further growth unless you protect them with straw or a polyester tunnel. Not being too familiar with the Irish weather yet –when is one ever? - And in order to get started, we took the risk and were lucky.
Potatoes need to be covered by about 8-10 cm of soil which is later heaped up into neat little rows. John Seymour recommends a good shovel of compost per foot. We had no compost here yet- we did have it in suburban Germany- but figured the quality of our soil would be good enough since the grassland had never been used for growing vegetables before. In contrast to later ones, the early potatoes cannot be stored. How to store them? I’ll tell you later.
What next? Which vegetables to go for after the quintessential, omnipresent yet undervalued spud?

Monday, November 9, 2009

11/9: The Fall of the Berlin Wall- 20 years ago

Apologies if I digress one more time; I'll get on with the farming life without delay, promised!
But this historical landmark just happened before our move to Ireland and the political situation in Germany in the years before had influenced our decision to escape to Ireland.

Ask any American where they were on 9/11, they will now. On 9 Nov, 1989 I was physically absent from Germany, was on a 2 weeks’ vacation playing golf in Tunisia by myself. I was also mentally elsewhere for the months leading up to the events because I had life changing drama going on in my own little world. We were on the cusp of emigrating to Ireland in early 1990. A decision favored and initiated by my then husband, me only willy-nilly supporting the idea and undergoing therapy to get used to this involuntary change in our lifestyle. My now Ex and his mother stayed back in Germany minding our 2 and 5 year olds so that this mother could recharge her batteries and find some peace in herself.
The resort of Port –El-Cantao provided enough distraction, sun, beach, food, and golf. My hotel didn’t have a TV in the room and this was during pre Internet days. What I gleaned from the news in the noisy lounge bar was unfathomable: Hungarian and Czechoslovakian borders had opened to let Eastern Germans leave their country. Calling my husband back in the Fatherland, he was equally doubtful. We both watched developments anxiously. Mrs. Thatcher would rather give up Northern Ireland and let it reunite with Ireland than that the Soviets would tolerate this insurrection and not intervene, was our reasoning. They had done that before in Prague in 1968 and suppressing Hungarian liberation attempts in 1956. Another evening, I fearfully suggested to come home directly to have the family back together at least.
“Let’s watch on TV if there are Russian troop movements, you from there in Tunisia, and we from here. If they are sending tanks west, don't bother to come back to Germany -then it’s time to reconvene in Ireland“, our new home where we had bought a farm a few years back and to which we would move soon in 1990. Maybe sooner now....“The Americans won’t just stand by and watch on.” It had all the trimmings of an escalation. In the 80s, we felt like living on a powder keg during the armament race during the Cold War anyway. That had led us into buying the escapist farm.