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/

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ringing in the New Year

New Year’s Eve in Germany normally is a noisy affair since people set off fireworks everywhere. That was not the case in Ireland, neither on the farm nor in our village. Fireworks were and still are illegal in Ireland unless you have a license- e.g. for a public, official display.Living in the countryside, the most light we would see on a clear night were the stars—unless cloud coverage left us in the dark. City lights never offer such a spectacular view above your head.
After a long day of work around the yard and tending to the animals, a farmer wants an early night. Days have the tendency to be of a similar structure and work schedule because of the critters you take care of. Being early birds and having two small children, our night life suffered. The only sound on New Year’s Eve that I heard while lying awake and thinking of what life in Germany would be like was the ringing of the bells of the Killaloe Cathedral. Our trusted housekeeper had earned the privilege of ringing in the New Year. For her it was the highlight of the season. Mac, already asleep, would be disturbed by the sound of the bells and mumble something like: ”Can’t they keep it down a bit? I want to sleep.”
Happy New Year, everyone, noisy or otherwise…

Monday, December 20, 2010

Plucking the Xmas Dinner

In previous postings I told you about the parent pair of geese we acquired in our first year to provide us with Christmas roasts for years to come. The first was slaughtered for St. Martin's day, a tradition in Germany. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, word spread in the village and at the farmer's market in the parochial hall, that we had geese for sale - if only 4. Though not a traditional Irish Christmas dish, there were more people interested in getting these rare birds than we could provide.
What you need: a goose, buckets of scorching but not boiling water to dip the goose in head down and some stamina, ie not too delicate a nose. I had practiced before in Germany on our annual birds. But to do 4 was a a challenge. Each takes at least 90 minutes to pluck.
So my trusted helper and housekeeper put the kettle on to bring the water to a high temperature, on an AGA that can take an hour, while Mac and I chose and caught the poor first victim straight from the goose hut. Lifting the roof of the hut carefully, Father Goose became extremely aggressive, hissing and nipping at Mac's hands and jeans-clad legs. Their nips hurt! You have to grab the goose by its neck which pretty much renders it defenseless. On the yard, near the compost heap on the wall, we had a timber block for splitting kindling. Mac carried the goose over there speaking in soothing tones to it and caressing it with his second hand. He then put it on the block, I held its neck and Mac grabbed the axe. I didn't really dare to watch but necessity made me blink and double check that my arm was outstretched far away enough out of the danger zone.With one swift swing, the goose was in goose heaven. In contrast to chickens, you can't really wring their necks.They are too strong . But they don't flutter headless around the yard either. You have to let the blood drip out of the animal before you can proceed to plucking. Dip it into the hot water and the plucking can begin. We had a big double basin originating from a youth hostel so that my helper and I could stand comfortably over a basin and bucket with a goose each. Goose feathers are stubborn. Harder to pluck than chickens'. They were everywhere.Worst are the pin feathers. And geese do smell. Raised on a diet of pure grass, it's funny how much their intestines stink.After about an hour, your hands, legs, and feet have gone properly cold and numb, the feathers are done. At this stage, the chicken in me opted out due to a hypersensitive nose, and volunteered to put the kettle on for a tea brake. Pauline didn't mind. She finished the job cutting up the animals and pulling out the entrails, a very messy and malodorous job. Then she washed them many times with cold water and neatly presented them on a plate. Grateful, I had the tea and refreshments ready. Most times we had to remove little hairs that stubbornly stuck to the skin with tweezers without tearing the skin. After a while, Mac had the idea to use a little flame torch like restaurants use for making Creme Brule now, and just singe them off. Again, be careful not to burn or singe the skin. I think our reward was about 30 Irish Pounds per animal($70 today)of which I had to pay Pauline 10 for her work. Every year I toyed with the idea that we could collect the eiderdown and feathers to fill pillow cases. Somehow we never got round to it. The idea of washing these mountains of feathers was too much to undertake.Today I prefer to buy a goose, if I can find them organically grown. Thank goodness, my plucking days are over.
I was asked for a recipe: Stuffed with a mixture of bread, apples and onions, the bird requires slow roasting at 180C/375 F under continuous basting with water, its own juices, and occasional turning.2-3 hours as I recall. Delicious accompaniments are potatoes and red cabbage and apple sauce. Go for a lean bird; geese can be fatty.Ours never were because they were grass-fed, free-range--the sporty, muscular type.
Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

At the end of year one

Our first year was drawing to a close. Autumn storms that shook the buildings and the new slates that had been put on the piggery. "That'll put everything to the test" our handyman would say. We had found this gem, Martin, over the summer to give Mac a hand in doing up outbuildings and repairs in general. Farmer Mac had decided to go bigger next year and buy more sheep and cattle. Surprise, surprise he loved what he did, had gotten the hang of it and was ready to take our attempts at self-sufficiency to a higher level.
I had started teaching at the University of Limerick with the beginning of the Michaelmas term in September. Between baking, wine making, weeding, pickling, teaching, and driving kids to school I was occupied. No rest for the wicked-as they say.
Our first Christmas from home was going to be different. Real firs for Christmas trees were hard to come by. I usually made my own decorations over the mantelpiece, down the banister and various wheel size wreaths. For that I used evergreens like ilex, spruce or,twigs of an evergreen hedge plus ivy. What I missed most were German Christmas markets. But we would have the traditional goose for Christmas: one of our own.
Being German we would celebrate Christmas eve instead of having Santa Claus come and bring the gifts in the early morning of dawn on Christmas day. So much more civilized I always find. At least the parents can sleep in. The new year surprised us with lots of snow. Like Ireland is seeing now.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Blackberry Wine

Wine from blackberries tastes best! This is a recipe from a good friend and expert winemaker. My own was left behind on the farm thinking I would never make wine again.
You need:
6 kg of fruit, a 25 l plastic bucket, 2 x 375 g sultanas
4 Campden tablets
2 sachets of Vinvik
4 spoons full of Pactolase (enzyme for making wine)
2-3 teabags of black tea
Demi Johns and sterilized wine bottles.
Pour fruit in a 25l plastic bucket. Crush fruit and slowly pour boiling water onto 6 kg of sugar until sugar has dissolved –this accelerates the fermentation process. Pour over fruit. Take 2 packets of sultanas (375g each), clean fruit and discard the water. Crush sultanas and add to fruit. Let 2-3 teabags steep in 1 cup of water. It adds tannin to wine. Fill up bucket with warm water until ¾ full. Dissolve 4 Campden tablets, available at homebrew stores. Add to mixture. It prevents wine turning into vinegar.
Cover well with muslin cloth and store in a warm place. Add wine yeast the next day. In Ireland, it was called Vinvik. You can take any other Bordeaux yeast but no beer yeast. 2 sachets suffice. Prepare according to instructions on sachets and add to fruit mixture. Add 4 table spoons of Pactolase. Stir every day if you find the time. Keep at warm temperature (25C). After a week or two, fill into Demi-Johns (gallon sized bottles with airlocks).
Remove Demi-Johns after 6-8 weeks, strain and fill into bottles. What you see in the picture below under "Homebrew" are a number of Demi-Johns bubbling away on kitchen table, making weird noises. Actually, you needn’t chop the fruit too finely. That way it just takes longer until wine is ready. If you don’t want to wait for you yummy wine, crush the fruit well.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Our local Whole Food Shop offers an organic beer and wine tasting and is making it a monthly recurring event. How times have changed!
Before we emigrated to Ireland, all we drank were organic wines due to the bad press conventional wines had received in Germany. The idea of having vineyards sprayed with pesticides from the air by planes put us off. Then an article in the London Times, Nov. 2001, confirmed my wildest fears about Chilean wines. Laborers in Chilean vineyards were suffering congenital neurological and respiratory defects in the second generation then due to the lavish, carefree application of pesticides and insecticides from the air.
In Ireland at the time, no organic wines were available, only came onto the market at horrendous prices years later. What is an organic farmer supposed to do if not make his own wine? We made strawberry, blackberry, elderberry and red currant wines in our kitchen the old fashioned way not using wine making kits that were available in the local homebrew store. Those and also organic cider.
The containers adorned the kitchen table and made interesting noises while fermenting away. Recipe to follow. Need to translate it first.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Story about Baby Cut Carrots

Distracted as I am easily, I found this info worthwhile to include here.
From the Department of Life Education:

Baby Carrots:The following is information from a farmer who grows and packages carrots for IGA, METRO, LOBLAWS, etc.

The small cocktail (baby) carrots you buy in small plastic bags are made using the larger crooked or deformed carrots which are put through a machine which cuts and shapes them into cocktail carrots - most people probably know this already.
What you may not know and should know is the following:
Once the carrots are cut and shaped into cocktail carrots they are dipped in a solution of water and chlorine in order to preserve them (this is the same chlorine used in your pool).
Since they do not have their skin or natural protective covering, they give them a higher dose of chlorine.
You will notice that once you keep these carrots in your refrigerator for a few days, a white covering will form on the carrots. This is the chlorine which resurfaces. At what cost do we put our health at risk to have esthetically pleasing vegetables?
Chlorine is a very well-known carcinogen, which causes Cancer. I thought this was worth passing on. Pass it on to as many people as possible in hopes of informing them where these carrots come from and how they are processed.
I used to buy those baby carrots for vegetable dips. I know that I will never buy them again!!!!

Confirmed by Snopes in part. Could anybody help investigate if that is true for organic ones true? Since they wash organic eggs in chlorine solution I wouldn't put it past them!
In my next blog I'll yell you how we coped with an abundance of carrots on our organic farm.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Yes, we can!

Our local grocery store how has a Green wise magazine and an online one called Go Green. 4 years I first started blogging under the title GOING GREEN. (One article:Superbowl Goes Green and The Full Flush:Toilets are Going Green ) I was the only one who brought reusable bags and got some looks!
Publix now recommends bringing a bag!What a change! My pharmacist there admits she is not as green as I must be -since I bring the bags.She has no idea of this blog. Must give her my card of this blog.
Guess what their tip # 3 is: Grow a compost heap! Yes, we can.It feels like going full circle.
Happy gardening!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gardener's Gold

You needn’t be an alchemist to turn your kitchen scraps into compost. Your healthy compost will be ready after several months depending on your location and prevailing weather conditions. Not only is it beneficial to the vegetables that you grow but it overall improves the quality of your soil. (In Europe we don’t call it dirt).
The best place to build your compost heap close is close to where you want to use it in the garden and close to your water source. Compost should resemble crumbly dark soil, smelling like earth. If it gets too wet, it gets slimy; a roof or tarp over it. A too dry pile is too compact for use. Don’t be shocked to find a wiggling worm on your hands.
In winter, before the new planting season starts, the compost needs to be dug into your existing soil. About 2 inches of this precious garden gold is advisable for soil improvement and better plant performance in the next season. It’s essential in order to simply replenish whatever nutrients have been taken out by growing your plants.
So get all these little critters to work for you. You’ll be surprised that a decent compost pile reaches about 66 degrees Celsius inside while the bacteria and worms are at work. For more information and troubleshooting, there is a Compost 101. Serious.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The long awaited COMPOST HEAP

If you bother to grow your own vegetables- and here in Florida the new growing season is under way- you should spend time to make your own compost heap. This photo is the proof that a compost heap does not smell when done correctly : it was my son's and his friend's favorite spots to play at the age of 3. And we lived in a German village among neighbors who would not have tolerated anything untoward.
I'm trying to create one at the moment. You need a container, not the ones you can buy in certain wholesale place that don't have holes. Air needs do go thru it to ventilate. Just rolling the drum / plastic container, as suggested in that store, won't do it. As you can see from the picture a timber construction is easily made, you need a few planks on the ground and an enclosure. Not necessarily for climbing on top...Seymour in his ultimate Self-sufficiency book has different cheap solutions: an old oil drum with holes bored into it,the aforementioned wood structure or an even simpler one with chicken wire/mesh as sides to enclose the compost.You can build one with bricks on three sides and timber planks in the front or an old fashioned silo, depending on your needs.You never have enough good compost. That requires more space and maybe a little tractor or bobcat to handle once it grows. The easiest is if you can open it at the front, ie remove the timber planks and shovel the ripe compost, ie crumbly, healthy earth out that is full of nutrients and life.It's more important what goes in! You start with a layer of twigs, then almost anything that rots goes: leaves, grass clippings, left overs (which are not thrown into the garbage disposal. We fed them to dogs and pigs).Even newspapers, eggshells, bark, fish, avoid bones as the dogs will only dig them out anyway. They also take too long to be transformed into earth by all the microbes that will get to work instantly. In the process of composting, microorganisms break down organic matter and produce carbon dioxide, water, heat, and humus, the relatively stable organic end product. All of that should be alternated by layers of dirt and nitrogen containing material such as bone-meal or fish-meal. Algae or seaweed make an excellent starter, too. Not to forget tea leaves and coffee grounds- even with the filter. Worms love coffee! And then a layer of dung if you have it. You should water it from time to time if rain is lacking. Not a problem in Ireland. The perfect silo has a pointed top so that you can cover it in winter and the rain drops off- once it's ready.
It's ideal to have two heaps going at the same time. One that has matured and can be used and one that is still ripening.
How do you get the materials going and onto that heap? Collect them in a plastic container in the kitchen and carry out each day to throw on your developing heap. Seymour suggests to trample the heap each evening by foot or beat it with a spade...but there are certain limits and it worked just as well without doing that on a regular basis.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What 16 year-olds know about Farming & the AI man

In an earlier post I mentioned that a big percentage of Georgia( biggest grower of peaches in US) kids believe peaches grow in a tin. Here are some gems from a GED test. Are you ready?
Q. What is artificial insemination?
A. When the farmer does it to the bull instead of the cow

Q. How can you delay milk turning sour
A. Keep it in the cow

Q. What are steroids
A. Things for keeping carpets still on the stairs

Artificial Insemination, AI in short (and that is not artificial/alien intelligence), is done when the farm doesn't own a bull or the bull is not performing yet. Sometimes you also want to keep calving restricted to a certain time frame--and your vigorous bull is hard to keep away.
The AI man is usually a vet who arrives with cooling boxes in the trunk. Containers keep the sperm chilled until needed. The COWS have to be lined up in a one lane pen, ours was built out of timber, so that they go in one after another. Instead of opening the gates leading up to that paddock, he climbed them. Since you need two hands to climb a gate -when you are over 40 or so- he had to have his hands free. The syringe containing the bovine sperm went between his lips. He didn't talk until he reached the pen and took the syringe out ready to inseminate each cow standing behind them.They were separated from each other by a wooden barrier so that he wasn't kicked too often. He worked his way back to the line in no time. Another day's work done. In our second year we acquired Ismael who did the work for us. He was of a good-natured temperament, brown and very furry, not too big and had no horns. I was still in awe of him when passing through his field.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Greetings from Bavarian Mountains

From a trip to the Fatherland where the weather very much reminds me of many a summer in Ireland. Daily temperatures 11-15 C. Well, I wanted change from Florida's sweltering heat. But there is no such thing as bad weather--only wrong clothes.

Have been busy publishing my first book, hence the delay in new postings here. Also creating website with it and posting on related blogs. Info is all on the right under: What I like.
I hope some of you will like that too.
The book bears relevance to the Ex Farmer's Wife and what became of her...and how she ended up in FL.
Will be back telling about sheep shearing-if a bit late in the season for this year.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ah, the joys of farming...

The current weather in Ireland reminds me of many a summer I spent there. In particular of 1987 when for 3 weeks in July it DID NOT rain for 2 afternoons. So now for you! I bought a padded coat, a Barbour hat and the central heating was running full blast. Hard to garden in those conditions. Pests thrive, veggies rot on the ground and fruit won't ripen. (See previous post about how we dealt with slugs).
My idea of putting the whole country under glass (meant as a joke) was met by stern looks by the Irish. My ex responded by building a huge glasshouse, ca.5x20m in the following months.Ah, the joys of farming in Ireland....
The pictures I spotted in Vogue Magazine are clothes that you definitely won't need on a farm, be that in Ireland or elsewhere. "Every garden-maker should be an artist along his own lines", said Vita Sackville-West.(Photo 1) They may be chic but utterly useless. I agree with their caption to photo 2: It's not easy being green. What you need are a Barbour jacket, raincoat and wellies.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A wheelbarrow full of gherkins

Our local grocery store how has a Green wise magazine and an online one called Go Green. 4 years I first started blogging under the title GOING GREEN. (One article:Superbowl Goes Green and The Full Flush:Toilets are Going Green ) I was the only one who brought reusable bags and got some looks!
Publix now recommends bringing a bag!What a change! My pharmacist there admits she is not as green as I must be -since I bring the bags.She has no idea of this blog. Must give her my card of this blog.
Guess what their tip # 3 is: Grow a compost heap! Yes, we can.It feels like going full circle.
Happy gardening!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Green Germany vs. Emerald Isles : a culture shock

When we made the move to Ireland, organic farming, self-sufficiency and the whole shebang, we had years of green living and environmentally consciousness under our belts. Germany of the 80s had taken great strides in raising the public awareness. The Green Party was well established. As a German, I had been brought up with the motto “Waste not- want not”, that my grandparent’s. i.e., the war generation had drummed it in to us. It was natural to us to switch off any light upon leaving a room, or other unused gadgets, hang out the wash if the weather looked promising to save on electricity. In order to save on water and avoid surface pollution, German law forbids washing your car in the street. You must go to a car wash instead. The petrol crisis and the warnings of the club of Rome in the mid 70s had contributed to people saving gas whenever possible, downsizing cars, putting catalytic convertors in; cars were made fuel efficient. A debate was raging for years whether diesel or petrol was better for the environment. Another question was foremost on environmentalists’ minds: Does one save petrol by switching off the engine at a railroad crossing while waiting? Or at a red traffic light? In addition, being a bit of an activist –some said busybody - I would get out of my car in such a situation and ask the drivers before and behind me. “Does your engine have problems in starting, or are don’t you want to save the environment?” A speed limit was introduced in busy parts of Germany. The sky was no longer the limit as urban myth abroad about the Autobahn still claims.
A levy of 10 Pfennings on plastic bags had been introduced early on in the 80s if you went grocery shopping. So people made the switch and got accustomed to taking their own bags or baskets. We used rainwater for watering plants, off switched the tap while brushing our teeth and on again for rinsing. Water saving devices were installed into toilets, one for the small and one for the full flush. We avoided chemical cleaners around the house and substituted them with baking soda and vinegar. The use of aluminum foil and saran wrap as well as paper kitchen towels were reduced to a minimum. Freezers were defrosted regularly in order to reduce electricity. And then, after we had left for Ireland in 1990, recycling was taking to an all new level never seen before anywhere in the world. Until then, you kept paper and glass separate for recycling anyway, in addition, a bio- bin was introduced for scraps from the kitchen, and an extra bin for plastic or what is called “rest trash”. In some cities, households have 4 different trash cans. If you dare to mix the ingredients, maybe even by mistake, the bin men won’t pick it up.
Detergents were used so sparingly. Water softeners were the work of the devil since they hypertrophied rivers and lakes which make algae grow unnecessarily. There is no need for them if you hang your wash in the breeze, and definitely not if using a dryer.
When building our new house in Germany, it was built according to environmental standards with eco-friendly materials, in particular paints. In the renovating process of the Irish farm, Mac took gallons of Livos paint (eco!) on board in his hand luggage while I navigated 2 toddlers and their nappy bags in a stroller. Patrick, my second born, wasn’t exposed to disposable nappies –no, we had linen diapers and self-knitted panties made out of home spun untreated sheep wool. I didn’t spin though, only knitted …and then kept washing. They made the naturally big baby enormous around the midriff!
At some stage I had taken to making my own soaps and shampoos but it never turned out well enough to be of reliable use.
Being well trained in so many different areas, Ireland came as culture shock. The so called Green Isle was anything but “green”. Hedgerows were littered with plastic bags. My neighbor kept burning their rubbish, even attempted at setting metal cans on fire, exchanged their oil in the yard and let it drip down on the ground. I was the only one in the local store who bothered to bring a basket. Everybody else, even for buying just one bag of chips, got a plastic bag to wrap his purchase. In answer to the shop owner’s question why I did this since they had plastic bags…I told her about the German levy on bags. She frowned and said condescendingly, “That wouldn’t go down well in this country”. It took about 15 more years until Ireland had to face the music, too, as part of EU regulations, I suppose.
There was practically no awareness as to what was harmful to the environment, organic and eco products were not available. Clothes were way cheaper than in Germany but often made of poor quality, i.e. synthetics and not degradable. None of towns around Lough Dergh had a single water treatment plant until 1995. All household waste and sewerage plus farm effluents went untreated straight into the lake. So did the waste from numerous boats cruising on the lake, a tourist gem and the River Shannon.
Encountering this challenge in my newly adopted country made me bite my teeth on an ongoing basis. I was fit to be tied facing this sea of backwardness and having the ambition to change things for the better. I tried for many years. It’s hard work to convert a whole country.
Now here in the USA, I’m facing an even bigger challenge. Not just because of the size of the country, but because the irrefutable knowledge is there and widely available. The inertia that surrounds me seems to be unsurpassed, however. Apologies to states like WA , OR and CA where things are different.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Irish organic guidelines on washing eggs

Here is the IOFGA official answer to my request to outline whether eggs are being washed in a chlorine solution as is customary here in the US:
Any of the egg packing plants I've ever inspected don't wash the eggs at all, it's not standard practice as far as I'm aware, although I'm not sure what they do at farm level. Where water is chlorinated for any kind of washing, the chlorine level would be much lower, generally max 2 ppm. Sometimes chlorinated water is used for washing saladleaves and it's usually 0.5 to 2 ppm. Depending on the size of the
factory, concentrated sodium hypochlorite is dosed automatically into the required water supply or else chlorine tablets are used with a certain number of tablets in a certain amount of water to give the required dosage.
Hope this is of some help,
----- Original Message -----
From: IOFGA@Eircom.Net

Different countries different guidelines.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Never say never....

My last blog was barely posted (Never again will I ....)when a friend gave me a basket of little peaches from her garden.You can't let anything go to waste is still written on my brain matter, so I spent Saturday night making peach preserve.Yum! With a drop of rum. Grand Marnier was always good for strawberries, and Slivovic for black-berries.
Another thing I thought I had left behind years ago:scraping a tree from lichen. Then it was in our Irish orchard and I was 7 month pregnant. Maybe you remember that story? Today I scraped an oak tree. I did it in my bikini in front of my house this Sunday morning in 90 F heat. Didn't have the right triangular scraper but wielded a long spade-like sharp blade.
On a more serious note, something else I haven't done in 14 years: clean organic eggs fresh from the hen. They are not as clean as you may think judging from what you can buy as organic in the store. They have small amounts of crap on them in spite of exchanging the straw they live, lie and lay on it. Unavoidable. However, by the time they make it to the shops they must have been washed somehow.
And herein lies the crux. An article last week by Dr. Merola brought threw me into action. He claimed grocery store organic eggs are being washed in a chlorine solution, waxed- sometimes by petroleum jelly and candled.I investigated...and they are. At least here in the USA, this is regulated by law, organic that is. Here is the link to the full unsavory, totally disconcerting story:http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/163360
I spoke to the woman farmer at yesterday's market about the cleaning of eggs in chlorine. She knew about that procedure and pointed out that cancer patients come to buy her healthy untreated products. She had goats milk and cheese, too.
So back at home, I bit my tongue, cleaned the crap off before putting the eggs into the fridge. I've done worse. More of that some other time.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Elderflowers in Bloom

Elderflowers are in full bloom here. I guess in Ireland too? Whenever and wherever I see them -since I left the farm- a big sigh of relief escapes me; accompanied by a sense of freedom: "These days are long over, never do I have to make elderflower champagne and elderberry jam again,ever!" Or any other jam or any other wine for that matter, if I chose not to. Maybe you don't know the sensation of feeling obliged to make use of what is given to you for free,i.e. here by Mother Nature. Berries in abundance along hedgerows compelled me for almost 10 years to avail of the bounty that was given to me. In the end, there was always a huge supply of preserves etc. in the larder. But to get there...the work can't be underestimated.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Raising geese into Christmas dinners

We were lucky that first year and had 7 eggs. The most our couple ever produced was 9 and one unfortunately died that year. They are bigger than chicken eggs. Either Mother Goose or Father Goose will take turns and watch and sit on them until they hatch. During that period the parents, understandably, were most aggressive. We never let the kids go into that patch and feed them then. Trying to lock the sentinel parent into the hut at night was more difficult than ushering in the 2 together. He or she would chase the dog and you all around the hut and grassy patch until they eventually relented. Or we got lucky.
The average time for a goose egg to hatch is about 30 days. During that time, the parents do alternating shifts keeping the eggs warm. Little goslings are cute, yellow fluffy balls like chickens. After about a month they start to pin out, i.e. their pin feathers are growing. These are feathers that are shafted almost to the end, with a just a bit of fluff at the ends. Their tails look like feather dusters. Fast forward another month and you can hardly differentiate them from their parents. I lost my fear of them. Always wearing wellies and taking your dog helps. I didn’t particularly like having them in my orchard where also the washing line was situated. Why? They are messy creatures. And by that I mean: very messy. Impossible to go in there in your normal shoes. Being very environmentally conscious, I only used the tumble drier when the inclement Irish weather left me no other choice in the winter. Laundry that is flapping in the damp garden for more than 3 days and constantly rained upon is a nuisance and not very clean by the time you take it to the closest. Particularly when the lambs also roam that patch; for them it becomes a toy. It is also a nuisance to scamper for your wellies at the first sign of rain, run down the garden, open the gate and make your way through whatever animals are in pasture and collect your linen. After the second year, I put my foot down and insisted I would mow the grass and do without these free mowing helpers. Mac had suffered a childhood trauma having to mow their little city lawn and was reluctant to do it. Hooray, I eventually got an electric lawn mower and trimmer for my birthday. I was really grateful for that thoughtful present. A battle had been won.
Never sit a gosling in a big bath tub. While they enjoy the experience on a hot day, they will get tired and drown.
Preparing the geese for Christmas dinner,ie killing and plucking them is another story.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Goosey, Goosey, Gander

Germans love their goose for Christmas. So it was only natural for us to enlarge our zoo by a pair of these big birds. We once had kept geese before in Germany while living in a cottage in the countryside. When they were ready around St. Martin’s Day for the roasting pot, I took them in our Toyota Landcruiser to a place where they were killed humanely. The method of one of our neighbors was to grab them by the neck and put them in front of a chainsaw. We still owned the same Toyota which is padded in the back area with carpet. What eejit of a car designer puts a fitted carpet into the area where you are likely to transport stuff and not have it lined by plastic sheeting or metal container that can easily hosed down? Anyway, I didn’t want to relive the experience. The card board box I had put them in then was soaked through in no time by their constant flow of smelly green excrements. Maybe they were nervous too and knew what was coming?
We found a pair of geese for sale in the Nenagh Guardian that often advertises agricultural goods, hay, or animals. We set out to pick them up somewhere near Terryglass, on the other side of Lough Derg, a mere hour away. Our preferred means of transport for them was our big horse trailer, the envy of all our neighbors. The geese were a mature couple that had hatched goslings before, we were assured. The drive home must have been like a rollercoaster for them. We had put some straw in for them to sit on, but a horsebox that is big enough for 2 grown horses proved to be a big merry-go-round for them. On each bend in the curvy country road they slithered all over the place. When we arrived home, they must have been so relieved to be shown to their new abode, a hut similar to what we had built for our broilers. A slanted roof structure made of Creosote-doused timber to withstand the Irish weather all year round. We put them in a field nearest to the back of the kitchen that was fenced partially and had wall and gate for easy access from the yard. Hoping for some goslings the same year, they would keep the weeds and grass low in that patch of yard. Later we alternated them with the sheep in our proper garden and orchard which was also surrounded by a strong fence.
Geese take a bit of getting used to. They are not very sociable and make hell of a noise if someone approaches them. Remember the story of them saving Rome with their noise from assaulting marauders? They also try to bite you or at least nip you when you go near them, especially when they have eggs to guard. Then they can get outright aggressive. Mac was bitten through his jeans several times over the years.
We let them out in the morning and ushered them back in at night before a fox could get to them. When you open the door in the morning, you want to step behind the door and have it between you and the geese who will scamper out immediately , ready for some foraging in the grass. At night, it’s a different story. More often than not they didn’t agree with what we considered bedtime. Just like our kids. Luckily Brandy, our fist dog, had turned out to be useful at herding up animals. She had to overcome her initial fear of geese which was proven justified often enough. Brandy was faster than the geese however, and that often saved her hind legs and butt. In order to put the geese to bed, both an adult and Brandy had to use all their tricks to drive them into the hut. We would stand behind the door ready to pounce and Brandy would chase them and direct them in. Depending on the weather or their mood, it could take several circling trips when they overshot the target before heading for their nice bed of straw for the night.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It'll be nice when it's all done....

We had loads of visitors in the first few years. Friends who wanted to see Ireland and even my doctor who wanted to check up on us. We gave them a warm welcome, took them on sightseeing trips which became boring after a while. How many times do you want to visit Bunratty Castle? For the first bunch I had even whitewashed the outbuildings on the yard. I had unpacked tons of removal crates to get the house into respectable order while working in the garden and cooking, making jams and baking breads and cakes. This couple, admittedly well-heeled, showed up in their blue suede Gucci loafers, looked around, and she said to me, “How can you bear it and not be running away screaming?” After one night, she deplored the lack of water pressure in the shower for her thick hair. “We should have stayed at Ashford Castle.” Needless to say, that friendship didn’t last much longer.
We, the blow-ins, were often asked by the natives,” Are you happy?” While Mac wholeheartedly answered in the affirmative, I hummed and hawed a bit, “Well, it’ s very nice here.” In a consoling tone, people remarked, “ It’ll be nice when it’s all done.”
And that became my leitmotif for the next few years while on the farm.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Milk is Not Good for you

In case you never heard about it: Milk is not really good for you--no reason for grown- ups to drink it. This excellent article claims you should stop. http://www.care2.com/greenliving/skip-milk-5-reasons-why.html:
"Chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, chronic sinusitis and allergies" are often "cleared up when they stopped eating dairy."
"In addition to being chemically altered into something that hard to digest and causes problems, today’s milk usually contains steroids, antibiotics, pesticides from treated grains, bacteria from infected animals, and genetically engineered growth hormones."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Save Hay while the Sun Shineth

Warm summer weather and lots of sunshine are the prerequisite for haymaking, essential fodder for the animals in winter. These days, farms usually make silage, i.e. fermented, high-moisture fodder that can be fed to animals when they can no longer graze outside. Even today, making silage is THE bid social event of the agricultural year where the whole neighborhood gets involved and helps out, doing each farm in turn. The women folks’ job is to cook for the ‘silage men’. Silage is made either by placing cut green vegetation in a silo or by piling it in a large heap covered with plastic sheet, or by wrapping large bales in plastic film.
In our first summer, we had allocated only one field and our garden behind the house to making hay. We had opted to save hay the old-fashioned way by hand. Mac used an old scythe for cutting. No lawnmower gives the same result. The blade needed constant sharpening with a honing stone called ‘strickle’. After the grass was cut it had to be raked together in rows which had to be turned every other day. We were lucky, because showers stayed away—otherwise we would have ended up with a useless, indigestible mash. Hence the saying. Then the rows were raked into little heaps, dragon cocks, and then later when the hay had turned crisp and yellow, it was raked into triangle shaped forms called trams. Hay ropes secured the trams from the wind until they were brought into our hay barn. A family bonding experience surely − except when you are allergic to grass like 3 in our family were. One year later, we had a few more acres under hay, and we had them cut by a tractor and made into square bales. Mac loaded the square bales into the jeep and my task was to drive the jeep to the hay barn where a farmhand unloaded and stacked them up. After several trips my hay fever and asthma got the better of me. My nose was the running; I sneezed, accompanied by itching eyes and coughs. Mac’s advice was to take some medication against the unwanted symptoms. I went on strike instead. No more hay transporting in our family car for me. In the following years when he managed the full acreage himself, a contractor did all the work.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Killer Horse named Scarlett

Most little girls like ponies and get into horse-riding. Amy had had riding lessons in Germany before we emigrated and now wished for a pony of her own. The first we got for her was Sparky, but she suffered from laminitis, an inflammation of the hooves often caused by lack of exercise and overeating. She was soon returned and replaced by Rusty who stayed with us till the kids had outgrown a pony that size. To look after a pony entails a lot of responsibilities for a little girl: grooming,riding,feeding and mucking out, in the morning before school and last thing at night. Rusty was housed in one of the outbuildings next to the tack room. She would be prone to that disease as well if you let her feed all day and night in a field of fresh grass.
A keen horseman himself, Mac acquired a 3/4 thoroughbred to go hunting with,a good 15 hands in height, a filly of two years and just broken in. She was quite the primadonna under the horses and had a temperament.
I've always been afraid of horses and their sheer size. On the first day that Scarlett was out in the fields, she frightened the life out of me. It was in new surroundings and appropriately frisky.That was the day we decided to set Benny Bunny free down by the river(See previous blog).I carried him in a box and had both kids,7 and 4, tagging along on either side chatting away. Scarlett circled us for most of the way, coming dangerously close at times. The kids tugged at my arms, frightened, but I couldn't let go of that box. We increased our pace until we made it over the river. There, I reasoned, with out the encumbrance of the box I would be free-- to do what I wasn't sure though. When we stared climbing the hill back up, Scarlett came charging towards us, whinnying and circling us. Her hind legs were precariously close to the heads of my children. Hearts racing, we pressed on and back to the house. Mac appeared at the top of the hill, arms stemmed by his sides: "What's going on?" I shouted: "For God's sakes, grab your killer horse and lead it out of harm's way! It's attacking us!" He shook his head at my ignorance. " Don't you know you just have to shout to shoo them away? That scares them and tells them who is the boss." Hands cupped around his mouth, he yelled a piercing "boo" twice, and Scarlett cantered away, and we to the safety of the gate. After that I preferred to have a stable door between her and me. Both kids, however, overcame their fear and became horsey people, jumping and all.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Which products to buy organic

Just stumbled across this little handy picture guide in an article by Ronnie Citron-Fink on Care2.com. http://www.care2.com/greenliving/organic-revisited-a-free-cheat-sheet-for-buying-organic.html Excellent website for matters organic by the way. While I don't agree with her that the jury is still out whether organic products are healthier, I found this gadget useful. If you have an iphone, you can even download it as an ap.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hexane in our organic foods?

As I've done before, current political developments regarding food, environmental, and health issues urge me to take a stand. Being an avid organic fan and promoter I do not want Hexane in my so-called organic veggie burgers. This unsettling piece of information is frightening because of the extent of what food producers do to consumers here in the USA without the requirement of declaring ingredients and production methods. I don't want to spoil your appetite, but the attached links are worth reading and signing the 2 petitions.
The other one concerns a proposed bill which can still be stopped:As written now, the legislation is a big gift to the industrial food producers, and a drastic blow against small farms. Come to the rescue: Unless it is amended, the Food Safety Modernization Act will regulate our local food sources out of business.
Now is the time to come to the rescue of the party. Thanks.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happy Earthday!

Let's enjoy the earth as long as it lasts...silly? With the threats to climate, endangered species and pollution all around us I think it's a realistic danger; if not for our generation, at least for those who come after us after us. I lived an organic, self-sufficient life for about 10 years. As you may have figured out I left that lifestyle and marriage a while ago and lapsed into "normal" buying and living habits.
Now, back to growing my own produce and total awareness of how the earth and our health are connected, I'd like to promote Earth Day: to buy locally and organically. Not only does it help our local economy but also the environment. Instead of hauling i.e. flying produce around the world, take advantage of what is in season and available in a shop near you.
Just this short note today. Amy is here for a visit in the land of plenty that is environmentally challenged. Regarding the insect repellents I wrote about a few weeks back, in her memory not only did we scrape off the slugs from underneath the board in the vegetable garden.We also put them in a jar, ground them up, and sprinkled them between the rows of veggies. So now for you...How could I forget?
No wonder Amy is still traumatized by slugs.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Benny Bunny

One Saturday morning I drove into Limerick. I had heard they had a fresh market and an organic shop: Green Acres, named after a popular TV show I didn’t know. The actual market was not much to write home about, different to the exquisite fresh and live displays we have in most German towns. I spotted a little black rabbit that I took home as a surprise for my kids.
They were ecstatic and called him Benny Bunny. The same afternoon we built a little timber house for him with an enclosed porch. A lot of sawing and nailing could be heard being done by their father. They helped painting it with creosote to let it withstand the elements. The structure allowed Benny Bunny to nibble at the grass outside his hut while he was safely enclosed by chicken wire. Another plus he couldn’t run away. There was also chicken wire underneath that no critter could dig through. His task was to cut the lawn and the task of my hopeful offspring was to move it a little further everyday and occasionally provide him with a little extra dandelion or something equally scrumptious.
First it was fun, and then they neglected their duties. We had made friends with another German family who were breeding rabbits for meat. That was not our intention, however. Watching my children neglect Benny Bunny for several weeks, I asked them what the problem was. “He shouldn’t be encaged. We like to play with him and he should roam freely.”
“Ok, we are going to set him free and give him his freedom back.” But I didn’t want him too close to my vegetable garden, so I decided to take him beyond the river. From “Watership Down” I seemed to remember that the little fur balls didn’t voluntarily cross a river. I reckoned that would prevent Benny Bunny from coming back and doing damage to the cabbage. We carried him over in a cardboard box and gave him his life back on the other side. On the way back I had my doubts already. Would he make it on his own or be eaten by a fox any time soon? But I kept my thoughts to myself.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy Easter Eggs!

Yesterday it was exactly 20 years that we started our adventure in Ireland. Although in my current chronology of events I’m at a different point in time, I’d like to throw in this typical Easter procedure that was repeated for several years.
Our neighbors’ kids were flummoxed that there was an Easter Bunny to visit German children that brought them sweets and colored eggs—even to those living abroad. In our first year we could see our new neighbors peep through their front windows. It wasn’t customary at the time to have an egg hunt in Ireland. In the following years we invited them to join us but since Mass took precedence, they didn’t often make it.
Since the weather was often dreadful and our offspring couldn’t be relied on to always find what had been left for them, we came up with a clever strategy. On Easter Sunday, Mac would take us through the gardens pretending to look for hidden eggs. He had all the goodies in his big overcoat and dispensed them furtively as he went along. Amy and Patrick hang back with me, thoroughly inspecting each shrub and little tree for possible hiding places. The garden was big enough for him to forge ahead without them noticing. This maneuver had a double benefit. Neither did the chocolates or colored and decorated eggs get soaked nor did we find surprises later in the year when some gardening was going on in that area. We also brought the German tradition of decorating fresh spring twigs with decorated eggs, bunnies or butterflies with us.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Bugs galore

Like death and taxes, there is something utterly certain about organic farming: the arrival of bugs. Together they may impact your joy in organic farming. As the weather will, particularly in Ireland.
Just like the arrival of them here in FL on my bell peppers and even Brussels sprouts within a screen room that’s supposed to keep bugs out. There are a couple of ways dealing with different type of bugs, only few “chemicals” of an organic nature are allowed. I set out to find the one we mostly used in Ireland yesterday: Pyrethrum is the Latin name for chrysanthemums, an ornamental plant. It has been used for hundreds of years as a natural insecticide and a lice remedy. The insect repellent ingredient is taken from dried flower heads.
The best way to deal with bugs is to avoid them in the first place. That can be done at the planning stage of your garden by deliberately choosing which plants to grow together. John Seymour offers a list of solutions in his book, our Bible. To give you a few examples: grow carrots with onions, plant marigold, rhubarb or coriander between vegetables. Their smell deters bugs, allegedly. The main aim is not to grow the same plant in the same spot every year. A change of location, rotating the plants in a four year rhythm is recommended. The creation and improvement of soil is the prime foundation for a productive and healthy garden. This is done through proper techniques of composting and cultivation. Besides, a deep and humus rich top soil produces strong disease resistant plants whose deep roots will survive drought.
Another method is to use ladybirds (ladybugs in America) as natural bug eaters. Alas, they just wouldn’t do it for me. I picked them from one shrub and carried them over to the infested vegetable. They just sat there, lazy, looking bored, and had no idea of what their job was. I see them for sale in a jar here in Florida. Good luck with that method!
I had mentioned planks before that Mac had put between the rows of veggies for convenience of walking, squatting and kneeling while weeding, and also for keeping the weeds down. The downside was that under these planks slugs found a cozy habitat. You simply have to turn over the planks and can pick up the slugs by hand or scrape them off with a tool. Rumor has it that slugs like to drink beer. If you put out little dishes with beer they climb in…and die a nice dead. Ours didn’t comply. Unfortunately the y weren’t of the variety the French like to eat. And I have reconsidered that gourmet option since my farm experience, trust me.
One of the last resorts to get slugs and black bugs out of Brussels spouts was to examine each plant one by one and flick the bugs of by hand or a little knife. A tiring procedure and prone to mistakes. In spite of my best efforts of examining broccoli and cauliflower this way and soaking them in hot salty water for some time, some made it to the plates. My kids have been traumatized this way by finding cooked slugs on their dinner plates. Up to this day many years later, I’m not keen on cleaning fresh Brussels sprouts, peeling off layer after layer of the green overlapping leaves. Not that I’m afraid of finding insects, but it’s a tedious process if you do it conscientiously given my farming background when I buy them organic.
John Seymour further recommends a nicotine solution against bugs or lice: Use 100 cigarette stubs without filter, bring them to the boil with 4 liters of water and let it simmer. Not everybody is a heavy smoker though and I wouldn’t recommend starting it. It’s supposed to work against beetles and caterpillars.
Lime rings prevent an ant infestation on fruit trees. You can keep millipedes from getting in the way if you dig tin can, riddled with holes, into the ground but you must fill it with potato peels. Never tried that since we didn’t have a problem with them. Let me know.
Overall good advice for the protection of your garden: Walls or rabbit fencing should be in place on your boundary. You should have nets, fleece and wire available to protect brassicas, fruit, and peas from birds. You should get keep your garden free of hiding places for slugs. You should encourage beneficial predators such as hedgehogs and frogs. You should make sure there is diversity in your vegetation, including wilderness areas and flowers which harbor beneficial insects and beetles. Hedges will protect your garden from wind and give shelter to beneficial insects over winter.
And don’t forget to swing that hoe regularly between the rows of veggies because the weeds won’t forget to grow in the meantime.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Most pesticide-laden fruits and veggies

You can't always buy organic, it's too costly. So my reasoning is if you don't even eat the skin of veggie, for example, for avocados and other peeled produce, pesticides aren't a problem. Right?

Not always. Some fruits' and vegetables' thick skins do protect the edible part from chemicals. But not all. The Environmental Working Group recently analyzed samples of 47 common produce items in the state that they're usually eaten (i.e., avocados were peeled, apples washed with water, etc.) then ranked them according to the amount and variety of pesticides the researchers found. Good news for my guacamole addiction: As I suspected, peeled avocadoes contain a small amount of pesticides, ranking 46th on the list. But bananas come in at a surprisingly high 27, and cucumbers at 19. "It’s really hard to use your intuition to figure out what’s going to have high pesticide loads," says Environmental Working Group spokesperson Amy Rosenthal. "Skin is something to take into account, but it doesn’t always make a huge difference."
1 (worst) Peach 100 (highest pesticide load)
2 Apple 93
3 Sweet Bell Pepper 83

Monday, March 22, 2010

Weed Control

As the summer progressed and lush greens surrounded us everywhere, we weren’t spared by the unwanted greens, i.e. weeds. The German word is much kinder:Unkraut= non-herb. The vegetable garden had priority in this ongoing battle. Often times, even the kids were recruited to pull some—after some instruction as what were weeds and what not. Mac had laid timber planks on the paths between his planted rows of potatoes, strawberries, and the young vegetables. In particular smallish courgettes/zucchinis and onions were doomed if we didn’t make regular guest appearances. Remember, the rows were 50 m long each. When using a hoe proved too risky around smallish specimen, you would squat down, then kneel, and eventually sit on the planks. Already in Germany, where our garden had been on a smaller scale, our children had spent a fair amount of their toddling years and childhood among the greenery. In particular Amy, who started walking late, was often parked on the ground were we worked. We had to keep an eye on her to prevent her from eating the dirt.
No question whether an ‘aspiring’ organic farmer would avail of the use of herbicides or not, understandably. We learned to mulch which was a novelty then. You couldn’t just buy mulch in Ireland. We used grass clipping which have a tendency to rot in the Irish rain. We used layers of newspapers which get unsightly and torn in too bad weather soon. Sheet mulch (black plastic sheets) came into fashion only later. So mainly it was back to backbreaking work.
The farmyard, however, made of tarmacadam, was a different story and a bone of contention between us. Mac didn’t mind letting the grass grow there. And grow it did nicely. The traffic of crossing animals and tractors encourages weed growth exponentially. Initially, I tried to pull the weeds by hand. The yard was about 10x30m. The width and work involved didn’t constitute so much of a problem. No, pulling the weeds unfortunately also tore up part of the tarmac in little patches. What to do if Round-up was not an option?
Mac bought a flame torch for me. Since it was my job or least desire to keep the yard clean.
With some trepidation I learned how to use it. It took about 2-3 hours to do the whole yard. In contrast to what handy commercials show you, you had to repeat the procedure at least once a day or two later. Otherwise the flame wouldn’t really destroy the cell structure and root as promised. Low and behold, it only spurred the weeds growth! Did I mention you can only use the torch on dry weeds or in dry weather? Unfortunately, the Irish weather tends to include a lot of regular rain. How to use a flamer http://www.gameco.com.au/index.php?idp=26&mod=page. In spite of the proper gear, I was fighting a losing battle.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Elderflower Champagne

While we can expect a proliferation of things turning green here in the US in anticipation and celebration of St.Patrick's day − not only my lawn after a particularly cold winter in FL− I mean, rivers tinted , green beer, socks, hats and very other impossible kitschy items for people who aren’t even Irish, my blog continues with our first summer which progressed nicely.

Hawthorne hedges blooming white and red gave way to elders (common elder; sambucus nigra) that have a white-yellowish bloom before they turn into black berries in the autumn. We had made German friends who had a similar farm set-up to us who were experts on making wines. Not just from the homebrew kit that the local homebrew store had for sale. R&R made wines out of strawberries, rhubarb, redcurrants, blackcurrants and blackberries and elderberries. And a sherry-effect liquor to die for!
My Ex,Mac, considered himself a concerning wine drinker. In Germany, we had only drunk exquisite German dries and Bordeaux wines. Then when we went environmentally friendly, switched to drinking organic wines only because many vineyards –particularly in Chile- had taken to spraying pesticides from the air by plane. A Sunday Times article double paged feature described the congenital birth defects this caused for the 2nd generation of vineyard laborers already. No more such wines for us…!
Our first attempt was elderflower champagne which, strictly speaking, isn’t champagne of course. It hardly has any alcohol, yet it sparkles and is a refreshing spritzy drink even for kids.
Elderberry champagne:
Approx. 10 liters of water, 15 big elderflower clusters, ¼ l wine vinegar 2-3 untreated lemons, 1 kg sugar.
Besides these ingredients you need a big stone or earthenware; thick walled glass bottles, preferably old champagne bottles that can be secured with a cork and wire. Screw tops do blow of under pressure. Wait till you hear that story!
First go for a walk to cut these elderberry blossoms, fully blown, but not over yet. Boil the water, dissolve the sugar in it and cool down. Wash the untreated lemons in hot water and cut into slices.
Check elderflower blossoms for little critters and dirt. Use as much as possible from the thick green stems and then give the blooms together with the lemon slices into the stone pot. Add the wine vinegar to the cooled sugar water to and pour over the flowers and lemons in the stone pot. Cover with a cloth and leave in a sunny place for 4 days. Stir every day with a wooden spoon. Don’t fill the bottle too much but up 4 to 5 cm below the rim. For this filter the liquid through a muslin cloth or very fine sieve.
Seal the bottles and secure the corks! The best place to store them is in a box. Bring to a cooler place (the basement) and leave at least 14 days to mature (bottle fermentation). The champagne sparkles a little already, but at maturity, there's real power, or then again sometimes not.
The development of carbon dioxide differs from year to year. It must depend on the weather or the condition of the blossoms. You can’t predict the amount of CO2 in the bottle.
So be careful when opening the first bottle, unless you want to paint the ceiling anyway. Or better open the first bottle in the garden. Elderberry champagne tastes best chilled: a great refreshing drink on hot days.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I wanted to write about planting more fruit etc. I always get distracted by food/organic/farm related things in the news. Bear with me...
Watching Charlie Rose the other night shook my world. He interviewed Mark Pincus, the CEO of the greatest social gaming network. Zynga has just been voted Best Overall Startup Product of 2009. FarmVille was voted their Best App. (application for the uninitiated).
Farmville is at the top of their popularity list. Over 60 million “farmers”, more than in the real world. Grow delicious fruits and vegetables and raise adorable animals on your very own farm!
Where does this virtual interest come from? Because you can grow and harvest in no time? Without sweat and risks like bad weather? And you won’t get your hands dirty? So here I am on my blog telling you how we toiled the soil, brought lambs into the world, and plucked chickens. My avatar: the new Virtual Farmer’s Wife.
Farmville is game where you can farm with your friends, a social network. Got it? What’s wrong with that?
All these games are playable on Facebook. No wonder people withdraw from the real world and chose an online, virtual –may I say Ersatz- world? Remember the Tamagotchi of the late 90s? Where you could raise, feed and walk a dog? Sounds familiar? You probably guessed that I’m not a gaming or virtual reality person. “People really need to do something with each other” (Mark Pincus).” You don’t say!
You start off with crop ready to harvest. For that you get gold coins…without having to bother going to the market. Fallow land is plowed in a second. You can buy new seeds at the market and sow immediately. After ten minutes, soybeans are 2 % grown: Hey, Presto! Instant gratification!
For the rest of my article go to Opednews.com. See link on the right, please.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Earth Bound

A downpour empties the rain choked bowl of a thundering sky
Earth pauses after the soaking
And basks in a gray green glow
Back lit by brushed metallic radiance
That moment just before a new sun breaks through

The last few fat rain drops
Splat on the tin roof of the chicken coop
Bothering brood hens fluffed wide
Over clutches of satin brown eggs
Each hen, eyes half closed in contentment
Chucking quietly to herself

The moist smell of new straw warmed under feathers
Then touches the fragrance of strawberries and lavender
From the garden

My small refuge in this frenzied world gone mad over itself
As it speeds down a highway that cuts through corn fields
Sandy Hartman

Written by a reader of my blog. SO kind of you! Thanks.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Organic certification

One of the frequently asked questions is :How do we know what we buy is really organic?
Your produce is not just organic because a producer says so. There are detailed requirements to be fulfilled in order to qualify for this label. I’m outlining this in detail because I keep encountering skeptics who doubt that organic products are really organic and how do you know that the supermarket is not just putting a label on it in order to raise prices?
If you buy a farm that so far has been farmed conventionally, it takes a few years of “conversion” until you can call yourself organic. Cattle farmers or beef and lamb meat producers like us had to start with letting your fields grow naturally, without the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. For that period, your produce is labeled “in conversion” after “an in-conversion license is granted to the successful applicant.” In the meantime the animals you have on your field must be raised without medication and growth promoters.
In Ireland, IOFGA is the official organization that certifies that produce and meat etc. are really organically grown—and that means from start to finish (Irish Organic and Farmers Association).
“The conversion period is the time frame that occurs between applying to IOFGA to convert to organic farming and getting a full organic symbol. In most cases this is two years. When the conversion period is successfully completed a full organic symbol is granted allowing produce to be sold as organic and to display the IOFGA symbol.” (http://iofga.org/certification-and-members/organic-certification/)
An inspector will come to your farm, write an inspection report that then will be examined by the Certification panel.
In Ireland over the past 10 years the organic market has enjoyed high levels of consistent growth. Even in times of economic pressure peoples’ priorities are sourcing food which has been produced with an emphasis on environmental, ethical and health concerns.
Perusing IOFGA’s website, I see you can search growers by product or county. It shows who is in conversion and who is certified. For homework: Note to blogger for homework: check what the American procedure is and compare!

IOFGA now runs classes on how to grow stuff organically (for school projects, hobby growers, allotment holders etc.)
We met lots of likeminded people through attending their meetings because in our neighborhood, nobody else was an organic farmer—yet. We met Jo who was the biggest producer of wheat and procured grain that I ground into flour for baking my breads and cakes; we also made friends with vegetable growers who had been farming organically for some time and had more experience than us. A lot of them were Germans like us or Dutch.
We organics weren’t that many altogether –yet in the early 90s.When my stint on the farm ended, Mac was the second biggest beef producer in the country—and only had 20 animals for slaughter that year.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Raising broilers

We got our first little chicks (broilers, actually) that summer. I collected 24 of these cute yellow fur balls in a cardboard box from a farmer in our family car. Their chirping and pungent smell --in spite of their miniature size-- quickly filled the jeep. My kids and 2 of the neighbor's ones we had taken with us for the ride where delighted.
We had built another little hut according to Seymour's specifications. No caged chickens for us! The chicken farms in the neighborhood of my parents home in northern Germany, huge commercial enterprises with thousands of animals that never saw the light of day still make my stomach revolt. It was their stench to be specific. It lay like a smelly blanket over miles of agricultural land and one gave a sigh of relief on leaving that area. Chicken slurry smells just as bad as pig's. That beside the idea of their caged, imprisoned existence put me of eggs and chicken meat for years.
The fur balls turn their color quickly into white when they grow up and develop white feathers.
It posed an immense problem to feed them. The Creamery where we (and other farmers) bought our feeds, only had the usual starter feeds. Enhanced with all the goodies that an organic farmer objects to: grains enhanced with growth promoters to kick start them and medicines for good measure because they normally fall sick early when in confined accommodation. Antibiotics, primarily. We opted for pure maize, unadulterated with any dubious extras, barley and wheat grains all of which we had to crush by hand or an old coffee grinder to make them small enough for the only day-olds.
Every turkey or chicken that you buy that hasn't earned the label organic will have got started on the above mentioned extras. They also fed on grass and the occasional salad leaf, free to roam our garden. They thrived just fine until we slaughtered them for our own consumption when it turned too cold for them.
Our zoo now consisted of 4 lambs, 4 calves, a cat, a dog and 24 broilers as well as a dozen of pullets.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Conventional vs Organic Meats

Our cattle, lambs, pigs and chickens were grass-fed. They lived a happy life in a natural, healthy environment until they went the way of all flesh. Before we produced our own on the farm, we had practically given up on meats unless it was organic−often hard to get hold of and more expensive.
In contrast to intensive farming, organically raised animals are not confined to tiny cages where they can’t move. They don’t have to live and grow in overcrowded, often filthy and inhumane conditions where they are treated as production units, i.e. they have to put on weight at top speed at lowest costs. They are treated as living creatures instead.
Conventional agriculture pumps animals full of hormones and drugs, feeds them unnatural diets, douses vegetables with chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and introduces genetically modified seeds into the environment. How can the food on your family’s dinner table not be harmful to your health?
Besides the health benefits of organic farming, there is also the environmental result of significantly less fuel consumption, less erosion, less air and water pollution and greater soil fertility.
I can’t eat chicken dishes anymore when eating out unless the menu states specifically grass-fed or free range. If you can’t get organic produce all the time, there is now the “all natural, no-antibiotic, no growth-hormones” raised chicken, pork and beef in some supermarkets here. I have my doubts about this concept, however. Out of my own experience in Ireland, I know that the organic farming status and organic label are hard to achieve and guarantee what they promise.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thanks for comments

I appreciate comments left. I got the translation of what a Chinese reader wrote: 要持續更新下去喲!!祝你心情愉快 "Please continue updating!! May you have joyful mood."In case anybody else was wondering what it meant...

Sunday, February 7, 2010


When Mac bought 4 calves, I knew he meant business. For self-sufficiency on the farm, even John Seymour said that one cow is enough. It provides you also with your dairy needs including cheese. The four were Aberdeen Angus, a Scottish breed well regarded for its meat and even temper. So down the line, there was a herd planned. Since we didn’t have a milk quota, we couldn’t just produce milk without end. One cow for our personal consumption would have been OK, but we didn’t need more than half a gallon a day for ourselves and neither Mac nor I felt like milking. We didn’t know how to either. But that we could have learned from The Book of course. A cow needs regular milking twice a day. There was a limit, however, to what Mac was willing to do and that didn’t include getting up and milking every morning, or being around late each afternoon. We saw neighbors driving their cattle home along the road each day in the morning and evening messing up the roadway in the process. This was great excitement each time for the dogs steering them; when an impatient car had to follow them patiently until they turned into their familiar yard entrance; or for the farmer’s wife, armed with a stick in wellies and headscarf when it rained. It seemed to be a woman’s job and it seemed to rain a lot. Sometimes children would follow in the back to keep the herd together. Some cows are notorious for sampling what hedgerows have to offer.
We named our new additions to the family Rira, Lulu, Micki and Roisin; two after the characters in Amy’s Irish reader and the other two after my mother and father. Micki‘s purpose in life was to provide us with beef some day. Mac finally explained his intentions that we were starting a herd of suckling cows and that we were into grass and beef — instead of dairy. The calves were already weaned and quickly outgrew our orchard. That’s why we had kept the 4 acres for initially while the rest of the farm was rented out in the first year. Mac had put his economist’s hat on while walking the land one day and a shift change from self-sufficiency to commercial agriculture had occurred by the end of that first year. Our escapist enterprise had to become a viable business.
So we had to learn more about being in the beef business. Cattle come as little bulls and little cows. Bulls must be castrated when less than two months old. For that you don’t need a vet. Elastic bands are fitted around their testicles and they shrivel away over time - some have to be cut then; mercifully, some not - and then they turn into “bullocks.” Easy as pie. Even Nicole Kidman learned to do it for her role in Australia where she plays a British aristocrat of 1930 who get a cattle station as inheritance. For full instructions see How to Castrate a Bull. It keeps bulls' temperments in check -- a wise move unless you are breeding for bulls fights. Nobody in Ireland said steer or oxen. Bullocks — not to be confused with bollocks. It often sounded the same. As did ballcocks, which caused quite a stir lately on an Irish radio show and in ongoing jokes. But that's another story.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pullets, chicks and broilers

Triggered off by an inquiry from one of my Followers (!), I’m postponing my compost story (yawn) and also fashion advice for the trendy farmer's woman (shame). We started with about a dozen brown chickens. Laying hens are called pullets. We asked the farmer we bought them from whether they were laying already or not, because it can take up to 6 months until they do -- depending on the breed. Now my dear friend, not knowing how old or what your breed is, I venture to say that, just like girls, chicks start to mature and reach puberty at different times. One of them may well be laying already, as you wrote, whereas the others are still growing and getting ready to produce a life-long supply of your eggs. These pullets, when they are older and past laying, can still be used for nutritious soup. You wouldn’t roast them, because they would be too tough. You want broilers for roasting.
Some hens lay an egg every day, some skip a day. In Ireland, they reduced their production in winter. Even if yours are home in a milder climate, their circadian rhythm may still tell them, "Hey, it’s winter…and the chick union entitles me to have a break.” Keep feeding them as normal with an extra bit of grain or protein. I knew a farmer who swore by fish for that purpose. We always felt the eggs had a fishy smell.
Be careful what you feed them. Most ready-made feeds you can buy consist of undesirable ingredients that we organics don’t approve of: Growth promoters are the worst. Don’t even think about those now just because your hens are not laying yet! More about this topic when we talk about raising 1 day old chicks into juicy roasted chickens. When in doubt, and you can’t buy organic feeds, let them run around free on grass or among vegetable patches and let them scratch and feed where they want, add some grain, grass or unwanted salad leaves. They will not overeat or eat anything that may be bad for them. What you might do to encourage broodiness is putting medium sized plastic buckets with straw inside into the hen house. They have their individual little cubbyhole which they adopt and where they lay their eggs. Nothing worse than trying to find eggs in the hedgerows every morning if you have free ranging hens!
Make sure the chicken house is safe. We followed John Seymour’s ARK type. It has to be above ground so that badgers and rats or foxes don’t dig through. Otherwise a tight chicken mesh is advisable. Tall enough for easy access with a lockable door. A roof also helps against intruders from above, even big dogs jumping in and having a field day; a fence around their designated area is advisable but not fox proof. Lock the hen house at dusk. That’s when Mr. Fox strikes. Open up late mid morning after they have laid their egg -- probably. Don’t count you eggs before they are laid:}
I sold our surplus eggs at the local news agent. Which was against EU regulations. (Oops!). Eggs have to be officially screened against diseases. So Liam kept them under the counter and customers discreetly asked for them. Everybody loved our fresh eggs and got upset in winter when the demand was higher than the hens’ productivity.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What you Need to Know about GM Foods

In the USA most children think milk comes from the supermarket and peaches from a can, according a recent survey; even the kids in Georgia where most peaches are grown. That shows how far removed from the sources of our food we’ve become. Kids never set foot on a farm.
By the same token, most people think the food in the frozen food isle is actually real food, not realizing it's chock full of unnatural additives; preservatives, colorings, and artificial flavorings. That was one of the reasons we chose to grow our own food/produce 20 years ago. We felt that returning to natural eating habits was a must. Even more so today.
And Healthy Eating Starts with NO GMO! The problem here in the States is that genetically modified produce need not be labeled. So you don’t know what you are eating. You can assume, however, that you take in 70% genetically modified foods if you live off the fast food isle. I highly recommend reading Jeffrey Smith’s books, Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette. Jeffrey Smith
Smith documents at least 65 serious health risks from GM products of all kinds, including,and I quote:
“Male mice fed GM soy have damaged young sperm cells
The embryo offspring of GM soy-fed mice have altered DNA functioning
Several US farmers have reported sterility or fertility problems among pigs etc.” The list goes on and on. To sum it up: GMO foods can be: • Allergenic • Toxic • Carcinogenic • Anti-nutritional".
How can we avoid GM food? By buying organic. I experienced firsthand how difficult it is to acquire that well-earned label “Organic”. Get this quintessential shopping guide that lists GM foods: http://www.nongmoshoppingguide.com/SG/Home/index.cfm.
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho of the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) explains the heart of why GM foods are so dangerous: Playing with Technology We Don’t Fully Comprehend (read the full article on Mercola Article on GM.
Products to avoid that contain these at-risk ingredients are 1. Soy 2. Corn 3. Cotton 4. Canola. I don’t know how cotton gets into the food chain, but soy and canola oil is prevalent here and hard to circumnavigate.
Germany – together with 5 other countries in the EU- has banned growing GM corn. And their food products need to be labeled.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine has called for a moratorium on genetically modified foods! Genetically modified foods That’s food for thought, ain’t it?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nixers, gurriers and eejits

Instead of explaining how to start a compost heap, my mind segues to some more typical, if idiosyncratic Irish expressions. After the “tirty-tree” nothing much surprised me. Just as well the Irish don’t go for putting suffixes after the names of their offspring much like here in the US, e.g. Jim Mahoney, III…
My piano teacher called Mozart a gas man. I had no idea what she was talking about: funny, hilarious, of course. Here in the US ‘gassy’ has entirely different connotations. In other words, Mozart was a character. A character is not just any character but a unique, rare, one of a kind individual. It doesn’t imply he isn’t the full shilling. But politeness mostly prevails and a mentally challenged person is just “innocent, God love him!”
Your ‘gaff’ is simply your abode. If his place was a ‘kip’, stay away (a dump). No gurriers in my neighborhood please! Kipping, however, is normal and allowed (napping).
Snogging is prevalent and also used in the UK, but unheard of in the US. Don’t overdo or you’ll feel knackered or banjaxed.
A blow-in could be somebody who moved in from far away like us, or just from across the other side of the bridge, as was the case in our town. There the bridge was the border between Co. Tipperary and Co. Clare.
One of the old diehards when a baby is born: “Is it a boy or is it a child?”
A well-endowed, top-heavy woman “has all on it”.
A Brit will understand what a woolly jumper is or a trolley. Nixing is a bit of work on the side, and not necessarily known to the taxman.
To call a person or something previous when they mean premature leads us in the area of malapropisms. Pity I loaned my priceless book on that topic to a friend and never got it back. It’s out of print, unfortunately. My housekeeper kept all her referees in a box under the bed.
It’s easy to go mental with all these exotic expressions, isn’t it? My all time favorite is the ‘eejit’. Met a few in my life. In contrast to idiot, it’s a term of endearment. Alas, not everybody outside Ireland understands that and may take offence. So now for you. There you have it in a nutshell.
I am skipping true slang phrases here. There is a book with more of these expressions if this whetted your appetite: The Feckin’ Book of Everything Irish. (The effing word is acceptable as long the vowel is changed).
I could go on and on…Let me finish with two quotes:
“This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever.” (Sigmund Freud about the Irish). Don’t you just love the Irish?
And: “Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies.” Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)
Next week I'll start the compost heap; promised!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

1030 Trees

When we bought the farm we had 1000 trees planted down by the river, a mixture of firs and deciduous trees. Mac had the idea we could always sell them as firewood and that could be an extra income in years to come. Alternatively, the ash could be used for making hurling and camogie sticks. They were down by the river, a good bit away from the house. Since we didn’t live on the farm then permanently, we couldn’t look after them in the first year after planting when there is the danger of the little saplings being overgrown by weeds. Herbicides and any non- organic spray were out of the question anyway. We hired a farmhand, Siney, to trample the weeds instead and paid him all summer long. While we were there on vacation we helped, Mac and I, and to some extend the two toddlers who grew tired of this pastime even faster than I did. Whenever we checked on Siney, he was just having a tea break or asleep in the high grass. Did he even turn up in our absence, I wondered?
On the yard and in the front garden, we planted 10 edible chestnut and walnut trees, fully aware that it would take 10 years for them to produce the first nuts. Ironically, the first nuts showed up the year I left the farm.
Our orchard had a dozen or so of old apple trees which didn’t bear much fruit anymore and they were tiny. Maybe older trees aren’t that prolific anymore anyway, or the lichen that grew on their stems prohibited their growth. The summer I was pregnant with Patrick, before we moved in for good, we tackled the lichen. A triangular gadget with 3 sharp edges, a scraper, was used to scrape off the unwanted growth on the bark of the trees. Not exactly how a 6-months pregnant woman wants to spend her vacation but it had to be done. Later we planted an additional orchard of about 20 apple trees where we erected a big greenhouse in the field near our vegetable rows. Young apple trees need about four years to mature. Especially in the first year, their stems need to be grass free. Mulching is a good method to keep the weeds down. We put paper down around them with grass cuttings on top.Obviously we couldn’t do that with the 1000 trees.
Apple trees want proper cutting; preferably in the winter to keep them in shape. A summer cut needs to check that year’s growth. A tree that is pruned doesn’t produce any fruit but puts all its energy into growing. A good bit of manure as fertilizer will prepare their growth for the coming year. In spite of good care taking we never had enough apples for our apple juice and cider making needs. But more about that another time.