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/

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Second Day of Christmas

For some it's not over.
Germany and many other European countries like France, Italy, Hungary, even the UK have a second Day of Christmas, with 'Boxing Day' being the better known name. In Serbia, Sweden, Croatia and Poland they celebrate it as St. Stephen's Day, the day of the first Christian martyr. In Ireland it's pronounced btw St.Stephense's Day). In the Republic of Ireland, the day is one of nine official public holidays. In Irish, it is called Lá Fhéile Stiofán or Lá an Dreoilín — the latter translates literally as another English name used, the Day of the Wren or Wren's Day. When used in this context, "wren" is often pronounced "ran". This name alludes to several legends, including those found in Ireland, linking episodes in the life of Jesus to the wren. Although now mostly a discontinued tradition, in certain parts of Ireland persons carrying either an effigy of a wren or an actual caged wren (live or dead), travel from house to house playing music, singing and dancing. Depending on which region of the country, they are called Wrenboys.
My son was born that day. I spent Christmas in labor and he was born on Christmas Day, if the second. We moved to Ireland when he was still very small. It was impossible to have a birthday party for the little boy. First of all, the Irish have big families and they all had to visit their relatives on that day. Second, Tipperary where we lived had the customary Wren boys doing the rounds on St.Stephene's day. Originally staging a fake wren shooting, tradition has it that a group of boys and young man dressed up and went from farm to farm singing and collecting goodies- sweets or pennies.
I once tried to give my son  summer birthday celebration in lieu of his real birthday he missed out on every year. Unfortunately, that didn't work out better because on 26 June the summer holidays and with it haymaking and other farmer activities where in full swing.
Everybody whose birthday is close to Christmas can sympathize.

Happy 2nd Day of Christmas!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Recipes with Courgettes/Zucchinis

Sorry, I neglected this blog for too long due to my other blogs and book promotion. Now the summer is over and everything I had planned to tell you about courgettes is out of seasonal synch. Let me sum it up in brief: Our 50 yards of zucchinis as they are called in Ireland, produced such a fine crop, abundance squared that I resorted to making zucchini relish (yum!) and sold it in jam jars in the local shops and on the farmers' market. They don't freeze very well but marinate wonderfully after grilling like bell peppers or eggplants in olive oil and vinegar, preferably balsamico. Just a dash of salt and pepper, store in a nice ceramic jar; they keep for weeks in the fridge--if you can stay away from them. I always used the small ones for this. Big zucchinis can best be turned into relish.
Have you tried zucchini fritters? Grate them like when making relish, add grated onions, a little salt and flour to bind and make fritters. Here in the US, they would be called patties. Flat like burgers. Fried in oil, the result is like Swiss Rosti. To make them totally delicious you can put a big slice of tomato on top plus grated cheese and put them under the grill until the cheese is nicely melted.
In the first years of growing zucchinis, I got totally excited when they became as big as a man's arm. Only to find out that they get mushy inside and you have to remove their big seeds. And their skin gets leathery tough. I never dried the seeds. Like pumpkin seeds, I suppose, one could have made use of them this way as well. Too much work!
But if the zucchini is not too big, let's say up to a foot long, cut them into halves, scrape out the seeds and fill with ground beef & onions (like filled bell peppers), sprinkle with grated cheese and bake in the oven until meat is cooked and cheese melted. My children called them zucchini boats.
St. Martin's day is approaching which was the death sentence for our first goose of the year.But that story has already been told. You'll find it by going into my archive and look for geese.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The traditional matchmaking festival for farmers

With the days of summer ending, Irish farmers will have brought in their main crop. My trusted housekeeper one year while I was still married to my farmer told me about a tradition that is kept to this day in the farming community around this time of year. A bachelor farmer would ride on his tractor to the big matchmaking festival of the year in Lisdoonvarna...and come home with a bride next to him. Lacking other opportunities in the olden days, it oftentimes was a great outlet for merrymaking for rural folks who lived rather isolated and even to find a spouse. Clare's tourist website calls it the holy grail of romance and lonely souls.
After separating from Mac as I call him here and opening my marriage bureau I had to go and see for myself if this was true and how it worked. A nice weekend out in Co. Clare, the West of Ireland anyways and I needed to do research being in the business myself.
The festival takes place for almost 4 weeks from September to October. I went with one of my employees to check out the local scene and also met with the big name in the business, Bill Daly. He was THE matchmaker of some renown who claimed to be responsible for thousands of marriages. As the new kid on the block who was making an all year round professional business out of matchmaking, he didn't take me seriously. That year he was officially introducing his daughter as his successor-- but only for the time of the festival. No advanced dating service all over the country like mine was planned. They were merely upholding tradition.
People come from all over Ireland, Northern Ireland voices and American accents were also heard. The whole town was involved, mostly in the pubs, drinking and flirting. We attended the biggest event of them all: the election of the Bachelor of the year. After a few rounds of questions the candidates were asked to sing a song of their choice and show off their dancing skills with the lasses. After half an hour of suspended animation the room was presented with the winner. I forget his name, it's irrelevant. But what sticks in my memory is that he was found out to be a married man pulling out his ring and drawing his wife onto the dance floor, giving her a big smacker of a kiss. Nobody but my staffer and I was really outraged. Nobody but us had taken this charade seriously.A Brigadon gone terribly wrong,but the craig is mighty. You might still go for the horse racing and carousing. And the Irish are famous for having fun!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Le Ferme de Paris

My home swap adventure took me to the outskirts of Paris. Nice home if a little neglected. My old farming skills come in handy. It was part of the deal to water plants. Normally easy, except most are half-dead from lack of irrigation, tomatoes and aubergines as well, however, are doing well. At the last minute, I also got the request to look after a pet rabbit and guinea pig. Cute little critters. I promise I won't set them free as I did our own bunny rabbit on the farm years ago. (see old post about Benny Bunny).
Trying to find trendy things to do in Paris, I stumbled across a few things that relate to this green blog quite unexpectedly. An article in Delta's Sky magazine recommends walking tours that start at Merciand Bonton on the Blvd. Beaumarchais."These two concept stores and restaurant will get you kitted out in the latest urban-farmer aesthetic, with profits all going to charitable causes."
And I was pleased to read about a 5-hectares working organic farm, the Ferme de Paris, allows young city dwellers to explore country life through the seasons with its meadow, stables and farmyard. You go Paris! Even I won't go there myself.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grooming Sheep

Well, you may have thought that chapter was tackled and done with! Not so. Besides the shearing and dipping, farmers have to trim their hooves and regularly. Otherwise they can catch some nasty foot and claw disease or lameness. Some people find it hard to do their own toe nailhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifs. It takes two people: one to hold the sheep that may weigh about 50 pounds already and the other one is wielding the clippers. I always volunteer.
.gifed for the holding part, although it is a struggle as they don’t want to cooperate. So I had to hold on with my full body weight to prevent them from shirking away from Mac’s hands. As stupid as they often appear otherwise, these sheep are quite crafty at this. Lo and behold if a nail is cut to short or the animal is slightly cut, there is no continuing till another day. And then try to find that same sheep out of a herd of a hundred. If you're interested to learn more about the subject: Hoof trimming: A Day in the Life of a Farmer
When dosing them, it’s customary to mark their pelts with a colored marker in order to know which of them got their dosage already. I’m talking of Flagyl that cures the nasty fly infestation once they have occurred. The afflicted pelt also has to be brushed with some liquid generously if flies are visible and have laid eggs. If they develop into maggots, sheep often die. In this endeavor, I also opted for the struggling and holding part. I just stomach to push a big pill down a sheep’s throat which, inadvertently, it would try to regurgitate. So you want a firm hand to keep their mouths shut until they have swallowed it. Some are able to fool you. They seem to keep the pill in their cheeks until you think you‘re safe and can let go. That’s when they spit it out. Having mastered this, you give them a marking stroke with a different color.
Not every sheep makes it. I drove dead sheep –and calves for that matter- to the lab when a death had occurred. In family jeep; in the back which was carpet- lined, remember? It was a trip of about 20 miles. The stench became unbearable after five minutes. So I rolled down the windows. Then it as too cold in the car and I put the heat on. That didn’t help the aroma; mostly it rained in. I wasn’t really cut for farming. But who else would have done that errand? The lab would determine the reason why an animal died when it wasn’t obvious otherwise to the farmer.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Food for Thought

In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologized to him and explained, "We didn't have the green thing back in my day."
The clerk responded, "That's our problem today Your generation did not care enough to save our environment."
He was right -- our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.
Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over.So they really were recycled.
But we didn't have the green thing back in our day.
We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
But she was right. We didn't have the green thing in our day.
Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts -- wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters,not always brand-new clothing.
But that old lady is right; we didn't have the green thing back in our day.
Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.
In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us.
When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.
Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.
But she's right; we didn't have the green thing back then.
We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.
We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.
But we didn't have the green thing back then.
Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.
We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.
But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?
Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smart ass young person.
One reader wrote me that we are the "old" generation that invented all these things, however, in the past 20-30 years So now for you….

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Yummy berries

The abundance of fresh fruit on German markets - strawberries, raspberries, red currants--reminds me of our labor of love on the farm. In the first years after planting, these fruit bushes provided a good crop already and it was a joy picking them. The children usually ate more than they brought home in their little baskets. In the following year, however, due to lack of proper cutting and pruning the shrubs after the harvest, we had a raspberry jungle out there. Remember, we had planted every vegetable and fruit bush in rows of 50 meters length. When they multiplied, the saplings grew all over the place and in between the rows. We had fruit in abundance. The season lasts for about four weeks in which they had to be picked every day, at the peak of the season for approx. 4 hours a day. After a couple of days, this activity loses its attraction for children. Adults- in this case me!- persevere out of a sense of obligation. Nothing should go to waste, as the motto goes. I remember one breezy day where the 5ft high raspberry canes where swaying in the wind. A picker then should have three hands: one to hold the basket, one to hold the cane and one to pick the fruit. I offered friends and neighbors to come and pick their own.I wasn't even charging for fruit like many a commercial grower these days advertises: Pick your own and pay by the pound.
The reaction I got was less than enthusiastic.Yes, they would love some fruit. Could I please drive by their house and deliver? Fat chance. So I kept going as much as I could, making jams or just freezing them for use at a later date.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The sheep or me....

As I'm currently traveling in Europe and writing about that experience, www.Intrepidhomeswappers.blogspot.com, it's hard to find the time to keep up my various blogs. We are staying in a German house whose owners have a sheep skin (fleece) in their bed. Since this story ties in nicely with my previous sheep related blog posts , I thought I'd throw in this anecdote. We bought our fleece when by son was born in the very cold winter of 85-86. We put it in his pram to keep him warm with day time temperatures well blow zero.Then the sheep skin found its way into my bed during cold winter nights.After a while Mac,(my Ex),protested. Why he hated it to be there I never found out. "It's either the sheep or me- one of us has to leave the bed!" I let the sheep go.
That's what a full fleece looks like. When we had our sheep shorn, we never went for that.You only get them, when a sheep is butchered.
As I'm currently traveling in Europe and writing about that experience, www.Intrepidhomeswappers.blogspot.com, it's hard to find the time to keep up my various blogs. We are staying in a German house whose owners have a sheep skin (fleece) in their bed. Since this story ties in nicely with my previous sheep related blog posts , I thought I'd throw in this anecdote. We bought our fleece when by son was born in the very cold winter of 85-86. We put it in his pram to keep him warm with day time temperatures well blow zero.Then the sheep skin found its way into my bed during cold winter nights.After a while Mac,(my Ex),protested. Why he hated it to be there I never found out. "It's either the sheep or me- one of us has to leave the bed!" I let the sheep go.
That's what a full fleece looks like. When we had our sheep shorn, we never went for that.You only get them, when a sheep is butchered.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dipping Sheep

Sheep require a bit more attention and "Personal hygiene" beyond the shearing I described in my last post. In order to avoid external parasites such as itch mite, blow-fly, ticks and scab that can easily kill a sheep, the farmer has to dip them in some preventive medicine. There are two broad classes of sheep dip: organophosphorus compounds, from which chemical warfare agents were later developed, and synthetic pyrethroids. If you read a British veterinary law issued by HSE (Health& Safety Executive) you understand the degree if toxicity and harmfulness involved, both to humans and animals: "Everyone who will be involved in the dipping operation must be properly trained and competent. This is just as important whether you use an organophosphorous (OP) sheep dip of a synthetic pyrethroid (SP) sheep dip.
Under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2006 it is an offense to use sheep dip unless this is done by, or under the supervision and in the presence of, a person who holds a Certificate of Competence in the Safe Use of Sheep Dips."
So that was out for us organic farmers!
An organic farmer has to use his husbandry skills to control pests: free range conditions, keep stocking rates low,rotate grazing sites. These measures also help decrease the need of deworming--another labor-some procedure. More care and inspection of the individual animal is required by the organic sheep farmer, e.g. by maintaining a closed flock (no bought-in stock) which also help prevent disease. In other words:Organic farming again is more labor intensive.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hair cut for Sheep

In late spring and early summer it's high time to get your sheep shorn.I'm afraid this year I left it almost too late! But then again, Klkenny still had a touch of snow last week; in June!
At first, the sheep don't seem to be too hot or look like they need a haircut but with the arrival of flies the thick winter fleece becomes a danger to the animals. Maggots easily infest a flock of sheep and that's trouble no farmer wants to deal with. We had a neighbor who offered his services. Mick always did his own and had experience. Shearing was done outside on the yard. The sheep have to be rounded up by an able dog first. Our Brandy had talent for this job. She clearly enjoyed nipping the sheep in their legs too while rounding them up and circling them all the time to keep them in check. Where she had learned it--we didn't know. It was in her blood, whereas later off spring of hers was useless.
The shearer holds a sheep between his legs while a second is needed to keep the struggling sheep still. Mostly they are not very cooperative in spite of the sense of relief afterwards.Zip, zip, zip and off flies the wool. To get the fleece in one piece is impossible. They must come from slaughtered sheep. In the olden days it was worth to collect the wool but at that time we were in the "business", prices were too low to bother. We still had to pick up the wool and stuff them into bags because the dogs would make a right mess and have way too much fun with it. Fertilizer bags are the bags of choice like for many other jobs, collecting windfall apples, even for sleighing down a hill which merely has a sprinkle of snow.
It's a smelly job. Sheep have a certain odor, their lanolin imbued wool does too and so do the men at work after a while. On a hot day, it can be quite overwhelming for the delicate nose of a city girl. After a while and typical hints from the shearers, drink is fetched. This type of work makes you hungry as well.
In the following years, when we had about 100 sheep we needed professional help if this social outing wasn't going to take all week.
I always felt sorry for the sheep afterwards when the weather was still on the chilly side. They looked like starved skeletons, naked and unappealing. But they usually frolicked shortly after the ordeal. After that they should receive a dip in a medicine infused bath to prevent the dreaded parasites. Which is an ordeal in itself.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Not neglecting you...

I hope there were some responses to the request for help on this Clare smallholding! I'd love to hear about it.
Sorry for neglecting this blog for almost 3 weeks. I've been busy promoting my novel:Next Time Lucky. It is available on Amazon. both as a paperback now and an eBook. I wish I could publish my memories of our Irish farming life in a similar fashion. So far I made it into a coffee table book which is too expensive to produce and sell. $35 plus shipping $ 9.99 from the publisher. Even though there is a big interest in having it done. The idea behind it really was to keep the memory alive for my children.

If anybody has connections to a producer of coffee table books, I'd appreciate if you could let me know. Until then it remains a blog and gets put into print for family and special friends. I will continue this blog with a story about our bonhams (pronounced bonnefs =Irish for piglets). A charming vignette and of big importance, especially to my son, Patrick.
In the meantime, here in Florida the summer heat progresses. Unimaginable steam-room conditions that people in Ireland can only imagine in their wildest dreams.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Aspiring farmer wanted!

Check this out if you have farming aspirations yourself. I was contacted by a fellow farmer in Co. Clare with this request:"Offer of a chance to smallhold in Co Clare rent free." It looks just beautiful!They did a great job to what looks like a typical farmhouse in that area judging from the pictures. I know the area well and pass on this request.http://irishfarmhouseandsmallholding.yolasite.com/. It brings back sweet memories... Let me know what happens. Good luck!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"We women could run the country!"

My husband's removal of sod that died in the winter and dirt in the last few weeks, pushing a squeaking old wheelbarrow around, reminds me of a little anecdote on the farm.
Irish families like to go "for a drive" on a Sunday afternoon. Usually, the yparked the car by the lake or a beauty spot, mother got out and entertained the children while father would sit behind the wheel and listen to hurling and Gaelic football results. We found our house and what we were doing to it became a similar curiosity attraction in the second year. Regularly after lunch and thoughout the whole afternoon, a car would park outside our main entrance gate where one had a good look over the gardens and back of the house. They pointed at things. It became quite intrusive. Waving at the nosey-parkers didn't deter them. That gate provided a spot to pull in the car without becoming a traffic obstacle whereas the yard gate didn't offer that. And it might have been just of equal interest to them. So we decided to block that gate and view by planting fast growing bushes, my favorite laurels, and only have a little hand gate to get access at an angle where they couldn't peep in.
Mac and a strapping farm hand took out some of the concrete pathway with a jackhammer. Now the soil was ours, Pauline's and mine, to dig and plant. We went about 3 ft deep and 6 yards wide, shoveling the earth until every bone in our bodies hurt. I remember just having over 50 wheelbarrows full of soil which was wheeled around the house onto the compost heap or filled in other places where needed in the garden. Pauline never objected to any kind of work, however hard it was. Hard work had been her life after all. My tea brakes with her and friendship more than compensated for the hardship of all the jobs like plucking chickens, cleaning ashes out of fireplaces, washing floorboards, windows, than anything. I still see us in front of me after filling the last wheelbarrow, planting ca. 20 laurels into the ground. Pauline wiped her brow and said,"We women could run the country."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Got soil?

This week is Compost Awareness Week. Did you know? What does it matter? With all the hype around certain political events we easily forget the most elementary basics of life that surround us: our food and how it is grown, the soil it takes to grow it (or rather what we do to it) and water. An excellent article on this caught my eye this morning. See on the right. I've been struggling to get my compost heap going here in FL. Whereas it never was a problem in a colder and wetter climate, in the dryness of a Florida winter and the scorching sun that we had since March it was almost impossible. By wrapping plastic foil around the container and watering it regularly, the necessary wanted micro-climate is starting to develop eventually. I had even carried worms over from other parts of the garden by hand and given them a new home, speaking to do them encouragingly to go to work.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Eerily Familiar

It's been 2 weeks now since disaster struck Japan. Every day, American news media report in their typical over the top sensational manner about what might happen, could have happened...and do we really know what happened? Is nuclear technology any safer now than 25 years ago. How can it ever be?
The beginning of my blog www.Ioncehadafarminireland.blogspot.com takes me right back and is eerily familiar:
"It was the environmental disaster of Chernobyl in 1986, and the overall nuclear threat that motivated us enough to opt out of the rat race and start afresh in Ireland. After Chernobyl, in Germany fall out levels were dangerously high. The government discouraged people to feed milk to their children, not to eat fresh vegetables --and this was early summer- and our new Geiger counter measured excessive radiation levels in our children’s sandbox. Ireland had escaped almost unscathed due to the prevailing weather pattern in the 2 weeks after the disaster in Ukraine."
Radiation was measured yesterday in Hawaii, the West coast, even in Colorado. Depending on prevailing weather patterns - that merry-go-round of thermodynamics and the big unknown that weathermen never seem to get right- the whole world might be in for a few u-turns and imponderables, unforeseeables, and God forbid the unexpected. Imports from Japan have been banned widely. But what do the poor Japanese do?
After Chernobyl,we went to a country that was minimally affected to grow our own healthy food. Twenty-five years later, a massive new scare. BTW, do you know the half-life of Plutonium or Cesium? Surprise, surprise, remnants are still lingering in Ukraine. Regions unfit to live in for thousands of years--except for those unfortunate who cannot leave the area and have to stay put. They still suffer the horrible consequences. European Journal, a show broadcast from Germany on PBS -thank God for public radio and TV- reported about big nuclear accident before Chernobyl, an event even I had never heard about: MAYAK, 50 years ago. Guess what: People there and their children and children's children are still exposed to the radiation caused then and suffer from horrific congenital diseases. Because the half-life of Plutonium 239 is 24,000 years! Geiger counters still go crazy in that area. If the Mayak area has a hot summer again, people will swim in the Techa River yet again and soak it right in.
So what can a single person do who wants to let his species survive? Or an organic farmer? "Even if I knew the world came to an end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today." (Martin Luther)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patricks Day

Even if you don't dye rivers green in Ireland- you might just be painting the town red- happy Paddy's day on both sides of the Atlantic. Seize the Day! Nil Se'n La! Wishing you lots of luck!
The world needs it and can do with it big time. All our joint organic efforts may become null when our environment ceases to exist the way we know it. It reminds me of our Chernobyl experience that I describe at the beginning of this blog www.Ioncehadafarminireland.blogspot.com. It was the reason for us to take our family to a safer country. But where is safe, ultimately.
Here is the link to the well-informed article of a German scientist friend, Stefan Thiesen, (earth and sea)
http://www.opednews.com/articles/Michio-Kaku--We-live-in-a-by-Stefan-Thiesen-110317-693.html. We all live in a bubble. Think about it!
Or go to the Celtic Women and enjoy their music: http://www.somemusicecards.com/celtic-woman/share/?ec=a6e77217d803b881f2b6ee3d316f5869
Beannachtam na Feile Padraig! May you be poor in misfortune, and rich in blessings, slow to make enemies and quick to make friends. And may you know nothing but happiness from this from this day to life's end. Sl'n agus beannach!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A typical day

Get up at 6 a.m. Make breakfast. Let out the geese and chickens as soon as the sun is out. Wake children. Grind wheat into flower in the pantry. 1kg takes about 45 minutes. Have breakfast. Start baking bread or cake while children get dressed and pack their bags. Prepare lunch boxes. Let bread rise and put in the hot AGA for an hour. (Mac would take it out when finished; usually during 'elevenses'- his coffee break in the morning).Mac would go out and check on animals if there were any in the stables. Together with the children, he would feed horses and muck out. Children feed dogs and cats. I shower and get dressed. Pack my books and get ready, equipped with shopping list. Get kids in the car. In the first years, drive kids to local school, later to the one in Limerick (45 min). Go to work: teach a few hours at the University while Mac ran the farm; pick up children, grab some groceries with tired children in the car. Time for coffee and cake break while kids do their homework. Mac would go to do his errands as car was back or all three would exercise the horses and I cook dinner. Prepare classes for next day or do some gardening. Then the stables had to be mucked out again, animals fed and put to bed. Time for a book or paper. Then crash exhausted.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Never a dull moment

Early in the year, Mac revealed that he wanted to take over more of the acres which so far had been rented out to two neighbors. "What for?" "More sheep, some cattle, and then we need grass for them, of course. Grazing ground". Instead of self-sufficiency, which had been our only goal so far, he had decided to extend his farming and husbandry activities. I had been quite contented with the extent of our gardening activities , i.e. grow our own and maybe sell some surplus. But being the economist that he was, Mac was hatching plans in his head of how to make the enterprise commercially viable. We were a long away from it, however. I had learned the term "gentleman farming" and it had appealed to me. The rent from the land secured a steady income and left time for what we originally had also planned, i.e., playing golf,fishing or go sailing occasionally. With 20 new ewes and ca. the same amount of young heifers the chances of that seemed to dwindle.
In the meantime, before more sowing and planting could be done because of inclement weather, these new fields had to be prepared: The removal of weeds, (with the tractor or manually of course the old fashioned way without Roundup); fertilizing the land with manure and overall a fair amount of fencing needed to be done. Winter time is the preferred time for fencing, unless there is an urgent necessity. Then fencing always takes priority over other things, particularly plans one had been looking for. The Farmers' Journal was the source for finding livestock unless the neighbor knew somebody who wanted to sell certain things we were looking for. Also the place to advertise hay or the AGA (see previous stories).
A farmer must have coined the saying which became our mantra: never a dull moment. But for Mac it was all play, his hobby. He loved every minute of it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

There is a stretch in the evenings

Spring has definitely sprung --at least here. Planting my zucchinis, chives and onions as well as sowing radishes and hollyhocks in the warm Florida sun takes me back to our sowing and planting in Irish "spring" conditions. In the same way we had to learn about the right season for every vegetable and fruit in Ireland, I have to get used to the right timing here.I couldn't get broccoli plants last week. Apparently it's a winter vegetable here.
The Irish weather changes rapidly, not just in spring which officially starts on 1 February. Sometimes you have four seasons in one day...well, at least three, maybe not the snow. In all those years I spent in Hibernia, it never really felt like spring on that day. There may have been a bit of sunshine quickly wiped out by dark clouds and ensuing hail. Most St. Patrick Days (March 17) more smacked of winter and prohibited us watching parades standing in one spot for too long. Every year by the end of January, my housekeeper would declare: "There is a stretch in the evenings...Still freezing cold but thank God for little mercies."
Early potatoes could be put in the ground already although in the following years we preferred to have these in our greenhouse too--just to be sure, to be sure! A greenhouse is very useful, even the poly-tunnels that most professional growers and some of our friends used. We were planning to get a green house up later that year which we had brought over in our gigantic move (16 x 8 meters). For now we sowed most vegetables like carrots, beans, peas, cauliflower, zucchinis etc. on little 1-2 inch deep trays which we kept in part of the house that was coolish but warmer than the outside world. We had built this extension or "lean-to" on the north side of the house facing the yard. It served multiple functions: here we took off our dirty boots and jackets; it housed the washer and dryer as well as two huge tub sized basins useful for cleaning vegetables (and sometimes very dirty kids)as well as plucking chickens and geese. Since the extension ran the full length of the house, there was ample of space for the kids to play on a rainy day and also to store the plant trays. And later an apple press for making cider.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The AGA saga continues

New friends of ours had a different cooker, a Stanley, that ran on timber.Our AGA could be converted, they said. The idea intrigued Mac as we had a lot of wood on the farm and more so in the future when the 1000 trees we had planted would mature. I had my reservations, however,since I had seen our friends stuff the oven several times a day with timber. Twice a day like with our anthracite seemed work enough. It wouldn't solve the problem of soot, dust and asthma either.Then Mac learned that antique AGAs were quite valuable and decided to sell it. He advertised and one night an elderly couple came to view it. I had gone upstairs to put the children to bed. Feeling tired myself, I lay down. Our bedroom was right above the kitchen. I heard voices below and laughter, but couldn't make out what was said. I wondered what was going on.
Two hours later Mac came upstairs and reported. Over several whiskeys and jovial banter, the prospective buyers had finally convinced Mac to hold on to this beauty of an AGA. That the new ones were nothing like them, that it was a real gem. Mac was in a good mood. He had made friends and gotten sound advice: The AGA could also be converted to kerosene reducing the soot emissions.
"That can only happen in Ireland", he said." These guys could have easily taken advantage of me and made a cheap bargain. But they gave advice and left as friends. Only in Ireland...." Shortly afterwards we had the AGA converted.It worked like a dream. No more early morning coal carrying. We could even stay away for a night if needs be, and I had less cleaning to do.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The good old AGA

The old farmhouse had a coal (anthracite) fired hearth called AGA, the Rolls Royce under the ranges in the British Isles. Our model was a 4 door oven in light beige, with the hottest oven top right, the next hot bottom right, the coolest top left and bottom left somewhere in between temperature-wise. On top sat an iron range with two big rings. On the left ring, I would do my cooking and frying and then shove the pan to the right ring that offered a little less heat.It probably dated back to the 30s whereas the house itself had been built around 1890.The AGA had to be refilled with coals twice a day,first thing you got up and last thing at night. For that you had to lift the left ring on the surface and pour the coal in. Also did one have to empty the ashes first thing, i.e. before breakfast and then again late at night. The middle door at the bottom opens up for that. With a poker you rattle in the bowels of the AGA and the ashes start falling out. A dusty affair, too.Letting it go out ensued in a major cleaning and relighting operation that you didn't wish on anyone. Going away overnight was not on, even a late night at a party was dodgy or you would risk a lot of cold ashes. The coals were store across the yard in one of the sheds and had to be carried over once a day. The ashes were emptied behind the boiler room, a mere ten feet outside from the door. Later they would be used for composting or thrown on muddy paths and farm tracks that were notoriously squishy wet to soak up the water in the soil, i.e. for paving purposes.In my previous life, I had only been used to an electric range. It took a while to get used to it because it was much slower in getting things to the boil and would also burn more easily because the temperature was not adjustable. The previous owner used to simmer his porridge in the slowest oven over night (top left).It also came in handy to keep little premature and sickly lambs cozy and warm in a cardboard box over night on top of the stove. Again on the left as much as you could corner it or they would roast. When we did it the first time, I was afraid they might jump out of the box over night and fall onto the kitchen floor. They didn't, but usually looked perkier in the morning. The AGA was the centerpiece of the kitchen which also gave a lot of warmth. In fact, before we installed a central heating system into the old house, the previous owners had only relied on the AGA's efficiency , also for heating up the water and their bathroom. But that was done from another smaller one situated in the dining room which became part of our extended kitchen when we knocked the diving wall. I adorned it cottage-style with copper pans, lace and dried flowers. A sight to behold if it hadn't been for the soot that it also produced on a daily basis. Not ideal for the household members who suffered from asthma.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Land is asleep but not the Farmer

Life on the farm is relatively quiet at the beginning of the new year. Animals still have to be fed and watered but there is a calm before the lambing and calving season gets under way and land has to be plowed. Now is the time to fix fences and do repair jobs around the farm - and the house if there is time left. Also time for planning what to plant, which seeds to sow shortly when the sun feels a little warmer and "there is a stretch in the evenings", as Pauline would say. You can feel the evenings get that little bit longer by the end of January in spite of cold weather. The first snowdrops may show at the bottom of the orchard, followed by some crocuses, and a month later by early daffodils. This is my favorite time of the year with hope of a new growing season in the air - even if everything may still be frozen and blown to smithereens well into April.Our neighbors were having their first early lambs in the cold and dark of mid winter. A joy to see them frolicking in the fields but a lot of hard work to make them survive. Mac decided he would wait till later into spring so that the lambs had an easier start. You have to check on pregnant ewes at night, especially on first timers who had no more idea of what they were doing than we had.