Prepping for Spring :
Spring is well and truly here when the days begin to become equal in length to nights, and you begin to really notice how nature responds. All my blackcurrant bushes are almost coming into leaf. Mind you the poor things still have to find their final home but hope springs eternal. The crows are doing their best to build a nest in the eaves of my old shed where they nested last year. I put in a new window and removed the ivy and that has really upset them. They are trying to get in under the roof now so I have stuffed the gaps. I had pigeons in my hay shed but the cat who I call The Thug seems to have sorted them out. My neighbour tells me he has sorted his out too.
I bought some new hens which I kept in for almost two weeks. In the past I only ever did this for a week as I had a run surrounding the chicken house in my last place. Here I only have a stone shed and once they are out, they have the run of the place. If they get a fright they tend to head for the hills and it is almost impossible to get them back. This lot are particularly skitey.
I have gone down the rescue (ex battery) hen route but I decided never again. They lay for a few months after you get them and then they really slow down. It’s hardly surprising because for the year they have been in an intensive system, they are laying virtually non-stop with an artificial light system to fool them into thinking it is a 12 month summer. Plus they are usually in a shocking state when you get them and need weeks of care before they recover their feathers and for their combs to get red and healthy. I also find they are very very susceptible to scaly leg mite.
I got the first seeds sown on St. Patrick’s Day which is traditionally the day you plant potatoes. I bought loads from Brown Envelope Seeds in Cork. This organic seed saving company sells different varieties of vegetables, fruit and herbs that they have tested for quality, flavour and ability to grow well in our climate. It’s really important to buy seeds from companies like this and not from the big seed corporations who only deal with standardised and limited varieties. If it weren’t for the likes of Brown Envelope Seeds and Irish Seed Savers so many varieties would die out completely. We would then be left at the mercy of big seed corporations who aren’t remotely interested in diversity. By keeping a variety of species of every crop we are also helping to prevent some new disease having a devastating effect on the limited number of species they sell. Plus, they sell varieties proven to grow/fruit/ripen prolifically often at the expense of flavour. How often have you grown tomatoes thinking they will taste so much better than anything you can buy, only to be disappointed? You blame yourself, your less than sunny green house, the bad summer when in fact it could just be the variety you planted. Do your bit for diversity and support small seed companies.
I got some work done on my Mickey Mouse tunnel as well this week. I was advised the best way to brace it against the gale force winds we get here on the Hook Peninsula is to drive in fencing posts at strategic points and tie the bars to them. Hopefully this will work and now begins the job of repairing the plastic cover that was ripped last summer. You can buy poly tunnel repair tape but I didn’t have much success last year with it. It needs to be applied to very clean and bone dry plastic. I am hoping to get a chance to pull mine out of storage, wash, dry and repair it and then cover the frame. But first dig in some horse manure and get the ground ready for planting. I want to use it to bring on seeds as I don’t have great window sill space or light in the house.
The woofing season is almost upon us again and already I have had requests to come here as far in advance as August. WWOOF stands for worldwide opportunities on organic farms. As there are not enough organic farms here in Ireland they accept you if you practice an organic ethos. It is a great opportunity for young people to travel, work and live in another culture for a few weeks or months and a great opportunity for someone like me to get work done outside. They stay as part of the family and you feed them. In exchange they work 5 hours a day. My woofers generally stay here at weekends too and, apart from asking them to feed animals, are free to do what they want. Some use weekends to travel while others prefer to stay put and explore the area.
I had four woofers in total last year. The first was actually the son of friends I had made as a student in the US. He said he was a woofer but in fact he wasn’t a member of WWOOF. I later realised that this wasn’t a great idea as he wouldn’t have been insured if anything had gone wrong. The others were and there is peace of mind knowing that they are covered. Two of the other three were superb and the last a bit of a disaster but I expect that is the norm. This year I am telling them all they can come but on a week’s trial. You can tell in a day or two if they are going to be any use. Here’s hoping I get some good ones later in the year.
Tales from a Smallholder is a series of posts by Margaret Griffin featuring fortnightly on the YLFN Blog. Margaret is an agricultural and food scientist turned smallholder who writes about her life at www.uppedstickswithpigs.com. She also hosts Airbnb guests on her smallholding and is available as an accredited trainer in food: cooking, baking, curing, brewing, fermenting, pig-rearing and of course, smallholding.
Illustration by www.mizzwinkens.com