The smallholder community :
The smallholder community is a small one but an active one on social media. Similarly the farming one is as well. Both farming and smallholding can be quite solitary occupations and often you could spend a day without saying a word to another person. Chatting to pigs, although soul enhancing; doesn’t give you much more feedback than a series of grunts. I have met and made some very good friends through social media, in particular Twitter where our account is @SmallholdersIRL.
Smallholder friends visiting from Wales have just left after almost a week here. We met through Twitter and have visited each other over the years. It is lovely to spend time over good food and wine talking with like-minded folk. Of course Brexit was discussed. We are all hoping it doesn’t make keeping in contact and travelling between our countries difficult. Yesterday it was terrific to have help putting back the cover on the tunnel and moving a bolt on a shed. Smallholders always arrive prepared with wellies and wet gear and hats.
A Twitter wood
But the best thing about the smallholding community is the willingness to do stuff that makes the world a better place. One of our members was an Englishman called Matt Care who moved over here to Roscommon with his Irish wife. They bought an old Irish farmhouse which they restored and set about producing much of their own food. They reared sheep, poultry and pigs. Sadly Matt died suddenly in early December. He is a huge loss on social media. He was always in good humour and an enthusiastic support to newcomers. I thought it would be a nice gesture that we do something to remember him. I put the word out and a farm account in Derbyshire made a few terrific suggestions. One of them was to plant a tree or a plant in memory of Matt. A Twitter wood, as it were. Then everyone who planted something would take a photo and tweet it with the hashtag #plantedformatt.
To date a number of trees and shrubs have been planted here and in the UK and even North America. Planting trees is a great thing to do both for the environment and biodiversity but it also makes you feel good. Planting a tree in memory of someone special makes you feel even better. There is no reason why everyone who reads this can’t plant a tree in memory of a loved one. And if you don’t have space for a tree – a shrub or a herb.
Mrs Mazel Topf…
I’ve had quite a few escapades with the new poultry. One of the first evenings after they were let roam totally free, one was missing at dusk. I pulled on the wellies and walked down the fields in the last bit of daylight. My neighbour had been grazing one of my fields and had opened a gap between us. When I walk through my own fields, the goats follow me by vaulting the electric fence. Quite why they don’t attempt this when I’m not with them baffles me to be honest, but they don’t. I decided to go through my neighbour’s fields so they wouldn’t see me. In the distance I could see a large bird wandering aimlessly and as I got closer it didn’t fly away. It was the missing Araucana. Of course it would be the one I’d paid the most amount for because they lay a bluey-green egg.
For the next 10 minutes she jumped from one side of the ditch to the other as I ran through the gap trying to catch her. She refused to let me hunt her back. I tried to grab her several times and missed. Finally she seemed to settle at the edge of a hole. Stupidly, instead of leaving her to settle making note of where she was and coming back in the dark to get her, I launched into the brambles to grab her. She screeched and dived in further, disappearing from view. She had gone into a rabbit hole. At least I hoped it was a rabbit hole..! I gave up and walked back to the house. But I decided to go down again with a head torch. By this stage it was pitch dark. When hens roost they go into a deep sleep and are easy to catch. With the head torch I could just about see her tail feathers so I reached in and grabbed her and hauled her out backwards, protesting loudly.
Boy was I relieved. She is now laying a tiny blue green and deep yellow yolked egg so all the scratches and splinters were worth it. I have named her Mrs Mazel Topf (sic) as she reminds me of a mother in law at a wedding, stout ankled and wearing a fascinator.
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