Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Growing Flowers Naturally @ Prospect Cottage.

In Bees, Gardening, sustainable living on March 31, 2011 at 10:24 am


Fruit and veg are not the only things we grow here in Arigna, flowers also have a large part to play. The flower is an essential part of every plant as it contains the reproductive organs without which the species could not continue. Sometimes this can be forgotten, we may look on flowers as nice colour shots in the garden.

Honeysuckle by garden gate.

Growing flowers naturally is easy if you accept them as they come, no tittivating and selection for the show bench. The biggest concession is to accept what does well in your area. For us this means no Dahlias, they don’t do well in our heavy soil, no Magnolias, they don’t like the winds we get here in the valley, no Bergamot, I don’t know why it does’nt do well here, several attempts have failed, I can cope with that.

Self-seeded Snapdragons in polytunnel.

What ever your soil type there are flowers that will love it. Gravel gardens, bog gardens, rock gardens, the possibilities are endless. The use of chemical fertilisers on flowers I find very sad, they don’t need it, they want to flower, it is their way of propogating themselves. People wonder why bees and other benificial insects are declining! Maybe that weekly dose od Miracle-Gro has something to do with it?

Verbena bonariensis does well on our ground.

The other great way to grow flowers is as companion plants for your fruit and veg. The right combinations can reduce attack from pests and disease.

Nasturtiums will repel aphids while Poached Egg  Flowers will attract hoverflies. The fave food of the hoverfly is aphids! Nasturtiums repel wooly aphids from fruit trees and chives will keep away fungal diseases. French Marigolds planted among your Tomatoes promote growth and repel harmful soil nematodes.

P.S: The plant in the last pic is of course Joe-Pye Weed not Verbena bonariensis.

Natural Beekeeping at Prospect Cottage.

In Bees, Foraging., Gardening, sustainable living on March 30, 2011 at 10:20 am

Langstroth Beehive.

Bees have been in residence here at Prospect Cottage for almost 2 years now. Andy did a beekeeping course in Summer 2009 and the bees arrived here that September. Since then we have had the 2 hardest Winters in recent times, thankfully our bees are well and healthy. Andy prefers to keep bees in as natural a way as possible, with minimum interference. Verroa mite can be treated naturally, with oxalic acid, but there is no need to treat unless it is present. Most beekeepers treat routinely with chemical strips.

Swarm, Summer 2010, caught and rehomed in Co.Clare.

At a beekeeping meeting on Monday Andy was appalled to hear that clipping the Queen’s wings is common practice to stop swarming. We had 6 swarms last year and still got lots of honey. Swarming occurs when there are 2 Queens and there is overcrowding. To prevent swarming the Queen larvae are killed, which we don’t do, or taken out with a handful of bees and reared to make a new colony.

Swarm on ash branch.

There is much concern in the UK at the moment about “neonicotinoid” pesticides, these are absorbed into the plant and are present in the pollen and nectar. Made by German company Bayer, they are banned in Germany! They are also banned or restricted in France, Italy and Slovenia. These chemicals work by poisoning the central nervous system of insects including bees who partake of the nectar and pollen.

We are fortunate here in Arigna that we are surrounded on all sides by an organic farm where, of course, no poisons are used. We ourselves do not use any poisons on our land or produce. I don’t understand why one would use something on your land that has a skull and crossbones warning on it! It does’nt make sense!

          I feel that Man has ruled this world as a stumbling demented child king long enough,

         And as his Empire crumbles our precious Apis mellifera shall rise as his most fitting successor.

         These words I speak are true. We’re all humanary stew, if we don’t pledge allegiance to BEES.

                                       ( Adapted from Alice Cooper song, The Black Widow.)

Use of Herbs being sanctioned by EU. Not at Prospect Cottage!

In Cooking, Foraging., Gardening, Herbs, sustainable living on March 29, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Lemon Verbena and Nasturtiums.

Herbs have been grown at my various gardens since I started gardening, both culinary and medicinal. For me the difference between herbs for cooking and herbs for treating ailments is not totally separate. For instance nasturtiums which we use for their spicy flavour also have antiseptic properties and contain vitamin C and iron. Lemon Verbena which makes the most delicious tea has mild sedative properties and is good for bronchial and digestion problems.

Feverfew, a traditional remedy for headaches.

On April 30tht the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive comes into force in all EU countries. This directive is set to remove access to the vast majority of herbal medicinal products. Herbalists will be restricted in what they can prescribe. Under the new rules, herbs, many of which have been in common use for thousands of years, will have to undergo the same testing procedures as pharmecutical drugs. As this costs between 80,ooo to 120,000 euros for each herb the outcome is already known, the road is clear for Big Pharma. The lobbyists have won the day, or have they?  I for one will increase my stock of herbs and the remedies I make with them.

St. John's Wort.

St.John’s Wort grows and spreads very easily. A tincture can be made from it which is known to be very effective for depression. Natural and without the side-effects of Prozac, but of course that does’nt create income streams for Big Pharma. Does’nt disempower people and turn them into addicts. The flowers and leaves covered with olive oil and left in a sunny spot for 4-6 weeks will turn a lovely red colour, that is good for burns, swellings and other skin traumas.

Pot Marigold.

Pot Marigold which self-seeds here each year is a visual delight sprinkled on a salad. It also has soothing, healing and antiseptic properties. Do empower yourself if not already doing so, grow some herbs, eat some herbs, make tinctures and ointments. It is an enjoyable process and liberates you from Big Pharma.

Keeping Goats at Prospect Cottage.

In Animals, sustainable living on March 28, 2011 at 9:54 am

Enid and daughter Bella in playful mood.

We have kept goats sice returning to live in Ireland in 1996. They are such characters, each with their own personality. All animals have their own personality really but if you are involved in intensive farming you won’t want to see that. You can’t eat your friends!

Enid, who provides our daily milk.

We are so happy not to be buying milk from the supermarket. Not part of the chain that kills the calves after birth to get the Mother’s milk. Not part of the chain that kills cows when they are past their peak production. Not part of the chain that routinely feeds antibiotics to the animals.

Andy and Smokie.

Keeping goats is of course part of our self-sufficiency plan. In return they are well looked after. They have a nice shed with a straw bed, this in turn provides manure for the garden when it rots down. They are part of the ongoing cycle of Nature here.

We will never kill them for food, they will be looked after in their old age.

Goats of course do need to be well-fenced. They will eat your shrubs, flowers, trees and vegetables. That is the nature of the goat so it’s up to the goatkeeper to keep good fencing, then all will be well.

Andy and the girls.

All in all keeping goats has been a good experience for us. Of course there is sadness when animals die, but their life span is shorter than ours so we must cope with that. C’est la vie!

Foraging for Wild Garlic.

In Foraging., Gardening, sustainable living on March 27, 2011 at 5:49 pm

An abundance of Wild Garlic.

Earlier in the week we went to Lough Key Forest Park to pick Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum). This is one of the years first gifts from Mother Nature’s pantry that we accept gratefully here at Prospect Cottage. The plants, often called Ramsons, are found in damp woodland that has slightly acid soil. They are usually growing near or among bluebells. If you have not collected Ramsons before do be careful as Arum maculatum, commonly known as Lords and Ladies or Cuckoopint, also often grows in the same area. When the Arum is young it’s leaves are strappy like the Ramsons so can be easily mistaken for it.

Mature leaf of Arum maculatum.

 I knew someone years ago who ate some of this Arum by mistake. Apart from being ill and hospitalised he never had full movement in his neck again. A foolproof way to be sure is rub the leaf between your fingers, you will get the unmistakeable smell of garlic.

An abundance of Wild Garlic.

Wild Garlic has many health benefits. It contains antioxidants and vitaminC, is beneficial for respiratory problems, high blood pressure, cholesterol and cleansing the blood. A free medicine from Nature.

If you intend to make food foraging a regular habit it’s a good idea to get a good book on the subject. The one on the left was published in Ireland in 1978, Wild and Free by Cyril & Kit O’Ceirin,it  is out of print now. I have this copy for many years. It’s great as it gives the folklore of each plant. The other book, Food for Free, first published in 1978, I got recently. It has sketches  and recipes plus plant descriptions.

Making Paneer at Prospect Cottage.

In Animals, Cooking, sustainable living on March 26, 2011 at 10:19 am

When we have excess goats milk, usually in the Summer when yield rises, I often make Paneer. Paneer is the Indian equivalent of bean curd (tofu), but so much tastier. It can be deep-fried and then used in curries, crumbled on salads, made into Indian sweets, creamed for dips or stuffed into bread and pastries. To make it take a large saucepan with a thick bottom, rinse in cold water, to help stop milk burning. Put in milk, I used about 4 litres for this batch, heat milk on high heat. Keep stirring as milk catches on bottom easily. When milk comes to the boil add  about  6 tablespoons of lemon juice (amount for 4 litres), keep stirring until milk has separated into curds and whey. The whey (liquid) should be clear. If not add a little more lemon juice. Turn off heat.

Curds and whey.

Leave everything to settle for about 10 minutes. In a colander place cheesecloth or a piece of closely woven net curtain. Ladle the curds into the cheesecloth, then gather up edges of cloth to make a bag. Rinse under cold water to remove lemon juice.

Cheese in colander with weight on top.

Return bag to colander, place a plate on top, then a stone or other heavy item on top. The weights used here come to 3 and a half lbs. Leave for about 3 hours by which time you will have a solid piece of cheese which can be used in a multitude of dishes. This lot was cut into chunks and shallow fried before being used in a curry.

Paneer cut into chunks and shallow fried.

Don’t throw away the whey it can be used in making soups and breads. No waste !

Strimming & Mulching @ Prospect Cottage.

In Gardening, sustainable living on March 25, 2011 at 10:04 am

We awoke to another beautiful sunny morning here in Arigna. The heat is really building in the polytunnels and everything in there has really taken off. Lots of pricking out and potting on to do. All the outdoor fruit bushes have leafed up and fruit buds will be following soon. We will have to be vigilant for frosts, even a sheet of newspaper held on with clothes pegs is enough to keep off the frost at this time of year.

Strimming the rushes is another annual job to be done here. When we bought this place the rushes had’nt been cut for years and were about five feet tall. That first year our neighbour cut them with a tractor and mower, Andy now strims them once or twice a year and the difference is amazing. The rushes are’nt as strong growing and the cutting has given the grass a chance to come on. Three fields that were just full of rushes have now become fairly decent pasture.

So, what to do with all those rushes? They can be left in situ where they will rot down fairly quickly and provide some fertility. We collect them to use for mulch, particularly around the fruit trees and bushes. As you can see from the above pic above we have already started this years mulching. Now is a good time to mulch as the soil has warmed up and is still damp. Mulching conserves moisture, keeps down weeds and ultimately rots down thus improving soil structure and fertility. It also protects plants during the Winter reducing the effects of frost.

No “Hungry Gap” at Prospect Cottage.

In Gardening, Off the beaten track. on March 24, 2011 at 10:12 am

The first Cauliflower of the season, small but perfectly formed.

The “hungry gap” is the gardener’s name for the period in Spring when there is little or no fresh produce available from the garden. With good planning it is possible to avoid this lull in production. The cauliflower pictured is a variety called Marzatico from Italy. Seeds were sown last August and plants planted around end of September. We plant a lot in August for Winter and Spring crops. Oriental salads, Winter Onion sets, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Kale being the main ones. There is actually a variety of Kale called Hungry Gap which crops in Spring.

Ragged Jack Kale.

The Ragged Jack Kale is now going to seed but this is not the end of its production. The leaves can still be picked and the seed heads can be picked and steamed, they are quite like Purple Sprouting Broccoli. Do pick before flowers appear though. Removing the central shoot encourages the plant to send out lots of side shoots.

Sowing Peas.

Meanwhile seed sowing continues furiously here. Yesterday I sowed a bed of Parsnips, we have just finished the last of the current crop, germination can be slow so they need to go in early. Peas were also sown. The variety is Meteor which I got from Seed Savers in Co. Clare. The don’t grow too tall, about a metre, so support is easier. These modules are great as they are longer than the usual ones and made from stronger plastic. I have them about 10 years and they are still in perfect condition. The extra length means plants can stay in there a little longer. Apparently these modules are using for growing tree seedlings.

Daffodils blooming, grass growing @ Prospect Cottage.

In Gardening, sustainable living on March 23, 2011 at 12:25 pm

The first Daffodils opened here yesterday. Things happen a little later here as we are 110 metres above sea level. The bees are in ecstacy to have a supply of nectar again. It’s lovely to watch them flitting from flower to flower.

I wonder why so many Spring flowers are yellow?

The fields are greening up again, almost recovered from the hard Winter frost. Daphne is delighted to have fresh pickings again. No artificial fertilisers are used on the land here so no pollution runoff. Actually we are very lucky here as our smallholding is bounded by an organic farm. The only thing we put on the land is lime every few years. The land here is fairly acidic because of the high rainfall. The application of lime helps to sweeten the land and improves grass growth. Everything here, vegetables, fruits and animal health is dependant on soil health so it is incredibly important to look after it. 

These hyacinths were some of my January sales buys. They were brought on in the polytunnel. The flowers started opening up yesterday so I brought them into the house to get the full benefit of their glorious scent. This morning the heat in the house had coaxed the flowers to open fully. The scent pervading the whole house today is gorgeous, I love it.

The weather here today is great, sunny since early morning. It feels like Summer. It’s the first day this year that I am only wearing one layer of clothing. Yippee, I’m off now to sow parsnip seed and continue mulching the fruit area.

Celtic Cross @ Kilronan Graveyard.

In Off the beaten track. on March 22, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Celtic Cross at Kilronan.

Some people don’t like to visit graveyards, maybe it reminds then of their own mortality, I, however, find them interesting and full of historical information. Recently, on the way home from Kilronan Castle, I stopped by the graveyard which is about a mile from Keadue village. It is most famous as the burial place of Turlough O’Carolan the famous harpist and bard who was buried here in 1738. I could’nt find any original stone that marked O’Carolan’s grave. There is however a plaque that was inserted in the old Abbey wall sometime in the 80s. The magnificient Celtic Cross is situated on the highest point in the graveyard overlooking the lake and is the burial place of Edward King Tennison of Kilronan Castle.

Detail from Celtic Cross.

I am totally amazed by this cross and to me it is a true work of art. The Celtic patterns on it are really beautiful and it would have taken a true craftsman to carve them. There are many interpretations of the meanings of these Celtic symbols. To me the outer symbolises continuity, perhaps the continuity of reincarnation? The inner spirals are said to represent balance between inner and outer consciousness.

We really will never know the true meaning of these symbols as they are all symbols from the Druidic faith in which it was forbidden to put sacred material in writing. Each of us, whatever our belief, can look at these symbols and take some meaning from them. They are universal in their appeal.

Continuity, connectedness or the endless cycle of life and death?

Also in the graveyard is the ruin of the old 14th century church. All that remains now are the walls and this magnificient Romanesque doorway which was reused from an earlier church built on the site in late 12th or early13th century.