Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Bees, Pigs and Apple Trees

The bees are still out and about flying around during the middle of the day when the temperatures rise above 9-10 degrees.
As they have not clustered yet, they are using more energy and therefore food reserves but are able to feed although there is no forage available at this time of year for them.

I opened up all the hives, just taking off the roof to get access to the crown boards.
As you can see they have used most of the fondant that I give them in early oct. 
I made up another batch of about four litres and added this to the crown boards.

The fondant was still warm and more liquid but it quickly firmed up. The bees were delighted!

I will have to keep a close watch on them as this mild winter will see them needing more feeding through to spring. 
I prefer to over feed than for the bees to starve under the pressure of spring. 

I watched the bees going about their housework, cleaning out the hive and collecting moisture droplets from the grass.
I have them four years now and I am still in awe of them and their collective organisation. 

It hasn't rained here in a few days and the pig sty is getting messy. A heavy rain usually cleans out the sty for us. A job I must do today instead :-)

This is a young apple tree that I under sown with peas. The peas are dying back now but I noticed that the peas did a wonderful job of opening out the branches of this young tree. The weight/pull of the peas all season has trained the branches into a more ideal shape. A delightful accident!


Friday, 22 November 2013

Lambs to fill the freezer

We bought three lambs on the hoof recently and had them sent to the butcher. They were lovely small mountain lambs that grazed the heathers and moors about 30 mins drive away. They finished out at about 18 kgs each. 
I collected them this morning and I am so excited to taste the chops and see if they taste different from my fathers lamb.

Our freezer is very full now that I can hardly close the lid. 
But a great feeling to have such a store of healthy home/grass reared meat. 

While it is not a problem in Ireland  to buy such meat, I appreciate that it is very very difficult in other countries were animals are generally confinement fed. It is not a nice life for the animals either. 
As grass is our main agricultural crop, animals are grazed outdoors much of the year and enjoy a good life.
Although that comes at a price, lots and lots of rain, all year round!

Thursday, 21 November 2013


I have been putting out poison every few days recently and today I got a great surprise when I went out to the big freezer. The rats had burrowed under the freezer, I assume for warmth, and at the entrance I found this well feed rat. I am delighted!

Hopefully their numbers will sharply decline. I have noticed that there is less burrows dug in the chickens bedding and on the odd day I have managed to collect a good 7-8 eggs instead of the 0-4 eggs I usually get.

Our poor little kittens went missing. A few days later one was road kill a km up the road. We assume that they went into the car engine and dropped out onto the road some distance away. We are disappointed but the children haven't noticed yet!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Salami Taste Test

Last month a did a post about making salami and last week we decided to taste some.
It has dried out a lot and has become firm with a coating of white mould. Considering we made so many if them, we decided we could afford to lose one by trying it a bit early.

Well, the kids loved it!
It tasted ready and I'm sure they are, due to there narrow size of sausage casing. I would use bigger casing again to make them quicker and mature at different times.
They taste just like the salami in the store but with a strong after taste which I don't like. Again the kids loved them.
I also feel that I didn't use enough favouring (herbs/spices) in the mix, as it tastes fairly plain but good.
I will try them again in two weeks to see if the after taste softens. Hubby loves them.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Roast Ham

We got the four back legs of the pigs back from the butcher last Friday. They were brined for a few weeks and then hung.

I got the butcher to half them. I put the lower leg into the freezer  and I left out the four hams, as seen above, to cook. They weighted 25kgs uncooked weight. That is a lot of ham!

They were too big to fit into anything I had other than a old pot I had for making cheese.
I boiled each ham for four hours each.

Once boiled, I peeled off the rind, be boned and tied the ham.
I cut squares into the fat and added cloves. I used a mix of mustard and brown sugar as a glaze. They went into the oven at a high heat for 25mins. 

Yummy! They tasted amazing!

Later when they cooled, we used a second hand food slicer to slice up the hams.
I divided these into 500g amounts and bagged them for the freezer. 
Now I have lots in the freezer for the kids lunches and for quick meals.

Freezers are such a blessing :-)

Friday, 8 November 2013

The freezer

I go out to the freezer everyday to take out meat or maybe veg to defrost for the dinner the next day.
Yesterday evening while doing this task, I was met with three large (well fed) rats rushing out of the shed. 
And when I opened the freezer, I discovered that the food at the top was starting to defrost. Arghh! The freezer wasn't working!

After some detective work, I discovered that the sockets didn't work rather than the freezer itself. The electric fence used for our neighbours cattle had tripped the fuse, which I plugged out. I went to the outdoor fuse board, located high up in the chickens shed and flicked down the switches and the freezer fired up again. I pushed the turbo switch on the freezer to quickly freeze the contents.
I sighed with relief as the freezer contains a great deal of food but thankfully we didn't loose any.

Once I got the freezer sorted, I lay rat poison safely in the shed. They are inevitable when you have poultry but I want to keep their population as low as possible. I reckon they have been stealing plenty of eggs from the hen house.
Our two kittens are growing well and have unfortunately started to catch small sparrows. But hopefully they will be good rat catchers in time.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

November and the garden is still producing

When I think of a veg garden in November, I think of a dormant garden with very little on offer. 
But this is far from true. On my walk through the garden today, I found there was a great deal to choose from even in this cold month.

Outdoors there is the choice of :


So I brought in a large head of cabbage for dinner, to be served with slow cooked home produced pork, and a half bucket of artichokes.

The veg beds needs a good tidying up, but it will have to wait till February. We will dig up all the beds and add manure to then then. Also we need to recover the polytunnel in spring before we start seed beds. 

The pigs enjoyed the veg waste that I throw into their sty this morning. Nothing goes to waste. I am finding that with the recent heavy rain, there is no need to clean out the sty at all. 
The fall (slope) runs to the manure heap and the rain is washing away all waste perfectly, and the roof gutter fills up their water regularly. They are very very low maintenance. I did question our wisdom in over wintering pigs but I am pleased so far. 
I like winter to be quiet and indoors. Who wants to be outdoors in cold wet weather? Not me!
I prefer to be indoors by the fire. Trying out new recipes from loved cook books and trying my hand at various craft projects. Or simply put, taking it easy!

It was such a nice day today that the bees were flying. There won't be many more days like this one. I didn't see any activity from the rehomed nuc. I don't expect them to survive winter as they failed to requeen.

Over the next month or two, we hope to finish off the cow yard, to have it ready for a new cow in the new year. Fingers crossed xxx


Friday, 1 November 2013

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

This post is about the European CAP policy from an Irish perspective, 
aka agricultural/food subsidies.

I was having dinner out at a restaurant  recently with friends when the topic of food prices came up. 
My hears pricked, this is a topic I am very  familiar with. Each person was complaining about raising food prices and that they had decided to cut back on buying over priced meat and dairy.
Each person came from a rural farming background and they were shocked when I tried to explain to them that 'expensive' meat is actually already subsidised heavily. That in fact it is produced at cost or below by the farmer.
And that European tax revenue is used to subsidise the farmer using CAP payments. 
They were all aware that farmers received payments but had assumed it had no effect on the markets and that farmers are just lucky.

I spent much of the evening explaining how subsidies lower food prices and therefore produce a stable market that can supply consumers with reasonably price food. These factors became very important after World War 2 when the payments were originally production oriented. They later moved to flat rate per hectare to focus on environmental and animal husbandry standards and prevent the build up of food mountains that occurred in the eighties and early nineties. 

I am not sure that I am a fan of CAP payments. I think they produce a very artificial market and they do not encourage innovative farming practices but encourage 'grant' farming instead. 

In Ireland it has resulted in hyper inflated land prices that have no bearing on the lands yield/production  rates. This is a massive barrier to new entrance. 

It has given larger farms a greater advantage over smaller family farms. This makes me very sad that family farms lose competitiveness and has produced a trend of them being bought up by their larger neighbours. This has such a negative effect on rural communities long term. 
I have also noticed that many elderly farmers have tended not to pass the farm on to their family upon retirement. They choose to hold on to the farm and work it  at a minimum level in order to continue to receive payments. They either keep a small amount of cattle during the summer months to keep the herd register active and sell these on in autumn at none/little profit as the market is flooded as everyone buys/sells at the same time or  they choose to sell the summer grass as fodder. They see it as an increase in their pension payments. 
This have a negative impact on the next generation who are 40-50 years themselves before they can take over the farm. During this period they would have had to seek a livelihood elsewhere and some are reluctant to move back to the farm, uprooting their own families and careers, and choose to sell the farm instead. And who could blame them!

In Ireland the average farm is 80 acres (32.7 hectare) with a growing trend of elderly farmers.

It consists of:
80% grassland
11% rough grazing & marginal 
9% crop production

With the average farming farming recording a profit of €17,771 including €9,285 in subsidies in 2010.