Tuesday, 12 December 2017

We've Not Seen Snow Like This in 20 Years

Front lawn Sunday morning
In the previous post you saw pictures of a light dusting of snow which fell on the 8th. In previous years here, we would have had every reason to expect that a dusting was our lot. Winter was now over and we could begin the long climb back up to Spring, Solstice nearly upon us, and all that. One snowy day and that only light was our quota.

The grassy 'boreen' down to Flynn's fields
Everyone will tell you that the West of Ireland has a lovely, moderate "maritime" style climate with the huge Atlantic Ocean keeping us warm in winter and cooling us in Summer. Not for us over this side, the extremes of cold or of heat felt by the "continental" climate areas. 

Front lawn from top window as the sun was going down.
Well, the moderate maritime thing may be true but the "never get decent snow" thing creaked over the weekend and gave us a lovely, picturesque Sunday 10th. I was able to race round as you do first thing, overloading the camera with poorly lit, blue-toned pics (you always think you're going to have to work fast and early, because it won't "stick"), and still able to go round again in the afternoon when my pics might have better light.

Pit props installed to hold up the carport
roof against the possible weight of snow.
A bale of hay for the sheep. 
Of course, these days, we enjoy excellent weather forecasting, at least short-range, from Met Éireann and other websites which use their data, so we had plenty of warning from about the Thursday. I had never seen "Orange Warning for Snow" come up before and this one had the usual very precise county by county risk plus very accurate timings - 23:00 Saturday round to midnight Sun/Mon.

Drifts on the new kitchen roof.
I was able to take 3 sensible precautions. K-Dub long ago advised me that the joists I had put into the carport roof were a bit slender (at 6" deep) to go the 14 foot span and would need to be propped centrally if there was any risk of more than a few inches of snow.

The young Buff Orp' rooster shouts the
I bought extra coal in case I couldn't get the car out by Monday and a bale of hay for the sheep for if all their grazing grass was buried. I was quietly confident that we'd be OK even with Liz away the weekend. I went to bed happy well before that 23:00 deadline and slept like a log.

The sheep get extra 'crunch' and some hay.
It was like being a kid again (even better - no chance of Mum saying we had to go to school!) to wake up and see that blue-white light flooding the windows and the gentle movement of big flakes of snow still falling and to know that I didn't have to go anywhere, no struggling to work up the M2, I could just sit back, take my photo's and trudge about in the 'deep and crisp and even'.

Towser at speed. The snow is deeper than his legs are long!
Turned out we were luckier still. We got more than most. Facebook friends were posting pics of dustings , an inch, or none. Liz, down in Silverwood-land got about 2 inches. Here we got 4-6". deeper in the drifts. Unusual snow for Roscommon. When I asked the locals whether this happened often, one old boy said "We've not seen snow like this in 20 years". That was also the view in the Post Office.

Deefer (left) and Poppea play in the snow.
I guess I must guard against boring you guys with too many snow scenes, but I couldn't resist these few. I hope you enjoy them. Of course it is now Tuesday, 2 days later and that maritime climate has come back as days warming to 4ºC and all this picturesque whiteness melting away. This morning saw great gobs of snow dripping from the trees, the paths and roads turning to slush and the exposed soil and grass a sloppy wet mess again. It's always a relief mid winter to get a freeze making the mud stiff or hard, however inconvenient are the frozen drinkers and hose pipe for the livestock.

This is one of the most iconic pics of our recent past - pulling
into the driveway for the first time on Dec 12th 2011 after our
overnight 500 mile convoy in the Fiat and 2CV
My only other 'story' for this post is one 'invented' by Facebook. Both of us had missed this one and there was a risk of the significance of today sailing by unmarked. FB though, have a little algorithm running which digs up pics you posted exactly x number of years ago and asks you if you want to re-post them. This morning they hit me with the picture shown here of the red Fiat and the 2CV and trailer in front of the house from exactly 6 years ago.

Obviously, I did. This is one of the most iconic pics we have from here - it shows the cars pulled into the driveway for the first time at the end of our overnight, 500 mile, emigration journey (well, emi- for me, re-immigration, I suppose, for Liz!). This pic appeared first on this blog at


Snowy Sycamore
My diary from that day tells us that we called in briefly to mooch around but then to stash the 2CV in the cattle race (invisible from the road - we were less trusting then) before heading to Castlerea to drop some champagne to the Estate Agent's place (we must have been richer, too) and then head to Silverwood's for our first proper overnight together as Irish residents.

Global warming? 2 big new icebergs 'calve' off the well
known Roscommon Glacier.
The next day we apparently drove all the way back intent on starting work, at least achieving that the chimneys were swept clear of jackdaw nests and fires lit in both ends of the house. We both felt the need to make the house aware of us and to welcome us - we needed to bring warmth. I like to think we've done a lot more of exactly that in the intervening 6 years.

Just because there was no-one here to tell
me I shouldn't be building snowmen at
my age. The dogs liked it.
If you are interested in that rebuild phase, from about Dec 2011 to May 2012, then there are plenty more posts on this blog. Enjoy the read.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Two New Girls for our Lads

A dusting on the ground and light snow still falling this morning.
A minor dusting of snow was our lot in the shirt-tails of Storm Caroline; very merciful compared to the dumps of snow experienced by 'The North'  and then down through Wales and the UK midlands. We are definitely not complaining. Neither are we complacent, as some Met Éireann Yellow Warning snow is forecast for Saturday into Sunday.

Snow on the new kitchen roof, as seen from
the back bedroom window.
I am here on my Jack at the moment as Liz is off 'minding' Mum (Liz Senior) down in Silverwood-land (County Laois). Mum has just had a hip replacement operation up in Swords (Dublin), so Liz (jnr) was off down to Laois on the train last night, where she will take temporary ownership of Mum's car, driving it off up to Swords to gather up Mum in the snow and bring her home. Liz will then stay there round to next Tuesday on this "tour of duty", when The Village Play (and other stuff) will call her home, at least for a couple days.

Not nice in the local village. 
I had my own little "necessary journey" in the snow this morning as I was off to Sue and Rob's to collect a couple of new Guinea Hens as possible mates to our lonely cock-birds, Apollo and Belvedere.

Might not want to park that one there mate - the Guards will
be at you..... Hope the driver was not badly hurt.
I also got a quick peek at the not-yet-hatched duck eggs in the incubator over there where, using Sue's candling lamp, I could see little feet kicking about. In my head, these eggs were due on Wednesday (Day 28) but Sue tells me ducks can easily go 28-35 days, so she was not expecting any hatches till after this weekend. Patience is the thing.

Easiest way to move Guinea Fowl is the kitten-box. 
The Guinea ladies were landed safely into one of our rabbit runs with the 'bedroom' compartment at one end. I gave them food and water and left them to settle in, as I always do. That way, they are able to see our sights and sounds but are safe from being beaten up by other poultry seeing them as intruders.

These are quite young birds - probably not yet sexually mature.
Their 'horns' (top of head) are not fully developed and the little
"chilli-pepper" wattles are pale pink, not yet bright red. 
I suspected that Apollo and Belvedere would find them fairly quickly. I wasn't wrong. I barely had time to take the 'landed' photo and the boys rocked up and were all over them from that moment on. They were walking all over the top of the pen looking down at the girls or running round the outside trying to make beak-contact through the wire, as the girls, in their turn, raced around the inside of the pen trying to get out and at the boys. The poor turkeys, up to now the Guinea cocks' bestest, inseparable chums, were just abandoned like last week's fashion. Fickle things, Guineas, obviously.

I was tempted to fore-go the usual 24 hours "probationary" period and let the 4 at each other but there are two things I know about introducing new birds to the flock, and Guineas in particular. First, if the new birds do come under attack it can be vicious, fast and deadly. Second, once a Guinea Fowl is out, you will probably never catch it again - they are fast and nimble as well as flighty and nervous. They explode into flight like a pheasant. Yes, if they go off to roost in your barn like good birds, and you have a ladder, you can probably nab them at night but these ladies had only just arrived and had never seen the barn, never mind the inside of it. They'd as likely find a tall tree for the night. Patience, again, is the thing. (It quite often is.)

The boys are all over the new arrivals. 
I let them be but put an inverted wheel barrow over the cage to keep the light snow and wet off. Come evening and everyone takes them-self off to roost in the barn, the new girls got left at the barn end of the temporary pen, calling hopefully after their new friends. It was quite a job to persuade them that the pen had its own warm, dry, bedroom and if they would only go in there they'd have a comfy night round till I could let them all out free-ranging on Saturday. They could be dry, preened and spruced up ready for their blokes. I hope they stayed in there for the night, otherwise they'll be stiff as boards from hypothermia by morning.

Blue looks comfortable.
With the return of winter, my long break away from the buildering came to an end. K-Dub has been too busy up in the City to be doing very much to his own place, and my last task was to help pouring that huge shed base in July, 30' by 40' and taking 3 big 8-wheeler mixer lorries. ( http://deefer-dawg.blogspot.ie/2017/07/three-8-wheelers-of-concrete-for-k-dub.html )

Well, last weekend he was going to build the block-walls for the shed in company with a gang of 4 of us. 3 were professional block-layers, 2 from the 'Smoke' one a near-neighbour of his. K-Dub's and my job were to support these guys with a constant flow of barrows of cement 'thrown' up onto their mortar boards with a shovel, and of the heavy concrete "cavity" blocks. Ideally, your block layer needs to be standing at his task and able to lay a block, then turn round and scoop more cement from the board behind him, or grab a block the right way up, stacked at waist height(+) also just behind him. Him, obviously whizzing along the length of the wall doing his course of blocks, so needing to pass a stack or a mortar board about every 6 feet along the base or planks-on-trestles.

Ah well. Only bought it to 'feed' the cake. It was never going to
see Christmas. Sláinte.
It is busy, heavy, unremitting work seasoned by happy banter among the blokes but, d'you know what, I love it! We got on well and in 4 hours, got loads done. I had to come away at that point, but we'd the wall up right round the building to around 6' in places and 8' at corners. The 4 other lads carried on into the p.m. (they all a good 25 years younger than me and they've been doing it all their lives!) but I've not been back to see how much got completed.

The Irish Government decided to not proceed with getting the
population to pay water-rates after all, and gave us back all
the money we had paid since the troubled start last year. 
My other 'builder-ish' job was at a friend's (no names, no pack drill) over beyond Castlerea where a 'new' generator was arriving to replace the old dead one. The 'new' one is an ex Military (British Army, I think) which needed a serious trailer to get it back from the seller's and a big 4WD Tractor with a front-loader to lift it and wiggle it into position. The tractor was being 'lent' by a young farmer's son, who was also going to be driving it - we had to wait for him to get out of school and then have his tea (God forbid an Irish Mammy would allow the lad to go out in the dark and rain without a belly full of grub!). He rocked up at about 5 pm, by which time it was dark and lashing down with rain. The dead generator also meant the house/yard was without power, so we were splodging around with torches, but at least the lights on modern tractors are like football ground floodlights. My job was to clear a pile of rocks and rubble to allow the tractor to swing about, then help the 'genny' to land, connect it up and test-fire it. This to give the batteries a quick blip which would allow the friend to re-start the tripped out wind turbine and (ha ha) solar array. It's all very well being 'off grid' and all green and low impact as long as your genny doesn't fry its crank on a near-windless fortnight such as we have just had, prior to Storm Caroline.

By the end of this post, then, we have 4 walls round a shed, 2 new Guinea Fowl sleeping in the comfort of their bedroom (I hope), my friends have a house with working electricity and the Ma-in-Law is being well looked after at home by her oldest daughter. By the next post we all might be under a foot of snow, but we'll worry about that when it comes. Hope you are also all warm, safe and dry... and lit.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

(Too Much) Bio-Diversity

Liz's new thermal socks. The price was only
slightly higher than the Tog rating!
Friends of the Blog will know that I am quite keen on the wildlife and a strong advocate of recording those sightings of our flora and fauna into the on-line 'National Bio-Diversity Database'. I wouldn't be surprised if I might even have a bit of a reputation for bullying everyone else to do the same. You saw a water-rail? Be sure to record that into the ......! You saw a road kill pine marten? Be sure... etc. People all around me on Twitter and Facebook are probably saying to each other, "Shhhh - Don't tell him - he'll make you enter it onto etc ..."

A very hazy sky for the Dec 3rd Full moon.
I make no apology for this and I am just as keen to submit other forms of recording to various related databases too - I do, as you may know, the Bumble bees recording through the Summer and , on Monday, I stepped out of the back door to be met by a tree creeper, who reminded me that the 2017/8 Garden Bird Survey started that day. The latter runs for 13 weeks and has you recording the highest numbers of all the garden birds seen at any one time in that week. My one tree creeper was rather outnumbered by a mini-murmuration of 55 starlings.

My friend's Sligo water-rail sighting.
The National Bio-Diversity Database has recently been improved and much easier to look at the recorded sightings. Either that or I finally worked out how it was done - it may have always been possible. This has made possible a bit of a friendly competition between counties and some target setting, encouraging, motivational comment from those in charge. Between all of the volunteer recorders, we input 10,000 sightings on each of the 4 big summer months and we have done 70,000 total so far this year. I am in a small minority in Co. Roscommon and had set myself a small personal target of getting 'us' over 800 by year end - we have just recently  completed this. What chance 900?

Fondant icing ready for the Christmas Cake
Two small personal feathers in the cap - I introduced a fellow gardener to the 'game' last month and helped them to start their own ball rolling with that water-rail  they'd found killed on the road while out walking. The bird was fairly intact and they were able to photograph it and posted it to FB, I guessed to get a confirmed ID. Water rails are very rare. There are only records for 21 across the whole country this year. Well now there is a shiny new record up on the Sligo coast and a new recorder to boot.

The only record in 2017 for Briza minor
My other, I was amused to note was that I hold the only record for Briza minor (Lesser quaking grass) for 2017. This doesn't really surprise me; I doubt many volunteers are interested in grass where as from my Uni days studying ecology, I always had a thing for grass species - that field wasn't just grass, it was a fascinating seed-hay meadow with catstail, timothy, fescues, rye grasses and the like.

I am impressed by the rainbow holograms on the new €50 note.
Some, like the quaking grasses, stuck in my mind because they have unusual flower 'panicles' (spikes). The quaking grasses have seed heads like flattened hop 'cones', so they are dead easy to ID and when I was out dog-walking at Kiltybranks and I spotted some, I just HAD to record it on the database. Only when I was in there looking around, did I learn that mine was a lonely single record. Obviously, Briza minor is not that rare, it just doesn't catch the attention of many volunteer recorders.

New signs warn verge-cutting contractors
not to cut here.
So Bio-Diversity is a good thing, yes? Well, yes, up to a point. Sometimes you can have too many species or, more specifically, unwanted species. Our lanes are suddenly well peppered with new (bi-lingual) signs warning of the presence of "Invasive Species". Readers will almost certainly know that the local environment is currently suffering from invasions of foreign 'thug' plant species - Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam and, here in the West, that much-loved 'giant rhubarb' plant, Gunnera manicata.

Feeding the Christmas Cake. 4 capfuls will do for now.
Well now the councils are fighting back armed with knowledge of how to stop the plants spreading and also how to eradicate them from existing sites and now also a PLAN. I'd seen all the notices go up and lobbed a question in to the most recent Tidy Towns meeting where one of the guys happens to be a high level Manager in the group responsible for highways maintenance, motorway signage,  procedures for road-works gangs and all that malarkey.

He told us that a lot of the 'stopping the spread' is about care in mowing the verges. The seeds (and other grow-able parts) are carried along on the mowing machines (or strimmers)  so they needed to tell the contractors to stop cutting where there was a patch and thoroughly clean down the machine between sections. One species (I think the knotweed) must not be cut at all - there is a laborious process of moving through the patch on foot using a hypodermic to inject each intact stem with a systemic chemical which will be taken down into the roots. That process has to be repeated 3 years running to finally stop the weed in its tracks. Good luck with that one lads. Others have to be cut before seed is ripe, like the very allergenic ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia). Sounds obvious but this weed is a real problem in places like Hungary where it gets into the maize and sunflower crops and ripens before they do.

Our garden makes the Roscommon Herald.
Finally, while I'm still on plants, the Roscommon Herald have now printed that article by garden writer Paul Kirwan - the edition which came out today. Fame at last? It is a very flattering and generous piece (must have been Liz's chocolate cake!), with a couple of good pictures in it. Thank you very much the newspaper and, in particular Paul Kirwan. You are welcome back any time.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Pay by Weight

Pay by Weight advisory letter. 
December already! Doesn't time fly when you're having fun? Tonight the post will mainly be rubbish. (No change there, I hear you heckle) - in this case the recycling and landfill stuff we put in those wheelie bins. We the customers of this service are to be moved, as promised, onto a 'pay by weight' system instead of paying just a standard 6 monthly rate.

Daffs just starting to show their noses.
My Brit readers may not be aware that 'over here' waste disposal is not done on the UK system of being included in the 'Poll Tax', so in Kent, we paid our £120 a month (or so) and trundled the bins out on the necessary day, paid to have them jet-washed if we chose and thought no more about it. Here, the "Local Property Tax" is very new and much smaller - more like €100 per YEAR and does not cover any services (as far as I know). You sign up to the local waste disposal contractor separately - in our case the man from Barna Waste spotted that we had moved in to the house and came up the drive on foot to recruit us.

The mead is still bubbling away.
We pay €175 per 6-months which covers both wheelie bins. In our case this is for recycling (cardboard, paper, tins, hard plastic (bottles and trays but not bags), metal etc, but not glass, plastic bags or crockery) in the blue bin and for landfill (black bun; everything else but not green or veg waste - we compost that - or glass bottles). Glass we take to the bottle bank (the "Drive of Shame" we call it). Wood we burn if possible.

We judge ourselves to be pretty good at this and keen to tread light footprints across the planet and we were fairly sure, when this much-talked-of change to pay by weight came along we'd be on the 'good guys' side of the fence. 'Barna Claus' might be making a list and checking it twice, but we hoped we'd be on 'nice' list. Rumour had it that new tech on the bin-lorries and smart tags on our bins would let the contractor know what weight of the blue and black bins was on each 'lift'. If we sneaked too much weight into the black bin we'd get charged more at the end of the 6 month period with the surcharge added to the next bill. We weren't 100% sure what the trigger point would be but were pretty sure we'd be below it.

Lisacul Players' next production (from the website).
Well. Now we know. A letter arrived today advising us that we will continue to be charged €175 per 6 months but that is buying us an 'allowance' of 450 kg on the black (landfill) bin across the 6 months. If we go over the 450 we will get charged at 22 cents / kg. These are fortnightly pick-ups so the 6 month amounts to 13 visits, but the limit is quite a generous 34.6 kg per bin.

The season for hearty stews with loads of root veg. This one
from one of the culled cockerels - a Roo Stoo?
We can relax. We have never even got close to 34 kg. This is confirmed by the flip side of the advice letter which helpfully tells you what you put out for them in the 6 months April 2017 to Sept 2017, in our case only 110 kg. The blue bins are not limited or surcharged (though I assume they are checked!) but it was good to know that we only put out 78 kg via that route in the test period.

Bobtail's 3 chicks at 11 weeks seem to suddenly be like small
hens, rather than babies. 
Now the quick thinkers among you, at least if they are as cynical as I am, might be thinking that, hold on, if my €175 buys me an allowance of 450 kg of waste and I have only been using a quarter of that, might there not be space in these sums for a discount for the "very good" guys? There was talk of that in the early negotiations, apparently but any whisper of this costing less than the €175 has vanished from the Barna Waste communications. Ah well.

Meanwhile, everything else is chugging along. Bobtail's 'babies' seem to have changed overnight into small hens and left behind all traces of chick-hood. Stumpy's three (9 weeks) are not far behind. The white hen, Connie, is now settled happily in her broody-cage where she can get to food and water but none of her sisters can helpfully drop eggs in and add to her workload.

Stumpy with 2 of her youngsters. 
I need to make sure there are no hen eggs in there because if she hatched one of those at 21 days, she might get off the nest with it and abandon the nearly-'cooked' duck eggs. After a week this is not a problem, because any hen eggs dumped in would hatch after the ducklings which is not ideal but would not harm the ducks.

Connie's broody-cage. She is behind the
'galv' bucket which is on top of the black
tool box. 
I also finally got to pruning the willow hedge/arch, which is now in its 4th year so is producing some pretty big, thick unwanted branches.

Pruning the willow arch.
This is quite a major undertaking and produces a big pile of willow 'sticks'.

Nice and cosy. Connie sitting on 5 duck eggs. 
Enough for this one, anyway. Good night all.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord...

Stir up Sunday
A blog post with at least some of those words in it is by now almost an annual tradition. A blog of mystery and unpredictability, this is obviously not. We do love this process, though and can think of no finer way of creating the 'pud' and the Christmas cake. Off then on a special shopping mission on the Saturday (25th) and some of the dried fruit doused in Jameson overnight.

Hours of fun, too, on the Sunday adding final ingredients, mixing and doing the obligatory stirs before tipping the mixes into their respective cookware, lined with grease-proof or covered in same and foil, tied down with string like Mamma used to make. Now cooked too - 8 hours gentle blupping for the pud - and left to rest for the required amount of weeks. The icing of the cake is my department - I have a cunning plan but need to source some coloured icing, which could be tricky.

Temporary fences allow the sheep to access all areas. 
Friends of the Blog following our hosting of local gardening journalist, Paul Kirwan may have been expecting our story to appear in the Roscommon Herald today but unfortunately we got 'bumped'. Paul had had a story about his involvement in Golf Course "gardening" sitting on the back burner for weeks and the paper decided to go with that one this week. 'We' are therefore postponed to next week. More on that next week, maybe.

As bad as it got slush-wise.
We had a short burst of winter over the weekend. Nothing impressive or photogenic, just lots of raw, biting wind and wet wintry showers. No real frost either, so we are very sloppy under foot and pinned down to indoor jobs.

The ever reliable duck eggs. 
Rather bizarrely, our white Sussex hen, 'Connie', has decided to go broody. We have no idea why she thinks it is Spring but just maybe she has worked out that by doing the broody thing she can sit in a lovely warm nest in a shed and be given waiter-service on the food and water, protected from piratical 'sisters' trying to drop more eggs in on her by the cage I have built around her little hidey hole.

Not so much 'frozen' as covered in a
layer of part-melted slush. The pond
goes gun-metal grey.
I have, though, stitched her up. Not wanting any more chickens just for the moment, I have slipped 5 duck eggs under her. She will not be able to check on her diary but her instinctive Day-21 will come and go. Duck eggs take 24-28 days at least to incubate. Day 28 will put her right on Christmas Day so, with luck, our guests will get to see cute, new-hatched ducklings. Chickens will generally just sit tight, unaware of any problem and not visibly concerned that the chickens look a bit 'funny'. You do then need to take the babies off the Mum by about Day 10 because the Mums get quite upset that their babies will not learn to scratch and peck and do not try to stay dry. We'll have to see how that goes.

The turkeys are still thriving and impressing us with their size. We reared three because in previous years we have given them to family, one going to Sparks for a special dinner he used to do for a gang of his Dublin builder mates. Sparks is no longer in that world and now lives outside the capital, so tells us he doesn't need one, and neither, apparently, do any of the Silverwood gang so we have three turkeys and only ourselves and our guests to satisfy. Turkey for Easter anyone? St Patrick's Day?

Finally just a couple of pics for the usual reason, that I have them. First up, Lizzie. When you are wiped out by a cold and chilled to the bone, wrap up well in the 'onesie' and under a blanket. If that's not warm enough chuck a couple of cats and a dog on the bed too. Toasty.

Next up the two grown-up boy-cats, Blue and Soldier who have lately been fighting a bit over the best roosts and nests. Here they both grabbed the top of the book-case under the stairs, with their heads against the woodwork in a quiet stand off. Anywhere you can climb, I can climb higher? In the end Soldier blinked first and jumped down, leaving Blue to stretch out luxuriously across the case-top with a rather smug look on his face. The status quo is restored. For now.