Friday, 21 July 2017

Dipping a Toe into 'HelpX' Waters

Hollyhock
Another slow-news week and this time I really will keep it short. In the last post, I warned the reader that I'd not much to say and then went on a medium sized epic about concrete and what not. Not this time, I'm afraid - genuinely just plodding along the old familiar paths but about to embark on a new adventure, namely hosting some volunteer labour for the price of bed and board. Yes. A big change - instead of adding to the amount of man-hours we NEED in a day, we are adding to those available. Step forward the on-line service, Help-X.

From their own website (http://www.helpx.net/) "HelpX is an on line listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farm-stays, home-stays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation."

Black Marans hen decides to take a turn at this broody-ing.
So on one side of this arrangement are loads of places like ours with too much to do in the day and weeds taking over the veg' gardens, buildings in need of repair or, at the right time of year, lambing, sheep shearing or any amount of other livestock tasks PLUS spare room(s) and a willingness to take in complete strangers and feed and accommodate them.

Might be man-junk and old paint tins but at least it's TIDY.
On the other side, thankfully, are an army of people whose idea of the perfect holiday or the best form of research into whether they'd like to do this job for real. They just have to get themselves to you and then do, the general rule says, around 25 hours work for you per week. The rest of the week is theirs to go touristing, shopping or what ever they fancy. They live with you as family.

The 'bird house' still needs white lime at the far end in the
goosey bit. You can just see the broody bird holding the job up.
Both sides register their existence and advertise their wares on the Help-X website, with a view to trying to attract interest from the other. We, the 'hosts' have to make our place sound and look enjoyable enough to hook some volunteers and they have to apply to us and convince us they are the kind of volunteers we'd love to have around.

Amusingly, on the website, each side can see the other's previous 14 transactions/emails so while this negotiation is going on you can tell that your applicants are also applying to many other places. It is a bit like an E-Bay auction and we 'lost' our first 2 sets of applicants and began to wonder whether these people were looking with half an eye to the 'down-time' and hitting the night life and clubs and pubs of an anticipated nearby city. Perhaps, out here in the wilderness we'd never attract anyone.

The Hubbard meat-birds half way there at 45 days
But, No! No need for pessimism. Earlier this week we got a possible 'bite' from a couple of lads from Spain. These guys had a quick conversation with Liz on the website e-mail system and have now gone as far as booking flights and asking for directions to us from the airport. I do not want to tempt fate and say too much too soon so I will stop here and promise more on this when it is really happening.

We like a decent sized "new" potato on this farm. These are just
volunteers from the compost heap.
We are very excited and planning how we will feed them and what we will put them to work on and so on. We want them to be very happy with us and very happy here as well as wanting to be delighted with them. It is our first little dip into these murky waters, though we know of several friends who have used these websites before and have a long and happy history of using the volunteers.

Messing with the sour dough starter. Every now and then you
must split it and 'discard' half. A friend suggested make a 'gallette'
pancake/crumpet to eat with butter and honey.
Some are 'Help-X' but others use the stricter ORGANIC farming service "WWOOF" (website wwoof.net - the acronym is for the Worldwide Federation of Organic blah blah Organisations but is not in English). WWOOF volunteers are known as 'Wwoofers' but we are not sufficiently organic to qualify. Our new friend Anne, working with my Sligo-based Texel sheep owning chums, is a Help-X volunteer. She is in the middle of a 6 week stint there, she is delighted with how it is going and I know that Colin and Alayne are over the moon with her.

There now! You don't get a dog's ear-'ole on
every blog, do you? Towser is now all clean
and a healthy pink. More comfortable too. 
More on this later. Oh, and if you're into this post so quick that you saw it without pictures, an apology. The camera battery went flat as I was trying to download pictures (actually at the exact second that having selected the pics I wanted and chosen the destination folder and reached for the 'Paste' button). You will just have to be patient, like me, while I charge the battery and can then get the thing to boot up again.

Purple loose-strife
Until next time, then.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Three 8-Wheelers of Concrete for K-Dub

2 tiny goslings led out to the big outdoors. The orange dog's water
bowl is their safe "pond" and they love paddling in it.
No real new news of this smallholding for this post; we seem to have spent the week just chugging along, progressing all the old stories a little bit, so I'll keep this one fairly short and sweet as per my pact with you, the reader. If I have nothing to say, I will not say it!

Beeblebrox with her 7 in the kitchen garden. 
No news, though, is also good news - everything which was alive in the last post is still among those present. 2 goslings and all 19 baby chicks have somehow survived the slings and arrows so far. That is an achievement in itself - just keeping the babies alive is worth shouting about.

The purple loose strife is taller than me
this year by the pond there.
I got a chance, too, to carry on with the white lime-wash on the inside of that shed. Readers who have shared our story from the move to Ireland will know that we arrived with no knowledge of the 'recipe' for lime-wash and have since blagged various solutions from the Internet, from builders providers and from fellow sufferers.

Looking a bit 'ox-tail' this venison soup was superb. 
The main ingredient is always 'White Rhino' brand lime powder by the 25 kg sack. You make up a more or less runny 'paint' by adding water, plus we have tried in the past, quantities of white cement or table salt both of which allegedly help the lime to stick or fix.

That lovely stonework 'thing' at the end of our road. Story soon.
This year, painting the INSIDE of buildings for the first time we tried out a whole new recipe and think we have now whittled the various suggestions to a 'keeper'. This is pure 1:1 lime and water. No additional ingredients. One yogurt tub filled with water to one flat-top tub of the powder. Stir the powder into the water and leave 30 mins to react and thicken.

This gives you a gloop about as thick as single cream. It works really well with the old fashion 'slappy' lime-wash brushes. It is thick enough to not dribble off down the wall when you smear it onto the clean surfaces of stone, and 'slaps' beautifully off the bristles, penetrating deep into the dusty cracks and crevices when you administer a good splat with the side of the brush over the joint-crack. I know I have to re-point soon but this stuff gives a re-assuring impression of reduced thickness gaps, as if enough coats would see you with a solid white wall.

That 30' x 40' shed base at K-Dub's. 
Meanwhile the various harvests are also continuing. We are getting so many strawberries at the moment that we have ended up 'exporting' them. Liz took some to work (as was) today and we shipped some more over to K-Dub's place where young H (5) loves his soft fruit and this weekend coming, Liz will take another big Tupperware over to Sparks's gaff in Mullingar, where there is to be a family BBQ. We are also well fed at present on broad beans, calabrese and courgettes.

Grooved, non-skid concrete for K-Dub's dogs' new run.
But I said no news of "this" smallholding. We did have an exciting time half an hour's drive away in Sligo, finally pouring the concrete for K-Dub's huge shed/workshop base and a bit of a dog pen. This was another of his major projects involving 23 tonne of concrete arriving in three 8-wheeler lorries in quick succession, to be handled (raked, spread, tamped down, bull-floated and finally power-floated).

A few archery pictures just to fill out the text. 
The good news on this pour was that K-Dub had arranged for the first lorry to be equipped with the optional 11 metre horizontal conveyor belt which would mean the lorry could fire concrete right to the back corners of the pad with no need for weary-knee'd wheel barrow men to move it.

It all went according to plan for 2 lorries and we were 'flying'; the stuff was going down really well and everyone starting to relax. Tired but happy. Then a few flies hit the ointment. Lorry #3 turned out to be a re-use of #2 with the same driver, so he needed not only to go back to base to re-load (about an hour and a half round trip) but also to take his lunch (call that 2 hours then). We just had to wait while the 7/8 finished shed base got tamped and re-tamped, teased and primped into a superior degree of flatness and polish, till the last cubic yard or two turned up to finish the missing corner.

4 archers line up on this cameraman who is hiding behind the
horns of the ibex target. Obviously it was all under control and
no-one really 'drew' till I was safely out of the way. 
That was all good so far, but then the driver needed to move the lorry further down the 'site' so that his chute would reach the dog-pen slab for his final 4 cu-yards. At this point he lost the plot and reversed off the edge of the hard standing, bogging down his right rear axles and was not going anywhere till we had emptied him and the neighbour's big 4WD tractor had turned up with a tow-chain.

Those 4 arrows in a nice pattern in the kill zone are mine. I am
not sure what the other guy was playing at with his scatter of shot
in the eye, spine and front trotter. 
Bad news for those workers who had been enjoying the lack of barrowing. We had to stick barrows under the chute of the badly leaning concrete lorry while the driver dispensed the 4 cu-yds barrow-loads for us (about 20 barrows per yard). I hate that job. It kills my ankles and knees and assures me that I am, indeed 60 and not a young one any more. I managed to stay with the younger lads for 3/4 of that base but lost my balance on one really heavy full one and sat the last few dances out to get my breath. Never mind.

There are actually 2 arrows in full flight in this shot, in the
yellow oval, but I bet you can't see them in this print!
'We' got the job done and the lorry was dragged from it's temporary resting place in the soft, peaty soil. This at the 2nd attempt. In the first, the big 4WD tractor just spun its wheels on K-Dubs drive, not enough grip. The driver went home to load 44 concrete blocks into the tractor's link-box and came back with a bit more traction. K-Dub is delighted. He is also, he tells, me, skint. 23 yards of concrete sets you back €1,700 so he now needs to go back to work and earn some more for the concrete blocks, roof beams and cement etc for the shed itself.

Log-Rat #2 nailed. 
Meanwhile the lovely smooth shiny concrete pad is a great bike-playground for H(5) and the dogs have been given the "Heras" fence panels for their dog-run so they were out enjoying the hot sunshine when we rocked up with the strawberries today.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Kato goes A.W.O.L.

There's a pain in my left ear, Daddy.... Make it go away. Off to the
vet's with #1 Son, 'Towser'. Not happy. 
Off to the vets for #1 Son, 'Towser' this week, when he starts to show a lot of discomfort round his left ear. He seems to do this as an annual thing, so we are ready for him and know exactly what to do. Maybe he likes that 'pub regular' thing of being able to stroll into the vet's and ask for "The Usual, Mr Vet". His problem is a good old heady brew of ear infection going which gunges up his ear canal with nasty, dark brown waxy muck which sets hard and dry around the hair in his ear. He then spends all day shaking his head to flap his ears and try to clear it, or walking around rubbing the left side of his head on the furniture and door frames. Very sorry for himself.

Fancy 4-solution ear gel.
Unable to get him to the vet straight away, I tried a trick that used to work on my own ears which gummed up in my youth (well, younger than now anyway!) to the point of needing syringing, that being olive oil. I thought it would at least soften the 'muck' so I could wipe it out with tissues and I had also heard somewhere that if ear-mites are the problem, the oil 'drowns' them.  Turns out olive oil is NOT a good idea.

A goodly haul for our first pick over the strawberries.
Off to the vets then where our man has a good old look down in there and a wipe around as well as giving Towser a small pain-killer jab and an anti-inflammatory one. He also gives me a tube of ear-gel which he rates highly as it solves all 4 common problems at once - it is anti-parasite, "anti-infective" (?), anti-fungal and anti inflammatory. It is NOT an antibiotic as the vet explained, they are really cutting down on antibiotics now. If this gel has not solved the problem by Monday I must bring Towser back for an antibiotic jab but we don't anticipate that being necessary. "I wouldn't," he says, "put anything oily down a dog's ear as a rule". That's me told.

'We' also do not think we need the anti-parasite aspect as this is not ear-mites, just a heady brew of yeast, fungi and possibly bacteria. Anyway, the lad is on the mend now. The angry pink is gone from his ear, as well as most of the dark brown gick and he doesn't mind so much me dribbling stuff down there, folding his ear 'closed' and massaging the 'bulb' part. He just has to put up with the left side of his face being greasy looking where the stuff smears out onto his white fur, till we run out of gel and can shampoo his head back to Westie perfection.

We had no sensible jars for the strawberry
jam so here is a 2 litre 'bulk-pack. 
But my header says Kato was the one causing problems this week, so what is THAT all about? The pair of marmalade 'kittens' are by now a year old and while the female (Chivers) loves to hang around the house and be with her 'Mum', the boy (Kato) is getting a bit more adventurous. Friends of the Blog will know that on my daily dog-walk down to the bridge, I am sometimes accompanied by the full-grown black and white cat, Soldier, whom I have got used to having along and who is 100% sensible around traffic, quickly diving off the tarmac into the verge when a vehicle comes and staying there till he sees me come back onto the lane with the three dogs.

The cutter heads of my shears come back from the sharpener
with a good keen edge. 
Not so Kato, who seems to be a complete ditz and whom, if he tries to follow me down the drive, I will quickly text Liz to come and wrangle him to safety while the dogs and I get out of sight.

Deep-clean of the chicken house
That plan failed yesterday when I'd got a good half mile down the lane before a loud 'Miaow!' behind me alerted me to the fact that Kato had decided to chase us and had caught up. Ah well, too far 'gone' here to expect Liz to come rescue him, I foolishly decided to give him a try and walked gently on making sure he kept up. There were no cars about so I thought we could cope. I texted Liz to put her on alert.

The authentic lime-wash "slappy" brush
No sooner had I done that than a tractor with mower came round the corner. Kato froze. I flagged down the tractor and made to grab the cat but the cat fled, sprinting along the lane. The tractor driver gave me that "What yer gonna do?" look and moved off slowly, "following" the cat. I watched them go out of sight round the next bend with Kato still sprinting down the tarmac and the tractor carefully following. Every time the cat paused, the tractor man stopped too and tried to inch by but Kato wasn't having any of that and ran on again. That was the last I saw of him (at that stage).

Lime-washing the old stone work. 
Liz then appeared in the car (and in her PJs!) having seen the tractor pass the house safely by but no sign of Kato. I walked the dogs home and was clinging to the fact that no news (no splatted body and no sad marmalade shape in the grass verge) was good news. We then had that awful anxious wait that most cat-owners will know, re-tracing our walk/drive, calling, whistling, praying for Kato to be OK and to come home right as rain. Surely he's just strayed off the lane or gone to hide up, upset, in an abandoned building or barn somewhere. Well, to cut a long story short, he kept us on tenterhooks from midday-ish, right round to just gone 10 pm. I had gone to bed but Liz was still up and stepped into the Kitchen Garden for another hopeful look and spotted him sprinting up the drive, not a care in the world and a relaxed, unworried "Hi, Mum! I'm home!" look on his face.

Well be-spattered with lime wash
Other than that, not a lot of excitement. We have had, as you can see from the pictures, a really good harvest of strawberries for a first pick. These plants are protected behind a chicken-wire cage and I had just been checking the few fruit you can see near the 'fence'. I thought we had a couple weeks more to wait. Then I looked down in from the top and all I could see was red down in below the leaf canopy. We lifted the cage and started picking, quickly filling the tiddly, pessimistic punnets we had started with. In short order we had gathered  nearly 2.9 kg or gorgeous, ripe fruit. This is way more than we can use up 'fresh' so we had to re-think our 'no more jam' policy and go buy some sugar.

You don't want your best clothes on for
this job.
Then today we got stuck into the deep-clean long overdue on the old stone out-building we use as a chicken/goose house. In theory we are waiting till #3 broody goose finishes and abandons the nest but in practise we have become impatient and have started on the non-goose end. We are shoveling out barrow loads of old bedding and poo, giving the internal stonework a good brush down and removing all the old tired chicken wire (no longer fit for purpose and gathering cobwebs to a Gothic degree).

Finally we are going to lime-wash all that algae-encrusted, dusty masonry back to a clean, anti-bacterial, anti-insect white as only lime-wash will allow.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Good Gosling News or the Bad?

In the nick of time, a new baby gosling.
Regular readers may recall that back on 10th June I posted news and a picture of a new arrival; our first and only (at the time) new-hatched gosling. On the 13th I posted pics of his first exploration out of doors, being 'minded' by his bodyguard of Mum, Aunt(s) and Dad. Those readers may be wondering why they have not heard from him since. I have neglected to mention a small tragedy that happened here, the disappearance of this first gosling.

Our 2nd 2017 gosling - we hope he fares better than the first.
I discovered the loss on the first day of shearing those Texels (20th June). I had been out all morning at the sheep, so I had left the birds all shut up for the time I was absent, ever fearful of a repeat of our day-time fox-raid back in November. Everybody, including the gosling, had all gone to bed as normal on the evening before.

I'll just build a cage round these beans then,
to stop the chickens, shall I?
Only when I got back from the shearing and let them out, did I see the three adult geese come marching out as normal with not a bother on them but no gosling. I thought at first that he might be having a lie in, still in the nest with the still-broody 4th bird. Also pointing to this was the complete lack of excitement and separation-anxiety that parent geese show when momentarily separated from their babies.

Good chard and calabrese coming off the Kitchen Garden
Well, later in the day the 4th bird came off and no sign of the gosling. I have had a good look round and can find no little carcass or fluff or any sign of him. He could not have got out of the house so my best guess is that either a predator (rat? mink?) has come in through one of the small above-ground holes) and taken him, or he has nipped out from the goose-bit into the wider coop and been either nabbed there or got himself wedged in a tight spot between tools, the wood pile or what ever. If the latter then he must have been dead by that lunchtime because all was silent; no baby goslings screaming for release. When the geese finally finish with the nest (more of that later!) I will have a complete de-clutter and deep clean in there and may find his little dried up form but I don't hold out much hope.

Tubs and Toms out front
Since the 20th, our always-chaotic goose-breeding 'system' has involved just waiting for the #4 adult, who had stayed on the nest, to get bored and decide that the ancient eggs on which she sat were never going to hatch. By last weekend we were running out of patience, Liz had started asking when I would be able to deep-clean that shed and I was thinking I would wait till the goose went out for a 'toilet break', close the door on her and clean it all out from "under her", as it were.

Stumpy and her 5 chicks.
Well, just to prove that sometimes the sitting bird knows best, I went out to shepherd them home on Sunday 9th July and behold! There was a tiny new hatched gosling out on the grass with them. A nice surprise and #4 bird has earned herself a stay of execution. I will give her another good week before the bedders move in to change the sheets and make the beds. I will also be on tenterhooks and not wanting to leave them in of a morning for a week or so, in case the "safe from foxes" jinx strikes twice.

Big Red and her 4
While I'm on birds, I was witness to a very sweet "Mother and Toddler Group" meeting a few days back, when all 3 'yard' hens and their baby chicks wandered round through the cattle race and into the kitchen garden where 'Beebs', our mint-patch hen, is still minding her 7. So I had, briefly all 4 Mums and 19 chicks milling about, mingling a bit. The three visitors were quite cool with this liaison but Beebs was chuntering a bit at the 'encroachment' onto HER territory and called for her gang to gather close. Eventually our big sex-change rooster, Herme wandered over curious as to what all the excitement was about and then all 4 Mums gathered their tribes and melted away. Meeting over.

Glut of chard leaves? Liz makes this lovely "Tourtes aux Blettes"
See text. 
Meanwhile, in the kitchen we have both been busy based on the very successful harvest of our first blackcurrants - 3 kg already from our few bushes, some good calabrese, courgettes, an armful of chard leaves and the arrival of my 'banneton'. The latter is a special ridged bowl for making your sour-dough finish its final prove in a professional shape.

A 'banneton'. A fancy proving bowl for your sour dough.
The black currants have mainly gone into the freezer as we have a great stash of jam from previous years and need no more. Some have re-appeared as a dessert tart and more as home-grown 'Ribena'. More will be re-incarnated as Creme de Cassis which we love mixing with fizz to make Kir (Royale). The calabrese just got steamed that night with our roast chicken and fresher, darker, squeakier veg you would struggle to find. Gorgeous.

Sour dough loaf ex the new banneton. 
The chard gets split stems from leaf blades and the blades, Liz tried out in a new (to us) recipe, Tourtes aux Blettes. "Chard Pie?" I hear you squeak dubiously. Well this one is from Mediterranean cookery and was a revelation. It is quite sweet and the filling includes the chard leaves for body but also raisins soaked in brandy overnight, pine nuts, grated apple, eggs and sugar. The pastry is extra-short and includes icing sugar. Unusual but delicious. If you have a chard glut, then give it a try. Recipes are all over the Internet.

You saw that focaccia in the last post, still raw. This is the same
cooked to golden perfection. I was impressed. 
My banneton sourdough proving-bowl was a great success. It is a very lightweight thing, apparently made from paper like that used in egg boxes, so you'd never want to get it wet washing it up. You dust it well (with rice flour in this case) to stop the dough sticking, then when you tip the finished dough-ball out, give the bowl a sharp tap to shake off excess dusting flour. Mazy, I know, has a rattan/wicker one.

Finally a couple of pictures of that focaccia which I had not yet put into the oven as I went to press last time. Here it is now cooked to golden perfection. It was gorgeous and has earned it's place in our "keepers" recipe files.

Our dark buddliea. Not a butterfly in sight on these rainy
windy July days. Ah well.
Most of it disappeared as a sauce-dipping bread in a pasta I cooked a couple of days back with a bacon, mushroom, onion and tomato cream sauce. Perfect.

And that's about it for this one.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Connie, Big Red, Beebs and Stumpy makes 19

Beeblebrox with her 7 chicks
We are suddenly tripping over baby chicks everywhere. Awash, we are. Readers of recent blog posts will already know about our first two broodies, the white Sussex, 'Connie' who is now confidently marching around with her three and Big Red who has four. Big Red has taken to hanging about the yard with hers waiting to pounce on either Liz or I hoping for the next hand out of my hard-boiled egg mixture. She does not need to be doing that for too long - the babies only get egg in their commercial crumb for the first week.

When the 'Parma' ham runs out, boil up
the bones for bacon and bean soup. 
Next up we were expecting our chicken-with-a-gammy-foot, 'Stumpy' who was sitting on five eggs in the proper official nest boxes in the main coop. She was coming up to Day 21 today (7th). Before she could get there, though, Connie wandered off with hers one evening intent on bedding down in the mint patch on our kitchen garden. "Oh no you don't", we said, "Mr Fox will get you!"

Not very common... a DUCK double yolker. 
We went to rescue her (and chicks) into a kitten basket and found to our surprise that she had nestled in alongside our black Araucana-cross hen, Beeblebrox. But what was SHE doing there?

Empress and Pride at 4 months
Beebs, incidentally, is named for the two-headed man character in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Being part Araucana she has that weird feathery top-knot on her head, looking like a 2nd head, hence the name. Anyway, what she was doing was demonstrating to us very neatly and shamingly that we are not the close, detailed protectors of our flock that we probably should be.

She was sitting on about a dozen eggs and may have been broody out there for days. I had been shutting "all" the birds up each night without spotting that she was absent. No roll call. Just a quick visual check of lots of full perches and rafters. Ooops. But then, we now have a bird sitting on 12 eggs who is "out there" vulnerable to foxes etc. Do we try to move her plus the nest indoors? Do we try to build a fox-proof cage around her? Either would have been OK but may have caused her to get upset and desert the nest. We have moved nests before and the chicken just frets to get back out to where the eggs WERE. It is heartbreaking.

Empress nailing a chunk of yellow melon. 2 for €2 in SuperValu
at present. We can afford that!
Rather recklessly (irresponsibly?) we decided to risk her out there. It is a quiet little corner surrounded by a thicket of mint, tight against the wall of the Tígín deep inside the kitchen garden where I can not imagine a randomly patrolling fox would bother to go. We worried about this decision long and hard. We then stressed about this each night and especially on Wednesday when we were both woken at 03:00 by a vixen screaming very close - possibly in the lane out front. When it started raining we propped 2 long sheets of corrugated over her like a lean-to.

Well, long story short, we have, so far, got away with it. 2 days ago Liz was taking the air out in the kitchen garden when she heard loud cheeping from the mint patch. We had a hatch, only TEN days after we found the nest. The quick-witted among you will spot that this means she had been 'missing' at night and broody for 11 days before we knew anything about it. Embarrassing. She now had 7 little balls of fluff shadowing her about. There was, briefly, an 8th. I found one egg part-open with a struggling wet baby still part inside, but later this poor mite was stiff, cold and still wet. There had actually been 15 eggs and only one proved to be infertile, so Rooster Gandalf is obviously doing a good job even if we aren't!

Then yesterday, right on schedule, our 4th and final broody, 'Stumpy' nailed it with loud cheeping coming from under her skirts. What I always do for these new mums is try them on a bit of chick feed. They lean down to peck it and make that bass-y "Food kids!" clucking and if there are any mobile babies under there, these will generally pop their heads out and start learning to peck. I could see Stumpy was sitting on at least 3.

Back on that digger yesterday. This is that mini-mountain of
good topsoil we needed to barrow away to the new raised beds.
Today she came off the nest, job done and I was delighted to see she had hatched all five eggs. 100%. Go Stumpy! So we have 3+4+7+5=19 babies at the moment, more babies than we had birds a month or so ago!

Focaccia loaf, first knock-back
What else is new? I have been back out to Sligo at the diggering. The pressure is on. 'We' need to move that pile of topsoil to make way for the '804' gravel sub-base which will then need laying and 'whacking' in time for the 3 concrete lorries to arrive, scheduled Saturday week to pour those shed-bases. It's all go over there.

Sourdough loaf.
I have been messing around in the absence of Lizzie (she's down in Laois minding Auntie Mary) with some more sour dough stuff. My 5th attempt at a standard loaf came out quite well - no scorching, no excess flour on top, no 'scars' where I had let the dough stick to the tea-towel.

For relaxation I broke out the 'self sufficiency' book on bread we have (James and Dick Strawbridge) and had a go at their 'focaccia' recipe with sea salt and rosemary. I added 35 g of my sourdough starter to the dried yeast in the recipe and got a really good rise out of it.

Final prove, then bake to a golden brown and brush lightly
with olive oil for a gloss finish. 
You stick a mini-forest of rosemary sprigs into the top of this for aroma and aesthetic reasons. It was a thing of beauty. I will post a pic in the next blog. Was delicious too with a rather 'fusion food' Lancashire Hotpot main course.