Collecting fresh laid eggs from the hen house on the morning of St Patrick’s Day at Bealtaine Cottage.
Step inside the Hen House with me to see where the girls have laid… then over to the tunnel to check on the seedlings.
I explain how the compost toilet system is so simple and easy and essential!
Finally, walking around the front of the cottage to delight in the quickening growth of the season!
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The year in the garden is now well under way, as Mother Earth awakens in a very visible way…not that she ever slept!
Coltsfoot is one of the first herbs to come into flower, for it flowers before it leafs and a very welcome sight this is!
Bronze fennel, that most vigorous of herbs and also a brilliant addition to the flower garden, starts to produce tasty leaves that can be added to early Spring salads.
Rocket has over-wintered well in the tunnel and forms the base ingredient.
Daffodils are now up and beginning to flower.
Daffodils on the hill above the cottage, around an old abandoned dwelling are in full bloom!
Reminders of Winter come and go, but not for long, sometimes just an hour or two of a light dusting of snow.
Never enough to hold back the advance of the seasons!
But beware the wind chill factor that comes with early Spring and wrap up warm when venturing out to work in the garden!
When the sun does shine, it is truly glorious and plants like Rhubarb spring into exuberant life!
A very hungry plant, Rhubarb eats up a generous dressing of well-rotted manure.
Euphorbia comes into life in the flower garden…here it shares a half barrel with a Fig Tree and both like each other’s company!
In fact, the Fig has fruited well year on year since getting a new bed fellow!
An old but treasured book is always at hand to delve into for advice on seasonal food, gardening and outdoors work!
I wonder if this little gem is still in print?
Beautiful catkins on the Hazel trees…flowers in fact!
The pond is filling with frogspawn and clumps of frogs celebrating the turn in the year as only frogs can!
Out in the hen-house the girls are in touch with the growing of the light as they come back into lay!
Mr and Mrs Fox are hungry and on the prowl! I often lay out food at night for the foxes, for the way I see it is simply this: we have interfered with the food chain by removing the animals that would have predated upon foxes.
This is my way of attempting to live in harmony as best I can…and ensuring that the girls in the henhouse are well protected!
Part Two of THE GARDEN IN FEBRUARY can be found on Bealtaine Cottage Good Life…
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You can place an order for seeds harvested here at Bealtaine cottage, from the plants seen growing here…all strong and vigorous. Click on the link below that will take you to the selection available:
“The poetry of the earth is never dead.” – John Keats
Amid much conflict in the world, austerity, unemployment and strife, the seamless story of Mother Earth moves across the landscape.
In these days of early Spring in the west of Ireland, her joyfulness plays out in the changing earth beneath our feet, as sap pushes up stems and trunks, thickening buds as it moves the life force skywards.
Earlier mornings, filled with birdsong.
Hens back laying eggs.
Sunshine and showers.
There is a deep sense of an Ode to Joy!
The world of man is in chaos…and always has been in one form or another.
Yet, here in Nature, Great Mother Nature, time continues in an almost unaltered way.
I say “almost,” because, of course, Mother earth has been greatly harmed by Mankind.
Today, I do not want to write about that, but instead invoke a little of the joy that is manifesting around us all.
The earth, here in the northern hemisphere, is inviting us all to a long party.
The doors have opened, the dance has begun!
The brown mantle of winter is now cast aside and the greening has begun.
Already there are lambs in the fields and Catkins emerging on Willow.
There are no tickets to be bought for this party…all is free!
You are even allowed to take things away from the party and bring them home…flowers, Catkins, sunshine, food and even music.
Open your doors and windows to the music…it is magical music indeed!
Mother Earth holds no fear…she sings despite the wars.
Mother Earth is not impoverished…she keeps giving despite austerity.
Mother Earth cares not for politicians or governments…she will not be governed or subdued.
Mother Earth knows no religion, for she is the great Creatrix.
Bring nothing but joy!
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As I cut back around the orchard, cuttings are dropped onto the ground around the trees and bushes as a mulch.
The planting continues as more and more flowers and herbs are brought from my small nursery area, a really important part of any permaculture garden or smallholding!
As with all my projects here at Bealtaine, I couldn’t resist using some Willow to effect, constructing a simple arbour that will eventually house a home-made bench, on which to sit and sup a cup of tea!
The plan of maximum planting has worked well all over the land here, building resilience as well as fertility into the land, as a forest does naturally.
There is such a good balance of biodiversity here that flies don’t seem to be a bother…this can be a serious Irish complaint during the summer months!
The idea of planting food trees is taking off here in the west of Ireland.
My local town of Drumshanbo has planted a Community Orchard near the entrance to the town…a great Transition Towns inspiration!
The hens have settled into their new home and are all laying.
Happy clucks and soft singing emanates out from the hen house.
The secure enclosure promises to keep the Fox family away…for I have lost too many of my lovely hens to Mr and Mrs Fox. Inside, the house is spacious and comfortable, with an upstairs and five windows in total!
It is known as a deep litter system, using lots of straw.
This is what happens in Permaculture…surplus is fed back into the system or shared out!
PS: Next month will the my tenth anniversary of Bealtaine Cottage.
Today marks the 700th blog!
Living in a time when the cost of food is rising day on day, it might be time to re-think the lawn! This is what Bill Mollison, one of the founders of the Permaculture movement has to say on the subject:
The lawn has become the curse of modern town landscapes as sugar cane is the curse of the lowland coastal tropics, and cattle the curse of the semi-arid and arid rangelands…
Over the past few days I have been busy converting this little shed into a new hen house and run…food to swap and share…fresh eggs! it is going to be a simple enough barter, swapping a sack of logs for nine eggs. Most logs are traded at 3.50 a sack, so that’s a fair swap!
That makes a good swap as eggs are getting more expensive by the day and the logs will be delivered to my door! I just have to ensure that the hen house and run are secure against Mr ans Mrs Fox and family!
As Spring moves across the land, a drying wind is working its magic on the earth. The greening is under-way.
The view from the sitting room window is being filled in like a ‘Painting By Numbers,’ canvas. Ash trees are the last to get their leaves and so stand proud in all their silver glory against temperamental Spring skies.
Continuing my lifelong passion for trees…this is a wall tile I made from clay…complete with tree, a fairy tree.
The lone Fairy Thorn one often sees growing in the middle of fields here in Ireland served as my inspiration. They are often windswept and leaning away from the west.
This sits upon the dresser in the kitchen…a time when preserves were sold in stoneware jars. All containers were re-cycled, in that they were re-used…even milk bottles! Lemonade bottles had a money deposit attached to them and children would collect them up to return to the shop, as a way of earning pocket money!
Even cream came in little stoneware jars like this, as it kept cool in the pantry in the days before every home had a fridge!
“A sacred way of life connects us to the people and places around us. That means that a sacred economy must be in large part a local economy, in which we have multidimensional, personal relationships with the land and people who meet our needs, and whose needs are met in turn.”
― Juliana Birnbaum Fox, Sustainable Revolution: Permaculture in Ecovillages, Urban Farms, and Communities Worldwide
Look who has made a little bed for himself on the weed suppressing mat…
This project will continue into the autumn as I have several other projects on the go, including the new kitchen floor.
Chives, Feverfew, Comfrey, Clary Sage and Ox-Eye Daisies all happily growing together!
This is the entrance from the new orchard.
I have just returned from cleaning out the well up on the hill.
The water tank had stopped filling and had, in fact dried out.
A visit to the well confirmed my suspicion that the pipe had clogged up with plant life!
I can hear the water filling in the tank in the loft as I type.
The hens are all in good shape now and are the most passive and calm little creatures I have ever encountered.
I have discovered that these trees grow very well from cuttings!
This will grow up to 15 feet high, making great fedging lengths this autumn.
Lunaria and Fennel in the tunnel today.
The Latin name Lunaria means “moon-like” and refers to the decorative seed-pods.
It’s warm and dry and great for working outdoors.
I do not own an electric dryer, or a washing machine.
Washing clothes by hand in Spring water leaves them soft and smelling beautifully.
The Damson tree is now in blossom, with a strong prospect of plentiful fruit.
Cherry and Apple trees are almost ready to break blossom!
Euphorbia in a barrel outside the veranda today.
The lime green of the flowers are so joyful at this time of year!
That’s Valerian coming up at the front of the barrel.
Primroses on the driveway this morning.
I have never seen this many Primroses in bloom across the permaculture gardens.
There has been a huge amount of self-seeding over recent years and, with the absence of livestock, plants have grown and flourished in abundance!
I believe that there are more species of plants in the 3 acres of Bealtaine Cottage than anywhere else in Ireland.
Many of these are indigenous and some even rare!
It will be an interesting study to complete, when cataloguing all the plant life here.
Bealtaine Cottage is evolving into an Ark of sorts, where many species are protected from livestock, chemicals, pesticides and the urge to dominate Nature!
Looking at the picture above of the Badger sett here in the gardens, Mr and Mrs badger will testify to that!
The hens are out in the sunshine, just basking on the grass.
They have begun to lay eggs and appear to be quite content.
The Fairy Wood in summer…just about 8 weeks away from Midsummer!
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Bealtaine Cottage seen through the camera in 2012
Jack, January 2012
Beech and Bamboo January 2012
The girls on the veranda January 2012
The Mighty Ash tree against the stormy January sky of 2012
The full moon over Bealtaine Cottage in January 2012
First snow of 2012 settles on the permaculture gardens.
A well-mulched bed in the fruit gardens
Sorting and tying Willow in the shelter of the veranda, January 2012
The polytunnel in January 2012
Growing food could not be easier than this!
Just a small part of last summer’s crop of Blackcurrants here at Bealtaine Cottage!
Simply take a heel cutting from a Blackcurrant, Redcurrant, Jostaberry, Gooseberry and plug it into the soil…
The girls enjoying the spent blackcurrants, left over from making Blackcurrant cordial!
Nature will do the rest…
Flowering Currant, or Ribes as it is called, is in full blossom all over Bealtaine smallholding and it is already calling the bees out from hibernation with it’s heavy scent and glorious flower droplets!
This incredible shrub is the ultimate in permaculture planting, because wherever one chooses to plant a cutting or two, it will grow readily and develop into a flowering shrub rapidly. The flowers turn into droplets of berries adored by birds and hens alike!
Free food and beauty and windbreaks…that is so permaculture!
Yesterday was International Women’s Day and I made the journey to Omagh to visit my mother…who is hale and hearty and looking forward to coming down to Bealtaine for a holiday very soon.
Mum insists that she finds her holidays here to be invigorating and healing. Mainly due to the birdsong and cool atmosphere around the cottage, which helps enormously with that plague of old age, swollen feet!
I am convinced that this is due, in part, to the overwhelming heat in the environs where most older people live, especially the constant dry central heating and sealed homes. It is no coincidence that Mum’s feet are returned to normal size within 24hours of her visit here!
Cool, clean air was once a mainstay of the Health System…open windows in hospitals were de rigeur under the watchful eye of Matron! Today, with closed windows, sealed buildings and air conditioning, health problems in hospitals abound, especially MRSA! Cool, clean air is healing…make no mistake!
I have been busy spreading gravel on the driveway and around the cottage. This is the first top dressing I have laid in almost eight years. As it had to be done, I chose a local stone which, as you can see, is very bright and reflects the light beautifully!
A big stack of straw in the barn…I have stocked up on bales of straw for the hens and vegetable garden as the next harvest will not be until around August…it pays to plan ahead, besides which, the girls will only lay eggs on clean straw!
The weather has been so very mild over the past few days with temperatures hitting 17 centigrade…this is hotter than Valencia in Spain!
The hens don’t seem to mind and working outside has been pleasant, so it’s good all round.
Oregano grows almost wild here in the west of Ireland…growing up around the water bins here in this pic…it’s such a bee friendly plant and is perennial too, so once planted it will happily spread all over the place. It especially likes the gravelly ground and indeed is sprouting all along the driveway up to the cottage! The flowers dry well and make great teas…the leaves are, of course, an essential part of any decent pasta or pizza dish!
I am busy making candles for Christmas and bottling wine…to give as presents of course! Home made gifts are always the best!
It’s been a busy week, but I hope to get the video camera out at the weekend and make some more film of the gardens…
Have a great weekend!
Cotoneaster berries hang down over the Gunnera by the lower pond.
Sedums in pots.
Late November and the trees are bare except for the pines. Wine is clearing down in time for Christmas.
Sunflowers remain by the warmth of the water and manure tea bins.
Into the kitchen for a warming cup of tea after spending the morning cutting back brambles in a bid to open up another part of the land. Autumn continues and there remain quite a few leaves on the trees.
Missy cat…staring at Jack in a sort of threatening way…The autumn sun shines silver into the sitting room…I love this season for the soft silvery light.
Jack makes sure he stays in his little home in the porch…he knows that Missy is not allowed in without his say-so!
Lime trees have almost completed their leaf drop, feeding the earth for another year.
November has stayed relatively mild and warm, so many of the trees are showing off their colours a little longer!
Manure from the hens has been spread on the vegetable beds…hoping for massive pumpkins next year!
The hens are having a dust bath in the barn!
I caught them unexpectantly as I was passing…
This is one of the best aspects of keeping hens…getting to see what they’re really like…and liking them even more for it!
Keeping hens is very little work if everything is done well from the start. That means a solid hen-house and enclosure for when they cannot roam in the gardens and this can be, for example, when friends with dogs visit…I once had a beautiful cockerel savaged by a friend’s dog…we fell out afterwards!
So here are three very happy girls…enjoy!
I love hens.
They are social creatures.
They are inquisitive by nature and become very tame when treated well.
I have kept hens for years, even when I lived in London, I kept hens in my garden in Muswell Hill.
So, hens are familiar to me and have taught me a lot about what makes them happy!
Food is easy…lots of greens.
You can pick a few weeds every day and give to the hens, fresh is best.
Lots of starchy food leftovers is good for them as it provides a balanced diet.
I supplement with rolled barley, which they love!
If the girls can roam freely then this is good for all.
Mine get out for a good long roam-about when I’m working in the upper gardens.
This is because the handsome old fox lives on the hill above the cottage!
Say no more!
I have watched the girls jump up high to eat these from the bush on winter days.
Here they are scoffing the remains of blackcurrants from wine-making.
Hens are great foragers and will happily troop off on a good old forage through the bushes and woodland, emerging hours later at some unexpected point!
This is because it has a perspex roof, so all the sunshine and moonlight can brighten the inside.
In this way, the hens continue to lay eggs all year round as the light induces this process.
Trees are planted around it for maximum shelter, especially from the wind.
The hens even laid eggs on Christmas day.
Hens will lay for years and live for over 7 years and more.
Working in the gardens today. The evening has arrived. It’s hot and still and sweat appears effortlessly. To chill out I decided to just ramble around the gardens here at Bealtaine, mug of coffee in one hand, camera in the other.
These are some of the poppies grown from seed this year…all are different shades of pink and red and white and, I hope, perennial.
I have often thought that what we need more than any religion in the world today is a spiritual order that will teach a sense of belonging to Earth and communion with Nature. I say this because working on this land over the past seven years has brought a sense of spirituality into my life that was never before experienced. This spirituality is creation centred and allows me to see the Divine in so much of Nature that it sometimes takes my breath away.
Even though all our institutions and governments are in debt, it isn’t money that we lack in our lives today…it is that spiritual awakening we most need and it is that which will change our lives and our communities.
Over recent decades we have been exposed to great materialism, yet drug and alcohol abuse increases daily. Here in Ireland, a study out just today, has put Irish motorists at the very top of European drivers surveyed for drug and alcohol abuse. Even here, in this green island paradise, there is a deep disconnect!
Growth on all of the trees planted here has been amazing this year. As I walked through the land I stopped often to look at trees that I had simply forgotten I had planted…they now towered above my head and appeared to look down at me. I almost felt like an intruder!
Potatoes growing by the east side of the shed. Did you know that there are about five thousand potato varieties worldwide? Potatoes do not keep very well in storage and are vulnerable to molds that feed on the stored tubers, quickly turning them rotten. However, I left potatoes in the ground over the course of last winter, when all was frozen solid for six long weeks…and they were dug out after the defrost and were perfect! I think it may have been the layer of straw that was atop the ground!
Throughout Europe, the most important new food in the 19th century was the potato, which, of course fast became a monoculture among poorer people… I strive hard to avoid planting all the tubers in one area, preferring to plant here and there in a positive way to avoid disease…and it appears to have worked thus far!
Now in its seventh year, Bealtaine smallholding has achieved new heights of growth, meaning that compost is plentiful. This is because there is so much to cut back and use to build compost heaps…I have made two so far and am still using the compost made last year, with loads to go!
At its most essential, the process of composting requires simply piling up waste outdoors and waiting a year or more. This is the method I use and it has benefitted Bealtaine well! The compost itself is beneficial for the land in many ways, including as a soil conditioner, a fertilizer, addition of vital humus or humic acids, and as a natural pesticide for soil. Any parts of the heap that have not degraded sufficiently can be added to the next heap…a process I indulge in!
Permaculture planting lends itself really well to bountiful compost production, so even if you do not keep animals for manure, it is still quite possible to maintain a high degree of healthy and fertile soil, using plant compost alone…however, a few hens are easy and happy and productive little workers to have on any smallholding!
Crataegus,or Hawthorn is one of my favourite trees here at Bealtaine and I have grown all I have planted from seed. Hawthorns provide food and shelter for many species of birds and mammals, and the flowers are important for many nectar-feeding insects.
In Gaelic folklore, hawthorn ‘marks the entrance to the otherworld’ and is strongly associated with the fairies. Lore has it that it is very unlucky to cut the tree at any time other than when it is in bloom, however during this time it is commonly cut and decorated as a May Bush or Bealtaine…Irish meaning May. This warning persists to modern times; it has been questioned by folklorist Bob Curran whether the ill luck of the De Lorean Motor Company was associated with the destruction of a fairy thorn to make way for a production facility.
Hawthorn trees are often found beside clootie wells; at these types of holy wells they are sometimes known as ‘rag trees’, for the strips of cloth which are tied to them as part of healing rituals. ‘
When all fruit fails, welcome haws’ was once a common expression in Ireland.
Managed to snap a pic of the baby Hare who has come to live at Bealtaine, just as he emerged from the shelter of the underneath of the shed this morning.
He wasn’t at all fazed as I stood near the back door snapping away with my camera.
The hens are very intolerant of them and boss them around continually.
For the moment I am freezing them.
This is a good way of collecting and saving daily.
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With the potential of doubling the harvest from last year, I am looking at a possible 200-250 lbs of Blackcurrants.
These are some I picked this morning.
In previous years I have made jams and wines, but this year I have decided to make Blackcurrant Cordial.
After boiling with water, I strained them overnight by hanging a clean pillowcase from this upside down stool, filled with the stewed blackcuckcurrants and water.
It was left to drip overnight into a clean bucket.
The bottles were all corked and topped…these will now keep all winter and through next Spring, ensuring a good supply of top notch blackcurrant cordial, with only organically grown fruit, spring water and sugar as the ingredients…the corporation food pales into insignificance!
I washed the pillowcase out in a bucket of spring water outside and guess what was left in the water?
Lots of blackcurrant seeds, that when emptied over the garden, grow these…Blackcurrant bushes…a perfect permaculture cycle of life!
Almost forgot…here’s the recipe!
1 kilo Blackcurrants
600 mls water
Simmer together for 45 mins.
Strain juice, as above, overnight.
Next morning add 1 kilo of sugar to every litre of juice.
Stir in well.
(You can adjust the sugar, I have a sweet tooth)!
The beautiful Sage in flower in the tunnel. My big drive this year is focused on seed saving, hence the amount of tall and flowering plants in the tunnel. This Sage plant is strong and prolific…ideal to save seeds from!
Now that the grapes have set it is time to prune and cut back before too much of the plants’ vigour is used up and diverted away fro developing the fruit.
Nettles on the compost heap…
Lots of lovely straw from the hens garden, ready to put into tyres as a healthy base for growing spuds.
The spuds are placed on a bed of the used straw and covered with the same.
And as the spuds grow I will top them up with home-made compost…the more home-madey the better!
Considering the state of the environment in the north west of Ireland this morning, the gripe of no well water is a small one for me here at Bealtaine, for as I write this there are wildfires raging in areas of Ireland, burning tracts of land and causing some devastation!
What has happened in this part of Ireland recently has contributed towards the perfect conditions that have led to these appalling fires taking hold…heat, drought, then intense wind from the east! It is very hard to extinguish a wildfire in these conditions!
The hens are happy…no loss on them at all in this weather. It helps that they have plenty of shade! Visitors to the gardens of Bealtaine yesterday remarked on the way the hens will sit still to allow being picked up…they are very tame!
The girls are laying and all is well with the world…well, at least at Bealtaine. Willow, willow, everywhere…it dries out magnificently and creates such a heat in the stove.As I type this the pasta is boliling on the stove fired up with wood I collected on the land today as I tidied up…and harvested the grass.Another little drop-in…picked up at the Boot Fair for one euro…sorta meant to be here!Ah! An antidote to the nonsense that is the royal nuptials…Bealtaine on the almost eve of Bealtaine!