the lovely colours of magpie feathers


The most beautiful feathers of a lonely magpie that now visits the bird-table every day to our delight.
And other regular visitors to our bird-table right now are some starlings, beautifully covered in silvery speckles.  And there are the blue tits, the great tits and the coal tits in fairly good numbers.  Another observation is that most birds look quite well fed this autumn, especially the sparrows, they look almost obese.  

Dear friends and followers, I have been almost absent from my blog for over a month now, this is because, apart from travelling, I am doing two on-line courses at the moment and my energy and time to attend to my blog is just not there.  In another week or two one of my courses will be finished and I hope to be back to normal.  Meanwhile I wish you all well and I look forward to catch up with you all soon.  Kind regards, Agnes

HENHAM REVISITED

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Autumn can conjure up a variety of different colours and heart warming scenes, and this past October has been more mellow and beautiful than most. And a lovely golden sunshine has illuminated everything that it has touched.

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We have been staying in the ancient stables of the parsonage in the village of Henham in Essex. The cottage is lying next to a fine church built with use of flint stone. A fine square tower rises against the blue sky, and surrounding, the magnificent trees shed their leaves over ancient graves. Ugly gargoyles feature here and there, some almost completely erased.

The trees are most lovely this time of year, colours varying from deep dark red to pale yellow , gold, ochre, or sepia, a beautiful pallet. But it’s not only the colours that are like velvet to the eye, it is the shape and size of the ancient trees that attract the attention.

The architecture found in this village has always fascinated me, the thatched roofs, the variety of cottage styles, the village green, all make for a picture card scene. But that is only me romanticising because this village is also a vibrant and dynamic community and that has perhaps got to be of more importance for the people living here.

 

TEXTURE, COLOUR AND BEAUTY

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Yesterday found us in one of the most beautiful places in West Cork, a small fishing village along the coast.  It was a quiet and a sunny day, a day like you might get in September or October, when the sun is golden, bringing out the colours everywhere and in everything.  The air was crisp, and all along the hedgerows lashes of bright red fuchsia were still proudly in bloom, lifting the landscape and infusing in us a feeling of vibrancy and beauty.

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We stopped for a bite to eat, seafood chowder and smoked salmon on homemade brown bread, it was delicious.

We walked to the pier to watch the fishermen mend their nets, bright colours were everywhere, whether the nets were new or old, or whatever other materials are used by the fishermen, there is a wealth of texture and colour to be seen.

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Fisher boats moored along the pier

Everywhere I looked I saw art and beauty, was it me or was it the reality of things?

Fishermen working on their nets, nice to watch, dedicated work.

Ian having a great walk down memory lane, and nets everywhere!

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This is, or was the Post Office in this little village, the village of Unionhall.

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We were celebrating my 69th birthday and it was a wonderful way to do so.

Thank you Ian for helping to make this day so very special.

MY SOIL EXPERIMENT ENDED

I have written up my report on my soil experiment, as part of a course I took early in the year,  ‘CITIZEN SCIENCE: LIVING SOILS, GROWING FOOD’ with the university of Dundee and Grow Observatory.  Its a long enough read but I thought to include it anyway in this blog post as some people showed an interest in my results.  So here goes.
My question was: What will give a better crop? If I use compost from the garden compost bin, to improve both the fertility and the texture of my clay soil.  Or if I use a combination of leaf mould and organic seaweed liquid?
My hypothesis was: Using compost will improve clay soil, & may result in a better edible yield of produce.
Measurements: Yield of edible produce as weight (grams/ square meters), and seeing that I am also testing the effect the experiment has on my clay soil texture – my measurement will include testing soil texture before and after the experiment. I will also measure the Ph. and nutritional readings (nitrogen/potassium/phosphorus measured against the original texture readings/findings). I will use home testing equipment. For soil texture testing I will use the ‘Field Texture Grade classification chart’ after doing the Bolus test.
Variables: Varying effects of pests invading the plots differently, perhaps some plants dying as a result. So one of the variables will be competition from pests.

My procedure:
I plan to grow a total of 12 bean plants in each plot, as they will be planted 30cm apart with 60cm between I can fit those 12 plants in half of each raised bed and keep the other half as a control with nothing growing on it. The radish and spinach I will grow in between the bean plants, 4 of each. Dimensions of my raised bed are 1.20m by 2.20m so this will just about do it.
OBSERVATIONS BEFORE THE EXPERIMENT STARTS
The soil in both my plots smells good, perhaps a little sweeter in Plot 1 than in Plot 2. When I made a Bolus of the soil in each plot they were the same. The plots have a moisture content between 1.5 and 3 indicating that the soil is fairly dry.
Readings of soil nutrients before experiment:
Nitrogen: deficient in Plot 1 and depleted in Plot 2.
Phosphorus: deficient in Plot 1 and deficient in Plot 2.
Potash: adequate in Plot 1 and adequate in Plot 2.

There is a slight difference in the two plots, Plot 1 had a light reading of 1000 units while in Plot 2 the reading was 2000m – both plots were overshadowed by a tree, but differently. Plot two receives the evening sun, whereas Plot 1 receives the morning sun.
Moisture content was also different in the two plots, in plot 1 it was 2 units whereas in plot 2 it was 3.1 units. So plot 2 was wetter.
The PH was 7.5 in plot 1, and 7 in plot 2 – Meaning that the soil in both plots is quite alkaline.
The result of the bolus test showed that the soil in both beds, according to the ‘Field Texturing of Soils Table’, is a light clay, with a plastic bolus, smooth to touch. 35 to 40% of clay contend.
Beginning of experiment;
On the 8th of May my Plot 1 and Plot 2 were ready to have the allocated fertilizers added. It turned out to be a dry and warmer than usual summer here in West Cork. For some part of the summer there was a ban on watering the gardens, so plants did suffer, they easily bolted. Some things did not grow at all or very little.  Plot 1 was treated with compost from my home compost bin, and Plot 2 received leaf mould and would be given liquid seaweed compost on a regular basis.
I planted out my bean seedlings (Climbing French Beans – Cobra), on 22nd of May. The soil temperature was already between 13 and 15C. The air temperature was around 22C at noon. We had no precipitation for the week following planting, but I watered the garden with rain water once a day. Slugs were a slight problem so I put out beer in trays. I sowed the spinach (Spinach Matador) in trays. The following week we received 2.5mm rain.
On the sixth of June – no precipitation, watering by hand. The beans in Plot 1 started to grow and were doing ok. The beans in Plot 2 did not grow or do well. They received seaweed liquid feed once a week (2tops in 6ltr of water as recommended). I planted out the spinach seedlings. I threw organic slug pellets and picked off the slugs every evening as there was some slug damage. Still no rain but watering garden daily. Temperature 20C at noon. Some of the time overcast but warm. By the 12th of June Plot 2 beans were doing ok too but definitely behind Plot 1. Spinach bolted as soon as they were planted out. On 14th of June we had a storm and the plants received some storm damage. Temperature went down to 18C. By 21st of June the beans in Plot 1 were 82cm high but only 43cm in Plot 2. There had been no sun for 5 days. Still no rain. Ban on using water hose in garden. I used all grey water to keep beans and spinach watered. Slugs had disappeared. Moisture levels were 2 in Plot 1 and 2.5 in Plot 2. Temperature was still 18C and precipitation was still at nil.
One month later; on 21st of July, the results were as follows: Moisture in both plots did not even reach 1. Temperature reached close to 30C in the sun and 25.7 in the shade. Soil temperature reached 21C in plot 1 and 19C in plot 2. I found some slug damage in both plots.
Harvesting:
On 28th of August the temperature had dropped to 14C with precipitation of 25mm in 24hrs. I harvested overall 800gr of beans in plot 1 and 300gr in plot 2.
Readings of nutrients in the soil after harvesting:
Nitrogen: depleted in plot 1. Depleted in plot 2 and depleted in controls of both plots.
Phosphorus: depleted in plot 1 adequate in control of plot 1. Depleted in plot 2 and its control plot.
Potash: adequate in plot 1 but depleted in its control plot. Adequate in plot 2 but deficient in its control plot.
PH: 7 for plot 1 and 7.5 for its control plot. 7 for plot 2 and 4.5 for its control plot. (I cannot explain why there should be such a difference between the readings of Plot 2 in the Ph. of the control plot.)

To answer my experiment’s question regarding the soil texture:
I have come to the conclusion that my Hypothesis “using compost will improve clay soil, and may result in a greater yield” is true, I can say this because the yield of Plot 1 was 800gr, whereas the yield in Plot 2, which was 300gr, shows that Plot 2 produced 62.5% less in relation to Plot 1, which I think is significant.
As well as that, and all though the soil texture test of both Plot 1 and Plot 2 resulted in similar readings before the experiment (light clay), I did detect a slight improvement in the soil of Plot 1, and I would say that, using the ‘Field Texture of Soil Table, my soil now has perhaps only 30 to 35% of clay contend, instead of the 35-40% before the experiment – that is in Plot 1, which received the compost from the garden composter. It can now be categorised as ‘Silty Clay Loam’ instead of Light Clay.

And my question regarding the fertility of the soil:  Here my hypothesis was that the compost of the compost bin would improve the fertility of the soil versus using a combination of leaf mould and organic seaweed liquid.  And here I did not immediately see results because after harvest, both nitrogen and Phosphorus were found to be depleted in the soil of both plots.  Potash was found to be depleted in Plot 1 and deficient in Plot 2.  The produce was very poor in plot 2 as was some of the growth.  Growth and produce were better in Plot 1 but still the harvest was rather poor.   I think both plots are still very lacking in nutrients and need more manure/compost or leaf mould before I can come to a conclusion on fertility.

Comparison of nutrients before and after experiment.
The nitrogen contend of the soil in plot 1 was deficient at the start. But when I retested the soil after harvest the nitrogen contend of plot 1 was depleted.
The nitrogen contend of the soil in plot 2 was deficient at the start. When I retested the soil after harvest the nitrogen contend of plot 2 was depleted.
The phosphorus contend of the soil in plot 1 was deficient at the start. When I retested the soil after harvest the phosphorus contend of plot 1 was depleted.
The phosphorus contend of the soil in plot 2 was deficient at the start. When I retested to soil after harvest the phosphorus contend of plot 2 was depleted.
The potash contend of the soil in plot 1 was adequate at the start. When I retested the soil after harvest the potash contend of plot 1 was depleted.
The potash contend of the soil in plot 2 was adequate at the start. When I retested the soil after harvest the potash contend of plot 2 was deficient.

Variables noted:
The spinach totally bolted as soon as they were planted out, and for this reason I have left it out of the experiment results.
The slugs did about the same damage in both plots, but they did eat more leaves of my bean plants in Plot 2. I did find that, because of the leaf mould there was much less weed growth in Plot 2 than in Plot 1, it might have.
It was a warmer and dryer summer than is usual here, did this have an effect on the results of my experiment? Did I water enough?

My findings and final conclusions:
So the soil in both plots are after harvesting depleted in nitrogen, phosphorus and to a lesser extend in potash.  But the nutritional value of my soil was quite poor even before growing my beans (and I would have thought that bean would have improved the nitrogen in the soil).   It is therefore obvious that if I want a better crop I need to improve the nutritional value of my soil and using organic compost would be the wisest decision, and in addition it will improve texture of my light clay/silty clay loam soil.  I have now been offered horse manure, additionally I have purchased a different type of organic seaweed fertilizer having good percentages of the missing nutrients. And I plan to make use of the plentiful comfrey plants that grow in one of my raised beds, eggshells and coffee grounds are also going to help.  Some of my beds, those that don’t have winter vegetables growing on them, I will seed with green manure, all this to improve my soil.
I want to make a note that I did not add enough leaf mould to my Plot 2 and I wonder if this could have contributed to a poorer overall result in that Plot.
I think that this experiment has been a great learning curve. I would definitely take on board its findings, but perhaps with reservations. I do believe that I learnt a lot doing this, and it was very enjoyable, I also included my grandchildren in to the testing work, they loved it too.


Agnes Goyvaerts – Skibbereen – Co Cork.

COMING HOME

‘Coming Home’ is the name of a special, and I would say, a poignant exhibition which has been running all summer in the Art Centre in Skibbereen town.  It aims to commemorate and indeed give value and respect to all the many Irish who died during one of the biggest calamities that hit this land.  ‘The Great Hunger’ (1845-52) it has been called, and it was a famine that was unprecedented in its destruction, indeed it was the worst demographic catastrophe of nineteenth century Europe.  Several million people died or were transported to Australia or Canada, or emigrated to a variety of countries.  There is so much history behind this present exhibition, and the talks, lectures and performances that have been laid on as part of this exhibition.  How moving this has been, and how healthy – not to dwell on the past to remember it with bitterness, but to appreciate and respect those that suffered during that period in Irish history.  Myself as a foreigner I never realised what an effect this famine has had on the present Irish generations, but in a way it has, and that is why it has been so good to bring the hurt and hidden sadness’s from generations past into the open, and to look at this on a nationwide basis.  People are then able to let it go, and to have renewed energy and I think that is what will happen.  This exhibition brought people back from many countries to experience, up to a point, what it would have been for their ancestors.  I went to it early in the summer, and though I am not a very emotional person, I am very sensitive and I could literally feel the emotions around me, I was very moved, but also very happy as it felt like a cleansing for the people who are the survivors and perhaps are living with memories from ancestors that faced starvation, and or, the coffin ships to travel to far off countries in order to survive.

I was speechless walking out of the Art Centre that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to dedicate this blog post to my friend Rowena, who is a survivor of ancestors that suffered the workhouse in Ireland, and were transported to Australia.

GLENVIEW GARDENS IN WEST CORK

Seeing it was the last week of the holidays, we took my grandchildren for a visit to yet another fabulous garden in West Cork.  This one is very child oriented and the children, of which the eldest is 11 and the youngest 3 enjoyed themselves for hours on end.  For ourselves it was interesting too with so many different plants, trees – some quite exotic, and different garden landscaping ideas.  The children enjoyed the hobbit house and promptly started to play ‘house’ wanting to move in and stay there forever…. they also enjoyed the huge circular lawn and seeing it was a real warm day they went lying on the grass and rolling and frolicking like there was no tomorrow.  At every turn among the foliage and shrubs the children found fairy houses and other novelties which they loved.   I myself noticed several butterflies among which was a peacock, only my second one this summer.  There were some exotic birds and for the children there were young goats and rabbits.  Plenty of benches, situated in ideal and peaceful settings made it so that anyone could enjoy this garden and I was glad to notice that.  And even though it was now at summer’s end, there were still some lovely flowers in bloom, such as bright yellow Rudbeckia, dark red Dahlias, and other colourful blooms.  I also noted the variety of fir and pine trees, including some lovely Larches.  Some of the trees were marked with name labels.  What I personally like very much too were the statues, giving the garden an old time feeling.

It was our last outing before school started today and I am sure that it will be a lovely memory for all of us.  We absolutely love the gardens of West Cork, rain or shine!  This time it was actually very warm and dry – but in West Cork you never know what to expect weather-wise, so we were lucky and delighted.

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READING THE LANDSCAPE

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The landscape that I am thinking about if not some wild stretch along the coast or hill side here in West Cork.  It is, rather, my immediate surroundings – our garden, where I have access any time of day or night and can make observations in any season of the year.  Let it be during my early morning stroll past the vegetable plots to the back where everything is disorderly and where wild things grow, or let it be during the height of day when the sun is streaming through the tree canopies, or at times when Irish mist engulfs us and brings the clouds real close to the earth.  Night time too is good to find and learn to understand the many creatures that are about.

Our garden is small, it slopes down slightly and it has four mature trees giving shade, a chestnut, silver birch, hawthorn, and a Mediterranean oak.  These all provide shelter for the many birds that frequent on a daily basis, from the little wren to the hooded crows – all are very welcome.

I find it a source of immense pleasure and joy to observe not only all the plants that grow, but to see and know all the wildlife – every little creature, to find out their species, their lifecycle, their name.  To take photos of them helps me sometimes to study one or other aspect of them in more detail.  There is always more to learn and discover, and I find a lot of information on Google as well as in books.

Why my garden, and not the larger landscape around me.  Well it is down to logistics really, my garden I can go into at any moment, it is a daily ritual, a meditation that I have got so used to that it would be hard to live without it.  The wider landscape does get observed too, but not that frequently.

In the garden next door the people keep a pony, this attracts a certain amount of flies to the neighbourhood and that is good.  The other neighbour keeps a small hive of bees, and it is nice to have those come into the garden at times.  Behind our dilapidated sheds at the very back, where some rotting wood also gives shelter to a variety of insects, the ground, covered in wild plants and grasses, slopes down towards the town, well below us.

And so this small bit of nature, filled with wild plants and herbs has an eco-system all of its own, rich in variety and brimming with creatures, a goldmine for anyone with an interest.  Great joy can be found in reading this landscape and finding new discoveries every day.  The changing seasons, even the high temperatures and drought recently brought about unique or forgotten surprises, like the very large wasps that we had not seen for many years.

I watch, and listen, and observe, and I find that the natural world is a great source of joy!

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Red Admiral - Vanessa atalanta,

Aglais urticae - small tortoiseshell

HERON GALLERY AND GARDENS

Despite the rainy weather, my daughter Tjorven and my five grandchildren got into our wellingtons and raincoats and decided to head to the Sheep’s Head Peninsula where we visited a place very beautiful!  Gardens and a gallery showing the beautiful art of Annabel Langrish.  What an amazing place we found this to be, both nature wise and because of the cosy café were we found ourselves surrounded by very tasteful design and beautiful art.  Great coffee and scones too!  But first we took a walk in the gardens.  In between the rain showers, which are quite usual for this area in West Cork, it feels more like a mist, no wonder people often call it Irish mist rather than rain.  It does make the landscape more mysterious and compelling I think.

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The gardens were laden with summer flowers, and as the paths wound their way up the hill wild plants like heathers, blackberries, and bracken took over.

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We saw interesting sculptures which the children also loved, all blended into the landscape and garden with ‘nature’ as motive.  In fact I found that everything from the paintings to the crafts blended in with the nature surrounding the place, very nice.  We all loved the barefoot path, it generously added to the  meditative quality of the walk and soon all our feet were touching the cool stones.  My three year old granddaughter remarked on the soothing feeling on her little feet.

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Flowers were explored as were spider webs, and some of the statutes had to be touched and sat on.  Blackberries were eaten along the way.

These three photos were taken by my eight year old grandson, we are very proud of him.  I think that he has an eye for composition and colour.

The wealth of lush growth is found everywhere now that the rains have started.

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“Looking at beauty in the world, is the first step of purifying the mind.”
― Amit Ray, Meditation: Insights and Inspirations

UPDATE ON MY SOIL EXPERIMENT

Today is another day with, for West Cork, fairly high temperatures (29.7C in shade), and we are so enjoying this lovely warm weather. For the plants this is a different matter. We have water restrictions in place which means of course that we cannot freely water our vegetables and herbs. So far I have only lost one ornamental fir growing in a tub, I guess that the reason is that I am giving most of my gray water to the vegetables and only very little to the ornamental plants.

And so today it became time to give a good update of my soil experiment. Though it is too early yet to make final conclusions, I can see how overall the plants are not growing as lush as I expected, probably due to the drought (since the 8th of May we are without substantial rain, only once did we have a shower, but not enough to really wet the soil thoroughly – only 2.5mm during May, and 8mm during June).  The soil looks to be very coarse and dry, pale in colour and hard to put a shovel in.  In places the soil has come away from the raised bed frame, a sure sign of dryness.
While both plots had a moisture content figure of over 3 during May – today’s readings were as follows:

PLOT ONE  –  FIGURES FOR TODAY THE 21ST OF JULY AT TWELVE NOON

MOISTURE CONTENT: DRY the needle stood at 1
LIGHT MEASUREMENT: 2000
PH: 8
TEMPERATURE OF THE SOIL: 21C
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PLOT TWO FIGURES

MOISTURE CONTENT: VERY DRY the needle did not reach 1
LIGHT MEASUREMENT: 2000
PH: 8
TEMPERATURE: 19C
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When I compare the light on both plots with the May figures there are quite a few changes due of course to the normal changing season but also due to the very warm & dry summer. Light in both plots seem to have increased from 1000 to 2000 measured in full sun. PH of soil has gone up a few degrees in both plots and is now 8 which is too alkaline. Moisture of course has gone down from 3 to 1 and even less than 1 in plot two. Soil temperature has increased from 13C in plot two to 19C today, and in plot 1 it has increased from 15C to 21C.

Overall the bean plants did not do so well, they look fairly poorly and did not grow lush, there are, however, some beans ready to be harvested in both plots, and there are more flowers showing.

One of the observations I have made is that the bean plants which I sowed inside early in spring – and then planted out, did not do as well as the beans I sowed straight in the garden at a later date – these plants became very robust and grew fast – they will have a later harvest as they are only at the flowering stage. I will take that into consideration for next years sowing.

In both plots all the spinach plants, which looked very healthy to start with, bolted immediately and I have had no produce from them at all.  But in plot 1 where I sowed the radish early I had about 150gr of edible produce.  The radish in plot 2 have not matured yet due to a later date of sowing.

As regards weeds, plot 1 has had many, partly probably because of the compost I used from the garden bin where perhaps seeds were not destroyed during the composting stage, for example, I have seen tomato plants starting to grow in between the beans plants. I also made the mistake of accidentally spilling some of my spare heir-loom double poppy seeds among the bean plants, and once I realised and saw the plants I could not bear to pull them up, so right now the bean plants growing side by side with the flowering poppies. Good for attracting insects to pollinate the bean flowers anyway.

Plot 2 has had no weeds growing to speak of, the leaf mould here has done a good job keeping the weeds down. I find that the bean plants here have not taken as well as the ones in plot 1.

Both plots have had some slug damage in the past week, but due again to the drought there has been very little slug activity in the garden.

Some photos of what is going on in the experimental plots, and also in the extra plot where I sowed the bean plants straight into the garden soil,  (the ball is there to chase the cats away).   I notice from the flower that one of those bean plants is actually a different bean (a runner bean).

I must say also that the moist/light/ph measuring tool I use is a simple one that I bought in a garden centre.  I doubt if it is very scientific, and having checked the Internet on moisture of soil measuring tools I fear that I am only playing at this.  But on the other hand it does tell me a little of what is going on in my soil and that for the moment is good enough.  I do know that my soil is lacking in potassium and in nitrogen and I mean to address that organically – but I have not found out how I should go about it, apart from using banana peels and growing leguminous plants on my soil both of which I am doing.

I think any attempt however small at understand more about our soil is worthwhile, and I love what I am doing right now.  I intend to see my soil increase in fertility, and also I intend to get a much better understanding on how it all works together.