ORGANIC SMALLHOLDING IN WEST CORK

A few days ago we visited a smallholding belonging to old friends, this couple had emigrated from Belgium to Ireland in the late eighties. Back then they set up a smallholding and were soon self-sufficient. About two years ago they bought a smaller piece of land, just about one acre in size.

Being who they are, hard working people, they amazed us totally with the amount of vegetables and herbs they have growing in an already very organized garden, the one acre is totally utilized and apart from vegetables they keep hens, ducks, a cock, and goats, so they have eggs, and milk from the goats.

We found their way of life so inspiring, totally self sufficient, they are so very organized, because of yearly flooding of their land they have built raised beds, the soil they used in these beds is totally organic, there being organic waste from the goats, the chickens, and their own compost heap, and lots more go into a recipe that is excellent to enrich the soil. A local strawberry farm provides mulching material. So the vegetables and herbs grow very well, they look the picture of health.

Among one of the things that is very important to them is to save their own seeds.  They reckon that seeds saved from their own produce, and swapped perhaps with neighbours, will produce easy to grow crops.  Crops that would naturally grow well in this particular micro climate, and soils.  Some of the crops we saw were, potatoes, mais, beans, peas, broad beans, onions, leeks, carrots, spinach, oca, spring onions, asparagus, lettuce, quinoa, marrows, cucumbers, kale, broccoli, and lots of herbs, among them rosemary, oregano, chives, comfrey, milk thistle, angelica, bay leaf, mint, and so many more.  There is also a wide variety of berries that grow along the side of the acre.

There are six home-made tunnels in which the couple grow a variety from tomatoes and quinoa to millet, and all sorts of other interesting things. Along the beds the grass is kept short by guinea pigs, these do a good job. The guinea pigs are kept in specially made large wire cages, that get moved along the grass, they also have a larger cage inside, there seem to be quite a few of them, and they are looked after very well.

Use is also made of ferrets, these guys keep the rats down.

Everything has a use, there is no sentimentality at the smallholding. We shared a meal with this couple and it was delicious, all produce out of the garden, except the fish which had been locally sourced too. From the photos you can see how efficient the place looks, lots of hard work goes into it, but I think that the satisfaction one gets when all runs smoothly and the produce is great, is wonderful.

JAN & NADIA'S SMALLHOLDING

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DIFFERENCE SOURCES OF MANURE FOR THE LAND
DIFFERENCE SOURCES OF MANURE FOR THE LAND

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THE GIFTS OF MOTHER EARTH

Just when I thought that it could not get any better, and this while I was taking delight in the garden the day after we arrived home again in Ireland, mother nature has given me another two beautiful surprises, first I discovered that there were several patches of forget-me-nots flowering, their blue a delight to the eye, then I discovered that there are several lilies of the valley flowers almost opening, how truly magical! I had not known what to expect of the garden on our return, no sooner were we home than I went to inspect, and that’s when I found lots of surprises, vegetables wild and not so wild, and waiting for me to make soup of them, kale and leeks and other goodies, they were not ready when we left in March, but now they are just waiting to be made into delicious dishes. Herbs too are doing well and looking very lush, the lemon balm has never looked so good, rosemary, lavender, comfrey and others are all ready to be used. Then I saw that the cold frames looked a bit bulky, and checked it out, to my amazement there was one plant of lettuce which had grown to become a monstrosity, the leaves so huge that one leaf would do a whole meal 🙂 Not sure what happened there!  Some grass had also grown large inside. Lots of work to be done that is for sure, but I already have helpers lined up, my grandchildren, one of them had a birthday today, she is now four, and she wants a wheelbarrow, she wants to do gardening, and no fear of that, because she is small she can fit into the cold frames easily so she can do the weeding in there if she likes, looking forward to that. Anyway we are back in West Cork, and we are now already fully occupied with our work here in garden and house. Plans have been made for later in the year when we will be returning to the island of Gozo where we spent a wonderful two months, a time that will stay with us for very long.

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On the last lot of photos, some onions which I had left in the kitchen sprouted, and are now ready to plant out.  Also I had some oca tubers in a pot and I found the shoots creeping through a hole in the lid and the whole pot filled with sprouts, how funny!

MARSAXLOKK’S SUNDAY MARKET

It started real early this morning, I heard the first vans arrive around five o’clock, and by the time we got up the market was in full swing. I enthusiastically said to Ian, that I knew about these markets, that I knew them from Belgium where they have them too every week, but not half an hour later, and after I started to walk along the stalls did I realise that this is not a Flemish market, by no means, it is definitely twice or three times as large, and has a lot larger variety of stalls. The fish stalls alone take up many meters, not to speak of the fruit and vegetables, and Maltese biscuits and goodies of all sorts.  Besides food there were stalls selling every kind of thing under the sun, from clothing, shoes, and baby things to plants and lightbulbs.

But we bought our supply of vegetables and lots of fruit, so colourful and smelling so nice. There were herbs there too and I treated us to fresh coriander, parsley, bayleaf, and very fragrant oregano. I then decided that I had to have fresh capers, they are grown locally said the elderly lady who sold them to me, she measured them in a small wooden barrel before she let them roll into a bag and handed them to me, telling me that they use them on bread spread with tomato.  Sound lovely!

Though I never cooked them before I bought some artichokes, fingers crossed I succeed in making them eadible and tasting good! We also bought local goats cheese, and some Maltese figrolls. And finally we got to the fish, we choose some white bait, but after having cleaned it tonight, and cooked it, there were so many bones in it that I don’t think it was worth it, maybe we shall try a less bony fish next time round.  I do like to try local foods, it is so exciting.  There is one food  that I do not have the courage to try yet, it are the snails, I’ve eaten escargo in Paris, no problem, but here the snails are small just like my garden snails, I cannot bear to think of cooking and then eating them, not yet anyway.

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An overview of a tiny section of the market stalls from our bedroom window.

Lovely fresh vegetables and juicy oranges straight from the trees.


Grapes, citrus fruits and fennel


All sorts of fish, most of which I don’t know the name and have never seen them before.

Many different types of beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, and dried peas.  Local honey too, and seeing that it was Palm Sunday today, there was a parade taking place right next to the market, with local people acting out the bible story of Christ entering into Jerusalem on a donkey, palm leaves were blessed today and children were carrying each their branches.


Fresh herbs from the gardens surrounding the village, and delicous strawberries.  I have noticed that once you walk passed the village houses here, that there are many terraced beds where vegetables and fruits are grown.  We have not found out how the Maltese view organic foods and if they are freely available, I am not sure if they use a lot of fertilizer or insecticides, so right now I don’t know whether all this lovely fresh produce is what we are used to back home where we use our own vegetables or organic produce from the local market.

It was a day a for leisurely stroll among the market stalls and enjoy the many local people, tourist also, Marsaxlokk is a famous market every Sunday, people come from far and wide to get their goods, or to enjoy a day out, and meet with friends and family, the ambience was just brilliant and the day was warm.  It was also a day for cooking and tasting new foods.  I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Now all is quiet again out there, the market people have packed up, cleaned the streets, and everyone has gone home.  We too are resting up, tomorrow we are hoping to hop on a bus for a tour of the island, and that too should be interesting!

MORE UNUSUAL TUBERS FOR EXPERIMENTING

Been absent from my blog the last few days, busy with a lot of things, among them sowing, thinning out, and sorting seeds and buying more unusual tubers. The other day I was in a local health food shop and found there some tubers that I did not see before, they are called:
‘Yacon’ or ‘Smallanthus sonchifolius’,this is a root vegetable that has been domesticated by the indigenous peoples of the Andes, so they originate in South America. Yacon is a member of the sunflower family, so it has small yellow flowers, and — like its cousins, dahlias and Jerusalem artichokes — it develops huge tubers. I Googled them and found out a few things about them, first and foremost how to grow them, as I am not going to cook these few I bought, only sprout them for growing. The plants are very easy to grow and seem to thrive in almost any soil or climate. So you have to put them in small pots with slightly damp compost. They will make roots and once they are a bit bigger, after all danger of frost is past – you can plant them out in the garden. The foliage and leaves become very large, I better only grow one or two, anyway I am growing them as an experiment, not even sure if they are tasty as I never did taste them. These roots are supposed to be useful in blood sugar management, liver health, and in helping with health of the colon. I’m sure excited to see how they will do in my garden. As they take 6 to 7 months before you can harvest, and some years before they are really well established, it will be a long-term experiment.

This reminds me of once I bought a Taro root in the supermarket, as a vegetable, but when I came home I decided to plant it instead of cook it, it became a large indoor plant, (Colocasia esculenta), quite interesting, but it died when I left it with friend when I went travelling, I have not seen another Taro root since in the shops.
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Jerusalem Artichokes – some sprouting, and some just bought and ready to sprout.

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My Bitter Gourd seeds arrived from India thanks to my dear friends over there.  And some of the peas sprouting already, and leeks ready to pick out in larger pots.

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More seeds sown, Ginger sprouting finally, Turmeric too.  And Holly Basil sown under an inside glass house.

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My Sweet pea seedlings had to be protected from slugs, who knows where they came from, inside the conservatory and all.  And Leek seedling after being pricked out.

 

WHAT A DIFFERENCE SOME PLANNING MAKES

This was my garden before I started with the raised beds, the reason why I actually decided on raised beds was that because of all the trees the soil was difficult, full of roots and sunken. My garden sloops down towards the S.W. the soil was drying out too quickly too. But my garden was wild as I did not have time to work in it, I loved it’s wildness and thought that it was beautiful, but then I decided, that is when I retired, to grow vegetables organically (of course), and it is only last year then that I decided I would look at permaculture and go that way.

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Now there is a lot more light in the garden as we cut down some branches of the trees.  There are five trees in my 300 square meter garden.  I am very happy with the raised beds some of which I still let wild plants grow in whenever they want and where they want, I just guide them along a bit.  There is much more to learn and to apply, time will tell, a huge part of permaculture is watching your garden, observing and seeing what comes to grow where etc.  It’s all very rewarding, seeds have been put down, and tonight I am attending a meeting of the local GIY group, about the community garden, there will also be a seed swapping, it should be interesting.  So off I go.

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ALWAYS SOMETHING INTERESTING IN THE GARDEN

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The Speckled Wood (Pararge Aegeria) Butterfly was once again flying around in the garden and was not on it’s own, I saw another two of the same species, they were interested in the half rotted Blackberries that were lying on the table outside.

Late summer blooms are making a lovely blue show.  You have always seen Hydrangeas in the gardens here in West Cork, but of late they are also being planted along the roads, especially outside towns.  It is so easy to grow these plants from just a little slip, and I’ve grown them before, but only white ones, the blue one I bought.  They don’t do so well in a container, they much prefer the garden.  Their colours can vary from deep reds to deep blues and purples.

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The berries are on the Hawthorn tree, it’s mainly going to be food for the birds, but I firmly believe in the medicinal qualities of the Hawthorn tree.  I collect leaves and young buds in spring time to use as a tea. It is good for the heart, one cup a day.

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This Hawthorn tree came to grow here in the garden some years ago, I discovered it as a young sapling growing near my very old Lilac tree that had grown too old to be kept in this small garden, so I decided to get it cut down and to let the Hawthorn tree grow there instead.  I gave the wood of the Lilac tree to my brother who used it for wood carving, he made me a lovely delicate feather from the wood, which I treasure.

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Today I harvested some Celery seeds, just before the rain started at midday, I picked all I could find with seed heads in the Celery plot.  I had to hand release all the little seeds by flicking the branches one by one, a bit of a meditative job.  Finally I got a plateful of the tiny little seeds, they can be used during the winter months for cooking..  I thought that the left over branches also made a very decorative sight.

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LATE SUMMER FLOWERING AND HARVESTING

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Late summer flowers, Calendula of which I am now collecting the seeds for next growing season.

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Calendula seed head                                                                   And Borage still flowering profusely.

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The runner bean harvest continues and many more beans are coming on so these vegetables will be served here at home for a while to come.

THIS IS THE GARDEN WHERE I AM EXPERIMENTING WITH ORGANIC GARDENING & PERMACULTURE

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I am now changing my blog into a place where I can document my garden activities, growth, plans, produce, and pleasures. My garden is small, but it has got 10 raised beds which my partner made, we got them filled with topsoil from a farm and only too late discovered that the soil was clay type. My partner (Ian) has since dug up the beds, taken out the stones of which there were many, and put in a layer of fresh compost and leaves, and some potting compost. That was last summer, there has been some sinking since and the soil is still quite sticky and heavy, so we need to do more work on it. It’s PH is 7 so that is good. I have noticed some worms and that is good too.

This year I grew, Broad Beans, Runner Beans, Onions, Lettuce, Kohl Rabi, Beetroot, Spinach, Peas, Dandelion, Kale, Cucumber, Tomato, and Aubergine. We got some produce but I am disappointed at the amount of food that has been eaten by the slugs.

I love to grow herbs, and have been doing so for years, so far I have got, Lemon Balm, Bay leaf, feverfew, parsley, rosemary. Usually I also grow Turmeric and Ginger, but inside.

The climate here is temperate, not much frost most years, and lots of rain, but not as warm and sunny as in the rest of Europe.

I am working in the garden bit by bit, as I manage it, some days I can do and other days in cannot do, my health is such that I need to pace myself carefully, but gardening is a great interest especially if you can produce some lovely organic vegetables and herb. It’s healthy in many ways.