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Friday, February 5, 2016

When Valentine's Day Crops Up

I really want to write about The Organic Seed Alliance conference as Mum I are here now and we’re so full of ideas and excitement, but i don’t feel like it’s romantic enough for the month that’s in it. So, instead, I’m going to do a Valentine's day special. I’ll get back to the real seedy business next week. Time. I should probably say next time. I couldn't possibly commit to a blog a week (everyone on Facebook is getting married and having babies and I can't commit to a blog a week. Sigh). 

Once upon a fairly embarrassing time, I started seeing a nice local lad. You know West Cork lads, fierce West Cork, I don’t know how else to explain it. It was all going well, for a West Cork type (I wonder if I could somehow insert “West Cork” into every sentence, it looks like it), he took me on quite impressive dates; a play, a gig, dinner, you know, not like driving around Skibbereen in a Honda Civic pulling up next to other similar cars at petrol stations. 
I had and still have the distinct feeling that dating has lost all of its fun. It’s all: “don’t text him until three days after you see him” and “talk to her friend and ignore her”. Basically, if you like them at all, act like you don’t (of course)! That will provoke feelings of insecurity and encourage them to feel bad about themselves and then they might consider being with you. Even when I speak to my male friends about crushes, the advice I get is, in short, to act like I don’t like them. I don’t want to partake in that. So in this particular instance, in an attempt to make it all fun and more “yes, I do like you” (I really liked him), and what with it being Valentine’s day and all, I decided to buy him a present, a fun one. So I got a puzzle specially made which said:

“Roses are red, 
violets are blue, 
      some poems rhyme,
others don’t."
That’s also exactly how it looked (I’m not very creative, thankfully my flare for poetry counteracts that quite well I think), so in the end, the hardest puzzle ever. about 100 pieces, all white with some black lines on it. I broke it all up, popped it into an envelope and dropped it into his work place. 
It went down okay really, after a hard time putting it together, he kind of awkwardly bought me gin or something as a gift back. Nothing too exciting, but fun all the same. In saying that, it didn’t seem to change the nature of the dynamic that much. It was one of those situations where I wouldn’t hear from him very much, vague plans to meet that didn’t happen, you know the way. So once again, I tried a light hearted approach. At this point I could hazard a guess that he wasn’t that interested but figured he was too West Cork to tell me that (for anyone that doesn’t know a West Cork lad, they don’t often posses free flowing, open communication skills). So I thought I’d give him the opportunity to say it in a way that could have been quite lighthearted and inoffensive. I sent a message, a to do list, that went something like this:

Wednesdays to do list:
Buy easter eggs
Briquettes
Fenugreek seed
Razor
Find someone else to go on dates with
Put a wash on

At this point I was more or less done, who doesn’t want to date someone that’s a bit more proactive about you than drunken texts and vague plans that don’t happen. But he seemed a bit more proactive after that, texting a bit more and..., oh okay, now that I think about it, nothing else. In hindsight, a few texts isn’t exactly ground breaking is it. I suppose it was wishful thinking, I had the biggest crush on this guy. So I thought, I know, I won’t engage in vague annoying messaging, I’ll get him an easter present instead! I realise I’m going off topic, we’re now on to easter now but it all swings back. 

So, I got a chocolate Lindt bunny, you know the ones? They’re wrapped in gold tinfoil and they have a nice red scarf on with a little bell hanging off it. I then got a nail, heated it, and made a hole in the bunnies neck behind the scarf. I know, proper bunny boiler stuff. I then put a note, through the hole, into the bunny, which said.

Actually, maybe I don’t want to go on a date with somebunny else

Yeah, cringe. 

So in a state of embarrassment I was like, “I better go out tonight so I’m not all like wondering if he got it, why isn’t he texting me”, all that. So off I went, to distract myself. Of course he was there (he’s never there, this was really unlucky). Don’t worry, as I’m sure you’ve gathered I would, I played it cool as a cucumber. So we were having a bit of a chat in the bar and I was like “did you get my present?”. He was like “The rabbit? I thought it was from you but there was no note”. I told him the note was in the rabbit, and he looked quite shocked. But it turns out, he was ever so slightly more shocked than the average man with a bunny boiler on his hands because he had, having not found the note, assumed it was a gift from a weird customer and re-gifted the rabbit (mortified altogether at this point). Yes, he re-gifted it, to his friend's Mum. You might think this is where the story starts to go somewhere or climax but no, thats where it ends. Him and his friend hassled us for the night to try and find out what was in the rabbit. Of course my friends said it was a naked picture for a while. We didn’t tell them and then he stopped talking to me altogether. In fact, if he hasn't read this, he still doesn’t know what the note said. So yeah, unless he’s been having a torrid affair with his friend’s Mum ever since, that was that.

Ye’re like Holly, where is this going, you’ve just mortified yourself. Well Valentine's inspired puns and gifts, that’s where. I just wanted to share, with you all, my inspiration. Crikey, this just started to sound like an acceptance speech for some sort of an award, to clarify, I’ve sold on overall of about, drum roll, five cards. But to take you back to my first blog, I moved home in May to work with my lovely mum, we produce Irish, organic vegetable seeds and people seem to like our gift boxes, so smaller gifts seemed like a nice addition as well as a way for me to home my romantic, Valentine’s inspired genius in on more rewarding things.  Like selling FIVE cards. In addition, this is an attempt to remind myself that romance can be fun (at least, occasionally, in really mitigating circumstances, If you’re outside of West Cork and a lesbian). In a weird world where “The Game” is a best seller, it doesn’t often feel like it.

Sow, let’s all act like we distinctly dislike the person we like this Valentine’s day, OR,  lettuce all tell someone we like, THAT WE LIKE THEM. I know, revolutionary! and if, for some weird reason you want to say it with seeds, now you can. I sense that my story isn’t exactly inspirational and that there’s an argument there that says something about reverse psychology that goes something like “Yeah Holly, that makes sense but we all want what we can’t have at the end of the day, it’s just human.” But that kind of depends doesn’t it? For example, if I want chocolate, it doesn’t matter if someone is letting on that I’m not going to get any or if it’s just there, available on a table, being forced on me by someone’s Granny or something. I still want it because I like it. And like, realistically, if someone doesn’t fancy you as much as they do a piece of chocolate, you’re potentially better off without that. 
No to drunken texts and all that annoying dating stuff and hello to fun and flirting and liking each other, that’s what I say. So, here they are. A card and a relevant packet of seeds is 4.99 and can be purchased on our website here. Here is a poem I wrote, as a sort of introduction.

P.S. According to wikipedia, the author of The Game got dumped for Robbie Williams.

Happy Valentine’s Day,

Holly


Words can’t describe my feelings for you 
so these seeds will have to do. 

When Valentine’s day crops up
I barley know how to turnip. So,

This thyme I’ll try to perswede you
to peas be mine

because you make my heart beet, I thought I’d try something a bit corny
but sweet

I know it may seem like shallots
200 carrot to fill pots

But I leek you a lot
and think that you’re radishingly hot

It’s chard to imagine that I could fit the bill 
cause you’re kind of a big dill

I’ve bean thinking you might squash my dream
so peas!

Lettuce not courgette

That words can’t describe my feelings for you 
so I hope these seeds will do. 


This poem can also be purchased with a gift box containing 12 packets of seeds (needless to say): barley, turnip, thyme, swede, peas, sweet corn, carrot, chard, dill, beans, squash, lettuce and courgette for €30.00.

"Just a sweet, kind of corny way to say, Happy Valentines Day" and a packet of Golden Bantam Sweet Corn seed
    
"I was going to buy you flowers, then I thought, grow them yourself." and a packet of Sweet Pea seed
"Basically I think you're a hottie" and a packet of mixed chilli seed
"Lettuce be more than friends" and a packet of mixed lettuce seed

Sunday, January 31, 2016

My name is Holly…..


My name is Holly, so maybe it’s not massively surprising that I am a botanist’s daughter. Since I came home to work on the farm and in our family business, Brown Envelope Seeds, I have met three people, through work, who have daughters named Holly. One of them was the head of Organics in the department of Agriculture, Frank Mackan. He came to speak to my class (I’m doing a masters in organic horticulture because I still get confused between parsnips and turnips and I’m meant to be the future of Irish seed production). It was good to hear him, he was very to the point if you get me, he didn’t fluff up his sentences with nice words, it actually almost sounded like all the words he did say had full stops after them. But some things he expressed stuck with me. He didn’t preach the usual sort of floaty organic stuff, he said that he thinks organic methods are liberating, a farming system that doesn’t relying on any external inputs to function. How true. How empowering. He emphasised the importance of knowing what it means personally, to each of us as it’s something we will always be questioned on and well, argued with about if we are a part of the industry. That’s when I realised, for one, wonderful, I’ll have to be defensive now until I die, and two, I didn’t know, that’s just how I was raised. Much like a “Christian” who eats meat on good Friday and has sex before marriage with their neighbours wife, but like, still goes to church on Christmas day and would like baptise their kids or whatever. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading about conventional farming, organic farming and everything in between. So yeah, anyway, this is apparently a thing, foody/horticultural people do, they name their daughters Holly. I suspect there’s a fair amount of Roses and Poppys and the like too. Get this, my sister’s name is Autumn. She lives in New Zealand now, and when I’m having an emotional day and lecturers keep saying things like “Autumn sowing” and “Harvest in Autumn” I miss her so much I sob inside but pretend that I’m just really into the different pruning techniques for summer raspberries as apposed to Autumn ones. 

So we have an essay title at the moment which is this: 
Critics say that Organic farming systems are unsustainable due to lower yields and cannot feed the world. Discuss. 

This was good food for thought in the vein of finding out what I thought about it all. My initial reaction was “OF COURSE IT CAN THAT’S HOW WE ALL LIVED BEFORE CONVENTIONAL METHODS CAME ALONG AND STARTED RECKLESSLY RUINING THE PLANET AND THE FUTURE OF NATIONAL AND GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY” Of course there are many more aspects to it than that. A lot of the literature points out that our ever increasing population (9 billion by 2050) simply cannot be fed by a system which produces lower yields. This is the framework of the opinion that large scale, high input conventional food production is absolutely necessary. (but 70% of the worlds food comes from small farms?). So you know yourself, a bit more googling. Here’s the thing, 20% of the world is starving (more than 20% are obese?) but 33% of the world’s food goes to waste. 
So yes, if we didn’t waste a third of the food produced no one would be starving. Organic yields are an estimated 80% of conventional ones (depending on the crop, some crops like soya produce higher yields). So even with 80% of the current food outputs, the world could still be fed and it could be fed organically. I think it’s also important to note that this research was sourced using meta analysis, cherry picking from different studies, to compare the two systems which may show bias towards on one side or the other. Results  also changed rather radically when crops were stressed, for example, when exposed to a change in temperature. In these instances, organic crops produced higher yields. 
And sure only a month or so ago wasn’t it all over the news, the climate summit, in Paris. Due to climate change the temperature is expected to rise by 2 degrees**. Agriculture, namely methane caused by ruminants, methane from stored manure, nitrous oxide from soils and farm combustion from fuels, is Ireland’s single largest contributor to the overall emissions at 32.3% of the national total. This along with high stocking rates and other methods adopted by conventional agriculture is damaging soil faster than nature can create it and it is this, precisely, that threatens the future of global food production. So in the face of scarily close climate change which will stress plants, will conventional yields prevail? Previous to the climate summit, Ireland was instructed, by the 2009 European Renewable Energy Directive to reduce GHG omissions by 50%. What happened after that? They removed! Milk quotas. Simon Covney, speaking on Newstalk at the time, described it as “removing the strait jacket from Irish farmers” (shudder). He also told RTE that the increase in herd numbers would happen “while maintaining the existing carbon footprint of the agricultural sector.” Just as well really, when in the words of the Department of Agriculture website, Ireland’s emissions are “the highest of any country in the developed world”. Of course, in effect, the removal of milk quotas was far from maintaining the national carbon footprint as herd numbers increased. The boom in dairy production and beef exports translates as an increase in the national dairy herd by over 300,000 cows in the next five years, simultaneously emissions from agriculture increased by 0.48 million tonnes (2.6%) in 2013, four years after the implementation of the European Union Directive. Needless to say, soil compaction and milk production increased too. So much so, that milk is loosing value faster than hippies are naming their offspring after plants, and is now cheaper than water. I’m going to say that again, milk is now cheaper than water! If you are a dairy farmer or know one, you know how all consuming, painstakingly, tremendously hard it is to be a dairy farmer and their produce is worth more to us than that. I’ve gone off on a tangent now but it all ties in. 

Peak phosphorus is predicted to be between 2010 and 2030. No doubt, NPK will then peak in price too. Farmers won’t be able to afford it, especially if substances that literally fall from the sky are more valuable than their produce. By which point, and already in many cases, their natural eco-systems won’t be in the best nick, what with soil increased compaction from even higher stocking rates and years of spreading synthetic fertilisers which destroy natural bacteria and fungi which exist generously from nature to do precisely what fertilisers do. So sustainable, is defined as, “able to be maintained at a certain level or rate”. Conventional farming is a system which relies on inputs which are running out, that damages the very resources it needs to function, a system surely far from sustainable and I’m being asked to write thousands of words on whether organic farming is sustainable?

The other frequently used anti organic argument is cost. Organic food is more expensive. What a nightmare! Imagine, having to pay more money for food because it was produced without animal cruelty, slave labour and chemical fertilisers, which remove the platform for which future generations need to be able to eat? Like, if that’s the case, if we have to spend, often double the money on a chicken or maybe even a full euro for a head of broccoli, we might not even be able to afford dessert. Just when the first world had really started identifying as an obese one. 
But for a second, lets just entertain the idea of a world that is fed organically. Is it possible that if organic produce supplied more than the current 1%, that with that, might come a bit of competitive pricing like any other industry? and is it potentially true that if the same amount of money, research and employment went into the development of organic fertilisation methods that yields might increase? If organic yields were as high as conventional ones and the organic produce actually sold, we could potentially still afford dessert and regular smart phone upgrades and future generation might be able to survive too. I know it’s annoying, it’s like having to pay the poor old dairy farmers for their milk, you’d swear it were worth it or something. 


So when I stop writing this blog and do something more productive with my time, like I dunno, write my essay, I think rather than discussing whether organic farming is unsustainable due to lower yields and wondering whether it can feed the world or not, I’ll probably focus a bit more on dispelling the myth that hunger in the world is a result of the shortcomings of agricultural outputs and rather, question why are people starving? (potentially something to do with the fertiliser industry providing 24,844 jobs in the US alone) and beg the question, is conventional farming sustainable?

I’ll stop now, mainly because I’m tired but also because I’m putting the pro in procrastination now and should be doing that essay. It’s actually fairly close to the deadline and me and Mum are off to America tomorrow for the Organic Seed Alliance Conference (EEEEK!) I didn’t get a chance to slate Organics yet. Stay tuned for that. Holly

Friday, January 1, 2016

My Dad would be ninety five today. Here is his essay "Managing a Modern Farm"

Marcus McKeever was the third of four boys born to Samuel McKeever and Helena ne Telford. He is the one astride the donkey, with his older brother Dermot (standing) and younger brother Robert, the baby.  This must have been take in about 1925. 

He wrote this essay while at St Columba's college in about 1935 and he was about 15. It was during the 'Economic War'. Times were hard and he left school soon afterwards to come home and work on the farm, which he did until he died in 1978.   I have transcribed it to make it easier to read.

Managing a Modern Farm

Managing a modern farm is a task which is not very hard when times are good but when times are bad and one does not get the prices one expects it is very hard to make both ends meet. When one has a grazing farm only, the chief thing to do is not to mind the prices one is going to get for fat cattle when buying stores, but to restock ones farm with cattle for fifty shillings or so less than the price one got for one's last fat cattle. Some people who have not much capital and want to get into farming on a big scale set three quarters of their land, and stock the last quarter with heifers which will have calves. After one year they only let half of it and after two a quarter and after three none. This is a very slow way as one hardly gets any profit for three or four years because the land is let for very little over the amount of rates and taxes on it.


The most common kind of farm is a mixed farm which is rather harder to farm than a grazing farm. The chief thing is to find which fields are suitable for tillage and which for grazing. The fields which have water on them are generally kept for grazing unless they are on a northerly slope and have a wood on the south side. The rotation for tillage is oats for the first year after a field is ploughed and sometimes a second crop is taken out the following year, but this robs the soil. Wheat may be sown instead of oats but the yield is generally bad.

After a grain crop has been grown for a year or two a root crop is planted, after the ground has been well tilled and fertilized with farmyard manure or chemical manure. The general root crops are turnips potatoes or mangolds. Turnips and mangolds are said to do the land more


good than harm.

After a root crop the land is generally laid down by another grain crop. Barley is the best crop to lay land down with but wheat or oats are also quite good. When wheat is being grown it is generally sown at the end of October, while oats or barley is sown in the spring. In the middle of May a mixture of grass is also sown.  

The grass which is sown is a good meadow in June of the following year and may be mown twice the first year. and once a year for three or four years after. 

After the turnips have been sown it is time to land the potatoes, which has to be done twice or three times and it is well to spray them with bluestone to prevent blight. Then comes a slack time which is generally filled by shearing the sheep.


Then the hay has to be made and the turnips grubbed and thinned. Thinning is generally done by school children in their holidays. When the hay is made there is sometimes a week or two before the harvest in which one can get a considerable amount of hay stacked. 

The harvest is made much easier to manage by the invention of the "Reaper and Binder" which is a great improvement on the old methods. 

When wheat and barley have been cut for a week or so and are fairly well dry they have to be hand stacked. This is not necessary with oats except in a very wet year. After the corn is in and threshed one returns to finish the drawing in of hay. 

In October the potatoes have 

to be dug and anytime after that the mangolds may be pulled, then the turnips. The stubbles and lea have also to be ploughed and ready for sowing.

On all modern farms both horses and tractors are used. The tractors for heavy work and the horses for lighter work. The cheap road taxation on an agricultural vehicle makes a tractor very economical. It is used for ploughing and drawing big loads while a horse is used for harrowing and light carting.

If a man has a dairy farm it is necessary to have some tillage to feed the cows in the winter, if there is no dairy farm cattle are stall fed on the turnips and crushed grain. Straw is used for both bedding and feeding.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Happy Christmas, end of 2015, or whatever you are celebrating yourself




Dear Friends,
Thank you for your support in 2015.


It has been a great year here, I am so thrilled to have my daughter Holly working at Brown Envelope Seeds two days a week. She is also studying for a Masters degree in Organic Horticulture. The knowledge and experience she will gain will be invaluable to business. She has organized our new logo, which was designed by
 David Fitzpatrick It gives the seed packets and gift boxes a wonderful new look. 

Although summer was slow to get going it seemed to go on until November and we harvested the last of the tomatoes this week. The sweetcorn which is always a challenge in an Irish summer, survived the slow spring, and the donkeys, and went on to produce a good crop. We did have some crop failures like the Trombonchino squash which didn't have any seeds in them. Here is Holly with one of them. Its the last one to ripen so we haven't opened it yet.

However the fridges are packed full of seeds including some new peppers, heritage cereals, and over sixty tomato varieties.

In an effort to protect the seeds from corporate greed we have signed up to the OPEN SOURCE SEED INITIATIVE, and pledge, which you can read more about on the website.

It really feels like winter now, and with all the rain and wind it is nice to be inside beside the range, putting the catalogue together. There are still a few things to germination test, but we are nearly there. As soon as a batch of seeds passes its test it goes up on the website. So it is nearly all up now. We will be doing a paper catalogue too, so if you would like a copy do let us know. 

We will be posting out orders right up to Christmas, so if you are still Christmas shopping, do check out our gift boxes and vouchers. If we sell enough, we will go to the wonderful ORGANIC SEED ALLIANCE conference in Oregon, in February. I have been before and it is such an an inspiration, to meet other seed savers and plant breeders who are working with organic seed. 

Wishing you all a peaceful and happy Christmas, and a bountiful 2016.

Madeline

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Open Source Seed Initiative - Wonderings

I have signed Brown Envelope Seeds up to be a part of OSSI. I did this because I sell some varieties developed by Carol Deppe, and she asked me to. I have huge respect for Carol who is an independent plant breeder. She breeds and selects varieties to suit her largely self-sufficient diet. Her books: Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, The Resilient Gardener and The Tao of Vegetable Gardening, describe her unique approach to growing her food. They have had a major influence on me. 

It was an easy decision to put the OSSI pledge on her varieties. This is it.


The OSSI Pledge


You have the freedom to use these OSSI-Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.

Wondering 1

I am wondering whether to put the pledge on all my seeds. I avoid using anything with any kind of breeders rights on it so I don't think I will upset any plant breeders. But would I be contravening any Irish laws or the European Seed directive? I can't bear to try and read it again. Its bossy tone and strange legal/euro/English make me cross. So I am asking you. ('Your honour, I did ask the interweb', will be my defense).

Wondering 2

I am also wondering when does a cultivar  become different enough from its parent material to merit a new name, or too poor to keep? For example if I:
1 Inbreed it and it looses vigour.
2 I consciously select for certain traits in it.
3 The environment selects certain things.
It will change. At some point it will become a different variety. The original breeder might not want me calling it by her name, or I might want to distinguish it from hers because it might become obviously different and more adapted to Irish conditions.  
Here is an example of how a cultivar can change: This year I grew Golden Bantam sweetcorn. I grow sweetcorn for seed, outdoors. Usually it fails. Often I have none on the catalogue. I am stubborn, and I am not interested in sweetcorn that needs to be in a greenhouse, it takes up way too much space. I have tried many varieties, and the only one I have EVER got to ripen its seed was Golden Bantam. Golden Bantam was released in 1902 and is still popular. It has had time to get around. I got my seed from Stormy Hall many years ago and I have grown it out several times. The plants and cobs are small and there is mostly only one cob per plant. Because I was worried that this small size was caused by inbreeding I decided to try and reinvigorate it by growing some seed, from another company alongside it. So I got some seed from a reputable American seed company and grew two rows of their corn interspersed with 2 rows from my own seed. 



Rows I and 3 are from my seed and 2 and 4 are from the other seed company.  Rows 1 and 3 (my seed) are clearly shorter  and although its not completely obvious from the photo they are also a darker colour. The point is they are very different. It is November now and the weather has turned nasty. I have harvested about half the cobs from rows 1 and 3 but none are anywhere near ready on 2 and 4.  Most plants have two cobs and some three, or they would have had if they had got pollinated, but I think (from squeezing them) that they are empty. They didn't put out their silks until they had shed all their pollen. I am sure they would be fine in a place that got a real summer, but our warmish season was not enough for them. 

I would love some feedback from seedy people on this please. 








Monday, May 18, 2015

Brief Glas rant.

When Joe McNamee asked if I would do a rant in the garden tent at the Ballymaloe Litfest, the first thing that sprung to mind was the new Glas scheme. This is the new environmental scheme brought in to replace the REPS (Rural Environmental Protection) Scheme. I have been in REPs for 20 years and I suppose the farm is the better for it, and I am certainly the richer, but it is confusing. In REPS we were paid to do things like take cattle in off the land in the winter to avoid poaching. As a result the rough dry ground where you would normally out-winter cattle got totally covered with briars and furze bushes.  In the past cattle would have picked over them in the winter and trampled them down and they would have been burned regularly.


Connor from Teagasc explaining to me and the heifers why we are dispensable to Irish agriculture.

Now, I don't agree with burning, but the regular burning of rough land in the past was better then the infernos we saw this spring when land that had not been burned for decades 'accidentally'  caught fire. After 20 years of REPS, it was decided that any land not growing grass was not eligible for area aid and inspectors with fantastically detailed areal photographs came around circling any brambles or other non grass on farms and many farmers were penalised for having bushes. I was greatly peeved to be penalised €800. However,  I am used to paying for my principles and did not resort to an afternoon with a box of matches. Others thought differently.

Back to the Glas scheme. I was excited to notice that there was quite a lot of money available for chough habitat, but it turned out that inspite of the fact that coughs roost all winter in my barn that I am not in a chough designated area and so I am not eligible for that.  (Anyway you can't get the chough money if you are in the OFS Organic Farming scheme.) Where is the logic there? It turns out you can't get the 'Low input permanent pasture' money either if you are in the OFS. So what can I get paid for? Laying hedges is one option. I planted a 180m hedge on the top of the farm in REPS 1 which is now ready to lay but it turns out boundry hedges are ineligible, and if I plant any more trees I will loose more area aid. Why?

So what am I left with? I can plant a hedge, so long as its not where an existing field boundry exists, and I can lay one short internal field boundry hedge. I can put up bee, bat, and bird boxes, and atha is about it. So it is another scheme only big farmers can get a signifiant payment for.

The good thing is I don't have to keep livestock anymore, which means I don't have to produce food anymore. I could just mow the place a couple of times a year, which would probably be cheaper than making silage, housing and fencing cattle, getting them tested, etc.

I has achieved objective 5.3. in me, but not in a good way.

  1. The objectives of the Schemes are:
    1. 5.1.  To encourage actions at farm level that promote biodiversity, protect water quality, and help combat climate change
    2. 5.2.  To contribute to positive environmental management of farmed Natura 2000 sites and river catchments in the implementation of the Birds Directive, Habitats Directive and Water Framework Directive.
    3. 5.3.  To promote and sustain attitudinal change amongst farmers
    4. 5.4.  To achieve a balanced and effective environmental programme over the period of the RDP. 


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spring Foraging

Ahead of the Slow Food foraging day we are doing here on Sunday, I have been doing my homework. Here are a few of my favourite wild, or semi wild, plants growing within 100yds of the house. (There is no district line between wild and cultivated plants here and a lot of overlap between perennial vegetables, wild plants and weeds.) I am a bit concerned about two things. One, by encouraging people to eat wild plants, might I contribute to the disappearance, or reduced range of some of them, and two, will anyone enthused by the workshop poison themselves.  So I am planning to show people how to identify plants and which ones are protected and rare or sensitive to a lot of picking and point out the few really poisonous things.

Everyone knows the Dandelion, Taraxicum officiale, and all parts of the plant are edible. The young leaves are great in salads and the roots can be cooked and eaten or dried, roasted and ground into coffee, although its a lot of work for not much coffee.
Chickweed Stellaria media is in no danger of disappearing around here and seeds its self  all around the garden and polytunnel. I would probably eat more of it if it wasn't so stringy when you pick it, but I do snip bits off and put them into salads, and when I remember I bring an odd handful to the hens, who really do enjoy it.
 Nettles Urtica dioica are very useful and and good for you. The tips are the least stringy to eat, and can be cooked as greens or made into soup. They are nicest in early spring before all kinds of insects move in and live in them. In fact in spring foraging it is pretty much all about  leaves. Summer is for flowers, (think elder meadowsweet) and autumn is best for nuts, seeds, roots and berries, which is obvious when you think about it, but only just occurred to me.
Fat hen is really just wild quinoa, that the early Americans domesticated into a seed crop. Early Europeans ate the seeds to and they have been found in ancient bog bodies in Ireland. I have tried eating the seeds, and its a bit like eating sand, but maybe I didn't cook it right. The leaves are excellent in salads and taste a bit like Camembert.
Watercress Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum is the wild plant I probably use the most. It grows in abundance in a stream on the farm. I mostly make it into soup, or cook it up with a buch of other things like nettles. It shares the stream with the deadly poisonous Water Dropwort Oenanthe crocata. It is a good thing to be able to tell them apart, or this might happen. 
from Flora Britannia by Richard Maybe (who also wrote "Food for Free").
People tend to be concerned about liver fluke which can encyst in the stems of water cress, but they are mostly below the water level and are killed by cooking, or a 6% vinegar solution. 
To my shame, I am not sure if this is common sorrel or Sheep's Sorrel, Rumex acetos or aceosella, hopefully someone will tell me before I have to get out Webb's flora and work it out properly. I put bits into salads and cooked greens sometimes because I think its good for me but I don't really like its sharp rhubarb taste.
 Neither am I particularly keen on Wall pennywort Umbilicus rupestris but it looks great in a salad.
Wild Garlic or Ransoms Allium ursinum is great stuff for the pesto, but also good in soups salads and sandwiches, any way you want really. It is not half as strong as the smell would suggest. It is not growing wild around here, but I put some in the front garden a few years ago and now I see them popping up around the place. I expect farmers eradicated them from around here as they would flavour the milk. It would be interesting to feed it to cows and them make cheese. 
The three cornered leek Allium triquetrum is an introduced plant, originally form the Mediterranean that enjoys West Cork hedgerows, was also introduced to my garden where it is expanding its territory, competing well with its South African neighbor Montbretia.

I will try and add more to this later.