Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Crazy Chicken man

One of Seans beautiful roosters (his photo not mine)
Jack has a unique knack of finding the strangest, most unusual and most interesting people in the county. Yesterday he talked myself and Leslie into going with him to visit his friend Harry who lives down the road from Sean. Sean specalises in breeding some of the rarest chickens, ducks and fowl in the world. He lives on what I can only describe as a (three quartes of an acre) zoo packed with chick nurseries, egg hatcheries, various houses and enclosures for his fowl and a pretty canal running right around that is home to many many types of ducks. There are even goldfish, and a bar! All in all one of the most unexpected places I was at in an age. But Seans pure joy and enthuasim for his birds is the most breathtaking of all. He used to be a posh chef, now hs a chicken man. Probably the "crazy chicken man" to everyone in the neighbourhod.

"dancin at the disco bumper to bumper"-chick disco
He sells these birds to other chicken enthuasists and if you are gardening you can't escape the fact that every second person growing their own wants chickens too, so the chicken trade is a lucrative one. Holding a three week old fluffy young chicken I almost got out the wallet myself but thought the better of it as I pictured explaining to my husband where the chicken came from while Ginger chased it around the house! Leslie is the real chicken enthuasist. He could rattle off breeds and discuss which ones to cross with which. I could see by the glint in his eye he was sorry to have to go. If he hadent promised to milk 90 cows he would still be there discussing chickens with Sean!

I was asking about which layed the tastiest eggs or made the most delicious roast chicken. Turns out Sean prefers a delicious Duck-a sensible man. Chicken breast is the most boring meat alive. Once I got him going though he gave me a great recipie for chicken breast with a posh sauce that he swears by . So he is obviously still passionate about food. He planted loads of fruit trees but his wifes pigmy goat ate them all! Needless to say when she went to hospital to have their daughter the goat got his marching papers.

Some delectable ducks
We left the tour delighted with all we had seen and learned (my brain was exploding with chicken facts) and I was surprised how much chicken care has in common with vegetable care. I think I could actually look after a few chickens( maybe even a few tasty ducks too!!). It's amazing how fragile the freshly hatched chickens looked and how strong they got after even just a few hours. That was the coolest thing, seeing baby chickens at the various ages in the chick nursery. If chickens are your thing go see this guy;

Sean, the crazy chicken man

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Swimming in a sea of broccoli

only 3 plants!
Last year the indomitable Tom sowed a tray of what he thought was Summer purple sprouting broccoli, a very useful veg that will cut and come again for months throughout the summer, and so one which I am always banging on about and recommending to anyone who will listen to me!

It turned out in the end (after consultation with the seed packet) that they were Spring sprouting purple broccoli and suddenly their value sank. After all Spring purple sprouting broccoli takes 12 months before it starts producing spears so its a bit of a lazy arse as far as I am concerned.I put three plants at the end of a bed and abandoned them to their fate. The caterpillars found them in late summer and dined in style trimming them down almost to the stalks. They recovered a bit and stood into winter doing nothing and looking a bit forlorn. Around March I stood over the three plants anxious to liberate the space for practical and essential onions. But I spotted a few small heads and decided to leave them be for another few most amazingly here we are in May and its still going strong. Actually its the most outrageously productive sprouting broccoli I have ever grown. I cut one spear and five more appear, cutting it just serves to encourage and drive it on exponentially. I'm giving it away to beat the band and I only have three plants! 
pick them small and keep them coming
If you have the space it's not too late to sow some for eating next March/April and May. But be sure to sow the Summer purple sprouting too, it's fantastic long season makes it a great summer veg. All need at least 18 inches apart and a few plants will be more than enough to keep you dining in style for quite a while.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

May Day-get your Gardening good luck for the year

Sea of yellow at the teaching gardens today
Yesterday was May Eve. It also happened to be one of the most glorious days of the year so far. My little brother, home from Boston is taking the credit, so when he leaves next week I hope it doesn't go back to shit.Apart from the importance of fine weather there is huge importance to the start of May itself that all but passes unnoticed nowadays. The 1st of May was a key day in the Irish farming calendar(and all over Europe too). Across the country hiring fairs were held where men found work according to their trade. Landlords negotiated new contracts with tenants and people on the land mushed pagan and Christianity together to ward off the living and the fairies while guaranteeing fine weather and a fair harvest!!

Exciting stuff isn't it? I love a bit of Pagan in the garden.
Depending on where you lived (and how superstitious the whole neighbourhood was) different methods were used. My Grandmother in Galway (and her neighbours) grew a particular tree in one of the fields. Each May eve a branch or two was cut down and pushed upright into the ground in the garden around the house and in one of the farm fields. Depending on which county you lived in different types of tree were used. My mother doesn't remember what Granny's tree was but" it had soft leaves like a willow".I'm thinking it must have been a fast grower considering two whole branches were lobbed of each year!

The children of the house decorated the tree with bunches of wild flowers. My mother remembers picking buttercups and primroses ( she thinks it might have been important that the flowers were yellow). Granny would have kept blue duck egg shells for weeks and brown hens egg shells too. These were put on the tree as decorations and finally the whole thing was blessed with holy water. This May tree acted as a powerful fairy and misfortune repellent. As an added protection Granny would never give eggs, butter or milk to anyone that day for fear of them taking the luck of the year with them. My mother remembers her hunting away anyone who made the mistake of showing up on May eve!!!

In Limerick on May eve they had a thing for lighting bonfires from the highest hill, in Tipperary they blessed each field with Easter holy water. Some superstitions or "piseogs" as we call them were so complicated that you had to prevent neighbours milking your cows or stealing eggs on May eve (out of spite and bad mindedness) while also staying up all night to guard against the fairies running off with your sons! What an exhausting day it must have been if you took all of it seriously!!

My May bush
In the interests of a good nights sleep and not turning psychotic in suspicion of my neighbours I decided to stick with the May bush, making a very basic model from a piece of hazel, one lonely broken eggshell and a few dandelions-my grandmother would not be impressed!-and to add insult to injury the holy water is yet to be found to bless it! As meatloaf said two out of three ain't bad.

So happy May day to all gardeners and farmers everywhere. May the luck of the gardening year be yours from today onwards.And if you get a chance perplex your neighbours by building your own may bush.

PS; in the last half hour managed to locate a bottle of holy water-the job is now complete!