Brrr! Its been cold, but we shouldn’t complain – our little peninsula in West Cork missed out on the worst of the snow, thanks to the Gulf Stream. Just one beautiful snow laden morning greeted us, by lunchtime it had melted away, leaving just the snowy tops of the Caha mountains in the distance . We might have avoided the snow, but Jack Frost was definitely down our way, making the zig-zag road down Loch Ine almost in-passable. Still during the blizzards in the rest of Ireland we experienced several fresh, clear days of blue skies and warm sunshine – a hint of the Spring to come. So it was on with the wellies and out in the mud to plant 30 Ash trees around our boundary. We are trying to phase out the use of coal and peat in the cottages and eventually want to be self-sufficient in wood. We have tried just burning wood alone, but the pine logs sold locally in Skibbereen burn slowly and produce no real heat compared to coal. Having trimmed the Ash trees on our boundary we found that they burnt much hotter than pine and glowed like peat. It also does not need to be seasoned like most woods and can be burnt green – so Ash is definitely the solution. Just one problem – it has to be chopped up and this takes hours with a handsaw – perhaps we need to try an axe!
Our other aim for this month was to expand our vegetable beds. Up until now we have had a pretty ornamental
vegetable garden behind the Croft and although this has supplied us with a variety of herbs and vegetables through out the year it wasn’t enough to cut out the shop bought vegetables completely. We decided on an area of our orchard that had previously been the site of two huge compost heaps, the duck pen and an overgrown fuchsia hedge. We started by clearing the old stone wall which divides the property from the water meadow behind and then set about dividing the compost heap between the fruit trees and roses. A new compost area was set up with enclosed composters for kitchen waste and wooden crates to hold the straw bedding from the ducks. This makes fantastic mulch and so doesn’t stay in compost bin long!
It’s a great feeling to have finished the new raised beds. Now we just need to plan the planting regime – the fun bit. The birds – cheeky robins, bullfinches and wagtails, joined us each day as we dug and our ducks waited patiently for us to finish so they could pick over the beds looking for slugs. I just hope they leave the worms alone and aren’t too upset when I plant a hedge of prickly gooseberry bushes to keep them out of this area once the vegetables get underway. We grow plants that are particularly prone to slug attack on the gravel out side the cottages e.g. courgettes, lettuces, swiss chard and up until today the ducks left them alone, but I caught them eating the winter lettuces this morning – so we might have to confine them to the orchard, which would be a shame as they have been grazing on the wild flower meadow, which should help to maintain it.
January is an ideal time to plant bare root fruit trees and bushes, so we’ve added another row of cherry trees along our gravel drive and four plum trees to the orchard. We also replanted the raised beds in the orchard with berry bushes. These beds had originally been planted with onions in the autumn, but it turns out that our ducks, love onions and uprooted most of them, although they did leave the garlic alone. Still we are now looking forward to blackberries, red currents, and gooseberries in the summer and the delicious jams to follow.