Wednesday 25 April 2012

Trying To Be Chemical Free On My Irish Smallholding.

"Does it run on chip fat oil?"

Howdy Folks.  That's a photograph of me, myself and I (Joan Armatrading song title) trying to eradicate the rushes from one of my fields.  I try not to use man made chemicals around the farm.  Yes the strimmer works off fossil fuel (I run on cans of stout) but what are you supposed to do?  I don't buy chemical fertilizer any more it's too dear and I don't really agree with it.  So I spend hours nay days trying to stop the Furze  (Gorse)and Rushes from taking over.  I think the cattle help a bit?  However they turn their noses up at rushes.

I know a lot of organic farmers use tractor toppers to control the rushes but they are still polluting the air with the diesel fumes and probably killing frogs and newts and goodness knows what else aren't they?.  I suppose you just can't win can you?  I bet even the electricity used to power our computers is made in a nuclear power station in England or France?

My grandfather used to cut the rushes and pike them on to his cart and the cattle and the horse would use them for bedding.  I give my cattle straw and wood shavings but I might start harvesting the rushes.  Wouldn't it be great to see the horses return to work the land again?

Here's a question.  Who invented the seed drill?  

Yes you're quite right.  It was Jethro Tull.  I bet he would have known how to control the rushes.  Talking of Jethro Tull.  Here's one of favourite tracks: Heavy Horses.  

I have seen them four or five times and Ian Anderson is nothing short of a genius and poet.  His lyrics in Heavy Horses are indeed prophetic for these times:

"...And one day when the oil barons have all dripped dry and the nights are seen to grow colder

They'll beg you for your strength, your gentle power, your noble grace and your bearing

 and you'll strain once again to the sound of the gulls in the wake of the plough sharing."
What a brilliant band!!  They are on tour in the UK right now.  Why can't they visit Ireland?


  1. Nice to see somebody still doing things by hand, even if it isn't a scythe you use, it's gotta be better than over-kill a tractor. Used to use a scythe a couple of times a year, on thistles and nettles; I've got a huge amount of respect for the men who could scythe an acre of corn in a day. Another dying art, and using a scythe is an art, but still has its uses for small areas where the ever bigger machines can't reach.

    Reckon the furze will win though, once you've got that stuff you've always got it. Unless maybe you can find some goats that might eat it, they seem to eat everything else?

    And I don't think you need chemical fertilizers either, in the days of high farming they didn't even have them, but I bet they acheived better crop yields than now, even with all the nitrogen that gets scattered about. All done with horse and man-power.

    You'll need to find a use for your reeds, nothing to stop you using them as bedding, better fertilizer than nitrogen as well, just a bit more work.

    Yeah, Jethro Tull, great man, great band.

    Been cold, wet and windy today, Raggy cat's been in front of the fire most of the day. Sensible little soul.

  2. Hi Cumbrian. Thanks for your thoughts. I have had a go with a scythe a few times. They are great for blisters and making you sweat and if you want lots of aches and pains. I also top the thistles by hand to stop them going to seed.

    My grandad used to have a Furze machine which crushed it and you could feed it to the horse. In Galway they used to grow fields of it and then sell it for kindling to start the fires. I quite like the suntan oil smell aroma from the gorse flowers. Nettles are said to be a great indication of nitrogen - where nettles grow, anything will grow.

    I blame the big tractors for the rushes problems. They squeeze the old flag drains to nothing. The rush seed can live for up to sixty years in the soil.

    Rushes are OK for bedding for the livestock but you must make sure you compost them before you spread them back on the land, or else their seeds will grow rushes rushes, where you never had them before.

    I also think that cow slurry is great for spreading Docks. I have read that they use cow slurry to make electricity in Denmark.

    Stopped buying 'bag manure' (fertiliser) five years ago when it went up to 17.50 a bag. Now it's 27.50 (ouch!)a bag. Put out two bags of gran lime (9.50 a bag) yesterday on the hay fields. It did wonders last year. I will show you some pictures of last years crop in the next blog.

    Jethro Tull's albums: Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses are probably my favourite. The lyrics to Heavy Horses are prophetic and poetic.

    We have had a terrible week also. There's a grass shortage here in Ireland. Farmers are having to give their cattle silage or feed the silage land. I have too much grass because I am not overstocked. The blackberry talons are loving it. The cattle eat the blackberry leaves for a tonic. They go also mad for the Ivy.

    Raggy cat isn't daft is he?


  3. Yeah, the scythe took some mastering, I never became proficient with it, just enought to mow thistles and nettles. The muscles used seem to be different to the ones you normally use, hence the ability to cause the aches and pains. And blisters. I was told in the days when scything was the norm, every man had his own, made to measure.

    The big tractors are to blame for a lot, look at a field of standing corn, you can see the lines where the machine has passed, too much compaction.

    Doesn't seem to be a grass famine here, it's growing too fast, most of the fields are full of sheep and lambs, seems to be a bumper lamb crop this year, so many twin lambs and I've seen a few triplets as well. Feel a bit sorry for them, it's really cold, wet, windy amd miserable, but we've got good drainage in most areas, so at least they don't get waterlogged.

    Slurry, never liked that stuff, but the spreading pump machine is really impressive, I watched one guy didn't even open the gate, just drove along the road with the slurry shooting out in a 150' fountain onto the field.
    Another farmer, in dispute with the council over something (and which one of us hasn't crossed swords with some petty official) reached breaking point, took a load of slurry outside the Town Hall and sprayed it liberally; I think it was made worse by the fact that some of the windows were open. So maybe slurry has its uses.

    Weather's getting worse, heavy rain, East wind, dull, and bloody cold, can't even get to mow my grass.
    Raggy cat not waiting at the front door this morning, but came to the back kitchen window cill miaowing, soaked through. It's a bit more sheltered there with this wind; not so daft really, more sense than some people. So i put the gas fire on to dry him out, I must be getting soft in my dotage.

  4. Thanks Cumbrian for that. I have heard that urine was often recommended for the blisters when building drystone walls.

    Scythes are incredibly effective for nettles and thistles. The nettles make a great liquid feed for the vegetables. If you put some nettles in an old pillow case or Hessian sack and place them in a barrel of water for a few weeks. Then dilute the 'soup' 10 to 1 in about a week. It's brilliant!

    If you get the chance Cumbrian have a look at Tinker's Bubble on Google. I think you would like the place. They don't use fossil fuels and the council have give them permission to build sustainable houses in the woods. They look a lot better than the cardboard box estates on the outskirts of city's.

    My potato tops look like they have frost damage this morning. Think I'll have to earth them up again today or just spread some straw over them.

    Dry but overcast here. Very very cold.

    Think that nuclear power station in Japan could be the cause of this bad weather. The powers that be wouldn't tell us though would they? They also reckon that Chernobyl did little damage. Yet cancer is increasing every year!

    Thanks Cumbrian.

  5. Had a look at Tinkers Bubble, never heard of that one, fascinating place, just wish I was about 30 years younger (how many times have you heard that?) Makes me think back to the future. It's something I always wanted to have a go at, but 30-40 years ago just about un-heard-of, far too much against convention, the oil was flowing cheaply and in great quantity, the economy was booming, beer was cheap, and nobody seemed intersted in Greenpeace and the other environmentally-friendly organisations, everything was going to last forever. the chances of getting any sort of Planning permission for this type of enterprise was about the same as teaching pigs to fly. Reciprocal roofs, dry earth closets, sustainable firewood
    heating and cooking, self-reliance, etc, were for the nutters.
    Bit of a change in thinking nowadays.

    Dry-stone, we got a lot of that, miles of 5' walls up steep slopes and across fells, a monument to the men who made them, and such a lot of skill, I've tried repairing one (un-sucessfully), it's a lot harder than it looks, the bits of stone bite, it's easy to lose a finger-end. never heard of the urine trick, we used to spit on them when doing shovel work.

    I think a lot of people were caught by the bit of good weather followed by cold winds, a friend lost his early tomato plants, and that was in a greenhouse.

    Raggy cat still fast asleep. Idle little sod.

  6. Thanks for that. I love your:

    "Makes me think back to the future".

    I believe when the Good Life first came on our television screens in the 1970's, you could sell a semi like that one in Surbiton for £45000 and buy a smallholding in the countryside for about £20000. Country living was said to be a lot cheaper and less stressful. You're right that everything is far too expensive; the price of a PINT, a holiday, petrol, house, meat, and a pint again.

    I never understand why the planners stop people living in the countryside. There must be loads of land that could be made into sustainable villages? I hate it when I go to a city and you see all the traffic and all the lights left on in the offices at night.

    The dry-stone walls are indeed monuments to the men who made them. There's one in Grasmere (on the road to Keswick I think) that goes up the mountain it must be similar to the Great Wall of China.

    The cathedrals in England always amazed me when I live there. Your stone mason grandfather or great grandfather would start it and you or your dad would finish it! They also used to carve gargoyles that were caricatures of their workmates rather than the real purpose to warn off the evil spirits.

    Another common practice in medieval England was to plant an apple tree on you when you died. You left the living a maintenance free orchard cemetery and you also fed the apples.

    Sorry to hear about your friends tomato plants. They are related to the potato and not suited to our fluctuating climate.

    Raggy cat must be working hard at night!


  7. Two of my pet rants there.

    1. Planners.
    2. Cathedrals and how they built them.

    I think tghey're both worth a seperate thread?

    Never heard about the orchard graveyard, but it makes all kinds of sense.

    Raggy cat just woke up. must have smelled our tuna sandwiches supper. Due to go out soon. I don't care if it's cold.

  8. Tell me more Cumbrian I am intrigued to know about Planners and Cathedrals and how they built them?

    Some people claim that today's shopping centres are the new cathedrals. What do think?

    I think Salisbury and York are my two favourites. Quite like Fountains Abbey also.

    Yes. My Jack Russell always wakes up when she hears the rustle of a biscuit or packet of crisps wrapper.

    Thanks Cumbrian.

  9. Planners - The Planning Dept started as a free consultation type system, designed to stop or restrict developments, and to be fair, the idea is good, it will, for example, stop a 24-hour petrol station being built in a residential estate. In theory, it controls the type of development in different areas.
    It has now grown, as a lot of good ideas do, into a very expensive self-serving business monster, top-heavy with too many super-qualified young people on huge salaries who I often think have no understanding of local areas or people, which generates thousands of hours of needless work and millions of pounds of needless expense.
    Our area is protected by the Lake District Special Planning Authority, which I agree does a good job of preventing over-development in unsuitable areas, but the great down-side is the lack of available affordable property for local people to buy or suitable land for them to develope in an appropiate manner.
    But they think it's quite acceptable for the likes of McAlpine and other huge builders to develope estates of hundreds of quick(cheap)-build identical soul-less rabbit hutches to sell for vast profits.
    So my opinion of Planners is the same as my opinion of Communism - A great idea in theory, but ruined by top-heavy corporate-style management.

    Cathedrals - They fascinate me, how did they get some of the lumps of stone (they must weigh tons) up there? How did they design and set out the intricate stone-work? And some of the the roof timbers are a work of art.
    Still standing after hundreds (thousands?) of years. Without the benefit of Planners.

    Todays shopping centres? Yes, some of them are lovely pieces of design, emgineering and construction, which is probably not appreciated by most of the shoppers who come to worship by means of retail therapy, but I don't think they're in the same league as the cathedrals.

    Raggy cat's back in, fast asleep again. Sun's shining this morning, but it keeps cold. Hope it stays for a couple of days to dry my lawns and get them mown.

  10. Hi Cumbrian. Thanks very much for your thoughts about Planners and
    Cathedrals. I think all existing rural properties should be renovated or replaced with a façade of natural materials be they recycled or new. I also think if you own the land you should be able to build some king of dwelling on it especially if it's for your own use or its for somebody with an 'affordable' (that's a good one - how long is a piece of string?)need.

    Rural Ireland is full of derelict property that could be renovated or rebuilt. Lots of farmers have pieces of rocky bits of land that serve no purpose but would make great building sites and create lots of jobs. I don't see why you have to be rich to live in the countryside?

    Cathedrals. Wouldn't if be great if we could go back to building cathedrals for the glory of God? I once remember a tale of a medieval stonemason making an ornate piece high up on a cathedral roof. His workmate told him that nobody would see it. The stone mason replied:

    "No. But God can."

    Talk about having pride in your work. I would love to have lived in Victorian times learning the crafts and seeing the railways and Gothic churches being built.

    It's fine here at the moment. I am going repairing a fence the 'big cattle' destroyed. There's always something needs doing.

    Thanks Cumbrian.

  11. Affordable - Yes, it's relative, but in line with local wages; property values are so distorted by "fashionable" ares to live.

    Totally agree, derelicts should be refurbished and brought back into use. Barn conversions are very much in demand here, because they aren't allowed to build, every possible existing building is restored as living acommodation, sadly way too expensive for the average working man.
    Even sadder, it could be argued, are the old traditional buildings that have been dropped and replaced with huge Atcost sheds (progress?)

    Pride in the job seems to be another old-fashioned concept in todays accountant-driven corporate business world.

    Lovely sunny morning but cold wind.
    Raggy cat just come in, a bit late this morning, asleep already.

  12. I have never understood the 'affordable housing' term either. Like you say Cumbrian: its all relative.

    I feel so sorry for people starting off on the housing ladder. Would hate to have a thirty or forty year mortgage (millstone) to pay every month. Especially when there are no jobs in the countryside. That's why people have to commute or live in the towns and cities isn't it?

    Why can't somebody do a survey on how many empty and derelict properties there is in the countryside? Rural West Cork (Ireland) is full of ruins (building sites) that could be renovated or rebuilt and sold or rented to people with housing needs.

    Pride in the job. Oh to go back to the days of park keepers, branch railway lines with flower beds and hanging baskets, postmen with peak caps and blazers, Policemen on bicycles, Band Stands, family run pie shops and Lollipop ladies with the smile of an angel and the courage of a lion.

    It's fine here but also very cold. I watched a oil tanker sail up the bay this morning and thought:

    "How much oil does that oil tanker use transporting oil."

    Thanks Cumbrian.

  13. The housing ladder is just an impossible dream for an awful lot of people now, with prices artificially inflated in the boom years that were never going to end.
    I don't think we'll ever see them return to realistic levels, the money men have too much invested in property.
    What has been created is 2-tier system, with more and more property, since the local councils sold off their housing stock, is now in the hands of the private land-lord, and the rents being substantially funded by the tax-payer via Housing Benefits, and the level of rents fixes the value. They're the only ones that can afford to buy any houses not in 100% perfect condition due to the restrictions placed by the mortgage lenders.
    The rich land-lords getting richer and the poor tenants getting poorer and even less able to get on the housing ladder.

    Doubt if they'll ever have a survey of derelicts, unless some of the politicians or money men decide it would be in their own interests.
    Good idea though, there must be many people who would be quite prepared to put in the necessary hard work required to refurbish and provide themselves with somewhere to live.

    Doubt if we'll see a return to those days, I see the modern postman in shorts, trainers, open-neck short-sleeved shirt, baseball cap and about 3 months overdue a haircut. Might see policemen back on bikes, not in our lifetime, but when the oil runs out, if the villans only have bikes, it's all the police need? Most of the band-stands have gone, removed after years of graffiti and vandalism. Branch railway lines all lifted and now paths etc. with flowers and hanging bastets replaced by thistles, nettles, ragwort and brambles. Park keepers gone, maintenance subbed out to the lowest bidding contractor, minimum standards to acheive maximum profit.
    Like the working horse, I think we've seen the last of them.

    Raggy cat gone out again.

  14. Once again you seem to have your finger on the pulse Cumbrian. The UK and Ireland seems to full of haves and have nots. Poor people (can't call them working class any more)have become disenfranchised and the Eton Mafia at Westminster seem to think that everybody is middle class and the only reason people are unemployed is because they don't have the relevant qualifications or training.

    Recent governments have sold off the council houses, shut down the mines and factories and sent the Capitalists to India and China to supply us with goods and millions of people with no homes, tons of debt and a life of unemployment.

    It's all very depressing and it leaves us with a very pragmatic and pessimistic outlook to the future.

    I hope the working horse returns when the oil runs dry.


  15. Yes, the Eton Mafia, doubt if there's a days real work in the lot of them all put together.
    Of course it's all our own fault, nothing to do with them joining the EEC, inflicting decimalisation and metrication on us, allowing hundreds of thousands of foreigners in to take advantage of our benevolent Social Security system, encouraged teenage prgnancy by loading benefit system in their favour, shut down our pubs with excessive taxation and non-smoking rules, etc, etc, as well as closing mines, steel plants, factories, and selling off housing stock.
    I'm sure you can think of a lot more examples of beaurocratic idiocy that's cost the tax-payer but left the fat cats even fatter?

    Future? I don't even like to think about what might happen, except even more idiocy. Yes, disenfranchised, but pessimistic? or just real?

    Raggy cat brought me a pressie, a big fat mouse (dead) then proceeded to eat it. Asleep again now.
    Sun's shining, cold wind, but got most of the grass mown.

  16. Thanks for that Cumbrian.

    The only other thing I would thing that I would say is the amount of money spent on weapons - especially nuclear one's. I believe that the amount of money the West spends on nuclear weapons in a fortnight,would permanently end starvation for ever. When willpoliticians invest in the people and listen to the people? I think back to the Labour government of 1945 that rebuilt Britain after the Blitz. Stop paying the IMF and build affordable housing in urban and rural areas. When you build (renovate) houses you create building and manufacturing jobs. Instead of cheap imports and unemployment and unaffordable housing.

    Raggy cat earns his crust. I have just been told my ducks have killed a young rat and I have been designated the task of removing and disposing of it. The joys of country living.

    Thanks Cumbrian.

  17. Yeah, weapons, I think they've got the capability to wipe out every living thing on the face of the earth now, why do they want more? Yes I've heard the arguments, "We've got to keep up with the opposition to challenge any threat they make". But as you say, if they all chanelled the money into sustainable food, shelter, and energy production, world poverty could be largely eliminated.

    Nuclear, probably the most dangerous concept ever devised, probably by some genius, who, in my humble opinion, would have better employed his genius in more benevolent directions. We live with Sellafield "It's perfectly safe", "Clean power", that's why they haven't worked out how to get rid of all the highly dangerous contaminated stuff that nobody wants (The worlds nuclear dumping ground), the danger period for some of it is measured in 1,000s of years, they've got lots of it stored in "safe" conditions, and are desperately trying to figger out a way to get rid of it.

    And the day politicians ever listen to the people, or take any notice, will be the day pigs start flying. But why should they, their bread's already buttered.

    After the blitz, as you say, there was a great housing shortage, and the then government responded by implementing the "pre-fab" era, thousands of them as a quick cheap method of housing millions of homeless people. They survived, or some of them did, up to the 70s, replaced usually by Council housing. There's one at Eden Camp, Malton, North Yorkshire, an open-air war-time museum, set up with furnishings as it would have been in the 50s. Worth a visit if you're ever about that way.

    Rain kept off, sunny with passing clouds with a cold wind. Got most of the grass mown, needs strimmed at the edges, but the strimmer needs a new bit of the nylon cutting stuff, and I don't fancy the swearing session trying to get it in, it's worse than putting a new pull-cord in a chainsaw, I'll save that little joy for tomorrow.

    The joys, hope you gave the rat a decent christian burial? Or cremation in the poor mans Aga? Nice to hear the ducks killed it. Raggy cat gone out again, hopefully to further reduce the mouse population.

  18. Thanks for that Cumbrian. It's so refreshing to read that somebody else thinks similar thoughts about nuclear. Albert Einstein used to have an allotment it's a shame he never spent his time there instead of trying to split the Atom (Rutherford did it first at Manchester University) and leaving us with a profound sadness that the next World War will be the last one. It's good to see that countries like Germany (of all countries) and Italy no longer want nuclear power. Even little Ireland doesn't have any. Mind you she doesn't try to police other countries so she doesn't have many enemies. I see no argument for nuclear. Imagine if some fundamentalist gets hold of a nuclear weapon they could hold the world to ransom, or if there was a terrorist attack on Sellafield. We are all still reaping the costs of Chernobyl.

    I have heard of Eden Camp. Thanks!

    Yes the rat is disposed of and Jack Russell will not be getting it's two biscuit night shift wages if it doesn't stop sleeping in the straw in the barn.

  19. I didn't know who first split the atom and paved the way for the development of nuclear reactors, but he's got a lot to answer for.

    And we're not the only 2 who think that way, in fact if you take away the people who work there ("work") on grossly inflated wages, you'd not have very much support for Sellafield in West Cumbria. Sellafield tells us how safe it is, and how many safety nets and precautions they have to prevent an attack on the plant. But I suppose that could be said of the American airlines, nobody could hijack their planes and fly them into the Twin Towers, could they? And Chernobyl didn't really cause any problems, did it?
    Cuckoo-landers we call them. (You heard the story of the cuckoo-landers?)

    Ireland might not have it, but it's in the firing line from Sellafield, straight over the water. And quite a lot of the electric you use could be generated by nuclear reactors. Even if you don't try to police other countries (A whole new topic which I'm sure you've got opinions on)

    Yes, withdraw the biccies and Jack Russel will need to catch something to eat before he goes to sleep.
    Raggy cat still asleep, in front of fire.

  20. Thanks Cumbrian for that. I don't know the story of the cuckoo-landers, please tell.

    I will never forget the Twin Towers. I didn't know anything about it until the next day and I walked into a newsagents and the newspapers said:

    "Third World War".

    It was like something from James Bond. Even today I was reading on the Internet that Britain is planning on placing missile launchers on London buildings for the Olympics. Well they have got to add a bit more to the 26 Billion bill haven't they.

    Yes you're right. Ireland's been complaining for years to stop Sellafield polluting the Irish sea but the EEC does nothing. Yes you're right Ireland buys nuclear made electricity from Britain and France (they have no fossil fuels)and calls herself nuclear free and a neutral country.

    If you want rodents get yourself a few ducks or hens. The grain is great for attracting them.

    Raggy Cat is a character.

    Many thanks.

  21. Just to round off this post, cuckoo-landers are from Borrowdale, and the story (myth?) goes that the borrowdalers noticed that when the cuckoo was heard, it always heralded good weather, so they reasoned that if they built the cuckoo a barn to live in, it would be happy and stay in Borrowdale, and it followed that good weather would always be there. They built the barn for the cuckoo, but it flew away when the weather got bad again.

    P.S. If you call somebody this, you usually need to be prepared to defend yourself. Bit like "monkey-hanger".

    Raggy cat disappeared when my son and grandson (5) came to visit, despite the fact it's pissing down, and returned immediately he departed, back in front of fire drying out.

  22. Great tale about the cuckoo-landers Cumbrian. I have heard of similar tales of medieval people lifting a pig up on top of the wall so it can see the kings procession pass by.

    Thanks for making me laugh. It's gone really cold here and we're waiting for the deluge.

    Raggy cat is obviously a pipe and slipper cat and likes his peace and quiet!


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