MAKING COB IS A VERY SOCIABLE BUILDING ACTIVITY – 2nd wk in July 2014

Having visited Vivienne and Chris Hayes outside Wexford town to taste the delicious pizzas made in their homemade cob oven, the idea of building our own outdoor cob oven became very appealing. Cob is made from subsoil or marle, sand, straw and water – not forgetting many bare feet and hands. The ‘meitheal’ factor is vital as all the work has to be done in one day so the finished structure dries at a uniform rate.

Saul Moshbacher, plus his WWOOF-ing helper Theo, drove from Feakle in Co. Clare to Wexford to train the willing workers on how to make a cob oven. They brought large tarpaulins on which the mixing could take place. This looked to any passerby like barefoot dancing, but there was thorough mixing of sand, subsoil and water going on. Three layers each 2 inches thick were moulded around a damp sand dome on top of a stone base. The outer layer had straw added to the mix to make it harder wearing.

Once made the cob should really be left to dry

One of the cob mixing teams hard at 'work'. Meet Peter, Niamh, Ailis, Dana and Theo dancing for their supper!

One of the cob mixing teams hard at ‘work’. Meet Peter, Niamh, Ailis, Dana and Theo dancing for their supper!

for several months, but we needed to test it earlier than that in advance of our wedding! So next week’s blog will report on testing the cob oven for the first time.

LEARNING TO DRIVE IN WOODEN POSTS BY MACHINE AND BY HAND – 1st wk in July 2014

Tacumshin is located on a virtual peninsula near Carnsore Point with winds blowing strongly from the east and the south at times. Fencing has to be strong and wind breaks take a battering unless posts are securely driven in.

In building a shelter for an outdoor cob oven this week, four wooden pillars had to be positioned and secured in the ground first. These 11 foot high and 1 foot square pillars of wood had to go down 3 foot before they could be securely cemented in place.

To the rescue came John Coleman and Sons, our friendly agricultural contractor from Piercestown up the road, complete with mini-digger on a low trailer. The digger had an augur attachment which pneumatically twisted its way through the soil creating a 3 foot deep borehole. A neat job quickly done – which saved me buckets of sweat! I’ll need that energy to manually drive in several dozen smaller 6 foot posts to which we will nail wind break mesh fabric alongside the vegetable and fruit beds before the winter winds come around again.

John's mini-digger twists the augur in 3 foot where the first of 4 storm proof posts are to stand!

John’s mini-digger twists the augur in 3 foot where the first of 4 storm proof posts are to stand!

SETTING UP A BAIT HIVE CAN BE A WAY TO CATCH A SWARM – 4th wk in June 2014

Keith Pierce, a famous beekeeper in Dublin, told me once about how he sets up an empty brood box at a height at least 2 metres off the ground. This can act as a bait to catch a swarm. The scout bees locate the new hive and the swarm follows them in the entrance to take up residence, if one is lucky.

I tried this idea by placing an empty brood box on the roof of a shed. In due course, I observed a swarm settling on a nearby branch. Sure enough, I spotted some scout bees checking out the bait hive, which had some bait hive scent around the entrance. ( This product is available from bee equipment suppliers).

I did not wait, however, to see if the swarm would take up residence on my shed roof. Instead, I knocked the swarm in to a cardboard box. Then I placed

This bait hive on the shed roof is a brood box placed on top of an empty super. This give a new swarm room to enter the hive quickly, but it makes moving the full hive more awkward - so I may drop that idea!

This bait hive on the shed roof is a brood box placed on top of an empty super. This give a new swarm room to enter the hive quickly, but it makes moving the full hive more awkward – so I may drop that idea! A wedge keeps the whole hive level.

the empty brood box on a proper hive stand in the apiary and transferred the swarm from the box in the traditional way. ( See blog entry ‘1st wk of June 2014).

The one drawback of the bait hive positioned at a height is the challenge of lifting it down to locate it in the apiary once a swarm has taken up residence. Keith mentioned he has a fork-lift type device to manoeuvre the hive. At the very least, get a friend to help as a brood box containing bees can be awkward and heavy. However, the bait hive is a good insurance policy against losing a swarm, if one can afford to use an empty brood box in this way.

THANKS TO KLAUS LAITENBERGER FOR THE CLOCHE DESIGN TO PROTECT STRAWBERRIES – 3rd wk in June 2014

A frustrated blackbird perched on a net cloche which protects the strawberry crop from bird predation.

A frustrated blackbird perched on a net cloche which protects the strawberry crop from bird predation.

A recent course held in Sonairte, the Eco-Visitor Centre and Gardens, in Co. Meath, was a good place to learn about cloche building. Organic horticulturalist and lecturer, Klaus Laitenberger taught a dozen of us how to build a simple effective cloche using wood, hydrodare rubber piping and Bionet or garden netting. Unfortunately, Bionet is far more expensive than netting, but it does last for 7 years the makers claim. It keeps out carrot root fly and cabbage white butterflies too, so it is a good product.

Hopefully the attached picture gives an idea of the cloche design and construction. Here in Tacumshin, we are getting a good crop of strawberries thanks the net cloches we have built to protect the crop from birds. The varieties planted are ‘Cambridge Favourite’, ‘Symphony‘ and ‘Eros‘. The favourite among friends so far is the ‘Symphony’ strawberry, it seems, by the way.

ANTICIPATING A GOOD APPLE HARVEST AT GIY FAMILY DAY IN WATERFORD – 2nd wk in June 2014

Thanks to Micháel Ó Cadhla and the Grow It Yourself (GIY) organisation for inviting Áine and myself to the GIY Family Fun Day at the Athenaeum House Hotel on the outskirts of Waterford city held on Sunday 8th June. Workshops on growing food and various crafts were on display. We were asked to do a demo about apples and juicing. In my book ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’

Giving a workshop at the GIY Family Fun Day in Waterford about storing apples by freezing the juice.

Giving a workshop at the GIY Family Fun Day in Waterford about storing apples by freezing the juice.

(in a revised edition in the bookshops or from http://www.orpenpress.com), the apple juicing tips are in the 2nd week of August chapter. However, this June  event was a useful opportunity to talk about growing apple trees, caring for them and how to handle the harvest which is developing quite well so far.

After a spell of dry weather, be sure to give any spare water from the kitchen or bathroom to your apple trees. For example, water left after washing dishes at home is generally thrown around the base of our fruit trees. Drought can cause undeveloped fruit to drop, whereas proper watering can swell the developing fruit.

FIRST TIME TO CATCH AND HIVE TWO BEE SWARMS – 1st wk in June 2014

Before moving to Tacumshin, South Wexford, I was living in a housing estate and my bee hives were always on someone else’s land. Not being able to look out the kitchen window and see the bees meant all to often, they swarmed before I had a chance to gather the box and other bits to capture the swarm and hive a new colony.

Now we have moved to the country and are blessed to have the remnants of an old orchard at the back of the house where my one and only bee hive was brought from Balbriggan last year. I was all set to split this hive when one day recently I realised it was too late. Thousands of bees took to the air and circled appearing like the vortex of a mini tornado. All I could now do was wait an hour or so until they had settled on a branch or a post temporarily, while scout bees were sent out to find a new home for these runaway bees who had swarmed with the old queen from the original hive.

In the meantime, I found a large cardboard box, an old curtain and a bee brush. Protected by gloves and bee suit, I found it quite straightforward to hold the box under the resting swarm and knock it off the branch into the box held below. Then the box was put upside-down on the open curtain on the ground. When all the stray bees found their friends in the dark corner of the box, I tipped them in to the spare empty brood box I had prepared ( in ‘Blue Peter’ fashion) earlier.

The beekeeping advice is then to remove any spare queen cells by inspecting the old hive, other than one or two so that a replacement new queen will hatch to carry the old colony forward. Unexpectantly, however,  another swarm appeared a couple of days later. This is known as a cast-swarm, I am told. It is a smaller secondary swarm accompanying a newly hatched virgin queen. Being smaller and the queen needing to mate before laying can begin, means cast-swarms often don’t make it through the winter as they are often not big enough to stay warm in the cold months.

However, I am hopeful that the three hives we now have will survive if the fine weather continues and all three can go into the winter with the health and numbers to make it through the cold months ahead. Swarms caught in May stand the best chance of surviving as they have more summer weather ahead

Hiving a swarm. The upturned cardboard box, containing stragglers, on the old curtain, forms a runway up to the new brood box entrance.

Hiving a swarm. The upturned cardboard box, containing stragglers, on the old curtain, forms a runway up to the new brood box entrance.

to build up numbers and stores. As the saying goes, ‘Swarm in May worth a load of hay, swarm in June worth a silver spoon, and swarm in July not worth a fly’!

THE SPUDS IN OPW WALLED ORGANIC GARDEN LOOK FAR BETTER THAN OURS! – 4th wk in May 2014

'Casablanca' can be first early potato or left in the ground as a maincrop. Here the OPW Walled Garden shows the plants at their best.

‘Casablanca’ can be first early potato or left in the ground as a maincrop. Here the OPW Walled Garden shows the plants at their best.

This is a difficult blog to write. I’ve just been to Bloom in the Phoenix Park. The ‘Casablanca’ potatoes in the OPW Walled Organic Kitchen Garden are a picture of health, weed free and in lovely straight rows. On the other hand, here in Tacumshin, our ‘Casablanca‘ potatoes sown in  ‘Aran beds’ or ‘lazy beds’ are struggling. Lack of water could be a factor. Another factor could be that we did not plant into the soil but instead laid the seed on the strimmed grass and turned another sod of grass upside down to cover the seed potato. The dense grass roots are slow to break down in these near drought conditions. We will get a crop. However it  may include more small potatoes than we would like. Nonetheless, the digging to harvest the crop will loosen the soil to help make it friable for the next crop, probably a green manure.

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