Certain foods just don’t lend themselves easily to even the most dedicated Grow It Yourself enthusiast – such a wild fish from the sea. In the case of sea fishing, it is generally more popular and often safer in the summer months than in the stormier wintertime.
With this in mind, we took ourselves off to Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford, down the road from Tacumshin. There the boats come in with their catches of the day. If fish fingers can be sold and kept for weeks and even months in the freezer, then why not buy some of the plentiful summer fish to freeze until such a time as the trawlers are tied up when the weather is rougher?
My favourite fish is fresh mackerel. I have yet to freeze it but I am told by local shore fishermen that they freeze their surplus catch and they are happy with it when it is cooked. In general I am told it is always best to fillet and clean fresh fish before freezing. Other fish in season (apart from mackerel) at present,
Buying freshly caught fish in Kilmore Quay, some to eat, some to freeze until local trawlers are tied up due to storms.
includes John Dory, Bream, Herring, Sea Trout and Turbot and in September one can add Brown Trout to that list.
Many of the sun loving herbs like rosemary, sage and lavender are thriving at present. Those which originated in shadier woodland like mint may need watering if the soil is very dry.
The good weather these days also brings the diaspora of family visitors to Wexford. Visitors give us all a licence to go to places of interest which are normally regarded as ‘tourist attractions’. The Irish National Heritage Park (www.inhp.com) at Ferrycarrig, Co. Wexford on the N11 makes for an good day out at any time. Not having been there in years, we were glad to see a thriving herb garden in the replica Early Christian Monastery (Site 8).
The fact that a plant is even called a herb is an indication that it was useful to our ancestors in many ways which have often been lost in the mists of time. One would need to learn from a renowned herbalist like Seán Boylan, former manager of the mighty Meath football team to get a true sense of the value of herbs. Aside from the culinary uses for herbs which pre-occupy the GIY grower and cook these days, the establishment of a herb garden over the centuries was akin to today’s dependency on hospitals and health insurance. Whilst debates may rage about healthcare, there can be no argument that setting up a herb garden with a few slips of rosemary and sage, a few roots of chives and mint and a few seeds of parsley and lovage etc. will be a whole lost cheaper that any modern
Thriving herb garden with purple sage to the fore beside a ‘clochán’ (monk’s stone beehive hut) at the replica monastic site in The Heritage Park, Wexford.
Cultivating 3 acres in Tacumshin by hand is a far cry from the management of a small suburban garden we left behind in Balbriggan. After a while, the idea of acquiring a couple of pigs to help with excavation and weeding becomes more and more appealing.
Apart from that, pigs are fascinating to observe. At the Irish National Heritage Park here on the N11 near Wexford town, one can observe not just any pigs, but the old outdoor hardy and quite rare Tamworth pigs. Back in 1812, the Prime Minister
Normally brown, these Tamworth pigs are covered in mud during their summer moult at the Irish National Heritage Park, Ferrycarrig, Wexford.
Sir Robert Peel in Tamworth, England, interbred his own pigs with an old variety he had studied while in Ireland called the ‘Irish Grazer’. The Tamworth is today considered the variety which most closely resembles the wild boar which was first domesticated as livestock thousands of years ago in Ireland.
The dense bristles of the Tamworth pig give protection from UV light except during moulting season between June and August. During this time, the Tamworth likes to don an all body mud pack both to keep cool and as a sun block. Áine and myself must keep in touch with the Heritage Park (www.inhp.com) just in case they may have a spare couple of piglets to sell in the future!
Initially the cob oven is a damp structure just like a wet cement structure. After ten days of summer weather, (the warmer and windier the better,) it is time to scoop out the damp sand which gives the final cob oven its shape.
To speed up the natural drying process (as we needed to do!) small fires can be lit on the fire bricks for short periods to gradually dry the inside of the oven. This we did three times a day for a few days until we prepared dough and pizza toppings – and assembled a pizza making team of teenage nephews!
Voila – Conor Neville prepares to serve the first pizza from the new cob oven to be shared with the brothers Adam and Brian, while Áine checks on the seasoning wood supplies.
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!
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.
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!
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! 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.