Monthly Archives: October 2016

Oiche Samhain

In Ireland, tonight is called Oiche Samhain, or night of Samhain. The Celtic Festival of Samhain, marks the end of the old year and beginning of the new year. It also marked the end of the harvest and the start of the dark half of the year.

There is the idea that being a time of transition the boundaries between the underworld and the human world are not secure and so all kinds of eerie souls, spirits, ghosts and fairies can move freely in the human world, many of whom would be up to no good!

There are many traditions associated with the desire to ward off these unwanted spirits or indeed to welcome your own deceased kin. Bonfires would be lit and people would wear masks to confuse the spirits. One nice story I heard during the week was that people in one area would leave a basin of water and a towel by the doorway so that passing spirits could wash!

Jack Frost

We have had an exceptionally mild October. It has had it’s advantages as we were still harvesting a few beans and courgettes in the last couple of weeks, but on the other side some of the leeks have started to go to seed! This morning we woke to our first proper frost; plants were transformed into sugar-coated candy!

Would you like to learn how to help pollinators

Roscommon County Council Heritage Office are funding us to do two free workshops on pollinators. These workshops are ideal for those involved in Tidy Towns and local community projects, but anyone interested in pollinators are welcome to attend. Please pre-book as detailed below. While October is not a good time to see pollinators we hope to discuss lots of ideas of things you can do to help pollinators in your community.poster2

Wildlife Wednesday

These brown lipped snails are very common around us. Slugs and snails are gastropods – which can be translated as “stomach foot”, though in fact the stomach is protected inside the shell! The colour and banding of these snails can vary from light yellow to a very dark brown, or even orange. They can have anything from zero to five bands. They are an important food for many birds and small mammals.

Snail on birch

Snail on birch



There are many animals we humans connect to – dogs, cats, and other pets that often become important parts of our lives from childhood. Similarly there are those of us that make that connection with poultry. And in my opinion, you are either a chicken person or you are not! And if you meet another person who is a chicken person you naturally form a bond – it’s what I call the chicken bond.

My relationship with chickens started in childhood. I was about eleven when my sister and I purchased some chickens to start a mini egg-selling enterprise. Most of the eggs were sold back to my mother for household use, but when egg production was high, we sold eggs to family friends too. Growing up on a small farm there were always plenty animals; but there was just something quirky about the chickens that I liked.

Moving to Murtagh’s Meadow allowed me for the first time since the 1980s to get my own chickens.  We started off with just three,  Maud, Bernadette and Meabh. After initially keeping them in a chicken arc, the three roamed freely around our then open garden. They were great company while digging in the garden and were always eager to get the biggest juiciest worm.

They were happy wandering anywhere and in the summer liked the shade by the front door. They soon learned not to come in, though occasionally would give it a try! Bernadette was always the fiesty one, Maud the bravest and Meabh the shyest.

Over the years, and with losses to mink and foxes we went through various types of housing. We finally invested in a poultry electric fence which is great. It allows the chickens free roaming within limits (which has it’s advantages too as they are not digging up your flowers or vegetables). At the same time I do miss having them under my feet. You really get to know the individual characters that way. At the same time since investing in the fence we have not suffered any losses, other than through natural causes.

Once you eat truly free range chicken eggs it is very hard to go back to the bought ones. So if you have the space I would thoroughly recommend our feathered friends.




Forest Garden – pros and cons

One of my reader’s, Helen from Silverbells, asked if I would do an update on our forest garden as I describe on Murtagh’s Meadow about page. Really the forest gardening I leave to my husband, while I concentrate on the vegetable patch, and the flower garden, though it doesn’t stop me using the produce.

To quote the Agroforestry Trust in the UK , forest gardening is a designed agronomic system based on trees, shrubs and perennial plants. The idea being that you try and re-create a sustainable natural forest with all it’s complex product producing layers. So food products may include fruits, nuts, leaves, and possibly medicinal plants and spices. In addition, you may have plants that produce fodder for animals or resources such as bean poles, wood for fuel and so on.

From our point of view it has been a bit of a struggle. To start with you are constantly battling with weeds and in our case grass, and until we get some kind of canopy cover this will continue. So any low growing shrubs have really struggled to get a foot hold. And  even plants such as raspberries, which are naturally a woodland edge plant, struggle to keep going. Perhaps, if we had more time (this is supposed to be a low maintenance form of gardening) it would be better, because in reality you’d need to be out every few days cutting the grass back from spring right into late autumn.

Somethings have done well, such as the chokeberries. But then the birds come along and eat them all before they are even ripe!!! We have Nepalese raspberries which are good ground cover. They certainly are, and they try to take over. What is more I have yet to find any fruit – though the carder bees do seem to appreciate the flowers.

The cobnut shrubs look good and are healthy but we have yet to get more than a handful of nuts. The nuts we did grow this year were nearly all empty and those that had fallen to the ground has been opened by mice (but I wonder if they found them empty too?). Though this coming year we should have some very decent bean poles.

The slugs loved the bark of the Szechuan pepper (a substitute for black pepper) and ring barked it a couple of times before we put it in a pot.

The autumn olive flowered but did not set fruit this year, but there were some fruit last year (see photo). We had a good crop of sea buckthorn which again are thriving (though last year did not crop so well). And this is the first year we have had quinces (a grand total of six!).

In general, success has been better with the more traditional orchard trees, apples, plums and to lesser extent pears. Having a number of varieties seems to be the key, as not all well fruit well every year.

In terms of work, you need to be prepared initially to do a lot of maintenance. And it is certainly trial and error with what will crop well in a given year.