Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I got to bed early last night and up early today. Feargal and I started off finishing clearing and leveling an area near the house for a small garden. I picked up rocks, pipes, and an old carpet that would be in the way of the escavator. Brambles had been thriving in the spot and had to be cut down and dug out to prevent thier return. After the area was cleared we had to bring down some good soil from a bit farther up on the hill where he had knocked down a hump above a wall the day before. We thought it would be easier to load the dirt into large rubble bags in the back of his truck and then dump the bags where needed rather than taking the time to run wheelbarrows back and forth. We did about a dozen bags of dirt, each with three large buckets of good dirt and then leveled the dirt over the area. Feargal and I loaded the escavator onto it's trailer and he left to take it back to the hire center in Dublin. I raked the area flat and had it ready to plant with small boxwood cuttings later this evening. Then me and Frances focused on getting what vegetables she had ready to plant in the first raised bed I had built. Frances had bought a few plants from an organic grower in Cork the week before I arrived and has been waiting to have a place to put them. We put in a few clumps of rosemary on one corner of the bed next to a small brussles sprout seedling. In the next section of the raided bed we planted a few pieces of rubarb and finnel. In the center section we planted two varieties of lettuce sprouts and some parsley that had to be seperated out of clumps. Surrounding the lettuce and parsley we planted organic onions and garlic which would help keep out some pests including slugs. Frances will line the different section wih small pices of copper piping to also help keep the slugs away from her greens.I suggested also using egg shells to aid this same issue. Once we finished planting Frances offered to set me up on her bio-ressinance machine which she uses with patients to relive stress and better understand personal issues. It was a very interesting experience and I could definately tell the process was very useful. I  went through a simple frequency test which aquired information about the bodies flow and chakra balance as well as recording the DNA codes so that it can notice any irregularities. Later on I would be able to recieve treatment for any imbalances and give myself some understanding about any stress I am dealing with. Todays test gave a similar result to what I already knew about myself. I am in good health, yet I struggle with anxiety and neurological stress due to hyperactivity and excessive mental blocks. If I have beter control over my emotions and try to not worry over small issues I will easily be a much more balanced person, yet mental issues are always more difficult to solve than physical problems. I always find it hard to not think about the negative things and let my mind be at ease, especially without using some type of vice or meditative device. I can say a change in environment and physically being removed from daily stress gives me a great oppourtunity to find peace of mind even though I am naturally fearful of such a large change, I know experiences like this can only make one stronger.

After we chatted a bit about my results, I went for a walk in the forest and enjoyed a bit of self considerations out in the open mountain air. When I got back, Feargal had returned and Frances had left to visit Dublin for the night. Feargal and I began doing some landscaping with the areas we had cleared and some shrubs we needed to move. We transplanted a few evergreen shrubs from the upper hill near the bee hives down to the new gateway that had been indtalled and rearanged some trees in the lower garden to give a good balance with the new additions. As each hole was dug for a tree we would fill the hole wihth water to sofen the ground and then water the roots thuroughly as it was put in place. I added some more water to the vegetables I had put in earlier that day and then moved to plant the boxwood cuttings out of the potting shed and create a hedge in the area near the house we had worked out that morning. We arranged and planted over a hundred and fifty boxwoods along the wall for about an hour past dark with a large sitting log placed in the center.
Tomorrow I will fix some other areas to be prepared for planting some oak sapplings and start on the poly tunnel frame. I will also take time to go to the local tourist information center and use and international phone to make an appointment with the Kildare Immigration Office and prepare transport arrangements to my next host this coming Monday. I am down to the last four days at Knockanode and theres no way to get eveything done that we have started, but I do plan to return later this Spring when more Wwoofers are around to get even more work done and hopefully see more progress with the gardens and the house. It will be amazing to see all the trees and grounds in bloom during the long warm days. This has been a very buisy and eventful week, but I do see progress and any sress is quickly becoming nothing more important that the labor. Its a beautiful place and I have had an amazing time for my first month in Ireland.

Feargals cuttings

The Hedge garden

Bee Hives
 Progress on the poly tunnel area

 Feargal working on the Gates

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February 28

Yesterday every one was up and moving getting ready for various tasks of the day. Feargal was taking the shreader back up to Dublin and trading it for a small ton and a half escavator to redesign some shapes on the hillside and level out the area where we will build the poly tunnel. Frances and I were getting prepared to do some errands in the surrounding towns and go to the immigration office in Wicklow to finalize my visa. When I got to the Gaurdia Station I had to wait for the immigration officer to walk over from his house. He looked through my passport and immigration documents, questioning every detail about my stay and activities here in Ireland. He had never heard of Wwoof, nor the insurance agency affiliated with them. I had to leave the office while he called the National Embassy and the numbers provided for my different associations, then wait while he walked back home and got lunch to "mull it over". When he talked to me again he asked for more details about my insurance coverage and said he doupted the policy would be valid in Ireland. This ofcourse isn't so and I am covered through two agencies American and European which offers pleanty of coverage for a volunteer in my posistion. I had to contact the companies and get documents with my specific policy number and details as well as contacting the Wwoof and volunteer agencies to let them know the situation then return today to talk with the officer again.
When we got back to knockanode, Feargal had already started with the digger and was working on leveling out the hillside across from where the polytunnel would be. He would fill a few wheel barrows with the better dirt and I would push it down to the raised beds to start filling them. We worked past dark and filled the first bed along with half of the second. I was exhausted and out of breath from pushing and pulling the wheelbarrows for several hours, but we had gotten a lot done and would be ready to start sowing seeds any day. I spent some time at the pub instead of starting dinner so I could contact the insurance companies and get some extra documentaion together for the immigration officer. Feargal and I stayed up late talking about work and general topics while we watched some movies and drank a good amount of wine to destress. Time passed to quickly and it was past midnight by the time we made food, which Feargal made some amazing fish and chips cooked in lager. After eating I treated him to some Jameson, which he normally dosnt have, fixed with fresh cut strawberries. He wanted to wake up as early as possible to get back to work and  get as many jobs done wih the excavator that we could while we had it. Ofcourse niether of us got up before nine and missed a few good hours of the cool morning sun. I spent the first few hours filling the remainder of the beds with dirt, struggling because I had little energy and had skipped a breakfast. Frances had gone up to Dublin and did not return until the afternoon so I could not make it back to Wicklow to see the Immigration Officer. He would only be in the office for four hours today and would then be taking the rest of the week off. When I called him to let him know I had no ride, he assured me I could wait until I leave to go to Kildare for my next host and get everything sorted on the last day of my current visa. Im afraid it will be very stressful working out the situation, even though I have been approved by the National Embassy and all my documents are in line I will be sitting at the station in a town I've never been to before wieghed down with all of my belongings waiting for an appointment. The local officer told me everything was fine and I should not worry about my visa expiring, saying he should have just stamped me off the day before when I was there. I will also be a bit stranded once I get my visa approved until I get a hold of my next host and let them know I am ready to be picked up, since I won't know a specific time given waiting for an officer to look through my documents again and approve me could take a few hours or a few minutes.
This whole ordeal had been the first bit of stress I've had since I have been here. Nonetheless, I am sure everything will work out fine.
I had some food and got back to work moving limbs and rocks out of the way so Feargal could clear areas for other beds and gardens including the area where I will soon be tilling for potatoes. At one point, a track on the escavator came off when he was trying to move a boulder up a hillside. He called for me since I have some experience with those types of machines and we looked over how to get it back on. I wasn't sure at first because it wasn't the same brand 'kabota' I had been around which would tighten or loosen the track tension which the push of a lever. Feargal got a hold of the company he had rented the machine from to get details of how it went on, and I understood what the man was telling him. There was a pressure fixture pushing the front tack wheel in place, powered by grease which we would had to release to fit the track back on. I removed the grease fixture but the grease inside would not come out so I manually scraped it all out with some sticks, making a complete mess on my hands. We got it together and refilled the pressure bracket with a grease gun. Once that was worked out we spent the last few hours of light leveling some other areas and clearing out some old fencing to make room for additional raised beds. At dark I cleaned up and did some house work cleaning the kitchen and main room of my space. I am headed to the pub to work more details out about my immigration situation and try o get in touch with some friends. Tomorrow Feargal and I will try to get in two hours or so of last minute work with the digger before he returns it and I will travel to a local tourest information center to use a printer and an international phone, hopefully easing my mind about next Monday.


Yesterday and today we worked to mulch wood scraps gathered over the past five years on the edge of a field where Feargal and Frances would like to build a poly tunnel. There were severeal piles of wood of differen types including oak, cedar, hawthorn, and pine. We rented the shreader on friday and spent the first evening clearing the lower gateway where Feargal would be indstalling two large doors and then moved the machine up onto the hill to start early saturday morning for the area which we would build the polytunnel. I left my work on the raised beds behind, unfinished and needing reajustments to take on this new task in the final week of my stay here at Knockanode. Starting yeserday morning I woke around nine when the sun was up and joined Feargal for a cup of tea before I started mulching and he started arranging the doors, hinges, and bolts for the large gateway doors. It was a long day of feeding sticks and brush into the sheader only getting a break to help hold and measure the doors with Feargal, as he relied on my not so useful strength to help lift each of the very heavy frames onto thier hinges. By dusk we could see grea progress in the piles of yard rubbish and the doors hanging perfectly in place. We were both happy to see the straight lines and level of the doors, able to swing out without hitting the horizoltal tree in the drive way. As one would stand back looking at the gate, both circular attics of the house are visable through the curve of the gate only hinting to the beauty and balance of the property. It was the first evening since last saturday night that I felt my tiredness creaping up on me. The past two Fridays I have met up with a very interesting couple down in the local pub who have thier own piece of property equipt with gardens, ponds and poly tunnels, enjoying the chat of organic and sustainable issues between Ireland and America. They invited me to come see thier land and discuss some future crops and arrangements over dinner, which I will likely take them up on in the last days here in the area. In the evening I went to the pub to listen to some local music, but was dissapointed in the man singing. Every song seemed to sound similar to the previous, and did not seem too traditional considering he was covering artists such as Johnny Cash, and not very well at that. I chatted with a local gal which I have talked with many nights at the pub, but had left her waiting the night before since I was talking with the couple mentioned previous when I had offered her game of billards and drinks. I find myself some nights pulled between who I can talk with, every one having thier own interests and personalities, and me only being at the bar for a short time each evening. One day I might meet an Irish girl too interesting to keep myself from paying attenting to, but for now I am very focused on my work and experience rather than socializing.
Again this morning I got uo early and made my way up on the hill, starting where I had left off the night before. It was a good nine hour day, only taking time to eat some quick biscuits and drink a bit as Feargal wanted to get the most out of the machine before we returned it Monday morning. Mulching is not difficult work, but ver monontanous. I would hull a pile near the machine, directed to pile the mulch near the area for the tunnel, then spending hours putting wood, piece by piece into the large funnel. Most of the wood mulched easily, for the exeption of thick twisting vines and hawthorn branches. The hawthorn especailly would cause troubles. Full of large sharp thorns and resistant to breaking when being shaken by the cutter which all the other woods would quickly crack and be eaten. I ended ep buiding a pile of hawthorn alone, which I would worry about last with the last amount of petrol oil. If at any time I would try to shread a hawthorn branch or accidentally get one gathered in a bundle, I would end uo spending five to ten minutes forcing it through or pulling it back out. Nonetheless, come half past five or so, all the piles has been shreaded and many piles of mulch were ready to be spread and leveled for adding dirt and building frames. For the next week we have planned a lot of work including renting aa escavator and a rotavator to get both the potatoe field and the poly tunnels prepared for planting in march once I move on to another host. Tomorrow, Feargal will return the mulcher and request a digger for delivery as soon as possible. Until the  next machine arrives I will do my best to get the third raised bed put in place and ready to be filled. Once it arrives we will spend a long hard day between digging and moving the soil to the polytunnel site from a few areas where muck has been piled around the property. On Wednesday Feargal is needed in England for a funeral and I will likely spend the day rotavating and preparing an area for panting a stone of organic seed potatoes Frances has ordered. Thursday and Friday will be spent constructing the frame and beds for the polytunnel. Frances has found a design for a weather resistant poly tunnel which we all agree would be best, using available materials left over from rennovating the house, leaving only the plastic to be bought and installed next weekend.
The tunnel design we are considering is made of scaffolding boards and plastic water pipes. Old scaffolding piles will be used as steaks, deep in the ground and resistant to movement by wind and over bearing wight. Five foot scaffolding pipes are required to give a three foor straight sided tunnel, leaving room at each side for plant growth and working in the soil. Two steaks would be needed for every five foot of tunnel which we are looking at a near twenty five foot in length needing ten to fourteen steaks on both sides for the structure. Old eight foot scaffolding pipes are available on the property which can be cut to the needed five to sox foot lengths, us needing an extra amount of length because the top portion being mostly loose compost. The base of the frame will be reinforced with old floorboards and scaffoldiong boards which will hold back and hold in the soil on the sloped hill. On each side of the frame, platic water pipes will be attached and bent to create the rounded top of the tunnel. Two by four inch wooden planks will be screwed to the pipe at five points, bottom middle and center or the piping to provide support for the plastic covering. For secure fittings we will file down any difference and bolt the pipe tighly to the steaks to resits wind or snow weight in heavy storms. Since the most pertenant time of year for these tunnels will be winter when the other beds are frozen, crops will need to be proected from possible heavy snow, rains and fierce winds which would normally turn a greenhous structure to rubble. Come the final days we will focus on building doorways and attaching the plastic cover, having a tunnel nearly ready for planting. we will build beds slightly raised on boh sides of a central path, which will likley be lowered as the wood materials below them decompose. Each end of the tunnel will have a small door, about six foot in heigth with an outward opening vent above the doorways. two paths will lead to either door, but only one may be left open, the other will have a table blocking it for use of potting and such within the tunnel. An extra amount of scaffoding will be added to the outside of the frame holding the soil and the steaks in place, likely building up the dirt around the tunnel so the ground will be lower on one side than he other on the slope. Once the beds have been buil within the fram and the tunnel completed wih plastic, trellises and small plants will be installed for the summer, mostly consiting of root cultured crops until cold weather sets back in. Vegetables such as onions, turnips and carrots may be the best option for starting in the fresh mulch of this tunnel. Later these crops will be replaced with summer crops grown in the fall sun, mostly growing herbs, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumber type crops needing protection from frost while other areas are used for lettuce and kale type crops.
Poly tunnels are often used for extending grow seasons in colder climates. Fruit and berries work well in most situaions but more common food crops lik cool weather brassicas and potatoes would do well here in Ireland. In the off season, when crops are not being produced, the tunnels can be used to over winter samll animals or wood cuttings. Since Knockanode would like to have an amount of chickens, the tunnels would be a perfect place for gathering poultry manure over a few months wile winter wheats are produced elsewhere and the other beds are inhabitable.
We are looking at a long hard week to get everything in place and I will likely be working many eight to ten hour days until I leave. This will not be undeserved at all, being a welcoming place for shelter and food at any ime I spend in Ireland. Tomorrow will be yet another early morning wih lots to do, but tongiht will end early given the past few nights we have celebrated good work and stayed up later than we should. I will be updating progress on the beds and polytunbel each day between the ecasvation and frame work until the work is completed a week from now. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

February 24, Mulching

Yesterday I spent the day catching up on work on the raised beds. I had driven the steaks the day before and prepared planks to be attached together by screws. I had to take time to tear apart more crates to have enough wood to complete the front portions which I wanted to have straight and same sized lines for good appearance. Once finished, each bed is littered with organic materials such as eggs shells and fruit peels, then covered with top soil and mulch. I had started early in the morning so I could finish earlier than usual and catch up with housework. I started a load of laundry and cleaned a good amount of dishes. I had been asked to keep up with the fire in the main house through the day as Frances had come back in with a friend and they enjoyed the warmth while they talked. Some freinds had been invited over to dicuss current politics and issues such as hydro fracing and changing climates. It was a good meeting of minds and I learned some new facts about alternative healing. One great remedy I have picked up for most ailments such as over acidic stomach is taking a dose of six cherries each day along with lemon infused water to create an alkaline environment in the body, also preventing the growth of cancers and stomach liesions. Last night I spent time back at the local pub discussing ideas of alternative energy in Ireland. Windmills and solar panels are becoming more popular, as well as old fashioned mills on streams. I heard discussion of using the hilltops that are covered in rows of pine, now unusable for agriculture to be cleared an set with wind mills. The constant breeze would provide enough energy production for all the houses in a small village. The wind mill design I have seen used here uses a vertical spiral rather than a tubine.
Today I rised early again and moved several potted cuttings of local hedges and oak seedlings into the potting shed I had cleared out the week before. There were several hundred sprouts prepared by Feargal as he plans to one day surround the boarder of the property with them once they have grown for four or five more years. An area in the garden will be set aside where the small trees will be allowed to grow and then transplated as needed. Once I was finished moving the plants I went for a quick lunch knowing Feargal would arrive soon with a large mulcher, but did not start soon enough as he came before I had a chance to start cooking. I had had a good sized bowl of porage earlier so this was no stress. We unloaded the larch shreader at the lower entrance of the gate where yard clippings and dead trees had been stacked the summer before by other Wwoofers. The machine would mulch anything up to three inches in diameter, but would clog if anyhing to wet or thick was put in. It was clogged quickly given some of the old materials were covered in wet pine neddles and still too green, but once we learned these wouldn't shread well and kept to the drier wood I becan to make good progress. As I cleared an area of the larger material, Feargal gathered the rest with a shovel into bags to fill the holes behind the nearby wall. After about four and a half hours of mulching, and about a tank of petrol gas we had cleared the gateway of mostly everything. We reloaded the very large and heavy piece of equiptment into his truck and moved it up on the hill the several more piles of rubble were stacked. The mulch made by these piles would be used to level out the area at the bottom of a grassy field where we would build frames for poly tunnels. As well as keeping the weed growth back in the garden area, mulches will hold in moisture and insulate the roots. Having a good amount of soil over the top soil will prevent the movement of soil pathogens by water splashing onto leaves. The mulch we make will be low in nutrients and mostly carbon out of the wood. Plants will need to be sowed below the mulch region so that roots can reach the soil and compost that has been put in place. The mulch will need to be kept from holding excess moisture and rotting, causing posible decay of the crops. As well, it will be necessary to watch for the growth of rhizome type weeds which will spread quickly and growing pest populations that thrive in woody materials. The addition of newspapers and cloth materials will likely prevent these issues. We rented the mulcher for one day, but will have it through the weekend, getting as much use out of it as we can in that time. Since I took about three days to myself the past weekend to travel into Dublin, I will be up early tomorrow and work through Sunday to clear all the wood. I have one week left in Knockanode come Monday and then I will be on my way to The Burtown House in Kildare. There is a lot to do this week, including rotavaing and finishing the different jobs, like the raised beds I have started. I can only hope I will learn as much and enjoy my time as I have here. The Burtown House will be a much larger estate with much more workers and family members around. If for any reason I feel the need, I am welcome back here with much more work to be done. Tomorrow I will look at poly tunnle designs usable in our designated area. Premade poly tunnels are available but expensive, so we will likely build frames out of more crates and bent metal bars which the plastic can be attached. We must prepare the beds first and then contruct the tunnels before planting within them. So much work is still left before we are ready for the first plantings. Tonight is a cool but clear night. I'll likely enjoy my whiskey on the roof with Feargal watching for shooting stars as I have been the past few nights.

Cleared this wall of wood debris

Made this much Mulch

The gateway entrace, once the wooden gate is put up with this horizontal tree growing above to drive under.
And this is the view of the house with Feargals attic windows completed. The top layer of scaffolding will come down any day. Its really quite the sight.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

21st Birthday in Dublin

Ive had some very buisy days this past weekend, and almost no time or internet connection to update. Theres more information and details than I could really write up at this point, already being days behind. On Sunday, I ried to enjoy sleeping in, bu the weather was too nice. I got up and enjoyed walking around the nearby woods wih Feargal as he checked a few spots he considers points of entry to the property. He had been asked by his wife, Katie to come into Dublin and spend the day with her and the kids. He offered me a lift down and a place to stay rather than me going through the hassle of making it to Rathdrum to catch a train and worry about finding a hostle to spend the night. Honestly, I was doupting I would even go through all that and considered just staying in the local pubs at Rathdrum if I would be on my own. With Feargal's generous offer, we headed North just after noon. I started my journey with a few drinks and a short jam session on my mandolin to raise my already high spirit. From their place just out of Dublin I was able to catch a tram called Laus into the center of the city. Feargal had told me about a local tour bus company called hop on hop off, which allows one to pay for a two day ticket and go through the guided tour, being able to get on or off at any of the twenty sights for personal adventuring. I felt more confident in simply using the tram and walking the streets with my tour book to guide me to some interesting sights. First I spent some time wandering North Dublin with is less touristy and more like a small town in itself crammed with shops, pubs and resturaunts. I first bought a watch so I could keep time and make it back to the tram for the last trip out of town later that night. I spent a few hours just walking and enjoyed a slice of hot pizza at a tiny sop called Papas Pies. Then around three I caught the tram down to The Old Jameson Distillery, which I can only assume would be my favorite whiskey, and such a tour would be the best way to celebrate my 21st birthday on my own. I wandered the outside of the distillery and the gift shop while I waited for the last tour of the day, shortly after four. I made my way to the bar, stocked with nothing but walls of Jameson, and ordered a distillery special Irish coffee. The bartender poured two measures of Jameson into a glass and mixed that with a helping of brown sugar and lemon juice. Then she filled the rest with strong black coffee, topping it with steamed cream. The drink only costed as much as a beer and tasted better than any coffee I've ever had. I even considered grabbing a second before the tour began. When the crowd went to the first room to watch a video about John Jameson and his legacy I made sure to be in the front row, taking notes on every detail about what makes this spirit different from other Irish, American, and Scotish whiskeys. As we began the walk through, the tour guide explained that eight volunteers would be offered an oppourtune whiskey tasting at the end, chosen depending of interest and excitement to be in the distillery. I will likely devote an entry later on to explain the several steps in roasting, fermenting triple distilling the barley which makes the drink so smooth and tasteful at a time when I don't have as much to write about. At the end of the walk through, when he offered small green tubes to the crowd for the whiskey tasting and nearly everyone raised their hands, I was the first to recieve one. The guide said I was one of the most bright eyed and entergetic guy he had seen come through all day. I recieved my complemetary Jameson and ginger ale mix and was seated at a table set with eight places, each having three shots of varried whiskeys and a glass of water. We were guided through a taste comparison of Johnny Walker Black Label, Jack Daniels Single Barrel and Jameson  18 Year Reserve. I found the Johnny walker quite smoothe and dry, very similar to the Jameson, yet the Jameson had a distinct roasted vanilla taste that enveloped the senses which won my choice. The Jack Daniels was too sweet for my taste and did not swallow as well as the others. I recieved a certificate with my name and birth date claiming I was a certified distillery whisley taster, something Ill likely frame and place with my own expanding collection of Jameson bottles. After I finished my drinks and purchased a bottle of 12 year distillery reserve only available at that location as a gift to myself I headed back into the main part of town for dinner. I went to a resturaunt called "The Church', which is a name that's significant to me. It was an old temple that had been redesigned into several levels of loungess, pubs and a high class resturaunt. The seater told me the house was full of resevations for the night, but some tables were free as long as I could be finished with my meal within two hours. I ofcourse took the seating, which was the only single table in he resturaunt. the table was set under the old expansive pipe organ with a string quartet playing right beside it. I got myself a 10 ounce sirloin, musculin house salad and a glass of Australlian Siraz Cabernet. The meal was perfect. I really enjoy taking myself out on dates, spending a bit of money and taking the time to enjoy my peacful thoughts. As soon as I left The Church, I headed directly into temple bar, passing several street preformers as I crossed the Rive Liffey. I went to the Temple Bar pub, which had two stages of traditional Irish music and started on rounds of Guiness. I started a conversation with an interesting German fellow with a very uniqe instrument he was hoping to play at the next oppourtunity. We chatted about politics and agriculture differences between our home countries and how Ireland had its own individuality about it. His friend, Michael carried on the conversation as I enjoyed my brews, and I missed getting to see the intersting instrument being played because of my distraction in political talk. Later on I made my way to the center stage to watch a guitar and accordian duet play some reconizable songs while talking with a group of French men. Come half past ten, I resilliantly left the pub and made my way to the Laus, feeling the wieght of the several pints hit me as I waited for my stop. On the tram I talked with yet another couple about my agriculture experience and travels through the country. I had started to realize how americanized and politically controlled that Dublin really was, and was missing the peace I had found back in Wicklow. I slept well in the house next to Feargal and Katies which they normally rented out and met them in the morning for a bit of tea and toast. I went back into Dublin around eleven to catch as many other sights as I could, this time starting in the tourist area of temple bar, exploring all the various shops. I stopped in a small pub for lunch where I  got an Irish coffee with a plate of traditional fish and chips. The meal was too hot and very greasy, but was nontheless very good. I visited the local wax museum, that was itself very American, and the National Museums of architecture and art. There I chatted with a redhaired girl from Trinity college named Sue about several pieces of work. She told me she often visited the gallery to get peace from the fast paced class scheduel and contemplate the ancient work which showed images of the lands before war and buisness corrupted it. She invited me to join her at a nearby pub and dance club where she was meeting some friends for drinks. The club, O'Sherrys, was a drink bar with a few counters and a large open floor where several kids were dancing and singing to a Mumford and Son's record playing loudly on the speakers. I had a pint and continued chatting with some kids my age as Sue asked me to dance and afterwards bought me a cheap glass of some Irish Whiskey I didn't recognize. I really enjoyed the music that I new nearly every word to and the dancing which was very different from that back home. I left the dance club and made my way to the outter part of the city to the Guiness Storehouse which I was told by several people was a great tour. The storehouse was built to resemple a giant pint glass and had serveral floors laid out in a self tour fashion exploring every aspect of brewing and selling the world famous stout. The op floor was a pub called the Gravity Bar which overlooked all of Dublin in several directions. It was not a clear day, but I could still see an amazing view of the skyline. Personally, I am not a fan of Guiness outside of Ireland where the taps are inspected weekly for balance of gases and cleanliness for a perfect pour. Back home, bottled Guiness does not stand up to micro breweries and locally made stouts. I enjoyed my visit to the Jameson Distillery more than the Guiness, given seeing the home of Jameson was almost a type of pilgrimage to me. After my complementary pint of Guiness, I made my way back to the tram, exhausted from a long day of on my feet and stopped at a small pub called The Boars Head I recalled my brother Ryan telling me was one of his favorites. There I enjoyed three more pints and a dish of seasoned chips while I conversed with the local crowd about that days news. After that I couldn't do any more, being almost sick of the crowds, buildings and concrete. I considered a trip back to Temple Bar for a pub crawl or back to the O'sherrys where I had been told would be a great party, but my legs wouldn't have it. I instead joined Feargal back at his place for a bottle of red wine and more conspiracy talk. The two days in Dublin were truely memorable, but I was deperate to get back to the Vale of Avoca where the air was clean and silent. I find it hard to understand how anyone can stand going in and out of the concrete forest when such beauty is only miles outside all its walls and traffic lights. The next day, Feargal, Frances, little Duncan, and I drove back down to Wicklow, where I started back to work. I loved having the muck back under my finger nails. I got to work on the raised beds I had left unfinished a few days before. After the first box, which was jsut cladding planks I had broken apart from the old crates to the sides of the already built frames, I was beuilding my own frames out of three inch steakes and attaching planks between them. After taking out the section of sod I would level out the soil for the area and set one box at the level and build my frame of steaks off of that. The last few boxes will be built completely of steaks with out any divisions. I can fit up to seven beds in the area, but it's unlikely Ill have enough time given there are other big jobs to move on to in my final week. I am now done with two out of the four beds and have steaks prepared to finish the others. The weather forcast called for three clear days Wednesday through Friday, but heavy showers last night proved them wrong. Today was very rainy and muddy with slow work. I had to wear a rain jacket all day because it never let up and the power even gave out. But progress is progress and it won't be long before we are ready to start filling them with top soil and planting. Once I finish them tomorrow or Friday, Ill start preparing the area where we will grow the potatoes with a mulcher and rotovator. The workl may not end, but my time here in Knockanode will, and Ill probably spend every day doing what I can to have everything in line.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday, February 18

Its cold weather here now. Got hit today with an short ice storm. I have been working to cut out the sod and prepare areas for the raised beds so that I can spend time mostly putting them together. But tonight I am feeling more tired than usual and am looking forward to my bed. Yesterday evening I met some great people interested in sustainable agriculture and a more humane culture. There will be music tonight at the pub, but its unlikely I'll stay around long enough to enjoy it. I got to talk to my mother and a few close friends through skype today and it has lifted my already high spirits. Tomorrow is my 21st birthday and I plan to travel to a nearby town or possibly up to Dublin to go to Temple Bar.
Given it is a weekend night and I am just to tired to continue writing for now, I will update the details of my work and travels come Monday evening.
Feargal and I took a stroll through the woods this morning with our tea as we cleared our heads of the drinks last night, Us both having a few too many. He showed me this area where he has spread the seed of the Irish blue bells each year, going farther every Spring. Also he told me more about the nature spirits which live throughout the woods and these white stones that are left by them as a gesture of thanks or where they would want a miniature house built. some of them appear in strange places like under moss or on a tree, in areas where such rocks would not naturally fall.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Second Friday at Knockanode

Today was just as uneventful as yesterday. I woke up staring at an eight legged visitor crawling on the wall above my head. Its eyes fixed seemed me. Immediately I jumped up and watched the critter went towards the window as I was wrapped up a blanket, it still being quite early and cold in my unheated room. I fought the want to fall back to sleep, afraid the damn thing would sneak out of sight. I chased it out a crevice near the window and cleared every web I could find, as I waited for tea and porrage to cook. Feargal did not wake and start moving for another hour or so, when I met him next door on the roof to help him with roofing tiles. Then I headed downstairs where we measured the larger window I was to install, noticing it was the correct size if I would be able to clear the groove in which it would fit. Ofcourse, with such a tight fit in the wall, I needed to cut out a section on the top with the kango so that the frame could be placed in the correct position. The angle I had to cut was more than awkward, the hole being 58-60 inches, the ceiling at the level of my eyes. I either had to kneel and lift the hammer about my head, or bend my back so that my head wasnt pressed against the concrete as I held it and cut away stone. Once I had cleared a few iches, an my arms were burning, we attempted fitting the frame. Ofourse, we quickly realized I'd have to cut away the top portion twice what I already had, spending the next hour or so straining as the hammer shook over my head turning away from the debris that sprayed towards me. The second attempt hit only one or two tiny notches that had to be cut for the pane to fit, my aggrivation at this point overwhelming the idea of lifting the hammer for another hour. The third time I lifted and placed the window in on my own, not wanting to disturb Feargal from his work on the roof three stories above me, and luckily the frame slid perfectly in place. I staped in to the metal work and drilled its anchors into the wall, feeling very satisfied that I had accomplished the task. I had my lunch near four o clock, as usual, and continued to level and secure the window. I was able to spend the last hour of light reading into my Organic Agriculture text for a good while and planning out a crop rotations which I discussed with Feargal as he finished and came looking for me.
Tomorrow is calling for a possible clear sky, which I plan to be out early to dig as get a good foot up on the raised beds. Frances, Katie and the kids may be coming into Wicklow tomorrow, and I'd love for them to see all the progress me and Feargal have made between the gardens and the windows/roof the past two weeks. Sunday will likely be an easy and laid back day of drinking and chatting while preparing a roasted lamb and fresh vegetable meal. I find myself missing friends and family along with the simplicity of home when it comes to a birthday. Although, I look forward to catching up on sleep and relaxation for a day given I will finally be 21, likely shared with new friends and a fresh bottle of Jameson.

A best of friends sent me this, making my evening.

"I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will."
-Henry David Thoreau

Crop Rotations

One important aspect of Organic and sustainable farming in either large or small scale is crop rotation or the movement of crops year to year to maintain favorable conditions. According to the text that we used in Dr. Bryans Organic Agriculture class, "Organic Agriculture: A Global Perspective" there is a given list of benifits gained by crop rotations which includes improvement of soil fertility and amount of organic matter, control of pests and weeds, and a supply of animal feed and nitrogen symbiotic species to reduce non organic inputs. Not allowing a crop to be grown in the same area of soil for more than two years prevents the accumulation of semi-mobile pests and reduces the primary or secondary innoculum of pathogens. Management of time between various tasks such as weeding and picking off insects may also increase small farm production by spending more time in each plot rather than focusing on one area while others are overgrown. The use of legumes, weather forage or grain, allow a build up of nitrogen in the soil which can then be depleated following years by more demanding crops. This is an alternative to the conventional application of artificial fertilizers to replace what is taken out by each crop that is grown subsequently year after year in a mono-crop system. The addition of cover crops and green manures also give the availabilty of mulches and animal feed on the farm rather than needing outside inputs. The use of specific crops such as clover may also prevent the build up of disease and fungal pathogens when rotated with susceptiable crops. Undersowing, or growing a smaller crop in the same area as another may reduce the amount of weeds while still providing competition for light and root growth. The annual movement of crops may as well reduce the need for rotovation and soil aeration as left over plant materials and organic matter will maintain a positive top soil condition. 
Within the raised beds that are being constructed now, Frances would like to grow mostly cash crops for food rotated with different legumes and grass crops for healthy nutrient and disease management. If the lowest bed starts the rotation with a mix of legumes, likely beans or peas, they can be succeeded in the next plot by tomatoes and peppers which are more nutrient demanding crops. The other two beds can be sown with grain or oats and a root crop such as beets of carrots. Within the divisions of the beds we would like to rotate undersown crops, or crops that can be grown at the same time as the main crop to prevent weeds or to provide a cover crop on its own. The mixture of different crops which are able to be grown together allows root competition with each other rather than with unwanted weeds. These crops could include sunflowers, clover-grass mixtures, lettuce and select varieties of herbs. Arranging the placement of crops between the beds according to common heights would also be benificial to provide competition for light, often icreasing yields. Each year these plots will be amended with manure or compost as well as green manures grown elsewhere and shreeded plant materials as a mulch. If the family is able to raise poultry for eggs, a mobile fence can be constructed to allow the birds to litter a plot when it contains grass or cover crops allowing a build up of nitrogen every few years.
In another area of the property, we may be able to construct additional beds that can be arranged to grow green manures or grain crops that will be included in the rotation, but may not be used for main food crops. The grow season is short in the area and production of maize or demanding wheat crops may not be useful for yearly yeilds or food production, but would help maintain nutrients and soil structure in rotation with annual crops. Inclusion of the grass and clover mixture would be vital to help maintain fungal pathogens and semi mobile disease. The area in which Feargal plans to raise young deer can be planted with a mixture of green manures such as oats, buckwheat, vetch, and other grains that will also be used as feed for the herd.
For the field that will be used for potatoe production, it would be benificial to divide the area into ateast four plots that can be rotated yearly or biannually. Potatoes, clover-grass mix, beans, and oats would be four suitable crops to use in this rotation. Potatoes would be sown after the  clover-gras mixture has been grown followed by oats or another grain that may be used for animal feed and then the beans. This rotation would hold even beter nutrient management if a winter crop such as wheat barley or rye were grown on a fifth plot between the oats and beans as a green manure or cover crop.
Other natural crops are raised surrounding these areas such as orchard and ornamental trees or different herbaceous species used as hedges. Natural ferns and grasses grow prevelently where the soil is undisturbed for a period of time which shows the condition of the topsoil to be able to hold its fertility and good structure. Most of the soils are a clay and silt mixture often having sand added for aeration. The Ph is commonly good for crop production, not needing lime or acidic substances added. Weeds are prevelent in any cultivated area and need to be cut back as often as possible to prevent loss of nutrients. Any weed that is allowed to grow without notice would need to be cut before it reaches a seed producing stage that would then create an outbreak of the weed the following year. The yearly rotations of the various crops will keep any semi-mobile pests or nemotodes from building up in the soil and preventing sustainable yields. Although a plan will be designed for the plots we are building at Knockanode, a full rotation may not be put into place until the following year with the use of pre-crops to increase soil conditions, allowing time for proper rotovation and sowing any winter crops later this season. Now we are mainly preparing beds and filling them with topsoil from higher up on the hillside to be used for a small amount of crops this grow season.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thursday, February 17

I was woke this morning by Feargal, noticing that I had slept in later than most days. I had been talking with him late the night before about the new friends and a girl I had met at the pub as well as discussing the subject of cannabis reform back home and how effectively new laws might work for the people.  I was feeling sick as I woke with mild congestion and a sour stomach and did not wake to the radio or sounds that I normally do. I did not feel good enough for anything but a cup of tea and felt the bug weighing on me as I drug myself out of the house. The weather was calling for rain and cold winds so Feargal had offered me work indoors installing a few windows that I had cleared out a few days before. After cleaning the areas of rumble and carrying the heavy panes up from the lower level I began measuring and figuring which frame would go where. One hole had to be set with brick before a window could be installed, one was too large to handle alone and the third was one inch taller than the hole that was there. I had to use the kango, or small jack hammer to cut out an extra inch of concrete off the sill, working from the outside on the scaffolding. After my groove was cut, Feargal helped me wedge the window in place only to realize the top was uneven and had to be leveled before the pane would fit. I worked to cut the corners of the groove deeper and smooth the edges of the concrete frame with a hammer and chisel. As we attempted placing the window in again, we could tell it was still too tight to get it in safely and I went back to the hammer this time making sure the groove was more than needed and every lump or corner in the concrete was broken out of the way. At this point heavy rain had hit the area and dark was coming fast. The third attempt was successful, but the pane sat unlevel from how deep I had made the groove. I worked another hour and a half past dark with Feargals assistance to get the fixtures drilled and attached for a stabel frame. With every small task we found difficulty because of poor lighting and granite laid only inches into the wall making it hard to attach screws. It was a day absent of "organic" work, but I was free from the rain and muck atleast. Tomorrow I will likely be working on another window which we noticed is also larger than the hole we have to fit it in. I plan to take some time to atleast read and do some planning for the bedding area and a rotation I can start them with in the next week. Frances and I have discussed using the available space for common vegetables such as peas, beans, tomatoes and peppers, with onions, herbs, and lettuce sown between the main crops. One bed is divided into four boxes and the other two or three beds will be mostly undivided. I can use any divisions for different cultivars and to attach a trellis system. An area farther up the hill will be cleared and mulched to be used for potatoes and vine type crops. Also we will set up an area were young deer can be caught and raised for meat as well as a goat that will be tied to posts and allowed to clear the brush. The next warm day I will be planting herbs and small  ornamentals for Frances who is occupied in Dublin sorting out insurance and a new vehicle. I preffer being in th muck getting my hands dirty rather than working with a hammer on the concrete, but the poor weather does restrict me to what work is available. I pray atleast tomorrow, if I am installing another window, that it goes in on the first attempt and I can get back to the field. I would like to use my next update discussing crops and rotations that I can use for food production in a small household rather than the frustrations of being kept inside. Until then, all those who are reading, Go raibh míle maith agat!
I started this morning later than I have the other days this week, and got to work organizing the remaining clutter in the potting shed. Frances had asked me to cut a table to fit inside the autoclauve to be used as a shelf for storage since they had no use for it as a sterilizer. I sawed the legs in half and cut off a few inches on each side so the old table would fit inside, moving it in at an angle to go through the door of the large metal cabinet. As I disturbed the cobweb filled sterilizer a large spider fell from a corner, spooking me. I chased it into a far corner to be out of my way and continued. As I was banging the legs downward to slide into position another spider came crawling from the bottom, going across my hand that was sitting on the edge, sending a shiver down my spine. I knocked that one out of the autoclauve to the floor of the potting shed and watched it scurry away out of view. My arachnaphobia at this point is starting to kick in and I could feel my chest getting tight with a heavy heartbeat as I told myself it would be irrational to be afraid of the creatures. I've always been nervous about spiders, feeling very uneasy about how they move and see, being a tiny vicious predator always aware and ready to strike. Back home we have wolf spiders which can grow to a few iches with a large bulb of an abdomen covered in hairs and visable fangs. These were similar in size, but had distinct stripes across its back and longer legs. I do not know the species, could be the same as those at home, but I do not have much of an interest to find out. At this point I just wanted to get the pots and tools stored in the large, arachnid filled cabinet and get out of that shed. I could still feel the senstion of the legs going over my hand, makings me shiver and move quickly to speed up the process. Then as I was placing a pan full of plant tags back into the cabinet, yet another, or maybe one of the previous returning for its revenge came crawling into view, where my fingers had been a moment before. This was the final straw. I could invision every leg moving in perfect balance, the eyes staring at me, and the fangs moving as if it was considering its attack. I have no issue dealing with bugs, snakes, sharks, scorpions, centepedes or any other fearsome creep, (I would even prefere taking on a hoard of Nazi zombies) but I can not handle spiders. Not at all. Ofcourse I also find it imoral to kill one of Gyas creatures soley because I am fearful of it. Needless to say, this was the end of working in the potting shed that day for me. I rejoined my stomach and my breath far away up on the hillside wear I would be tearing apart crates. I spent the next several hours trying to think of less hairy issues and listening to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers sing about lemon trees on murcury, angels smoking dust and sexy girls with names like Tugboat Shellia.
I collected the planks I had taken apart and carried them to the raised bed area. I spent what hours of light I had left leveling out the ground and removing sod. Feargals son, Duncan, who was only four years old, would walk up and sit patiently watching as I worked while his father was working with window frames on the roof. Duncan was on holiday from school and loved spending as much time as possible with his father  in the country at Wicklow, rather than thier house in Dublin. When it came time for waching up and making my dinner, I started watching a dvd Feargal had given me called insiduous, which is a haunted house story, and a very creepy one at that. I actually found it difficult to finish my plate, even though it was my favorite dish of lemon garlic chicken, fresh salad, soup, and potatoes with oinions and peppers. I joined Feargal and Frances before I headed to the pub to return the movie and chat a bit when I found out that Frances had been in a car wreck earlier this afternoon. She was coming around a bend down off the hill when a fox or a minx had run in front of her and she swerved into the ditch. She was okay but the vehical was nearly totaled. She was a bit shaken up from it all, which I can very well relate to, but this was her first crash even at her age. There are few posted speed limits in the area, and where there is, hardly anyone respects it, making it unbelievable that wrecks do not happen on a more regular basis. Again, this is something I am used to, being that every one back home drives as if there is a prize for passing every other car at high speed on the way to thier destionations.
As for tomorrow, I plan to begin assembling the second raised bed, having the ground cut and leveled and the wood laid out in preparation. There could be difficulty with the vehicle issue, Frances having most of her personal belongings in her car while the house is being refurbished and it being the means of transport to travel into town for errands and gathering food.  The internet connection has been down today, and will be another day or so before it is repaired, keeping me from being in contact with family and friends or updating this blog. But this is little concern again with the sun shinning and temperatures rising. I will have more than plenty of tasks to fill the time.
These are different fews from the field where I spend my days. Wicklow mountains in the backround remind me of home.