Tuesday, February 28, 2012


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. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The case for polytunnels might be stronger if they were called “porta-tunnels”, and this reminds me that you can get moveable ones, which have wheels, and you can also get strange half-tunnels that lower into conventional cloche position. poly tunnels