Farm Ireland
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Sunday 4 December 2016

A bittersweet feeling as autumn beckons to us

Joe Barry

Published 19/08/2015 | 02:30

Autumn splash: Hillside grazing
Autumn splash: Hillside grazing

The onset of autumn always brings with it a bittersweet feeling.

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The shortening hours of daylight and hint of coolness in the air tell us that soon we will be donning heavier clothing and lighting fires for long evenings spent indoors.

Late autumn and winter are not all bad of course as they provide a chance to catch up on reading all those books we hadn't time to enjoy during the busy summer months.

There is something magical about sitting at a warm hearth when rain and wind batter against the window panes.

Getting up from a cozy fireside to gaze out at fields covered in white frost or even snow is another of winter's pleasures.

All of this is of course a good few months away and there is a lot to do in the meantime including ensuring that the crops are safely collected and stored.

My son tells me that already the orders are coming in fast for wood fuel, a great relief after the slow months of summer.

Only a few years ago, when we had heavy snow and roads were treacherous, he was delivering around one Dublin housing estate and told me that people were coming out of houses in dressing gowns, pleading for even one bag of logs.

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As the saying goes "It's an ill wind that blows nobody good".

Autumn is the "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" so famously described by John Keats who ended his lovely poem with "And gathering swallows twitter in the skies".

It was the gathering swallows and house martens that caught my attention at the end of July and while their departure is an annual unstoppable event, I could not help thinking "Please, don't go just yet".

There is much to enjoy during autumn, not least the glorious colours of the leaves as they turn from green to gold with multiple tinges of red, ochre and finally brown.

By mid-August the harvest will be well underway and once September arrives, it will be time to dig root crops and begin to store them for the winter.

We used to construct pits and line them with straw for carrots, parsnips and the essential potatoes. They kept remarkably well considering this was a system that dated back over a thousand years but nowadays, with modern cold storage facilities available, apart from the labour involved, perhaps earthen pits seem a bit outdated.

At this point I should be writing optimistically about the coming fruit harvest and describing my two small orchards, laden with apples, pears, damsons and plums.

Unfortunately, the late frost in May this year followed by a very dry June did serious damage that left us with approximately one tenth of the fruit we had last year.

I have no pears and a tiny number of plums ripening but a few of the apple trees, possibly because they flowered later, should deliver a worthwhile crop.

I have tried various methods of storing apples, none with any great success, so a small harvest is no great disaster and all will be used when ready.

The soft fruits have fared better and the blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and raspberries have all produced large crops which are either eaten fresh or made in to jams or frozen for later use.

Checking the fruit trees and vegetables in the garden reminded me of our local agricultural show, an annual event I always look forward to. The Royal Meath Show takes place this year on September 6 and is held in what must be one of the best show grounds in Ireland at Porchfields, Trim. Agricultural shows give us the opportunity to compare our livestock and garden produce against that of our neighbours and at Trim there is something for everyone, with numerous horse and pony classes, a flower show and everything from ducks and chickens to handwriting competitions.

Home grown veg and poultry keeping have enjoyed a great revival in recent years as has the demand for more naturally produced food.

This has in turn led to an increased interest in seeing how others do it and with luck, perhaps receiving a prize for one's own produce.

Thanks to increased sponsorship there are some very lucrative prizes this year, especially in the vegetable sections so why not give it a go.

Showing is great fun and as the saying goes, if you're not in, you can't win.

Entries for Trim close on August 21 and entry forms can be downloaded from the website www.trim-show.com

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