Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

Barefoot walking around a garden in luxuriant bloom

Garden designer Fiann O Nuallain.
Garden designer Fiann O Nuallain.
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Farmers are always on the lookout. When they go into someone else's yard they will always walk around, peering in over doors and under lids.

Actually, I often think one of the reasons farmers have high jeeps and drive them steadily around the countryside is so that they can get a good view of what is going on in the neighbours' fields. Peering in at the livestock to see what breeds they have and in the tillage fields to see what weeds they have.

But mostly this is not out of wanton nosiness or even unrestrained competitiveness. They are on the lookout for ideas and information. The practical challenges that farmers face are often similar though each situation is unique. What will work for one won't for another or may with some modification. So they are always collecting info and digesting it.

Last week, we went to the zoo.

As we walked around, the girls were slagging Robin about how the various monkeys were his relations but he protested that he was "related only by marriage." By the way, the new sea lion cove where the colony can be viewed through glass swimming underwater is stunning.

Anyway, next thing, himself excitedly called us over. Turns out he was looking at the ring-tailed lemurs and what was getting him so excited was what they were munching on - lettuce. He had discovered a new outlet for his burgeoning lettuce surplus.

With lettuce, it's a famine or a feast. At the start of the growing season, planting plenty of seeds may seem a good idea. Sure everybody loves a bit of fresh lettuce, eh? Maybe, but there is only so much lettuce that an individual can account for in any one life.

Growth was slow early on but it's all coming fit right now and, at the moment, we figuratively have lettuce coming out our ears. And there is more coming on behind, rapidly. It's got to the point that people are nearly afraid to visit in case they be sent went away laden with mixed salad leaves and radishes.

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But, really, they don't need to worry, nor do the lemurs, because the new hens which we got some weeks back, are now busy popping out eggs and are also doing a good job of keeping the lettuce down.

Robin has sown a lot of vegetables this year. It gives him a bit of peace. It saves him for fighting for the remote in the sitting room and being given jobs to do if he ventures into the kitchen. So, every evening at the moment, he is watering and weeding.

The garlic has bolted and, for some reason, the rhubarb has been a disaster. Otherwise things look more positive. The onions and red onions are

doing well, as are the carrots and parsnips. The fruit bushes look to be laden with fruit though they have a long way to go yet.

Strawberries are a bit later than normal, ripening slower and do not look like they will match the bumper crop of last year but they are absolutely delicious.

I am interested in growing some more useful stuff in the garden and, at Bloom, even went as far as to buy Fiann Ó Nualláin's book entitled Beauty Treatments from the Garden. After all, what woman doesn't want to look as fresh as possible?

So, other than the good ageing genes (which I don't have) and eating lots of natural foods (which I try to do), I believe we should be minimising the amount of chemicals we consume.


Unfortunately, the only progress I have made so far is implementing his tip to walk barefoot around the grass, something I have scarcely done since I was a child. It sounded a bit hippy-ish to me, and I am not at all hippy-ish, but I have done it a handful of times and been pleasantly surprised at how good it makes me feel.

Fiann says it alleviates problems with static electricity and I am someone who regularly gets a "zing" off supermarket trollies, metal handrails and even catching the lever to move the driver's seat in the car.

He suggests that, "with each barefoot step, free electrons from the earth's magnetic field travel through the soles of the feet into your body and energise your living self."

"These are among the most potent anti-oxidants known to man," Fiann says. "They can reduce inflammation, improve metabolism, tone cardiac muscle, promote healthy sleep, pep up your sex life, even go a way to slow the signs of ageing and delay the progression of many chronic diseases."

I'm not sure if the science stacks up and I don't know, yet about the latter list, but I have not had a static shock since I started.

At the bottom of the garden is an elder, which, like elsewhere, is now in luxuriant full bloom.

It is a plant of curious contrasts. The heartwood is very hard but the branches are weak and barely able to support themselves. The bunches of tiny creamy-white flowers smell delicately sweet and are widely consumed but the leaves have a harsh bitter smell and are mildly poisonous.

There is a lot of superstition attached to the elder bush/tree. While the hollow stems have been used as bellows to encourage fires, it was considered extremely bad luck to burn elder wood and, even today, many would shy away from cutting down an elder. In the same vein, it was said to keep the devil away if planted close to a house. Last year, for the first time, I made elderflower cordial. It is very simple to do and tastes delicious. I had no problem getting helpers to repeat the exercise last week.

I thought I might try my hand at making elderflower champagne, the refreshing light or non-alcoholic summer drink. But talking to people who have made it, I realise this could be a different matter; because of the apparently widespread phenomenon of exploding bottles.

Forager John Wright wrote a few years back of the many colourful reports of people's experiences in this matter. His favourite concerns a shed in which all but two bottles had detonated messily. Fearful of approaching too closely, the hapless brewer "took them out" with an air rifle from a safe distance.

I might need a lot more information.


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