Farm Ireland

Monday 21 May 2018

Joe Barry: Home harvest wins against shop produce

Hens alone earn their keep with eggs

Good cluck: Joe keeps a dozen Speckled Marans
Good cluck: Joe keeps a dozen Speckled Marans
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Those of us who believe in the benefits of producing home-grown food always have to be careful we are not dismissed as eccentric tree-huggers, the type who are said to wear sandals, eat muesli and support Friends of the Earth.

Nothing wrong with any of the aforementioned, but it does somehow lessen your credibility if you are perceived to be a bit unworldly and interested in things other than just making money.

But then what is the point of living on a farm or having a garden if we don't produce food for our own households?

If we want to save money, there is probably not much to be gained from growing our own food, provided, of course, we do something else worthwhile with the time that would have been spent working in the garden. But if we want naturally grown fresh fruit and veg that are full of flavour, as opposed to the stuff from the supermarkets, then there is no argument. Home-grown food wins every time.

One of life's great pleasures has to be wandering around the garden throughout the summer and autumn, picking and eating strawberries, raspberries, peas and young raw carrots. They taste far better, as do the eggs collected each day from the hen house. Commercially produced eggs have a paler yolk and do not have the wonderful taste or texture of a really fresh egg laid by a hen that also enjoys full access to grass, weeds and whatever else it finds outdoors.

Having reached pensionable age, my original flock has been dispatched and replaced by a dozen Speckled Marans. These are not quite as productive as some of the hybrid breeds, but are easy to manage and have an attractive appearance and character.

I also purchased six Khaki Campbell ducks that are reputed to lay on average an amazing 320 eggs each per year. There is something extraordinarily soothing and therapeutic about watching and listening to hens and ducks as they scratch and forage, and the bonus of lots of fresh eggs means they do earn their keep.

The orchard, which I wrote about in detail last year, is in its second season and we now have a surplus of fruit, some of which we will put through the juicer and freeze for future use.

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Carefully selected varieties of modern root stocks are amazing in their ability to resist disease and crop heavily, but most apples and pears, unless coated with a preservative, do not keep well when stored. The plan is to grow a mix that would give us fresh fruit throughout the summer, autumn and into December, when the last of the apples will be harvested.

The season can be planned by starting with strawberries and other soft fruits for early to mid-summer, along with cherries to be harvested before the blackbirds get them. These are followed by plums and then the early-ripening eating apples.

It is important to avoid having barrow-loads of windfalls all arriving at the same time in late autumn. The best of the apples so far are Ceeval, Summer Red, James Grieve and the old reliable Bramley Seedling for cooking.


The pear trees have shown no sign yet of fruiting. Looking at them recently, I was reminded of the old saying that you plant "a pear for your heir", and I may have to wait at least a decade before they deliver. I removed some Victoria plum trees a few years ago as they cropped irregularly, were riddled with canker and lacked flavour. I have replaced them with the variety Czar, which this year produced delicious fruit in abundance.

As I write, the autumn raspberries are still cropping heavily. The variety is called appropriately Autumn Bliss, and undoubtedly the good summer weather played its part in providing this bounty of food. The conditions in late spring, when the fruit trees were in flower, helped with pollination and even our holly bushes are laden with berries. My only failure, for the third year in a row, was asparagus. I have read through the textbooks and tried all the options but to no avail. Maybe I should move to Spain.

Finally, and on a totally different subject, the forthcoming referendum on the proposed abolition of the Seanad reminded me of a question I put to my father many many years ago. I innocently asked him: "What do senators do?"

He replied: "They draw their wages."

No prizes for guessing which way I will be voting.

Irish Independent