Sunday, 9 May 2010

Footing turf

The Girl and I spent the morning in the boglands behind our property today -- we have gotten to know our neighbours, who have two girls her age, and they have become fast friends. The neighbours -- there are three houses, all in the same family -- own some bogland within walking distance of our home, and for fuel in the winter they dig their own turf.

Turf, as they call it here, is peat, smashed plants thousands of years old interrupted on their way to becoming coal. It's the main fuel here, and people used to dig rectangles of it out of the soggy ground with special shovels. I don't anticipate having to do this myself, but would like to know how, just in case.

Thus, our neighbours took me out this morning to foot turf. The peat is sopping wet, of course, when it is lifted out of the bog, which these days is done by hired machine. The machine leaves the peat in rows on the bog surface, and when it is partly dry it must be "footed" to dry further. My neighbour and I took the long rows of drying peat, broke them into bricks about half a metre across, and stacked them two bricks across and four bricks high, dry side down.

The Girl and her friends, for their part, made the bog their playground -- they turned over logs and played on stumps, and The Girl caught a frog.

Several things struck me about the bog. Most Irish do not appreciate what an amazing resource they have -- very few places on Earth have an abundance of fuel right below the soil. Even people who live next to a coal mine would have to travel many hundreds of metres into rock, braving poison gas and cave-ins, for a product -- coal -- that is smoky and acrid. Peat provides a slow-burning but intense flame like coal, rather than burning up quickly like wood -- but it provides an amazingly warm and cozy smell, something I wish I could take with me when I leave Ireland.

Another thing that struck me was to wonder how much was left of this resource. I have done some cursory searches, and I'm not sure if anyone knows for sure. The Irish have used peat more and more, even for generating electricity, and I'd be curious to plot its use on a Hubbert curve. Hopefully, I will be able to write more on this later.

In other news, our garden beds are doing well -- I filled another bed yesterday, so now we have three five-metre-long beds of seedlings -- peas, carrots, fennel, salad, leeks, kohlrabi and kale. To the side we have added smaller beds with loganberries, raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, gooseberries and strawberries, and along the side of the property we have more trees and bushes to provide an edge to the herb garden. Later this year comes the greenhouse, chickens and more garden beds. Bees will probably have to wait until next year.

P.S. I'm still having trouble with the internet -- we don't have broadband where we are, and my wireless laptop won't always upload well, so I can't upload any photos from today. Sorry.


cecelia said...

stayed in Ireland once renting a cottage - we wanted a real peat fire so I went looking for a place I could buy some - and saw a sign saying "turf accountant" so I figured ok - they must sell peat. Of course - they were bookies! I was a tad embarrassed - although I must say they were very nice about my inability to understand the Irish version of English.

Brian Kaller said...


That's a great story. When I got to Ireland I thought they must make an amazing number of books here -- there were bookmakers everywhere! I don't gamble myself, but it is a part of the culture here - many people even take small children to the races.

Cecelia said...

Brian - your story is very good too - lots of bookmakers!

Another expression which puzzled me greatly was "panel beaters" for auto collison repairs