Sunday, 6 May 2012

May in Ireland

Native-born Irish find the weather here annoying; it takes an immigrant to be truly maddened. March was a blessed reprieve from our Gothic winters, bringing enough sunlight and warmth that The Girl and I wore shorts one day. Then April brought us back to single-digit temperatures and near-constant rain. County Clare, thankfully, remained mostly dry for our camping trip, and we shielded ourselves from the sharp winds shooting over the waters of Lough Derg. 

It remains chilly here, plausibly January rather than May, and it might remain so all summer for all I know. We got a good start to the year, adding a farmer friend’s ripening manure to our garden beds when it was still winter, digging it in and letting it mix with the soil. Our garden beds are almost full now, seeded in cabbages and broccoli, radishes and lettuce, spinaches and kohlrabi, and our tomatoes and aubergines have a good start in our greenhouse. As I jogged along the canal this morning, The Girl riding her bicycle beside me, we passed neighbours turning the earth in their potato fields and farmers clearing the fields of brushwood.  

So little, though, has poked through the soil – they all seem to be waiting for a better opportunity, and despite our early start most plants have stalled. What few plants we have so far – spinaches and cabbages --have adoring fans in the slugs. Only slugs, for the acid soil of our bogland seems to prohibit snails, or I would be out every morning eagerly gathering snails for lunch. Our hedgehog, however, seems to help with the slugs, and when we get chickens we will get additional help. Our amourous pigeons have multiplied around our beds and are thoroughly enjoying our cabbages – we don’t have a gun, so I’m beginning to wonder whether any of the Victorian manuals I collect have instructions for building pigeon traps.

If the weather is discouraging our garden crops, though, they have not deterred the wild plants and grasses – I mowed our acre of land here today, and got so much compost that our massive bin overflowed. I have been enjoying nettles, dandelions and cowslips – the last two in salads, the first two sautéed or as tea, and all of them as wine. As I have drawn my parsnip wines – one with ginger, one with elderberries and one with beetroots – from the carboys and bottled them, the empty carboys have quickly been used for whatever weed is appearing around us. 

Nettles are at the perfect size this month – before this they are too small, and after this they get stringy – and fat hen, jack-by-the-hedge and Good King Henry should be appearing soon. Hawthorn leaves remain somewhat edible, although they are getting tougher and less tasty every day as they get ready to bloom. Lime trees, also called lindens, are just beginning to leaf, and as their leaves come in they can be eaten like lettuce. 

May’s sun and warmth offers a good opportunity for green manure crops like comfrey – its deep roots bring nutrients from deep in the soil, and its soft tissues decompose quickly in the compost. We like to take the comfrey that grow wild down the road and cut them, and bring them in wheelbarrows to our compost bin; in six months or so they will give us several wheelbarrows full of rich compost that we can add to our soil for free. 

It’s raining again now, as it does for days at a time here. Yet that’s the price we pay for such lush country, and once in a while, when the sun comes out, it looks like the postcards.  

Photo: The forest in Tuamgraney, County Clare.

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