Cold Snap Time and the End of an Era

This winter finds the wwoofers at Killruddery primarily frozen, except not really. It got below 5C today, though.

Today marks the end of an Era in world history; that is, January 2012 is about to pass on forever, handing the torch of eternity to February, it’s similarly asexual temporal deity.

Personally, i could be taking better care not to get too cold. This is the second time i’ve been sick in 4 months, and this time it lasted a bit more than a week. Last time it lasted 3 weeks. I’m a fish out of water, almost. I’ve never lived in such extremely cold weather, and this isn’t even a typically cold Irish winter.

So mild, in fact, that we had lettuce, including mustard, thriving up until we suffocated it with decaying animal feces the other week. Really?

Today we spent the afternoon gathering and processing timber into firewood. Basically, survival stuff. While working i found myself thinking about how simple life has become, as these days my occupation and day-to-day activities entail, well, survival activities. Cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, feeding the fire, tending the Earth. Sure, i spend the evenings practicing Portuguese and teaching English online, but my life entails what the livelihoods of a plurality of humans (half of the world’s population to be exact) do, which is smallfarming and subsistence.

Here’s a sampling of what i’ve learned in the past 4 months at Killruddery House:

Chainsaw operation

Pheasant dressing — dressing Pheasants

Gooseberry pruningignation — the art of pruning Gooseberry bushes

Soil maintenance

1) Turning over the soil: after uprooting the remains of the old crop, it’s important to aerate the soil by turning it over. This involves taking a pitchfork, and literally digging up each patch of the area you desire to aerate. Simple enough! And great exercise as well.

2) Mulching. After turning over the soil, you’re ready to mulch. Mulching is the use of any material to feed the soil, enriching it so that seedlings have plenty of nourishment to grow. Here’s a more comprehensive definition from the BBC Gardening Guides:

It can provide nutrients for plants, lock in moisture, form a barrier against weeds and can help to insulate the roots of vulnerable plants from winter cold.

For example, you can use seaweed in combination with woodchips aged 2+ years to fertilize the soil for planting later, or you can use manure (aged shit, literally).

Legumes — all peas, beans, and lentils — don’t require mulching because they feed themselves. However, it pays to create a trench and fill it with dead plant matter, branches do just fine, recover the trench, and plant your legumes in the mound. That way, the legumes will digest the dead plant matter in the soil naturally.

More “what i’ve learned, baby” posts to come! Enjoy your winter, dear reader, whether it’s ridiculously warm (as in Southern California) or frigid. Or mild… or whatever.


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