The Aran Islands

Thoughts Planted by a Sycamore Seedling

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I’ve been absent for a couple weeks, enjoying the children’s school break for Easter and generally just avoiding the computer. A burst of inspiration from the garden today brought me back — whispers from a sycamore seedling that got me contemplating…

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March of The Weeds

DSC_0288~2It’s March and the noticeably longer days tease my gardening impulsiveness. I want to get on with the business of growing outside. The erratic weather can’t be ignored, though, and rather than transplant out I’ll have to pot up- that is, move plants to larger containers- and keep them under cover a bit longer. Rather than sow root vegetable seeds, I’ll lay more ground warming cover after spreading compost or leaf mulch.

And I’ll weed.

There’s always weeding to be done, though more so this time of year because it’s spring and that’s when weeds spring up and multiply with great abandon on every patch of bare soil.

I rarely go out with the purpose of just weeding. Instead, it gets done regularly but a bit at a time. I’m usually grabbing weeds from here and there at my discretion as I’m tending to other garden needs in the same area. Spring weeding is a bit more intentional than that- it’s part of the plan for the day, on a mental list of things to be done deliberately, sooner than later.

Fortunately, weeding the garden is a favourite task of mine. I find that the point of view from crouched down on all fours is a great way to get the lay of the land and to gain a true perspective of a garden’s whereabouts.

While growing up in Maine, I was the primary weeder in the family plot and I remember enjoying it lots. Our vegetable garden was behind my Memere’s house. It was a nice open space with tall lilac bushes lining one side and there was a pretty spectacular weeping willow in the front yard. Summers were very hot and I have the most vivid memories of taking off my shirt and pulling weeds wearing only my shorts. At age nine or so, and with no explanation that made sense at the time, my mother told me to put my shirt back on and I shouldn’t be taking it off anymore. I remember feeling like something had gone astray. Now I suppose she was trying to teach me modesty.

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On our smallholding, I’ve taken responsibility for the weeding– Johnny never has to worry about it, just like I never have to worry about the chicken coop being cleaned out and their bedding relined and their feed buckets refilled.

So long as we’re all happy, nothing’s being neglected and everyone’s keeping their shirt on, it’s all good.

A Story of Rain

Anywhere there’s a dip in the land of our homefarm, there’s a puddle temptingly waiting to be waded through by duck or welly boot.dsc_0020-2

The earth around us has reached its maximum water holding capacity and is now overflowing in many areas.

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This happens quickly on the island in relentless rainfall because the soil is shallow and just a few feet below, if not a few inches, are masses of solid limestone. Continue reading

Making a comfortable living from a small piece of land

As the word smallholding implies, we do what we do to support our family through a combination of cash crops and subsistence farming. We do all the work ourselves between the jigs and reels of raising a family and various other obligations and distractions. There’s no design laid out before us. Instead, season to season over the past several years we figure bits out and do it, always incorporating two essential qualities. The first and most important for us is to provide food for our family. The second is to do so while designing a modest, simple and functional area where others can discover that it’s possible to create their own supermarket on just one acre. We may not be making our entire income from it yet, but day by day and year to year we get that much closer.

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Three new outside beds were added to the garden in the last week. All three are at the north end of the polytunnel, one is actually an addition to the artichoke bed. We also divided the artichoke plants to double the amount we now have and there’s still room for plenty more.

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Life is Lovely

It won’t be long and the evening ferry will be arriving back to the island in daylight; for now, the artificial lights guide us into port. It’s hardly what I would describe as a romantic site. Picturesque, definitely. I’ve even thought it idyllic, but, other than the first time I visited fifteen years ago, not romantic. Johnny waiting for me on the pier is a scene we’ve shared a hundred or more times, but tonight I felt a little starry-eyed. It had me thinking later how I’ve probably been taking this gesture for granted. He’s always there, always. It felt so good, I’ll never again view my arrival back home as unromantic or fail to see the gesture of love he’s showing me.

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While I’m gushing on (it is the celebratory day of love ❤ ) I want to share a comment received last week that made me feel especially warm and fuzzy about writing and blogging, and towards everyone here who does the same- writes from the heart for the love of writing, appreciating connections made with their readers.

“Just to say I read you off and on, not a real follower though I “follow” you, and that I really enjoy the way you write about your life and the things you do, the everyday things that are so different from what I do and yet I connect with the art of doing life. You live in a beautiful part of the world. Be blessed always.”

My family & I appreciate with all our hearts each and every remark, opinion, and reflection that is shared here on our blog. Some of us share similar lives and many live very differently than we do. Either way, what we all have in common is the doing of life, and while it’s not always romantic, it’s certainly worth appreciating and occasionally even celebrating.

Joining in the one a week photo challenge, my interpretation of this week’s word ‘artificial.’ Thanks Sandra and Cathy!

With love, Melissa Xx

Happy St. Brigid’s Day 2017

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It’s a beautiful first day of spring here on the island and we put the St. Brigid’s cross up on the house first thing this morning. The children are more wrapped up than usual as they head off for school because we had just returned from a wee trek to collect the bundle of reeds that Nuala is holding; they’ll be used at school to make crosses of their own.

The first day of spring here in Ireland falls about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  One of the traditional ways of celebrating is by making a St. Brigid’s cross which is ‘placed on doorways to ward off evil, fire, and hunger from homes’. It’s also called the Feast of Imbolc, an ancient Irish celebration of the change of seasons from the short, dark winter days to the longer and brighter days of spring.

Here’s a link to a post I did a year ago that shows step by step how to make your own St. Brigid’s cross. It also has links to more information about St. Brigid’s Day, the meaning of the cross, and the Feast of Imbolc. https://thearanartisan.com/2016/03/15/spring-willow-project/

Joining in with the ‘One a Week Photo Challenge‘, word ‘happy’ and with Ronovan Writes haiku challenge, words ‘please & blow’.

please wrap yourself up

on this first day of springtime

the wind is blowing

Getting up early and taking a walk with the children was an amazing way to start the day and has me thinking we ought to do it more often. I’m wondering though if the adventurous feeling to it would soon wear off? Perhaps it was just the novelty that made everyone so happy and they would be less excited to do it regularly. I suppose there’s only one way to find out.

What Winter?

Instead of the cold blustery gales of wind and rain that makes one not want to get out of pyjamas all day, it’s been more like spring than winter and we’ve been both working and growing in the garden the entire season.

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Garden photographs are quickly outdated by growing plants and newly built beds.

There’s a lot going on in the picture above: raised beds have been added in between the corn and pumpkin plots–rocket, beetroot, lettuce and winter garlic are growing in four of the beds. Stone paths are made after all soil is removed and sifted; soil in beds, stones back into the path. Long, narrow grow boxes are being placed along both sides of the pallet fences to help stabilize them and add grow space. A half pallet retaining wall is being fitted against the corn field. A lot of labour and nearly all Johnny’s doing. Continue reading

An Awkward Rescue

When asked what type of goats we keep we answer as best we know by saying ‘island goats’. They’re wild and hardy and prefer to roam the day in whichever large field they’re currently stone wall fenced into. Whatever the weather, they sleep outside under the evening sky with their herd of a half dozen or so. While they’re far from constrained, there’s a tendency for them to go through periods of rebellion where day after day for a week or so Johnny spends hours searching for which direction they’ve headed off to explore. It’s often not as easy to find them as one might think, especially if they decide to lie down and take a nap under a high wall. The children and I have helped their dad look plenty of times and there’s no doubt we’ve walked right past them on more than one occasion.

On this day, a month old kid had gone missing. After a second search within the same day, Johnny found him at last. Having fallen four feet down between a narrow crack in the stones, the goat was a huge challenge to rescue. What else would Johnny do but try and try again until at last successfully looping a noose around his neck and lifting him to safety? As if he would have been able to focus on anything other than helping save Hop’s life. Wild they may be, but they’re each named and cared for as best as possible.

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A very scared baby Hop and an awkward rescue for Johnny.

No doubt, Hop learned a valuable lesson about keeping an eye on where he’s bouncing about in his playfulness. Considering that these cracks are a common part of their terrain, it’s a wonder that this doesn’t happen more often. Gratefully, it’s a rare occurrence though.

Taking part in in the One A Week Photo Challenge with my ‘awkward’photograph. Next week’s word is ‘gate’. Have an idea? Join in!

Cheers, Melissa Xx

An Island Anecdote & Traditional Irish Soda Bread Recipe

I couldn’t believe my good fortune one day many years ago when a born and raised islander came up to me in the Spar parking lot offering me milk kefir grains. I had been wanting them but didn’t want to buy them. Just like plants for the garden, they’re much more special when received from a loving space which they’ve outgrown rather than purchased from a shop.

Because fermenting cultures reproduce and eventually one has to either give them away, throw them out, compost, or feed to one pet or the other, I believed they’d eventually come to me fortuitously. So, this was my day and when she said ‘Someone told me you might like these’ (I had told no one I was seeking them), I squealed with delight and gratefully accepted. Never did I dream someone on the island had any or I certainly would have made my desire known. Anyhoo, my hobby of fermenting was no secret and now I had kefir grains so I immediately put them to use. Continue reading

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