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GIY Weekly Column Fowl Weather Friend

Growers and animal owners have a lot to contend with when Irish weather turns nasty…

By Michael Kelly

Like most people, I spent Monday hunkered down at home, waiting on ‘The Storm Formerly Known As Hurricane Ophelia’ to do its worst.  When you live in somewhat of a fixer-upper cottage as we do, you learn to approach storms with a mixture of trepidation and stoicism.  We were well prepared for the likelihood of leaks, damage to the roof and the loss of electricity, but thankfully none of these things came to pass.

As a grower there were other worries.  A polytunnel is a vulnerable asset when it comes to a hurricane, and many a grower has seen their tunnel torn to shreds in a storm.  Worse again, there’s the possibility of it turning in to an unfeasibly large kite and billowing off to a neighbouring county.  I’ve heard of fellow growers faced with the difficult decision in a storm of having to shred their plastic to bits with a knife to allow the wind to pass through and save the structure itself.  Again, thankfully, both of our polytunnels survived intact this time around.

Regular readers will know that my potting shed (a lean-to timber/polycarbon structure on the end of the garage) is my absolute favourite place to spend time in the world. Erm, apart from in the house with my family obviously.  Some years ago, I lost the roof of the potting shed to a bad storm, which was a complete pain and set me back hundreds of euros and several months to get fixed.  Several times on Monday when I went out to inspect (I know, I know, you’re not supposed to go outside), I expected to see the potting shed roof airborne.  That it survived was down to either a stroke of luck or the several litres of Tec7 sealant I used when fixing it last time around.

But alas, Ophelia’s visit wasn’t without its casualties.  Some months back, Youngest Child decided to follow her elder brother in to the egg production business.  To create a point of difference she went for ducks instead of hens and we got her 3 beautiful Indian Runner ducklings for her birthday (I kid you not).  Within days of their arrival a crafty fox came and took 2 of them.  This was simultaneously a cruel, brutality-of-the-food-chain life lesson and a set back to her entrepreneurial ambitions.  She nicknamed the remaining duck Gulliver, an odd name for a female I grant you, but a sign of her affection for the doughty survivor that had outwitted the wily fox.

As she grew from duckling to duck, Gulliver muscled her way in and became part of the flock of hens.  She remained somewhat skittish, which I suppose was understandable given what she’d been through.  Though she would happily have slept with the hens, being webbed of feet she couldn’t climb up in to their house and so would sleep in an old dog kennel by herself instead.  We waited patiently for her first egg so the mighty duck egg business could begin in earnest.

Then, Ophelia arrived.  Hens don’t like wind, and true to form disappeared in to their house as soon as the severe winds picked up mid-morning.  Gulliver was obviously hardier and was out and about when disaster struck.  The hen house (which takes two people to move) blew over in a gust and landed on top of the unfortunate duck. On one of my inspection rounds I was horrified to find the hen house on its side, and two little webbed feet sticking out from underneath like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz.  Poor Gulliver’s luck had run out.  Youngest Child was distraught.  Duck egg business was on hold.  We may have to accept that we’re just not duck people.

The Basics; Collecting Seaweed

Post storm is a great time to collect seaweed.  There is often confusion about whether it’s legal or not to take seaweed from a beach, the bottom line is that ‘sustainable use’ is permitted which means it’s perfectly fine to collect seaweed that’s been washed up on the beach, but not cool to pull living seaweed from rocks.

For ease of collection, the drier seaweed up the beach is lighter than the wet stuff beside the surf . In addition to your bags of seaweed, you don’t want to be lugging litres of heavy sea-water home at the same time!  Convention has it that you should wash your seaweed before putting it on top of veg beds, but our friend Joy Larkcom reckons this is nonsense and that there’s no evidence that salt in the seaweed will cause you problems.  A decent covering of seaweed (as thick as you can manage) will suppress weeds and improve your soil immensely.