The Joys of Footing Turf

The hedgerows are awash with colour and fragrance. At this time of year the flowering of the elder is a pleasant reminder of the time ahead to be spent working on the bog. The turf has been cut and now it just needs a couple of weeks to dry out, ready to be footed (stacked in piles) to lift it off the ground to help it dry. It’s become an annual event that is eagerly anticipated. Working on the bog is a meditation to us. Whilst there, you can forget about the troubles in your life and in the world and be in the moment. The other people who share the bog are friendly and helpful, offering each other assistance in footing, bagging and getting the turf home. People bring food and drink with them and sometimes gather together, sharing food and stories, enjoying the fine weather.  People of all ages come to the bog and from many different professions and walks of life.  It’s nice to see families coming together, sharing labour and time spent working as a unit.
Burning turf is a very economical way to heat your home. Costing around 1Euro per yard. The average row being 80 yards. 3 – 6 rows are usually sufficient to supply most homes.
Bog owners, form the turf using two main methods, which both result in several strings of long continuous sausages being laid on the ground.
One method uses a hopper, which is filled by digging down several feet into the bog using a digger, where the turf mould as it called is darkest and when dried burns best. The hopper is filled and then pulled along by a tractor with a device that forms the sausages and lays them out on top of the cleared bog. The other method is almost identical except, the process is continuous, the tractor pulls a machine behind, which puts a probe down into the bog, which is depth set and this probe feeds the dark turf mould to a former which lays the turf sausages out on the ground.
Rows of turf, drying, ready to be footed.
Turf is essentially dead and decaying plant matter, that is compressed, dried out and burnt as fuel. It forms continuously when new plant matter, grows and old plant matter dies. An average bog can grow a depth of around 2″ every year. So it could be fair to say that turf is a renewable resource.
Traditionally there were two different types of turf used in homes. Black and then brown turf. Black was used for cooking and heating as it generated good heat, whereas brown turf, was used traditionally in some parts to keep a fire smouldering throughout the day, when little heat was required and no cooking was being done.
Some bog owners will offer both types but most only cut of form black turf.
Once footed the turf takes up to 6 weeks to dry out sufficiently before it is ready to be taken home. Like any fuel, it needs to be sheltered from the elements, to help it dry further. Turf that is left for up to a year in dry storage, burns very well.
Footings or stoops of turf, drying before being taken home
Finding a bog owner who cuts and sells rows isn’t difficult.  Many advertise at agricultural fairs and events, and in local publications or talk to someone in your locality who burns and uses turf.
The smell is unique and not unpleasant. In fact for me it brings back happy memories of holidaying in Rossnowlagh, County Donegal.
Growing up in a County where not many bogs are suitable for turf cutting, the tradition was alien to me. There is not much skill required as the modern machinery does away with cutting the turf by hand. If you physically able to stack the turf in small stacks and carry bags or wheel a wheel barrow then you are capable.  Boots or wellington’s are a must and wellingtons are preferable to boots as the acidic soil in the bog tends to cause the glue and stitching to come undone.  Something to kneel on such as a bag with clothe inside is useful.  Rubberised gloves, such as those used in construction.  A suitable hat/cap to protect you from the sun and clothing for all weather types, c’mon folks it is Ireland, remember.  And don’t forget the packed lunch.
Sadly the tradition of turf cutting is under threat, if you would like to learn more. Visit the TCCA