Barra Best meets organic former John McCormick in County Down and explores the Marble Arch caves.
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It's all around us, it connects us.
Should it be wind from the west,
rain from the east or the sun above,
it's our weather.
'Today, I'm in County Down to meet up
'with organic farmer John McCormick.'
-How are you?
-I am very well, thank you.
Perfect weather for the garden, isn't it?
It's beautiful, a beautiful day.
'John is passionate about growing organic food, locally produced
'and completely dependent on our Northern Irish climate.'
John, a nice big tunnel here of cherry tomatoes.
They've done well with our weather this year.
Yes, I'm very pleased with them.
They are called Sakura, they are a very sweet tomato, so it would
be incredibly popular with children, as you can well imagine.
And you've got your normal amount of crops for this year?
Erm, yes, by and large the cropping would appear to be good.
We normally go for seven or eight trusses - this is a truss.
They start at the bottom and work right up
to the last truss at the top.
This would be the eighth truss on this,
So eight trusses is actually a very good yield if that,
between now and the middle of October, grows and ripens.
What doesn't ripen will go to chutney,
-but they're actually doing very well.
So another few weeks left and these boys will be ready to pick.
Five, six weeks before I start taking them out.
Food is a requirement for all life,
but we need the right weather to grow it.
County Down is one of the driest counties in Ireland -
it must have some benefits for your farm.
Well, I am very surprised to hear you say that!
Because while parts of County Down are dry, we are in Helen's Bay,
and Helen's Bay has a lough on one side
and the hills on the other side
and regularly, when it is raining here,
I would phone my friends in Donaghadee or Newtonards, even,
and the sun would be shining,
and we would be sheltering from the rain.
What can you do here that you can't do in the west?
I suppose we are blessed, in the sense that
if you want to be a vegetable grower, certainly you are far
better off here on the east coast
than you ever would be on the west coast.
We can just about grow everything, except bananas and citrus.
What I have noticed is, we seem to be getting extremes.
We are breaking records left, right and centre.
We're getting the hottest days that ever happened in the year,
we're getting the wettest days that have ever happened in the year,
and this does throw particular problems at farmers.
These nets, John, do a good job protecting against pests
and rabbits, that kind of thing,
but they also protect against our bad weather.
That's right, we are finding increasingly
that in the summertime we are getting
very, very heavy rainfall, and the result of that is
it splashes the mud back up all over the lettuce and makes it unsellable.
So the nets act as a barrier, so when the rain hits that,
it diffuses and you don't get that splash.
You've even had to dig trenches to keep the rainwater
away from your greenhouses because they were flooding.
Yes, what you find is, in the summertime, the ground is very hard.
In the wintertime, the ground is soft
and you tend not to work machinery.
And when the ground is soft, it will absorb the rain
and filter it and allow it to flow away.
But when it's hard, as it is in the summertime,
it hasn't got the capacity to do that.
The water hits it and has to flow over the surface,
rather than percolate through.
So with this intensity of rain, what we are finding is, it is
actually flowing into the tunnel and flooding our tunnels.
You also keep bees here. How has the weather affected them?
2015 has not been one of the great bee years.
We had a cold May, which wouldn't have been nice for the bees,
but they were busy enough and survived it
and managed to build up to a decent brood size for June.
And we had a nice June, a good June.
So the bees were very busy in June, and there was plenty of nectar
and pollen around and they started to bring in a lot of reserves.
But then July turned wet.
And by the end of August - we had another wet August -
they had already started to eat into those reserves.
There can be up to 50,000-60,000 bees in a colony
and they all need to be fed every day.
And if they can't get out to feed, they will eat the reserves.
So we won't be taking much honey off the bees this year,
simply because we want to
leave them with the reserves that are there.
They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating,
so from earth to plate, I'm going to sample John's organic produce.
Not often we get the sea air dining alfresco-style,
food straight from the field.
-I am indeed, yes.
-Let's tuck in, eh?
Very sweet. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't like tomatoes,
-but THAT I could eat all day.
Why don't you try a carrot, see what you think of the carrots?
-Any difference of flavour, these? Just normal?
-You tell me.
-Very nice, very sweet.
-It's nice and sweet.
Well, the secret to retaining the sweetness in both tomatoes
and carrots is, eat them fresh and don't cool them.
The minute you put them in the fridge,
they start to lose their sweetness.
So if you can keep them at room temperature,
they will always retain that sweetness for much longer.
Everything you see on this plate, bar that bread, is actually
grown within 40 metres of here.
-I feel very privileged - I eat this every day for lunch.
Well, thanks very much for letting me join you.
-It was delicious.
# Well, my momma told me there'd be days like this... #
But she also told me there would be days like this too.
Rain, rain, go to Spain, never show your face again.
Nope, doesn't work.
# Into each life some rain must fall... #
In the wettest areas of Northern Ireland,
over 55 days of rainfall is the norm in the three months of winter.
And over 45 days in summer.
I'd like to be able to report that the sun shines
continuously in summer, but that just wouldn't be true.
# All the ducks are swimming in the water... #
You'd be disappointed if I didn't say it,
so I'm not going to let you down.
It's great weather for ducks.
# All the ducks are swimming in the water... #
And this isn't an old wives' tale.
Research has confirmed that ducks like hanging out
there in the pond to enjoy the rainy weather.
Something else that relies on rain is bogland, and the blanket bog
of Cuilcagh Mountain in County Fermanagh
is one of the finest examples in Western Europe.
This may look like a nice scenic path
for the ordinary rambler, but of course
it's doing something important for the conservation of this area.
Yeah, the sole and only reason we put the boardwalk in is
to help conserve the habitat.
What was basically happening was, the footfall of walkers was
eroding this rare blanket bog, so we had to take some remedial action.
Today is quite a nice day here, but it's not great for the midges here.
We're being eaten alive. I think we need to go for a higher altitude.
Yes, I think so, try and find a bit of breeze.
-We're halfway up.
-It's longer than it looks, isn't it?
-But some of the views, they are spectacular.
The views are certainly worth it, there is no doubt.
You're looking right across Fermanagh here,
out into Donegal, Sligo, it's pretty breathtaking, all right.
-So no trees.
-No trees, no.
Peat is not a very good growing medium, so it is only
specialised plants that can tolerate those nutrient-poor conditions.
We are almost at the top.
'The trail across the bogland is over 7km long
'and takes us to the summit of Cuilcagh Mountain, but so far
'it's been worth it.'
Well, here we are, Richard.
Up to the top, 660 metres. And it's still quite squelchy, isn't it?
You can really tell that the rainfall
shaped this land in front of us.
Yes, it has a profound effect on the landscape around us.
'And how important is the bogland and why?'
Well, the bog is important in its own right for its biodiversity
and its intrinsic environmental value
but, equally, it acts as a carbon store.
This blanket bog and other bogs in Ireland are literally storing
millions of tonnes of carbon.
The peak is basically vegetation which hasn't completely rotted,
so it is locked away in the bog over thousands
and thousands of years, so this is almost playing
the same role as the Amazon rainforest
in helping with climate change.
This is a European protected habitat,
and without that level of rainfall, it wouldn't exist.
So essentially, you don't mind Fermanagh being called
one of the wettest counties of Northern Ireland,
-if not Ireland?
No, on me day off I would rather it is a bit drier
sometimes, but what can you do?
But still, today the views are breathtaking, aren't they?
It's fabulous, it really is.
And from a breathtaking but treeless landscape, to a lush forestry,
and my pathway to the underground, where the waters fell
in Cuilcagh bogland have made their way to the Marble Arch Caves.
-Michelle, how are you?
God, that's some walk. SHE LAUGHS
Great weather for it, though, isn't it?
-Yes, ready to go underground?
-I am indeed, let's go.
-Follow me, we will head on in.
'Michelle is going to be my guide through this fascinating
'natural underworld of waterfalls, rivers, caves and winding passages.
'It is beautiful and brilliant.
'We are deep below Fermanagh, and you may be forgiven
'for thinking that the weather above won't affect us, but it does.
Yes, it does.
The rainwater that falls on Cuilcagh Mountain,
it's actually the catchment area for the three rivers that
flow into the Marble Arch Caves.
We are actually making our way up one of the rivers,
which is called the Cladagh Glen.
So you can imagine that the weather that we experience in Fermanagh
and in particular up on Cuilcagh Mountain has
a large impact in relation to the show cave.
We are able to come comfortably through this cave, but it all
depends on the amount of rainfall that we get above, doesn't it?
This cave tour is very much weather-dependent.
There are days where we have to opt that we don't
have a cave tour available.
It really depends on the blanket bog,
whether the blanket bog is dry or if it's saturated.
It depends if it's a local rain or it has fallen at a distance,
and also depends what the rivers are like,
if they have had a period of time where they have dried up
or there is no water in it, that is why the staff that work here
monitor the weather forecast on a daily basis.
You're actually going outside
and visually looking at Cuilcagh Mountain to see
if it is under a cloud, if it's raining, what you think is
happening on the mountain, because it has its own little climate.
In terms of weather, what is your perfect scenario?
Best-case scenario is probably the rarest situation that we
ever have, a heatwave.
I knew you were going to say that. SHE LAUGHS
But even at the moment, we have had a period, a whole week now,
where we have had just dry weather. It's not hot, it's not sunny,
but there has been no rain up on Cuilcagh Mountain,
And that changes everything.
It changes the amount of water coming off the mountain,
it changes the atmosphere in the cave.
I really like it when we have had a little bit of rainwater
and it is coming into the cave and the rivers are rising slightly,
and you can hear the rumbling of the river.
And that is part of the experience
and the excitement for members of the public.
So people who do arrive on a rainy day,
I don't think they are losing out, I think they are seeing it
in a different way, and to me that is what it is all about.
-Every cloud has a silver lining.
-Yes, we could say that.
The relationship we have with the weather is a complex one.
We do enjoy sunshine, and we might complain about days being wet
and cold, but rain is refreshing and wind is bracing.
So I like to think that there is no such thing as bad,
only different types of good weather.
There is scientific evidence that the profusion of red hair,
fair skin and freckles is the result of living in a sun-starved climate.
I'm living proof. So there you have it,
no doubt that the weather is part of who we are, what we are.
Until next time, bye-bye.