Cobnuts or filberts

Whilst browsing for seeds to take with us to the island in a few weeks time, I noticed that one of the online smallholdings that I was shopping from had filberts, or cobnuts, for sale.

Husband loves nuts, and has reminisced often about eating fresh filberts as a boy in Istanbul. I recall picking them too as a child, where they grew in the woods adjacent to our house in Dorset.

As soon as I saw these I couldn’t resist.

The small box arrived at the house yesterday, hand-packed with a layer of hazel leaves on top of the nuts to keep the dampness in. Opening them released the scent of woodland.

They have a unique taste and texture quite unlike dried hazlenuts. Slightly sweet, nutty and milky. They are only semi-hard with a moist, almost chewy texture. If anything could taste of ‘green’, this is it.

It’s inspired us again to make sure that we plant plenty of hazel on the croft.

The hazelnuts that don’t get eaten in handfuls off the tree can be dried and stored, chopped or whole, for use in bread, cakes or puddings. Or preserved in jars of honey for spooning as luscious toppings over cooked apples, pears or ice-cream.

Dappled shade and wild garlic

Wild garlic (or ransoms as they’re sometimes known) grow in dappled shade in woodland, on the banks of streams and in hedgerows.

Brushing through undergrowth or overgrown hedgerows as you walk will often release their pungent scent and alert you to their presence underfoot.

For me, they’re reminiscent of old woodland and drowsy, warm days in summer.

They’re also handily tolerant of thin, acidic, damp soils – perfect for the croft.

I can’t wait to get them started – and to be able to harvest enough for wild garlic butter, or to add trimmings to salads or pasta. I’ve even seen a recipe for homemade wild garlic pesto that I’d love to try.

As such I have a bag of seed to take with us on our trip to the croft in a few weeks time, and will try scattering them on the banks of the little stream to the north of the croft as well as in the copse of trees on the western boundary.

That and the bluebells and pignuts will be our first seed sewing on the croft.

It may take some years for them to establish, but the sooner we start…

A tale of good stuff

For over fifteen years I commuted on a weekly basis between home in Toulouse and work in London.

Shuttling endlessly between airports was gruelling on my luggage (and the environment…and my knees 😟), and I soon tired of having cabin bags give up the ghost on me after seams split, zips disintegrated or handles came apart.

I bought a Briggs and Riley bag at Gatwick one day without really paying attention to what it was.

I think I was in a tearing hurry to make my departure gate and my carry-on luggage had just fallen apart, so although I noted that it was a bit pricier than what I would normally pay for a bag, I paid almost no attention at the time to the fact that it came with a lifetime guarantee.

A guarantee for life? Really?

Twenty years later that bag is still in use, albeit a bit scuffed and missing most of it’s zip tags. It’s final challenge came recently when Stepson managed to detach the retractable handle from the chassis of the bag somehow, and I decided that it was no longer usable.

Years ago I would have binned it and bought another, but I hate the idea of continual consumption and remembered the lifetime guarantee. Would it be worth the paper that it was written on?

I rang the number on the website and they arranged to dispatch a courier the next day to collect the bag from my home and take it to their repair centre for refurbishment. Keen to have it back in time to take it to the the island in September, I asked how long it would take, and they promised it will be back with me in time.

No proof of purchase required, no red tape, no cost. A real human on the telephone who was helpful and friendly. An experience that made me feel that this was one of the best investments I ever made…

Thank you Briggs and Riley. You are my tale of good stuff this week.

Managing Small Woodlands in the Highlands and Islands

The Scottish Crofting Federation has recently published this useful little tome, packed with goodies about planting and managing woodland on the croft.

Husband and I have just spent a happy hour or so debating the wisdom of tree shelters vs. spiral tree guards for the protection of newly planted whips and young trees. A lot will depend upon the strength of the wind on the slope, which we won’t really be able to assess until we’ve lived there through a year or so of seasons.

We are travelling up to the island next month and are hoping to be able to walk the land with a representative from the local Woodland Trust, who will be able to assess the site and recommend viable tree varieties. It would be good to start the tree planning even if the trees can’t go in for a further year. And of course, the whole croft will need to be deer fenced before anything much can be planted.

We’re thinking of planting willow to help drain the boggy bottom of the croft, which can apparently act as a pioneer tree and help preparation for other species, along with birch, alder, elm, rowan, hazel, sycamore, sessile oak, bird cherry and others elsewhere. But of course we’ll take advice.

Husband is a just wee bit excited to read that Walnut and Sweet Chestnut are now considered viable species in this part of the world. Being Nut Boy, anything nut-related is worth a try in his eyes!

Wilding, the book

Wilding, by Isabella Tree, is a book based on an experimental re-wilding of a 3,500 acre farm in West Sussex.

Forced to accept that the intensive farming of the heavy clay soils of their farm at Knepp was driving it close to bankruptcy, they handed the farm back to nature.

The results in terms of biodiversity, soil fertility and increased wildlife have been nothing short of astonishing.

This is a pioneering book describing a brave and far-reaching experiment. If we can achieve these results on a piece of intensively farmed, chemically fertilised, biologically sterile land situated under the flight path at Gatwick, with time and patience we can achieve them anywhere.

Books like this provide inspiration and reinforcement of the thought that given half a chance, nature will fight back and thrive.

What we do to our little six acre pocket of land on Skye will be much less impactful than the 3,500 acres at Knepp, and the soil, weather and environmental challenges will be very different, but to the local area of Sleat it will be just as important.

So many ideas and plans. We can’t wait to start.

Bluebells and pignuts

Our next trip to the croft is in September, and itching to make a start, any kind of start, we’ve bought some seeds to sew in the established patch of woodland on the western boundary.

We can’t start anything on the main croft land until the drainage and groundworks are complete, which won’t start until the Autumn, so the little woodland belt is the place to begin some underplanting.

First off, I’ve bought pignut seeds.

Pignut is small perennial herb, whose underground root resembles a chestnut and is sometimes eaten as a wild or cultivated root vegetable. It has fascinated me for many years.

The name Pignut comes from its popularity with pigs, who root it out for its flavour, which is said to be similar to water chestnut. Wild food foragers also love it and jealously guard their sources.

Secondly, I’ve sourced some bluebell seed from a small, licensed croft on the Isle of Eigg. Eddie’s Croft.

Bluebell seed can be procured from many places, but I particularly wanted to find Scottish bluebell seed, and being so close to Skye, seed grown on Eigg will, I think, be more naturalised to the climate and conditions there. We will scatter it in the birch grove and hope that in a few years we’ll have the beginnings of a sea of blue.

It’s a small start, but it’s a start, and it’s exciting to be making our first mark on the land, however modest.

The Bath Chronicles

I love a good bath. There’s something about the ease that it provides to a chilled and tired body after a day of work that a shower just can’t match.

So, despite the modest proportions of the bathroom in the new build croft house, we have decided that in addition to a free standing shower, that we must have a bath.

Husband is nearly six feet tall. I stand at a diminutive (although magnificent…) five feet and four inches. You can start to see the dilemma when it comes to a comfortable soak.

For husband to be able to stretch out luxuriously, I would have to learn to float like a jelly fish, my feet not able to reach the end of the bath. For me to wedge comfortably in for a long soak, husband would be left folded up with knees protruding from the water like an origami grasshopper.

We have found a solution, Dear Reader. It is a slipper bath. Supremely comfortable, the bather assumes a supported, semi-seated position, not requiring any wedging on my part to avoid drowning, and yet long enough for grasshopper legs to be comfortable.

The other wonderful thing about this bath is that it is excellent for reading. For those of you who know me this is an equally important consideration. There is nothing like a soggy page and neck ache to ruin an otherwise sublime bathing experience.

We are feeling rather smug about all of this, and I am going to try a number of them next week in order to find The One.

Wish me luck.