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…

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.

On the Crofters Trail

On the reading pile this weekend (between flooring catalogues and kitchen cabinet fittings) is this poignant read.

Written by David Craig and originally published in 1990, this is now out of print and was a purchase from a second-hand bookseller.

It contains interviews with the descendants of those cleared from the Highlands and Islands who settled in Novia Scotia.

Some have letters from the period describing the atrocities in faded but visceral detail. Some have tales passed down through three generations from their great, great grandparents and recount them in detail.

There’s is something incredibly real and intimate about a book that contains a reference directly to the croft or township that you live in. For me it creates a tangible link back through time.

I look over the ancient but still visible lazy beds on the moor above the croft and feel a real link to the lives of those who wrestled them from the soil.

Definitely wall hung.. as the actress said to the bishop

Only those of you of a certain age and a certain lack of delicacy will get that….I am not going to explain for those of you who don’t.

Apparently, the latest thing in bathroom chic is to have your bathroom appliances (eg. toilet and washbasin) suspended from the wall. Nothing between them and the ground except fresh air and a tremulous fear of suspension.

Why? I asked the bathroom consultant. What’s wrong with them being floor mounted? Have they not been that way since time immemorial?

Difficult to clean, he said, delicately. You have men in your home?

I sort of get that swishing a mop under a wall mounted toilet is easy, but seriously? How difficult is swishing it around the base of a floor mounted toilet?

Perhaps it requires manoeuvres that the current generation haven’t evolved or mastered. Maybe I get that. But I also get that the process of house specification has a lot to do with trends, and I had seriously missed that even a basic croft house would be subject to that.

I am finding the process of specifying flooring, sanitary ware, tiles, kitchen units and worktops much more tiring than I expected.

It’s such a privilege to be able to do this in some ways, and so important to get right, but the endless choice is so wearying. Some days I just want to curl up and have someone present me with my perfect kitchen/bathroom and say…

Yes! It can be yours, and it’s within budget….

I’m focusing on the fun.

Planning Permission Approved!

We’ve just heard from the architects that planning permission for the longhouse on our croft has been approved. It’s a major milestone for us on this journey, and I’m so happy! Our home has just moved one step closer to becoming a reality.

Next it’s starting work on the building warrants and the more detailed specification for the build, which we are lined up to do in the coming weeks.

In preparation for this we’re travelling up to Fife soon to meet with the kitchen and bathroom planners to discuss what these rooms will be composed of, what we like, and what we can afford.

It’s been a bit of a revelation to me that people can (and do) spend many thousands of pounds on a bath… I keep repeating the mantra “keep it simple, keep it simple” so that I don’t get sucked in by the sales pitch on the latest and shiniest new version of anything.

We are not shiny people. Stone, wood, plaster, paint, wool and linen fabrics. Natural finishes, and as little plastic or gloss as possible, that’s our philosophy. We want to have a home that’s comfortable and functional to live in rather than a showhome.

It goes without saying that whatever we don’t spend on the house leaves us more money to spend on trees.

A glass of fizz this weekend may be in order.. ๐Ÿ˜‹

Scything on Skye

We’ve been looking at the practicality of using a scythe to keep the rushes and weeds under control between the trees on the croft.

We find the idea of using manual tools one that sits comfortably with our philosophy for the land. No fumes, no noise, no pollution…๐Ÿค”

There are times and certain tasks for which mechanical tools would absolutely be needed, but it would seem that scythes can be an effective alternative to keeping the grass down between the trees. I’m in touch with a couple of crofters and gardeners in Scotland who use and recommend an Austrian scythe.

Scything it seems, is undergoing a renaissance in Britain, fuelled in part by the increased interest in the permaculture movement and the desire to become less dependant on gas guzzling implements.

Used here from Anglo-Saxon times right up until the 1940s, theyโ€™re a genuinely simple and effective tool, and as the great Paul Kingsnorth says, ” they will doubtless be around long after the Flymo has faded into legend. Keep the blade honed, and know how to use them, and you have probably the most efficient tool for cutting grass ever developed. This is proven entertainingly year after year at the Somerset Scythe Festival where the annual โ€˜scythe versus strimmerโ€™ contest is always won by the scythe.”

Paul Kingsnorth is a compelling voice, and a very talented writer. This article really resonated with me with regard to not just the renaissance in the use of old tools, but the reconnection with the land and inherited skills that once lost, we never fully recapture. Here’s the link to the article

https://www.resilience.org/stories/2010-07-27/snatch-old-song/