The joy of vegetable plot planning

There’s something very satisfying about the process of designing a vegetable garden. Whether you have several acres or just a small back yard, selecting the vegetables and fruits that you love, working out what will grow in your environment and sketching up a planting plan is a seriously happy thing.

I know that I should be focussing on practical things with the house build, but I can’t help sneaking a peek at books on raised beds, cold frames and no-dig gardening. I don’t dare go near the seed catalogues any time soon as it’s all far too premature – we won’t be planting vegetables on the croft for at least another year, but I convince myself that a planting plan now is a sensible thing to spend time on!

Please ignore the seed packets. This is a wonderful little company but I’m not buying anything yet. Honestly. However heritage and helpful and lovely they are.

It doesn’t help that I get serious garden envy from reading blogs with wonderful, established kitchen gardens where the owners are almost totally self sufficient in fabulous, organic produce. Like The Big Garden http://biggarden.scot/blog/ and https://charlieandjo.wordpress.com/ Totally inspirational – thanks guys.

I know that to get to this stage has probably taken years of hard work, mistakes and learning. I know that the first year on the croft will be one of watching and listening, preparing, and taking much experienced local advice if I’m not to completely balls things up. I don’t mind making mistakes – it’s all part of the learning process. I’m just impatient now to start.

I’m going to start small, segregating a south-east facing part of the croft close to the house for raised beds. We’re talking about composting, and building a wormery, which husband has had great success with in the past. I’d like to grow a herb bed, and a few vegetable beds, and a fruit bed. And we want to plant an orchard with hardy apple varieties. And maybe even try growing nuts in a sheltered space, which I know may be a step too far on Skye, but what the hell, it’s worth a try.

 

Red Clover and Lupins

We’ve been thinking of how best to build up the croft’s ability to support plants and wildlife. It’s pretty barren at the moment with limited biodiversity, having been left unused for many years as far as we can tell. It’s compacted grass, moss and rushes with a bank of trees to the Southwest and a very boggy area to the South. The soil levels are very thin.

What we can do is start working on the fertility of the ground by seeding nitrogen fixers like lupins and red clover, which will start the process of returning nutrients to the soil and slowly build up the biomass. Green manure.

We also need to get to know a local farmer who can provide manure from cows, pigs or horses that we can dig in or spread. Anything that increases the organic matter in the soil can only be a good thing. We’ll be aiming for full ground cover rather than bare, tilled soil with most of the land under tree or orchard cover, and raised beds for vegetable production.

Of course, once the trees are in and slowly shedding leaves the cycle will start and the soil depth will slowly and naturally increase.

I know that it’s going to be at least ten years until the trees and hedges will be established enough to really get going, but how satisfying will it be to know that the legacy we leave will be woodland and wildlife.

As we approach Hogmanay

As we approach the turn of the year, and Hogmanay especially, it’s time to look forward in anticipation of the new year to come.

Tomorrow is a double day of reckoning for me – it was my fathers birthday as well as being New Years Eve. He was a Scot, and died some years ago, but is always in my thoughts on this day.

I like to think that although he chose to spend his retirement on the South Coast of England that he’d be secretly chuffed that I was returning to Scotland for mine. He is much of the reason that I have always felt a love for Scotland, bringing my brother and I up in familiarity with all the things that represented Scotland to him in terms of Stovies, white pudding, Lorne sausage, butteries, porridge, Edinburgh, the total superiority of the Scottish race and.. well, you get the picture. 😊

Here’s to planning approval and the start of the Croft build next year. Thank you for joining us!

Hoping that you all also have a wonderful 2019.

Barn challenges

First the good news… there is still an old barn on the croft. Agricultural buildings are an absolute necessity for equipment, feed, seed storage and the like.

Secondly the not so good news. It’s more hole than barn…

There’s a massive gap in the back wall of the barn, where the stone collapsed many years ago. There is no front wall at all except some rickety boarding that looks like it’s held up by sheer hope. The beams are unsupported, rotten in places and swaying in the wind at the back where there is no wall left to hold them. The tin roof is full of holes but is mainly still in place, which is what’s saved the rest of the walls, I suspect.

However, it’s salvageable. Let’s hope it’s doable and actually not too expensive, because after we’ve built the house and started the land drainage and tree planting works we’ll be restoring this with a bit of a wing and a prayer, and not a lot else!

A sense of home

As I sit here at the kitchen table in London on the last few days before Christmas, tapping away on my laptop and watching the clouds scud past the window, my thoughts turn to what we mean by the term home.

For me, home is where love is. And my love is my husband of two years. His presence and his companionship immediately make anywhere that we live home. Having said that, there are places to be in that feel more comfortable and more aligned with our core values and way of life than others. London would never be that place for us. It’s just where we have to be for work. It’s too fast and impersonal, too urban. Too concrete. Too polluted.

I’m sure we’ve all seen dogs slowly and endlessly circling around, trying to find that indefinably perfect spot to settle in. I seem to have been that way for most of my life, living in Germany, France, Holland, England and America, yet never fully settling or feeling that deep sense of belonging in any of them.

The closest I’ve ever got to that is the island.  For me, cold, wet, bleak, and as wild as it is, it speaks to me at some deep level that makes me feel that this could be home. When I’m on the island I feel a sense of something deep within me unclenching, and some of the anxiety that is ever present in urban life starting to relax it’s grip on me.

Some people count the nights until Christmas in the anticipation of the day. I’m counting the months and years until we are on the island in our own little home.

Severe lack of soil!

The surveyors report is in. Most of the Croft only has about 20cm of soil over lewissian gneiss… we always knew that this was going to be challenging!

Looks like a winter tucked up with gardening books and a planning pad to work out what maritime, salt and acid tolerating plants will make it here.

Preferably those that don’t need soil!

Good thing that we hadn’t been hoping to make this into a lush tropical market garden… we like the idea of a woodland croft to increase the land biodiversity. Alder, willow, hazel, birch, hawthorn… there should be enough types of tree that could cope with these conditions. Edible hedging with sloes, rowan berries and crabapples. A few free range chickens perhaps.

Time to stalk the Woodland Trust sites for advice..

Rusty red

Tucked away on many hillside crofts are delapidated barns still sporting rusty red corrugated iron roofs. They glow red in the sunset and stand out starkly against the green and browns of the moorland and heather.

We have one on our croft, and I love it.

Nature has taken the metal and turned it into a thing of beauty through successive generations of scouring with salt, wind and rain.

Unexpected patches of colour in a wintery landscape.

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