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…🤔

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, they’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 ‘scythe versus strimmer’ 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/

Sobering reading

The sun is shining this Easter weekend and most folks in the U.K. are heading to an overcrowded beach in the rush to escape the cities, or consuming their body weight in mass produced chocolate eggs. Perhaps for our generation it has ever been thus.

In this home the long weekend break is a little different. This book is on the side table pile for consumption, and I’ve just started it. I’m two chapters in so far.

It’s not a book about the science of climate change. I’m sure that we’ve all heard about that, and although it’s something that I totally believe in, the most frightening thing for me is that I see that it’s almost impossible for many others to sustain strong feelings about it, such is its’ enormity. It’s simply too large and horrific to believe it’s real.

Others won’t believe it until it affects them directly. I watch people struggling to equate the facts with their protected urban reality in their continued disconnection with nature.

This is one of the reasons that we have decided to live at the edge and grow woodland, trying in our small way to leave a small patch of the planet able to support biodiversity and wildlife.

This book is about what it will be like to live on this planet should we continue the trajectory that we’re on. It’s a depiction of real Armageddon.

The writing is clear and powerful. I’d urge you get a copy and to read it.

Horticulture for crofters

I’ve just received this copy of Horticulture for Crofters, a fabulously useful handbook published by the Scottish Crofting Federation.

I’ve been trying to get my hands on this for months, and so its arrival in the post this week was a cause for much excitement on my part.

It’s an incredibly detailed read on vegetable, fruit and tree production in Scotland, with lots of advice on crop shelter, soil care, crop selection and drainage. There are plenty of examples from growers in the inner and outer Hebrides, many on Skye. Just what we need to provide solid advice on local conditions and challenges.

Not to mention the wonderful illustrations by Chris Tyler, generously scattered through the chapters, which sadly I don’t have the rights to share here.

Bring it on! That’s the next weeks reading sorted.

Whilst the gales lash outside..

On the reading table for consumption this weekend are two books on permaculture and perennial vegetable growing:-

  • The Earth Care Manual – a permaculture manual for Britain and other temperate climates by Patrick Whitefield
  • How to grow perennial vegetables – low maintenance, low impact vegetable gardening by Martin Crawford

The first is a book on permaculture in Britain and other temperate zones. It’s said to be the definitive manual on the practical application of permaculture principles to our islands, written passionately and compellingly by an author who has been an exponent of the permaculture movement since 1990.

As I am a firm believer in permaculture as a movement, I am very much looking forward to this as a read.

The second was inspired by another blogger who posts on perennial vegetables, which sounded like such a wonderful and practical idea that I just had to know more.

Perennial vegetables are those that don’t need replanting annually, but last at least three years in the soil, and in many cases many years more. It contains over 100 perennial vegetables, from the commonplace to some that I have never heard of, with tips on how to source seeds, how to grow them, and recipes for their use.

It looks fascinating, and a quick browse has shown me how many plants I hadn’t even heard about, let alone realised that they were edible and worthy of cultivation!

Let the gales blow and the rain lash the windows this weekend. I will be tucked up on the sofa with these two lovelies and a mug of tea.

Exploring the croft

We’ve spent the last few days exploring the land. The croft is situated on a south east facing slope. Because it hasn’t been used for many years apart from occasional grazing, rushes have overtaken much of it, and there is little tree cover with the exception of a few small birch groves acting as a shelter belt to the west of the land.

There are exposures of lewissian gneiss in various places, but there also appear to be layers of shale, as exhibited here in an exposed cut above the stream. You can see the soil layer overlaying the shale. Local spot PH testing shows that the soil over the shale is around 6.5-6.8, so not as acidic as we had feared.

There is also a sheltered valley to the north, where the burn flows. It’s lightly wooded and overgrown, with the stream running through the cut.

It’s much more diverse and untouched in nature than I thought from our first viewing, which is wonderful. We’re already hatching plans for where we could plant a small orchard, and where we could create a pond.

Now to focus on planning permission and building warrants…

Reading Lists for the Weekend

It’s a blustery, wet February evening here in London. We’re tucked up and relaxing after a heavy week, winding down and recalibrating for the weekend.

A weekend isn’t down time without something in the form of a book in my world, and on my reading list this weekend are three things that I’m looking forward to:

    The winter issue of Permaculture magazine
    Skye the Island by James Hunter
    A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson

Permaculture magazine is just there to top up the dream-pot with pictures of wildflower strewn farms, woodlands and hobbit homes built of driftwood and reclaimed windows. It keeps me inspired by what others have achieved in their desire to live sustainably. I doubt that we’ll ever live like some of the people featured in it, but it’s an inspiration!

Skye the Island is a wonderfully interesting book written by a historian who lives there. It is written without the usual romanticism and sentimentality about the island, and is a moving, evocative and hopeful text on the bitterness of the island clearances and the possibilities for the future. James Hunter is a lecturer at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

A Sting in the Tale is a book about bumblebees. Written by one of the UK’s most respected conservationists, whose passion for these fascinating insects shines through every page, it’s also a warning about the destruction of their populations and the potential dangers if we are to continue down this path.

All this material nurtures my desire to revitalise the land that we’ve bought and create an environment that is as rich, biologically diverse and as wild as we can keep it.

I can’t wait to get started.