Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Illustrated Guide to Croft 3

As promised (ages ago, sorry) pictures!

And hello Mum and hello Lynda :)

It's been a gorgeous couple of days. I have a slight tan line where my t shirt is, bruises in odd places from carrying bits of wood around the croft and a sense of well being that only comes with achieving good things. The midges are back and the solar panel was still charging the battery up and gone 1030pm tonight even though it was daylight at 430am this morning - ah, the trade off for those long dark days of winter at last.

13 months in to our new life here I've been looking around and taking stock of how far we have come. It's a hearteningly long list of achievements and I'm in a celebratory mood thanks to all that sunshine. That bare field of just over a year ago is looking like a working croft these days, producing food and income, feeling a lot like home. Today has seen us deliver eggs and salad to the shop for sale, sell eggs from our honesty table at the top of the croft and eat salad and quiche (made with our eggs) for dinner with a friend up for the evening. I've replied to an email regarding the delivery date of our next livestock venture - turkeys (and some more geese) arriving next month and taken a phonecall about another sow to run with Tom and Barbara as breeding stock. It all feels a lot like we have a business :)

the raised beds. Made from recycled scrap wood from all around the island, all gifted to us

this one is made from strainer posts that were no good as strainer posts any more but are perfect for raised beds. This is with a layer of cardboard (waste product we have a LOT of here on Rum given how many things come in boxes on the ferry) laid as sheet mulch.

Star helping to saw wood for the stakes to fix the beds

Bonnie, not particularly helping as such but enjoying the sunshine and the excuse to run around barking lots

Elliot, he's new. A cockerel who has mated with all available hens in the village and was starting to get too incestuous with his own offspring so has been relocated up here where he has no relations - yet

Dave - the one eyed cockerel, king of Croft 3, his reign remains undisputed after a brief clash with Elliot saw him retain his crown as King Cock

Oh he has plenty to crow about!

the beds, still at sheet mulch stage so far

step two is a manure layer - I'm using the manure rich straw bedding from the pigs. Worms are already working their magic on this stuff which I am moving across from where the pigs houses were to be the second layer on the raised beds.

The beds should rot down beautifully with added layers of cardboard and newspaper, more animal bedding and manure and possibly some seaweed. I'll put in some crops like potatoes, marrows etc that will be just fine in these beds now and give some crops and act as green manure too.

Pig family. Tom is theoretically seperated from Barbara and the piglets but they all seem to mingle happily together. The wee ones are growing fast and are very curious and adventurous.

The ducks in their new overnight pen which includes house and pond and backs on to the Shit Heap Hider shed. We're getting all the eggs each morning now.

meanwhile, over at the polytunnel - the potatoes are doing well

I'm sowing seeds in egg boxes. They are the perfect size and shape and will compost down around the plant as it grows when time comes to transplant them. The box stays nice and wet which helps with watering too.

The current two cropping trays of salad leaves

and the next two to come - I'll get the next lot sown this week to ensure  continuous supply

herbs - a combination of some live plants from ebay, some cuttings from our own plants and some stuff grown from seed. All ready and waiting for me to get the herb spiral ready for them.

purple sprouting, ready for moving to a bigger tray

chillis and tomatoes, loving that polytunnel

an experimental crop from Star - a handful of bird seed sown in a tub is showing sprouts in just days. She has dreams of grinding her own flour to make her own bread.

beetroot in a box! Seems to be the perfect growing environment!

strawberries, runners from ebay delivered by post. We have four varieties and these in the pots in the grow bags are doing by far the best with three flowers on them today.

peas doing really well, the next sowing are starting to germinate, more to be sown this week to keep 'em cropping

 Star's sunflower grown in a welly. I took this shot and was stunned to spot the view looking out from the inside of the polytunnel. It never fails to take my breath away!

radishes, grown in an old compost sack for want of suitable containers.

more herbs, coming on ready for that spiral

strawberries and more of that view

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Forever April

Ady commented yesterday that living on Rum is forever living in April. Sunshine, showers, sunshine, showers. It is true the weather does seem to do that regardless of the season. It is truly the island of the rainbow.

April is a month that has many parallels with life here generally though. Just coming out of one season or story, about to emark upon another. Always leaving something behind but heading towards the next bit - harsh winter behind, midge filled summer ahead...

Emotionally and challenges and victories wise it feels like we're forever in sunshine or showers here too. Someone said to us early in our time here on Rum that everything here feels magnified, more intense. And it's true. A delivery not coming or a boat being cancelled feels HUGE, one bad day leaves you feeling stranded in your own life without the possibility of getting a takeaway, going to the cinema, heading into town for some retail therapy. All of those tried and tested pick you up methods we relied on in our previous lives just aren't here for us here. But a good day, oh a good day has your heart singing, everything validated and confirmed and the whole world on your side.

It's been another productive weekend with the Shit Heap Hider finished and filled, the Shit Heap cleared, dismantled, moved and burned and skipped. I reorganised the polytunnel again and did some more sowing in there and Ady and I have made five raised beds with at least another five more ready to assemble tomorrow (weather permitting).

We've been eating salad leaves daily and sold our first bag already. Various seedlings are ready for potting on and I've already transplanted peas into an old compost sack with a tripod made from sticks for them to climb up. I want to finish the beds tomorrow and then mulch them with saved cardboard, old animal bedding and some of the soil that is all rich and composted from having the pigs on it for months. Even if I don't get anything planted in them this season they will be ready for autumn sowings and next spring.

We have some fun projects planned including a herb spiral and an earth oven. Some more potential revenue plans including hiring out our two camping stoves to people staying down on the campsite in tents or the camping cabins and selling more produce to visitors. I have a range of midge inspired craft items planned to get made and we have more livestock due to arrive over the coming weeks.

There is plenty to be fretting about in terms of our house still not sold down south so no movement possible on building a house here just yet although we are still busy with research and fine planning as to what we want when we have the funds. But these are things out of our control so not worth paying too much attention to - far better to be focussing on the things we can change, improve and be getting on with.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

As if by magic...

A lack of promised pictures I know, here are a couple but I do have more to follow:

We'll deal with the second one first. It's Barbara Pig and the piglets (who have been named by Star and Dragon and I *think* are called Bacon, Biter, Gammon and Speedy but there seem to be more than four names banded about so I think they may keep changing!). They are thriving and looking really happy in their new Pig Palace. Ady and I spent Sunday building a huge new shelter for them to live in with gifted galvanised sheeting and our own many used fence posts. It is big enough to be the new maternity pen for sows as and when needed with up to 12 or more in a big litter in the future. It has enough headspace (just) for us to get in there too if needed while still being low enough to be cosy for the pigs. It faces south with a small opening and an area inside where they are totally sheltered from the elements on all sides. The floor is two plastic coated mattresses which mean it won't get muddy or wet and it has a deep layer of straw bedding which we'll keep topped up. Tom Pig has his usual landrover topper home with a board base and more straw bedding. They have a massive run which is currently divided in half so they piglets can get away from Tom if he is aggressive to them although so far they all seem very amicable and family minded together. We have another sow coming soon so will have a breeding trio and at any time may have any non-weaned piglets still with a mother and two or three we may be fattening to eat.

The ground the pigs have left behind is lovely - their own manure perfectly trodden in and composted down, the ground drained well by their trotters and all weeds, reeds and rushes cleared away. They have been moved five times now since we had them and the first and second patches they were on are growing back now as lush green grass. The intention is to leave them on their new area for good with the odd rest time for it when we may move one or more of them to another area to prepare it for growing for us. Pig keeping so far has gone well for us and I am excited about selling our first piglets, getting another sow and later on this year processing our first meat.

Moving the pigs across was the same fairly easy task it has always been with the new fence being put up and the old fence left operational until the last possible moment when it is turned off, the pigs lured across to their new area with the feed bucket and the new fence turned on once the battery and electric fence gizmo and solar panel all moved across. (We power the fence with a small solar panel which trickle charges a 12v battery - aside from times when the grass has grown up or the fence has otherwise been shorting out and drained the battery the solar panel keeps up with demand and it is a self sufficient little system). Tom and Barbara know the drill and happily trotted over following Ady but the little piglets were just not up to the walk or the adventure and the feed bucket as yet holds no real motivating lure for them. Ady managed to grab one and walk across with it squealing (they are quite the noisiest little animals around!A quick google suggests 100 decibels plus, louder than a chainsaw!) which had Barbara following him baring her teeth and playing the Mama Pig Protector role admirably. After a few false starts and some comedy slipping over in the mud chasing piglets capers Ady shut Barbara and the one piglet in the new house and held her back with all his body weight and a pallet while Dragon calmed down Bonnie Dog who was equally excited  by all the drama and added to it with her own barks, yips and desire to round everyone and everything up. Star helped me corner the remaining piglets and I caught them, held their mouths shut to reduce squealing volume and took them across the mud one at a time to reunite with Barbara. A very fraught 10 minutes or so which I now wish someone had caught on camera and set to the Benny Hill theme tune music as I'm sure it would have been a winning clip on youtube!

Monday was spent tidying up after the Big Pig Move, digging out fence posts, gathering up some of the manure rich old straw bedding ready to create some lasagne beds in the next couple of weeks once we designate a growing area and planning out the next phase of Croft 3, Year 2. We've been looking at processes and conducting a sort of time and motion study on ourselves in order to make best use of resources, energy and make life as easy as possible. This has involved moving things like feed bins so that we can get as close as possible to them with the car when the delivery arrives but still be able to fill up the smaller feed bins on a weekly basis without walking too far. I've been applying permaculture principles to our planning and trying to think ahead as to what potential issues could be. An example of how we're getting better at this is that we have put down pallets to protect the pathway we walk twice daily between the feed bins and the animals so that it does not go to mud within a week. We are planning to create a proper path there in the next month or so but it is better to not let it go to compacted mud first.

We then built our second galvanised sheet and fence post construction - what we are calling the Shit Heap Hider. For a whole year we have been gratefully accepting any cast off scrap material from fellow islanders whenever it's offered. We have wood, metal and other random stuff all of which we don't have a use for right now but may do in the future. It is this heap which has provided fish boxes and other plastic crates for my container growing in the polytunnel, the frame for the roof on the new buildings and more so it is valuable stuff. It just looks really untidy. While asthetics are not our number one priority really we are ever conscious of being sited on a nature trail on a National Nature Reserve and we don't want to live on a bombsite either so we have built something to store it all in. We have constructed it on a slope (frankly it's hard to build anything *not* on a slope on our croft) and will make use of that by putting some gutter pipe on the roof to collect the rainwater which will be the water for our pigs and our turkeys when they come next month. We're also using the back of the shelter to be the back of the duck enclosure (we pen the ducks at night so that we can collect their eggs which they lay in whatever random location they happen to be sitting in unlike the hens who will go into the chicken house to lay so we have been penning them at night and getting all the eggs rather than none of the eggs). The side of the shelter will also be the side of the turkey enclosure so we will be using less materials to build them all and less fencing to go around. See, getting smarter.

That second photo? An audience with Nic. There are several universities which visit Rum as part of their field trips each year. Some come for the geology, the archaeology, the wildlife, the scenery. We've had people studying the rats, the red deer, the manx shearwaters, the plantlife, the newts, the rocks and fossils, the earthworms and more. This group are interested in the people and the realities of life on an island. We talked to a  group from this course last year just after we arrived on the island about our hopes and plans and what we wanted to achieve and the course leader contacted us to ask if we'd be up for doing the same this year. They arrived while we were working, muddy and grubby and fully 'in action'. The kids were in the piglet pen so they got a really good snapshot of what our days involve. They stood, those 30 young people and their 4 tutors and listened to what to my ears sometimes sounds like a script these days. Our story. The story of how we were Ordinary Citizens, Living Ordinary Lives just a couple of years ago. But we had A Dream. We thought there was A Better Way. (I'll stop with the capitals letters now!). We talked about how we had proper jobs and a house, running water, a TV, private health care, company car, pensions schemes and paycheques. How we also had stress, traffic jams, supermarkets, Monday Mornings, meetings and a feeling that this couldn't actually be all there was to life, how there had to be more. How growing food at our allotment and in our garden, tending to our chickens, walking on the beach, in the woodlands, talking, dreaming, feeling free was what we really wanted to be doing. How we'd go on camping trips and exist without electricity, have to carry our drinking water to our tent and ration it's usage, collect firewood to build a campfire and feel like we were properly alive for a few days only to return to our house with sinking hearts and ponder why we needed so much stuff in our lives.

I told this group of young people, most of whom were struggling to find a spot of ground to stand in that wasn't swallowing their inappropriate footwear into the mud (really - deck shoes to walk to a croft rather than wellies? And why have they no coats? In my day.....) about our year in a campervan, living with people all around the UK, doing things differently. Working for food, a bed for the night and the satisfaction of being part of something that makes sense. About how we found ourselves here on Rum at the end of our journey, starting from scratch with a bare field at the end of a crappy track where it rains more than it doesn't and when it's not raining there are probably midges. I stood in my patched up jeans, infront of my car that doesn't really work, while my kids played in the mud with the piglets and tried to convince this group that really we haven't always been hillbilly types, that this is Living The Dream.

Some of them shuddered when I talked of no electricity, no TV, no mobile phone reception. Some of them visibly paled when we talked of only having been back to the mainland twice since we arrived here a year ago. Some asked about the cinema, McDonalds, shopping (as a recreational activity, not as a means to purchasing essential items like food!). But some of them really got it - we were asked how Ady and I had met and whether we ever dreamed we'd end up living here. At the end several of the students came and shook our hands and said they admired us, were impressed and inspired, thought we were doing an amazing thing and wanted to wish us well. Then on Monday one of the students came back again to buy some eggs and chat some more. Knowing we had managed to reach someone to such an extent and convinced him we were worth coming to visit again means a lot.

We've had a few 'repeat visitors' in the last month or so, people we don't actually know ourselves but have visited Rum twice now since we've been here and have been keen to catch up with us. People who we chatted to in our first week here when we were staying at the castle and saw us in our first flush of enthusiasm, students who were here when the static was in it's first location along the nature trail. I've had at least four people tell me they've been following this blog to see how we're getting on and how much they can see we've achieved in our first year. That motivates us to do more, make it happen and carry on.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

When it all makes sense

There is a feeling in the air of change, of moving on, of tides turning, seasons changing, clocks ticking.

It could well be the spring finally arriving - delicate flowers are in bloom underfoot, the air is filled with the sounds of curlews and cuckoos calling, tonight it was still daylight at 1030pm.
We've had family here which always leaves a bittersweet taste as they leave - lovely to have them here, sad to see them go, knowing it will be months before we next see them. Birthdays will have passed, children will have grown, lives moved on without that constant contact and simply being present for the small stuff.

It's been an intense few weeks for visitors for us - people staying with us in the static, visiting for day trips, staying in the village but eating with us. All lovely to have but distracting from our purpose. We'd gotten a little sidetracked - by the winter, by visitors, by various other responsibilities and the feeling that not much had moved along on the croft was weighing heavily. I shared this with an on island friend who drew my attention to the fact that the way to make things happen was not to bemoan them but to get on with them. Buoyed up by support from her and some tear jerkingly wonderful parting words from my sister in law we have many plans of action and have spent the last two days making things happen.

Inevitably things have stopped a full on, no hitches result. The car battery was dead so that took time, a friend needed a hand and you can never underestimate the time spent having 'a quick cup of tea' but it's been a productive weekend with tired muscles, mud covered clothing and a real visible difference on the croft to show for it. Pictures to follow as they probably tell the story far better than my words.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Setting an example

I am frequently proud of my children. They are amazing people. I love them for their individuality, their quirks and diversity, their ability to be whoever they want to be. I'm proud to know them, to love them and to be associated with them. In the last 24 hours I have watched them both demonstrate kindness, thoughtfulness, maturity and many other traits which I can be proud of having influenced and guided them in. I've watched them deal with younger and older people, animals, strangers, family and friends and conduct themselves in ways of which I - and above all they - can be proud of. I actually had two seperate compliments just this afternoon about them both from tourists to the island which always serves to have me glowing with parental pride and reaffirm that I am doing this parenting malarky just fine.

But are they proud of me? In the same way that I can only take a limited amount of actual credit for who they are, the choices they make and the direction they choose it is interesting to ponder on how they view me. Whether I am an embarrassment or source of pride, someone they are happy to be attached, associated with and influenced by or would rather they could claim to not actually know at all.

Children have an innate faith and trust in their parents and even the most fallible of us have to go a really long way to shake their love and confidence in them. Until they are teenagers of course at which point allegedly it all heads in the opposite direction. I'll let you know in a couple of months when I get my first teenager whether that generalisation is deserved ;).

I know I have often recounted this story in real life but I am not sure if I have shared it before on this blog. If I have, or indeed if you know me in real life and have already heard it I apologise but it serves as an excellent example of where I am going with this post. On the day that we left Rum after our interview to get the croft it was a windy, wet and bleak February afternoon. We had been told we were successful in our application for Croft 3 and had two weeks WWOOFing planned on Eigg to catch up with friends there, spend more time on an island, learn more about our new lives and feed and board us while we waited for a crofting course I was booked in to attend in Inverness. In my usual manner I had everything organised, planned and sewn up with everyone knowing what was happening next, expected of them and the direction in which to go. We stepped on board the ferry and were told that due to the weather we would not be going to Eigg after all but straight back to the mainland.

We had a split second decision to make - get on the ferry and go back to the mainland or stay on Rum. We were broke; the whole point of WWOOFing on Eigg was because we had no money to get all the way back to Sussex only to return to Scotland again ten days later. Willow the campervan was in retirement, we were driving my old people carrier which would not have been suitable to live and sleep in for that long. Everyone looked to me so I led us on board the ferry. We sat down as the ferry moved away from Rum and Star asked me "So, whats the plan?" to which I replied quite truthfully "I don't have a plan."

"What do you mean you don't have a plan? You ALWAYS have a plan!" she said aghast.

My response was that by the time we arrived at the mainland I would have a plan. And I did. I made some phonecalls as soon as we got phone signal and by the time we got off the ferry at the other end I had sorted out somewhere to sleep that night and somewhere to stay for the ten days until the course started. Star's faith in me proved founded, quite possibly more so because she had it and that galavnised me to rise to her expectations.

Today I read a quote that said:
If you ever feel like giving up just remember that there’s a little girl watching who wants to be just like you… do not disappoint her.

And I reminded me anew of the responsibility we bear as parents, as grown ups to the children around us. We are role models, life icons, looked up to, imitated and idolised, identified with and offer inspiration, guidance and set the standard.

If my kids are up to the challenge of making me proud them I'm up for having a really good go at doing the same for them. I want to exhibit fight, determination, grit and gumption. Determination to succeed, ability to turn dreams into reality, face adversity and come out on top.

As a mother I have big hopes for that little girl (and of course my little boy too) it seems only fair that they place similar expectation on me and that I strive as hard as they do to live up to them.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Happy Feet

If I could choose, my natural state of shod-ness would be nothing. I would choose barefoot over any shoe on the planet. I dislike socks and although I do wear them within my wellies they come off as soon as the wellies do.

But digging ditches, treading through shin deep mud, walking over stones, through rivers, kicking a ball for the dog, walking along the nature trail all require some level of foot protection over and above what nature gave me.

I had a footwear dilemma while WWOOFing. I set off with fashion wellies and doc martens, tried ankle high waterproofs, mid calf dunlop wellies, further fashion wellies and then finally splashed out on a pair of Dickies rigger boots. They were way above our footwear budget but were rather gorgeous in their rugged brown leather-ness, had steel toecaps which is always good for feeling like an empowered and powerful woman, had cute little pockets (in which I used to keep an interesting selection of small things). They lasted all the way round the UK and did the first few months here too. They finally failed due to splitting at the back which I sort of fixed with ShoeGoo but they were just a little too short being mid-calf rather than knee high. The mud here on Rum, particularly on the croft is *extreme* and has a high up the leg splash point. So I retired them to the horse box which is our storage space. Sadly they shared that space with the winter mouse infestation which meant that while they were still in use even though I was not wearing them they were no longer suitable to act as footwear.

Since then the search has been on for *the* boot for Rum. I wear my wellies hard - they have to be up to walking down to the village two or three times a day (a round trip of 2 or 3 miles, so a regular 10 miles at times) over mud, rocks, track and road. I drive, dig ditches, ceilidh and generally just live in them.

My second to last pair were neoprene lined and topped which I have fallen in love with. I like the warmth, the comfort and the ease of on and off-able -ness that they afford me. So my current pair are the same design. The first pair were just over £20 and lasted a matter of weeks before splitting so they were returned and I got a refund to set against a more expensive pair. Which have just about lasted three months before also splitting and leaking. I once again have a wet foot and a lack of faith in wellies.

I have been given hints, tips and recommendations of all the big brands - Hunter, Aigle, Muck Boots, Le Chameau but I confess to being cagey about forking out £100 plus. There must be the welly out there that can honestly keep up with my feet...

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Ten thousand spoons...

I've been reading a lot about permaculture recently. Specifically in relation to polytunnels but as with all things once a concept ekes into your consciousness you find it playing out everywhere. One of the many lessons I have gained from the stuff I've been reading is a mentality that nothing is a problem - just a question you have not found the answer to yet. Permaculture is mostly about common sense, making what you already have work for you as best it can. Using every resouce, looking to nature for the answers.

When we arrived here just over a year ago it was with the benefit of a year spent already out of the ratrace and the experience of not having absolute control over what happened to us next. We'd spent our time WWOOFing at the hands of others. Suddenly the jobs for the day, the food we were to eat, where we might sleep was not all certain and within our control. Certainly at no point were we doing anything we really didn't want to, we were always safe and had the choice to stop or walk away but we had learnt a lot about letting go. Infact the months prior to that had also been about letting go. We'd sold or given away or packed up all our 'stuff' - material possessions, jobs, house, clothes, family, friends, daily, weekly, monthly routines. Our time in Willow the camper van taught us that our true needs were pretty basic - food, water, shelter, warmth and each other.

So our first plan when we landed here was always to spend time observing, learning, watching. We deliberately did not make any permanent decisions or choices. We have lived in temporary accommodation which although I suspect will never move from it's current spot on the croft will not be our forever home. The animals are all sheltered in moveable homes. We have put up nothing that cannot be moved. We have spent hours walking the croft in all weathers, all seasons. Marked out places where we think the ground is best, the view the most spectacular, the land most sheltered. We plot our paths around the croft, thinking about how to carry heavy things the shortest distance, how to make life as easy and efficient as we can. Looked at the resources we need and tried to come up with the most logical, natural solutions to getting them. We still have lightbulb moments every week when we realise that something is harder than it needs to be an with a small investment of time or money now we will save over time.

Last week as we carried heavy sacks of animal feed on our shoulders, slipping and sliding in the mud and cursing in the pouring rain, needing to empty the car of the feed so we could get it back across the river before it ran too high and trapped us on the wrong side I said to Ady 'there has to be an easier way'. So we stopped, went and had a cup of tea and came up with a re-design. The following day when the sun shone again we put a couple of hours work into moving things around and we have a further plan for moving things more this coming weekend. Currently I spend time every day walking to the river to fill my watering can twice over to water all the pots in the polytunnel - all the while slipping and splashing through the surface water which is gathered under the polytunnel and around the doors. That can't be right, there has to be a way of both gathering the water that is already under my feet and redirecting to water my crops but also to shelp it not be so slippery and splashy underfoot. A wooden legged table my neighbour has in the polytunnel is wicking up this water and the legs are now darker as the water soaks ever higher up those legs. I've tried putting containers outside to capture rainfall but the wind blows them away and I spent more time collecting them from around the croft. The answer has not come to me yet but I know it will if I keep thinking about it hard enough.

Another message I am getting loud and clear from the research I have been doing is that we need to document the tough bits and then get creative about making them work to our advantage. What makes our life difficult? The slope, the rainfall, the peaty, boggy ground, the crows and rats preying on our eggs and our young birds, the lack of access. How can we make those things advantages rather than challenges... There will be a way, we just need to find it. Last autumn we realised that rather than see the reeds and rushes that grow so well on the croft as a nusiance we were better strimming, drying and harvesting them to use as animal bedding and saving ourselves money on buying straw. We're learning how to work with nature and use things as resources rather than write them off as waste.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

About that rainbow....

Through the snot, the coughing, the too-hot, too-cold, rain lashed last few days have crept moments like these:

not one, but two rainbows!

Today, quite aside from being Ady's birthday was also the day we first enjoyed crops from the croft - freshly picked salad leaves from the polytunnel for lunch.

Ady's had a lovely birthday - cards from the kids, bacon butties for breakfast, a bath at the castle, five pounds to spend on whatever junk food he wanted at Jinty's shop, lunch of home made rolls, pate and salad, a visit from family in the afternoon and then a couple of birthday beers at the shop having been sung Happy Birthday to and shared his cake with fellow islanders. Home for curry for dinner and the promise of a fishing rod still to come.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Don't stop believing

There is something really fascinating about people on the edge of normal life. People generally are endlessly fascinating I think but those of us who live life not quite conforming, treading their own path, truly living up to the human condition of being individuals are really. Everyone here on Rum is in that category. You don't find yourself on a remote island by accident and actually even if you do then choosing to stay here and make it work is a conscious decision. No one is here without having actively decided to be here. That makes for a really colourful collection of people. Not an Intentional Community like some of the inspiring and amazing gatherings of like minded people with common goals that we WWOOFed at in 2011. Not a group of people who all share a dream, a vision, a passion even. Rather a group of people who are all here for individual, unique reasons. All with back stories, ideas, motivators and agendas of their own. It's like a micro society, except we are light on the wage slaves and crowd followers and heavy on the individuals and 'different' people.

I do not document anyone else's story here - their tales are not mine to tell or even to recount. But I am privileged to hear many of them, to listen and learn from the eclectic mix of of people that call Rum home. I get to discover what brought them here, what keeps them here and see the ways in which they make their own personal mark on what happens next on our island. Every individual here counts for 2.5% of the population, everyone has a big loud voice, everyone is a stakeholder. No one can be discounted or written off, nobody 'doesn't count' or 'doesn't matter'. There is no room for 'never mind me' or ;what I want is not important'. Certainly that can make for frustration, obstruction, slow progress. But it truly is both democracy AND anarchy in action. Power of the people, to the people, for the people. It's real and true and matters. One person's crisis is everyone's crisis, the victory and celebration of one is that of many.

Rum and it's component parts - people, organisations, factions and groups - are not like a jigsaw or an airfix model where there is only one correct way of putting them all together - I think they are more like a lego set with infinite possibilities or better still a box set of plasticine, where things can be shaped and moulded, pushed together, set apart, reformed and remade, grouped in different ways, different scenes and alternative realities.

Never is this more apparent to me than each month when I pull together and edit the content for the community newsletter.  I gather factual information and communications from SNH, the Isle of Rum Community Trust, the Residents Association, the school, the crofts, the gardeners, the shop and post office, the Ranger, the people with passions about wildlife, nature, the island. Information about events on the island, birthdays and announcements. Gossip, jokes, photos, a spotlight on a different resident each month and one of my personal highlights is Quote of the Month. Given to me each month by one of our residents who is the king of finding the right quote to suit any given moment.

This month, as ever I got the slip of paper with a quote for the newsletter but he also gave me a quote he had found and thought was pertinent for me.

"To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow."
 It's been a challenging week in many ways this week. The rain has been fairly relentless, the mud continues to colonise the croft, everyone except me (so far....) has come down with the cold that the cousins brought with them and another three chicks have died. All taken by the hooded crows. Yes we'll learn from this, come back stronger, take lessons from it and ensure the same mistakes are not made again but in the first tender weeks since we celebrated our anniversary here we have lost three piglets and seven chicks. That hits pretty hard when your current life relies on the success of rearing livestock and growing crops. When the ground is too wet to plant anything and the weather and wildlife are claiming the lives of your animals it's hard to find the rainbow through the rain.

There are many things I could credit with keeping us going - the faith and belief in us from afar, the friendship and support from fellow islanders, the half hour intervals here and there of blue skies and sunshine, the moments of pure joy as I call 'Good Morning Deer!' to the herd in the field on my way to school in the morning, the refusal to give up from Mama Hen as she spends half an hour calling to the lost chicks before shrugging her feathers and getting back on the next to hatch more.

This week what has kept me believing in tomorrow is the seedlings in the polytunnel. I've had herb plants, strawberry runners and various seeds arrive in the post this week, carried on sowing in egg boxes and yet more seeds have germinated and seedlings poked their way through the soil surface. This coming week we'll be eating salad leaves grown here on the croft - our first crops. In the darker moments I've found myself heading for the polytunnel to plant yet more sowings and I know that investing in the future, believing in tomorrow does not come more basic and heartfelt than that.

Friday, 10 May 2013

On and on

Thursday again already. Ady heard on the radio yesterday that an average human life is 1000 months, give or take.

A thousand months. Blimey. That's not much is it? Not when the days and weeks whizz by so quick. A month's notice, a month's mortgage payment, looking forward to the end of the month....

We have a notice board in the static which I write on, usually on a Sunday afternoon / evening. It's headed with the title 'This week on Croft 3' and we write a list of stuff that is due to happen in the coming week. Some of it is calendar type stuff - visitors, people up for dinner, meetings. Some is job list type stuff - order animal feed, finish the community newsletter, some is aspirational stuff ' move the pigs, plan the sowing, get the grant application forms completed'. It more or less always gets done with the odd thing carried over for a week or two. We also have a monthly plan with larger tasks that Ady and I have planned, that is far more fluid and subject to change and depends a lot on money, weather, what else happens to crop up. A thousand months...

While I was at school this morning Ady had a go at the curtains with some mould cleaner. Its changed his life! The curtains which were covered in black spots despite our best efforts through the winter have come up as good as new. We had resigned ourselves to just replacing them all once we move out of the static and it becomes a holiday home to rent but this stuff has cleaned them right up. It has also removed all the ground in dirt that all sorts of fancy hand soap had failed to get off Ady's hands. We'll gloss over the fact he and the static all now smell of bleach and there are no doubt all sorts of nasty chemicals floating around!

Ady and the children met me from school and we dashed to the pier where it was our first Sheerwater trip of the season. We didn't make the first of the year last week as I was at a meeting and the weather was pretty dire so Ady and the kids elected to wait and share the first one with me this week instead, particularly as the cousins are here so it was a real Family Excursion. The boat was super early and actually had to come back for us as it had started to head away. We jumped on and had a lovely two hours off to Soay and back. We saw loads of seabirds - kittiwakes, gannets, great skuas, manx shearwaters, black guillemots, shags. Amazing to think that this time last year we could not have identified any of those and now it is just knowledge we have. Ady saw a porpoise too but the rest of us missed it.

I love this photo of the four older cousins today on the boat. I love how Star is talking, Dragon is grinnning back at us and they are all immersed in their world. It reminded me of the countless photos I have of the four of them over the years in a similar pose looking out from various vehicles.

Here's one from many years ago of them on a tractor at the pick your own farm we used to live near to and visited countless times every summer.
After the boat the kids all scattered to play while Ady and I nipped back to the croft. We got distracted by the piglets all being out in the sunshine playing and exploring

Before settling back down with Barbara for a feed
Further good news in the chicken coop - Mrs Chicken now has THREE chicks. All seem well and she was out with them teaching them how to peck this afternoon on the new path.
And because I am sharing photos here are two rather gorgeous moths that we saw hatching out yesterday. The kids identified them as hawk moths.
We had a cup of tea with our neighbour Crofter Gav and then I went to the hall for a meeting (SWOT analysis and self evaluation of the bunkhouse project) while Ady rejoined the others to start a barbecue down at the beach to cook dinner on. I joined them a couple of hours later and we had a lovely evening eating venison burgers and chatting while the kids played.

Yesterday's post brought me some strawberry plant runners which I have put into containers and growbags in the polytunnel and a load of seeds including comfrey, borage, tarrragon and nasturtium. I have some little plants on their way - lavender, rosemary and some other hard to grow from seed stuff along with some gel rooting compound to try and take some cuttings of the lavender plant we brought up with us. My broccoli is sprouting, potatoes have had their final covering of compost and the first tender salad leaf shoots are almost ready to start picking.

1000 months. We're making sure this one really counts.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The cousins are here!

It's always interesting to see our island - and indeed our lives, through others' eyes. Sometimes we see the bleaker side of our current existence; life off grid is tough. No toilet, no guaranteed always on power, a two mile round trip to get laundry done, diesel and petrol and food at the mercy of the ferry, the post, the weather. At othe times you see the very best of our lives reflected back at us through other people though. The freedom for the children to roam, safe, adventuring, discovering, exploring. The interactions they have with fellow islanders, always happy to share a story, some knowledge, listen to the children's chatter. You see the wonder of the islands nature and beauty and unspoilt qualities - the amazing wildlife, stunning scenery. In an afternoon working alongside and chatting yesterday we saw a herd of red deer wander across the hillside from the static window and later an eagle soaring overhead.

We lost all three of the newly hatched chicks. We're not sure how or why - it could be they were taken by predators - hooded crows or maybe bigger birds, they may have been lost to rats or perhaps the in places knee deep mud claimed their little lives. Losing lives is a sad fact of keeping livestock - the cost is financial in terms of feed, potential sales of eggs or meat. The cost is emotional in terms of any life lost being sad. With life comes death however and the opportunities to learn, to move on and to change things for next time are also there. So yesterday we moved the chicken house to a drier patch of the croft. The current animal corner is decimated from a year of animal and person foot traffic and while continually moving them on will eventually trash the entire 8 acres if we didn't have a proper plan we can certainly spare the space to move the animals for now while we work on our plan. A new reinforced floor, a path around the front made of stones to prevent a huge puddle forming and this morning our efforts were rewarded with a newly hatched chick. The mother hen is a resiliant, determined type and despite already having lost four chicks she continues to sit on her clutch of eggs, even with the move and the improvements going on around her yesterday afternoon. To her this is a simple process where she will keep trying until the fittest chick finally hatches and survives. I think there is a lot to be learnt from her.

The Great Pig Move is next on the agenda. We've been debating the various options for pig housing, both short and long term as we currently need a house for Tom and another for Barbara and the piglets. We are hoping to get another sow before too long so need to have flexible housing options for the future possibility of two sows with litters one day. Creative thinking, clever use of cast out building materials and scrap stuff will hopefully lead to solutions over the coming week and the pigs will be moved to their next earmarked spot before the fortnight is out.

In the meantime island life marches on - seeds continue to sprout in the polytunnel. Plans for a mainland visit to the dentist, possible trip to the country show and visit to a neighbouring island for some puffin watching are all on the agenda. Directors meetings, a visit from the new island doctor, talk of the community run bunkhouse, whether we should buy a tractor or a manitou for the community's use, planning for various events in the summer and remaining ever hopeful for news from Sussex that our house has sold are all keeping us fully occupied this week.

Oh and the rain stopped and the sun came out yesterday!

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Chicks, rain, planning

It's continued to rain today. And by continued to rain I mean didn't really stop raining pretty much all day. The river is high, the ground is sodden and the mud is taking over. Even a year on we are still in awe of the changes to the landscape that nature brings about in an hour, a day, a week. Back on the mainland in Sussex nothing really changed regardless of the weather. You might turn the heating up a little, have to dry the washing indoors rather than on the line, put off or bring forward mowing the lawn by a week or so. Here a lot of rain means the car has to stay the other side of the river, getting food, firewood, animal feed up to the static becomes more of a challenge and takes more time. Wearing full on waterproofs takes longer to tog up, means a brief nip to the bottom of the croft to feed the animals takes twice as long and you need to have a space cleared to take off those waterproofs and somewhere to put them to dry off. Today has been one of those days I long for a bath to soak in, warm up and a washing machine to take dripping wet, muddy clothes off and chuck them straight in to.

Another egg has hatched bringing the chick tally to three so far. We're still hopeful for more and very chuffed. Star is particularly delighted as the cousins arrive for a two week stay on Monday and she is just desperate to show cousin M the piglets and the chicks. Much discussion these last few days about rearing livestock for food has gone on. This afternoon when Star came with me to deliver some eggs to the village and collect something from the freezer for Sunday Roast tomorrow she requested the chicken that Bonnie attacked earlier this year and has been in the freezer ever since. There is not much meat on it so we took out a second chicken with the intention of roasting both and making curry with the leftovers and soup with the bones. I'm proud of Star for her considered, informed and educated choices in her diet.

Ady has been working with one of our fellow islanders who is a talented joiner making some beds for one of the neighbouring Small Isles which has a hunting lodge about to open. They are beautiful works of art, each a unique creation making the most of the beauty of the wood they have been crafted from. Ady is enjoying both the learning experience of working alongside someone with a skill he is in awe of but also the camaraderie of working with a group of blokes. There are four of them at times as two other islanders have been helping out as well. He was there this morning while the kids and I did various things. Star and I made some candles, I did some work on the Rum community newsletter, sent some emails on various things and tried to make some headway with the Rum Venison website design. Star did some painting, she's working on her landscapes just now so we talked about perspective, distance and how moving away from drawing a quarter of a circle in one upper corner of the paper to be the sun is a real milestone art moment. She took that leap today and proudly went to bed declaring 'I am better at art tonight than I was when I woke up this morning!'. Dragon worked on a new postcard design as his current four have been selling well and he has two additional places to sell them from lined up so needs some more stock and thought he'd take the opportunity to create a new design based on customer feedback, sales and seeing what the finished printed products look like compared to his originals. I think he has a real winner this time so will get him some more stock ordered next week.

Ady came home for lunch and then we sat down with pen and paper and did some Planning. Planning for this year about housing, planning for the short and long term on the croft for horticulture and livestock and long term planning including what we'd love to do to earn an income, working out just what it costs us to live here and what is worth earning more for and what isn't. Dragon and Star also participated in the conversations talking about business ideas they might want to explore. Currently Dragon wants to learn more about herbs - growing them and the possible uses for them. I have a couple of books on the subject, various packets of seeds and some small plants already on their way and a plan for a herb spiral or two. Dragon knows that there are herbal remedies, aromatherapy aswell as culinary uses for herbs and wants to know more about all of them. He also wants to do more bushcraft type stuff with a long term view to teaching it or holding survival based retreats here on Rum.  Star wants to learn more about rare breed animals, particularly birds and see if there is scope for breeding them here and a market for them afterwards. Ady wants to further explore the idea of a mobile slaughterhouse business and I am still wanting to do something educational to do with self sufficiency.

The upshot of our plans is loads more research - energy, water, permaculture training courses, maybe some more books for reading. We have an updated croft map plan and renewed excitement for how much Rum and Croft 3 has to offer. Not easy, not without challenges but certainly the right direction. Re-evaluating once again what our priorities are, what our bare minimums are and why we are doing what we're doing is always a helpful and valid exercise.

Our tenants were due to move out of our house in Sussex today, I assume they have. This is both scary in as much as we now have an empty house with a mortgage to be paid but exciting in that hopefully an empty house is much more saleable than one with tenants in it. Fingers crossed we get some interest and things start to move so we can finally say goodbye to those last few ties of our old lives and fully throw ourselves at this one.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Raining Cows

Today's news:

Chicks hatch on Croft 3. Our second celebration of new life in as many weeks. The broody hen has been tenacious in her efforts, bloody minded in her will to succeed and determined to make this happen despite what gets chucked at her in the way of weather. She reminds me of someone....

Ady found a dead chick beside her this morning when he went to feed the animals. Chickens will do a very brutal cull themselves on chicks they think won't make it. Infact the broody hen often casts out eggs mid incubation which when we have cracked open we have found to have part formed chicks inside. We have always assumed the broody hen has some sort of spooky sixth sense about whether the chick is healthy and makes a decision. We have known several at-hatch culls at the hands (beaks?!) of the mother hen in the past too and they seem to know what they are doing no matter how brutal it seems to us. As Star said matter of factly earlier 'she needs all her time and energy to dedicate to the healthy chicks that will make it, she can't be worrying about the ones that won't survive without loads of help'. So evil Tory hen or natural at it's most efficient finest - you decide... In the past we have removed an ailing and picked on chick and raised it ourselves which if we'd been around this morning to witness the hatching and events afterwards we may well have done but we weren't and while livestock losses always hit us hard emotionally with a lesser financial impact we are philosophical about the reality of this way of life.

Anyway, when I returned home after lunch and checked on the animals I was delighted to see two fluffy, healthy chicks in the coop.

I had official confirmation that my job at the school will end at the end of term. I have not enjoyed it and am very relieved to have got an end date; it has felt like a compromise too far for the balance between being here for Dragon and Star and making things happen on the croft. It has also demonstrated to me anew just why the school environment is not one I am happy, comfortable or at ease with. While many would consider a tiny school like we have here on Rum to be the best possible school experience but for me a school is a school is a school. The structured environment, focus on extrinsic reward systems and early indoctrination into the system is all so against everything I believe in. I also think that a school as small as two pupils is actually the worst of all worlds. Anyway, good news all round that I have only weeks left and will then be able to re-focus on the reasons we gave up so much to come here and live our dreams.

I spent the afternoon at the static, having watered the plants in the polytunnel and checked on the animals on the way home. I made bread, made tortilla flour wraps to go with dinner and then spent the afternoon crafting with the kids. We did some needle felting - I made some colourful midges using material scraps and beads - Dragon made a chicken badge and Star a little representation of me :)

Dragon also did some fab sketches - one of a red deer stag infront of Hallival, another of the view from where he was sitting looking out through the window. Both children are really coming on in leaps and bounds with their art, developing their own unique styles and creating pieces of art they are justly proud of. I guess with inspirational landscapes and material like they have constant access to it makes it easy!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Sown up

Another lovely afternoon down in the polytunnel for me yesterday. Sun shining, enough breeze blowing through from the open doors either end to keep me from overheating, compost under my nails, surrounded by seed packets. Bliss.

I rearranged things in there again - funny how my outdoors housekeeping is always so much better than my indoors! I dismantled the shelf units as they were casting shadows on the shelf below and I ambitiously hope that plants may grow taller than the space between shelves eventually. So a little modification, some tying legs to the polytunnel frame (the shelving legs, not mine!) and I think it works really well.

With the exception of £20 spent on these shelf units all of the other containers are foraged or free. Several of the fish boxes have been scavanged off the beaches here on Rum, washed up after storms or high tides. The white and grey containers you see on the shelves are ice cream tubs donated from the castle kitchens for us to re-use. There is a cat litter tray I bought for use during our very brief period of cat ownership last year, the plastic base from Star's hamster Humphrey's outgrown cage and the pair of old wellies.

Some of my seedlings are sprouting which is very exciting. I have transfered some of the wee seedlings I planted in egg boxes into larger containers now. Here is some coriander

 And some onions and salad leaves that I put in fish boxes

I replanted the cucumbers, courgettes and peas that had been moused. I also put in some carrots and parsnips in deeper boxes. some garlic in another fish box and checked on the progress of various tomatoes and chillis. Those that had done nothing were leaving it too late to germinate so I have started again with those too. I now have a whole tray of peas in egg boxes, raised off the ground and am planning to spray the sides of the box with WD40 which Ady tells me is not only a nasty smell for mice it is also very slippery so stops them scurrying up the box. We'll see...

In other news today has been meeting-tastic with a board meeting of the IRCT directors this afternoon and then the Rum Community Association monthly meeting this evening. Nearly four hours of meetings means I'll no doubt dream of minutes and action plans! It's rained and rained and rained today which has meant walking to and from school and the village several times has not been a delightful experience but the river is running high which always pleases me as I love the extremes of it and I still found time to visit the piglets, water the things in the polytunnel and chat to the birds as I walked up the croft earlier.

We're not odd, it's everyone else!

A Home Educator, particularly one like me who didn't use curriculums, phonics schemes or fret about key stage development milestones with my pre-school and early years educational provision is often heard using the phrase 'Learning Through Play' to justify why colouring, playdoh, lego, jigsaw puzzles, splashing in puddles and finger painting is more than sufficient.

I'm not sure if we borrowed it from the education system or whether they nicked it off us but I hear it all the time in my current (temporary) incarnation as someone who sits in a school four mornings a week.

I know that children do learn through play but I also think they play through learning. Children who are 'let be' and left to explore their world with more autonomy and control over which direction things take are fascinating creatures to observe. I mentioned in yesterdays post how much our wee piglets are reminding me of Dragon and Star in the early years. It's a behaviour that happens naturally in all mammal infants - kittens, puppies, fox cubs and our litter of piglets. Exploring their world, testing, interacting, building the skills they'll need to survive and navigate their way through their life. [As an aside I have a whole other rant about how we have this dreadful tendancy to step in with our children in a way that animal mothers never do - 'share' (why should you, if it's yours, it's yours!), 'say sorry' (even when you're not remotely sorry), 'don't shout' (but you want your voice heard and no one is listening so it's natural to make it louder) but that's for another time.]

I can't be the only parent who has watched and listened to my children 'play out' their lives. From the very early copying parenting to their toys, to making their characters have the same experiences they have 'today we're going to Legoland! For a picnic! To the beach! Today we're going to the doctors for an injection, to the supermarket to do the food shopping, to the bank to pay money in.' Even at 10 and 12 Dragon and Star (when not plugged into tablets or games consoles, or listening to music and watching youtube clips - they are pre-teens just like many others) spend hours each day playing. A current passion is Minecraft - something I happily confess makes me feel old because I don't really get it and find myself saying things like 'isn't that clever, you couldn't do things like that in my day!'. Lots of their time is spent on Minecraft building houses and then showing us their designs and features. They also keep animals, breed them and scoff at how limited the scope for a pig on Minecraft is when they are so aware of the full possibilities. They used to play games where characters lived in a campervan and traveled around. I also recall how books I'd read them or films they'd watched would have a similar impact on their games. See 'play through learning' along with learning through play. They have never yet played 'schools'....

So back to my title - I'm not really suggesting everyone else is odd, although sometimes I am heard to mutter that when I hear the traffic report on the radio or scary news coverage or think of people working in jobs they hate so they can buy a bigger plasma TV or nicer car. I'm just reassuring myself that despite different stimulus and inspiration the same process is being 'played out' with Dragon and Star as with kids everywhere. They take their lives and experiences and rationalise them, get them straight in their heads and manipulate them into ways that make sense to them and enable them to extract the most from them. Last week Dragon and I spent a couple of hours making charts and graphs because he'd not previously understood how to create them or what they meant. We used hours of sunshine per day as our data. He is learning about supply and demand, market research and various other business skills with his postcard sales and both have been party to current discussions about getting another sow to increase our piglet yield now we know we have a market. Star has been busily planting and tending seeds with me and we've had long conversations about the ethics of meat eating. Basic skills, learning what they need to get through their lives. They know about gathering firewood, food and water, growing crops, rearing livestock and are learning along with us about building shelter. They are finding ways to use their skills and their time to earn money for the things they cannot provide themselves and they are getting daily examples of working with others, being a neighbour, helping where you can as is the nature of life on Rum.

Those piglets are getting perfectly equipped for their lives, learning all they'll need to know. They would struggle if suddenly they were expected to dwell in trees or live aboard a sailing boat. I asked Star yesterday who's life she looks at and thinks she might like to one day have and her answer was back like a shot 'well our's of course!'. On that basis I think their current training is pretty much perfect.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013


My memories of infant school (as it was back then - infant school, junior school, middle school and senior school - I've never got my head round key stages, Y2 and flatly refuse to even try and understand the P2 and S3 stuff here in Scotland!) have that hazy quality of long ago times and are almost flashback style moments, smells, sounds and recalled emotions, just snapshots. I do have a memory of maypole dancing on May 1st. I could have only been 5 and I suspect 30 odd years have messed with the memory a little and there was not 20 odd children dancing, weaving in and out of each other in a coordinated fashion to create a multi coloured pattern around a pole. My experience of small children tells me that you'd have more luck herding cats than organising double figures of little people clutching ribbon in different directions with any other result than fallen children, tangled ribbons and at least three people in tears!

Infact a few years ago the children and I attended a fabulous May day event at a fellow Home Educators house where we made May flower willow crowns and danced around a Maypole.

So 1st of May is here again, the sun is shining and the croft is a carpet of celandines, a soggy carpet it's true with large patches of mud but pretty nonetheless. Yesterday I spent a happy hour or so in the polytunnel, cooing over my sprouted seedlings - some coriander, thyme, majoram, chives and basil. My herb spiral will happen yet! Plenty of baby salad leaves, lettuces, rocket and spicy salad. Star and I couldn't resist nipping a tiny corner off a couple of the leaves and nibbling at them, fresh and fragrant and exciting. There are also shoots in the onion box and the potatoes in sacks were ready for a fresh load of compost to cover the shoots. A couple of the tomatoes have sprouted but still no signs in the chillis and peppers. We sowed some more peas (mice seem to have nicked all the first lot!), some carrots, chard and broccoli in boxes and some courgettes in egg boxes. Star planted up a pair of her old wellies with sunflower seeds. She told me that often when people retire they seem to start spending lots of time gardening and growing things and she loved the idea that her wellies have retired and are going to do the same. I love her, and her wonderful way of making inanimate objects come to life makes me smile and wonder just when I lost that childish gift. I've put some shelf units up which should curtail mouse activity a little and bring my seedlings that little bit closer to the sky aswell as giving more space in my little plot.

There is loads more to do to the polytunnel - it needs a channel digging around it for drainage and to cover the edges of the polythene. We also need to create a stone path from the croft fence to the polytunnel doors, like every bit of the crofts heavy foot traffic quickly turns it to mud. But it's a lovely space, regardless of what the weather chooses to do outside it's a dry place to work and it's so exciting to be finally growing food.

I'm planning to get back in there this afternoon and sow some more stuff, do some more labelling and maybe try and make up some tables and frames to create more multi-layered space.

The piglets are doing fine, venturing slightly further every day. We gave them their first taste of feed yesterday as when we put in some more bedding in the form of shredded paper the boldest little pink girl tried munching it so we decided they might be ready. Sure enough she was the first to snuffle a few mouthfuls and reminded me so much of Dragon and Star with their first surprised expression after a taste of pureed apple and baby rice. We've whiled away hours these last few days just watching them exploring their little world. They are such entertaining company. They all have such different little characters and personalities. Barbara tends to brave the electric fence several times a day to hang out with Tom, returning to the piglets whenever the maternal urge strikes her which seems to be working well. I did wonder what would happen about reintroducing them after a few weeks apart but they seem to be dealing with it perfectly well without our interference - rather like her giving birth!

Ady has strimmed (we call it strum!) a large outline for us to move the whole family over to a different space on the croft which will become their permanent area sometime in the next week or so. We're thinking about housing and planning it fully before we do it. It's definitely time to revisit that croft plan and tweak things here and there.

one brave little pig decides mum's back is the best place to bask in the sun

quickly followed by his sister