Thursday, 27 June 2013

Happy - a right, a priviledge or a responsibility?

Ady and I were saying earlier this week how lucky we are that all of the challenges we face are through choices we have made. I look around our friends and feel so very fortunate to have never had to deal with tragedy, bereavement or sad things happening to us. There are times when our life here feels tough but it is totally within our power to change our course and choose a different path. I'm not sure than any of our friends particularly envy our life here but I do know that the choice to come and live it even if they wanted to does not exist for some of them.

I think for us chasing our dream and finding the correct path to happiness and fulfillment at times does feel like a responsibility. As though we are doing it on behalf of those who can't. I was explaining to someone just today that the trade off for living this very frugal, low key existence where 'escaping to the mainland for a weekend break' is beyond our financial reach let alone feasible on a practical level with animals, crops etc to look after is that we are free. Free to potter in the polytunnel, spend half an hour just sat on the grass in the pig pen tickling a piglets tummy, stop for another cup of tea, decide to head off to the other side of the island to watch the sunset.

Tomorrow is my last day at the school. It's been a really hard 12 hours a week to slot into our lives and I am very relieved it's over. It has impacted far too much on our lives and curtailed our freedoms. Davies and Scarlett have missed out on hours worth of conversations and observations and opportunities to spend time with me. Precious time that feels every more like sand slipping through our fingers as they get older and more independent. The end of term has not felt this exciting since I was about 10 or 12 myself.

Our house continues to sit unsold on the market. We have taken on another estate agent which may inject some fresh energy into selling it, or it may not. Sometimes I think there must be a reason for it not having sold yet which is part of some bigger plan. At other times I just feel incredibly frustrated that we are being disabled by something beyond our control. We are about to hit the deadline we decided at the start of this year for the house needing to be sold by in order to build something this year here on Rum. We have various possible options for getting through the coming winter, none of which are perfect, all of which need further debating and research, one of which will no doubt be what we end up doing.

We had a typical family conversation this week about what each person wants to do in the event of the house not selling and unanimously decided we want to stay here for the winter even if it means another harsh and testing season. It's clear that each of the four of us view Rum as home and has no desire to be elsewhere. Having struck off the option of leaving for the winter we are at least able to pare down the list of possible options and fully discuss all of them. Expect to be let into this in more detail as we thrash them out ourselves.

Meanwhile in Croftland the goslings have been out and about and looking happy. They hang out with the bigger geese who seem to shepherd them around and keep them in line. We are still putting them into their enclosure at night when we feed them but hopefully in the next week or so we'll not need to do that and can just let them roam. The wee turkeys have an increased run and are growing well. We're keeping them under a covered run for now though as I still don't trust those crows. Mrs Broody Duck continues to incubate her 7 eggs which are due to hatch next week. We're worried about losing ducklings to rats or crows once they hatch but will work out whether we need to try and enclose them more once they hatch and we see how she manages them.

More strawberries from the polytunnel tonight and I have been thinning stuff out and taking out spent crops to feed to the pigs who are very grateful. I've left some things to go to seed so I can collect and harvest the seeds too. The chickens have discovered the herb spiral so that might need some protection but we had mint from it with our new potatoes for dinner tonight.

Chasing and choosing happy.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Proudly Presenting

I've thought for a while that it's slightly pointless these days protecting Dragon and Star's real names. Back when we were traveling it felt important not to have their real names splashed about on the internet for someone to google them in 20 years and find stuff I'd written about them as children.

The trouble is when you move somewhere like Rum where there are only 40 people and are the subject of various stories in the press not to mention seasonal tourist scrutiny it doesn't matter whether we use pseudonyms or their real names, if you google them you'll find links to us mentioned on the Isle of Rum website, in newspaper articles and more.

The names Dragon and Star were chosen by the children as blog names when we began this blog account of our planned travels way back in 2010. Three years on they have chosen to start using their real names, not least because they are hoping to build their own brands of artwork and jewelery making along with a youtube series of 'life as crofting kids'.

For that reason I today introduce you to Dragon as Davies and Star as Scarlett - their real names. They are not looking for X factor or Britain's Got Talent fame and they certainly are not intending to be celebs but Davies has asked that I share his first youtube video which I am more than happy to do given how fab I think it is and I anticipate more from both of them as they continue to find their feet with starting their own businesses and life choices in the coming years.


Friday, 21 June 2013

Illustrations

A productive few days in Croftland.

The compost loo is finally and officially open for business. It's been a long time coming but thanks to all sorts of efforts, generosity and donations from a whole crew of people we now have a compost loo on Croft 3. The crowdfunding efforts were a massive help in financing it, friends who helped spread the word online and donated funds, the WWOOFing newsletter which I wrote an article in and helped highlight our plight putting an ex WWOOF host (and good friend) in touch with us to say he had a loo he would love to give us if we could get it here. Our new crofting neighbours who took a detour on their way home to Rum last time they were off island to collect the loo... the list goes on.

And now it is here, installed and working. We have signs up, it is decorated with stories of toilets through the ages, has instructions for use and a bag of soak to aid the composting stacked up next to it. We've used it as have several recent guests to the croft and suddenly life has gotten a whole big step easier once again.

Our beds are still a work in progress. They are all made and filled with earth  having been sheet mulched with cardboard and filled with lovely rich pig processed earth. We have constructed net cages around the ones we have planted up using old tent poles which were a casualty of our first summer here when we underestimated the winds and lost a tent and a canopy porch. That will be finished once more netting arrives, I'm waiting on the post. So far I've planted up some sweetcorn I grew from seed in the polytunnel, some squash and pumpkins which are from a pumpkin the kids and carved for Halloween 2009 and saved and dried the seeds from so were very excited to see germinate, some courgettes and cucumbers. I have various beans (french, runner, dwarf, broad) ready to plant out and some peas once the netting arrives. There is no point in planting stuff out without nets as it will fall instant victim to crows, deer and our own chickens.

Exciting news from the polytunnel is that we have harvested (and instantly consumed!) our first strawberries - two giants picked on Tuesday and shared, half a fruit each between the four of us. I think of all the foods I am purist about (has to be local, reared to high standard, seasonal etc) strawberries are the richest rewards. Holding firm for that first home grown or hand picked fruit of the season makes all of the walking past the unseasonal December supermarket strawberries worthwhile. Not something that is a huge temptation living here of course but I still get to feel smug!


So far we're keeping all the birds safe - I returned a land census form this week which had us tallying up our animal totals and we have a lot of birds! We have various crow scaring measures in practice including plastic bottles and cut up tent material (from the same deceased tent as those poles I mentioned earlier) and the turkeys are netted until they are a little larger.

We've been busy with the crafty stuff too. I've been setting midges, clegs, thistles, heather and other little specimens in resin and then turning it into pendants, earrings, keyrings and wee keepsakes. I think they look pretty good, we'll see how they sell.


I've also been knitting more scarves for my 'moods of Rum' range inspired by sunsets at Kilmory beach, stormy skies over the peaks, The Sea is Alive trips on the Sheerwater and Autumn Colours on the hills as they have been selling well and needing restocking. Dragon has had a commission for some postcards of neighbouring Small Isle Eigg so has been working on that too.

We've been working on logos and branding for the Croft and come up with a really nice recycled brown envelope idea with one of Ady's panoramic shots of the Croft with blue sky and Dragon running down the hill which I've been putting on everything. We have an information sheet about us and the croft on display at the croft gate and some elderflower cordial on sale at the honesty cupboard.

And that about brings us up to date.


Guess what!

IMAG0621 by nicgee
IMAG0621, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

We showed them

This week Ady and I celebrated our 20th anniversary. 20 years of adventures, laughs, ups and downs, rollercoaster riding and muddling through life together. In lots of ways we are very different people to who we were 2 decades ago. Definitely older and greyer with a library full of stories to tell. I'm not sure that we can claim to be wiser or more grown up or less reckless and impulsive!

There were plenty of naysayers when we became a couple, people who said it would never last, we were incompatible and wouldn't make each other happy. That we were destined not to make it together. That the age difference (10 years between us) was too great and our very different personalities would create clashes.

Our 20 years has seen us build a life together against backdrops in Sussex, Manchester, a campervan travelling the whole country and now in a field on an island. Our photo albums show us getting married in Las Vegas, proudly holding up our new born babies for the camera, standing on beaches, infront of theme parks, campsites, mountain tops, zoos. 20 years of birthdays, Christmasses, anniversaries, parties, holidays.

We are best friends, partners in crime, sharers of the same dream, shoulders to cry on, rock to rely on, co conspiritors, parents to the same two amazing children, mutual cheerleading team and each others biggest fan. If we don't get to do it together then we don't want to do it.

Star asked me "what sort of jubilee are you and Daddy" when we told her it was our 20th anniversary. I'm not sure but I know there is bunting and celebrating every single day!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Mum knows best

I had a long phone conversation with my parents this evening. Like many children I am often quick to be critical of my parents rather than celebrate them, to rail against their way instead of giving credit it. But I enjoy a really good, close relationship with my Mum and Dad and although it would be fair to say our life choices do not mirror theirs I cannot deny they have been influential in our choices over the years.

My parents were self employed small business owners for my entire childhood. They both used their skills, creativity and imagination to create careers for themselves outside of the world of salaries, company pensions and paid holidays. I was always really proud of both of my parents for this, they made their own hours, fitted in their work around my brother and I and we were part of their worlds as kids. Taken to work with my Dad  in the back of his van, sat on a pile of dustsheets, surrounded by paint pots, brushes and the smell of turps and putty. My first job aged 13 was not a paper round or babysitting gig but learning all of the roles within my Mum's restaurant from waiting tables and presenting a professional front to the great British public to the washing up and tea and coffee brewing in the middle kitchen to the world of commercial deep fat fryers, bulk catering of Sunday roast for 100 people and portion control of starters in the high pressure environment of the back kitchen.

I have not followed in their footsteps in many ways - Ady and I are a generation later than them with different priorities and different ways of doing things. We have placed great importance in this period of early parenthood and by Home Educating our children have curtailed our own career prospects and availability for work, choosing family time over all else. We have been less concerned with material gain and are content enough with less work and a caravan where my parents had worked harder and had a beautiful home by our ages.

My parents have not always fully understood or agreed with the many unconventional choices we have made, perhaps they have not always had faith in us to be able to accomplish everything we have set out for but they have always been behind us, providing a safety net if not a cheerleading team. Always there to mop up tears, pick up pieces and never afraid to sit me down and tell me I am being bloody stupid! Of course I have not listened but them telling me and me ignoring them remain parent and child perogative right?!

What we have achieved in our time here so far is in no small way due to their support, financially and morally. Our long term aim is to pay them back but all the while our house remains on the market without a buyer our funds are tied up and not at our disposal so while we have been curtailed in terms of what we have achieved so far the leaps and bounds we have made have been thanks to my parents help.

In chatting to my Mum tonight I realised that the things we are finding hard just now are not to do with Rum, or us. They are to do with the tough circumstances of our house not selling and us deciding to come here and make a start regardless. We could have stuck it out, tried to find jobs to finance us while we sold our house while living in it before moving here. If we'd done that then none of what we have achieved so far would be here. No static. No animals. No crops. None of the amazing year or so we have already enjoyed. I'm happy to take the biggest share of the credit for what we have made happen but need to send a big vote of thanks to my parents for helping us do what we've done so far. And for helping me realise tonight that no matter where we were sleeping tonight we'd still be curtailed by our house not selling preventing us from really throwing everything at our dreams. That feels like a big step forward in positive thinking.

Thanks Mum & Dad. xxx

Two out of three ain't bad


When we moved to Rum we knew that it was going to be an all encompassing new life. We knew we would not be making trips back to the mainland very often - cost and the ties of our animals and crops back here on the croft would mean we were effectively tied to the island. With that in mind we were very aware that Rum would have to meet all our needs. We categorised them as Educational, Financial and Social. There are more of course but these are the main three.

In the spirit of taking responsibility and giving as much back as you expect to take we also knew that in order to ensure Rum could provide all of the above we'd need to be doing more than our bit to make it happen. As Home Educating parents and lifelong learners ourselves we are pretty good at seeking out educational  opportunities and making the most of them. From identifying and anticipating our childrens earliest interests and finding the right resources to help them learn, be they books, films, experts, museums, workshops or day trips I have nearly 13 years full on, full time experience in tracking down and extracting every last ounce of worth in the name of education and learning. Rum has proven a rich and varied teacher for Dragon and Star with a variety of resident experts, field trips, case studies, willing people with skills to share both as fellow islanders and as visiting experts. We have been on pretty much every event the Community Ranger has held since we arrived, every wildlife watching boat trip, every lecture given by a visiting expert on newts, worms, geology. We've been to every ceilidh, community event, visiting musician's gig, spent time at the school, extracted every book of interest from the tiny library, been on the castle tour more times than I can count, talked to the deer researchers, the reserve officers and learnt about all the various small businesses, arts and crafts on the island. The kids attend Junior Ranger, art classes, have music lessons lined up, have been to bird ringing sessions, watched the red deer rut live, are booked up to take part in seal and shearwater surveys and help socialise the Rum ponies due to be born in the next month.

On top of that all four of us have learnt more in this least year than I think any of us have every learnt before. We know about solar power, plumbing, compost loos. We have learnt about pig keeping, breeding and rearing, about geese and turkeys (we already knew about ducks and chickens), about pest control (still a work in progress), about off grid living, about polytunnel growing (a new one on us), permaculture, island living. We've learnt about butchering and processing deer, winkle picking. I've learnt about building, grant funding, being a director, social enterprise, community interest companies, trusts and charities. We've learnt about island living, small scale politics, being part of a community, living close -oh so close - to nature.

Education. Tick.

Financially Rum is on track to provide. Our business plan is pretty much on track with our birds producing enough eggs to cover the cost of their feed and more. Not only are the birds producing we also have a market - selling in the shop, direct to the B&B on island and from the croft gate honesty tables. Our salad is selling as are our jams and preserves. Crafts are going slowly but surely from the Craft Shop in the village and I expect to do well at the Market Days through the summer. We have bred our pigs and sold half the litter. Livestock and crops are all performing pretty much where we'd have hoped they may be as we go into Year Two. We've a way to go but the potential is all there, we can make our living here long term.

Financially. Tick.

Which leaves socially. We have friends here, good friends. Friends who care about us and know when we are struggling and try to help us through. We regularly have people up to dinner or for coffee. Rarely does a day go by when we don't see someone from the village either by calling in down there or by having visitors up here. But the big gatherings, the intimate chats,  the people we have shared history with and can just hang out with knowing they know us and we know them and we all just get each other is missing. With time I hope it will come, with greater numbers of residents it will improve, once we are more established on the croft with better accommodation we will be better placed to have guests to stay and that will make a huge difference. To have other kids to run properly wild and free with Dragon and Star, to add new dimensions to their games, to help build camps, have adventures, really use this space - we are crying out for that. To sit surrounded by friends as we so often used to on camping trips, group get togethers, annual parties at friends, group holidays, weekend trips is a feature all too lacking in our life here. We have tried, really tried to replicate some of that but with just 40 people here, not all of whom want to socialise with each other anyway it is often a lost cause. There are times when we briefly capture that social life we are craving but it is fleeting and elusive and I don't really know what more we can do to make it happen.

Social Needs - a sort of tick. It's got potential and eventually we'll be in a position to invite all our friends here and properly play host.

We've been debating our next move. Our house remains on the market without a buyer and until it sells we are capital-less to move forward with a permanent home here. We have plans, ever changing and evolving plans which in many ways has me relieved that we don't have the money yet because we are still not definite about what we'd do with it anyway. We do know that another winter in the static would be a very tough one though and we need to have a back up plan. That is still a work in progress.

I'm currently learning about cob builds. I am very taken with some of the gorgeous small buildings I have seen in real life and on the internet and in books and am very keen to have a go at something similar. I have a plan to create a small building which could be a little farmshop on the croft to sell produce from. I am still at the research stage but would love to get something built this summer to see how it fares over the winter. I've just two weeks left at the school and then I am free to get cracking on it as a project. Who knows, maybe now we have the compost loo we could even take on a WWOOFer or two that is happy to bring their own tent and get some help with the project.

In other news the netted turkey enclosure seems to be keeping the wee turklettes safe - the crows continue to lurk but our headcount remains at eight. Bonnie is being a superstar at chasing the crows off, she knows they are the enemy! Dragon and Star spent time making bird scarers today out of old tent material so we'll get them hung up to try and deter the crows too. Mrs Broody Duck continues to sit on her clutch of seven eggs. We hope the drake has indeed done his job and they are all fertilised, any ducklings will be super vulnerable so over the next week (we have two weeks before first hatch date, duck eggs take 28 days to incubate) we'll get a pen super sorted to keep mother duck and babies safe from all predators.

The two cockerels are settled down together now - I'd like some more hens really. I'd hoped they would rear their own but we have no signs of a broody hen now. I'm debating an incubator vs buying in hens as I know all our eggs are fertilised. We need to keep our overall flock under 50 but are currently at in the mid 30s so have room  there for another 10 or so easily.

The wee piglets are ready to leave Barbara really now, we're keeping two to fatten and the other two are sold to our neighbours - the plan is to move them across in the next few weeks once they are ready for them.

Crops are going well, salad continues to sell, the herb spiral is looking healthy. We have transplanted some stuff from the polytunnel into the raised beds - pumpkins (which excitingly were from our own Halloween pumpkin back in 2009 - I'd dried and saved the seeds in an envelope and didn't really expect them to germinate but they have), squash, gourds, courgettes and cucumbers. I also have a variety of beans to go out. We have some potatoes in two of the beds and some sweetcorn in another. After yet more crow action (they dug out the seed potatoes and were carrying them off, I'd not have believed it had Ady not seen them doing it) we have netted all of the beds with stuff in using some very cheap pea and bean netting and cages made from old tent poles from long dead tents. The fabric was what Dragon and Star were using for bird scarers - nothing gets wasted here!





The kids and I made elderflower cordial and elderflower fizz last week from harvested blooms. The coridal is delicious - I am planning to sell some, have some frozen and Star and I are working our way through the rest. The fizz is doing it's thing and needs gas releasing every day but from licking my fingers after some of the bubbles gushed out of the bottle earlier today I reckon it's going to be divine in two weeks when it is ready for drinking. We've been making the most of the return of the midges and set a load into resin today to make jewelry. I added a splash of yellow food colouring to make it a little amber-esque and plan to do a quirky poster about Rum midges to help sell them.


Friday, 14 June 2013

Just when you thought it was safe to go on the croft...

A bad day comes and gets you in a sneaky fashion.

To be fair it's not been all  bad but it's been a disheartening day which are always tougher to come back from when you can't have a bubble bath to soak the cares away after dinner.

This morning we found the remains of a dead turkey in the pen when we went down to feed them. It had been almost entirely eaten and was just skeleton, wings, feet and a bit of head. Grim :( We deduced it must be rats and I left Ady and Star working out ways to make the pen rat proof. I headed off to school for the morning and then missed Ady coming back down as we must have crossed somewhere as he took the car down to the ferry and I walked home. I had stopped to call in and wish Happy Birthday to a fellow islander and then for a chat along the way with another one.

When I got back to the croft I stopped to check on the animals and there was a second dead turkey in the pen. This time the culprits were all still there with blood on their beaks - the hooded crows, bane of our lives and our number one enemy here on the croft. They took all seven of the chicks our hen hatched this year, stolen countless eggs, had a go at the dead piglets and now it seems are helping themselves to our wee turkeys and using Croft 3 as some kind of all you can eat buffet.

I hate them.

Having run across the croft swearing and waving my arms at them I set off back to the pier to catch up with Ady. I walked down part way with another islander, then the rest of the way with yet another one and then sat at the pier waiting for the boat bitching about the crows. At least it feels like we have a whole island on our side against them.

We've now netted the pen and reduced the size of it. If it is the crows then the turkeys should now be safe. If it's rats then we have a lot more work to do. Fingers crossed for the morning. Losing 20% of our turkey stock at less than a week in is pretty rubbish. And expensive.

In other news our animal feed delivery arrived missing a bag and the kitchen window of the static got broken. Not one of our better days.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Circle in a Spiral

I've been following an online permaculture course over the last few weeks. I've also been reading lots of books and articles on the subject. I'm not going to attempt to describe what permaculture is here mostly because it would take more than this blog let alone one blogpost and I suspect that rather like relationships, or parenting, or Home Education there is a special personal definition of just what permaculture is each and every person that uses it or adopts it's principles.

What permaculture seems to be to me, so far, is a philosophy of doing stuff. It's a handy label, a way of explaining generally what can sometimes appear at first glance to be a rather odd or unconventional way of doing stuff. Mainly related to growing or gardening or land but not necessarily. It's about making the best of what is already there, harnessing what nature provides, only interfering when strictly necessary, observing and working with what already exists. It's one of those disciplines that the more I learn about it the more I realise it was what we were naturally already doing, it's just that now it has a name and I find we're not the only ones doing stuff that way. As a friend said the other day 'permaculture is another word for 'common sense''.

Anyway, I'm not intending to reinvent the wheel or even the spiral, but you may find posts peppered with references to permaculture and what we are reading about and learning at the moment is definitely having an influence on our next stages of planning and execution of our long term goals.

So, to the herb spiral. This is a real permaculture classic, mentioned in lots of books on the subject and used as an example of what permaculture is about. I have had to overcome by issue with the way 'herbs' is pronounced, along with 'oregano' as much of the stuff I have watched online is American  and I definitely have a herb spiral not an 'erb spiral!

The idea is that you keep things you use often or have to tend frequently close as possible to home. So the herb spiral is something you want to be able to nip out of the kitchen, snip or tear a few leaves from and dash back to bung them in your cooking as fresh as possible. Herbs or other culinary plants don't necessarily all thrive in the same growing conditions though - some like it sunny and well drained, some damp and shady and others somewhere inbetween. The solution is to create a spiral bed. This increases growing space as you are making use of vertical growing aswell as horizontal. Clearly on 8 acres this is not a big issue for us but in a small garden or balcony this makes sense. You are able to create all the various micro climates to suit each plant's individual needs in one space.

My spiral is about 6 foot across. I positioned it close to the static - we will use it while we live up here, once we rent the static out as a holiday home (when we eventually build something for ourselves) it will be a nice touch to tell guests they can help themselves to fresh herbs. I went for the west side of the static as it has the most sun for the longest time. I marked out the circle using a string tied to a stick as a compass and some stones we'd gathered from around the croft. I used some slates to make a mowing / strimming edge so that the grass is kept away from the edges and we can mow or strim right up to it without getting too close to the herbs. I laid dampened cardboard down all over the circle to create a sheet mulch. This will rot down into the earth and help to create a nice soil whilst preventing weeds from growing up.

Next step was to create the spiral. I used more stones and marked out a spiral into the centre. I started at the north facing side and worked clockwise with a single layer of stones to make the spiral. I didn't take photos but you can get the idea from seeing the finished spiral.

Once that was done I filled with a layer of soil. I used bought in compost. This is shocking I know! We've not made compost at all here because all of our kitchen scraps go to the pigs. They create their own compost and do a fab job of preparing the ground so I could have taken soil from an area where they have been or taken a slower pace to complete the spiral and let the ground improve itself before planting it in. I could have used lasagne bed technique layering cardboard, manure, matter like seaweed etc over and over to create in situ compost but I was keen to get this project done as I had herbs ready to plant.

That completes the outer circle of the spiral but as the spiral wall closes in to the centre you gradually build the wall higher so that by the time it reaches the south facing centre of the spiral it is at least 50cm high. You fill the created spiral with soil as you go which helps keep the stones in place aswell. You could use various recycled building materials including bricks, glass bottles, wood etc. I used stones because we have loads on the croft land so they were an easy, free building material. The mass of the stones will heat up during the day and slowly release the heat through the cold and the night meaning the soil stays warmer for longer.

Once finished you have a spiral where the lower areas are wetter than the upper areas, the south facing side is full sun and the north facing sides have a range of shade and part shade created by it's own walls with the east and west facing sides have partial shade at different times of day and differing levels of drainage and soil moisture depending on their height. Everything is within an arms reach but you have lots of growing space.

I've planted stuff like rosemary and lavender at the top south facing areas, stuff like mint at the north facing lower levels and everything else somewhere inbetween depending on what it  prefers. I bought in lavender, rosemary, mints (garden, spearmint and Morrocan mint), parsley and lemon balm as small potted herbs and everything else I have grown from seed - so far that is oregano, majoram, thyme, coriander, basil, tarragon, fennel, dill. I have access to some wild garlic and wood sorrel growing in a friends garden she is happy for me to dig some of up so that will go in soon too.

It looks fab and I am really pleased with it. It's had a couple of days of full sunshine and today and tonight it is getting properly rained on to water it in so we'll see how it performs. I may stick some alpine strawberries in the gaps in the stones and I have some edible flowers like nasturtium and borage to put in too.



Monday, 10 June 2013

Don't stop me now....

A fab couple of days. The midges are back but thanks to some glorious weather they are not troubling us until the sun starts to dip around 8pm by which time we are happy to have an end to our working day called on our behalf.

Wednesday saw me having a meeting-tastic day with the design team for the Rum Bunkhouse visiting between boats for the first time since they were the successful tender-er for the contract. As director for Rum Enterprise I went along to be part of the on-island meet and greet panel. It was great to meet with such enthusiastic people, really excited about coming to work here on the island and help us take things forward. I've been to a few meetings like that of late - really credible people visiting Rum who are only to happy to give their advice, support and assist us in making the next wave of great things happen. It is really heart warming to know that we are a bigger community than just the 40 odd people who live here all the time...

After that was a Community Trust Directors meeting, which we had sitting out in the sunshine. Professional and conventional it was not. Productive and meaningful it managed to be just the same.

Thursday was Sheerwater boat trip day and our first dolphin experience of the year. Dolphins have a special significance for our family as for several years it was Star's biggest ambition to see them. We planned several holidays on the basis that they were in places we might see dolphins and spent money on boat trips and dolphin spotting quests to no avail. We did finally see them when we came to the east coast of Scotland and it was a magical and memorable experience. We've since returned to that spot (Chanonry Point) twice more and it will forever be a special place for us but nothing ever quite compares to seeing dolphins with Rum - our island - in the background. This weeks sighting was a pod of 10, all sizes, which played around the boat for ages, bow riding and displaying. I think I will never tire of the wonder that is connecting with these awesome creatures as we get a peek into their environment.
Yesterday was an exciting day as we had more livestock coming on the morning ferry. Much email communication and planning completed meant we had ten turkeys and six goslings arriving. Star came with us to collect them and couldn't resist having a cuddle in the car.
Once home Dragon joined us for The Big Release. The other animals were interested in the commotion and Margo and Jerry, the original Croft 3 geese came to find out what was happening. They were so interested we let them in the pen with the new geese and they seemed more maternal. We didn't keep them penned as we intend having the goslings in for a good few days yet but early indication suggest all birds will be fine together.

The turkeys are really cute. I've never had much to do with turkeys before although Ady worked at a turkey farm long ago so he is resident expert here for them. I always think of adult turkeys as rather ungainly and a little ugly, if magnificent with all their odd wobbly bits. But the wee turkey poults are very elegant, graceful and emu-esque. They have the cutest little song that is reminiscent of the cute gremlin and beautiful plumage.
They have all settled into their respective pens well and had an uneventful first night. The idea is that once they understand this is where they live we will let them free range with all the other birds. We clipped the turkeys wings this morning as they are a little flighty. We have already sold two of the ten and will be wanting one for ourselves so early indications suggest they will be a worthwhile idea. We want to be sure we can rear them successfully here before moving on to larger numbers.

In the afternoon the kids went down to the village to meet up with C, a fellow islander who is up for holding a weekly art club with them. They had a great time and have plans to make a film complete with props and scenery over the coming weeks. Ady and I put up the completed honesty cupboards at the top and bottom gates. They look amazing, I am really pleased with them. And we've already taken money from egg sales at both gates.


I've filled nine of the ten raised beds we built so far. I've sheet mulched them with cardboard and then filled them with the rich pig-processes soil and bedding and have put tatties in two of them which should give us a great green manure and a crop. I have some marrow seeds germinating in the polytunnel ready to do the same job in a couple more of the beds and maybe some other crops that will do well in that soil to finish off conditioning the ground.  One more to fill and all of my tasks for this week will be ticked off.

Today I finally achieved one of my long term aims to create a herb spiral. Herb spirals are fairly standard installations these days but have their origins very firmly rooted in the permaculture movement. They idea is a circle with a raised wall within in the shape of a spiral (clockwise in our northern hemisphere) made of rocks or any other preferably scavanged or recycled / reused building material. A sheet mulch goes down first and the wall is built up with soil to create a 3d structure of raised bed for growing herbs. The idea is that within a fairly small area (mine is about 5 foot across) you create lots of growing space with many microclimates. You have north facing shaded, moist ground, south facing well drained sunny space and everything inbetween catering for the diverse needs of various herbs. The plan is you have the spiral close to your back door so you can nip out for a handful of fresh herbs to add to cooking as you go.

Four bags of compost later mine is looking good and I'm planning to finish it by planting up the various herbs I have ready tomorrow, I have bought in some small pots of herbs which don't grow well from seed, taken cuttings of some more, grown some myself from seed in the polytunnel and have plans to forage a few more from Rum's wild larder this week.

It's still a work in progress but I'm delighted with it so far :)

We had distractions today in the shape of various visitors - the Ranger came to call and spent an hour or so with the kids sketching landscapes, then he returned to join us for dinner later. The Friends of Kinloch Castle came up with a bottle of fizz to officially open the community polytunnel and admire all our new livestock which was very lovely. Vikki stayed for a cup of tea and a chat afterwards too, I do love a sociable Sunday :)

Finally we got the compost loo up and running at last. After much logistical planning to get it here at all we discovered it would not actually fit in the static and debated various outside structure options before deciding that the horse box was the best plan. So now it is installed in the horse box, fully set up and in use. This will make a huge difference to us and actually means we can have people to camp on the croft without needing to tell them we have no facilities because now we do!

Hurrah for sunshine, friends, getting things done, new livestock and herb spirals!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Island of Opportunities

I was talking to the headteacher of the school here last week about Home Education. I was also talking to a journalist last week about Home Education here. Home Educating Dragon and Star here on Rum is very, very different to Home Educating them back in Sussex. I can't envisage what life might have been like for us if we'd lived here from when they were tiny and to be fair as we are such different people in such different points in our lives now it's an impossible imagining anyway. But doing HE the way we have done was made loads easier by close proximity to so many diverse opportunities in Sussex. We were just 50 miles from London - when Dragon showed an interest in dinosaurs aged 4 it was an hour or so by train and we were there in the Natural History Museum walking around that iconic skeleton in the foyer. When he was interested in art we did the same and headed to the National Portrait Gallery. Before our kids even reached school age they had walked around all of the major landmarks in our capital city. Star's interest in animals was more than met by visiting zoos, safari parks, animal sanctuaries, pet shops, open farms etc. We had art galleries, museums, libraries, theatres, cinemas on our doorstep. I ran social groups for Home Educators and organised camps, day trips, outings and workshops. I did a lot of driving, a lot of emailing, researching, booking and coordinating but it was all utterly do-able given our geographical location.

We're at a different stage now -one where their passions and interests are more focused and have definite direction. It's the chief reason why we're here on Rum really - because we decided it ticked enough of the kids' boxes to make up for the loss of some of the potential opportunities. We decided that forging close relationships within a community was more important than passing contact with a larger group of people. That having eight acres of his own and eight miles across of island to explore and adventure in was better than forest school and bushcraft camping experiences for Dragon. That living on a National Nature Reserve, home to the longest running large mammal research project and location of countless wildlife documentaries made up for keeper for the day zoo experiences and monthly trips to the events at the local RSPB reserve for Star.

In the last week we've been out on the Sheerwater trip with the Community Ranger - identifying birds and watching out for mammals.
We've been growing food - Star comes down to the polytunnel with me daily to water, harvest and check the crops in there along with growing her own stuff. She also helped build the raised beds. Dragon and I are planning a herb spiral and he is wanting to learn more about the medicinal benefits of herbs and have a go at growing his own, learning to identify them and find out about their culinary uses too.
They've played with the piglets, fed the birds, helped plan the pens for the next lot of animals arriving and spent time with the dog. It's been a very outdoorsy week!


The piglets have been tamed to such a degree that they are now cuddle-able. This will mean their ultimate status as food is way easier in terms of a stress free ending, but rather trickier in terms of emotional attachment. Star tells me this will still be fine because she knows how happy a life her bacon will have had. I'll let you know how that theory pans out...

On Sunday we took part in the Big Lunch - a nationwide event getting neighbours and communities to eat lunch together all across the UK. We had a great turn out of residents, bringing food to the table to share. There was bread, jam and cakes from us, pasta salad, soup, rice, pies, cheeses and more from other islanders and the school had been learning about healthy eating and made bread to bring and share too. We had kids activities and bunting. And balloons!




Last night we had a surprise visitor in the shape of a fellow islander. He'd been out fishing and caught two brown trout so brought them up to barter for produce and see if Dragon and Star would like to learn about gutting them. As it goes they have done fish gutting before a few times but this involved a biology lesson including finding the swim bladder, the heart and liver and then investigating the contents of their stomachs. The female (definitely so as she had a belly full of eggs) had nothing of great interest but the male contained 11, yes 11 complete newts. Dragon squeezed them out of the stomach and lined them all up. It was amazing!



And then we had them for dinner - the trout, not the newts! And very delicious they were too. Next he has promised to show them a deer's stomach contents - the cull begins again in a few weeks.

Today the Reserve Officer showed me an eagle pellet - it was enormous! I took a photo to show Star who massively impressed me by taking one look at it and proclaiming it 'an owl pellet' then amending it to 'eagle pellet'. To the casual observer it looked more like a cat's toy mouse but Star knows her stuff! We're hoping to do some bat surveying in the coming months here on the island and participate in a seal pup count later in the year too.

There are the experiences we traveled far and wide, paid lots of money for and were so desperate to provide for our children. Now the tourist season proper is upon us we are once again answering the same old questions - three times today I was asked how many children are in the school here and all three times I was told what a wonderful place this must be to raise children. Rum is not without it's faults and downsides. Our current lifestyle is not without challenges and pitfalls but it is certainly an amazing place to grow up, surrounded by people, wildlife and opportunities way beyond even what we could have hoped for.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Don't stop movin'

April continues even though today is June with sunshine, showers and still no midges to speak of (sshh!)

Since last I blogged we have been getting further into our summer groove. Thursday was Sheerwater trip day. We did this two hour boat trip every week last summer and fully intend to do the same again this year. It is a fabulous way to leave Rum for a brief period each week without actually landing anywhere else, thus getting all the good bits about the amazing views of our island from out at sea without actually having to really go anywhere. Ronnie, the skipper is so gifted at spotting sealife and taking us off on weekly adventure safaris and as the weather warms up and the summer gets closer you can feel the marine life moving in. Last year we saw regular dolphins, including our amazing superpod experience ('the sea is alive' remains an on-island catchphrase) and minke whales. Loads of seabirds including gannets (my favourite), great skuas, puffins, shearwaters, guillemots and all sorts of gulls including kittiwakes (the true seagull). I love how much the four of us have learnt about sealife and how able we are to spot things and identify them now.

So far this year we have just seen birds although there have been sightings of dolphins and porpoise already this season so they are about. My dream is to spot basking sharks and killer whales, maybe this year...

We've been losing eggs off our honesty tables to the hooded crows or hoodies as they are locally known. Despite best efforts they have decimated whole table-fulls of eggs so we have temporarily removed them while planning a solution. I tried covering them with a sheet of polythene weighed down with stones but the crows pecked through the polythene and actually as the weather warms up we would be selling cooked eggs that way. Our current thinking is some sort of cupboard at each table which will help protect the eggs from the wind, rain and sun and also mean the crows can't get to them. We've put word out on island that we're looking for some suitable cupboards to re=purpose so we'll see if the cosmic supply company provides again...

Meanwhile we're doing a storming trade providing the shop, teashop and B&B with eggs. We've sold six bags of salad through the shop already so I'm glad I've been sowing more every week or so to keep that coming as we've decimated the first two trays now. We've got posters up at the castle, the shop and hopefully soon the campsite advertising our eggs and fresh produce for sale and I've also advertised freshly baked bread, cakes, pies etc to order to see if there is a market for that at all. I am able to do some sale or return stuff for the shop so may look at that once the school job is finished and I have a little more time on my hands. I reckon some Rum venison pies would go down well...

Star and I noted some elderflowers just starting to bloom this evening so preserving and bottling season is just around the corner again. I can't wait for the brambles this year - I have boxes full of jam jars waiting AND a freezer this year. We are down to our last three jars of homemade jam from last year and I could have sold those were they not in rather random jars! Half my scarves have already sold from the craft shop so I need to get knitting too!

Ady has been doing more plumbing - we now have constantly running water thanks to a header tank and the grey water is taken away from the static, down the hill and into a series of gravel filters into the ground. We don't use any chemical cleaners anyway but it'll be good to take it further away from the static. My willow fence is doing really well around the static and will hopefully also be sucking up some of that surface water.

Meanwhile down at the polytunnel, neighbour Gav has dug a big hole and drainage channel which should both remove water from the entrance and give us a pond to collect water for the plants. It's raining now so that should have filled up by tomorrow :). I've been in there today sowing more peas and salad and celebrating more germinations of sweetcorn, borage, cucumber, nasturtium and cabbage. I've thinned the carrots, given up on another tray of beans and considered chanting or waving my arms about over the comfrey which clearly needs some form of magic to help it along because sunshine and watering just isn't cutting it!

I've also filled five of the ten raised beds with a cardboard sheet mulch, gorgeous pig treated soil and pig bedding. Five down, five to go. I have a blister on my thumb from the fork despite sensibly wearing gloves today otherwise I may have done more.

The compost loo finally made it here - thanks so much to Ed and Carina, WWOOF hosts extrodinaire and to neighbours Gav and Laura for bringing it. We have had to rethink our original plan to install it in the static simply because it won't actually fit. It won't fit through the bathroom door and then it wouldn't fit in the bathroom. But we're planning to set it up in the horse box and have the quirkiest compost loo going :) A bit more work to do there to get it sorted but another huge leap along the way to getting things done.

We have a date for the turkeys and more geese arriving too so more bird housing on the agenda for next week. We already have our first Christmas turkey confirmed sale - one down, nine to go!

This week I gave a telephone interview with a national press journalist (will link to that story if it actually runs, a follow up to the coverage we had this time last year when we arrived on Rum), exchanged emails with a film researcher who is planning to visit to do a programme on Rum as part of a series on Scottish Islands and arranged to send photos, a write up and get Dragon and Star to make a short film for The Big Lunch which we're taking part in tomorrow down at the village hall. More on all that after the events.