Veggie tales and the battle of weeds.

The past few weeks of glorious weather has meant the vegetable garden has finally had some TLC. It was seriously neglected over the summer as the Crofter had quite a lot to do while I was often out of commission or in a reduced role (forget any ‘pregnancy glow’, and less so when exhaustion/sickness has hit).

The little and often concept of tackling weeds was turfed out the window when sickness hit early on. That has resorted to a full scale weed war last week when I finally got a burst of energy and the ability to bend over without heartburn (the following day was an entirely different matter on looking like I must have run a marathon). Now, to an keen gardener, it will look appalling (all the photos are after I had worked, should have done a before!). But, given the neglect, I’m impressed how well a lot of the veg has done. I realise to all locals reading this, we had snow last week and have now had hard frost on multiple occasions. But to think back that soon after the seedlings were put out, we hit a drought (well, no rain and having to use something called a water can around here isn’t common). It then continued at temperatures which were more attuned to the ‘mad dogs and English men’ scenario.

Our gardening knowledge has increased over the years. But why things did so well given the neglect is unknown considering the competition with the weeds (and why did the parsnip not even make a half hearted attempt to show up?). As the frost is becoming more consistent, several things now need uplifted. No, it does not fill me nostalgia for being thankful for the harvest, more of a ‘oh look, more stones to be picked out’. Always an eye for future work. However, as I worked on the raised beds today, I discovered the heartburn was back, and with vengeance. Maybe I should think about sorting the croft’s paperwork for a bit…

Stanley the snowflake

Yep, since that ‘Beast from the East’, I’ve been waiting to name our snowflakes. So, Stanley finally arrived on Saturday. Nae bad for October but hey, not much effort in terms of snow cover, it didn’t even provide the grass with a blanket. Never mind, just turn to the media and we find Belinda the blizzard has buried us until Easter. I really should quit my sarcasm…

Due to the cow’s jail break last week and their show of determination for getting closer to the byre, having seen the forecast for rain/sleet, we decided that Friday would be their moving in date. With Stanley arriving Saturday (and more importantly, the rain fall) it was just right. Leave them out too long and the ground gets poached very quickly, very seriously (and they won’t want that in the spring when the grass should start growing again). I’m no animal psychologist, but our cows don’t show any partiality for mud baths. With the past month having a bit of a lull in the daily activity required on the croft, it is back on the increase with the byre needing checked, hay provided and water troughs needing checking. The added issue this year is now having a very able bodied toddler who is currently mastering climbing but needs sent on a health and safety course!

Just another Crofter’s tale…

Today the Crofter and I were down in Forfar to give a talk on ‘A Smallholder’s Tale’ at the annual Scottish Smallholding Festival in Forfar. When we had agreed to it, it had been highly unlikely that the Crofter would have been home for it so I took the decision that as much as I don’t see myself as a public speak, it would hopefully give encouragement to particularly women or those who have no background in agriculture.

The journey down did not start off well. After the Mini Crofter having to have his weekly bath early, he promptly went head first into the filing cabinet; resulting in a table tennis ball bump on the forehead, a nose bleed and a split lip. The Crofter was trying to sort out all the damsons which I had picked the day before tackling the basket of local pears we had received that needed pickling. Damson jelly in a sieve is one thing, when our toddler decides to try and lick the bowl adding red (blood coloured) juice to hands and head in addition to his injuries, you really are thankful for the flurry of snow that you can now take him out in to try and clean him up again. But that wasn’t all that hadn’t been going swimmingly. We had been unable to send the presentation by email so we had no one of knowing that it definitely worked. The travel down involved a diversion due to an accident. And, on the way in this morning we hit ice twice. Always good to put yourself in these stress situations just to make sure you still have a bit of nerve.

However, we made it without coming off the road. Our picture presentation worked, people turned up to listen, and we finally got to buy some of Dalmore Croft’s pressed apple juice (really, if you live Edinburgh/Fife go have a look, search it on Facebook/internet).

Reward after the talk: a dish that seemed more attuned to an exotic food restaurant, not a mobile food hut parked at a mart. Here’s to the crab!

Never put off till tomorrow…

I had never realised our cows knew this saying. Until they decided that today was the day to change fields, not tomorrow, as the Crofter and I had planned. But today. And not just any time of day, when the neighbours are out and about do the cows go have a jolly.

They have been down on one of the neighbour’s newly seeded grass for the past two weeks with tomorrow being their moving day to the byre for winter. Having satisfied themselves with the lovely green, green grass, I have no idea why they decided the road verge and old turf mounds looked so appealing. Well, one of them appears to have de-electrified the electric fencing and the herd got moving.

Our phone rang and when the Crofter answered it he was also stood at the window which allowed him full view of the now moving parade. Talk about an emergency drill call. This was every man, woman and child to the welly boot room. Pants that it can talk ages to dress a toddler, and when he’s already soaked his only boiler suit, what option have we got? Ha, whatever comes to hand; yep, a posh looking rain coat and muddy shoes.

The seriousness suddenly escalated when I was trying to make up two buckets of food and I looked out the shed door to see five of them heading up the immediate neighbour’s driveway. Well, light exercise is recommended for pregnant women, so off I quickly jogged with my shepherd’s crook and two buckets. The idea of cows spotting your neighbour’s car as a scratching post or attempting to chew the artificial flowers in a flowerpot is not high on my agenda.

Thankfully in this situation the neighbour’s daughters took to the Mini Crofter, the neighbour helped to drive them with the Crofter and I led them with the bucket. It was done in two groups but I guess that would imply an improvement in the efficiency from the cows; it took three trips to get them down. Maybe next time they could do it in a one-er. Or else, never underestimate the power of the bucket with a hungry cow.

Fry me a liver

I have no idea what the rest of the words to ‘Cry Me a River’ are, but know that the first line can easily be adapted.

Yes, this post is to explain another of the photos in the ‘Spirit of Crofting’ video. Correct, the picture of me gralloching a deer (also known as gutting). And hence why I haven’t put up the same photo. I may be a theatre nurse that can handle blood and guts but I am aware it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Nor will you see the picture of us trying to get it into the back of the pick up, or of it hung in the shed, skinned with me about to start the beginners guide to butchery.

Now I do realise, there are a lot of people who do not agree with eating meat and many more who are happy to eat meat but don’t like the field to fork concept (of having to catch/kill/prepare your own). I’m not posting this to get hate mail. I would rather eat local food (ie, cow, sheep, deer) and particularly food that I know has had a good life and has been humanly dispatched.

Why the significance? It was the first deer I ever got. We had done target practice to ensure we were familiar with the range, and I had even got someone to come out and go over several safety points as I was not particularly comfortable or familiar with the matter.

When we bought the croft there was an area of old woodland in the middle. No new trees had been able to grow for years as deer had free access to come and nibble out all the new growth. We put in fencing (some stock and some deer) and planted about 5,000 new trees. Not just quick growing, native types, but slow ones such as oak too. And with this, came the responsibility of pest control. So don’t be thinking the incident was a sport. Plus, the meat off that deer helped feed us for many months to follow (he wasn’t just a wee thing as it took two of us to drag him back to the pick-up). Understanding anatomy is helpful when dealing with innards. I did have the voice of a particular surgeon though, who always used to mutter ‘you’re on the wrong plane’ to his juniors, while doing it.

It was after this event that I did some analysing. And decided that if it were to happen while on my own, I would need to make a few adaptions. I didn’t want to think I was dependent on the Crofter being home to deal with pests (I wouldn’t want to shoot one and leave the food to waste). So, I asked for some ratchet straps (to get it onto the pick-up as I could make a ramp to slide it up) and a chain winch (to hang it in the shed). What more could a girl ask for.

And no, I’m pretty sure we did not fry the liver…

Whay-hey, New Holland.

A ‘picture’s worth a thousand words’? Hmm, sometimes. But not always. Multiple photos were put in the video for the Scottish Crofting Federation (which you can see on the Birchwood Croft Facebook page). Oww, lovely, I hear some say. Aye, well, may I give a bit more detail on these two.

OK, a tractor (with loader) and a baler. The tractor had been bought at Dingwall Mart’s Implement Sale (yes, women buy implements, even if auctioneers keep saying ‘boys, boys, boys’ at the mart). Because what else do you go and buy when you realise you are pregnant? Yep, not just a tractor (we had one) but one with a front loader. Because up until then we used a bale spike on the back of our dexta and we lifted the ring feeder up to put the hay in. Correct, no ‘heavy’ lifting while pregnant yet the job was mine while the Crofter went to work and we knew that going into winter I would need something.

In the mean time, that same summer, we had a dry week which was nearly perfect for making hay. As expected, the Crofter was at work and I was working full time. So, grass got cut before work, it got turned several days on the trot after work (yes, I understand the longer it takes to bale, the less nutritious it is but I didn’t have the freedom to turn it during the day so you just work with what you’ve got). And once it seemed dry enough, I started baling.

From baling, my prize was getting the above photo worth of bales in. Not much but, having never worked a baler (I became very good with replacing broken shear bolts) I was shattered (and chuffed to be honest). If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving may not be for you, but hay baling could be an option. The rest of the field just had to wait until more hands (ie, The Crofter) arrived. Even superhero’s need sleep!

If Hank Williams (Hey, Good Lookin’) had been a crofter…

Say, hey, New Holland

Whatcha got broken?

How about baling up some hay for me?

Whay-hay, sweet meadow

Don’t you think maybe

It’s time we got you a brand new hay row turner?

I’ve got a four day outlook and a sunny forecast.

And I know a spot right here on the croft

There’s an empty lean to and the cows will want food.

So if you wanna start working, that’ll be fine with me…

Not the end of the story…

The recent Spirit of Crofting event has opened up several conversations and questions from people that I feel that I now need to explain. The information supplied by the Scottish Crofting Federation for public view, what the panel had, what was put and said in newspapers, and a few more beside.

Question one, yes, I did apply for the award. That was after I was adamant I would never do such a thing and if someone thought I was worthy of it, they could nominate. Fast forward to getting told by said someone that they had printed off the form to nominate me but had run in to a problem so I’d just have to get on with it. Aye right, not!!! Fast forward to the Royal Highland Show’s Women in Agriculture Breakfast and after hearing three women speak, I decided I would just have to take a massive plunge and put the application in. Why? Does agriculture get promoted among young people, and particularly women? What encouragement do people get who want to get into it but have no background (typical ‘livestock keepers’ are often from ‘farming stock’)? If I have managed to break a few rules (I hadn’t realised hay making was often seen as a blokes thing), what’s stopping others?

One of the requirements for the application was either three photos of yourself on the croft or a 2 min video. Finding three photos to really show what you do in crofting is nye impossible. Besides, if you do a video slideshow, then you can put music with it which always sounds better then the usual gale force 3 affecting the sound on a video. Now, I can’t put video’s on this site but I will post it on the Birchwood Croft’s Facebook page. But it’s then that I discovered a new problem. Normally a picture is worth a thousand words. Until you croft. Then, you need a thousand words to explain the photo. So a few of the individual photos will be explained in due time (yes, it all looks fine and dandy until you hear what either happened before, during or after!).