Posted on Leave a comment

swallows’ extension

swallows nest

A while back I posted an update on the nesting birds we have here.  One of the swallows’ nests is in our lambing shed and it was looking pretty crowded.  A total of five fledglings were all vying for space.  We kept an eye on it and one day Nicole found a fledging on the ground.  It was fine.  To be honest, it was a miracle the hens hadn’t eaten it as they spend a lot of time in that shed.

The problem we had is that there was no room in the nest.  Even with just four fledglings, it was jampacked with young swallows.

swallow in eggcupInspiration came and I went and got an egg box.  It was quite simple to put a couple of egg compartments alongside the nest and into it went the fledgling.

We checked from time to time and sadly, the poor fledgling was turfed out again and didn’t make it.  Nature can be cruel.  However, even with four, room was at a premium and one moved in to an egg cup (see picture).

They have all fledged and flown the nest now and we sometimes watch them swooping around our house and fields.  There are certainly plenty of flies for them this year.

Posted on Leave a comment

Practical pantry at last

Most of the stories on this blog relate to the stuff we do outdoors.  However, we have slowly been doing work inside the house too.  Carpets have been replaced with wooden floors, bathrooms relocated, rooms decorated and so on.  At the moment, the kitchen is getting a facelift with new worktops and all the units will be painted (once we can get some paint).

Our pantry is what used to be the main bathroom.  It was gutted, the concrete floor taken up and a new floor relaid.  Some kitchen units, a sink, a wine fridge, a beer fridge, a chest freezer and an overhead clothes hanger were all installed.  What I never got around to was adding some shelves.

pantry shelves 1st rowCOVID suddenly made this an issue.  We were putting our shopping into a sort of quarantine which basically meant it was left on the floor.  It started to get on our nerves.  I sourced some wood and shelf brackets and got to work.

We’d be storing heavy stuff on these shelves so I got heavy duty shelf brackets and used plenty of them.  There’s nothing worse than a sagging shelf.

pantry shelves homebrew endI also installed a large wine rack for storing the empty bottles.  We brew most of our own wine and beer and having somewhere to keep the empty bottles is essential. They soon stack up.

Having built one shelf, it soon became apparent that a second shelf would be most useful.

pantry shelves row 2 startMore wood and shelf brackets were duly purchased. I had been worried that the first set would be in the way, but actually they proved quite useful for putting tools on.

It didn’t take too long before the second shelf was in place.  Being so high up, there won’t be anything heavy going up there so I could use less shelf brackets.

pantry shelves completeWe are please we now have somewhere to store our food properly.  Living about an hour from the nearest supermarket, we tend to buy a month’s shopping in one go, so storage space is essential.  Mind you, COVID has changed our shopping habits a bit, not by choice.

Posted on Leave a comment

Another shed

shed built

One of the things that has been a problem for us is that we don’t really have anywhere to put our garden tools and associated paraphernalia.  We have flowerpots in a plastic trunk (impractical), tools dotted around various sheds (can never find anything), cloches and shelves scattered around and so on.

shed base to beWe decided to invest in a shed and site it where we need it; near the greenhouse.  There was a concrete area here which looked promising, but turned out not to be level nor big enough.  It needed a new base built. Normally, this would be relatively straightforward.  Get some concrete, lay it and then build the shed on top.  The problem was, with COVID, all the builders merchants were shut.

concrete shed baseSo, the shed arrived weeks before I could get my hands on concrete and slabs.  Finally I managed to get some delivered from B&Q.  I borrowed a cement mixer and got to work.  It needed quite a lot of concrete so I was kept busy.  What didn’t help was the constant attention from midgies.  I had to wear a net, but the net made it hard to see into the mixer to check the concrete so I kept having to take it off.  Anyway, I got there in the end and we now had a level base.

shed base slabsI covered this in slabs.  This was mainly becase the ground to the front had a couple of large rocks at the height of the concrete.  I wanted slabs to the front as they look much nicer than concrete.  Easiest solution was to cover the whole base.

Next stage was to build the shed.  It’s not the first shed I have built so I was relatively confident.  That didn’t last long.  The shed fittings had been wrapped in plastic.  I had put all the shed pieces onto pallets and covered them in plastic sheeting.  Yet, all the item descriptions were sodden.  I had a pile of wooden pieces and no idea what was what.

What would we do without the internet?  I logged into the website from which I had bought the shed and found all the packing notes as PDFs.  I breathed a big sigh of relief.

shed build 1Now, every now and then I have a good idea.  This time, it was to write all the part numbers on each piece of wood with a black marker pen.  This made locating bits so much easier.

Construction got underway.  Once again I was plagued by midgies, but there you go.  Luckily, I don’t react to the bites otherwise I might have ended up looking like a wrinkly spotty teenager.

shed build 3It took two days to complete.  The biggest challenge was at the back.  Just behind the shed, the land drops steeply down to a river.  It’s a long way down.  It made siting a ladder a bit tricky. I had to be careful swinging a hammer in case I unbalanced myself backwards.

The next stage was to paint it.  We wanted it look nice and to blend in so I had sourced some green shed paint at the same time as buying the shed.  We are pleased with the results.

Final stage was to add some shelves.  Now all that remains is to put all our stuff in it.  Another small step in making our life a bit easier.

shed builtshed shelves

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Nesting Birds

swallows in the nest

We are lucky to have swallows and housemartins as regular visitors.  The swallows nest in various sheds and the housemartins on the house under the guttering.  They are not the only birds nesting here, there are nests all over the place.  We have left a lot of areas covered in scrub and brambles and these make excellent nesting areas.  In the last few weeks, we have watched fledgling sparrows and blackbirds hopping around on the grass to the front of the house.

swallows in the nestThe swallows like to nest in three of our sheds.  In two of them, the roofs are quite low and you could easily reach up and touch the nests.  They seem quite tolerant of us humans.  The nest in the picture on the right is attached to one of the strip lights in the lambing shed.  We think this could be a second brood because, in other nests, the chicks have long since fledged and flown off.

wrens nestWe also have some enterprising wrens.  They have taken to moving into unused swallow nests and making their own version of home improvements.  This means packing in lots of moss and making a small tunnel for an entrance.  The one in the picture to the left is the other side of the beam from the above mentioned swallow nest.

This is not the only swallow nest that has been taken over, there are also wren nests in the other sheds perched on top of old swallow nests.  Well done wrens, very clever indeed.

Posted on Leave a comment

Taking Back Control

veggie patch overgrown

Last year’s veggie growing didn’t go well.  What with constant rain, little sun and an army of slugs and snails, we did not get much of a harvest.

vegetable patchesThis year, we were determined to do better.  Nematodes took care of the slugs and snails.  All plants were grown to a good size before planting out and carrots are in their own special box.  This has worked quite well and the veggie patch is looking good (see right).

veggie patch overgrownWe have two veggie patches, one that was here already and the one in the picture to the right that we built.  With all the focus on the new patch, we took our eye off the old patch and this (left) is what happened. It didn’t take long.

Now, one of the problems we have here in SW Scotland is that the growing season is a bit shorter.  We have a greenhouse but it’s not very big.  So, we have invested in a polytunnel which is planned to go over this weedy area.

The polytunnel has been delivered and sits awaiting action in our shed.  It was time to take back control.

covering weeds eith cardboardThe original plan was to cover the area with a weed membrane.  However, I saw a good idea on twitter that comes from the “no dig” school of thinking.  Cardboard topped with mulch.  We had plenty cardboard lying around.  With COVID, we are buy much more stuff online, so plenty of boxes pass through our front door these days.  We added our spin on this approach by covering the cardboard with wool.  This is waste wool that can’t be used in Nicole’s rugs, so would have gone to compost anyway.  I’m hoping that the damp wool will stop the cardboard blowing away.

The paths were covered in underlay from our bedroom floor.  In case you’re wondering, I recently laid a new wooden floor replacing a rather old carpet.

veg patch coveredMost of the cardboard was soggy having sat in a pile outside, so I got pretty wet carrying it over.  But, bit by bit, I have reclaimed most of the patch.  I ran out of cardboard before I got it all covered.  This has not resulted in an online buying frenzy, but all boxes that arrive are soon snapped up and put to use.

Once the polytunnel is up, the growing areas will be covered in mulch provided by our sheep.  By next year, this should provide an excellent growing area.

Posted on Leave a comment

New rainwater harvesting system installed

water tank in place

As well as making sure we have enough water for our animals, we also need water for our vegetables.  This year, we have had to water seedlings and pots every day for weeks.

The problem is our water supply is a hillside stream which fills a tank used by 4 houses. In dry weather, the spring shrinks to a trickle so we have to be careful with our water.  We already have a couple of rainwater butts installed, but these soon empty.  We have also ordered a polytunnel (growing vegetables outdoors here is challenging) and that will need to be kept watered too.

water tank deliveryThe answer was to purchase a large water butt.  We identified a spot and bought the biggest we could put there, a whopping 1,500 litres.  It was delivered but only to the bottom of our track so the first job was to get it up here.  It’s at moments like these I am thankful we have our tractor with its front loader.

Armed with ratchet straps, I set off, attached the tank and brought it up.

Being too far from the downpipe, we needed a feeder system and for that I installed a small slimline water butt.  It took a few concrete blocks to get it to the right level.

I also had to put in a level base for the big tanks.  Time consuming but not that tricky, this was all soon done.

water tanks in placeThe final problem was that the water divertor supplied did not fit onto the cast iron downpipes we have here.  It took a couple of days to think of a solution.  In the end, I took the cast iron pipe off below the divertor and replaced it with a plastic pipe of similar dimensions.  Job done, almost.  Cutting through the cast iron pipe took a while.  I started with an angle grinder with a metal cutting disc.  That lasted about 5 minutes before it shredded.  So it was back to the old fashioned way, manual hack saw.

In the end, it was all done and plumbed in.  This latter job was complicated by the close proximity of corn flowers that were attracting many bees.  I am allergic to bee stings so didn’t really want to get stung.  Thankfully, they ignored me, even when I reached right across the flowers to pick things up I had dropped.

Now we just need some rain to fill it up.

Posted on Leave a comment

Compost Shuffle

compost bin

Part of the sustainable living ethos is re-using stuff.  We generate a lot of garden waste and this all goes into a large compost bin.  Of course, over time, it fills up.  I have found the best thing to do is to move all the compost into bins and leave it for a few months to rot down properly.

compost bin emptied
Emptied and ready for more

That said, first the bins need to be emptied (having been filled last time).  So, what I have a three stage system.  There are bins with useable compost, bins with compost that is rotting down and the large collection bin.

At the compost shuffle, I put all the usable compost into old plastic feed or compost bags and take it to the greenhouse.  Then I tip all the compost from the green bins into the “ready bins”.  Then I tip all the stuff in the big bin into the teo green bins.

It’s a lot of work, but it only needs to be done a couple of times a year.  And it’s very satisfying once it’s all done.

We also have wormeries for the kitchen waste.  They are enclosed so no tempting titbits for rats or crows, both of which can be a bit of a pest.

Posted on Leave a comment

New trough welcome in hot weather

sheep having a drink

Despite living in what is generally considered to be a wet part of Britain, we do have prolonged dry spells.  In fact, for the last 3 years, there have weeks of dry weather in the spring.

Since moving here, we have added two water tanks to gather water from hillside springs.  But these springs dry up in the dry weather and if we’re not careful, we have to ferry water up from the river.  This year, just before the dry spell hit, we got a new 550 litre trough installed adding extra capacity.

When they first saw it, the sheep were startled; they are not keen on new things appearing unexpectedly.  But as the rain stopped and the sun came out, they have found it to be another useful drinking spot.

I think, over coming years, we might add further capacity till we have enough water to last for months rather than weeks.

Posted on Leave a comment

Bim Lays an Egg

cuckoo maran egg

Since June last year, Bim has been suffering from egg peritonitis, a common condition in hens of all ages for which the prognosis is usually death.  Last year, we managed to keep her going with a range of treatments (see Bim the Wonder Hen).  As the year progressed, the hens stopped laying and Bim’s condition stabilised.

With spring arriving, egg laying has been in full flow.  Bim, too, has been trying to lay.  Unfortunately her peritonitis is still with her so her laying has led to her swelling up again and walking like a penguin.  The vet prescribed two courses of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories but sadly after two weeks of treament, the characteristic red bulge has refused to go down.  So Nicole has been preparing a special afternoon snack laced with garlic, minerals and homeopathic remedies.

Now, our chickens like the world to know when they are laying an egg.  There’s the racket made before is laid and then the racket made afterwards.  Just the other day as we were standing by the coops when Bim emerged to announce to the world that she had laid an egg.

“Oh no” was our first thought.

But looking in, we found an egg, a dark brown, cuckoo maran egg that was warm.  Bim is our only remaining pure bred cuckoo maran.  Therefore, it must be her egg.  We jumped for joy!

This is good news – if she can actually make and lay an egg, she might make it through the egg laying season again and survive another year.

Since then, she has laid a second egg, but no more.  Unfortunately she appears to still be laying some of her eggs internally as her bulge is still there. Nicole is keeping up the natural remedies which we hope will keep her going until egg production slows down.  Bim is an elderly hen so should naturally lay less eggs as time goes on.  Fingers crossed she can enjoy her twilight years egg free.

Posted on Leave a comment

Hoggy out and about

hoggy coming out of feeder

Last November, I found a tiny hedgehog wandering around the garden.  It was too small (less than 300g) to survive the winter, so we took it in (see hedgehog seeks board and lodging).  With a custom built run, house and a personal heater, Hoggy grew stronger over the winter months.

We released her at the end of March (see Hoggy Released).

We set up a wildlife camera to capture what she did and placed a feeding station near the hedghog house we released her into.  In the first week, only videos involving a mouse, a deer, a cat and a robin were captured.

I looked in the hedgehog house and Hoggy had gone.  It’s what one would expect from a hedgehog, but for some reason the wildlife camera didn’t capture her leaving.  Most annoying.

hoggy eating
Hoggy eating

We kept the feeding station and camera in place.  A few days later, we had our first video of a hedgehog.  It didn’t go into the feeder, but it was a hedgehog in the vicinity nevertheless.  It took a couple of days (or nights) before we finally captured a video of a hedgehog in the feeder eating.

We are pretty sure it’s Hoggy because she ate the dog food and dried calcium worms but left the specialist hedgehog food.  This is what she had done in her winter quarters.

We shall keep replenishing the feeder to ensure she, and any other hedgehogs, have access to a tasty snack if they need it.