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Next year’s firewood

log pile chopped

Our heating runs mainly on wood.  We have a woodburner which also acts as a boiler.  This means we can get through a fair amount of wood each winter.  In turn, this means much chopping of logs.

logs being sawn During the winter of 2018/19, a number of trees blew down in thw winter storms.  These were gathered last spring and left in a pile awaiting action.  So, in a break in the relentlessly damp, rainy winter, I blew the dust off the chainsaw, managed to get it started and set to work.  The first task was to chop all the branches into log lengths.  This always takes longer than you’d think, but eventually, the branches were transformed into choppable logs.

These then needed to be transported to the house about 400 meteres away.  For this, I used the tractor – the logs were loaded into the front loader.  The best part is that at the house, I could just tip them out (rather than manually unloading them).

log pile chopped
logs all split

That done, I rested a few days.  It turned into a few weeks as the rain just kept coming.  Finally, a dry day arrived.  We share ownership of a petrol powered log splitter betweem three of the houses here.  I got that out and set it up.  Even with that, it took most of the morning to split all the logs.

I needed another rest after that which was a mistake because back came the rain.  Thankfully, with spring approaching, drier weather was forcing its way through and a couple of days later, I got the wheelbarrow out and put the logs into the woodshed.  They’ll be there till they dry out, ready for burning.

The downside is that I need to cut another two piles around the same size, so I will be coppicing some willow in the next week or so.  In the meantime, I have planted around 1,500 trees so we should be carbon neutral.

log pile stored
logs neatly stacked
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New book published

We are pleased to announce that Adrian’s new book, “This Smallholding Life”.  Drawing on the experiences of moving from suburban to smallholding living, this book highlights the highs and lows of this lifestyle.

Written as a practical guide for those thinking of making a move, it combines true life experience of smallholding life with practical ideas on what needs to be done and how to generate an income.

It is available on Amazon and also via our own shop.

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Storms blow wall down

storm damaged stone dyke

While the weather has been generally mild this winter, we recently were hit by a sequence of storms, one after another.  It got pretty windy at times.

dry stone dyke repairs underway
repairs underway

The wind was so strong that it actually blew over a section of dry stone wall.  This is the second time this has happened.  The first time we could see that a post, next to the wall and tied to a nearby bush, might have been blown back and forth thus dislodging the stones.  However, this section of wall was far from any trees or bushes.  We can only surmise that it had become unstable.  It is certainly an old section of wall.

Luckily, this week, we have had a few dry(ish) days.  The first time this year that we’ve had more than one dry day in a row, or so it seems.  Given there are sheep in this field, repairs were a bit of a priority.  Not as urgent as it sounds as the field the other side is also ours.  But sheep being sheep, the might try to climb on it while it is unstable.  Doesn’t bear thinking about.

Nevertheless, I got to work quickly.  With a collapse like this, all the stones are handily placed next to the wall which helps a lot.  That said, they do need to be sorted and moved out of the way.

Once all the fallen stones were cleared, I could see that the wall had basically tipped and one side had completely collapsed.  That meant I had to take it all apart almost to ground level.  That done, it was fairly straightforward to rebuild it.

The top always takes longer though.  As you get nearer the top, there are less stones to choose from. Also, they were quite big making them tricky to stack and heavy to lift (you really only want to lift them once).   It’s also important to get the top stones lined up, otherwise it can look a bit shoddy.  Towards the end, you spend more time thinking than lifting.  Anyway, we are happy with the result.  The sheep even came over to have a look!

dry stone dyke repaired
dry stone dyke repaired
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Stopping Slugs and Snails

carrot box

Last year, we planted a lot of carrots, beetroot, parsnips and turnips (swedes to non Scots).  As root crops, these are best sown direct as they don’t like to be transplanted.  They all germinated quite happily, then it rained and the slugs and snails had the lot.  We planted a second batch in pots and planted those out.  The slugs and snails had those too.

So, we planted a third batch in pots and surrounded the seedlings with wool when planting them out.  This saved about half the carrots and most of the turnips and beetroot.  Only one parsnip survived.

carrot box
carrot box newly built

What we couldn’t see is that, underground, the carrots were slowly being eaten away.  In the end, the harvest was not only poor, it was time consuming cleaning, cutting and preparing what was left.  They all went into soup.

There had to be a better way, we thought.  Slug pellets are all very well, but they are not that effective and certainly don’t stop the undersoil pests.  Nicole did some research and found what we call a carrot box.  The one pictured right is such a beast.

On the first non rainy/windy/snowly/sleety day ths year, I fetched the power saw out of hibernation and got to work.  I managed to build it just before the next sleet shower hit.

Now, it may just look like a wooden box, and, well, it is.  However, the trick is to fill it with sand.  Undersoil slugs and snails cannot get through the sand.

carrot box half full
carrot box half full

Once full of sand, the next step is to “drill” out holes with a drainpipe.  These holes can then be filled with compost into which carrots can be sown.  This can’t be done immediately.  The fresh sand will be loose and unstable.  So, we have to wait a few weeks for the rain to cause the sand to settle into a more compact state.  Then we can get planting.

We’ll also tie netting around the top to stop slugs and snails cruising up the walls and over the sand to snaffle the young seedlings.

The net result is we’ll be planting fewer carrots but hope to get a bigger crop.  If it works, we may build another one and, perhaps, one for parsnips too.

The box needed a lot of sand, by my calculation about half a ton. We had two large, half used bags of sand from previous projects and it looked like we’d have enough.   However, we used it all up and although the carrot box looks full (see below), once it settles we’ll probably have to add more.  Ironically, we’ll then be taking a lot of it out again to make the planting tubes.  But, if it works, we’ll be very happy indeed.

carrot box full of sand
carrot box full of sand

 

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Winter comings and goings

snowscape

Up until recently, the winter weather has not been too bad.  It hasn’t been too good either, but from a smallholding perspective, it has been OK.  By that, I mean it has been relatively warm.  That means that the grass has continued to grow, albeit slowly.  In turn, this means the sheep have eaten less hay which in turn has meant less work for us.

However, it has also been unrelentingly dull.  Cloudy, damp days.  That’s one reason there has been such a gap between blog entries, it has been much more tempting to curl up in front of the fire with a book.

In fact, I think we have had only two or three properly frosty days.

trees planted at auchenstroanLately, it has been stormy, wet and cold.  Again, it’s hard to get much done when it’s blowing a gale and raining at the same time.  The ground is soaking.  At least, living on a hillside, we don’t get flooding here, but there has been a lot of standing water.  The rivers have been raging too.

The last couple of weeks have brought some snow, but the weather doesn’t seem to be able to make up it’s mind, one minute it’s snowing, then it’s raining.

yzzi in the snow
Yzzi in the snow

I think it’s fair to say the sheep have not been impressed by the weather.  They have spent many a night sheltering from the torrential rain and wind in the shelter.  While that keeps them warm and dry, they also get bored.  However, they are not keen to head out into the hills when the weather is so bad.  They just nip out, grab some hay and then it’s quickly back in to chew the cud.  Nicole has, on occasion, also been giving them hay in the shed.  They quite like that, eating a little before trampling it into the ground.

However, when the rain has eased off, they have been out and about.  Selene is getting quite good at leading them off first thing and bringing them back around four in time for a hay top-up.

That all said, today it has cleared up and the sun is shining brightly.  The wind is light.  Bliss.  I took the opportunity to plant some more trees.  That’s about 450 this year, 250 of those being willow cuttings.  I hope they grow strong and healthy.

firewoodIt’s also the time of year to cut future firewood.  We still have some tree trunks lying around from last year’s coppicing and they’ll be the first to be chopped.  Then it will be into the willow wood to take out the damaged and fallen trees and maybe do a bit of coppicing.  Then, we’ll see where we are.  Hopefully in the not too distant future, some of the trees planted this year and last year will be ready for coppicing themselves.

Aside from that, Hoggy, our resident overwintering hedgehog is doing fine and blissfully unaware of the outdoor conditions.  Her outdoor residence awaits, but it has been too cold to release her.  In the meantime, she amuses herself by turning everything in her run upside down.

 

 

hoggy the hedgehog
hoggy the hedgehog

 

 

 

 

 

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Hoggy update

hoggy the hedgehog

In November last year, I happened upon a tiny hedgehog out foraging.  At just over 300g, she was too small to survive the winter so we brought her in so that she could overwinter indoors (see Spending the Winter Indoors).  Had we not done so, she would have perished.

Over the first few days, Hoggy put on weight at a phenomenal rate.  Now, two months later, she is approaching 800g and so we have to be careful not to let her get fat.  Indeed, we have been considering releasing her early.  This can be done if the overnight temperatures stay above 5o for a week.  In preparation, we have turned her heaters off so can get used to it being a little cooler.   I say cooler, but it still averages around 14o in her indoor home, a good 10o warmer than outside.

January has been pretty mild, as it happens, but just not quite warm enough.  On top of that, the rain has been relentless so we are now looking at a February release.  A deluxe hedgehog house has been purchased so she’ll have good shelter (if she chooses to use it).  I’m also repairing the hedgehog feeding station (cat and dog proof) so we can leave her food to help her get established outdoors again.

In the meantime, despite the strong temptation to sit with her on our laps, we handle her as little as possible.  We change her bedding regularly and that is the only time we pick her up.  It takes much willpower as she is undeniably cute and, for a hedgehog, incredibly tolerant of being handled.

 

#hedgehogrescue #rurallife #galloway #hedgehog #hedgehogs

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New Trees Planted

auchenstroan trees planted

As the new year gets underway, one of the first tasks to be done was to plant the trees I had bought in the autumn.  Each year, we buy bare root trees which are planted during the winter months.  While we already have quite a large area of woodland, you can never have too many trees.  As well as creating excellent wildlife habitats, they provide interest and also, hopefully, some winter wood.  We have planted a lot of hazel which is a tree that benefits from coppicing.  The plan is to used the coppiced wood to keep us warm in the winter (rather than the oil central heating).

new woodland at auchenstroanThe planting itself took a bit longer than normal as there are a lot of stones round here.  More often than not, the spade would hit a stone a few centimetres down.  This meant a lot of probing around to find a gap so as to make a hole deep enough for the roots.

It was also quite wet.  We have had a lot of rain and some areas just soak up the water coming off the hills.  Fortunately, we had bought hardy trees used to damp, Scottish weather, so hopefully they will thrive.  The really wet areas we’ll let willow self seed.  Also, I had a new pair of wellies which was just as well as the old ones had sprung a leak.

Last year, we planted about 50 trees.  This year I got a bit carried away and bought 140 trees.  More work, but it’s worth it.

oak tree at auchenstroanWe have added the trees to three areas, down near the bottom of our patch (top photo) and then bordering a large area that we have earmarked as a wildlife area.

At the same time, I rescued two oak trees from our fields.  Oak is poisonous to sheep so it’s not a good idea to have them in the pasture.  They probably won’t eat the leaves, but the acorns could prove tempting.

The cows, however, helped themselves and both trees show the signs of major cow damage.  Now, away from nibbling teeth, they should thrive.

Now, it’s just about watching them grow.

 

 

#treesplanting #woodland #scotland #rurallife #wildlifefriend

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Gap in stone dyke filled

stone dyke gap half filled

We have a lot of stone dykes here and over the years, some have fallen into disrepair while others have been, shall we say, modified.

gate gap in stone dykeOne such modification was a gate fitted in between two fields.  While this gate might have made sense when all the fields were part of this farm, over the years bits have been sold off and the gate now sits between ours and a neighbour’s field.  In fact, it had become kind of a gate to nowhere.

The problem is that the gate was rotten and the gentlest of nudges would have pushed it down.  Not a problem until you have rams in one field an ewes next door (see “hello boys“).  We could have replaced the gate, but there was not much point.  There is already a proper farm gate about 50m away, so there is access between the fields.

So, the decision was made to ditch the gate and rebuild the wall.  The only problem was all the stones that had formed this part of the wall had long gone.

We had recently been give a pile of stones from a house in town where they are renovating house and garden.  However, there were not enough even for this small gap.  Also, they were all pretty small, not ideal for dry stone dykes.  Off I went in search of some more, larger stones.  I found a few and ferried them over with the quad bike.  The wall itself was up a bank, probably around 1.5m (5ft) high.  I had to get all the stones I needed up this bank.

collecting stones for repairing stone dyke
Getting the stones up the bank

It was easy for the small stones, I just lobbed them up.  The larger ones were a bit trickier.  One in particular proved nigh on impossible to get up.  After three attempts had resulted in me losing my grip and having to jump out of the way, I named the stome Sisyphus and sat down to ponder.  I could have gone and got the tractor and lifed it with the front loader, but in the end, I rolled it up the track, got it up onto the bank where it was lower and rolled it back again.  Of course, having done that, I realised I could have just put it on the quad bike and drive in it round to the other side. Doh!

Having got all the stones ready, I retired for a cup of tea and a rest much to the gratitiude of the dogs who were, by now, pretty bored watching me moving stones.

stone dyke gap filled
stone dyke gap filled

Next morning, under the not so watchful eye of the dogs, I rebuilt the wall.  You can see Sysiphus bottom left (under the very white stone).  They never look quite so big once they are in place.

The small stones turned out to be a pain, so I had to scrounge a few more stones.  Luckily, there are a few just lying around.

We are pretty pleased with that little job.

Still plenty of stone dykes to repair though.

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RIP Peaches

The last few days have been cold and yesterday, we took advantage of the frozen ground to lay an area of hardcore around the sheep’s hay feeders.  The frozen ground meant that the tractor did not do too much damage to the ground.

Before starting, we moved the sheep out into the fields to keep them out of the way.  On finishing, we allowed the sheep back and it was then we noticed that there was something not quite right with Peaches.  It was not entirely unexpected, Peaches’ condition had not been good for some time.  She had, in the summer, been checked over by the vet but there was nothing obvious wrong.  Peaches was the oldest of our sheep and was approaching her 9th birthday so we thought this lack of condition might be age related.  We had been giving Peaches small supplements to ensure she was getting enough to eat, but her condition never really improved.

Peaches leads the sheep down the path
Peaches leading the sheep down the path to the hay

Yesterday, Peaches was separating herself from the flock.  This is often a sign of a sheep that is unwell.  We offered Peaches some chopped turnips and while she ate a little, she didn’t seem to be her usual self.  We called the vet out to have a look.  The vet found a little blood in Peaches’ poo and said that her stomach seemed a little bloated.  However, there was no obvious sign of anything serious.  Peaches was showing no sign of anemia meaning fluke and worms were discounted.  The vet did hint that there might be something wrong internally such as a tumour, but that it was hard to tell.

The vet administered a few injections to help Peaches with any pain or infection and also to help get her digestion moving.  Having been very tolerant of all the handling and needle pricks, once out of the treatment pen, Peaches was off like a shot up the hill.  We continued to keep an eye out and she did seem to be eating hay from the feeders later in the day.  However, she was still kind of keeping her distance from the flock.

Sadly, this morning, we found Peaches had passed away in the night.  She had passed away in her sleep and lay, looking very peaceful, in one of the field shelters.  Peaches was the flock’s matriarch and was a gentle leader.  We shall all miss her.

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Frosty mornings

sunrise at auchenstroan

A cold snap in November seems to have been a regular thing ever since I was a kid.  Each year, the frost would come and it would look like a white christmas was in the offing, only for it to warm up again.

frosty morning at Auchenstroan
frosty morning at Auchenstroan

The last couple of weeks have been pretty chilly.  The good thing is that after a spell of heavy rain, it has given the ground a chance to dry out a bit.  Nevertheless, winter is here and it we’ll be dealing with mud for a while now.

The best part of the frosty weather is the sunrises we get here.  Looking out to the east, we see the sun rising over the hills casting it’s red and orange glows across the sky.  It’s a very peaceful time of the day.

It’s a pleasant walk up to find the sheep and see what they are up to.  Mostly, it’s lying around after a good night’s sleep out in the cold air.  The sheep do like a bit of cold, dry weather.

For us, after the walk around to check all the animals fine and that the hen doors have not frozen shut, it’s back inside to our Aga warmed kitchen for a breakfast of good Scottish porage.

sunrise at Auchenstroan
sunrise at Auchenstroan