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Clever Sheep

Ymogen coloured ryeland

Hi there, it’s me Ymogen!

It’s been a while since I logged on but recently my pet human took a short video of me demonstrating my intelligence so I thought it would be a good time to tell you all about it.

You’re probably aware that us sheep are herd animals and like to do things as a group.  If Seline heads off up the hill we’ll all follow her.  If Sparkle gets spooked by a pheasant popping up out of a clump of sedge grass and flapping its wings, we’ll all get a bit spooked.  That’s just how we are, its in our nature.

But I’m going to let you into secret, us sheep are not such simple souls as people like to think, in fact, we’re very clever!  As well has having the herd instinct we also have the voice recognition instinct.  Have you ever watched a group of lambs and their mums?  Each mum has a special call for her lambs so each lamb knows exactly which mum to head over to for teat.  (Sometimes a lamb might take liberties and sneak over to one of their aunties for teat but once they get butted away by a cross auntie they soon learn their lesson!  But anyway, I digress.

Ever since I was born here at Auchenstroan, I’ve noticed our pet humans calling us using different sounds for each one of us, just like our mums.  So over time we’ve learnt a whole different language, “human speak”, as well as our own “sheep speak”.  And just like when we were lambs, we get a nice treat if we trot over to the humans when called, sheep nuts! 😊 😊 😊 Or, our second favourite thing, back scratches 😊 😊

In the video below you can see me demonstrating this.  My pet human says my name, I hear her but can’t see her (admittedly I was quite interested in a particular blade of grass at that moment).  But I couldn’t help myself, I found myself looking from left to right, and then I saw the human standing there with Witchy bleating by her side.  I had a wee shake and then headed right over and got a back scratch for my efforts.  Ta daa!

 

 

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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.

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The Adventures of the Yogi Rug

Recently a lovely lady in faraway Georgia, USA bought “the Yogi rug” from our online shop.  I was excited because it’s always a bit extra special when a person from a distant destination buys something from us.  This was doubly special because the lady from Georgia told me she also lives on a farm so I loved the fact that the Yogi rug would be going to live in agricultural Georgia, a far cry from rural Scotland, but also somehow very connected, a home from home almost.

The following day I packaged up the rug and popped in Yogi’s photo, packing slip and all the bits.  I then booked in FedEx to collect the parcel from us on their next day collection service.  FedEx are a brilliant company to send things to the US, we have used them before and in fact last time two rugs flew off to America and arrived at their destination within only three days!  The great thing about using a courier is that you can track the parcel’s progress which is quite good fun.  It is also comforting to know that while you can track a parcel it is unlikely to disappear into a great big abyss and appear mysteriously some time later, or not as the case might be.  In the past we used standard mail to send parcels around the world and although we’ve had no parcels go missing and only one late arrival due to a post office strike in France, (the parcel did eventually make it thankfully), we’ve decided to offer courier only service for our rugs and cushions because it gives us and our customers peace of mind to be able to track packages and know roughly when they will arrive.

Yogi as a lamb with mum Witchy

The following morning the FedEx van arrived and off the Yogi rug went.  We waved it goodbye and I admit, I had a bit of a lump in my throat.  The Yogi rug is very special you see, Yogi is Witchy’s lamb and Witchy struggled when she was young so it was a miracle that she grew up to be a mum and then go on to make Yogi who is our first strawberry blonde sheep.  She is exceptionally pretty and has a very cute baaa.  This rug is the first I have made from Yogi’s fleece, it was her lamb fleece so very soft and cuddly.

Anyway, I carried on with the farm jobs and went off to my gardening job.  Later that evening I opened FedEx’s tracking page to see where the parcel would be.  I was a bit surprised to see no update to the tracker but thought nothing of it, I presumed the driver had forgotten to update his device and it would show up at some point.  I carried on with life.

Two days later I thought I’d have a peek at the tracker.  I was surprised to see absolutely no change at all to the parcel’s status.  It was still showing “waiting for collection”.  My heart sank, I thought something had to be wrong so spent a while looking for contact details and eventually found a “chat” button.  Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long, along came Emily who was really helpful and friendly.  I told her I was concerned about a shipment and gave her the details.  Emily said she’d look into it and then disappeared off for about half an hour, (well, it felt like half an hour at least, it was probably about 4 minutes but still).  I was starting to think I’d been abandoned when she reappeared and said she’d located the parcel and it had a new tracking number.  She said it had arrived into Memphis Tennessee and was in Customs.  I was so relieved, I nearly jumped for joy.  I went about my business with a spring in my step.

Two days later I wondered if the rug was sitting pretty in its new farm so I entered the tracking number into the system and waited for the internet to chug into action.  When the page decided to open, I was really disappointed to see absolutely no change at all in the parcel’s progress, it was still at the FedEx Memphis hub, in Customs.  At this point in time demonstrations had started to break out in the US and obviously there is CoronaVirus, so I assumed this was causing a backlog in processing parcels.  Never the less I starting to feel a shadow of worry creeping over me and that night I woke up at 4 in the morning picturing the Yogi rug all alone on a shelf in a warehouse in faraway Memphis Tennessee.

Yogi

I tried to push the nagging worry from my mind and went about my business.  That morning I emailed the lady in Georgia with the new tracking details and told her there appeared to be a hold up at Customs and that I would let her know as soon as there were any updates.

I stopped checking the FedEx tracking page daily, I thought it would work its way through in its own time, I did however set up an alert with FedEx so if there was any movement on the parcel I’d get an email.

A watched kettle never boils, but if it doesn’t boil in two weeks you can’t help but wonder if something might be awry.  So, after two weeks of no movement on the tracker I decided to get in touch with Customer Services.  I wanted to know if it was normal for a parcel to be stuck in Customs for this length of time.  It was then that I had the pleasure of meeting Leroy Williams.  I was astounded at the speed with which a representative came back to me after sending in my initial query, I think it was half a day if that!  Leroy was brilliant, a real credit to FedEx Customer Services Department, the speed at which he dealt with my query was phenomenal.  Within a short space of time Leroy had informed me that the shipment had disappeared off the radar.  It should have arrived at its destination by now so he would open a “search query” and this would take 72 hours.  Although my heart sank to be told this, I felt strangely positive and upbeat, purely because of the way Leroy was handling the issue.  He asked me to send photos of the package and a detailed description of it and all sorts of other info.  He said to leave it with him and he would be back in touch after the allotted time, if not before if the parcel was found sooner.  So although the parcel being “lost” was awful news, the blow was definitely lessened by the way Leroy handled the situation.

However, the spring in my step didn’t last long, I’m not sure why, it just kind of disappeared, probably not helped by my overactive imagination and tendency to worry.  Images of the Yogi rug lost and alone on a shelf in a cardboard box in a stark warehouse full of conveyor belts and robots in Memphis started to haunt me day and night.  Doubt that the shipment would ever be found didn’t just creep in, it started to rampage through me, and under my calm and bustling exterior my mood was spiralling fast downhill.  The sensible part of my brain fought with the emotional part, at 4am when the emotional part was hitting over drive the sensible part asked; why are you so affected by this?  Parcels go missing all the time, Leroy is dealing with it, there are more important things to worry about than a missing parcel, for goodness’s sake pull yourself together!  People are dying of corona virus and you’re worrying about a missing rug!  But I couldn’t pull myself together and on day three with no word from FedEx my calm exterior disintegrated into little pieces and I reverted to the five year old me, I rang my mum and bawled down the phone.  “Yogi is missing in Tennessee!!!” “Pardon?”  “Oh,” she said, “not the sheep, the rug!!” “Yes,” I said, “the rug, but it’s as if part of Yogi is lost, and part of my soul too” I said.  It was then that I realised through my sniffles that the reason I was so upset was because each time I make a rug, part of me, and part of the sheep goes into it, not just physically, but also on a kind of energetic sort of spiritual level.  My mum was brilliant, she listened and said it was totally normal for me to be reacting like this, she would feel the same way, we had a long chat and then I made a cup of tea and resigned myself to the fact that Yogi was missing and not just presumed dead, but actually dead.  (Note, the Yogi rug had now actually become Yogi somehow)!

That evening I did the 5pm sheep check which meant climbing the hill with the dogs and counting the sheep, then mooching around a bit checking their behaviour and generally making sure they were OK.  On approaching the flock, I immediately saw something was wrong, they were bunched together and their body language was peculiar.  As I climbed the hill towards them I could see a dead deer with antlers in the middle of their circle.  As I got closer the antlers became four legs, and as I drew closer still, the dead deer became a sheep on its back with its legs sticking straight up into the air.  A cast sheep, “oh sh*t” I said out loud and started running through treacle to get there.  It didn’t look good, there was no movement and Yarr’s tongue was lolling out and there was foam around his nose.  I dived on top of him and rolled him over, to my amazement he sprang into action and legged it down the hill snorting and sneezing.  I was so shocked at Yarr being alive, I just sat on a mole hill for about 10 minutes trying to gather my thoughts.  Within this time, Yarr, being a friendly chap, came back over and stood next to me.  He was in a bit of a state, the wool on his back was totally flattened and his rumen seemed to be a funny shape, kind of distorted.  He kept sneezing and snorting and so I stayed with him for a good while to make sure he reverted to normal.  I wiped his nose with my sleeve and gave him a gentle back rub (his favourite).  He was slowly coming back, but still out of sorts.  Eventually he wandered off to graze and I thought, phew, he’s OK.  I headed back downhill for a cup of tea and planned to go back in an hour or so to check up on him before bed.  It was over that reviving cup of tea and scone (which later flew out of my mouth) that Adrian suddenly announced, “oh look, an email has just come in from the lady in Georgia.”  “Pardon?” I said, followed by, “what does it say?”  “The Yogi rug has arrived” said Adrian calmly, “what?  Are you sure?  Really?”  Followed by half a mouthful of scone flying across the table.  I couldn’t believe it, my emotions had already taken me on a gravity defying rollercoaster with the Yarr incident, now I was being dragged back up again, I didn’t think I’d be able to cope!  Of course, I was ecstatic.  Once I’d digested this brilliant news I rang my mum, danced for joy in the kitchen, all was well with the world again, the sense of calm that had deserted me so unceremoniously these last few days flooded back and I felt great.

Yarr post pickle

Later that evening Adrian and I whizzed up to the sheep on the quad bike followed by two panting and slightly reluctant dogs.  Happily, Yarr was fine and on four legs, grazing away as if nothing had happened.

That evening I slept really well, Yarr was alive, the sheep were OK, and best of all the Yogi rug was happily ensconced in its new home in Georgia, no doubt having a welcome rest after all its adventures!

And of course, we will continue to use FedEx to send our parcels.  Things go wrong in life all the time but it is how problems are handled that matters.  FedEx dealt with the issue brilliantly.  We will never know exactly what happened to the Yogi rug, we can only guess that it was probably something to do with the system failing to read the bar code or something like that and then obviously someone would have had to step in and do a manual search.  What ever happened, we were very impressed and amazed that the parcel was found.  If you look at pictures of the FedEx hub in Memphis, it is enormous, apparently the largest of their hubs in the US so in short, FedEx did a brilliant job to find the missing shipment!

Yogi the day after her rug was found safe and well

 

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Coppicing Time

coppicing

We have quite a large area of willow woodland which spans either side of one of the burns that run through our smallholding.  One of the spring jobs is to coppice this.  This mainly involves taking out fallen and damaged trees as well as keeping branches away from the road.

It is best done in the spring.  In the winter, the burn can be a bit wild and the ground underfoot wet and marshy.  In late spring the willow comes into bloom and attracts bees.  You don’t want to be felling trees that are covered in bees.  Also, as a deciduous tree, it is best to trim willow while it is dormant.

tree trapped in stream
tree trapped in stream

With the weather a little drier and the burn calm enough to wade across, I sharpened the chainsaw and set off.  I am always very careful doing this, chainsaws are pretty dangerous.  I make sure I am wearing protective clothing.

I also have to careful in judging which way the tree will fall.  Most are already leaning over, having been blown over at some point, but they can have tall branches growing up.  I wear a hard hat!

One tree decided to have its revenge and, on cutting through its trunk, it swung into the burn and planted itself there.  The upper branches remained supported by neighbouring trees.  I had to leave it there, I’ll wait and see what the wind can do.

tossing the caber
tossing the caber across the burn

I cleared out the damaged trees one by one and cut the wood into managable lengths.  These had to be carried across the burn to where I could collect them.  Rather than carry them over slippery stones, I lobbed them over, my version of tossing the caber.

After that, I just gathered them into a tidy pile to await collection – these logs will go into our wood supply.  I also pushed some cuttings into the ground to create new trees.  Mind you, willow regenerates very quickly so I probably didn’t need to do this.

Anyway, that’s this year’s coppicing done – phew!  It’s tiring work.

 

wood neatly stacked
one day’s coppiced wood neatly stacked
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Water system extended

Once a year, we borrow some cows from a neighbouring farm.  We do these because they are good for the pasture.  They eat out the long grass making it accessible to the sheep and their poos are highly nutritious from the grass.

Last year they managed to empty our entire field water supply twice in two days (see cows drink us dry).  Since moving here, we have installed two underground tanks that collect water from hill streams and two water butts that collect rainwater from the field shelters.  These feed a network of troughs, one per field.  In total, it the system held about 2,500 litres of water.

“If we are going to get cows again,” I said to Mrs D, “do you think we should we install a large water trough for them?”

“Good idea,” she said.

I set about locating and ordering one.  I found a large, galvanised steel trough that holds 545 litres.  Just the job; I ordered it.

Then COVID-19 hit and delivery was slightly delayed.  However, hats of to McVeigh Parker, it arrived Tuesday afternoon.  After the relentless wet weather we have been having, it has been pretty dry of late.  It only takes a couple of weeks without rain and the springs that feed the underground tanks dry up.  I had to get cracking.

new water trough - trough in place
trough in place and level

First thing Wednesday morning, I was hard at work.  I had to level the ground where the tank would go.  This is never easy.  Also, this trough weighed around 70kg so I wanted to be moving it around as little as possible.  With pick-axe and spade, I hacked away at the ground.  Spirit levels were at the ready.  I got it to what seemed level and put the spirit levels on it.  Well, miracles never cease, it was level.  I put the trough in place and it was level.  I couldn’t believe it!

With the trough in place, it was a fairly straightforward job to unroll the pipe up the hill and connect it to the supply.  Just a bit of adjustment to the connectors to ensure no drips and all was ready.  I turned on the water (I fit isolation valves on all the troughs) and the water poured in.  However, it stopped at about three quarters full.

Off I trotted to inspect the tank – no water was flowing in.  Thankfully, there was a amall puddle at the intake point, the problem was the filter had become a bit blocked.  I cleaned it up and water started to flow in again, albeit slowly.

trough full of water
trough full of water

Next day, I checked and the trough was full.  The tank was only half full so I checked the inflow again.  Clogged up again – this time I replaced the filter (just a plastic mesh) and left it to it.

Today, the tank was full and the spring was dry.  I had installed the trough just in time to ensure a full water supply – now over 3,000 litres in capacity.  It’s a good feeling to know we have plenty of water for the animals should the weather stay dry.

 

 

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Carrot box ready

carrot box complete

We try to grow as many of the vegetables we eat as we can.  However, in the last couple of years, we have been engaged in a battle of wills with numerous pests.  We have managed to outwit the birds and the butterflies with netting, but the slugs still do a significant amount of damage.

carrot box construction
Boring out the carrot tubes

Last year, we had to keep replanting.  While the kale grew strong enough to cope with some slug damage, the rest of the crops that managed to get beyond seedlings fared badly.  In the end, we rescue a few beetroot, a reasonable crop of turnips and some badly mauled carrots.  There had to be a better way.

I had seen, on the TV, a programme about allotments in which carrots were grown in tubes.  Nicole did some research and found that while this was possible, they could easily overheat on sunny days.  The most promising solution was to build a box, fill it with sand and then bore out vertical tubes with a drainpipe.  These tubes could be filled with compost.  Undersoil slugs and snails would not be able to get through the sand thus the carrots should be safe.  The sand would also retain moisture and stay cool on hot days.

The box itself was fairly straightforward to construct (see stopping slugs and snails).  However, boring out the sand tubes was a bit more tricky.  It was quite hard to get the sand to stay in the tube. Sometimes it worked, sometimes half of the sand fell out back into the tube. It turned into quite an art getting the tube the right depth. One trick was to push the drainpipe in and then pack the sand down inside the pipe.  It took time.

Our addition to the design was to make “socks” into which the compost could go.  By doing this, we could pull out the old compost each year and replace it with new compost.  That’s the plan anyway.  We used the sleeves that you can by for underground drainage pipes.  These sleeves are built to let water through but not silt – perfect.  They will also act as an additional slug barrier.

carrot box complete
carrot box complete

By putting the sock into a piece of drainpipe, filling it, placing the drainpipe (and compost) into the hole, the pipe could be slid out leaving the compost tube in place.  This process worked well but was time consuming.  It took hours to do all 36 tubes.

We haven’t planted the actual carrots yet – the weather is a bit frosty right now.  We reckon they’ll be planted mid to late April.

Once planted, we’ll tie some carrot netting around the top to keep the more intrepid slugs and snails at bay.  Once the carrots are growing, it will be fine to remove the netting.  I’ll post updates as the year pans out so that you can follow the progress. Who knows, you may even be inspired to try this approach too.

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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