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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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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
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Latest rugs in our shop

With the onset of winter and frosty days I’ve been busy wrapping up my gardening business for another year.  This means I get a lovely rest, oh, sorry, that was a Freudian slip, I meant so say, this means I will have more time to start the Big Winter Feed Ritual for our woolly friends, in other words, keeping the sheep feeders full of hay.

The grass is low nutrient and provides little nourishment for the sheep during the winter.  The hay meanwhile was cut at its peak in July, and contains plenty of flowers, it smells of summer and the wafts remind me of Swiss mountain villages from when I was a small girl.  The sheep love it and can get quite overexcited each morning when they see the bales coming their way.  They actually make filling the feeders quite challenging as they pile in like a bunch of frenzied five year olds on Christmas morning.

rolling the rug

Winter also means I get to dive headlong into rug production.  Making rugs is very time consuming, during the summer one rug can take two weeks or more to put together as I’m running about doing other things.  In the winter my days are spent between the hay shed and my girl shed.  My girl shed is fabulous, I love it!  It’s actually the summer house and just a stone’s throw from the house and the kettle.  It has power which means it’s toasty and warm and more to the point, makes the felting process actually possible.

In the last week I’ve made two rugs; “the Molly rug” and “the Ursi rug”.  The Molly rug (see here) was made using fleece from our friends’ flock.  They have a friendly family of Mules, Herdwicks and Texels.  The Molly rug was made using the long fluffy locks from one of their Mules, (the offspring of a hill breed mother and lowland breed father).   I love the way the Molly rug has come out, it is creamy-white with long, powder puff locks and just invites you to cuddle into it.

sheep peek at Molly rug

The second rug I made using fleece from our own flock, from Ursi actually, (see here).  Ursi is a big gorgeous girl, naturally friendly, always up for a back rub and a chat.  Ursi has a pale grey fleece with beige and cream running through it.  I made a big rug from it as Ursi is a big girl with lots of fleece.  I’m very happy with the way the rug has turned out, it’s soft and bouncy and the colours are just beautiful, just like Ursi herself.

The Ursi rug

#colouredryelandsheep, #handmade, #feltedfleecerug, #vegetarianrug, #sheepfriendlyrug, #crueltyfree, #britishwool, #ethical, #sustainable, #smallholding #ruralliving #thegoodlife #scotland


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Weedy paths

A couple of years back we built a vegetable patch.  It’s six areas with a path connecting them all.  It took a while to build and all the slabs were laid on a dry mix concrete base.  In order to keep the weeds down, a dry mix was also brushed into the gaps between each slab.  The idea is that it goes naturally, a bit like a bag of cement left in the shed.  The damp seeps in and it sets.

weed free path
weed free path

The problem is, it never did set.  In fact, it just kind of turned into a sandy base into which the weeds moved with relish.  So, if at first you don’t succeed and all that.  In the odd nice day we have had recently, I have pulled out all the weeds and dug out the sand.  All the gaps were then filled with a wet mix of concrete.  Hopefully, that will set good and hard and keep the weeds out.

Of course, the weeds are invading the vegetable areas at quite a pace, but well that’s all part and parcel of growing veggies.

#smallholder #rurallife

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Flower bed cleared and replanted

While the flower beds along the house and the meadow at the entrance are all looking great (summer at auchenstroan), the flower bed the other side of the lawn has always been a bit of an eyesore.  Most of the plants were, according to Nicole, a mish mash, in the wrong place; Crocosmia, Yellow Loosestrife, Solomon’s seal and Hostas.  In amongst these, Ground Elder, Bindweed and Willow Herb had taken over.  With me otherwise occupied trying to rescue some veggies (veggies version 2), it was left up to Nicole to clear the bed.

flower bed clearing underway
flower bed clearing underway

Working as a gardener and fairly busy right now, Nicole fitted this in around her work.  It was a large task and took the best part of a week to clear it.  Patiently waiting by the greenhouse were rows of carefully potted on flowers, Echinacea, Achillea and Salvias to create a wee “prairie” from the recently weeded border.  These were having to be watered daily and so would benefit hugely from finally getting into the ground.

Finally, the bed was cleared and a mountain of weeds made their way to the compost bin.  Nicole was exhausted but very happy indeed.  Now for the good bit, the planting out.

flower bed cleared
flower bed cleared
pile of weeds
pile of weeds

There was no waiting or having a wee rest to recover from all the effort of clearing it.  I was on a deadline to mulch it.  Nicole headed off to work and I was straight into mulching – it took 4 trailer full’s of mulch to put a decent covering down.  Hard, but satisfying work.  There is something very attractive about a recently mulched flower bed.

flower bed woolly protection
flower bed woolly protection

Nicole got home and after a quick cuppa, she was out planting.  Given all the problems we’ve had in the veggie patch with slugs and snails, each flower was carefully surrounded with wool.

The net result looks amazing, but will be even better once all the flowers grow and bloom.  That will most likely be next year.

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Veggies Version 2

I wrote a few weeks back about the problems we were having getting our veggies going this year (problems with veggies).  First, the birds dug them up and then, the slugs emerged and scoffed the lot.  We ended up with around about 3 kale, 2 turnips, 4 spinach, 3 beetroots, one half-eaten broccoli and some carrots from our first planting.  All the salads have gone.  None of the direct sown seeds have emerged.  Onions aside, A bit of a disaster really.

wool protected carrots
carrots protected by wool

Luckily, I had kept some seedlings back and potted them up.  We also did an emergency purchase of more seeds and got them going.  The problem is, though, what to do about the slugs.  We don’t really like using slug pellets and besides, they hadn’t been much use where we had used them.  In the past, I have tried various approaches, eggshells, traps etc, but none of these were that good really.  However, Nicole read somewhere that they don’t like wool.  It’s worth a try we thought as we have plenty left over from shearing.

So, over the weekend, I have been planting out the second wave.  These are all plants that have been potted up and allowed to grow reasonably large.  This should give them a fighting chance.  Each plant has been delicately surrounded with a carpet of wool.  Rain is forecast this week, we shall soon see if that works.  Fingers crossed!

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Haribo Wins Top Dog Award

Haribo came to live with us a few years ago.  He came to us unwanted by his previous owner and with a list of issues over two pages long.  Most of those issues disappeared fairly quickly, but one endured.  Haribo was very scared of dogs he didn’t know and this led to a fear aggression response.  His coping strategy was to get the first attack in.

This made walking a bit of a problem, but as we were aware of this, we were able to control him.  Over time and under George’s wing (George is our Anatolian Shepherd), Haribo’s general behaviour improved, but the fear aggression stayed. In the last few months, we have noticed that Haribo just seems to have become more relaxed.  He has a very stable life here and plenty of space.  He and George are best mates and he also likes Maga, the collie who lives nearby.

Last weekend, a neighbouring cottage had visitors coming and they were bringing a dog.  A small terrier.  She’s a very relaxed dog, they told us.  Hmm, the words ‘terriers’ and ‘relaxed’ don’t often appear in the same sentence.  When I worked as a dog behaviour consultant, most of my clients were owners of small terriers.  Anyway, I said I’d manage the introductions.  On Friday afternoon, I picked up the collar and lead, but I couldn’t find Haribo anywhere.  In the end I went to the neighbour’s cottage.  Both George and Haribo really like our neighbours and Haribo often camps in their garden where it’s cool and shady.

Sure enough, there he was, fast asleep in their porch.  It turns out they had already met, Haribo and the terrier that is, and nothing had happened.  Just a small growl from the terrier, apparently (no surprises there).  We are amazed.  The first time Haribo has met a strange dog and not gone to level 10 in an instant.  He has done well.

slimline Haribo

His second achievement is that he has lost somewhere in the region of 7Kg.  Around the turn of the year, we noticed he was looking a bit porky so we cut his food a bit.  It’s our fault really, feeding him too much and not noticing the him slowly getting fatter.  Nicole discovered some lumps so we took him to the vet.  He’d already lost some weight but he was still around 7Kg overweight.  So, we cut his food a bit more.  The fatty lumps turned out to be benign and now have disappeared.  We weighed him again recently and he’s down to 28kg, much closer to his target weight of around 25kg.

He also has much more energy and is definitely enjoying his walks more.

So well done Haribo.  Given one of his previous issues was raiding bins, it’s gratifying that even with his diet, this never happens.  In fact, we can leave the animal room open (where we store animal feed including dog biscuits) and they never help themselves.

Pack leadership really works wonders for dogs.

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Summer at Auchenstroan

Well, summer has finally arrived at Auchenstroan.  I think it’s going to last for at least two days, so we are trying to make the most of it.  We are supposed to be taking a break this week, but there’s always stuff to be done.  A couple of sheep have suffered from midgie bites around the eyes so we have been wiping the affected areas clean with saline which seems to be helping.  Another sheep has a cut (from shearing) which has got a bit infected, so we have been treating her (it looks like it’s getting better).

meadowWhile we have been having problems getting veggies to grow (problems with veggies), the flowers are doing really well. The flower bed at the front of the house (pictured above) is constantly buzzing with bees, both honey bees and also various bumble bees.

Nicole is especially pleased as many of the flowers she grew from seeds.  Pictured right is a meadow area which is just coming into bloom and looks really great.

wild flowers
wild flowers

Pictured left is a flower bed created by Nicole around a stone dyke (one I repaired a while back).  The roses are still to bloom, but the geraniums are enjoying the warm sunshine.

Our wild areas are also blooming.  We have set aside quite a few areas as natural meadows.  Pictured left is what used to be the pig pen.  Now it’s a wild flower haven with young rowan and hazel trees planted so as to create a small woodland.  In the meantime, the wild flowers are flourishing.

young woodland in summer
young woodland in summer

Our broad leaf woodland is also coming along nicely.  The trees are getting to quite a good size now.  It’s a great area for trees as it’s quite damp – a lot of the water from the hillside ends up here.  We are looking forward to the trees getting ever taller and creating that real woodland feel.

In the meantime, we are scrabbling around to finish our tasks so that we can get the garden chairs out and put our feet up before summer ends.



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Problems with Veggies

veggie patch

Last year, extended our veggie patch to give us plenty of room to grow our favourite vegetables.  This year, we had the greenhouse ready and also, over the winter I had laid power to it and installed a heater.  This was more a frost guard than anything, but it kept the greenhouse a bit warmer than the outside.

Outside, the veggie patch was fully mulched and ready.  It looks really god covered in mulch, no weeds (for now).

greenhouse planted
greenhouse planted

We were all set and in March we started planting.  Everything that had indoor/March on the label was planted and put in the greenhouse.  This worked, sort of.  The tomatoes decided it was still too cold and never showed.  It was the same for the basil.  In fact, only really the carrots and brussel sprouts got going.

Outdoors, we planted onion sets.  Then the heavy rains came and flooded that area covering all the onion sets in water.  Disaster, though in the end, about half grew.

Not to worry, we did a second planting and bit by bit, built up some small vegetable plants.  The spring was relatively mild and so we started to plant out some of the hardier crops.

veggie patch netted
veggie patch netted

Now, we fed the birds all winter so how did they repay us?  By digging up the mulch to look for worms and in so doing, scattering said vegetables everywhere!  Most annoying.  Luckily, I had a length of blue pipe tucked away behind a shed and we bought some netting.  We put back all the uprooted plants and installed said netting.  This helped, a bit.  It included butterfly proof netting for the brassicas and turnips (last year we had to pick off multitudes of caterpillars on a daily basis).

By now, I’d planted a third set of onions as all the ones grown from seed had simply vanished.  Thankfully, the look good and strong.

But still, our veggies were still under attack.  We laid out some organic slug pellets.  No change.  In fact we have lost almost all the brassicas, three quarters of the turnips, half the spinach, all the direct seeded carrots and most of the beetroot.  Emergency second and third seedlings are planted and awaiting their turn.  The plan is to pot them up and make sure they are strong before planting them out.

Next year, we’ll do what we should have done this year.  We’ll put hens in the veggie patch and give them access to unplanted beds.  That should take care of the slug population we suspect of causing the damage.  At least, we hope so.

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Stone Dykes

I think I have mentioned before that we have quite a lot of stone dykes here and in areas, they are bit run down.  With all the other jobs (firewood, sheep handling area, veggies etc), there hasn’t been much time to do any repairs.  However, over the winter I was actually paid to fix someone’s wall.  It was a neighbour of one of Nicole’s clients and a few metres of wall in their garden had collapsed in a storm.  We had a similar collapse here, as it happens.

Stone Dyke Repair Dec 2018Anyway, while it’s not really part of my plans to become a professional stone dyker, I said OK and took on the job.  It was a bit tricky as the front of the wall was an ornamental flower bed, so I couldn’t stomp about in my size 10 boots.  But the wall was built on a slope and most of the stones were on the other side so I worked mainly from there.

It wasn’t too bad a job as most of the stones were small, so you can work quite quickly.  It was all done in a couple of mornings and I was quite pleased with the result.  The client was too – always a good thing.

hen run stone dyke collapsed
collapsed stone dyke

Having done that, there was the collapsed wall bordering our hen run to look at.  Again, this was built on a slope and it looked like the wall had been gradually tipping over over the years.  Also, all the stones were piled all over the wall and took a few hours to move out of the way.  It was a right mess.

stone dyke hen run repaired
stone dyke repaired

These stones were a bit bigger, so it took a couple of days to rebuild this section.  It just takes a bit longer to get the bigger stones all to fit together within the lines of the wall.  And believe me, you only want to lift them once, so you spend a lot of time figuring out what will go where.  Nevertheless, I got there in the end and am quite pleased with the result.  I did have a few stones left over which was a bit of a worry.  That said, the same thing happened on the course and the instructors just shrugged that off saying that it happens.

My current project is a slightly bigger challenge.  There is a gap in the wall at the top of our largest field.  It’s the border between our patch and forestry land.  In the past, there has been a livestock handling area the other side and we suspect a previous owner of our patch knocked through the wall so they could “annex” this.  Not sure why, it’s full of bracken (poisonous to livestock), hard to get to and far from any power source.  That said, it looks like it hasn’t been used for years, decades even, as it’s all a bit run down.

stone dyke repair day 2 start
stone dyke restoration – laying the base

Anyway, there is a small stock fence across this gap and it is about to fall down.  So we decided it would be better to restore the wall.  It will look better and be safer for the sheep.  It should also slow the spread of bracken into our field.

The main problem is that the original stones have largely vanished.  There were a few in our field and so I retrieved those.  We also have a pile accumulated from the gate opening we put into another wall a while back.  I have been bringing those up in a trailer.  Unfortunately, the terrain is too dodgy for the tractor – the front loader would have been very helpful for moving and lifting the larger ones.  So I have to use the quad bike and muscle power.  All the shifting is done by hand, lifting them into the trailer one end and then out again the other end.

stone dyke repair
stone dyke restore – 2nd layer of stones

The remaining stones I am sourcing from the surrounding area.  There are quite a few lying around on the ground.  The main problem is that they are, on average, a good 50m away.  So it’s a lot of carrying which takes up a lot of time and effort.  They are also all quite big (it’s hard to tell from the picture).  The larger ones get rolled.  Luckily, I am rolling them downhill.

stone dyke repair

The other problem is the midges – it’s perfect terrain for them.  As a rule, they don’t bother me too much (got used to them as a kid), but when you are working in one area, they get into your ears and eyes and are really annoying.  So it was midge nets on.  Luckily, the wind generally picks up during the day and they hate the wind.

stone dyke repair

All in all it took 5 days.  Most of the time was spent locating and carrying stones.  My back is complaining a bit now.  Day 4 had its dramas.  I had my first wasp sting since I was a kid.  I was picking up a stone and something flew straight at my face and stung me.  I’d only just taken my midgie net off!  It came back for further attempts but I kept knocking it away – the repeat attacks suggest wasp (didn’t actually see it).  Having dealt with that, I then contrived to slip while carrying a large rock.  As I flew sideways like a falling tree, the rock landed on my knee, painful but thankfully no real damage done.  At that point I took a break and put some ice on it and had a cup of tea.

Anyway, on the fifth day the weather was a bit kinder. Dry, windy enough to blow the midgies away and sunny.  The gap is filled and the sheep are much safer.  And I’m off to run a bath.

view from our field