Since moving here, we have been slowly expanding the woodland coverage. The goal is to create an area that can be coppiced thus providing a supply of wood and also a haven for wildlife. In the late autumn, we took delivery of around 400 trees (bare root) and quickly heeled them in to protect the roots. I got around 30 planted and then the first snow hit. From then, the ground remained pretty much frozen right through till February making planting impossible. On the few days the ground was soft, the forecast was for more freezing weather so planting would have been unwise.
Finally, the ground thawed and the forecast looked warmer (above freezing anyway), so I got going. I was somewhat surprised to find that many of the baby trees were budding and some were even coming into leaf. I had to get them in more quickly than I had thought. Easier said than done, the ground is quite rocky and each stake needed a pilot hole drilled. For that, it was heavy hammer and chisel. It meant each tree took around 5 minutes to plant.
Also, each needed a tall deer guard as deer are regular visitors here. Even with deer guards, the deer can still sometimes get at and nibble away the young shoots.
It took the best part of a week before they were all in. Of course, the next in line of the recent batch of storms immediately blew some over. As well as rocky, the ground is very soft in places, so the fallen saplings had to be rescued and their stakes made firmer.
We are looking forward to watching them grow over the coming years.
We ordered some different bales of hay recently and our first thought was, would the sheep eat it? Sheep are creatures of habit and can be quite fussy with their hay. They prefer the softer variety rather than the stalky hay, and they like it fresh and sweet smelling, (well that is understandable, who wouldn’t)? By the way, if you ever need to test if hay is fresh and tasty, have a good sniff of it, if it smells sweet and a bit like weetabix then it’s likely to go down well with the little darlings. Well, the new hay we’d had delivered was certainly fresh (tick), and it smelled sweet and weetabixy, (another tick), but it was definitely on the stalkier end of the hay spectrum, uh oh!! Their old hay was soft as can be and they loved it. So when we filled the feeders up last week we resigned ourselves to the wee woollies turning their noses well and truly up.
Well, it just goes to show you shouldn’t count your hay before its scoffed, you’ll be happy to hear, they loved the new hay! Stalks and all! In fact, they told us in no uncertain terms that this new batch was much tastier than the stuff they’d been munching all winter!! We reminded them that there is still a bit of winter left in the farming calendar, the grass doesn’t come through till the end of April, so they can have their new type of hay for another few weeks yet. They were happy with this news but told us they still preferred grass when push came to shove and they couldn’t wait for winter to come to end, we nodded our heads in agreement, we can’t wait for spring too!
Winter on the smallholding is all about keeping our woolly friends fed, watered and mucked out.
The beginning of November marks the start of the “big hay ceremony”. This means that every morning and evening we fill the feeders up with fresh hay while the sheep mill around “helping” – which roughly translates to them helping themselves to hay while we attempt to get it in the feeders!
The hay sees them through until spring but if the winter is mild they’ll spend less time at the feeders and trundle up the hill to the higher pastures foraging for grass and small plants bravely making an appearance. Winter grass isn’t very nutritious though and our Ryelands are lowland sheep and not as tough as their hill bred cousins. The wouldn’t survive a Scottish winter without their daily hay.
This year the winter has been particularly cold, we’ve had snow on the ground for more than two weeks and since Christmas the sheep had had enough of foraging in the hills and set up camp in the paddock by the house. The paddock is their sanctuary, a lot of our sheep were born in the paddock so it’s also a nursery. It’s a safe place for them to come to to get out of the elements. There’s a big shed where they can shelter from the rain, there are also apple trees which they enjoy sitting under whilst chewing the cud. But best of all, the paddock is home to their hay feeders and their favourite big orange buckets. These orange buckets are a special winter treat which sheep adore, they’re lick buckets which contain nutrients, vitamins and minerals and lots of yummy ingredients. They just can’t get enough of them!
Yesterday the sheep had licked their buckets clean and were eagerly awaiting new ones. As I heaved the buckets out of the wheelbarrow and dragged them into the barn I had barely got the lids off when I was set upon by nineteen teddy bears in a Winney the Pooh rugby scrum. Fortunately I managed to get out more or less unscathed and sat on a straw bale to recover whilst watching their happy faces listening to them licking away for all they were worth, happy days! 😊
As they days shorten and the night draws in, the autumn harvest is coming to a close. The onions are all tied up in onion strings. We had a much better crop this year, netting them off helped stop the birds digging them up. As ever, those grown from seed soon caught up with the onion sets so maybe we’ll just sow seeds in future.
The last apples are clinging to our neighbour’s apple tree. Those on the ground are being hoovered up by blackbirds or whisked away in the beaks of crows. Our apples are all picked, and have found their way into the freezer (for future apple crumbles) or the brewing room where cider and cider vinegar production is underway.
It has not been that warm but fermentation has continued, albeit a little slowly.
We still have a few winter crops left, plenty of beetroot and turnips sit petiently in the ground awaiting their turn to be made into soup. The nematodes did their work and slug damage has been minimal. The mice or moles have, however, been helping themselves to the beetroot. Fortunately, this year they are large so there’s plenty left for us.
The carrot box did brilliantly and there are only one or two carrots left so one job this winter will be to build a second box. It has been a long time since I have managed to grow perfectly shaped carrots.
The only crop not doing so well are the brussell sprouts. Seemingly strong and healthy plants are producing few sprouts. We’ve been racking our brains on this one though general consensus seems to be stress (they’d fallen over) and nitrogen deficiency (though healthy leaves would contradict this). So, not too much green veg for the winter motnhs.
Preparation for next year is well underway with lots of mulching.
After eight months of writing, re-writing, editing, re-reading and proof checking, I am pleased to say I have finally published my second book “Dogs Talk – Four Dogs Tell Their Stories”. The original idea actually came from a journal kept a few years ago by a dog called Kika.
Kika came to stay with us while her owner was in hospital. Kika had many issues and was what could best be described as a badly behaved dog. I say this as an experienced dog psychologist who has helped a number of problem dogs over the years.
In an attempt to explain some of the principles of dog psychology to her owner without sounding bossy or patronising, Kika kept a journal. The idea was that Kika’s explanations, from a dog’s perspective, would help Kika’s owner better understand Kika’s needs. By doing so, Kika would become both happier and better behaved. I added a number of useful pointers at the back. It was called the Kika Chronicles.
Over the years, I have had a number of dogs, each a rescue dog and each with it’s own set of issues. Building on the idea of the Kika Chronicles, I wrote three sections, one for each dog, relating their experiences on moving in with me. Each is written as though it is the dog telling its own story.
The three dogs are quite different in terms of breeds, needs, issues and temperament. Each presented a unique challenge. All benefitted and became happier and more balanced dogs.
As autumn turns into winter and the harvest is complete, our focus turns to winter jobs. These are mostly maintenance to the walls and fences. There are a number of gaps where previous owners have taken down stone dykes for one reason or another and they look kind of wrong, for want of a better term.
I like doing these kind of outdoor jobs in the winter because there are no midges. First stop was a gap between a stone dyke and a gate. at around 10m, it was too long to put in a stone dyke mainly because there were not enough stones lying around. We decided on a combination of hedge and fence. Some extra hawthorns were added to a pending tree order (we plant trees most winters too) and I got to work putting in the fence. For once this was easy. The ground was soft and the posts went in with just a few taps. No underground rocks lay in wait. Further, at one end a fence already existed so there was a large, strong post already in place.
After the fence was in, I added some trees. There are a lot of self seeding willow and hazel trees growing in inappropriate places, so I dug about 20 of these out and planted them in their new home. Once the hawthorns arrive, I’ll add the hedge and also plant up the surrounding area with a small mixed woodland.
We have two dogs here, George and Haribo and both have a number of pet names. For example, George is often called “G” and Haribo “H”. Haribo also gets called “Bot”. This is a shortened version of “Haribot” which was spawned during the period Britain had the “maybot” as prime minister.
Anyway, recently, Haribo(t) has taken to leaving us presents in the night. These are not pleasant presents, in fact they are night time poos. These have been coming in various sizes, textures and smells, all spread across a wide area (as collies like to do) and all of which are not a lot of fun to clean up. Not every night, but pretty much one night in two. As you can imagine, we didn’t take photos.
We tried the most likely approaches of which, top of the list, was a good worming. A good wormer was procured from the vet but it only seemed to help for a week or so. We wormed him again with much the same result. The night time poos continued to adorn the morning living room floor.
We switched both dogs’ meals so that they got their large meal in the morning and a snack in the evening. Still the poos came. We were scratching our heads. Haribo is only eight so it shouldn’t be an age related issue.
Finally, the penny dropped. Haribo had become quite overweight a while back and so his food was reduced. While doing wonders for his shape and fitness, his tummy is still in denial. As such, Haribo has honed his scavenging skills. Now, we knew he had a pretty stronge urge to eat poo. He likes sheep poo the best, but any poo will do. Because of this, we had been keeping an eye on him. However, like most dogs, he knows exactly when he’s not being watched. As soon as he thinks the coast is clear, he’ll scavenge a bit of poo. Leave him in a down, turn your back, wait a few seconds and turn back and he’ll still be in a down. However, it won’t be where you left him. He’ll have shuffled over a bit, scoffed a quick poo and will be lying there licking his lips with a “butter wouldn’t melt” expression.
So, we tried an experiment – we put him on a lead. That might sound like no big deal but normally the dogs get to roam freely when we walk through our fields. Not that freely, truth be told, as Haribo’s partner in crime, George, also has a bit of a scavenging habit, but that’s another story. Anyway, by keeping Haribo close, we have managed to block his poo eating efforts. And it has worked, we are now getting up in the morning to a clean living room floor. Bliss! Also, Haribo likes being on the lead. Well, he’s a collie and they like being given something to do even if it’s just an instruction to walk next to you.
The whole episode has spawned a new musical ditty, often to be heard being sung around the house – “no shitee in the nightee”
From time to time I am asked if I run courses on making felted fleece rugs.
Last year I pondered hosting courses here on our smallholding. The trouble is, I wasn’t sure how I would best be able do this because the method I use to make these rugs is quite time consuming. Each rug is carefully constructed putting locks into place little by little. As you can see if you click here, one rug takes about a week to make.
As I was pondering what to do, our friendly virus made an appearance, hmm I thought, what to do? Then my brain clicked into gear, why don’t I offer a downloadable course that people can learn do in their own time?
So I got to work, and fast-forward a few months …
I am happy to announce to you fabulous crafty folk who love all things sheepie, that I have just uploaded a course and it is available to order from our shop!! Click here for more info 😊
I’ve been working on this for quite a while as you can see from the videos, I filmed myself at work in the height of summer, midges and all. Seems like a long time ago now as I look out of the window at the autumn drizzle.
Once I’d written the instructions I wanted to test them out on a willing victim so I sent them to a pal in Australia along with the videos. I’m very happy to report that the instructions apparently make sense. My friend made a fabulous rug and has since made a few more, (perhaps I should mention that it’s quite addictive)!
Happy my instructions worked, I couldn’t wait to get them uploaded and available to the whole wide world. But I was stopped in my tracks by Adrian (hubs) who suggested editing them. “Hmph” I thought, “how annoying, I’m sure they’re fine and won’t need a re-read”. Well Adrian wasn’t going to let it go – I suspect he wanted to make the most of this opportunity and get his own back on me for me scribbling zillions of notes and drawing silly faces all over the smallholding book he wrote last year and the dog book he is in the middle of writing now.
Sure enough, back came my pretty booklet, all covered in scribbles. I had to admit though, once I’d deciphered the hieroglyphics masquerading as handwriting, I was secretly pleased Adrian had offered his editing services as I was shocked to realise there were a lot of typos lurking, not to mention some rather dubious grammar.
Well since then I’ve made the final changes and we’ve put everything into a zip file and made it available at long last.
If any of you order the course and make a rug I would love to hear from you, please include photos of your creations! I can’t wait to see already!
Two weeks ago our dear brave hennie Bim, passed away to the Great Hen Run in the Sky.
Bim was a remarkable hen, she lived a whole year and a half longer than predicted since developing a serious condition called “egg yolk peritonitis”.
Basically this meant that every time Bim laid an egg, the yolk would miss popping into the egg shell and instead, slip into her coelomic cavity where it festered and became infected.
Since being diagnosed back in the summer of 2019, Bim somehow managed to shrug off the infection (with a bit of help from us but mostly by her own remarkableness) and carried on with her every day business of scratching around, bobbing about and laying eggs, well, internal ones anyway.
Winter came and her swelling subsided in line with the hens not laying over the winter months.
With the arrival of spring though, Bim started to swell up again and our hearts’ sank.
We thought long and hard and had several cups of tea over which we made the decision to leave off the injections. She’s an elderly hen and we felt the invasive treatment would cause her more stress than the condition itself. Being an older girl, her breast was on the skinny side and it was actually really tricky to find some muscle to stick the needle in. So we continued to monitor her through the peak egg laying months, spring and summer, and continuted to give her garlic and cider vinegar.
One day earlier in the year, April or thereabouts, Bim decided she’d had enough of garlic and refused to eat any more. I can’t say I blame her, she was developing very garlicky breath and Cherokee the cockerel and the other hens had been complaining.
Garlic-free, Bim seemed happy enough despite the swelling which caused her to waddle like a penguin. We continued to monitor her and the swelling came and went but never completely disappeared.
Sometimes I think perhaps the reason Bim kept going for so long was because she had an important job to do, she was “Top Hen”! This meant that she was first to the corn in the morning, and, well, first to everything really. Her status meant that the other hens looked up to her and gave her lots of respect, including Cherokee the cockerel.
If any of the hens stepped out of line, Bim would give them a sharp telling off in the form of a peck. The hens and Cherokee all understood this and were happy to follow Bim’s lead.
Right up to her last day, Bim commanded respect amongst the flock, however, we suspected we knew who was “second in command” and who would take over when eventually Bim breathed her last breath.
And that was Tina Sparkle.
Tina Sparkle is a confident hen of a certain age. We inherited her when we moved to Auchenstroan so we’re not actually sure how old she is, she could be 5 or 6 or older. Tina Sparkle is a small hen, particularly compared to Bim who was a big girl, but she doesn’t let her size get in the way of her natural leadership skills. She has slipped into Bim’s shoes very happily, and the other hens (not forgetting Cherokee) are all more than happy to follow her lead.
We wish Tina Sparkle every success in her new role and have no doubts that she is the right lady for the job. Congratulations Tina Sparkle!
As anyone who has read my book might now realise, it’s hard keeping up with everything on a smallholding. This is particularly true as we both have to work to pay the bills. A while back, I mentioned this loss of control of some of the veggie patches in a blog entry – Taking back control – one area of the vegetable garden had gone completely wild.
This area was where we should have been growing our salad crops. However, last year the slugs and snails had got the lot and so we were experimenting with pots. We took our eyes of the veggie patch and the weeds took advantage. The pots were not a great success, really lettuces and so on need their roots in the ground to flourish. We had a think about it and thought a polytunnel might prove the answer. Under cover, the salads should do better (it can be a bit wet and windy here). The tomatoes, too, would flourish.
We measured the area and bought ourselves a polytunnel which, of course, arrived in kit form. I stored it in a shed while we started preparing the ground. The paths were covered in old carpet and the beds in cardboard and wool. This suppressed most of the weeds, the buttercups proving the hardest to conquer.
Then it was time to get the build underway. The original plan was to have a contractor put it up. We are so busy it was hard to see where we’d find time to build it ourselves. However, some unexpected roof repairs and a contractor that was also very busy meant I decided to put it up myself. How hard could it be?
Not too hard, as it happened. Not an easy start when I found the instruction leaflet soaking wet and illegible. Thank goodness for the internet and PDF downloads. Having watched the instruction video, I made one of my better decision – rather than going all out and building it in one go, I broke it down into stages.
The first was getting the water pipe and electric cable ready. We had installed a large rainwater tank earlier in the year and the pipe was ready and waiting. It just needed to be put underground and into the polytunnel. The electric cable was laid at the same time.
Next was getting the foundations and hoops in place. That went pretty well though, that said, the instructions on squaring the foundations were correct but hard to implement. My maths background was suddenly useful as I designed a simple way to get this right. Quite easy really, I just tied the four corners together with string at the correct length and put them in the ground at roughly the right place. Then I connected the diagonals with string (at the correct length) and marked the middle of the string. Then all I had to do was line up the centres of the diagonals while keeping all the string taut. Took about 20 minutes. That done, the foundations could be drilled into place. After that, the hoops could go up and I had welcome assistance from Nicole in getting them installed. It was starting to take shape.
The following day, I put up the rest of the frame. This included A frame bars to add extra strength – it can get pretty stormy here. The door frames proved challenging insofar as it was at this point I found that the existing path and veggie beds were not square and some realignment was needed. I took the opportunity to add frames around all the veggie beds to keep the soil in place.
It seemed a good idea to sort out the interior as much as possible before the plastic went on. I had a day or two to do this as I had planned the plastic installation for that rare sunny, wind free day that we sometimes get here. I knocked in a couple of posts and installed the tap and electrical sockets. I also created an area for Nicole to use in her rug making. Making felted fleece rugs uses a lot of water and here, the water could flow freely into the ground (as opposed to all over a wooden shed floor).
That all done, it was time to get the plastic on. This turned out to be harder than it looked. I was working on my own and while I got most of the main area taut, one panel ended up a bit loose. Nicole helped around the door frames with the platting and pulling the plastic tight. The plastic was held in place by metal spring clips which, while fairly simple to install, took its tool on my fingers – blisters galore.
Nevertheless, it’s up, it works and all the veggie beds have been mulched. I have tidied it up around the outer edges sinking the plastic into the ground and laying membrane and gravel to keep the weeds down. We are looking forward to a bumper salad crop next year.