Time for a little wander around the croft today, and I will show you what's been going on, shall I?
The weather over the last month or so has been mainly like this - cold, strong winds and gales, and stinging hail showers, or else persistent rain. Everyone I speak to has something to say about it - even here where we get such a lot of difficult weather, it has been an unusual Winter. It has been a bad year for the animals too. The handsome ram in my blog banner became the latest casualty at the weekend. So hard to imagine that this fine creature is no more. "Where there is livestock, there'll be deadstock too" sighed our neighbour,stoically, as he lifted his shovel - but he was deeply upset.
Still - there have been times like this, when the dark clouds blow over, and we have felt the promise of Spring - yes, it's coming yet.
But some tasks have not been accomplished. John is studying a couple of the Gaelic degree modules at the UHI. It has taken up much more time than he anticipated, and he has been out for the last couple of weeks doing a full time work placement. Improving his skills and speaking the language fluently is so important to him though, and it a big part of why we moved here. Nevertheless, the combination of bad weather and the demands of his course, on top of all the other things we are up to has meant that the seaweed remains uncollected down at the shore. It is too late in the year to do this now - it is a midwinter task, as the seaweed needs to compost down. Already there will be too many little creatures crawling around there - millipedes and such like - not really what you would want in your garden soil.
It's not a big thing - hardly anyone collects this bounty now, but I felt it really marked the beginning of the crofting year - part of that ancient seasonal rhythm of tasks - not to mention the loss of a wonderful compost source. Next year then...
So this year, our main source of compost will come from the cowshed. Delia and Baby have open access in and out of their byre. There have not been many days when they haven't managed outside at some point, but we have been giving them their hay inside over these Winter months. They have been housed on a deep litter system - as per Joel's advice, and when they do go out onto the common grazings for the Spring, we will have a wonderful supply of well trodden manure. Still have to muck it out, mind you - I wonder if James will be up for that job?
We have the chance to buy another Dexter cross cow, from a lady who lives few miles away; still thinking that one over. Delia is getting on a bit ,and will probably only have one more pregnancy, and Baby will be 3 in the Summer - quite old to never have calved. John has been on the AI course now, so we should be starting to try that in a few months time. The cows have come through the winter reasonably well - although they have lost a wee bit of condition. I thought Delia looked a bit thinner the other day. Once the new grass comes through and they feel the sun on their backs, though - I am sure they will perk up - wont we all?
Our own sheep are doing well, and they had their own post last week, so I will leave them out today. We do, however, have some visiting sheep on the bottom field - they belong to DT, who gave Mick to us. I mentioned the possibility of their arrival in my last crofting post - and sure enough, they appeared soon afterwards. John and a friend have been using them to train the dogs with. They are a very polite bunch of year old lambs - they patiently queue up for their supper, and they are quite tame.
Mick loves to be out there working - the weather (sorry) had held back his training somewhat - as well as his trainer being a novice too - but help is at hand, and apparently they are still on course for the trials in the summer. He is lying at my feet now as I type.
Back up at the house - the hens are laying well, and the one who was attacked by the dog is really on the mend. They are spending the rainy days hiding under our little stand of trees, along with all the debris blown in by the Winter gales, but as soon as the sun peeps out, they are spreading out their wings and sunbathing for all they are worth. We seem to have acquired a three or four more hens - al least they eat and lay here. They belong to our neighbour's large flock, and arrive in time for breakfast, spend the day, then wend their way home at night. Our girls seem to put up with them fairly well.
And - remember Elvis? He has an impersonator! Elvis, despite being our cockerel, has never yet spent a night in our hen hut - he likes to roam around (oh no that was Dion wasn't it?). No, each night, he goes home to Mum, two fields away, but arrives back at dawn to waken us and to spend time with his official wives. Then he started bringing a couple of girlfriends with him, which seemed fine by the other hens - and then one day, I thought I was seeing double - two Elvises (Elvii?). Since then, both Elvises and their associated ladies have been spending their days with us, and going back to the next door croft at night. My neighbour, W, has a large flock of hens, presided over by Henly, The fake Elvis is his son, but W wants to keep him. Henly doesn't care much for him though, so he tends to stay out of the way as much as possible. He has a little harem of devoted fans, and they have all started hanging out at ours. Real Elvis (with the rose comb) is fairly tolerant, so the arrangement works. So confusing, and I am so sorry if you managed to struggle through all that - honestly it is like a soap opera - a sort of Chicken Dynasty.
Anyway, to avoid any further confusion, my neighbour, another friend from the village and I had a very serious debate over coffee last week -what name to give the young pretender? We decided to stick with the pop star theme, as we have already have Elvis and Mick. Many names were banded around and the merits of each earnestly discussed - Roy (my personal choice) Freddie, Prince, but in the end we settled on Cliff. It was a hard decision, and I am not sure I am fully on board, but the majority carried the day.
And so to planting. The pigs will be leaving the stage soon, so raised beds will be built on the ploughed up garden. Quite a big job to contemplate, but we have ideas about how we want to do that. In the meantime, a more important project is happening. The polytunnel has arrived. This will be built next to the house, in a fairly wind sheltered spot. John has dug the holes for the foundation tubes, and we await a dry day to concrete them in. I have, in excited anticipation planted loads of tomato seeds in 5 different varieties. I had big sowing afternoon early in the week, and now my spare room has become a plant nursery. Trays of leeks, salads, chard and cabbages adorn windowsills and tables. My seed order has arrived, I have been back to the garden centre for bean tubes, more module trays and compost, all the rooms in the house will be taken over by seedlings, and my sewing table in the loft is covered with trays of chitting potatoes. This is going to be the best year yet :)
And a final piece of news. We are in the process of acquiring some more land! Our original croft is not at the house, but down on the lower part of the village. If you look at this picture, you can see our top field beyond that clump of trees - there - with the ditches curving down to the main drain. We also have our bottom field on the other side of that house you can just see (I have marked it with an x). We have around 3 acres all together. It is fine, but we were beginning to feel a bit restricted, as we would like to expand out sheep flock a wee bit more, establish a small Dexter herd, but also grow some corn (oats/barley) and provide good winter grazing and feeding for the animals. All the domestic food growing will be done up at the house, in the new garden and polytunnel.
One of our earliest New Year visitors was the brother of the couple who owned the croft tenancy next to the house. They had decided to sell, and wondered if we were interested. Ermm - yes we were!
And so, the transfer application is currently leaping over the various hurdles at the Crofters Commission, as we wait for approval - hopefully sometime in April. We have obtained permission from the current tenants to keep our in-lamb ewes on the croft though, so that is good.
The new croft is slightly bigger than the one we have already - about 4 acres I think. It is divided into 2 fields, with a blackhouse ruin on the lower one. James is walking around there in the picture. It looks deceiving, and that the 2 crofts are actually close together, but due to the topography of the land, they are not. Difficult to explain, but I will give you a wee tour once all the relevant boxes have been ticked.
Very exciting and our heads are spinning with so many ideas and plans for it...
...or maybe we'll just sit in the field and admire the view.