Denise > Let there be light! Thanks to J, the Hebridean Woolshed now has proper lighting to brighten up the shop on a dreich day.
Most visitors to the walled garden (in truth they’re customers, but we prefer visitor) comment on our greenhouses, and in particular their timber ‘exoskeletons’. In fact the purpose of these frames is not to strengthen the greenhouse, as everyone supposes, but to support boarding which, during winter, protects the greenhouses from flying debris and takes most of the force of the wind. 6-inch wide boards, 4-inch gaps, and the full 8ft (2.4m) height of the greenhouses : they’re fitted during October – as the Autumn Equinoxial storm season gets going), and removed in late March, after the Spring Equinox.
Although the boards amount to more than 50% coverage of the sides, the reduction in light is much less – only around 25% : winter greens continue grow well enough, and tender perennial herbs brought under cover for winter seem to prosper, too.
The framework and boards are of treated rough-sawn softwood, generic sizes found at every building materials supplier, inexpensive and easy to work with. So much so, that it is not cost-effective treat the timber with further preservative in order to prolong its life. It’s better value to simply replace any decaying timbers as and when needed.
The original exoskeletons went up during the months after the four greenhouses were erected – following the great January 2005 hurricane. So they’re now 12 years old, and apart from a few of the boards (which are susceptible to decay when stacked for summer-time storage) I’ve not yet had to replace any of the structural timbers. That’s a 50% longer life than D and I had allowed for! However, as all four were built the same year, they’re now all looking they’ll need replacing at the same time, which would not be a welcome addition to my workload!
Decay is most advanced in the exoskeleton for Greenhouse 2, so by replacing that this year, and then replacing one other structure each year, we should be able to permanently stagger the programme of replacement/renewal. I’ve also found a way to simplify the design to use less timber and make the frame easier to erect and dismantle – and to do so single-handedly. This means that, in future, I can replace individual timbers as and when needed, rather than replace entire structures at intervals of years (which is more likely to result in a structure failing in a storm the winter before I was due to replace it).
I wonder what preparations we’d make were we to live in, say, The British Virgin Islands? We wouldn’t have greenhouses, true, but we certainly would have a garden we’d want to protect. Uist may have extreme weather in a UK or even European context, and storms here can and do badly damage buildings and claim lives. But compared to the suffering wrought by Carribean hurricanes, we are very fortunate. We are fortunate also to have the means to prepare.
Jonathan & Denise >
After nearly ten years of indecision procrastination – and empty pockets, we’re at last approaching the time for action!
In early 2008, shortly after we acquired our Eriskay croft, we set to work tackling the extensive dereliction of the croft – ruined buildings, choked ditches, decayed fences, infestations of invasive weeds, and rubbish everywhere – both above ground and buried – the detritus of decades of neglect. All our efforts at that time were concentrated on Field 1 / Home Park – between Carrick and the sea.
We cleared broken and fallen fences and erected new. We planted trees and shrubs for shelter and fuel. We established soft fruit bushes and built wind protection enclosures for them (now mistakenly identified on Ordnance Survey maps as Sheepfolds!). We made good the ruins of an old byre and adapted it to create the big Henhouse. The old store, also, was adapted for use as a henhouse (more recently it’s been used as a field shelter for sheep). Chickens, ducks and geese were introduced. (We found ducks unsuited to the conditions, but the chickens and geese have thrived and are now cornerstones of our crofting business).
At the same time as all that, we were building Carrick – which proved far more expensive than we’d planned, nearly ruining us. There was no money left (and in the midst of the 2008 worldwide crash, no chance of a loan) to complete work on Home Park. The work left to do was beyond our own capabilities – it could only be carried out by groundworks contractors : and yet we just couldn’t see how the expenditure would bring sufficient return – or any at all. Quite simply, there was no money and higher priorities.
Though our finances eventually, gradually, improved … money was always short, other priorities always higher. So, for almost a decade, every day – every time we’ve passed through the field gate, we’ve felt a pang of reproach, the sting of shame at our failure to make progress – and at the thought that others might see this is our idea of a job well done.
Well, those days are over!
In recent months J has been drawing up plans and specifications, and then getting contractors to price them. The prices are back and, as they’re broadly in line with expectations, we’ve decided we’re ready to move ahead. All we need now are official consents, and then we can give the successful contractor the thumbs up. Oh, but that’ll be a good day!
It’ll be a few months yet before work will start on the ground, not least because the contractor’s currently busy with other work – as you’d expect with anyone worth their salt. In the meantime, we can start preparing for the next phase : designing the building we’re planning for the valley – for which we’re constructing the base slab in advance. It’ll be for the sheep in winter stormy weather, and for lambing (and all the straw, hay and feed they’ll require); and also to provide our guests staying at Carrick or Eight Askernish (and why not others!) opportunities to get hands-on with shearing, lambing – or just handling of sheep.
So, this is going to deliver much more than just a tidied-up field!