Jonathan: Here’s the last tray-full of gooseberries from the croft. That makes a total of about 25kg from the croft, and possibly 60kg from croft and garden combined. All the bushes on the croft are of this red desert type – sweet and rich in flavour. It’s called Black Velvet. At home, in the walled garden, we’ve got green culinary gooseberries (Leveller), and a small blushed/red desert gooseberry which we think is Careless. A few kilos of Leveller are being turned into wine, but everything else is for making jams, jellies, chutneys. Right, now to top-and tail these little lovelies, the last of the best. Then into the freezer with them!
Jonathan: This year, July seems to be suffering some confusion as to exactly what’s expected of it. It says one thing, and then does the opposite. Today was forecast to be mostly sunny and dry, but is turning out to be overcast and drizzly. Yesterday was just as unreliable: expected to be cloudy and wet, it was dry throughout and mostly sunny. So we made the most of it, outdoors almost all the day busy with this and that. To be honest I really don’t know where the time goes! How on earth did we ever find the time for other people’s projects as well – and ambitious building projects at that?
Morning feeding and cleaning routine? It starts with us! Breakfast is muesli with fruit and nuts and yoghurt – and a good cup of tea, with talk about our plans for the morning. Then, at home Denise tackles the cats, the dog, the Buff Orpington chickens. And the house, though that doesn’t need feeding. Well, perhaps the house plants!
Me, at the croft: Chickens, geese, sheep. Taking some feed up the hill to the ewes and lambs, I took the opportunity – as I do most mornings – to take with me four wooden fence posts, balanced on my shoulder. By the time I reach the sheep, I’m sweating and my heart is pounding from the effort – and shoulder is sore and my left arm numb from steadying the load.
Compensation? Five minutes or so sat with the sheep. It helps to build in their minds a perception that this is their territory – they’re safe to remain up here. And anyway the view is beautiful, the breeze mild but cooling, and I’m watching a rare yellow-backed bumble bee working the tiny flowerlets of the ling heather.
Primrose stays with me a while, leaning into my shoulder, sozzled with milk. Her last bottle. I’m reluctant to let go of her, but I must. Over the past week or two she’s become less and less quick to run up to me, and less greedy pulling at the teat. She has sometimes needed persuading to finish even the less-than-half bottle she’s been getting. As the ewes start to move off and the other lambs with them, Primrose follows. Tomorrow will be hard. Queenie turns to look back at Primrose: she looks out for her.
Queenie herself is eight years old now, and showing her age – in a good way! She still produces good lambs – sometimes twins, and continues to provide strong leadership for the flock. And she looks good too! Maybe not the luscious black fleece of youth, perhaps a bit hairy, but good quality and full of character. Perhaps next year we’ll put her fleece to one side for hand-spinning and knitting into something to remember her by in years to come.
Back at home, mid-morning coffee and toast are interrupted by our first customers of the day – our guests from Carrick looking for hogget lamb, herbs, eggs, and some produce. (We don’t sell produce, and right now we’re selling eggs only to regular customers – but there are advantages to being our self-catering guests!). Then a string of other customers wanting this from the Hebridean Woolshed, that from the Big Garden, and others again just ‘looking round the garden’ – notwithstanding the sign on the gate that says it’s a ‘Private Garden – No Exploring, Please!’ Eventually we get to finish off our nearly cold coffee and soggy cardboard toast!
With a couple of hours to go before lunch we head outdoors to see what we can get done in the garden. Denise is weeding around the winter kale, planting out leeks into their final positions, and harvesting the onions. It’s early to harvest them, but there just isn’t enough light for them to grow, let alone ripen, and in the damp air some are already starting to show signs of neck-rot. It looks to be the worst year – by far! – for onions since we came here in 2002.
In our ‘wild woods’ – the south west and north east corners of the walled garden – I’m ‘topping’ a proportion of nettles before their flowers turn to seed: some are left for butterflies, moths and their caterpillars. The same for other native species that we could all to quickly find ourselves with too many of. Umbellifrae family, mostly, and above all a species we’ve been unable to identify, but with huge 7-lobed dark green leaves, shrouds to the flower stems, and huge white flower clusters. Our apple trees are suffering from the heat and humidy, their roots over-run by the natives: I cut them right down to the ground with the sickle, but it’s probably too late, as most have already dropped for lack of nutrients. Next year, I’ll not have the croft fencing to do, and I’ll have time to better look after the fruit trees!
Lunch is home-made sour-dough bread with rosemary and olives, home-grown salads, rice with sweet peppers and olives, stilton cheese, and a sweet, properly-ripe nectarine. And a good cup of tea, discussing our plans for the afternoon.
Jonathan: This side of the hill fence – the upper-most ends of Bun a Mhullin crofts. The other side – the Beinn Sgiathan common grazing. This side the grass is up to 2ft long, and even on rocky outcrops is 2-3in long. On the other side, 2in long maximum, and very very sparse. Under-grazed v Over-grazed. Diversity of flora and fauna v a grassland scarcely able to regenerate, and giving way to mosses.