Today, 1 March, Spring has arrived. And not just officially! Today we’re revelling in blue skies, warm sunshine and turquoise seas. And the forecast encourages us to expect more of the same for the most of the coming week. Outdoor tasks beckon, and we follow gladly, casting off warm layers and headgear and turning on their heads the winter-time excuses to hasten back indoors. Freedom under the sun, indeed!
Overnight, Jack Frost left his hallmark on the windows and windscreens [windshields]. We’ve seen little of him in recent years – this is only his second visit this winter – and probably his last. He didn’t stop long, though, as he’d got word that Sunny Boy was on his way!
The UK-wide poultry lock-down order expired yesterday, along with the month of February – and Winter. Exceot for a few localized problem areas in England, birds can now range freely outdoors, providing a number of precautions are observed.
The sheep seemed pleased with themselves, waiting for me in the middle of the road, satisfied with the warm sunshine on their backs. Later, just as I was packing up to head home for lunch, Primrose left the others, trotting over to see me, skipping with delight.
Even the harbour seals had grounded themselves on rocks to spend the middle of the day basking in sunshine. These are young seals. Can you see an older/darker one on the right having to make do with the lower shoulder of the rock. First on – Last off!
Back at the walled garden, Denise was washing and disinfecting in Greenhouse 4, working around the two remaining spring cabbages. (My but they’ve been tender and tasty!) Washing on the line under blue skies provide the final dash of light and colour that I’ve been painting for you.
Arrived in the post yesterday – tokens of spring. Seed potatoes, onions and shallots. Checked off and stored in the potting shed for when the conditions are right. And Denise is home.
Jonathan: After two days of dreich keeping us indoors, we’ve been making the most of better weather today by working (mostly) outdoors.
Pity our poor chickens, who spent their first full day confined indoors for 30 days: three of the four UK national governments (all except N. Ireland) have issued orders requiring all poultry owners to prevent their birds having contact with wild birds. There’s an avian flu outbreak in continental Europe, and the order is intended to reduce the risk of it spreading in the UK. This is the first time this has been done, UK-wide, and our first experience of such a lock-down.
This morning Denise and I went over to Eight Askernish (which is about eight miles north). Denise finished off the cleaning up after the carpet-fitting and re-decorating, getting the house ready for for guests at Christmas and New Year. I was outdoors, fixing a leaking gutter, wire-brushing rust off the clothes line poles – to re-paint another day. I tidied round the garden too … and spotted fresh clumps of deer-poo! I called Denise out to take a look together: deer-poo is quite distinctive, rather like sheep poo, but the pellets are elongated – even pointed. When I come back to paint the poles, I’ll have to set up the wildlife camera – perhaps I’ll have a bit of luck and actually capture wildlife on aforesaid wildlife camera. It’s good to be working together like this, putting things in order, and planning future work together.
After lunch, back at An Gàrradh Mòr, we were both out in the garden. Denise was pulling weeds to take to the hen house so that the girls still get their ‘greens and we still get yolks that are deep yellow. I too had a wheelbarrow and fork, but took it out through the garden gate, across the road, and down the bank onto the beach. Last night, out for a walk with Tilly before bedtime, the storm was abating, the skies clearing, and Tilly and I had stood – me in my wellies – at the line where the surf turned back on itself, the sea sparkling with moonlight. The sands, too, glistened in the silvery light, clumps of shadow revealing great heaps of seaweed thrown up by the sea. It was that seaweed that’s been taking me down to the beach this afternoon. Three barrow-loads taken home to feed the soil of our garden – or rather, today, the soil of a greenhouse, feeding it for next year’s tomato plants. Seaweed Season has arrived! Gathering seaweed will now continue – every day if weather permits – bad weather to cast up the seaweed, better weather to collect it! – until Easter.
And last, but not least, Denise and I moved the new batch of seven Welsumer chicks into another greenhouse, where – as we do every winter – we set up a small wooden hen house used for rearing chicks – now no longer needing the heat lamp – until they’re ready to join the main flocks. The chicks have now finally joined Lucky, who made the same move three weeks or so ago. Poor boy, he’s been getting more and more distressed by his isolation: it’ll take a few days for things to settle down, but they’ll get on just fine!
Jonathan: For the past week or more, Uist – and indeed almost all of the Highlands and Islands – has been enjoying fine weather – unusually fine for this time of year. Nearly windless, clear blue skies, warming sunshine, star-lit nights. But cold. Not just a faint touch of fine-powder frost on the paving flags and inexplicably scattered patches of ground, but proper Jack Frost, with intricate patterns etched out on the car windscreens and grasses sparkling white.
A few days ago we switched the Aga on (it will stay on until late Spring) and over the course of that day and the next the centre-point of our lives subtly shifted into the kitchen. Of course the Aga is not there just to keep us warm – it is to keep us fed! Now, soups rein supreme, root vegetables are relished (nothing, just nothing, compares to the scent and promise of freshly-dug carrots and parsnips!), and lamb casserole is loved!
This is also the season for working with wool – and I don’t just mean indoors, sitting at a spinning wheel or leaning over a loom. This afternoon we were in the croft store, working through our stock of fleeces – of un-processed wool. We’ve now taken all the wool we’ll get off our own Hebridean sheep, and what white Cheviot wool we’re likely to get from other crofters … well, we’ve already got it. The fleeces collected since this time last year have been sitting in ‘tonne bags’ on the concrete floor, increasingly cold and compressed – and difficult to handle, – and if left like that for much longer it will be nearly impossible to feel the quality.
We cleared space, set out the trestle tables, and set to work. After three hours or so, we’d graded and sorted the wool into three categories: Cheviot ; Hebridean ; Hebridean Lambswool. Small quantities of the very best of each are kept back for hand-spinning. The selected wools are now packed up and ready to be sent off for mill-spinning. When they’re back, we prepare them for sale in the Hebridean Woolshed.
The waste wool – dagged, stained, felted, secondary-cut – came back with us to the walled garden, where it has been added to the compost heap. Here it is, spread out over the surface of the heap: over the coming days it will be covered with other material – from the garden, the kitchen, from the henhouse and sheep shelter, and seaweed from the shore. In January, the whole heap will be forked into an adjacent ‘bin’, from which the compost of 2015 will previously have been barrowed out into the growing plots.