Jonathan: Right now, we’re on the threshold of abundance. This evening a first good helping of melt-in-your-mouth totally heavenly first potatoes. We’ll have to start picking gooseberries very soon, or we’ll never catch up with the flush of fruit – and this year they’re looking to be good for quantity, quality and size. Strawberries – well we don’t get many of them, but what we get we’re eating now, as rhubarb starts to slow down. Today we each sampled a first ripe blackcurrant. Tomatoes are now ripening in numbers. Lettuces – well we’ve been picking a lettuce a day since perhaps late April, but they’re now growing bigger in the same time! Mints and Lemon Verbena for making fresh teas. Chives, parsley dill all a-plenty. Flowers … well we don’t actually grow flowers other than statice, and why bother when nature grows them in abundance and glory. Machair flowers are probably at or near their most exuberant right now – just as the Scottish school holidays start and the campsite next door is taken over by families for a few weeks. Another abundance!
Denise: If the price for seeing the orchids on the croft is helping to carry all those steel posts, reels of wire and other fencing paraphernalia then alas I shall have to pull out my medical exemption note! I’ll happily make do with rambling in the garden, and the roses filling the air with a wonderful scent. (Which tells you how still un-Hebridean the weather has been of late – very still and warm.)
Denise: This evening Jonathan is paying the price for prioritizing jobs he enjoys over ones that need doing! At this time of year – and especially in this warm still weather, weeds are growing like mad. In the NW and SW corners of the walled garden, semi-wild ‘woodland’ is managed to encourage diversity of wildlife, including invertebrates, birds and small mammals. Weeds are tolerated – up to a point! Nettles make a very important contribution to diversity – attracting moths and butterflies – but can easily swamp out other species. We don’t try to eliminate them – just to control them enough to give other things a chance. The best way – the environmentally friendly way – to do this is to pull the stems just before the flowers open and are pollinated. Not all of them – just a proportion! That’s Jonathan’s job!! It’s usually done in late May to late June, and last week was more or less ideal – but J never seemed quite to get round to it. Now he wishes he had! Tonight a front – a weather front, that is – will pass over us, and behind that will come a day of cloud and rain. (Oh and don’t we need it, just!) Living here in the islands, we’ve become so much more familar with the way the weather changes! Before a front, the wind drops away completely, the air is heavy with humidity and the warmth and scents of summer … and midges. Millions of midges. Zillions of the blighters! And where is it worst? Yes that’s right … under the canopy of the trees, among the waist-high nettles! Even the best Insect-repellent (with DDT) only goes so far, and short of wearing a mask there’s nothing to stop the midges being drawn into the mouth or nose with every breath. And despite wearing a thick boiler-suit, industrial gloves and wellies, he’s been stung by the nettles on hands, forearms, and even his face. Well, he bravely got the job done – no complaints! He’s come in now, bitten and stung, washed off the oily insect repellent, thick with midges, flushed out his airways, taken anti-histamine tablets and applied anti-histamine cream. I doubt the wildlife appreciates the sacrifices made for them!
Denise: Our Ash trees, here at The Big Garden, are doing well! Here they are in full but still tender leaf in the strong May sunshine. Loathe to tempt fate, but so far no sign of die-back. If it got to Uist, it would be because some ***** imported them rather than propogated from native Uist stock.
Jonathan: I’m standing on the beach at low tide with the sea gently lapping to and fro around my legs. I’d like to say that my feet are bare and I can feel the ebbing waves sucking the sand away from beneath my heels, but the truth is I’ve got my wellies on, and for that matter my boiler suit and work-gloves on too. I’m on the beach for the purposes of work, but that doesn’t make it any the less a pleasure : in fact I think the pleasure may be all the greater for the fact that it is transitory, unplanned, and breaks upon me as suddenly as does the recollection I have to finish the job before our evening meal. After an inauspiciously cold and grey start, and a forecast for little better than sunshine and showers, it’s proved to be a truly glorious day! After the usual morning rounds of animal husbandry, we completed a ‘turnaround’ at Carrick as early as possible, and came home to get the administration done and then an early lunch – our first home-grown salad-lunch of the year. All this afternoon we were out in the garden in warm sunshine: I was digging over two growing areas, and breaking down the clumps ; Denise followed behind, raking out and treading down the soil, and then sowing peas – lots of peas (to give you an idea of how many – we’re still enjoying peas we put in the freezer late last summer), planting the last rows of potatoes (an assortment of varieties – left over from earlier planting), and planting out pot-grown flat-leaf parsley. ‘Afternoon tea’ was in the garden too, in a sunny spot sheltered from the crisp north breeze, our conversation interwoven with the back-and-forth song contest between blackbirds on their neighbouring lengths of the high garden wall, the lapping of the sea on the beach, and the call of skylarks high above and overlapping all. As the sun’s strength began to wane, we kicked the soil off our boots, cleaned the tools and returned them to the shed. But not the border fork, as there was just one last job for me whilst Denise was getting our meal ready. Down to the beach, with fork and barrow … and here I am, standing amidst the tumble and draw of the waves (very small waves, it must be said – for this has been a very tranquil day) forking a smorgasbord of seaweeds – kelps, sea-grass, sea-lettuce, bladder-wrack, all tousled and tangled together – into the barrow. Next: up the soft sandy path between the banks of marram grass, across the road and back through the south gate into the garden. First stop: greenhouse three where – yes I know this may seem strange, but I’ll explain some other time – we currently have a dozen pullets and two older Welsumer hens, and they like nothing better than picking over a pile of seaweed for all those tasty sand-hopper, fly-maggots, or wee tidbits from the weed itself. A couple of fork-fulls to them, then the rest to the Buff Orpington’s in their yard in the south-east corner of the garden ; and then the ‘spent’ seaweed to gather up and barrow to the compost heap – enriched with … well what chickens enrich everything with. And then? “Jonathan! I’m dishing up!”.