Jonathan: The skies cleared this morning after four or five days of dreich. Today a blustry south-westerly brought fresh mild air in off the sea – and the result is a sparkling light that burns the skin! Unfortunately I’ve had to spend this morning (and this evening – it’s getting on for midnight!) indoors catching up on engineering work I’ve been neglecting. But this afternoon D and I were outside harvesting and podding peas and broad beans, and D made the first lift of onions. Tilly was my close companion as I podded the peas and beans: she gobbles up any peas that fall to the floor (not so keen on beans), and if there’s none she chews up the empty pods. Strange dog: she also likes gooseberries (she’s been seen picking them off the bushes) and will gladly accept an offered segment of orange!) We’ve never had much success storing onions – the winter air here is far too humid for onions to keep well, so whilst we freeze some, and sell some, mostly they’re used in cooking through the late summer and into autumn. Despite the damage done by the dreadful weather right through May, the harvest for legumes and onions looks to be good: the freezers are already getting full, and there’s lots more to come: we’ll have to transfer some to the big freezer at the croft store.
Jonathan: If only! The past three days have been a return to the awful weather we had in May: a blustry wind driving in rain out of a grey sky – or rather out of the grey that consumes anything further than the distance you can shout. As the summer tires and slows, the nights draw in and already it is dark enough by 10:30 when I go out with the dog to have to take a torch – if only to make passing drivers aware of us. The bees are couped up in their hives, the Queens and the drones anxious for a warm sunny afternoon to … well, what queen bees and drones get together to do: the workers anxious too to get out – to gather the remaining wild flower pollen and set to work on the heather which purples the hills and even the roadside verges. And for that matter we too want to get out and harvest peas, broad beans, onions! But the forecast for the next five days is for continuing much as it is ….
Jonathan: Here in Uist – little more than a scattering of rocks perched on the shelf of the Atlantic – we are very much at the mercy of the elements. And not just in agriculture: in bad weather the visitors stay in their holiday cottages and don’t go out spending money; and whilst they’re staying cosy inside, the wind is tearing away at our roofs or breaking down our fences, or trying its best to snatch away into oblivion anything not bolted down and set in concrete. Since the fine weather broke in the first few days of May, it has never been less than very windy, and frequently gale force: mild and wet from the south or west, cold and dry from the north or east, but from wherever it comes and whatever burden of rain, salt or sand it carries, it has been very destructive.There is scarcely a tree bush or plant that doesn’t look utterly traumatized, with blackened shredded leaves (if not torn off entirely), broken branches … The promise of a good black-currant harvest has at best been halved (but if the leaves don’t re-grow the bushes won’t be able to support and ripen what’s left), and with the growing haulms of the potatoes reduced to blackened mush we may not get any potatoes at all. The tomatoes in the greenhouses are fine, the bees in their hives (consuming expensive sugar syrup to keep themselves warm) and the hens are safe enough in their own sheds, but there’s no-one out and about to buy anything. Worst of all is that there will simply be less food for us to eat in the year ahead, and there’s little income from elsewhere to fill the gap. Just a month ago we felt full of hope that our efforts were not in vain, perhaps even worthwhile, but to watch our livelihoods and our basic sustenance slowly destroyed hour by hour and day by day, with absolutely nothing you can do to stop it, is heart-breaking. At times like this we really do wonder whether we should sell up and do something else, somewhere else. But what and where? No doubt the arable farmer of East Anglia may be at this moment asking himself the same question, having been encouraged by last year’s good grain prices, but this year facing a drastically reduced harvest due to drought! There is no such thing as the good life: all we can hope for is to find a wee corner of this world where we feel we can fit in, and then make the best of it we can, through thick and thin, fair weather and foul. And truth be told that’s pretty much where we are right now. So, when the winds have finally given up (not until next week according to the forecast – into June!) we’ll just have to get outdoors and pick up the pieces, clear up the mess and get on with things. Right now as I write the sun is shining from a broad blue sky, but the north wind is far too strong (and bitterly cold with it!) to do anything outdoors. However this afternoon I have a site meeting in Barra for the wind turbine project, so am off on the 1pm ferry and back around 6pm. I do hope the visiting business person we’re meeting today has had the good sense to bring walking bootsand outdoor gear: the last came in casual wear and with no hat at all, so we could spend no more than the bare minimum of time outdoors.