Swan Morning

Swan Morning Outer Hebrides winter sky sea

Winter expectant skies
the swan road is empty
watch and wait
will the northern herds appear?

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Notice to Quit

A Cautionary Tail

Field Mouse

Field Mouse. Etching by Winifred Austin

To whom it may concern
(this includes Common Field Mice, luchan-feòir, Apodemus sylvaticus, Field Voles, Short-tailed Voles, famhalain feòir, Microtus agrestris )

You have been given friendly warnings and advised that you are not allowed to live in the polytunnel during the winter. The Head Gardener has already relocated one of you to the garden wall but you have had the temerity to return. If we catch you in the tunnel again you will be forcibly evicted and thereafter you must face the consequences – the Longworth* traps will be set.
You have been warned

The Assistant Gardener

Did someone squeak?
“please there are micigating circumstances:
the nights are getting long and cold, we’ve had a hard summer pursued from fence to fence by owls and harriers and there are still things out there with beaks and talons. We would like to appeal to the Head Gardener.”
“Are you sure? You know what he did to the rats”
“Oh but we are small and cute and besides you let the Pygmy Shrews stay!”
“I’d not bargain on softening the heart of the Head Gardener he doesn’t do ‘small, furry and cute’! As for the Pygmy Shrews they are biological control operatives and they don’t eat my bulbs”
“That was last year and we were hungry”
“You should have thought about the consequences. I might  forgive you a few crocus bulbs but digging up the other bulbs from the pots and then spitting them out was pure vandalism”
“We’re sorry”
“No, you are not to be trusted and are banished to live in the garden wall. If you dare to eat my bulbs you will be canapes for the buzzards!”
“Grumpy old wifey! What do think the wee folk will say – not much chance of help after we ate their grain last winter!”

*Longworth Trap – small mammal trap, does not harm the animal but the unwary trapper can be bitten!

World Food Day

Harvest South Uist

Harvest South Uist style

United Nations days of… come and go and I admit most pass me by unnoticed, although I can usually manage a cheer for International Womens Day. It is frequently observed that I have a “bee in my bonnet” infact there is usually a whole hive tucked under my woolly hat. World Food Day got a few of these bees buzzing: local food, seasonal food, sustainable agriculture and food waste. In fact they buzzed around my head on Tuesday afternoon as I weeded the veg plot, along with some of the real ones which were feeding on the broccoli flowers.
Several hours later I was left with the usual imponderables – why

  • is one third of all food production wasted
  • do consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa
  • do more than 100 million more people across the world suffer from hunger due to recent food price rises
  • do one in eight people not have enough food?

Trying to change the world is like whispering in a hurricane, I can’t change the world, but I can exercise my power of choice, manage my croft sustainably, grow fruit and vegetables and bore as many people as possible on the subject. So to celebrate World Food Day, I

  • made some soup using mushrooms which were perfectly ok but had reached their best before  date and were half-price, so I bought all 2kg to save waste (Best before date another bête noire)
  • made stuffed pancakes for dinner, using vegetables from the garden and the surplus sourdough starter culture
  • made a cake – well it was a celebration.

I can tell that you’re not exactly impressed as this is what I do all the time – but then food is a thread that runs through my everyday life whether it is growing vegetables, cooking  or indeed eating. Food is for sharing, enjoying and most certainly not for wasting, so I’m posting my recipes for mushroom soup and sourdough pancakes in the Croft Kitchen.

Whiff of winter

Tomatoes

Variety Lucola – excellent crop and good flavour even with the whitefly

beetroot

Variety Bolthardy – an old favourite reliable with good flavour

The days are shortening and the northerly winds bring a cold nip to the morning air. Time to find the woolly hats, fill the log baskets and get ready for Samhain which begins on 31 October. This is one of the Celtic fire festivals when the doors on the hills open and the wee folk visit the realms of men. However care should when dealing with the Sidhe* and there are severe penalties for a mortal entering their world. The Great Darkness (the months of November and December) is also the time of storytelling and recalling the deeds of heroes.
On a more mundane level it is also time prepare the polytunnel for the winter season. The cucumbers have produced their last fruits and it is time to cut down the tomato vines and prepare the final batch of chutney. Although the fruits are still ripening they are losing their sweetness so they must make way for the crops which will fill the hungry gap next spring. The onions which have been drying on the benches are now being moved into storage to make way for the pots of the more delicate herbs which require some winter protection. I have been drying herbs for a few weeks now but I prefer to use fresh leaves when possible.
The baby beetroot and carrots will be ready to eat during November and the spinach is growing nicely. As the days shorten growth slows down but provided it does not get too cold the seedlings and young plants will enter a period of what appears to be suspended animation and then burst into life as soon as the day length increases.
There are still the early onions and potatoes to plant and these will go into the beds as soon as the ground has been prepared. Intensive cropping requires care to maintain soil fertility and health. Our sandy soil is so free draining that the volume of water flushed through the beds during the summer is sufficient to prevent a buildup of mineral salts from the use of liquid fertilisers. Whenever a crop has finished we add some new compost to the growing area which maintains the level of organic matter and replenish the soil micro-organisms.

The plants might be slowing down but there is still plenty of work to do in the garden but there is now the excuse of stopping work in the late afternoon as the light fades and temperature drops. Always a good excuse to call it a day and enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of cake by the fire.

“Sidhe – pronounced shee. The realm of the aos sí oraes sídhe  literally the “people of the mounds”. They are not referred to directly but spoken of as the wee or fair folk. The aos sí are often appeased with offerings, and care is taken to avoid angering or insulting them. The Sidhe, often referred to as Tir nan Og, is seen as closer at dusk and dawn and during the festivals of Samhain, Beltane and Midsummer.