Vegetable plot

First things firstStarting a new gardenBefore we could even think about gardening we had to rebuild the stone walls (drystane dykes in this part of the world), organise a garden shed and build a compost heap.
Machair soil is shallow, sandy and thin, highly alkaline (pH 8) and low in organic matter. We have about 15cm of soil overlying pure shell sand, so the first task is to remove the top soil and excavate at least 30 cm of sand replacing it with soil and compost. In the shelter of the walls we had reasonable success in growing potatoes, onions, root vegetables, lettuce and broad beans and peas. However at 57°N the growing season is very short and it became clear that we needed a greenhouse if we were to achieve our dream of self-sufficiency.
On a site exposed to the full force of Atlantic gales an ordinary greenhouse or polytunnel was out of the question. On an island where a breeze starts at 30 mph and a strong wind is 60 mph we needed something that would withstand hurricane force winds. So after much deliberation we took the plunge broke into the rainy-day piggy bank and our keder greenhouse began the transformation of the patch of tussocky grass in front of the house into Ardivachar Croft Garden.Keder greenhouseOur polytunnel is still standing undamaged after two winters and has faced winds of over 90 mph a couple of times in the last few of months. I can now garden all year round and eat home-grown salad in January.
In the last two years we have added two fruit cages and several enclosed vegetable beds. It is still a work in progress and we still have a great deal to learn about how to garden in this challenging climate. There are times when I threaten to let it revert to grass and get a goat, but my greed always triumphs when I think about the taste of vegetables pulled straight from the earth.Vegetable plot 2011Now the original garden is empty and about to be transformed into an ornamental garden

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25 thoughts on “Vegetable plot

  1. your enclosed veggie beds are a good idea, I’ve only recently come to veggie growing and not much at that, your soil is very different to mine, I knew that machair was full of sand but had always thought of it as sand and peat I noticed you describe it as mineral rich, my soil is mineral deprived peat mainly, being peat and as I am near the bottom of a hill it does have a bit of depth, I really admire your being able to be self sufficent, Frances
    ps btw I love your in the beginning story,

  2. As you move inland the machair soil becomes more peaty, but here on the coast I’m virtually on pure sand. Machair soil is low on potash, magnesium and iron, but this can be corrected with seaweed. The main problem is the high pH which inhibits mineral absorption by the plants. If you add plenty of organic matter and use an annual application of seaweed most vegetables will grow well. Any chlorosis can be corrected with a liquid feed of seaweed. With our high rainfall most inorganic fertilisers are a waste of time, but I use liquid feeds as a tonic.
    On peaty soil you may find you have mineral deficiencies due to pH. Organic matter will help your drainage and fertility and you can also add sharp sand or grit to help the drainage. I’ve never grown on your type of soil, so this is and could be rubbish!
    Give it a go – after all I’m enough of an optimist (or greedy frugivore) to try and grow blueberries!
    Christine

  3. hello again Christine, I have been adding sand, I can’t get hold of any real grit though, the local builders sell shingle and I have used that but not any more as I find the sand better, I have read that adding a bit of lime to raise the ph a bit can also release minerals that get locked in acid ground, I use seaweed and try to make compost but never have enough,
    the only other garden I have had and my parents garden were small gardens in the south east of England so clay full of chalk and flints, I’ve gone from one extreme to another in many ways, Frances

  4. And there I was thinking the 40mph gusts we have in West Cumbria made gardening tricky. Only just discovered your site, not sure how – followed a link, and another, and whoosh, down the rabbit hole :} You have a lovely blog, thank you for sharing.

    • Welcome and thank you. It may a blustery in the Outer Isles but I’m sure gardening in Cumbria is equally extreme. The rest of the UK may have been coping with snow and gales but we have had sunshine all week, a bit chilly in NE wind, but perfect for muck spreading!

    • Welcome, it is always good to find another seaside gardener. The polytunnel is the bees knees and has withstood some mighty gales in the past four years. I will unashamedly give Keder a plug not only for the quality of their polytunnels but because of the exceptional customer service.

  5. Hi
    we have a (very small) coastal garden – diametrically opposite to yours (East Lothian) but can recognise some of the issues re shallow soil and wind! We are trying to fill our little patch of heaven with fruit trees but find they get terribly burnt by the salt-laden air. Guess we need a tree-hosing regime!
    Thanks for the recipe for celeriac and mustard soup – how I found you. This will be the Easter treat for the family when they come to visit.
    🙂

    • Welcome thanks for visiting. gardening on the east coast of Scotland can also have its challenges. Shame about the fruit trees, but I bet you can grow fabulous raspberries.
      Celeriac is a much under rated vegetable and makes great soup.

  6. Hello Christine

    I found your blog a very good source of information for an article I am writing for our village church magazine. I write a monthly article entitled ‘The Allotment Diaries’ , which is mainly about my own allotment. I tell the readers what I am growing and the highs and lows I encounter on the way. However when I get to the winter months there is very little to write about as there is not much going on. I got round this last year by writing about allotment gardening in Melbourne, Australia as my daughter lives out there and my husband and I usually visit in our winter, their summer. The article went down very well as you can imagine gardening down under can face very different highs and lows than I encounter here in the South East of England. My reason for contacting you is that I thought I would write about croft gardening and as I read in your blog you certainly have to have your wits about you to get anything to survive. This magazine only cost 50p and all profits go to the church fund. I am not paid for writing this article I just do it as I enjoy writing. I am asking for your permission to use some of the information you provide on your blog to help with me with .my article.

    I am returning to the Isle of Skye this September as I spent a lot of my childhood there in the 1950’s and I still have family friends living in Glendale. Like yourselves I have spent most of my life living in the south but do have a great yearning to do something a bit outrageous in my life like you have done. We will see! my husband doesn’t have the childhood memories I have of living in a croft in the 50,s with no electricity, no running water and no gas. My mother had to cook on a big black range which was fuelled from peat and we used to take the boat out on the Loch to catch the mackerel. Not sure how my poor mother felt about it though!! Regards. Margaret Temple

  7. Hello Christine, thank you for allowing me to use some of your information for my article on croft gardening for our village church magazine. Also, thank you for the wonderful Rhubarb cake recipe found on your blog. We had some visitors round for an impromptu drink and ‘eats’ in the garden last night as the weather here in the south has been brilliant. Fortunately I have had a bit of a glut of rhubarb on my allotment so I thought I would make the rhubarb cake. Well, the whole cake got demolished, some coming back for seconds and the vicar, who happens to live next door, came back for thirds! Just as well it was a large cake! I used the spelt flour as suggested and I think, when my cultivated blackberries are ready, (quite soon by the look of them), I shall use them instead of rhubarb just for a change. We have a glut of cabbages – any exciting recipes? Regards Maggie.

    • Hello Maggie, I’m delighted that you and your friends enjoyed the cake – it’s one of my favourites too.
      The cabbage glut is one of the worst as it doesn’t freeze. Himself keeps threatening to make sauerkraut! I really don’t know why I grow summer cabbages, but I grow plants for friends and always have some spare so inevitably they get pooped into the garden! So no suggestions but you get be inventive with dressings for raw cabbage – try using ginger or caraway seeds or use a mix of cabbage and bulb fennel with a light yoghurt dressing.

  8. Hello Christine

    I would like to thank you for being my fantastic source of information. I really enjoy your articles and are regularly transported into a world of pure delight. Can we talk ‘bread’! I gather by your blog that ‘himself’ is the bread maker in your house? Do you have any good recipes for simple bread. I have tried for many years to make a successful loaf only to have baked enough loaves to use as ballast in our newly built patio. I currently do not have a bread maker so it will have to be done by hand.
    I am visiting a family friend in Glendale, Isle of Skye in two weeks time, can’t wait. Next year we hope to do Skye and the Hebrides, coming over on the ferry from Uig. Regards Maggie

  9. Loving reading about your garden adventures as we have just moved to Thurso and are planning a vegetable garden that is exposed to similar extreme conditions, and seriously wondering if we are mad ! I think we will have to come stay in your cottage and see first hand what you have done so far. Regards, Kate

    • Hello Kate, welcome to the wild and windy north. You’ll be surprised at what you can grow and how rewarding it is when you harvest your first vegetables, even if it is only tatties. Please feel free to contact me at anytime if you think we can help. Probably best to use my e-mail address as I’m not great at Facebook!

  10. Sorry to add to an older post, but I’m about to start a new garden in NW Mull and I’m wondering what size of Keder you have? Love reading your blog…

    • Hello Malcolm, I hope that my trials and tribulations have not dampened your enthusiasm. Our Keder is 18 x 6m plus the outriggers (these are to stabilise the tunnel, but are great for hardening off or keeping pots of bulbs dry in the summer. Keder is made in 2m wide rolls, so you can any length you like in 2m blocks. It not only extends our growing season (the only imiting factor in the winter is the light) but helps me maximise the growing season out of doors – all my plants (apart from carrots and parsnips) are sown in plugs and transplanted.
      I wish you every success and please let me know if you need any advice.

  11. I’ve bookmarked your blog – a very valuable source for me! Me and my partner are moving to the Outer Hebrides in April and are going to buy a croft (probably not this year, but next year). Our plan is to have a permaculture croft with sheep, goats, pigs, chicken and lots of vegetables and fruit. As a second income we plan on either providing a self-catering accommodation or a bed and breakfast.

    Very interested in what I can grow on the Hebrides!

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