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Masterplan – Update

While we have the usual crops, livestock and craft / produce stuff going on there is something bigger rumbling on in the background for us this year and that is The Masterplan.

We have been so pleased to have so many people be so supportive of our long term plans and visitors have been pledging cash, offering support and ideas and above all sharing what we are offering as rewards for making donations to the Masterplan Fund. We have had loads of people mentioning us on facebook and twitter and excitingly have got various people already booked in to help us with building and getting things ready here.

Even more excitingly we are already over a third of the way towards raising the funds we need to get cracking with the next stage. There is still a long way to go and not a very long time in which to get there so please do consider donating for one of our rewards if they look interesting to you, or sharing the details with people you know who may be interested.

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The invasion of the mainland

Did you miss us?

It’s been a while and lots has been happening.

April is an exciting month – spring has sprung and there are signs of it all over. Rum is greening up before our very eyes. trees are full of blossoms, flowers are out, the air is filled with birdsong and the cuckoo is finally back. Here on Rum the cuckoo is the soundtrack to my spring as he started calling as we arrived back in 2012 and I had never heard cuckoos call so loud, clear and constantly as they seem to do here.

We celebrated our second anniversary of living on Rum on 20th April, which happened to be Easter Sunday this year. We celebrated the second anniversary of the arrival of the static on Rum on 25th April (we arrived five days before the static and stayed in Kinloch Castle, back when you could stay in Kinloch Castle for the first 5 nights). We never expected to call the static ‘home’ for such a long time, it was supposed to be very temporary accommodation, it’s been a great home.

We had three sets of visitors – an overnight stay from friends visiting Rum for the third time since we arrived, friends staying down in the village but met up with every day and a visit from my parents – I think it was their fifth trip to Rum since we have lived here.

We have also had the start of the tourist visitors with many people coming off the ferry for the day trips and lots of student and walking and geology groups coming to residential trips. One such group included a man who had been staying at the hostel when we first moved here so it was great to catch up with him two years on.

We have also had the invasion of mainland germs and all four of us came down with a nasty cold, which laid us low and unfortunately we seem to have passed on to my Dad to take away back to the mainland with him.

So plenty of socialising, chatting, catching up, showing off, sharing Rum and our lives here with folk, all of which is a great reminder to us as to why we love it here so. Seeing your life through the eyes of other people does wonders for reinvigorating you with energy and enthusiasm for what you are doing. It also helps to have some helping hands getting stuck in with watering the polytunnel, collecting eggs, feeding the animals, nipping down to the village to get something from the shop.

Meanwhile on the croft though much has been going on. The polytunnel is looking good – we have a wall of peas at various stages and I have stopped planting for now, the strawberries are doing well planted directly into the ground and the early varieties have already flowered. The first lot of tomatoes I planted are now strong little seedlings and I have begun to transplant them and have a plan to create a tomato corner within the polytunnel. I have a variety of large and small so have fingers crossed for a good crop this year. Herbs are all doing well and are ready for some potting on too, we have had our first salad leaves of the season already with the promise of many more to come and I have various seed trays of stuff ready to put out into the raised beds including purple sprouting broccoli, artichokes, some asparagus grown from seed which needs a permanent bed dedicated to it’s long term nurturing, some leeks, carrots and parsnips.

The raised bed area has benefitted hugely from the donation of three large raised beds from our crofting neighbours, bringing my total to 20 (17 medium sized and these 3 enormous ones), there is a space just crying out for one more to be build and I even have the wood to do so and that will complete that growing area for now. I have been working on a brash fence to section it off which has two sides complete and the other two sides still in progress but that will protect the raised beds from our birds and the deer as well as helping with the psychology of having slightly tamed the croft! All of the soft fruit bushes and trees in the fruit cages are doing well with shoots and leaves on every single one – crops-wise it’s a great start to the season.

Crafts and produce are stocked down in the shop and craft shop, we have two regular customers on our weekly egg delivery round and the honesty larder at the croft gate is regularly being ‘shopped’ by visitors buying eggs and jam. I am desperate for foraging opportunities to begin to restock the jams and jellies – our last sacred jar of Croft 3 raspberry jam has been held back for our own use being deemed too precious to sell! I have stocks of heather in resin pendants and earrings on sale from last year but the midges have all sold out so ironically I am actually awaiting the start of the midge season so I can harvest more midges to get crafty with. The full range of Moods of Rum scarves are knitted, labelled and up for sale and Davies Designs postcards are available from the shop and Craft shop with Davies already working on his next design ready for the next print run.

Which brings me to animals – the third arm of the Croft 3 empire – exciting news all round on that front. Tom and Barbara are proud parents once more as Barbara had their second litter just today. Three healthy piglets all doing well – one boy, two girls. They have been named as Salami, Bacon and Sausage Roll. All will be for fattening slowly over the course of this year and their names give a good clue as to the eventual plans for them. Meanwhile though we get to coo over the cute baby piglets!

And on the same day the tenacious geese finally hatched the first of the many eggs they have been sitting on for weeks and weeks, defying all ravens and hooded crows and we have goslings!

I only have a picture of one but the children assure me they have seen at least 8…

No broody chickens, ducks or turkeys as yet but we are getting eggs from all three and know they are fertile as we have seen evidence of mating from all of them. It is very exciting that within two years we have had our chickens, ducks, geese and pigs all breed here on the Croft and have eaten pigs, turkeys, chickens and eggs from all the birds. I am very proud of all we have achieved here and days like today with all four of us running back and forth sharing exciting news of new births on the croft and taking pictures of baby animals in the sunshine is a lovely experience.

It’s a rather brief update but in order to catch up I needed to whizz through a few weeks worth of news. Normal service should be resumed from this point!

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Excitement for the day…

I was a few minutes late to work this morning as I got distracted on my way to get dressed by six deer grazing on the croft just outside the window.

Later I discovered flowers already on some of the early varieties of strawberries down in the polytunnel

And then Scarlett and I went off looking for a missing turkey hen and Scarlett found her nestled down at the top of the croft beside the wall having just laid our first turkey egg! We are pretty sure we have the first turkeys ever on Rum so this will be the first turkey egg ever on the island…. I think that’s pretty cool :)

Scarlett does too!

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Fancy this for lunch?

We’ve had a slow but steady start to our crowdfunding but we really need to up the pace a little.

What are we asking for funding for? Building a new shelter on Croft 3 – a weatherproof place for us to stay this winter, to be a more permanent base for us while we learn new skills to enable us to carry out our long term plan of building a cob house. Eventually that space will become the hub of Croft 3 – office space, a produce shop and also somewhere for people to sit and have a coffee, a piece of cake and take in the views.

It’s the next stage of our Masterplan here on Croft 3 and we’re calling it Building The Dream because that’s what you will be contributing to and being part of.

But we don’t want to just ask for money and give nothing but the feeling of being part of something in return (as wonderful as the feeling of being part of something is!), we’d like to offer some rewards too.

Last time I blogged about Building The Dream I mentioned the following rewards:
£10 gets you a pack of our Croft 3 grown, harvested and dried herbs
£100 gets you a weekend stay in our static caravan, £500 gets you a week long catered stay in our static caravan. Both of those are rather deferred options though because currently we live in our static caravan!

So here are a few extra options – hopefully something to suit all pockets…

£25 gets you lunch using Croft 3 produce – maybe a freshly baked bread roll filled with bacon or ham from our pigs, perhaps a freshly picked salad from our polytunnel, an omelette using Croft 3 eggs, maybe a home made scone served with foraged Rum bramble jam…

£50 an day on Croft 3 with us, learn about our animals, have a tour of our alternative technology and understand a bit more about how we set up our lives here, see what is growing in the polytunnel and on the croft, meet the ‘cast’ of Wondering Wanderers and ask us any questions.

£100 a 2 night camping stay on Croft 3. We will set up one of our tents for you (or bring your own), provide you with a stove and other camping essentials and a Croft 3 produce hamper.

£250 a week long camping stay working alongside us, learning from us and about our lives here. You can spend time exploring Rum and experiencing the island life.

For more information or to ask any questions please get in touch, leave a comment or contact croft3@isleofrum.com

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Adventures with bacon continued.

My first ever experience of having a hand in the creation of my own food came as a child – I remember my Dad wandering down the garden and picking mint leaves then bringing them back to the kitchen and making mint sauce with them. To be fair that is about the extent of my Dad’s culinary expertise so I can’t claim to have learned anything else to do with food production at his knee, although he also taught me that sucking the end of a clover petal gave a taste of honey so I guess he is also responsible for my interest in wild food and foraging.

My interest in animal welfare in food and farming came much later. I was always aware that meat came from animals, not from Tesco and have never been squeamish about dead animals being ingredients but credit for raising my consciousness about the life those animals led before they ended up on my plate can go in no small way to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Ady and I watched River Cottage from the beginning, signed up to all the petitions for the Chicken Out campaign and it started our change to eating free range, traceable meat and shopping at the local butcher, reducing our meat bill by reducing our consumption and upping the quality. We visited various farms as Open Farm Sunday  events, I became a volunteer shepherd as part of a local council run initiative and learnt about sheep handling and welfare, we went to an open day at a local agricultural college and I actually cried at the conditions the pigs and cattle were kept in – tiny stalls, never setting foot / trotter / hoof outside. We had a visit to River Cottage and saw their happy animals kept in natural conditions. We hatched chickens, bantams, ducks and quails and killed and cooked a chicken.

All of these experiences set us on the road to heading off on our WWOOFing adventure where we spent time working with poultry, pigs, sheep and cattle kept in all sorts of environments. We visited a slaughterhouse, markets and auctions, tasted various meat produce and began to firm up our own ideas about how we would like to keep animals.

Our animals are allowed to live as natural a life as possible, given freedom to roam, to forage, to grow slowly and live long. They are kept in their family groups and we watch them behave in ways most farmed animals don’t get the opportunity to act – playing, forming relationships with us and each other. Just this week three people have commented on how happy our pigs seem as they walk past them on the croft. The birth of the piglets last year was one of the biggest highlights of our adventure here so far.

But all of this is only the case because we eat meat. I have massive respect for my vegetarian (and even more so vegan) friends but all four of us love meat and want to carry on eating it, we just want to ensure it has lived as good a life and has as respectful a death as possible.

On Sunday we had roast pork from our pig, yesterday we had cold pork and today we had the holy grail of self sufficient meat production. The meat that vegetarians cite as the smell that weakens their resolve and has them craving meat once more. Bacon. Salty, smokey, fried to crispy perfection, served in a still warm from the oven freshly baked bread roll with just the right amount of butter and ketchup.

It was divine.

That path we began walking several years ago today stopped for a very delicious lunch.

Fancy a slice of our life – check out Building the Dream to find out how.

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A spring in your step

Walking alongside the river yesterday I got a waft of the gorse bushes in flower, they smell of coconut and sunshine. The curlews are back in the lower field and we get an early warning of potential visitors or walkers along the north side nature trail about 10 minutes before they appear at the croft gate if the wind is in the right director to hear the curlews calling as someone walks past. As the next few weeks go by they will get more defensive and start to dive lower and lower as you walk by, shrieking at you to keep moving as they protect their nest and then their young.

The river has been very, very low after more than a week of dry days but a night of rain followed by lots of fine misty drizzle today has topped it back up again and everything is greening up before our very eyes.

In the polytunnel everything is sprouting, I am watering every other day, daily when it was very warm and sunny and will do some more sowing next week to keep stuff coming.

Salad leaves and lettuces

Peas

Tomatoes coming through

Outside the fruit cage is coming back to life with new growth on the currants and berries, the trees have buds and shoots. The raised bed area has grown from 10 beds to 15 thanks to all that reclaimed timber and a couple of afternoons work dismantling and putting together. They need filling with soil now ready for taking seedlings later in the year. I’m very excited to have created another five beds for nothing, I even re-used the nails!

In other news Mrs Goose (well actually three Mrs Geese) is still on her nest – I managed to catch one of them still on (see if you can spot her, she is well disguised)

and the nest of one of the others who had nipped off for some food – there are about 18 eggs tucked under this grass and feathers

The bacon has been salted all week and has now gone off to be smoked. It should be ready tomorrow, I cannot express how excited we are at the prospect of trying it. I will report back.

Fancy a slice of our life – check out Building the Dream to find out how.

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If I was a carpenter…

One of the things we are most proud of here is our Wombleness. Our ability to turn things that the everyday folk leave behind into something useful. We arrived here on Rum nearly 2 years ago with just a horse box towed behind our car containing everything – pots and pans, mugs and plates, clothes, towels, bedlinen, toys and books. We have certainly accured more stuff over the last two years but the simple logistics let alone the cost of getting things to Rum means you tend to look to the island first to provide before turning to amazon or ebay.

The island itself is abundant with free resources to redistribute and make use of – from the nice straight regrowth from coppiced and pollarded willow, hazel and alder trees which I have used to make supports for my netting over my raised beds and stakes for my peas to grow up to the stones we dig up on the croft and make use of for paths, low walls and other building projects, to the reeds and rushes which cut and dried out in the sunshine make perfect animal bedding. We can learn so much from our ancestors and even more from the folk who lived on Rum in days gone by about making use of what is already here naturally.

We have also been really fortunate to be gifted materials which are no longer useful for their original purpose but perfect for re-use on our croft. We have a pig house made from the cover of a 4×4 vehicle, off cuts of wood from various building projects made into raised beds, old metal sheeting from shed roofs long since dismantled repurposed as animal shelters and wood stores, a disused fridge is our Honesty larder to sell eggs from at the croft gate and an old tyre stops my firewood from cannoning off everywhere when I split it with an axe. Our fruit cage is old screening panels and we have old pallets put to use everywhere from bridges across ditches and muddy areas to decking around the caravan, supports and divides for the woodstore and makeshift fencing around pigs.

Today I have been dismantling some old pallets and carefully removing nails from some offcuts of sarking roof boards then nailing them all back together again using the nails into different shapes and sizes to make another run of raised beds, bringing my total to 12. I’d like 15 and I think I have sufficient wood to do another 3 which gives me an allotment sized growing area for this year. Our climate here, along with the ongoing battle against the wildlife and our own animals to keep our crops safe means large scale growing is simply not cost effective – the amount of soil conditioning and protective areas to save things from deer and chickens would far outweigh the saving of growing our own even if we had surplus to sell. I think more plastic is the answer, something I am not usually given to saying! Another polytunnel, or possibly two, would be perfect for giving us a safe, weather proof growing area to fill the hungry gap through the winter. Definitely a next year project, but one I am considering trying to make happen in the same way as our fruit cages and raised beds. There must be a way of turning  waste into resources to create a growing area under plastic.

Meanwhile I will leave you with this image today and update later in the week just what I did with it next.

Fancy a slice of our life – check out Building the Dream to find out how.

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Chickens as a constant

I don’t blog lots about the people here on Rum. That is mostly for the same reason as I don’t blog lots and lots about Davies and Scarlett – on an island with only 40 people, which gets 10,000 visitors a year you spend a lot of your time during the summer feeling like a tourist attraction yourself. I like to afford my fellow islanders their privacy. Besides it is not for me to comment, judge and certainly not to blog about them. It is all too easy to forget that the people who live here are not characters on a soap opera with their scripts and the twists and turns of their life written for them. Neither are we all contestants on a reality TV show, here for the entertainment or scrutiny of the masses. I choose to blog and share some of the details of my life, if I start writing about other people without their consent I am invading their privacy.

All of that said though I know that our community is an interesting concept and certainly all of my family and friends who have visited and gotten to know the people who live here are interested in their lives and what is happening with them. One of the items on our wish list when we were looking for somewhere to settle was ‘a sense of community’ and I know we have found that here. It is not without it’s frustrations and challenges and there are times when 40 people really, really is not enough to dilute some of the bigger characters but there is a sense of community. There is a feeling of pulling together, of loyalty, of being there for each other and a sense of huge comfort in the familiarity. For us certainly, two years in it is as much the people who live here as anything else that make this feel like home.

Which is why when the cast of characters changes it can shake your world a lot. When people move around, leave, change places, switch roles and new people come it can take a fair bit of readjusting to. In the same way that Bonnie is getting used to the increased volume of people passing by the croft gate walking the nature trail and we are having to accept not necessarily knowing everyone when we go to the shop to collect out vegetable order, or know that suddenly there will be a gaggle of day trippers coming off the ferry and getting in the way as we try to unload our deliveries. Not only that but new people are coming to Rum to play roles in the main arena. We have a new director on board with the community trust, one new employee about to start working here and a couple more likely over the coming months. Some residents are moving on which will likely create opportunities for new ones to arrive.

At times like these getting my hands elbow deep in soil while planting seeds, chatting to the chickens and carting old pallets about the croft ready to start building another row of raised beds is the constant which gives me comfort. I know where I am with these things, I don’t get confused, bamboozled or doubt what will happen next. It’s a wonderful feeling, getting comfort from your home which is also your work and your life.