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Focus

We’ve been playing host to another volunteer from France these last two weeks, our third French volunteer this year. Every volunteer brings something different to Croft 3, some need lots of guidance and support, others are able to merely be pointed in the right direction and off they go. I hope we are good hosts – we certainly try our best to negate the issues we found tricky while WWOOFing but it is inevitable that when someone is here for just two weeks they will end up with the more monotonous or mundane tasks as they are the easy ones to set someone up with.

It has meant that while I have spent lots of time off the croft distracted with various other tasks I have been able to at least know that *someone* is getting on with weeding, transplanting and tending the crops. So the herb spiral is weeded, more raised beds are weeded, peas are planted out, mint and strawberries have been dug out from the old polytunnel site and moved to new locations and the fruit cage is mostly growing fruit rather than grass and wild flowers once more.

Ady and I did have a productive Sunday between midges and created three cloche frames over the newly moved strawberries in the raised bed on the south facing side of the polytunnel. Lots of design input went into this with a couple of failed prototypes being rejected before the final design was decided on. Made with some pipe found on the beach, a dismantled pallet and some more scraps of polytunnel plastic we built three mini polytunnels that fit over the raised bed and can be removed for watering, weeding and harvesting.

strawbs1

strawbs

I managed to be ruthless with my tomatoes and cast out all of the flagging behind seedlings. I now have a slightly smaller area of tomatoes in the polytunnel, but only slightly…

We have herbs grown from seed ready to be moved into the herb spiral but need to construct a net around it as the chickens and geese will eat them otherwise. We have thinned out the thuggish mint and taken out the comfrey and moved that to the south side of the polytunnel. The ailing lavender which struggled with getting waterlogged in pots has been moved into a purpose built mini rockery next to the bench. Hopefully this more sunny and well drained spot made up of some rocks gathered from the cob house plot with prove a happier spot for it, also right next to the bench where we sit so it can smell nice and close to the fruit cage for bees to buzz between the lavender, comfrey and fruit trees and get busy feeding and pollinating.

lavender

We now have 16 of the 20 raised beds with crops in, netted and weeded, a real victory in what has been an abysmal season. The polytunnel is crammed with late but getting there crops, the fruit cage is starting to actually produce fruit and today we discovered a previously unknown crop of bilberries ready for picking at a secret location. Against all odd thrown at us by a truly crappy summer so far progress is being made and we can see how far we’ve come.

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Fare Well

Yesterday a group of us gathered at the second boat to say goodbye to two residents leaving the island. It’s been a fairly lengthy goodbye with a meal with them last weekend, a bigger gathering of folk helping to move their stuff from the top floor of the castle down to the ground floor ready for the removal van, Ady helped load said removal van (I was being Mrs TeaShop), we gathered again at the shop for their last night and then finally at the pier yesterday in the sunshine to wave them off on the ferry.

When we returned home to the croft we sat and counted on our fingers all the people we have seen leave Rum during our time here. We reached 25. People who left due to relationships breaking down, the end of work contracts, because they had found love, were going ‘home’, had found a new job, had grown to hate it here on Rum. People have left to retire, from ill health, one left with the funeral director… some left with a waving crowd, some with a group looking sad to see them depart, some happy to see them off, some with no fanfare or audience at all. Some crept away so quietly it was only after they had gone that we realised they had really left at all.

In the same way that every new person arriving here on Rum leaves their mark, shapes the future, writes their own little piece of the Rum history book so every single person leaving takes something away. A particular energy force, a way of thinking, a voice at the meetings, an idea or opinion or notion. We’re a strange group of folk here, diverse, not always coherent or united. Yet fiercely loyal, bound together, tightly knit. In the last couple of weeks I said a phrase and someone’s daughter said ‘ah that’s where my Mum got that from – she’s said it a few times and I wondered who she’d heard it from’, while just tonight I pronounced a word in a certain way and was told I sounded like someone else. We share colloquialisms, turns of phrase, in jokes and lingo. Relationships and alliances, friendships and clans are formed in the unlikeliest of places with people whom you would never usually even cross paths with in life.

When someone new arrives on Rum there is curiosity, a sense of possibility, ripples of hope run through the community. When someone leaves there is a yearning look toward them as the ferry takes them away – part envy in some ways that they are escaping the island, off to adventures new, back to the mainland and the mainstream, away from the challenges unique to Rum. Then people get back into their cars, walk away, ride off on their bikes and those names become part of the long list of people who ‘used to live here on Rum’. Part of cast of characters from the past and a chapter of the story you have already read.

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Diversify and conquer!

It’s ‘the season’ here on Rum just now and I’ve done several shifts at the shop / post office and a couple of very busy teashops which means I’ve chatted to plenty of tourists and visitors to Rum. The usual questions ‘how many children in the school?’ ‘what do you do in the winter?’ coupled with the more personal questions which my clearly not-from-round-these-parts accent tend to invite about what brought us here. A few from people who had already been on the nature trail walk which leads them around the perimeter of Croft 3; the view from above giving a panorama of a markedly greener patch of land, scattered with grazing birds and dotted with signs of humans- a wood store here with evidence of freshly chopped logs (thanks to our recently departed volunteer), a chicken shed there, a caravan in the middle. Steeply walking down the west boundary takes you past the pigs – Tom & Barbara with their current litter of six healthy piglets; our biggest, happiest and healthiest yet. The dividing fence was removed last week so they are all running together and doing really well. Further down that side of the croft past the side gate is the ground where the pigs where last year. It’s grown back from the mud bath it was before we moved them up and is a clearly improved patch of ground, better drained with less rushes and more grass. Walk along the bottom of the croft and look up and you’ll see our walled garden, polytunnel and fruit cage, lots of new tree growth, clearly scythed paths and areas, our ‘honesty larder’ selling eggs and jam.

I’ve agreed with countless folk these last couple of weeks that yes, this is the other side of the world from West Sussex, that it couldn’t be a more different life than that we left behind. That it is indeed a perfect childhood for Davies and Scarlett, that while it may be challenging it is worthwhile and with many, many highs being here in this wonderful, wild, remote and romantic place.

Meanwhile though it’s been dreadful weather again. Several ferries cancelled due to high winds, the caravan roof rattling, the wind howling, the river raging. Waterproofs donned to trudge to and fro the village gathering supplies of food from the shop or the freezer.

The four of us discuss frequently ways in which to make our life here on Rum that bit more comfortable, sustainable, viable. We hold dear our philosophy of do what you love, love what you do. We fiercely protect our dream of only spending time doing things which have meaning and are soul feeding or literally providing for our basic needs. After an early epiphany for me here on Rum that the way forward is not to simply pay lip service to the idea of permaculture but to really, truly live it we actively seek ways in which to live in harmony with Rum. To gently reap the harvest which Rum provides naturally and to try and always take less than we give.

It is this approach which has led to us foraging for wild fruits with which to make jam to sell rather than battling the weeds, the pest control, the endless rounds of watering or draining the land to grow non native fruits. It is this approach which has guided us in finding ways to turn the many challenges and curses on Rum into resources – setting midges in resin, catching the clegs, harvesting the thistles. It is why we take our inspiration for our candle making colour schemes, our artwork and photography, our knitting and crocheting from the landscapes, weather and wildlife of Rum. Last year I spent many hours picking wild flowers from the croft and gathering larch cones to dry, fragrance and package as pot pourri this year.

In realising that so many people want to visit Rum and how remarkable a place it is and how many are interested in our story, our journey and our adventures here we are able to offer space for volunteers to come and learn alongside us, to share ideas and knowledge, to offer their hands to lighten our workload while giving them some basic food supplies and a free camping space to base themselves for their own Rum adventure. So far this year we have played host to five volunteers with more booked in over the rest of summer. (I say summer with an ironic laugh by the way….)

In our most recent ‘what can we do / learn / explore next?’ conversation the idea of basket making came up. I went on a couple of basket weaving courses way back about 10 years ago and really enjoyed them. Here on Rum hedgerow and tree materials grow everywhere in abundance ready to be pruned and gathered and ideal for creating beautiful baskets to use ourselves or sell next year to visitors hoping to take a little piece of Rum away with them. I have some very basic knowledge and experience, several books on the subject and will use the period between now and the sap falling meaning it is material harvesting time (October to March so my research tells me) learning more on the theory before getting stuck in to the practical.

Learning opportunities, new skills, potential extra revenue stream and chance to get creative? Diversification and learning as we go along was always high on our business plan ideas when we first arrived on Croft 3. I love the fact that we have so many opportunities to make it happen,

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A very busy week indeed

The ‘season’ is upon us. The time of year here on Rum when everyone and everything is busy. This week has been chaotic with demands from all corners.

A few photos from the week…

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rainbow

hoover

cats

ginger

We’ve had all weathers and I think I have worn every single hat I could fit on my head – shifts at the shop, post office, castle, dancing, socialising, meetings as a director, volunteer host, parenting, tea shop, baking, cat re-homing, gardener… you name it, I’ve probably done it this week. And it’s only Friday!

Who knows what the weekend might bring…

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The Real Rum

Four years ago we were right in the middle of our WWOOFing adventure. It’s hard to project into your own future and see what it holds, I can’t even begin to imagine where we’ll be four years from today even if everything went totally according to plan.

We had just six months between our first setting foot on the Isle of Rum and arriving on the ferry to move here. The first month was taken up with writing an application for a croft, a business plan and working out our dreams, the second month was taken up with Christmas and New Year, the third month we were back at one of our friends made while WWOOFing, in month four we came back to Rum for our interview for the croft, were told we had been successful and went on a crofting course. Month five was taken up with frantic packing up of our old life and preparing for the move and then we were here.

During that time we did as much research on Rum as we could. We googled, read extensively, looked at youtube clips and absorbed everything we could lay our hands on about crofting, Scottish islands and what we expected our new way of life to entail. When I look back on that period now I am stunned at our courage and bravery, our hope and confidence, our capacity for optimism. It is no different to our start along the pathway of Home Education in many ways, or I guess if a baby in the womb had the ability to fully appreciate all it was taking on by being born. Life is HUGE, a bloody great rollercoaster of adventure and possibility. Probably for the best that we don’t really know what is going to happen next, because by then we are busy getting on with it.

One of the things that drew us to Scottish islands was the craic, the sense of community, of pulling together, of being there for each other. Of music and laughter and dancing and singing, of drinking and caring and shouting. We had a brief taste of that while WWOOFing, and every so often here on Rum that magic hits again. Instruments are brought out, the village hall comes to life and the ground shakes with the stomping of ceilidh dancing. This week we have had two such events – Saturday saw the return of a singer, songwriter and musician who first came to Rum just after we arrived. Last night was an impromptu ceilidh by a loads of massively talented musicians who have been coming to Rum since before we had even heard of this island. Gathering to listen to the music were residents, their families and friends, visiting tourists, students, people coming ashore from their yachts moored in the bay, our own visiting volunteer WWOOFer.

In just five days here on Rum we have: been to two events down in the hall, I have sung with a visiting performer, been flung around by friends and strangers at a ceilidh dance, done two shifts at the shop and post office, spent time dusting and hoovering at a castle, baked bread and cakes and sold out at the village hall teashop, watered and tended plants in the polytunnel, transplanted seedlings into my raised beds, weeded, netted and harvested, sold postcards and candles, talked to tourists about why my accent is not from round these parts and explained how I came to be here, debated island politics, answered emails, attended meetings, hosted a volunteer, talked to the school nurse… the list goes on. This is not intended to be a list of how busy we are, more a demonstration of the diversity of our lives here. This is Rum at it’s finest, it’s shiniest, it’s best and worst. It’s most frustrating and most rewarding. These are the weeks which remind us we are alive, engaged, present, needed, involved and valued. These are the days which we did all this for.

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Productive Plot

We’ve been spending a lot of time on the ‘plot’ these last few weeks. The fruit cage requires plenty of trimming between the soft fruit bushes and orchard trees to stop the grass growing too high and choking things. The fruit cage is a real investment in the future rather than something we anticipate reaping quick results from. I saw a Chinese proverb recently which really resonated with me:
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today” A long term aim in the fruit cage would be to put down some kind of mulch to stop the grass and weeds from growing up, maybe some seaweed around the base of the tress and bushes…

The polytunnel is now complete, with shelves on both sides and loads of things happening in there. I have been sowing lots of seeds and some have already germinated and are ready to plant out. thin or transplant. The aim in there will be containers of things like tomatoes, chillies, peppers, courgettes, cucumbers which will stay in there. Starting off seedlings of hardier veg and salad to plant out in the walled garden or herbs to restock the herb spiral and maybe some winter greens sown in autumn. Once the strawberries in the old polytunnel site are spent we will move them across to a raised bed against the outside south facing wall of the polytunnel which we will build a cold frame over. I’ve also started off some strawberries from seed in there so that whole raised bed should be producing loads of fruit for next year. My ambition with strawberries is to grow enough that we actually have more than we can eat fresh and I can make some strawberry jam, which is everyone’s favourite but the fresh fruit never stays around long enough to get made into jam! We have water down there and it’s a lovely space to spend time in. All that is left to complete is a net or mesh panel to go across the door to stop the chickens getting in if we leave the door off in the hot weather.

polytunnel

I have also spent hours in the walled garden. I have 15 full size raised beds and 3 double length beds in there and have never previously even had them all weeded and full of compost let alone all growing things but am on track to manage just that this year despite the late start. I have carrots, parsnips, leeks, salad, cabbages, purple sprouting broccoli, rhubarb, chard, celeraix and peas in already. I have asparagus, artichoke, beetroot, wild garlic ready to plant out soon. I have two large and two small beds still to weed over and net against the chickens and then the whole area will be working for us.

salad

cabbages

psb

rhubarb

peas

I have spent many happy hours in the walled garden weeding and am only there a matter of minutes before I am joined by an army of helpers – sometimes as many as 8 chickens will wander over and dig away at the worms and bugs as I dig them up.
weeding

As always the whole area is made with cast off, recycled and reused materials. With the exception of the netting and a few nails and screws our entire polytunnel, fruit cage and walled garden is constructed by items found, gathered, gifted or scavenged from the island. Our latest such find was a heap of old emergency lighting boxes thrown in the skip as they no longer meet current regulations. There are no such regulations on mini propagators though, and filled with a bit of compost these will act as micro greenhouses to give seedlings a head start.

propogators

No more the Wondering Wanderers, more like the Wombles – making good use of the things that everyday folk leave behind!