On the way of the caravan we have a large piece of paper entitled Croft 3 2016 Masterplan (mwha ha ha!). It is the fourth or maybe even fifth such piece of paper since we arrived here. I have all the previous ones carefully stashed away. It’s a great visual reminder of what we set out to achieve at the start of the year and I regularly cast an eye over it to ensure we are on track and prompt myself to get on with anything we have not made inroads on yet.
Earlier this week a friend was visiting and asked how this years was going and our volunteers were looking at it too. I realised earlier today that if it’s July 1st tomorrow that means we are halfway through the year so actually it’s a great time to have a quick catch up with where we’re at with everything.
We split the masterplan into categories. The first is Animals. This year we had listed:
Pigs to pork – The loss of Tom at the start of the year meant no piglets for us this year which was unforseen. We have managed to get a new boar and despite a rather rocky start to his time with us as he was injured in transit he has settled in really well and we will be letting him in with our girls at the end of the year ready to get started on next year’s pork supply.
Sheep for grazing and fleece We have ordered 3 ewes from a neighbouring island from this springs lambs. They should be with us by the end of the summer and will get started on the grazing for us. We should have fleeces from them next year and if they settle in well and we are confident that we are cut out for shepherding then the plan is to get a ram next year to start breeding the year after for meat.
Peacocks and runner ducks Peahens are here, peacocks and more peahens are on their way soon, as are a small group of runner ducks due to arrive in the next few weeks.
Hatching I think we can safely say we are on top of that! Plenty of young hatched so far and more on track over the next few weeks. This has definitely been our best year yet.
Eggs for sale The downside of hatching is of course that you end up with a lot less eggs – every new chick is an egg that was not for sale and each bird that goes broody takes weeks and weeks off laying (incubation of eggs is 3 weeks for chickens, 4 for ducks and turkeys, 6 for geese) plus the weeks afterwards of rearing the young during which the birds are also not laying. Nevertheless we have still been doing fairly well at collecting a steady stream of free range eggs and selling them from the shop to locals and visitors.
Breeding and rearing I’m not sure why this is separate to hatching really, but we certainly have way more of a plan for the rearing than in previous years with our nursery pen building. We also for the first time have a clear plan for the male birds we are rearing which will remain penned and get fattened for eating. We have discussed this at length and decided this is a better approach than culling the male birds as soon as they are identifiable. We will ensure they have a good life, if not to the usual full free range freedoms that our birds usually have they will certainly be better off than supermarket standard free range welfare conditions. We will grow them fairly slowly on a mix of bought food supplemented with grass and forage on the croft. The plan is to turn all the male birds into the fruit cages once they have finished harvesting where they can eat any spoilt crops, feast on the bugs and pests and do some grazing and manuring of the area for us. We need to not keep any further male stock of chickens and ducks as we run the risk of inbreeding with our current females otherwise and running too many males means the females get hassled and over-mated.
Bees Part way there at least. I have been on a course to learn the basics, read several books with a now greater understanding based on some greater knowledge. I have been offered some financial support with the setting up of the hives and have made some good contacts for advice and support. I just need the actual bees now!
Fruit cage, polytunnel, raised beds, herb spiral all of these are doing well. The herb spiral is fully stocked (too fully infact, I need to remove some rogue comfrey which has appeared in the last couple of days), the fruit cage is doing well, the polytunnel is a mass of tomatoes, the strawberry beds under plastic have done so well I have been inspired to invest in a load more plants to keep under plastic for next year. We have bought four mini greenhouses to increase our space for seedlings for next year. The asparagus took really well, the peas will be ready to harvest soon.
I have still not got the netting right despite buying some water pipe and creating hoops. Our own birds and the wind not to mention the deer keep trashing the area and the crops are not really protected plus it is really tricky to weed the beds. We are debating various options including fencing the whole area or lift on and off -able individually built frames for each bed.
Mulching We’d never really done this before but this year we managed to get sacks and sacks of seaweed around the fruit trees and bushes and a good covering on the raised beds. It has done wonders and we will definitely do it again and with an even thicker layer. We have also realised that we need to bring the pig-made manure / compost over to the raised beds and I have been reading more about soil improvement techniques to try for next year.
Foraging Too early yet – our main foraging crop is brambles although I would also like to collect rose petals and seaweed for cosmetic uses if not culinary ones.
Fodder / feed We unintentionally grow plenty of crops for our birds but this year planted a whole area of artichokes having been told they grow in any sort of soil and are ideal pig feed. We bought some and a friend gave us more and sure enough despite feeling doubtful they would work we now have a corner of healthy looking plants. We still use the cut stuff from scything as pig bedding and are getting better at taking all the weeded waste over for a green treat for the pigs too.
Paths We’ve made a good start but this is very much a volunteer project and we have our first big volunteer event starting next week. I’m hoping to report some great progress on paths in the next few weeks.
Ditching We’ve dug a ditch around the back and the side of the caravan which has made a huge difference to the ground around the area and grass is starting to grow back in places which had remained a mud patch even through the driest spells of summer. I dug a ditch along one side of the walled garden which also made a huge difference. We’ll carry on with this but have made some good progress so far this year.
Volunteer campThis has been unintentionally combined with the creation of a camping area so we now have a multi use compost loo, sink with running water, dry space shed adjacent to the bell tent which we can use for either volunteers or rent out to campers. We’ve invested in cooking kit, campbeds and bedding. There is still more to do – a campfire and a camping shelter / kitchen space to use in poor weather is the next plan.
Work on cob buildNothing this year so far and unless we have really super successful and productive volunteer events this will get pushed into next year I suspect as infrastructure such as paths are more important this year.
Animal pens We have done well with this so far this year and are getting smarter at creating pens and shelters which are move-able or easily dismantled and rebuilt.
Storage spaces We have plans for new wood stores which we’ll be building in the next few weeks. Moving the compost loo out of the horsebox means that is now incredibly spacious and we have shelves set up for storing food and tools.
Working woodlandsAdy has done some interesting forestry stuff learning about felling and processing and we have used the chainsaw more this year than in previous years. It is now the season to not be doing much with wood as the sap is rising but we plan to do more later in the year.
Energy We now have two wind turbines and two solar panels set up to the caravan and this means we regularly have sufficient power to not need the generator at all for charging things up. We are hoping that in the winter we are able to continue this way through the darker, trapped inside times to have better lighting and internet access. We are considering investing in an upgraded solar panel later in the year to help with that aim.
Sales to tourists – In The Shed, market day The shed has so far been even more of a success than we first hoped and we have decided against market day for this year as it makes no sense to empty the shop of produce on the busiest day for the shop! We’re getting a good feel for what sells and are in the process of making some of the items available online to buy mail order.
WWOOFers / volunteers It’s a little early to say as so far we have only had a couple of volunteers but we have three events planned with good numbers of people booked on each of them.
Writing work I have my regular contribution in Barefoot Diaries but so far have not managed to secure any other writing work this year. The plan to have better power / internet for the winter means I am aiming to work on that more later in the year.
Crafts my aim of learning new crafts all the time is going well so far. I did not get anywhere with the basket weaving I was planning on mastering last winter due to a variety of reasons (helicoptered off husbands being the key one!) but I have managed survival paracord bracelets, lettered braided wristbands, bathbombs, feathered items including quills, hatpins, hairslides and dreamcatchers, painted glasses, crocheted midges and two very gorgeous blankets (not for sale but definitely skill honing).
PhotographyAdy’s baby this one – several of his photos have been printed as postcards and are selling really well. He still takes at least one photo a day and continues to learn new techniques in editing.
Kids’s businesses Scarlett has been very enterprising this year, getting stuck in with the bath fizzers, her candles, handpainting feathers and coming up with ideas for new crafts. Davies is working on a book but it’s still at early stages in character and storyline development.
Edinburgh TripOur February adventure city break, Friends Visitingwe’ve had several sets of day tripping friends,plus some family and friends to stay and have lots more planned through the rest of the year Off island tripsour regular dentist trips mean we have had several trips off so far this year, all fairly local but including a trip to the Nevis Range in the snow, a cinema trip, attending a 50th birthday party, Ady and I managed a valentines day meal out, the kids and I went to the circus…The sea is alive so far it’s been pretty quiet to be honest and this year we have avoided any trips likely to result in feeling seasick so have not been out every time as in previous years. We have however seen dolphins, whales and porpoises along with the usual seabirds. No orcas or basking sharks to report as yet this year though. Red deer rut Not yet they don’t! But based on the current high numbers of deer on the croft we’ll be in the thick of the action as and when they do! Island Exploring So far this year I have been to Canna for a day trip to have lunch and all four of us have been to Eigg for the day. We have yet to get out and explore more of Rum this year so far though. Small Isles Games scheduled to be on Eigg this year, we’re planning on going, maybe even overnight if there is a boat scheduled to get us home again the next day. Community Event a month This has been a huge success so far – in January it was Burns Night, in February Curry Night, in March it was Cheese Night, April was Childhood Favourites, May was Takeaway Food and June was the Big Lunch. All events with a really good turn out of folk bringing and sharing food contributions and having a great time. We have more lined up through the rest of the year.
I’d say that’s a pretty good half time result. I can already see which things have slipped and which have gone really well, which should hopefully help to shape what happens in the coming second half of the year. As Masterplans go it’s shaping up to be a pretty good one.