Microcrofting

Back when this blog first started, before I even knew what a croft was I would have described my dream to be smallholding. The idea of enough land to keep sufficient animals and grow enough crops to provide for ourselves with maybe a small excess to sell. I wanted to scale up from the allotment and back garden chickens and ducks we had at our house towards more food production which would mean we could have to work less. I recall saying something along the lines of wanting to not have to go out to work to earn money to put food on the table, rather to work hard to grow the food to put on a table that maybe we’d made.

I cherished notions of self sufficiency, Ady watched endless re-runs of The Good Life, Scarlett dreamed of acres of animals, Davies wanted woodland and freedom to roam. We had a growing desire to tread more lightly on the earth, reduce our impact and live a greener existence. We wanted to expand our skills in rural crafts. We wanted to be in closer contact with nature and have more time together.

Whilst we’re all really glad our lives took the turn they did with Croft 3 on Rum and that extreme adventure with all it taught us and we did manage a huge amount of those goals wrapped up in that it’s been lovely recapturing some of the aspects of that original smallholding / crafting / in touch with nature in the smaller scale since we’ve been here.

In our time on Rum we had hundreds of birds hatch with varying degrees of success. Our philosophy there was to leave the animals to get on with things themselves as much as possible and to let nature take it’s course. Partially this was simply all we could do as we lacked the inside space and infrastructure to do more. With no power comes no heat lamps for small hatchlings, with no outbuildings comes no shed to bring a farrowing sow in to birth her litter of piglets. It was mostly a desire to interfere as little as possible – to watch and learn, to understand how nature worked though, and learn we did. The Croft was never going to earn us a living, barely going to cover it’s own costs so having accepted that we were able to focus on high welfare, giving our livestock good, natural lives and reaping the rewards of living alongside them and learning from them.

Back on the mainland we have mostly adhered to the same principles but having bought Rum chickens with us, hatched and reared on the island it would have been unfair to subject them to new threats and predators they had not lived with previously so we do shut them away at night – something we never did on Rum. We have still lost two hens to a fox though because we choose to free range with complete freedom during the day and only close the door to secure them once they have gone in to roost of their own volition. Two hens went broody this year outside of the chicken house – we found them and made them as secure as we could and allowed them to try and hatch their clutches of eggs. One hen lost the lot – we assume to a small egg predator such as a rat as she was unharmed. The other hatched five of her nine eggs and nearly 6 weeks later is still roaming around with a trail of healthy chicks growing more independent each day. We did intervene last week when one was ailing though and bought it inside for a few hours to warm it up, get it fed and watered before returning it to it’s mother and siblings. Something that on Rum we would likely not even have been around to notice on such a huge area, let alone able to dedicate one of the four of us to sitting with a chick for six hours.

Our huge flock of mixed poultry on Rum meant they were a collective of birds, at their peak in excess of 60 in number. Now we have a small flock and I am starting to get to know each individual bird again with their quirks and personalities.

We’re starting to look at growing for next year here too. We already bought over a load of strawberry plants from Rum and created a raised bed along a south facing wall. Although we didn’t get much of a crop we have a lovely healthy looking strawberry patch now which should thrive next year and provide us with plenty of fruit. We have a load of pots of plants on our decking including some lavenders (my favourite herb / flower / plant – for its gorgeous smell and pretty flowers, to use in baking and of course for bees), some marigolds, rosemary, oregano and mint. We’ve already been using them in cooking and I have earmarked a spot for a herb spiral ready for next year.

We’ve also gotten permission from our landlord to put some vegetable beds in the garden and worked out the best location for the first ones which we will get cracking on mulching in the next few weeks so they are ready for planting in next spring. I’ve also picked up a heavily reduced mini walk in greenhouse in the end of gardening season sales in the local shops ready to get seeds sown in next year. Obviously in a rented property it makes sense to only create reversible or removable areas for growing but I’m keen to have as much home grown produce as we can manage for next year. Even in a small garden I know we can create abundance.

Having simply not had time for any creative pursuits over the last few months I found a couple of hours this weekend to sit outside in the sunshine and card a load of fleece from sheep shrearing over the last three years. I’ve been spinning, washing and hanging out wool from my drop spindle for the last two days too and have a plan to finally have a bash at some dyeing. Suddenly the constraints of a safe space to store experiments with natural dyes, the ability to leave a potion bubbling on the stove for a couple of hours now we’re not on bottled gas and a flat surface to work on that doesn’t need clearing away as soon as it’s food time or someone else needs the table for drawing or setting up their own activity opens up a whole new world of opportunity with creative crafts again.

As I said, a rented property with limited garden space is always going to prevent a full on small holding, but having been out this morning collecting and cutting fallen firewood, getting out and doing the tiniest of bramble pickings yesterday morning to make crumble for pudding and looking out on the garden with our chickens scratching around and wool drying on the fence it feels like maybe 8 acres is not essential and perhaps crofting is as much a state of mind as a physical space. Croft 3.1 anyone?

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