Over the last couple of weeks we’ve had a few enforced indoor days thanks to heavy rain and winds. Always keen to make the most of whatever Rum throws at us Ady and I have been working on ideas for a wider range of produce and crafts to sell in the shed and researching and brainstorming ways to improve the croft land. More on the crafts and produce as that happens.
The land improvement is one of those simple in theory, bloody hard work in practice type scenarios. The land here is very, very wet and very poorly drained. Poor quality top soil, fairly shallow sitting on bedrock in most places in a location with way above average rainfall, halfway up a steep hill makes for a boggy piece of ground. The impact of the four of us and all our livestock living on the land for the last 4 years means in various places it is very compacted and has created puddles of really deep, stagnating mud. The three places this poses the biggest and most problematic issues are around the caravan, the most used pathway up the croft and in the walled garden around the raised beds.
The pathway will be dealt with over the course of this year, it is high on the list of projects to enlist volunteer help with on our volunteer events over the summer and requires stones to be brought up the hill and laid on a fabric base to create an actual path. topped with finer grade gravel which hardens to create an actual footpath, suitable to walking up and down without slipping over and pushing a wheelbarrow up and down without the wheel simply sinking into the mud and refusing to go any further.
The area around the caravan has been gradually improved with small ditches we have dug over the time we’ve been here but it is time to do a better job of that so Ady has begun scraping away the liquid mud and moving it to a different area, where it will create a bank or mound and eventually grow over with grass out of the way. The resultant ditch will meet up with other ditches on the croft and lead eventually down to the river to take all the water away. There is more to do but the initial long ditch parallel to the caravan has been created and is running away nicely. At the moment it all looks rather muddy and like a building site but we know that in time it will begin to dry out, grass will come back and it will improve.
The walled garden had been done in the same design as a permaculture idea we had seen while WWOOFing. A very successful series of raised beds where any weeding was done direct out of the beds and onto the paths between them (aside from very invasive weeds which were lobbed further away onto the track which cars drove up and down to be baked by the sun and squashed by the cars to death!) to begin composting down. Every other year the resulting compost would be dug back on to the beds creating newly dug paths once more. It was genius, real permaculture in action, probably the first time I had truly understood quite what the idea meant and I was keen to replicate it here. Except that here I have been chucking the weeds which are mostly reeds onto an already muddy surface which has just created bogs between each raised bed. The result has been that the raised beds are sodden and waterlogged meaning the soil is losing nutrients and taking way longer to warm up than it should, not to mention not being the nice well drained soil which most crops wish to be planted into to thrive.
So today I dug a drainage ditch all down one side of the walled garden , under the fence and meeting up with a naturally occurring ditch which leads into the river. I cleared the ditch we dug last year along the top which had gotten overgrown too. Now it is running and draining. I need to do more ditches to meet up with that one but the most used beds which had the worst, most slippy paths inbetween are now starting to dry out. I also weeded two beds, planted asparagus into one and have the other earmarked for peas which are ready to plant out from the polytunnel to make space for the next sowing.
Tasks like this are hard work, tend to look worse than when you began in the early stages and mean you spend a lot of time splashing yourself, swearing at chickens who utterly fail to get out of your way while you wield your spade and have aches to tell you just how hard you have worked the following morning. But they are a great way of investing in the future and knowing you are improving things. The feeling of elation when you join up one ditch to another and water suddenly starts to flow is victorious.
And if the ferry tomorrow brings my new wellies so that I am not wearing a plastic bag over my socks inside each one to prevent getting soaking wet feet I will be even happier!