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Sunday 26 April 2009

Of Spring, Sunsets and Sunday

I've had a fairly relaxing Sunday today, got up late, did a few domestic things, worked a little, and sat and mused looking out at the misty landscape while drinking copious quantities of tea! This morning was beautiful, though misty, but warm and I planted some more seeds - "Love in a Mist". But I needed a break from gardening as I overdid things a bit yesterday with some digging, and general sorting out of the garden, so I contented myself with inspecting the plants emerging from Winter. I just love this time of year. Here are some photos of the willows, plus I am delighted to see that the "Forget-me-nots" transplanted from a friend's garden in Kent have survived the winter and are growing healthily in the rear border.

Button is out most of the day now. I do fear for fledgling birds later in the year though - sigh. She has already got her eye on a sparrow's nest in a wall in one of the old farm buildings. However there is a healthy population of sparrows around - they line up waiting for the hens to finish with the scraps I put out for them in the morning, then the sparrows fly down and finish off what's left (I always put out extra for the wee birds!).

And this last week we have had some beautiful sunsets. I can just sit in the conservatory and watch the sun drop below the horizon. Just magical.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Whatever you want it to be.....

So..... is the photo above:

a) seed bed covered to protect from hens, cats and other animals that enjoy rummaging through newly dug earth.
b) “The Stone Square of Sandside” .... an art installation representing the opaqueness of life. The breeze up lifting the fabric revealing a tantalising glimpse of the soil underneath representing the flashes of insight one has, as one gropes through the web of existence. The stones represent anchors which bind us to the present and frustrate our attempts to know what is on "the other side", what is in the future. The centre stone is deliberately off centre, just as life can sometimes be a little left of centre. The stones echo the aeons, the millennia which have shaped them. The round pebbles from the beach representing the buffeting of the tides which also shape our lives, our very being.......

And is this :

a) a nice warm space for Button to appreciate the landscape.
b) The addition to the original artwork adding yet another dimension, linking the earth with the living and breathing inhabitants of the land and illustrating the temporary nature of inhabitaiton of the landscape - since Button will move onto more interesting things soon. (Thanks to LM for this additional interpretation).

And this is:

A sunset, an explosion of colour before the light dies. Today is Earth Day - be kind to our planet, she's the only one we've got (to misquote a fridge magnet....)

Tuesday 21 April 2009

H.E.A.P. .....

..... an acronym for Hens Enviornmental Adventure Playground......? Um... this wasn't *quite* how I had imagined my garden to look........! However, while clearing rubbish from the garden (not me - a JCB digger) we (I use the term loosely) discovered an old culvert running under the path in the garden. It's hard to say what it's purpose was - though it is stone lined at the bottom as well as sides and top which, apparently, means it was designed to carry water, rather than just being a drain or soakaway.

One explanation is that it is connected with the Mill dam opposite the house. Originally, probably about 1860s when the house was first built, or maybe pre-dating that, the barn had a water-wheel attached to it. There's not a lot of water, in terms of rivers, streams or reservoirs on the island, but again it's thought the water was collected at the top of the hill (from burn, rain etc), then when there was a sufficient supply a sluice gate was opened and it poured down the hill to the mill dam - you can just make out the perimeter of the mill dam in this photo - a green ridge around where the sheep are grazing. Then the water would be released from the mill-dam along the dyke (stone wall) and over or under the water wheel, which would have then turned the threshing machine in the barn.

The direction of the culvert doesn't seem to really fit into the scheme of things, but it must do somehow. Another theory is it was put in to take water from the mill dam to the byres for livestock. Anyway whatever the real reason, the culvert had collapsed in several places and was choked with earth so it hasn't been functional for many a year.

The jury is still out on what the next course of action will be. After heavy overnight rain anyway it is too slippery to do any more work in the garden itself. But at least progress is being made in clearing the garden!

Picture of Sandside in 1910 - you can just about make out the waterwheel attached to the barn, and the milldam is quite clearly seen:

Sunday 19 April 2009

Bag the Bruck, gardening and sunshine!

This weekend has been just glorious with sunshine, warmth and blue skies (OK it was cloudy Saturday but still NO WIND....). I'm making slow but sure progress in the garden. I planted onions this weekend, plus several rows of carrots too. I'm unlikely to be self sufficient(!) but it will be nice to eat fresh produce, which always seems to taste better when home grown.

I've mainly be using seaweed as fertiliser, and the hens love rootling around the fresh seaweed for grubs and things. I leave the seaweed on top of the earth to dry for a few days then dig into the bed before planting. I've never used seaweed as a fertiliser before but it is a great organic fertilizer and so near to hand for me! I also have some well rotted cow manure which I used for the carrot bed today as I thought I might lose the seeds among the seaweed!

This weekend is also "Bag the Bruck" weekend in Orkney. "Bruck" is Orcadian for rubbish. A local environmental group provide bags and gloves and communities across Orkney go out round the beaches, reservoirs etc and gather any flotsam or jetsom or whatever rubbish is lying around. So today Irene and I went along the beach at Sandside gathering up old netting, bottles, pipes, or whatever we could find. Button, of course, had to come along to ensure we were doing things properly........ We sat on the beach having a wee rest after our exertions and Button did her "Sphinx" impersonation.

Later on in the afternoon a group from Stromness came across the water in their Kayaks. Some of them had a short wander around the island before heading back as the tide changed.

So it's been a beautiful weekend to be outdoors and I think I am finally losing my winter palor!

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Tatties planted!

I am so excited - finally there is something planted in the old walled garden after who knows how many years! Cathy came round today and helped me plant tatties (potatoes) - OK let's be honest, I helped Cathy plant my potatoes, with a lot of leaning on a fork on my part...... I only have a couple of small rows as I am a novice at vegetable growing, but it's a start. The variety were given to me by J, and apparently they are a British variety known as Pink Fir Apple potatoes (very nice as a salad potato).

Because the garden hasn't had anything growing in it except field grass and weeds, it needs some fertiliser, so the veggie patch has had seaweed dug through it. Hmmm maybe I'll get ready salted crisps out of my tatties?

I need to dig a bit more so that I also have some space for carrots and I have some strawberry plants to put in. I need to cover any seedlings with netting to stop the hens scratching the ground but once everything is established things should go OK. It worked OK with the flower border (which is on the other side of the stone dyke (wall) in the picture). The hens love fresh earth and new shoots. Once things have grown a few inches and bedded in the hens leave them alone, thankfully, and they are excellent at pest control!

I mentioned in a previous post the fact that this house was once home to TWO families. One couple with several children living upstairs, and another couple and a bundle of children living downstairs. And no it's not that big a house! So there were many mouths to feed and it is likely that the garden would have been full of vegetables. Farm and croft gardens were part of the food production process, so vegetables were what fed the family through all the seasons, with probably little room given over to flowers.

The garden hasn't been cultivated for many many years. Certainly not since the 1980s so there is a lot of work to do. Up to now it has been used as an emergency sheep pen during lambing season (April/May in Orkney), but I wanted to do something more with it this year.

It's going to have to be worked on in stages - I get overwhelmed thinking about it en-masse. The garden is 100 foot x 100 foot and thankfully the stone dyke is more or less intact all round. Though the gates and gate pillars have long gone (well except for two wobbly examples). The flagstone path down the centre still seems to be there under several inches of earth, so that will be dug back to see what state the flags are in. If they are broken I have a pile retrieved from the back of the house during renovation that could be laid in the garden.

As you can see there's lots of work to be done - machinery (NOT driven by me) will be used to clear some of the ground, help remove the large stones which have fallen off the wall, and level the ground. Then I'll probably have most of the garden laid to lawn (easy to control) with a border running round the edge - one border for veggies, and the other for shrubs, trees and perennials. It needs to be fairly low maintenance as I'm not fit enough to do much more than a little light digging and weeding. But I just LOVE working with the earth and seeing things grow. Can you tell I'm excited? Sad I know, but so *satisfying*! But the transformation isn't going to happen in a week- sigh. So for now I shall focus on digging over the earth a bit at a time and planting as I go along. It just feels great to have the garden coming to life again after all this time.

Saturday 11 April 2009

Another sign of Spring......

..... Washing on the line! Well to be fair several of my neighbours put their washing on the line throughout the year, but I am a "fairweather" washing-line person, so it only happens on good days between March and September!

I just love the smell of fresh laundry direct from the outdoor line - especially bed linen. Oooh the luxury of curling up in bed tonight with the smell of fresh air! OK - sorry, bit whimsical there.....

What do I do the rest of the year I hear some of you wondering..... well one of the joys of underfloor heating is I can put laundry over the clothes airer and it dries overnight! I haven't used my tumble-drier (US equivalent clothes-dryer??) for about 8 years and it sits in the shed as a useful receptacle for anything other than clothes....

When I lived in my suburban home south, I had a "rotary" clothes line, but you don't see many of those in Orkney! If I put a rotary clothes line in the garden it would be in orbit within an hour! So it's back to the traditional line and pole and watching clothes blowing in the breeze!

Using the correct pegs is essential though - "storm" pegs which really grip the line. None of your wooden flimsy pegs (left in photo). Strong, thick plastic pegs that break your fingernails getting them off the line again are what are needed! (coloured pegs in the photo) Anything with less grip and my washing would be adorning the Stromness pier before it had chance to dry!

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Fuel Deliveries

I was down at the pier today collecting my messages (Scottish term for groceries) and watched the empty fuel tanks being lifted back onto the boat from the pier.

I use oil (kerosene) as fuel for the heating boiler and getting it out to the island is something of a challenge. The process goes something like this :

  • phone order through to supplier in Kirkwall who then checks there is an available empty tank on the pier at Stromness.
  • no empty tank, supplier phones customer (me) to locate empty tank on island and get it shipped back to Stromness (this can only happen on certain days).
  • Supplier then fills empty tank on Stromness pier and this is brought out to island on a Friday and loaded onto the back of a neighbour's tractor and trailer.
  • I then get the tractor with trailer and oil arriving at my house. Attach electric pump to tank on tractor and household oil tank. Wait (usually in pouring rain) for 20 minutes till transfer of fuel is complete. Dismantle pump (well I know the theory but I leave it to my neighbour to do the practical bit!). Offer hot tea (or other warming liquid) to neighbour.
  • Empty tank is returned to pier where it can then be put back on the ferry and transported back to Stromness on a Wednesday. (Ensure paperwork is handed to ferry crew for shipment of "dangerous cargo").
  • A week later, make strong cup of coffee, take deep breath and asthma medication and open bill. Exhale sigh of relief or reach for alternative stronger beverage dependant on contents.
  • Four or five months later - repeat process!
Our ferry is going away for it's annual marine test and tweak so we shall be without lift-on/lift-off cargo for a couple of weeks. So the farmers were stocking up on animal feed and other essential supplies today. This also has to be winched on and off the ferry.

Friday 3 April 2009

Har.... in "mist" rather than as in "funny". Well Har is how the word sounds, not sure if that is how you spell it?! Anyway early morning today was bright, sunny and warm, then the Har (sea mist) rolled in....... bit chilly now, and the lighthouse has disappeared. I can hear the "Hamnavoe" ferry horn booming above the call of the oystercatchers and curlews. All very mystical out there!

Thursday 2 April 2009

Sea Cat.....

Busy week work-wise so not much time to chat on blog. However it's a beautiful Spring day today so I wanted to share some photos after the snowy ones at the weekend!

Further adventures with Button on the Beach (think she's been reading the story of "The Mousehole Cat" (Mowzer) by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley), as long as she doesn't try and tame the Storm Cat we should be OK..... Button has however been accompanying other folk to the beach too. The kids next door thought she was really funny scooting around when they were on the beach (though she kept a safe distance from the kids!) and now look out for her when they visit the shore!

And then the hens - maybe they are seeking a new summer residence?

And then there's the primroses - oh and - er - Button.....