The Smallholding: Tasks Completed

This last week I wrapped up my time at Carol and Graham’s smallholding. It was a sad moment, parting with the people that I had spent seven weeks with. Graham had to work the next morning at 6am so before he went to bed he gave a quick hug, gave his well wishes, and gave me a book written by a journalist exposing some of the food industries worst secrets. The next day Carol took me to the bus station to send me off to the festival for the weekend. We also exchanged quick hugs, and I was on my way. But a few days before I left I took a second to go around and take pictures of the projects I’d completed since I was there.

One of the first, and in my opinion the coolest, projects I completed was the hedge that Graham and I built. Yes, that’s right, we “built” a hedge.

He guided me, hatchet in hand, over a line of willow trees. They aren’t the weeping willow that you might think of, but a tall, straight limbed willow. He stood up on a stand and started hacking at the willows at an appropriate height, but only part way
through. You see, leaving just a bit of the top of the tree attached to the trunk kept it alive. So you are able to bend it at the break, lean it over, and weave the tree into the previously bent trees.

It is apparently an old fashioned way of making a wind-break. In this case it was also keeping the leghorn chickens in their pen. Graham was planning on building another stretch of fence within the chicken pen, but I became obsessed with making the hedge impenetrable by weaving bits of branch among the trucks and yelling, with staff in hand, “You shall not pass!” And they didn’t. At least not for the seven weeks that I was there. I think it was all the threatening.

The next task that Graham set me to was weeding. In the organic world, there is no such thing as a weed killer, except maybe your hands (and perhaps a bit of cardboard). Their front garden hadn’t seen the likes of it for a few years and was taken over by, what I
thought was a lovely flower, the buttercup. It really is quite pretty but it grows like mad, and what is a weed but a flower in the wrong place, anyway?
Now, this was a particularly messy job because I had to watch out for the flowers that were actually supposed to be there. You know, the ones that Carol paid for. I was supposed to avoid those. So armed with a spade, a trowel, and a bucket to put the weeds in, I set to work, and made quite the progress.

 By the end of the Battle of the Garden, the buttercup had been defeated and retreated back to the perimeter. Probably to await their next slow creeping attack.

The next big project that I was a part of was helping to cut, move and organize the firewood. Graham is simply obsessed, or in love with (take your pick) the idea of keeping his house heated during the winter completely through the use of wood stoves. So, keeping an ample supply of fire wood is probably a good way to accomplish this task. He had some trees that had been knocked down in his own forest, as well as some wood he had taken as payment from another gentleman. This made for lots of work.
Some of it was just moving already stacked wood to a drier place, some of it was starting at the beginning by chain sawing it, splitting it, loading it and stacking it. I think we’d moved maybe 6 trailers full of fired wood at the end, and there was still more that needed to be done by the time I left. These are all pictures of wood I helped to split and move.

Another project was moving bales of hay. There were three total left over from winter (they’d been having rough winters so they bought extra hay for the sheep). We moved two. The first one we moved, just the two of us, by pulling it apart and loading it into the trailer. This was after we had moved three or four trailer loads of fire wood. That night I slept for an hour then ate a hamburger, two sausages, a salad, grapes, and other stuff I can’t really remember. Graham suggested moving the other bale of hay and I looked at him like he had stepped on a cat’s head on purpose. I was not amused.  This is a picture of the space which the two bales of hay were.  You can see the third hiding behind an old piece of fence.

Towards the end of my stay there Graham ordered twenty tons of stone, because Carol wanted to put stone into the pig pen, and because he had plans to put it around the chicken coop and down the walking trail. Once the stone was delivered nearly every day consisted of moving stone. At first just he and his nephew Jamie moved the stone until they realized that I am freakishly strong for a girl and I started shoveling my own stone and barrowing it to the needed destination. Moving it across the chicken area and main work area was no problem. It was maybe 30 feet away from the pile of stone. But putting it on the trail through the wood was no joke. You had to wheel it through the work area, through the garden, and down through the path to get to the muddy bits. It was tiring work, for sure. And the pig’s was no lighter, because you had to barrow it down a steep hill while somehow not spilling it all over. I had started to wish I hadn’t told them I was strong. Toward the end of the stay we had nearly completed every area that needed stone. I was quite proud.

Something else done was building a few trenches. As I’m sure you know, it get’s quite rainy in Scotland. To combat the never ending rain from the sky we built trenches for the water to drain through. This consisted digging into the earth, barrowing the earth away, laying stone, laying a pipe, and laying more stone. It was quite the adventure.

Of course there were other small things I did while I was there. A hedge clipping there, a dog walk there. I helped to train their 8 month old black lab, Abbey. She was quite rambunctious and tended to, well, either not hear you or pretend not to hear you. I nicknamed her “little monster,” but I did absolutely loved her. I also made it a habit to take over the chicken feeding and egg lifting. It was my favorite.

And there were many more things that happened while I was there, these are just a few of the larger projects that I was a part of.  I still need to write about the sheep, too.  That took up quite a bit of my time.  Be on the lookout for that 😉


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