an update from the Isle of Rum

Jan 13, 2015

Host Nic Goddard lives with her husband Ady, children Davies and Scarlett, collie Bonnie and a whole host of creatures on their croft on the Isle of Rum. Their lives were completely changed by their first encounter with WWOOFing and we are delighted to bring you news of their progress and plans.

It’s almost two years to the day since I last wrote for the WWOOF UK News. In October 2012 I updated on our family’s move to the Isle of Rum off the west coast of Scotland, to begin a life as crofters. We spent 2011 WWOOFing our way around the UK before settling here on Rum to take on a newly created bareland croft, build a home, business and new life as part of a small community of islanders. As we head into our third winter we are wiser and more ready for the challenges that this time of year brings, although there is of course the old adage of ignorance being bliss! Sometimes the thought of the short dark days, gale force winds and endless days of rain is far worse than the actual reality.

Our plan for our croft is a self-sufficient smallholding-type venture with poultry for meat and eggs, pigs for meat and their amazing ability to clear and condition the ground, sheep for meat and wool, maybe goats for meat and dairy and bees for honey. We would like to eventually grow as much of our own – and our animals’ – food as possible in a polytunnel, raised beds, orchard and cultivated areas of the croft. We would like to be a centre for learning – hosting volunteers (especially WWOOFers!) and providing a venue for training and courses.

Three seasons in we have made some inroads into our long term vision, with plenty of victories and disappointments along the way. We currently have pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese and guinea fowl. We bought in initial livestock with the aim of breeding and rearing subsequent young, with varying degrees of success. Our breeding pair of pigs has had two litters – from which we have enjoyed roast pork and bacon. We have learned not take the young through the winter – the additional feed costs do not translate into much more meat and they struggle with the wet, cold conditions. Despite fairly regular adventures in returning escaped pigs to their pen they are a joy to keep, full of personality and lovely to watch in their family group. They also do a fantastic job of improving the ground – digging out the reeds and rushes, treading in their own manure and helping with drainage, not to mention excavating useful stones which we plan to use for building projects.

The birds have all done well – providing us with a steady stream of eggs during the spring and summer – we sell the excess to other islanders, tourists and through the shop on the island. All of the birds have managed to hatch their own young – sadly none of them have proved particularly successful at rearing them to adulthood though – they are preyed on by ravens, crows, eagles and this year an owl took one of our ducklings! A winter project is better bird housing to create some nursery pens to move broody birds to hatch their young in relative safety. In true permaculture fashion two broody hens hatched a clutch of chicks this summer in an old repurposed washing machine so building materials will not necessarily be conventional – on a remote island you use whatever you can get!

 

We have created a walled garden, well more of a fenced garden with a dead hedge (upright stakes supporting woven dead wood cuttings) surrounding twenty or so raised beds. These have been constructed from scavenged wood from around the island – pallets, old door frames and skirting boards, offcuts from various projects. We did well in onions, garlic, broccoli, cabbage and potatoes from there and have permanent beds given over to rhubarb and asparagus. The rest are all under a mulch of grass clippings and we’ll be adding some seaweed from the beach too. Improving the very poor soil here on the croft will be a long term work-in-progress – protecting our crops from our own chickens and turkeys has also proved a challenge. Next season we will build some netted frames to cover them. We have a very large fruit cage built with old metal fence panels which protect our soft fruit bushes and young fruit trees from deer on the ground and birds from above. The polytunnel has provided a good stream of produce throughout the year with a bumper crop of tomatoes, strawberries, herbs, salad, cucumber, peppers, chillies and peas. We have a very productive herb and edible flower spiral too, all grown from seed.

This year we hosted our first WWOOFers and volunteers. It was fantastic to be able to share knowledge, ideas and get input and inspiration. Willing hands helped with various small projects and we were reminded anew of what an awesome organisation WWOOF is and how rewarding both WWOOFing and hosting are for all parties. 

Which brings me rather neatly to our plan for 2015; along with continuing our animal and produce plans for the croft next year we are hoping to build a cob house on our croft. We went on a cob building course this year and have already built a cob pizza oven using clay and sand from the croft land. We have finalised our house plans and will be spending the winter digging out the footings and putting in drainage. Then in spring we will be looking for volunteers to come and help us gather materials and build. We are looking for help from anyone willing to get muddy – from experienced builders to curious novices looking to learn new skills. If you are available for a week or more in the spring and summer and interested in finding out more please check out our blog, check out our WWOOF host listing Croft 3, Isle of Rum or email nic@isleofrum.com

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