Saturday, 30 October 2010

School closures, Awards and Case Studies

This has been quite a week.

Our anticipation of the long awaited Thistle Awards Gala Dinner in Edinburgh on the 29th were totally eclipsed by a letter we received on Tuesday 26th from Argyll and Bute Council informing us, as parents of a child at Ulva Primary School, that they propose to close the school at the end of the summer term.

Suddenly any nerves and apprehensions we may have had about going to this fancy 'do' were put sharply into perspective by the thought of the west coast of north Mull losing its only school and community building. For not only is it a really wonderful small school, but it is the focal point for the scattered inhabitants of that coastal area of the island. We (parents and local community) are going to fight it, and have been contacting our Councillors, MSPs, MPs and anyone we can think of, for support.

On a lighter note - Farmer had his photograph taken to accompany a LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) Case Study. The vet came to blood test our cattle for BVD and to train Farmer in the art of Condition Scoring his cows.

And no, the Awards were not cancelled just because we were having traumas with our school. Life had to go on, we had to go to Edinburgh to attend the Gala evening. And what a dazzling glittery affair it turned out to be - with pipers piping as everyone arrived at the EICC, trays of delicious bubbly or cocktails, the Awards ceremony itself in the huge auditorium with comedian/impersonator Ronni Ancona as MC (standing alot of the time in a cloud of dry ice), armies of waitresses and waiters serving 500+ guests (they emerged hurriedly out of the kitchens like ants scurrying in line, carrying the food, to each table, one table at a time) twinkling lights, and thistles (actually Visit Scotland use eryngiums instead of the native thistle...) - there was even a red carpet.

We did not bring an Award home with us, but we were treated wonderfully for being Finalists - lots of people said lovely things, and all in all, it was a great evening and we felt very proud of Treshnish - our 15 seconds of fame!

The red carpet to greet us. (Now that was a first for both of us).

Our table, hosted by Sustainable Tourism category sponsors, Scottish Natural Heritage. 2 of the SNH staff on our table had stayed at Haunn before, so that felt good. You can see the eryngiums.

Some one else's table. You can see the twinkly lights.

And after dinner (it was 11pm before coffee was served) a ceilidh band played and called the reels so enthusiastically it was impossible to talk any more, which was probably a good thing!

Anyway it was a great evening all in all, and on the way home the next day, we composed a letter in our heads to the Oban Times about the school.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Belties on the moor, apples in the orchard, and lots of cheese.

A while since the last post, but Farmer and family packed up the car and ventured south of the border for the first time in a long while. A short break in deepest Somerset, followed by a few days longer in South Devon. The weather was great, the people were friendly and there were local food producers everywhere we turned.

In Devon we stayed in a cottage down a narrow lane, tiny fields and lovely hedgerows and woodlands turning autumn colours - a neighbouring farm made organic apple juice (and cider) from these huge boxes of organic fruit.

The small town of Kingsbridge had small shops now atypical of the usual high street - delis, bakeries, pasty shops, butchers, fishmongers AND a Farmers Market - and as for Totnes, an organic shopper's dream.

Devon strawberries and cauliflowers, on the street in Kingsbridge.

A friend of ours advised us to eat at the Riverford Field Kitchen. Riverford Organics is near Totnes - started out as organic veg box scheme locally in Devon and now franchised all over the UK selling locally grown organic food. The Field Kitchen is on the farm where alot of their organic produce is grown. There is no choice on the menu, though there is always a meat option and a veggie option. So while our vegetarian friend enjoyed cavelo nero calzone, the meat eaters had a main course of quinea fowl cooked with puy lentils and we all shared 5 different vegetable dishes - followed by delectable puddings. I am certainly no food writer, but the food was delicious - Farmer talked about little less for the rest of the day. He said he felt as if he had just eaten Christmas lunch.

We walked on Dartmoor. There were lots of belted galloways, not as many ponies, but still quite a few...

At the end of the holiday, a full day's journey north on Friday brought us back to Oban, where we picked up the quad bike which was being serviced and onwards home. The roads feel much quieter. Certainly the ferry was not even half full.

Woke on Saturday to blue skies and a new lamb in the stack yard.

Brownie, in the foreground, has a new friend called Beauty... as Farmer's daughter was given a ewe lamb, another Zwartie cross, by our neighbour.

Dog walking. Down to the boathouse beach. Lichen on rock face. Crab supper on rock. Spot the dog.

While we were away BBC Landward came to film our hazel gloves fungus. We were not sorry to miss our big chance at being on TV!

Our guests have been doing lots of recycling, and our hens will have a lot of eggs to lay to fill this lot.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Harvesting the last potatoes and the wind

A few last potatoes harvested by Farmer in the sun on Saturday morning. There hasn't been much rain recently and so they have not spoiled for being harvested so late. We picked a huge basket of the very last broad beans (some of them quite leathery) - this year we have had our best ever success with broad beans, making up for the loss of the dwarf beans which disappeared under the forest of chickweed.

These healthy looking pink ones were from seed given to us by a neighbour.

A view of Treshnish headland from Ensay, showing the old school house at Treshnish alongside the farm track.
And down at Haunn, the views were spectacular. Toechtamhor looks out over the autumn colour of the Haunn fields and the faint silhouette of Run is visible in the distance. Our Cheviot gimmers are in the Haunn field, they will go to the tup for the first time in November.

The turbine will be one year old on Tuesday - today the generation meter was at 12,000.7kWh - 2,000kWh more than we had expected to make, so that is really exciting.

How has it been living with the turbine? On the whole pretty positive! Over the year it has generated more electricity than we have used on the Treshnish site (in the office/laundry, Studio, Shian, Shieling, Duill and the farmhouse). An unexpected bonus has been the way it has transformed our experience of strong winds. Instead of lying awake worrying about roof damage, I find myself thinking of the turbine spinning round instead, making something positive out of the gale force winds. And the windier it is the more energy is produced.

Our initial aim was to make enough electricity to cover the usage from all the cottages and the farmhouse in a year, but at that time we thought we were going to be able to put in a very micro micro-hydro scheme (in the end we discovered was not possible) which would have balanced our usage in one go.

So now 5 years on, our sites are lowered, we know alot more about renewable potential here, we are looking at further energy savings, and where/who we buy our energy from.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Warm and dry start to the month of October

The unaltered image of the bracken along side the road to Calgary this afternoon. The glorious orange colour was so strong.

Some blooms hanging on in the garden as if it is not October, but July.

And the leaves are fast disappearing from the trees around the farmhouse but elsewhere on more sheltered parts of the island the autumn colours are beautiful.

As I write the first night of the Mull Rally is racing round the corners between here and Calgary. Long powerful headlights light up the sky. It is the only time of year when we can hear traffic noise at the house - and tonight the wind is blowing the noise straight at us, but it is a novelty.

No school for two weeks starting today. And so Farmer's daughter and friend spent alot of time outside climbing trees and watching Farmer dig a big hole in the garden with the digger.

Calgary campsite was full of Rally spectactors, camping and enjoying the sun, but no one on the beach - for this moment anyway.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Leaves are blowing, calves are sold, wool cheque arrives

Autumn winds are blowing the last leaves from the waving branches of the sycamore trees around the farmhouse, scattering them across the grass and in gathering mounds round sheltered corners. The brood of young chicks are growing up fast and following their mother around the yard. The new brown ewe lambs are happily ensconsed in the field beside Shian and Duill.

Yesterday Farmer sold 10 of this years calves at the annual Mull Cattle Sale. Instead of taking the calves over to Oban market to be sold, the market comes to Mull. Caledonian Marts bring a team of staff over to handle this 'market on the move'.

First they went to Knock Farm, the buyers and the sales team, where they sold a large number of calves, using the farm cattle facilities, after which they drove out to Gribun to the farm there to do the same. Once those two large assignments were dealt with, the team and the buyers came down to Craignure. When we arrived there were quite a few calves already in the pens.

Farmer in the pen, selling 3 Aberdeen Angus calves.

The paint used to put the buyers mark on the calves - each one with a different colour and/or place on the back.

There were only 5 buyers, and sadly for us, it seemed that our lovely black (+ one dun, seen above) Angus calves were not what they had crossed the Sound of Mull for, as we didn't get as good a price as we had hoped for them. Driving home, we struggled to console ourselves with the thought that there is more to being successful than getting a good sale price..but it didn't work. Still on reflection, we have learned something from it - we know that perhaps next year we will do a direct farm to farm sale again, where we agree a price before the calves leave the farm.

There is a joke every year about the size of the wool cheque. Our cheque arrived this week, and this year it is no exception. The fleeces are rolled and bagged, and once the bags are ready, sewn up and labelled, Ewen Stewart come in with their lorry to collect the bags. They take them to the WMB in the south of Scotland somewhere. The amount we are paid for our wool by the Wool Marketing Board barely covers the cost of the shearers, the gatherers and the lunch. Shearing becomes more of a humane treatment for the animals comfort, rather than for the collection of a valued resource. Perhaps someone should start up a wool insulation processing place on the island.
To cheer ourselves up, the homebred heifers look in really good condition, and are so much more mature now. When they were younger, they were inclined to rush about in a gang, but now they are more sedately cow-like. This one will have her first calf in the spring.

The turbine is nearly a year old. It was commissioned on the 13th of October 2009. Today the total generation meter reads 11,371 so it has exceeded its target and we are edging up to the hopeful 12,000 mark. 11 days to go! We have had quotes in for a 3.2kW turbine, and are now waiting for planning permission so that we can install that early next year.

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