As with most of the country we spent a lot of our lockdown of 2020 gardening.
My greatest solace was cutting the grass, it became my thing (much to Mike’s annoyance). Dare a half inch of grass grow and I was out with my mower. The process of cutting straight lines into our uneven back lawn enabled me to not think about anything else whilst doing it, however with each cut back down the garden towards the chicken run I started envisaging some nice raised beds for vegetables just to the side of the hens area.
Our 15 year old polytunnel finally lost its polythene cover in the storms of 2019 and was due to be re-sited and re-covered in 2020 but then came along the dreaded Coronavirus that put a stop to everything. With our income reduced to virtually nothing overnight any projects we had planned had to go on hold - so with nowhere to grow veg the idea germinated!
We had some old railway sleepers that had been intended for steps but as the veg bed idea formed in my head I thought perhaps we could use them for that job instead. With not too much nagging Mike helped me move and then fix the sleepers in place into an L shaped bed. The next job was to double dig and riddle the soil using our wonderful ‘riddler’ that Mike had made for the garden.
We have 8 large compost bins so that was all moved into the beds and dug through and hey presto all ready to go. Gravel paths were put in and it looked like a veg garden.
It very rapidly filled up with carrots, interplanted with Tagetes to keep the carrot fly away, runner beans, peas (that never get into a pot to be cooked, raw peas straight from the pod is a favourite childhood memory), runner beans, cauliflowers and broccoli.
Some were more successful than others, due to the beautiful hot summer we had the brassicas blew before we could eat them all but the peas and carrots were a great success. We had a trug full of carrots in sand for storage over winter. Runner beans were good but too plentiful so they got handed out to friends along with tomatoes from the greenhouse. By October I was more than “tomatoed” out with chutney, passata and ketchup by the gallon it felt like.
Mike’s pleasure has been his bees. We have native black bees from Colonsay, they are very calm and gentle. You can’t bring bees onto the island from anywhere else other than Colonsay or Tiree as the islands are varroa free ( a bee disease that is present in the most of the rest of the world). Our original hive struggled this year as they lost their queen and despite trying to requeen it they slowly petered out. It sounds like I know what I am talking about but I’m very new to bee keeping.
We went from one hive to three over the course of one weekend. A friend unfortunately got stung on her face and had a bad reaction and the bees needed to be rehomed so they came to us. We had already arranged to buy a nuke of bees from another friend on the island. The honey we took off this year has been stunning and hopefully we will have some to sell in years to come.
Mike, having been a professional gardener all his life, has also enjoyed starting to plant the bank in front and to the side of The Hide. It has taken over 12 months to clean the ground in front of The Hide by digging and digging and digging again the perennial weeds out. It would have been easy just to zap them with chemicals but we don’t use anything in the garden because of the bees.
The large herbaceous border in front of our house is planted up with bee friendly flowers to give colour nearly all the year round.
That brings us on to birds. We are so very fortunate to have had a grandstand view of the Sea Eagles nest for the past few years. In 2019 they nested just in the other side of a stand of trees across the field from us but last year and this they moved their nest to a very precarious looking position in to a tree on our side of the stand so we have been able to watch all the comings and goings of the adults and then the two juveniles.
We have Barn Owls and Tawny owls round and about the garden and then, to our delight, a pair of Long Eared Owls set up home in a plantation near Duart Castle. We didn’t see them ourselves but our nearby neighbour had taken some stunning photos of one sitting on a fence post prior to hunting. The Barn Owl box in front of The Hide has been used and the Barn Owl itself uses The Hide roof as a vantage point.
The ghostly male Hen Harrier floats around on the moss in front of the house and the female regularly hunts the field and bracken. We have a resident Sparrow Hawk who is getting very crafty and sits in the hedge outside our study window watching the blue tits come to the peanut butter jar.
Over the last month or two we have had a Kestrel that seems to have adopted the area as its territory, there is hardly a day when we don’t get to watch it hovering motionlessly in the air.
The highlight of 2020 for me was an incredibly rare visit of a Hoopoe into our garden. A lifelong ambition to see one fuelled by reading the Encyclopedia Brittanica as a child at primary school miraculously came to fruition one sunny afternoon in May 2020. We had taken the dogs for a walk and on our return spotted a bird hopping around in the back garden. I could not believe it was a Hoopoe and of all the gardens in Scotland it came and landed in ours. After a couple of ecstatic hours (well for me ) it left to carry on its journey.
I was nearly upstaged by my friend across the loch by her having an Osprey sitting in her front garden but I still feel I won!
Another first was a Kingfisher in the river leading into Lochdon. It was spotted by a great friend of ours and he rang to casually ask would we like to see it, we dropped tools and shot around the loch and watched it fishing. We aren’t mad bird watchers but that was one not to be missed.