As soon as the snow melted, spring arrived on our little island and it has been gladly welcomed. Suddenly the air is full of the sounds of bird calls once again, the willows in our garden are bursting into a mass of fluffy white buds and there are huge drifts of snowdrops everywhere.
Spring means that I need to get busy in the garden. I grew a lot a lot of vegetables last year, but this time round, I want to grow more varieties and get some fruit started.
More fruit and veg will need more space, so I will be starting two new, no dig beds, as well as giving the existing ones a bit of a boost.
When we moved to the island, there were no existing veg beds on our land. Our 1900’s farmhouse was part of a larger farm, which has been split and sold to various people over the years. We did discover several blackcurrant bushes hidden away in our woodland garden though, so I am planting our new fruit bushes, in amongst the shelter of the trees as well.
I feel slightly doubtful that they will grow there, the ground becomes waterlogged during the winter, because of a thick layer of moss. The soil underneath is like clay and yet we had a good crop from the blackcurrant bushes, which had not been cared for, for some years.
So I have planted redcurrants, gooseberries and blueberries and I am keeping my fingers crossed. If they seem to be struggling, I can always move them.
I also promised my son, that I would get some rhubarb started this year, but I have put that in the shelter of our small, walled kitchen garden. At the beginning of last year, this space was just lawn, surrounded by fuchsia and roses. I decided that it was the perfect place, to start our vegetable growing adventure. I have given the rhubarb it’s own small bed, where it should have space to grow plenty, for our hungry family.
We grew some leafy veg and peas in this bed last year, but it didn’t do as well as some of the others. I think that this was because I didn’t prepare it as well as I should, so before starting my rhubarb, I decided to put that right.
First I added a layer of partly broken down compost from our heap. I added some leaf litter here as well. Then I added a sackful of veg scraps and little cardboard pieces. I had some winter purslane and kale left in our hugelkultur bed, so I pulled those and popped them on as a last layer before the paper.
I used a thick layer of wet paper, over the whole bed and then made holes just big enough for my rhubarb plants. Finally, the whole bed got a good thick mulch of seaweed.
I am starting some seaweed tea and as soon as it is ready I will add some to the rhubarb patch. I want it to get as good a start as possible, so that next year we will be able to enjoy it!
With that done, I turned my attention to improving the health of two of my veg patches from last year. They did very well, considering that it was the first year, but I knew very little when I started and I want to take the time to put good thick layers down now.
These beds are much bigger than the rhubarb patch, taking up half of the kitchen garden together, so I needed to use something that I had plenty of. I started with a thick layer of last season’s grass. We allow the grasses to grow waist high in large areas of our land, so I have a good supply that has been cleared, ready for this years new growth.
Another bed layer that I have in plentiful supply, is leaf litter. Two thirds of our land is covered in trees. I didn’t get round to raking all of these up at the end of autumn, so I was able to collect bucketfuls this weekend.
I really must invest in a wheelbarrow this year, it would make my work much easier!
The leaf litter around our sycamores, was particularly good. Here it is mixed with old growth from the great wood-rush which grows in a thick blanket, as well as ferns. It really had at least a couple of seasons worth of litter and was well broken down, so I mixed it in with the willow leaves from the rest of the garden and added it to the beds.
Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to prepare two new beds in our kitchen garden, which will then be completely full, apart from paths.
This year, I am also starting a garden full of plants for use in my basketry and natural dyeing. I am adding in a few flowers that are good for drying or using in paper making. Rather than a dyers garden, it is really a complete craft garden, so I am allocating a large portion of the land to the side of our house for it. I have a few rose bushes to remove, but most will remain to give shelter to the young plants from the wind. I will also be adding some New Zealand flax, which as well as being excellent for weaving, creates a good wind block.
There is a lot of work to do in this area, but with the first of the young flower seedlings already started in our little indoor growing space, I really need to get going over the next few weeks.
Statice and coreopsis seedlings are already peeping through the soil, whilst my woad seeds have started the long process of germination, first in warmth, then in the fridge and finally back to warmth. I am keeping my fingers crossed that they grow. I am still a very inexperienced gardener and this process is new to me.
The spring sunshine has been filling our little indoor growing room, which is quickly filling up with seedlings. Chard and spring onions which I planted in the winter, are now putting on a spurt of growth, while the broad beans and radishes that I started a couple of weeks ago, are up and doing well.
It is still too cold for germination in there, so our house is full of seed trays. As soon as they poke through the soil, they get transferred to the growing room.
My thoughts are now turning to making more cold frames and cloches for their first days in the garden and this year I am well armed with garden fleece, ready for any unexpected cold snaps.
I am really happy to be growing things again and I feel like I am waking up from winter as well. Growing a garden full of plants is such a positive thing to do and I can’t wait to see what we manage to achieve this year!
I thought that I would share this little tutorial on how to make felt beads. They’re really easy to make and are also a great way to use up little scraps of felt.
Older children will be able to make these for themselves, or you could make up a bagful of these, for little ones to lace onto necklaces.
I always keep even the tiniest scraps of felt, from any of our craft projects. They often prove to be useful as an eye or nose for something. With my daughter’s birthday coming up, I wanted to make her some jewellery, but our modest birthday budget, was quickly used up buying three beautiful books to inspire her. Over the years, I have come to realise that there are always resources around, if you look for them. I remembered making a few fabric beads, several years ago, just as an experiment – so I got out the scraps!
The beads that I had made before, were quite time consuming and although I have got a lot quicker at working over the years, I knew that I would have to simplify them a bit. After all, I have lots of other birthday presents to make out of scraps and not a lot of time to do it.
I have made paper beads with my kids in the past. You may have too – the ones where you get a long triangle of paper, glue it and roll it around a cocktail stick. I thought that this would work well with felt, minus the glue!
So here’s what you will need……….
-Lots of little felt scraps
-Something to wrap them around (I used a wooden kebab stick)
That’s it, we’re keeping it simple here!
Begin, by cutting your felt scraps into a long triangle shape, without the point at the top (as shown). I made mine approx. 5cm long.
Thread your needle with some embroidery floss (2 strands will be plenty) and knot the end. It’s good to use contrasting colours for the stitching, it makes the beads more decorative.
Starting with the fat end of the triangle, wrap it tightly around your stick.
If you find it a bit fiddly, pop a pin in to hold it together, while you make the first couple of stitches.
I just held it, because once you have done the first two or three stitches, it’s secure anyway.
Push the needle inside the bead, by the stick, coming out at the top of the triangle (as shown below). This will hide the knotted end inside.
I have used blanket stitch for mine, it’s one of my favourite stitches and I use it a lot. It gives a nice neat edge. If you’re not very confident with a needle, you could just use running stitch or whip stitch.
If you want to use blanket stitch, as I have, here’s how.
Insert the needle into the felt (making sure to catch the second layer of felt, as well as the top layer), about 3mm from the edge.
Bring the needle back out at the edge, just in front of the thread (as shown below). It helps to keep the length of thread to the left as you’re working and to work from right to left, along the edge that you want to secure.
Draw the needle all of the way through and then put the thread back over to the left, ready to start your next stitch.
Okay, back to the beads!
Use about three stitches to secure the top edge. Now it’s all held together, and easier to work with. I skipped the corner and continued working blanket stitch along one edge, right the way round the bead.
If you have enough thread left, just finish your blanket stitch row and bring the needle back out at the opposite side of the bead (shown above). Then work blanket stitch, back round the bead, until you get back to where you started.
If you’re running low on thread, just knot a knew piece and insert the needle inside the bead as before, coming out on the unstitched side.
When you want to knot your thread to finish off your stitching, push the needle behind the last stitch, pull it through to make a small loop. Then, put the needle through the loop and pull tight.
You can do this twice to make it really secure.
Then push the needle into the felt right next to your knot, going through all of the layers and coming out inside the bead.
You can slip it off the stick to cut the threads short inside the bead, (be careful not to cut any stitches!).
You could just leave the beads like this, but I would suggest adding some more decorative stitches around the middle of the bead. It helps to slip it back on the stick for this.
The decoration is really up to you. Use your creativity. You could make them all different, you might stitch on some seed beads or sequins, for a bit of sparkle.
If you want to make them exactly like mine, here’s how to do the stitch that I used.
As before, bring the needle through from the inside of the bead (to hide the knot), coming out, where you want to begin the stitch.
Next insert the needle back into the felt, adjacent to where you began and about 4mm apart.
Pull most of the thread through, but stop when you have a little loop.
Bring the needle back through the felt, where you want the point of the stitch to be, (we’re making a V shape).
Pull the thread through, making sure to have passed the needle through that loop.
It’s good to note here, that these stitches are only decorative – so you only need to sew through the top layer of felt.
To complete the stitch, push the needle back into the felt, just the other side of the V’s point and come out in the middle of the V.
Finally, make one running stitch up to the V’s point.
I hope that makes sense! It is really hard to describe stitching in words without it sounding really complicated. Just follow the photos and you should be fine!
Trim any thread ends from the holes of your bead and your done.
It’s a nice little project to have on the go. Make up a little basket with felt triangles, thread etc and just do a couple here and there when you have time. They mount up quite quickly, it only took me a couple of evenings to complete this necklace – stitching while I watched programs about permaculture gardening.
Oh, and this is how the finished necklace turned out. The cloud pendant is a logo that my daughter designed, for a series of books that she is writing and a mobile bakery, that she wants to have when she is older.
February has arrived and with it, the celebration of Imbolc. So I thought, that I would have a go at making a Brigid’s Cross, with some rush from our garden. Common Rush is traditionally used for the making of these crosses in Ireland and fortunately for me, it grows just about everywhere in the Orkney Islands!
I am guessing that there are a lot of people eagerly awaiting spring this year, so as we have reached the half-way point between winter solstice and the spring equinox, I thought that I would share this little tutorial with you.
If you don’t have access to common rush, just experiment with what you have – paper drinking straws would work really well. I began by trimming the ends of my rush and making sure that all of my strands were a workable length.
Keep the first length straight and bend the second length in half, around the first.
Continue to fold each length in half, around the previous folded length of rush.
I worked in an anti clockwise direction.
Take some time, to keep the weaving tight in the middle – you don’t want gaps!
I continued in this way, until I had 5 lengths of rush on all four sides of the square.
When you are ready to place the last length of rush, push out the folded piece that runs at right-angles to it. Just enough, that you can tuck the ends of the last strand through.
Then pull both of these strands carefully into place, again making sure that all of your weaving is tight.
This will have locked your cross together.
Finally, you will need to tie each of the four ends with some twine or yarn.
Pull nice and tight for a good shape.
Then all that remains is to trim the ends of your rush approx. 2cm from the ties.
Because this cross has been made with fresh rush, it will shrink as it dries, leaving gaps. If you want to make a cross that will last, you will need to use stems that have already been dried and soak them for a short while beforehand.
Have a go! It’s really simple and a great craft to do with kids in preparation for spring.
Having lived in the Orkney Islands for 16 months now, we have experienced all of the seasons and while spring has to come in top place, winter is definitely my second favourite.
I remember that before moving here, I read some very depressing accounts of Orkney winters, (so much so, that it put doubts in my mind about moving up), so it’s time to set the record straight.
Whilst it is true that the hours of daylight in winter are very short, the uninterrupted skyline offers so much light, especially on blue sky days. Before moving here, we lived in a victorian town house in Cornwall and because we were hemmed in by houses on all sides, it seemed so much darker. The winter temperatures here are mild too. The gulf stream brings humid air with with it, keeping these lovely islands much warmer than other places on the same latitude. I have to add here though, that when the weather gets wild, the very strong winds will chill you to the bone.
Similarly to Cornwall, rain is much more common here in the winter than snow. It is usually accompanied by those high winds, which lash it across the windows and make you glad to be cosy indoors.
The storms disrupt the ferry services, as they make it unsafe to sail. The ferry crews here are very experienced though and usually at least some of the days sailings, will get through as planned.
We live close to a peat bog and our land quickly becomes water-logged in the winter, but it doesn’t stop us getting outside at every opportunity. In between the spells of bad weather, the sky is an intense blue and the winter sun seems to make the landscape glow.
I love the beach in the winter. There is something so captivating about the power of the sea and it really puts on a show during the winter months.
We love to watch the local seals enjoying the waves, seemingly unbothered by the fact that they are being tossed about. It’s like watching holiday makers in the wave pool, at a water park!
It’s a great time of year for beach-combing too and we always go hunting for treasures after a storm. Sea pottery and mermaids tears (sea glass) are plentiful, along with bits of driftwood, rope, barrels and other useful rubbish. The water is much too cold for us, but there are several swimming groups up here, who swim in the sea all through the year. I prefer to be well wrapped up and dry!
A seal pup took up residence on our favourite beach this winter. Initially we were worried that it was in trouble, having first spotted it after a bad storm. After chatting to Orkney seal rescue and sending them some photos of the pup, they put our minds at rest. Apparently pups spend just four weeks, getting fat on their mothers milk, before being left to fend for themselves. They then spend much of their time sleeping and surviving off those fat supplies until they have finished moulting. Finally hunger drives them to their new life in the waves.
The seals aren’t the only wildlife to enjoy here, through the winter. The tidal pools, always have life in them and it seems to be a particularly good time of year for finding starfish. There are still plenty of birds to enjoy, who like us, head to the beach after a storm. The fields and the sky are full of Greylag geese, who’s calls seem like such a part of life here.
We have been delighted to see the local otters on several occasions this year. Such a delight to watch them out, looking for their next meal, often unbothered by our presence.
I am yet to see an orca myself, but many have been sighted up here this season and my eye constantly scans the horizon for sight of a fin or tail!
Our children were a little disappointed, when they realised that they wouldn’t be getting the snowy winters that mainland Scotland enjoys. Every once in a while there is great excitement, when a flurry of flakes suddenly appears, or a big hail storm, or even a hard frost. We’ll take whatever kind of sparkling white we can get!
Whatever the weather, the winter months here also seem to be power cut season. We are told that these have traditionally lasted for days, but things have improved considerably in recent years. Although fairly frequent, they usually last anything from a few minutes to a few hours.
You quickly get used to being suddenly plunged into darkness and keep candles, lanterns and torches placed strategically around the house. Portable gas heaters and camping stoves are also handy to have in case they’re needed.
So winter time in the Orkney Islands isn’t a dark, bleak, merciless season. As you would expect, there are days when the weather keeps you indoors and the lights have to stay on most of the day, (this is winter after all!). But there is plenty of time for adventures and soaking up that precious winter sunshine and I like it!