Archives for posts with tag: WWOOFER

The first WWOOFers of the year are here and they planted some apple trees today. The two varieties are cider apples: Porter’s Perfection and Stoke Red. Our WWOOFers are American, so they call cider “hard cider” and apple juice “cider.”

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I was slightly pessimistic about getting a spade in the ground as we’ve had a couple of days of frost. We gave it a go and found the ground yielded pretty easily; the bracken blanket kept it at a workable temperature, I think. So off they went, into the orchard extension.

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We’ve grown out of the original west-facing slope and are now on a gentler south-facing slope towards the woodland planting. You can see a couple of the original tree tubes to the top-left of the photo above.

To protect the new plantings from the deer and allow me to form a low goblet shape, the WWOOFers erected wide chicken wire guards instead of using the narrow tree tubes. Once I’ve lopped off the leader I’m going to attempt some grafting. There is a rootstock planted just down the hill from these trees.

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The copse in the garden has snow drops in the early spring, a carpet of bluebells later on, and is full of red campion and other wild flowers in the summer. To encourage all these plants, we’ve started a wild-flower mowing regime, where we cut after the summer wild flowers have set their seed. This year WWOOFer Jan did the cutting and much of the initial grass gathering.

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This sat to dry for a while so we could shake the seeds free before removing the hay. In one of our more optimistic moods, we thought we could maybe save it for use as hay later in the year. We don’t have a building for it so we’ll try primitive haystacks. I think it’ll end up as tree mulch.

For the final gathering we roped in some traditional hay-making labour:

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I think it’s allowed if it’s your own children.

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We’re very close to getting chickens and are going to use them to weed the long border down the side of the front garden. Previous WWOOFers cleared the worst of the overgrowth so the chickens can scratch over the regrowth and gradually wear down the vegetation. Our other options are to put down carpet/barrier fabric and leave it for a few years or dig it and dig it for a few years to get everything out. Neither is very appealing, even with lots of help from WWOOFers. It’s not the most stimulating job and we’d rather have WWOOFers doing other things.

Here is the chicken house in place with the beginnings of the fence.

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We’re going to put electric netting round three sides, but we need a high fence on the wall side to stop foxes jumping in over the wall. The advice we’ve read is to put an overhang with an electric wire along it to discourage fence-climbing. Our neighbours haven’t done an overhang on their chicken run and haven’t had any losses to foxes. We’re concerned that the slightly unconventional fence-wall terminus needs more layers of security.

P1030415 (Large)And the final chicken run, with a very proud WWOOFer Charles.

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We’ve had a planting party, extra WWOOFers (one for a day here and there, one for five days), a rural studies class from Kirkcudbright Academy, and friends dropping in every so often. So that leaves us with 200 or so trees left of the original 1020. Here is the finished marshy area at the far west of the field.

P1030335 (Large)80ish of the remaining trees are to go into the large area next to the existing trees, next to the drainage ditch. The rest of this area was planted by the Kirkcudbright Academy pupils, their teachers, and our WWOOFers in a riot of tree planting (Veronika on the left and Korrasut the five-day WWOOFer on the right):

P1030337 (Large)The final 120 are going into the area next to the burn at a much slower rate; our WWOOFers leave on Wednesday and are cutting the grass and mulching tomorrow.

Veronika and I have begun planting trees. We’re planting up the boundaries with the smaller, shrubbier species to help define the planting areas a bit and to spot any wrinkles in the tree-planting process.

We’re doing the shrubbier species at the edges to grade the boundaries a little, as a natural wood may do. In other words, smaller trees at the edge with the larger ones in the middle, each size taking up its own layer in the available light. By the end of today, we’d done the edge of our biggest planting area ready to be filled in.

P1030331 (Large)So far this is 100 trees in two mornings, which equates to four weeks’ worth of work for me and a WWOOFer. You can see why a planting party is a good idea.

We are getting faster as we improve the planting technique, which means that when people arrive to for the planting party I’ll have a decent process ready to go. This is the current iteration of the process, using at least four people per team, which is my estimate based on the number of people who say they’ll be coming:

  1. The measurer takes the stakes and marks out the location of each tree by quickly stabbing a stake in the ground. This allows all holes and trees to be spotted right from the start by any people following on. We lost a few holes in the marshy ground before starting this technique. The measurer becomes the staker at step 5.
  2. The distributor then distributes the tree guards to each stake position. All the hardware is now where it needs to be. The distributor becomes the protector at step 6.
  3. The digger digs a straight slit (bare round) or a t-shape (grass) next to each stake. The digger can help stake or attach guards when they are finished.
  4. The planter plants a tree in each slit. The planter can help stake or attach guards when they are finished.
  5. The staker positions the stake properly and bangs it in. The stake goes on the windward side of the tree.
  6. The protector places a tree guard over every tree and attaches the guard to each stake. Each guard has a lip that is designed to avoid rubbing (it bends out the way so the tree doesn’t rub on the hard plastic rim). This should be at the top of the guard.

With two people on a team, the measurer becomes the digger then the staker and the distributor becomes the planter then the protector. The first two steps can be done by a few people until their roles are needed, I imagine. As some of this is still theory based on our planting today, it could change.

Veronika finished the morning by planting the banks of the ditch nearest the burn. It looked beautiful with the tiny trees and I’m hopeful it’ll just get better. I’ve promised to send Veronika a photo in 20 years.

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Our corner of Galloway is well populated by ancient monuments with cup and ring mark stones, cairns and castles regularly punctuating the landscape and cluttering up OS maps. We’ve posted before about close encounters with these testaments to human ingenuity thanks to family outings and WWOOFer derring-do.

Veronica coming over all Time Team.

Veronika coming over all Time Team.

Preparing the field for tree planting last week brought Galloway’s ancient history a little closer to home. Our WWOOFer, Veronika, has been helping us to clear the parts of the field that the pigs had only partially turned over. In one of these areas, Matt noticed the pigs had cleared a lot of earth away from a stone and when he went to clear the remaining bracken noticed the stone had several large, circular holes that look man-made. Given our location and the fact there are cup and ring mark stones nearby we thought it might be worth contacting Historic Scotland for advice on what to do next.

A closer look - the shiny object is a 50p piece.

A closer look – the shiny object is a 50p piece.

I assumed Historic Scotland must get loads of emails along those lines every week, so was surprised to find a detailed reply in my inbox first thing on Monday morning, describing our find as “potentially very interesting”. The HS officer’s advice was that the stone could be fragile, having been exposed, and that there could be further archaeology below the ground surface. For the sake of the stone, it’s best not to investigate further and to remove livestock from the area. As the pigs are now in the freezer, there’s not much danger posed from livestock. He also gave us links to records to check whether the stone is already registered.


A close-up of a couple of the possible cup marks

First port of call for fact-checking is Dumfries and Galloway’s Historic Environment Record. Although there’s lots of archaeology in our area marked, including nearby Plunton Castle, there’s nothing marked on our land. The same goes for the national records at pastmap. I could happily spend hours whiling away the time on either site but for our purposes they don’t tell us more than we already know; there’s no record of an ancient monument on our land already.

Some of the stones have other markings that look man-made. Not ring marks but some sort of carving.

Some of the stones have other markings that look man-made. Not ring marks but some sort of carving.

Having that confirmed, our next contact was the Historic Environment Record Officer for Dumfries and Galloway, Andrew Nicholson. Matt spoke to him this afternoon and it turns out he’s been busy working on the status of nearby Plunton Castle. The castle is both listed and a scheduled ancient monument but, as SAM status provides more protection than listing, HER officers are gradually removing listed status from such structures and taking the opportunity to update records and make sure the SAM guidance is being followed. As with our Historic Scotland contact, he was immediately intrigued by our find and asked us to send him pictures. If he thinks it’s worth looking into, he’s going to come along to take a look later this week.

Veronica is pretty pleased with her afternoon's work.

Veronika is pretty pleased with her afternoon’s work.

I have a suspicion that quite a lot of smallholders would be a bit worried about finding something like this in their field. If it does turn out to be a Neolithic site there could be limits on what we do with the field, especially with regard to livestock, and we may have a procession of history geeks wanting to come and check it out. But I’m odd (and a history geek) so I’m desperate to learn more.

We took delivery of the trees this morning, only four days late after a classic delivery farce. Glossing over that, WWOOFer Veronika and I piled 1,000 stakes by the gate, stacked 1,000 tree guards in the field and put 1,000 trees into the garage. It didn’t actually take us very long because it’s all neatly packed into bundles; the real work will be getting all that into the field, separated and planted. Here is what 1,000 trees looks like:

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Not quite a wood yet (just add 15 years and voila).

P1030320 (Large)We’ve got five planting areas, split into wet and dry. Wet areas are getting willows, alder and bird cherry; dry areas are getting oak, birch and hawthorn. The photo shows the trees that are going into our little marshy area at the east of the field: alder (Alnus glutinosa), bird cherry (Prunus padus), goat willow (Salix caprea) and grey willow (Salix cinerea).

Today was the day to take the pigs to Lockerbie abattoir; Thursday is pig day so all the pigs from across the region that are ready for slaughter are sent at once. We were meant to go last week, but the cold weather in the preceding weeks meant that few pigs made it to the abattoir and as a result it was fully booked.

In preparation for the move, we built a temporary area of fencing by the gate (with electric fence netting) and fed the pigs in there every day. We didn’t feed them the evening before the move to improve their receptiveness to following the bucket.

Our driver arrived with the trailer at 7.30am and we had until 8.30am to load our pigs in, Lockerbie being 90 minutes away when towing a trailer and the abattoir closes its gates for new arrivals at 10am. As I’ll describe, the deadline meant a bit more stress towards the end for us and the pigs.

My first mistake was to drop food in a couple of spots away from the gate. This meant the pigs wandered off at a few points to return to those spots to finish up the food. I intended them to stay away from the gate while the trailer was coming in, but ended up giving them some comfort zones to go to when they decided they weren’t bothered about walking up the ramp into the trailer.

I’m using this post as a place to note things I’ll change if we do this again and this is the first one:

1. Put food only in the place you want the pigs to stay for the duration of loading. For example, in the area by the gate, on the ramp and in the trailer.

When the pigs did come to the bottom of the ramp, they were obviously suspicious of it. It’s made of shiny, hard metal and even with the gripper treads on it, they didn’t like the slippery effect it had. I sat in the trailer for a bit with the bucket of food, which didn’t seem enough to get them up the ramp and they wandered off to the other bits of food lying about.

2. Improve the appearance and feel of the ramp. Use bracken, carpet or turf to cover the ramp so the pigs are more comfortable walking up it.

I got them back to the bottom of the ramp for a repeat of the above. We were running out of time, so we resorted to guidance and pushing with pig boards, using the gate as a crush to stop the pigs escaping backwards. This latter tactic was needed because the electric fence netting was totally inadequate at keeping them in by now (not power in it for everyone’s safety).

3. Build a proper stock handling area at the gate or work out a way to build one temporarily for moving animals into trailers. The proper version would involve moving the big gate onto new gate posts and installing two smaller gates to act as a funnel into a trailer. We’d then run post-and-rail down the sides to keep the animals in. The temporary one would use stobs and hurdles with boards at the bottom to create a pen.

We did get one pig into the trailer and she was very happy munching on her food. It wasn’t so bad after all. The other one kept ducking under the gate, because the ground slopes away from the gate and the pigs had dug it lower still. It didn’t seem possible that a pig would fit under, but she did.

After quite a few attempts the second pig got very wary and would hardly come close to even be in range of a good shove. She would come up to individuals and have a tickle or a rub; any indication that someone was approaching her from behind or the side and she dashed off. Slightly wild suggestions were being put forward at this point, such as getting a person at each leg and manhandling her into the trailer (not so outlandish as I thought; I’ve since heard a story about a pig in Portugal where the pig was grabbed by a group and bodily taken to slaughter). She just wouldn’t get close enough for that.

4. Be more patient. Spend more time coaxing and soothing the pigs. Not easy when there’s a looming deadline. Shoving pigs about didn’t sit well with the approach we’d taken up until then.

It was getting a little stressful by this point, so I decided to take one pig to the abattoir and leave the other behind. This was pretty upsetting, thinking of the lonely pig by herself in the field for a week. The other alternative was to leave both pigs until next Thursday and try again. I couldn’t face more of this and resolved that one slaughtered at the abattoir for sale and one slaughtered at home for our use would be the best, least stressful solution. Our neighbour came down towards the end and confirmed his view that home slaughter is by far the best way to do it and that this was the right choice. I felt slightly better.

On the way to the abattoir our driver recommended a home slaughterman, who I phoned right then. He said he could come next Thursday, so that’s what we’ll do. We’ll do lots of jobs in the field to keep pig number two company and get by.

The abattoir itself was full of large, rough pigs, some of whom had docked tails and scars from intensive housing. Our pig had a big pen to herself and plenty of straw, which seemed pretty decent to me. Many of the pigs got better housing in the abattoir than on their farms I suspect. I said my goodbyes and left, still thinking of the pig we’d left behind in the field; this was the worst part for sure. Our wwoofer Stephanie, a vegetarian, bravely came with us and summarised her trip as “Not my favourite day.” She does now know her enemy and can’t say that her wwoofing trip wasn’t eventful.

One final thought about the trailer, which is maybe not compatible with a stock-handling system:

5. Get the trailer into the field and feed the pigs in it for a couple of days beforehand. This is recommended by lots of people and in lots of books; we couldn’t do this because someone else was bringing the trailer on the day.

It didn’t snow here at all last year and our neighbours told us that the freak snow of 2013 was, well, freak snow. So we’ve been telling plenty of people that snow is quite rare here. Our current WWOOFer was a bit disappointed by this, coming from Provence where snow is properly rare. Right on cue, here it is:

P1030011 (Large)Pigs in snow:

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Do you wanna build a snowman? Kester was not impressed with the snowman.

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Cairn Holy I A free, sunny Sunday meant a trip out, so we went to Cairn Holy, a place that’s been on our list for a while. The site is split into two Neolithic burial cairns, each of which is in an area of neat grass enclosed by dykes and a bit of fence. Before we went we looked it up in The ModernĀ  Antiquarian a book which everyone should own. Whenever we have a WWOOFer who expresses an interest in historic sites, we whip it out to astound them with the local prehistory.

Cairn Holy IIOur latest WWOOFer, Mikayla, had arrived the day before so we invited her along for the day. She is from the USA and is keen to see castles and other historic sites, so we took her back to almost the beginning. The weather was lovely up at the cairns and we were too hot at points. The view out to sea was tremendous, almost blinding in the sunlight. It was a good introduction to Galloway for our guest.

After all the excitement, we went to Mossyard for a picnic, as it is close to Cairn Holy. The tide was fully in when we arrived, which left a tiny bit of sand and a lot of rocks. When we left at 3ish we could walk to the first island along a sand bank; the one with the labyrinth was still out of reach.

Mossyard beach