Wednesday 17 August 2011

Soggy Glasgow

We’ve just had an interesting week near Glasgow.

We’ve been staying with a lovely lady called Echo ( really!) who has a lot to teach about market gardening. She’s run an organic veg box scheme for about 20 years(probably more actually), has gorgeous goats, delightful ducks and a couple of geese who weren’t actually scary. She also has a couple of dogs.

The goats are lovely- she has 11 of them. Apparently goats normally live to about 12 years, but she expects hers to live to 15 usually. Her goats are deep-littered (mucked out annually) so she can no longer sell the milk, and two of her milkers never had kids- they just decided they wanted to produce milk (I think that’s quite unusual!). Big One loves animals, and the goats were particularly interesting for her here. The goats have a regular feed (which Big One just about knew how to mix by the end of the week), alfalfa if they’ve been kept in ( they don’t like getting muddy wet feet) and daily ‘goat treats’ of perhaps willow cuttings,or rosebay willowherb, or currant bush cutting, but definitely not rhododendron- its poisonous to them. We tried to be around for at least some of the evening feeding and milking, and there were tears on our day off when we didn’t make it back in time. Packing up on our last day went slower as we girls got involved in the morning milking- Big One and I getting a final milking practice in. We’re quite sure we’ll have a couple of goats- Big One just has to learn to like the taste of the milk! Fresh goats milk doesn’t taste strongly- and is very different from supermarket goats milk. I’m looking forward to learning how to make feta cheese one day ( I’m remembering Pat’s cheese from Canon Frome!).

We were all welcome to teabreak and lunch, and the meals were really delicious. Echo has the smallest kitchen I’ve seen in a house- there isn’t a wall long enough for the sink and drainer to go along, they’re set at an angle into the windowsill! She and other volunteers made delicious soups, salads, we had our first duck egg omelette- fabulous. The times varied, so we generally had tea-break as lunch, and as lunch could be 4pm some days, that was an early tea! Little One’s nap often just nicely fit in between shared meals.

The work we were doing was all interesting, and Echo is very good at explaining things. She uses rock dust to improve her soil (and goats!) and I hope DH will blog about subsoiling so I can learn about it- the downside to one of us working is we both don’t learn everything. He also reckons he knows how to hoe properly, and wants to buy a good one ( not a dutch hoe). We did all work together one evening making a handmade ‘bale’. It was more a net or bag of hay, but it was really interesting to see what we could do without a baler. The girls did a great job tramping down the hay- less goat food to buy in!

Her place is on the edge of Hardgate, with a rough estate nearby. Unfortunately that means everything must be carefully locked up, and they’ve been vandalised in the past. The dogs aren’t vicious, but they are expected to look aggressive to strangers, and the younger dog hadn’t experienced young children staying there before. Nothing happened worse than growling, but for once the girls becoming more confident as the week went on made things more tense, rather than better.

We also had our wettest week so far. We may have had rain on a similar number of days in a week, but this rain was fairly constant, with heavier spells as well. Bits of Glasgow flooded! This has definitely been the muddiest week- Its one thing having muddy paths, but when under the tent is so squelchy the bed sinks, it really is rather wet. We were camped near the pond- thankfully the drain for that worked well, and we weren’t flooded any more than the rest of the field!

Echo has planning permission for some great communal spaces (still waiting for some official paperwork)- but this week the inside space was a bothy she cleared out, so there was just enough space for her and the volunteers to have teabreak and lunch together. Tables aren’t great for the girls to play on, and there wasn’t the floor space in there to play, though we were very welcome to use the bothy. We had the fire going ( this is the first time we’ve really needed the fire during the day, and its August in Scotland!) and the girls were happy playing in the tent. Not surprisingly, they weren’t always keen to get out in the rain! This really brought home to me how lovely our tent is, but also how important to us somewhere more sheltered from the weather is- a house, a caravan, a shed- somewhere relatively clean and dry for the kids to play about in. It was just bad luck our worst mud and rain happened in one of the few places we’ve been without child-friendly shelter. We were welcome in Echo’s living space- but she hardly has any indoor space and her younger dog really wasn’t happy when the girls came in (so neither was I).

This is the only place I’ve really been aware of business pressures. One of us was working, with the other expected to be with the girls and the girls not to distract them, or anyone else working. This was a little tricky, not least that Little One naps in the afternoon, and Big One doesn’t. Thankfully it wasn’t a problem that Big One had to be around DH working in the afternoons. At other places we’ve been able to be more flexible, with both of us working some of the time, and then sometimes needing us both for family things in ‘work’ time. That didn’t work for us here. Echo had specific instructions (we were there to learn!) on what needed doing, and tasks were completed so I didn’t feel I could go back to a job from earlier on my own, I’d need to check first. Echo is a very busy lady, instructing a team of volunteers who vary most days- a couple of longer term WWOOFers, a couple of employees, and a variety of weekly volunteers; but this sometimes meant a wait for the instructions or clarification of the instructions once you got started. We mulched the wrong currant bushes (Echo thought one guy had done some the week before and he hadn’t, so didn’t know where they were), we missed a patch of peas that needed picking (the person instructing us didn’t know about the other patch). I suppose a possible solution is Echo having a deputy, someone who is there full time and she trains up to be her assistant and let her be in two places at once! I don’t quite know how that’d work in real life though.....

The original plan was to stay for three weeks, but we and Echo agreed after 1 week, that was enough. The last day we had a day off and visited old friends in Edinburgh- lovely for us, great for the girls, and Echo said she realised just how aware she’d had to be of where the dogs were and what was happening. DH and I both loved the work and what we were learning, but the hours (evening milking wasn’t finished until 7 pm sometimes- and I forgot the WWOOF book said 9 hour work days), the dogs, the weather and the mud all together made this not right for us as a family. We definitely want to go back, but that’ll be in a few years when Little One is older (and the younger dog has grown up too). I think Echo’s a lovely person, a great host, very generous with her time and even sent us on our way with a delicious veg box. Her place is great for individual WWOOFers, and I think a family with older children would find it brilliant too.

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