Bees, Uncategorized

Stayin’ alive

Lockdown restrictions have changed again. So I can go to a pub but I can’t have two friends (from separate households) come into my home? I can mix with some but not others. Hmm, ok. Or maybe I just haven’t read the new rules properly to understand them. But I’m not the only one with communication issues though. The bees are currently getting fed sugar syrup at the moment (I keep wanting to call it sugar soap; something entirely different but it rolls off the tongue easier). And they are drinking it (syrup, not the soap) like there is no tomorrow. Now, there may not be any tomorrow for some of the bees, but at the moment, they want sugar and they want it now.

All well and good until our weather picked up a bit. The sun shone and the midges disappeared (well, kind of). So you open windows to enjoy the warm air. As a newbie (no pun intended), I didn’t think anything of it. No issues before in opening windows in September on a sunny day. But now we have bees. And we had a plate of beeswax on the kitchen counter, melted down to remove the last of the honey.

The bees decided that they should implement some of the lockdown rules and avoid overcrowding in the hive. And it felt like half a hive divided itself to set up an ‘all you can eat buffet’ in our kitchen with the wax. Can’t socialise at home but you can head to a pub. So they went out for dinner. An all you can eat buffet with a discount if you not only invite a friend, but bring another with you. And they just kept coming. The place was buzzing. Loudly. Thankfully no Covid police went past the window at the time to hand out fines (honestly Officer, it may be in my kitchen but I did not organise it!!).

Although the bee rave was in full swing, I decided it was time to break up the party before more came. The beeswax was quickly moved outside and on seeking advice from an expert, opened the windows fully to allow the bees to yes, come in but get back out again while we waited for the hive’s contact tracing team to start notifying the masses that the wax was now on the bird table (now known as the bee table to the Mini Crofters) and NOT in the kitchen.

The information slowly filtered through; the bees finally seemed to decide it wasn’t as much fun anymore and they needed to head elsewhere. As evening fell, the beeswax outside was the only sign of a party. A fairly tidy lot I must say. The kitchen was back to its usual hum drum, the bee’s flight path outside the window stopped, the sun soon set and stillness returned to the air.

Until the following day. And today. We have tried to have the windows open but no, the bees like the kitchen. Today wasn’t as busy (with bee traffic) but still, their communications team need to up their game. The bee table has now been moved away from the house to see if that helps and the beeswax has been hidden away. Let’s hope the long party weekend is over for the bees.


On the air

So the email went like this:

“I work on the Mornings programme on BBC Radio Scotland. On Monday the 27th July we’re going to be speaking to Donald Macsween about his new series of An Lot and I would like to widen this out a little and have a bit of a look at modern crofting. Ideally we’d like to speak to a female crofter who is relatively new to it. Could you recommend anyone like that who we could possibly speak to?”

So that’s when I come in. My response? Aye, that’s fine, but bear in mind I have no media background like MacSweenie (ok, I’ve done two days of filming with a German film crew but that’s not really a ‘be up there and go live on the radio’ deal). MacSweenie is on Series 5 of ‘An Lot’, he’s confident speaking AND he’s bilingual (this goes back to the David and Goliath blog when we were both shortlisted for the Young Crofter Awards in 2018).

However (as always, there is always a however). If it means helping people to understand that they don’t have to be from a family that have been in agriculture for the past 700 years, then ok, I’ll sign myself up.

The wee ‘research chat’ a week ago was fine. Easy chatting, nae bother. About three days before the event I started to wonder what I had done. Two days before I started thinking of question/answers they may ask. The day before I did a blunder; I listened to the programme by the same lady. And then I really wanted to know why I had agreed. I don’t really listen to Radio Scotland. Any programs that have call ins are an instant ‘turn-the-radio-off’ deal for me. But I had gone and signed up for this.

Insomnia and I are often pals, catching up frequently; the night before was no different. The brain rewriting answers to potential questions. It was becoming worse than preparing for an interview. This would be on the phone. I hate phones (I am much more likely to go round and tap on someone’s door than make a phone call).

The minutes were etching toward the time they said they would call. It ticked past. I had already picked up that each topic was snippets. No depth, no background. Just fire and run. The radio discussion was currently on gardening. Just started to think I had the wrong day, or maybe that they were running out of time so decided to skip it…I could be in luck. Fat chance, the phone rang.

All that to say, yes, it did feel like I was back at school in a French oral exam and yes, I was introduced by my maiden name (and no, people can still not pronouce it). At least both MacSweenie and I spoke of deadstock. He mentioned the abattoir. And I was about to post a blog about the abattoir. Which funny that, the German film crew got a trip to the abattoir and now Radio Scotland tie in to the abattoir.

And voila, it was over. Thankfully my mind pulled a blank screen over what I said so I can’t really reflect on it. I’ll go back to talking to the cows. Oh, and don’t make bread the morning of an interview, it will rise quicker than you have ever seen and will need the oven about, ohh, 15 mins before you’re on the air…


On the road again.

During lockdown, the bicycle and Thule chariot were in frequent use. But for this adventure, I needed the livestock trailer and although I’ve improved my cycling fitness, I am not in the iron lady category.

As Radio 2 hit speakers, I heard the road traffic report. Incidentally, they were all down south. So as I came across a hold up on the A95 into Aviemore I was tempted to ring them up. Yep, there were a small herd of cattle frolicking along, enjoying the gorse bushes while traffic come to a complete halt in both directions. On my left was an open gate into a field with another group of cattle. Not a field that they looked like they should be in, but never mind, that group weren’t trashing the lush, green growth. No, they were looking bemused at their new spectator sport of the Cairngorm version of Spain’s running the bulls. As the cows finally moved off to the side, traffic started to gingerly creep past. The deliberate slow moving traffic seemed to attract the attention of a few steers; they decided to stand like VOSA inspectors, checking license plates and road tax of passing vehicles.

There was no sign as to where they had come from and I couldn’t tell who they belonged to. Just because I was pulling a livestock trailer didn’t mean they were mine either (I got a look from one car that seemed to imply that). However, just a bit further on I spotted a quad bike racing for the road, the driver looking specifically for something (and not a lottery ticket search, but a ‘let’s stand up and peer frantically in both directions’ look). Figured I had just lost my chance to ring Zoe Ball to let them know about the major traffic jam for the road report. It may not have been a ring road round some major city, the slip way that’s blocked again or the lorry getting a wheel changed but it stopped traffic both ways and caused some excitement. Albeit, the traffic hold up was about three one way and five the other. Pretty major for those of us who haven’t been out much. Wish it had been the most exciting part of the day, but no, t’was merely the aftermath of the rollercoaster ride with one of our cows.

I was down that neck of the woods to drop a cow off at the abattoir. And it was Wild Thing (aka Breena) who was getting taken. Yes, that’s right. After two years of having more than enough stressful situations with her, a winter where she bullied several of the others yet looked like she was under duress, and her ability to show that for whatever reason, she didn’t like me, I had given her adequate warnings but to no avail. So she was told her she would be going. Which she did, just not quietly. And I still have a slight shudder when I go near the livestock trailer.

Covid-19 has affected one or two things in the croft and we now have to pre-book the butcher ages in advance. Add to this was her age, (being slightly older), which meant I couldn’t take her to my preferred choice of abattoir, but to the most ill thought through abattoir I have every seen (ok, I’ve only seen two but really, who designed the access!). Entering with a livestock trailer and having to turn the vehicles to off-load livestock is equivalent to getting a hippo to reserve into a hoola-hoop and ask it to do a pirouette. Once you are successful at off loading the beasts, you have to do some funny angled reversing to either drive out or reserve the entire way through a ‘C’ curve entrance. All do-able, just not the easiest with two kids in the car and a beast in the trailer when you want it to be calm and peaceful.

However, in this instance, I was more than happy to leave the job until the Crofter got back. Not necessarily because of the manoeuvring in this instance (I’m not bad for pirouetting a hippo in a hoola-hoop) but it was the idea of having to get Breena loaded and unloaded that terrified me. So we decided it would wait. But then I got the offer of a helping hand, someone else who could come, keep their distance but still help me load her. So I got a bit of courage and booked her in.

Loading her up went better than anticipated. She gave a final kick in my direction, a good shake of the head and a snort through the nose like a charging bull. The door was shut and I breathed a sign of relief. Except, where’s the entertainment when things go perfectly? I nipped up to the house to grab a coffee and to cancel my helping hand who was about to arrive. By the time I got back to the pickup, the trailer looked like it was holding a raving disco. I had been about to check the back lights but when she saw me near by; the bang off the side made me quickly change my mind. She was communiting her feelings perfectly. I set off. Pulling forward two feet and something wasn’t right. The jockey wheel had dropped and was now stuck. I rolled back slightly to take the pressure off; it was now the opposite way and still a problem. The vehicles now looked like they were swing dancing while the disco was still in full throw in the trailer. Eventually I got it up. The disco rocking of the trail now looked more akin to a Calmac sailing to Lewis on a stormy day. If the police wanted to check the back lights up close I was more than happy, I’d let them decide and figured it was safer to just get moving.

Arriving at the slaughterhouse, both of us were breathing slightly more normally. The hoola-hoop manuver was going pretty well until a sudden head appeared from a door and wanted me to change the angle. Slight problem was I couldn’t understand everything he was saying. That peeved him off. I was now slightly unnerved. Not only that, a Food Standards Inspector had also appeared at the back of the trailer with a clipboard. Now I realised why the abottoir man wasn’t quite himself. Before I got round the back to warn him, he had the back of the trailer down. Breena started to walk straight off. I breathed out thinking my time there would be short and sweet and what was all the stress. But no, one hoof off the ramp and she decided, fat chance, and high tailed it back in. Abattoir man told me to try pushing her through from the hatch. Upon opening the door and giving her a prod from behind, she pirouetted on the spot faster than I or Mr Hippo and charged at the open hatch, eyeball to eyeball before I managed to slam it shut. I glance up to find Inspector Man had dived behind me and Abottoir Man was running off up the entrance road. My brain,

‘Where pal, are you going?!?’ Heart rate now on a cardiac zone according to my Fitbit.

Give him his dues, he was racing up to shut the gates before she managed the Great Escape. How he thought I could win against a charging cow I have no idea.

‘Bit of a wild one?’, he said when he got back (Inspector Man still behind me).

‘Aye, why else am I bringing her to you?!’

‘Hmm, just poke her through the holes’ was the reply I got from a less peeved off man. And with one of us on each side she went straight in. Abattoir Man sprinted up to close the gate behind her and I sprinted round to close up the trailer and be out of there as soon as I could. Well, I would have done if I could have turned hippo in the hoola-hoop properly. But no, that day, I had to reverse the trailer the full distance back to the road. Good job I can reverse a trailer better than pirouetting it in the space of a hoola-hoop.


Eagle and pidgeons

Our newly planted fields has been getting visitors. Four legged bandits looting the place under the cover of darkness. Picking on young, self defenceless seedlings. They are not part of any union to represent them, can’t afford a lawyer, so they are under stress. Not only that, word has been spreading among the pigeon population and gangs have been congregating in the area during the evenings.

Now, I’m not about to invest both money and hard labour into a field for the benefit of our small herd and lose it to pigeons and deer.

But they know what they are doing. I can’t see the field from the house. Even when I can see it, I cant always access it with two boys. And its too far away to leave them to stand and watch. Options were considered. Back to the strategy plans. I decided to take an MI5 approach. So meet Mrs Spooks. No, she’s not spying on the neighbours, but watching in the direction of the looters. She does carry a firearm. She’s more akin to GCHQ than 007, but the enemy doesn’t know that. A general scarecrow wasn’t what I needed. I need to scare the deer, and we’ve all seen Bambi to know what the evil man does. But men aren’t the only ones with firearms licences. And the deer know that. And they will have seen that hoodie out working before. And they may remember losing their pal Big Red a few years ago to that woman (the fingerprint analysis showed its not just wee deer…).

So my beloved deer and pals. I may not be there 24/7, but Mrs Spooks is my new employee covering it for me. She may not always have a gun. She may be joined soon. If she is, there will be social distancing between them. Who knows what skills the next employee may bring with them. But sometimes it’s better to be alone. Pigeons may flock together, but eagles fly alone. Let’s let her be an eagle. And let’s not spook the neighbours.


When a plan comes together.

But there was no plan. Just a simple ‘nip down to the shed and get back up to sort tea’ type of plan. And just to get the dog doing as much with me as possible, I’ll let him run down without the lead (Gus, a patterdale terrier if that gives anyone an idea of the story about to unfold). Got to the shed in time to be greeted by the entire herd at the nearest gate. They had seen me coming and they were bawling. Not soft, gentle moos. They were making their presence know and demanding action. As to what, I could guess.

Just a few hours earlier, the Crofter and I had been discussing what the field/stock rotation plan needed to be over the next few weeks. Grass growth is currently pants on the grass growing scale. We have one entire field newly sown so out of bounds (for the cows; the deer seem to be having a ball with it so if anyone wants to help do some evening scare tactics, do please get in touch…). Anyway, we then have a section fenced off for the ‘hopeful haying season’. That time will now not just be dependant on the weather being dry, but will there be enough grass to even cut for hay? The rest of that field usually gets split for strip grazing. But not this year, there isn’t enough. So the plan was I would move them up to the top field soon. But with the bawling I thought I’d just take down a few posts, they can step over the electric wire (turned off) and off they go to the rested field. Moovers and shakers business really. They moo, so I shake a bucket and whistle, they follow and move fields.

Smooth, apart from Jack, a teenage steer and two calves that is. No way Jose (I realise that that ‘e’ needs a tilted, farmers flat cap above it, I have no idea how to find that on my phone, just imagine its there and all the grammar/punctuation people can be at peace). Anyway, the last three wouldn’t go. So I head to their rears to try and offer a bit of further encouragement. Still no chance. Cue Gus, who at this exact point, dips under the gate and takes a run into the field. Now, he has done this in the past but has chased the cows and barked like mad at them. His free movement was taken away in the lead up to calving so to avoid stressing the cows. It has been slowly reintroduced. I hollered a him to sit (hello neighbours, enjoying the peacefully countryside?). And he did. I was shocked. Not bad for a terrier who has his eye on something. The admiration was short-lived; the two mothers of the calves I was still trying to shift decided to see what the problem was. I envisioned a dog/cow fight/charge and I was in the middle of the field. I snatched Gus and chucked him over the nearest fence (gently I hasten to add, but speed was of the essentence at this point). I then spied the Mini Crofter at the bottom of the orchard with a piece of rhubarb he had just pulled up out of the best looking crown that I had grown from seed. He got quickly sent back to the house. At this point, the Micro then took an interest in the cows and headed acroos for the fence. He is down a shoe and has a really wet sock half hanging off (where’s the shoe?). Never mind, he seemed fine so turn back round to loop round behind the steer and Gus entered the scene again. Another shout; an instant lie down. Hmm ok, is he a wanna-be sheepdog? Quite impressed. But never mind that, I suddenly realised why they were bawling. Something had gone wrong with their water supply, the troughs were empty.

I pick Gus up and run. A quick turn on of the bore hole tap and a sprint up to turn an upper tap off (water comes in from a burn usually) and I hear the reassuring sound of water filling the tanks. By this stage, Jack (as in Daniel’s…) has been nosying up the electic, decided its not so bad and stepped over it along with both calves. Except the rest of the herd have decided, this wasn’t what they wanted and start making their way back down. Electric fence post were jabbed back in as fast as I could to get back and turn the electric back on (they aren’t daft if you leave it off). All while having Gus at my heel.

And so you think, excellent, jobs done, I can know sort a one shoe boy, a potential sheep terrier and a very late tea. Hmm, two hours later, all the cows are queuing wanting back to the bottom field. That and I’ll need to go sort out a water pipe…tomorrow.


Just gin and share it.

Maybe it would have been better if I had just done the original saying and just grinned and beared it. But back at the start of the year, one of my goals was to make my own gin (by infusion with a neutral spirit I hasten to add before I have HMRC tapping at my door wondering why I don’t have the proper license; I’m not bootlegging it before anyone asks).

The moon may shine but this is no moonshine. It’s just a chance to experiment with what is used to make gin, to see what flavours come through, what can I actually taste. But, I have a slight issue (not the unhinged type of issue where life’s lessons have given me a love of sarcasm and alcohol). Firstly, I don’t like tonic, and so what I use gives different flavours than what the general masses use. Secondly, I don’t tend to like the bog standard. What’s a girl going do? Find someone or some people to help. Yep, I had to lo and behold, ask for help again. I needed some to trial some blind tastings. And I found someone. Thankfully the search for volunteers was not long and hard to give away four mini gin bottles at home and have a wee evening in (thank goodness for lockdown…). But this wasn’t any knock it back and say aye or nay. Mine got sent with a tasting note card.


A stone’s throw away.

So the far side was recently ploughed. The far side (not the comic), is also referred to as the rough field. The hint is in the name. But what’s in a name? For it is less so now. OK, it’s not a lush green meadow with oddles of new grass, wild flowers and pretty butterflies dancing in the sunlight. But, it was a field of thick, deep rushes; old, open drains, buried fences, and a rough, and muddy road going through it.

Initially, the flail mower was taken to it. And repeated repeatedly as the reeds lost their strength and the mower could go lower and slowly creep further into the thick of it. The reeds were weakened, but were still holding the fort. And then a ‘Rush Management’ course was attended to and we held it to ransom. It’s full potential was suddenly seen so we upped the standards. A battle began (cue music from some epic film of warriors heading out at dawn to take back their land…). Well, more realistically, another coffee was swigged and the gloves and matic were embraced. Strategies were analysied (maybe looking more like a clip from Blackadder but we’ll skip that bit). Drains were inserted and then last year it was ploughed and seeded. The goal of an extra decent field was within our grasp.

And that goal? No it didn’t put out roots and give us that massive, lush meadow. No, the seeds got absolutely decimated by pigeons and probably pooped into someone else’s field and they ponder why they now have so many rogue turnips (we did plant turnips and not grass deliberately, it’s just harder to visualise a turnip field than lovely, long, lush grass). I don’t remember counting more than five piddily turnips at its maximum. In the end, for the winter, we got a good crop of thistles and it had unearth stone. Lots of stones.

Stones became the focus. They grew over winter. Little ones would appear. I’m sure they were looking at the reproductive cycle of rabbits. The de-stoning became a battle in itself. At first, with a fairly young micro Crofter and a mini crofter, the energy levels were not high. The sleep deprivation didn’t help with the va-va-voom. When rhe zip-a-de-do-da was there, it started off with several attempts being abandoned due to being completely midgiefied (anyone who has been to the Highlands will understand, and if the mid goes like you, well, abandon ship!). That problem eased right when we swiftly went to either too cold or too wet (superglue effect). I’m not coming up with lame excuses, honest. Each time the opportunity was seen, tried and soon retreated. Wet mud, frozen hands, stones cemented in. Multiple times, we would try to spend some time taking out stones. Because of the age of the mini crofters, usually only one of us went. Over time, and with help to watch the boys, several day trips were hosted. Spring appeared and the good weather was just perfect for stone picking. The boys slightly older. Trailer loads were removed before it had a bit of peace.

And then the man organised to plough it again was in contact, he would be back, and be back soon (see Rock Chick of the Century post).

The sudden thought of the field being seen with still some stones upped the tempo. And men may not be able to move mountains. But one woman can shift a fair few stones (within reason, I don’t see the point on getting people to throw objects at Olympics when there are achievable things with a purpose that you can utilise the energy for). Then two of us started at it. Two of us have shifted even more. The tractor and trailer were brought in on the action too. Mini Crofters were involved. Which sometimes paved the way for helping to get the work done, other times, less so.

Muck (from the byre which has been sitting there for quite a while) was spread before it got plough. Lime was spread a few days ago and then grass seed put in and rolled. None were just thrown out without reason. Soil test results showed us what was needed and calculated. Old clay drains were discovered which had over time become blocked, leading to the jungle. Since our initial attempted at getting on top of the rushes, we have seen more oyster catchers and curlews. There is also still the pheasants and pigeons but hopefully the grass will get going before they eat the seeds. And with that, we now wait for rain.


You’re a milk machine…

‘Honey, honey…’ ahh, ABBA. They have quite a few songs adaptable to the crofting lifestyle. But this one cuts the mustard for Dryope (she is a cow before you ask and no we didn’t name her). Just need to change the lyrics from ‘love’ to ‘milk’ and it fits the bill.

The dizzy thing in the song? Aye, have that too, thats’s just from standing back up again after trying to get the machine on her. And not only that, bending down low next to a cow takes a wee bit of courage, particularly if they show signs of wanting to bend it like Beckham rather than practicing to be one of those live statues on street corners. And with that concept, when it comes to the machine at the moment, I too look like I should be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (if it was on this year); but not as those live statues, but as a juggler. Because yes, don’t go putting a wee drop of milk into your tea without a bit of appreciation to the work that goes into getting that milk to you.

Now, big farmers will have a much better and efficient set up than us to start with. We just have a wee mini milker that we wheel out. Once everything is in place, toddle out to the field and it can vary. One day, they are queuing up. The next, oomph, they adhere to social distancing rules to the extreme. Never fear, once in, we can get it going. Except this is where I look like I’m practicing to be a stand up comedian learning to juggle. I can’t always get the machine to stay on the cow. Simple in theory. Basic really. Until you realise the pressure isn’t always right. And you need to get four hooked up while keeping a wee pin at the bottom pushed in to ensure the right pressure. Start at the back, swiftly pull the pressure pin, after getting the back two on, try and get the front ones on before the back ones fall off and hit the ground. Swift grab to catch them while trying to keep pressing the pressure button thingy and you end up where you started. So the two hands, five piece juggling set speeds even further up (so really, all wanna-be jugglers need to go work on a dairy farm). But speed still doesn’t always do it. Don’t get me wrong, some days I can get it on, sorted and stand back up without a hint of dizziness. Some days the statue, some days the pigeon as the saying goes.

Before the certain tut tutting comes from the firm traditionalists, I have been doing some hand milking too. Yep, I can satisfy both camps on that front. But it is a different skill and even then, some cows are easier to do it on then others. So it needs a bit of work too. One of ours is really good at kicking the bucket. Good equivalent to jump star exercises as you’re always thinking it (her leg) is coming (the kick) at you (and the dizzy thing isn’t there at all because for this you now have dead legs). But it gives us fresh milk (we are pasteurising it).

And so with that, maybe the milk juggling act with a hint of dizziness isn’t so bad. Add the occasional swish from the tail right across your cheeks and we’re onto a winner.


The 7” Shingles by The Unusable North

I’ve got the 7” shingles, the wrong lying outcome

The 12 pile broken mix

Just put them in the wheelbarrow, grab yourself a mallet

See what we can smash up

I want some slate scree and revamp, a dodgy little section

With a merry wee wish and bang

From slates for the roof to chippings galore

But still, the whole ones left over for sure.

Swing a mean machine

Want rid of the moss

We were bent down, hands down, little bit of sit down

Giving it a good wallop across

All the punters will say

And you’d be join in too

Blue, blue slate, could have bought from Wickes

But that wouldn’t recycle, reuse

So Deep Heat, don’t be a tease

Now I’m down on my knees

I’ve put the mallet back down

For some rest if you please

Please note, this is a countried (literally) version of Paul Heaton’s 7” Single. If only he were a Crofter, he could be singing about breaking up the old slate pile. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. The moss covered front garden patch has now been replaced with slate chippings and am just waiting for a new log shed to be built; I’ll just go add it to the to do list…



If Petula Clark had sung during the coronavrus…

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely,

You can always go downstairs.

When your fridge is a teaser, all the food in the freezer

Seems to help, I know, downstairs

Just listen to the WhatsApp of the friends in other cities

Linger on the iMac where the zoom call chats are witty

When can you booze?

The lights are much brighter there

You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares,

So go downstairs

Things will be great when you’re downstairs

No finer sofa for sure, downstairs…

She obviously was not thinking the song would be adapted and not work for those who live in flats and bungalows…