We’ve named the entire plot ‘Middle Earth’ after Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books.

Middle Earth
October 2023

Despite the shop being closed on Mondays and Tuesdays during September I still feel like I’m way behind with everything. Thing is; 20-odd chickens take a lot of cleaning (after all 20 bums create a lot of mess!), then the new land is taking up time as we want to plant trees and shrubs and bilberries and heather and a wildlife hedge. Also, my husband JP is so excited about the new land that he ordered lots of wood so he can build a little bothy and a shed and we also need to create a larger dry area for the chickens. They now have a few square meters of covered run, which is sufficient for 8, but of course it gets a little crowded when it rains. Building a roof over the chicken run is our priority right now as winter is not far away. Oh and of course my penultimate year of Natural Sciences study has started too.

I feel like a kid in a candy store with our new land; to me it’s one massive experimental area. Although my husband sees it slightly differently; to him it’s a giant area which can house lots of buildings (and trees). Of course we have found an agreement on what to do with it and thankfully the vast majority will be left to grow wild and hopefully regenerate to a healthy young woodland. We’ve named the entire plot ‘Middle Earth’ after Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books. There will be a corner called ‘Isengard’ where JP has his woodworking tools and where building materials are stored. Other areas are called ‘The Shire’ where our customer’s tree saplings have been planted, ‘Lothlorien’ where our own tree saplings are planted and ‘Rohan’ which is very windy and bare and is left to naturally regenerate. And we’re planning also on building ‘The Bree’: a little summerhouse where we can enjoy a pint after a hard work’s day.

Lothlorien and The Shire are being helped a little bit by planting little saplings and we’ve also added dead wood in the form of logs and bark from around our house. This is to introduce and speed up the underground fungi growth called mycorrhiza, these fungi form an underground symbiotic relationship with trees benefitting both. The fungus gives the tree important nutrients and the tree donates sugars to the fungus and both are happy. There is so much we can’t see below the surface! We also try to help by planting bilberries, heather, wild strawberries and wild raspberries which are all native to Scotland and will form the herb/field layer. These plants then go on to create dead plant material and therefore soil in which the little saplings can thrive. With my father-in-law we planted a variety of little trees and shrubs, all in commemoration of family members. My father-in-law later said that he really enjoyed planting the trees as he felt it was his legacy to the planet, despite all of us getting soaked.

Regeneration is a very interesting natural event of which we don’t know the outcome. Rohan is left to do its own thing and I will closely look at what is happening. It’s an ex-sheep field so I predict it will first be more grass before flowers like rosebay willowherb, dandelion and yarrow (seeded by the wind from our garden) take over. Then I may find the first pioneer species (trees which don’t mind Scottish weather or poor soil) like goat willow, birch and rowan. And because we’re surrounded by pine plantations, we’ll probably see some of these germinating too and that’s okay. These are not native trees, but grow fast and can provide us with wood to burn some years down the line.  But as I said, I have no idea what Rohan will look like next year or in 5 years’ time so it’s all very exciting.

We’ve harvested the majority of our vegetables and certain things did well but others not so. We have very little sauerkraut this year as all cabbages were badly damaged by caterpillars and slugs. The potatoes grew well, but in very strange shapes: one is looks like a triplet! And the potatoes were attacked by wireworm again this year despite the chickens having been out in the vegetable plot during winter. It’s very frustrating. I suppose the cooler weather we had during July and August wasn’t very good for growing either. But I try to focus on the vegetables which did grow; like the shelf full of pickled runner beans and the beautiful apples we’ve got this year.