Whitmuir the Organic Place is making a wildlife garden. Forget any preconceived ideas you may have about square or rectangular plots because Whitmuir’s fields are separated from one another by shelter belts around 20 metres wide, and a length of 1.5km of these is being transformed into the new garden. The belts already have avenues of mature beech trees, which look to me to be about 200 years old. These will soon be supplemented by additional native trees, shrubs and woodland wildflowers. Areas have already been cleared and seeded with varieties from ‘Scotia Seeds’. Hundreds of native wildflowers have been grown in plugs and pots, and over the next few months many more will be raised this way and planted out.
The photograph shows the new pond, made by restructuring old boggy land and damming a small burn. The pond will encourage wildlife and provide educational opportunities, including a platform for ‘pond dipping’ (it’s a long time since I did that. I used to catch newts in the River Frome. Not sure I’d be allowed to do that now…)
Some of the ducks at Whitmuir have deserted the lower pond for the peace and quiet of the new pond at the top of the proposed wildlife garden. I’d have thought there was nothing there to interest them (apart from water), but the upended one in the middle of the picture proves I’m wrong. The ground surrounding the pond looks quite bare, but that will change soon. The path around the pond has been seeded with grass and, lower down the strip of woodland, wildflower seeds of species native to Scotland have been sown.
I’m hoping the ducks will return to their real home before nightfall. Judging by the pillow-load of feathers and the pigeon remains I saw today, the woodland ain’t such a safe place to be.
If you have been told that all pigs are pink (as in storybooks and model farms), then think again. These ginger porkers are at Whitmuir Organics at Lamancha, not far south of Edinburgh (here). If you want your kids to see real pigs – organically raised pigs – (or if you want to see them yourself) then visit Whitmuir.
Just be sure to wear wellies…
Also at Whitmuir… I’ve heard of free range hens, but this is ridiculous:
But the eggs they lay make AMAZING soufflés (if you are into that kind of thing)… and if I can make soufflés, then anyone can.
I have a reconditioned beer cooler in my garage. No beer, just a cooler. It’s about the size of a microwave and I bought it on eBay after seeing one on Beechgrove Garden (BBC Scotland). They had it connected up as a heat pump to help prevent freezing in one of their greenhouses – the facts sheet is here. The principle is that you bury pipes in the garden and extract heat from the ground (I haven’t got round to that bit yet). The heat you get from a small unit like that is no big deal, but it should use less energy to run than the energy I would use heating the greenhouse to the same temperature… if you see what I mean. Just a couple of degrees would help, as we get frosts in early June and they can flatten seedlings.
Whitmuir Organics has a REAL ground source heatpump. The pipes are buried deep beneath large earth embankments, and from them they heat most of their new building. I can only bury my pipes a maximum of 18″ (45cm) beneath the surface because at that depth I reach solid rock – and I’m not sure I would be popular if I started blasting it out.
In the 1980s I was on the UK Department of Energy’s Geothermal Energy Steering Committee, and in those days heat pumps were hardly worth considering (not that ground source heat pumps use geothermal energy – they use heat from the sun that has warmed the Earth, not heat generated deep down, that’s quite different).
Things have changed a lot since the 1980s. The cost of fossil fuel has rocketed and heat pump technology has improved. I have yet to see if my little experiment will work. Trouble is, a lot of digging is involved. At present the ground is rock hard and covered by an ice sheet, like Greenland.
[Many false claims are made about heat pumps. If you are seriously thinking about installing one (not a toytown one like mine) then download the Energy Saving Trust’s .pdf file from here]
I am a lucky man. Not only do I live in a beautiful part of Britain (right now I am looking at a stunning sunset), I am also only a couple of miles from an organic farm that has a shop, a restaurant, things to see and walks to go on. There is nothing pretentious about Whitmuir (for more, click on their link) and they are so good, and all work so hard, that they seem to be winning all kinds of awards for their produce, their food, and for the farm itself as a visitor attraction. There are signposted walks that I have yet to go on. They also run little events (see here).
Tomorrow, being Halloween, there is something for children, including (amongst several other things) throwing apples to the pigs. When I first saw the list of events I misread it and thought it said ‘throwing apples at the pigs’. This, from my previous observations of these creatures, would not be a wise thing to do.
No, I am not referring to Professor Roy Watling who led the fungus trip around Dawyck (pronounced Doyk), the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh’s Estate near Peebles the other day. He is certainly no bogeyman, though he is a superb teacher. Anyone who can get me interested in fungi other than edible mushrooms (strictly the kind you buy in the shops to cook at home) must be good.
I didn’t go on the trip because of any particular interest in toadstools, I simply wished to support local events and now I am hooked on them – that’s the local events, not the toadstools – I had no idea I could learn so much in such a short time with absolutely no effort. I don’t pretend to know the Latin names for any of these fungi any more than I managed to remember the names of fossils when I studied geology.
Since I went on the trip I am seeing toadstoods everywhere, though the likely reason for this is that Autumn is the time most of them appear (not a lot of people know that). Oh… for my readers in the USA (I have a few) I shall repeat that bit: “the reason for this is that Fall is the time most of them appear”. ‘Fall’ is a particularly descriptive name for this time of year.
The photos were taken at: Top – Whitmuir Organics; Left – Dawyck; Bottom – my garden (growing in woodchip and looking suspiciously like an alien invasion).
Don’t ask me the names of any of these things. There are plenty of good books that will tell you. Here’s a beauty.
We have just had over THREE inches of rain in twenty-four hours. That, according to the meteorological office (try saying that after a few glasses) is more than we would normally get here in the whole of September. ‘Nice weather for ducks’ is an expression I was brought up with. I know ducks like water, but I had assumed that they like sitting in the stuff and floating around, not have it falling on them from the sky. I was wrong. During the heavy rain I called in at Whitmuir. Their ducks were going crazy. They had discovered the (normally gently flowing) feeder that leads to their pond and they were all there, swimming against the flow like kids in a waterpark.
I know the graph on the left shows less than 2.5″, but I took the pic 24 hours after the rain started the previous day, so add both columns. And yes… I really do need to get out more. More ducks here.
If you are down this way (from the north, where the mountains are high) or up this way (from the south, where there is only one mountain and therefore much lower, statistically), then call in at the farm up the road from us. If you have kids with you then so much the better, as there are things for them too. As well as a well-stocked farm shop there is a superb restaurant / cafe / coffee shop. Ducks may well follow you around, as probably will Lily the sheepdog, who in the absence of sheep likes to keep her hand in by rounding up the free-range chickens.
Sometimes I cook. I have even been on a one-day Nick Nairn course, which made me into an expert fish cook. Well okay, not an expert… the filleting of that white fish didn’t go particularly well, but you can ask fishmongers (do they still exist?) to do that for you. I did manage to open scallop shells without cutting off my fingers. I also killed a lobster. I didn’t plunge it into boiling water, that isn’t the best way, apparently. No, you don’t want to know… you really don’t.
Where was I?
Sometimes I cook. I am (really!) a dab-hand at small soufflés, but they have never looked as good as those I have made lately with the fresh eggs I get from Whitmuir. They have hens with attitude, I’m told, which is probably why my soufflés rise. Compared to the chef at Whitmuir I am a mere infant, of course.
In a month or so the Princess Royal (Princess Anne to those of us over a certain age) will be dropping in at the farm to look around. She will arrive by helicopter, but that’s not compulsory because you can also visit Whitmuir by car. Let’s hope Lily doesn’t attempt to round up the PR and her protection officers. Stick to the chickens, Lily, there’s a good girl….
* other Whitmuir posts: