Croftless Crofter: Nic Goddard

NO F30 Nic Goddard byline pic
NO F30 Nic Goddard byline pic

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I have long thought that autumn is already upon us in August here in the Highlands. Sure enough I was away from home for a few days last week and when I returned the bracken had browned and started to droop, the heather was starting to bloom and the first brambles were ripe.

The evenings are drawing in, the lambs on the croft land around us are more noticeable by virtue of not having been sheared than because they are smaller than the rest of the flock and I’m starting to get that autumnal urge to clear the veg beds in the garden and think about planting spring bulbs already.

This last couple of weeks I finally conceded defeat on the tomatoes which were so late to get going they never really stood a chance. The bargain reduced to clear half dead tomato plants we bought in hanging baskets from a supermarket more for the hanging baskets than any hopes for the tomato plants ended up flourishing though so we have some home-grown tomatoes even if they were not grown from seed.

I’ve pulled up spent pea plants and have some of the low pea pods I missed in the thicket of plants and have grown fat, dried and yellowing drying on a sunny windowsill to stash over winter and sow next spring.

I’ve harvested the best cabbages I’ve ever grown which were looking amazing but had become slug fodder. The French beans did well, too, this year, as did courgettes, including the ones which were overly ambitious and had ‘marrow’ as their lofty end goal.

There are two monster squash of some variety, which could be even more overachieving courgettes or some sort of pumpkins. I am pretending that I am waiting to see what they turn into but the truth is I am slightly scared of them. Once a fruit grows larger than my own head I feel obliged to show it a level of respect and only pick it once I have a plan about what to do with it.

I am enjoying the low pressure bramble picking this year after many years of picking kilos of fruit to process into hundreds of jars of jam at this time of year in autumns of the past.

Instead, a leisurely bramble amble in the sunshine to create a bramble and apple crumble is a seasonal delight. Those apples are foraged, too, from a local friend who has more apple trees offering fruit than they and even their livestock can handle.

I am eyeing up the groaning rowan trees, laden with berries with a plan to have another go at rowan berry recipes having never created an edible product from them before.

Despite being impressed by the knowledge and confidence of foraging friends who know about all things fungi-related, I confess to a slight feeling of relief that there is no pressure to learn more about mushroom identification between delicious and deadly as I simply don’t like them even if they are widely considered edible.

It’s not just us with an eye on nature’s larder at this time of year though; we are sadly down by three hens over the last week. I had hoped that the first absence to be noted may have been down to the heatwave and a late season attempt at brooding a clutch of eggs stashed away in the undergrowth.

Vanishing chickens could signal the presence of a hungry fox or pine marten. NO F37 chickens gardening
Vanishing chickens could signal the presence of a hungry fox or pine marten.

I was keeping my fingers crossed for a reappearance in three weeks’ time of proud hen with a trail of fluffy chickens behind her.

I suspect though that three missing all at once is the work of a fox or pine marten despite any tell-tale piles of feathers to be found.

Between whatever has enjoyed a chicken dinner and the slugs feasting on my cabbages it could easily feel as though food is being swiped from under our noses by the nature outside.

I am taking comfort from the (slightly paraphrased) wisdom that ‘if nothing is eating your garden then you are not part of the ecosystem’ and hoping that our contribution to the ecosystem is at least playing a part of keeping nature going as the seasons turn once more.