In May of this year I was asked to deliver a Team Building firewalk for residents of Forres, a small town in the north of Scotland, near Inverness and very close to a friend’s permaculture project – so it made sense to combine my trip with a visit to Ludwig’s perma-farm.
Earth Ways is a young, ethical and organic farm working harmoniously with the land, working birds, animals and local community. In only one year Ludwig has planted an assortment of vegetables, ground cover and tends a small, already established orchard. Enclosures house chickens and Indian runner ducks, with pens for sheep and pigs. Most of the ducks (6) arrived the day after I did on my first visit – driven north from Somerset. One, a chocolate coloured beauty, had been hand-raised from hatching, here on the farm. He was named ‘Bladerunner’ but is lovingly just called Duckie by all who’ve helped rear him.
I was delighted (and quite excited) to accept an invitation to return a few weeks later to look after the place while Ludwig delivered a residential Permaculture Design course a few miles away at Anam Cara, on the outskirts of Inverness; he was happy to leave the cottage, animals, birds and plantations in the hands of myself and Sean, for two weeks while he was away.
So here I am writing from the garden, almost a week into my stay and I haven’t killed anything (of value) yet!
When I arrived the sun was brightly shining and the skies were clear; only one thing marred my day – horseflies (commonly known in Scotland and beyond, as clegs). Within moments I was being bitten and eaten alive! Very quickly my peace was breached by these vile creatures – but I was determined not to allow them to spoil my day; this was to be my time-out, this time at the farm was scheduled to be my very own stress management.
After a quick tour and a low-down of our tasks, Sean a full-time project volunteer, served up a wonderful meal with garden produce and we relaxed in the evening sunshine, discussing everything from the banal to the sublime.
Our tasks ahead, we started the day at 8am – Sean offering to see to the pigs and sheep so that I wasn’t bitten as much on day two!
I opened up the chicken coop, collected eggs, fed and changed bath water for the baby ducklings (3, again raised by hand from hatching) and released Duckie and our White (neurotic) Layer from their hut. Sean and I went straight into hand-weeding in the permaculture garden, occasionally chatting as we did so but mostly just focusing on our tasks, as we let our minds wander.
Fresh eggs were on the menu for breakfast – Sean frying a couple for each of us with toast to accompany them. Eggs have never tasted, nor looked, so good! Afterwards I set off to clear the outgrowths from the fruit-trees, having it explained that these drew vital nutrients from the main tree and could endanger fruit production. Again I had time to be in my own head; I could clearly see things which needed attention my own life, from a safe distance.
As the day wore on I became aware of chilling out more and more… my mind was mostly relaxed – that is, until the clegs (horseflies) arrived to make a meal out of me!
By the end of the night I’d used every known insect repellent and bite remedy.
On day 2 Sean boiled some yarrow to make a topical application, in the hope of repelling these awful insects. It didn’t work and perhaps even attracted the blighters!
By day 3 I was almost having anxiety attacks at the thought of being in the vicinity of anything that had wings, but we had work to do in the field. I readied myself, thinking the field wouldn’t be so bad, I’d manage. So me in shorts and flip flops, we headed into what was to become a war zone within minutes. I made a sharp exit to get some proper clothes on, but not without a multitude of bites to keep me awake in the night.
Sean laughingly commented on my new Michael Jackson moves as I thigh-slapped, swatted and generally jumped around, attempting to avoid their filthy, angry bites. He later remarked ‘it was like working with someone who has Tourettes’ and I could only laugh at his observations, as I’d turned the air blue with words I’d never let my mum hear!
He also realised I was becoming increasingly distressed by these horrible flies, so went off to work on a horse-fly trap – the basic design of which he drew down from an American university website.
We named it ‘Terry the Trap’
On the fourth day I was prepared for working in the poly tunnel – in full riot gear this time. I was feeling brave too; the next fly that landed on me would become compost, no doubt about it. I’d somehow aclimatised myself and altho they still attacked me, I was able to stay still enough to swat them after they settled on my body.
Sean had discovered a rather large insect in the polytunnel; describing what sounded to me like a wood wasp. I was eager to see this so on my next trip I had a look. It wasn’t like any wood wasp I’d seen but hey, what did I know?
I repeatedly updated my personal page on Facebook with how I was reacting to these insects and, as some of my friends are environmentalists, they contributed to my rants and helped in my learning. One posted a link to a page, saying I was lucky that it hadn’t been this – a Giant Dark Horsefly;
Tabanus sudeticus, the largest European insect which had made an appearance in England, according to the link above – now appearing in the north of Scotland also.
I recognised it immediately and issued a warning by text to Sean – seemed like we had a female; the one who bites prior to laying her eggs. Apparently a bite which is dirty, painful and can leave a scar. These large insects were fairly rare here, so I felt quite privileged; until 2 more arrived!! We captured one but the other (the biggest and fattest of all) flew at my face when I tried to trap it in a jar.
I wasn’t hanging about for that so (not so gracefully) shrieked and jumped out of its way! Thankfully, even after another week I had no further injuries (other than insect bites) to report – although I did suffer a little heat-stroke while I was away but I’m not complaining – it’s not often temperatures soar to 80 degrees in Scotland!
This blog was initially entitled ‘Permaculture and Personal Development’ but it was hijacked by the cleg, so another will follow soon.