Rachel Alvey-Anderson says that the dream she hoped for has come true…

It has been three years since we packed up our family, said goodbye to friends and loved ones and took a leap of faith. Moving to the Highlands of Scotland we embraced a whole new lifestyle. We have become a part of a community and created our homestead dream.

In February 2021 our dream homestead in the Highlands became a reality, and what a journey we’ve had so far, as every season brings new adventures and challenges.

The goats have been doing an amazing job keeping the grass, wild roses and brambles at bay. Half an acre can be hard work and time consuming to upkeep. We started by welcoming three goats from the local croft, along with 13 hens, six ducks, one house quail, three guinea pigs and our new cockapoo puppy.

Our family is ever evolving. At the beginning of 2023 we had two years of experience living the homestead lifestyle under our belts. This lifestyle is very different to the life we left behind – it’s sink or swim! We hit the ground running. We have learnt to build fences, give goats injections, grow food, compost, prepare pheasants for the freezer and so much more. During the long bleak winter of 2022/2023, we were blessed with the aurora lights dancing across the night skies,
what a treat.

As February came to an end it was time to sow the first seeds for the vegetable garden, shortly followed by the duck eggs in the incubator. Always an exciting and anxious time, as we kept a watchful eye for 28 days waiting patiently for that first sign of a pip. Last year we hatched six ducklings, one needed emergency
intervention as it struggled to hatch. Having a duckling hatch on my knee with my help was an incredibly stressful experience but I felt so proud. I felt my swift action had saved his life.

Spring saw the start of a rare heatwave and an abundance of wild baby rabbits born early, not a great start to our hundreds of vegetable seedlings planted outside, followed by the voles in the polytunnel eating our tomato plants, herbs and peppers. It never gets boring here on the homestead.

We have a family ethos of working with nature not against it, and sometimes that can get tricky. The voles soon decided that the freshly planted garlic was best avoided, so we planted the cloves around the tomatoes. The rabbits chewed through the flimsy fencing around the vegetable garden to enjoy the all you can eat buffet. Netting all the beds and planting apple mint worked a treat.

When the heatwave broke with a good downfall of rain, the temperatures stabilised, creating a much easier growing environment, giving the young vegetables a good chance to get growing again. I had to buy some cucumber plants, never a cost-effective option, but I lost all my seedlings to the voles.

In May we headed down to the woods to forage wild garlic as we feed the goats and hens garlic leaves which we believe helpful in worm control. Needless to say we also enjoyed this wild delight, preserving jars of garlic sauce and oil to enjoy all year long. I have come on leaps and strides this past year learning about preserving any foraged and grown food with an aim to be self sufficient and stock up the pantry and this year I hope to learn about canning my vegetables.

We have planted new trees including an orchard of apples, pears, plums and cherry along with oaks, elderflower and rowans. My dream would be to create an edible food forest, an abundance of foods grown in companion with canopies of trees bushes and ground coverage. These trees will also provide birds with fruit and berries at the end of summer and give us a sustainable supply for our family.

With Spring well and truly underway, the midges were back. Gardening is always somewhat challenging when you are working in swarms of midges and covered in bites. I can only garden for an hour or so to avoid getting bitten too much. It certainly proves to be a challenge; the midges add an interesting twist to living here.

May was the perfect time after the last frost to plant out the seedlings that had been growing in abundance in my house since March and coincide perfectly with the midges hatching. My face net and gloves were essential because these little blighters will find any exposed skin and have a feast.

This article extract was taken from the May 2024 edition of The Country Smallholder. To read on, you can buy the issue here.

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