The challenges to the grower on North Uist come thick and fast. In my naive optimism, my first project was to build an asparagus bed. I had been told that people grow asparagus here. The bed was designed and constructed (at considerable cost) – the perfect asparagus bed, lovingly planted, crowns tended in a text book manner. Five years later, having consumed a ‘meal’ of 4 spears in that time, all our crowns are now dead. Perhaps I should have asked if anyone had grown asparagus successfully here. Asparagus might be expected to like the maritime climate, but not the exposure.
I carefully covered my carrots with environmesh to protect against the scourge of carrot root fly only to discover 2 years later that no one seems to have a problem with this pest on North Uist. I should, however, have had the mesh over the brassicas instead because cabbage root fly decimate any uncovered brassica crop. I did have a successful (covered) crop last winter, only to have them blown clean out of the ground in a storm just before Christmas (the storm took 3 of the gates around the veg plots and the chimney cowl too).
It is amazing too how quickly other pests have exploited the new banquet on offer, notably mammals. Living near the shore, brown rats are a perpetual issue. They nest in my compost, have had a nibble at almost everything I have grown, most impressively my beefsteak tomatoes, found in a stash in the corner of the polytunnel. In the hard winter of 2010, one even did a raid on the parsnips in the ground in a Curse of the Wererabbit style. Rabbits too have slipped under the (broken) gate to nibble peas and dwarf French beans. Sheep have occasionally vaulted the dry stone wall (work in progress) and had a thoroughly good time.
The trophy for garden trashing is entirely reserved for red deer. The Monarch of the Glen – my Nemesis. Usually restricted to the moorland on the east side of the island, in a very short time over the last few years the growing population have become regular visitors to some of the west side townships and are now often bold and habituated to people. Since 2008, they have been regular garden visitors. I arrived home after a holiday one Christmas to find everything growing in the raised beds eaten and the wood of the beds wrecked to boot. The following spring it was my strawberries. This year, they chowed down on my newly planted raspberry canes. To rub salt in the wounds, I have watched up to 8 deer casually strolling round the house, a couple of metres from the window. A few hinds really like to bed down contentedly in the comfy rushes at the north west corner of the garden, particularly after feasting on the poor suffering willow saplings I planted.
That said, I know I can be positive about the future as the yield and variety of veg and fruit grows with my experience. This is in part assisted by the inclusion of a small polytunnel and will be accelerated by the impending construction of a deer fence and subsequent cultivation of other parts of the deer-free garden.