How ‘bout a nice cup of Scottish tea!

How ’bout a nice cup of Scottish tea!

It was Clare Haworth’s dream to one day live on an island. In 2011, that dream came true when Clare and her husband, Mike, purchased a 40-acre (16 hectare) croft on the Scottish island of Lismore.

Ten years on, the once neglected croft has become an abundant garden of Eden, home to 8,500 trees, a diversity of crops, fruits, and vegetables, and sanctuary to 35 rescue hens and 3 very old highland cows!

In 2015, Clare and Mike started building an eco-bunkhouse and campsite which opened in 2017 to provide accommodation for travellers from all over the world who, amongst other delights, get to enjoy a nice cup of home-grown tea. Yes, tea!

Scotland is probably the last country in the world that comes to mind when picturing a tea plantation but Mike, a landscape architect who likes to ‘explore’, was determined to drink his own!

Despite tea needing a rather acidic soil, and Baleveolan being on limestone, the couple have indeed managed to grow, pick, wilt, roll, heat, and dry their own tea. The original plantation of around 500 Camelia sinensis tea plants were planted on alternate rows of lazy beds with edible shrubs such as sea buckthorn and gorse providing shelter from the wind.

In fact, much of Mike and Clare’s work on the croft has involved creating protection from the elements (as well as from an abundance of voles!). The Crofting Agricultural Grant Scheme provides funding for shelterbelts and hedges, as does the Woodland Trust’s MOREwoods and MOREhedges.

Clare and Mike began by planting shelterbelts of mainly native species soon after puchasing the croft. Blackthorn, hawthorn, willows, alder, rowan, hazel, elder, birch, ash, guelder rose, dog rose, oak, and spruce not only provide shelter and a microclimate for growing but also greatly enhance the biodiversity of the croft whilst supplying fruit and firewood. Fifteen varieties of Scottish heritage apple, plum, and cherry trees, with an understory of mixed berry bushes, combine to form the makings of a mature forest garden.

On the more sheltered side of the croft, Mike and Clare have intercropped heritage barley with beans and, more recently, oats with peas. Oats were widely grown on Lismore forty years ago. With the help of Workaway volunteers, the couple cut and stooked the oats themselves before threshing them with hand threshers borrowed from the Highland museum! No where is Scotland could be found to mill their thirteen-bag crop of oats, so Mike and Clare bought a tiny mill and did it themselves. The husks had to be heated in a kiln to crack them open, and the end product was used to make oat milk. The husks went to feed the hens.

The bumper pea crop was dried in the sun for year-round consumption. The croft is also self-sufficient in potatoes which they store over winter.

Other successful vegetables grown in lazy beds and under cold frames on the croft are kale, beetroot, carrots, broccoli, spinach, cucumber, chard, squash, lettuce, and parsnips.

The croft is home to 35 lucky rescue hens who have free roam (other than on the vegetable patch!), and to Pat, Penelope, and Paula, aged 19, 20 and 6, three Highland cows who were destined for slaughter. Paula is Pat’s daughter who came to the croft some time after the other two when the farmer realised that she was infertile. Clare described how Pat and Paula celebrated when they were reunited.

Does having former farmed animals on the croft mean that it’s not a veganic enterprise? Rescuing farmed animals and allowing them to live out their natural lives in freedom is most certainly a vegan thing to do, and their waste is organic.

The Biocyclic Vegan Standard, which Farmers For Stock-Free Farming aligns with, permits a farm aiming at the standard to retain a small percentage of animals (0.2 livestock units/hectare) as long as they live ‘freely’ and are not used for commercial purposes. For example, one cow is permitted for every 5 hectares, and 50 chickens for every one hectare, or an equivalent combination where one livestock unit corresponds to 1 cow/horse, approximately 3 pigs, 7 sheep, or 250 hens.

Manure from retained animals must be composted with plant materials in the ratio of 1/3 animal manure, 2/3 plant materials, by volume. This mixed compost must be kept separately from plant composts and cannot be used on vegetables, cereals, pulses, or anything that grows directly in the earth. It can however be used around fruit trees and on grass/clover leys in the first of their two years in the cropping rotation. There are many variables that impact on these decisions such as climate, soil type, and the length of time before sowing a crop, so it is always best to check directly with the Biocyclic Vegan Network.

We are so impressed with what Clare and Mike have created at Baleveolan Croft! They have taken all three of our roads to stock-free farming: growing crops for human consumption; restoring native trees and ecosystems; and starting a diversification enterprise. They have not been afraid to experiment, learn from their mistakes, and try again. Very well done!

Bookings for the bunkhouse and campsite can be made here. We can’t wait to visit!!

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