Transition Turriefield

by Penny Armstrong -

Hello. Welcome to our first blog—ever! We're not usually folk for writing much on the internet but we sure do have a lot to say about how we grow vegetables and why.

About 18 years ago Alan and I caught the Self Sufficiency bug. At the time we were living in a first floor tenement flat in Edinburgh with no garden. Individually we'd both 'grown our own' before in outside plots, but this had to be window sills and window boxes until we could get something better. We applied for an allotment, deciding on the 1-2 year wait for a plot nearly 10 miles away over the much closer plot with the longer 6-7 year wait.

By September 2000 we were harvesting our first Desiree potatoes, the size of which we had never seen the like before (or since). The allotment had been unused for a few years and we'd had to spend time clearing the land before we could plant. I think the Secretary of the Allotment Committee felt sorry for us because she gave us all the seed tatties we needed that year—her leftovers after she'd finished planting. We've not looked back since. We still grow Desiree, they are one of our favourites for flavour and all round yumminess, chips, mash, baked and just plain boiled.

We requested, and got, an allotment closer to our side of Edinburgh. Yet another disused plot that was in need of clearing. Then we wanted more space, so took on a second. Yes you guessed it, unused and desperately needing to be cleared. If anything it was the worst of the lot. Knee high, wall to wall mares-tails and the old guys at the allotment saying 'you'll never grow anything on that', 'you'll need dose them with round up' or, after suspiciously eyeing the huge pile of seaweed (gathered from East Lothian beaches), 'you'll be organic then'. All of it meaning 'daft hippies you'll not last long'. Well, we worked those allotments for a good five years, every free hour we had between working full time and looking after children.

We'd also bought a house with a garden by then where we had chickens, apples, pears, plums, blackcurrant, whitecurrant, raspberries and strawberries; herbs and veggies. The neighbours called us 'urban crofters', mentioned Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal a lot and shook their heads, but it wasn't enough for us. We wanted more growing land and to try our hand at slow growing our own meat too.

I'd been visiting Shetland for years and kept trying to convince Alan's to move back home. We knew it would be impossible to afford any quantity of land in mainland Scotland and I'd secretly wanted to live at Turriefield, ever since I'd walked through the door of the old croft house in 1995. Eventually he gave in, but although the Turriefield house had belonged to Alan's parents since 1973, the land was tenanted by another crofter. We intended to sell our Edinburgh property move into Turriefield and look out for land anywhere in Shetland.

That was in 2008, just as the housing market crashed and we couldn't sell. But we gave up our jobs and moved up anyway, thinking in the spirit of adventure we'd give it a go. Six years later we still haven't sold the house. We managed to get the Turriefield land though, a piece of luck we didn't expect and we've been putting our hearts and souls into developing it ever since.

Already well practised in reducing our personal and household carbon footprints we experienced the problems faced by Shetlanders limited by the rural island situation. Our car use went up and cycling went down and for that first year we were forced to buy supermarket produce. Annoyed by the lack of choice, knowing we could grow much more than we needed for the family and with a wish to share that good fortune, we hatched a mad plan to start a veg box scheme.

We combined our wish to live sustainably, treading lightly on the planet with our need to grow vegetables by setting up Transition Turriefield in 2011. Another plot, another piece of ground to clear. We know an awful lot about clearing ground! We started with a very small plot at the back of the house. From then on we just kept expanding, every year doubling the ground we cleared and sowing and planting more and more. Experimenting with micro climates and protection, learning what individual plants needs and how to give it to them in Shetland.

Its not been easy. Not selling our house we've both had to work full time elsewhere to fund Transition Turriefield's development. We've struggled with lack of time, to get things done or to have days off. It's not finished yet either, we've still got a number of years of hard slog before we can say we're organised and running smoothly. We are very grateful to all our supporters and volunteers though, without whom we would have never made the project work and might even have given up long ago.

After six years we're well into the Shetland crofting way of life. The house runs solely on peat, cast in May. Not the most fossil fuel free way, but until we get the renewable micro-hydro running on the burn it is better than using coal, oil, or gas shipped from the other side of the world. We produce our own eggs, lamb, pork, chicken, duck, turkey and goose, we've yet to get kye (cows) but they're on the cards. Just as soon as we can produce enough fodder for them and not have to buy it in. It goes without saying that we have all the salad and veg that we can eat and as to how we produce them, well that's a story for next time.

Posted in: Growing Food