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Growing sweetcorn and watermelons in an Argyll glen?
No problem to Adrian Nation and his partner Lindsay Young.
It’s not easy, but it can be done. And since taking over a smallholding in Glen Aray in the middle of Covid lockdown the couple have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into making a success of self-sufficiency – and gone far beyond that.
Adrian and Lindsay spotted seven-acre Ladyfield Farm on the market in December 2019, fell in love with it and by the summer of 2020 had moved lock, stock and barrel from Essex to a glen between Inveraray and Loch Awe.
‘We came in March just as lockdown happened – and everything shut down. There was nothing open, so we survived on Co-op sandwiches,’ Lindsay recalled.
It was a leap into the unknown, but they knew beyond doubt that they wanted something completely different to their life at Clacton-on Sea.
But these are no airy-fairy new age hippies.
Adrian describes himself as having two trades – music and building. In fact, he is a successful guitarist and singer-songwriter who is willing to turn his hand to anything – from plumbing to felling timber.
Lindsay – equally unafraid of getting her sleeves rolled up – works as an advanced nurse practitioner at Lochgilphead Medical Centre.
They make a formidable team, but it is fair to say it’s been a steep learning curve.
Neither had much experience of growing vegetables and absolutely none of farming but, with the help of 15-week-old collie pup (and apprentice sheepdog) Ray, they have made huge strides in spite of the odd setback.
There is no house on Ladyfield, just a barn in need of renovation, so their first winter was a cold one in a static caravan.
Never again, though, as Adrian has set about framing, insulating and cladding the caravan with milled larch from the Barge family at Otter Ferry.
The plan is to build a house and refurbish the barn in time, but the static will be home for a few years, so it now boasts a balcony with wood burner to warm the cold nights and keep the midges at bay.
But their most remarkable achievement is their organic salad-growing enterprise.
In February this year the ground was bare.
Since June, they have sold in excess of 500 salad bags through Inveraray-based food delivery business Aray Fish.
They follow the ‘no dig’ philosophy developed by Charles Dowding, which leaves soil undisturbed.
Adrian explained: ‘We lay down cardboard on the ground, then add compost on top, four inches of cattle manure and top it off with compost.’
‘We have very few weeds and super healthy plants,’ added Lindsay, ‘and the roots will go down into the soil.’
‘It was always our plan to grow our own vegetables to become self-sufficient,’ she continued.
‘We just planted the things we liked, things like salad, courgettes, chillies, onions, carrots, potatoes and even watermelons. Soon there was a surplus, so we contacted Laura at Aray Fish, who is fantastic. It works well.
‘They let us know Monday lunchtime how much salad they need and we drop it down the next day.’
With Adrian in charge of 900 seedlings growing in one of two polytunnels at Ladyfield ready for winter salad, the organic production line shows no sign of slowing down.
On the livestock side, the plan is to expand the sheep flock and borrow a tup for the two Hebridean ewes on Ladyfield, who run alongside three Blackface wethers which will make their own contribution to the farm’s produce in time.
‘We were vegetarian until we came here,’ said Lindsay.
‘Since then we’ve being eating our own lamb. We didn’t like the idea of intensive farming, but the sheep around here have a good life.’
And life at Ladyfield, it’s fair to say, would have been that bit tougher without the help of neighbours who quickly became friends, including Julie Liddell and Steven McKillop and the MacKays, Alison and Rhuaraidh.
Diggers have been borrowed (and occasionally bogged); hay cut and baled; advice given and many a sociable dram enjoyed.
Lindsay said: ‘Everybody around us has been really helpful and we’ve been made so welcome.’
If you would like to follow Adrian and Lindsey and life at Ladyfield, join around 500 other subscribers to the Ladyfield Farm You Tube channel to enjoy entertaining videos.