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In South Uist the community group Cothrom runs a training course called “Life Skills”. People on the course learn and share practical skills, some of which have been passed down through generations but may be in danger of disappearing in the modern technological age.
In today’s lesson Angus Macdonald is sharing his knowledge of how to construct lazy beds for planting potatoes. Traditionally they were usually made on the poor ground on the east side of the island, but today’s demonstration is given on easier ground on the west side at Howmore.
First the size and shape of the lazy bed is marked out. Using a piece of string as a guide Angus cuts a line through the turf with a spade.
The next step is then to turn the clods over towards the middle of the bed. This would have been done with a “cas-chrom” – a foot plough – but today Angus just uses the spade.
In the meantime John Alec is working on a parallel line on the other side of the bed. The ground is easy to dig, and it doesn’t take the two of them long to complete both sides.
The next stage then is to fill in the middle of the bed. The lazy bed is then complete, even if it looks a little out of place on the machair on the fertile west side of the island.
The Cothrom training centre itself is further to the east on the island. The ground is harder and stonier, but they have managed to build several lazy beds next to the centre, and they’ve already planted some potatoes earlier in the year.
Another project for the Life Skills team is to plant some shrubs in the grounds of the centre. This is meant to encourage birds and insects, and so support local biodiversity. With the ground being so hard it’s not an easy job.
Later in the year the potatoes have grown. They’re now ready for lifting. The crop may not be spectacular, but given the kind of ground in which it was planted, and considering that no fertiliser was used, it’s not bad. There are one or two big ones amongst them, and enough to share out with the rest of the staff and students at Cothrom, and make a tasty meal.
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