Grow Your Own

Back on the mainland harvest is well underway and when the fog clears I can see the fields changing colour on the East Neuk. Here on the island my attempts to grow vegetables have not been terribly successful. Back in the spring the BTCV volunteer work party dug over the garden by PK (Principal Keepers cottage) and we quickly planted peas, potatoes, rocket and mange tout. The rabbit fence was repaired and I stood back and waited for the fruits of our work. But along came the huge storm at the end of May which completely frazzled everything, shrivelled it and turned it black. Only the potatoes came back so I had another go and planted some onions sets in the vege garden and some rocket, spinach and onions in some fish boxes. The fish boxes have done OK as they give a bit of protection from the damaging trio that we have to contend with, snails, rabbits and wind but down in the vege garden the hungry rabbits have literally eaten through the netting and seasoned themselves with the onions and raked up the potatoes. So after all that we will harvest a bit of salad, maybe a few onions and salvage a few potatoes. And next year I will have to strengthen the defenses against rabbits and wind and have another go.

But it makes me look at the old lighthouse keepers gardens with new eyes. These are surrounded by huge stone walls and represent a massive amount of work for the keepers themselves but if you had to be partially self-sufficient and supplement your meagre pay then it was worth putting in the work. The Isle of May keepers were famed locally for the fantastic vege that they grew and would win prizes at shows on the mainland as well as sell any excess that they had. And when you get into the gardens you can feel how effective the walls were for protecting the gardens from the ever present wind and generating heat.

One of the walled gardens.

And though the lighthouse keepers are now gone the link to them is still there. Recently i met on the island Susan and Ken Gillespie who had come out to see where Susan’s father had been born because her grandfather was Assistant Lighthouse Keeper Gillespie, stationed on the May during the war years from 1942 to 1948. Ken and Susan very kindly sent me these pictures take on the island that give a fascinating glimpse back in time and are a reminder of the 350 year history of lighthouse keepers on the May.

Assistant Lighthouse Keeper Gillepsie and his family on the Isle of May – 1942 to 48.

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