By the Book

Some time has passed since the loss of our hive.  Since then we’ve received wise and very kind advice from an expert who checked our hives and found no malicious pests or diseases.  It seemed we had a queen who didn’t learn to be a good queen quick enough to survive the winter.  Good news came from our original swarm though – who are doing a very good job at being bees and in fact seem as though they’ve been reading the bee-textbook!

During the last few weeks the volunteers at the garden seem to have taken a leaf from that bee-textbook – shuttling in and out of St Peter’s Community garden – working hard to get everything in top condition after the winter.  We should soon get a visit from the Green Flag Award inspectors and we are aiming to impress.  also, on 28th and 29th of July we will be opening the gardens to raise money for charity for the National Garden Scheme.

Though we graft away – it does sometimes feel more like a helping hand – it feels like the flora and fauna are doing most of the heavy lifting.  We can only watch – mesmerised- as the plants calmly rise from their beds and open their flowers as if to say ‘why are you working so hard?  Being perfect and beautiful is easy.’

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– If only!

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A Bee-reavement

Though at a glance – after the cold spring snaps – the hives may have seemed fine – inside the bees must have hit difficult times.

A week ago the sun came out and from one hive the bees had got to work.  We watched them ferry in and out of the entrance with colourful spheres of pollen stuck to their legs.  From the other hive stillness.  Were they more shaded than the other hive?  We asked ourselves – or cooler?  Or not yet ready for spring?

Afraid to look – we donned a bee-suit and lifted the lid with care.  Inside we saw hushed silence.  Through the gloom – the last of the workers lay motionless at the bottom of their home.  Nothing moved.  It created a peculiar contrast to the industrious hum we are greeted with when we open a normal hive.

We’ll await the expert opinion as to what had happened.  Perhaps the new queen and her swarm were not quite strong enough to make it through those winter months – especially with the two late cold snaps.  We still have a lot to learn about these creatures and hopefully we can learn from the mistake and ensure the other hive will be safe through to next year.

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RIP

The Greenhouse Odyssey

A long time ago – sometime last year – funding was received and plans were made to build a new greenhouse in the lush and heavenly community gardens of St. Peter’s.  Like all good stories this one had its fair share of drama, plot twists, baddies and heroes.  The original company who had offered to put in the ground work for the greenhouse slipped into an oblivion and could not be contacted… in step our heroes – Dennis and Peter!

Never in history of greenhouse footings have two men worked so hard and asked for nothing but an occasional cuppa and a biscuit or two.  Between outrageous weather – any Greek hero or ancient mariner would fear – Dennis and Peter grafted.  They dug, cemented and laid blocks in ground suitable only for a portal to the underworld.  For weeks they worked, frosted by snow, caked with mud, under a marquee when the rain got too heavy, guided by a hand held floodlight when the night got too dark.

At times we thought ‘it surely can’t be done!’ and without the help of our heroes it wouldn’t have been!

But!  pushed between two unlikely snow storms of a chaotic spring beginning stands our new greenhouse.  A sight that brings joy to our hearts like heroes returning from their odyssey.

Thank you Dennis and Peter!

Snow Days

It’s strange how a forced smack out of the ordinary can divide people.   St Peter’s Community garden was closed most of last week.  Although Wednesday didn’t snow, the biting Easterly wind had frozen our world on Tuesday – taking away most gardening options.  The wind also froze most of the volunteers making tea and biscuits seem a far better idea than staying outside.  By Thursday afternoon it was a case of sheltering from the worst of it – a situation which is most unusual for Great Britain’s climate.

If – like many – you took to social media at any-point over the days of snow you would have seen the division this weather had brought.  The lovers and the haters.  Granted – this can depend on the actual importance of a persons day to day activities.  A doctor or nurse needing to get to work to help people and save lives might have reason to feel stressed by the situation.  This aside however – it can often seem to be the perceived importance of day to day activity.  Some people were in turmoil – for instance – over having a weekend without football.

However it’s looked at – these day-to-day week-to-week routines can be important to people.  They can be what keeps life in an understandable order in the disordered chaos of the universe!

The Greenhorned Gardener is – admittedly – in the excitement group when it comes to snow-storms and severe weather warnings.  Though a stickler for routine – an enforced rest can come as a blessing.  A guilt-free rest without the feeling you should be out doing something.  But even in the glorious chaos comes the perspective to view what is important.  This perspective did push the Greenhorned Gardener from her shelter on Friday to trudge through a blizzard and wade through waist high drifts around St. Peter’s Community hall to check on bee hives – which were thankfully not buried under a couple of feet of snow.  Even though the bees were ok – it was still a journey worth making.

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The Frog Cycle

It is easy to get caught in the daily, weekly, and monthly rhythms.  Sometimes when finally we stop and draw breath we are surprised at where we’ve ended-up.  Is it that time already?  Was that really a year/two years/ten years ago?

The frogs snuck in to the pond over the weekend.  Today – apart from a few quiet splashes – the water was all but still – corners thick and bouncy with frog spawn.

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It’s a surprise how far we have travelled this year when looking around St. Peter’s Community garden.  There is lots left to do before numbers of visitors begin to creep up again – but big, landscape transforming, work has been done.  Paths have been laid, footings for the new greenhouse dug, and advances in the quiet garden made.

Last week we turned the soil over in our summer meadow.  Soon we will scatter wild flower seeds and if we let life distract us who knows where we’ll end up!  It’s easy to start wishing for the weather to warm at this time of year but it is still worth taking note of the journey and the little details that make the here and now worth living.

 

Winter Pruning

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The year has already brought its first flowers – the odd precocious daffodil or two, an impatient camellia bush making the most of a warmer January, and a few crocus having a peek above heavy wet soil.

Wet has been a theme for what seems like the past month.  Soil so sodden we dare not dig it – mainly so the structure doesn’t suffer but also due to the fear that all of the soil will stick to our boots and leave the veg beds empty!

But there are still things to do and not much will give the satisfaction of pruning.  Like combing knotty hair, or tidying a spare room – it can seem daunting at first but once we get down to it and things start to take shape what follows is a flood of triumph.

We can get in a rhythm – clear old and dead wood, lop off low branches, remove crossed branches, take away branches that have grown towards the centre, reduce long branches, step-back and see a tree that hopefully looks organic yet structured like the best parts of nature.

Now with the tree de-cluttered it can focus on making less branches strong and fruitful.  Yet another technique used in the garden that we could maybe apply to our day to day lives!

Fence Maintenance

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The Greenhorned Gardener has not abandoned everything – only encountered a clog of busy days, holidays, and disorganised lazy days.  But with the new year upon us – it’s time to take the bull by the green-horns and maintain control!

This week at St. Peter’s Community Garden we’ve been repainting our many meters of fencing – a job that is enjoyed by some and hated by others in equal measures.  Tuesday might have been wet and grey but Wednesday and Thursday offered pristine winter sun that could not have been better for fence maintenance – in a both physical and mental sense.

The winter months can be difficult at times.  Christmas can offer relief – a glittering, bright flower in an otherwise empty garden.  In the time that follows Christmas however – there can be a lull that seems at times to be stretching out into the distance – miles of bare earth with a crust of frost stretching out into the far distance.  But we have our fences to break this bareness up and to protect us a little from the coldest winds.  Because these fences are important, it is a good idea to maintain them, repair them, and paint them whatever colour makes you feel better!

Though the garden might seem desolate and bare at first glance there are treasures still there.  Bulbs are beginning to punch through the frost, some tenacious roses are still flowering, and there are visits from all kinds of wildlife (last week we saw a heron by the pond and before Christmas a king-fisher!).

Here’s a simple way to help maintain your fences over winter – it will only take a few minutes and you can do it whilst doing something else.

Think of three things that make you happy in life.  They can be anything at all, big, small, important, trivial…

I like the sound of rain on my roof

Seeing the squirrel in my garden makes me happy

I’m thankful I have clean drinking water

Sometimes it might be more difficult to think of something but hopefully your fences will soon feel more resilient to the weather and when the winter sun shines it will get a little more appreciation.

Preservist with a Smile

Now November has sneaked up we’ve reached the final chances to make use of the last-latest harvests.  There are few better ways to celebrate the ultimate hoorahs of the dying year than to pack them into hot jars.  Jams, jellies, pickles, and chutneys will be our memorial to 2017 – carefully cloistered away for frozen days.  At one time these arts might have seemed like a disappearing tradition – but it seems there is a fresh exuberance for the old ways – an antidote to a soul-free future.

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Today we remember the Green-tomato…

Green Tomato Chutney

2.5kg (5lb) Sliced green tomatoes

500g (1lb) chopped onions

500g (1lb) soft brown sugar

1.25l (2pints) vinegar

250g (8oz) seedless raisins

250g (8oz) sultanas

15g (0.5oz) pepper

25g (1oz) salt

(makes about 4kg (8lb) chutney)

The day before you want to make the chutney, put the tomatoes, onions, salt, and pepper into a bowl.  Mix and leave overnight (be warned – if left in the fridge take out anything impressionable as it is sure to taste of onions by the morning!).

The next day, put the sugar and vinegar in a big pan and bring to the boil.  Add the raisins and sultanas and bring to the boil again, leaving for about five minutes to soften.  Add the now pungent concoction of tomatoes and onions to the pan leaving out most of the fluid that had drawn from the veg overnight (if this is added – the chutney takes much longer to reduce and thicken).

Simmer everything until golden-brown, tender, and thickened, stirring every-so-often to stop the chutney sticking.  This will take at least an hour… but probably more.

Whist the chutney is cooking, it’s a good idea to wash out the jars you will use and put them in the oven on a low heat to sterilise.  When you are ready you can take the hot jars from the oven and carefully fill them with the hot chutney.  As the chutney cools the air inside the jars will create a vacuum sealing them for future use.

Happy preserving!

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Bittersweet Autumn

 

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Autumn gems

Each Autumn the days shorten and yet each year this change hits like a conker to the head.  Waking up when it’s still night – an uncomfortable body still yearning for sleep.  If there ever was a time – ever – that the phrase ‘life is easy’ was EVER on anyone’s lips – it definitely wouldn’t be this time of the year.

But with all it’s heartache, the coming of winter hides gems like the damp dark walls of a diamond mine.  Most of harvest is over but this is squash season.  No other veg holds quite so much variety and wonder as the squash – swollen fruit on its vines – like multi-shaped and coloured lanterns to light the gloom.  Also, sweet chestnuts are falling to the ground like comets and bursting open to show crisp sweet flesh in the most luxurious packaging.  Not to forget the unparalleled scent of the season – fallen leaves, autumn fruits, damp moss like a thousand spices in a kitchen drawer.

As the days grow colder and nights longer – not everything is as bad as it seems.  Nothing can compare to returning home on a chilly evening to cosy up in the warm with a feeling that you need to be nowhere else in the world.

Enjoy the Autumn – it will be Spring in no time.

 

Honey From Our Heart

‘I had a beehive

here inside my heart.

And the golden bees

were making white combs

and sweet honey

from my old failures’

From Last Night I was Sleeping by Antonio Machado

 

Last week we took our first harvest of honey from our bees….

After the worry of the hive not being able to eat honey all winter, and another storey of a crowded hive of moody bees in spring, followed by a tempestuous summer of swarming resulting in a new hive and swarm though not quite honey for nothing – it is difficult to believe we finally arrived at white combs filled with sweet honey from our beehives inside the heart of St. Peter’s Community Garden.

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Now to do it all again with a little more knowledge and with fresh motivation from a little more sugar in our blood!