Only a couple of days of bright warmth causes the mind to race to spring days, weave through the daffodils, join a surge of life that swells in each plant and in the breast of every bird. Then onwards amongst the full deciduous canopies of summer pierced with the lazy sunlight and enriched by the smell of fresh mown grass and the taste of greenhouse tomatoes.
But for now we can settle for a few buds on some bare sticks and fresh green shoots of daffodil bulbs as they wake from their winter sleep to pop their heads and with a nudge to their neighbors ask ‘is it spring yet?’ The frosty mornings are still welcome, ice on the pond floats between visiting ducks. The pouring rain and strong winds that batter at the walls and ceiling of the volunteer centre. Even the warmth of summer can’t always compare to work in the cold mud followed by a heated room, a cuppa, and a biscuit.
2020 started with an aggressive burst of weather. Wind, rain, and storms with enough character to warrant a name. Despite this – with a combination of persistent wet days over 2019 and the even more persistent flood of time – some of the community garden’s wooden structures are in need of attention and the bad forecast can’t stand in our way. The raised beds – originally made from railway sleepers – are already in the middle of a revamp which will convert two to brick. The fences require a deep clean and a new coat of paint this year. Our stubborn potting shed still leaks despite several attempts to fix the roof. And the viewing platform next to the pond became unsafe as the boards and rail had begun to rot away. This had to be taken out for safety and no one could accuse the volunteers who put it in of doing half a job. No new year gym membership required as we spent the week digging, hammering, and chipping out concrete and hardcore by hand which thrust into the ground about a metre to hold the posts in place.
Thankfully this week we had the more pleasant job of putting in a stack of plants donated by a new volunteer who had to move from her old allotment plot in a hurry. A move St. Peter’s community garden is sure to benefit from for years to come!
The is the time of year when the garden can be weeded and then within a week look as if it has been abandoned for at least two months. The sun is strong and so are the showers and together they cause all manner of plants to explode into life. It is easy to see this weedy takeover and stand – hands on hips – and begin to navel gaze. Here even the best of the best must start to question if there is a ‘point’ to it all. We can easily start to question things when outcome doesn’t match effort and in fact it is rare to even think about ‘the point’ except in cases when we question if there is one!
In this sort of situation a helpful person might begin to reel off a list of things that could add meaning to an otherwise thankless or never-ending task such as weeding.
- Allowing the plants you like to breathe and grow strong
- Watching a robin hop around nearby collecting worms
- Feeling the warmth of the sun on your back as you work
- Bringing joy to others who see the neatness of the garden
- The sense of satisfaction after completion
But once the mind starts to question ‘the point’ it will often find a way to dismiss any reasons as meaningless. So where do we go from here?
– Maybe there is no point –
and maybe that’s ok. Perhaps if there was a point – if there was deep meaning to gardening there would be serious consequences if things were gardened improperly. Each time a tender weed seedling peeked from the earth we would have to be there to attack and destroy. If a slug ate our vegetables we would weep and tear our hair from our scalps. Each time it rained when we needed to work you would find us despondent and anxious muttering ‘why? why me?’ at the overcast sky.
So maybe sometimes it’s better if there isn’t a point. That way – when things go a little bit wrong or the beds are a little bit weedy – we can shrug and say things like ‘oh well, maybe next year’.
The capricious climate has kept us on our toes through the first month of 2019. So mild were the initial weeks that the daffodils stretched out their necks from the soil and began to bud – eager to gaze at an early spring sun – only to be smacked back down by a few biting frosts and last week’s snow tantrum.
Despite these fickle fancies of the weather – work goes on with no small amount of effort spared. Since returning from the Christmas break – the volunteers have dug and shaped a large new area for fruit bushes and trees. This had to be done twice as it was uncultivated soil – full of rubble and rubbish from when St. Peter’s community Garden was still wasteland. The volunteers have also painted fences, weeded paths, litter-picked, and pruned their way through the worst of the weather (with probably some still yet to come!).
Thankfully – with buds already bringing promise of spring – there’s still a bounce in the steps that fall on the recently weeded paths of the Garden!
New greenhouse erect!
BBQ’s aren’t just for summer – they can be for Christmas too. The Christmas BBQ ran on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of last week and gave the volunteers of St. Peter’s Community Garden time to chat, to eat, and to laugh in the warm to a jumble of Christmas songs.
Whilst outside the toolroom’s green door the rain taps along on the gazebo that shelters the burgers and sausages and beyond that the garden is hushed apart from the wind that rushes through the birch canopies. Too eager to be involved in the celebrations – the wind pushed a panel from the new greenhouse over the weekend and now polystyrene and cardboard serve as a placeholder until a new one can arrive.
Cardboard and insulation also fill the roofs of the beehives – in hopes that both hives will emerge healthy in the spring. They now stand stoic near the ponds where maybe on a frozen day a heron will look for food amongst the cold bulrushes.
For now the pond is still beside the new path where mute stone-dust lies undisturbed until the new year and next to rhubarb crowns tucked snugly under leaf mold.
The complete slate fountain in the new quiet garden also stands silent – a Japanese acer leans over to keep watch.
A week has now passed since the first BBQ and the volunteers might feel a little snug sat inside away from the pointy rain and strong gusts outside – waiting for Christmas. However – maybe they will still think of the garden and wonder what the new year might bring.
Sometimes nature can surpass even the knowledge of experts. Most beekeepers would admit that the honey bee has a certain knack of doing this.
During September and October we’ve been feeding our bees with sugar syrup to help them through the winter. This isn’t unusual – you may have read previous blogs by the greenhorned gardener on feeding bees. This year the bees swarmed – a lot – and despite our best efforts left us no honey to harvest. This is also not unheard of – even if a little upsetting when looking for that perfect topping for toast.
An interesting thing we learnt from our friendly expert about the honey bee is that an unfertilised queen will still lay brood. Unfertilised eggs become drone brood (male bees) and fertilised become worker brood (female bees). By the end of the summer we had one working hive and one whose queen was only laying drone brood. Without workers a hive will be unable to produce stores for the winter. If the bees were reading the book they would know that if a queen only produces drone brood then revolutionary rules apply. This requires the queen to be executed and the failing hive merged with the healthy one. This was the method we had decided on and a date was picked. Maybe our Queen Antoinette did read the book and saw her impeding doom – when we opened the hive in order to do the deed we found a healthy hive of both worker and drone brood! Even our friendly expert was astonished.
After this pleasing turn-up we could begin the usual preparations for the coming cold months – though it seems the bees will do whatever pleases them without our input! Still – we will feed them and insulate their homes just in case.
Following such an unusually dry and hot Summer – with such unusual large crops of chillies, cucumbers, and grapes (sweet enough to actually eat!) – the first leaves that turned and fell felt like old friends. A sense of recognition after an almost unrecognisable season.
The Community Garden Bees also had a confused time of it. Through the Summer they became almost nomadic! This would have been ok if they hadn’t taken most of the honey with them each time they left. This year did not produce a single jar of honey we could sample. Now our focus has moved from lack of honey for us to whether the bees will have enough to see themselves through the winter months. The time to feed is here.
The next month will feel like the exhale of the year – filled with calm leaf-raking mornings, quiet afternoons of cutting back perennials, and lunchtimes with discussions of the new doctor who – all between rain showers.
‘I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.’ L.M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables
What we lost over Winter we have now regained at St Peter’s Community Garden!
With all of this unusual warm weather – that one day we found (as we sat under sun umbrellas on the patio eating watermelon) was as hot as Havana heat levels – it came as no surprise that our busy bees wanted to get out and make the most of an actual Welsh Summer too. Fortunately, the bees were content with a trip to another part of the garden rather than one to the Caribbean – unfortunately, they chose to holiday in a tree right next to the School railings causing a little bit of chaos for a short time.
Their fondness of venturing out on the hottest day of the year means a very sweaty afternoon in a thick bee-suit. But the sweltering was worth it once the swarm had been placed in their new home – putting our inhabited hives back up to two. Even if the next few days required a couple of trips to round up stragglers who seemed keen to continue their vacation in the tree.
Here’s hoping they’ve had their fill of travel this year and will now get down to some hard work and honey making!
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.’
– If only!
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.