Over the border!

I have been quiet for a while, not because I have had nothing to write about but because I have been too busy to sit down and type about it all!

Now that restrictions are easing and I have had both my Covid vaccinations I went to visit my daughter for a few days. Some of you may remember that she works as Learning Support Assistant in a primary school and it is easiest for her if I visit during the holidays so I went for part of half term.

As you can imagine it was wonderful to see her especially as the last time was August! We packed a lot into a few days. The lease on her rented house was coming to an end and although she could have renewed it she was considering moving. She has made the house into a lovely home and has some fantastic neighbours but the landlady is very reluctant to spend money on maintenance and repairs. Last winter the badly fitting, single glazed windows and lack of loft insulation meant the heating was not up to the job and the house was very cold. Then 2 neighbours (both in rented homes) announced they were moving – who would come in their place? It seemed sensible to look at other houses to rent. So once again I found myself viewing properties with one of my children! Front runner was a very similar house to the one she was in, on a quiet estate within walking distance of the town center, but with a slightly different layout of rooms and much better maintained. As in many towns and cities, especially those built in the 60’s and 70’s the suburbs are arranged around roads which radiate out from the center of town and the buses run along those radial roads, So to visit friends a couple of miles away in the next ‘village’ means a bus into town and another out, or using the car. So paradoxically living near the center should help her kids’ social lives! After a lot of weighing up the pros and cons including the hassle of changing her address on everything, dealing with the benefits system and packing everything up, she decided to move and we set the wheels in motion.

Two viewings of the place on different days meant we were in town so I hit the charity shops to replenish my wardrobe after being unable to do so through the Covid restrictions. I had noticed that another aspect of my rut was that every morning I pulled on jeans and a t-shirt type top, the only decision required being short or long sleeves, then a fleece hoodie. Sometimes they were clean and tidy clothes suitable for being seen out in and other days they were gardening wear with stains and holes but that was the only difference. It was so long since I had worn earrings that the holes had almost healed over and I abandoned my watch when the battery ran out. By going into ALL the charity shops we found a skirt, a dress, a pair of smarter trousers and several tops in my size.

A selection of my finds – some are in the wash!

And as we were out and spending money (It hardly hurts at all to wave a plastic card over a machine which beeps its thanks!) we had a pub lunch one day and ate out at Wagamama another evening. If any of you know of a good cookbook or website that would introduce me to cooking Japanese cuisine (bearing in mind that my local supermarkets have limited ranges of ‘world foods’!) please tell me. What we had was delicious but very new for me. The pub lunch included a particularly nice relish which I managed to re-create at home – recipe below.

Red Onion and Red Pepper Relish

Sweat half a kilo of thinly sliced red onions slowly until beginning to soften, add one and a half red peppers cut into short thin strips and continue cooking until everything is soft and starting to melt. Add salt, pepper, a generous slug of balsamic vinegar, a desertspoon or so of dark muscovado sugar, a heaped teaspoon of grain mustard and a splash of blackcurrant vinegar (or pontack sauce or red wine vinegar). Continue to simmer for another ten minutes or so stirring frequently for the flavours to mingle. Check the taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Either pour into a jar and store in the fridge OR pour into a bottom lined cake tin, top with a circle of ready rolled puff pastry and bake at 200 deg for 20 mins then invert onto a plate as a tart for a delicious lunch. I made it when friends came and they asked for seconds so it must have been OK!

There are at least 2 more posts about my activities in my head and I will try to get them onto the screen soon!

Things are looking up

A fairly disastrous start to my garden had me feeling rather dejected but at last the sunny days/ frosty nights weather has given way to the usual ‘chilly with varying amounts of rain’ variety. Not nearly as nice for working in but better for growing.

I brought the trays of tender seeds indoors and put them on the living room windowsill. The window faces due South and there is a radiator underneath. At last some have germinated.

these are cucurbits of various kinds and peppers – sweet and hot.

I planted a net of first early potatoes – some outdoors and some in large pots in the lean-to greenhouse on the South wall of the house. The outside ones have kept trying to send up shoots and been nipped by frost despite a heavy mulch of paper so none have shoots more than 2 inches tall. In the greenhouse they are almost ready to flower!

Last year I ordered some plants and when they arrived a free gift of a few dahlia tubers had been included. I was hesitant because in the past slugs have munched every dahlia that put a shoot above the soil. But they were free so I put them out in pots and they came up well. In the Autumn I brought the pots into the lean-to greenhouse, stood them on bubble wrap and tied more round the pots then added a layer of shredded paper to the top. They have come back well.

Everything will be late but there should be some things to eat from the garden!

Indoors I have been decorating my bedroom. In this slightly weird old cottage that meant doing the stairs as well – we knocked 3 small bedrooms and the landing into one generous room so the door is at the bottom of the stairs. I didn’t realise that DIY stores were fully open (in my world they are useful but not essential) so I ordered paint online for collection. I knew that the colour I saw on my screen was not accurate – would I like it when I saw it on the walls? Should I order tester pots first? Since Carmarthen is 20 miles away I decided to risk it. It is paint. If I didn’t like it I could buy another can in a different colour and go over it again. I did however invest in some good quality paint that promised to cover any previous colour in one coat. So

From this

To

One friend’s reaction was ‘Oooh! You’ll have to be properly grown up now!’

I thought the pale colour would be a lilac grey and it is bluer than I expected but actually I am happy with it.

On the rut jumping front I have continued trying to expand the range of foods I eat. Yesterday I picked a large handful of ‘greens’ which included old favourites chard and wild garlic, shoots of asparagus kale which I grew for the first time last year and have been picking leaves from all winter, but also dandelion leaves and vine leaves. I had thought that dandelions had to be blanched under a flowerpot but Carolee (https://herbalblessingsblog.wordpress.com ) assured me they didn’t. I chopped all the leaves and sauteed the whole lot in a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and they were delicious. Today I have made Soda Bread (from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking), Blinis (from Michael Mosley’s The Clever Guts Diet) and Oatcakes (from The River Cottage Handbook No 3 – Bread by Daniel Stevens).

On the crafting front – wait for Scrap Happy!

At long last we are able to start meeting up with friends, have workdays and non-essential shops are open. Yesterday I met friends in Cardigan to have coffee. As it was fine there were more people out and about than usual. We cannot yet go inside but the Council has reduced the High Street to one lane allowing cafes to put chairs and tables out on the pavements and spill onto the side of the road. It wasn’t ideal with delivery lorries trundling past but a big step towards normality!

The other thing that has lifted my spirits is that my son plans to move nearer to me. He no longer needs to be able to commute to London every day but instead will be working from home most of the time. His job in IT is stressful and his health is suffering. Moving out of an urban environment should help him relax. His wife, who has very little experience of living in the country, prefers to stay put so for now he will buy somewhere small, but big enough for her and their adult children to visit, and split his time between here and there. That way she can try living down here (very different from staying with your M-I-L!) and see if she likes it after all. I have been helping him house hunt and he has made an offer on a place he saw the other side of Carmarthen from me. Of course there are many things that can go wrong between offer and moving in but knowing that he will buy that or another place soon and I will be able to see more of him is lovely.

Another step out of my rut

Regular readers will know that over Christmas I realised that I had shrunk. Sadly not physically but in terms of my sense of self, my confidence and my comfort zone. To reverse this I have been pushing myself to clamber out of my rut. As part of that I decided to expand my repertoire of meals and baking. I had, as most of us do, a collection of recipes which I made over and over again. Sometimes I varied them a bit but basically I was sticking to tried and tested, fail-safe, do them without reference to a book, ones. I mentioned in a previous post that finding books by Jack Munroe in the library started the process and encouraged me to be more experimental with meals but I was still making the same bread, cakes and biscuits.

I got out my favourite bread book (The River Cottage Handbook No 3 – Bread) and looked for something to try. I love crumpets so thought I would begin with those. Disaster! Even though I oiled the rings well the dough stuck to them. I tried adjusting the wetness both to drier and to wetter but they still stuck. Thinking about it later I have used those same rings many times for poaching eggs and I think I have scoured them too often so that they are scratched. When I chucked the last batch of glued up rings into a bowl of washing-up water to soak the dough off I looked again at the recipe and it said that pikelets could be made from the same dough without rings – just spoonfuls of batter on the pan. I was reluctant to waste the last bit of batter so I gave it a go and – success!

Then I tried Focaccia from the same book. That worked first time.

Last week the lockdown restrictions on us here in Wales were eased a little so we can visit each other. Only 4 adults from no more than 2 households can meet out of doors. The Snails and I decided that if it rained their limery with the doors and windows open was as good as outdoors so I went to visit them. Jan had made some bread and some small cookies which were more like little cakes. Both recipes were from a book she posted about a while ago – Artisan Sourdough Made Simple by Emilie Raffa. One of the reasons I have not explored sourdough much is that living alone I only need to bake bread every few days and throwing away half the starter to feed it grieves me. On the other hand chilling it would mean re-activating it before using it and in turn that means being more organised than I can usually manage! Jan assures me that the starter only needs feeding every few days and this book has recipes to use up any discarded starter. So I bought a copy and now have a starter culture brewing.

All this experimenting and learning new techniques is quite exciting! And the higher I climb out of the rut the more possibilities I can see. Thank goodness the easing of our lockdown looks like continuing – I am going to need visitors to help me eat all things I want to bake!

From Mountain Goats to Busy Bees

Only a few weeks ago Laura and I were finishing the main tree work for this year tackling the trickiest jobs which I had left until last so that we built up our skills on the easiest first. We cut some trees growing right on the edge of the high, vertical bank behind the greenhouses just before snow came.

The two which are still growing out of the bank are too far down to be reached from above and as I do not want them to regrow we will cut them from stepladders behind the greenhouses later.

Then we laid a hedge in an almost equally awkward place!

By the time we had done that we were joking that we were fully qualified as Mountain Goats!

But now spring has started to appear. The snowdrops and daffodils are out in several parts of the garden.

The wild garlic is reappearing on the path by the stream

The crown of early rhubarb is leafing.

I made a bird box over winter and hung it opposite the end of the deck so I can watch it from the house. I have seen blue tits investigating it – will they move in?

The black elder near it is breaking bud and living up to its name.

And in the greenhouses the 2 apricot trees and the peach are in full bloom.

Apricot
Peach

It is too early for many insects to be flying so to ensure a good set of fruit one of us must tickle each of these flowers with a soft brush every day. So now we are no longer Mountain Goats but Busy Bees!

Between then and what will be

I have been feeling very unsettled, grumpy-grumbly in a vague unfocussed sort of way, fraught with unfinished to-do lists and a sense of time running out.

Rob moving out of the cabin early in lockdown left me with no help in the garden over the summer. Not that he would have been much help had he stayed. The death of a close friend and serious ill health of two close family members hit his fragile mental health hard and his usual slowness became almost catatonic. Now it is Autumn; Laura has moved in and will, I think, be a huge asset. She is intelligent, keen to learn and cheerful. But for now she has to be given time to learn where things are and how to do the tasks that need attention. That means I have to work alongside her, explaining and teaching and our speed is slow.

It is also the time when I pick wild fruit and preserve it. The time when there is an abundance of fresh produce in the shops to make chutneys and pickles. Having swapped my big chest freezer for a less capacious upright one I can no longer stash it all away until I have more time (that mythical ‘more time’!) – it has to be bottled or jammed or whatever at once.

At the same time restrictions have been easing and we all want to meet up again – I am greedy for the company and sociability. And at the same time I am alert to the risks – another juggling act. We have started to have workdays and meetings at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust, a very delayed AGM – where my treasurer’s report felt like something from another lifetime – and resuming work on the roundhouse we are building. They have thrown up another dilemma for me. We are able to meet outdoors but with everyone 2 meters apart I am a long way from anyone on the opposite side of the circle. I should have had new hearing aids in the spring but of course the hospital stopped doing hearing tests. So I struggle to keep up with the discussion, often mis-hear and find the effort exhausting. Now we must all wear masks indoors, a ruling I think is sensible since masks remind us to be careful in other ways too, but it makes voices muffled and I can’t lipread or see expressions so well. I have decided that for now I will not go to indoor events involving more than 2 or 3 people and decide about outdoor ones on a case by case basis. None of this is anybody’s fault but it is frustrating and wearing.

Whilst all these practical things are demanding my attention I have been challenged by some books I have been reading. Three are memoirs written by women who chose to scratch a living in remote rural areas. Three very different personalities and stories but thought provoking. The fourth is an academic work, ‘Sitopia’, about the centrality of food to life, politics and culture and how the world might be different if we recognised that more overtly. I had already been reflecting on the plans and projects I have been working on to prepare me and this place for my older age. So now my head is full of ideas and words which roll around and, like a snowball running downhill, accumulate more and more, getting bigger and bigger. But I can’t seem to get them organised into coherent strings or know what to do with them. I will just have to wait for them to reach the bottom and the ball to break apart. Maybe then I will be able to make sense of it! Meanwhile I am wary of sharing much of it because in this mood I am likely to put it badly. Which means using energy to both contain it all and manage my impatience with not being able to organise it into something that makes sense! Another problem when meeting friends and a block to writing blog posts.

For all these reasons blogging has taken a back seat. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading other people’s posts and my apologies for the shortness of my comments.

One day soon it will all click into place again, my sense of joy will be restored and normal blogging will be resumed.

A road to?

In the days when farms were small and only had a few cows, moving them across one or two fields to get to the area they were to graze did very little damage to the land. Now that herds are 100+ strong they can make a terrible mess of a gateway so it is quite common for farmers to put down a few loads of stone around the gates. They may also fence off the edge of the fields and lay down stone tracks so that it is easier to direct the cows to the right field after milking. Open the gate from the track to the field you want grazed then drive the cows from the yard onto the track and the job is done. They will amble along and one man can manage them on his own.

So it was no great surprise to see a gateway on one of our regular walks with newly laid stone in it. Even when I saw the digger still working I assumed it was one of these narrow cow tracks being laid. But when, a few days later, I saw that the digger had disappeared over the hill leaving a beautifully laid wide road behind it my curiosity got the better of me! I knew that as long as I didn’t go through a gate I would not meet any livestock and the dogs were on leads as always when we are off my property, so I began to walk the new road.

I presume the rectangular hole is a silage pit (for those not in the know silage is the modern alternative to hay. Grass is cut but not left to dry. Instead it is trailered to a barn or pit, dumped, compressed by driving a tractor over it repeatedly, covered with a huge plastic sheet, old tyres are put on top to weight it down and the grass ferments – think sauerkraut. By winter it is ready to be fed to the cows who love it) so presumably whoever owns the fields is going to use them for winter feed and needs to be able to move tractors around easily.

I have often sat at temporary traffic lights watching a new piece of road being constructed. Somewhere on the site is a cluster of portacabins to provide office space, storage and restrooms with a potaloo ot two standing alongside. There is usually a contingent of engineers, identifiable by their suit trousers visible between their hi-vis jackets (often rather clean for people on site) and their wellies. They have high tech equipment like digital theodolites and laser levels or clipboards and rolls of maps. The line and gradient of the road is marked with posts and crossbars. Buzzing around are diggers and dumpers moving earth from here to there until the contours of the ground exactly match the markers.

This road has been constructed by one man in a digger and, it seems, one small dumper truck and a roller. No tech, no measuring. Just years of experience and a good ‘eye’. I found myself in awe of his skill!

Lessons from Lockdown

When our children were babies my husband worked for a while as an Audit Assistant with the local Council. It was a small Council and Audit got various jobs that didn’t really belong to any department or took up slack when other departments were unusually busy. One day he was asked to review the insurance for all the Council vehicles before it was renewed. ‘Just think of the worst accident you can imagine and make sure we would be OK’ was the instruction from his boss. His scenario involved a bin lorry, failed brakes, a steep hill between busy shops and with the Council Offices at the bottom.

More importantly it made him think about our lives. What could go wrong? What would the consequences be? Did we have the ‘insurance’ to cope? From then on he was known for his ‘belt, braces and a bit of baler twine just in case’ approach. That seemingly trivial task at work became a foundation stone for our lives. We didn’t become fearful or paranoid, just determined to think about our resilience and try always to have plan ‘B’.

IMG_20200503_134445519
Soft fruit gives a lot of yield for little effort

We agreed that we would try to accumulate useful practical skills going as far back down the process as possible and to do so using only the most basic equipment. I knew how to sew but learned how to mend, do patchwork using recycled fabric, sew by hand as well as machine, relearned how to knit and crochet, then to spin and to dye using natural ingredients (I am not very good at either but know enough that I could become competent). John added DIY and building to his ‘O’level woodwork then did a weekend course in blacksmithing. We learned to garden and to cook with what was available rather than starting with a recipe and buying the ingredients. Foraging increased the range of foodstuffs we could use. Preserving kept summer foods for winter use. We kept poultry and pigs for meat and eggs.

The spinning wheel I have been lent and the workshop

I hope I am not giving the impression that I live (or have lived) some buccolic idyll of self sufficiency. Complete self sufficiency is a myth. It is also part of the ‘I’m all right Jack’ bunker mentality of the survivalists. I happily accept gifts from neighbours, shop from local farms and buy staples like flour and sugar from the supermarket. I enjoy eating bananas and lemons that will not grow in the UK. I heat my home predominantly with electricity and since heat is needed mainly when the sun is not shining I need the National grid to take surplus power when I have it and sell me some when I need it. I use more than I generate so I am dependent on other suppliers particularly over winter. I prefer to use hand tools but am realistic about the efficiency of powered ones. And so on.


Allowing kales to self seed looks messy but gives me an early crop for no work. Small ones for salad and big ones to cook.

The last few weeks has been the first big test of that resilience for a long time. I have coped pretty well. Not pefectly so there are things I need to think about but on the whole well enough. I am of course lucky to be retired – my income is not dependent on me being able to work. I don’t have young children to care for and school or entertain. Having a mortgage free home in the country with a large garden has been a great blessing and is partly down to luck and partly to hard work and choices. Food in the garden, hedgerows to forage in, preserves and a well stocked freezer mean I have had plenty to eat and gardening, crafting, dogs and a home to look after have given me plenty to do.


Workdays and permaculture groups have made me lots of friends

Getting to know my neighbours, building a wider community by joining in things and volunteering means I have had plenty of offers of help with things like shopping and lots of electronic contact with others. My washing machine stopped working with a smell of hot rubber and some expensive noises just after lockdown started. I could have ordered a new one online for home delivery but I suspect it can be repaired and I know a very competent man who will come and look at it – but not at the moment. My neighbour has been doing my washing each week since and has been pleased to help me since she was becoming embarassed about asking me to drive her children to clubs when she had two of them needing to go in opposite directions at the same time. Of course I have missed being able to go out and meet friends for coffee, walks on the beach, visitors coming here, workdays… but I haven’t been lonely or felt vulnerable.

So where could I do better? I didn’t have enough pet food to see me through even the original 3 week lockdown. I buy dog and cat food in sacks from the farmers co-op but in future I need to have an unopened sack of each as well as the one I am using. That means I also need to make sure there is space for them in the new utility room. I can adjust my diet to suit what is growing but it is harder to do that for the animals! I also went to the vets and got some more of the pain relief medicine Orchid needs. I was a bit over cautious there as the bottle will finally run out tomorrow but even so I need to keep a better supply in future.


C&M have closed the trust shop but between 10am and 2pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday they are open to take orders called through the window. They put everything requested together in a box which is put outside the door for the customer to pick up.

I have been going to C&M for fresh fruit and veg, butter and cheese. I decided a few years ago that potatoes, onions and carrots were not worth growing. Potatoes because I always miss some when I dig them up and get ‘volunteers’ the next year which outcompete the things I am trying to grow, onions because they came out the same size as the sets that went in and carrots because the local carrot root flies get them all. This year I have been able to get some manure to improve my veg patch and am planting lots of leeks instead of onions. I had intended growing some potatoes in pots which I could empty completely when I harvested them but missed the seed potatoes. Butter and cheese I can start keeping in the freezer. So I just need to tweak my growing and storing. On the other hand by shopping there I have been supporting a local business – a balance to be struck.


preserves have been a boon

The other thing I have needed to buy is milk. I have been thinking about that gap for a while and had a go at milking a goat at a friend’s place a while back. Going back into livestock isn’t something to do on a whim or for an unusual event but I do need to have another think.

Of course if this goes on for much longer I will run out of other things, there will be other breakages and breakdowns. My hair needs cutting and since I had it cut short I no longer have slides and clips to keep it out of my eyes. A dental appointment has been postponed. A former neighbour died and I was unable to go to the funeral – it should have been a ‘standing room only’ affair but must have been very small instead – not a fitting send-off for a very popular and respected man.

Sometime fairly soon lockdown will be eased if not lifted and I will be very glad. I will enjoy a trip into Cardigan to have a coffee, meet friends, go to the library, buy some more knitting yarn and restock at the supermarket. I will get my hair cut, my tooth filled and my washing machine repaired. But I owe a huge debt of gratitude to that imaginary bin lorry!

Blessings # 12 – L is for Larder

I deliberately try to grow more food in this garden than I need so I have some to give away. That is prticularly true for low work, high value stuff like soft fruit. I mean what woman can eat all the apricots 2 trees produce or the grapes from 5 vines? The grapes are a bit OTT I have to admit. I have tried making wine and it comes into the ‘drinkable if desperate or too drunk to care’ category so I have given up. Partly I grow the vines to give some shade in the greenhouses, partly because they look so lovely – the fruit is a bonus. But it is easy to give away and the birds enjoy the rest. Bushes like blackcurrants are so easy to reproduce from cuttings – again I give away loads and find spaces for any that are left which add to the bounty. I also go foraging along the lanes in autumn for blackberries and sloes.

As well as eating as much of the fruit and veg as I want and giving away some of the surplus I bottle fruit, fill the freezer, make jams, chutneys, pickles and buy citrus fruit to make marmalade. Those stocks help me through the winter and there are very few people who aren’t grateful for a gift of homemade preserves.

I also belong to a group who buy direct from Suma Wholesale. Suma is a workers co-operative which supplies wholefoods and organic groceries, mostly to shops, through a website. When John and Jean, the organisers of the group tell us that they are planning a delivery we each go online and order what we need. At the checkout we put our name as the reference. The whole lot, together with copies of the orders, is then delivered to John and Jean who spend a couple of hours sorting it into different piles in their home office ready for us to collect. I have discovered (sometimes the hard way) that not everything is worth buying in bulk – some walnuts went rancid before I could use them all up. But flour, dried fruit, tins of tomatoes and things like that last indefinitely.

A few weeks before we were all told to stay home I had to go to Carmarthen. I usually shop in Cardigan where there are more of the small independent shops I prefer but to get my hair cut or to have my NHS hearing aids serviced I have to go to Carmarthen. The supermarkets there are bigger than in Cardigan and realising that Easter would come up before I went there again I decided to stock up my freezer ready for family visiting. I expected my son to collect his son from Swansea University and he usually makes a weekend of it. Lately he has been giving Sean’s housemate, Irfan, a lift home too so that is 3 extra people to feed. I also wondered if my daughter might take the chance to come whilst her daughter was on holiday with her friend’s family.

In the event of course my son made a flying visit just before lockdown began and none of them has been able to visit since. Nor have I been going out to workdays and events so I have been baking less.

I have been so grateful for my ‘pantry’ now! I was able to help my neighbour out with some things she had run short of and she gave me eggs which she gets from a friend of hers. Since it is a dairy farm they can also give me milk when I need some.

After not going out other than to walk the dogs for 2 weeks I went to C&M on Saturday for some fresh veg and this week I will have to go to the Farmers Co-op for some dog food and cat food. Both places have instituted systems where you tell them what you need and they put your order outside for you to pick up. There is no contact between staff and customers and customers are expected to be sensible about staying well apart in the car park. But I think it will be several weeks before I need to brave a supermarket again!

Blessings #2 – B is for Bees

I was chatting to Chris from C&M Organics the other day when I was showing her daughter Anna my garden. We had got to the greenhouses and were admiring my apricot trees which were in bloom and noticed a bee working the flowers. I always make sure of a good set by dabbing them with a paint brush every couple of days just in case it is too cold or wet for the bees to fly. Chris told me that she had some broad beans in flower in the polytunnel for an early crop but had seen no bees on them so her husband Matt was patiently pollenating them all by hand. If we were to lose all the pollenating insects that is what we would have to do to every fruit tree and bush, all the crops where we eat the fruit and even the other crops such as roots and leaves are grown from seeds so all those parent plants would have to be brushed too. Only things like hazel nuts which are wind pollenated would be easy to grow. Can you imagine it? Presumably someone would invent a tractor attachment to speed the process up but it would still add a lot to the work and cost of food.


Between us the bees and I seem to have done a good job!

My paternal grandfather, who lived in Llanelli on the South Wales coast, was a founder member of the Carmarthenshire Beekeepers Association and known as Dai the bees. My father taught woodwork at a school on the Northern edge of Manchester and kept several hives of bees on a piece of otherwise unused land behind the school canteen. That would never be allowed now but at the time was seen as the perfect way to eliminate one of the hidey holes for smokers and other banned behaviour! During the summer holidays he was a seasonal bee inspector going round other peoples apiaries checking them for diseases. I have happy memories of going with him as a little girl and playing in some lovely gardens whilst he did his job. He was also treasurer of the Manchester association which had meetings at members apiaries during the summer. The beekeepers, mostly men, went through the hives and one of the more experienced pointed out things of interest whilst the wives sat in deckchairs and chatted and the children played. Each family took a picnic tea and the host provided cups of tea.


Granddad on the left and Dad on the right

When we moved here John very much wanted us to have some hives but by the time that idea got to the top of our list his health was deteriorating, I knew that I would have to do the bulk of the work and having helped my Dad knew that lifting heavy hive boxes singlehandedly on hot days whilst wearing overalls, veil, gloves and boots was hard work. I also knew that all our animals conspired to create their dramas when John was also having a bad day and I never knew who to deal with first. So I refused. Instead we let it be known that any beekeeper wanting space for an apiary would be welcome to talk to us. And so Ted and SUe came into our lives. They live a few miles away and had more hives than they could accomodate in their garden.


Ted and Sue’s hives in two different parts of the garden. I have cut the bottoms out of the pots in the picture on the right so the saplings in them can root down into the rather stony soil and create a hedge.

Their hives are still here so I get all the benefits but none of the work. Ted ans Sue make sure that any bad tempered bees are re-queened promptly so they are no trouble. We asked for no rent but every autumn a box appears in my porch with a years supply of honey and a large bottle of gin! Both are delicious!

Let Christmas begin!

I have just come back from one of my favourite events in the year and the one which, for me, marks the start of Christmas, Yule, Midwinter – call it what you will – The Christmas Market at C&M Organics.

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If you have been following my blog for a while you may remember that Chris and Matt run a market garden with an honesty shop which never shuts and where I buy the veg I need to supplement what I grow here. Much of it is grown by them but they import what cannot grow or to extend the season. All of it is organic and they supply a lot of local cafes, restaurants and shops. Increasingly they also stock a range of dry and canned goods and have a fridge with cheese, butter and yoghurt plus locally made sour-dough bread and some ice cream in a little freezer. They also make a point of supporting small local producers and providing them with an outlet liberally laced with encouragement. As part of that they have held markets where the producers can meet their customers face to face and promote their wares.

I arrived just half an hour after the start and was very glad I had chosen to walk there. The car park was full and the passing places on the single track road were filling up fast. Even with a marquee attached to the large storeroom the place was packed and there was a happy hum of voices. I had taken my phone to take photos but with low light levels and so many bodies gave up! Instead I took photos of the things I bought once I got home.

First stop was Chris’s own stall where she was selling home-made mince pies and mulled wine, tea and coffee to raise money for charity. Her eldest daughter works with refugees in Paris and Chris and Matt support her tirelessly. Another advantage of walking was being able to indulge in the mulled wine!

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Next was Mountain Hall Farm which was one of the first places I visited with the Pembrokeshire Permaculture group. You can read my post on that here and Alex’s own blog here. He was selling their grass fed beef but as I still have some from my friends Phil and Michelle I just had a cuddle with his four month old daughter, Ffion, and bought some innoculant for planting trees which Alex was selling on behalf of one of his friends.

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Next to him was Abby selling her dried flowers. She and her partner Josh keep ducks for eggs and rear lamb as well as developing a flower business. This year she grew things to dry as a way of extending the season and next year hopes to start selling flowers by post. I am in awe of these young people who give up secure, well paid jobs in cities to move out here and follow their passions.

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Linda was there too with beautiful fresh wreaths and decorated pots of narcissi. I visited her place this summer when they were waiting for planning permission to build a home on their plot. It has now been granted and she was bubbling over with delight and plans for the build. You can read about Linda’s floristry business here

There were 2 stalls selling hot food both of which looked and smelled lovely but to carry them home in my rucksack seemed likely to end in disaster so I opted for a savoury croissant filled with leeks and blue cheese instead. I could have had an almond or plain one or one of a range of fruity pastries. Choices! I wanted them all!

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There were stalls selling chocolates, candles, turned wooden christmas trees, hand made cards, beauty potions and all manner of other lovely things. The problem with being a crafter is that there is little point in buying what I can make myself. Plus I have just done a major de-clutter and am trying very hard (very very hard!) to be disciplined about filling the space up again! I succumbed to the temptation of sampling some pickled garlic which was delicious so I bought a pot telling myself that it would be eaten so didn’t count!

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I knew lots of the customers too. We all had time to chat and even though the place was full no-one was getting impatient or rushing – so different from bumping into someone I know in the supermarket. I love the feeling of community, of camaraderie and mutual support at these events which I am sure comes from Chris and Matt’s own value system. I hope they have one next year.