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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

IMG_20191207_142357045

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.

IMG_20191207_142217122

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.

IMG_20191207_142327947

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!

IMG_20191207_133154995

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!

IMG_20191207_142050456

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.