honey and the bee

gardening

Early spring. The freshest greens of the year, blossom, and over the last few weeks, sapphire skies.

After six months of slumber, our bees are active again. It was time for us to open the hive up and peer inside. Stretching my arms, I hold the first frame of bees to the sky. Sunlight pours onto nectar- gold on liquid gold.

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I had never lived in a city, and I’m a long way from my northern roots. But Bristol is now my home. Some things weave you to the fabric of a place, and our hive of bees have helped to do just that.

A hive manages to turn the gardens of a congested, grubby city into energy enough to give life to 50,000 bees. And of course to us beekeepers, some precious jars of honey. Along with the honey, they make comb, propolis (a glue they make from trees) and store pollen and nectar to power the hive.

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In our human world, we have times of happiness and sadness, gains and losses. But in the spring garden, I know that bees will be flying, the chickens will be laying and seeds will be bursting. They give a constancy, a backdrop to dip in to at any time.

Watching the bees entering and leaving the hive is deeply soothing. Some things are inherently good for us. To me it seems it’s the things we have always been doing- eating, drinking and life at its basic- both people and the wild.

 

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honey to harvest

Nearly all of our interactions with animals are with ones that are either domesticated or fearful. But the bees are neither, as well as venomous. So we treat them with respect, handling them gently and sensing the mood of the hive. Everything a bee does is for the good of the colony, to the point of working themselves to death. Their task is determined by their age. When they emerge as a day old bee, they clean. As they age, they go on to feed young, fan the hive, build comb, guard the entrance and finish as foragers. In the summer months they will last for only six weeks or so, before dying of exhaustion.

In the warmer months we inspect the hive every week or two. Each frame has to be freed from the gluey propolis with a hive tool and checked over. We are looking for eggs and larvae- signs the queen is well and living, for food stores to power the bees, and for their health.

A hive is intoxicating. Scented honey, deep musk, wood, and a thousand invisible pheromones.

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new from old

DIY, furniture, restoration, Uncategorized

Old stuff- whether that be a piece of wood or a childhood teddy bear or your gran- can be beautiful. But the problem is it tends to fall apart.

Last month I picked up the cast iron remains of a garden chair from an allotmenteer in Cotham.

Nearly all of the original wood had rotted away, the nuts and bolts had rusted and fused together and the iron was beginning to flake and discolour.

cast iron chair

Rust & rot, and not much else

I began by removing the old bolts, which needed a hacksaw and pliers and cleaning and scrubbing down the iron.

Next, I cut the timber to size for the back panel and the chair struts and began to fit them into place.

part restored chairI drilled pilot holes for the bolts and then countersunk them so they don’t catch when people are having a sit.

timber & iron chair

taking shape

The chair was then ready for a lick of paint to prettify and preserve. I used hammerite on the iron, which I learnt to wear gloves when using (it takes some shifting/half a bottle of fairy liquid) and timber paint on the struts.

Feel free to contact me if you would like some garden furniture giving a second life.

restored chair

The restored chair, looking proud as punch

warding off the vampires

allotment, bristol, garlic

A week before Halloween, I planted garlic. Early winter is the time to plant it, as it gets a head start and so once summer rolls back around, the bulbs are plumper than spring planted.

solent white garlic

a bulb of solent wight

Garlic has been not only used to ward off vampires, but cholera, flu and even the plague. Now it is accepted that it is good for our blood and hearts. But most of it all I grow it for its pungency and deep, versatile flavour.

On my own and on client’s plots, I have planted ‘Solent Wight’. It has been bred in the UK- the Isle Of Wight- and so is used to our grey days and chilled winter nights.

garlic

Planting them is as simple as it comes- break up the cloves, dig down a few inches and space them 6 inches apart. As I planted them, their heady, thick fragrance filled the autumn air.

planting garlic

Garlic is good grown as a companion plant- a plant that can be grown alongside other plants to keep pests at bay. Growing without synthetic chemicals and fertilisers means you have to look at cultural methods and view growing as a more connected, linked up affair. Growing garlic alongside other crops- such as carrots to befuddle carrot root fly- is an example of this.

Come early summer, there should be plump, fresh cloves for roasting with cherry tomatoes, for slicing paper-thin into salads and for frying in yellow, creamy butter.

harvest

allotment, baking, bristol

For the season before death and decay, frost and ice, there is so much sweet and ripe about life right now.

apple

October is a time to marry baked fruit, crumbly pastry and aromatic spice.

autumn apples

Right now, apples are at their peak. A ripe apple should come away from the branch with a gentle twist, and ultimately, taste good.

allotment toast

Over the last BBQ of the year, we grilled bread topped with fresh chilli, ripped nasturtium flowers and salted butter.

sweetcorn

On the plot, cob after cob of corn is now full and ripe. Corn enjoys a long growing season, so I sow it indoors early in spring and plant it out as soon as the frosts have cleared. Six months is a long time to wait for a corn on the cob, but slathered in garlicy, peppery butter, every month is worth it.

fruit. booze. autumn.

allotment, growing, recipe

At this time of year, the warmth, the sweetness, the shine of summer is gone from the air, but now it hangs in berries and fruit, hedgerows and trees.

One of the best things about growing your own is picking food at the perfect moment. Supermarkets have to pick under-ripe, so it makes the journey from field to shelf without bruising or bleeding. In my own allotment, I wait til the fruit is almost bursting its skin with juice and sugar, before twisting it from the branch.

Damson gin

Booze is good and fruit is good and the two together are even better. You can make alsorts of fruit liquors by just leaving fruit and sugar in alcohol to slowly do its thing- but this is perhaps my favourite.

damson treeDamsons are in the same family as plums- but sharper and smaller. Their soft, huey purple is like the colour of the sky at night.

weighing damsons

750ml bottle of gin

500g damsons/plums/blackberries

300g sugar

Either give the damsons a light bashing or a little pricking (like a sexed up Mrs Beeton), pour them into a jar with the sugar, and then glug in the gin. Leave it for as long as you can. I have the first of mine at Christmas- its colour and warmth is perfect for an icy December day.

damson gin

three seasons & a patch of earth

allotment, bristol, gardening, growing

Nine months- a summer, a spring and a winter ago- we took on a patch of earth. It was January, it’s Britain, the previous owners didn’t leave behind a massive amount of inspiration. The place looked cold and tired, like life in greyscale. Dreams of the good life in this patch of earth seemed distant. 20141207_151643The willow tree is now full of leaf and life and shades our little shed. But in January, it stood stark against the slowly rotting pumpkins, plastic and weeds.

The soil was compacted. Weedkillers had been used. Before we had arrived there had been no plan.

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I wanted to breathe life and beauty and productivity back into the earth. But some things you can’t rush- after being compacted and poisoned by sprays, soil takes time to heal. I spread barrow after barrow of leaf litter, cow muck from a friend’s farm and even hops that smelt of sweet beer onto the beds. Over the months it became one with the soil, and gave me a space I could sow into.

springattheplot

By the time it was mid spring, we had made the beds and the first of the crops were in. We knew were on the right path. We built the shed- four months of building- alongside shaping the plot, and suddenly we had a base, a centerpiece, of our plot.

shed summer

As late spring rolled into midsummer, we stood back and looked at what we had done. Nine months ago here was a lifeless space, a space with no heart. Here, now, there is a plot with colour and life- and hopes of spring after the winter that’s sliding towards us.

lavender redcurrantWhen you are working with the earth, it’s never just physical. Don’t view gardening as a list of tasks. Planting, nurturing, eating is always much more than that.

raspberries and plunder

Uncategorized

Late evening, mid July. Raspberries hang ripe and crimson like the blood and sugar of midsummer. The half-dark air is scented with the growth of a 101 allotments- rows of strawberries and sunflowers and sweet peas perfuming the sky.

moth flower Bristol

A moth paused for my camera, iridescent with beauty and colour. Raindrops on the sweet peas shone like tears in the twilight. If ever there was a reason to stop, to watch, to care about the little things in our big world, it’s moments of quiet and fleeting beauty like this.

lettuce Bristol allotmentI bought a mix of lettuces- a ‘secret’ mix of salads from Real Seeds– not yet available commercially. The seeds from this company are traditional and open pollinated, so I can save the seed from the plants I grow for future years. A simple money-saver or a two fingers up, anarchist approach to the bigger plant breeders and capitalist world, depending on how you look at it.

allotment harvestEarlier in the evening, my allotment buddy plundered the allotment for greens to go with our dinner. We finished it with sweet-sour raspberries and zinging mint.

The peas are pretty much finished for the year, courgettes the colour of a sunrise are fattening, and the sweetcorn plants gleam emerald in the soft evening light. Sometimes I wish I could pause time to be forever midsummer.

a midsummer garden

allotment, gardening, growing

It is the height of summer. The days are still and long, and after sunset, light lingers in the midnight sky.

At no other point in the year is there more energy for growth. After rainfall, the earth is warm and damp and it is perfect for life to thrive.

lettuce

After a morning of rain, I visited the plot. Along the pathways, ryegrass hung heavy under the weight of a nights rain. In the salad bed, the reds and greens of the leaves stood stark against the black earth. Egg shells and coffee grounds lay on the ground in a vain (but non-toxic) attempt to deter the slugs.

strawberry

We have been eating our first strawberries of the year. No moment is sweeter. I have sown wildflowers in and left ‘weeds’ and now there is a bed of blooded berries and sprawling leaves.

nasturtium

Here and there I have planted nasturtiums. Their leaves are punchy and spiky with heat and pepper and their flowers are the colour of summer. Raindrops collected on them like glistening jewels.

chive
In late May and early June, the chives burst into flower, and they are perfect for picking and scattering into dinner.

Walking the plot, picking, eating, will never fill my belly but it brings together months of work and rolling skies and nothing could be more satisfying.

making & growing

allotment, gardening, growing

As the end of last year slipped into deepest winter, we took on an abandoned allotment, with dreams of a shed and rows of vegetables and sun-baked days.BeFunky_Snapchat-1663300603017459615.jpg

In a world with terrorism on the tele and dog shit on the streets, building a little space amongst fruit and vegetables and wildflowers seemed a good idea.

We challenged ourselves to build the shed from anything that could do with a second life. We rummaged in skips, plundered street corners and searched antique shops.

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We barrowed bricks in a thunderstorm, put up a bench in mid-winter drizzle and fixed up the roof in milky April sunshine.

shed sawSlowly, the shed came together. Plank by plank, nail by nail, the shed took shape.

 

We could have bought a shed from B&Q. But amongst the old planks and wooden-frame windows, there was character and beauty.
shed draw

 

Building with reclaimed materials means that lines and corners aren’t perfect, but there’s a charm to creating new from old.

 

shed

 

 

From cast-offs and rotting timber, we have a base to everything else we want to achieve- to nurture, to grow, to eat and drink.
allotment shed

promise & growth

bristol, gardening, growing, vegetables

With some seed in my hand and a little earth in which to sow, things feels good. Sowing a seed is sowing a promise- a promise of life and growth, and at the end of it, a promise of something to put on my plate. BeFunky_20150322_163810.jpgAll you need is a few pots, a little compost and seeds of whatever you like to eat. Put them on a windowsill and give them a little water and before long, you will see signs of life.BeFunky_20150322_142546 (2).jpg

Salad, herbs, chillis and corn have burst into life on my little windowsill. Suddenly I have something to nurture, with the hope of long summer days and food to pick.

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