June’s Perfume

Last night, in a large hardcover book, written by an old woman, with a good and honourable human story to tell, I read a sentence that made me nod my head in deep down agreement. The author was writing about a childhood summer spent in the north of England, on her grandmother’s country estate.  She was writing about the bird sounds that came through her wide open bedroom windows at night and in the morning: “the occasional squawk of the moorhen down on the lake, or the volley of quacking from the wild ducks, or the harsh cry of the herons which colonized the nearest island.”

These noises,” she wrote, “seemed to be heard by something inside me rather than by my ears” (pg 68, Diana Athill, Life Class).

And as I read her words I wanted to thank her, to thank her for being able to say something that I was not sure could be said, to thank her for her company in the un-sayable. What she has so beautifully articulated about the sounds made by England’s country birds, is precisely how I feel about the smells of June on Honey Grove. The perfume that escapes the thick hedgerows of wild roses that line the dirt road leading up to our farm, the sweetness of the tall grass in the lower field, the smell of beeswax that rises up off the hives in the afternoon like an invisible mist around the bee-yard; these smells are smelled by something inside me, rather than by my nose.

When I breathe these smells in, I find myself experiencing past and present all at once. For as I am standing in my garden on a Tuesday afternoon, I am also 5 years old, barefoot with scratched-up-legs running in a paisley skirt, collecting wildflowers for my father’s honey wagon, that would roll down our village high-street in the June parade. I am planting rows of carrots on Honey Grove, and at the same time, I am racing through the fields and up the mountains of my childhood, in the wild interior of British Columbia. In these moments, my whole being knows that I am home, home in the most real sense of the word, home in the way that one can never really say, but that can be felt, in the heart, like a tidal wave of truth.

Yes, these days on Honey Grove, I have taken to calling The Perfume of June. Everything is sweet and new, with the exception of our nettle/comfry/chicken manure compost tea, which has reached it’s full ripe fetor. It is only tolerable because the tomatoes like it so much.

And, if you look closely, you can see the fruits are swelling.

Yes, all things are swelling into ripeness here on Honey Grove. Look at these strawberries on their way to fat red deliciousness.

And the bees, they are swelling too…the way bees sometimes do…when you don’t give them enough space, soon enough.

Lucky for us we were able to re-hive them, and they have settled into their new home nicely.

And, while we sleep, the garden grows inches in the night. Really, it does.

Soon there will be artichokes, which I still cannot believe, because I always thought you had to live in France to grow artichokes. At one time I would have been willing to move to France just for that reason (well that, and the chocolate croissants and the cobble stone streets and the Louvre).

On another note you can almost watch Mark’s hops growing up their orange strings (between you and I, I think Mark actually does this). I sometimes see him down by his hops just starring at them with a deep appreciative love, and often a good length of time goes by before he returns from “watering” them in the lower field.  It is his secret-hop-love affair…he doesn’t think I know, but I do.

And when Mark is not watering hops, or making beer, or training hops, or planting hops, he is making bread with the “spent grain” left over from his beer making, which he drys and grinds and then soaks again, before mixing and kneeding and baking~ it is a labour of love.

And he does other things too, lots of other things. Sometimes he is going around the farm putting an end to tent caterpillars.

Or, building picnic tables, for picnicking guests.

Or adding another level to his brick oven.

And while I garden and Mark hammers, the sweet peas are still blooming. And, before Mark’s Dad left for England, he showed me how to make bouquets like this. This is one that he made. I know, isn’t it beautiful? Now imagine what it smells like.

So there you have it, we are working away over here, breathing in the beauty and carrying on with an ever-expanding and dedicated dream. Our days are long and there is much work to be done, but we are not complaining. We did hang a hammock recently with the intention to rest from time to time, but I am afraid, we have yet to get in it. Soon.

Until next time then. May your gardens be growing in their exquisite abundance, and may the fruits of your labours be appearing in time to cheer you on~ renewing your enthusiasm and propelling you forward encouraged and grateful.

Blessings and Gratitude,

Nao, Mark and Gus ( Gus sends his love too, from a country stroll, in the evening sun, sporting a new summer haircut).





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Humble Crumble (Or Pie)

This morning’s dawn came in on streaming golden rays, touching the treetops before slipping through the crack where drawn curtains meet. And as the sun touched my brow and stirred me to waking I could hear Ron the Rooster’s enthusiastic crow, welcoming the dawn. By 6:00 am the kettle was boiled and the tea was steeped and a new day had begun.

Photo by Trevor Sims

I must admit that waking to find Honey Grove splashed in sunlight was a welcome sight. For over seven days now, we have been splashing in puddles with no sun in sight. However, this is not a complaint, for the clouds rolled in after a long stretch of many weeks without rain, and our parched earth was in desperate need of a good drink. Not to mention that the right combination of rain and sun, is after-all, what makes the garden grow, and growing it is!

You could eat salad all day long on Honey Grove and you would not make a dent in the thick rows of spring greens offering their nutritious bounty to our kitchen baskets. I can say this with confidence, because I do, that is, eat salad all day long. I am like a goat that cannot resist the urge to munch on a patch of garden on my way by. Unfortunately, we have recently discovered, that we are not the only ones enjoying our spring greens. And this discovery is thanks to Mark’s Dad, who has come to visit us all the way from England (a botanist, with 50 years of Horticultural experience). Yes, we are getting a full education on the many pests that are delighting in our garden as much as we are. We have seen them too, because Mark’s Dad never goes anywhere without his trusty magnifying glass, ready and waiting in his pocket. And so, with firm dedication to our organic ideals, we now spend our evenings ( after dinner and before teatime) going through our vegetable plot, row by precious row, removing the “serpentine leaf miners” that are making their homes in some of our spinach leaves. Once the leaves are removed we add them to our nettle/comfry/chicken-manure-compost-tea blend, which steeps and brews and foams in large lidded vats that we dilute and feed to our tomatoes. As for slugs, they are collected and then offered to the ducks as succulent appetizers. I am quite certain that a slug is to a duck, what strawberry cheesecake is to me, pure heaven. Yes, I would have to say it’s a win win, all round.

Photo by Trevor Sims

So that tells you a wee bit about the pests we can SEE, but there are more. Some of them are lurking beneath the surface of the soil, hidden below the ground, invisible to those of us who dwell above, like “cabbage-root-fly,” for example.  If ever you see a young healthy cabbage plant wilt and faint for no apparent reason, like a pretty lady in a Victorian dress, it is most likely the result of cabbage-root-fly. Simply put, there is a fly that lays it’s eggs in cabbage roots and the result is always the same, a dead cabbage plant. Sadly, I must report that some of our cabbages have gone this way. But, we are not despairing, for despair never really seems to help that much. Instead we have simply planted more cabbages. And, we have  learned  a technique known to help prevent cabbage-root-fly. On the advice of Mark’s good  Dad (and with the hard-work of Mark’s lovely Mum) our cabbages now have orange felt skirts at the base of each of their stems which serve to keep the root-fly out (as well as to make our cabbages look even prettier than the corset-wearing-Victorian-ladies).

And yet, despite all the hidden pests, our garden still sparkles in its green and glowing glory. I don’t think that the average passerby would be aware of the myriad of creatures who are participating in the enjoyment of it’s abundance.

Otherwise, our peas have begun to climb, reaching their tendrils up toward the sky.

And the tomatoes are on their way to becoming a tomato forest. They are drinking up every ounce of their nettle tea compost.  And although it stinks to high heaven the mineral rich goodness is urging them onward and upward. Their stems are quickly becoming trunks and their little bell shaped flowers have begun to show a splash of yellow against all the green.

Oh, and I cannot forget to mention our sweet peas!  Yes, the sweet peas that we planted in Septmeber in the poly-tunnel are now blooming in May! Hurray!They offer their sweet perfume to the poly tunnel and to the bouquets that bless our kitchen table. If ever you are having a bad day, I suggest finding a sweet-pea and putting your nose up to it. It is an instant cure for melancholy, try it, you will not be disappointed, I promise.

Yes, the poly tunnel is a warm and happy place, even on rainy days, it’s always warm and dry in there.  I call it my Italy.  “Just off to Italy” I’ll say, to visit the tomatoes and the pots of basil, and to breath in the scent of sweet peas.

So that is the garden. The bees have been busy too, or at least they were before the rains came.  On sunny days they are out and about, visiting the neighboring orchards and gathering water from rain collection pails.

They have certainly been doing their job on the pollination front too.  The cherry trees over the duck pond, have now completed their cot-split ( their blossoms have been shed, to make way for the set fruit) and are loaded with soon-to-be-cherries.

I think the ducks are quite happy that the cherry blossoms have all gone. The thousands of falling petals were clogging up their pond, and I am not sure they were impressed. Speaking of ducks, I must also tell you that there will be no ducklings this spring. It seems that Arabella’s eggs got chilled, and so the eggs did not develop fully. The area within the coop where she built her nest was a bit too wide, and this caused her eggs to roll out from under her warm duck body and become cold. It was a sad day for Arabella, and for us, when we had to take her off the nest, having realized that no babies would come this time. By shining a flash-light up through the eggs on day 38, we were able to see that they still contained their yolks. Unfortunately, we did not realize how the eggs got chilled until it was too late. We have learned, that in future we will need to make the duck nesting area much smaller to prevent this from happening again. We have promised our beautiful Arabella that she can try again, after she has stretched her legs a bit. 40 days of sitting is a long time and she could do with a break. I am now calling May our Humble Pie Month, for there has been such a lot of learning these past few weeks. Not all things have turned out as planned and expectation has proved to be disappointing a good number of times. Despite all the wise words uttered from zen masters and experienced farmers, I am still not entirely sure just how to fold my mistakes into the batter of life with a good dollop of acceptance. I have a long way to go in this department, and still, we are here doing our human-best to give thanks for the learning that comes from each humbling experience.  If all goes well, I am going to be a very wise old lady. ha!

On that note, one thing we have learned from experience (and we learned it the very first winter that we were here) is that you cannot burn wet wood!  Eh eh. This said,  firewood season does not begin in September as we once thought, but in May!  ( and all the country folks reading this now, will be nodding in agreement)  And so, while I have been pulling weeds and dealing with cabbage-root-fly, Mark has been busy getting wood from a clearing up the road and for the past three days he has been cutting rounds and splitting it, with the help of his dear Mum, Pam.

And while he split it, his Mum and I stacked it. Gus cheered us on from a relaxed position near the project.

Now our wood sits in neat little piles where it will spend the summer drying in the hot sun.

And while it drys we carry on. Mark and his Dad have started another brew, this time a Rhubarb Bitter, which will be ready for tasting in 10 short days.

And it boiled and simmered and bubbled in special ways at all the right times, as Mark measured and calculated and watched over his latest creation.

Photo by Trevor Sims

Mark has taken his brewing to the next level these days and you can see him here, like any mad scientist gazing into his refractometer to measure the sugar content.

Photo by Trevor Sims

And while Mark was brewing and I was digging, Mark’s Mum was in the kitchen making her famous Three Fruit Marmalade.

photo by Trevor Sims

Which is now available to purchase in the farm-shop!

Photo by Trevor Sims

Yes, we are nearly there, our farm-shop is slowly  beginning to take shape, bit by bit and day by day.

And there you have it, the month of May, our Humble Pie month. We are working hard, but not without remembering to appreciate the view of the sky from below a fully flowering laburnum tree.

To smell the bloom of a sweet-pea and to eat Strawberry Rhubarb cake. After-all, eating nothing but Humble Pie is never a good plan.

Until Next Time~

Blessings and Gratitude,

Nao, Mark, Gus and all at Honey Grove.







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