Home on Honey Grove

If you are looking for us these days, you will find us just through this gate. Our hands will be filthy and we will most likely be bent over in a patch of green. Still, about 10 days ago, I did manage to get to town. I had a bath, cleaned under my fingernails and left Honey Grove. There I was, pushing a shopping cart through our local grocery store when I bumped into a dear friend, who said, with some disbelief, “Nao, you’re all dressed up, where are you going?”  To which I replied…”grocery shopping,”  And then we both began to laugh very hard, as it dawned on us, that grocery shopping, for me, has become an occasion.

You laugh, but I am not kidding, a little trip to town to post a letter and buy a sack of rice has become a good reason to put on a clean and tatter-free dress. To take a pair of dangly earrings out of the painted Indian box that sits on my dresser, and to wear them out into the light of day.  This is not to say that I do not wear jewelry on the farm, or dresses for that matter.  In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find me in anything other. I have been known to clean chicken coops wearing a pair of North African wedding bracelets and an old silk skirt, but my farm style tends to be verging more toward fairy-princess-vagabond than out-on-the-town-elegant- lady.  Dresses worn on Honey Grove are stained and torn and worn again. You see, I  have never been one to wear trousers or over-alls. Truth be told,  being a non-trouser-wearer is a 32 year protest that began when I was four. One summer’s day, at the age of four, I came downstairs for breakfast in a pink chiffon dress with a crinoline underneath. My mother looked at me with some concern as she placed my oatmeal in front of me, before saying, “I hate to tell you this Nao, but you can’t wear that dress.”

“Why not,” I said.

“Because you live on a farm,” she said matter-of-factly.

This made no sense to me. I just remember sitting there thinking she had lost all semblance of reason. I sat there for a good long time going through my mind looking hard to find the logic in her firm resolve, and, I could not. For the life of me, I could not understand how living on a farm could have anything to do with wearing or not wearing a pink chiffon dress. The breakfast ended with me returning to my room, the pink chiffon dress being re-hung on its hanger in the closet, and a pair of denim overalls with pooh-bear embroidered on the leg becoming my mother’s outfit of choice. I stood there in my tight braids, yelling from the top of the stairs, “Fine then, fine,” I shouted. “I will wear these over-alls, but when I grow up I will have my own farm, and you will see, I will wear dresses everyday!”  My Mom, in her loving way said that would be fine with her and she carried on cleaning the kitchen.  The rest as they say is history.

In the end my mother and I found a compromise. Over the years she would go to thrift stores and come home with long cotton skirts, which she would cut the bottoms off.  She would then make the top half of a skirt in to a skirt for herself, and the bottom half into a skirt for me.

( My sister and I in 1980. I am the one on the far left. The skirt I am wearing is one of the bottom pieces cut off Mom’s skirt)

We could wear them around the farm without concern of wear and tear. I could be a princess and a farmer all on the same day. Yes, I wore those skirts until they were rags. I wore them into the garden, and on my pony, and up into choke cherry trees. In the end, dresses were okay to wear on the farm, but, there were two categories of dress.  There were town dresses and farm dresses.  The pink chiffon dress was a town dress, and now, as I sit here sipping my tea, writing this post, I laugh because nothing has changed.  And if you are wondering why on earth I have begun this blog post on the topic of fashion, it is because, what I have come to realize this past month, is that the town dresses in my closet these days, hardly ever get worn. They hang there just waiting for an occasion (like grocery shopping).  And so, all of this is to say, that we have been spending our  June days here on the farm.  With such a lot to do we rarely leave. Our summer days are fuller than I can even begin to tell you. We are working from dawn to dusk and we could work right through the night if we did not have such a strong need to rest these hard working bodies and sleep. The garden alone is a full time job.

Between the feeding and the mulching and the planting and the weeding, it never ends and I am slowly coming to the realization that it will never ever be done.  But, despite this inevitable truth, I am, in my very human way, still working toward surrendering to the full acceptance of this recognition. On good days, the awareness of acceptance comes easily and acceptance becomes a place to rest. It becomes something to lean into, like a sun-warmed river stone, soft and firm all at once. For me this happens when I finally come to the sign on the road that says, STOP, go no further, you have done all  that you can physically and mentally do, now, you must simply accept this. At this point, I can do one of two things: I can either feel overwhelmed and panicked (which happens far too often, and always results in injury and frustration. Last week it resulted in 15 bee stings and the accidental laundering of Mark’s i-pod) OR, I can lean into the recognition of acceptance, and, I can rest there. I am slowly coming to realize that the rest option is definitely preferred, and ironically it is actually more efficient in the long run. And so, this being said, sometimes, I simply go down to the garden to eat salad, not to plant it, or weed it, or mulch it, not to work, but to simply taste the fruits of our labours, and oh, the taste.

And while I am down there, there are artichokes to harvest, which I bring up from the garden for Mark and I to eat with Mark’s amazing duck egg hollandaise.

And in the morning before the day begins, I go out and pick strawberries for my breakfast granola, and as I sink my teeth into their sweetness, nothing else in the world exists.

So we are working and we are eating and we are contemplating the possibility of acceptance. But Whatelse? Well, our bees are also working hard, now that there is more nectar available. Two weeks ago, here on Vancouver Island, we had a major dearth and our bees required emergency feeding. The combination of the cool temperatures and rain and the lack of forage meant no food for bees. We had to intervene with sugar syrup and chamomile tea blends. We are happy to report that we caught it just in time and all of our beloved bees survived.  Now that the clover is out and the black-berries have begun to bloom, all should be well.  Not to mention some of the flowers we planted specifically for our bees are now in bloom, and our bees are taking up their nectar with the greatest of appreciation. Below is an image of a bee on Phacilia, a flower that bees absolutely love and that we planted in abundance on the property.  Next year we hope to have 1/2 an acre of just bee forage.

Yes, we really do love these winged friends.

And speaking of Honey Grove residents, there are some new ones…11 in fact.  They are growing by the day, learning to perch and taking lots of cozy naps.

They are the cheeriest bunch, there is absolutely no chance of being depressed in their company. You have never met a happier crowd and I look forward to my visits with them throughout the day. Yes, between the garden and the bees and the chicks and the guests, we are non-stop over here. Mark is balancing farm life with bakery shifts, and when he is not hard at work on his own brick oven, he is hard at work baking in another brick oven at our local bakery.

( Mark at the bakery in town)

When we are not in the garden, or making bread, or airing linens, or picking peas, or planting seeds, or watering the orchard, or shoveling compost, we are simply leaning into accepting the fact that we might not get it all done. Of course, whenever we are taking life too seriously we can always count on Gus to put us straight.  His secret of the universe is, after all, not to worry.  So carry on we do, and worry we don’t, and acceptance we are endeavoring to try.

Summery Blessings from Honey Grove.  May this find you in the midst of doing something you love~

Thanks for Being Out There~

Nao, Mark, Gus and all at Honey Grove.






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).





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.