November on Honey Grove~

On the first day of November the sun was shining and there were still nasturtiums blooming in the garden.

And Gus and I were working there, among the orange and yellow blooms, and it was a beautiful short-sleeve and hatless kind of day.

We were enjoying the warmth of the winter sun among the brussel-sprouts and the cabbages and delighting in the sweetness of such a blessed afternoon.

I was digging up dahlia tubers.

And gladiola bulbs, with the knowledge that the weather was going to change, for there were whisperings throughout the town, about the changing forecast.

And then, change it did, for on the second day of November, it snowed and everything froze, and although we had heard it was going to get cold, we were not quite expecting winter to arrive overnight.

And for 5 strange days we had extreme winter weather, snow and ice and terrifying roads, and then as quickly as it arrived, it left, and the sky went back to raining, and we have gone back to harvesting beets and turnips from the garden.

And when the days were gentle again, Cohen rescued thirty, ten year old grape vines, of the pinot-gris variety, from a local vineyard (where they were making room for new vines) and he brought them home to Honey Grove, where he planted Honey Grove’s very own mini vineyard. And he worked hard (backbreaking-stone digging- hard) for two long days to get those vines into the ground with everything they needed to be strong and well and laden with grapes in future years. I must admit, we are all very excited about this new addition to Honey Grove, for it has been a dream of ours for some years.

And once the grapes were all in (and what a job that was!) Cohen got straight to work with Katie, and together they planned Honey Grove’s first Pop-Up for dear friends, which took place last night at Mark’s new bakery space in town, and what an incredible success it was! The evening began with a twenty-four month old prosciutto leg.

And I wish you could have seen the expressions and heard the sounds of the people when they tasted it, for they could not believe what they were experiencing. I think some of them wondered if they had somehow been transported to the warmth of the Italian countryside, and faraway from the rainy wet, of the Pacific North West, in November.

And for one night, the bakery was transformed into a warm and glowing dining hall, complete with the hum and chatter of happy guests.

And we all buzzed around, like a hive of Honey Grove bees, taking good care of our guests and serving up a wintery feast to warm and restore and satisfy, all created and cooked of course, by Cohen and Katie. ( Who by-the-way are really quite something to witness in a kitchen. What a remarkable pair of people they are when they are combining their creative food talents. I mean just take a look at the menu…)

And while they cooked, I attended to the flower arrangements, which featured crabapples and winter herbs of rosemary and English thyme.

And our visiting friend David (who came all the way from Montreal) prepared his arty arboreal jelly dish, which he served near the end of the meal, on beach stones no less.

And Mark served his beautiful, fresh-out-of-the-oven-baguettes.

And before we knew it, seven courses had gone by and it was time to serve the dessert, which was a gorgeous inspiration of Katie’s: yogurt cotto con un biscotti d’oro (yogurt, cream, honey, pistachios, apricots, almond and cranberry biscotti.

And so it was that the guests left happy and glowing, their bellies full and their hearts content. We then cleaned up into the wee hours before falling into our beds for long and deep sleeps, all of us aching-tired but satisfied. And outside the door, the November rains continued to pour down.

Now, I must be off, for the others are still cleaning up the remnants of last night’s gathering, and I am in charge of keeping the home fires here at Honey Grove burning bright, and while I have been typing here this morning, they have nearly all gone out.

Blessings from the Honey Grove Hearth~

Nao, Mark, Cohen, Katie, Gus and All at Honey Grove

 

Here we go, it’s summer!

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And so it is that we have at last found ourselves on the border of another summer (although comparatively speaking all things are later this year by about two weeks). We are only just beginning to eat salads from the garden now and the raspberries are still another week or more away. I know because I assess them daily, counting the days before we can gather them in large ceramic bowls to pour fresh cream over them. Oh I can hardly wait.

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Yes, the sun has finally come out to bless us with her warmth, and for many days and weeks in a row. I am back to barefoot gardening and spending sweet afternoons with the bees down in the orchard, who are as pleased as I am to have the sun back.

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Of course not all days are spent in a cloud of honeybee fragrance or wandering barefoot through the garden in the mornings. Some have been spent sawing, splitting and stacking 7 cords of firewood, which is more wood than any of us have ever processed at one time before. ( And yes, that’s Katie using a chainsaw! Don’t worry, she has been using one since she was a teenager, and she knows how to sharpen and fix them too, this among her many astonishing talents).

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And while she and Mark sawed the logs into rounds, Cohen and I got to work splitting them.

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And it was loud and hot and dusty work, and after two solid days the back of our property looked like a lumber yard. I am not sure how it is that we all look so cheerful or upright in this photo, for as I recall, we could hardly stand at the time it was taken.

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Even Gus was impressed with our efforts, for he, more than anyone appreciates the warmth of a blazing wood-stove on a cold winters day.

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And when the wood was finally processed and left to dry in the sun, we got to the business of organizing a party to celebrate the grand opening of Mark’s new bakery, which was a tremendous success, and people came out from all across the valley to cheer him on. Cohen and Katie created the most marvellous bread centric menu and we all raised a glass to Mark and his beautiful bread.

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Speaking of Mark’s bread, we are now able to bring even more of his gorgeous loaves to the farmers market, and although we are still selling out, the bread is lasting for an hour longer each week. We are working hard to find ways to meet the demand without compromising the quality, and without Mark having to work around the clock (which currently he is). Oh and he has started making baguettes now too! True french baguettes, crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside, just delicious. They remind me of picnics in the french countryside ( or at least as I imagine picnics in the french countryside, for I have only ever had one there, and it was a very long time ago).

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And the really good news is, you can now find us at two Farmers Markets, the Saturday Market in Courtenay, as well as the Monday market in Merville (called Gumboot Market) and in two weeks time we will also be at the Wednesday morning market in Courtenay.

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Meanwhile, back on the farm, the strawberries are almost ready to eat and I have netted them with the fabulous help of Daniel, who is our wonderful new farm helper, botany student and friend. I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am for his support as the bakery gets busier and busier and the others are spending most of their days off the farm. Goodness knows what I would do without him. Thank You Daniel!

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Yes, it’s a full time of year here at Honey Grove. We are up with the birds at the crack of dawn (Mark well before that even). This is the season of long light when all things are green and growing and there is always something to do, to water, to weed, to plant. The cottage is full of guests, the bread is rising in the proofer, and we are simply riding the wave of summer. Still though, despite all the things that need doing, one must always find the time to pick a bouquet of daisies.

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With Gratitude for your Company,

Nao, Mark, Cohen, Katie, Gus and All at Honey Grove

Spring? We hope!

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Well at last, and only three days ago, she came. She arrived one sunny morning, just after the last drop of snow had melted.

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She arrived after several days of constant rains, when temperatures finally warmed enough for the snow to stop, for it snowed right through the first week of March. Yes, Spring, she is finally here! (Although I hesitate to shout it too loudly for fear that I might frighten her off. But surely crocus are sign of Spring?)

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And yesterday the bees were out collecting hazel and alder pollen.

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And crocus too.

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Gosh, it’s been so lovely these past few days, I even planted my peas, although I did think to cover them with a bit of fleece, just in case the weather turns cold again, for what a long long winter it has been.

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But while the snow fell down and piled up outside our door (for nearly 4 months) we were as busy as bees in our Honey Grove hive. And when we are not shovelling pathways and digging beehives out of snow drifts and pushing snow of barn rooftops (for fear that they might collapse under the weight of it all) we were planning the coming year with endless mugs of tea by the fireside.

And what a year it is going to be! Perhaps I should tell you the most exciting news of all (for this has always been my style, as I can hardly wait to share those things that are bursting forth from my inspired heart). So without further aideu, I must begin by telling you that Mark will be expanding his bakery, and that he is currently setting up a bakery in the nearby town of Courtenay! It seems that Mark has outgrown his humble basement bakery here on the farm, and that his little brick oven simply cannot hold the number of loaves he wishes to bake and sell.

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Our dear Mark works over 40 hours a week to make one hundred loaves of bread, all of which promptly sell-out at the Farmers Market in less than an hour.

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This being said, the only way for him to meet the demands of the community, and to earn a living-wage, is to move to a bigger space and to invest in some finer equipment. Currently he spends 90 percent of his time getting his oven up to temperature, and although it sounds poetic to bake bread in an outdoor wood-fire oven, it is not so very practical (especially, as we discovered this winter, wading through 3 foot snow drifts, during a power outage, baking bread with a head torch). Mark has come to realize that he would like to spend his time and energy baking bread and creating new inspired loaves as opposed to managing fires in all kinds of wild weather.

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And so, very soon, our baker-man Mark will be baking bread in his new space, in his brand new Italian oven, which is traveling to him now, coming on a boat, from far across the sea. If you would like to follow him along on Instagram, you can do so here. But for  now, I will leave you with a little shot of his new space, on it’s way to becoming the Honey Grove Bakery.

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Meanwhile back on the farm, plans have been made for a nut orchard to be planted. And our neighbour, has been by with his very large machine to clear a ragged patch of alders, so that we can start planting hazelnuts, which will be underplanted with another acre of nitrogen fixing bee forge.

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We are still aiming to be as sustainable as possible here on Honey Grove, and growing nut trees is an essential part of that plan. Nut trees, especially walnut and hazelnut, grow exceptionally well on Vancouver Island, and yield nuts within 5 to 10 years. We will share more about this over the coming months. For now, we have a patch of good earth that is ready for planting.

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And while I am clearing land with my trusty hound

 

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and doing the odd little dance here and there….

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Cohen is busy building a beautiful new maple-wood bar for the wood-fire brick oven.

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And look how beautiful it is already!

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Although Mark will no longer be baking his bread in the farm oven, we will continue using the brick oven for our own bread baking, pizza nights, herb drying and family dinners.

Katie is busy too, working on the farm, helping to get the gardens ready for spring planting. She is moving compost and digging steer manure into all the beds. She is repairing chainsaws and bucking up the fallen alders that came down after the heavy winter snow falls. And, she is also, still making her famous muffins and selling them alongside Marks bread every Saturday at the Farmers Market.

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As for Gus, he is still offering his secret of the universe and enjoying the warmth of the sun as much as we are.

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And now I must be off, for the sun is shining once again and I simply must get out in it!

With Gratitude for your company,

Nao, Mark, Gus, Cohen and Katie~

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