Summer usually means holidays, relaxation, sun, sand and sea….all things nice. Even if you live in a country where the classic four seasons don’t really happen, summer is the time when all outdoor things are much more pleasant. The rain stops for a couple of days or even weeks, temperatures are reasonable and with a bit of sunshine, there is even a bit of ‘hot’ air around here and there. This might not last long, every year I forget how short the Irish summer is…at the beginning of June everybody jokes that the week of sunshine is all we’ll get. A month and a half later you realise that was actually ‘it’. There might be an Indian summer coming in September (please and thank you!) but despite the warmth, the air is different, with a leafy aroma – a hint of what’s to come. That is my favourite time of the year, even though I am sad that the real summer is gone.
A reliable cure for the Irish pseudo-summer is a holiday abroad. This year, as we were busy with moving house and all, we chose to go for a relaxing week to Slovakia. I went back to my childhood school holidays times, with hot air, scorching sun and evening thunderstorms from the heat. You may have seen the highlights of this trip from my zero waste perspective on my Instagram. As you might remember, my parents have a big vegetable garden and this is now abundant with produce. You name it, it’s probably there. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, parsnips, beans, corn, poppies, grapes and more. It’s amazing to see what loving gardener’s hands and favourable climate can achieve in a few months. When I was there in April, the ground was bare and the seedlings were just getting ready in the greenhouse. But it’s all go now. My Mam regularly preserves the produce and makes it into pickles, compotes, purees, frozen goodies and dehydrated snacks. It was a totally aspirational trip and I came back relaxed and encouraged to make and create. The climate might be different but the principle stays the same. Grow it, harvest it and use it up to the last bit.
When I think about the change in their garden in a mere couple of months, I am fascinated by the power of nature. How everything works perfectly, how all the pieces create a flawless puzzle together, how a little seed can, in time, turn into a tall plant heavy with fruit. How nature organised everything conveniently to its benefit. I am amazed by its design and how people sometimes take it for granted even though they really shouldn’t. I do my best to get back closer to nature, even though I’m in an urban setting. It happens sometimes in an unexpected way.
Some time back, I came across a small artisan food producers from Brookfield Farm in Co. Tipperary here in Ireland. They had a stall with their honey and beeswax produce. Beside the delicious honey, they were selling bee hive shares. I really liked the idea, being a part of something so nice and beneficial as keeping bees even if you don’t have the resources to do it yourself. (I am not sure how our neighbours would take to swarming insects out in our backyard…). Therefore, I was so happy when I got one of these hive shares as a present for my recent birthday!
On top of receiving a certificate and some sample hive goodies and being kept informed about all updates about your hive and seasonal farm happenings, you are invited to attend a Honey Celebration – a harvest festival where you can visit your hive and meet your beekeeper (and collect your honey). So, the Sunday before last I did just that.
After some initial car trouble which wasn’t the best start and being late as a result, I eventually arrived to the beautiful Brookfield Farm in the middle of Irish countryside. A lovely welcome in the form of a typical ‘cuppa’ and a piece of cake followed by an interesting introduction into the life of bees. During the afternoon we were shown the apple orchard and farm where they have the best conditions for their work – Ailbhe, the beekeeper and farm owner, has sown about 11 acres of wildflowers just for the bees. A special mixture of seeds for bees blended with winter barley which makes bird feed in the winter. Amazing. I love the fact that there are farmers that are not all about profit but about giving something back to the nature.
Along with the bees, there are also organic pastures for sheep and lamb on the farm. They have a great space for roaming and they seemed pretty happy about it 🙂 We saw some magic well :), a fully-grown mini-forest with its own ecosystem, some bee boxes and bat boxes – wooden structures encouraging animals to move in and make a new home for themselves, contributing to the natural balance on the farm.
The farm borders the beautiful lake Lough Derg and I am sure it must be fun to dip in it at the height of summer (it cannot be colder than the Irish Sea :)) Any other time, you could take a boat and try out your fishing skills, the lake is full of fishies! Oh and at least one swan 🙂
After the interesting farm tour (a mental note though, bring wellies next time), all hive-share owners received their honey. But it was a tough year for the bees. Ireland has 98 native bee species and one third of these species are known to be in decline. It is caused by a combination of factors like habitat loss, declining quality of habitat, general decline in wildflowers within the landscape, pests and disease, pesticides and climate change. Therefore it’s so important to help the bees to do their job.
The Department of Environment in Ireland actually took the time and calculated that bees are worth €53m a year to the economy, just in case you were wondering about the cold hard cash. But it’s not about money, it’s about the fact that without bees, there would be no pollination and there would be no food. You can fill in the rest.
We can all help by doing our bit. We can plant a few more bee-attractive flowers, build a bee hotel or support sustainable beekeepers who look after the bees not just for the profit. Who’s with me??