Thursday, 24 May 2007

Honeybees on the High Street

I collected a swarm of honeybees today in the High Street. Our Alex rang at three to say there were bees collecting on the sign of the Panda Gardens restaurant. I grabbed my gear and ten minutes later I was up a ladder scooping the bees into a cardboard box. It was dramatic. There was a crowd. Alex was grinning. It wasn’t that easy. The ladder was high, and a kind gentleman held it below, with bees raining on his head. The bees did not plop into the box, as they do when you tap them off a branch. They flew around madly, and some are still there on the sign this evening. And I dropped the box; it thudded on the pavement but the bees stayed in, loyal to their queen.

I love bees, am in love with them. I took up beekeeping 15 years ago and when I first lifted the lid off a hive was blown away by the energy that came out - pure love it seemed to me. I can smell how bees feel - and they sense how I feel. I’m pretty allergic to bees, though, and swell up when stung. Last Friday I took a dozen stings on unprotected ankles, taking honey off in stormy weather, and spent the weekend on the sofa. Tonight, at dusk, I plopped the bees from the box into a hive in the middle of the woods I caretake. Birds and bees and trees and flowers; being a beekeeper, making these movements; I am a native, living in heaven on earth.
Sussex Beekeepers Association

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

The alternative ending

May, lush May! All around Lewes the plants are peaking in their annual festival of colour and scent. As I walk, I soak up the dazzling profusion of abundance. Honeysuckle vies with jasmine in promiscuous abandon for the insects of the day and the insects of the night. The flies and bees and moths eagerly help these gorgeous blooms during their short window of fertility.

I remember as a child noticing intensely all the flowers in the London streets, learning their names from my father. That’s what inspired me to study biology - the science of life. And as the years pass, the awesomeness of nature soaks more deeply into my being. Last month, my son Adam and I shook the ornamental fruit blossoms around the bowling-green on to each other, confetti scattering madly in the hot air. I notice my favourite trees as I walk, many of them old ones like Bay and Lime and Apple. Opposite my house there is a fine young but ancient Ginkgo Biloba, next to it an Elder adorned with flowers. All these trees and herbs are our medicine.Now as I walk the short stretch from home to work, I pick wild flowers from the verges, and the odd Rose hanging over someone’s garden wall. If you stop to smell the roses, you will find that they all smell slightly different; walking through Lewes you can experience an orgy of noble scents.

Breathe in deep; blast away the thin veneer of civilisation. The primitive pleasure of life itself is right here, right now.

I wrote this as an alternative to a piece I wrote that despairs for our future. It helps me to remember that beauty will exist for ever - if we remember to seek it

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Whatever the weather

This morning John Humphreys said on the radio that the weather forecast “is not very nice at all”. Yesterday he said it was “gloomy” and the day before he said that “rain threatens”. I shall be writing to him in person. Following the driest April on record, with about one hour of drizzle, and predictions of drought, the rain this week came as a blessing, to me. When the first drops spattered against the window at the Transition Town Lewes HQ I gave a great cheer and threw the window open to savour the whole at-long-last event. I hurried home and planted out all my seedlings in waiting, and the herbs from Wellingham Gardens and the bushes from Goldcrest Nurseries.This is what you do before rain - you plant out your plants and then let the rain come - April showers, it used to be called - and after a day of rain I mulched with grass cuttings from the Ham Lane dump. I went there on Sunday, in the community car, on the off chance I’d find mulch (and not minded to buy a bale of straw, my usual mulch of choice, being in a non-buying mode these days). I got four sackfuls of someone’s sweet, fresh first-of-the-year grass cuttings, and four more of hot, rotting grass cuttings from another woman about to lob them into the bins. I went home and mulched the newly planted forest garden, safe in the knowledge that I am preserving the rain in the soil for the rainless times ahead.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Earth to belly to earth

My husband dug our garden over to vegetables at Easter. Underneath our four-metre square patio, the soil was squirming with earthworms. We kept a few brick paths, so as not to step on the crumbly soft soil. The rest of the bricks were carted off by a variety of Freecyclers. Manure came in thanks to Raystede Animal Sanctuary. The organic seeds, from Tamar, have been growing in pots in our kitchen, now ‘hardening off’ as they go out for the day and come in for nights. I’ve started to plant out the beans, up a wigwam of young coppiced chestnut from the woods.

The whole amazing sacred cycle has started again. Five of my friends are growing vegetables for the first time this year. Latest figures from the Horticultural Trade Association show a 31% increase in the sale of vegetable seeds and a corresponding 32% drop in flower seeds. A combination of disillusion with what’s on offer and a renewed appreciation for the soil, our land and food, are making veggie growing a compelling pastime.

A few tomato plants, year round herbs and an experiment to find the best drying beans is not going to feed my family. But what I love, what I deeply passionately love, is the anticipation brought by seedlings, working late on a summer’s evening, listening to the blackbirds; smelling the earth; feeling the rain; harvesting the food; co-creating with nature and the universe. I’ve rejoined the blessed cycle of earth to belly to earth.