12 September 2016
Apples, pears and a drop of honey
As the mornings begin to get chilly, and the first few leaves
begin to fall, my attentions turn to autumnal things. It is "the
season of mellow fruitfulness", as an old gardening friend of mine
would without fail remind me as we reached this point of the year.
The garden at Allt-y-bela seems designed to celebrate the changing
seasons in a way that very few gardens I have known do. Perhaps it
is the changes that take place in the kitchen garden that mark the
year, or indeed the changing groups of flowers in the borders,
which are cut to make bouquets for the house; the asters are
beginning to flower now. The most powerful reflection of this time
of year though is the apples beginning to ripen on the trees.
Allt-y-bela has a small orchard and step-over apples which bracket
the beds in the kitchen garden as well as various other specimens
around the garden. It is thought that the house once sat in apple
and pear orchards and as the garden slowly matures it's beginning
to feel like it might again.
Last year we had our first really productive year of apples. Arne likes to stack the apples from the tree that sits in the drove lawn on the table, which forms a seating area at the base of the kitchen garden wall. Last year that soon became a mound and then threatened to turn into a perilous pyramid of fruit as the supply of apples from just this one tree seemed to be never-ending. In the end we had so much fruit that we had to juice a greater part of it. That juice has lasted us until now, when we are down to our last few bottles. Allt-y-bela has bed and breakfast rooms and our guests have been enjoying the juice from our orchard with their breakfasts. Arne's partner enjoys making jams and chutneys from the garden produce when we have a surplus, so we can never really produce too much from the garden.
This year it doesn't look quite so good in terms of apples, we have a lot more pears this year however! As the orchard matures I'm sure that we will be juicing every year and have our own supply of Allt-y-bela apple juice. It may just be fanciful thinking, but to me the taste is incredibly evocative of a summer in the garden here.
Another productive element of the garden which comes to fruition at this time of the year is our honey. We have two hives, just a couple of feet from the kitchen garden alongside the cottage garden, and on sunny days in summer the bees are busy taking advantage of the flowers that abound here. Working in such close proximity to these amazing creatures gives a real insight into just how weather dependant their operations are and how precarious their very survival is. I would love to learn how to look after the bees but I have to admit to being a little intimidated when assisting our beekeeper; it seems to go against all of your natural instincts to stay around a hive of agitated bees!
This week our beekeeper came to harvest the honey from our
hives. He is very careful to leave the bees with plenty of their
own honey to keep as stores to last them through the winter, and in
fact they have already started to build new stores of honey closer
to the nest, ignoring the new frames which were added a few weeks
ago. Our bees have been thriving in the garden and we are all
passionate about looking after them properly and helping them to
become a successful and productive colony. As part of our
arrangement with our beekeeper, we get a proportion of our honey
which is used in the same way as our apple juice and the rest is
sold as a single location honey, via BC Bees, which is lovely. You really can taste
the difference between the various different places.
Although we aren't aiming at any sort of self sufficiency we do seem to be making the most of the land in what is a fairly small area and are now enjoying the fruits of our, and our apian friends', labour.
Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela
Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer