Blossoms, Bees, Barns & Barrels

An April free of frost is what we wanted and its what we got this year, that and a lot more too!

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The warmest April for ten years in these parts has had the orchard out in its finest floral glory and – fortunately – there are still bees there to do the pollinating.

Copy (1) of Bee pollinator

Even more fortunate, albeit long overdue and not yet enough, is the news last week of the EU’s ban on the outdoor use of imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam i.e. the neonicotinoid pesticides that have had such a devastating impact on bee populations across Europe.

 

 

Back in the days before Bayer & Co, my German farmers’ almanac had this to say:

April warm, Mai kühl, Juni nass, füllt dem Bauer Scheuer und Fass

April warm, May cool, June wet, fills the farmer’s barn and barrel.

We’ve had the warm April, so now we wait to see whether  May fits the pattern or not…

 

As Spring follows Winter

Last autumn I made a note of the following winter words of wisdom:

7 November 2017 

The sheep were eating fresh nettles all summer even though there was plenty of grass & other greenery available. The shepherd says: means its going to be a hard winter.

Other country folk are saying that there are more hazel catkins out than is usual for the autumn: means its going to be a hard winter.

I revisted this winter forecast as the calender moved into winter proper :

16 January 2018

Casting a look back at this post from the autumn when country lore was telling us that a hard winter was ahead: no sign of it yet but then we are only a few weeks into winter so far!

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The calender now moves into spring and so, how did it look, our winter?

 

 

 

Some (very) stormy gales, a week or so of sustained ice, day and night, but very little snow – not even enough for a snowman this year :

So no, the nettles and the catkins were not signs of a hard winter this time round.

And will hopefully not be the sign of a hard spring as this is the critical season in the orchard: the trees are awakening from their winter slumber as the warmth and the light make themselves felt. Buds and blossoms become more apparent and, once the blossoms open, the last thing we need is frost, not by day and not by night.

Frozen blossoms are dead blossoms and then the (non-)harvest is a dead loss!

This March has had many bright and sunny days so far and my German country almanac tells me:

Ist März schön und hell, kommt viel Obst auf alle Fäll’.

If March is sunny and bright, there will be plenty of fruit alright.

… If it is followed by a frost-free April!

 

 

 

Ice can be nice

A further development of our ice skills during the big freeze:

When February gives you ice, make an ice bowl 🙂

(A smaller bowl inside a larger bowl, fill the gap between them with water and bits and bobs of your choice, leave outside until frozen and then remove the bowls. Prerequisite: outside temperatures do not spike above 0°C for days on end!)

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Lovely lichens & marvellous moss

Our dead wood hedge in the orchard is part of the circle of life in the micro-ecosystem that a traditional meadow orchard is.

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Pruning and clearing (of invaders and insurgents from the surrounding forest and farmland that then compete with the fruit trees for space and resources if left unchecked – pines and poplars are the main offenders) ensure regular replenishment:

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And so the hedge grows with the years,

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providing a home to many a feathered and furry orchard resident

Robin

Blackbird Male

and,

as the wood ages further,

turning into a veritable treasure trove of lichens and moss:

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The Winter Solstice and the Festival of Winter

What a fine finale to the Festival of Winter we enjoyed yesterday, 6th January, all in one bike ride back from the wintry orchard:

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06_12_2018 17_24 hrs_c

   The winter solstice is upon us and with it the “Mittwinterfest”, or Yule – celebrating the rebirth of the sun as we (slowly) turn the corner towards the light half of the year again…
It is an ancient festival featuring countless legends, rituals and symbols, not to mention the many omens – each of the twelve days of Yule are said to predict the weather in the corresponding twelve months to come, for instance. In the Germanic and northern European tradition, the twelve days of Yule therefore had to be a time of peace, as well, and a time of no work so that there would be less work to be done in the new year. Spinning and weaving, in particular, were forbidden and all the flax had to be spun before the start of Yule. Only the Goddess Frig (Frigg, Freyja), the Germanic goddess of love, was allowed to weave together the threads of destiny for the coming year… No work involving a circular motion was permitted at this time either, because the wheel of time was at a standstill during Yule and so every other wheel had to remain motionless too…

Spring in the South

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Orchards and groves: close relatives, worked, or working, trees, they occur throughout Europe as both rich habitats and heritage features in the landscape.

Meadow in May P1200053

 

 

 

 

 

I am paraphrasing Ian Rotherham of Sheffield Hallam University here – a man far more knowledgable than I on the misunderstood and threatened resources that are orchards and groves. (Orchards and Groves: Their History, Ecology, Culture and Archaeology, Landscape Archaeology and Ecology, Vol. 7, 2008, published by Wildtrack Publishing).

I do know how to appreciate them, though, and was privileged to be able to visit the almond, citrus and olive groves of southern Spain’s Andalusia at the beginning of March – a pre-season dose of spring for this traditional orchard fan(atic) from north of the Alps!

In fact, with elements of spring, summer and autumn all happening at once, it was a real feast for the senses!

Some almonds in blossom, some already fruiting, depending on location and elevation.

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Citrus, ripe for the picking and on your doorstep, literally…

Magnificent, majestic symbols of the heritage of which they form part: olive trees,

many still resplendent with olives as the harvest season draws to a close.

The feast for the senses continues at Malaga’s main food market: olives, almonds and so much more, by the bucket load!

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With many elements of local distinctiveness on offer too!

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The Return of the Light: A Gallery

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Imbolc 2017

“Lichtmess”, or Candlemas as it is known in English, is the Christianised name for an age-old European festival celebrating the return of the light in the northern hemisphere, its roots going back to the Celtic festival of Imbolc celebrated on the evening of 1st February.

As of February, the increasing hours of daylight start to become more noticeable and the day’s work again begins and ends in daylight.

In the country calendar “Lichtmess” or Candlemas also marked the end of the annual employment contract for farmhands and maidservants: traditionally presented with a farewell gift of a new pair of shoes from their farmer employer, come Candlemas on 2nd February, farmhands were free to seek new masters for the next year.

Neither farmhand nor in need of a new master, Imbolc always lightens my spirits, just knowing that the light is back. Be it with candlemaking or a ritual “back to the light” hike or bike tour, it is cause for a personal celebration:

 

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