Morning in the west of Ireland on a perfect day in late June.
The back door of the cottage is open; wood pigeons call softly to one another as blackbirds swoop noisily in and out of the blackcurrant bushes, feasting on the heavily laden stems.
Morning…full of stillness and promise, the prelude to a hot, dry day of high summer.
The cottage will remain a cool sanctuary, as the heat of the day rises golden over the hill of Ballyfermoyle.
Birds will swoop along paths of shade, wings outstretched catching the earthy updraft of chill.
“Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
“Summer set lip to earth’s bosom bare, and left the flushed print in a poppy there.”
― Francis Thompson
The hill at the back of the cottage captures the sounds of the birds, holding them close before echoing onto the walls and through the open door into the cool recesses of the stone.
Leaving this sacred place would never sit easy in my heart, for all that is Bealtaine Cottage has been co-created with the great Mother: Earth, Gaia, Nature…whatever insufficient name we draw upon to express the mystery of the Divine.
My dream to plant a forest will come to pass…in some divine way…
I dream and manifest the vision in sleep and wakedness.
One day, a beautiful morning such as this will shine through onto a young forest floor, illuminating the darkness of a greed-stricken world.
Rising on the last morning of Bealtaine and looking out the window of the lodge to be greeted by mist and sunshine.
The heat of yesterday rose in a mist over the valley and mountains beyond.
Rising towards Midsummer is a most magical time in the west of Ireland.
Between the rain and the sun, the jigs and the reels, the land has grown a mantle of green.
Festivals are held in every village as birds, from thousands of mile away, fly low over the feeding grounds of this small island.Midsummer customs prevail in much of Europe and certainly here in Ireland, where the traditional bonfire is part of the celebration.
The fire is lit exactly at sunset on the eve of the solstice and celebrations continue until sunset on the solstice itself.
The sense of abundance is quite tangible and visible at this time, helping to create a celebratory atmosphere.
Midsummer was seen as a time when the veil between this world and the next was thin, and when the spirit of the land itself held sway.
This is encapsulated in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
This year I shall be lighting the Midsummer fire with wood cut around the time of Midwinter, in honour of my Mother.
It is a time for gathering and spending time together and a celebration I look forward to…
As I walked I the gardens this morning, there arose a great sense of peace and harmony, again something which seems to be released from the very Earth herself each year, at this time of ascension to Midsummer.
The promise of a good harvest holds firm as the beautiful weather continues.
Here is one of my favourite quotes by Carole Carlton…
“The festival of the summer solstice speaks of love and light, of freedom and generosity of spirit.
It is a beautiful time of year where vibrant flowers whisper to us with scented breath,
forests and woodlands hang heavy in the summer’s heat and our souls become enchanted with midsummer magic.”
Aquilegia, now growing all over the permaculture gardens and driveway of Bealtaine Cottage, from its beginnings here 8 years ago, with a handful of seed, saved from a some flowers growing in a garden in North London.
The time is near…Mayday, known as Bealtaine here in Ireland. It is pronounced “Be Al Tan Ah”
Irish mythology marks the beginning of May as the the start of the summer.
This was heralded in with the Fire Festival at Bealtaine.
Great bonfires would mark a time of purification and transition.
There was the hope of a good harvest later in the year, and celebrations were accompanied with rituals to protect the people from any harm by otherworldly spirits. Cattle would be driven through the dying embers of the great bonfires, to protect them from disease.
The Ancient Races who constructed Newgrange in Ireland aligned their monuments to the major solar events.
These were the Winter Solstice, the Spring Equinox, the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox.
The solar year was further divided to mark the half way points between the major solar events giving the cross quarter days of Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain.
Click on the link below for today’s video from Bealtaine Cottage
Just pictures today…of the Water Garden here at the permaculture smallholding.
This is the Lower Pond in the Bog Garden.
It is a haven for wildlife…sitting by the Lower Pond on a summer evening surrounded by dragonflies is one of the pleasures to be enjoyed after work.
The ponds, for there are two, are filled with Wild Mint and Watercress, among other delights.
Buttercups, Celandines and Meadowsweet abound.
This is one of the grass pathways leading down to the Bog Garden and the ponds.
It is planted out with Willow, Yellow Loosestrife, Monbretia and the weeds are all really flowers as you can see!
One of the wild Orchids growing in the damp ground of the Bog Garden last summer.
Gunnera Manicata growing beside one of the ponds…
There are many wildflowers that can be included when planting an informal pond to attract wildlife.
It is important to include Native plants as these provide a vital food source for many insects, which then encourages more birds to your pond and garden.
Many Butterflies will visit your water garden if native plants and wild flowers are allowed their domain!
Butterflies that are first to hatch here at Bealtaine Cottage is the Orange Tip, and though it will feed from a range of plants it only lays its eggs on Ladys Smock.
Ladys Smock is one of the wild flowers that grace the wet conditions in the Bog Garden.
It is really vital that we do all we can to protect native habitats, for as these are threatened it becomes more important to provide alternative safe havens for birds, insects, Bees and native plants within gardens.
Bealtaine Cottage is also on YouTube…with over 120 videos about Permaculture, planting, growing and living.
Flowering Currant, or Ribes as it is called, is in full blossom all over Bealtaine smallholding and it is already calling the bees out from hibernation with it’s heavy scent and glorious flowerdroplets!
This incredible shrub is the ultimate in permaculture planting, because wherever one chooses to plant a cutting or two, it will grow readily and develop into a flowering shrub rapidly. The flowers turn into droplets of berries adored by birds and hens alike!
Free food and beauty and windbreaks…that is so permaculture!
Beautiful, isn’t it?
Yesterday was International Women’s Day and I made the journey to Omagh to visit my mother…who is hale and hearty and looking forward to coming down to Bealtaine for a holiday very soon.
Mum insists that she finds her holidays here to be invigorating and healing. Mainly due to the birdsong and cool atmosphere around the cottage, which helps enormously with that plague of old age, swollen feet!
I am convinced that this is due, in part, to the overwhelming heat in the environs where most older people live, especially the constant dry central heating and sealed homes. It is no coincidence that Mum’s feet are returned to normal size within 24hours of her visit here!
Cool, clean air was once a mainstay of the Health System…open windows in hospitals were de rigeur under the watchful eye of Matron! Today, with closed windows, sealed buildings and air conditioning, health problems in hospitals abound, especially MRSA! Cool, clean air is healing…make no mistake!
I have been busy spreading gravel on the driveway and around the cottage. This is the first top dressing I have laid in almost eight years. As it had to be done, I chose a local stone which, as you can see, is very bright and reflects the light beautifully!
Periwinkle in bloom in a sheltered spot near the west of the cottage.
A big stack of straw in the barn…I have stocked up on bales of straw for the hens and vegetable garden as the next harvest will not be until around August…it pays to plan ahead, besides which, the girls will only lay eggs on clean straw!
Here’s the hand made hearts made from scrap material, hanging above the hearth in a festive, jolly way…So easy to make and fun to create!
The last rosehips of the year hang ready for the birds and their midwinter feast.
My friend Thomas has recently made these shelves for me, for the pantry. They are made from 100% recycled wood, all collected and saved over the past year, from skips and builders yards. The shelves are a great addition to the pantry and enable me to store a wider variety of food.
While cutting back some of the willow recently I came across this bird’s nest…aren’t birds ingenious at finding some great places to nest-build?
The wind turbines on Kilronan Mountain are shining white in the afternoon sun. The light is getting weaker as midwinter approaches but on days like today it’s worth being outdoors!
Ivy loops and twirls around the trees in the Fairy Dell woodland. Ivy that feeds the birds in the depths of midwinter. Ivy that shelters the pheasant in the heat of midsummer. Strong, natural and wild…
Ivy and Lichens, so perfect in the gardens at Bealtaine that it can only be the hand of Nature…no gardener can create this perfection…
Another sacred part of the land at this permaculture smallholding…a small field of Devil’s-bit Scabious, the natural habitat of the rare Marsh Fritillary Butterfly. Nature working her pure magic and being encouraged at every turn!
Now is the time to plant Willow. This is something which is easy to do and will serve the eco-system around you well. So many insects, birds and bees depend on this plant. Simply cut a wand of Willow and push it into the ground as far as you can…about 1-2feet will do! Manure it well and it will grow fast and strong! Some people surround it with plastic to stop weeds and grass, but, personally I do not approve of this as the earth under plastic is not beneficial to wildlife and anyway, the Willow will soon shade out any unwanted weeds!
Cotoneaster…planted, but soon takes on the mantle of wildness and becomes a feeding station for birds and insects alike!
Harvests continue to develop and flowers bloom at Bealtaine Smallholding. Flowers like these Sedums require little or no attention and soon fill out a space.
White Buddleia in full bloom, though there are few butterflies around at the moment. This tree, well, bush really, serves as an air island for the birds nesting in the box nearby.
Pots of Curly Kale, Chard and Pumpkins, some of which will be moved across to the new beds in the Vegetable Garden. All these have been planted in pots filled with home made compost.
The grapevine, grown from a cutting about four years ago, has produced well this season. This was pruned hard at the end of the winter and then lightly at the end of spring. Well developed bunches of grapes have set and continue to thrive.
Another good year for the apple harvest. This part of Ireland is great for growing fruit, as rhubarb, blackcurrants, redcurrant, plums, apples et al appear to thrive!
Potatoes growing by the east side of the shed. Did you know that there are about five thousand potato varieties worldwide? Potatoes do not keep very well in storage and are vulnerable to molds that feed on the stored tubers, quickly turning them rotten. However, I left potatoes in the ground over the course of last winter, when all was frozen solid for six long weeks…and they were dug out after the defrost and were perfect! I think it may have been the layer of straw that was atop the ground!
Throughout Europe, the most important new food in the 19th century was the potato, which, of course fast became a monoculture among poorer people… I strive hard to avoid planting all the tubers in one area, preferring to plant here and there in a positive way to avoid disease…and it appears to have worked thus far!
Now in its seventh year, Bealtaine smallholding has achieved new heights of growth, meaning that compost is plentiful. This is because there is so much to cut back and use to build compost heaps…I have made two so far and am still using the compost made last year, with loads to go!
At its most essential, the process of composting requires simply piling up waste outdoors and waiting a year or more. This is the method I use and it has benefitted Bealtaine well! The compost itself is beneficial for the land in many ways, including as a soil conditioner, a fertilizer, addition of vital humus or humic acids, and as a natural pesticide for soil. Any parts of the heap that have not degraded sufficiently can be added to the next heap…a process I indulge in!
Permaculture planting lends itself really well to bountiful compost production, so even if you do not keep animals for manure, it is still quite possible to maintain a high degree of healthy and fertile soil, using plant compost alone…however, a few hens are easy and happy and productive little workers to have on any smallholding!
Upcycling baked bean tins…making a few holes in the bottom and planting with sedums…these are two years old now and quite attractive when grouped together like this, don’t you think?
Lots of berries on the Hawthorn. last year was the same and I predicted a very cold and long winter…I forecast more of the same for the coming winter based on much evidence around me…
Crataegus,or Hawthorn is one of my favourite trees here at Bealtaine and I have grown all I have planted from seed. Hawthorns provide food and shelter for many species of birds and mammals, and the flowers are important for many nectar-feeding insects.
In Gaelic folklore, hawthorn ‘marks the entrance to the otherworld’ and is strongly associated with the fairies. Lore has it that it is very unlucky to cut the tree at any time other than when it is in bloom, however during this time it is commonly cut and decorated as a May Bush or Bealtaine…Irish meaning May. This warning persists to modern times; it has been questioned by folklorist Bob Curran whether the ill luck of the De Lorean Motor Company was associated with the destruction of a fairy thorn to make way for a production facility.
Hawthorn trees are often found beside clootie wells; at these types of holy wells they are sometimes known as ‘rag trees’, for the strips of cloth which are tied to them as part of healing rituals. ‘
When all fruit fails, welcome haws’ was once a common expression in Ireland.
There is little space left in the tunnel…plants and seedlings jostle for what is there and the grapevine is setting lots of fruit. Nectarine and Peach trees in here have already set an abundance of small fruits, so the harvest is looking fruitful!
Lots of tiny Pears have set on the Pear trees in Zones 1 and 2. Frost at this point can happen but is not expected, so the majority of settings should mature into good fruit.
Each year for the past four years of the seven Bealtaine has been growing I have siad that this would be a bumper harvest for Apples. I have to say this again…a bumper crop is expected! I will post regular pics to update you on this! You can see some from last harvest, when the trees were heavy with fruit! No sprays, no chemicals, just permaculture!
Heavy mulching arounf fruit trees, bushes and plants have saved them from the ravages of the drought experienced recently here in Ireland.
Living in Ireland where few trees are planted,( except the dreaded Sitka Spruce for money!) Bealtaine is fast growing to look like an Oasis in a desert. Intense planting, as per permaculture, makes this small 3 acres look exceptional. Most farmers in Ireland get financial subsidies and don’t plant trees…I have planted almost 600 and receive zero reward…well, not in financial terms, but you can see the immense rewards here for Gaia, birds, insects, animals, visitors and me! PLANT MORE TREES!
Through a glass darkly…April Fool in the garden, reflection from a mirror.
Today is the first of April and the radio is talking about economic growth, again, and will continue to do ad infinatum…the only growth worth talking about is what happens here, on earth, on terra firma and there is so much growth it can be difficult keeeping up with it. The government’s economic growth for Ireland is only to pay back ginormous debts to Europe! Growth here, at Bealtaine is about food, fuel, wildlife, love and happiness…permaculture paradise.
No money…but, no poverty…I look around me at abundance, on this, the first day of April.
Flower buds on the redcurrant promises an abundance of fruit, which in turn promises an abundance of wine and puddings and jam and jelly and…no money, but no poverty!
Fruit trees and bushes, interspersed in hedges promise abundance, fruit for chutney, freezing, fruit butter, pies, cordials…no money, but no poverty…abundance!
No need to buy peanuts for the birds at Bealtaine…no money for peanuts, but, abundance of food to sustain a wide and varied bird population. Spindle in the foreground…