Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Two Marys

 She may not realise it yet, but Mentor Anne has done me two big favours this week. The first was simply to lend me a book, in this case "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by one Barbara Kingsolver (pub. Faber and Faber, 2007, ISBN 978-0-571-23356-4). I must admit, I had never heard of this lady. Liz had, but had picked up her novel "Poisonwood Bible" one year as a beach-reading holiday novel and had found its fictional tale of a family trying to make good in Belgian Congo while Civil War raged and the CIA tried to install a puppet government a bit grim and unsatisfying.

Well, be that as it may, THIS book is not fiction. It is the autobiographical account of BK's move, with family, from the desert city of Tucson Arizona, to husband's (Steven L Hopp) small farm in the Southern Appalachians to try to live the good life, and I am finding it one of the best books I have read in a long time. I love it. BK writes seriously about all that is wrong with modern diet and farming and amusingly about all the things they have tried to do to change their own way of life. She chimes in with me on so many of the things I also believe in and that we are trying to do here in Feigh, sourcing food locally, avoiding things with too many food-miles, choosing high welfare, free range, better fed animals and birds for our meat and eggs, growing our own fruit and veg, eating what is in season, even down to more prosaic things like keeping family meal times 'sacred', sitting round the table properly to eat while you talking to your family members. They shop in farmers' markets and seek out 'diners' which support local farmers and source their ingredients from the local (farming) community. They cook simply allowing the fresh veg and fruit to 'star'.

Goocie is still cranking out eggs, one every other day.
She also set one ball rolling for me which I'd not 'rolled' yet myself, the interest in 'heritage' or 'heirloom' varieties and seed saving. Inspired, I was straight onto the internet to find a company which sold these varieties of veg, determined that this year, at least some of my veg would be these old, free-fertilizing, non F1, non 'commercial' (i.e. not bred for uniformity and tough travelling survival), non GM varieties (and more importantly, not varieties patented by the 'big 8' seed companies, Monsanto and their merry chums). The company supplying us is called 'Brown Envelope Seeds', based in Skibbereen in W. Cork and they seem to test all their varieties in Cork before they sell them, so the catalogue is a wealth of comforting expressions like "made a good crop even in 2012 (in Cork)' These seeds are not the cheapest but we chose 8 for our starting line up including...

2 bunnies where there are not meant to be bunnies!

Golden Friese (Yellow Swede)
Gaucho (drying bean)
Little Leprechaun (lettuce)
Best of all (white / purple) Swede
Vintage Wine (Tomato)
Irish Green (Pea)
Boltardy* (Beetroot)
Purple Guatemalan (Broad Bean)

*Yes, I know Boltardy is a widely available beet from the commercial boys but it is an old variety and hard to beat.

The seeds were quickly and efficiently despatched to us, I think it was 48 hours (possibly 72) from first finding the company to having the seeds in my hand through 'An Post'. That doesn't happen too often with the 'commercial boys' !

The gang catch some afternoon sun
Anne's second favour was to find me some more contacts in the Bee Keeping world, in this case Athlone based Niall who is an experienced expert but, more importantly, for us, his good friends with a bee keeping equipment shop, Mary H and Mary McN, widely known as "The Two Marys". The Two Marys have their 'shop' up the other side of Drumshambo in the hills near the border with Northern Ireland (actually County Fermanagh, so we were nearly in UK by mistake!). The 'shop' is actually in three out buildings, so you move between the three to see the clothing, hive parts, tools etc. The buildings are gathered round the ladies' farmhouse in a beautiful setting - steep wooded valleys and a racing mountain stream, the up/down inclines on the approach lane had us wondering how you'd ever get in and out in a car in the snow.

Seasonal veg'
The Marys are lovely people - friendly, helpful, very knowledge-able and great to talk to. Not only did we 'find' all we wanted to find in the way of bee gear, they also have a sale on selling 'slight seconds' at very good prices, which had us promising to return armed with cash where we had been thinking we'd wait till we'd done 'bee school' before we spent anything. It also turned out that one of the Marys is to be the lecturer for the first lecture in our training course on Feb 10th, but also that the other is a landscape gardener by trade. I'd spotted some old seed heads of purple verbena sticking up and commented on them. "Ah!", she said, "Are you gardeners?" and when she found that we were indeed gardeners, she generously started passing us potted cuttings of lilac, hyssop, white species fuchsia and so on to take away with us. We are delighted to have met these ladies and will thoroughly enjoy doing business with them.

I am smiling now as I type this. I have just re-read this post and realise that I am suddenly 'surrounded' by lovely, helpful and very wise women. There is Liz of course though she was not in this story, as too weren't Carolyn and Charlotte of the mini horses, rabbits and George the gander but there is also Mentor Anne, Barbara Kingsolver and now the Two Marys. There is also the Kent 'crew'. I should be fairly safe staying on the straight and narrow, shouldn't I?

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