Whiff of winter

Variety Lucola – excellent crop and good flavour even with the whitefly
Variety Bolthardy – an old favourite reliable with good flavour

The days are shortening and the northerly winds bring a cold nip to the morning air. Time to find the woolly hats, fill the log baskets and get ready for Samhain which begins on 31 October. This is one of the Celtic fire festivals when the doors on the hills open and the wee folk visit the realms of men. However care should when dealing with the Sidhe* and there are severe penalties for a mortal entering their world. The Great Darkness (the months of November and December) is also the time of storytelling and recalling the deeds of heroes.
On a more mundane level it is also time prepare the polytunnel for the winter season. The cucumbers have produced their last fruits and it is time to cut down the tomato vines and prepare the final batch of chutney. Although the fruits are still ripening they are losing their sweetness so they must make way for the crops which will fill the hungry gap next spring. The onions which have been drying on the benches are now being moved into storage to make way for the pots of the more delicate herbs which require some winter protection. I have been drying herbs for a few weeks now but I prefer to use fresh leaves when possible.
The baby beetroot and carrots will be ready to eat during November and the spinach is growing nicely. As the days shorten growth slows down but provided it does not get too cold the seedlings and young plants will enter a period of what appears to be suspended animation and then burst into life as soon as the day length increases.
There are still the early onions and potatoes to plant and these will go into the beds as soon as the ground has been prepared. Intensive cropping requires care to maintain soil fertility and health. Our sandy soil is so free draining that the volume of water flushed through the beds during the summer is sufficient to prevent a buildup of mineral salts from the use of liquid fertilisers. Whenever a crop has finished we add some new compost to the growing area which maintains the level of organic matter and replenish the soil micro-organisms.
The plants might be slowing down but there is still plenty of work to do in the garden but there is now the excuse of stopping work in the late afternoon as the light fades and temperature drops. Always a good excuse to call it a day and enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of cake by the fire.
“Sidhe – pronounced shee. The realm of the aos sí oraes sídhe  literally the “people of the mounds”. They are not referred to directly but spoken of as the wee or fair folk. The aos sí are often appeased with offerings, and care is taken to avoid angering or insulting them. The Sidhe, often referred to as Tir nan Og, is seen as closer at dusk and dawn and during the festivals of Samhain, Beltane and Midsummer.

9 thoughts on “Whiff of winter

  1. What are suitable offerings for the wee folk? I love to hear these tales 😉

    • The traditional offerings are butter or cream, to ensure that that milk doesn’t curdle or your cow become barren, or baked goods which I interpret as cakes or biscuits as there is some dispute about whether bread is acceptable. In this part of the world a small libation (a wee dram) is often left at festivals.

  2. It is clear that you have developed a really good relationship with your land and literally are able to enjoy the fruits of your labours because of it – evident also that you have not angered or insulted the fair folk. I found myself thinking of Findhorn as I read this post …. and also that I should do more to work with the fair folk in my own garden.

    • Islands have their own type of magic and as I watch the distant islands appear and disappear in the cloud and mist it is not difficult to understand how the myths and folktales evolved. I see myself as custodian of my piece of land and if it is cherished and nurture it will reward me by being fruitful. Any good gardener knows that you have to put back more than you take. Respecting the wee folk is part of this holistic approach, so there is always a share for all the creatures who live in the garden and on the croft. The garden also gives me more than food, an aching back and sore knees, it is a wellspring of smiles.

      • Wellspring of smiles indeed….. What a delightful phrase!

  3. Hi Croftgarden, I have only recently moved up to the Outer Hebrides and am still finding my feet. I loved the beginning of your post above as I am keen to embrace the traditional folklore that seems to run deep up here. Do you have any recommendations of good books to get me started? I also notice you have links to the Outer Hebrides National History Society…are they quite active and are they looking for new members?

    • Hi Callum – welcome, I hope that your move to the islands will be as happy as ours. We’ve only been here 4 years and would be nowhere else. Unfortunately I am not a gaelic speaker so my slight knowledgee stems from a liking of Celtic folk tales and Norse myths and sagas, or from watching Noggin the Nog as a child! You could start with Stories from South Uist translated by John Lorne Campbell or Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist by Margaret Fay Shaw both these are out of print so you would have to try the Library – they could probably recommend other things too. There is a new book The People of the Sea: Celtic Tales of the Seal-folk by David Thompson which I’ve not seen yet but it sounds interesting. It is also worth dipping into Flora Celtica which has plenty of information on the folklore associated with plants.
      When not gardening or cooking I’m involved with biological recording and the natural history society. I’ll send you a copy of the latest newsletter and other information separately. A grand day to day I’m off out as soon as the latest batch of cakes comes out the oven – celebrating national food day!

      • Hi Croftgarden, thanks for the reply. One of the first things I did upon arriving was to join the library as it seemed to have such a great selection of books on the area so will definitely check out the books you recommended above. I’d be really interested in joining the Natural History Society so look forward to having a look at the newsletter to learn more…I hope your cakes did national food day justice!

        • Hi Callum – I’m a great local library supporter too.
          Information is crossing the island through the ether right now – a couple of satellite bounces and it should be with you anytime now.
          Cakes – just everyday tea bread – but then the simple things are usually the best.

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