I came across the term "Samhain" (pronounced Sa:wain) for the first time last week. It is apparently an old Gaelic harvest festival, held between 31st October and 1st November to mark the end of the harvest and the change from the lighter half of the year to the darker half of the year. Mixed into this festival is stuff about the otherworld and the dead being able to come back as well as the use of bonfires as a cleansing ritual. It seems to me to somehow encompass everything apt for this time of year including harvest, Halloween, bonfire night and the clocks changing. No doubt its ancient existence had a great deal to do with the development of Halloween and Guy Faulkes night at this time of year.
I really felt the Samhain mood and change from the one part of the year to another this morning when I decided to embrace the crisp sunny day and get outside. Somehow in the past week the cherry and plum trees in our garden seemed to have dumped all their leaves onto the ground and the lawn was in danger of dying due to lack of light. So I started by racking up the leaves and having a general tidy up in the garden. This included checking the stored boxes of vegetables on the shed shelves. A few of the marrows were going mouldy so I added those to the pile of stuff for the compost heap. Amazingly the cucumbers weren't going mouldy but they had ripened to yellow and I know that when they go like that they taste awful so I cleared them out too. It was slightly sad to trot the last of the summer vegetables back to the allotment in order to dump them into the compost.
I had known earlier in the week that we were onto our last courgette for the year, that the French beans were finished and we were down to the last of broccoli. I briefly contemplated buying some vegetables from the supermarket this week but in the end I figured we may as well eat up the head of red cabbage, the courgette and some frozen peas first. But as I chucked the mouldy marrows into the compost I looked around and realised there was a fair bit to harvest. Not the summer vegetables we had been enjoying but the winter staples: carrots, cabbage, leeks and a like.
Before getting stuck in to the harvesting, I continued the tidying up whilst I was still in the mood. The frosts had taken their toll on the pumpkin, marrow, cucumber and tomato plants and these stood dead and soggy on the plot. So I cleared these first then chopped down the asparagus ferns in order to prevent the crowns being damaged by the ferns blowing about in the winter winds. I confess that the long dead and dried pea plants were still in their bed so I got on and cleared these too, pulling out the twiggy pea sticks as I went. Finally, I dismantled the cane supports for the French bean plants and removed the dead plants from around the canes. The sound of the canes clattering together as I dropped them on the ground reminded me of the sounds you hear when a market or fete is packing up... it is a definite end of something sound.
By this point it was lunchtime so I headed home. The girls had stayed at home all morning with Steve but during my tidy up I had had an idea that I thought might be appealing enough to get the girls outside. I was proved right as both girls were very keen to return to the plot after lunch to build a hedgehog hibernation house. I told them they could use the old pea sticks as well as the dead dried peas plants to build the structure. Then I suggested that they gather leaves and use bits of asparagus ferns to form the roof. Once they had done this they asked me about the eating habits of the hedgehog so that they could provide tempting treats to try to entice a hedgehog inside. Having explained that hedgehogs are omnivores, the girls collected a few dropped apples and damsons to scatter outside the entrance and hid grubs and worms inside. I admit that my main aim had been to encourage them to get outside and be active but by the time they had finished I really thought that a hedgehog could well decide to take up residence.
In the meantime I had planted the garlic, ready to overwinter and Steve had arrived to dig up the potatoes. Now it was time to harvest some fresh vegetables. By the time we headed home as it was getting dark we had two huge bagfuls of potatoes, some carrots, beetroot, leeks, calebrese, romanesco cauliflower, red cabbage, and some haricot beans. How wrong I had been to think we didn't have any vegetables left! It was just a matter a shifting with the seasons, to acknowledge the end of summer and to start harvesting the winter crops. It was time for Samhain.