As far as one can tell, Wales didn't have a tradition of the celebration of first fruits like Lughnasadh in Ireland or Lammas in the Anglo-Saxon world. But there was a festival in Ceredigion, the area of Wales where I live, for Calan Awst, August 1st, known as ffest y bugeiliaid - the shepherd's feast - which involved the young shepherds and cowherders going to the top of a hill and feasting, after which they'd have contests and feats of strength until darkness fell.
I do celebrate August 1st as a festival of first fruits, and have decided to honour the antlered god Cernunnos then. He isn't known to have a particular feast day and I chose to assign it to the time of ffest y bugeiliaid in my personal observances partly because I see him as having an affinity with Lugh (who is traditionally said to have instigated the festival of Lughnasadh), partly because he is associated with mediating the fruits of the wild to humankind and partly because in my personal pantheon I see him as a complement to Brigit whose festival is exactly opposite to Lughnasadh, 6 months earlier (or later) on February 1st.
Sadly I couldn't find any first fruits to put on the altar today (I thought more of the blueberries would have ripened but they haven't) so I collected some of the different varieties of roses which have bloomed wonderfully all summer in spite of the rain and also offered some carrot cake I baked yesterday (it's delicious, if I do say so myself!)
It's not been a great summer from a growing point of view because of the persistent rain. Yet it all started off so well with the runner beans I planted in pots and put on the window-sill. They started to come up in less than a week and it was so exciting and uplifting to see the compost starting to be pushed up and then the young shoots raising their heads. Quite quickly they became tall and I had to plant them out...
I did so on a day that was my day for tending Brigit's flame and it was such a joyous experience. "Can there be anything better", I thought, "than planting out runner beans in the sun" as I made the bamboo tent and gently put them into the warming earth with a silent blessing. But it was not to be... the slugs were out in force and gradually munched their way through every one. I don't like to use slug pellets, even the environmentally-friendly ones since someone told me it dissolves the slugs from the inside out... but I was so upset at the rate at which the seedlings were being consumed that I did put out a dish of guinness (5 years out of date) I'd found in the cupboard. I don't like killing things but I had decided to fight not only for the plants but for the work that had gone into raising them (having chronic fatigue and being on crutches, gardening is not very easy, simply getting them from the window-sill onto the planting site needs quite a bit of thought and effort). The slugs loved the guinness and many died drinking it. But it didn't stop them eating the bean plants first and in the end I had to accept that I wasn't going to be left even with one.
So I pulled out the bare stalks and bought some swiss chard which I have grown successfully before, in spite of the slugs. But they munched their way through all those too... the same with two courgettes and a pumpkin Em who helps me in the garden planted for me. Then they started on the leeks which slugs are traditionally thought not to like... but at a slower rate and mostly the ends of the leaves, so that when the good weather came and they weren't around so much the leeks had a chance to grow. I shall be harvesting them eventually I think. (Here they are, in need of a bit of watering and banking up.)
This year I have only about 8 plums on the tree and the bramley apple didn't even bother to flower... But the fiesta eating apple has 15 small red apples on it - the most I've had - and they look so bright and cheerful.
And the strawberries were wonderful! I had handfuls with my yogurt every night for weeks and they were beautifully sweet like last year. From two or three plants I bought three years ago they have spread all along the patch I'd reserved for vegetables... but I let them as they've been one of the most successful crops with the least work. I had a few blackcurrants, just enough to make a blackcurrant and apple crumble when the family came (they need transplanting, being too near a clump of irises and peonies that weren't in evidence when we put them in), a few handfuls of raspberries and I have already had a lot of the blueberries which have ripened in dribs and drabs.
I still have two courgettes in pots which I haven't dared to plant out as I know they'll immediately be eaten like the others. What to do? I've put them in larger pots since they have started to flower... as yet none of them have ripened into courgettes though and I just read today that they grow well on the compost heap and I'm wondering about asking Em to plant them out there next time she comes. The slugs are not so abundant at the top of the garden.
The potatoes I've been growing in pots were doing very well but even they are being slowly eaten by something. I think it is the slugs - I did find some black ones tucked down the sides of the container and took them away but I haven't managed to catch any since though I have seen some large ones lurking with possible intent and moved them. So I'm not sure if there will actually be any tubers to harvest. But the dwarf beans I planted in pots are - fingers crossed - doing well. I put vaseline round the top of the pots like last year and that does seem to be working again.
Although it's been disappointing losing so many vegetables to the slugs this year, in a way I welcome it. It keeps me aware of what is real; puts me in touch with the ancestors who grew their food round here, with subsistence farmers in other countries. It makes me aware of the difficulty of growing crops and how powerless we are in the face of nature. And I think of how lucky I am to be able to go to the Co-op and buy vegetables to eat, as so many people in other countries can't do. And how lucky I am that I can afford to buy fresh vegetables which are expensive, when so many people in this country are living below the poverty line.
I meditated today - not for the first time - on the things I associate with Cernunnos - reciprocity, giving something back for what you take out, keeping boundaries, the way in which the fertility of the wild is accessed by us.
We had a few days of sunny weather for a while and I enjoyed the garden all the more for their rarity. All in all there has been much to celebrate - the roses, the strawberries (I shared them with ants and wood-lice but there were enough for us all), the handfuls of berries. Sweet peas, buddleia, the expectation of leeks and beans and potatoes... Clover and self-heal and bird's foot trefoil in the long grass; water-lilies, pond-skaters and the shy newts in the pond... the odd bright blue damsel-fly...
The family came and we had an unexpectedly sunny weekend, some of which we spent in the garden. I was able to show my three-year old grandson around its nooks and crannies and he helped me pick blackcurrants and strawberries. Just what I'd always imagined being a granny would be like!
the garden blossoms and ripens