Bittersweet days

September in the garden is always marked by an increase in numbers of honeybees. They clamber across the ruby heads of the sedums and fly from flower to flower in the clumps of Michaelmas daises. These two late flowering plants provide ample forage for hungry bees. But I expect the surge in visitors at this time each year must also coincide with the coming to an end of other sources of nectar elsewhere.

Bees on sedum | The House at Nab End

Honey bee on asters | The House at Nab End

It seems fitting that they choose to visit us in such large numbers in this the month I associate most with honey. The beekeepers have completed their harvest, and up in Conwy a honey fair takes place each year on the 13th of the month.

For a few days a group of pound jars of local honey glowed amber on a shelf in our village shop, but they didn’t sit there for long. It’s runny honey, good to drizzle over a late picking of raspberries; the two flavours sharp and sweet, like summer’s end. Best eaten in September’s golden light, looking out at the yellowing leaves.

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The other evening we opened a jar of Strawberry Tree honey (Miel d’Arbousier) from Corsica. Until now, I thought that chestnut honey, with its bitter tang, was the strangest I had tasted. But honey made from the nectar of Strawberry Tree flowers is something else: bitter and smoky, almost burnt.

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Once that jar is finished we have two others from Corsica to try: a honey from nectar gathered in the forest, and a honeydew honey.

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Outside, the honeybees in the garden are working hard to build up their stores to sustain them through the cold, winter days ahead. Their hoarding instinct is strong. Meanwhile the lawn is becoming ever more puckered with the squirrels’ activity as conkers are buried with bushy-tailed haste. And nor are we resistant to that urge to lay down stores, to pick and preserve, bottle and stash, that pervades this time of year.

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