The law of the beekeeper and the goodness of sharing

The law of the beekeeper is found in the Bech Bretha (Bee Judgments) – set of laws governing the keeping of bees and also the distribution of their bounty. It exists in The Brehon Laws – the indigenous Irish system of law, developed from customs from pre-Celtic and Celtic times, passed on orally from one generation to the next. Documented In the 7th century AD and surviving in practice until supplanted by the English common law in the 17th century. What it shows is the fostering of sharing in establishing/maintaining communal cohesion.

The following extracts serve as a sample and example:

• If a person found/tended or harvested a swarm in a faithche (a small green surrounding/belonging to a house/family) then one-fourth of the produce to the end of a year was entitled to the finder/tender with the remaining three-fourths due to the owner of the house.

• If a person found/tended or harvested a swarm in a tree growing in a faithche then the split was one-half each of the produce for a year between finder and land owner.

• If the swarm was found/nurtured in land which was not a green but still private property then the finders/tenders portion was one-third with the remainder to the owner of the land.

• If the swarm was found/nurtured in waste land or location not belonging to an individual, but rather the common property of the tribe then the finder/tender had rightful ownership/guardianship of the bees and their honey but should pay/supply a dividend of one-ninth to the chief of the tribe.

• In other locations/situations or where bee ownership was established by a single beekeeper the share was enshrined thus – because bees gathered their honey from the surrounding locality, the owners of the four adjacent fields/farms have contributed to the harvestable portion and so are entitled to receive small proportion of the honey.

The Bech Bretha goes on to recommend that if beekeeping is on-going in a district then after the third year of production each of the surrounding farms should be gifted or could claim entitlement to a share of the swarm to start their own hive.

Later this law would be echoed in the proverb Bíonn an rath I mbun na ronna – There is luck in sharing a thing Indeed there is luck in sharing but we must understand what luck is – in the Irish psyche – luck is good fortune – it is the positive energy of the day, it is the cultivation of good will. Yes the cultivation of good will – the manifestation of grace – the participation of life beyond your own thoughts and motivations.

Sharing opens the world, sharing brings you into contact with otherness, with ‘separateness’ from your individual self – uncoupled from personal concern you can join the world.

For some the mindful path can be all breath and no real life – breathing is key, breathing is a key but living opens the door. We can get lost on the path and removed from the physical world over the rim of our spiritual shield. Retreat and distance from the mayhem is no harm and all good but don’t absent yourself from life altogether.

Sharing is communion – it is communication with the interrelatedness of all life. There is more to life than the anapanasati sutra – mindfulness brings you into contact with the energies and reality of your living spiritual self but that self is not in isolation to every other self on the planet – share some breath in that direction – there is luck in it.

Luck and chance are esteemed in eastern philosophies but in an analytical west – luck is often seen as superstition. Far from it, the luck of this proverb is the manifestation of grace through compassion – through generosity of spirit – through sharing. Through being real in the company of somebody else.

Share yourself – participate with people. The monk in silence, the hermit in solitude, the guru in seclusion, the greedy beekeeper advances little but selfishness.

In the Irish psyche, Luck is fortune – fortune is abundance. In the Irish psyche we reap reward by not just harvesting but by sharing. This is evident in our ancient Brehon laws, none less than in The law of the beekeeper. Bees and humans share a trait – Ultra-sociability – the ability/desire to live in communities and be altruistic.

So today share a joke or a smile or a good story – there is luck in it. Invite friends over and share a meal and good times – there is luck in it. Share some of yourself with the world – there is all the luck in the world in that.

To explore more Irish proverbs and their positive psychology potential see the book – by time is everything revealed.

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growing your own healthy Incan berries is no sacrifice

Incan berries (Physalis peruviana) are the new kid on the block in superfoods but really they been growing round the block for a long time as an ornamental garden plant – still sold in your local garden centre as Physalis. My dad grew them when I was a child and not for eating but for their burst of colour at this time of year

You will have seen it on supermarket shelves lately– a yellowy orange tomatillo-like orb in brown papery Chinese lanterns. It is in the Solanaceae family and like its cousins (tomatoes and potatoes) do not eat the unripe or green fruits – wait for the lanterns to change from brilliant orange to dull beige and there after the fruit inside will fully ripen to a golden hue.

The fruits are nutrient dense and tasty (earthy or musky, with a hint of tropical sweetness). Peruvians eat them raw as a bush fruit or in salads; North Americans eat them in desserts and jams. Across Europe I’ve seen then dipped in chocolate and dried like figs. As a product it is expensive enough – harvest is labour intensive by commercial standards- so ideal to GIY.

What put them in my sights – as someone interested in natural medicines – was an evaluation back in 2009 (published in the Journal of Medicinal Food) outlining their anti-diabetes and anti-hypertension properties. They also have phytoconstituents known as ‘withanolides’ – currently under study for their anticancer potential. The nutrient dense part comes in the form of an abundance of vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B6, B12. They are high in phosphorous and other minerals too. Each fruit contains around contain 16% protein – very high for a fruit.

Growing tip – they like sun but tolerate partial shade too. free draining soil is beneficial but they preference a slightly nutrient poor soil – if the soil is too rich for their blood they will put on masses of foliage but barely fruit. so add some grit.

They may not survive an arctic winter but are considered hardy to -10°C (14°F). You can of course lift and overwinter indoors. Under their other name of Cape gooseberry they are often sold as houseplants or conservatory specimens. My dad grew them against a sunny wall and they came back perennially without any palaver. I grow mine in pots and do the old December pot shuffle into the polytunnel to avoid the winter wet as much as any winter cold.

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grow your own superfood goji berries

The myth is that goji is hard to grow – well Goji berries (Lycium barbarum) have several names in the realms of ornamental gardening; Chinese Boxthorn, The matrimony Vine and Chinese Wolfberry. So if it is a landscape plant it can’t be that hard to grow at all – in fact as an ornamental shrub it has been growing in European gardens since the 1600’s – it has even naturalised in some places so this ‘exotic’ may just thrive in your garden or allotment.

The attractive red berries are known as a super food and have a long history in Chinese ethnobotany to treat the kidney, lung and liver and to brighten the eyes. So long before it hit the glossy women’s magazines as way to banish cellulite or men’s health magazines as the best boost to your immune system and sexual stamina (it helps elevate hormone levels), its validation as a super edible was endorsed by a 5000yr old tradition.

As a food, it can be used similar to raisins – in sweet and savoury dishes or on the go snack – with more vitamin C than oranges and more iron than steak. Great if you are an anaemic GIYer – as iron absorption require the presence of vitamin C.

Western herbalist have embraced goji berries and their extracts to improves immune system responses and as a health enhancer. The berries have phytoconstituents called betaine which can reduce both blood sugar and blood lipid levels but which has been studied for its capacity to inhibit fat deposition in liver cells and which exhibits a prompting mechanisms for the regeneration of liver cells.

Research is undergoing in China to evaluate its potential in the suppression of cervical cancer Hela cells. A big part the competency of the plant as a health agent lies in the fact that antioxidant and detoxing Polysaccharides make up a large percentage of the fruit pulp.

Growing tip. Goji plants belong to the Solanaceae family, so are cousins of potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines – but they are perennial producers and not dependent on crop rotation for successive yields. They are fully hardy – even to extremes of climate -15C – +40C (5F – 104F). Although slow to establish, a regular fruiting yield occurs generally 3-4 years after initial planting. Once established they are relatively trouble free – watch for birds and aphids as you would with any other fruiting crop.

The advice is often a space of 2m (6ft) apart – only because they can easily mature to a height and spread of 3m (10ft) x 4m (13ft). They can be pruned and wall trained or even maintained as a fruiting hedge. They are self-fertile with fruiting buds forming on the previous year’s growth.

They crop better in full sun. They are costal tolerant and will accommodate wind and periods of drought quite well. In terms of pre planting ground prep – they like it free-draining and will do better if the soil is enriched with garden compost or well-rotted manure.

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how to grow your own superfood blueberries

Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum, V. angustifolium) are best known as an antioxidant superfood – so we link them in our brains as we put them in the shopping trolley or fresh picked on to morning muesli as a food that slows down the aging process – and yes by mopping up free radical damage they keep your cells protected from age-related disorders.

In fact blueberries are one of the richest sources of proanthocyanidins – flavonoids that provide flavour to fruits but also protection against predation to plants. These plant immune system molecules can boost our immunity when we ingest them but they also exert other effects, such as improved insulin sensitivity – great news if you are a diabetic GIYer.

Proanthocyanidins and other phytoflavinoids within blueberries have demonstrated lower risk of heart disease and cancer when included in the human diet. With the latter, blueberries deliver a nice dose of ellagic acid which in the human system prompts a healthy rate of apoptosis— how our body seeks out and destroys any harmful agents or damaged cells, including precancerous and cancer cells. When it comes to heart disease they are somewhat cardio protective but the really fight is in obesity related complications of the heart and other organs.

As a weight loss support the Catechins present in blueberries switch on the fat-burning genes in abdominal fat cells. Recent American research (including studies at Tufts University School of medicine) suggests that increased catechins in our diet can improve abdominal fat loss by 77 percent. If you are young, slim and healthy then the vitamins C, E, riboflavin, niacin, and folate content of this delicious berry will keep you that way, if you wish you were that way then growing your own blueberries is a great way to make a resolution a reality.

Growing tip –They love a sunny spot and acidic soil (a pH of 5.5 or lower) and they thrive better if watered with rain water. If you don’t have a catchment system in place yet for our abundant rain then there is a way to make tap water less harmful to your plants – simply boiling tap water then cooling it overnight will change both its pH and ion capacity to a better suited proposition for your precious fruit bushes.

I grow my blueberries in large tree pots with a mix of sand, soil, leaf-mould and homemade compost and a broken up peat briquette in the middle to leech acidity in to the growing media for decades to come. The secret to bumper yields is to protect flowers from frosts but remember to not mummify the bushes with layers of fleece as if the bee can’t get in the flower remains unfertilized and won’t become a fruit.

Even though most varieties are self-fertile, cross-pollination always increases yield so it is also a good idea to have a second blueberry bush (within 2m/6ft). Irish grown stock and garden centre varieties tend to be Northern-High-Bush varieties which can benefit from a tidying/ late winter pruning from year three on.

Blueberries will fruit via the fat buds on the short side-shoots produced during spring and early summer of the previous year (any ‘flatter’ buds are leaf/stem buds). They can also form fruiting buds at the tips of strong shoots from the second flush of growth that often happens at the end of summer. In commercial growing circles the aim is one-third old, one-third middle-aged and one-third young stems but we can prune to remove crossing stems and open the fruiting buds to light and air circulation.

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meditation made easy

Sometimes in life all you need is a set of instructions. Well here are the slow and steady steps to meditation mastery. From here you can quell your demons or conquer the world. Ok it wont stop the slugs and snails but you wont be as angry or as devastated and you will enjoy the pleasures and treasures of your garden more because meditation wires the brain to a positive setting.

Meditation also elevates wellbeing and lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol – and so engenders serenity and surety of purpose in non-meditation scenarios. But in the beginning it can be a daunting task to uptake or a tricky skill to master. so lets explore some tips to overcome those problems.

Step one – forgive the cliché but all journeys really do begin with a single step – you have to start somewhere; so a single step is more than ok, it is real – it is taking action. Don’t try to do a 20min sitting first time. Get the fundamentals first. Follow your breath, when you notice you are thinking and not following your breath, return to your breathing. Allow yourself three distractions – three times to wander off focusing on your breath. That’s enough for now. Come back to it later.

You are training your brain to return to focus and wander less. You want to feel that you have mastered it three times not failed 100 times- so doing the short bursts of focus, wander, return is building capacity. You can lengthen duration as you go. Work up to a confident minute. Then a stress free two minutes, soon you can handle 5 then there after it’s however long feels right.

Step two – forgive yourself – meditation is not about never being distracted during a sitting, it is about catching the wandering and returning to the focus – to the experiential rather than indulging that evaluating nature of your mind. Don’t feel so bad that you are wandering, each wander in an opportunity to return, it is the returning that trains the brain.

Sometimes you are a whole shopping list down before you realize you have wandered, then it’s a 30sec reprimand with yourself – stop wasting time on guilt or pressure – just come back to the breath or chant or focus technique. The more you return the more you will hone skill and soon you will be catching yourself long before you have got two items on the grocery list.

Step three – don’t let it be a chore – this is a skill for life but it is also something that be engaged in without a heavy context. As a way to unwind – even though it delivers much more than that – it’s good to see it as something nice to do for yourself rather than another task on the check list of this already busy day. Sure it’s good to schedule it in, yes it’s good to have a routine but it’s ok to be easy with it and come to it when you get the chance.

Think of it like a time out, like listening to some music, having a cup of coffee, or taking a five minute stroll to gather yourself. Make it more of a reward than a chore- that way you will not only continue with it but find the zone quickly when you sit into it. Take the pressure out of the equation and enjoy. Take the work out of it and let it put the life back into you.

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They say seeing is believing

This is a psych trick to bolster your self belief – just read on, don’t start judging or second guessing – just read to the end.

Aoccdrnig to latest rscheearch on perception, it actually deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are pclaced, as long as the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pclae.

Aamzingly we can sitll raed it wouthit any big porbelm.

How is that pssoible – well its bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but scans and peercvies the wrod as a wlohe.

So wahts the most iprmoetnt tihng that we can laern from this – yes, the pwoer of your brain to sort out a total mses.

So rset esay you can ahcieve wnoders. You can even overcome and reorientate yourself to a better life.

Now how about you harness that power more and really perceive to achieve. We know some days our mind plays tricks on us but we can play tricks on it too. We can reframe how we think; we can loosen the grip of negative, repetitive & compulsive thoughts. We can move from glass half full to cup run’eth over. We can fine-tune our brighter selves, we can boost our resilience, tolerance, optimism, happiness. We can reorder the chaos.

For more mindful and cognitive resetting techniques try my latest book #everythingrevealed Gill Books

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diminishing dyspepsia – how to deal with indigestion and bloating

Dyspepsia is the medical term for indigestion. Indigestion is a dysfunction of the digestive system linked to excess stomach acid – presenting as the sensation of fullness post meal with varying degrees of intensity of discomfort in the upper abdomen. Sometimes accompanied by heartburn, hiccups, regurgitating, nausea and also bloating and intestinal distress.

It can be a precursor/symptom of gastroenteritis or peptic ulcer – so a check up may be in the cards. Most commonly thought of as a reaction to spicy food but in truth any food can flare up the stomach digestive acids. Indigestion can also be triggered by alcohol consumption and certain prescription medications as well as be symptomatic of pregnancy or stress.

Natural cures for this condition include traditional ‘bitters’ (digestants) such as gentian, dandelion and artichoke. Gentian root and dandelion also augment the digestion of proteins and fats. Milk thistle tincture is very effective but also a simple Yarrow tea is remedial to stomach and digestive complaints.

Carminative herbs such as angelica, chamomile, fennel or lemon balm speed up digestion and reduce gas. Peppermint tea is a supreme digestive, speeding up the process and the time it takes the stomach to empty so cutting short acidic reactions. Lovage root is also a digestive.

Aloe vera juice is not so easy to standardize in the home kitchen from home grown supplies and while it soothes the digestive tract and stomach, it can be laxative or emetic depending on intensity – a tablespoon scoop of the inner gel blitzed in 8ounces of water should be sipped to assay intensity. Store bought is good option.

Kitchen support – Ginger is a digestive – boosting assimilation of food- but can also be really helpful with the ancillary symptoms of nausea, belching, flatulence. you can start to cook more with dill, coriander, basil, caraway, cardamom, rosemary – to stimulate speedy digestion.

While spicy food can exacerbate, some condiments can address discomfort – both black pepper and mustard stimulate the taste buds for extra digesting salvia and also signal secretions of digestive hydrochloric acid within the stomach – which yes is more acid but it works to give quick turn around – the bloating and ancillary complications are really ‘un-digestion’ complications.

Indigestion can persist beyond a post meal flare up and many people find relieve with a grape snack (10 or so will hit the spot) or some slices of apple. Both contain phytochemical that calm digestive upset. Pineapple contains digestive enzymes that can help reduce flare up. Green tea with some honey is a good way to end a meal and deliver some calming principles to the digestive system

some helpful recipes from

No gripes grape, apple and shredded fennel salad.

1/2 cup shredded fennel bulb
10 or so grapes
1 apple
Cream fraiche (or other coating /salad dressing).

Method. Half and chill the grapes. Shred fennel. Peel, cored and diced the apple, toss it in a dash of lemon juice to slow oxidization. Combine all ingredients with a dollop of cream fraiche or sour cream, fold together – serve and enjoy.

Angelica and lemon balm tea

Angelica root is more potent than the leaves but it needs to be properly dried before use – for indigestion purposes the leaf tea delivers the photochemical we require and the flavour is pleasant with lemon balm – also remedial to condition

Method. Gather enough foliage of each plant to yield a chopped teaspoon each– add teaspoon of each to a cup of boiling water, infuse for 10 minutes. Leaves can be harvested in greater quantity and dried to make a blend of equal quantity by volume.

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