Denise: Over the last few days I’ve been busy turning a bumper crop of citrus fruits harvested from the bargains shelves at the co-op into marmalades. Sweet orange, Dark Muscovado, Lemon and Lime. About 70 jars ready for sale during 2012, and some for ourselves as well. Starting with our this morning’s coffee and toast. Marmalade-stripes on toast: sharp, sophisticated and sweet.
Jonathan: Sales of garden produce – sales generally – plummeted at the end of August: it was if Calmac had simply cancelled all sailings from Oban until further notice – there’s scarcely been any visitors on the island since the beginning of September. And those that come aren’t for spending much. Campervanners are renown for bringing half the shelves of their home-town supermarkets with them and scarce a penny here; but this year it’s others too. A young couple declined the offer of juicy sweet freshly picked tomatoes because they’d brought their own home-grown with them – picked a fortnight earlier in the south of France! A regular guest at our Askernish cottage brought the essentials with her – from her local supermarket at home in Canada! Mind you that’s a different matter altogether: when I think of my morning ritual of fresh roast coffee and toast, I think I’d do the same. Too important to leave it to chance!
Jonathan: We sold our first jar of Uist Machair Flower Honey today. An historic first not just because it is our first sale of honey, or because it is almost certainly the first honey to be produced in (let alone sold from) this garden in its long 350+ year history, but it is quite possibly the first jar of honey ever produced and sold in Uist and Barra. Although at this stage we’re growing bees rather than producing honey, I had reason to remove a ‘super’ I’d put on to allow the bees to keep their own winter supplies. We’ve no proper extracting equipment yet, so I used rather messy and time-consuming manual methods to extract and filter the honey, and then I put into jars just as we do for jams and chutneys. This was meant to be just for our own use, but it looked so good I thought: why not try it on our customers? I designed some labels, printed them and had them ready to put on the jars when a customer comes to the door for eggs and says “By the way, I see you have bees …” (there are, for reasons that will now be obvious, hives positioned right outside a window of the Woolshed Studio), “… do you by any chance have honey for sale?”. I heard D reply, quick as a flash, “Jonathan’s in the kitchen right now, labelling our first ever batch: would you like some?” Yes, they would, and after a hurried but hushed discussion in the kitchen D returned to the door with a jar – with the product label on but lacking the finishing touches – “… and that’ll be £4.75 for the honey”. Meanwhile another customer had come to the door and was waiting behind the first, and piped up – oh I’ll take one of those as well; and then the same for another and then again another customer. Four jars of honey sold in less than 10 minutes. At £4.75 for a 250g (1/2lb jar). But before you think what a rip-off!, or immediately turn to the internet to plan your own honey Klondike , you’re best knowing the facts. We’ve spent thousands of pounds and many hundreds of hours to get to this point – and there’s a lot more investment required before we can cost-effectively extract honey and get it ready for sale; and yet at this point we can’t expect any more than 100 jars a year (sales value less than £500) at very best. Quite simply, it doesn’t pay unless you’re determined to build up to a pretty large operation, and can sell direct to the public with minimum overheads. Fortunately, that’s exactly the position we are in.