Saturday, 23 July 2016

Plentiful Plums to Pick

I was intending to organise a Plum Picknik, but it seems that life has conspired against me and, sadly, I will now not have enough time.
However, it is an easy place to locate and there are always a massive amount of multi coloured plums available for picking out of the hedgerows or collecting off the grass.
You can walk or cycle here or even drive and park your car in the War Memorial car park (almost opposite the Cricketers pub on Chestnut Avenue, Eastleigh). 
The plums can be found all along the hedgerows on the left hand side adjacent to the cricket field and bordering Chestnut Avenue. Picking on the field side is obviously safer and more pleasant than on the road side.

There are loads and loads of them - you can basically fill your boots, as they say. They can be eaten straight off the trees or saved to be turned into jam, pies, chutney, wine or any number of other delightfully delicious seasonal things. So, I encourage everyone to get on down there and pick your plums while the sun shines!
Everyone's favourite foragable, beautiful Blackberries are also ripening now too.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Foraging Book New Kindle Version

We picked a massive amount of delicious Raspberries, Redcurrants, Blackcurrants and Tayberries from our allotment. The rustic fruit-cage doing its level best to prevent the birds snaffling our soft fruit.
We made Raspberry milkshakes and I also predict a seasonal super fruit favourite, Summer Pudding.
Meanwhile, on the foraging front, Cherries are ripening on the trees and the early trees are already fit for picking. Plums are getting very close too and we will arrange a Plum Picknik very soon, so keep a keen eye on this blog.
We are also delighted to announce that our lovely book, the Urbane Forager: Fruit and Nuts for Free, is now also available on Kindle at the very favourable price of just £4.99.
The more traditional paperback version is still available from all good bookstores (probably some bad ones too), as well as all the normal online outlets.
I also have a couple of spiral bound and laminated field-guide versions, please contact me personally if you would prefer one of these.
This lovely book is packed full of beautiful photographs, seasonal information, recipes, identification sheets, and good advice on how to find, harvest and prepare fresh, free, fruit and nuts. Order your copy now and get ready for the first flush of fresh free fruit of the year!

Friday, 1 July 2016

Allotment Cardboard & Seedling Guards

Fed up with the endless futility of hacking back the weeds that grow over our allotment in the spring, I decided to try using corrugated cardboard as a biodegradable suppressant. 
Where I work we get large 2m x 3m sheets, which ordinarily just end up in the recycling bins. I covered the cultivated areas at the end of the season last year and weighted them down with bits of timber.
After a Winter and Spring of storms my initial efforts were beginning to look a bit tatty and shredded, but no weeds had grown. So, I laid down a second  layer in April to keep the weeds at bay and hold all the old bits in place. 
This system seems to work really well, nothing had grown beneath the cardboard and it also adds a layer of insulation, which helps to warm up the land. New plants and seedlings can be individually planted directly through the cardboard.
My other recycling initiative employed old pallets, which I had dismantled and cut to size during the Winter. Then with the help of some enthusiastic child labour, the timber was fashioned into frames and then covered in netting to protect young seedlings from birds, mice and cats. 
In the case of our garden based raised beds, these guards can even deflect stray footballs!  On the allotment plot, once the frames are deployed, they also help hold the cardboard in place, and I figure they can be turned upside-down during the Winter months to make them even more effective at this job.
Once the crops at the allotment are pressing against the netting, the plants are tough enough for us to remove the guards and place them over our next new batch of seedlings. This system seems to be working very well so far.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Pest Control and Border Patrol

We have finally worked out what has been attacking our Cherry tree. The leaves were getting decimated in some areas and the young fruit was suffering too. I thought initially that it was pigeons or other avian pests. We initially installed a make-shift bird scarer but closer inspection revealed that the culprit was in fact SNAILS!
The pesky molluscs had climbed up the tiny tree trunk and slithered out along the bendy branches to feast on the fresh foliage and even the precious immature fruit. We found over 25 on our first security sweep and the tree is only about 2m high. We plucked them all off and threw them as far away as we were able. I then painted a ring of fruit tree grease around the trunk as a deterrent to further incursion. The children are now mounting a daily fruit based border patrol- and removing any further slimy insurgents (their reward will be obvious, they both love cherries).
In further pest control news, I have also had to take defensive action in our allotment rustic fruit cage. The roof is not totally bird proof, being made of 10mm wide mesh and my red-current bush, which is full of quickly ripening fruit was being ravaged (definitely birds this time). I have now covered the upper branches with finer netting and hope to harvest the currents soon.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Family Eat Ancient Apples!

In our latest shocking news we have finally finished using the Apples that we picked last SeptemberThis nine month old fruit was turned into apple-sauce to accompany a splendid roast dinner.
This may come as a surprise to people who are used to buying apples with a sell-by date stamped on the cellophane wrappers, but some types of freshly picked Apples can keep for several months, given the right conditions.
We picked over 200 KGs last year, for free, from urban trees around our city and then stored them in our lovely old wooden apple-cupboard that lives in my garden shed.
The bucket-loads of apples that would not fit into the store were crushed, pressed and Pasteurised, turning them into into several gallons of delicious juice which, I'm pleased to report, we are still glugging down now and couple of gallons of golden cider, which have already been heartily consumed.
However, you do not need a lovely wooden apple cupboard to make apple keep for a long time. My mum still keeps hers in greengrocers boxes wrapped up in old newspaper and, to be honest, this method works just as well and actually makes it easier to remove any bad apples to the compost heap.

Monday, 6 June 2016

An Elderflower Adventure

We had just returned from a trekking/camping holiday during half term (more on that expedition later) and the kids had been spotting Elderflowers.
They decided it was time to make some sweet, delicious, thirst quenching Elderflower Cordial. However, I was just thinking about making Elderflower Champagne.
Elderflowers are virtually everywhere in the parks and streets at the moment, so we thought it might be fun to go by boat, just for the hell of it.
At St. Deny's Sailing and Rowing Club on the river Itchen, we saw that a blackbird had nested in the lower eves of the clubhouse and was feeding two tiny fledglings.
We soon had life-jackets fitted and launched Tern, our favourite family sized rowing boat and even though both children can row, I was given the job of pulling on the oars.
We saw our first Elder straight away, just yards from the pontoon and we were soon filling our bag with fresh citrusy Elderflower heads.
Further upstream we found other bushes hanging over the river, or in amongst the reeds and I even set the kids ashore to harvest from one particularly busy tree they spotted. As I predicted, with two pickers and one rower we had soon gathered more than enough.
On the way home we bought 5 lemons and one Kilo of sugar, which was enough ingredients to make 3 litres of Elderflower Cordial and 6 litres of Elderflower Champagne.

All the rest was done by the kids in the kitchen and it didn't half look a mess when they had finished but, to be fair, they did tidy up when I explained that I would ferment the lot if they didn't get cleaning.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Apple Blossom, Pesto & Rhubarb Crumble

The sky was blue and the birds were in good voice, so we took a walk down to Mansbridge to check on the progress of the Community Orchard blossom. En route we passed the Pitch and Putt course, which is sadly now closed due to a lack of funding by our ever more squeezed council.
We are pleased to report that the Apple trees were in magnificent shape and looked fantastic in full bloom. We also noticed signs that other people had been helping prune off dead wood to enhance the health of the trees.
While we were exploring, we managed to open up access to a couple of new Apple trees and continued to cut back brambles to keep them out of the branches.

Later that night we made Pesto for our pasta using our stash of Hazel and Walnuts from last year and Basil. 

The wonderful weekend continued in fine fashion as the Saints (Southampton Football Club) won their final few matches of the season with a flourish, to finish on record points and higher up the Premier league than ever before. 
To polish off the proceedings (after I had finished running around the garden celebrating), we made one of my favourite seasonal puddings, Rhubarb Crumble, made from the first fruits of our allotment. 
Simply delicious!