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!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Beltain and a Blossom Walk

It looks like the Summer is finally getting a grip here in the south UK and everyone should soon be making Elderflower Cordial. I prefer Elderflower Champagne but you need to take a few elementary precautions.
I believe the warm weather may have been encouraged as a result of the recent Beltain celebrations at Butser Ancient Farm. Beltain is an ancient tradition to bring on the summer, to celebrate the drawing back of the night and lengthening of the days.
We often visit this wonderful place for this extraordinary event; there is always lots of interesting things to explore and do. The evening always culminates with the very dramatic burning of the colossal Wickerman.
This year  the 10m hight shape-shifting Wickerman took the form of a human body, with the head of a badger, and antlers sprouting out from behind its ears. You can write down your wishes on paper scraps and stuff them into his legs, to be burned and sent into the night sky as red hot sparks later in the evening.
It was a chilly day and we were prepared for rain (though it never came), you can always hide in a round house and sit by an open fire listening to stories, if you get too cold. My daughter and I kept warm by walking about all the various activities, drinking hot cocoa and by dancing to a band playing sea shanties.
Toward the end of the evening, as darkness fell, everyone was entranced by a team of rhythmic drummers marching out toward our towering statuesque bonfire, which was lit by a lucky young lad with a flaming torch.
While the flames licked ever upwards and our wishes joined the stars glimmering in the darkness, there was a constant chorus of ooh!s,  ah!s and cheers to supplement the drummers, who had now retreated to a safer distance, as various parts joined the conflagration or exploded after crashing to the ground.
Finally, we tramped back over the fields, tired and weary but still awed by a night of wonder, our path lit by the flaming torches we carried.

There will be a Blossom Walk on Saturday May 14th at the Mansbridge Community Orchard. We will meet at 04:00pm on the old stone bridge over the Itchen, regardless of the weather. The bridge is at the end of the Pitch and Putt course and near the White Swan pub/restaurant on the A27. 
The walk is free and volunteer led but you will be traversing rough ground and fields, so dress appropriately and everyone is responsible for their own health and safety.
If anyone wants to buy copies of my lovely book, let me know in advance and they will be available for the totally fantastic price of just £10.00.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Cherry Blossom and Bluebells

The transition from Winter to Spring this year has seemed indistinct and largely unimpressive. It has been relatively warm and very stormy and this has affected the timing of flowering plants but the thing that really matters now, is that it's warm enough for me to be wearing shorts again.
Blackthorn Blossom Fizzing in the Hedgerows
Bluebells are flooding the woodlands, like some kind of alchemical spell, and the trees are bursting magisterially into their full leafy green grandeur. We took a wonderful walk up on Farley Mount, to see the equine monument there. The pyramid/rocket shaped tribute is supposedly built on top of a Bronze age tumulus, there are several in the vicinity. 
This area is a fabulous spot for a spring picnic - skylarks sing aloft and swallows swoop over the fields below. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Isle of Wight and easily identify Southampton docks and the New Forest.
As we ate our sandwiches my daughter noticed something closer by, a tiny lizard had popped out to sunbathe, right by our feet. We explored further, into the delightful Parnholt Wood, where the Bluebells are in full spate and searched for an ancient bowl barrow that a friend had told me about.
Cherry bloom is now flowering along the bare spindly branches everywhere and the Apple & Pear blossom is starting to appear too. Naturally, you will need to check back in a month or so to ensure that the flowers are turning into immature fruit and this is one of the reasons that I favour tree spotting on my regular routes. 
If you examine the Falling Fruit map, you will notice an abundance of locations about my home town of Southampton, as well as around my work places of Hedge End and Segensworth, where I habitually walk during my lunch hours.
Look Closely in this Puddle
Now is the perfect time to spot where those secret fruit trees have been hiding and we will be leading some local blossom walks soon, so check back regularly for details, which are very likely to be at short notice.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Nine Stones, Wild Garlic & Ransoms

We took an Easter trip down to Devon . About half way, my son and I stopped to stretch our legs and explore the Nine Stones, a 4000 year old stone circle by the side of the main road. If you can ignore the rumble and roar of the traffic, it can be quite a magical spot.
There are obviously some happy hippies that visit this ancient site because we discovered many small good luck tokens wedged into the various crevices of the rocks, which was a nice surprise. I left the 10 cent coin that I received in my change for ghastly coffee in the nearby Happy Chef restaurant.
Behind the stone circle we discovered a whole hillside of Ransoms, the first edible on the Urbane Forager's seasonal calendar. When it is in flower, you often smell these plants before you can see them. We also noted Raspberry canes growing on the spot but it was way too early for any fruit yet.
Wild Garlic is presumably related to Ransoms in some way and this is popping up all over the countryside at this time of year too. Our children always like to pick a leaf of this abundant forage and chew on it to keep hunger at bay, or so they say. Perhaps we should feed them a bit more often...
This year, we may have had Daffodils in January and Plum blossom in February but the beautiful Bluebells are marking time with their normal April schedule. They are beginning to pop up throughout their habitat and soon the woodlands will be carpeted with their delicate ethereal glow.