Friday, 27 January 2012

Seasonal Tree id Skill Sheets

Here, for your delectation, is an early prototype (and probably the final version too) of my seasonal tree identification sheets. I created the many varieties of Plum initially because they are normally the first to blossom each year, heralding the start of spring with a beautiful display of blossom.

Plum Tree id for Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn
These sheets will be available on request as A4 size PDFs, making them easy to print, but I had to create this small one as a picture in order to display it here.

Do let me know if you like this format and please bear in mind, I'm not a graphic designer...

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Going With The Flow

I had such a great response to my previous flow diagram / mind map that I decided to make some more. They are designed to help you plan your own foraging format and manage the storage and processing of whatever you gather.

A Practical, Seasonal Plan Toward Easy Foraging
They are only a rough guide but they will help you to think about what to do, when to do it and how to fit everything in amongst your busy lives, families, work and relaxation. For me, foraging is relaxation; it is the time when I can shake off the burden of daily pressures and get out amongst nature with my kids.

It is very useful to become familiar with the various trees in the winter time too, it's often much easier to spot them when they are not covered in leaves. I have designed some id sheets to help with this, if you want copies, send me your email address and and a message; I will send them - free.

As You Develop Your Skills You Might Want to Get More Involved
In the same way, when Spring arrives (and it looks like it may be early this year) you can identify different trees by their blossom; plum is normally first, followed closely by the cherry trees, apples and pears. Once you can recognise the flowers, shape and bark of the trees, you will realise just how many of them there are, all over the cities, hedgerows and countryside. You can then plan when and how to harvest their bounty when the season arrives.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

No More Pear Pirates }:-(

The Pear Tree, Loaded With Fruit in 2011

I am sorry to have to report the pointless felling of another of our favourite fruit trees. I was walking over the Cobden Bridge and glanced over to where the new flats are being built, where the boathouse used to be. Someone (I don't know who) had cut back all the vegetation, including the bushes and even whole trees, right down to the river level. None of the rubble or rubbish was removed, only the vegetation!

The Denuded Verge by Cobden Bridge 2012 - Note All The Rubble

The lovely pear tree that we visited during our Pear Pirates expedition last August used to thrive on the verge of the bridge and could be accessed at low tide or (much more fun) by rowing boat at high tide. Last year we collected two large builders buckets full of lovely pears from this tree but there won’t be any this year – all that is now left is a bare and barren stump and lots of debris. We had a fantastic adventure on that day and my children were both disappointed and cross when I told them. When I crack open the first bottle of Perry that was produced from those pears, I will drink a toast to that tree.
The Stump, the Rubbish and My Perry is all That Remains
This is the third such act of fruit tree destruction that I have witnessed in the last year.  An apple tree was cut down on the common and another large tree was felled in Chandlers Ford on the roundabout by Asda. This last tree was cut down in its prime, full of fruit and in the autumn; all of the apples (hundreds of kilograms) were needlessly wasted.
Assorted Debris and Pear Branches
The only positive to come from this is that my resolve has been strengthened. I will continue mapping local fruit trees and encouraging other people to use them and also to become involved in campaigning. I think that people who cut down fruit trees should donate several new ones, which can then be replanted in the Lost Orchard of Mansbridge.
What a Sad and Sorry Waste!
Is it really any wonder, that some children have difficulty engaging with food and relating to the natural world, when grown-ups, who should know better, act so carelessly? I'm no Treehugging hippy but I hate the thoughtless destruction and desecration of what little wild and natural habitat we have left in our city.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Signs of Spring - In January?

A Blooming Frosty Rose in January!

I don’t want to perpetuate the myth that people in England just talk about the weather all the time, but it has been a rubbish Winter so far. In fact, compared to last year when we had lots of snow, frost and ice; December and January have been positively Springlike.
Snowdrops Out in December!
Hopefully, making statements like this will tempt fate and Jack-Frost will soon return with a vengeance, we certainly had a frost this morning. Everyone moans about the cold but it does make the arrival of Spring so much more welcome and wonderful, when it finally comes.
Frost on Wild Strawberry Leaves...
At the moment, we have bluebells in our garden and wild roses in bloom alongside last season’s hips.
I'll Have Some of That For My Frost Collection
I have even spotted trees with fresh blossom on them and the hedgerows are showing the green/brown hues of rising sap when they ought to be barren and grey.

A Decent Hoar Frost Will Soon Put a Stop to All This Nonsense

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Vin de Noix

May Contain Nuts!
People have asked about my Vin de Noix and how I made this muscular, exotic sounding potion. Traditionally Vin de Noix (fortified walnut wine) is made by steeping quartered green walnuts (available in June) in red wine and spirit for a few months. Then the debris is filtered off and the wine is left to mature at least until Christmas or the Winter months. Recipes vary of course, according to region.
This suits me too, I do like to experiment…
A Verdant Infusion
Back in 2010, I made some Walnut schnapps, which uses green walnuts steeped in vodka. Through a gradual process (you need to be patient for this one), the mixture turns into a very strong, singular liqueur; this can then be further diluted according to taste up to ten times.
I reasoned that if I blended some of my surplus Walnut schnapps, with some of my country red wine (Blackberry wine and Elderberry Port was available this year), it would amount to the same thing and I could produce a distinctive Urbane Forager’s Vin de Noix.
I bottled some of the resultant tonic in decorative china stoppered carafes to give to family members, as Christmas gifts. I kept the rest of this precious infusion for the cold winter nights. It has a rich mahogany colour and an unfathomable spicy flavour, worth slowly savouring over a good book or maybe a Sunday night BBC edition of Sherlock Holmes…
Nice Bottle!
Oh look, guess what’s on TV tonight!

Monday, 2 January 2012

Have a Dangerous New Year

 It’s a jungle out there kids, danger lurks under every leaf and every single stone...
Beautiful Bees Won't Sting You if You Don't Threaten Them
Unless you wash your hands without touching the soap container the germs might get you (according to TV adverts). Even water can dehydrate your delicate skin (apparently). Nowadays your brittle hair and fragile nails are under constant assault from the sun, rain and wind – the Horror!
Stinging Nettles Can be Made Into Beer
I do occasionally get asked about the potential dangers of foraging and yet, with a couple of common sense precautions, it is no more dangerous than getting out of bed in the morning, going downstairs and eating breakfast…
Beware of Children
Granted, I might get up, dozily step on a stray Lego brick, fall down the stairs and crack my head. Then, in my stunned state, I could accidentally pour bleach on my cornflakes, but I'm pleased to report that this has not happened, yet...
Don't Get Prickly
I have been stung by nettles and insects; brambles, prickles and thorns have drawn blood, but all of this can happen in the garden or park. I am always careful when climbing trees or encouraging my children to. This is because branches of fruit trees are prone to suddenly snapping. Naturally, I need to make sure that the kids are operating in a reasonably safe environment but then, they also need to learn basic risk assessment and management for themselves; these are essential life skills.
The World Is Out To Get You!
There are lots of poisonous things out there and if you go about randomly eating berries of unknown bushes or consuming strange mushrooms, you will pretty soon come a cropper.
Do Not Drink!
These things might look fascinating, but so does Cillit-Bang, and you don’t put that in your mouth! Commonly occurring trees, like the yew, contain some of the most noxious natural poisons found in the UK but we know not to eat them.
Frog's Legs With Rhubarb
One part of a plant might be very good for you but another part of the same thing might kill you. Rhubarb stems are great with custard but the leaves are highly toxic and whilst elderberries and flowers can be made into some lovely drinks, ingesting the leaves and twigs can put you in hospital.
Elder Berries Forming
Castor oil is used for all kinds of useful things (including sore ears), the plant is commonly grown in gardens and yet the seed of this shrub contains the lethal poison ricin. This substance was used with fatal effect during the Japanese subway atrocity in 1995; it is 1500 times more deadly than cyanide and 500 times stronger than cobra venom! For the record, the only poisonous snake in the UK is the adder or viper and they are so rare that they are protected. In any case, they will not strike unless threatened and even then, they are very unlikely to kill you.
Always - Only Eat What You Are Sure About
Fortunately, you can negate all complications by only picking and eating things that you are familiar with. Most people already know what cherries, plums, apples, pears, blackberries, hazelnuts and chestnuts look and taste like (see Urbane Vs Urban). There’s not much that can go wrong here, unless you have some kind of allergy and you should know about this already.
Only Touch If You Are Confident
The scariest moment I have met while out and about, was being attacked by a large dog, which was appalling but this could equally happen outside the supermarket. I now know that the best way to deal with aggressive dogs is to put your hands in your pockets and look away! This seems counter intuitive but dogs see eye contact and waving arms as a threat (I was not aware of this when I was attacked).
Two Wheels Good - Four Wheels Bad!
Some people think that cycling is risky but it is actually less dangerous than walking, it gives great pleasure, is often quicker than driving and it keeps you fit. Remember, being fat can kill you too.
My Safer At Night Retroreflective Bike
So people, throw your Wii through the telly, get a map, a compass, a penknife maybe - just in case and go outside...
Keep It Real in 2012!
(Don’t forget your helmet)…