Friday, 30 March 2012

Tree Climbing

Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree - Sit On It!
In the Urbane Forager’s list of essential skills for young children, tree climbing comes pretty high. Good climbing ability is very useful if you are picking fruit from tall trees and whilst extendable fruit pickers are very useful tools; having a lithe child lobbing fruit down to you is far more entertaining for everyone involved.
High Up With a Hatfull of Walnuts
The sense of achievement gained by scrambling your own way to the top of a tree is difficult to replicate in a playground. Trees are like puzzles, they challenge young minds and allow a level of independence, climbing also encourages personal danger assessment and management.
I Can See Over the Houses
There are potential dangers involved in getting off the ground; weak or dead braches can snap catastrophically and this is especially true in fruit trees so It’s always good to encourage good habits such as always having at least three of your four limbs engaged with the tree at all times.
Build Confidence & Skills Gradually, Train On Easy Trees First
Sometimes children can climb up but fear coming down, so it’s good for them not to overreach their ability too much, especially at first. They should start by working a route just a short way up an easy tree and then work out the best path back down. Knowing that a fall from lower branches can seriously hurt them, will reinforce the importance of safety but generally children seem to be careful by default when up trees.

The Urbane Forager's Early Tree Climbing Exploits
 Under the Watchful Eye of My Brother John

Children often feel very happy clambering amongst the branches, possibly because they can see further, it also promotes athleticism and general confidence. I used to spend ages up in the local trees with my siblings when we were young. We loved to build tree houses and dens, we often took sandwiches along and would probably have happily camped out up there, if only we were allowed.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Pretty as a Picture

Spring is officially here now, the dafodills are out and I've just started on my second barrel of cider. It’s time to get the cameras out... I always like to hear from people who like the pictures used in the Urbane Forager blog. I enjoy taking photographs and often have my camera when we go out on our little adventures; taking lots of shots helps me to build the story.

Shadow of a Cherry Tee on Blinds at Work

I’m no expert, nor do I have special equipment, just a point & shoot camera. I did make sure that I got a robust one, one that can be dropped, dunked, taken to the beach and used by children.
A Fish With Reflected Clouds
The main reason I take nice photos though, is that I’m always looking. I have heard it said that art is really the Act of Looking.
When you look close, you can notice something tiny. When you stand back you may notice something large or distant. It can be about silhouettes, shadows, objects or contrast and colour.
If you don’t take time to look you will certainly never see and even then, you need to be bothered to stop for a minute, get the camera out and take the picture.
Birds on Branches
I think that walking and cycling helps me too, I tend to notice more when I am outside and moving more slowly.
I recently observed the first signs of cherry blossom peeping through. Soon the white haze of plum and blackthorn will be replaced with the rosy/snowy antennae of the cherry trees – they are native to the UK and will be spotted by woodland and along many roadsides. Record the locations and come back later to check for young fruit.
Shortly after the cherry, apple and pear trees will begin to flower, so this will be the best time (apart from autumn) for a wander through the Mansbridge Community Orchard.

Unseasonably Late Snowdrops

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Rustic Fruit Cage Contruction

Allotment Man - a (fairly) Distant Relative of the Neanderthal

I thought it would be a good idea to build a fruit cage to protect our (hopefully impending) bounty. Being a man with very little construction skills I thought it would be a good idea to create it in a rustic style; mainly because it would be more difficult to criticize the inevitable wonkiness. I also thought the natural look would be a more appealing design.
Hunter Gatherer
First though, we had to lay the weed suppressing membrane. Normally this should be done before planting the fruit canes and frames but being an incompetent buffoon I forgot this and had to fumble my way through the wrong way about. Eventually we managed to cut, wiggle and yank the sheet down over the plants; it was a process not dissimilar to, attempting to put on a pair of trousers, via your head.

Gratuitous Plum Blossom
I had obtained a some stout coppiced hazel sticks, with the ends cut to points. I hammered these in as uprights for the frame, then my good friend Andy, who it turns out is growing his own orchard on the IOW, kindly donated a bundle more hazel sticks that looked perfect to complete the construction.
The Plan Starts To Take Shape
With the help of my boy we lugged all the equipment down to the allotment and set about bashing the uprights into the soil forming an rough rectangle. Next I lashed the thinner sticks around the top and across the middle to tie it all together.

If You Build It, They Will Come
My description here does make it sound a lot simpler than it actually was to complete the framework, it was pretty hard work. In the end though, we thought it looked quite pleasing and were contented with our mornings labour. We still need to attach the netting and fitting hinges to a hazel door might be quite troublesome too.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Tasty Testing

Delicious Poached Pears
The benefits of storing and preserving fruit can be still enjoyed when the fruit is not in season. We cracked open a jar of Poached Pears, as a tribute to the two recently lost trees. I’m pleased to report that they tasted fantastic, especially when warmed up and combined with a healthy dollop of ice-cream.  The Perry made from those pears tastes great too.

Even Better Heated-Up With Ice Cream

I’m not terribly good at leaving things to mature – especially if it’s something I am partial too.
Blackberry Wine, Pear &Walnut Chutney, Mansbridge Apples
When I was decanting the blackberry wine on a cold night recently, I thought – “I’d better just taste a small sample, just for research …”

Home Made Chutney

Considering it was nowhere near finished, it tasted surprisingly agreeable and looked even better. I syphoned off a whole glassful, just to be sure.
Perky Cherry Plum Country Wine
Then I thought, “Hmmmmm, what would go well with a lovely red tipple such as this?” Cheese, chutney and apple, of course!” I answered.
My Fully Stocked (Home-Made) Wine Rack
I cracked open a jar of the Chunky Pear and Walnut that we made during the summer, slathered a few Ryvita, sliced up a Mansbridge apple and a desolate cucumber end that I found lurking in the fridge, turned up the radiator and set about the important business of testing the produce.
That jar did not last long and we have since fully approved Delia’s Dowerhouse (I know what one is now) and the Green Tomato varieties which, on reflection may compliment a well-developed cheese, perhaps with an immature Elderberry Port,  a perky Plum Wine or better still a strapping glass of Vin de Noix

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

More Pear Tree Destruction

I’m sorry to have to report another act of fruit tree destruction.  Yet again, it seems to be a case unnecessary and ill-considered action. Another lovely pear tree was once again the sorry victim and this one was an easily accessed beauty.
Last Autumn...
This brilliant tree was close to the fence in the derelict space on Somerset Rd opposite Portswood Primary School.
What is Left Now!
We were not the only people who used to pick and consume the delicious pears that this tree delivered each year. We picked over 40 Kg of fruit off this tree over the last couple of years and used it in lots of imaginative ways.
I believe that the space between Somerset Rd and   Rd is being converted into allotments by the city council, so it could have been a sensible/nice idea to leave a prolific fruit tree alone but I expect that the ground workers did not know what type of tree it was.
I fully support the idea of using the space for allotments as opposed to building more ugly flats but I don’t understand why there is a need to cut down all the trees around the edge of the space, if it is to be used for growing food.
The Cleared Space and Remaining Trees
If the remaining stump is left intact and looked after, it might still grow healthy shoots that could once again bear fruit in a year or two.

I will add the tree (stump) location to my fruit map using the Red Hazard Triangle icon.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Mansbridge Community Orchard Walk #1

Brent and Barnacle Geese
A GREAT BIG THANK YOU, to everyone who came along and supported the Mansbridge Community Orchard Walk, everyone had a great time and I even managed to organise some fabulous weather to boot.

It's Always a Shame to See Rubish in the River

My family started off by walking up the river admiring the Brent and Barnacle geese and a stunning Mandarin duck, everyone seemed to be out enjoying the parks and the river.
A Suspicious Glance From The Mallard
In the end, around 35 people gathered on the old bridge, soaking up the warm spring sunshine. It was a very good turn out that included many local people, family and friends, as well as people from the Transition Network and Woodcraft folk.
Setting Off From The Bridge
Luckily, local naturalist and photographer Bob Painton was on hand to guide us carefully through the various regions. Bob was happy to take the reins and is more knowledgeable than I about the area.

Bob Holds Court in the Meadow
Bob lead us through the three main areas of trees, all the way explaining all about the various wildlife and wilderness habitat projects that are being carried out around the green space.
Life Through a Lense
Eventually, we ended up at the playground, so here the kids could have some more fun...
Some More Local Wildlife
This break meant that we could also attack the delicious apple cake that my wife had made; we washed this down with some of my mulled cider and neither lasted very long.

Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anybody Extraordinary...
 The cake and cider were made using apples picked last autumn and stored in my shed; I can’t be sure they were all from Mansbridge but it would be nice to think that this was the case.

Bob in His Element
In a month (sooner if the warm weather keeps up) the orchard will be an even more splendid place for a wander because the apple and pear tree blossom will be bursting through, so keep following the Urbane Forager blog…
Deer  Tracks, Large and Small (and some human ones)

A Rare Wild Creature, Spotted Scurrying About In The Undergrowth...

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Another Lot of Allotment

Another profitable day was spent down at the allotment last weekend. Fortunately we decided to go on Saturday because it snowed on Sunday!
In the morning I had purchased Autumn fruiting raspberry canes, a blueberry bush, some tayberry canes (I wanted loganberry but none were available) and a cherry tree. I also lifted some Summer fruiting raspberries from my garden and took them too.
Plum Tree and Raspberries Planted
I gave the ground a quick digging over to ensure that the manure was mixed in. Fortunately the children were happy to help plant out the raspberries and soon the little patch was looking pretty tidy. I even put some wires between a couple of posts to tie the tricksy Summer raspberries to.

Also a Good Place to Practice Archey Skills
 My friends Pete and Nuala were planting a little plum tree in the next bed and soon enough the cherry tree was in the ground too. The original plan was to plant through a membrane but I forgot about this, so it will be complicated to get that fitted now, if I can be bothered at all.
The Cherry Tree in Foreground
At home the Head Chef and the boy were keenly planting various vegetable seeds in a propagator as well as a few sunflowers, which will brighten up the allotment considerably in due course.
Jonah Gets Some Hose Action Going
The next part of the plan is to build some kind of fruit cage over the top of this little berry-bed. My friend Andy on the Isle of White has told me he can bring me some coppiced hazel sticks. So the rest of the design will be up to me.
And Relax...
Like a re-run of the film Gladiator (I can just see it now)… An enthusiasic amateur armed with a hammer, a hatchet, a net and a pointy stick!
What could possibly go wrong?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Another Apple Tree Pointlessly Destroyed

My Daughter Picking Apples in Merlin Gardens
This was once my favourite apple tree and it grew all alone on a small verge by the pavement of Merlin Gardens, in Hedge End, SouthamptonIt was only small but always filled up with the best tasting, rosey red apples that I've ever had the pleasure to bite into. It also had a branch of yellow crab apples grafted onto it.
All the Young Children Join in and That Bucket is Full
These delicious crunchy apples were very easily picked and in 2010 we gathered a couple of big bucketful’s here with friends and children.

2011 and the Tree is Heavily Pruned
 In the winter of 2011 the tree was heavily pruned, so there was no fruit last year but was growing well again during the year and I was hoping for a good crop in 2012.
2012 and the Little Tree is Growing Back
Sadly, some idiot has now cut the tree down, so there will be no more of those lovely crisp red beauties to munch on ever again.
March 2012 - Some Fool has Cut the Little Tree Down
I have no idea who committed this act of vandalism (presumably a person who lives close by and didn't like apples). Writing about and reporting this sad event, will not bring back the lovely apple tree but somebody needs to protest about these things and doing so makes me feel a little bit better.
The Bare Verge Without a Tree
This kind of action should always be reported to the local council tree dept. Many trees are protected and although some people seem to think that they are no better than weeds; this small but beautifully formed tree was an example of all that is good about fruit trees.
The Bare Stump
Now all that is left, is a bare and drilled stump and a pile of sawdust!
Just like this lovely pear tree by Cobden bridge.
Also this apple tree by the Chestnut Avenue roundabout.
I have added the location of all these felled trees to my fruit map.
Holes Drilled Into the Stump, Presumably to Prevent any Growback