Monday 30 April 2012

Blossom, Beltain and A Beautiful Game

Using up the last remaining apples in our store, the Head Chef knocked us up a lovely apple tart on Friday night. This set me to thinking that we should have a quick check to see how the new season’s fruit crop was progressing down at Mansbridge.
After watching the Saints go marching out of the Championship and into the Premier League, my son and I took advantage of a timely break in the relentless April storms.
The boy chose to go by scooter and this meant that I had to jog along with him, which gave me a good run about before the inevitable night of celebration.
On our way along the Itchen we paused briefly to have a chat with a family of friendly geese and three tiny fluffy goslings.
The Community Orchard does look delightful at this time of year.
Most of the fruit trees are coming into bloom now and are covered in the delicate white and pink flowers.
The blossom among the bright green young leaves is a splendid, heart lifting sight. I suggest people make time to get down there and appreciate the beauty this weekend.
As it was, the tree flowers stood out like stars against the slate grey sky; I think they will look better still when the sun eventually breaks through and we finally get the sunshine that we all crave.

Tracks of Deer Dog and Human
Maybe Mr. Blue Sky will visit us for the bank holiday weekend; we have fayres to visit and don’t want to our ardour dampened as we dance around the Maypole.
I know the rain is required but we all could do with a little respite from this wettest of droughts and I hope the Beltain bonfires will burn bright enough to bring on the Summer.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Up the Apple & Pears

A Lovely Big hedgerow Apple Tree
Now is the easiest time to spot fruit trees in the hedgerows and parks and common land, even if you do not have much knowledge of tree types. This weekend we stopped under a small but florid crab apple tree to shelter from the April rain (this is certainly the wettest drought I’ve ever seen). The prolific buzzing of bees in the canopy made a welcome change from the constant background drone of traffic.
A Great Spot For A Picnic; by a Canal, with Free Fruit and Walnuts
Apple and pear trees are coming into bloom and the blossom will be abundant, which is why, like, Cherries, they are sometimes planted as ornamental trees.
Many countries celebrate the flowering of fruit trees in Spring. It is a time of rejuvenation and transformation.
So, when you next spot a tree covered in flowers, take time to look a little closer and see if you can identify what fruit it will bear.
Structurally, apple and pear trees can look similar although pears tend to be taller and more upright in their growth. Apple trees often show signs of previous pruning but if they have been neglected they can get very gnarled and busy.
The flowers of pear trees do look similar and both trees begin to grow leaves before flowers but the buds of apple blossom are often tinged with pink; whereas pears are likely to be pure white
The easiest way to determine apple from pear, before the fruit is visible, is by examining the leaves. Pear leaves are more pointed in shape and have a more sharply serrated edge. Apple leaves have more gentle serrations around the edges and a more rounded appearance.
Of course there are many diverse varieties within any type of fruit tree, so differences will always need to be accounted for. The Urbane Forager’s free Seasonal id Sheets are still available for download to your computer and printing off for convenience…

Thursday 19 April 2012

Bluebells Held To Ransoms

Pale Splendor
The yellow glare of daffodils that bought us through March has now faded. However, if you frequent your local woodland, you may find that there is green & blue baize of bluebells currently making an appearance.
White Bluebells
The pale splendour these quintessential April flowers will not be with us for long this year, apparently, due to the drought conditions. Having said that, I have seen at least a months-worth of rain this week already; it certainly felt like that on my cycle to and from work.
Mauve Bluebells
We have bluebells in our garden but both Grandmas tell us that they are part of the Spanish Armada of invasive/non-native types.
A Carpet of Bluebells
This year, I have made a special effort to locate the ephemeral and suitably delicate, native variety on my wandering and photograph these pretty little beauties while I can. Bluebells appear in many different pastel shades including blue, purple, pink and white.
A Rainy April Walk Atop Welshbury Hillfort
Also available around this time, Ransoms (Wild Garlic) are ready for picking. These plants are easily located by their strong fragrance, if they are growing in your vicinity.
Wild Garlic aka Ransoms
Chopped Ransom leaves can make a perky addition to your kitchen – my daughter also enjoys just chewing on a freshly picked leaf when we are out.
A Green Carpet of Ransoms
A delicious recipe for Ransom Quiche can be found on our Community Website.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Rustic Fruit Cage Continued

I was positively delighted with my initial surge of construction; I had the basic cube shape secured and it all seemed reasonably straight (apart from one corner), considering it had been built by eye and out of sticks.
Now With Added Door Frame!
I’m a believer in being faithful to my original thought (stubborn); rustic was the way and I didn’t want to buy anything unnecessary. Fortunately I had saved a couple of pretty sturdy and true hazel staves, so I bashed these in to form a doorway, they also helped stiffen up the whole structure.
A Beautiful Shirley Ponds Willow
It didn’t take long however, before people started mentioning the door/entrance, which would be needed once the netting was fixed over the framework. Various ideas, such as leather straps or hoops of rope were helpfully suggested.
Allotmet Gate Keeper
In the back of my mind though, I knew that there was no need for hasty decisions. Lack of planning has been the downfall of many idiosyncratic schemes, just as often as lack of knowledge or ability, and the netting won’t even be needed until June. So instead of rushing off to purchase inappropriate hinges at the local hardware shop, I paused, pondered the possibilities and then - I looked at my own garden gate for inspiration.
Rustic Gate Planning
I dug out an old piece of balustrade that I found in my shed as the back edge for the door. I then copied the frame of my garden gate, including diagonals to stop the structure from sagging when hung.
Rustic Joints
It was never going to be exact, so I left all fixing and the opening edge until it was in place. I laid it all up on some decking at home, chopped out where all the joints would go and bought some gate hinges. These were cheap enough for me to bend by hand and I actually wrapped them around the balustrade once it was on site.
Ta Dah!
Finally fitting the door did require a fair bit of innovation (bodging), inspiration (swearing), improvisation (hewing with a penknife) and making it up as I went along; some of the joints are temporarily held in place with garden wire for instance but I was pleasantly surprised by the end result and I believe that Heath Robinson would have been suitably impressed.
And - It Actually Opens Too

Thursday 12 April 2012

Urbane Forager Podcast

The local news and information websites, Bitterne Park Info and Portswood Info, have kindly placed links to the Urbane Forager Community Website and this blog.

A podcast interview about our agenda and activities has been recorded on the sites and you can listen to this at your leisure.

Interestingly, the website also reported (01/04/12) on the impending implementation of the Woodmill Hydroelectric Scheme and the New Southampton Partnership, both of which could significantly effect the lives of those who inhabit the proud city of Southampton...

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Cherry Blossom

 March gives way to April, daffodils blur into bluebells and plum bloom passes the baton to the cherry blossom (apple and pear flowers will follow shortly)...
You know that Spring is well under way when you can spot cherry blossom by the roadsides. Once you can recognise the antenna like branches, festooned with pink or white flowers, you begin to realise how very common these trees are.
White Bloom on a Blue Sky
The Cherry is a native tree, they grow wild in woodland and fields but they are also highly ornamental and are often planted to line roadsides, avenues and even supermarket car parks.
Close-Up of Cherry Flowers
Some of the more decorative blooms will not later develop into useful fruit but a great many of these everyday trees will bear a huge crop of juicy dark red cherries.
A Cherry Blossom Vortex (perhaps)
The thing that always surprises me, is that nearly all of these delicious beauties will be eaten by the birds; I rarely see other families out picking cherries locally even though they cost a fortune in the supermarket; we gathered bucket loads just in the St Deny’s area of Southampton last year.
Cherry Trees are Common, Even in the City
Cherries ripen around June/July and many will be sweet enough to be eaten straight off the tree. Others will taste tart, so these will be better for cooking. After the huge success of my poached pears, I’m going to have a go at bottling some cherries this year. The benefit of this is being able to eat cherries with ice cream, out of season.


What we really need this year, is a local machine hire company to lend us a Powered Cherry Picker to drive us up into the branches of the larger trees, in order to relieve them of their ruby red jewels, this would enable us to beat the birds at their own game and stock up our kitchen cupboards.
It would also represent an interesting PR opportunity for a suitable machine hire company, so if any readers are employed in this field, I’m looking for suggestions and would like to stage some Cherry Picknik events this coming summer.

This Tree is in a Well-Known DIY Store Carpark

Monday 2 April 2012

Free Seasonal Tree id Sheets Ready

The Urbane Forager's Seasonal Tree id sheets are now available for free download in pdf format for easy printing. These very useful resources also feature in the Urbane Forager book, where they have been redesigned and updated.
They illustrate and describe various fruit and nut trees through the four seasons for easy identification at any time of year.

Currently available, we have...
Clicking on the appropriate links will enable you to look at or download the pdf sheets onto your computer and print them out at your leisure. Do repost them elsewhere if you want to.

Please give me feedback or add comments if you like them or think I could improve upon them.