Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Radioactive Spiders Not Required

Green Walnuts
A friend of mine recently enquired as to how I had secretly become an expert on fruit trees. He was not the first person to ask me this question, but the truth is, it does not take much time to learn the basics of tree identification. We already supply free, downloadable seasonal id pdfs on our blog and these sheets are also in the Urbane Forager book.
Anyone can learn to recognise a few tree species; you have to spend a while acquiring your skill but think of the benefits. It will be fun, satisfying and you could save a lot of money. You will spend more time outdoors and do more exercise, which is good for both your physical and mental health. Honing a new ability can be like obtaining a super power (only you don’t need to be bitten by a radioactive spider)
The key to the Urbane Forager method hinges upon a few simple specific ideas.
Focus: We only bother to identify fruit and nut trees, those that will supply us with produce later in the year. This way, children (and adults) can be safely engaged and we do not have to worry about poisonous plants. You can see the main types of trees we pay attention to by looking at the id sheets page. Through time we have learned to spot other trees too, like Mulberries and Medlars.
Plum Blossom

Seeing: You have to actually see, not just look. It’s not difficult, but you do have to make a conscious decision to notice and log the things that other people choose to overlook. Observation is the fundamental weapon in any forager’s arsenal. The trees are ubiquitous, you just haven’t noticed them before.
Recording: Part of noticing things is remembering the locations, so write it down. We always use the Falling Fruit free access map, but a hand-drawn paper map is just as good. This way we can easily remember to go back and check the places that we might otherwise have forgotten.
Frequency: You need to be constantly moving, exploring, covering ground, walking or cycling around your area. We do spot trees when we go out on specific walks, but the majority I notice on my way to and from work or during my lunch time trips. 
Plum Blossom

I am a compulsive walker and get out of the office in all but the very worst conditions. I see the same things frequently and over time this helps me to tune into seasonal changes. You will not notice anything sat on the sofa watching TV.
Seasons: You need to observe the trees throughout the year. Spring is always a good place to start and it's coming soon. The different tree species come into boom in sequence, which is very handy. However, it’s no use noticing tree blossom during the Spring if you don’t know when it will produce delicious ripe fruit. Watching various species as they flower and fruit will reinforce your knowledge. Harvesting the bounty yourself on a sunny Summer’s day will really hammer that message home.
Of course, once you have made use of your new super power, you may well need to cultivate a few more skills. Depending on how much you pick, you might need to find an expert to help you store, bake, preserve, pickle, juice, freeze, or ferment your harvest. Alternatively, you could learn how to do this for yourself and that will be a whole lot more fun.

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