Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Everything's Gone Green

The observant amongst you will have noticed that the countryside and even the city parks and roadsides are changing colour. The Plum blossom is floating like fluffy white clouds along the hedgerows; there's plenty of it and it looks like it will be a very good year for plums. 
So, if anyone has a good proposition for what we can use the bucket loads of fruit that we will get, come July, we want to hear about it please.
Blackthorn is also beginning to bloom too and these flowers are similar to the plum, the fruits (Sloes) are also related, although you might not want to eat Sloes straight off the tree! It looks as if it will be a good year for Sloes too, judging by the scale of the current bloom (provided the weather is not too stromy).
People have often asked me to differentiate these two blossoms and so I am posting lots of images here to help you distinguish one from the other.
The most obvious thing to spot is that the Blackthorn has large black thorns all along the branches. If at first you do not notice these, you soon will, if you put your hand in amongst the flowers.
The Blackthorn has smaller, clumped flowers fizzing along the branches; it tends to be a smaller tree, often looking more like a bush. Whereas the Plum will grow into a medium sized tree.
Small Plum Tree
I say Cherry Plum but the blossom will be very similar on trees that will grow Mirrabells, Greengage, Damson, Bullace as well as plain Plums.
Big Plum Tree
Hawthorn is also adding a green tinge to the woodland fringes at the moment. The fruit and leaves of this tree are also largely edible, if you ever feel slightly peckish on a wander.
Hawthorn, just as prickly as Blackthorn
The next thing to keep your eyes peeled for will be RansomsWild Garlic Bluebells Cherry blossomPersonally, I will be looking forward to the launch of Printemps, the Unity Brewing Co. Spring seasonal beer, created in collaboration with the Urbane Forager Project using locally foraged Stinging Nettle tips.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Make Family Trips Fun Again

Beautiful Plum Blossom - Out Now!
Many people seem to dread family days out. They do not seem able to find something to do or somewhere to go that will suit everyone's wants and needs.
To an extent, this is normal and obvious to some people - adults, children, teenagers, boys, girls, men, women - don't they always want different things? Isn't that natural? Of course different people will favour different things if given a choice but when everyone has to go out to the same place, on a day out or a holiday for instance, problems can crop up.
Spring is Coming
But who or what is to blame and what can be done to ease the situation? We can always blame lack of time, lack of conversation, mobile phones, meals eaten in front of the TV, modern technology, social media, online gaming is a popular scapegoat. We could blame teenagers, although most of them are normally more interesting and polite than many of the adults I know.
A Stone Style
Foraging has several advantages as a family activity.
  • It takes place outdoors and involves walking, so it can help to keep you fit and strong.
  • Talking is always much more easy when you are walking or doing something else at the same time.
  • You will strengthen your connection to nature, the seasons, weather etc.
  • Anyone can do it with a relatively small amount of knowledge or practise.
  • Small children and teenagers can enjoy it as much as adults and the elderly.
  • It can be integrated with technology, if you wish.
  • It is not a "gendered activity".
  • You can go out with a specific aim, to a certain place or you can do it in any place or time, just because you happen to be there at that time.
  • You can do it all year around - although you will mainly pick fruit and nuts in the Summer and Autumn.
  • You can learn about geography, mapping, natural navigation, healthy diet, the seasons, household finances, biology, chemistry, cooking, baking, preserving, pickling, and creating alcoholic drinks for the grown ups.
Awesome Hambledon HIll
The best time to start learning a new skill is always NOW! This is true whatever the time of year but, as it happens, Spring is the best time to start discovering how to forage. This is because you can spot fruit trees best, by recognising their blossom. Fortunately the various fruit trees that we harvest from tend to flower roughly in sequence.
A Steep Start
  1. First comes the Plum and Blackthorn (Sloe), around March, filling the hedgerows with a white bloom. People will also notice Daffodils at this time.
  2. Next you tend to spot the Cherry trees and they grow everywhere; it is amazing how many grow alongside roads around April. Bluebells are filling the forest floor at the same time.
  3. May brings Pear and Apple blossom and also Elderflower, Wild Garlic and Ransoms to herald in the start of Summer.
On Hambledon Hill
If you log the locations of the flowers, you will then be able to check the development of immature fruit. Thus you can be the first to recognise the Cherries as they ripen. For us, picking the first crop of juicy delicious Cherries on a sunny day is a magical moment. We normally eat too many, straight off the tree but we try to bring plenty home for eating, baking or turning into jam.
The 360 View is Simply Awesome
From this point on, the seasons get busier, depending on time and how much of the different fruits you wish to harvest. Any walk, ride or drive in the city, park or countryside is instantly hugely enhanced if you and your family have even half an eye open for the masses of free fresh fruit available. All the information you require is available here.
the Urbane Forager book
Falling Fruit free access map
A Stone Circle (Guarded by Alpacas) with Hambledon Hill