Sunday, 10 October 2021

Foraging and Qigong Walks - National Park City Status

Autumn is always a busy time, and we have already harvested over 100 kgs of apples, that's around 40 litres of juice (quite enough cider for the year), but we will be picking a whole lot more soon. 
I recently lead two, very enjoyable, foraging walks around Southampton, one in Mansbridge and the other on Peartree Green targeting National Park City status for our lovely city. 
I will also be leading a morning, Walk with Qigong, for beginners, on Sunday 17th October, on Southampton Common.
Qigong (pronounced chi – gong) is a system of breathing, mindfulness and movement exercises that underlie many Chinese martial arts. It is similar to Tai Chi and has proven health benefits – it is enormously helpful to those in sedentary occupations, helping with posture and back strain, it is a fantastic method of stress and anxiety reduction, and has overall health benefits of improving cognitive skills such as concentration and attention, flexibility and balance.

We are fortunate to have many beautiful parks in our city. Practising Qigong outdoors enables us to mindfully connect with nature; spending time in green spaces is increasingly recognised as positive for wellbeing, and it also benefits eye health, particularly for those spending long hours looking at screens.
If interested, click on the link below for further details and to purchase a ticket. This is a funded event, so very reasonably priced.

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Pandemic ll the 3rd Wave

 We live in interesting times, still!

We still take lots of lovely walks; the Devil's jumps' are a series of Bronze Age burial mounds, on the South Downs. They align with the setting sun at Midsummer (if it's not too cloudy). So, this was my Father's day walk/picnic.

However, simple fruity foraging trips are just as bountiful and popular as ever.

In the normal order of things we began collecting Elderflowers as soon as they arrived, the season tends to be short-lived, so we got out of the traps early, when the weather was suitable. I have made extra Elderflower Champagne this year (4 gallons), because we always run out. Two of these gallons are an experimental batch with an added tint of raspberries, which I think sounds very tasty. Only time will tell.

My friend Matthew also joined us picking Elderflowers too. Matt makes really good beer, and following my attempts last February, we collected a good crop of nettles and he produced a lovely strong & smoky ale. Next he wanted to try an Elderflower Ale.

It was a good year for cherries, and I gathered a good crop from my front garden tree. Small sparrows seem to have been pecking away under the nets, so I will need to adapt my protection next year.

At the allotment the summer raspberries have had an exceptional harvest, which made up for a poor show from my Loganberry and Tayberry bushes. The thornless Blackberry is going to be so impressive that I will soon need a bigger freezer.

I am looking forward to doing some work with the Scouts and other groups and  hoping to organise some public foraging trips, to promote the Southampton parks, in the late Summer or early Autumn. Who knows?, we may even be able to run our traditional Apple Day in October.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

2020 an Interesting Year

It has so far been a year like no other but I'm glad to say that some things have remained constant.

We had an unseasonably hot spring which, along with my nettle beer, helped me through lockdown. Fruit-wise, the warm spring gave us a great crop of soft fruits, from which, my daughter created some truly spectacular deserts to cheer us all up.
The summer period contiued to be hot and dry for long periods and this seems to have hampered some fruit trees due to lack or water. Many apple trees had ripe fruit a month or two before they would normally.
As part of our frequent walks, we got out to gather Mulberries and make yet more delicious things, I have added some more recently to my cider - I successfully did this last year, as an experiment, to great effect.
I also gathered enough Elderberries to make a gallon of port/wine, so perhaps I will be able to test its alleged antiviral properties, in a highly un scientific manner.
At the moment, it looks like our normal, public Apple Day event at Mansbridge Community Orchard, will not be able to proceed due to government restrictions on gatherings but we been doing plenty of pressing, with Apples and Pears, at home in our garden.
Of course, more fruit means better cakes, provided you have some great cooks in the house. If you don't have great cooks, you can always learn some new skills yourself. In difficult times, it is important to adapt; change is normal, be agile, be creative, keep fit & healthy, build resilliance into your bodies and family systems...

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Seasonal Stinging Nettle Beer

The whole world has changed significantly since my last post. I hope you and your families are all staying safe, well and ideally in your homes.
My allotment gets a wealth of Stinging Nettles around this time of year, which are used in many traditional recipes, they can even be made into twine or woven into fabric. However, I wanted to make something seasonal that would take a couple of weeks to mature, but also be something that we could enjoy, even if we had to stay home a lot.
I have always fancied making Stinging Nettle Beer; it is a very simple recipe and anyone with the basic equipment can try it. You can safely tinker with both the amounts and method, according to your equipment and requirments. I found making this very satisfying and enjoyed the process so much that I did it all twice, and may do it again soon.

  • Gloves!
  • Large carrier bag or similar
  • Bucket
  • Demijon, barrel or brewing bucket
  • Suitable pressure safe bottles

  • 1kg Stinging Nettles - approximately one large carrier bag stuffed to bursting.
  • 400g - 1kg Sugar - the strength of the beer will depend on the amount you use, you could mke it weaker still, like ginger beer for kids
  • 1 x Lemon juiced
  • 1 x gallon of water (I used a demijon)
  • 25 g Cream of Tartar
  • Yeast

  1. Pick the stinging nettles (using gloves), collect only the tips, or top 6" of the plants and stuff them into your big carrier bag. Pack them down well, it takes about 30 minutes.
  2. Boil the water and gradually add the nettles, they will eventually boil down and should all fit in. I used a large preserving pan, but you can adapt the amounts according to your needs and available equipment.
  3. Let the nettles simmer for 15 minutes, then strain the liquid off. I used a collander over a bucket to achieve this and it worked very well.
  4. Add the sugar, Lemon juice and Cream of Tartar to the liquid and stir untill all disolved.
  5. Leave the liquid to cool to body temperature and sprinkle the yeast on top.
  6. At this point I added the liquid to my demijon but you could also leave it in a bucket covered with a muslin cloth / tea towel.
  7. Leave to ferment for a week
  8. Siphon into bottles and leave for a further week.
  9. Drink!
    My Improvised Standing Work From Home Station
Stay Safe and Keep Healthy

Friday, 6 March 2020

Apocalyptic - Optimistic

It has been an interesting and very busy time since my last post. We have had serious floods in the UK and terrifying fires in Australia and the Amazon, all caused by climate change, brought on by human activity. 
Now we have plague, the new Coronavirus has taken our planet by storm. Next it seems we may be threatened with imminent economic collapse, in some areas, as a result.
However, I am an optimist, so let us look on the bright side, while we still can. Every cloud has a silver lining; NASA satellite images have detected a dramatic fall in nitrogen dioxide levels over China, since the shutdown caused by the virus. I also predict significant decreases in some of the most polluting luxury industries, aviation and cruise liners to name just two obvious ones.
No one really knows what the knock on effects of all these seemingly apocalyptic threats will be, but Spring  cirtainly seems to be coming around as normal, albeit somewhat wetter than normal. 

What staggers me, is the amount of fear and immediate action over the virus, compared to the inaction and disinterest, over the far more significant threat of climate change.  Sadly, I can only put this down to individual selfishness, and a complete lack of foresight.  
I'm still seeing and smelling the blossom on the trees and enjoying the daffodils on the roadsides. After this, I'll be looking forward to a break in the clouds, feeling the sun on my back, getting my shorts back on and getting out to gather some Elderflowers as Summer creeps around the corner.

Stay Safe, and Ware a Mask!

Monday, 11 November 2019

Mulberry Tinted Cider

The first batch of this year's cider is being bottled. This time, as an experiment I added some Mulberries and Blackberries to a couple of gallons. I'm happy to report that he result was a resounding success; the drink not only tastes superb, the fruit sugars have taken the edge off the sharpness and added subtle flavours. Also, as a bonus, it also looks rather splendid too!

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Apples, Pears, Grapes & Walnuts

It has been a very wet and very busy October. We have processed about 300kgs of apples. I needed a faster way to chop them on my own and a stainless steel Spear & Jackson did the job perfectly!
Gallons and gallons of delicious juice has been produced, some has been Pasteurised for later, some has been turning into cider and lots has been glugged back straight from the press by keen, thirsty workers.
Apple Day at Mansbridge Community Orchard was delayed by stormy weather but we delivered the following week and a gang of curious local kids and adults came out to help, which is what it is all about. We had wheelbarrows full of apples, boxes of pears and even had a bucket load of grapes to press.
The grapes produced a gallon of juice, which is now fermenting into red wine along with my cider and various other alchemical concoctions. We have also been collecting lots of Walnuts, to go with our Hazelnuts; there is a huge tree in Mansbridge, near the orchard. It has delivered a fantastic crop this year, most of which is lying on the green waiting to be gathered or gobbled by hungry squirrels.
My Apple Store is now completely filled to bursting and this should keep us in fruit through the winter, with a little luck. Unblemished Apples will keep for many months if stored in a cool dark place. They should not be left touching each other, so that if one goes bad, it will not affect the others and can be easily removed.