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This year the weather has been perfect for growing and ripening, not only have we bumper crops in the garden and on our allotments but also in the surrounding countryside which is brilliant news for all the wildlife that rely on this natural harvest during the winter months.

Our hedgerows are simply overflowing with fruit just waiting to be picked.

Wild Blackberries

What can you find in a Hedgerow?

  • Blackberries
  • Sloe Berries
  • Crab Apples
  • Greengages
  • Rose Hips
  • Elderberries
  • Hawthorn Berries
  • Damsons

Crab Apples - church

What do you need to know before you go?

  1. Forage food only on public rights of way, if you are not sure or if you want to go off the beaten track ask the landowners permission first.
  2. Only take what you need, leave some for the birds and animals during the Autumn/Winter months.
  3. Respect the environment that you are collecting from and leave it as undisturbed as possible.
  4. Make sure that you are 100% certain that you know what you are picking, if you are not sure don’t pick it, some fruits can be similar in appearance to ones that are poisonous. Just because one part of a plant is edible it doesn’t mean that all parts are, some plants need cooking to destroy toxins e.g. cooking elderberries destroys toxins present in the raw berries, but leaves, barks or roots of elder should never be eaten.
  5. Don’t allow children to pick or eat wild food unsupervised.
  6. Avoid foraging on busy roadsides where vehicle pollution can contaminate the fruit, on industrial ground or on farmland where agricultural sprays may have been used.

What do you need?

  1. Containers for your delicious fruit – buckets/bags are ideal for larger and tougher fruit such as Crab Apples, Rose Hips, Hawthorn Berries and Damsons but smaller and softer fruits are better placed in shallower plastic containers such as butty boxes that will stop them from being squashed (Blackberries especially).
  2. Insect Spray and Bite Cream – be prepared, many insects especially wasps are just as attracted to the fruit as you are (Bite cream can often be used on Nettle stings too).
  3. A long stick with a ‘hook’ at one end – very useful for grabbing and pulling down those hard to reach branches, an umbrella would also do the job.
  4. Suitable clothing – a strong pair of shoes, long pants and a long sleeved top, some of the bushes are very prickly and care must be taken when picking their fruit (Blackberries, Sloe Berries, Hawthorn Berries, Rose Hips) Nettles are usually found in hedgerows too.

What do you do with your hedgerow harvest once you have got home?

  1. One of the first jobs is to sort through the fruit removing any that are damaged/rotten as well as any insects, leaves and stems.
  2. Most of the fruit will need a good wash, this is best done just before you use it.
  3. Decide what you are going to make with your bounty, have a look through your recipe books or on the internet, Jams, Curds and Jellies are one of the best ways to preserve fruit and they will keep well into next Spring, here are a few suggestions (click on the heading for the recipe):

My first memories of foraging – picking Blackberries with my Aunt and Uncle then coming home with bags of dripping Blackberries and purple stained clothes and fingers, marvelous!

Have fun, enjoy and love your environment

Gill

This year we ventured further afield for our summer holiday, our destination – Kefalonia, Greece. I can honestly say it was one of the best holidays we have had; the weather was hot and sunny every day, the locals very friendly and hospitable, the scenery was magnificent, the sandy beaches were spotlessly clean and the azure blue sea was so clear you could see the amazing sea life and the abundant brightly coloured fish (that would quite happily eat bread out of your hand).

Fish Kefalonia

Our last holiday to Greece was over 10 years ago and we were really looking forward to the Greek Cuisine, we weren’t disappointed, the first thing that we had was Tzatziki which is a traditional greek appetiser usually eaten before the main meal, its main ingredients are Greek Yoghurt, Cucumber and Garlic, it was delicious and so much nicer than the shop bought version available in the UK, so when we got home I thought I would try and make my own using cucumbers, garlic and herbs from my garden.

Tzatziki

Home made Tzatziki

Ingredients

  • 170g Greek Yoghurt
  • ½ large cucumber  or 1 small cucumber
  • 1 garlic clove crushed
  • 1 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp Lemon Juice (freshly squeezed if possible)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Ground Black Pepper to taste
  • Optional: Finely chopped Mint or Dill

Method

Grated cucumber

  1. Peel and cut your cucumber in half and remove the seeds, grate the cucumber flesh and place it into a sieve or colander over a bowl, mix in the salt and leave to stand for approximately one hour. Cucumbers contain a lot of water most of which needs to be extracted before you add your cucumber to the yoghurt, if not you will have a thin and watery Tzatziki.
  2. Whist your grated cucumber is standing, mix into your yoghurt the olive oil, lemon juice and the crushed garlic clove to allow the flavours to infuse, be cautious when adding your garlic, raw garlic especially crushed  is very strong and pungent – the smaller you cut garlic the stronger the flavour is, it may be an idea to add ½ clove at first.
  3. After an hour press down lightly on your grated cucumber to remove any remaining water and then stir into your yoghurt mixture.
  4. Add your herbs if required, in Greece some Tzatzikis contained finely chopped dill or mint or were served without either.
  5. Season with Ground Black Pepper
  6. Serve in a shallow dish or on a small plate, garnish with mint/dill or an olive and drizzle with olive oil.
  7. Eat with crusty bread or pitta bread.
  8. Enjoy!

I have made it twice since our return, the first time I used a whole garlic clove which I found quite strong, homemade is definitely worth making and so much better than our supermarket versions but regrettably it’s just not quite as good as the Greeks, I will have to start saving up for next year!

Now that I am back there are lots of jobs to catch up on in the garden and on the allotment click here for suggestions of what to do in your garden in September.

Gill

Thank you to everyone who entered our Family Zone June/July Competition, it sounds like you all had lots of fun on your Bug Hunts, you found some wonderful creatures:

Wood Lice, Worms, Slugs, Millipedes, Bees, Painted Lady Butterflies, a big furry caterpillar, a Slow Worm, Buff Tip Moth Caterpillars, Ants, Spiders, hoverflies, Ladybirds.

It was difficult to choose a winner and unfortunately there can be only one, the winning entry was from Jake Andrews aged 5 from Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire he found a Grasshopper and sent in a lovely picture of it that he had drawn himself ‘well done Jake’, Jake wins a Ladybird and Insect Tower and a Field Guide to Ladybirds.

grasshopper

Grasshopper by Jake Andrews, age 5

The School Zone Competition was won by Halstead Preparatory School for Girls, Woking, Surrey the winning entry was by Maddie Robson aged 8 who answered all the Insect Questions correctly they will receive a Solar Insect Theatre and a Minibeast Identification Guide – well done.

I hope that they enjoy their prizes and that they will attract lots of insects into their gardens which they can identify with their guides.

You never know what you will find in your garden!

A couple of weeks ago, as I was pegging out the washing, something caught my eye, I had a closer look I couldn’t believe what I saw it was a huge fat green caterpillar about 8cm long, there were actually two of them the second was slightly smaller about 6cm long.

Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar July 14

Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar

I quickly searched through the Books of Moths, Butterflies and Caterpillars that we have and found a perfect match it was the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawk Moth. Elephant Hawk Moths are resident in the UK and commonly found throughout England, Wales and Southern Scotland the adult moths feed at night on Honeysuckle and other tubular flowers and are attracted to light. The caterpillars also feed at night their preferred food plants are Willowherb, Fuchsia and Bedstraw the ones in my garden were feeding on the Bog Bean at the edge of my pond, on fine days in the late afternoon they rest on stems. The caterpillar spends the winter as a pupa in a flimsy cocoon amongst plant debris on the ground or just below the surface this means that I will have to be very careful when I am tidying up the garden in the Autumn.

Elephant Hawk Moth

Elephant Hawk Moth

The caterpillars were amazing, I have only seen one of them again since, we have caught the Elephant Haw Moths in our moth trap before, they are stunning you would never think they are flying around in the UK at night they look tropical.

Why not make a moth trap and find out what is flying about in your garden at night – click here for more information.

Congratulations to our winners – have fun.

Gill

Beach

You can’t beat a day at the seaside there are lots of activities to keep you busy:

Paddling or Swimming in the sea

Building Sandcastles

Burying dad in the sand!

Rock pooling

Playing ball games/flying kites

or Beach Combing

There is so much you can find on a beach that has been washed up by the sea, unfortunately most of it is man-made litter, there are millions of tonnes of rubbish in our seas not just around Britain but worldwide only small amounts get washed up on the shore, this is a big problem which is getting worse, harming birds, animals, fish and sea creatures.

I love beachcombing you never know what you will find:

Colourful pebbles – worn smooth by the sea

Seaweed – I didn’t realise there were so many different types

Driftwood – Bleached and smooth to the touch

Shells – Cockle, Mussel, Periwinkle, Whelk, Razor, Scallop, Limpet

Crab Shells and Claws, Cuttlefish bones

Whelk Egg Cases and Dogfish Egg Cases also called Mermaids Purses

Sea monster 2

Why not make a Sea Creature with your beach treasure?

What you will need

Collect as many shells, pebbles, sticks, strands of seaweed, etc. as you can find

What you need to do

You can either make your creature on the beach or when you get home, we made ours at home.

Start off by making a body from damp sand or if you are at home you could use modelling clay, and firm your shells into place on the body, then add arms, legs, a mouth, eyes, hair, claws, tails and wings. This is your Sea Creature be creative you can make it how you want, it can have 2, 4 or 6 legs, 2 or 3 heads or tails, you can give it wings or claws and as many eyes as you want.

Sea Monster 1

How we made our Sea Creature

  1. Firstly we got a storage box lid and covered it with a blue plastic bag to represent the sea; you could also use a tray or cover it with kitchen foil.
  2. We then got a piece of white modelling clay, made it into an egg shape and pressed it onto the lid.
  3. We covered the modelling clay with Mussel shells to make the body, and used broken Razor shells for the legs, the curly tail was a large Whelk shell.
  4. For the head we used a Cuttlefish bone for the lower jaw and the top was a Spider Crab shell, two eyes were made out of small Whelk shells which were stuck on with the modelling clay, I drew on two eyes with black marker pen.
  5. The crowning glory was the three Dogfish Egg cases that we placed along his back.
  6. To finish it off we sprinkled sand on the lid and placed some shells and Whelks egg cases around him to make him feel at home!

It is a good idea to buy a guide to the seashore so that you can identify and learn all about what you find on your day out.

Have fun on the beach this summer, enjoy all that the seaside has to offer and help to preserve it for future generations by taking you litter home with you – the British Coastline is stunning and home to many amazing and unique plants, animals, fish, sea creatures and birds.

Love your environment

Gill

Buddleia

By our back door we have a lovely big Buddleia plant which is now in full flower, the Insects, Bees and Butterflies love it, it looks spectacular with its covering of long purple flower spikes. The common name for the Buddleia is the Butterfly Bush which is quite evident when you look at it on a warm, sunny day it is a Butterfly magnet providing an abundant supply of nectar, it is definitely a must have plant in your garden if you love Butterflies, each flower spike is not just a single flower but is made up of hundreds of tiny flowers each one rich in nectar.

Buddleias are very easy to grow from seed and they will self-seed very easily, this plant was a seedling from my allotment which was growing in the onion bed, there are quite a few more growing there again this year which I will pot up and plant in my garden or sunny corner of my allotment, give to friends or to Thomas’s School for their wild garden.

This hot, sunny weather is wonderful for butterflies and will give numbers a real boost especially after the wet summer of 2012 which was the worst on record for Butterflies, but how do we know that 2012 was the worst on record? Every year, throughout the year there are many surveys to monitor butterfly numbers, you can take part in one of the worlds biggest surveys of Butterflies which starts this Saturday 19th July until Sunday 10th August, it is called The Big Butterfly Count. The Big Butterfly count is run by the charity Butterfly Conservation who have raised awareness of the drastic decline in butterflies and moths, and created widespread acceptance that action needs to be taken to protect these unique and beautiful creatures.

What you need to do

Count butterflies for 15 minutes preferably on a sunny day recording the maximum number of each species that you see at a single time and submit your sightings online before the end of August. You can submit separate sightings for different dates and places: parks, school grounds, gardens, fields and forests. This is a great family activity that you can do during the summer holidays, whilst you are away on holiday or as a class activity at school if you have time before the end of term. Submit your sightings online at before the end of August 2014.

For more information have a look at the Big Butterfly Count website, there is also a handy Butterfly Chart to download and print which will  help you to identify and record the species you spot.

Buddleia and Small Tortoiseshell

Buddleia not only attracts Butterflies and insects during the day, at night moths feast on the fragrant nectar rich flowers, so if you have space in your garden plant a Buddleia they are easy to grow, need very little attention and look stunning especially covered in Butterflies, if you keep removing the dead flowers this will encourage new ones, extending the flowering period and providing food for insects well into Autumn.

If you want to know more about attracting Butterflies to your garden click here.

Love your environment

Gill

School walk 1

I love being outdoors, there is nothing better than going for a walk, it is a great way to relax and get fit whilst being surrounded by birds, animals, insects, flowers, trees and the varied and unique landscapes that make up our fantastic countryside, it really makes you appreciate how wonderful nature is.

Next week is National Countryside Week this is an annual awareness campaign by the Princes Countryside Fund (who give grants to projects that help support the people who care for the countryside) to celebrate the British countryside and the people who live and work in our rural areas, they are encouraging everyone to get together with their family, friends or colleagues and take a walk in the countryside between Mon 14th – Sunday 20th July.

School Walk 2

If you go on a walk be prepared and plan ahead, check the weather forecast and take appropriate footwear, clothing and accessories, bring food, plenty of drinks and a first aid kit, if you are exploring somewhere new take a map, mobile phones are wonderful but only if you can get a signal and most of all don’t forget to follow

The Countryside Code

Respect   –  Protect  –  Enjoy

Respect other people

  • Consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
  • Leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available

Protect the natural environment

  • Leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home
  • Keep dogs under effective control

Enjoy the outdoors

  • Plan ahead and be prepared
  • Follow advice and local signs

You may see some of these signs on your walk, do you know what they mean?

FootpathFootpath – open to walkers only, waymarked with a yellow arrow.

 

 

 

BridlewayBridleway – open to walkers, horse-riders and cyclists, waymarked with a blue arrow.

 

 

Restricted bywayRestricted byway – open to walkers, cyclists, horse-riders and horse-drawn vehicles, waymarked with a plum coloured arrow.

 

 

Byway open to all trafficByway Open to All Traffic (BOAT) – open to walkers, cyclists, horse-riders, horse-drawn vehicles and motor vehicles, waymarked with a red arrow.

 

National Trail acornNational Trail Acorn – identifies 15 long distance routes in England and Wales. All are open for walking and some trails are also suitable for cyclists, horse-riders and people with limited mobility.

 

The most important thing is to get out there and have fun you don’t need to walk for miles, a walk around your local park can be just as enjoyable, remember to take your camera or your binoculars you never know what you may see.

Mucky Wellies

Happy Walking

Gill

 

I can’t believe what glorious weather we are having, scorching hot days and sultry evenings, it is wonderful and a real tonic. The soft fruit on the allotment is ripening fast, I will have to keep my eye on it and the opportunist birds too, netting will keep them off and allow me to get there first. I make Jams and freeze a lot of my fruit to use in pies and crumbles later on when fresh fruit is not available or expensive to buy.

Strawberries 2

Strawberries have done exceptionally well this year, as it’s hot I thought it would be nice to make something cooling with my bumper crop so I delved into my recipe books and found the perfect solution –

Strawberry Sorbet

  • 450g Strawberries hulled and chopped
  • 175g Granulated Sugar
  • Juice of a small lemon
  • 450ml water
  • 1 egg white
  • 25g Caster Sugar
  1. Puree the prepared Strawberries in a food processor
  2. Put 150ml water and the granulated sugar in a bowl and warm gently until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 300ml water, lemon juice and the pureed Strawberries, mix well.
  4. Pour into a freezer container and chill until cold.
  5. Freeze for 1 hour.
  6. Beat the egg white until stiff then add the caster sugar and whisk again until stiff and shiny.
  7. Place your fruit mixture in a chilled bowl and whisk until smooth.
  8. Gently fold in the beaten egg white then return to the freezer container and freeze for 45 minutes.
  9. Remove from the freezer, whisk again then return back to the freezer container and freeze for 90 – 120 minutes or until firm.

This is a very healthy alternative to ice cream why not serve it up whilst watching Wimbledon this week.

Enjoy

Gill

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