Thursday 30 April 2009

What's in the hedgerow and woodland?

Hedgerows are great sources of wild food so the wild food forager should be visiting them in spring to gather early greens and check out what is likely to be available later in the year in terms of soft fruit.

I've done some hedgerow foraging over the past couple of weeks and come back home with a few bags of leaves and some ideas for where to pick fruit in the summer and autumn.

Hawthorn is one of the most common shrubs growing in hedgerow. Most of the hedge around our allotment is hawthorn. The new leaves in the spring can be used in salads. I've already seen hawthorn flowering in London but not yet in the North East. However, expect hawthorn to burst into a blaze of white flowers soon if you haven't already got them. Hawthorn is pollinated by flies so don't expect the flowers to have an attractive smell! In the autumn hawthorn will be ablaze with small scarlet berries. These are idea for jellies and other recipes though no use for eating raw. Most of the fruit consists of the stone.

Sloes, or blackthorn, are another common hedgerow plant, most famous for producing timy plum like fruit used in sloe gin (and yes we have made sloe gin before). Sloes however can be used in jams and jellies though eating them raw would probably put you off them for life! They are intensely bitter. Now however is the time to find where they are growing. Last year, we found the entire crop failed. I went out one saturday afternoon in October to fill a few bags and came back empty handed. I guess a late spring frost had killed the flowers. This year I am hoping for a much needed improvement!

Hazel, pictured above, is a very important protein crop for the wild food forager. Hazel nuts, which people pay over the odds for at the supermarket during the rush to Christmas, are packed pull of protein. It's usually the case that in spring you can spot hazel before the leaves are out by the catkins hanging from the branches. The leaves however are edible in the spring and can be used in salads.

Hazel was one of the poor wild crops last year. It may have been hit by late frosts. This year we are hoping for as good a crop as we got in 2007. hazel tends to grow less in hedgerow (though you can still find some there) but tends to be more comfortable growing in woodland.

Cherry trees can sometimes be found in hedgerows though more likely they will be found in youngish woodlands. Councils love to plant them in grassed areas on housing estates as they look attractive in the spring when they are blanketed in flowers. They tend to look like they are covered with snow. In the summer and early autumn they will hopefully be weighed down with juicy fruit. So now is a good time to walk around estates and parks looking for trees. In the London area this week I have already seen the blossom giving way but it is still out in the North East where everything, growing wise, tends to be a couple of weeks later.

We picked a huge quantity of cherries last year to make jam and, ahem, cherry vodka!

Brambles are both a pain and a blessing. The fruit they produce in the autumn is likely to be one of the most familiar wild fruits in the UK. It always strikes we as bizarre that people would want to pay good money for blackberries in shops when, come September (and often earlier) there is a huge quantity of them growing wild.
On the negative side, brambles will strangle just about everything in sight and take over whole patches of ground. They can grow at an alarming rate. In 2007, when we first took over the derelict allotment, we got a fantastic crop of blackberries and then spent months chopping the damn creepers back!
However, brambles can be used for more than just blackberries. Their leaves in the early spring are edible. The thorns on the back of leaves at that point are quite soft. They are a great addition to a spring salad, of which we have been having a few recently.

We are doing more hedgerow and woodland foraging this weekend so watch this space next week for more on what's out there.

Monday 27 April 2009

Rain at last

We have installed 4 water butts on the allotment over the past month. Since then, we have had barely a drop of rain. We have no direct water supply on the allotment and nor do I think there should be one. Pouring water all over the ground that is good enough to drink is an appalling waste of a resource and environmentally damaging. Getting the water butts set up was therefore a priority for us. (We do bring some grew water from the house as well.)

On Saturday it did at last rain. Not a heavy down pour but sufficient to wet the soil and help along the seeds we already have planted. And it is raining again now. Time to put away the rain dancing kit!
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Thursday 23 April 2009

Latest from the allotment

I am on the allotment now, my first visit since Sunday, to have a look around and see how things are doing. A number of seeds planted in recent weeks are now coming through. The peas which I thought had been under attack from the birds are growing well and next to them the Swiss chard is just peeping through in bed one. The first broad bean shoot is also appearing. No sign yet of the parsnips but the garlic is growing very well.

Over on bed two, the onions planted in Marc are coming through strongly. There is also a long line of beetroot shoots appearing. The leeks have not made an appearance yet.

If all this grows, we should be able to cut by a long way the amount of food we buy at the supermarket. Tescos, with their recently announced £3 billion profit, can do without us!

Meanwhile, in the fruitcage, I am concerned that the raspberries are doing nothing, though the black and red currant bushes we planted there are doing very well. The raspberries on bed five however are growing. The rhubarb on the same patch is an embarrassment of riches so some of it will be cropped shortly.

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Wednesday 22 April 2009

Garden update

I came down to London on Monday but return home today. I got my first daylight glimpse of our garden out at Crystal Palace for the first time in a week this morning. (I normally don't get back to the flat til after 9pm so at this time of year, seeing the garden is a passtime reserved for first thing in the morning.)

The garlic we planted in the long wall pots is doing as well as the bulbs we planted on the allotment back home. The accompanying spinach has all germinated as well. The raspberries in the back garden are looking a bit indifferent, but worryingly, the same batch on the allotment appear to be doing nothing as well, other than one or two small shoots across the whole batch.

We have some runner beans planted in small pots on the kitchen window sill and there are doing very well. They will need to be repotted and moved outside. The tomatoe seeds planted in pots on the same window sill are also germinating but it will be at least a month before they get potted up to go outside (they are an outdoor variety).

Two potatoes bags were planted up recently but it is too early for any activity from them but we have other bags to use. We will be planting carrots in them.

That will have to wait however as I return home to Gateshead tonight (on the last train out of Kings Cross - a mind numbing 10pm. It means an early morning visit to the allotment tomorrow is unlikely!)
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Tuesday 21 April 2009

Wild garlic loaf

I adapted this from my recipe for wild garlic stuffing. You need:

half loaf bread (brown or white)
125g chopped wild garlic leaves
one egg
small amount of sage
handful of fresh rosemary
olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

You can use stale bread if necessary. It's a good way of using it up.

Put all the contents in the food mixer to blend together (bread the bread up before you put it in).

Then put all the ingredients into a greased baking tin and heat at 200c for 25 minutes.

Serve cold and sliced with salads.

You can add onion to the ingredients as well.

Smoking salmon

This is not quite a self-sufficiency thing as yet but rather a test of food preservation equipment, the side product of which was smoked salmon. Well, it's a good excuse anyway. I was given a food smoking kit for Xmas as we want to test it out. After all, we need to explore ways to preserve food. I don't want everything to end up in the freezer.
Over the Easter weekend, we tested out the kit on a couple of fillets of salmon. It worked wonderfully! It is however, rather small and is really designed for flavouring food for immediate consumption. We therefore won't be filling the garage with an array of food smoked to preserve it.
However we could build a bigger version for larger quantities of food, such as whole pheasants and duck which we are able to get from wild sources.

Potato bags

Not all the potatoes we have planted have gone into the ground. We kept back 30 seed potatoes to plant in bags. See the picture above. These were specially purchased for the purpose and should be long lasting.

We got two sizes. The large size, in the above photo, can be planted with 5 seed potatoes. The small ones can have one each. I took the small ones to London to use in our garden there.

As with the furrows, in the early growing period, as the shoots grow, add more compost. The above bags were planted 2 weeks before we planted the others into the ground.

These bags are ideal if you have a backyard or a balcony. They can be used to grow other vegetables as well. I will be planting out the spares shortly in London with carrots.

Planting potatoes

Potatoes last year were one of our great failures. They are however part of our staple diet and as such, if we are to achieve self-sufficiency, we need to grow lots of them and have a successful crop! Last year, we didn't do the preparation that was needed. We planted the seed potatoes in the wrong conditions. Putting it simply, we screwed up. So this year, we are putting time and effort into getting it right.

We have selected 3 types of potatoes to grow: picasso, rocket and anya (for salads). Some of them are pictured above in the greenhouse in March. We let the shoots sprout for about 5-6 weeks.

We chose to plant them on bed 5. This is drier and lighter than bed 3 where we grew them last year. The top end of bed 5 behind me in the photo is the rhubarb patch. As you can see, the front end of the patch still requires digging over. This shot was taken on Good Friday.

Bed five is also used for herbs, raspberries (we had too many for the fruit cage) and gooseberries, as well as 4 fruit trees (plum, apple, nectarine and peach).

We had sufficient for 4 rows, each 5 metres long. There were some left over and I'll explain later what we did with the spares. The rows were dig about 10cm deep and potatoes were planted 30cm apart. Some of the soil was placed on top of the potatoes and then on top of that I put well rotted manure. On top of that went the rest of the soil to create furrows.

Job done. We will build up the furrows further as the potatoes grow.
Rocket is 1st early, anya 2nd early and picasso is the maincrop.

Monday 20 April 2009

Wild leaf salad

It is spring so there is a growing abundance of seasonal, wild leaves that can be used in salads. On the Easter weekend we had a salad (pictured above) which included the following leaves:
bramble shoots
wild parsley

The dressing was made from olive oil and raspberry vinegar and the chicken came from a local supermarket, so we can't claim the whole meal was from wild and local sources.

On Saturday just gone, a fifth wild plant was added to the salad: willow herb shoots.

This makes a tasty combination though the bramble leaves in particular tend to make it a tiny bit on the dry side. The dressing solved that though we are going to experiment with dressing with less flavoured contents. At times the raspberry vinegar overshadowed the taste of the leaves. Nevertheless, I was rather pleased with this so wild leaf salads are on our menu for as long as they are in season. And there are plenty of other wild leaves we have not get used.

In a few weeks we will, hopefully, had a supply of salad leaves grown on the allotment or in the garden. And we also have a load of sprouting beans to use as well.


The above shots were taken over the Easter weekend so since then the rhubarb has grown even more. For specimens that we thought had died, they are doing remarkably well. Rhubarb will be the first crop from the allotment. We are looking up recipes now!
The top photo was taken of me on bed 5. The top end of the bed is now simply called the rhubarb patch. Since the picture was taken, there has been a great deal more growth.

Toad in the hole

Not quite toad of toad hall but we found this in the manure heap on the Easter weekend. We carefully moved it to another compost heap though I guess it would have been less happy with the supply of bugs at its new location. We are happy to have wildlife like this on the allotment. Last year we found frogs there as well. We have put three bird feeders into the hedge as well. The more wildlife attracted there to eat the bugs as well, the less damage the bugs will do to our crops.

It's just a pity that the toads don't eat rabbits. They are visiting regularly and have munched their way through some of David's flowers and herbs. We have taken to putting netting around them.

Thursday 16 April 2009

More wild garlic recipes

Three more of my wild garlic recipes in this video: pheasant and wild garlic with pasta; pheasant and wild garlic soup and wild garlic loaf.

Thursday 9 April 2009

8am seed planting experience

I am currently down in London but head back home to Tyneside tonight. So I have had a few days staying overnight in my flat in the capital. I don't really get to see the garden that much when I am there. I leave the flat at 8.30am, head into Westminster and generally don't get back until after 9pm.

So 8am this morning was the only chance I would get before heading home for Easter to plant some spinach seeds in the pots in which I planted garlic 3 weeks ago. The garlic is growing well but the idea with sowing spinach is that it is a fast growing vegetable that can be cropped before the garlic gets too large. In other words, get two crops in the space of one. However, I was caught slightly off guard by the speed at which the garlic is growing (much faster than on the allotment). So in my dressing gown and armed with watering can this morning there I was planting seeds. The neighbours must have thought I was mad!

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Wednesday 8 April 2009

Early spring on the allotment

This video covers what we've been up to on the allotment during March.

Monday 6 April 2009

Sunday planting

We took the decision to plant out the gaps between the rows of peas and beans in bed one with Swiss Chard (grew well next to beans last year), parsnip (albion) and carrot (autumn king 2). We may have made a small mistake with the carrots however. When we got back to the house, we read in one of our gardening books that carrots should not be planted in well manured soil. We'll see how they turn out. We do have plenty of carrot seeds so there will be opportunities to grow others.

On bed two we planted leeks (musselburgh) and beetroot (kestrel). Half this bed is still to be planted so we are working out what we will plant there this weekend.

Sunday 5 April 2009

wild garlic benefits

In this garlic I explain the benefits of eating and cooking with wild garlic. The plant is widespread in the spring in woodland areas, especially before the trees are in leaf. For wild food foragers, this is a great crop.

Making Wild Garlic Pesto

How to make wild garlic pesto, the video verson. Now is the season to use wild garlic. Try using it. It's a very nutritious food source. And pesto is a great way to use it.

Saturday 4 April 2009

Bed One fully planted

I am just leaving the allotment now and I am pleased to say that Bed One is now fully planted. We have 2 rows of peas, 4 of broad beans and 2 of garlic (latter planted last November and earlier last month). This has left us with a 60 cm gap between rows of beans and peas so as an experiment to use the space we have planted an additional row of Swiss chard (one of our wonder crops from last year) in the gap between the peas.. We may well use other gaps between the beans in a similar way though more likely with something fast growing and cropping, such as spinach or lettuce. The beans grow to a much bigger height so will crows out shorter plants in the summer. We'll therefore need something that can be planted and cropped within two to three months. Salad leaf type plants fit the bill.
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Friday 3 April 2009

Planting my onions

On Sunday I used the opportunity of the pleasant weather to plant about 350 onions. This was slightly more than I anticipated but I'm sure we'll find good uses for them once they have grown. They went on to bed two where we had the broad beans last year. We know to rotate our crops!

The garlic planted in the autumn is coming along well. Hopefully we will have something to harvest by late spring or early summer. You can see them in the picture above of David next to bed one.

When things don't go quite to plan

We were sorting through jams and chutneys over the weekend and spotted a jar with a lid bulging outwards. It was the classic sign of fermenting contents. The jar was courgette and blackpepper chutney. We were rather surprised by the recipe we found as it contained wine, not vinegar. Since we had a surplus of courgettes, we felt it was okay to try it out. All the other jars worked but for some reason, this one decided to ferment. It fizzed over like a shaken bottle of champagne when I opened it!

Pheasant stock and wild garlic soup

Waste nothing! Once you have stripped the meat from bones, don't throw the bones out. Make stock instead and avoid having to buy mass produced stock on sale at the supermarket.

The other point about making stock is that it does not have to use the best vegetables you have. Instead, you can use up old veg that really could have done with being eaten earlier.

The stock I made on Sunday used three pheasant carcasses, and a load of carrots and shallots that were past their best. I also found some celery in the fridge which was in good shape. Celery I find always goes down well in soup stock.

In addition I added a handful of wild garlic leaves.

To make the stock, add the bones or carcasses to a large pan. Chop and add the vegetables. There's no need to chop the wild garlic but don't worry about chopping the other veg too finely. Chunks will do.

Add the veg to the pan and cover the contents with water. For extra flavour I added a few sprigs of rosemary.

Then bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour. Then drain off the liquid into a separate pan or into containers if it is not being used immediately (in which case freeze it once it has cooled or put it in the fridge if you are expecting to use it within 24 hours).

If you can be bothered with the hassle, separate out the veg from the bones once you have strained them and use them as a base for soup. Again, it helps to cut down on waste.

We used some of the stock we made on Sunday for pheasant and wild garlic soup. For that you need:

1.5 litres stock

large handful of roast pheasant meat, finely chopped

2 medium onions, finely chopped

large handful of wild garlic leaves, chopped

herbs to taste (I used yet more rosemary)

Add the stock to a pan and add the ingredients. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 25 minutes, making sure the meat is cooked through again. Then serve and enjoy.

Again, we were pleased with this meal as it was mainly from sources that were foraged or hunted wild or grown on the allotment. Another small step towards self-sufficiency.

Pasta and pheasant with wild garlic

I made this over the weekend. Very simple to do and I'm pleased to say the ingredients, other than the pasta, coriander and black pepper, were grown by us or gathered wild. The recipe uses up left over pheasant from the previous week.
homemade pasta (okay, so you can use bought pasta instead!)
roasted pheasant meat, chopped
handful of freshly picked wild garlic leaves, chopped
freshly picked rosemary leaves, stripped from the stalk
crushed coriander seeds
ground black pepper
Boil the pasta and about 5 minutes before it is ready, heat up a frying pan, add in a bit of olive oil and add all the above contents to the pan. Cook for about five minutes, stirring regularly. You need to make sure the meat is cooked through so chop it into quite small pieces.
Put your pasta on a plate and add the pheasant and wild garlic mix. Then enjoy your meal.