Natures Larder

9 09 2012

Natures larder, you know..that big expanse of green stuff outside. It’s packed with wonderful fruits, berries and delights just waiting to be snaffled. From appealing roadside apples to bulging blackberries, delightful damsons even through to exciting elder there is a vast and virtually untapped nutritional resource out there. I have been a ‘forager’ in earnest for around two years now. It’s something that I always aspired to do, feeling enthused after watching Ray Mears munch his way through Britain’s woodland. He obviously ate a large amount of it.

I have tried to pass on my limited skills onto my little one. She LOVES to go foraging, as she knows that she can munch on some tasty berries as we traipse our way around. There is also the added bonus of splashing in muddy puddles for her ! It probably sounds a little odd, but I excel in being different and I refuse to be ‘normal’. Normal to me is run of the mill, tedium personified. I digress as usual. I have taught her how to live from the land, what is good, what is bad and what will kill you. I always say to her that you need to know this “In case the shops aren’t open any more“. Sounding like a true nut job now, our consumerist lifestyle is very fragile. It wouldn’t take much for it to fall apart. So I teach her to forage, and how to hunt.

As Autumn (Fall) approaches, the tree branches are laden with nature’s bounty. Late summer really presents a bonus of foragable booty. This weekend I have picked around 5KG of damsons, and 3KG of Rowan Berries plus a handful of Hazelnuts. The latter of the three were picked from the side of an old forgotten road. It’s quite eerie to walk along a path, completely overgrown by nettles, blackberry and hazel and see a white line in the middle of the path. How quickly nature takes back from us. In fact as we were taking hazelnuts, there was a grey squirrel angrily crashing around in the branches above us. Neve was telling the squirrel to ‘Shush’…so cute.

From this weekend’s haul, I have started to make some Damson wine and Rowan Berry wine.Plump purple Damson berries are an old favourite for people to forage, but people tend to shy away from Rowan. Dare I say it’s a bit of a secret. Most people have the impression that that large bunches of waxy red berries are poisonous. For sure if you bit into a berry, you would spit it out instantly. They taste like crap, but are super packed with vitamin C. However you can make an amazing jelly from them, which accompanies meat wonderfully. Plus I made an amazing Rowan wine, and am currently drinking a glass now. I would say that it’s the best wine that I have made so far. The taste is like a medium white, but the colour is like whiskey !

Go out into the parks and hedgerows. Go and sample what is waiting. However please use caution, as there are things out there that will either taste nasty or kill you ! Do a Google search for hedgerow foraging, and it will give you berry images and leaves to look for.

Some starter sites:

Andy Hamilton – One of the seminal founders of the ‘Self Sufficientish’ movement

Robin Harford – Robin provides a wonderfully useful reference site, with great recipes

Adam – Adam produces some unusual wine recipes, including the amazing Rowan Berry Wine

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PS – Do not attempt this if you are squeamish about insects, or don’t like being stung by nettles !

The Good Life – Clucking Hell

22 02 2011

As promised, albeit a bit delayed is part two of “The Good Life” series…

Clucking Hell

So spurred on by the pseudo successes of the bee keeping, and also Steph’s (almost) constant “Can we get chickens” pleas I decided to give in. To be honest, I’ve always fancied having a few chooks about the place. I do like an egg or two, and why not get into the country thing even more hey ?

The first problem was where to house them. If you are unaware, there is a big resurgence in people keeping chickens at home. Consequently the coops and runs are incredibly expensive. There is a really smart bit of kit called the “Eggloo” (geddit ?), but this is £450. Note I did not miss a decimal point there !

Therefore you imagine my joy when I spotted a hen-house and run on Freecycle. This was available for the princely sum of exactly nowt ! However, we were faced with a problem in getting it home. My car is quite small, and Steph’s is marginally bigger. We ended up jamming the hen-house into the back of the car, and driving home with what looks like a shed hanging out of the back !

OK, so we have a hen house…what’s next ?

Silly me, chickens of course ! We did take our time finding the right breed. Gentle with kids, and not likely to go broody. Broody means they stop laying eggs, which means they become acquainted with the business end of a knife. Also we didn’t want a cockerel, as it’s life expectancy wouldn’t have been more than a month.

We settled on a breed called “Light Sussex“. They look like a Rhode Island Red, but with less attitude.

We found a breeder in Cheshire that supplied said chickens, and attempted to select two of the finest. Have you ever attempted to herd cats ? It’s a kind of similar experience. Eventually after much comedic running around with arms spread wide, we wrangled us a couple o’ chickens and plopped them into a cardboard box. Said cardboard box went into the car. Note to self, two scared chickens and an enclosed space aren’t a good combination. The smell was…interesting !

The two chooks, now named “Flower & Petal” settled quickly into their new home. They did have an extremely good nature, and tolerated allowed being picked up and petted. Eggs were forthcoming, and to all intents and purposes seemed quite happy. They aren’t noisy at all which is a big relief !

Neve loves them, and loves going into the box to fish out the eggs. It’s quite nice to have them come over to you, and they are almost like pets.  Admittedly pets that you can eat if you get pissed off with them !

A couple of observations though…

  • They WILL trash your garden. Their idea of fun is to eat all the grass in sight, and then scratch hell out of the ground.
  • They do eat a lot, which makes them efficient at being little feathered shit machines egg layers
  • Cleaning them out is not for the faint hearted !

One of them produced an egg that was larger than a duck egg. The poor thing must have passed out laying it !

Perhaps I will rebuild the hen-house and run this year ?

Neve keeps saying to me…”Daddy we aren’t going to eat Flower & Petal are we” ?

The Good Life – Bee Careful

14 02 2011

I live in a semi rural location. Enough out of a town to feel like the country, but close enough to civilization without feeling isolated. Last year me & Steph (well mostly me) began to get into self sufficiency, albeit in a kind of half-arsed way. Not because I am particulary ideological about the ‘supermarket lifestyle’ we tend to live, probably more because I am a tight arse !!

Over the coming days I will “showcase” some of the crap that I have got myself involved with to attain the “Self-Sufficient” title !

Part One – Bee Careful

Last years efforts saw me throw myself headfirst into little projects. I have always wanted to keep honey bees and have chickens. God alone knows why, but there you go. I got plans for building a bee hive from a wonderful site called The Barefoot BeeKeeper. The chap who runs it is promoting “natural” beekeeping methods, which are quite different from the traditional methods. Anyways I digress..

So, I constructed a top bar hive that looked akin to Noah’s Ark. Next on the shopping list were some bees ! Now bees don’t come cheap at all, and you are looking at around £200 for a queen and hive. So I opted for the free approach…collect a swarm of bees from a local pest controller. About six weeks later, I get a call on a warm Saturday afternoon. A swarm had settled about three miles from home, and was easily collectable. So I frantically ran around getting my gear together and hopped in the car.

I arrived to see a crowd of people awaiting my arrival. I tried to look professional, and not at all like I was thinking “SHIT SHIT SHIT“. One salient point that I have not mentioned. Up until this point, I had not even been near bees, apart from one buzzing past me in the summer. I was comically dressed in a white CSI type suit, and a mesh hat.

The bees were in a massive clump at the base of a bush, and the air was full of them. Speaking to more informed keepers, they guessed around 15000 bees. My heart was in my mouth as I approached the swarm, and I thought best about how to place them into huge plant pot that I had brought for transport. As you are aware, bees buzz. Now imagine around 15000 of them buzzing all around you. The buzz was so intense you could feel it in your bones. My crowd of onlookers had now retired to the safety of indoors (thanks) but did manage to say “Rather you than me mate”.

I placed the pot underneath them and either in  fit of bravery or stupidity (latter probably) whacked the branch containing the swarm against the pot. The swarm poured into the pot just like treacle. It seemed fairly easy I thought but the noise was unholy. I placed wooden bars on top of the pot but left holes for the several thousand little bastards that were still buzzing around me. I was elated, and felt like I had just defused a 500lb IED !

I left the plant pot and it’s super angry contents alone for several hours and returned. Ok, quick sanity check. I have a plant pot full of pissed off bees, and now I have to get them into my car and drive home. I could see how poorly executed my plans had been. So I had to wrap bungy cord about my “bee-bomb”, and then place said item into a box. The box was heavily sealed with yellow and black hazard tape (strangely ironic) and placed in the rear of my car.

The drive back was uneventful if not nerve racking. As I turned into my drive, the hive stood in the garden awaiting it’s new occupants. I faced the reverse problem now, but my confidence had grown (or stupidity again) ! I donned my CSI suit again, and began to open the box. They had calmed down a bit now, perhaps it was my soothing choice of in car entertainment ?

I opened the lid of the hive, and simply poured the bees in from the pot. They were definately more subdued this time thankfully !

Several months on, I’ve taken a small amount of honey from them. They’ve also survived one of the coldest winters I can remember .

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I’ve never constructed something from scratch, and doing this gave me a real sense of achievement.

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