Monday, 12 December 2011

Autumn seems to take its time in passing. A few leaves still cling to the trees and shimmer in the low sunlight, even now the winter frosts have arrived and we're approaching our darkest day.

My allotment is in slow-motion, which is good news because I have very little opportunity to get over there at this time of year. Last weekend I moved a few blackcurrant bushes and took cuttings from some wild gooseberries. Most of my fruit trees are bare, but one small apple which I grew from a pip is still green and energetic. There are lots of wild and self-sown leaves to pick, my favourites at the moment are sorrel and cornsalad. I have a small patch of alexanders, which when it resurfaces each year on my boggy land-locked plot always amazes me. I plan to try a liqueur, perhaps John Wright's Gin Alexanders. I'm not convinced I'll have it ready by Christmas though...

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Foggy morning

Maiden Erlegh Lake, Reading

Monday, 21 November 2011

Pictures without words

I carry my camera almost everywhere and I just love the light at this time of year. I keep wondering if I should start another photo-a-day project. Last time I didn't post the photos online; I stuck them into a book. Looking through it now I am swept back in time and I remember the way I felt when they were taken. They are not records of what I actually did; they are simply images of things I saw. I didn't intend that they would be symbolic, but they inevitably turned out so.

Perhaps instead I will just try to update my blog more often. I might actually manage that if I post pictures without words sometimes.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Today I spotted some mushrooms in the woods and I thought they might be Wood Blewits. They were growing near an old pile of wood-chippings, under deciduous trees. The tops were greyish lilac and slightly wavy, the gills pale and the stems mottled with a brighter purple. I took one as a sample so that I could do a spore print (results to follow), and as soon as I got back from my little foray I consulted Rogers Mushrooms. As usual, when I got my results from the easy key I was filled with doubt. What I had thought were fairly easily identified common edible mushrooms could actually be pretty much anything...

I'm a cautious forager. Since I've been actively studying fungi I've not found any that I'm confident enough to eat. The only ones I've been able to identify with certainty were Fly Agaric - the classic red and white toadstools of fairy tales (eating them didn't even cross my mind...).

I don’t actually like mushrooms that much as food, so you may wonder why I’m bothering to learn about them at all. Well, apart from the fact that fungi are absolutely fascinating and often very beautiful, for me foraging isn’t just about finding food - it’s about learning and exploring. It's a treasure hunt. Finding interesting and useful things satisfies my hunter-gatherer instinct. I think that's also why I enjoy photography - with a camera I gather information and I collect memories of things I've seen or made.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

This is what the inside of a rosehip looks like...

It's full of seeds and tiny hairs (this is the reason I don't cook with them very often).

The image was made on a flatbed scanner (as were these).

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Apples and rosehips

Last Saturday Matt and I picked some tasty apples en route to The Museum of English Rural Life (a fascinating little place in Reading town which is packed full of countryside curios). We then joined in their Apple Day celebrations - learning how to press juice, sampling many different varieties of fruit, purchasing local cider, watching apple-and-spoon races and being thoroughly entertained when a friend attempted the longest apple peel competition! Afterwards we headed to Oxford to partake in the mini beer festival Oxtoberfest, where I drank cider. Which I probably would have done anyway, but I used Apple Day as an excuse...

On Tuesday I went for a long walk in the rain and collected about a kilo of rosehips. If nothing goes wrong they will eventually become rosehip wine - my brew is currently glug-glug-glugging away in the kitchen... I think this is my sixth homebrew. I've previously made mayblossom wine, nettle beer and haw wine, as well as a couple from kits. I've had no disasters so far, and the haw wine I made last year was actually very good indeed. I'm hoping the rosehip will turn out well too as the recipe is very similar (it's from Roger Phillips' Wild Food).

Monday, 24 October 2011

Gathering and crafting...

In those early days of autumn when the leaves are just beginning to change colour and the morning air has the first hint of an icy blast, it's wise to start making plans for winter. For me this means hanging thick curtains, digging out my bike lights and thinking about Christmas presents. When you make your own gifts you really do have to plan ahead. Last year I spent the whole of October, November and December knitting, crocheting, jam- and liqueur-making...

A few weeks ago I collected sloes. I use vodka for most of my liqueurs but this year I've decided to make traditional Sloe Gin. I collected these before the frost because I was worried they'd all be gone if I waited!

In the depths of my kitchen cupboards I also have summery jars of Blackberry Vodka and August Liqueur, slowly mellowing and becoming more festive.

My next task is to think of something nice I can make for my non-alcoholic family members. Perhaps a jelly of some kind - crabapple, quince, rosehip...?

Monday, 26 September 2011

A brief escape...

We've just spent the weekend camping with friends on the beautiful Berkshire Downs in the Vale of the White Horse. Although it was a rush to get there after work on Friday and to pitch up before dark it was well worth the effort. We had a lovely few days catching up with gossip, wandering and exploring and making the most of summer's end. Here are a few photos... they hold memories of a picturesque and peaceful little interlude in my very busy September.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Fungus foray - my best find!

I was genuinely out looking for mushrooms when I spotted this:

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

August-flavoured liqueur:

Victoria plums
Alpine strawberries
Fuchsia fruits

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

I'm still trying to learn my mushrooms!

Perhaps this one is actually a toadstool (for a very tiny toad).
Or maybe a flying saucer.

I did a spore print - the colour is dark browny-purply-black.

I spent ages searching Roger Phillips' book for this and a few others I've found recently. Identifying fungi is SO difficult! It seems to fit the description for Panaeolus rickenii. It *looks* like lots of others, but spore print colour narrows down the options. Whatever it is, it's very pretty. And no, I'm not going to eat it.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Dark Mountain Festival

I've just returned from a truly inspiring weekend with Matt at the Uncivilisation 2011 / Dark Mountain Festival. I had very little idea what to expect from it, but I've come away buzzing!

There were many brilliant speakers and events over the course of three days. My favourites included music by the excellent
Marmaduke Dando, atmospheric storytelling around the campfire by Tom Hirons and Rima Staines, an enlightening and thoroughly entertaining session on home brewing by Andy Hamilton (with free samples!), and a foraging ramble with Fergus Drennan, whose knowledge is extensive and whose enthusiasm is contagious!

Yesterday morning as the festival drew to a close we learned more about the Dark Mountain project by listening to a discussion about its motivations and future direction. This was followed by a very moving report on the situation in West Papua, where native tribes are being persecuted and their sacred rainforest is being destroyed, ultimately because of OUR greed. Many of the audience were moved to tears. Please have a look at the link: Free West Papua

The weekend was very thought-provoking. I feel guiltier than ever about my materialistic lifestyle and I know I must do more to change the things I hate (like the destruction of our beautiful planet) and also to promote the things I believe in. I feel really motivated by conversations Matt and I had with some inspiring and genuinely lovely people.

Matt bought me a framed print by Rima, which is also the cover of the latest Dark Mountain book, and quite a fitting souvenir. I took a few photos – the best are just tiny details of the venue (the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire) and some other little things I noticed which may or may not be relevant...

There are a couple more on Flickr...

Monday, 15 August 2011

A short walk...

This morning I decided to check out a jitty (leicestershire-speak for a pathway between houses) that I often pass on my way home from work. In doing so I explored a whole extra 100 metres of my local area. It doesn't sound like much, but every little bit of newly discovered land can hold treasure for a foraging photographer...

I ended up at Maiden Erlegh Nature Reserve where I took lots of pictures that I didn't like (the wild chicory flowers were amazing!), and my brain is now full of ideas about mapping and adventuring as close as possible to my own front door. I can feel a project coming on.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Seasonal changes

On Friday I went to the plot intending to work but as usual I got distracted by photography. I was struck by how quickly things are flowering, making fruit and going to seed. 'Late summer' is definitely here...

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


A Common Lizard hiding (not very well, it has to be said) under a bit of weed-control fabric on my allotment. Taken this morning :)

Monday, 18 July 2011

General catch-up

I've just got back from a quick session on the allotment, and it's doing well. This year I haven't harvested as much as I usually do, but then I haven't put in as much work either! Notable successes so far include beetroot, blackcurrants, various herbs, a giant sunflower which was self-sown and my lovely little potted fig tree. My (once) wild burdock is looking good too - I'm quite excited about trying it. As usual, though, I'm struggling with carrots and rhubarb, and this year my beans have failed miserably too...

I was just thinking about my mulching system of old cardboard boxes covered with grass clippings, wondering whether it's really such a great idea. It provides a lovely damp home for slugs, and doesn't seem to deter the bindweed at all. But as I was tidying up a little frog hopped out, and just a bit further away a lizard scuttled over the warm dry cardboard. Then a cricket landed on my head. There is such a fantastic variety of wildlife on my plot, I really don't want to disturb things if I can help it. Even the slugs are interesting! As long as they're not too close to my salad plants.

I've done very little foraging this year. I always pick wild greens from my allotment, and I've had a few cherries and redcurrants from the hedgerow, but that's about all. Blackberries are just coming into season though, as are cherry plums, so perhaps it's about time I got my act together! I recently acquired an ice-cream maker, so now a whole new world of preserving has opened up to me...


Redcurrants growing in the hedgerow, click for larger image.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Vinegar prints

I'm working on a method of transferring the pigment from leaves and flowers onto paper using vinegar. This process is completely non-toxic and environmentally friendly, which is quite refreshing after so many years in the photographic darkroom. Here are some of my first results...

Poppy and Rose petals

Garlic Mustard

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Allotment update

I spent yesterday afternoon in the sunshine happily tidying up the plot. My weeding strategy is to never pull out anything useful, edible, interesting, harmless or unidentified. In other words, I don't do much weeding! Although I do remove thistles and nettles for my own comfort. I enjoy finding self-sown herbs and unusual flowers, which I leave to grow on where they appear. My allotment has become a random jungle of curiosities rather than a collection of neat little rows of cabbages. I'm gradually learning which plants succeed there naturally, and I'm no longer bothering with those that don't (apart from a few exceptions which I keep in pots, like my Fig tree and my giant Lavender).

This morning I took a rainy trip to the garden centre, where I bought a little Bay tree to add to my potted collection. It's now on the allotment along with my three baby Kumquats which need some fresh air and sunlight after spending the first six months of their lives on my miserable north-facing windowsill. Let's hope they don't die of shock...

The photograph is of wild Ox-eye Daisies and Sorrel growing at the edge of my plot - both are edible as well as beautiful!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Why is there bread in my watering can?

Sometimes when I visit the allotment before work I find random items of food in my watering can. I've found bacon in there and I've found jacket potatoes, but usually it's bread. Who is stopping by my plot for breakfast but leaving their food only half-eaten??

Friday, 15 April 2011

Allotment update

I'm on holiday today but I got up nice and early (thanks to the cat) and headed over to the allotment for a catch-up.

I'm really behind this year - I've hardly sown or planted anything - but thanks to my recent strategy of concentrating on permanent/perennial/self-seeding crops there's still quite a lot going on!

My fruit bushes are beginning to flower; I have blackcurrants, gooseberries and some raspberries which spontaneously appeared in one of my large pots. My plum tree has bloomed and is already bearing lots of tiny green fruits. I bought a little "patio" apple tree a few months ago - lots of leaves on that and it looks quite healthy, but I won't get apples this year. I've also got a small crabapple with red foliage which I grew from a tiny seed, and two more babies from a juicy apple I ate at some point during the winter. One day I will have apples galore but for now I just have a selection of pretty trees.

The little fig tree I bought last year has (mostly) survived. One of the branches seems to be dead, but the rest of the plant looks quite healthy. There is even a tiny round fruit (or flower bud?) on it...

The jerusalem artichokes are already up (a very reliable perennial crop) but my globe artichokes don't seem to have made it. I should have protected them with straw over winter. The rhubarb made a good start but is looking quite slug-eaten and still too feeble to harvest. I really have no luck with rhubarb! My mint bed is looking brilliant already, but the wild water mint seems to be bullying the garden mint a bit! I also have lemon balm in there, which is looking good. Lavender, rosemary and thyme are all doing well in their respective giant pots and tryes. Happy self-seeded things include rocket, cornsalad, parsley and chives. And there are LOTS of wild edibles too including nettles, sorrel, ox-eye daisy, ground elder, hops and this morning I even found what I think is a morel mushroom (I left it alone though).

So far this year I've sown carrots, beetroot, runner beans (under cloches), a few herbs and a few weeds. I did actually sow weeds - I have a whole bed devoted to burdock. I'd really like to try it (you can eat the roots) but digging up wild plants is illegal. Let's hope they all survive the slugs!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Happy Spring!

This is a cherry plum in full bloom :)

Sunday, 20 February 2011

It lives!

I visited my allotment (in the rain) yesterday, and was pleased to find that my rhubarb has survived the winter. Normally the frozen waterlogged ground gets the better of it. I might actually be able to eat some this year! The best lunch I ever had was stewed rhubarb with a poached duck egg. Yum......

February half term is traditionally when I start to actually put some effort in after winter. The nights should now be light enough for quick visits after work. Everything is starting to grow again and it makes me happy!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Lumen prints

I've been experimenting with lumen prints. They are made on photographic paper without the use of a darkroom or any chemicals...

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Christmas part two and new year part one

I am rubbish at keeping my blog up to date. Oops! Must try harder.

For Christmas-plus-birthday I got a brilliant present from my Dad: a food dehydrator. It's yet another kitchen gadget, of course... but to be fair I do use *most* of my kitchen gadgets... really I do!

Anyway, it's quite exciting! So far I've only used it for simple things, like dehydrating fruit to go with my breakfast cereal (apples are the best). I imagine it'll really come into it's own later in the year when I'm desperately trying to preserve all of summer's bounty. I think it'll be useful for making christmas gifts too. I'd really like to try candied fruits and flowers, and also fruit leathers (which get mentioned so frequently by foragers). When I make something exciting, I'll post pictures!

Since Christmas I've had very little time for allotmenteering, because mornings and evenings are so dark and I'm usually busy at weekends. I think I'm obsessed with sunset times though - I've been watching it get lighter and lighter every evening since mid-December, and now I'm just about leaving work in daylight again. This makes me happy! Soon I'll be able to visit the plot on my way home, and then the crazy gardening year will begin once more. Can't wait! :)