Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Black-Blue Berry Beautiful

We have been completely busy with Summer holidays, outings, picnics, Blackberries etc. However, we have still found time to gather fruit, which is just as well because it is all coming through in bounteous quantities.
I have been bringing home bags filled with delicious plump yellow Plums. These are heartily consumed by my daughter, wife and I but everything else on this post comes in a darker shade of blueish black.
This weekend we were out in Riverside Park, looking for Elderberries to make my seasonal favourite, Elderberry Port. A vast amount of Blackberries were simultaneously consumed, along the way.
Later on the same day, we took a trip out to the wonderful Meon Valley - where we actually climbed a hill - to gather Juniper Berries for a saison ale to be brewed by the Unity Brewing Co in Southampton.
Then, while we were out, we spotted a vast quantity of Sloes, which will be handy when the Autumn arrives.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Cherry Plums

As I cycled to work the other day, I spotted a load of squashed plums, fallen on the foot path. The tree overhead was hanging down heavily laden with hundreds of delicious looking small (Cherry) Plums.
Closer inspection revealed that there was actually about four different trees, each sporting different colour Plums and each at a different stage of ripeness.
When fully ripe, plums will drop, obligingly, into the waiting palm of your hand at the slightest of tugs. If they are stubborn to remove, they will taste more tart, which is OK for cooking but they will ripen quickly on the branch.
I quickly stuffed a couple of ripe ones in my mouth as I zoomed past, they burst with a delicate juicy flavour; it had rained heavily the night before, so although small - they were fully plumped.
I returned on foot during my lunch hour and scoffed several more of these juicy beauties. I filled a bag to take home to the family and now return each day to grab a few more to see me through the day. The yellow ones have become house favourites and my daughter tells me, proudly, that she ate 23 of them yesterday!
Meanwhile, in other fruit and nut based news...
  • Ripe Blackberries have been spotted in the hedgrows, so it is probably time to get a little gang together and start rummaging around on the commons and parks armed with suitable containers.
  • Hazlenuts will soon be ready for picking too. The squirrels have been nibbling at the green ones already and by the end of the summer holidays they will be dropping of their own accord.

It is going to be a bumper year, no doubt about it. So be prepared, check out the falling fruit map (don't forget to add your own discoveries) get outside and get picking!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Bee Friendly

This month I have mostly been spotting Walnut trees and busy, buzzing Bees! 
Yet Another Walnut Tree
Ordinarily I would be harvesting the vast quantities of wild plums that are currently filling the trees but I have been unusually busy. 
If you have any spare time, I suggest getting down to the cricket ground opposite the Cricketers pub on Chestnut Avenue, Eastleigh, where they are available by the thousands.
Beeware
I have had the pleasure to meet several colonies of very busy bees. In previous years we have found Bumble Bees making a nest in our lawn and they are back again this year, which makes mowing the lawn more complicated.
Very Busy
I have also found Wild Bees nesting in hollow trees, we located a fantastic one on Danebury Iron Age hill fort, where we had visited for a picnic and to collect Elder and Juniper berries.
More recently, my parents told me that they had a colony of Tree Bees in a nesting box that was normally reserved for a Blue Tit family.
This year, to my delight, a swarm of bees began to build a nest in my work car park, on an industrial estate. The honeycombs are attached partly to a shrub and partly to the perimeter fence. The bees are constantly attending to and extending the combs. The bees do not trouble anyone and I was easily able to approach the nest to photograph it.
video

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

More Cherries

We have been picking more Cherries. It seems to be a very good year for them and we are spotting trees filled with fat fruit all over the place.

We have a small tree in our garden and the weight of the cherries plus the obese pigeons attempting to gobble our fruit had even snapped some of the branches.

I duly attached a sheet of wire netting, like a roof over the top of the tree, to protect it from the marauders. The smaller birds could still get underneath but it defeated the largest ones until the Cherries were ready for harvesting.

The tree is not even as tall as I am but the fruit was plentiful, sweet and juicy. 
The next thing to ripen will be the Plums and they are also going to be prolific. If you want to share in this bounty, keep an eye on this blog to join us for a Plum Picknik (tba).

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Cherries

My son and I made a quick reconnaissance mission to check out the state of our favourite Cherry trees, it's always good to be well prepared. Cherries are always the first fruit that we pick each year and it is always a totally tasty treat when something that was sour last week, bursts onto your tongue with flavour filled sweetness.
Most of the trees were looking healthy with fruit near to ripeness, but annoyingly we found that the birds and squirrels (our fruity competitors) were also already checking them out. We planned excitedly to get back the next weekend, in an attempt to beat our avian foe to the fruity booty.
We did find one tree, one of our favourites with exceptionally large Cherries, with mainly ripe fruit so we hastily set about picking as many as we could reach and quickly filled a couple of big containers to bring home. 
The next weekend, we returned to the trees, the birds had been busy but we still picked a couple of good containers full to bring home for the family. We have been greedily stuffing our faces with juicy Cherries ever since. 
 There are still lots out there, for those prepared to look and friends of ours recently located a big tree, full of ripe free fruit, near the airport train station.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Elderflower Everywhere

You know that Summer is coming, when the Elderflowers begin to pop their snowy white heads up through the fresh green hedgerows. They add a delightfully subtle, citrusy aroma to city park and countryside walks.
My kids always get excited, planning for their cordial and can spot a suitable bunch of flower-heads at 100 yards. Although we will be harvesting together, this year, as normal, I will be leaving them to their own devices when it comes to making this.

The kids and I got on our bikes and whizzed up to the common for a reconnoitre, but the flowers were not yet open. We spotted some on the way home and planned to return to the common the next weekend, to get picking!
I will be needing to gather rather more than I normally do. I always make Elderflower Champagne, this however, only requires a few big flower-heads. This time around, I will be helping to make a new seasonal beer as well.
Following on from my successful collaboration with Jimmy Hatherley at Unity Brewing Co. The Spring ale, named Printemps, employed stinging nettles for their unique flavour, but this time around I will be collecting Elderflowers, towards a Summer Saison Beer.
This is Apple blossom.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Butser, Beltain and the Wicker Man

Butser hill is the highest point in Hampshire, it was also an Iron Age hill fort. It is a fantastic spot for a wild walk or picnic. Nearby, on the other side of the A3 main road, lies Butser Ancient Farm, an experimental, archaeologically accurate farmstead.
Butser is an interesting place for school children to visit and experience what it might have been like to live under the conditions of ancient man (without any screens).
Each year around the beginning of May Butser hosts a Beltain festival, to celebrate the lengthening of the days in a suitable May fayre style.
There is lots of daytime entertainment, including flint napping (creating Stone Age tools and weapons), bronze smelting, weapon training, Roman soldiers, wood crafting, story telling, astronomy, live folk music, Maypole dancing, food and drink, drumming, fancy dress and, as the dusk draws in, the burning of an enormous Wicker Man.
We always try to get along and we always have a fantastic time, this year was no exception. Since that day, I have seen swifts, swallows and house martins, so the warmer weather is definitely on the way.