Friday, 21 December 2012


Dear Readers, I know that you are all waiting until the threat of the Mayan Apocalypse has passed before you shower me with Xmas comments, home-made gifts and cards…
Fortunately, one person took the precaution of sending my gifts beforehand, just in case…

Eleanor Woodcock (even named after a bird), aged 11, is a keen watcher of wildlife and birds. She has a wonderful blog (Birding in the Garden) - I suggest you go and look at it.
Eleanor has written bags of brilliant bird poems on her blog; she knew that I was interested in trees and wrote some terrific tree poetry for me.
Eleanor also sent me a lovely jar of her Epic Plum, Blackberry & Spiced Apple Jam, which we will be testing shortly.
In the meantime, enjoy the Winter Solstice, light a Yule fire tonight and keep it burning till Christmas, enjoy Eleanor’s charming poems and drawings and pray that tomorrow does actually arrive, so that you can finally deliver my presents…
If I don’t have time to post again or cannot struggle out from under the mound of cards and gifts, have a lovely, super Cool Yule!
the Urbane Forager

Friday, 14 December 2012

Winter Fayre

Silver Pine Cone Decorations
Last year at the school Winter Fayre, we sold Christmas decorations and little bunches of mistletoe, it proved a very popular idea and amongst the tsunami of children and parents. We completely sold out of mistletoe in a very short time. Obviously, we thought it would be a good idea to do it again this year.
The loss of traditional orchards has led to a shortage of easily harvestable mistletoe and a consequential price hike but with a little improvisation and determination it can still be obtained for free.
A Big Ball of Mistletoe at Dusk
I had spotted some large balls, fairly low down in a tree at a local park and like a good boy scout, I have a pen knife. Among the many blades and tools contained within my Swiss Army special is a small but effective saw…
See Saw
With the enthusiastic help of my son and a couple of his school friends, we selected and coppiced ourselves a suitably lengthy hazel stick (about 3m long). Then using gaffer tape, I attached the tiny saw to the end of our pole and hoisted it up into undergrowth.
Weapon of Choice
It was impossible to get any downward pressure on the small saw, but by shoving it quickly up and down, I eventually managed get a couple of large bunches (as big as my boy) down, before my arms finally gave out. Last year, I used my woodworking pull saw, a far smarter solution that exploits the weight of the pole; this time I didn’t have my weapon of choice with me, but at least the vigorous exercise kept me warm.
Tied into Bunches with Ribbons
Later on, back at the ranch, the branches were broken down into nice sized bunches; they were then tied up with pretty red and silver ribbons to complete the Christmas effect.
Good to Go
Soon the bundles were all boxed up and ready to sell at the Winter Fayre. From there they will be taken into people’s houses and dangled above sweethearts in an attempt to cultivate the love kisses and hugs that we all require, no matter what the season.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Misty Eyed Mistletoe

As December rears its frost encrusted head, we realise that just because we have had a windy spring and wet summer, it doesn’t follow that the winter will be mild. I didn’t feel at all cozy this morning as I cycled to work with sub-zero fingers and frozen tears streaking my cheeks.
I Could Easily Climb That!
On a brighter note, the children are anticipating Christmas; lights and inflatable Santas have started crawling over houses. I like to entertain myself by asking people, Have you got all your presents sorted out yet? I have a friend who always leaves present buying until Xmas eve, he swears that it is the quietest time for shopping and he can be seen stalking the streets of Southampton late into the evening, loaded down with bags, wearing a large red coat.
Big Balls of Mistletoe
As the season of goodwill draws near, Mistletoe starts to appear in greengrocers; normally accompanied by media reports that there is a national shortage of this parasitic passion arouser. Mistletoe can cost a fortune (£3.50) for a tiny sprig but it is also available for free on a deciduous tree near you. I always begin spotting the romantic freeloader around this time, and we are going to gather some again for the children to sell at the school Winter Fayre, it went down a storm last year.
A Mistletoe Seed Growing Legs
Last year I decided to attempt to grow my own but you do need the patience of a saint to achieve this. You initially need to smear a sticky mistletoe berry onto a deciduous tree, the berry contains the seed. After a long wait (provided the seed is not gobbled up by a Mistle Thrush), it sends out a couple of small tentacle like roots, which latch into the tree and tap into its nutrient supply.
Tapping Into a Young Oak
Once the seed becomes established it continues to leach the tree’s sappy goodness and gradually grows into the familiar plant. While on the subject of parasitic, freeloading passion arousers, Justin Bieber’s hair apparently went through several similar developmental stages; a fact that he allegedly attempted to celebrate with his ingeniously titled stocking filler, Mistletoe.
Stand Here With Me For a Moment x

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Delightful (Home-Made) Drinks

The British Government has made a proposal for minimum unit prices on alcohol. This legislation is not about abstinence but is designed to turn the tide on the reckless drinking culture that exists in some groups of people, for health reasons. Although this regulation is not designed to punish responsible drinkers, a new era of prohibition might persuade more people to try home brewing and start making their own country wines.
I have experimented, with making my own wine, beer and cider for many years; like a young boy with a chemistry set, I relish the alchemy of it all. So, I thought it would be useful to create a simple guide here, to show how easy it is to accomplish and also how entertaining it can be.
Cost-wise, there are obvious clear savings to be made; a basic starter kit is inexpensive and much of it can be found for free or will be available from your local recycling centre / Freecycle site. Always make sure all equipment is Food Safe.
Essential Kit List...
You may want to buy an inexpensive hydrometer, although this is not actually necessary, it does give you more control over the flavour and alcoholic content of your hooch.
A full demijohn will produce one gallon of wine, which amounts to about six bottles. However, as with home baking, producing your own drinks is not only about saving money, I simply enjoy the process. You will be unlikely to create something that tastes exactly the same as what is available in the shops but this is part of the fun. As well as being exciting, wine making is also easy, recipes and advice are readily available all over the internet, I tend to rely on the spirit of adventure as much as heavily stained archaic books.
Your friends and family may playfully mock your endeavours - mine do - but you can guess what I’m going to give them for Xmas!
Always Drink Responsibly J
Some strange and interesting drinks we have made are listed below...