Thursday, 19 December 2013

Awesome Autumnal Update

Trick or Treat
We might well be heading for a cold/wet/windy/frosty Winter, but no one complained about the sizzling summer that ripened everything, ready for the bumper Autumnal harvest this year.
Crab Apples at Mansbridge Community Orchard

Elderberries were abundant and we picked a sufficient amount to make a gallon of Port from one tree, during a Picknik at Danebury Iron Age Hill Fort.
Red Devils at St Mary's
It’s hard to get across just how many Apple trees there are on public land, loaded with free fruit. We live busy lives like everyone else, yet the children and I collected over 200 Kgs of delicious ripe apples this October and that was before we even ventured into Mansbridge Community Orchard.
Apples by the Bucket-load
Our Apple store is filled to the brim, a stock which should easily last us into next Spring. We created 11 Gallons of Cider, so that  should last longer, even after talking thirsty friends and Christmas into account. It beats me why anyone buys apples from the supermarket.
Autumn Beeches and Holly
A couple of brief but timely visits to local Walnut trees yielded more than enough to see us well past Christmas. Hazelnuts were also prolific this year, these I mostly gathered by filling my pockets during lunchtime forays around Hedge End; I didn't need to look anywhere else but I'm sure there were plenty everywhere.
A Great Year for Shuffling Through Dry Leaves
Some of our favourite pear trees have been shamefully destroyed but fortunately friendly neighbours came to the rescue and we poached some and added a load more to the cider; judging by the taste, this was a good idea.
Plenty of Nuts for Xmas
We seemed to be too busy pressing apples to collect many chestnuts this year. I visited Telegraph Hill, but spent most of my time simply soaking up the special atmosphere.
Squash Army!
My son scrambled up the Medlar tree in the University grounds and in about 10 minutes we had picked enough to make a new batch of wineI also picked enough Sloes, during my lunchtime wanderings around Hedge End, to make Sloe Gin and Sloe Wine.
Crackling Lightning
We are still eating our way through the army of squash that we grew at our allotment; it was a very good year here too and my shelter and fruit cage are still standing after all those exciting storms. 
Selling Mistletoe for the School Xmas Fayre

This Winter, if I find time, I will be building a compost heap, from up-cycled pallet wood on the site (that's how exciting my life is). 
Bye Bye Office, for a While Anyway...
Enjoy your Christmas holiday and let's hope for a brilliant New Year.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Mistletoe & Wreaths

Sorted for Xmas Visitors!
As Christmas rears its frost encrusted and hopefully snow-smothered head, we like to make some seasonal Wreaths to give as gifts and hang on front doors to welcome in any passing carol  singers.
Happy Grinchmas!
They are easy and fun to make. Call me the Grinch if you will, but I prefer to see a holly and ivy wreath on a front door, as opposed to an inflatable Santa scrambling up the wall or animatronic reindeer grazing on the front lawn.
Hazel Hoops Bound with Vine
First we get Hazel sticks. We then carefully bend and twist them around into hoops. We then weave some vines round the hoops and these circlets actually look really nice on their own. The vine also binds the hoops together well and stops them from unwinding.
A Bag Full of Ivy
The next stage is to weave Holly and Ivy into the hoops. Ivy strands that hang down from trees tend to be more flexible that the stuff picked off fences. Don’t wind it too tight or it will snap. You can actually use any evergreen that you find, just poke it into the hazel and twist it into the circle. 
Autumnal Beauty and Holly with Berries

Some people do not like the smell of evergreen leaves, if this is the case, you can add some rosemary or other herbs into your design, either that or just hang it outside. If the leaves will not stay in place, bind it in with wool, you will not notice this much later on. 
Holly with Berries
If you have some Mistletoe, this always adds a nice touch and looks great hanging from the top or just woven in with everything else. You might want to hang your Mistletoe somewhere else, just use your imagination. Mistletoe is parasitic and it is found growing on deciduous trees but you will want to pick it before the Mistle Thrushes eat all the berries. It can be tricky to harvest safely, so do take care.
Getting There...
We always make lots of little bunches of Mistletoe, and tie them up with red ribbon. I have been trying to encourage the children's entrepreneurial spirit, by allowing them to sell some of these bunches. they can then use their earnings to purchase Christmas presents. The rest will be given to the school Xmas fayre.

Mistletoe Growing in a Tree
We normally top the wreaths off with a nice red ribbon and this can also be used as something to hang it from, alternatively a wire or string hoop will suffice. If you want to go for the full Magic & Sparkle, you can always add a little glitter or a light spray of silver / gold paint. 
Bags More Under the Table for the Winter Fayre!
My favourite part of the process, is going out to collect all of the ingredients. Building the wreaths in the shed can be cold, prickly and frustrating work, so it might be best to employ child labour!