First attempt at homemade dandelion coffee

Following my post ‘Herbs for Health’, I duly got my garden fork out yesterday and dug up a number of dandelion roots and, after giving them a good scrub, put them in the dehydrator. It’s a shame I had dug out some of the biggest roots in the summer, as they had now produced lots of little ones where the root had not been completely removed.

The internet threw up a number of recipes, which were all basically the same and none of which I followed. For a start, once the roots were dehydrated, I got the pestle and mortar out

before roasting them.

I didn’t think I could roast them, anyway, since my oven doesn’t work. Then I hit on the idea of using the breadmaker

and was pleased with the outcome. In fact, a whole new world of possibilities has opened up but I will explore these another time.

One of the recipes I’d read on line suggested six tablespoons of dandelion coffee for a cafetière (presumably a big one), which stuck me as excessive. In any case, there wasn’t enough ground and roasted dandelion root, so I decided one spoonful would have to do.

Also, I felt that a good place to start would be to heat the coffee up in milk in the manner I had seen tea being prepared in Pakistan.

Upon taking the first sip, I felt that something was missing and toyed with the idea of adding some sugar or honey. I didn’t want to go down the route of adding unnecessary refined carbohydrate to my diet, though, so opted for ground cinnamon instead.

And most delicious it was. So, where am I going to find more dandelions?

Posted in edible weeds, In the kitchen | Tagged , | 20 Comments

Picking up the pieces

Two tomato plants, in the small bed by the back door, decided to make their move sometime during the autumn. They’d been spindly little things all summer, then suddenly they were bushes, flowered and started to grow fruit in late October. Sadly, the plants also started to die in November.

Just as well, as I wanted to use this bed for the remainder of the garlic cloves left from planting on the other side of the patio in the lasagne bed. I still have not, however, got round to doing more than cut the tomato plants down, which turns out to have been fortuitous laziness.

Whilst I was at the local organic farm, collecting the latest provisions, the farmer was around, so we got talking. This included the topic of horse manure, which she urged me not to use because of the vermicide given to to deworm horses.

Years ago, I had decided not to use horse manure but relented when I saw the stables en route to the raw milk farm we go to once a fortnight. Throwing caution to the wind, there are now approx forty 50l bags of manure from these stables strewn around the garden and stuffed in the three compost bins. There is also a dearth of worms in the bins, which I had already been puzzled by.

Now, without doing a controlled experiment, it is hard to know if the manure is the cause of this phenomenon. Besides, it is a bit late to remove most of it, so all I can do, moving forward, is take up the farmer’s offer of cow, sheep and pig manure, free if I am prepared to bag it myself.

In the meantime, the garlic in the lasagne bed continues to shoot (eleven I counted today) and it will be interesting to see the results next summer. Whether or not there will be any worms to incorporate the manure into the soil remains to be seen as well.

Posted in Gardening, soil management, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

The boom of traffic!

Now, if you’re like me, you enjoy a walk in the countryside for its tranquility. It’s certainly better if it’s possible to conduct a conversation without shouting. However, I’ve been on two walks this week where the traffic gave a different edge to the experience.

The first was on Monday in the vicinity of Methley, a village on the southeastern periphery of Leeds. A friend who lives there was taking me on the second of two walks that she had discovered during the first lockdown.

This second walk took us in close proximity to the M62. Just as well there were arable fields rather than houses along the route!

Tunnel under the M62. On the other side is Wakefield territory.

We walked as far as the boundary between Leeds and Wakefield along part of the Trans-Pennine Way. Fortunately, apart from the noise from the motorway there were also plenty of trees and an interesting archway just before the tunnel under the road.

The archway was built to commemorate the millenium. Someone with spray paint has added their personal touch.

Co-incidentally, I found myself on the Trans-Pennines Way again yesterday. There is an RSPB site, well several actually, near Elsecar Heritage Centre and this/these had been on my list to visit since first going to the Centre back in March.

Apart from seeing a sign about Old Moor

I didn’t get the impression that this was a site specifically designed for the protection of birds, although they no doubt take advantage of its trees and their berries, a few of which were still to be seen. The boom from cars without mufflers on their exhausts must be less appealing.

Anyway, there was also an interesting mural on a bridge over what appeared to be a canal. My daughter wondered if it were clever graffiti but I think it may have been a piece of art work commissioned by the RSPB.

For me, the best scene from both of these walks was in the village of Methley, as I was about to get in my car to go home. Sometimes, it’s good to be in a tranquil settlement, although one day I will explore another part of Old Moor, perhaps away from any main roads.

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It wasn’t me!

Well, the start of another working week commences but first I took a short trip round the garden and now I have a curious event to report.

The phone camera doesn’t do the best job of close-ups, so what you see above is a clove of garlic which is no longer in the hole where I put it. Was it a rat who pulled it out and then thought better of taking investigations any further?

Anyway, the garlic has now been popped back in its hole. I was pleased to note that it has developed roots and so all being well should continue to grow, alongside the three which have already started to shoot.

Apart from this, all seems well in the garden. At the weekend, I chopped the top off the conifer

as it was going higher than the legal maximum height for an evergreen at the property boundary. I felt a bit sad at first but the bush does look slightly bushier now, so I’m pleased about that.

And the top of the tree has not gone to waste. Some of it is going to feed the rhubarb as well as perhaps give it an acidity boost.

The rest is now adorning my dining table along with wormwood cuttings and dahlias. As I was cutting up the conifer, I realised it had a pleasant smell, which I wanted to appreciate before these cuttings join their siblings. And of course, they look decorative as well.

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Snowdrops this year?

The work to remove the Red Campion continues. In fact, it’s nearly all gone – until next year, when no doubt the self-seeded offspring will emerge.

However, next year is next year. In the meantime, I have finally planted out the dwarf snowdrops that my dad gave me in February.

Hairy bittercress had in invited itself to the pot containing the snowdrops, so I got a pleasant surprise when clearing this way. Shoots, which I can only supposed are the snowdrops, are starting to show.

Unlike yesterday when the mist gave way to pretty autumnal sunshine, there has been nothing but gloom today. It is therefore heartening to think of flowers instead of leaden skies and encroaching darkness.

What will be the next blooms in your garden?

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Seize the day!

I’ve woken in the middle of the night! I can’t say it’s because of excitement about Britain having entered another lockdown but this time round I imagine it will feel a lot less peculiar.

No, I think the reason I’ve woken is because my brain has worked out this blog post, based on a day out a couple of weeks ago.

The farm where I purchase my bread flour in the Yorkshire Wolds was opening its doors for Apple Sunday. We could have booked a slot to pick apples in the orchard but, even without the our cookers this year, we really didn’t need anymore, so we contented ourselves with venturing into their orchards for a browse.

Having said we don’t need anymore apples, I was envious about this tree.

Normally, the bakery at the farm would be open for customers to wander in and choose what they wanted on the day. This time, we had had to pre-order, which worked well. I mean, we still enjoyed a picnic lunch – in the car, as it was a bit nippy.

Originally, I’d been planning to drive on to the coast after the farm visit but, on the outbound journey to Driffield, had noticed a sign for a deserted medieval village. My daughter seemed a lot keener on this new option as well, so after a bit of an internet search and some guesswork we finally found ourselves at Wharram Percy.

Unfortunately, my phone battery was having a slight hissy fit and decided it didn’t want to maintain a decent charge. Simultaneously, the car charger decided it didn’t want to work ever again, so I wasn’t able to get a full complement of photographs. As you can see though, it was rather a dark and dreary day and, apart from the church, there was no actual village to see.

Notwithstanding the limitations of light, warmth, failing phone batteries and the demise of the car charger, we had a resoundingly good day out. Apart from the sense of adventure in exploring a place we accidentally discovered en route, I was pleased that we’d got such a worthwhile outing in before the impending Tier 3, nay lockdown, came into force.

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Better beans?

2020 has been a dismal year for beans – at least for me. The molluscs made a meal of the broad beans over winter and it continued from there.

Every time I saw a broad bean shoot, it was too late. As I rushed out to put sheep’s fleece round it, it was already a stump from which there was no return. So, I sowed again in the vain hope that something would come of these later sowings.

Then in the late spring/early summer the slugs and snails seemed impervious to the straw mixed with the horse manure, which I had placed over the bean seeds in an attempt at no-dig. Well, I exaggerate slightly, as I did get some beans but I think the rains also came at the wrong time. As if this wasn’t enough, the snails also climbed the bean poles and munched on the meagre crop as it was forming.

The nasturtiums haven’t been bothered by the slugs and snails and I hope they will give me food for a few weeks yet as well as providing joy with their flowers.

So, perhaps I am being a fool by trying the no-dig trick again this winter. I’ve sown broad beans and dumped a bag of manure on top of them, followed by a net cloche to keep the birds off any shoots which may appear.

However, the garlic in the lasagne bed by the back door has started to sprout, so the manure isn’t proving to be an inhibiting factor – at least in this case. Of course, garlic is less prone to attack than beans but who knows. The latter are old now, so I don’t feel there is much to lose by feeding the soil and possibly getting a crop of some sort.

Posted in Gardening, soil management | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

NFFN Cymru and a Green Recovery: How farming can be the solution

I love the line ‘The wonderful thing about food is that you get to vote three times a day.’ HB

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of our dysfunctional relationship with nature, environment and our food with studies linking the disease to…

NFFN Cymru and a Green Recovery: How farming can be the solution
Posted in Good for the environment, Wildlife | Tagged | 10 Comments

A Halcyon at last!

When I first saw a blue Hosta, I was charmed. The name of this particular variety was ‘Halcyon’ and ever since I have been on the hunt for one.

Last year, I found another blue variety, which seems to keep its blueness even in bright sun. However, I wanted a Hosta for the front garden as well as the back.

Then at Summerfield Nursery last month, lo and behold, there was the Hosta of my dreams. The ‘Halcyon’ didn’t look blue anymore but I understand that it is usual for this hue to diminish over the season, especially if exposed to bright sunshine.

Now, my latest addition doesn’t look blue, or largely even green. I hadn’t realised that Hostas took on autumnal colours but there you have it.

One thing this plant won’t be doing is feeding me. It is too close to the car – having seen oil edging towards the soil, I doubt it would be the healthiest of options. However, it will still bring much joy next year.

Posted in Gardening, perennials | Tagged , | 15 Comments

Herbs for Health

To speak an obvious truth, the pandemic is affecting all our lives and most certainly not always for the best. At the same time, it would be remiss of me to suggest that my life has come to a complete standstill over the last eight months. In fact, because of so many events now being online, I am perhaps busier than ever. Whilst it was frustrating that I wasn’t able to network effectively at the Permaculture Convergence last weekend, I enjoyed many of the talks and learned a number of interesting facts, some of which I am going to impart to you in this post.

I’ve written before about eating wild food and the health benefits of herbs, so I will refrain from regurgitating what you can read elsewhere on this blog. Instead, I will give you an account of information which was new to me until last Saturday evening; and tell you about something I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to tell you for over a year.

Herbs for Health was a talk given by Helen Kearney, Jo Webster and Anne Stobart at the Permaculture Convergence. Helen is a medical herbalist, Jo is training to be one and Anne is another medical herbalist, who is the co-founder of a medicinal forest garden in Devon. As an aside, my mum started to train to become a medicinal herbalist and I am sure she would be as interested as me in taking a visit to the garden but these things will have to wait.

So….

Yarrow

This herb was named after Achilles the Warrior because of his use of its leaves to stop bleeding during warfare. Crushed-up leaves can be applied as a wound dressing or placed in the nose to stop a bleed there.

The flowers are also useful for the skin. After being dried and steeped in oil, the resultant mixture creates a salve which is good for dry skin

The plant is classed as a ‘bitter’, which means that it is good for digestion – it aids the absorbtion of nutrients in the food we eat with it and it may soothe gut issues such as IBS.

Equal parts yarrow, peppermint and elderflower when dried make ‘flu’ tea. In other words, if you are under the weather this drink could perk you up. As Anne pointed out in the talk, it is important to stress that this is not an alternative to government guidance to keeping two metres apart from people outside your household, washing your hands on a regular basis and wearing a face covering. And, as Helen said, if you do not get better or your symptoms deteriorate, contact your GP.

Dandelion

Apart from shop-bought dandelion coffee (made from the roots of the plant), I have not yet experienced the culinary delights of this ubiquitous perennial. Autumn being the best time of year to harvest the roots, though, I think I will be digging up some soon and popping them in the dehydrator.

The leaves and flowers will have to wait till next spring. Dandelion is another bitter and thus aids the absorbtion of nutrients in the meal we are eating. The flowers are rich in lutein, which is good for our eyes and thus our vision.

Incidentally, as you may already know, vegetables in the past used to be bitterer than they are these days. So, we have lost this benefit from commerically grown vegetables, making it more important to eat those foods which still contain the bitter element.

Stinging nettle

Now, while I have written about this wild plant before, I did not know before the talk that it contains antihistamine and is therefore good for hayfever sufferers. Apparently. I suffer from hayfever and eat nettles – but would my hayfever be worse if I didn’t eat them? Certainly, this year I had expected to suffer really badly, being at home surrounded by pollen rather than in the city and several storeys up, where the pollen doesn’t seem to reach. And all things being equal the hayfever this year was tolerable. But then, as the grass was flowering all winter due to the rain, it could well be that my body had developed some resistance. The jury is out.

Vinegar and our micobiome

There are many ways of improving the microbiome in our gut, including eating fermented foods, such as homemade apple cider vinegar. This is because of the microbes it contains. However, vinegar is also a solvent and when herbs are steeped in it, their nutrients become more accessible to the body.

If you click on the title above, it will take you to Jo’s website, where she gives you recipes for making a variety of gut-improving products. In the meantime, here is a photo of the apple cider vinegar I have been making at home over the last year.

Ignoring the collection of artefacts at the back of the photo, the fancy bottle in the foreground contains the vinegar I made some months ago and next to it is some that is on the go now. The solids in the container with the teatowel over the top are the mother of vinegar. I’ve got quite a lot of the mother of vinegar now, so should anyone ever give me a bottle of wine, some of it might go in there to make a different type of vinegar.

Ginkgo

Now, I didn’t know that ginkgo could grow in this country. Or rather I’d assumed that with such an exotic name, it must prefer warmer climes. Then again Devon is warmer than West Yorkshire, so perhaps I should not get too excited about getting one for my own forest garden.

Anyway, I have recently been suffering from tinnitus, brought on I suspect from wearing headphones whilst teaching online (I’ve stopped wearing them since the issue started and the tinnitus is subsiding). And it would appear that the leaves from this tree make a tea which helps those suffering from ringing in the ears.

Warning

Helen, Jo and Anne made it clear that it is important to bear in mind potential interactions with other medicines when using herbs and wild foods.

On that note, I would like to highlight the fact that I am not in any way qualified to say if any of the above are advisable for you personally. Something like homemade vinegar on your fish and chips should be fine (it is delicious) but wild foods can be quite powerful.

Posted in edible flowers, foraging, forest garden, Health, herbs, In the kitchen, Permaculture | Tagged , , | 30 Comments