free food

Oct 292012
 
fungi

Wild mushroom, what and how to collect?

woodland fungi

woodland fungi

It’s a very good year for fungi, and we have quite a range of mushrooms in our wood that I like to look at but am too cautious to try to eat.  But for those of you who are more adventurous than I am here is some useful information:

What fungi to collect

  • Wildlife, especially insects, need mushrooms too, so only pick what you will use.
  • Some mushrooms are poisonous and others rare and should not be collected – only collect what you know and take a field guide with you to identify mushrooms where you find them.
  • Some species are vulnerable, so please consider whether there is an alternative species that is more common that might suit your purpose.

How to collect mushrooms

  • Allow mushrooms to release spores, do not pick mushrooms until the cap has opened out and leave those that are past their best.
  • The main part of the mushroom is below the surface; take care not to damage or trample it and not to disturb its surroundings.
  • Scatter trimmings discreetly in the same area as the mushroom came from.

Check out these links if you want to know more

      

Sep 212012
 
green hazel nut

The hazel – a good smallholder tree that also produces the hazelnut

Hazel trees are part of the genus Corylus which includes nearly 20 different specimens, and most types also yield delicious nuts that can be eaten raw or cooked (more of that later).  The tree’s smooth, reddish-brown wood is also prized for its durability and elasticity.

Hazelnut Tree

Hazel is fast growing and easy to shape and therefore has a long history of use in hedging. The leaves stay with the tree much longer than most other trees, sometimes well into December.  The tree/shrub also provides habitat to numerous animals and birds, as well as serving as a source of food for animals, butterflies and insects.

 Why are hazels a good smallholder tree?

It is a good smallholder tree because it offers so many uses, as well as fitting comfortably on a smallholding. Those not familiar with forest gardening or agroforestry might not know that hazels like willows can also be used as animal fodder.
“In pastures, cows nibble on the leaves which increases the butterfat content in the milk. Sheep will readily eat the leaves, and pigs get excited if given hazel branches because they search for the crunchy nuts to eat.”
Growing hazels is also an opportunity to grow and harvest nuts at home without having to plant trees that will grow huge, and take years before they produce. Hazels grow in fertile, well drained soil. Once established, they can produce heavily and consistently.

Things to make with hazel

  • hurdles – read more here on how to make them.
  • bean poles
  • pea sticks
  • hedge stakes
  • walking sticks
  • fishing rods
  • baskets
  • tool handles
  • shepherds’ crooks
  • charcoal

 Growing or propogating hazels

Hazels can be acquired in three ways:

  • You can start new plants from hazel nuts. They tend to take some time to germinate (use a file to rub a small notch through the shell of the nut before planting), and do best when planted in pots. When germinated, let them grow to at least 6 – 12 inches before you transplant them in their final position.
  •  An easier way to propagate is by digging runners from established bushes.  Hazels spread by underground runners that develop roots. These runners can be cut away from the main plant, ( in autumn time after leaves have dropped and and the bushes have gone dormant).
  •  If all else fails there are garden centres or nurseries that sell both native, and hybrid cross hazelnut plants.

Where to plant a hazel tree?

  • Hazels need full sunlight in order to thrive.
  • Hazel trees prefer soil that is slightly acidic.

Hazel pests and diseases

Occasionally, pests, such as leaf hoppers and caterpillars will attack the hazel tree and damage its leaves and twigs.  One other insect that you may not welcome is the Hazelnut Weevil (pictured below) read here for more information.

hazelnut eating insect

Hazel trees are durable and typically don’t fall victim to epidemics.  However, there are a few diseases that the tree is particularly susceptible to, including:

  • Crown Gall – causes the formation of round wart-like galls to form on the tree’s lower branches.
  • Twig Blight – attacks the tree’s twigs; though, if left untreated, the blight will cause damage to the Hazel’s leaves and lead to premature leaf drop.
  • Powdery Mildew – appears as a white coating on the top of the leaves. In severe cases the leaves will turn yellow and drop before autumn.

What is a hazelnut?

Hazelnuts are produced by hazel trees and generally ripen in late August. The shell of a ripened hazelnut is brown, glossy, and roughly ovoid. Once shelled, the hazelnut has a bitter dark brown skin, which should be removed before cooking the nuts. The flesh of hazelnuts is white, and slightly sweet when the bitter skin is not present. The nuts can be used as a topping for soups and salads. Many cooks toast hazelnuts before using them to enhance their mild flavour. They are a good source of Vitamin E and B. Oils from the nuts are extracted and used in a number of beauty products.

How are hazelnuts created?

The catkins actually bloom in the winter, which makes the hazelnut unusual for a fruit tree. The wind carries the pollen to the female red blossoms, and then, it goes dormant until spring, when fertilization actually occurs. Shortly afterward, the nut starts to develop.

Why eat hazelnuts?

Hazelnuts are eaten raw, roasted or ground into flour. They are not only tasty, but they offer many health benefits as well, making them a delicious and nutritious snack.
 
Here are four reasons to increase your intake of these super-healthy nuts.
1. They Contain Good fats – high in omega-9 fatty acids. These healthy oils play an important role in balancing cholesterol in the body, as well as helping to lower blood pressure and offer protection against coronary heart disease and diabetes.
2. They are rich in vitamins and minerals – an excellent source of the antioxidant Vitamin E.  Hazelnuts have the highest concentration of folate among all the tree nuts and also contain calcium, magnesium and potassium.
 3. They are rich in Phytochemicals – including proanthocyanidins, quercetin, and kaempherol.
 4. They are high in protein and fibre – a good alternate protein source for those who don’t eat meat.
 

Nut allergy info

More of the light oils are present when the nuts are green or raw (unroasted) and are much more dangerous for anyone with a nut allergy.

 Hazelnut FAQs

  • Will hazelnuts keep if I pick them when them when they are still green? You can harvest and store green hazel nuts as long as you allow them to dry properly (airing cupboard, window sill etc) and will keep till Christmas. Alternatively roast them, allow to cool and store roasted nuts in zipper bags. Use within a month or freeze them.
  •  Can I forage for hazelnuts in the wild?  Yes fresh green hazelnuts are prolific in most ancient hedgerows, and are ready to eat straight from the tree, (squirrels permitting).  In this green state they are quite different from the hard, brown-shelled, Christmas nut they will eventually become.  Their flesh has the crisp crunch of overgrown peas, and a sweet vegetable taste.  However they are probably smaller than the commercially grown ones.  Most wild hazels are best eaten green as they tend to be on the smaller size, and thus shrink to next to nothing if you let them ripen.
  •  What is a Cobnut?  A cobnut is the most widely cultivated form of  hazelnut (the word filbert is also sometimes used).   Cobnuts were traditionally grown in Kent and can still be found there, as well as in Sussex, Devon and Worcestershire. Grown commercially they are bigger than wild hazels and, provided they are fresh (the leafy frill on the nut casing should not be too brown and dried out), they are very worthwhile. You may be able to buy fresh hazels from the local farm shop or grocer.
  • How do I dry green hazelnuts?  Collect the nuts and keep the good ones (those not damaged or with scabs on) leave them in a dark but ventilated place they will rippen nicely.  Only use larger ones if you are aiming to keep them until Christmas.  Here’s a link to info on how to store the unripe ones which you often have to pick early to beat the squirrels/mice/birds to.
  • Where do dried hazelnuts come from? Despite the fact that hazelnuts are grow in many different regions worldwide, the vast majority of the dried ones sold in this country come from Turkey.
  •  How to remove the skins from hazelnuts? Try roasting them in the oven at 275 degrees for 15 minutes. Then put them in a towel and rub them until the brown skin falls off. Or place the nut on a hard flat surface and place a heavy board on top,  roll the board over them and most of the husks will split. Then pull off the husk where it splits.
  • When will hazels fruit? Hazels will begin to produce nuts three to four after planting, but it may take 2-3 more years before they really take off and produce heavily.  A healthy tree can remain fruitful until well into its fortieth year of life.
  • Do I need a male and female hazel tree? Hazels have both male and female blooms on the same plant which form during the prior year and remain dormant through most of the winter. They bloom very early in the year (spring). Male (pollen producing) blooms are called catkins. Female (fruiting) blooms produce the nuts and are very small and easily overlooked. They look similar to leaf buds on branches, but they are rounder shaped with very small red threads coming out of them.

 Hazelnut recipes

Home-Made Nutella
Roast your hazelnuts.   Using a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until fine and powdery. If your food processor is strong enough, the hazelnuts will eventually turn creamy and smooth. Then add the spread sauce made from 150g Icing sugar & 50g green & blacks cocoa powder. Video link to making nutella. Recipe link for vegans.
Pesto
Whizz up some hazel nuts and garlic in a blender with some olive oil , lightly simmer for a few minutes to take the edge off the nuts and garlic, then take off the heat and add chopped basil and serve on top of pasta.

Pickling 
Select the best hazelnuts, (plump without any sign of shriveling).  If the shells of the hazelnuts are still on, look for smooth, glossy shells with no signs of cracks or holes, and shake them. The nuts should not rattle in the shell, as this indicates that they have lost moisture.  Lay the nuts out on newspaper to dry for a few days before roasting them. Add your pickling ingredients and store in an airtight container.
 
Link to recipes
 

 Hazel Folklore

Celts and Druids believed that hazelnuts were a source of wisdom and the tree itself was sacred.  In Greek mythology hazel branches were woven into headpieces and worn to protect warriors from evil.  Irish folklore states that drinking hazelnut beverages helped develop prophetic powers.
 
In Roman Britain, Hazel trees were once cultivated and became so abundant that Scotland was named Caledonia (a term derived from Cal-Dun, meaning “Hill of Hazel”) after them.
 
The nuts of the Hazel were commonly used to bring luck by stringing them together and hanging them in the house.  Such a string of nuts were often given to a new bridesmaid as a gift to wish her wisdom, wealth and good health.  When eaten the hazelnuts are said to increase fertility, and of old were eaten before divination to increase inspiration.
 
Down through the ages the Hazel has always been considered magical, and was used primarily for its powers of divination.  Hazel divining rods or dowsing rod are used to detect water and mineral veins.  Typically a divining rod has two forks off its main stem shaped like the letter “Y”.  The two forks of the rod are gripped with the fore fingers along the forks, so that the tail end of the rod points down toward the ground to begin searching.  Another method was to peel the bark of the rod and simply lay it on the palm of the hand.

websites used in the making of this article:

Nov 022011
 
fungi

The relationship between trees and fungi

Its been a good year for mushrooms or fungi, on our smallholding.

 

woodland mushroom at fife smallholder

 

What is fungi?

Fungi, together with the bacteria, are the ‘decomposers’ of our environment and they are just as important as the ‘producers’ the green plants. Fungi lack the green pigment chlorophyll, the pigment that is essential in converting sunlight into plant energy, because they don’t have this pigment, fungi have to get their energy from other sources, from organic material produced by other plants.

Fungi are not plants but belong in a kingdom of their own. Their cell walls are made of chitin (a white horny substance more easily recognised as the substance that forms the outer skeletons of crabs!) and instead of using photosynthesis to obtain energy they digest organic matter.

Where will I find fungi?

Many fungi grow only in very specific places, or are associated with particular kinds of trees. i.e. ‘Birch’ polypore or Razorstrop, a bracket fungus.  Fruiting bodies may also be produced in a particular season. Although Autumn (August to November)  is the most fruitful season. In spring for example, there are Saint George’s mushroom so named because the fruiting bodies first appear around the 23rd April, which is St. George’s Day. In Summer  –  giant Puffballs and the edible bracket ‘Chicken of the woods’.

woodland fungi

woodland fungi

The fungi in the picture above is likely to be Honey Fungus.  This is a destructive parasite which can be found on tree stumps, roots and buried branches.  It is recognisable  from the black rhizomes encircling its host which resemble a network of leather bootlaces.  Do not eat raw.  Collect the caps when young, when the gills are white.  Blanch before cooking and then fry slowly.  Honey Fungus has  a strong flavour and firm texture.        

Types of fungi

Fungi can be divided into three groups:

  •  Saprophytes 

are probably the most numerous, performing a vital role in breaking down dead organic matter. Feeding on dead tree trunks, decomposed plant remains in the soil, dead insects, man-made foodstuffs and clothes. e.g. Stinkhorns.

  • Parasites 

Parasitism is the dark side of fungal ecology, these fungi obtain all their nutrients from a living host. In many cases resulting in the death of the poor host. A plant parasite commonly seen locally is the Honey Fungus Armillaria mellea.

  • Symbionts 

These fungi live in close association with the roots of other living plants to their mutual benefit, this symbiotic relationship is known as mycorrhizae (fungus roots).  The fungus benefits by receiving sugars from a plant and the plant obtains phosphates and other nutrients from the fungus.

In particular, this is the type of mushroom I am interested in – the mycorrhizal. They have a symbiotic relationship (friendly exchange) with trees or other plants.  Mushroom mycelium receives carbohydrates and other nutrition from trees while delivering minerals and water. The tree often receives a significant amount of it’s water intake by delivery from the extended mycelial network. Both organisms benefit. More than 90% of all plants form beneficial associations with fungus.

Trees in our woodland

Oak  supports many species including maitake,  chanterelles,  chicken of the woods, honey mushrooms, oysters and many others. 

White, yellow, and other birches can harbor polypores on the wood and chanterelles,  and others on the ground. Mature, scarred, or dying trees usually produce more. 

Beech are where you find chanterelles,  and occasionally oysters.

 

mushroom found on smallholding

nibbled mushroom

What fungi is in our wood just now?

Bearded Milk Cap: Lactarius pubescens 

All the Lactarius species produce a milky fluid if the gills or the cap is damaged, giving rise to the common name “milk caps”. Cap 3-10cm across, convex with a depressed disc and in rolled margin, becoming flat then shallowly funnel-shaped with an arched margin; pale tan or cinnamon pink, slightly darker at the disc. Found on soil amongst birch, Broadleaved and mixed woodland, parks. Common. Late August to October to autumn.

Jew’s  Ear –  Auricularia auricula- judae

 
Common, found in the UK  all year round. Soft, floppy, reddish brown ear on branches. Jew’s Ear fungus likes to grow on common elder and false acacia.  It is edible and considered a delicacy in the far east. n.b.  ‘Jews ear’ refer to the legend that Judas hung himself on an Elder  the ‘ear’ being his returned spirit.

 Oyster Mushrooms – Pleurotus ostreatus

In the woods near me there is a semi-rotten beech tree that hosts oyster mushroom mycellium. Every year, after a very cold snap (usually in January) the mycellium runs and its fruiting bodies appear. Behold! Sumptuous oyster mushrooms.

Check out this website for lots more info

http://www.rspbliverpool.org.uk/Fungi.htm 

Check out other posts from Fife Smallholder on this topic including the Scottish Wild Mushroom Code.

Sep 102011
 

Our smallholder garden has plants that the birds enjoy the seeds from in the autumn.

There is a delicate balance going on – the sparrows are quite heavy and bob about in the wind whilst eating the seeds.  This is a resident flock of sparrows that live on our smallholding.  But we also get migrant and seasonal birds that visit, to eat from the range of berries, nuts, and seeds that are available naturally.

 

Wild birds in smallholder garden.

Feeding wild birds in winter

In winter, small birds should be fat to avoid starvation and lean and agile to escape predators. This means that they face a trade-off between the costs and benefits of carrying fat reserves. Every day they must gain enough fat to survive the coming night. Severe winter weather can therefore be a major hazard for survival. A bird will lose a substantial proportion of its body weight during one cold winters night, and unless it is able to replenish its reserves, a prolonged cold spell could be catastrophic for large numbers of birds. Some species such as tits and crows cache or store food for times of less natural food abundance.
 

Supplementary Feeding

If offering supplementary foods provide a wide variety of foods at different levels – on the ground, in feeders and on a bird table. Scraps of bread (provided it isn’t stale), cooked rice and lentils, dried fruit such as raisins and sultanas, apples, oranges and grapes, coconut halves, mashed potatoes, peanuts, vegetable suet, millet and black sunflower seeds are all suitable foods to offer to birds. It is also possible to purchase ready-made up high-energy bird food mixes.
 
Providing birds with supplementary food will bring them closer for you to enjoy their fascinating behaviour and wonderful colours. However, supplementary feeding can’t provide all the natural proteins and vitamins that adult and young birds need, so it’s important to create and manage your garden to provide a source of natural foods as well, through well-managed lawns,  shrub and flowerbeds.
 

All year round food for wild birds

If you provide both natural and supplementary food, your garden will be visited year-round by a host of different birds.
 

Ways of Attracting Birds into the Garden

There are many simple things that we can do to entice birds into the garden and encourage them to live and breed there. Basically, birds need water for bathing and drinking, a constant supply of food, shelter from the elements and nest sites. Water can be supplied by making a small pond with marshy edges or if that isn’t possible by obtaining a birdbath or drinking dish and regularly changing the water. Nest boxes can be installed for breeding purposes and climbing plants (e.g. ivy, honeysuckle and clematis) and shrubs, especially prickly shrubs, will provide additional natural nest sites as well as berries for the birds to eat. A well-stocked bird table will provide food, but of course providing natural sources of food is even better. With careful planning, it should be possible to provide a natural supply of food for birds for most of the year. Plants and shrubs, which provide fruit, berries and seeds are especially useful to birds and don’t be in too much of a hurry to pull up your weeds as many of these will also provide food for birds.
 
 

How to identify some common garden birds from their song

Planting for Birds

There are many trees, shrubs and plants that are especially attractive to birds, but of course the plants that you choose to grow will depend on the size of your garden/allotment, soil type, aspect and your own personal preferences. However, when selecting which plants to grow for birds do try and choose plants that don’t all produce food at the same time!
 

Trees

If you have a large garden or smallholding you may wish to include some trees. Trees provide shelter, nest sites and perches for birds, but there are many trees that will also provide them with food. Oak supplies acorns and woodpigeons, and woodpeckers will eat these. Rowan’s berries are popular with thrushes, fieldfares, redwings, bramblings, blackbirds and waxwings and the fruits of bird cherry (Prunus padus) and wild cherry (Prunus avium) are much loved by birds. Alder provides food for siskins,  goldfinches and tits, both the cones and the catkins being eaten. Bullfinches eat the seeds of ash and beech mast is popular with bramblings,  great tits, woodpeckers and chaffinches. Goldfinches and bramblings like the seeds of silver birch and various insectivorous birds also feed on the many insects that live on this tree. Conifers such as scots pine, larch, spruce, and yew also supply food for birds and have the advantage that they do not lose their leaves in winter, thus providing all-year cover. Scots pine seeds are eaten by finches, woodpeckers and the Scottish crossbill. Various types of thrushes eat yew’s berries and the seeds of larch and spruce are popular with finches, spruce seeds also being eaten by woodpeckers and European crossbills. Fruit trees such as apple, crab apple and plum are especially popular with birds. So why not plant some fruit trees or fruit bushes just for wildlife?
 

Hedging Plants

Hedges act as windbreaks and like trees provide shelter, somewhere to roost and nest sites for birds. Of particular value in a hedge are shrubs bearing berries such as elder, spindle (Euonymus europaeus), bramble, blackthorn, hawthorn, holly and wild privet (Ligustrum vulgare), which supply food for birds as well as shelter. In addition quite a few of these shrubs are spiny and offer good protection from cats and other predators. Hawthorn is popular with many nesting birds for this reason who often nest in tangles of bramble.
winter seeds for wild birds
 
Waxwings and redwings will eat hawthorn’s berries, whereas those of blackthorn are popular with thrushes. Holly and elder berries are loved by many types of birds, but are especially popular with blackcaps and thrushes. Hazel can also be used to make a hedge and its nuts are a valuable source of food for many mammals as well as for birds such as woodpeckers, jays, pigeons. Why not plant some honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)? It will soon clamber over the hedge and thrushes, warblers and blackcaps will eat its berries. Dog rose (Rosa canina) and guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) produce hips and also do well in a hedge.
 

Useful Shrubs

The following shrubs should attract birds into your garden/allotment:
 
  •  Berberis (Berberis stenophylla) – Berries are mainly eaten by thrushes and blackcaps.
  •  Cotoneaster (especially C. horizontalis, x watereri and C. frigida) – Waxwings, fieldfares, redwings and blackcaps will eat cotoneaster berries.
  •  Pyracantha – (P. coccinea, Pyracantha ‘Mojave’, Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’). Berries mainly eaten by blackcaps, waxwings and certain thrushes. Can be used to make a hedge.
  •  Viburnum – Waxwings like these berries. Can also be used to make a hedge.
  •  Ivy – Best grown up a fence, wall or tree. Woodpigeons, thrushes, warblers, blackcaps and robins eat ivy berries, which ripen in the winter.
  •  Mistletoe – Is an important garden plant, supplying berries at a time of year when food is normally in short supply.
  •  Buddleia – This shrub is tremendously popular as a nectar source for butterflies, but it will also provide seeds for bullfinches and other seed-eating birds.

Garden Plants

Many garden plants will supply seeds for seed-eating garden birds such as finches and linnets. These include evening primrose, michaelmas daisy, foxglove, aubretia, forget-me-not, sunflower, cosmos, snapdragon, wallflower, sweet william, lavender, sweet rocket, honesty, goldenrod, bird’s-foot-trefoil and globe thistle. And when I left some purple sprouting broccoli to go to seed I found that the seeds attracted quite a few greenfinches.
 

Weeds

As previously mentioned many plants that are generally classified as weeds are of tremendous food value for birds. Burdock, chickweed, cow parsley, clover, dandelion, groundsel, black medick, greater stitchwort, hogweed, fat hen, knapweed, shepherd’s purse, plantains (e.g. ribwort and hoary plantain), stinging nettles, teasel and many types of thistles such as spear thistle and woolly thistle will all provide seeds for birds to eat. Thistle seeds are especially popular with goldfinches, linnets, siskins and serin whereas goldfinches will eat the seeds of dandelions, groundsel, knapweed and fuller’s teasel. Dock, stinging nettle and meadow cranesbill seeds are popular with bullfinches.
 

Bird Identifier

The RSPB has an improved, interactive bird identifier to work out what bird you saw. Tell them a few details about the bird and they will suggest what it could have been. 
 
 
 


Sep 082011
 
green hazel nut

I love this time of year on the smallholding.

When there are lots of free wild food to eat, pickle, and add to desserts.

wild autumn raspberries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out my blog called ‘Too Much Of a Good Thing’  for tips and recipes on using up some of natures harvest.

Aug 232011
 

A smallholder always loves free food.  

However, someone is enjoying eating the fungi in our wood and it’s not me. Perhaps it’s the hedgehog ………

nibbled mushroom

A wide range of animals are known to eat wild mushrooms – including badgers, deer, mice, pigs, rabbits and squirrels. Wild mushrooms are also eaten by slugs, snails and many insects.

“It is dangerous to assume that it is safe for humans to eat the same species that animals consume without any ill effects – deer and rabbits can eat poisonous fungi with impunity.”

Check out my other blogs about mushrooms:

 

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