Dakota Murphey, Gardening Year, Grow Your Own, Hedging, How To

Wild food foraging

Who doesn’t have fond memories of collecting blackberries along an overgrown pathway? Even city dwellers will have come across an alleyway with a siding of brambles somewhere. Of course the countryside is the best place for foraging, especially woodland, and getting the family out of the city for a day without spending a fortune is a great idea, if only for a breath of fresh air.

It’s a great way to get the kids away from screens and indulge in some good old-fashioned fun. Much has been written about the health and developmental benefits of engaging children with nature, so a foraging adventure will be doing much more than you think.

Foraging for food can be risky if you don’t know what you are picking. Many plants, flowers and berries are poisonous and mustn’t be consumed. But don’t let that put you off. With a watchful eye and a little education you can safely pick the things that are edible and teach your children a thing or two about nature along the way.

Read through our safety tips, to be clear about what it is you are foraging for and you’ll have a fun and fruitful day. If you don’t feel confident, there’s plenty of information available from organisations such as the Woodland Trust. Or experience day companies, such as Into The Blue offer foraging courses with an expert (a great gift idea for the nature lover in your family).

foraging in the wild

Safety tips

  • Avoid picking plants from busy roadsides, near to landfill sites or close to stagnant water/foul ponds.
  • Don’t pick plants that look as though they have been recently sprayed – check for signs of wilting or residue on leaves.
  • Don’t consume diseased or dying plants, and never eat dead leaves.
  • Only take what you need, and try to pick leaves from several plants rather than all the leaves from one plant, so that the plants can continue to flourish.
  • Wash all your leaves and fruit before eating.
  • NEVER consume anything you aren’t able to 100% identify as safe. If in doubt, leave it alone!
  • There are some plants you should never eat raw, so do your research.
  • Wear gardening gloves to protect from spikes and thorns.
  • It is illegal to disturb or pick plant material that belongs to any protected wild plant.

Test your tolerance

Some people are extremely sensitive to certain foods and for that reason it’s really important to test your tolerance of a new food you haven’t tried before.

Take a small piece of the raw edible part of the plant (make sure it is a plant that is edible raw). Put it in the front of your mouth and bite on it a few times, then spit it out. Wait for 60 minutes. If you experience no bad reaction, proceed to the next step.

Now try a larger piece of the plant (edible part only!). Try boiling the edible part of the plant you are tolerance testing and eating and swallowing a tiny quantity of it (about a quarter of a leaf for example). Wait for 60 minutes and see how you feel. If you don’t experience any negative reaction, proceed to the next step.

Try a tablespoon mixed into a suitable recipe. If you do not experience any negative reaction after 60 minutes, your body should be OK consuming that specific wild edible plant in larger quantities. But don’t overdo it.

foraging tips

Here are some tips on a good old family hedgerow favourite to get you started. Good luck with your foraging!

Blackberries

Plump blackberries are a winner for the kitchen. A foraged crumble is the perfect treat after an afternoon of standing on tippy toes to reach the most luscious and juicy fruits on offer. These divine hedgerow berries are ripe for picking in August and September and are great in lots of favourite family recipes. Try cheesecakes, smoothies, hedgerow jams, or simply mix with roughly chopped almonds and plonk on top of a bowl of porridge. Yum!

High in antioxidants and vitamin C, blackberries have great health benefits too. Be careful of the blackberry bush thorns while you are picking, and beware the juice stains, so don’t wear your best clothes. Inevitably a few nicks and stains will be forgotten about when you get to eat the fruits of your labour. If you are out picking with younger children, be mindful of the height at which they are picking. Better to lift them up, than gather contaminated fruits at doggy-leg height! You get the gist!

Family tip: make some smoothies with blackberries. Your children can set up a stall to sell small cups at the end of your driveway, or instead deliver a surprise smoothie treat to neighbours. Soak your fruits in water for 30 minutes and rinse before eating, or using in recipes.

Dakota Murphey

Dakota Murphey is an independent content writer who regularly contributes to the horticulture industry. She enjoys nothing more than pottering around her gardening in the sunshine. Find out what else Dakota has been up to on Twitter, @Dakota_Murphey.

Dakota Murphey, Gardening Year, How To

self sufficient gardening

Homesteading is a growing trend in the UK, as rising energy prices and a changing climate encourage families to rethink their way of life.

For some, becoming more self-sufficient is about saving money and living within their means. Others relish the opportunity to get back in touch with nature, and transform practical skills and hobbies into a sustainable lifestyle. Self-reliance can also help environmentally-conscious families to reduce their carbon footprint, and provide endless hands-on lessons for children of all ages.

Whatever your reasons for becoming more self-sufficient, and regardless of how much space or experience you have, these six steps will help you on your way.

1. Preparing your Home

Before embarking on your journey to self-sufficiency, make sure that your home is fit for the ride. Getting a professional EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) for your home will give you an indication of how well-insulated it is, and whether there are any immediate steps you can take to improve its condition. Double or triple glazing will prevent substantial heat loss, and upgrading the insulation in your walls, floors and roofs will go a long way to maximising the efficiency of your home.

Use technology to your advantage. Replace traditional bulbs with LEDs throughout your home, and invest in smart plugs and timers so you can easily control your electronics when they’re not in use.

2. Generating Energy

The biggest leap to becoming self-sufficient is managing your own energy supply. The up-front costs of off-grid equipment are usually quite significant, but considering you can recoup your costs within around 8 years, it can be worthwhile if you’re in it for the long run.

Solar panels and wind turbines both offer clean and inexpensive energy, with start-up costs setting you back between £3,000 to £8,000. While both systems will work fine in the UK, you will need to make a much larger investment before you can rely on them as your sole energy generator. Instead, consider them a boost to your mains supply, helping to lower your costs and reduce your strain on the system.

solar panels

Complement your electricity supply with a heating fuel you can control, like wood or oil. Growing trees for biofuel will provide you for a self-sustaining energy source for life, but isn’t practical for every homestead. Oil does leave you dependent on a supplier, but you will have a reliable fuel to fall back on throughout the year, and can easily monitor and control your consumption. The safest way to install an oil tank is to speak to a professional installer, like SG Tanks, who can help you choose the best storage options for your needs.

3. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

It’s a familiar adage, and for good reason. Habitually reducing, reusing and recycling the things you use will reap benefits for your home, wallets and the planet.

When you’re shopping, try to be more conscious of buying products with less packaging, resisting the urge to over-purchase and limiting the amount of disposable goods you choose. Before you throw something in the bin, consider whether it could be donated or sold instead. Or perhaps it could simply be washed and reused for something else? Worn out garments make great cleaning rags, and most non-recyclable food packaging can be used as storage containers. All biodegradable waste should go into a compost bin or heap, ready to use for fertiliser on your plants. The goal is to let as little go to landfill as possible, and make the items you buy (new or second-hand) work harder for your home.

recycle symbol

4. Growing Your Own

The easiest step in the direction of self-sufficiency is to start growing your own produce. You don’t need a lot of space or skill to get started, and the British climate is perfect for cultivating a multitude of fruits and veggies to supplement your shop-bought food.

Tomatoes, peas and strawberries are the perfect place to start, and as your thumbs get greener you can move on to more challenging crops. Brush up on your veggie seasons to make sure your supplies are steady all year round, and calculate how much room each plant will need. Herbs can be kept on a windowsill and strawberries in pots on the balcony, but you’ll need a sizeable patch of gardens to grow potatoes.

When your harvest gets larger than you can eat, start preserving them into jams and chutneys, selling them or trading them with friends and neighbours.

home grown vegetables

5. Talk to the Animals

Just like flora, choosing which fauna to cultivate will depend on your existing skills and how much space you have to rear and graze them. The key to successfully keeping animals is to start small, and build up the variety as your mastery develops.

Chickens are a good place to start, and can provide both eggs and meat with relatively little maintenance. If you don’t have quite enough room for a brood, quails are a smaller alternative. Similarly, a few cows can keep you stocked with milk and cheese, but so will goats if your garden is small.

Whichever animals you choose, make sure they are kept safe from free-roaming predators. Coops, fencing and a guard dog will be a worthwhile investment.

6. Helping Yourself

The last step is perhaps the most important, which is learning the practical skills to keep your home ticking over. Most people can manage a bit of flatpack furniture and turning the oven on, but for a truly self-sufficient lifestyle, you’ll need to learn a lot more.

First and foremost, is understanding how to look after your crops and animals, if you choose to farm any. Next, you should be able to manage your energy supply and make any basic repairs that the system requires – you don’t want to be learning this last minute when your boiler breaks or fireplace clogs up. Other incredibly useful skills include first aid, sewing techniques, and learning to cook nutritious meals using your own harvests. Any practical hobbies you already have can certainly be used to your advantage in sustainable living, and what better way to enjoy them?

There is no quick and easy route to self-sufficiency. It takes a lot of patience, and practice, and you will question your decisions more than once along the way! Just remember your reasons for doing it, and how satisfying it will be when you finally reap the rewards for your efforts.

Dakota Murphey

Dakota Murphey is an independent content writer who regularly contributes to the horticulture industry. She enjoys nothing more than pottering around her gardening in the sunshine. Find out what else Dakota has been up to on Twitter, @Dakota_Murphey.

Flowers, Gardening, Gardening Year, George, Grow Your Own, Herbs, How To, Infographics, Planters, Planting, Plants

You may have noticed over the last few months that we’ve been going potty over pot-growing plants. Through a series of infographics, we’ve compiled the Complete Guide to Container Gardening – simple guides to help you get the most out of planting in pots.

Here are the collected guides for you to enjoy all over again. And when you’re ready to start growing, we have all the planters you could ever need!

How to Plant in Pots

How to plant in pots

We kick off with the basics, for gardening novices or simply those who need a refresher. Planting in pots opens up a whole world of flexible gardening for decorative plants, herbs, houseplants and more.

How to Repot a Plant

Hot to repot a plant

Most potted plants will need repotting at some stage in their life. If they outgrow their current container it’s essential to give them more space. We made this 5 step guide to make the process super straight forward!

How to Water Pot Plants

How to water pot plants

Watering is one of those critical conundrums when it comes to pot plants. With potentially no natural water and limited drainage, it’s easy to over or under-water. Follow these best practices for healthy plants.

How to Choose the Right Planter for Your Garden

How to choose the right planter

Picking the right planter is a deceptively easily task. But there are so many factors aside from taste – material, portability, size and more. We address them all to make your decision simple again.

How to Plant Potatoes in Containers

How to plant potatoes in containers

Container gardening is such an adaptable form of growing and it’s perfect for raising your own crops to eat. Potatoes especially are a natural fit for pots, meaning you can have home-grown spuds without the need for an allotment.

How to Plant Strawberries in Containers

How to plant strawberries

Strawberries are perfect for growing in pots on the patio too. Fresh fruit on the doorstep – what’s not to like? We take you through how to grow the juiciest strawberries at home.

How to Grow Herbs in Pots

How to grow herbs in pots

Take your cooking to the next level with a stock of fresh herbs at your fingertips. We show you how to start growing herbs at home in a kitchen garden or right on the windowsill.

How to Grow Plants Indoors

How to grow plants indoors

Of course, many of us who love container gardening do so because it allows us to fill the house with beautiful blooms. Indoor gardening has its own challenges, so we’ve got the tips for you to master it.

How to Plant a Hanging Basket

How to plant a hanging basket

Finally we round off the series by heading back out into the garden for a classic horticultural endeavour – planting a hanging basket. By now you should be an expert in container growing and well prepared for this last task.

George at PrimroseGeorge works in the Primrose marketing team. As a lover of all things filmic, he also gets involved with our TV ads and web videos.

George’s idea of the perfect time in the garden is a long afternoon sitting in the shade with a good book. A cool breeze, peace and quiet… But of course, he’s usually disturbed by his energetic wire fox terrier, Poppy!

He writes about his misadventures in repotting plants and new discoveries about cat repellers.

See all of George’s posts.

Gardening, Gardening Year, How To, Liam, Plants, Trees

Many of us are unaware of what a good, well-shaped fruit tree is supposed to look like. We all know that it is supposed to bear fruit but sometimes we neglect that the key to this is pruning.

Whether you have just brought your fruit tree or if you have let nature run its course over the last few years it’s a perfect time to start an annual pruning regiment. A well-shaped fruit tree can support the most fruit and is less susceptible to disease and pest infestation.

Fear not! Pruning is not as daunting as it sounds and with this guide you’ll know how to prune a fruit tree in no time. With just a few hours every year you’ll be sure to expect a bumper crop of your very own.

In this guide we’ll be covering the two main types of fruit tree; the pome (apples, pears, seed bearing fruit) and stone (cherries, apricots, plums) fruit varieties. The central premise for all is the same but there are some slight adjustments in method and timing dependant on the variety.

Pruning a Pome – The Winning Formula

To those that know, gardening is incredibly sentimental. But to yield the greatest crop you have to be clinical and professional. Cutting so many young fruitlets, branches and leaves may feel counter-intuitive but in the long-run your tree will thank you for it, trust me. With that being said you do not want to be reckless. Over-pruning equally leads to a decline in the abundance of fruit.

Pruning serves two main functions; training and maintenance. As the tree is growing you can train it through pruning out undesirable branches and guiding the tree to an evenly-spaced, goblet shape. Once this is done you’ll be left with branches capable of supporting fruit. The objective then is to maintain this shape and keep things tidy.

How to Prune a Fruit Tree Diagram
Step by Step to the Desired Shape

For Young Trees (2-4 yrs)

  • When pruning a Pome fruit tree it is best to carry this out during the winter while the tree is dormant.
  • Always remember to cut at a 45° angle and to wash any pruning equipment in a sterilising solution if you are dealing with anything diseased. This will help prevent the spread of contamination.
  • The priority is to get rid of anything dead, dying or diseased. The goal is to manage the plant’s growth so that energy is directed into establishing the roots and healthy branches.
  • You then want to remove any vertical and acute growing branches. These branches won’t be able to support the weight of fruit and usually end up getting damaged.
  • You also want to prune away any branches that cluster or cross over. When these grow larger they’ll damage one another and help the spread of disease and pests. 
  • This may require you to cut as much as a 1/3 of all your branches if the tree is particularly unkempt.
  • We are looking to train the tree as horizontally as possible. So with the branches you have left you should cut back to an outward facing bud. This will stimulate growth from this bud training the branch outwards.

In the early years pruning is a form of training designed to stimulate growth in branches capable of supplying fruit. Even though by this point the side shoots may be very small it is a good idea to cut them off if they’re growing inward to maintain the desired shape early on.

For Older Trees (5+ yrs)

As the tree gets older however, and especially if you’ve been suffering from poor harvests, the aim is to maintain the shape and branches which can support fruit maximising your yields.

  • After removing anything dead, dying or diseased you then want to pick out any unfavourable branches. These again include any vertical, acute or congested branches. This opens the tree up allowing for air and sunlight to reach it.
  • Additionally if there are any branches growing from below the rootstock these are ‘suckers’ and should be pruned out entirely.
How to cut diagram
The Perfect Pruning Cut
  • After this, prune back last year’s growth on each of the main branches roughly by about ⅓. Prune back to just above a bud which looks like it will grow outwards in the desired direction.
  • A cautionary note; an apple tree will respond to very heavy pruning by a vigorous regrowth the following year. So if you have a tree which needs some serious renovation it may be worth spacing the work out over a period of 2-3 years.

After this, when you have a neat and well-trained tree, simple annual maintenance should keep a great shape for growing fruit.

Pruning a Stone Fruit Tree

  • Unlike the Pome a stone fruit tree such as a cherry or apricot will prefer being pruned during spring for younger trees and early to mid-summer for established trees. This is to prevent your tree being contaminated with silver leaf or bacterial canker, both of which serious tree diseases.
  • When it comes to pruning a stone fruit tree the method is the same as for the Pome fruit tree and again you want the same result; a goblet-shaped tree with strong, evenly spaced branches growing out horizontally.

  • Pruning in spring and summer may require you to cut out buds and fruitlets. However traumatising this process may seem it is necessary. The key to good pruning is to be as professional as possible; in the long run you and your tree will reap the benefits.

Despite the fact cutting off developing fruit may see wholeheartedly counter-intuitive it must be done and can actually lead to a better crop. Many trees naturally want to produce as many seeds as possible which can lead the tree to exhaust itself. If this happens your tree could fall into a biennial harvest; only producing fruit every two or more years. See the section on ‘thinning’ in our  apple tree troubleshooter (coming soon) for how to do this. 

Pruning is the key to a healthy tree and fruit which develops and ripens beautifully. Hopefully by now you know how to prune a fruit tree. Over time though you may recognise specific trees respond to different kinds of treatment. This is all part of a personal learning experience with your garden.

Liam at PrimroseLiam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

See all of Liam’s posts.

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