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.

Dakota Murphey, Decoration, Garden Design, Make over

ways to use your log cabin

Many people look at log cabins and think that they look fantastic, but can’t see much use for them other than as a summerhouse. And while a summerhouse can be fun, if you don’t think you would get much use out of it then you might come to the conclusion that you have got no use for a log cabin. But the truth is that there is a huge variety of ways to use your log cabin – both for work and play. Here are six of the most popular uses for garden log cabins and some tips for getting the most out of them.

Home office

If you often work from home it’s easy to be plagued by distractions including children and pets. And while it can be very enjoyable to work in your own home, it can sometimes be a real drain on productivity that stops you from getting things done. So having a home office that is located away from the main part of the house can give you that space for quiet so that you can get on with your work effectively and efficiently. It can also be the perfect place to take conference calls and Skype meetings so that you can avoid any interruptions.

Spare room

If you often have people over to stay (or you would like to), it can be a brilliant idea to set up your log cabin as a spare room in the garden. Rather than having to change up your home or build an extension to accommodate a new room, this can be a far easier solution. Log cabins can be made extremely comfortable and cosy – a lovely place for friends and family to stay.

spare room
Companies like Hortons Group offer log cabins in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, so you can choose something that suits your garden and can be turned into an ideal spare room. It could also be used as a temporary solution if you’ve got a teenager who has outgrown their room.

DIY workshop

If you are often carrying out DIY or any kind of hobby that involves a workbench, your log cabin can serve as a workshop. As well as functioning as storage space for tools and equipment, you can buy cabins with large windows that allow in lots of natural light. It can also be kept locked so that children are kept away from dangerous power tools and other equipment that they could hurt themselves on.

Kid’s playroom

Give your children a great place to play with a playroom in the log cabin. It can be a storage place for bike, skateboards and sports equipment, plus they can have the space to have friends over and play games. As they get older and no longer have use for a playroom, the cabin can evolve into a games room (or man cave) with anything from a pool table to gadgets and games consoles. Alternatively you could choose to turn it into any of the other great options on this list.

home gym

Gym

Do you ever get tired of having to make the journey out to your gym any time that you want to work out? It’s a dream for many people to have a home gym but it requires a lot of space that you might not have in the house. A log cabin can be the perfect space for your workout room. The amount you save on gym membership and travel costs can offset the actual price of the cabin and the equipment, and it gives you the chance to simply wake up in the morning and walk to the cabin for your workout.

Beauty salon

Whether you’re developing your skills as a beautician, or you just want a personal and private space to carry out treatments at home, a log cabin works very well as a beauty salon. As well as providing privacy, the cabin can be completely customised to your taste. It could even be the ideal location for you to start up your own beauty business.

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.

Barbecues, Dakota Murphey, How To, Make over

If you’ve renovated your home to maximise its value, don’t neglect your garden. Property experts claim that great outdoor space can add up to 20% to the price of your property. So, let’s take a look at the top 3 ways you can grow the value of your garden.

add value to your garden

1. Add a garden room

The humble garden shed is now more popular than ever. In fact, Cuprinol even run a Shed of the Year competition. However, contemporary sheds bear little resemblance to those of old. Today, the common garden shed has morphed into a much grander and useful garden room.

These extra rooms can be used for a multitude of purposes, such as:

  • Additional living space
  • Home office
  • Gym
  • Teenage den
  • Relaxation room
  • Studio or workshop

garden room

Making the most of any underused space makes sense, particularly if you are squeezed for room in the main house.

What’s more, there is a new breed of garden room, with something to suit all tastes. If the traditional design of the summerhouse is not for you, what about a log cabin, garden pod or minimalist contemporary box design, with plenty of glass.

Also gaining in popularity are shepherd’s huts. Back in the 19th century, these were placed in fields to allow shepherds to keep watch over their flock. Designed to allow the shepherd to live out in the fields for long lengths of time, they had kitchen, sleeping and storage facilities. The huts were built with hinged stable doors and strong cast iron wheels so they could be easily moved when necessary.

Built using traditional methods and placed in a modern garden, a shepherd’s hut is a romantic alternative to conventional garden rooms. They can look lovely placed close to fields or wooded landscapes.

2. Add an outdoor kitchen and entertaining area

Cooking is now one of our favourite pastimes. If you enjoy entertaining friends, an outdoor cooking and entertaining area can be a valuable addition to your home.

Where once there was the portable or, if you were lucky, built-in barbecue, today things have moved on apace. Outdoor kitchens can now include wood-fired pizza ovens, over-sized grills and granite worktops. The addition of plumbing and electrics allow you to add an outdoor sink, task lighting and electrical sockets, which all make conjuring up your culinary finest a real joy.

Once you’ve set up your outdoor dining and lounging furniture, an outdoor kitchen makes a great extension to your living space and a wonderful area to entertain friends.

If you love barbecuing, maybe a BBQ hut will appeal? This is a round wooden construction with a central smoke stack, chimney and grill. There is a removable table built around the grill and circular benches for sitting or sleeping on. Designed for nomadic herdsmen living in Arctic Lapland, they look great styled with faux fur hides, fairy lights and lanterns. They are the perfect place to cook and relax with friends, whatever the weather.

hot tub

3. Add a hot tub or swimming pool

Having a place to unwind and have fun in the garden can also be a valuable asset. The addition of a hot tub or, if you have the room, a swimming pool, can transform your life in a number of positive ways.

Hot tubs offer the benefits of both health and relaxation. A great antidote to stress and insomnia, a hot tub is a great way to upgrade your outside space. You will need a cover to keep out any debris and it’s a good idea to install it under roof protection. This will make it weatherproof and guard your privacy.

But the most luxurious addition to your garden has to be a swimming pool – it’s hard to name a more glamorous feature. A pool will increase the amount of quality time you spend with your family, provide a glorious location for exercise and be a great place for entertaining family and friends.

What’s more, a swimming pool can be quick and easy to install. With contemporary designs and materials, the number and quality of fast pool builders has increased, so you can be up and swimming in no time.

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.

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