Category Archives: Wild Food

Crawling to the finish

I think I haven’t done much on my diploma, or this website, for pretty much a whole year. I’m not going to beat myself up about that. I was busy bringing a human being into the world. But now she’s here, and we’ve got our routines, I need to just finish this thing. Why is finishing something so hard? I have done more or less all the work, I just need to present it in a compelling way.

 I have never been much of a ‘finisher-completer.’ I am far better at having ideas and getting them going than I am at seeing them to completion. It’s probably one thing doing this diploma has driven home. It’s now a matter of pride to take bite-sized chunks and see them through to completion. I am doing well in other areas of my life, but finishing the diploma seems to elude me. I know why though. I haven’t given it full headlights-on focus. I need to think about it, and just it, for a period of time. And that’s the issue… I am doing plenty of other things (not least looking after a baby) and they seem (and frankly are) more important than what my brain now regards to be ‘admin.’ But, but… I have to finish this darn thing so I need to make time and space to do so. 

So, here’s what I am going to do… I am going to set myself two simple tasks… 

1. Read the diploma guidance manual in detail and check how I should be presenting my designs (and whether I have missed any steps). 

2. Contact a diploma tutor and ask them to look over my designs (I jettisoned mine a number of years ago). 

That shouldn’t be too hard! 

Now, where am I up to with my designs? I’m afraid not a lot has progressed but a few things have. 


Action Learning Pathway

Not redesigned. I need to be honest with this one. It’s less of a redesign and more of a historical document. I just need to write down what I did. I’m happy to be honest about this. Were I to do another diploma, I would be able to plan it in detail from the start, but when I started this one, I had not yet developed the skills to have that overview. So, it developed piecemeal, and designs chopped and changed though my focus was always on developing designs for livelihood. So, I think this design needs to be a sort of ‘how my diploma panned out’ précis to the whole thing. Suddenly it’s seeming more achievable 

Action: find my original ALP and work out how I got from there to here.  


Career Design

Written up! 


Scythe Teaching

Written up! 


Permaculture Teaching

Written up!

DVD

Yet to be written up. 

Action: write it up


The Seed Blog

In all honesty, I can’t remember where I am up to with this. Implementation of this has all but ground to a halt, because of the baby and because of the need to focus on other projects. I think it’s written up in draft form though. 


The Garden

As I am currently implementing this design, I have written up what I can. I need to revisit this and finish this write up. 

Action: finish this write up


The Larder Project

Yet to be written up

Action: write it up


Fat Hens

Designed and written up!


Baby

Designed and written up! 

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Am I finished? How I know when a design is done.

At the beginning of my diploma, when I was looking at my big, sprawling, open-ended designs, I wondered how on earth I would know when they were finished.  It was a good question, and the lack of clarity was definitely a flaw in my design process.  Two years in, I find that the constant process of thinking about what I want to achieve has really developed my skills in defining project  boundaries and knowing when I am done.  I find that I can come up with an idea and not only know whether or not it is feasible (through experience of biting off more than I can chew), but also know how I will know when I have finished that particular design.  I have italicised the I, because I think that markers of success are very person-specific.  For example, in a design for a business, one person’s goal might be to earn a certain amount of money, but financial goals just don’t work for me, I am not motivated by them.  I would prefer to set goals along the lines of ‘run x amount of courses,’ or ‘raise prices to x amount’.  What I have realised is that being able to clearly define what you want out of a project means knowing yourself, your priorities and what is feasible for you really really well.  So, for me, the first step to knowing when a design is done is to know yourself well and set project boundaries that fit in with that.

The second way I have discovered of knowing when a design is done it to understand the lifecycle of how things are achieved.  I wrote about this idea in this post.  It’s the Hero’s Journey, the idea which suggests that all of the stories in the world are based on one story – the monomyth.  My friend Erica has just written a book on how you can use this idea in your own life.  The hero’s journey goes (a little) like this:

The call to adventure – “wouldn’t building a garden on this roof be cool?”

The refusal of the call – “nah, it would be too difficult and I couldn’t do it.”

The acceptance of the call (this is when you get cool stuff and people want to help you) – “ok, sod it, let’s have a go!  Wow, thanks for all of the plants, mum.  Yep, it’d be really great if you helped me out.”

The belly of the whale – “Aggh, it’s really hard to get stuff to grow up here because of the wind.  This isn’t as exciting as when I started out.”

The Supreme Ordeal  – “All my plants have died.  Ok, I’ll plant the whole lot again.”

Triumphant return – “I’ve done it!  I’ve grown all these plants through a whole season on this less than easy roof. Want me to teach you?”

When I think about all of my designs, I can plot them along a point on this journey.  I have come to realise though, that a greater ‘journey’ (e.g. making a living from scything) might be made up of several smaller journeys.  You might not get your big success all at once.  In fact you probably wont.  I think that every success (for example, I feel like I have done really well with scything courses this year), heralds a rethink and a new journey.  I have discovered that it is impossible to create a design that is too big, because each big design with naturally break itself down into several smaller ones.  A garden design will do this – e.g. a smaller design for a pizza oven, for planting for beneficial insects, for year-round produce.  This ‘breaking down’ is a pretty good example of designing from patterns to details – a principle that baffled me when I first started, but which I really really value now.

 

 

 

 

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We moved, goddamit, we moved!

Well, finally we have moved. Here it is, my new abode (the one with the white door and the yellow flowers outside of it). I am sure that I will get over the post-traumatic stress disorder in the next few months…

The house!

The house!

Now that I have moved house, quite a few of my designs can enter a new stage of implementation. It’s really interesting how having more (and different) space means that new and exciting things can happen. I thought I would use this post to map how my designs are affected by my new place – area by area.

The Shed

Well, we don’t have one yet, but Will assures me that he’s onto it… Once we do have a shed, I will be able to expand my scything empire by stocking more scythes to sell on courses and perhaps at other times too. Having all of my teaching equipment on the ground floor (and not up four flights of stairs) means that going off to teach courses is a much pleasanter experience. I honestly did not realise how much I dreaded emptying the car and dragging all my crap upstairs. It’s little things like this that make a big difference to how you feel about doing a particular job, and I am glad that I will have this sorted for next scything season.

The Garden

Long view of the garden

Long view of the garden

IMG_1081

The current growing area

Well, I have one! And it’s great! I have been doing some observation of light patterns and – in August at least – most of the garden gets sun at least some portions of the day. The soil looks really good and well looked after. There is a compost bin with a strong-looking colony of worms. There is corn and courgettes and beans to harvest.

I am going to spend a year observing and growing on a small-scale – in pots and annuals in the empty beds, and then do major changes next winter (i.e. winter 2014). I think what I’d like to do over this winter and next spring is move the compost heap closer to the house, research and get some chickens and establish a 365 day a year salad system. I’d like to work out my seedling system so that the whole house is not completely covered in pots all the time. We have south-facing windows which is very exciting.

Other than that I shall be doing lots of research and getting some idea of what I would like the garden to contain and to look like. I still think that I would like to do a garden design course, so I will have to see if I am rich enough to be able to do that!

The Outbuilding

The larder to be...

The larder to be…

I started calling this ‘the larder’ until I realised that Will and I had not discussed how we would use various rooms. So anyway, this is the larder… 😉 Currently it’s housing much of the crap that will go in the shed, but when that’s moved, we’ll put a work surface over the top of the washing machine, and as many shelves as we can fit in there and it will become a larder of great joy! I am itching to get going at this one… I am going to attempt to emulate the store stump from Brambly Hedge or Bilbo’s larder from the recent Hobbit movie. I’m a bit obsessed.

The store stump

The store stump

Bilbo's larder - with hairy dwarf

Bilbo’s larder – with hairy dwarf

Having outside space and space to store stuff means that I will be able to get going on the dehydrating and canning that I want to do with ease (and with somewhere to store the equipment).

The Office

The office to be...

The office to be…

This was another room that I had started calling ‘the office’ in my head before I had really discussed it with Will… Ooops! Having an office means that I’ll be able to write more easily and I can do stuff like leave my sewing machine out so that I am more likely to use it. I have an online sewing course to finish after all! We’ll use this as a guest bedroom as well, as rooms have to have multiple uses in this house.

Finally, just knowing where I am going to be for the next few years means that I can get on with my coppicing design knowing that I will (hopefully) be in one place for the whole of a coppice cycle and I can design for succession after that. Also, being in the countryside (more or less) means that my foraging design – whatever it turns out to be – will be so much easier to implement. Even though I’ve put a lot of planning and thought into this move and what it would make possible, it’s still amazing to be here and realise that all those things really are possible and I can do them now!  Expect more from me soon…  Maybe even pictures of bits of the house without stuff all over it!

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End of winter round up: Part 3

THE GARDEN

In the past four years, I have moved at least four times which has made creating a garden difficult.  I am just about to move again.  This will hopefully be a more permanent move, as Will and I are buying a house together and we don’t intend to leave it for at least seven years.

My original idea for this project was to design a roof garden for the roof here at the flat, but I didn’t live here at the time and that made observation difficult, so instead I did a design for the house where I was living with my friend Ben.  Some of it was implemented, some of it was not, as you would expect from a design for a place you are renting.  I have yet to see whether the random seed experiment has had lasting effects or whether the green alkanet has got the better of the self-seeded nasturtiums.

On moving into the flat, I reconsidered the roof again as a growing space but concluded that while it had an amazing south facing aspect, it was high on limiting factors – the main one being the wind.  Being realistic (which is what I am all about now, don’t you know…), I knew it would take a lot of infrastructure in the form of wind-breaks and barriers around the outside to make it into a useable growing space.  As I predicted that we would move again, I decided that putting all of that work in wasn’t worth it at the moment.

Instead what I did was knuckle down to learning more about gardening.  I did a composting course and a course about growing food in small spaces (actually, I am still doing that one really, as I didn’t keep up with it while it was on).  I have read quite a few inspirational books (but need to read more).  What is still outstanding is doing a course in garden design.  Not permaculture design, but ‘where to put plants so they look pretty type design.’  I also want to learn more about perennial plants and guilds and also get some experience of ducks and chickens within a permaculture system.  I am leaning towards ducks, I have to say…

But ducks come later.  When we move in, I am going to spend a year growing in pots and observing the plot before making any significant changes (as I am a good little permaculturalist), so I have a whole year to fill in the knowledge that I think I am lacking.  Apart from those few areas, I am feeling really really ready to take on a plot of my own again.  I haven’t really had that since I gave up the allotment, and I feel like I have learned a lot from that experience.  The biggest lesson?  Start with a small piece of land that is right outside your door, and when you have done everything you can to that, get somewhere bigger and further away.

The design I do for my new house is going to be the one that I submit, so I consider all of the designs I have done for gardens up to this point to be practice for that.  I am glad that I have done it this way.  I really have a chance to properly implement the design I do for my own garden, and I am at a place where I think I know enough about all of the things and systems involved to really do it well.

Action:  Start observing garden when we move house

 

THE LARDER PROJECT 

I absolutely love this design.  It progresses slowly but surely.  I started with grand designs and then realised that my goals were both ill defined and very difficult to achieve, so I here’s where I got a bit more real.  In terms of my plan of action, I have more or less done all of the things that I put on my ‘can do now’ list.  Making jam in bulk and bulk buying cheese are as yet undone, but I plan to do at least the first one this summer.

I got really good at making chutney to take to work with oatcakes and cheese for my lunch, but then I observed that I was essentially eating a jar a week of what is really, vinegary jam (I don’t like low sugar chutney) and that it probably wasn’t very good for me.  Instead of doing that, I decided to experiment with fermented pickles and made the  kimchi recipe from Sandor Katz’s wild fermentation.  That was a big success, though it honks of garlic and is mildly embarrassing taking out in the canteen at work.  I also started making fermented soda this year too.  Lactofermentation is part of my arsenal now!

So, I guess we are on the ‘soon’ and ‘later’ tasks of my plan of action.  They were:

Soon

10)  Investigate getting a freezer for the loft and get one if appropriate

11)  Build cutting garden and develop conceptual plans for real garden (this is part of the garden project)

Later

12) Investigate sources of apples and berries for fruit snacks

13) Build solar dehydrator

14) Buy electric dehydrator

15) Get a pressure canner

16) Learn to can

Getting a freezer can happen as soon as we move house, but the other projects might take a little bit longer.  I am most excited about learning to use a pressure canner so that I can ‘put up’ food that is not soused in sugar or vinegar.  This is a really American way of preserving and hardly anyone does it in the UK, but I have found someone!  Her name is Gloria Nicol and she recently ran a workshop with the Secret Garden Club which I sadly missed because I was doing something or other (probably related to scything).  Gloria, if you are reading, please teach me to can!

Dehydrating, whether electrically or solar powered, may have to wait until next year, but the larder project is coming on, it really is.  I have my three month stock of food, and now I need to work on growing and preserving as much of it at home as possible!  I don’t mind if this switch over takes a while as small and slow solutions are the best, as we all know…

Action:  Learn to can

 

FORAGING

It has been such a long winter that I forgot the natural world was out there…  Last year I was out on the downs, foraging (actually botanising) with my iphone in mid April.  Now it’s the end of May and the new, brilliant greenness of the world is still burning itself into my shocked retina.

This design hasn’t formed itself properly in my mind yet.  I know what it’s probably going to be, but that relies on other projects coming together first, so I am happy to let this one slide for a while.  This one is going to be a small design that can go from start to finish in a few months and the key aims of it will be to both learn and teach.

Action: None at the moment 

 

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End of winter round up: Part 1

Welcome to my six-monthly round up of how my projects are going.  Please overlook the fact that it’s nearly the end of May and cannot really be described as the end of winter any more.  On the surface of things I have hardly done anything for my diploma this winter – no blog posts for four months etc – but actually I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my designs, about my motivations for doing them, about how to make them work individually and all together as a group.  What follows is fairly dense, apologies for that now.

ACTION LEARNING PATHWAY

I am using my diploma to effect major change in my life.  I have chosen to do it over four years to give myself the time to make these changes happen.  This long period of time has also meant that I can observe and redesign the more complex designs.  I’ve also used it as an opportunity to do ‘practice‘ designs in some cases.  I’m working on a redesign of my Action Learning Pathway as I have refined my ideas a lot since I used Hedvig’s as a jump off point.

One of the ways in which I have refined my ideas is working out just how big or small a project should be.  In my head, the optimum size for a single design is the size of Hedvig’s clean air plant design (which I can’t seem to find a link to right now, but I am sure Hedvig will supply in the comments).  I’ll admit that when I first saw it I thought that it was quite unambitious in its scope, but that’s before I learnt how much observation and analysis it takes to actually make a design work properly.  Now I think it’s just about the right size to be interesting without being so big that it needs to be broken down into smaller designs.  This realisation has actually made a big difference to my designs as it as given me a scale at which I feel comfortable doing observation and analysis.  I feel like I have ‘got real.’

I have also realised that there is a different between a project which is large in ‘area’ (i.e. happens over a large piece of land) and a project which is large in complexity (i.e. has lots of different facets and therefore requires lots of different mini-designs).  A design could be large in size but not complex (i.e. the coppicing design I am working on – more soon), or be complex but not obviously large and important (such as the marketing designs I have been doing).  What I realised is that it’s really hard to work out the size and scope of a project without either quite deep analysis or without doing it.

As I know that I naturally tend towards massive overblown projects that will change the whole world (and which I haven’t got a hope in hell’s chance of pulling off), this has been the biggest win of the diploma so far.  Using the design cycle has made me slow down, observe, analyse and really think about how a design will fit into my life because for me (and I suspect for most people), it’s self observation rather than external observation that makes the difference between the success and failure of a project.

So, in redesigning my ALP I have decided to include a ‘non land based design starter kit’ which can function as my jumping off place for all non-land-based designs, as well as the basic roadmap towards my goals.  I’ll include the checklist in this starter kit obviously as I am already finding it immensely useful.  I’m so glad that I managed to write those ideas down because where the hell you start a non-land based design has always baffled me completely.  There’s so much help with land based design and almost none at all with non-land-based design.

ACTION: Write up redesigned ALP and ‘design starter kit.’  

 

TIME AND MONEY

The design is a basic overview of the ways in which I make/hope to make my livelihood, how much each strand will contribute to my finances and how much time it will take.  With this design as with a few of the others, I hit the issue that it was impossible to do real observation and analysis without actually implementing it.  I found that without actually launching my scythe teaching business I could not estimate how much time it would take up nor how much money I would make from it.  My first design was based on a series of guesses.  This is because almost no one (with a few exceptions) are teaching scything at the scale that I want to do it.  Even if I could have done, I think I would have struggled to estimate how much time it would take me to get up to speed with running a micro-business (a long time).  I really feel like I had to learn by doing in this case.

Despite ostensibly being about ‘time and money,’ this design is really about me – what motivates me, what I want to spend my precious time doing.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this recently and when I have finally come to some conclusions (I’m 90% of the way there), I’ll need to do a redesign of this.  One of the biggest changes I’ll need to make is to take account of how many different income streams one person can really deal with.  I am still in favour of the poly-income (a portfolio career) – spreading out your income over a number of different streams so that it is resilient to crisis – but I have come to realise that the number of different subject areas that one person can keep in their head at the same time is limited.  Changing gears, e.g. from thinking about marketing scythe courses to writing, is an activity that takes time in itself.  Working out which strands to keep and which to drop is hard though and I have not quite come to the end of that process so I don’t feel like I am in the right place quite yet to do a redesign of this project quite yet.

Action: Time and Money redesign when ready

Two projects down… more coming up in the next posts!

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Designing information: Organising my RSS reader

bloggery pokery crop

 

I spent a few hours today reorganising my RSS reader.  RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and an RSS reader, like Google Reader (which I use) means that you are informed when blogs are updated and don’t have to visit them individually to find out.

I follow a lot of blogs  (yes, including interior design blogs, I am entering into ‘that’ stage of my life…)  I’m unapologetic about the number of blogs that I follow.  I do spend a reasonable amount of time looking at them which used to set up a frisson of guilt in me (Am I wasting time?  Should I be doing something ‘more useful?’).  In the end I just concluded that I was interested in certain subjects which other people wrote about so why feel guilty about garnering inspiration, information, advice and ideas.  Actually, why feel guilty about being interested in someone’s life?

I am a ruthless culler of blogs too.  I only keep the blogs that I look forward to reading, otherwise looking at my RSS reader turns into work.  I also cull blogs that I enjoy, but which give me the feeling that my life is rubbish.  These tend to be American blogs written by women whose children are perfect, husbands are perfect, houses are perfect, Christmases and birthdays were perfect…  Likewise blogs that rejig the same tired ideas.

I signed up for a few more gardening blogs today because I am looking for places to write guest posts about scything for and by the time I had added them, the list of blogs that I follow was enough to give you a migraine.  No more!  I decided to put them into really simple folders according to their subject.  Previously my folder titles had been things like ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Green Thinkers.’  They date from a time when I had many few blogs to follow, but even then they were a bit vague.  Inspiration for what?  Thinking about what?

Putting these blogs into categories was really interesting because when I was done I looked at it and thought, yep, those are my life interests.  I thought through my diploma projects and considered whether I followed blogs about all of those subjects.  The answer was, almost all of them – coppicing, preserving and scything didn’t get a folder of their own but they fit in under rural skills and food.  One area that I did notice was missing was general life design, livelihood design and blogs about money.  These are all things that I am working on very hard in my diploma and yet they weren’t represented in my blog-roll.  I think this is because I still find the idea of talking about, thinking about or designing for financial rewards a bit gross – the way I felt about marketing before I discover Marketing for Hippies.  I’ve signed up for finance/entrepreneurial blogs in the past and always unsubscribed because I didn’t read them because it made me feel icky.  I need to find someone who is talking about these things in a way that I am willing to listen to.  Any ideas?  They need to be funny and directed towards money-phobes.  I’m also looking for some life-coaching/life-organisation blogs that don’t make me want to be sick.  Help gratefully received…

After I had taken the picture above, I went and looked at these folders and put the ones with some connection to each other next to each other.  Really, they all have connections to each other in my head, but I wanted to draw out the most important ones.   Gardening, foraging and permaculture went next t each other and also next to food.  Photography and graphic design went next to each other and were also linked to lifestyle.

I have decided to read them in a different way too.  Instead of clicking on the feed for the individual blog and seeing a stream of posts just from that blog, I have decided to click on the category – e.g.  Food.  This will show me posts from all of the blogs in that category in the order that they were updated.  Doing it this way means that it’s much harder to discern immediately which blog you are reading.  This is useful because it means that I can see which blogs broadcast their individuality immediately.   For example, I predict that in the ‘food’ category I will be able to recognise Smitten Kitchen immediately because while the pictures are good but not amazing, the writing is hilarious (which is, I have to say, unusual for a lot of the blogs that I read).  I also predict that I will be able to recognise What Katie Ate immediately because of her distinctive photographic style.  This sort of observation is really useful for developing my writing and photographic style.

 

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Bioblitz: Fungi foray

Yesterday I joined in a Bioblitz being run by truffle hunter, Melissa Waddingham.  Bioblitz is a nationally run scheme to survey and monitor the biodiversity in various areas.  It’s not just mushrooms, anything ‘natural’ can form part of a bioblitz – birds, grasses, toads…  It was an opportunity to get my head around fungi and to learn from some experts (as well as Melissa there was an expert from Sussex Fungi Group.  Sussex has a fungi group!  Imagine that!)

I’ve written about this before, but it took me a while to realise that, with foraging, you can’t really just identify the edible species.  If you don’t know what other members of a species look like, how can you be sure that you have the right one?  Becoming an amateur botanist (and a mycologist) is really the only way to do it in my book. Luckily, identifying stuff is fascinating.  I could spend an hour looking at the plants in one square metre of grass.  Actually, I have spent an hour looking at the plants in one square meter of grass.

Though I love plants I have a special place in my heart for fungi.  Plants are kinda everywhere.  Walk out of your door and there’s a fair chance you’ll see some plant matter within a minute or two (if you don’t, poor you..!).  But fungi (not counting mould) are mysterious.  They hide in the ground until they’re ready and then enormous constructions like this come up overnight.  You can almost hear a little POP as another one appears.  They only really appear after rain and they have such a short season – everything conspires to make them elusive.  Finding something good really feels like opening your eyes on Christmas morning and finding presents at the end of your bed.

I took my Roger Phillips book out with me and tried to identify what I found before I asked an expert.  I got a few very nearly right – I almost identified this ganoderma for example, but then didn’t quite.

 

Fungi identification seems to be the perfect opportunity to design from patterns to details.  I think I would have a much easier time of it if I sat down and learnt, properly, the identifying characteristics of each family.  I’m alright on boletes (they’re kind of easy) and I reckon I’d do ok with the stinkhorn family (family name Phallaceae – do I need to explain what their identifying characteristic is?).  So, next step – learn fungi families.  I could make a fungi Guess Who game!  (I probably won’t).

 

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End of the summer round up: part four

Nearly there, people, stay with me.  This is the last post…

Project eight: Wild food (foraging)

This is a project that has been on the cusp of being clear in my mind for about a year, but has never quite made it.  What’s been going well is that I have been doing a reasonable job at educating myself in botany and mycology and have been taking opportunities to learn where I can.  What’s challenging is that I am still not clear on the ‘project’.  I have several very good ideas for this project but haven’t yet committed to any of them.  If I am honest what’s holding me back with this one is that I want to include other people in this project but I have been badly burnt by working with community groups in the past (don’t ask…) and the thought of actually working with other people and having to make decisions with them gives me the mad fear.  However, I have pledged to myself not to make decisions based on fear, so this is no excuse.

What I want to use this project to do (my vision) is to teach me and others about about forageables – and botany and mycology in general.  Whilst I want the main yield of this project to be knowledge, I also want it to be fun, and I want it to not be a whole load of hard work that I am in charge of.

Next step:  I’ve actually done quite a lot of work on this project that I haven’t written up, so I need to sit down with that and firm up what my objectives for this project are and then analyse whether the ideas that I have come up with hit all of those objectives.

 

Project nine:  Wild wood (coppicing)

This project is still in the surveying stage and the surveying is going pretty well.  Last winter I spent a week and a half in the woods with Blackbark, my friends’ coppicing business.  I learnt a lot from it and one thing I am glad to have learnt is that I don’t really want to make coppicing into a business.  To do this I would have to invest in a lot of expensive equipment that I am not too happy about using (chainsaws, pick-ups).  I have decided that the coppicing project will be a way of providing for my own household needs (firewood and building materials) and I can therefore stick to handtools which would be completely impractical in a business context.  As this project is chugging away so slowly (there is not much I can do during the summer) there isn’t really anything that I have found too challenging yet.

Next step:  My next step is to start volunteering reasonably regularly for Tottington Woodlanders in order to skill up.  I’ve already volunteered for another Blackbark workweek next year.  I’m happy with that for now.

 

Project ten:  Teaching Permaculture

I have been progressing slowly but surely through the Brighton Permaculture Trust teacher training scheme.  I observed the course twice, then taught a section of it which went very well.  I developed some materials for that mini-teach which I’ll be able to use again and develop.  My teacher training and years of experience as a teacher kicked in again for this project and I was glad to  feel that that part of my life was useful to this part.

What’s challenging is that I am letting this project drift along.  Because it’s very structured, I am letting that structure dictate the speed at which I progress and I think, actually, I could be a little more proactive about this.  I need to give this project a bit of a kick up the ass.

Next step: Find out what the ‘next step’ in the teacher training scheme is.

 

Some overall conclusions and priorities for next year

One thing that I am noticing with all of my projects is that whilst I have tried to design a livelihood/lifestyle that means I am outside as much as I am inside, that’s just not happening at the moment.  I feel like I have had a very ‘inside’ year.  A large part of this is not having a garden.  Also, after having done all the inside admin and marketing for scythe courses, I then didn’t really get to do much of the teaching outside.  Arranging things so that I am outside more is an issue that needs to be fixed for 2013.

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Foraging with my iphone


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was writing all day yesterday (an article for Permaculture Magazine) and by around four o’clock, I just wanted to shake the words out of my head so I went for a forage.  Ostensibly, this was a forage for nettles so that I could make nettle soup, but never let it be said that I cannot stack functions (Permaculture parlance for do more than one thing at the same time).  I took the opportunity to learn some new plants.

In my foraging course last year, it finally occurred to me that, learning all of the edible plants and ignoring the rest would be a bit like learning all the vowels in the alphabet and ignoring the consonents.  You need the whole alphabet for words to make sense.  So, I stopped trying to be a forager and started trying to be a botanist.  You can see the archive of plants that we learnt on the course here (if you’re on Facebook and friends with me, that is)

I use my phone to take pictures of things that I don’t know.  This time I made the mistake of trying to be artistic and only taking Hipstamatic photos (that’s why they look super-saturated and old-school).  If we’re talking ratios (and I am all about the numbers these days), I would say that Hipstamatic photos decrease your ability to identify a plant when you get home by about 30%, which is equivalent to the amount that they make your blog look nice.  So, next time I would take one picture for identification purposes, and one for artistic blogging purposes.  Actually, I cottoned on to this pretty quickly, and actually made some videos of some of the things that I didn’t know, so that I could see the plant from different angles.

When I get home I use various books and internet sources to identify what I’ve taken pictures of.  My two favourite at the moment are these.  William gave me Flora Britannica for my birthday.  It’s brilliant!  When I grow up, I want to be Richard Mabey.  He writes about nature so well.  This is more of an encyclopedia than an identification guide, but I love it for the portraits he paints of the plants and their place in history and mythology.  Botany in a Day is a very exciting book that I have yet to get my head around fully.  It teaches you to identify plant families and their characteristics so that you don’t have to learn every plant in your world individually.  It’ll take a bit of studying, but I’m planning to make this part of my foraging design.  What’s missing from this collection, I think, is a good plant ID book with big, clear pictures.  Something like Roger Phillips mushroom guide but for plants.  Suggestions are welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m in the middle of doing my design for my foraging project and I am pretty excited about it.  I’ll start sharing it when I’ve got more done.  It’s going to involve lots more looking in books and some dressing up…

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Ways of thinking about plants – what my foraging course taught me.

This year I spent six months doing what was billed as a ‘Foraging and Mapping Course’ through the Centre for Community Engagement.  It wasn’t like any other foraging course I had ever been on before.  For a start, it was much longer.  We spent one day every month for six months walking the same paths and seeing how the plants had changed.  There was much more of a focus on identification skills and much less of a focus on listing what we could eat.  In a way, it was much more of a botany course than a foraging course, but of course, to be a successful forager (i.e. one that can recognise food that won’t kill you) you first need to be a botanist.  It made total sense to identify all of the plants and then work out which ones you can eat, rather than knowing only the ones you can eat and being ignorant of everything else.  Plus, only knowing the ‘edible’ species is a very small part of foraging.  Most plants can be used for something – food, medicine, cordage, fuel.

Here’s Anna Richardson, the tutor, teaching us about how to use the points of the compass – north, east, south and west – as a tool to think about where a plant is in its cycle.  This was a really useful shorthand – a trick to make thinking about plants quicker and easier.  Here’s how it works:

North: all of the plant’s energy is in it’s roots, there’s not much to see above the ground, the plant is preparing for new growth.

East: the first shoots are appearing, the plant energy is drawing up from the roots into the body of the plant, there is lots of energy in the leaves.

South: the plant is in full flower, the plant energy is fully in the body of the plant and mostly in the flowers.

West: the plant is setting fruit and preparing to return the energy to the roots.

 

The compass points correspond loosely to the point in the year – many plants are in North in the winter.  But plants have different cycles.  There are some that flower in the winter, putting them in South during the coldest months.

Anna also taught us about the songlines of the Indigenous Australians.  Songlines are paths across the land that mark the route followed by the ‘creator-beings’ during the Dreamtime.  They’re recorded in songs, stories, dance, and painting.  What’s interesting about songlines is that someone with knowledge of the stories can navigate across the landscape by repeating the words of the song – an intimate connection of landscape and culture.  We were encouraged to name the landscape features that we looked at according to the stories and ‘culture’ that we as a group were generating – like kids naming the places around them because they are mostly ignorant of the ‘real’ names for things.

Thinking about songlines made me think about how I related to the natural world and I realised that, like most things, I related to it through story and narrative.  I extrapolated the idea of songlines from places to plants.  I realised that I was the most successful at identifying plants when I created a story around them. Last winter, when I was dog-sitting in Bolney, I really focused on learning trees without their leaves.  Taking the dog for a walk in the woods, I would make up characters for the trees that I was seeing.  Young ash trees reminded me of a kind of alabaster Statue of Liberty, holding a black torch (the black bud).  Hazel stools, with their leggy formlessness, reminded me of teenagers.  Beech trees were muscly, and frankly rather attractive.  Almost immediately I was able to remember what plants looked like – something that had never happened when I tried to remember how many leaves they had.

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