WELL SEASONED

The Blog

Welcome to our award winning blog

 

Here you can find a collection of our thoughts, reports and ramblings together with some fun things we find along the way. We try to update the blog at least once a week and more often during busy periods so make sure you check back regularly..

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 2 2017 11:00AM

There are 18 species of bats in the UK (making up a quarter of all our mammal species) and summer is the best time to spot them.


Our bat populations are declining due to a loss of suitable habits and over use of pesticides but you still have a good chance of spotting them in most parts of the country. They live both in the countryside and towns and are most active during the warmer months after they emerge from hibernation. Any area with a combination of old buildings, dead trees and water is likely to be home to a population of bats.


Bats are nocturnal so the best time to see them is either at sunset or sunrise. On a warm, dry day when there are plenty of insects in the air, find a patch of bright sky surrounded by trees or buildings and you'll see the bats flittering around, silhouetted against the sky at dusk and dawn. Different bats have different feeding patterns so look for them up in the air, skimming the top of hedgerows and over flat areas like fields and lakes.

The four species that you're most likely to see are:


• Pipistrelles (common and soprano) - the most common bats. Small and fast, you'll spot them flittering across the sky at sunset.

• Noctules - these bats usually fly in straight lines, high in the air.

• Brown long-eared bat - emerge later at night and are harder to spot because they stay very close to the trees where they feed. If you're really lucky you'll spot one hovering up in the branches.

• Daubenton's bat - also known as the water bat, most often seen skimming over rivers and ponds.


If you do manage to spot bats you can help conserve them by taking part in a Bat Conservation Trust survey. Available online, these simple recordings of sightings and numbers help the trust compile valuable conservation information. You should never disturb or interfere with roosting bats; they are protected by law and it is illegal to handle one without a licence. But you can (and should) encourage them into your garden by building a bug house (see February).


Did you know…? Bats can eat 3000 insects a night. That's up to a third of their own body weight.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 2 2017 10:00AM

One of the great family days out for any seasonal family should be rockpooling on one of Britain's may rocky beaches.


Rockpools are harsh environments. The creatures that inhabit them need to be able to survive extremes of temperature, moisture and salinity as well as rough seas and constantly crashing waves. Taking a slightly more scientific approach to your rockpooling will open your eyes to these brutal and competitive self-contained worlds.


The equipment you'll need is very similar to pond-dipping (see June) but tide tables and suitable footwear are essential extras.


You will need:


• A net

• A light coloured bucket or tray

• A magnifying glass

• An identification book

• Tide tables (the biggest rockpools with most life in them are revealed at low tide)

• Wellies or water shoes


As with pond dipping, half fill your tray or bucket with water then use your net to explore the pool, especially the weedy edges and gently turn your net out into the tray. You'll be able to pick some shells and slower-moving crabs out by hand. With some creatures, especially hermit crabs, they will retreat into their shells as you approach or touch them so wait for a few minutes and watch them re-emerge.


Look out for:


• Small fish like blennies, goby and pipefish

• Crustacea like shrimp, crabs and lobsters

• Molluscs and other shellfish like mussels, whelks, winkles and limpets

• Seaweeds like kelp, sea lettuce and bladderwrack

• Anemonies, starfish and sea urchins

Carefully return everything to the rockpool when you leave and always be aware of the rising tide. Rocks covered in seaweed or algae can be extremely slippery so tread carefully.

"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."

Jacques Cousteau


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jun 4 2017 10:00AM

Hunting for aquatic mini-beasts is one of the best ways to learn about the diversity of our freshwater pond life.


From the smallest garden pond to largest lakes, any established body of water will be teaming with fascination organisms. Although you certainly don't have to attend an organised event at a nature reserve or wetland centre, they will usually have a specially-constructed dipping platform, to enable safe access to the pond, as well as pre-printed identification sheets for you to tick off. Any entry fee you have to pay will go towards their conservation efforts.


You will need:


• A net

• A light coloured bucket or tray

• A magnifying glass

• An identification book


Start by half filling your tray or bucket with pond water. Now start your dipping. Using a figure of eight action sweep your net though the water. You'll find most life at the edges of the pond and near plants but try to avoid scooping up too much mud and silt. After a couple of sweeps, gently turn your net inside out, into the tray or bucket. Wait for a few minutes to let any silt settle then take your magnifying glass and see what you can identify. Look out for:


• Nymphs like mayfly, damselfly and caddis fly.

• Crustacea like freshwater shrimp.

• Molluscs like pond snails and freshwater mussels.

• Insects like water boatmen and water scorpions.

• Vertebrates like toads, tadpoles, frogs and newts.


Make sure you take time to look around the pond as well, particularly for bird life including ducks, and if you are really lucky, the electric blue of a darting kingfisher.


Staying safe:


Beware - even at centres designed with children in mind the water can be deep.

Kneel by the pond when you’re dipping and don’t lean over too far.

If you have cuts and grazes cover them with a plaster. (Weil’s disease is an unpleasant infection that you can get from getting water in contact with open cuts.)

Wash your hands thoroughly after dipping.


Did you know…? Mayfly were named because they "hatch" from the river in late May or early June. "Duffers Fortnight" supposedly affords novice fly fishermen the best opportunity to catch a trout - the fish feed voraciously on the mayfly as they emerge in huge clouds to mate, lay their eggs and die in a single day.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jun 1 2017 10:00AM

Many herbs will lose some of their aromatic intensity as the weather really hots up, so June is the perfect time to preserve a few batches for use later in the year.


As we mentioned back in May, early summer is prime time for garden-grown herbs. The simplest and most economical method of preserving some is to air-dry them.


Home dried herbs are a world apart from supermarket varieties. The flavour and aroma from most herbs comes from oils that are a natural defence mechanism against insects and bacteria. Because most supermarket herbs are grown hydroponically they don’t have the same exposure to these elements, meaning their oils are less intense.


You will need:


• A selection of garden herbs (buy some from a market if you don't grow your own)

• Brown paper bags (the large sandwich bags used by delicatessens are ideal)

• String or twist ties

• Somewhere warm and dry to hang your herbs

• Jars and labels for storage


On a dry day, cut your herbs. Cut then mid-morning after any morning dew has dried off.


Rinse them under a little cold water to remove any dust and garden chemicals. Dry by lightly blotting on a sheet of kitchen paper.


Take small bunches of your herbs and tie the stems together. Remove any discoloured or damaged leaves.


Puncture a few holes in each bag, without damaging the leaves, to allow air to circulate. Using a hole punch will ensure the holes are neat and less likely to tear.


Now place each bunch into a paper bag and using the string or ties, tie the neck of the bag around the stems. Use a knot that you can undo easily as you'll want to check the herbs from time to time and the knot may need tightening as the stems dry and shrink.

Write the name of the herb on the bag and hang upside down in a warm, dry space, ideally out of direct

sunlight.

After a few weeks of warm weather your herbs should be dry and crispy. If they are still moist then leave for another week. Otherwise, pack them into airtight jars and label.


For maximum flavour, don't crush your herbs until just before you cook with them. Dried fully, your herbs will last until next summer.


Air-drying is most effective for slightly woody herbs with a low moisture content such as rosemary, thyme, sage and lavender. Herbs with a high moisture content like basil and mint, can go mouldy before they dry out so oven drying is preferable. Spread the stems thinly on a baking tray and place in a very low oven (70-80 C) for a couple of hours, opening the door occasionally to release the moist air.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, May 1 2017 10:00AM

If you're searching for an eccentric British celebration which serves no discernable purpose and whose original roots were lost, long ago, in the mists of time, look no further than the Coopers Hill Cheese Rolling.


This event, which takes place each year on the early May bank holiday, dates back to the 1800s. Essentially it consists of a round of local cheese being rolled down the hill with a large crowd running after it. Whoever holds the cheese when it reaches the bottom of the hill is the winner.


There is little formal organisation or safety around the event and, given the obvious dangers, it has officially been banned for many years now. Since 2009 the Gloucestershire authorities have tried actively to discourage people from attending, though to no avail. (You've got to be proud of living in a country where our idea of civil disobedience is to throw a nine pound round of dairy product down a moderately steep (1 in 3) incline.)


It's true that the event is essentially spontaneous and unmanaged with few formal health and safety measures. Nevertheless some 15,000 people usually attend and it is an entertaining day out whether you are participating or (rather more safely) just spectating.


Given its questionable legal status, we would advise you definitely not to go to Coopers Hill at noon sharp on the early May Bank Holiday Monday and definitely not to find further details on the (unofficial) cheese rolling website. Searching for the hashtag #cheeserolling is right out.


Since we're on the topic (and since this is essentially a blog about food), it would be a shame not to mention the cheese itself. There are two types of Gloucester cheese - Single and the Double (the latter being used in the cheese rolling). Although no one is completely certain about the origin of the "double" part of the name, it's likely to be either because double skimming of the Gloucester cattle’s milk was needed to make this creamier cheese or because cream from the morning milk was originally added to the evening milk (also with added creaminess in mind). It is a hard, orange cheese with a slightly nutty flavour and flaky texture. Single Gloucester used to be made from the partially skimmed milk left over and so was smaller, crumblier and less creamy. It now has Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, May 1 2017 10:00AM

As the weather warms up and dries out it's time to collect bark rubbings.


Bark is the outer protective skin of a tree. It prevents the vulnerable inner tissue from attack by disease, fungi or insects as well as insulating it from the elements. Each species of tree has a unique bark pattern – collecting and cataloguing rubbings of them is a great way to spend the day and to learn more about the species living near you. Although you can do it at any time of year, May is the first reliably dry month of the year and new leaves will be out on most trees by now, making them easier to identify.


You will need:


• A roll of masking tape

• Several sheets of strong white paper

• A pack of wax crayons

• A pen or pencil

• A dry day!


Tape a sheet of paper to the truck of your chosen tree. Peel the paper wrapper from one of your crayons. Rub the long edge of the crayon over the paper until the bark pattern shows. Try to keep all your strokes in the same direction. When you have a clear impression of the bark, carefully peel off the masking tape, remove the paper from the tree and use the pen to record the type and location of your tree.


Did you know…? The horizontal dark "dashes" seen on silver birch trees are called lenticels, and they allow the trunk to breath. When the lenticels become blocked, new bark from beneath grows, causing the older covering to peel off.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Apr 13 2017 10:00AM

Britain's network of cycle paths provides the perfect opportunity to discover free food and get fit at the same time.


April is a great time to take advantage or the improving weather by getting on your bike. One of our favourite springtime activities is a bicycle path forage (borage?*).


Whether you live in the town or country, bodies such as Sustrans (the charity which organises the National Cycle Network and campaigns for sustainable transport throughout the UK) do an amazing job of opening and maintaining car-free routes for bike enthusiasts and providing us with free access to them.


Along these cycle paths, (and, in fact, all of the towpaths and footpaths which criss-cross the country), we have, unwittingly, created the perfect foraging trail. Either side of the tracks for decades, or even hundreds of years, we have disturbed the natural order of things in a number of ways; by breaking the ground, trampling plants, removing larger trees and discarding fruit stones and cores. The result is a unique environment where the truly wild and the feral co-exist.


Along every path you're likely to see apple trees, wild roses, hawthorns, blackberry bushes, wild garlic, chervil and dandelions, all of which will, at different times during the year, provide free and accessible seasonal food just yards from the paths. As you cycle, take note of the various foraging opportunities that you spot so that you can return to them later in the year.


The multitude of opportunities you'll find along a cycle path proves that you don't need to be in the 'real' countryside to have a fun day out foraging for food. Even if you haven't been on a bike since you needed stabilizers, get out there and discover the National Cycle Network.


(*Actually, this could catch on. Borage, or starflower, is a culinary herb which isn't commonly used these days but was a favourite in medieval times. It tastes a little like cucumber.)


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Apr 3 2017 10:00AM

If you want to grow your own pumpkin for Halloween then late April is the time to get planting.


You'll need a sunny spot in the garden or on the vegetable patch which is reasonably sheltered from any cold winds. They are quite easy to grow from seeds and although most people only want a large, orange pumpkin, it's worth buying one that is good for eating as well as carving.


Start with a visit to your local garden centre to buy seeds. Although you can sow the seeds straight into the ground we usually like to give ours a head start by sowing them indoors in a seed tray or small pots. (If you're sowing outdoors it's worth waiting until mid-May when any chance of frost has passed. Alternatively, buy plug plants from the garden centre which can usually be planted straight out.)


You should follow the instructions on your seed packet but most will suggest planning to plant out your seedlings in June. Until then you'll need to keep them indoors, warm and well-watered.

A couple of weeks before you plant out, dig a hole for each plant in your chosen spot and fill it with compost or manure. At the same time, leave your seedlings outside, (ideally in a cold frame, but otherwise bringing them in at night) for a fortnight to acclimatise.


Once acclimatised, you can plant the strongest looking seedlings. Make sure you space them far enough apart to allow room to grow (you'll need at least 30cm and up to 1.5m for the biggest pumpkin varieties).

Next to each plant, sink an empty plant pot into the ground. They will need plenty of water when the warm weather arrives so you can use the empty pot to ensure the water gets straight to the plant's roots rather than staying on the surface where it might rot the fruit and leaves.


Your plant should flower in early summer and start to bear fruit the following month. Place a piece of plastic under each pumpkin to prevent it from rotting.


Let the fruit mature on the plant for as long as possible before Halloween but harvest it before the first frost when it might be damaged. (You can store most ripe squashes in a dark, cool place for many months before they spoil.)


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Mar 13 2017 11:00AM

The European hare (Lepus europaeus) is perhaps best known for being “mad” in March. Its mating antics are certainly a bit loopy and worth trying to spot in early spring.

It was previously thought that the "boxing matches" between hares seen in the spring months were bouts between males competing to breed with females. However, they are actually fights between females and males, the former rejecting the advances of the latter early in the mating season. The poorly matched couples are a sure sign that spring has sprung.


Hares live in open countryside and rely on their exceptional pace to outrun predators. They can run for short periods at up to 40 mph, making them our fastest land mammal.


The health of hare populations varies greatly across the country. In some places they are now a rarity. This is particularly the case in the South-West. In Eastern counties, notably Norfolk, they are still thriving.


To go looking for hares, you'll need to be up early or late; dawn and dusk are the best times to spot them as they are very wary of humans. Even if you don't manage to see the animals themselves you should be able to spot signs of them - look for tunnels in long grass leading up to barbed wire or brambles. You'll often find patches of light brown fur caught on the fence or thorns.


Hares are eaten during the game season. They have an intense, often very gamey flavour and the best known way of cooking them is in Jugged Hare, a casserole which includes blood and sometimes bitter chocolate. But they are protected by the Hare Preservation Act which bans the sale of their meat from 1st March to 31st July during the mating season and, given their uncertain conservation status, if you do plan to eat them, you should only source them from reputable butchers or game dealers


"The March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won't be raving mad – at least not so mad as it was in March." – Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Mar 2 2017 11:00AM

The crisp, clear nights of early spring make March a good month for star gazing. Just make sure you wrap up warm.


Because of our strict planning laws and plenty of remote locations, Britain has some of the best skies for star gazing. Galloway Forest Park in Scotland was the first place in Europe to be given the status of a "Dark Skies Park" by international astronomers and both the Brecon Beacons and Exmoor have now also been awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status. If you can make it to an official Dark Skies Park you'll see up to fifty times more stars. But don't worry if there's not one near you - there will be plenty to see wherever you are.


You will need:


• A dry, clear night, ideally when the moon isn't full

• Warm clothes (lots) including hats and gloves. If in doubt, take an extra layer

• A waterproof blanket or a deckchair

• Torch, ideally with with red filter (to help you keep your night vision)

• Star guide (you can download these for free from astronomy websites)

• A flask of hot chocolate or other warm drink and something to eat

• A compass to find your bearings (if you don't have one, get to your chosen spot before sunset and note West, where the sun goes down)


In a clear spring sky you should be able to easily see constellations including:


• Orion (the Hunter) – look for the three bright stars forming his belt.

• Ursa Major (the Great Bear, also known as the Plough) – look for a group of stars forming a shape like a saucepan.

• Ursa Minor (the Little Bear) – look for a smaller saucepan shape to the North West of Ursa Major.

• Sirius (the Dog Star) – a very bright, single star to the South East of Orion.


If you're lucky you'll also be able to spot the planet Jupiter (named after the Roman King of the Gods), a bright planet to the South East of Ursa Major and North East of Orion, as well as satellites tracking across the sky and maybe even a shooting star.


Did you know…? There are 88 recognised constellations, most of which are named after Greek or Roman gods or mythical creatures. Ancient astronomers believed all stars were stuck to the inside of a giant sphere that surrounded the earth known as the Celestial Sphere.


“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them." Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor, 161-180 AD).


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