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, Sep 1 2017 11:00AM

September often starts with a few weeks of sunshine and warmth but as we head towards October, we'll definitely be seeing wetter and cooler weather.


The slightly soggier conditions in early autumn mean softer ground and the opportunity to collect casts of animal prints - a great way to spend the last few weeks of the school holidays.


Animal Track Casts


You will need:


• A 1kg tub of plaster of Paris (try any art supplies shop)

• A 1 litre bottle of tap water

• An old medium-sized mixing bowl or plastic container, ideally with a spout

• A wooden spoon

• An old 2 litre plastic bottle, cut into sections about two inches thick

• Some old newspaper

• Plastic bags (for the messy bowl and spoon)

• Vaseline (or other petroleum jelly).


First, find your tracks. Look on soft ground near to shelter or food and water sources – under trees or near streams in woodland or field edges. See our guide [on the next page] if you need help identifying them.

Once you find a good print, clear away any loose twigs and stones so the print is as clear as possible.


Smear a thin layer of the petroleum jelly around one of the plastic rings (this will make it easier to remove later), then press into the ground around the print, making sure the print is centred. Press the ring a couple of centimetres into the ground so that when you pour the plaster in it won't leak out.


Now mix your plaster in the bowl. Follow the directions on the packet to get the right plaster to water ratio (usually about 1.5 to 1). The mixture will get hot as you mix it. You should have a glossy liquid, similar in texture to double cream or pancake batter. Once mixed, leave for a minute or two and gently tap the mixing bowl to ensure any air bubbles float to the top (trapped air bubbles will weaken your cast). Now pour the plaster into the plastic circle, filling to just below the rim. Try not to pour the plaster directly onto the print but off to the side, letting it run into the impression.


You now need to leave the cast to set for at least half an hour. Mark your spot with a tall stick (so you can find it again) and hunt for more prints or go for a circular walk.


When you are ready to remove the cast, very carefully lift it (including the plastic collar) and wrap it in the newspaper. Don't worry at this stage about cleaning any mud off - it is still very fragile. Leave to dry for another full day at home. The cast will then be properly set and you can cut off the collar and rinse off any mud.

You can paint the cast to highlight the footprint if you want to, or varnish it to give it extra strength. Be sure to label it with the species you have identified and the location you found it. As you add to your collection you will learn more about the animals and their behaviour. What sort of woodland do deer like to live in? What do wild boar like to eat? It's a fascinating way to learn more about the animals that live in our countryside. Incidentally, if you're lucky enough to find larger animal casts, such as a badger's, you can also use long strips of card, secured with paper clips to surround the print, instead of the plastic rings.


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

Our rivers and streams are full of different species of fish, large and small. But perhaps the best known and certainly one of the easiest to catch, is the minnow. These small olive-brown fish can be found in most small streams and rivers, usually close to the river bank.


An afternoon on the riverbank catching minnows is a childhood memory that every seasonal family should share. The traditional jam jar and a piece of string will make a rudimentary trap but can break leaving shattered glass in the river. With a little work you can make a more sophisticated and safer version.


You will need:


• Two large (2 litre) clear plastic bottles of the same size and shape.

• About 2 metres of nylon string

• A pair of scissors

• Twist ties (the sort that you seal freezer bags with)

• A few pieces of stale bread or plain crackers for bait

• A bucket


First cut the neck off one of the bottles. Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut right around the bottle, at the bottom of the neck (where the bottle reaches its maximum width). Then, cut all the way round the middle of the other bottle. Discard the base of both bottles and one of the screw caps, into your recycling bin. Now, turn the smaller neck around and insert it into the base of the other neck. (The idea is to make an opening which is easy for the minnows to enter but harder for them to get out.) Firmly hold the two pieces together whilst you very carefully pierce six holes around the sides of the bottles, about 1cm below the cut edges. Firmly secure the two pieces together using the twist ties in five of the holes. Thread the string through the remaining hole and tie it securely (this knot needs to be strong as the trap will be heavy when you retrieve it.)


To use your trap, drop a few pieces of bait into the opening. Throw the trap into the water, (keeping hold of the string!) and allow it to sink. Leave for a few minutes (use this time to add some water into your bucket). You should see the fish shoaling around the bottle trap and, once there are some inside, you will see the bait moving as they take little bites. Smoothly pull the string to retrieve the trap from the water and you should have some minnows. Unscrew the cap (which is now at the base of the trap) and pour your catch into the bucket.


Minnows aren’t for eating so make sure you release them gently back into the river before you leave.


Did you know…? The word "goujon" is commonly used to refer to a thick finger of meat or fish (usually breaded and deep fried). It comes from the French name for another common freshwater fish, the gudgeon.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Aug 6 2017 11:00AM

Our harbours, piers and quaysides are teeming with crabs making the most of the calm waters and plentiful food. What trip to the coast would be complete without a crabbing competition?


Although there are 65 different species of crab found in British waters, the significant majority of the ones you'll catch when crabbing will be the Common Shore Crab. These efficient scavengers thrive on all kinds of waste but particularly enjoy discarded catch from fishing vessels, one of the reasons they love our harbours so much.


You will need


• A crab line or length of nylon string – at least 5 metres long.

• A washing tablet string bag or the feet of some old tights (not essential but makes refreshing your bait much easier)

• A small lead weight

• A bucket


Lower your baited and weighted line into the water, leave it to sink and wait a while. When you think you might have a crab, gently life your bait and carefully bring your catch to the surface.


Top tips for successful crabbing:


• Don’t put too many crabs in one bucket. Empty it when you have 10 or so.

• Keep your bucket out of direct sunlight and add some seaweed or rocks to give your crabs some shelter

• Use a smelly bait that the crabs can find. Both bacon and mackerel give off a small oily scent trail that the crabs can easily follow.

• Leave your bait still long enough to ensure the crabs can find it.

• A smooth retrieve is essential. Crabs will usually continue to grip the bait as long as it isn't jerked too suddenly.

• Be careful! Even small crabs can deliver a nasty nip. If you need to handle a crab, grip it gently but firmly from behind on either side of its shell.

• Remember to return your catch safely to the water before you leave.


If you want to tell the difference between male and female crabs, turn them over and look for the "abdominal flap" on their underside. The male flap is thin and pointed while the female's is wider and more rounded (it is used to carry eggs in the mating season).


Did you know…? The name for a group of crabs is a "cast"


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.)


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