EL#3 Springs, Water and Spring Time Fungi

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Edible Landscape number three started off from the Tankards Spring in Chalford High street. Although the water levels in the river had been very low since the previous winter and other seasonal springs in the valley had sunk back into the ground already, Tankard Spring continued as it does with hardly any variation in it’s flow.

We looked at a variety of edibles that grow in or beside water including Water Mint, Brook Lime and Water Cress. Also the peppery lady’s smock, or cuckoo flower (not to be confused with Cuckoo pint) was in flower (see below left). Unfortunately by the time Lady’s smock is identifiable  by its flowers there are hardly any of it’s hot tasty leaves to be seen.

And although the early spring had been dry and then frosty the St.George’s mushrooms made an appearance this year in some but not all of my usual spots. On the second of this months outing we found Morels as well as St.Georges mushrooms.

EL#2 The Wood, the Trees and Rising Sap


The second walk of the year looked at leafless tree identification and covered some interesting folk lore relating to particular tree species. The highlight of the March walk was a chance to witness the tapping of a birch tree and to try some fresh birch sap.

Here is one of the trees in the valley that I tapped. A 1 inch hole was drilled through the outer bark of the tree and my improvised sap spigot tapped into the tree. My spigot was fashioned from a piece of aluminium tubing that fitted onto my one inch pvc tubing. This was left for 24 hours or over night. I took me four tree tappings to gather just about a gallon (4.5 litres) of sap. Although they say if you get it right -timing and no leaks – you can get a gallon per tree.

Birch sap has the highest sugar content of any native British tree but is still only 0.5 – 2%. The Sugar Maple form which maple syrup is produced contains up to 8% and the chances of making a syrup from birch are slim to nil. However Birch sap is pleasantly sweet and interestingly woody when fresh and can make a very nice soft drink on it’s own. It wont keep for long in its fresh state, although you could freeze it to extend it’s life. Traditionally it is made into Birch Sap wine, and this is what I’ve done with mine.
Here’s the recipe I’ve used. It’s and adaptation of one from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who got it from BenLaw  (I visited his woodland house on my permaculture course! Great bloke.)

  • Four litres (of Birch Sap
    • 150ml of water
    • Three tablespoons honey
    • Juice of a lemon

HFW added yeast to the warmed honey and water to get it started then just added the sap and lemon juice and put it in a demijohn with air lock.

I started mine with some fermenting cider (or was it medlar wine?) because I like the idea of using natural yeasts that are present on the fruit rather than bought in. It was a bit slow to get going but is now bubbling away.

Other recipes suggest adding more sugar and one I saw include a 1/2 gallon of honey! – not a cheap recipe. There are many variations out there in net land.


EL#1 winter bones

The first EL walk of 2012, Winter Bones, was a bit of an expedition in the sub zero conditions. But the clear skies and covering of snow was just what I was hoping for. Mid-winter is a great time to consider the basics of any landscape – the underlying structures, the rocks and soils that everything else develops from.  When the leaves and undergrowth are at a minimum, and the valley is sketched out in the monochrome colours of snow or frost, and a low sun picks out every bump and ripple – this is when the bones of the ancient landscape start to show through.

Looking at the same bit of the valley from each end of the sweeping curve below Bakers Mill. For me this was the perfect view for imagining the huge Ice Age river that scoured out the valley. The ancient river has cut down through Jurassic limestone beds which are the sedimentary deposits of warm shallow seas that covered the south of Britain 65 million years ago. The springs that break out just at road level at this point in the valley are evidence of the underlying geology. Here porous Oolite limestone and Upper Lias sands – indicated by dry-loving beech bank above the road – overlay the water tight clay layers of the middle Lias forcing the filtered ground water out into the valley fields and creating rich wetland habitats.


New Season Edible Landscapes

A new season of Edible Landscape walks is kicking of this month. The first walk, entitled Winter Bones –  deep time & antifreeze, will be an introduction the Edible Landscape starting with the underlying structure – the bones – of the valley. Considering this landscape was created – in deep time – and how the geology, rock and soil shapes the life that exists now.We will also be looking at some plants that survive and thrive in the coldest month of the year.

Check Events for dates and times

Winter Fruits

The very late fruiting season goes on. It was not until the 24th January that I spotted these fine fruits on a fallen ash in Oldhills wood, but according to another sharp eyed walker they had already been there a couple of weeks.

I have always been a bit wary of Oyster mushrooms that fruit in the middle of winter. Although the text books do state that Pleurotus ostreatus can be found throughout the year, in my experience they are much more likely to be found in summer or early autumn. But my wariness comes from the fact that there are a couple of very similar looking fungi that come out only in the winter that are not so good to eat. I learnt this the hard way many years ago when I ate what I was convinced was an Oyster mushroom that I found in the valley in mid January. Though I survived, the 12 hours of stomach cramps was not something I was eager to repeat. Hence my distrust of the ‘winter Oyster’.

The continuing warm spells through to January has resulted in more winter fruiting than I’ve seen for a long time, and it has meant that I have finally nailed the identification of my “Fools” oyster mushroom. What I believe I inadvertently ate, all those years ago was the Olive oysterling – panellus serotinus. Here are some I found just a few weeks earlier growing on a fallen oak not very far from the oysters above.

The Fungal Year

 Morels (Morchella esulenta)

Morels (Morchella esulenta)

It’s been a strange year for fungi. First the usually faithful St. Georges, (Calocybe gambosa, (formally Tricholoma gambosum (don’t ask me why))), did not appear at all due to the complete lack of rain in April.  But then, just when I’d given up on any spring crop at all, Morels (Morchella esulenta), one of the most sort after wild mushrooms in mycophile Europe, started appearing all up and down the valley.

A dry late summer and early autumn again led to disappointing no shows of other favourites like Ceps (Boletus edulis) and Hedgehog fungi (hydnum repandum) in my usual locations. But then again, just when I assumed that was it for the year, the on-going warm, and finally damp, weather bought up a plethora of late autumn fungi way into November. Beautiful purple stemmed Wood and Field Blewits (Lepista nuda & Lipista sueva) sprung up all over the place in spots I’d never seen them before. It wasn’t until the 1st of December whilst looking to see if there were any walnuts left on a tree I’d spotted previously that I came across a field of blewits the like of which I’d never seen before. A half dozen mostly complete rings of mushrooms, some up to ten metres across covered the field. Tragically, for me, by then most of them had ‘gone over’ and were starting to deteriorate fast. I still managed to fill my pockets and my camera bag, having not brought a basket. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this field come late autumn next year.

Field Blewits (Lipista sueva)