Recalling the flowers and fruits of the summer as it races by…

The summer races by, and with different plants flowering (and fruiting) at different times, it’s easy to forget that the woad was blooming for weeks early on, and the Jacob’s ladder, the garden sage and the knapweeds, all these flowers now over and replaced by marigolds, cosmos, marshmallows, wild carrot. Blackcurrants followed raspberries followed strawberries. I’ve kept a (somewhat desultory) photo record this year, and here are some (though by no means all) of the plants which have been flowering and fruiting – in the garden, in the woods, and down by the sea. Beginning from today and going backwards!

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Squash, as yet unidentified, climbing up through the hawthorn tree, at 7 feet already and showing no sign of stopping – spot the growing green gourd through the leaves (Photo: today, 19th August 2016).

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An Alberto’s Locoto chilli (Capsicum pubescens) in its second year. No flowers or fruits last year, but both plants overwintered in the conservatory, and have burgeoned this summer. There are over 20 juicy fruits on this one to date, and more flowers appearing as I write. Seeds originally from The Real Seed Catalogue.

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4 o’ clock plant fully out by 5.30pm (6th August) with lovely yellow flowers and marvellous scent. Native to the Americas and in the Nyctaginaceae family (Mirabilis jalapa). Still blooming away two weeks later.

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As of 6th August, a small number of butterflies had appeared on the buddleia and elsewhere in the garden. Over the past few hot and sunny days, the numbers have increased slightly, mostly peacocks and scarlet admirals, along with one or two painted ladies and meadow browns.

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Into the woods to discover slender St. John’s wort, enchanters nightshade and scullcap.

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Marshmallow in the first week of July. This plant, which has been with us since 2012, has really come into its own this year.

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Out of the garden and into the wild dunes. Ancestor sea peas were in abundance throughout June and July, as was fellow legume restharrow.

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Back in the garden, a meadow brown butterfly visits the knapweed. And (below) I rescue several valerians whose leaves have been decimated by an unknown decimator!

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Red roses, strawberries, wild honey and a bunch of fresh and fragrant herbs for the first wild yeast mead of the summer. We drank it fresh and delicious at only a couple of weeks old.

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Sage (Salvia officinalis), moon daisies and Jacob’s Ladder doing their glorious things in June.

Rehabilitating Valerian

Valerian rehabilitatedThe poor old valerians in our garden have been ravaged by goodness knows what this year (and last). I’ve not yet seen the culprit responsible, but the news is not all bad.

Valerian (I mean the native, wild, medicinal Valeriana officinalis here, and not the commonly grown and escaped Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber), which can be seen in red and white versions in gardens and on walls in the summer) easily restores itself from the strongly aromatic roots.

20160715_192259-2 lowresSo I just dug them up and put them in pots (using homegrown peatfree compost topped with a layer of bought peatfree to suppress the weeds) and they’ll be sprouting new leaves within a week or so.

Valerian is one of my (many) favourite plants, and has been used through the ages as a herbal sedative, and for insomnia. I sometimes drink the tea to help me relax, and find it does the trick.

Mostly though I love the plant for itself… and I’m determined to discover who else does next year and see if I can stop the great stripping!

Pics: Valerian repotted; Valerian reviving a week later (15th July 2016); Valerian flowers (all by Mark In Flowers)

Valerian in flower July 2016

A Mead of Fruits, Flowers and Herbs

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This morning I got my first mead of the summer on the go – red roses, strawberries, wild honey, spring water and a bunch of fresh herbs, most from the garden, and everything apart from the honey from no further than two miles away.

The fresh herbs include anise hyssop, apple mint, lemon balm, spearmint, yerba buena (what would we do without the mint family?), along with some sunflower fellows: alecost leaves and mugwort flowerbuds.

Over the next ten to fourteen days there will be vigorous stirrings and smellings and bubblings and fizzings, followed by very merry drinkings!

See this post for how to give it a go yourself: How to Make a Herbal Mead Elixir

Retro Blackbird Goes 2 Tone

This year’s resident blackbird has been particularly vocal with a bold and complex song, which has been a joy to hear throughout the spring and early summer.
The thing that has struck me most about it though is a line he’s repeated frequently, which really reminds me of the first few notes of The Selecter‘s On My Radio from 1979. We’ve never had a 2 Tone retro blackbird as a neighbour before!
He’s toned it down in the past few days now that the young have fledged, but I managed to catch a bit of his song the other day in this 4 second video from somewhere behind the mock orange…

 

Grassroots Directory now crowdfunding!

GD 400x400 no borderThe Grassroots Directory is an A-Z guide aiming to showcase more than 200 of the most exciting community-led projects in grassroots Britain, taking you from Allotments to Zero waste and everywhere in-between.

As we join the dots between Repair cafes, Local currencies and Urban farms, you can find out how they work, what makes them tick and even how to set one up in your own hometown.

We are now crowdfunding this new publication with the fabulous Unbound Books, and we’d love your help to make it happen.

https://unbound.co.uk/books/grassroots-directory

If you’d like to support us by making a pledge and circulating this email to your own networks, that would be great. You can read all about the project, watch our (3 min) video (filmed at Grow-Our-Own in Bluebell Allotments in Norwich), and make your pledge here:

https://unbound.co.uk/books/grassroots-directory

GD SeedsThe Directory was inspired by many years documenting community projects, including in the national grassroots newspaper Transition Free Press. But given the short-lived nature of most online and printed media, we felt that producing the Directory as a ‘bumper annual’ would give these stories a longer – and hopefully well-thumbed – ‘shelf life’!

We look forward to including your name in the back of The Grassroots Directory!

web grassrootsdirectory.org/
twitter @grassrootsmap
facebook Grassroots Directory

Goldfinches

As I write this from near the east coast of England at 2pm on 17th December 2015, the weather outside is mostly overcast with pale gold light streaking through the clouds to the south. It is also extremely mild, probably 14 degrees Celsius.

Not such a different temperature in fact to that of the early October day when I took this picture of a flock of goldfinches which had landed in the elder tree at the bottom of the garden.

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It’s not a particularly sharp or fine picture and I don’t have a very good camera; but something about the flashes of dandelion gold on the goldfinches’ wings, as if the colour came directly from the sunny flower of that plant itself, whose seeds they love to eat, made me want to post it…

How to make a Herbal Mead Elixir

This month the 8th issue of Dark Mountain (and first themed book and paperback) was published. Titled Technê, it is a wide-ranging collection of essays, reflections and maker guides on all aspects of technology and tools. At its launch at the /i’klectik/ art lab and cafe in Lambeth, I demonstrated in six intense minutes how to make a wild autumn mead, whilst Charlotte gave a slideshow of some of the artworks and photographs in this densely illustrated volume. I also joined the crew for this issue as proofreader and Charlotte co-edited the book and wrote two of its pieces. This is the first, a short practical one about making mead, which also appears on her own blog:

How to make a Herbal Mead Elixir – by Charlotte Du Cann

This is a mead made for a talk about Dark Mountain at the 2 Degrees Festival at Toynbee Studios, Whitechapel, last June. My fellow editor Steve Wheeler and I had been invited to present our talk without any technology or power, as part of a ‘de-industrialising‘ workshop called ‘Breakdown breakdown’, organised by the artist and activist Brett Bloom.

I took a jar of mead along as part of the performance.

Honey and water infused by botanicals make the simplest, most off-grid, hands-on, archaic, indigenous drink you can find anywhere. You can conjure mead elixirs from any fruit or leaves or roots, depending on your intent or sense of adventure. Fragrant elderflowers, bitter dandelion roots, birch bark, hawthorn berries; the mead circles of rural Tennessee, according to master fermenter Sandor Ellix Katz, make them with just about with anything. Ours had a fruity theme: conference pear, lemon balm, apple mint, lime blossom honey. The key ingredient in mead is raw honey. The honey has to be non-pasteurised, so it contains the wild yeasts that make fermentation happen.

Midway through the presentation, just after Steve had whirled about the circle of people, reading from his Dark Mountain piece, Ragnanok, about modern warrior training in Sweden, I passed the mead around to see if anyone could guess what it was. No one did, although a girl from Finland did say it reminded her of something her people made with raisins.

‘Well, if you know your Nordic mythology,’ I said, ‘you’ll know that when Odin and his sky warriors weren’t preparing for the Last Battle, they were drinking mead!’

The first time I encountered mead, I was investigating plant medicine in Oxford. One night, I dreamed my head was covered in bees. It was intense. The second time was at an editorial meeting in London. Six of us had been running a newspaper against the odds and were closing shop after three years. We sat in a circle, feeling The End drawing nigh, when the managing editor exclaimed, ‘Let’s have some mead!’ and brandished a Kilner jar containing an elixir of rose petals, redcurrants and windfallen cherry plums. Five minutes later we were all falling about laughing. I thought I was going to burst with happiness.

‘It might be the end of the world as we know it,’ I declared to the audience. ‘but at least we can have a good time!

INGREDIENTS:

1 handful each of mint and
lemon balm leaves

1 ½ litres of pure spring or
boiled water

1 pear (organic), chopped (or
any unsprayed seasonal fruit)

½ jar of raw honey (small
local producers rarely process their honey)

1 ½ litre Kilner jar

METHOD:
Pick a good handful of lemon balm and mint leaves from a garden or unpolluted location, and make them into a strong tea with some of the water (just off the boil). The water needs to be pure non-carbonated spring water. If you use tap water make sure it is well boiled,
or left open overnight, to rid it of chlorine (although it may still contain chloramines depending where you live). Let it cool.

Dissolve the honey with some of the cooled tea in the Kilner jar, then add all the rest of the ingredients, plus several fresh lemon balm leaves.

Leave the jar somewhere warmish and visible. Every day take up a wooden spoon and swirl the mixture briskly anti-clockwise and then clockwise.

It doesn’t matter if you keep the jar open or closed, but if you close it you need to ‘burp’ the jar every day. It will make a satisfying hiss as the CO2 escapes and froth vigorously. Each day the mead will look different. The colour and fragrance will change. Transformation is happening!

After about 10 days it is ready to drink – though you can bottle and keep it for years. It is particularly delicious mixed with wine, fruit cordial, apple juice and/or sparkling spring water.

All the ingredients in this mead are traditional herbs for relaxing and cheering you up. Contrary to expectation, facing the end of the world as we know it can be a cheerful thing, as every attempt to deny the situation, or to keep things going against the odds, disappears. It opens up a space you didn’t think was there. Suddenly you can see what or who was around you all the time, but you were too fraught to notice. 

The alchemical mead jar at the centre of the talk was a kind of metaphor for the Dark Mountain Project. I wanted to show hown if you gather some creative uncivilised ingredients (people) together, they can made a heady, healing and joyful brew. What is happening in that Kilner jar is the magic and medicine of fermentation – communities of microorganisms working together, exchanging material, creating new forms, making life happen. All the active ingredients in honey are dormant until you mix them with water, and then everything wakes up. The yeasts that live on the surface of leaves and the skins of fruit add to the live action and flavour. The sweet nectar of flowers gathered and processed by millions of bees feeds them, and then us. Rewilding in a jar.

Sip, share and enjoy!

Images: front cover of Dark Mountain 8 designed by Andy Garside; a late summer mead with cherry plums, rowan berries and mallow (Mark Watson); Mark in action at recent Raw Food and Drink demo at Giddens & Thompon’s Bungay (photo by Josiah Meldrum)