Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Symbiosis Nursery - Fruit Trees back on their own roots !

For years I've been fascinated with the idea of growing fruit and nut trees on their own roots.

Sunset - a truly delicious apple
The process of grafting has always seemed a little brutal to me - cutting off the top of one plant and surgically binding it to lower body of another. I think if I were a young fruit tree I might have something to say about this method - and if we look closely, the trees are trying to tell us!

Isn't it frustrating how often our beloved fruit trees seem to succumb to disease, or generally seem a little 'poorly' - giving fruit that doesn't somehow feel full of the health and vitality that we hope for...

Experiments conducted at Brogdale suggest that own root trees are a good deal healthier compared to their grafted counterparts and provide crops of optimum quality in terms of yield, storage and flavor.

But more importantly than any kind of scientific backing, I think many of us are joined in knowing that something just feels right about trees growing on their own roots, surely the trees will be happier.. Enough human intervention now, let's go back to our roots. Nature knows, so let's let her quietly express herself in her own unique and mysterious way...

Some say these trees may take longer to fruit, and I say Great! Let's not hurry Nature.

A young fruit tree's branch breaking for bearing a crop that it's not mature enough to support is the perfect metaphor for our strange want to always rush forward with things too quickly. Just look how branches we've broken in our mad rush for fruitfulness in our short time on this incredible planet!

 As Uncle John O'Donohue put it -

"The beauty of nature insists on taking its time. Everything is prepared. Nothing is rushed. The rhythm of emergence is a gradual slow beat always inching its way forward; change remains faithful to itself until the new unfolds in the full confidence of true arrival."

If we can learn to humbly work within the natural rhythm of things, our patience will be rewarded a thousand fold with bountiful crops of peace, harmony and happiness - making the luscious fruits that follow just a delicious bonus!

Enjoy taking your time.....

The process of getting varieties back on their own roots also requires patience,

Own Root Fruit Trees will be available here by 2019.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

The Land of Abundance - Forest Gardening and Foraging Course

"Sometimes the urgency of our hunger blinds us to the fact that we are already at the feast!" - John O'Donohue. 

Me and my friends are creating a very special weekend coming very soon, on the 1st and 2nd October!

Please find more details about the weekend at Land of Abundance Course Information

A wonderful weekend to learn about forest garden design, foraging and cooking with our lovely Tasha from the Peasant's Lunchbox travelling cafe.

We have just 13 places left. 

Please email me if you'd like more information
Thanks for everybody who came to make this event such a great success! We had a marvelous weekend, exploring Sagara's beautiful garden, learning how to make perennial vegetable beds, foraging for goodies in every corner and turning them into delectable dishes!

Monday, 4 April 2016

Plants For A Future Need Volunteers!

For the past five or so years I've been going down to help Addy Fern on the beautiful Plants for A Future Land near Lostwithiel in Cornwall. Though I'd like to be able to help more I can usually only make it down there once or twice a year at most.

When I visited last year in October I was very saddened to understand from Addy that I was the first volunteer to arrive for the entire season. She desperately needed more help.

The book is still heralded today as a breakthrough work
 Many people seem surprised when I tell them of the amazing site, still growing strong... everything seems to have gone so quiet since Ken's book was published in 1997 that folk seem to assume that the project had been abandoned. Yet the 25 acre site, on which planting began in the 80s must be one of the oldest living examples of a forest garden approach in Europe - it just needs more help on the ground from more volunteers. A warm welcome awaits you, and there is so much to learn there.

So if you'd like to offer some of your time to help this amazing project, please follow this link to Ken's amazing new website which includes his new tropical plant database.

The entire site is full of exotic wonders like these Crataegus Pedicellata Berries in the autumn

Monday, 28 March 2016

Rosebay Willow Herb Recipe Challenge!

Calling All Foragers !

Sometimes the more intense and complex flavours of wild food can provide us with a wonderful opportunity to get creative in the kitchen, a challenge to find way of tempering and taming them into something altogether more congenial. Often we come across something that is produced in such abundance that we wish, if only there were some way to make them more palatable.... what a feast we'd have!

One such plant that has been bugging me for years is Rosebay Willow Herb or Fireweed - with two latin names too - Epilobium
Angustifolium or Chamerion Angustifolium.

Down here in Devon it remains a fairly inconspicuous creature until June, when suddenly huge swathes of hedge row are set alight by dazzling pink beacons on six foot flower spikes, the shy plants now boldly revealing the whereabouts of their colonies.

 It's only then that I tend to ponder what a fantastic potential this plant has a vegetable - but it's already too late... The season for harvesting the young tender shoots in Late March - April has long gone and now all that's on offer is the rather unappetising tough bitter leaves, and the fiddly pith of the flower stalks that makes a sweet, but far from substantial nibble.

So that's why at this time of year we need to be at the ready! Scouring the way sides with eager eyes, waiting for those elusive first dark purple and green spears to emerge out of the darkness, full of the vitality and vigour that they'll hopefully impart on us if we're quick enough to catch them at their best.

Although these slender shoots are much less tough and bitter than the fully grown plant, they can still be very variable. The sweetest part of the stem is apparently the white part from just under the ground - which makes me think perhaps if we blanched whole shoots like chicory, they could turn much softer and sweeter...

Some plants seem to provide shoots which are sweet enough to eat raw, whilst others will need boiling in water to be acceptable. If you still find them too bitter like this, don't give up... here is a great trick for all bitter plants to temper the flavour - soak them in salt water for half an hour before draining and cooking - it can make a big difference!

There are also reports of recipes for preserving the shoots in pickles and brines, which may make them a whole lot tastier and would make a welcome source of greens the following winter. 

**Update! I tried this in 2016 and indeed my pickled Rosebay, Goji berry and Ox-Eye Daisy shoots made a very welcome nibble in November, when less and less wild greens are available outside. Give it a try!

But my challenge to you, my fellow foragers, is to invent the best recipe you can for this very underestimated plant! Be adventurous and if you can be bothered to write to me to share your successes or failures - I'd be most delighted!

My second idea, perhaps just for the real plant geeks out there is to try to breed a more appetising strain of Rosebay. If you have a colony (which will probably all be of one kind) that you think is particularly sweet and pleasant to eat, then please let me know - or even better, send me a piece of root to grow on myself! It may sound a bit mad, but remember we have our ancestors to thank for breeding carrots that are plumper than pencils and lettuces that don't poison us! There are many, many more vegetables that we could breed to make fit for the conventional kitchen garden.

I'd be delighted to hear any feedback at all from these ideas - please just email

Oh - and trawling the internet, I just found that in Alaska, Fireweed is an extremely popular foraged food, where they often use the flowers to make ice cream and jelly! See this great website for more:

Happy Foraging All :) 


Saturday, 6 February 2016

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, Permaculture Mind

"In the Beginner's Mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few." - Suzuki Roshi

The Great 20th Century Zen Master Suzuki Roshi advised that the secret of Zen practice and indeed of life, is to rediscover your "Beginner's Mind" - that fresh, innocent place inside us where we see everything anew, like a child, as clear as day, a place that is quiet and empty, and yet full of wisdom.

This view certainly stands in stark contrast to conventional wisdom - that it is necessary to accumulate vast amounts of knowledge to feel qualified to act wisely, Suzuki advocates the exact reverse! First lose all learnt knowledge, then act through your innate knowing.

Krisnamurti once said: 'The day you teach a child the name bird, the child will never see that bird again.' 

And hasn't Permaculture demonstrated this point over and over again so perfectly?

Many of the most inspiring and influential figures in permaculture didn't learn their knowledge from anyone else, and they sure didn't have a PDC certificate. Pioneers such as Masanobu Fukuoka, Robert Hart and Sepp Holzer had very little to do with the permaculture movement. Instead, they realised the flaws of their conventional education and did something courageous that nobody had ever taught them to do - they trusted in themselves. With faith in their own inner wisdom they designed brave new ways to work in harmony with nature to grow food through their own inspired methods.

These guys have done some formidable ground work for us all. Yet I hope that with the growing popularity of permaculture, the movement won't fall prey to the models of education that has so deadened and dulled our society into the very sticky mess we find ourselves in... for the most part our faithless schooling seems to have only smothered the once dancing flames of our child like inner brilliance into a damp squib of an ember - an ember that so yearns for Faith, Passion and Encouragement to Spark it back into Luminosity and Life.

One of the greatest inventors of all time, Thomas Edison was apparently regularly beaten at school by his teachers for being so dim, yet when his Mother took him out of this fearful environment and gave him the love and nurturing he needed, he developed into the man who literally illuminated the world over night  with his invention of the light bulb, amongst hundreds of others.

The key, surely, if we are to truly learn from these great teachers is not to learn from what they did, but how. In Fukuoka's seminal work 'The One Straw Revolution' he actually gives his reader's head surprisingly little practical information to feed on, compared to what he offers to nourish the Heart. He knew that the practical details of his methods were comparatively irrelevant to the limitless well of wisdom that's inside each one of us

 Fukuoka doesn't just offer us a fish, not even the net - but instead turns us towards our own inner golden thread, from where we can weave net upon net, empowering us to reap a bountiful harvest, no matter what our circumstances.

So when it comes to permaculture, let us not get too caught up on acquiring endless information, knowledge and qualifications from the outside world, but instead look in-side with integrity, to discover the true treasures of intuition, and insight, our innate instinct, and inspiration that will guide our steps toward real innovation and ingenuity, a wiser way of living and therefore a wiser way of farming.

Instead of searching in a book for knowledge, Fukuoka looked up to the Heavens.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Forest Garden Plants Nursery 2016

The Forest Garden Plants Nursery will be really starting next winter. But this year I do still have a number of plants available for sale.
Trees : Blue Sausage Tree, Cherry Plums, Wild Hazels and Oaks, and Gingko Biloba Seedlings.

Cuttings of : Brandt Grape Vine, Ben Nevis Blackcurrant

Ground Layer Plants:

Wild Strawberries, Oregano, Day Lillies, Vietnamese Coriander, Babington's Leek,  Siberian / Pink Purslane, Oca, Lemon Balm, Perennial Wild Kale, Lemon Grass.

Please just email if you'd be interested in any of the above, prices are by donation, but the order must be of over £10 to make it worth it!

Please just send me an email to

Many thanks,


My first nursery project - Solomon's Seals, growing with Blue Sausage Tree seedlings, and Siberian Purslane in flower.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Forest Garden Designer - Available to Hire

A Garden that is not only beautiful, but edible, and ecological too.
Symbiosis in action - the Day Lilly, a delicious edible flower, provides nectar for a visiting hoverfly, which in turn predate insect pests. It's just one example of the astonishing mutually beneficial relationships that make a forest garden flourish.
Over the past seven years I've been studying, researching, designing, and creating edible forest gardens. I've helped out in many permaculture projects, learning from experienced masters in sustainable horticulture, and in the past two years I've been employed to design forest gardens professionally. Now I'm looking for exciting new opportunities in the field.

Forest Gardens are self sustaining ecosystems of mainly perennial plants, which should provide the gardener with a beautiful space and an abundance of food, and potentially materials and herbal medicine too, whilst also serving as a wildlife sanctuary, and a ecological recovery zone, where carbon can be sequestered and soil can be revitalised.

If you have a space where you'd like to create a forest garden, or if you already have a project you just need some advice with, I'd be delighted to help you. If the project inspires me, I'm willing to travel right across Europe to work.

 I can provide excellent references and examples of my existing work...

Even after one year the forest garden can be looking this beautiful and abundant! Here in October, the garden is alight with a multitude of edible flowering plants, which were planted the preceding spring. Raspberries, blueberries, currants, beans, salads and globe artichokes are being harvested too, just a few months after planting.

The only thing that stood here before were the fruit trees.

In the years to follow, the array of edible perennials will proliferate, providing a very rich and varied menu for the gardener to enjoy every day.

Forest Gardening is my passion and it's what I love doing, getting paid just feels like a bonus - I will even consider working for inspiring charitable causes free of charge. So please don't hesitate to get in touch regardless of your budget, I will do my best to help.

The best way to contact me is via email at -

Thankyou for reading and I look forward to hearing from you,


A Forest Garden can also provide a wonderful, quiet place to take rest.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

UK Autumn Harvest Survey 2015

......So, what can we really grow in the UK?

Thankyou to the excellent urban foraging website for posting up photos of loquats growing in North London! One of my favourite fruits...

 As always at this time of year, I invite growers from all over the UK to contribute their own success stories of the past growing season to share with the rest of the permaculture and horticultural community. With so many new crops being trialled in new places, let us share our experiences of which plants and varieties have done really well, and also if there's anything you've been growing that's been less than fruitful, that information could be really useful too.

In Devon we had a decent first half of the growing season, dry with lots of sun, with a much cooler and wetter August than we'd usually expect.

Despite a cool late summer though, I harvested my first ripe Siberian Kiwis! I was very excited to find in late October that the fruits had suddenly gone soft and juicy and were absolutely delicious to eat! My vine is the cultivar 'Issai' which is self fertile, although I will get many more fruits when my male vine starts flowering, hopefully next year.
If anyone else has had any luck growing hardy kiwis, please write in.

Diospyrus Kaki in the Paris Botanical Gardens, November 2015
On a tour with Martin Crawford recently, he stated that though true oriental persimmons or 'Kaki' only ripen in the UK in the best summers, hybrids between the Kaki and the American Persimmon can reliably set fruit in most years!

 The cultivar 'Nikita's Gift' is an example of this hybrid 'diospyros kaki x virginiana' - has anybody else have any good crops to report? It'd certainly make a tempting tree for many of us to try planting if it can reliably promise good crops of these exotic fruits each year!

What about Goji Berries, Chilean Guavas, Japanese Bitter Oranges, Kumquats, Chilean Hazels....... there are so many plants I'd love to gather more information about in context to growing in our very special cool temperate climate, to share with all.
Poncitus Trifoliata - Japanese Bitter Orange or Trifoliate Orange is reputed to be hardy and can set fruit in the UK

Please add a comment at the bottom of the page or email me at if you can contribute any of your own experiences of growing unusual crops in the UK.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Clare's Forest Garden

In the late summer of 2013, my lovely friend and employer Clare took me to a quiet corner of her garden that had been turned into a compost area and rubbish heap for anything that wanted to be hidden from sight. Having recently introduced her to the idea of forest gardening Clare suggested to me that we turn the space into an experimental plot.

Of course I was thrilled by the opportunity, though even in my wildest dreams I could never have imagined the forgotten corner looking as beautiful, verdant, and bountiful with the fruits, herbs and vegetables that Clare's now harvesting every day.

A great advantage of the site was that there was already a triangle of apple trees to provide the full canopy area for the small space. Now it was just a question of filling in the multi-levelled understory of fruiting shrubs, climbers, perennial vegetables and ground cover herbs that would supply Clare's family with an abundance of delicious fresh food, whilst requiring very little maintenance.

The vision for the garden would grow to let the space serve equally as a sanctuary for humans and wildlife alike to enjoy a peaceful place where the beauty of the flowers, the sounds of the birds and insects and a small pond would provide stillness and nourishment for the soul, as well as the body.

I'm so happy now to be able to share our work with everyone. I hope the following photos and narrative will inspire others to create beautiful forest gardens too and if you'd like any help with that, please do contact me.

Love to All,


Welcome to the garden of food and flowers, a sanctuary for all creatures great and small, a healing space and living lunchbox for humans (and birds)!

Our ground layer design utilises an ocean of wild strawberries - covering the ground effectively against weeds and erosion, whilst taller shrubs, herbs and perennial vegetables grow very happily, like islands among them.

The strawberries started fruiting in the middle of June and as I write this in August, the garden is so full of them that the heady scent of them fills the air as you wander through the plants!

This living mulch means there's very little weeding or maintenance to do, ever - and the system can grow away undisturbed, perennially.

We also planted some cultivated strawberries (pictured right). This variety 'Symphony' has been fantastic, rising above the wild strawberries with its taller foliage and has given us a bumper crop in its second year.

In a Forest Garden we don't ever need to fertilise the ground - we let nature perennially feed the soil for us.

Here a Perennial Lupin in full flower provides nectar for bees whilst powerfully fixing Nitrogen from the air into the Earth. 

Other plants like comfrey and sweet cicely improve soil fertility by sending down deep roots to bring buried nutrients back to the surface that can then nourish neighbouring plants.

The ongoing cycle of growth and decomposition makes the whole system a giant composter, gradually increasing fertility and the number of soil organisms and creating precious hummus and top soil, which will not only benefit us but also generations to come.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Experimenting With Tuber Crops in Devon

Well, well.... as we're nearing the end of another growing season, it's soon going to be that exciting time again for us to trade plants for next year.

This season I've been experimenting with just about all of those fascinating tuber crops that you can grow in the UK -  Mashua, Oca, Yacon, Chinese Yam, Chinese Artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, Ulluco and Ground Nuts (Apios Americana - not peanuts!) These are particularly interesting crops for me, as the search continues for perennial food crops that could replace annuals as part of our staple diet.

File:Yacon plant (Smallanthus sonchifolius).JPG
Yacon growing in their native Andean Region
It's still difficult to know what's going on under the ground and what the harvest will be like, but I'm expecting a decent crop from the Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) - which seem easy to grow, even in some shade but demand plenty of food and water.

As with many of these Andean tubers - yacon are day length sensitive and so only start producing tubers after the autumn equinox (September 21st) - so we have to rely on a long mild autumn for a good harvest.

Oca - a tuber crop and a salad! The leaves have a lovely lemony taste
Oca (Oxalis Tuberosa) is another of those day length sensitive crops but have also done really well, even in quite dry soil, and I'm hoping for a good yield. I've also been enjoying tossing their tangy leaves into salads and sandwiches this summer, yum!

The Mashua (lots of info in last year's posts) have been suprisingly tricky this year, compared with last and have appeared not to have enjoyed all the hot, dry weather, (or cabbage white caterpillars!) but I'm still hoping for a good few tubers.

Also disappointing have been the Chinese yam (Dioscorea Batatas) and Ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus), but I suspect that they may be suffering from the opposite problem - being too demanding of sunshine and warmth to grow very well in most of the UK. Only my plants in the polytunnel look healthy... Mind you we are up at 180m above sea level in North Devon, so have cooler summers than much of Southern England. Ulluco can also suffer from the same viruses as potatoes, so I wouldn't be at all surprised if an infection has stunted their growth.

The Ground Nuts are now rambling up a south facing hedge very happily after a slow start, it seems they need lots of water to grow vigorously. What a promising crop though - nitrogen fixing and very hardy, I'm excited by the potential of these guys. I probably won't attempt to dig any up until they're well established next autumn though.

As I say it's still early days, but I'm expecting to be able to share Oca, Yacon, Mashua, Jerusalem Artichokes, and hopefully a few Chinese artichokes with others in November/December. If you're interested to do a plant swap or to make a donation towards my forest garden project in exchange for some tubers, please get in touch!

Mashua can produce beautiful edible flowers late in the autumn too! Thanks to my uncle Dan for the picture.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A Taste of the Unexpected

File:Crataegus azarolus Frucht.jpg
Craetagus Azarolus
Forest Gardening certainly seems to be taking off in the UK right now, with new edible ecosystems cropping up all over the place... but it's still such early days and with few long established examples around, it can be hard to find many sources of information on many of the unusual plants that we're putting our faith in for future harvests. For me, the most important factor is what will actually taste good!

Of course everyone's palate is different, so lets share our experiences to get a better picture of what will be really worth growing. Please do write in to share your own experiences!


Cornus Kousa - Chinese Dogwood - Deliciously sweet squishy pulp inside, reminds me of banana. The fruits are fairly small however and the skin tastes disgusting. The best way to eat them is to make a hole in the skin and suck the insides out! - I'm still looking for one of these!

Actinidia Arguta - Hardy Kiwi
Actinidia Arguta - Hardy Kiwi - About the size of a large grape. Sweet and delicious, much like a full sized fuzzy kiwi but with smooth, tender skin, yum!

Hippophae rhamnoides / salicifolia - Sea Buckthorn and Himalayan Sea Buckthorn -  Most will find these tiny fruits far too sour to eat raw but I love to nibble them! They have an intense taste that I can only compare to a very sour passion fruit. I'm sure they'd make wonderful juices and jams. The two species taste very similar.

Arbutus Unedo - Strawberry Tree - Don't believe the myths that these fruits taste disgusting! Once they're ripe they can be sweet, soft and nicely tangy. You may find tiny crunchy particles inside that are fine to eat.

Diospyrus Virginiana - American Persimmon - I tried a few of these that were still hanging on the trees at Plants for A Future in Cornwall in December. Perhaps they were too far gone, very mushy, but still had a nice very sweet, almost caramelly taste. A little like cherry sized versions of their cousins the kaki or sharon fruit.

Cephalotaxus - Plum Yew - Not my favourite this one - it has a bizarre resinous taste that is not quite like anything else. Juicy and sweet but impossible to describe the flavour - better for you to try this one and decide for yourself. Perhaps an acquired taste - some people love them!

Decaisnea fargesii - Blue Bean / Blue Sausage Tree - Open up the pods and you'll find a lot of hard black seeds covered in slimy translucent flesh. The only way to eat them is to take a mouthful of the flesh and seeds and then spit out all the seeds! The flesh has a subtle sweet flavour, a tiny bit like melon.

Rosa Rugosa - Ramana's Rose - A nice tangy tomato-ie taste when grilled but it does take hours to get all those tickly seeds out

Craetagus - Sweet hawthorns - There are many species of hawthorn with nice sweet fruits, like the Azarole (Craetagus azarolus) for example. I find they all taste quite similar, with a fragrant appley taste and nice squishy texture when ripe. Reputed to be good for the heart.

Medlar - Can be wonderful, maybe they need lots of sun to be at their best . I tried some at Permaship in Bulgaria which were so sweet, almost like a squishy date or dried banana. 

Myrtus Ugni (Molinae) - Chilean Guava - Tiny, tiny fruits that are absolutely exquisite! Like aromatic strawberries with a beautiful pine like fragrance.

Vegetables and Salads

Oxalis tuberosa - Oca - I've tried these baked - a very nice lemony taste, can be quite sharp. I'd prefer to mix them up with more bland flavours, or in a salad. Texture like potato.

Tropaeolum Tuberosum - Mashua - Amazing vanilla like fragrance once baked. The flesh inside is sweet and fragrant, the skin has quite a strong peppery/cress taste. A strong taste so better mixed with other ingredients. The leaves of the plant are one of my favourites for salad, tender and with a mild peppery taste.

Acocha - easier to grow than peppers!
Smallanthus sonchifolius - Yacon - I've only tried these raw. Crunchy and sweet, halfway between a fruit and a vegetable. Intriguing more than delicious, and like Jerusalem artichokes, may cause jet propulsion.

 Achocha / Caigua -  This is a climbing annual from the cucumber family. Very easy to grow- I harvested this basketful from one plant growing in average soil with a little shade. The raw fruits are fluffy and tasteless but fry them hot until they're dark and they take on a taste not unlike green peppers!

Epilobium angustifolium - Rose Bay Willow Herb - Anyone can try this for themselves - it grows everywhere. I've found the flavour of the shoots interesting but pretty strong and bitter - they soon get tough and stringy too so best to eat them in April when they're small. The leaves are agreeable in small doses, good in salads. It'd be great for someone to do breeding work on these weeds to get them tender and sweet!

Sedum Spectabile / Telephium - Ice Plant / Orpine - The leaves are fleshy and juicy, quite bland with a curious 'green' taste. Great refreshing salad ingredient in moderation. Brilliant flowers for butterflies too.

Chenopodium album - Fat Hen  - Can tickle your throat when raw but great once cooked - much like spinach. Cultivated in India and known as 'Bathua'.

Allium ampeloprasum - Babington's Leek - The bulbils are like little garlic bombs, great fun in salads.

Claytonia sibirica - Siberian Purslane - This one is quite special, with a wonderfully sweet, earthy taste and crunchy texture. Sadly the raw leaves can really bite at the back of your throat so I prefer them steamed and then to my tongue, they taste better than spinach!

Hablitzia tamnoides - Caucasian Spinach / Spinach Vine - A pleasant mild taste when steamed, similar to spinach or fat hen.

Hemerocallis - Day Lillies  - Both the leaves and flowers have a characteristic sweet musky taste that can cling to your tongue for hours - not everyone's cup of tea! It's been noticed that they're more popular with men than women...


File:Gingko fg01.jpg
Gingko Biloba - Inside the smelly fruits you will find a tasty nut!
Quercus Ilex - Holm Oak - These can be nice and sweet roasted on a fire, tasting a bit like chestnuts but others can be bitter. Seems to vary from tree to tree. 

Araucaria araucana - Monkey Puzzle - I've only tried them raw - they're good, a bit like a big peanut. Others say Brazil nut? I'm sure they'd be delicious roasted.

Gingko Biloba - The nuts are quite small but very sweet and tasty once roasted on a fire. Similar flavour to chestnuts.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Eating Weeds - Dandelion Recipe!

File:2012-06-10 13-14-56-Aglais urticae.jpg
Butterflies and Bees like Dandelions too

It's definitely dandelion season out there at the moment - everywhere you go at this time of year there's masses of yellow flowers dancing in the wind, like tiny reflections of the sun. Only a few weeks back they were all hiding away, difficult to spot but now they're forced to give away their location with their bright yellow beacons! I lick my lips and fetch my scissors....

Whereas most gardeners around these parts detest dandelions, I'm fond of them - mainly because I love eating them. I was lucky enough to go to Greece a few springs ago and watched how much the locals relished eating them there - you even find dandelions on the market stalls, sold simply as 'horta', and in such quantity that I can only imagine the people are actually cultivating them!

The thing is, like with most vegetables, you just need to know how to prepare them. If you've ever tried eating a raw dandelion leaf you'll probably never want to get one anywhere near your mouth again. But then that would be the same if you'd tried eating raw broccoli - you're missing a treat once they're cooked!

So to get all that bitterness out, the dandelions need to be boiled for 10-15 minutes. The longer you boil, and the more water you use, the less bitter they'll become. (Some Greeks don't cover the pan, claiming that covering will make the leaves yellow and presumably less tasty? Sounds superstitious but I follow their advice!)

Drain the water, catching some of it in a bowl. Put your dandelions in a dish to serve and add plenty of olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper to give it that classic Greek twist! I like to add a little of the bitter cooking water to the mix now that I've acquired the taste.This water, by the way, is said to be an excellent remedy for a sore stomach, if you can get it down!

I'm not promising that everyone will love it on their first try, but do persevere, it's a taste well worth learning to like. My favourite bit is mopping up the juice with some bread at the end, yum!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Turning Logs into Mushrooms!

Another question frequently asked about growing crops amongst tall trees in a polyculture is: 'But what can you get to grow in all that shade?'

Sunlight must be our biggest consideration when designing an edible ecosystem and it certainly seems like a scarce commodity sometimes here in Devon. Firstly we must position the trees carefully to allow plenty enough light to penetrate through to the smaller shrubs and vegetables below. But of course there will still be places that'll see very little or no sun.

Luckily no sun doesn't have to mean no crops, and one perfect example of a shade loving crop is delicious mushrooms.

Not only do mushrooms offer us an easy crop in an otherwise difficult position, they can also turn our otherwise useless prunings into food and compost.

Full of essential vitamins and minerals and containing 10-30% protein when dried, mushrooms are super foods which can crop prolifically. This gives them great potential as a food to nourish the world's millions without the need for animals - and mushrooms may also crop when all else fails and are perfectly ecological to produce.

Gourmet species like Shiitake, Oyster Mushrooms, Lion's Mane and Chicken of the Woods can all be grown on logs. If you've never tried these kind of mushrooms before - they're quite a treat! Much meatier and more flavoursome than most shrooms, they are also easy to grow.

Many kinds of trees can be used, but oak and chestnut are often favourites, providing a high yield and durable wood that can keep cropping for 10 years.

The typical method is to inoculate freshly cut logs with specially prepared spawn during the winter. Logs are then left in a damp and shady place and usually fruit all by themselves 6-18 months after inoculation, in the spring or autumn.

Shiitakes are the most popularly grown log mushroom and one reason for this is that they can be forced into fruiting not just once but three times a year by a process called 'shocking'. Logs are soaked in water and banged on the ground to simulate a falling branch. The fungi, then thinking that it is time to procreate, unwittingly provides us with loads of tasty fruit, yum!

This method of cultivating shiitakes is thought to have begun around one thousand years ago in parts of China, and now seems to be just beginning to catch on over here!

If you'd like to grow your own mushrooms, a great website with lots of information and spawn for sale is Ann Miller:

I will be preparing lots of shiitake logs from oak branches this winter and will happily supply you with freshly inoculated logs. The logs will be around 3ft long x 10-15cm wide and should start providing you with mushrooms by 2014.

 Each log takes time and materials to prepare so I'm asking for £12 per inoculated log or £3 per freshly cut oak log for you to inoculate yourself.  I'm afraid they'll have to be picked up locally in Devon though as they're too heavy to send!

Please email me for more details...
Shiitake mushrooms are believed to help fight cancer, lower cholesterol and boost our immune system

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Chestnuts as a Staple Food?

When people first hear about the idea of Forest Gardening and replacing annual crops with perennials, one common question in response is: But where will the real bulk of food come from? How can we replace all those calories we get from the cereal fields without all the heavy work and energy input?

One of the answers is nuts. Nuts can be used in a similar way to cereals and perhaps the very best species of nut in terms of sheer yield in Southern England is The Sweet Chestnut.

We all know about roasting and boiling fresh chestnuts but they can also be dried and will keep for years this way. They can then be ground into flour to make bread and cakes. This was traditional in Southern Europe where they were sometimes known as 'Bread Trees'.

Chestnuts are also nutritionally similar to cereals but without the gluten and are full of Vitamin C.

Though not widely recognised as a viable crop in the UK, carefully selected varieties have been shown to perform consistently well in the warmer parts of the country and can give us up to 25kg per tree.

The good old Agroforestry Research Trust in South Devon planted a trials site for various species of nut trees in 1995 to discover the true potential of nuts as a staple food in the UK.

Their findings show that from a hectare planted with the most productive Chestnut cultivars we could expect 2.5 tonnes a year of green nuts a year, perhaps more. This compares with a typical yield of 4.3 tonnes per hectare of wheat grown organically in the UK. So the present yield may be lower, but when we consider the vast amounts of cereals and land that provide for lifestock, chestnut orchards may seem like a realistic alternative if were to move towards a less meat based diet.

And of course farming with trees requires less work, a lot less work!

Chestnut cultivars can start cropping after 3 years and will reach their full yield in10 years or so, but in that time they require barely any looking after.

Once they get going, all that is required is to come back every autumn and harvest the fallen nuts (*read bottom of page for squirrel issues). For the rest of the year, the orchard can be left in peace to serve as a permanent habitat for all kinds of other plants and creatures to enjoy - or be utilised to to grow further crops in a polyculture. In all that space that's left under the trees we can let poultry range, grow shade loving vegetables like Solomon's Seals, Wild Garlic, Sweet Cicely and also mushrooms (article coming soon!)

 Compare that with all the heavy machinery and annual Ploughing > Feeding > Sowing > Weeding > Harvesting cycle needed to provide us with wheat alone and well, I know which I'd choose!

But is it really that simple - don't the trees require feeding? Nut trees do indeed require a decent supply of nitrogen to keep cropping well, but naturally, Nature has a solution...

Instead of all the trouble of carting around chemical fertilisers or manure every year, we simply plant nitrogen fixing plants to fertilise the ground for us, perennially. In the case of a nut orchard, we'd look for trees such as alders, sea buckthorns and eleagnus species which can also act as a wind break, and may provide us with additional crops themselves. Even more nitrogen could be supplied by keeping poultry under the trees, who'll happily drop little nitrogen bombshells all over the orchard free of charge.

I'm currently planting a small orchard of Chestnut trees in Devon, mainly seedlings. The seeds I've sown are those from the trials site in Dartington so the parent trees are all good croppers. Yes, seedlings are always unpredictable but there's a small chance that some of them could turn out to give decent crops themselves and I could then share these new varieties with others. If they turn out to be less fruitful then I can always top graft them with a proven cultivar, or coppice them for their durable wood.

If you're keen to grow nuts, you must go and see Martin Crawford's trials site near Dartington, Devon. He tends to give guided tours of the place every autumn, and there's also a weekend course for growing all kinds of nuts.

*Squirrels.... I love to see them around, but they're the biggest problem we face when growing nuts. Luckily the spiny casing on chestnuts will deter squirrels, but only for as long as they're on the tree - as soon as they hit the ground they're easier to get into and the squirrels will usually beat you to it! So if don't want to harm the squirrels, we must harvest the nuts off the tree. The only method I know is by banging the branches with a long pole regular and then collecting the fallen nuts - if you know of any others, please let me know!

I don't currently have any chestnut trees to offer - but do check the agroforestry research trust's catalogue.