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HOW TO …
…DRY & PREPARE ELDERFLOWERS
Before Roman rule there were flourishing elderflower orchards in England. In the interests of trade, the Romans were keen to convert us to grape wine – otherwise we’d still be enjoying the elderflower variety.
Don’t miss the opportunity to harvest some elderflowers in the next few weeks. Preferably pick them on a sunny day. Remove the larger stalks and dry the flowers as quickly as possible on a cloth – somewhere warm, but away from direct sunshine.
Elderflower tea can be drunk on its own, or combined with other herbs. Among other things, elderflowers are beneficial for colds, fevers, skin, bruising and wounds. Elderflowers can also be used as one of the ingredients of kombucha, which I’ll write about on another occasion.
Make ‘champagne’ with 4-5 elderflower heads, 500g sugar, 1½ tbsp white wine vinegar, the juice and rind of 2 lemons and 6 pints water. Mix the contents and allow to steep for 24-48 hours. Strain and bottle in Grolsch bottles, or screw topped bottles. Ideally, the bottles should be sterilised, but I just wash mine very well. Keep for 2 weeks before drinking. (If the champagne is exceptionally fizzy, it may be necessary to open and recork the bottles after 1 week to avoid an explosion).
For cordial you’ll need 10 flower heads, 500g sugar, 2 lemons and 15g citric acid (or a lot more lemons). Dissolve the sugar in 100ml boiling water, adding a little more water if there is insufficient to dissolve the sugar. Pour on to the other ingredients. Cover and leave overnight, before straining and bottling, as above.
.If you know of any traditional skills that are worth reviving, or new ideas for a sustainable future, contact Rachel Bridgeland at ventnorpermaculture(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)uk
Elderflower fritters are good too. It’s good to pick the elderflowers in the morning after the sun has warmed them. leave good stalks on to hold the fritters by. Shake the flowers carefully to remove small insects, but don’t wash them. Then make the batter as you like it. I prefer a plain batter but you can add some sugar or lemon zest. Get some hot oil ready, a couple of inches deep at least. You can use a wok. Dip the heads into the batter, holding them by the stalk and then fry them until they are golden brown. Drain them on kitchen paper and sprinkle with sugar. Yummy!
Butterflies desperately need good weather in the coming months to recover from last year’s summer, the wettest since records began. Butterflies don’t fly in the rain, so they can’t get to the nectar plants . Heavy rain also means they are unable to breed. Last year several species had their lowest ever recorded numbers.
Eight butterflies were at an all-time low – the Common Blue, the Grayling, the Lulworth Skipper, the Small Skipper, the Small Tortoiseshell, the Speckled Wood, the Chalkhill Blue and the Wall.
Other species that suffered badly included the High Brown Fritillary and the Duke of Burgundy, both already on the decline.
Butterflies and moths suffered from the wet summer last year so we need to make sure they are well provided for in the garden. You can encourage them to visit your gardens to drink nectar from the flowers. They need a lot of energy to keep flying.
Many good nectar plants are easy to grow, and you can make your garden attractive to passing butterflies and moths. Try to have a variety of flowers available right through the season, but particularly in spring and autumn. Early flowers for butterflies that are just emerging from hibernation, and late summer and autumn flowers for the species that need to build up their reserves for winter. Grow flowers in sunny, sheltered areas, as butterflies will seek out the warmest parts of your garden.
Good flowers for spring are aubretia, bluebells, clover, daisies, dandelions, forget-me-not, honesty and pansies, primroses, and wallflower.
Good flowers for late summer and autumn nectar are buddleia, french marigold, ice plants (Sedum spectabile), Ivy, knapweed, lavender, marjoram and oregano, michaelmas daisies,mint, red valerian, scabious and thyme.
The greater variety of plants that you grow, the more butterflies will visit. ‘Old fashioned’
varieties often have more nectar than modern types.
Create your own nettle patch for caterpillars
A nettle patch can be a valuable asset to any garden. Nettle aphids provide an early food source for woodland birds, such as the Great Tit and Blue Tit, which have learnt to exploit the garden habitat. Ladybirds are also attracted to the nettle in early spring to lay their eggs – the voracious larvae hatching to a juicy meal of nettle aphids. The ladybirds breed quickly on the nettles and by midsummer the organic gardener can have of army of red and black allies keeping aphids in check.
The young shoots can be cut and added to soups and stews or cooked as a vegetable – somewhat spinach like in texture.
Later in the year the nettle patch can provide food for the caterpillars of the ,Small Tortoiseshell Comma and Peacock butterflies as well as the beautiful Red Admiral. The vast quantities of seed produced provides a late summer feast for our seed eating birds
At any time the nettle foliage can be cut down and submerged in water to make a free and totally organic liquid plant food.
The first step to creating the perfect nettle patch is the choice of site. If butterflies are the main aim then it is essential that the patch be in a sunny, sheltered location – shady nettle patches are unlikely to attract butterflies.
The next question is one of size. Again if butterflies are the aim the patch should be of a decent size – a single brood of Peacock caterpillars could easily devour a square metre of dense nettles stems!
Nettles are hungry plants so the ground should be enriched with well-rotted manure and garden compost before planting. The only thing left to do is to get your plants – but do remember that the nettle is a wildflower and should not be dug up from the countryside. I’m sure you can find a gardening neighbour or allotment holder who would be only too happy to give you some of theirs!
Plant the nettles at about 30 cms apart and keep well watered until established.
One final thing to remember is that the nettle can spread rapidly. A path around the plot can help contain it or confine it to a corner bed in a lawn where any wayward shoots are soon dealt with by the lawnmower! from Be Nice to Nettles Week a CONE initiative
sparrows, starlings, house martins and swifts depend on buildings for nest sites.
House The last two species are almost completely dependent on them. Roofs are also important habitats for roosting bats.
Opportunities for birds to share your house are greatest in older properties. Modern building techniques and renovation materials can prevent their access, unless you provide specific opportunities. There are five steps for safeguarding existing nest sites or creating new ones:
Where possible, leave existing nest holes alone. Work around them when carrying out repairs and renovations .
If this is not possible, fit an internal nest box behind the replacement material. Position the box and make a hole in the new material at the same location as the original nest site.
Create new sites by making appropriately sized holes in the existing fascias and soffits.
Utilise the existing roof or fascia design to create new nest sites.
Fit internal nest boxes in new builds or extensions.
If none of the above are possible, use externally fitted nest boxes.