....that signals the start of the forage boxes in earnest but where does it all come from?
This is the Wildacre Warren greenhouse were some most of the roses and some of the forage is dried for the shop.
Did you know that you can gather forage from public spaces to give to your bunnies but you are not allowed to gather it for commercial gain, for that you need the permission of the landowner. Luckily I have Grandpa Warren, who owns a sizeable plot and much of our forage comes from there.
In spring he is tasked with gathering birch, beech and cow parsley from his garden and it fills his greenhouse. After drying he stores it in his shed, layered between newspaper.
In May we lie in the meadow grasses and carefully run our fingers down the stems to pick the yarrow leaves at their base as they hide amongst the grasses. Its a companionable time. Garlic mustard, beech, birch, yarrow, hawthorn, cow parsley, wild strawberry leaves, lavender and roses are all gathered and dried.
We are also extremely fortunate to be granted access to some private land where there are no footpaths or dog walkers, traffic or noise. From these meadows we pick vetch and wild willow, hawthorn and hazel. There is plenty for the bees and insects and for us to take a small share spread over the weeks of May and June and thus our forage trays and boxes come in limited numbers to reflect the hand-picked nature of our foraging.
At the end of May it is a mad rush to get all the ingredients into the boxes and into the shop then its a mad rush as people flock to buy them and then ... its all over! The rest of the summer is spent answering the question "when will there more forage boxes" with the reply.."I'm afraid you will have to wait until next year" .....when we do it all again.
April is the month when everything starts to burst into leaf and is the beginning of some wonderful foraging months but do you know what to look out for? One of the first most noticeable plants is Cow Parsley lining the roadsides but it has a tricky imitator in the form of Hemlock, which is poisonous for both bunnies and humans. On the whole, Cow Parsley is a much smaller, more lax, prettier plant whereas Hemlock will grow strong, robust hollow stems up to a cm in diameter with a more 'aggressive' stance on the roadside.
As a rule if it is flowering right now .. April .. its Cow Parsley.
(note: because of the columns in this post it may not display correctly on a mobile phone.
This photo shows Hemlock growing alongside Cow Parsley in a typical roadside location so you can see how it could easily get confused. The Hemlock is the shorter clump with more leathery, fronded, non-flowering leaves. The Cow Parsley has less dense, featherier leaves and is in full fower (April).
Hemlock will flower in June, after the Cow Parsley flowers have died down.
REMEMBER if you are not 110% certain that the plant is Cow Parsley then do not pick. To be honest I go by a few simple rules which are that if its about 2' high and in flower in April then its going to be Cow Parsley. Only pick stems that lead to flowers so you know it is definitely the one and there isn't Hemlock growing amongst it.