Go wild in the country – The Forager Handbook

Back in August last year, I found myself crouching by a beach hut on the Whitstable shingle, riffling through a scrubby bush with an intensity that soon drew the stares of passers by. It was all Miles Irving’s fault – a foraging maestro who was showing me how to identify sea beet, dittander, sea purslane, buckthorn berries and other treasures of the hedgerows and shore you’d normally squash under your sandal. He also cooked me a gorgeous lunch of all sorts of things I could barely identify, many of which may well have been destined for one of the swish London eateries his company supplies.

I wrote about it in The Sunday Telegraph here


Anyway, Miles’s book The Forager Handbook – A Guide to the Edible Plants of Britain is being published next week. It’s a beautiful hardback bible of all things foragey, and a nice mix of the anecdotal and the informative with black and white photographs of every plant he covers. In short, the definitive guide to enjoying the fruits of the forest without landing yourself in casualty.

I’m going to the launch party next week and am already feeling slightly wary of  the canapes…

Beware the Victorian-style Potato Barrel


My suspicions should have been aroused by the catalogue. Describing itself as ‘A unique and brilliant Victorian style design in a decorative terrocotta finish.. made from durable polypropylene’ this faux terracotta pot was clearly not going to fool anyone.

But I closed my ears to my doubts and, seduced by talk of its ‘lift-up sides for ease of harvesting’, bought one of these hideous plastic tubs three years ago and have been trying to hide it from view ever since, while duly putting my five chitted potatoes near the bottom and then gradually adding a quantity of compost rarely seen outside a municipal heap.

Come ‘harvest time’ and, instead of a bounty of white hen’s egg-sized potatoes, I found five edible ones, a handful of teeny marbles and some slimy, rotted stems. It’s always a nice bonus when you poke your hand straight into the mushy original seed one too, isn’t it? Like Paul Burrell putting his hand into a hole. Meanwhile my bog-standard terracotta pots were full of 30 or so perfect specimens. This has happened three years in a row now so I think this counts as a scientific experiment.

All that compost just starves the poor little tubers of air as they try to develop. Potatoes like to be earthed up, yes, but they don’t want to have to claw their way endlessly up to the light like desperate pot holers lost at the bottom of a big, er, pot hole.

The nice gentlemen from the council took the useless thing away this morning in a big black bin bag. As a gardener, I know I should have turned it into a clever watering system or shredded it for squirrel bedding or something, but sometimes, you just want rid. Say no to faux-terracotta polypropylene, you know it makes sense.

June tips

June tips


What can I sow now?

June’s the month for sowing direct in garden soil or compost in large pots. The soil’s nice and warm and seedlings will just romp away. Get these in now and you’ll be eating them this summer…

Peas, carrots, lettuce, rocket, runner and french beans, beetroot, sweetcorn, chard, spinach, salad onions, radishes

What can I harvest now?

Potatoes, broad beans, carrots, beetroot, lettuce, rocket, radishes, peas, spinach, chard

Top tip… potatoes

New potatoes are at their best in June. I love growing them in pots since they take over my garden beds horribly and look pretty straggly and rotten after a while. I’ve tried so many different containers for growing potatoes, and have come to the conclusion that all those fancy spud tubs and deep potato planters are a waste of money. This year I’ve grown potatoes in normal terracotta pots (about 30cm diameter) and also special ’spud tubs’ – black plastic tall pots. I got more potatoes from the normal pots than the spud tubs.

The best way to harvest new potatoes is to upturn the whole pot onto a bit of plastic sheet or cardboard , keeping the plants undamaged and then pick off the potatoes that look ready, then replace the whole thing in the pot and water and feed it with a liquid seaweed feed. This way, the plant barely knows it’s been disturbed and will continue to grow the little potatoes for a later harvest. It’ll also save you scrabbling about in the compost for hours in an endless version of lucky dip in which your fingernails get so filthy you’ll be moved on from public spaces.

June recipe

The June is busting out all over garden salad

Serves 2

You will need

For the salad
10 or so new potatoes
6 golf-ball sized beetroots
A handful of radishes
2 handfuls of washed lettuce leaves
2 handfuls of podded broad beans
1 packet feta cheese

for the dressing
3 parts walnut oil
1 part white wine vinegar

Boil the potatoes and beetroots until tender. Rub the skin off the beetroot when cool. Steam the broad beans, then pop out of their leathery skins. Top and tail the radishes. While the potatoes are still warm, toss in a little walnut oil and white wine vinegar (ratio, 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil). Cut the feta cheese into cubes. Combine all the ingredients into a big bowl and toss well, pouring on more walnut salad dressing to taste.

Strawberry feels forever

strawberries1Note to self, when making summer pudding from your precious homegrown redcurrants, blackcurrants, raspberries and strawberries, don’t buy thick ready sliced bread and squish it down hard in the bowl first.

It will form a layer impermeable to all known substances, particularly berry juice, prove impossible to chew, let alone digest, and decompose sometime in the next millennium. On the plus side, I think I might have found something to regrout the bathroom.