October is month of changes. Not only are the trees changing colour daily and losing their leaves, but the weather undergoes a dramatic shift this month too. The month often starts off warm, hanging onto the tail end of summer. But by the end of October, it is likely to be colder, windy and rainy. In October we celebrate Halloween and begin looking ahead to the other Autumn festivals of Diwali and Bonfire night.

The clocks go back at the end of the month and evenings suddenly draw in. I’ll definately be lighting the log burner in October and digging out my wooly jumpers and thick socks. There is comfort to be had in the changes of the season if you willingly give into them and embrace the best of the season rather than hankering after the long warm summer days.

In this month’s blog post; go searching for conkers, prepare potions for Halloween, try botanical sketching, save seeds from your garden and learn about the Permaculture principle ‘produce no waste’

Have a happy October everyone and I hope you can all continue to roll with whatever changes life (and the corona virus) throws at us this month.

IMG_9741
Notice the tiny beautiful details in the natural world.

Go on a nature walk – Finding a Horse chestnut tree and conkers

Conker season is upon us. One of my early memories is going out with my siblings after a storm and finding the street littered with conkers. It felt like we had found a haul of pirate treasure! We returned with bags filled with conkers. Beautiful, shiny, polished, rounded conkers. There is something so pleasing about conkers. Their spiky shell, the glossy brown, how they feel in your hand. They are addictive.

A Handful of conkers

I still feel the compulsion to collect them and this year the woods near my house has them in abundance. My kids and I filled our pockets the other day. While we were under the Horse chestnut tree, the conkers were literally dropping to the floor as we watched, it felt really special and like a gift from the trees just for us.

Extension activities

  1. Take a walk to your local woods and identify a Horse chestnut tree. You may want to look it up in advance in a spotter book or internet. Can you identify it by its leaves, bark or the spiky casings and conkers on the ground?
  2. When you’ve found your tree, collect some conkers, fill your pockets!
  3. Talk about taking just your fair share of conkers. What or who else may want some conkers too?
  4. What play and learning can you use your conkers for?
  5. Some ideas could include; counting games, size ordering, rolling conkers down drainpipes, throwing them at a target, making holes and treading conkers or playing the traditional game of conkers.

Try a forest school activity – Prepare ‘potions’ for Halloween!

On October 31st we celebrate Samhain, also known as Halloween or All Hallows Eve. Samhain marks the end of the harvest and the start of the darker part of the year. Halloween falls just after the clocks go back and darkness falls an hour earlier. Traditionally we go out ‘trick or treating’ just after dusk on Halloween. It may well be the first time your children have ventured out in the darkness of night for many months. It feels special and spooky to be out after dark, under the stars and moon.

I love to take note of and celebrate the cycles and traditions of the turning year. It helps me to stay grounded and connected to the earth and her ever changing but predictable cycles. You can read more about traditional activities to celebrate the turning of the year in this month’s book suggestion ‘The earths cycle of celebration‘ by Glennie Kindred.

Halloween is an enjoyable festival, full of mischief and fun. I love the way the land looks at this time of the year, with rich colours and the arrival of the first chilly nights and frosty mornings.

An activity that I love to do with my groups to celebrate Halloween, is making potions. This is something you could do at home too and it’s a good activity to do at home to replace ‘trick or treating’ which, unfortunately I suspect may well be off the cards this year.

How to make your own potions.

  1. Collect lots of small items from nature such as acorns, hawthron berries, seed heads, conkers, flowers etc.
  2. Have a look around your kitchen for other items to use like raisons, dried kidney beans, chia seeds, and peppercorns.
  3. You will need vinegar, baking powder, oil and maybe food colouring or water based paint too.
  4. Find some jam jars and make up funny labels like ‘powdered pixie’ ‘vampire hearts’ or ‘toad slime’ etc. Fill the jars with your collected items to match your labels! I had so much fun doing this.
  5. Ensure you have a jar of bicarb powder and a jar of vinegar, these two mixed together make a fizzing action. So encourage the children to include both of these in their potions.
  6. Give your children tiny cups and teaspoons or pippettes to use.
  7. Direct them to make up potions, either following a recipe or give them free rein and just let them play!
  8. Your potiona will fix up in a magical way, maybe you’d like to whisper spells or wishes over them? You can choose a special tree or area of your garden to pour the potions on afterwards. I wonder if your magic will come true?
  9. This is a messy activity so old clothes or an apron are advisable and I’d definatley do this outside if you can.

Get creative – Botanical sketching

This is an activity aimed at older children, teenagers or adults, but of course can be adapted for younger children too. I encourage you to select one plant on a walk or from your garden that appeals to you. Pick a small part of it to take indoors. Observe it closely and simply draw what you see!

One way that I really like to get to know a plant it by drawing it. By spending time looking hard at a plant and taking in all it’s details, you will get to know it better.

Consider these questions as you look; how do the leaves sit, in pairs or alternate? What exact shade of green is it? Are there any tiny flowers or berries present? How many petals does the flower have? What shape is the stem? You could also consider what you already know about the plant you choose, is it useful for anything medicinally? Is it edible? When does it bloom? Where may it grow? Wat type of soil does it like? What is it’s name? Have you ever seen it before? What does it remind you of?

Just have fun with this and enjoy the process. So many adults consider themselves ‘bad drawers’ or not artistic. So try to put these ideas aside and concentrate on finding the confidence and lack of self-consiousness that a child has when they draw. You may be amazed at what you can produce!

Lemon balm botanical drawing with watercolours

Gardening activity – seed saving

Choosing and saving seeds has taken on a new significance for me this year. The lock down restrictions meant I couldn’t shop for more seeds this spring after March but instead used up almost all my old seed stash. Also the threat of Monsanto is looming over us, threatening to take control of our seeds away from the hands of the people and into the hands of big business. So it feels more important than ever to make carefully considered decisions about buying, nurturing, swopping and saving seeds.

I am realising that seed saving is not only about thrifty gardening, but also about saving species of plants from extinction and retaining some small element of control over the seeds available and therefor the foods available for future generations.

IMG_7652

I have been thinking about what I want to grow next year. I often decide not to bother with certain crops, namely the cheap and cheerful space-stealers like potatoes and carrots. But then I spot an unusual variety and am tempted to give it a try. As usual I expect I shall try to squeeze everything in even is its carrots in a rusty bucket or a few spuds in a neglected corner.

DSC_0224
Runner bean seeds

I am hoping to get a few new perennial vegetables too next year. In the Permaculture garden perennials are key, as they offer maximum output for minimal input. I already grow rhubarb, jerusalem artichokes, sorrel and comfrey but I want to increase my knowledge and range of perennial veg.

I also want to increase my stock of perennial herbs and continue to learn more about how to use them in the kitchen and medicinally.

I love self seeding annual flowers in the vegetable beds and sow more of my favourites each year including, Nigella, Calendula, Nasturtiums, Ammi and Cosmos. I’ve been collecting the seeds of these beauties this month.

1532127_801652046527972_56482581_n
IMG_9039
IMG_9040

  I love calendula. It always amazes me just how many flowers are produced from a single plant. The flower in full bloom and the seed head shown above are on the same plant! I let it self-seed and have loads now from buying just one packed of seeds a few years ago.


Ideas for books to read this month.

This month’s book recomendations are for adults. These two books are both useful if you wish to deepen your understanding of how nature’s patterns and cycles can help you navigate through many aspects of your life.

This beautiful little book for adults looks into the history and traditions of seasonal celebrations of the UK. It suggests lots of beautiful and creative ways to connect to the earth and celebrate the changes of the cycle of the year.

My friend Sarah Spencer wrote this book a few years ago, inspired by her permaculture studies and lived experiences of the natural world.
Sarah Spencer believes that all living things share natural principles that allow them to grow, stay healthy, be adaptable, develop resilience, become connected and pass on what they’ve learned. She maintains that if we can learn to access the wisdom of the forest we can live happier, healthier and more productive lives ourselves


A Permaculture principle for October – Produce no waste

October is a month of abundance. My apple trees are raining fruit down on us by the bucketful. This is wonderful as long as you can manage to keep up with the deluge. Often I pass trees that have dropped all their fruit and it litters the floor beneath them, rotting on the ground and feeding only birds and wasps. I totally understand that October is a busy month and the task of harvesting fruit can fall to the bottom of people’s lists. But it always breaks my heart a little.

I am as guilty as anyone, back in August this year I completely neglected to harvest even one of our plum trees. The fruit ripened and dropped while we were away in Cornwall so this year we have not eaten a single homegrown plum.

I am trying not to make the same mistake with the cooking apple tree. I am collecting the windfalls and bringing them into the house, where they sit on the windowsill and slowly turn brown, then are fed to the chickens. My intentions are to make wonderful crumbles and puree but again real life is getting in the way. I hate this waste but I accept that life is so full currently and sometimes I just have to prioritize what is most demanding of my attention on any given day and let it go.

Reflecting on this has made me more forgiving of the wasted produce I see everywhere, but it’s still such a shame. So many people don’t have enough to eat, not only in far off impoverished counties, but also in our own neighbourhoods.

I think often gardening projects concentrate on the growing of produce and make the mistake of neglecting the harvesting, processing and eating side of the equation. I intend to do what I can to address this in the gardening projects I am involved with in the future.

This month’s principle ‘Produce no waste’ is a difficult one to excel at. So I am going to aim for ‘produce a little less waste’ I am going to make a meal plan for the week each Sunday and shop accordingly. I am going to try to buy foods with less packaging, I am going to try to cook the correct amount of food and use up any leftovers the following day. I am going to keep on recycling all my kitchen waste to the chickens or into the compost heap. I’m also going to keep on harvesting, using or giving away my apples!

What could you do to reduce your wasted food a little this month? You don’t need to solve the problem, just a tiny step is helpful and If we all made a small effort, the collective effect would be huge.