Signs of Summer

As I sit here watching the rain pour down the windows it feels like summer is still a long way away… but for those of us who follow the pagan or celtic seasons 1st May (known as Beltane or May Day) signifies the coming of warmer months and fertile land. Traditionally celebrated with May Pole dancing and costumed processions, this is also a popular time of year for weddings… and the natural world is blooming and vibrant.

This past month I’ve really noticed our garden coming to life as cherry trees blossom, tulips and violets begin to flower, and the increase in plants and insects is attracting a wider range of birds to my feeders.

We have starlings nesting in our roof space and the chicks have just recently hatched as I watch their parents going backwards and forwards with food. It seems an endless task and I can’t help but observe how they are totally devoted to the survival of their young… nothing else matters. I’ve been putting out extra piles of seed and nibbles to help them.

Although the weather has been undoubtedly erratic so far this year, we’ve still had a few warm days in the garden, planting seeds and clearing back a patch of brambles… we have at least one pair of resident robins who are never far away. I learnt recently that robins evolved alongside wild boars and would boldly follow the beasts around, feasting on the worms and insects unearthed as the boars foraged through the undergrowth. This is why robins are characteristically much braver than other birds and now follow us around our gardens instead – we are essentially their pigs!!

One of my resident robins eyeing up the ground we just cleared!

Out in the woods this month, bluebells have emerged and are now carpeting many a woodland floor… along with wood anemones and wild garlic blossoms… and just recently I’ve spotted the first dead nettles, wood sorrel and forget-me-nots. Willow trees are dropping their fluffy catkins everywhere… honey bees visit the laurel and lilac blossoms and ivy-leaved toadflax is creeping over walls and pavements. On sunny days I’ve noticed a lot of orange-tipped butterflies but have so far been unable to get a photo as they don’t seem to stay still long enough!

Not forgetting the dandelions which are appearing literally everywhere near me!! I’m pleased to note that our council doesn’t seem to be in any rush to head out with the weedkiller, as I’ve seen reported in other areas. Our village roadsides are currently a mass of beautiful yellow heads… this week I headed out into the fields to find some for making dandelion honey. If you haven’t come across this before then do check out my recipe below – it’s delicious!

The common old dandelion often gets a reputation as a bit of a nuisance, popping up all over our lawns and patios, but they are so important to wildlife and also help to aerate the soil and fertilise your grass… so leaving them to flower isn’t necessarily such a bad idea. Here’s a few more things about dandelions that you might not have heard before:

  • Dandelions are one of the first flowers to appear in early spring and provide food for bees and butterflies when there’s not much else around.  So please remember before you head out with the weedkiller that you might be inadvertently killing the bees too!
  • All parts of the plant are edible.  Leaves are a little bitter but can be mixed in with other salad leaves to add flavour.  The flowers can be crystallised with sugar or infused in oil and vinegar.  They also make really good wine, syrups or dandelion ‘honey’ (see recipe below).
  • Dandelion root can be roasted and used as a substitute for coffee.
  • The sap in the stem can be used for treating warts and verucas.
  • They are filled with nutrients with high levels of iron, calcium, potassium, vitamins A,C,E and K (and more besides!)  They are also a great detox for the liver, kidneys and digestive tract, helping to flush away excess water and toxins.  
  • The leaf shape is what gives the dandelion it’s name from the French ‘dente de lion” or ‘Lion’s Tooth’. 

Finally, I seem to be noticing a lot more swallows this year than I ever have before… I’m not sure if this is due to a change in our environment somehow or just because I’m paying more attention! There’s something that fascinates me as I watch them swirling around my head with a childlike excitement. If you don’t know already, swallows arrive in the UK, usually between mid-April and May, after a 6,000 mile journey from wintering in South Africa. They rarely land, catching flies and other insects as they swoop, and return with precise regularity to the same nesting sites year after year. They can be distinguished from house martins, another summer visitor, by their long streamer-like tail feathers and they usually fly closer to the ground. However, there’s also a saying “when the swallows fly high, the weather will be dry”… so maybe that’s why I’m seeing more of them this year!

Heard a cuckoo last week too, for the first time in many years… perhaps summer is on it’s way after all.

Until next time…

Jac.x

PS. If you’re enjoying my #365DaysWild journey to notice nature everyday please feel free to follow me on twitter for daily updates.

PPS. I also offer ‘Well-being in Nature’ walks which can help you enhance your own connection to nature… further details here.

Dandelion Honey


Ingredients:      

2 cups of dandelion flower heads (densely packed)

1/2 lemon sliced

Enough water to cover the flowers in a pan

Sugar of your choice in a 1:1 ratio to water

Method:             

  1. Shake or blow the flower heads to remove any bugs.  Do not wash as this removes the pollen needed to make the honey.
  2. Place dandelions and lemon slices in a saucepan and cover with water.  Simmer with lid on for approx. 15 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and leave the flowers to infuse in the water for several hours or overnight.
  4. Strain the liquid into a measuring jug, pressing the flowers to get as much ‘juice’ out of them as possible.  Note the amount of liquid and return it to the pan.
  5. Add enough sugar to match the amount of liquid, e.g. 500ml = 500g of sugar.
  6. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Then bring it up to a gentle boil for approx. 15 minutes.
  7. The ‘honey’ will start to thicken and darken in colour.  Test the consistency regularly by dropping a small amount onto a cold plate.  If it starts to set on contact, then it’s ready. This is similar to making jam and may take some trial and error to get the consistency that is right for you, keeping in mind that it will thicken more as it cools.
  8. Fill your dandelion honey into small, sterilised jars while it’s still hot. Once sealed it should keep for a few months in a cool dark place.

Guidance for picking dandelions

  • Avoid roadsides and dog-walking routes.
  • Don’t take more than 50% of the available flowers.
  • Best picked on a bright sunny day when flower heads are fully open, looking fresh and fluffy.

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