A month in the life of a Hedge!

Samhain (end of summer)


From early October until the 30 November there are four less hours of sunlight and October was therefore associated with darkness and the dead. Oiche Shamhna or Halloween was a time when ghosts were a round and fairies moved from summer camps to winter quarters. Families left the fire lighting and went to bed early on All Souls’Night so that the dead ancestors could gather there.


Blackbirds love Haws and crab-apples, Blackberries and Dog Rose hips which are abundant. Thrushes and the Mistle thrush are feeding on hedge berries such as yew. The Mistle-thrush also loves holly berries. Winter visitors from Scandinavia such as the Fieldfares and Redwing love haws as well as insects and worms. You find greenfinches on the higher branches as they feed on haw kernels which they can crack open. The Swallow has already gone away to Africa.


A good ‘mast’ year for the oak with lots of acorns usually means lots of hazel nuts and berries too. The rose-pink fruited Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) may still have fruit well after the leaves are gone, you only find this bush on lime-rich soil such as at Oldtown, Fingal. The fruits of the Elder (Sambucus niger) are black and may be found in hedges. Snowberry and Cuckoo-pint berries are inedible. Hedge climbers such as Honeysuckle may still be in bloom.


The Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock are looking for places to hibernate. You may still find the Specklewood and the Meadow Brown flitting along the hedges.


The Ragwort, Stinging Nettle, Rosebay WillowHerb and Bindweed are all still in flower.


The Shaggy Inkcap can still be found. They are edible only when young and you confuse them at your peril with the Common Ink Cap which causes vomiting.


The Ladybird and some insects also hibernate Other insect species start to die off, most of the dragonflies and damselflies are gone already from the ditches. Underneath the hedge the millipedes (Diplopoda), Woodlice (Isopoda) and earthworms are breaking down the leaves falling on the ground.


Due to the encroaching darkness, animals adjusts by making preparations for hibernation. Fruit is plentiful and the moist ground helps them stock up, whether internally as fat or externally by hiding food. The Badger seeks bedding for the cold nights. The Hedgehog hibernates. Some Bat species hibernate, often in underground ruins or caves where the temperature is stable. Wood mice are most numerous in early autumn. They climb a lot and love rose hips and hawthorn berries. They gnaw a hole in the stone to get at the hawthorn and hazelnut kernal.


Blackberry and Elderberry Ice Cream, 350 g each blackberries and elderberries, 275 ml or /½ pint double cream, 40 g icing sugar, 2 egg whites. Simmer the fruits together with a little water and a little sugar. Liquidise them when soft, then sieve them to separate the pips from the pulp. Whip the cream, fold in the sieved sugar and then the fruit puree. Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, fold them in and freeze.

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