Fruit trees planted in the campsite orchard

This week I have planted some of the new fruit trees into the orchard area near the campsite shower block. We chose trees that will bear fruit during the summer months when the site is full of campers enjoying the wildlife. To this end end we have picked a number of cherries, plums, green gages a cherry plum, a fig and a mulberry that should start to provide fruit from July through to the end of August. The trees will compliment our existing orchard fruit trees which this year produced a huge crop of apples and pears in the autumn. These fruits were juiced in our  hydro fruit press as well as being eaten straight from the tree as we worked on the landscaping around the site. The fruit trees were ordered from Deacons specialist fruit nursery which is based on the Isle of White.

Cherries: Celeste and Stella

Plums: Early Victoria and Opal

Gages: Cambridge Gage and Greengage

Cherry Plum

Fig: Goutte d’Or


These trees are unlikely to bear many fruits in the first couple of years, but once established they will be a great place for campers to stop off at en route for a shower or to collect some firewood.

Guyrope Gourmet cooks a campfire feast for the whole family

As part of the Lewes OctoberFeast 2013 we will be hosting a family camping feast here at The Secret Campsite in Sussex. The event will be hosted by Guyrope Gourmet, Josh Sutton who has just released his book Guyrope Gourmet, through Punk Publishing, publishers of  Cool Camping, Wild Swimming and Tiny Campsites.

The event starts at 12 on Saturday 5th October with Josh demonstrating and cooking a camfire feast crafted using locally sourced ingredients from the Lewes area. The evening will include gourmet feasting and demonstrations accompanied by music and some campfire talk as well as a chance to talk with Josh about your own campfire cooking experiments.  Following a night under canvas campers will be treated to a sumptuous breakfast prior to leaving by 11:30am

Dishes will include an All day oxtail stew cooked over the open fire, a white fish tagine,  trout cooked in maize leaves, a vegetable biriani, and hopefully a shell fish dish.

The campsite will be closed for the day and night to non October Feasters and tickets for the event, which includes the evenings feast, breakfast the following morning, as well as a night under canvas  on one of our large and secluded camping pitches in our wildlife rich camping meadow are available online here by ringing The Secret Campsite on 01273 401 100 or emailing Tim

Ticket are £40 for adults. Children under 16 are free, and there is a maximum of 6 people per pitch with just 16 pitches available for the evening.

More information on the event will be published nearer to the date and signed copies of  The Guyrope Gourmet will be availabe to buy during the weekend

More plants go in for campers to enjoy

Yesterday we spent most of the day planting the herb bed near to the shower block as well as sowing edible plant seeds into one of our camping meadows. Most of the plants we are sowing are perennials and once in should happily naturalise, to produce a small harvest every year, and start to add some colure and interest around the campsite. We also harvested the first of our day lilies which make a colourful addition to a camping salad.

Yesterday we planted Salad burnet, Sorrel and French Sorrel all of which make an interesting addition to salads, Chicory, Cumin, Korean Mint and Water mint, Lovage and Bronze fennel. We have planted most of these onto the Bank area of the campsite as this faces south and has been sown with a range of native wild grasses that won’t out compete the herbs as they establish around the campsite.

The herb bed has been planted with Fennel, Calendula, Catnep and Dill, and once established this bed should start to provide lots of exciting additions to salads and campfire cooked dishes, particularly fish which can be bought from Terrys Fishmongers  in Lewes.

Herbalist walk at The Secret Campsite

Tomorrow morning our resident herbalist Therri Lahood will be doing the first of a number of saturday and sunday morning walks around the campsite and the old railway to look for a number of safe and gentle seasonal herbs. She will be discussing the plants medicinal properties and how they can best be used to support health and well being. The Secret Campsite and surrounding area is alive with a variety of useful plants that can be both eaten and used to create safe herbal medicines and creams. Therri’s expertise and training will enable campers to create their own gentle treatments and start to learn a little more about the resources that nature provides us with. Therri has been practicing in the Lewes area for a number of years and grows many of the plants that she uses in her polytunnel at The Secret Campsite in East Sussex.

Planting an edible meadow at The Secret campsite

Ever feel like a forage when you go camping. This week we have been landscaping the campsite by sowing a range of ornamental edible plants that will flower over the summer and attract in lots of bees and and other  insects into the area around the campsite shower block and washiung up areas. First of all we rotovated the space using our rather exciting two wheeled tractor.

Once we had a created a good tilth we marked out the areas that are to be sown using some old hosepipes left over from the garden nursery that used to operate from the site.

I had added a few pictures of the girls and me at the campsite measuring out the seeds ready for planting, but they seem to have disappeared.

Rather than mixing the seeds up we have decided to sow a large area of each species which will overlap with the adjoining variety and create big splashes of colour which we will then cut a few paths through for campers to meander along as they head down for a hot shower first thing in the morning.

We are planting the following species straight into the ground. Sunflowers, Linseed, Phacelia, Barley and Red clover and each of these will act as a magnet for bees, birds, and butterflies or has an edible element to it. The sunflowers will produce a bright yellow backdrop for the site, the barley has beautiful flambouyant seed heads, the Phacelia is a green manure that attracts bees in huge numbers and the Linseed will produce a beautiful blue crop that will also be loved by the honey bees who have been having a tough time in recent years.

Most exciting of all though, is the large batch of red clover that we have sown. This will produc a fantastic red flower that can be used to make a delicious herbal tea. At certain times of the year the campers down here at our campsite near Lewes will be able to pick flowers from around the site and then sit back at their campfires and enjoy their own hand picked infusion.

The Tree Tent is almost up now and there have been local sightings of the nightingale who has taken up residence on land adjacent to the campsite. They seem to love the Lewes area, so perhaps they are just lazy migrators.

Marshmallows sown at our campsite near Lewes

This weekend my youngest daughter and I spent Sunday morning sowing seeds into pots in the polytunnel for this years plantings of edible plants at our campsite near Lewes. I really enjoy this time of year as my imagination transports me to the spring and summer when we will be able to start picking and eating plants that we have sown at the end of the winter, and this year we have got a huge number of edible plants that we are looking forward to planting around the Secret Campsite which is in sunny Sussex. The Secret Campsite is based at Brickyard Farm, and as you might imagine we have heavy clay soil which is not every plants cup of tea. So selecting plants for the campsite requires a little research in advance.

I have selected seeds that will do better in our local conditions. Our clay soil is in stark contrast to the nearby South Downs National Parks thin and free draining chalk grassland, but it does provide good growing conditions for a wide variety of plants. The aim with our plantings around the campsite are to eventually have a wide range of edible plants that will be productive over a long season of camping and provide brilliant tastes and flavours to add to a wide variety of dishes from salads and soups  to flavourings for drinks and teas, or just as an exciting plant to nibble on as you explore the campsite.

So far our plant list, to go with the sweet cicely, wild garlic and agrimony that I sowed last autumn is a s follows: Chives, Catnep, Marshmallow, Angelica, French Sorrel, Wild Chamomile, Greek Oregano, Wild strawberry, Stevia, and Globe Artichokes. I have further sowings to make in April and May as well as the garden area near to our new campsite shower block which will be sown with big splashes of colourful edible annuals and a surprise tea plant for campers to enjoy in the afternoon.

Most of these plants are probably familiar to the average camper, but the exciting ones are the marshmallow, commonly associated when camping at a campfire friendly campsite with children and a long twig, and Stevia which is a plant that tastes up to 300 times sweeter than sugar and is very low in carbohydrates, although it has only recently been approved in the EU. Of the two plants the Marsh Mallow, Althea officinalis also has a fantastic medicinal rating, and herbalist friends swear by its hidden qualities. You can even use the water left after cooking the leaves as an egg white substitute for making meringues, how about that.

Having finished sowing the seeds of these plants we then potted up our 28 Asparagus roots which we will be able to plant later in the summer once there roots have established in the new pots. Picking a stalk of fresh asparagus to garnish a salad or to just morishly crunch fresh is a brilliant way to enjoy eating and camping in the countryside, and it always tastes so much better when the plants have been picked seconds before, as you casually stroll around the campsite  only to happen upon another delicious little treat. We can’t start eating our asparagus this summer, but I will enjoy some of them with our campers in 2014.

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Campsite foraging in Sussex

This week we almost completed planting the remaining bareroot and pot grown shrubs for the campsites garden. Since starting work on developing an edible campsite here in East Sussex, I have been drawing up a list of the plants that willl be productive at different times during the year, with the ultimate goal of being able to pick something during any month of the year. Currently the wild garlic is just starting to show and it makes a wonderful addition to a winter salad, and soup, or a fantastic pesto to spread onto fresh bread. Soon we will also be able to start picking yourng nettles and start making a simple soup from the tender leaves, although the picking has to be done very carefully to avoid getting a rash all over your hand, gloves are a must.

Design for the campsite garden

To compliment some of these wild plants that can to be foraged on and around the campsite we have planted some more unusual edible plants which I have sourced from my friend Paul Barney at Edulis Nurseries in Ashampstead, Berkshire. These plants have been planted and protected from the rabbits and deer which seem to love the Secret campsite, here goes with the list. I have added links to the Plants for a Future website where you can see detailed descriptions of each plant and also which parts of the plants you will be able to eat during your stay with us at The Secret Campsite, depending on the time of year that you arrive. Please be aware that you should consult an expert before eating plants or plant parts, and edibility and palatability are different. Not all parts of plants are edible and you should check to see that the part you are about to eat is palatable, and edible. Some plants might need to be cooked before eating

Lonicera caerulea The blue honeysuckle or Honeyberry and you can eat the fresh fruit

Ribes odoratum The Buffalo currant and the fruits are delicious

Hovenia dulcis The Japanese Raisin Tree grown by the Japanese for the fresh fruit

Viburnum opulus The Guelder Rose the fruits can be made into a preserve unless the birds get them first

Cercis silquastrum The Judas Tree flowers can be added to salads in the spring. the flowers grow on the main trunk of the tree.

Halesia carolina The Silver bell Tree that produce a delicious crunchy fruitready to eat in late June

Cornus kousa chinensis Chinese Dogwood The striking fruit has a bitter skin but a delicious and sweer centre

Elaeagnus umbellata The Autumn Olive The fruits can be eaten raw or cooked

Cornus mas The Cornelian Cherry The fruits are eaten raw towards the end of the summer

Hippophae rhamnoides Sea Bickthorn the fruits are eaten cooked or processed.

Whilst planting these shrubs and trees in The Secret campsites garden, we were visited by the barn owl who has hunting across the newly planted edible tree area most nights during the week, much to the delight of the campersstaying with us this week. More surprisingly, at one point in the afternoon a small bat had dropped onto the ground outside one of the barns at the start of the path over to campsite meadow. We got an awful photo of it on the phone, and then tucked the bat back under the cladding for the barn. I hope he found a better roost after a nights hunting around the campsite.

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Delicious plants for campsite meals here in Sussex

This weekend I will be planting the next batch of ornamental edible plants around the campsite. I was inspired at last weekends Seedy Saturday in Lewes (see the photos), Sussex which had gathered together a host of interesting stands including Permaculture experts from the Brighton Permaculture Trust, the inspiring Craig Sams from his new business Carbon Gold, but best of all the brilliant Paul Barney from Edulis. Paul has supplied the campsite with lots of plants that you can eat over the last few years and it is always very uplifting once the plants arrive and the mouthwatering labels announce the exciting tastes that we and campers at The Secret Campsite are going to be able to enjoy as the plants mature over the coming years. Apart from the delicious flavours that we are looking forward to, the plants will also look fantastic, in particular the dramatic chinese dogwood Cornus kousa chinensis which has the most beautiful fruits. You can read more about their delicious taste by clicking on this link courtesy of Plants for a Future. Last year at The Chelsea Flower Show I helped Paul on his stand which was widely acclaimed by garden writers, broadcasters and designers. Paul was even interviewed by Alan Titchmarsh and Alys Fowler.

Once in the ground the plants will take a while before they start being very productive, but we will have quite a few for all of our guests at the campsite to have a nose at when they come camping here over the coming months. We have been landscaping the site using predominantly native edible plants, but this latest batch of plants includes, Hovenia dulcis, the Japanese Raisin Tree, Sorbus domestica, the Service Tree, Elaeagnus umbellata the autumn olive. None of these are natives so they will be planted in the garden area which I am going to have to fence to keep the rabbits out. This is also the area where we will be planting lots of herbaceous edible plants which campers down here in Sussex will be adding to their salads and making teas from. I’ll tell you more about these plants later in the year as we start to sow the seeds. Tonight I am off to the Village Hall to hear Nick Lear talk about Knowlands Wood which borders The Secret Campsite. Nick will be explaining how he has managed the woodland over the last 30 years, since moving to Sussex, to encourage wildlife. Earlier in the week I saw the Barn Owl fly round the campsite field so I think he he doing a great job.

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Great Camping Food

Great camping food can come in a plethora of different forms, and tomorrow is Seedy Saturday in Lewes where a host of local suppliers gather in the Town Hall to showcase their products and start the local community of Lewes thinking about what seeds they should be planting for next years plant harvest feasts. It is also an opportunity to speak with people and find out what produce nature will provide us with for free, if we have the knowledge and the enthusiasm to know what to look for.

For most people camping food is a selection of pre packed offerings that are pulled out from the car and then warmed over a little stove. If however you do a little research and source local food suppliers and what wild plants might be inseason during your trip, before you set off, you can turn a simple camping trip into a gastronomic adventure where food could be the centrepiece of the camping experience. Being a little bit of a plant enthusiast, I have started deciding on which seeds to sow this spring, in order that we can harvest some fresh produce from around the campsite. This won’t provide us with lots of food but hopefully we will be able to make some teas and infusions as well as adding some leaves and flowers to the salads that will accompany our evening feasts around the campfire.

If you are keen to find out more about food and plants that you can eat and forage for when you next go camping, or better still plants that you can put into your garden and feast on throughout the year have a look at these two peoples web sites. Paul Barney runs a brilliant plant nursery, Edulis in Berkshire and he will be exhibiting at Seedy Saturday in Lewes tomorrow, where you can pick his brain on what perennial plants you should be growing in your garden to take on your next camping trip as fresh produce or to add to al fresco meals in the garden. The other website to have a look at is Miles Irving who runs Forager which supplies the restaurant trade with deliciously fresh, foraged produce from around the country. Miles is an expert who I once had lunch with at the Artichoke pub in the village where he lives in Kent. He has written a fantastic book, the Foragers Handbook which you should have permanently stationed in your car. That way you will always be able to turn your next camping trip into a fresh produce adventure.

Here at the Secret Campsite down in Sussex, we have been landscaping the site using a wide range of edible plants from perennials to trees and this year we have a bank of seeds to sow and then transplant around the site so that, in time, campers will be able to pick fresh produce form around the site, and then sit back around the campfire and enjoy the huge range of tastes and flavours that this will provide.  If you would like to know more about edible plants and how you can make a camping trip more of a food adventure please get in touch, we’d love to hear from other enthisiasts.

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Edible Trees arrive at our wildlife friendly campsite in Sussex

Yesterday at 11 a very friendly courier arrived with a pallet full of trees and tree guards, as part of our tree order from the Woodland Trust for the Secret Campsite. With all of the bad stories in the news about the ash dieback disease, Chalara fraxinea, waiting to sweep across the country we have some good news for our nature loving campers. We have qualified for a grant from the Trust to plant 500 native edible trees throughout our campsite. The species we have chosen will start producing their delicious offering from next Spring in the form of young lime leaves  from the Small leaved Lime tree Tilia cordata. These small leaves form the base of a delicious forest garden salad, and we will manage the trees as they grow so that none are over harvested until they reach a reasonable age and are ready for pollarding. We already have a number of small but established lime trees on the site and these will provide the majority of the leaves we use in our Spring salads here at our campsite in Sussex.

Our list includes the following native edible plant species, Rowan, Hazel, Walnut, Sweet Chestnut, Elder, Dog rose, Blackthorn, Wild Cherry, Bird cherry, Small leaved lime, Crab apple and Whitebeam. I’ll look forward to discussing our edible plants with you when you come to stay with us at our campsite a few miles from Lewes.

The trees have been heeled in and will be planted over the Christmas holidays. Feel free to pop along and watch us planting lunches, salads, cordials and fruit jellies for future campers.

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