Over the past three weeks, I have been busy harvesting honeysuckle vine from our garden for basket weaving. The land at the back of our house is full of trees and rather wild and I was going to tidy it up a bit to make it more accessible, back in the spring. Then, as leaves began to appear, I realised that growing in amongst the trees was masses of honeysuckle vine. It was honeysuckle that was making one side of our land impossible to walk through and I had just seen an article on how you could use honeysuckle vine for basket weaving. It was pretty early on in my basket making adventure then, but I couldn’t believe my luck and I was so excited.
Since then I have watched the honeysuckle grow even wilder, always resisting the urge to cut it back. It is important to harvest in the autumn, when the sap has dropped. Harvesting too early means that the vine will snap instead of being flexible for weaving.
The beautiful blossoms arrived in the summer surrounding our house with their wonderful scent every evening and making the bees very happy indeed.
Finally, the colder days of autumn came and our wild garden started to die back for winter. I could find very little written about harvesting honeysuckle, (apart from waiting until autumn), but I figured that once all of the flowers had disappeared, it would be ready.
It turns out that harvesting honeysuckle vine is not an easy job, particularly when it has grown and tangled through a dense patch of trees for several years. Progress at times has been painfully slow, but with my kids playing or doing crafts out in the garden while I have been working, it has not been unpleasant.
Gradually as I have removed branches from willows, I have been able to start collecting the vines and move deeper into the densest parts. The vines are not only growing round and round the branches of the trees, but are also tangled together and I have to work carefully so that I don’t damage them.
I have been leaving the oldest and youngest growth, so that it can continue to grow next year. There are a few places where I have had to strip it out completely, to make a path through.
It is wonderful to see this side of the garden opening up a bit, and we are now beginning to see just how much space we have. For the first couple of weeks our neighbours cows were grazing in the fields around our land and as they are rather partial to our willow trees, they kept me company, munching and softly mooing just metres away.
I coiled the vines as I worked, so that they would be ready for the next stage.
Honeysuckle vine needs to be boiled to remove the layers of bark. I have an old stock pot that I have been using for natural dyes. I could have done with something wider and will look out for a second hand cauldron for next year, but I have learnt that you should never be put off by not having the ideal resources.
It turned out that I should have measured the pot, because most of my coils were too big to completely submerge in the pan! Not put off, I boiled for half an hour, then turned the coil to do the parts that hadn’t been in the water and boiled for another half hour.
I am doing a few coils at a time, because all of that boiling makes a lot of condensation in our house. That’s another reason that I want a cauldron style pan, so that I can do this part of the process outside, over a fire.
Once the boiling is done, it’s time to strip off the bark. The bark is removed quite easily, but it is a time consuming and very messy job. First time round, I made the mistake of boiling too many coils at once. By the time that I got to the last coils, they were beginning to dry out and then the bark is much harder to remove.
Disgusting hands aside, it is a wonderful feeling to know that you are preparing your own basket making materials and turning these unwanted vines into something beautiful and useful. In my opinion it is the ultimate sustainable craft.
Even the stripped bark will be dried and stored ready for paper making, when I get time.
Paper making is something else that I have been wanting to try and I have heard that this bark makes excellent paper. It’s so exciting, I am really buzzing with the thought of all the things that I can try and all of the baskets that I can make, with this simple natural resource from right outside my door.
So, I will continue to clear and harvest from now until Christmas, processing as I go and carefully storing it all away for work in the coming months. I won’t be waiting long to have a go with it though. I predict that I will have already tried out my first honeysuckle basket by next weekend.
I’ll keep you updated with my progress and watch out for that homemade paper too!