Selecting and Preparing Willow to Begin Basket Weaving

Basket Weaving

Basket-making really is a cradle-to-grave skill.  Baskets are used from birth as moses baskets to carry newborns and then throughout life to collect wild food, cook in, eat from, shop with, sit on, right up until our death, where we can even be buried in a woven casket!



In the UK our ancestors would have woven baskets from native plant materials such as: dried grass, bramble, willow and straw. The rule of thumb is that any long thin plant material you can wrap around your wrist once fully without snapping can be woven as a basket. Today we can also buy imported basket weaving materials such as cane (from a tropical palm) or raffia.


above: straw, cane, raffia.


At Wild Harvest School we teach willow basket weaving due to the easy availability and quick growing nature of willow in the wet UK. It is a plant you can readily find in the wild or that you can plant in your garden to raise a few willow whips yourself.  We don’t believe in importing tropical plants when nature provides us with native materials right here!


above: black maul willow, brown willow, buff willow (bark stripped)
The willow used mostly in commercial basket weaving in the UK is Black Maul a cultivar of Salix Triandra but most willow is ‘weavable’. The thin shoots of the willow tree are known as whips but once cut and dried we call them rods.

Choosing Willow for Basket Weaving

You can buy rods already cut and dried, either with the bark stripped off (buff) or with the bark left on (brown). The difference here is in both aesthetics and toughness to weave. If you are new to weaving and/or don’t have much hand strength then its best to start with buff willow as its much easier to work. Green willow refers to undried willow that in theory could sprout life again if stuck in the ground. If you weave a basket from willow straight off the tree (green) it will shrink as it dries so distorting your baskets shape, this is why we usually work with willow that has been dried and then re-soaked. It has then pre-shrunk.

Size – For basket weaving purposes rods can be bought in bundles known as ‘bolts’ sized from 3 feet long up to nine feet long and sold in Kg. A 5kg bolt of 3ft willow is approximately £12 and contains 500 rods. You will need about 70 rods to make a simple round basket.

To determine how long the rods should be for a particular basket weaving project use Pie – The only adult use of ‘pie’ (that abstract mathematical concept we learn at school) I have ever had is in basket weaving. To work out how long the willow rods should be for a particular basket diameter use the Pie formula of “circumference equals 3.14 times the diameter”. So for a one foot diameter basket you will need rods of slightly longer than 3 feet in length, for a three feet diameter basket you will need the nine foot rods. This is a rough guide but its better to have slightly longer rods than your desired circumference.

Disease – Any black marks on your willow rods indicate a disease the plant was suffering from when it was growing and these spots will be weak and prone to snapping as you weave. Discard rods with this on until you are confident enough to work with it.

Timing – If you are cutting the willow yourself – there is a season for cutting to be aware of. Traditionally this was between Michaelmas and Candlemas, basically over the winter months. The reason for this is because the sap is down then; it rises in the tree in Spring and when the sap is down the whips are not so rigid .

Preparation of Willow ready to Weave into a Basket.

Soaking – Assuming you have some dried willow rods from a supplier or have cut your own and left them to dry indoors somewhere or wrapped under a hedge for three weeks you are now ready to re-soak the willow ready to weave. The re-soaking of the dried willow makes it pliable; bendy enough again for weaving, you will not be able to weave a basket with dried willow it will simply snap. To soak the willow I use either my bath at home or a garden pond, a river will also be fine. If you are using a pond or a river I recommend tying the bolt with string and the other end of the string to a tree so it doesn’t float away. I weight the bolt down under the water by covering it in wet towels. The amount of soaking time depends on both the type and length of the willow. Buff willow, because there is no bark for the water to penetrate is soaked for a much shorter time, the rule of thumb is based on the length of the rods because he length of the rods determines the thickness at the butt ends that the water must penetrated. Three foot buff rods can be soaked for as little as one hour but six foot buff rods can take about 3 hours.

With the brown willow (ie. bark on) the soaking time is much longer and the saying goes – one day per foot. So, a four foot bolt will take four days in the pond.

Mellowing – This isn’t the end of the process however because after it’s bath the willow likes to mellow for a while – after you remove it from the bath/pond the willow works best if its wrapped in wet towels for a further amount of time proportionate to the soaking time ie. soak for an hour then mellow for an hour.

I always think of this part like the willow is lounging around in a dressing gown for a bit until its ready to work.

Cut – dry – soak – mellow – weave.

Anatomy of a rod – You will see that the rod is thicker at the base end, the end that was closest to the ground when it was growing, this is known as the butt, the topmost end, the thin end is known as the tip. Rods will have a natural curve to them, the inside curve is known as the belly, the outer curve is the back. It is useful when weaving to work with the natural shape of the rod and not bend it at an un-natural angle to itself or it can snap. Wild Harvest are producing a series of videos teaching each stage of basket weaving.  On the videos we will talk about butts and tips when teaching weaving.  To express an interest in watching the videos email [email protected] or to book on a course here at Wild Harvest School, York, visit our course calendar.  The next course is Sunday 30th April 2017.

The Yorkshire Post

Watching Felicity Kendall on The Good Life was bad for you after all, says garden guru Monty Don

By Lindsay Pantry  Friday 29 July 2016

IT was a vision of 70s suburbia that had viewers wishing they could give up the rat race, surround themselves with chickens and live off the land. But according to television gardener Monty Don, the self-sufficient lifestyle promoted by Felicity Kendall and Richard Briers in The Good Life is a “non-starter” and likely to lead those who pursue it into “13th-century malnutrition”.

Whilst acknowledging the benefits of growing some fruit, vegetables and herbs – which he says is one of the most life-enhancing things a person can do – he slammed Kendall and Briers’ Barbara and Tom as “creepily pathetic”.

Writing in Gardeners’ World magazine, he said: “No one seriously wanted to know how to separate curds from whey or render fat to make candles, but millions wanted the idea of self-sufficiency. “Self-sufficiency, I have to tell you, is a non-starter.

At best it consigns you to a life of dreary repetition and terrible food, at worst your teeth fall out, your breath stinks, you erupt in boils and you sink into 13th-century malnutrition – The Good Life indeed.”

But ShaunPermaculture Course with Wild Harvest McKenna, who in 2014 moved with his wife Wendy and family from the York suburbs to an eight-acre smallholding in Everingham, on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds, disagrees.

Monty Don While complete self-sufficiency has taken a back seat in recent months as they opened a tea shop at their farm, they produce everything from potatoes, peas and beans to chili peppers, raspberries, figs and butternut squash in around a quarter of an acre of raised beds and greenhouses.

A local butcher and meat curer help them to produce pork, bacon and sausages from their pigs, and anything the family doesn’t need themselves is sold in the teashop.

Mr McKenna, who documents his journey in a column in The Yorkshire Post’s Country Week supplement, said: “There’s nothing like pulling a pea pod and tasting it straight away to make you sea what a difference there is in home-grown food. “I’m not saying it’s easy. We’re the first to admit we’ve made mistakes – last year we emptied our compost heap into the raised beds and had poppies and nettles springing up amongst the beetroot.

Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith in The Good Life “But to knock people who want to become more self-sufficient is a little harsh. You can be malnourished by feeding yourself off the supermarket shelf – the convenience world doesn’t provide you with everything you need.”

Di Hammill runs self-sufficiency courses on topics such as permaculture, hen keeping and wild food foraging at her farm in East Cottingwith, near Pocklington. She also disagrees with Mr Don and says reducing reliance on bought-in goods and services empowers people and strengthens communities. She prefers the term “self-reliance”.

“This can be done in an urban setting and can be as simple as using permaculture principles to grow half your food supply in your garden, attending some craft workshops so that you can knit some jumpers, learning to bake and cook from scratch and use herbs for medicine instead of rushing to the doctors,” said Miss Hammill. “The term self-sufficiency immediately conjures up images of needing a smallholding and land so stops people before they start.”

Heather Parry, deputy chief executive at Yorkshire Agricultural Society, said she agreed with Mr Don’s point of view about self-sufficiency, but also the benefits of growing some food yourself.She said the Society’s Harrogate farm shop, Fodder, had 350 local suppliers – something that would be impossible to replicate at home, so supplementing self-grown food with locally produced food is the way forward.“

In terms of the amount of space and facilities you need, being self-sufficient would be testing,” she said. “But the idea of growing some food depending on what you have got is great.“Look at you diet, what you spend your money on and what you would benefit from, and going from there. Start with easy things like potatoes and tomatoes and build it up.”


York Press-Wild Food Walk with Wild Harvest

Wild Foraging

Linda Harrison went for a forage with wild food expert Diana Hammill.
“You can eat this – have a taste,” urges wild food expert Diana Hammill, holding out a plant with a clutch of small bright yellow flowers.
Diana explains it’s a tansy plant that grows along the riverbank and pops some into her mouth.
I taste it tentatively. It’s got an odd tang and it’s quite sweet, although I’m assured it’s better cooked. Among its many uses are flavouring puddings and omelettes. The seeds can also be baked in biscuits – once a tradition at Yorkshire funerals, according to Diana.

I’m on an urban foraging walk near Skeldergate Bridge that promises “free greens for life”. Every few steps we stop at plants that I’d normally walk past, but which I’m learning can be added to all kinds of tasty dishes.
Diana points out a patch of green leaves that look like weeds. They’re actually edible and called Plantain.
“They’re a bit tough at this time of year, but eat them early in the season and they’re good raw in salads or in a creamy sauce with gammon,” says Diana.
“They’re rich in vitamin B and the seeds can be eaten like sesame seeds.”
Diana, started the walks to share her passion for the wild food that grows around us in York. An adult education teacher specialising in rural crafts, she became interested in wild food after thinking about the health and survival of her three young children.
She says: “Wild food is fantastic for three reasons: It’s free, it’s very very healthy and it’s sustainable.
“It’s also about ‘futureproofing’ your family for tomorrow. I wanted my children to know how to feed themselves.”
Next is a hawthorn hedge, near St George’s Field car park. I’m amazed at all the different parts of the hedge that can be eaten, including the leaf buds (delicious rolled in suet pastry with bacon), blossom (dried for a tea), and the bright red berries, which can be scoffed straight off the bush or made into jam.

There are also plenty of salad ingredients up for grabs, such as hawthorn leaves and dandelion leaves, as well as “wayside nibbles” like plump brambles.
It’s fascinating to learn that so much on a city riverside is edible.
Diana explains that knowledge of wild food was once very common in this country. She crouches down near some green leaves called Silverweed – our ancestors cooked and ate the root before the advent of potatoes.
Next we come to a row of nettles. I’m a fan of nettle tea and try to grab a handful, but I can’t help wondering about germs – how do I know they haven’t been polluted by dogs, or worse?
Diana recommends picking only the tips and at a safe height.
As we go our separate ways near the Millennium Bridge, my head’s buzzing with ideas.
The advice for newbie wild food explorers is to take it slowly and choose five foraging foods to try in a year. Then choose another five the next year, and so on.
I’m going to start with the nettle tips I squirreled away in my bag – and head home to make my first free brew.

For more information email [email protected]

Wild food foraging fundamentals

• Conservation: Remember to leave some for tomorrow – and for the other wildlife
• Pollution. Don’t pick plants next to roads, or fields that have recently been sprayed
• Avoid ID errors: If you’re not sure about a plant, first check it against a reliable guide book like Food For Free by Richard Mabey. If it looks and sounds similar, rub it on your arm or neck and wait up to 30 minutes for a reaction. Repeat the process on the inside of your lip. Then chew it and spit it out. And if still in doubt, consult an expert.

First appeared in the York Press 14/09/2012

How to Make Your Own Lip Balm

Lip Balm Craft Activities

Whether winter or summer our lips can get dry. Central heating combined with cold weather in winter or sunshine and warm wind in the summer can result in our lips drying out easily as they have no sebum oil glands like the rest of our skin. Absent-mindedly licking them then makes this worse to the point our lips can become sore and even crack.

Some people use lip balm to prevent this happening or if you’re like me and forget, use it to try to repair cracked lips after they have dried. Either way, if you use shop bought lip balm have you ever thought about what you are licking off your lips for hours each day?

Most lip balms, big brands especially, use mineral oil and waxes due to these being cheap, odourless, colourless and in plentiful supply. Mineral oil is a by-product of the petrol industry. Most E.U mineral oil that is used in the toiletries industry is well-refined and the carcinogenic pollutants screened out but products made from mineral oil of non-E.U countries can’t be guaranteed to be free of toxic pollutants from the petrol industry and although small in the ‘parts per million’ figures for a single use application – over a lifetime of repeated use can accumulate in human tissue and organs.

Do you really want to be licking a by-product of the petrol industry off your lips each day? Growing up with a chemist as a father I learned to read labels on products from an early age and how to replace them with various mixes of common house-hold ingredients.

So now, at Wild Harvest we teach you to look around at other fats, waxes and oils that can do the same job for your lips as those in mass produced shop-bought products – naturally and just as effectively. Unlike lots of companies who use cocoa and shea butters in their balms we work with lanolin, vegetable fat, beeswax and sunflower or rapeseed oils because we believe no beauty product should contain thousands of ‘beauty miles’. Nature has provided us, here in our temperate climate, with enough plants, nuts, seeds and animal by-products (lanolin and beeswax don’t hurt the animals or come from their death) to see to our own health, nutrition and beauty locally without stripping the natural resources or water table of developing countries and burning fossil fuel to get those ingredients here.

Start Making Your Own Lip Balms with Wild Harvest Craft Kits!

To buy a Wild Harvest Beeswax Lip Balm Kit at £10 each plus £2 post – email [email protected] (we will soon have an online shop on our website)

Our kit includes:

* A jar of Beeswax Pellets
* Two Bottles of Sunflower Oil – one with Sweet Orange Essential oil and one with Peppermint essential oil added.
* Four lip balm tins
* Two mica mineral powder colours (found inside tins) for links to mica info. click HERE
* Two evening primrose oil capsules (for vit. e. to replace the oil lost in the absence of sebum — the skins own natural oil contains vit. e.) (capsules found inside tins)
* Four wooden stirring spoons

This kit makes four lip balms – two tinted and fragranced plus two natural and fragranced so for example you could have a reddish tinted orange scented lip balm, two un-coloured scented ones (one each of peppermint and orange) plus a pink tinted peppermint scented pot. All our products are made from natural ingredients, we use real essential oils not artificial fragrance oils. Please ensure you are not allergic to peppermint or sweet orange first! Also feel free to mix the colours and fragrances if you wish to experiment with colour and scents.

You will need:

* a pin, needle or scissors to cut the vit. e capsules
* a couple of small pans
* hot water
* hob

Instructions for the Kit:

1. Remove the lids from the four tins.

2. Remove the Evening Primrose Oil Vit. E. Capsules from the tin, pierce with a pin and squeeze between the four tins – i.e. half a capsule in each tin.

3. Take off the lid from the beeswax pellets jar and sit it in hot water in a pan with the water going about 2/3 of the way up the glass jar.

4. Heat the water on a hob watching the jar of wax all the time to ensure the water doesn’t boil over and enter the jar. Beeswax melts at approximately 67 degrees so there should be no need to boil the water, just heat it up.

5. At the same time have a second pan of hot water on low and warm the contents of the oil bottles up. Leaving the oils in the bottles – place them in a pan of hot water to raise the temperature of the oil inside the bottle but do not boil.

Pre-warming the oil up in this manner helps the mixing of the oil and the melted beeswax as if the oil is too cold it will immediately set the beeswax when stirred together.
Do not use a microwave for heating either the wax or the oil.

6. When the beeswax has melted pour half of it into two pots – then quickly take one of the warmed oil bottles (remember they are different scents) and add the warmed oil to the melted beeswax directly into the tins. Use the wooden spoon to mix it all together. The colour (if any), the beeswax and the vit. e and sunflower oils should all melt together.

If the room is cold the mix may solidify too quickly – if this happens place the tin carefully on the hob (switched off) as it cools down and re-melt. Use a cloth to pick up the tin if you do this as it can get hot.

7. Re-heat the remaining beeswax and pour into the remaining two tins, use the remaining warm oil bottle to top up the beeswax directly in the tins.

How To Make Your Own Candles!

It sounds simple but ‘What is a Candle?’

A candle is a combination of fuel and wick, add a third component, fire, to give long-lasting light. Before electric this is all there was to enable our ancestors to see after dark, we know this already BUT did you know that:

The fuels in traditional candles were animal fats, plant oils (nuts/seeds and stones) or beeswax while wicks were made from twisted plant fibres. In fact that is all modern wick still is… cotton-grass twisted, bleached and dried. In the past our ancestors would’ve used twisted nettle stem or rush grass as the wick here in the UK as we didn’t have cotton as a native plant. We teach all methods on our courses.

Make your own beeswax candles for fun, economy and health.

Do you love buying candles and enjoy filling your home with them but wondered exactly what it is that you are burning and why you can pay up to £25 for a candle?! What is in the smoke and scent that comes from the shop bought candles you burn? How is it that some are so expensive – surely these aren’t made of toxic ingredients?!

Most shop bought candles, including expensive varieties, are made from a combination of paraffin wax, stearin and artificial fragrance – even the expensive ones.

Paraffin wax is made, as its name suggests, from paraffin which is a by-product of the petroleum production industry. It is used because it is cheap and odourless, un-dyed candles made from this tend to be a blue white colour.  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has set a recommended exposure limit (REL) for paraffin wax fume exposure of 2 mg per cubed meter over an 8-hour workday.

Stearin is a powder that is added to the wax to make it burn more slowly. Stearin is a hard fat produced from beef or cod liver oil processing. The term ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ can be used to describe a chemical cocktail of up to two hundred different synthetic ingredients.

Do you really want to be filling your home with these substances?

Some modern candles are sold as ‘eco’ because they are made from Soy. They are made by extracting soya bean oil and processing it to become more solid. Soya is very water-heavy crop, plus soy candle industry isn’t regulated and most soy candles do contain other oils like palm and paraffin too. The soya bean oil must travel thousands of miles to get to us as it is not a native plant. At Wild Harvest we like to empower you to create your own light using the resources around you.

Beeswax is a natural wax produced by honey bees and is available in the UK. Beeswax is formed into “scales” by eight wax-producing glands in the abdominal segments of worker bees who discard it in or at the hive.  It is capable of making candles without the need for processing or adding other oils.

To get you started we have created a candle-making kit that teaches you two types of simple beeswax candle – melt and pour beeswax and rolled foundation sheet candles.

The Wild Harvest Kit Contents

Six Sheets of Beeswax
Cotton Wick
Glass Jar with Beeswax Granules
One Waxed Wick

To make the rolled beeswax sheets:

Take a sheet of beeswax and keeping the narrow end toward you lay the wick along the narrow end leaving 1 – 2 centimetres of wick sticking out of one end.

Use your thumbs to gently lift the wax sheet up at the narrow end and squash it down over the wick to trap the wick in place.

Fold the wax over again. Once the wick is trapped in with a couple of folds of wax place your hands as if you were using a rolling pin and roll the sheet up. Keep the tension on and don’t let go until you have rolled the sheet all the way to the other narrow end.

Using the warmth of your thumb press and seal the seam so the candle doesn’t unroll.

Trim the wick sticking out to 1 cm proud of the candle – this is the end you light.

Find a secure holder for your candles eg. a sturdy glass bottles or a candleabra, light and enjoy!

To make the Wild Harvest Kit melted beeswax candle – (melt and pour)

Always melt beeswax slowly and using a double boiler whether this is a pyrex bowl over a pan of water, in the same way you would melt chocolate, or a bain marie.   Beeswax in a pan on direct heat will catch and burn.

Use the jar provided with the wax already in and place it, with the lid off, in a pan of hot water. The water should reach to about half to three-quarters up the side of the jar. Place the pan on a medium heat. (picture showing all of above)

Heat the water ensuring the pan doesn’t boil dry. After approximately ten minutes the wax granules will have melted – beeswax melts at approx.  65 degrees. When the beeswax is melted remove from heat and take the jar out of the pan using oven gloves or a cloth as the glass will be hot.

Place the waxed wick – metal end into the jar – and fold the long end of the wick over the side of the jar – you can use a clothes peg to hold it in place until the wax sets. (picture) Leave the jar for ten to twenty minutes before removing the peg and trimming the wick to 1 cm from the top of the wax. (Picture).

Tip 1: For colour – grate a little children’s crayon into the wax as it’s melting.

Tip 2: For shape – experiment with different moulds using heat proof objects from around the home. We have used tuna tins, old jars, silicon cake moulds and orange peel halves.

If you have no mould you can dig a hole in the garden, flatten out the bottom and pour in your wax. When the wax has hardened dig your candle out – you have made an earth candle! Alternatively light it in situ!

If you don’t already have our candle kit and would like to order one they are £10 plus £2 postage payable to [email protected] on Paypal.  Please email the same email add. with your address stating what you have ordered.