Conkers (Horse Chestnuts) - not edible!

Conkers (Horse Chestnuts) – not edible!

I remember how exciting it felt to find the first conkers of the season.

You could find them gleaming, nestled into the crispy orange brown leaves. Little mahogany bubbles with contour swirls that were almost iridescent.

I remember searching for the perfect one. Thinking I’d found it, then seeing another perfect one and another and another.

Collecting them was for me the best bit of the whole of conker season.

But there was the tradition of playing an age old game with them.

My grandparents told me that they used to bake the conkers in the oven or boil them in vinegar to harden them. I tried both of these and I tried using the conkers just as I found them.

The trick was to find a way of drilling or hammering a hole through the fat middle of the conker with its pale beige-pink patch at the top. Then you cut a length of string about two feet or 60 cm long. Thread the string through the hole and tie a big triple knot at the end of the string to stop the conker falling off.

The game is between two people each with a conker on a string. You stand facing each other, at a convenient sociable distance, one holds their conker at arms length in front of them, keeping it very very still. The other player tries to swing their conker, aimed to hit their opponents’. Then the players swap roles. The aim is not only to hit the other conker, but to smash it to bits. There are regional variations to the game, but that is the basic outline.

There is a modern myth about playing conkers at school which seems to have stopped children from enjoying this free seasonal marker that generations before them have loved so much.

The story goes that children had been getting specks of shattered conkers in their eyes, so a headteacher had made the children wear googles and padded gloves while they were playing.

From this rumour it was a short step to schools all over Britain banning conkers.

The Health and Saftey Executive say that “realistically the risk from playing conkers is incredibly low and just not bothering about.”

Another bonus to conker season is that you can make your own laundry detergent.

We are very used to going and buying super dooper washing powders and liquids, so it seems unimaginable that a traditional natural home made recipe would work. But recently some people have switched from chemical products to using “soap nuts” which are flown half way across the world to us in the UK. However the creamy coloured nut inside conkers contain the same soap like substance, saponin, and many people say that they work every bit as well as a cheap environmentally friendly replacement for laundry detergents.

If you want to try this out you can find several different recipes on line, but basically it goes like this.

  • Smash each conker into little chunks, then grind them in a blender until they are rough crumbs.
  • Place them in a thin layer on a baking paper lined sheet, and bake them gently in the oven, until they are dry but preferably not burned.
  • Let them cool and then store them in a not quite airtight container, (you don’t want them to sweat and get moist and go mouldy.)
  • When you are ready to make up a batch of washing liquid, let a tablespoonful per load of washing seep in warm water for half an hour. When the water has turned milky pour it into a container through a sieve to get rid of the crumbs of chestnut. Use the liquid as you would use a washing liquid.if you want to you can add a few drops of essential oils to give it a fragrance, otherwise it has a very neutral smell.

So let’s make this autumn one where children are taught how to play conkers again by their grown ups, so that they get as excited by the new season as we used to. And try out a way of doing washing without expensive chemical products. A time to turn over new orange brown leaves perhaps.

Enjoy conker season.


A daunting task, but not intimidating to our volunteers!

A daunting task, but not intimidating to our volunteers!

Autumn is the prefect season to tidy up. With a wet spring and hot summer, brambles and bindweed have been growing vigorously across the farm and scrub has taken over in certain areas. Clearing these areas during Spring and Summer can be tricky as we don’t want to disturb nesting bids. But youngsters will have left by the nest now, so we can now safely cut back. Cutting at this time of year also means we can remove any overgrowth before invertebrates begin to hibernate. After doing an incredible job clearing up our ponds. Team RBS tackled our entrance near Mudchute DLR station and it’s already made a huge difference.

Would you be interested in lending a hand? Find out more about volunteering with your team or join us as an individual.


Autumn is one of the busiest times of year for us on our parks and open spaces. Now that young birds have fledged, we can safely cut back hard scrub. We also have a brief opportunity to tidy up our ponds, which can rapidly become overgrown. Many pond species, including frogs and dragonfly nymphs, will spend the winter tucked up in the mud at the bottom of the pond. So we need to make sure we undertake any works ahead of their hibernation. While we are eager to keep a variety of plants around our ponds, the glyceria have taken advantage of the sunshine and warm weather and grown rapidly and taken over much of what was once open water. To tackle the problem, you have to get in the deep end, pulling up plants from their roots and working from the inside of the pond towards the edges. We’re maintaining plants along the perimeter of the pond as these will be important places for emerging damselflies and dragonflies in the spring and summer.

A huge thank you to our corporate volunteer group from RBS who donned wellies and waders and got stuck in to lend a hand! Working with TCV they did a brilliant clearing job. We found resident newts, frogs and countless invertebrates more! Over the next week, we’ll be leaving the removed vegetation at the edges of the pond, so any pondlife that might have gotten caught up in the fray can slip quietly back into the water. But there’s no need to worry about the wildlife, opening open the ponds will improve the habitat for them. In fact, as the team took a quick break for tea, frogs popped up across the pond, dragonflies whirred along the surface and wrens came down from our hedges for a drink. The wildlife may not be able to thank you for your hard work themselves, but we certainly can. Thank you! We couldn’t do it without you. To find out more about volunteering at Mudchute (as a team or an individual) please visit our volunteering page.