Foraging around Christchurch - A beginners guide to Red Zone foraging.

As some of you know, I loveeeeee foraging. Now let me be clear, I am not a professional, but I know an apple tree when I see one.

Foraging has become a bit of a thing in Christchurch. After the earthquakes, a lot of areas in Christchurch have been crowned 'the Red Zone' - areas where homes couldn't be rebuilt. These are now becoming established park-like areas, where people run, bike and walk their dogs. It's also a great place to forage because established fruit and nut trees were left behind, some are even protected (remember this fact please)

Spot Jackson in the distance

I've been walking the Christchurch Red Zone since we moved to the inner east suburbs in 2015. I can remember the first time I came across a peach tree - fruit, ready and ripe and easy to find?! AMAZING! The excitement of finding a new fruit or a new variety never gets old. But from the very beginning of my foraging adventures, I've set out strict rules for myself. Most people do this BUTTTTTTTT..

It seems some people (let me repeat, some, not everyone) don't have the same rules set out for themselves and here in Christchurch, are starting to get a bit greedy. And I'm not talking a small bucket here and there, I'm talking multiple bags and buckets, people taking in ladders, breaking trees and even going as far as selling the fruit, you know, real bad manners kinda thing.

So, I thought I'd throw together a bit of advice about what I've learnt so far in the hopes everyone can enjoy foraging/keep enjoying foraging for years to come.

A bit of advice/general unspoken rules -

  1. Before you start foraging, know what is edible, so you don't destroy anything that's happily growing, doing its own thing

  2. Download Picture This! You can take a photo of the plant then and there and it helps you work out what it is (also fun if you are a plant lover and want to know what flowers/trees are what)

  3. Fruit falls off the tree and onto the ground, pick through this first and give it a wash - just because it's on the ground, doesn't mean it's not edible

  4. If you are picking from the tree, the fruit should pull away easily. If you struggle to 'yank' it off, then it's not ripe enough. Don't squeeze the fruit to see if it's ripe, as you may bruise it, and then you've ruined it for yourself or someone else.

  5. Speaking of picking from the tree, if you're unsure about something being ripe, don't be afraid to pick something. Not a bunch though, just one. Give it a taste! If it tastes ripe/good, then you know what's up.. (also its a great way of learning about what stage the fruit is ready/not ready)

  6. Don't forage more than you need - remember, we're trying to cut back on food waste, not create more (a small reusable bag of peaches or plums is enough to have a go at bottling fruit or even making your own fruit wine!)

  7. Also remember, it's there for everyone, so taking more than you need means others miss out

  8. Not all fruits are tasty for eating, some are only tasty for cooking and then eating. If you taste something and it's not 'tasty' don't throw it away! Cook with it

  9. Don't trespass. This includes community gardens that have been planted within the Red Zone, they are easy to identify as they look like your average vege garden, rather than a left alone fruit tree

So what can you find while foraging?

Well, all sorts! Wild herbs, Sumac, Elderflower (and later on, Elderberries) are some of the exciting things you may stumble across on your adventures. For the more advanced forager, there is waaaaaay more to find, but I won't comment on those because I am not foraging for that stuff myself (yet)

Here are the most common things I find and a few facts about them -

  1. Stone fruits such as Peaches, Nectarines and Plums. These do not continue to ripen after they're picked, take only what is ready (in my opinion they soften but they do not ripen) Plum season is almost over (it's Feb) but there are still a few about with plenty of fruit ripe for the picking!

  2. Figs, Quinces and Grapes - I'm writing this in February and they're not ready - note, they don't ripen off the tree either. Quinces generally go super yellow when ready, and fall to the ground

  3. Citrus fruit like Lemons, Oranges, Mandarins and Limes (I even found a Kumquat) These change colour off the tree, but they don't ripen. A sour Lemon, sure if you must. A sour Orange, pass

  4. Apples and Pears - they're all pretty much ready (again, it's Feb). BUT before you go grabbing them off the tree, check the base first and collect anything on off the ground that is edible

  5. Walnuts, some have started falling! You can harvest them from the ground now (green ones) lay them out to dry and eventually the husk around the shell will breakdown and you'll be left with the Walnut. Don't pick them from the tree

  6. Slightly more random and not currently in season, but Mushrooms. Yep, mushies. Some of them, believe it or not, are edible. HOWEVER - do your research before you go picking/eating/tripping (haha) because some species of mushrooms are extremely toxic to humans and can look very similar to edible varieties. Also, don't pick things like Porcini when they're not ready

  7. There are also Olive trees - I can't comment on when these are ready but what I can say is, don't strip the tree, even if you're dying to make Olive Oil. Let everyone have a turn at making their own olive-based products at home

  8. Berries - there are a few around and for kids, these are so fun to find and even better to eat, just keep in mind the council does spray roadsides etc, and often berries cop a lot of the pesticides that are sprayed

Foraging, especially in the Red Zone, can be a really fun and exciting thing for people (especially families) to do and it's also a way of people having access to fresh fruit, that they may not be able to afford (I know Apples are considered cheap enough, but for some, even that's a stretch)

But let me repeat myself - you don't need to strip the tree of fruit so much (or cut/break branches) that other people miss out altogether. If you see the fruit is on the ground going to waste then, by all means, grab a heap, but if it's not...need I say more? Remember, the great part about foraging is you're saving money (i.e you don't have to buy fruit for lunch that week) AND stopping food waste! This is a huge one. The impact foraging has on food waste is incredibly positive and if you go and pick too much and you have to dispose of it.. you're contributing to a worldwide issue, not solving it.

Oh and the last thing. As cool as the Christchurch forage map is? Ditch it, and just wander about. You'll find more looking up, than down at your phone. Plus, the point of foraging is to... find it on your own (or talk to friends/pro foragers for advice/suggested spots).

P.S if you are a pro forager and I have gotten any of my facts wrong, please correct me - I'm learning new things every day and won't take offence.

Update 14/02 (I wrote this 13/02)

I encourage you, with all the knowledge from above, to go and forage. Don't feel afraid. Make mistakes! Learn from them. All I want to do with this post is to encourage you all to do the right thing while doing it.