Archive | February 2013

Living ‘The Good Life’ and How To Make Newspaper Pots

On Friday, Ed Stagg from Radio Leicester, rang and spoke to me regarding ‘The Good Life’, as the wonderful Richard Briers had recently passed away and he was discussing ‘living the good life’, on his Saturday program.

This week Ed Stagg was joined by a model, a cook and a happiness expert.  They had quite an interesting discussion after Ed had played my phone call and if you have a bit of time spare, have a listen and tell me what you think.

You can hear the discussion here (approximately 1 hour 38 minutes into the program).

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Over the weekend I have been busy freezing my Celeriac, Turnips and the Jerusalem Artichokes that I picked last week

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If you have never used Jerusalem Artichokes before, this is how you prepare them and freeze them:

Scrub each of the Jerusalem Artichokes to remove the soil

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Chop the ends off each one and remove any damaged areas.

Chop into ‘roasting’ sized pieces

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You can then roast  them in olive oil (approximately 45 minutes, Gas mark 6) or freeze them (to roast from frozen another time).

To freeze, all you need to do is blanch them for two minutes. 

What is blanching?

….Boil a pan of water, then put the Jerusalem Artichokes into it.  Bring the water to boiling point again and then time it for 2 minutes and then drain.  Immediately plunge the vegetables into very cold water, to stop the cooking process.

Lay the Jerusalem Artichokes onto a tray in a single layer and freeze.  When they are frozen, put them in a bag.  By freezing them in a single layer on a tray, they won’t all stick together and it will be easy to take out just the required amount that you need.

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How to prepare and freeze Celeriac:

Celeriac is a bit easier to prepare as you just need to remove the skin, wash and chop into usable sized chunks.  Again, I freeze mine at this time of year, so we are never without them.

To freeze, blanch for two minutes, exactly the same way as the Jerusalem Artichokes.

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Turnips

I use the turnips in a different way to roasting, I use them to make a cheesy gratin as a side dish with meals.  I’ll show you how I make it another day.

I left the turnips a little bit too long in the ground and the biggest weighed 1.9kg!

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I froze it exactly the same as the Celeriac and the Jerusalem Artichokes above, only this time I blanched it for just one minute.

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Newspaper Pots

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On Friday I promised to show you how I make newspaper pots.  My shallots are sitting happily in my cold greenhouse in the pots I made.

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Newspaper pots are great to make as they are extremely cheap and environmetally friendly to use, as the recycled materials decompose when you put them in the ground.  This also helps the plants that do not like root disturbance, e.g. swedes, that can be sown in the pots and then planted a few weeks later, still in the newspaper pots.

The plants find it easy to grow their roots through the damp pots when they are in the ground.

You can actually buy a ‘Newspaper Pot Maker’, it costs about £10, but I prefer to make them using either a baked bean tin, or a soya sauce bottle, depending on the size of pot that you require.  This is how I make them:

How To Make Newspaper Pots:

You need a newspaper, some masking tape and a soya sauce bottle for small pots

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Fold one sheet of newspaper in half and then into thirds

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Roll the paper around the bottle, so the newspaper is over lapping the base of the bottle

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Ensure you don’t roll the newspaper too tightly, or it will be hard to remove the paper from the bottle.

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Use a small piece of masking tape to secure the paper at the top and then fold in the newspaper over the bottom of the bottle.

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Secure the bottom of the pot with a small piece of masking tape.

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You can use different sized tins and bottles depending on the size of pot required.  For example, I use a baked bean tin to make pots ready for when I ‘prick out’ my tomato plants.

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I find it’s best to make the pots and use them straight away, as sometimes the masking tape becomes ‘unstuck’ if you make them too far in advance.

Also, when your plant is ready to go into the ground, make sure all of the newspaper is under the soil, or the paper will act like a wick and dry the compost out.

I love newspaper pots.

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

I’ll be back on Friday at approximately 6 pm.

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The Start Of A New Gardening Year.

I thought I’d start today by saying a ‘Big Welcome’ to anyone that has recently started to follow my blog and a big ‘Thank you’ to the Somerset Waste Partnership, who have included a link to my blog on their website here,  I feel most honoured.

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This week there has definitely been a feel of spring in the air, as temperatures have been mild compared to the cold, winter weather that we have had lately.

I have noticed that bulbs are growing nicely, the tiny shoots of my autumn raspberries are forming and unfortunately the weeds are starting to germinate.  In fact, I saw my first dandelion ready to open its yellow flower this week.  This is a stark reminder that the soil is beginning to warm up and spring is on its way and it’s now time to finish winter jobs.

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Before I went on holiday last week, I laid plastic sheeting over the beds that I will soon be planting my onions and shallots in.  This will help to warm the soil nicely for them.

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 I also planted my shallots in newspaper pots and put them in my cold greenhouse, to give them a head start.  Next month when they have rooted, I will plant the shallots, still in their newspaper pots, as the pots will compost down in the soil.  This will also help to stop the birds pulling them up, thinking they are worms.

I will show you how I make the newspaper pots in my  blog post on Monday.

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Also before my holiday, I cut back my Michaelmas Daisys, ready for the year ahead.  They look so unattractive at this time of year and yet they look so beautiful in the autumn and attract many beneficial insects:

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The rhubarb is going nicely now.  I don’t know what variety I have, as I inherited it with the plot, but it is a very early variety.

Two weeks ago I covered some of the rhubarb with a bin to ‘force’ it.  This will give ‘sweet tasting pink stems’ in a few weeks.

The Rhubarb at my plot

The Rhubarb at my plot

This week, I cut back my autumn raspberries to ground level, which is a job I do every February.  Autumn raspberries are treated differently to summer raspberries, as autumn raspberries bear fruit on the new year’s growth, so they can be cut right down to ground level at this time of year.

I have had my autumn raspberries for quite some time and unfortunately they have quite a lot of couch grass and bindweed in amongst them, so I decided it was time to dig them up and start again in a different bed.

I split a few roots and replanted them in a new bed with plenty of compost worked into it and in the next few days I will feed the plants by scattering some sulphate of potash around the roots.  I was very careful not to transport the weeds too.

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Another job I completed this week, was to dig up all my Jerusalem artichokes.  My family love these roasted in olive oil and my daughters eat them like sweets.

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Jerusalem artichokes are one of the easiest vegetables that I know of to grow.  Each February, I dig up any that remain in the soil and replant the biggest ones, approximately 30cm apart and 30cm deep.  Every other year I dig manure into the bed before I replant them and in November, I cut down the old stems so they don’t suffer from the wind dislodging them from the soil.  You can dig them up all through the winter when you need them, as they store really well in the ground and they rarely suffer from any pests or diseases.

One thing to be noted though, is they are thugs and once you have them you will find it hard to get rid of them.  So make sure you plant them in an area away from the rest of your vegetables, or you will regret it.

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Remember the area between my summer raspberries, that I prepared the soil and sowed grass seed in the autumn?…I have now edged it with a plastic ‘Lawn Edge’ from Wilkinson’s and gave it a quick mow on a high setting (as it was so long) and I think it has really made a difference:

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This week I have also opened up my oldest compost heap.  It is now 3½ years old and it contained all types of perrenial weeds.  As you can see all the weeds have completely died off and a beautiful, sweet smelling compost is left.

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This proves that perrennial weeds can be composted, provided they are left long enough to fully decompose.  So many books I have read tell people to burn them, which really isn’t a very environmently friendly thing to do.  This way you are returning them to the ground and adding nutrients into the bargain.

One thing to be noted though, there may be weed seeds in the compost, which is why I quickly hoe off the seedlings as they germinate.

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I spread some of the compost in my polytunnel, after I gave it a quick weed and dug up the last of my turnips and celeriac.

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The winter salads are doing well in the polytunnel and are ready for eating and I planted some ‘leggy’ broadbeans that I couldn’t plant earlier due to the wet weather in January.

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For those who are new to my blog, my dad has a small area on my 4th, newest plot.  He had his own allotment for many years, but sadly age caught up with him and a full plot became far too much to manage.  Last Spring, he asked if he could possibly have a small part of my plot to look after and I thought this was a great idea, as I can make sure he doesn’t do too much.

  I love it with him there.

April 2012

April 2012

So finally this week, I bought our old garden chair from our back garden at home.  I put it in a small area next to my dads patch, so he can sit down when he is tired.  I made a little table out of bricks and an old piece of crazy paving, so he now has somewhere to put his flask of coffee when he sits down.

I finished it off with some left over woodchip and I think he will be pleased when he sees it.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at 6pm.

An Eastbourne Holiday, A Birthday And A Funeral

Last week it was ‘half term’ for children in Leicester, so we went to Eastbourne for a week.  We nearly didn’t go, as it was the funeral of my good friend on the Wednesday.  We didn’t want to miss the funeral or the holiday, so we traveled back on Tuesday evening and then traveled back to Eastbourne on Wednesday.

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The funeral was beautiful and so so sad.  There must have been about two hundred people there, which showed how well she was thought of by everyone.

When we came out of the funeral, it snowed really heavily, it was so pretty and I know she would have loved it.  I will remember my friend each time it snows now.

The day after she died, I noticed lots of snowdrops were in flower, as I went for a walk with my husband.  So I have decided to plant lots of snowdrops this year in my new woodland patch at my allotment, as a way to remember my friend.

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Eastbourne was lovely, as usual.  It was rainy and wet when we arrived and the wind was blowing a gale, but this soon passed and we had a couple of beautiful days where the sun shone.

We stayed in the Travelodge that is just across the road from the sea and yet again we only paid £31 per night for bed and breakfast for a family of four.

You can read about the Travelodge, room and breakfast on a post I wrote here.

We visited Beachy Head and the Birling Gap and looked at the wonderful views.  My daughter took the following pictures:

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We had a lovely, peaceful holiday.

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While we were there it was my eldest daughter’s birthday.  I can’t believe she is 15 years old!

I made her a cake to take with us.  She loves ‘One Direction’, so I made her a ‘One Direction’ birthday cake:

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A ‘One Direction’ Cake:

First I made three sponge layers, using the easy sponge cake recipe here, and sandwiched them together using a nice homemade Strawberry Jam.

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I then made up some butter icing, with a tiny bit of yellow sugar paste (my daughter’s favourite colour).  You can see how to make the buttercream here.

I spread it all over the cake using a warm knife:

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Then the fun began.  A couple of weeks before, I purchased a ‘One Direction Edible Cake Topper’ from EBay for just under £5.00.  It was so easy to use,  I just put it in my freezer for a few moments and it peeled off the backing easily and then I gently pressed it onto my cake:

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I added a homemade ‘One Direction’ ribbon, using card that I covered in sticky backed plastic and piped the remaining buttercream around the edges:

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My daughter loved the cake especially as the cake had her name on.  My homemade cake was bigger than the Tesco version you can buy for £8 and I made it ‘dairyfree’ so all my family could enjoy it.   I would like to bet that a homemade cake tasted better too.

A Tesco 'One Direction' Cake

A Tesco ‘One Direction’ Cake

We couldn’t put candles on the cake, as it would have set off the smoke alarms at the Travelodge, but we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to my daughter and the staff who were working that evening joined in too and also shared the cake with us.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back again on Friday.

A Busy Weekend And A Luxury Dairy Free Chocolate Ice Cream

This is the post I had written for Monday, before I had the bad news about my friend, but I thought you would still like to read it.  I must admit I’m not up to writing a new post at the moment:

My weekend has been pretty hectic as usual.

I started the weekend by batch baking for the week ahead.  I made bread rolls. scones, chocolate brownies and some more breakfast muffins, all ready to freeze for packed lunches over the next week.

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I also laid some self-adesive tiles in our cupboard under our stairs.  After finishing my painting last week, this was the last job to do, as the floor was bare wooden floorboards.  It was the first time I had laid tiles and I am really pleased with the result, though I found cutting them around the pipes difficult.

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This weekend I also used my ice cream maker for the first time.

I have been paying over £6 for a small tub of dairy free choclate ice cream, as it’s such a treat for my daughter.

This weekend I found this recipe and altered it slightly to make the most delious, tastiest luxury chocolate ice cream I have ever tasted and the best bit is, it cost me just £3.92 to make.

  This is how I made it:

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Luxury Dairy Free Chocolate Ice Cream:

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250ml Alpro original Soya milk

170g dairy free chocolate

5 tablespoons sunflower oil

251g carton of Alpro single cream

1 teaspoon vanilla essence 

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Break the chocolate into a bowl and add the soya milk.  Microwave until the choclate has just melted

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Add the oil, soya cream and vanilla essence

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Blend until smooth

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Allow to cool and then pour into an ice cream maker (after the bowl has been frozen over night)

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Refer to your ice cream maker for timings and how much to fill the bowl.  I let mine beat the mixture for 30 minutes.

Transfer the ice cream to a suitable container and freeze for a few hours until completely solid and then enjoy.

(If you haven’t got an ice cream maker, just put the blended ingrediants into a container and freeze.  Remove from the freezer every 1-2 hours and mash vigourously with a fork to break up the ice crystals).

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I made ice cream sundaes with the ice cream.  I broke some of the homemade chocolate brownies into the bottom of a large glass and added some defrosted homegrown strawberries from my freezer and then the ice cream.  I topped it with gratings of dairy free chocolate and my homemade crab apple ice cream syrup….sheer bliss and my daughters loved it.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

It is half term for all the children in Leicester next week, so I have decided to take the week off.

I will be back on Monday 18th February.

How do you lose a friend you have known nearly all your adult life?

It’s 4am……….

This isn’t the post I was planning on writing today.   It’s 4am and I have hardly slept all night.  I’m not sure why I’m writing this, but I have words and memories running around my head, I suppose this is just grief setting in.

Less than twenty four hours ago, I had the phone call that I had been dreading, but expecting.  My good friend Helen, took her last breath at 8.30am yesterday and quietly passed away.  She had been battling with a brain tumour for nearly four years and finally it had won.

Helen as 'Robin' at my 21st Birthday

Helen as ‘Robin’ at my 21st Birthday Party

Yesterday I felt like my world has stopped and I was just watching everyone around me.  I suppose I was in shock, even though I knew it was coming.  I have never felt as empty as I did yesterday.

For weeks I had tried so hard to be strong when I sat with her, but on my last visit I cried, I knew that we would soon lose her.

Xmas day with Helen and Ian's after I had just split up with my ex-partner

Christmas day 1992 with Helen and Ian, after I had just split up with my ex-partner

Her husband was so fantastic with her the whole time.  She wanted to be at home for as long as she could, to be with her family and friends.  This was only possible because her husband had cared for her so brilliantly, right up until the end.  Home is where she died.

A 'Swinging Sixties' party, where we dressed as OAP's to make people laugh, instead of 1960's (that was when we thought '60' was old lol)

A ‘Swinging Sixties’ party, where we dressed as OAP’s to make people laugh, instead of 1960’s (that was when we thought that the age of ’60’  was old lol)

I know everyone always have nice things to say about people that have passed away, but she really was the kindest, most thoughtful person I have ever met.  Over the years, I have so many wonderful memories of places we have been to, holidays we have shared and nights out I will never forget.  Sometimes I would laugh so hard with her, I cried.  We had so much fun.  She was always such a loyal and good friend to everyone she knew.

A Holiday in the south of France together in 1990

A Holiday in the south of France together in 1990

She was a fantastic mother, with two children aged just 15 and 18 years old, my heart goes out to them.  On my last visit I told her that she should be really proud of herself, as her children have grown up to be a credit to her and her husband, I hope she heard me.

A trip down the Norfolk Boards together

A trip down the Norfolk Boards together

So how do you carry on when you have lost a good friend that you have known for more than 28 years, nearly all of your adult life?  I just don’t know.  I feel angry that she has been cheated out of life so early and I have feelings of guilt running around my head, that it was her and not me.

However, I am old enough and wise enough to know, that how I feel now is only natural and the pain will pass in time and I will be left with lots of happy memories.

Me and my good friend Helen

Me and my good friend Helen

My thoughts are with your husband and children Helen, God bless you.

What To Do In The Kitchen Garden In February

When I first started to grow vegetables I really needed the information to be in one place, so I could look it up easily. However, I found I had to search for lots of little bits of information, scattered between internet sites and books. It used to take me a long time to find the information I needed.

I thought it would be useful to have this information altogether in one place. So for the benefit of the UK gardeners, I write a list of things to be done each month and any useful information I can think of.

It is worth remembering that different parts of the UK have different weather conditions e.g. the last frost is expected earlier in the south than the north. Therefore, this is a general guide.

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February:

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Vegetables and salads to harvest:

Brussels, kale, cabbages, parsnips, celeriac, leeks, cauliflowers, swedes, Jerusalem artichokes, hardy lettuces, corn salad, land cress and winter purslane, mizuna, early sprouting broccoli.

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Vegetables and salads to sow:

Broad beans can be sown outside if the soil is not frozen or waterlogged.

Hardy peas can be planted outside in milder areas or undercover.

Onions can be grown from seed in modules, but they must have a minimum temperature of 10C.

Early varieties of Kohl rabi, brussel sprouts and sprouting broccoli can be sown this month indoors and Globe artichokes, lettuce, leeks, radish, coriander, basil, spinach and greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers too.

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Things to plant (if the soil is not frozen or waterlogged):

Garlic can be planted outside.

Bare-rooted fruit trees and bushes can be planted.

Jerusalem artichokes can be dug up and re-planted and rhubarb sets can also be planted this month.

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Jobs to do:

Lift your remaining Jerusalem artichokes and dig in some compost or manure.  Replant them 10-15cm deep, 30-40cm apart.

Warm the soil where you will be soon planting crops e.g. broad beans or shallots, by covering with plastic or cardboard.

Continue to plant bare-rooted trees and fruit bushes.

Cut down autumn raspberries to just above ground level, as they produce fruit on new growth during the summer.

Give your compost heap a turn and water it if it is dry.

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Finish digging your plot over if it is not waterlogged or frozen.  If it is just a little bit wet, use a plank to stand on while you dig, to spread your weight evenly.

Don’t forget to feed the birds and top up water for them to drink.

Keep removing any yellow fallen leaves around your brassicas as these can harbor pests.

Order any seeds for the coming year and plan next year’s crop rotation.

Weed and mulch around established fruit trees.

Continue to fill your runner bean trenches with old peelings.

Check the fruit and vegetables that you have stored. Remember that one bad fruit or vegetable can destroy the whole crop if you don’t remove it quick enough.

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Bullfinches love the newly forming buds, especially on gooseberries, apple, pears and plums. If you have had a problem in the past then nets are the only solution.

Continue to cover the white cauliflowers with their green leaves bended over them, to protect them from frost and light.

Finish pruning fruit trees and bushes (except cherries and plums) unless the weather has turned very cold.  They will start to come out of their dormancy in March.

Buy seed potatoes and ‘chit’ them by putting them in egg boxes or trays with their ‘eyes’ facing upwards.  Leave them in a cool, light room.

Check all your tree stakes and fruit supports are stable and repair if necessary, while plants are dormant.

If you grow apricots, peaches or nectarines in a sheltered, south facing spot, then they may start to blossom in February.  Cover them to protect them from rain and frost.  You may have to hand pollinated the flowers.

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February pests and diseases:

Mice and rats love to dig up and eat newly planted broad beans, early pea seeds and garlic.

Slugs can still be a problem even in February.

Pigeons are hungry and love eating brassicas so keep them netted.

Bull finches love the new buds on gooseberries, so net them early.

Check apple and pear trees for signs of canker and cut out any diseased wood.

Check for ‘big bud mite’ on blackcurrants.  The buds will actually look big and swollen if affected.

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I hope this information has been helpful.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.