Archive | October 2013

Struggling To Make Ends Meet?

(*** Don’t forget I will be back on Monday 11th November 2013. ***)

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On Wednesday the BBC reported:

“The number of people relying on food banks to survive has tripled over the last year, according to new figures.  The Trussell Trust, which runs 400 food banks across the UK, said it handed out supplies to more than 350,000 people between April and September this year”.

“The Trussell Trust said the problem was so severe that some people using food banks have started to hand back items that need cooking, as they cannot afford to use the energy.  It also forecast that rising energy prices this winter are likely to see more people choosing between heating and eating.”

“However the government has taken issue with the report and says – The Trussell Trust itself says it is opening three new food banks every week, so it’s not surprising more people are using them,- said a government spokesperson”.

You can read the whole article here.

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On Wednesday, Radio Leicester also asked me to give my views on the situation.  There were lots of people calling in and texting.  Quite a few people were saying that they think food banks were being used when they didn’t need to be, so that people can continue to drink, smoke, have Sky TV, holidays etc. instead of buying the food they needed.  I really don’t know if this is true or not, but I should imagine that there are always going to be some people that take advantage of a situation.

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The whole discussion made me think back to a 2012 survey where the ‘Save The Children’ charity estimated that there were 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK and predicted a steep rise in the numbers in years to come.

At the time the figures surprised me and I looked further into this and found that when my children were younger, we were actually classed as ‘living in poverty’ with the household income that we had.   Looking back I would never have classed ourselves as living in poverty and our children never went without food or clothes.

We chose for me to stay at home to look after our children, but we never realised this put us under the so called ‘poverty line’.

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So what did we do when we were struggling to make ends meet?

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When we decided that things had to change, we were lucky as we didn’t have debts to clear.  We desperately wanted another child and we knew we couldn’t afford this and carry on the way we were living, so we made changes.

We looked at the luxuries that we had (rather than the necessities) and decided if we could possibly cut back on them or give them up completely.  In those days there wasn’t mobile phones, laptops etc, so we chose to give up our car, as this saved us the most money.  I can’t say it was easy at first, but we managed it, thanks to shopping deliveries from Iceland and Somerfield (things would have been different now, as you can get deliveries from most of the major supermarkets).

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Over the years that followed, I made changes to how I shopped, prepared food, cleaned etc. and began to meal plan. I went from a ‘packet mix queen’ to cooking from scratch.  I took on my first allotment and began to grow our own fruit and vegetables and as you know, I now have four allotments.

All the above things developed over time.  Unfortunately, the common sense things that ‘grandma’ knew just weren’t passed down to my generation, as the 80’s and 90’s were affluent times. It took me a long time to work out how to cook things from scratch, with no one to tell me what to do, but I did it and I’m proud of myself.

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We are lucky to have the internet these days and that is why I am so passionate about writing my blog.  I want people to know that cooking from scratch and growing your own vegetables IS easy when you have someone to show you, which is why I try and include as many photographs in my recipes and when I write about what to do in the kitchen garden each month.

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There are still things that I want to explore to save more money and I am always looking for new ideas.  This is never a chore now, as I find it such a challenge.

What I have learnt along the way will stay with me for a lifetime, as I now enjoy our lifestyle.  I have found that simple living  is a ‘lifestyle change’ rather than a way to cut back ‘when the chips are down’ and I actually love living this way.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I am going to take a break from blogging for three weeks, as my daughters are off school next week and I want to spend some time sorting my house again, after the builders have finished.

So I will be back on Monday 11th November 2013.

 

  

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How To Beat Christmas Financial Stress

At the end of last week, the weather turned rather chilly and my coat came out again after a long, warm summer.  My daughters started to complain it was cold without the central heating on (while sitting at home wearing only T-shirts) and I noticed that the nights are drawing in.

Autumn is really here and I know this, as it’s my birthday today and Mr Thrift and I usually spend a couple of hours walking in the park.  Unfortunately today, it’s been wet and miserable so we didn’t go.  There are such beautiful views to be found at this time of year, when the leaves turn a wonderful array of autumn colours and then begin to fall to the ground, we will definately go another day instead, when it is dry.

I didn’t have a cake today due to the building work, but I thought I would remember the cake my girls made for me last year which tasted lovely:

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Unfortunately, at this time of year the shops start to turn their attentions to…dare I say it?….Christmas.

Every high street shop you visit has the beginnings of their Christmas displays, enticing you to spend, spend, spend.  They give the impression that the ‘more you spend, the more you love your family’.

 There are also strategically placed images of smiling friends in big woolly jumpers, exchanging gifts in front of an open fire with glasses of mulled wine in their hands.  It’s lovely to be with friends at Christmas and the image reminds me that I also need to buy them expensive presents?  After all, if I don’t they just won’t socialise with me anymore and they will gossip behind my back.

Is this true?…….NO!  This is just what the shops want us to believe so they sell more and make a bigger profit, it’s as simple as that.

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It’s not just the shops that put pressure on us to spend more money near to Christmas.  Listening to other people talking about what presents they are buying, where they are going, what they are even cooking on Christmas day, makes you feel like rushing out and buying the same.  It’s very easy to feel inadequate at this time of year as the biggest problem with Christmas is people get caught up in the social expectations of the whole thing.  It is too easy to purchase everything on your credit card and then have a miserable new year when your bill arrives.

A Homemade Christmas Pudding

A Homemade Christmas Pudding

This is why I plan for Christmas throughout the year and when everyone is rushing about feeling stressed, I am enjoying the festivities.

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How I do My Christmas Shopping:

We have a Christmas present budget and we stick to it. We save the money for Christmas presents the year before we need to buy them.  This way, we know exactly what our Christmas budget is, when we plan our present list on the 1st January each year.

I have a list of names that I carry in my handbag, which I update each time I buy a present.  I know exactly how much money I have to spend on each person and who I have or have not already bought for.  This way I can buy presents in the January and summer sales and get more for my money, or buy a special gift that I know will be loved, when I see it.

Some people may think this is excessive and feel that they couldn’t do this, but it works for us.  We have two large families and this year alone, we have 36 family members and close friends to buy for.  A few years ago it was more than this, but we decided to stop buying for children when they reached 18 years old, as it was costing far too much money.  We felt terrible at first telling our friends and relatives this and yes, we did get one or two people that didn’t understand, but I think that said more about them than us.

Homemade Gifts are so special as alot of time and thought have gone into making them.

Homemade Gifts are so special as a lot of time and thought has gone into making them.

If you aren’t as organised as me, you can still write at list and work out a budget, after all, there is still October, November and December to save towards it and next year you could budget from January so you can spread the cost over twelve months.

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I love Christmas as it a great time to ‘catch up’ with friends and spend time together as a family.  It’s about having family traditions that are special, as they only happen once a year.

Our decorations are also special.  Even though they come out year after year, they have so many memories attached to them.  I also love beautiful decorations that have been made, by spending next to nothing using materials from the garden.

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I love to see my family enjoying a Christmas dinner, knowing that everything has been cooked from scratch and all the vegetables have been home grown.

It’s the simple things that make Christmas special to me, not how expensive a present is.

Handmade dishcloths

Handmade dishcloths

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So if you are worrying about the cost of Christmas 2013, please remember the time you spend together with family and friends is far more important than the amount of money you pay for their present.

Presents are used or tossed aside within a few months, but memories of times spent together will last forever.

Homemade Mince Pies

Homemade Mince Pies

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday.

 

My Pumpkin Weight And A kitchen Update

This week at my allotment I have been planning next years strawberries.

I have been separating the runners from their parent plants and transplanting them into my new patch:

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There is nothing like the taste of the first strawberry of the year and I am already dreaming of it.

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I have also collected in my butternut squashes and put them into my greenhouse.  I will leave my squashes in there until it gets too cold for them and then they will be transferred to my usual ‘romantic’ position in our bedroom (as this is the coolest room in our house).

Unfortunately, at the moment my greenhouse is quite full as it has my dining chairs in due to our building work, so I have had to work around them:

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Pumpkin Competition

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So now it’s the moment you have all been waiting for……the total weight of my pumpkin is…….

(drumroll please)

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My '2013' pumpkin

My ‘2013’ pumpkin

My 2013 pumpkin weighed 5 stones and 8 lbs, which is 78 lbs altogether!

So the winner of my ‘guess the pumpkin weight competition’ is Mrs Yub, who guessed 81.5 lbs

Well done Mrs Yub!

I am very pleased as it has finally beaten my own pumpkin record of 76lbs in 2006.

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Today, I thought I would give you an update on how our kitchen is going.  The following three photo’s show my kitchen and back room after we had emptied them the day before our builders started:

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The builders have been here for three weeks now and below shows the progress they have made.

By the end of week one:

The kitchen was removed, the ceiling removed, the wall between the kitchen and dining room had been knocked down, the chimney breast had been removed, two steel supports had been inserted and the pantry, back door and back room door had been bricked up.

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By the end of week two:

The electrics have been put in, the plumber has been working on the gas and water and the building inspector has been round to examine the work.

The new door to my pantry

The new door to my pantry

By the end of week three:

The French doors were put in this week and the walls were plastered.  It is actually beginning to feel like a room again, instead of a building site.

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I am so looking forward to the builders finishing as I am really missing my home now.  I am fed up of cooking without a cooker and washing up with a bowl on the floor.  I have learnt how washing your clothes at the laundrette is expensive (£2.60 a load) and i’m not sure how people manage without a washing machine?… but all these little things will be a small price to pay when it’s finished.

Homegrown flowers

Homegrown flowers

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

Have a good weekend.

Radio Leicester And A Blog ‘Pumpkin’ Competiton

Hi all, I hope you had a good weekend.

On Saturday morning I had a visit at my allotment from Radio Leicester, it was lovely to talk about my plot.  If you would like to listen to the interview, you can find it here (approx. 1 hour 26 minutes into the show).  It was a fun morning talking about my favourite subject (my allotment) and I especially enjoyed talking about my flowers which attract beneficial insects, e.g. bees, ladybirds, lacewings, ground beatles and hoverflies.

The photo’s below show my plot at the moment:

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Last week I gave my woodland area a good weed and I removed plum tree suckers that insist on growing from the roots of the large plum tree.  I made this area into a woodland area as it is too dry and shady to grow any vegetables underneath it.

I planted bluebell and daffodil bulbs last year around the tree and they gave a lovely display in the Spring.  Back in March I also planted snowdrops ‘in the green’, so I am hoping they will give a good display for many Springs to come.  I chose to plant snowdrops as a way for me to remember my dear friend, who lost her battle with cancer in February this year.  The week she died I noticed snowdrops were flowering everywhere and as we walked out of her funeral service, the snow fell so thickly from the sky it was just beautiful to watch.  So I decided to plant snowdrops, so that every February when they flower I can stop and remember my good friend and the wonderful moments that we shared.  I don’t want to ever forget what a big part of my life she has been.

'Forget-me-nots' that have self seeded

‘Forget-me-nots’ that have self seeded

I have also been replanting some self seeded ‘forget-me-not’ plants, which also seemed fitting for the area.

Below are my before and after photographs:

January 2012 when I took my fourth plot

January 2012 when I took on my fourth plot

My woodland area now

My woodland area now

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Last week I have put a couple more ‘bug homes’ around my plots.  You can buy bug boxes but I prefer to make mine for free.  I just cut up a few old canes using a saw and tie them to a piece of wood in the ground.

The bug homes recreate the natural nooks and crannies that insects like to hide in over the winter.

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I also gave my brassicas a good tidy last week.  I removed any yellowing leaves which can harbour pests and diseases and tied my brussels to the supports that I put into the ground when I first planted them.  This will stop them from rocking in the wind over the winter, as this can loosen their roots from the soil which can be another reason for ‘blown’ sprouts (sprouts that have developed loosely).

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I noticed my cabbages have a few slug holes in the outside leaves, but I’m sure this won’t be problem as so far the inside of the cabbages are fine:

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I thought I would remind you to be careful of frosts this week if your pumpkins and squashes are still outside like mine.  Bring them inside or cover them up if a frost is forecast.

Below is a photo of my pumpkin this year.  I put my wrist watch on it so you could see its size, as I am quite proud of it.  I am hoping I will beat my personal record of 76 lbs, which is nothing compared to last year’s new world record weight of 2009 lbs, grown by a gentleman called Ron Wallace.

My '2013' pumpkin

My ‘2013’ pumpkin

I thought it would be a bit of fun to have a ‘guess the weight of my pumpkin competition, just for fun (no prizes).

I don’t even know the weight of it yet, as it’s still sitting on my plot.  So even if you don’t normally comment on my blog, please have a go and leave your guess in the comments below and I’ll reveal the weight when I bring it home.

Last years pumpkin that was just under 54 lbs

Last years pumpkin that weighed just under 54 lbs

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.

What To Do In The Kitchen Garden In October

When I first started to grow vegetables I really needed this 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 will 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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Crab Apples

Crab Apples

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October

October is known to be wet, windy and cloudy, also fog is more likely than in September.  Don’t be caught out with frosts, as they can occur this month.

October is a lovely month as sunny days highlight the beautiful colours around the garden.

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Vegetables and salads to harvest:

Harvest the last of your summer vegetables and salads before the first frosts e.g. sweetcorn, potatoes, beetroot, pumpkins and winter squashes, chillies, peppers, courgettes, patty pans, french beans, runner beans, peas, marrows, kohl rabi, lettuces, radish, celery, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Also harvest cabbages, kale, parsnips, peas, broccolli, celeriac, turnips, leeks, cauliflowers, brussells, carrots, winter radishes, swedes, and spinach.

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Fruit to harvest:

Apples, pears, autumn raspberries, cape gooseburys, grapes, late plums and the last perpetual strawberries.

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Vegetables and salads to sow:

Over-wintering broad beans, early summer cauliflowers, winter lettuces and over-wintering peas.

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Things to plant:

Garlic, overwintering onion sets and transplant spring cabbages.

Bare-rooted fruit bushes can be planted this month e.g. blackcurrants, cranberries, gooseberries, red and white currants, grape vines and strawberry plants.

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Jobs to do:

Earth up brussel sprouts to avoid the roots from loosening as the wind blows them.  This causes your sprouts to ‘blow’.

Keep removing yellow leaves from brassicas as these can harbour pests and diseases.

‘Cure’ pumpkins and butternut squashes by cutting them from the plant and leaving them in the sun to harden the skin, so they will store longer.  Be careful of frosts though.

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Cut down the yellowing foliage of asparagus and jerusalem artichokes.

Dig any beds where the soil has become compacted and add manure or compost to the soil if required.

Clear away old bean poles and store them under cover if possible.

Lift carrots, beetroot, potatoes, turnips, swede and store.

Chop up and dig in green manures that won’t overwinter and sow green manures in beds that will remain empty until spring.

Cover late crops with cloches to give a bit of protection.

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Finish pruning summer raspberries and blackberries by removing this year’s fruiting canes and tie in this year’s new, non-fruiting canes.

Order new fruit bushes and fruit trees.

Dig over your potato patch to make sure you haven’t missed any smaller potatoes which will carry diseases and viruses into next year e.g. blight

Collect up leaves and store for one or two years to make leaf mould.

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Prepare globe artichokes for overwintering by cutting down the dead stems and yellowing foliage and spread a mulch of compost topped with straw over it.

Compost dead foliage.

Fix grease bands, or paint fruit tree grease on the trunks of fruit trees to prevent the winter moth from climbing up to lay their eggs.

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Do not prune cherries or plums now as this may allow the silver leaf fungus to enter the trees.

If you have a greenhouse, close the doors and windows in the early afternoon to ‘trap’ the heat.

Clean your greenhouse, wash the shade paint off the windows and work in organic matter into the soil, before sowing winter crops.

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Octobers pests and diseases:

Aphids on brassicas are likely to be at their worst this month.  Spray with a soft soap or wipe them between your fingers.

Leek moths finish feeding this month and you can find them in a cocoon where they pupate.  These can be picked off and destroyed.

If you haven’t already done so, net your brassicas from pigeons.

Check for brown rot on apples and pears and destroy the fruit.

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I hope the above information will be helpful.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back at my usual time on Monday.  Until then, have a good weekend.