Archive | January 2014

How to Prune Apple Trees And Making Marmalade

It has rained every day this week and at times I have been really wet whilst working at my allotment.  The soil is too wet and soggy to stand on now, as it would ruin the soil structure.  So I have chosen to do jobs that do not require me to stand on the soil.

As a general rule of thumb, if the soil sticks to your boots, then it is too wet to work on.

In between the showers there has been some beautiful rainbows:

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My first allotment job this week was to complete my runner bean trench.  I dug it out two or three weeks ago and have been filling it with old peelings, etc. since then:

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And as both trenches were full, I covered the peelings back up with soil so they can decompose ready for the end of May (when I plant my runner beans).  This will help retain the moisture in my soil, which runner beans love.  You can see in the photograph above, I have been standing on a plank of wood so I didn’t need to stand on the soggy, wet soil:

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I have also given my ‘comfrey bed’ a tidy up, by removing all the old leaves and putting them onto my compost heap.  I have an enormous comfrey bed as I find it such a useful plant to have at my allotment and it saves me pounds as it makes a wonderful FREE high potash fertiliser.  You can read about how to make ‘comfrey tea’ here.

I also use comfrey by adding the leaves to my compost bins as the leaves are a great ‘compost activator’ and if I have any spare, I add them as a mulch around my potatoes, which I just dig into the soil after I have dug my potatoes up.

If you are thinking of buying comfrey plants, then the books will tell you to buy a variety called ‘Bocking 14’ which doesn’t produce seedI ignored their advice and just dug up a plant on my neighbours plot (that they said they didn’t want) and took lots of root cuttings from it.  As long as you ensure that you cut the plants down before they flower, then you won’t have a problem with it self seeding.

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I have also given my blackberries a major prune, as there was loads of dead wood that needed removing and I also wanted to clear away the canes at the front of the bushes, so I can start to work on this area:

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Blackberries fruit on the previous years growth, so I pruned away the old canes and tied in the new growth.  It looks a bit drastic in the photo below.  It will be interesting to see how many blackberries I actually get this year now, but I do know the pruning will have done the blackberries good in the long run.

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Pruning Apple and Pear Trees

I have also been pruning my apple and pear trees this week (it is important you don’t prune plum or cherry trees in the winter).

Unfortunately I have been having a problem with my shoulder (since slabbing in the autumn), so I have had to prune just one tree a day.

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Pruning isn’t difficult, yet people seem to think that it is.  All you are doing is firstly removing any damaged or diseased branches and then any branches that are crossed, so they don’t rub together and cause disease:

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Then you need to remove any ‘watershoots’, which are ‘whip-like’ twigs that grow vertical (usually from a wound site).  These are not productive and divert energy away from the tree’s real job of producing fruit and while they are there, they are decreasing air circulation within the tree.

Watershoots

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After this, you are aiming to open the centre of the tree up, to produce a ‘goblet’ shape so the air can circulate, again to prevent desease.  Make sure you don’t overprune….only prune away upto a quarter of the branches.  If you get into the habit of pruning every year, then your tree won’t need too much taken off each time you prune.

I use my loppers and my long handled pruners when pruning my trees.  The long handled pruners were a birthday present from my daughters a couple of years ago and they have been brilliant.  They were recommended to me by my tutor at Horticultural college.  He said they were as good as the expensive pruners that you can buy.  I seem to remember they cost approx. £15 to buy from Wilkinsons.

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The pruners extend to twice the height that you can see in the photo above.

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Good Pruning Advice:

There is some brilliant advice on the RHS website about pruning here

and before you begin pruning your own trees, the RHS have some great videos to watch here too.

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Back at home this week, I have been trying to think of a place to put the seeds I have sown.  I like to keep my seeds inside my house for as long as possible, so I don’t have the expense of using my electric greenhouse heater until I really have to.  Unfortunately, now we have french doors, I have lost the great big windowsill I used to have that was so great for keeping my seeds on.

After a few discussions with Mr Thrift, I decided to bring in an old ‘mini greenhouse (without the cover) and buy a growbag tray to stand my seed trays in:

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So this week, I have sown some white and red onions, some more broad beans and some peppers and coriander.

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I have had to move our kitchen table back a bit, but as I always say…

“where there is a will, there is a way”.

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Finally, I bought 2lbs of seville oranges from the market last saturday for £1.40.  So I decided to make some orange marmalade.  I have never made marmalade before (because I have never liked it), but I thought it would be nice to put in my Christmas hampers (I like to think ahead).

I followed Delia’s recipe here and I’ve got to say I am very impressed.  Even I enjoyed it on my toast this morning!

The recipe made me five and a half jars of tasty marmalade, which I will now store in my pantry (except the half jar which I am eating).

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I worked out that the jars cost me approximately 80p each to make, which is more expensive than the cheaper shop bought varieties (which I have obviously only eaten and didn’t like before) but less expensive than the higher quality brands.

Providing my family enjoy it when I give it to them, I will definately be making it again.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

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Winter Vegetables And A Parsnip Cake

This weekend at my allotment I noticed that the snow drops I planted last year have begun to flower.  Where on earth is time going to?…I can’t believe it will be February on Saturday.

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I planted the snowdrops last year after my good friend passed away.  The day she died I noticed that snowdrops were in flower and they looked beautiful, so I decided to plant some in my ‘woodland area’ at my allotment.  This way I will remember her each time I see them in flower.  I will plant some more this year too, as eventually I want to see a mass of snowdrops in this area.

I still miss my old friend very much.

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I also noticed that I have some primroses in my woodland area that are in flower too.

There are also one or two early flowers on the poached egg plants and in the photograph below, you can just see a daffodil bulb poking through too:

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These are all reminders that Spring will soon be on it’s way, (though we do still have some cold winter weather to get through first).

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This weekend I brought some vegetables home from the allotment for dinner.  I have decided that I am very pleased with my winter vegetables this year:

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I put a twelve inch ruler next to the parsnips so you could see the size of them.  I tried various methods of growing parsnips with limited success, until I started to grow them in kitchen roll tubes.  This gives me an almost perfect germination rate and also nearly always gives me straight parsnips that don’t fork.

You can read how I grow my parsnips here.

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I have had a problem in the past with my brussell sprouts ‘blowing’.  I always thought that this was due to the soil not being firm enough around the plants, but I knew my soil was firm as I dug manure into it the autumn before and stomped around on it before I planted into it.

I then read that F1 varieties were less likely to ‘blow’ and I planted these last year….and I’m pleased to say I am very happy with the result.  The photo below shows a variety call ‘Igor‘, which I will definately be growing again this year:

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I am still picking carrots at my allotment.  I grow my carrots in a raised bed each year and then move the raised bed completely, to a different part of my allotment.  I fill the bed with homemade compost, leaf mould and a bag of sharp sand mixed together and this gives me good results.  After sowing I cover the bed with environmesh to keep the carrot fly out:

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You can read about carrot fly here.

I picked a monster carrot at the weekend, it weighed just over half a kilogram.  It was almost a meal on it’s own!

I put a teaspoon in the photograph to demonstrate the size of the carrot:

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The swedes are still good at my allotment too.  I love swede mashed with a little bit of butter and pepper, though I had never tried it until my husband introduced it to me a few years ago.  I think it is one of my favourite vegetables now.

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And I’m still using homegrown onions and potatoes from my storage boxes outside:

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All in all, I feel like we are living like kings on the winter vegetables that I have grown.  I’m sure they would have cost us a fortune in the shops to buy and it’s nice to know they are all grown organically, without any chemicals.

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I finished the above Sunday lunch with ‘Parsnip Cake’.  Parsnip cakes are very, very moist and taste very much like carrot cake.  This is how I made it:

Parsnip Cake

175g margarine

250g soft brown sugar

100ml honey

3 eggs (beaten)

250g self raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice

250g parsnips grated finely

1 apple grated

1 orange – use the juice and zest

130g cream cheese

100g icing sugar + extra to sprinkle on top

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Preheat your oven 180C / gas 4 / 350F

Grease and flour two 8 inch sandwich tins

Put the margarine, honey and sugar in a pan over a low heat and stir until the sugar has all dissolved.

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Allow to cool for a while.

Add the eggs to the pan and stir thoroughly.

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Sift the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into the sugar and egg mixture and stir.

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Then stir in the apple, parsnip, orange juice and zest.

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Divide the mixture between the cake tins and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the cakes.

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Leave the cakes to cool.

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Make the icing by mixing the cream cheese with the icing sugar and then spreading it over the bottom layer of the cake.  Put the top layer of the cake on top and dust with icing sugar.

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Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today, I will be back on Friday.

I hope you have a good week.

‘Romantic’ Seed Potatoes

I was very excited this week as I purchased my seed potatoes (little things make me happy).  I like to buy them early so I get the varieties that I particularly like to grow.  I have chosen:

‘Marfona’ which are second earlies,

‘Picasso’ which are an early main crop and

‘Desiree’ which are red potatoes.

I bought the potatoes from a nursery in Enderby, as I like to be able to pick the exact number of seed potatoes that I need for each row at my allotment.  It was fascinating to see the amount of different varieties of seed potatoes that they stock.  I must say they have an amazing choice.

However, the best price per kg for seed potatoes that I have found this year, is at Wilkinsons.  Unfortunately they don’t stock the varieties I wanted, but If I wasn’t fussy then I would definately buy them from there.  They are also selling some potatoes loose this year for the first time, so you can also just buy the exact number of potatoes you require, rather than buying a bag.

I have now put my seed potatoes in seed trays to ‘chit’ them.  You don’t really need to ‘chit’ main crop potatoes but there isn’t really anything else to do with them until April.

As per normal, I am the most romantic wife around and I have the potatoes ‘chitting’ in our bedroom, as it is the coolest room of the house.  It’s a good job Mr Thrift is a tolerant man:

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This week at the allotment I removed the environmesh over my overwintering onions and weeded.  A couple of years ago I lost most of my overwintering onions to the ‘allium leaf miner’ (you can read about it here).  When I harvested my onions last year, they were great after I covered them with the enviromesh, so I did the same thing again when I planted this crop.

After weeding I replaced the cover again.

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I also forked my green manure into a couple of beds.  I sowed ‘Phacelia’ in the beds in late summer and then chopped it down just before it flowered, but I find it never seems to die completely and keeps growing.  So now, I cover it with weed suppressant for a few months to make sure it dies back and then I fork it in.

I then covered the two beds with plastic to warm the soil ready for my onions in February or March:

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I also spread some manure around my rhubarb plants.  I have placed a bin over one of my plants to ‘force’ the rhubarb.  This way I will have lovely pink tender rhubarb a couple of weeks earlier than my other plants.

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  I inherited the rhubarb when I took on my plot number two, so unfortunately I don’t know what variety it is.  What I do know is it is a very early variety and it’s actually starting to grow already:

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Back at home I have started my seed sowing.  I used toilet rolls filled with compost to sow my broad beans in.  I sowed an overwintering variety called ‘Aquadulce’.  I will leave them in my greenhouse until they germinate.  You can plant these broad beans directly into the ground at the end of October but I find that mine always seem to get eaten by mice, so by planting them at home it ensures success.

I also sowed my leek seeds and I planted some garlic.  I am a bit late planting my garlic but it should still be ok:

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I am still harvesting things from my allotment and this week we have had some cabbages, carrots and a swede.

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One of the cabbages was huge and I have loads left in my fridge:

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One bit of bad news this week is we finished the last of my butternut squashes (which were also stored in my romantic bedroom with my pumpkins).  I made a butternut squash soup and it was lovely and thick.

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Finally, I picked my last red cabbage from my allotment and I decided to make some pickled red cabbage.  If you have never pickled red cabbage before, it is really easy to do:

All you do is wash the cabbage, shred it and then cover it with salt:

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Cover it and leave it overnight:

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Rince the salt off the cabbage and then put the cabbage into a sterilised jar and cover with pickling vinegar.

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Leave for a month before eating.

Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back again on Monday at my usual time.

Homemade Compost From Perennial Weeds And Couch Grass

During the last week I have been catching up with some overdue jobs at my allotment.

With Mr Thrift’s help over the weekend, I have managed to spread some compost over the beds where my brassicas will be planted this year.

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I haven’t bothered to dig the beds as I don’t walk on the soil (as I always walk on my paths) and brassicas like firm soil anyway.  I will let the worms do the hard work for me.

When I first took on plot number three in March 2010, it was covered in couch grass and weeds.  You can see a photo of it below:

I put all the weeds (couch grass, perennial weeds etc) in a compost bin which I made out of pallets tied together.   I then covered it with weed suppressant.  Over the last four years everything has been rotting nicely and it has now produced the most beautiful, sweet smelling compost:

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Books and magazines are constantly telling you that you mustn’t add perennial weeds to your compost bins, but I do this all the time and produce lovely compost.  I think the main reason they tell you this is because it is sometimes hard to kill perennial weeds (but starving the weeds of light will eventually kill the hardiest of weeds) and because of the weed seeds.  I hoe each and every week at my allotment to remove any weed seedlings and so weed seeds have never really been a problem for me.

  I love making compost as it has so many nutrients in it, which makes it great to add to vegetable beds and it is also free to make.

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Over the past week I have been clearing some areas of my allotment.  I started by clearing my wildflower area.  I had to use an old plank to walk on as the ground is still so wet:

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I also cleared away the canes and straw where my tomatoes grew last summer:

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I am planning on growing my tall peas in this bed soon, which is why I have left the weed suppressant in the middle.

I have moved the old straw that was around my tomatoes to my globe artichokes.  If you surround the crowns it gives them added protection over the winter (though I am a bit late doing this, but we haven’t had a really hard frost yet luckily).  Last year I planted two new globe artichokes that I grew from seed and I have been told that they don’t always make it through their first winter,  so I have built a cold frame around them out of old glass windows:

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I have also cleared the old flower foliage from around my old swing and on the bed next to it.  Incidentally, the clematis that I planted last year should have some lovely flowers on this Spring time, as it grew well last year.

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Everything I have cleared has gone into my compost heap at the bottom of my plot:

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I know it looks like I have put far too much into it, but it will rot down and then I will cover it for three or four years before using it.  Below is a picture of a compost heap that is now just about ready to use that was actually higher than the one above when I first covered it and now you can see how much it has rotted down:

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Another job I did last week at my allotment was to build a more permanent runner bean support.  I dug down a couple of feet and put two old metal posts in the ground.  I then tied some canes to the supports.  You can see from the photo below that I have started to fill my trenches with old peelings etc.  As they rot down they will help to retain the moisture in the soil, if we have a hot summer.  When the trench is full I will cover it with the soil I have taken out and start to fill the trench on the other side.

Runner beans can stay where they are year after year as they require little nutrients, but they do need lots of water, which is why I use this trenching method.

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Over the last few months I have been trying to think of a way to change my fruit area, to make it more low maintenance.  It was a real pain to lift the nets of my two fruit cages every week when we needed to mow.  You can see my fruit area in the photo below (the cages aren’t in the photo as I take them down after I have removed all the fruit):

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I decided to have just one fruit cage this year and bring the blueberries in their pots into the middle and remove two gooseberry plants that really haven’t given me much fruit over the years.

I firstly covered the area with weed suppressant:

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I thought long and hard about how I was going to do this area and in the end I decided to make my edges out of old sticks and hazel that I have at my plot.  This way insects like ladybirds can use this area to hide in over winter.  I just bundled the sticks up and tied them with wire and then pegged the wire down into the ground.

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I used some small lengths of hazel pushed into the ground to ensure the bundles of sticks didn’t move and then I covered the whole area with woodchip (most councils sell woodchip cheaply).

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It looks much neater now and it will be easy to put my fruit cage over it in Spring (incidentally I make my cage out of old handwash bottles and canes).

I’m very pleased with the area now.

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I have also been busy in my kitchen this weekend too.  I decided to use up some of the fruit from my freezer.

I made a ‘Blackberry soaked cake’ which is delicious served with a drizzle of the left over blackberry syrup.  It is a River Cottage recipe which you can find here.

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I also made my daughter some strawberry flapjacks, by just adding a cup full of defrosted (and drained) strawberries to the recipe.  You can find the Flapjack recipe here.

…and they were delicious too.

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I froze the flapjacks on a tray and then put them into an old container when they were frozen.  This stops them from sticking together so you can take them out of the freezer one at a time.  I pop one into my daughter’s lunch box in the morning and it’s defrosted by lunchtime (or even break if she is hungry).

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That’s it for now.

Thank you for reading my blog today.  I will be back on Friday at my usual time.

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A Washing Up / Dishwasher Trial Using Soap Nuts

Approximately three years ago (before I made my own laundry liquid), I purchased some ‘Soap Nuts’ to try:

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This is what one seller says about them:

“Soap Nuts are a natural washing detergent that is literally grown on trees. The Soapnut shells contain Saponins which on contact with water release mild suds and can be used as an environmentally friendly alternative to Laundry detergent in washing machines. In India and Nepal the soap nuts have been used as a washing detergent for hundreds of years. Modern day thinking that we should consider the future of the planet we live in have made Soap Nuts popular. Not only are they effective but the Soap Nuts are also relatively cheap compared to supermarket bought washing powder”.

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 I know there will be people reading my blog today who use them regularly, but unfortunately I didn’t think they washed our clothes very well and I followed the instructions to the letter and I tried using them various times before I decided to give up on them.

So my soap nuts have sat unused all this time as I couldn’t bare to throw them away, as I had paid good money for them…. but I also didn’t want to use them to wash my clothes.

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Over the Christmas holiday (when I should have been relaxing), I found myself searching on the internet for a homemade recipe for a washing up liquid.  I have searched before and never really had any success in finding a good recipe, however this time ‘Soap nuts’ appeared.  It said:

“Use soapnut liquid for washing your glasses, dishes, cutlery and pans as usual. Don’t be deceived by the lack of bubbles on the effectiveness of the cleaning.  There are no artificial foaming agents so there will be very few if any lasting bubbles but your washing up will be cleaned effectively even if left to soak”.

After a little bit more research I found that the washing up liquid that you can make with the Soap nuts, can also be used in a dishwasher.  So I found my unused Soap nuts and decided to follow the recipe for the liquid and put it to the test.

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‘Soap Nut’ Washing up / Dishwasher Liquid Recipe:

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Crush 100 grams of soap nut shells.  I found it easier to bash them with a rolling pin in a bag.

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Add them to a pan with 8 cups of water and bring to the boil.

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Simmer for 20 minutes.. .apparently the boiling process extracts the saponin from the nut shells and combines it with the water.

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At this stage you can either use it straight away or leave it to ‘steep’ overnight.  I left mine overnight.

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I strained the liquid and composted the remaining soap nuts.

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I then poured it into an old bottle to store.

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I added a few drops of Eucalyptus essential oil to the liquid.  The recipe didn’t tell me to do this, however eucalyptus oil is great for removing grease and oil and I wanted my liquid to be as good as possible.

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So here is the result:

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My eldest daughter said it looked like a bottle of apple juice on my work surface (which shows how important it is to label the bottle) and I daren’t tell you what my other daughter said it looked like!

The recipe says you can use the liquid as a shampoo, all purpose cleaner, car wash, liquid soap, pet shampoo, washing up liquid, dishwasher liquid or any other things you would normally clean with a liquid.

I wanted to use it a washing up liquid, so I began to trial it:

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I put a small amount of the washing up liquid in my bowl and ran the hot water tap.  It did produce bubbles, but nothing like the amount a shop bought washing up liquid produces.  However, I didn’t let it put me off as the instructions did say:

“Don’t be deceived by the lack of bubbles on the effectiveness of the cleaning.   There are no artificial foaming agents so there will be very few if any lasting bubbles but your washing up will be cleaned effectively even if left to soak”.

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I washed some very dirty things to try it out and I have got to say I was very impressed!  On the left is a bowl that I had used to make a chocolate cake and on the right is a spoon that had margaine all over it.  Below is the result:

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They came out very clean and I have continued to use the liquid for my washing up over the last three weeks, with good results everytime.

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After this success, I decided to try it out in my dishwasher.  Again, I made sure I washed our usual load of dirty crockery (without rinsing the plates first, as we don’t usually do this):

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I filled the soap dispenser in the dishwasher with the washing up liquid

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I then ran our normal 60 degrees ‘quick and clean‘ cycle.  This is the result:

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Again I was very impressed as everything came out sparkling so I continued to use the washing liquid in my dishwasher for the next few days.

A problem followed…

After day four I noticed the pots were not coming out so clean.  After searching on the internet, I found other people have had this problem and given up with the liquid, as there appeared to be a build up of grease in their dishwashers.

  The next time I used my dishwasher I used our normal ‘value’ dishwasher tablet and the pots came out clean again.  However, as I had really good results at the beginning with the soap nut liquid, I decided to give it another go….and the pots came out sparkling clean again.

So for the last three weeks, I have alternated each wash with soap nut liquid or a dishwasher tablet and I have got to say I am pleased with the result.

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It’s a shame I can’t use the soap nut liquid in our dishwasher everyday, but at least this way I am using something natural and cheaper every other day to wash our pots and pans with.

I will also be continuing to use my soap nut liquid for any hand washing up I do, as I think it is just as good as shop bought washing up liquid and far cheaper too.

My bag of soap nuts will last me for ages, so I think they are good value for the money I paid and I love the way I can add them to my compost heap after I have finished using them.

If you fancy trying out soap nuts yourself, you only need to google ‘soap nuts’ and you will find quite a few suppliers to buy from.

My remaining soap nuts

My remaining soap nuts

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Thank you for reading my blog today, I hope you have found my trial interesting.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

Save And Plan For Christmas 2014

I thought I would start by saying a big ‘Happy New Year’ to you all!

I had a lovely Christmas and I hope you did too.

I don’t make New Year resolutions as I never keep to them.  I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have been determined to lose weight over the years and I’m still the same size and this just leads to disappointment!  I now prefer to make a list of new things I fancy trying out, knowing that if it’s a bit of fun then I will be more likely to have a go and succeed.

The Christmas cake my daughters decorated

The Christmas cake my daughters decorated

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Save and plan for Christmas 2014:

So many people find that January is the time of year when Christmas bills hit hard, as credit card statements drop through letter boxes and the real cost of Christmas hits home…but it really doesn’t have to be like this.

Christmas happens at the same time every year, on the 25th December….and yet some people seem generally surprised that they have ended up with high credit card bills, which they can’t pay in full in January.  Yet with a bit of organisation, this can be avoided, together with the high interest charges that come hand in hand with unpaid credit card bills.

January is a good month to look at finances and start afresh, so today I’ve decided to talk about how the ‘Thrift’ household starts to budget for Christmas in January.

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This is how we save for Christmas in the ‘Thrift’ household:

We have a list of everyone we will buy a present for next Christmas.  We then work out how much we want to spend on each person and add this up.  If this exceeds our total budget for Christmas spending,  then we cut back on whom we buy presents for or how much we spend on each person.

When we are satisfied that our Christmas list doesn’t exceed our total Christmas present budget, we literally divide our total budget by twelve months and we save this amount in a savings account each month.  The money goes into a savings account straight after my husband’s payday, this way the money doesn’t get spent on other things first.

If I see something over the year that is either in a sale or just something special for a particular person, then we now have the money to buy it and when January comes we don’t have any unexpected bills that we can’t pay….it’s as easy as that.

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Birthdays:

We also save for birthdays in the same way, except we now save twelve months in advance for them.  This then gives us the money in January for the ‘whole years’ worth of birthdays for the family, which enables me to buy lots of things in the January sales.  This is a great way to save money on presents or if you prefer, it means you can get a better present for the money you have budgeted for a particular person.

Incidentally, my birthday and Christmas list stays in my handbag, so it is at hand if I see a bargain.  This way it really is easy to see who I need to buy presents for and how much I have budgeted for each person.  This stops me from buying duplicate presents and overspending.

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My Top Tips for Budgeting for Christmas 2014:

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Consider making homemade gifts.  I make gifts to put into family hampers e.g. jams, pickles, knitted dishcloths, mini Christmas cakes, etc. etc.  These take time to make but are really lovely gifts to give and show a lot of thought.  I always think homemade presents come from the heart rather than the bank account and I love to receive them.  However these take time to plan, so now is the time to decide what you would like to grow or make.  Don’t leave it all until December either, you have twelve months to prepare.

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I have a separate monthly budget for food and I save a small amount of it every month to use in December.  This way I can buy some Christmas ‘goodies’ to enjoy e.g. a turkey, nice cheeses etc. without worrying about the cost.  I also use this money to buy the ingredients for my Christmas cakes, Christmas puddings etc. when they are on offer (for the last few years, Tesco has had a ‘3 for the price of 2’ offer on baking goods sometime around the end of October / early November, so this is when I stock up).

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Don’t forget, if you buy your Christmas puddings and mincemeat (rather than making them yourself), buy them now if they are reduced at your local supermarket, as the best before dates are usually well over a year away.

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And finally, I buy Christmas cards and wrapping paper in the sales now…Our local Tesco has some great bargains at the moment.  I purchased five packs of silver tissue paper from there on Saturday for just 25p each (it was well over £1 each before Christmas).  This will be enough for me to make lots of homemade crackers over the next few years.

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I wonder if anyone else reading this has any other good ideas to budget for next Christmas?  If so please leave a comment as I would love to hear from you.
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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 January

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 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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January:

Up until now it has felt like a long Autumn with wind and rain battering the country.  In mild winters it is common for rain and gales to continue in January.  If the weather does turn cold then snow is more likely to lay on the ground for longer than it would have done in December.  The coldest temperatures of the year will usually occur at the end of January.

Daylight is lengthening slightly every day, but January does feel like a very dark and gloomy month.  However, it’s an exciting time for gardeners as it is time to plan your plot and decide exactly what you want to grow in the coming year.

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Vegetables and salads to harvest:

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

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Vegetables and salads to sow:

It’s too cold to sow seeds outdoors as they will rot in the cold, wet conditions.  Broad beans or garlic can still be sown in a cold greenhouse or cloche when the ground isn’t frozen or too wet.

You can get an early start by sowing the following seeds indoors: Leeks, onions, peas, radish, salad leaves and spinach.

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

Rhubarb can be split and re-planted this month.

Continue planting bare root trees and bushes while they are dormant.

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Jobs to do:

Work out what you will be growing this year and either buy or order your seeds.

Check your stored fruit and vegetables to make sure they are not rotting.  If one rots, it can rot them all if it isn’t removed.

Protect cauliflowers from frost through the coldest months by wrapping their leaves over the curds.

Continue to prune fruit trees and bushes (except cherries and plums) unless the weather has turned very cold.

Check stakes and ties on fruit trees and bushes are not worn or broken.

Prune your grape vines.  Next month it will be too late as the sap will start to rise.

Check your nets are still in place to protect your brassicas from pigeons.

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Continue with your winter digging if the soil is not frozen or waterlogged.

Spread compost or well-rotted manure over your soil and either dig it in or let the worms do the work for you.

If it snows, keep an eye on your polytunnels as snow can get heavy.  Carefully remove snow to stop any damage.

Wash seed trays and pots ready for seed sowing and ‘pricking out’.

Sharpen tools such as hoes and secateurs.

Start ‘chitting’ seed potatoes by placing them in trays or old egg boxes with their ‘eyes’ facing upwards.  Store them somewhere cool and light.

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January pests and diseases:

Slugs can still be a problem even in winter.

Pigeons are hungry and love eating brassicas.

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

Leaves can kill grass and start to spread diseases like downy mildew if they are left on your vegetables.

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I hope this information has been helpful.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.