Archive | July 2014

Sad Sad News

Earlier this morning we had the sad news that my Father-in-law had passed away peacefully.  He had been poorly in hospital for quite some time  and this was expected, but it doesn’t lessen the pain felt by all of us at the moment.

He was a lovely, lovely man who was very proud of his family and loved his church and he was respected by his community.

Words can’t express how we all feel at the moment, so I hope you understand why I can’t write my normal weekly post today.

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A Frugal Week And A Mixed Fruit Jelly Recipe

To start with I thought I would mention a report that I read this week from the Soil Association, which I thought was interesting:

My allotment this week

My allotment this week

It states that “new research has found that there are significant differences between organic and non-organic food.  It states that new research from Newcastle University, published on Tuesday 15 July, in the British Journal of Nutrition, has shown that organic crops and crop-based foods – including fruit, vegetables and cereals – are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than their non-organic counterparts”

A rather large cucmber from my polytunnel

A rather large cucumber from my polytunnel

“In other countries there has long been much higher levels of support and acceptance of the benefits of organic food and farming: we hope these findings will bring the UK in line with the rest of Europe, when it comes to both attitudes to organic food and support for organic farming.”

I have got to say, this is something I have suspected for a long time, especially as organically grown fruit and vegetables taste much nicer too.

If you are interested in the report you can read it here.

From my allotment this week

From my allotment this week

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It’s been a very frugal week in the ‘Thrift household this week.  I am still picking as much as possible from my allotment….fruit, peas, salads, etc. and now my courgettes plants have started to produce too.  Mr Thrift is looking forward to his first ‘cheesy courgette scones’ of the year:

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I also picked my first shallots this week and pickled a couple of jars of them.  As a family, we love pickled onions.

When I pickle onions, I don’t use a salt water brine as I think this softens the onions.  I use a method that my dad taught me – I cover them in only salt overnight, to draw the water out.  This gives a nice ‘bite’ to your pickled onions.  You can see my dad’s method here if you are interested.

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I’ve also been using up leftovers from my freezer.

I made a ‘leftover Chicken and veg pie’, which is just leftover chicken and leftover vegetables mixed together in a white sauce and topped with pastry.  I love using leftovers to make a new meal.

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When I make a pastry I always make double and freeze it ready for next time.

Also, after I have put the top on my pie I always have a bit of spare pastry, so I roll it out and put a bit of jam in it and make a small jam pasty for a treat.  My youngest daughter loves them and they can be eaten hot or cold.

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I have also been making some more laundry liquid using soap flakes, borax substitue and soda crystals this week.  You can find the recipe here if you are interested.  It takes just 10-15 minutes to make and it lasts for weeks.

I find it is great for every day washing and the last time I worked it out a few months ago, it cost me approximately £1.75 to make…. I managed to get 71 washes out of it, so this worked out at a staggering 2.5p per wash….the supermarkets can’t beat that!

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As I write today, I am also in the middle of making some more dishwasher liquid out of soap nuts as I find this saves a lot of money too (though I do still use a supermarket dishwasher tablet every third wash to stop the build up of grease in my dishwasher).

You can read how I make the dishwasher liquid here.

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The final frugal thing I have to tell you about, was a very frugal find at our local Tesco store.  We popped in for milk and we found a crate of bread that was ‘whoopsied’ (yellow stickered).  The dates were two days away on the Warburtons bread and one day away for the Hovis bread and they were selling them off for 3 pence and 2 pence, so we bought some for the freezer, together with some wholemeal pitta bread for just  2 pence too!

It’s nice to make my own bread but at those prices I couldn’t resist buying it!

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It was quite strange as there was no one around but us looking at the bread and we felt like we were naughty teenagers gigling as we put it through the self-scan checkouts, lol.

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This week at my allotment I have been picking worcester berries and dessert gooseberries (which look very similar) and white currants, red currants and a few blueberries.

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The blueberries were eaten by my eldest daughter within two minutes of bringing them home, however I used the rest of the fruit to make a mixed fruit jelly.

Jellies are easy to make but they do take longer than jams, as you need to let them strain over night.  I think it is worth the effort as it tastes delicious and it has no seeds in it.

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A Mixed fruit Jelly Recipe

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First I top and tailed the gooseberries and worcester berries and removed the stalks from the currants (I use a fork for this as it’s easier this way):

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I put all the fruit into my maslin pan (together with some frozen currants that I had leftover from last year).  I covered half the fruit with water and then brought the pan to the boil and simmered the fruit until it was soft (approx 15-20 mins).

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Meanwhile,  bring a pan of water to the boil and put some muslin or a tea towel in to it and boil for 3 minutes.  Take it out of the water and wring it out and then leave to cool.

Tip the fruit into the muslin.  I find it easier to put the muslin over a colander that is already over a bowl, as it’s easier to pour the fruit into it.

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I then I tie the muslin up over the bowl so the juice can drip down and I remove the colander.  MAKE SURE YOU DON’T SQUEEZE THE MUSLIM OR YOUR JELLY WILL BE CLOUDY.

Leave it to drip overnight or for approximately 8 hours.

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In the morning I measure the liquid and poor it back in my clean maslin pan.  I also put some clean saucers into my freezer to test the setting point of the jelly later on.

For every pint of liquid I have, I add one pound of normal granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice into the pan.

I then stir the mix over a very low heat until all the sugar has melted and there are no sugar chystals on the back of my spoon:

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I then boil the syrup hard stirring all the time until setting point is reached

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(To check the setting point has been reached, put a small drop of jam on one of the side plates from the freezer.  After a few moments, push the jelly with your finger and if it wrinkles it’s ready.  If it doesn’t wrinkle, continue boiling hard for another five minutes and test again).

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When the setting point is reached, take the pan off the heat and leave it for fifteen minutes.  If there is scum on your jelly, you can skim it off, but I just stir in a small knob of butter which does the same job.

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Sterilise some jam jars (gas mark 4 for 5 minutes)

Pour the jam into the jars and seal with lids.  I use the jars that have a sealable lid (i.e. the jars that jam is sold in, at the supermarket).  This way you don’t need to worry about wax discs to create a seal.  As the jam cools, the lids ‘pop’ and make you jump.

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Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday as usual.

A Pitta Bread Recipe & Sad Potatoes

It’s been a strange week at the allotment as there has been some lovely ‘highs’ and one massive ‘low’ which I’ll tell you about in a minute.

The highs first…..The produce is coming thick and fast and I am picking peas, podding them and blanching them as soon as possible (and I’ve still not managed the one hour turn around that ‘Birds Eye’ do, lol)….but they still taste delicious!…together with the mange tout that my husband and youngest daughter fight over when I cook them for dinner.

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I’m picking salads crops almost daily now and I can honestly say they taste far better than supermarket salads, that don’t seem to have any taste.

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The cucumber in the photo is from a spare plant that I put in my polytunnel at the allotment and it has been producing cucmbers for about a month now.  The plant was grown at exactly the same time as the other three plants that I have in my greenhouse at home, but this plant is far further forward than the others.

It could be that this plant was planted into the ground in my polytunnel (the greenhouse plants are in pots), or it could be I have shading over my greenhouse at home which has slowed the growth?….I will probably never know.

My greenhouse cucumbers

My greenhouse cucumbers

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This week I picked my first beetroot and boiled it for a salad tea.  It was so sweet!

These are the beetroot that I sowed in newspaper pots back on the 8th April and transplanted to my allotment a few weeks ago.  I have read that beetroot dosen’t like to be transplanted, but by growing it in newspaper pots there is no root disturbance and they can be sown earlier, before the ground has warmed up.

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I’ve also been picking my first gherkins from my polytunnel.  This year I haven’t grown so many as I find that they don’t last too long when you pickle them.  So I have only grown enough for a few jars over summer.

I pickled my first crop this week.  It’s really easy to pickle gherkins and I wrote how to do it here if anyone is interested.

Gherkins that I pickled this week

Gherkins that I pickled this week

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One thing I did at the allotment this week (with Mr Thrift’s help) was to start a new compost area.  I have a problem with rats in my compost bins over winter, so I decided to put my bins on slabs to see if this may help.  We laid some spare slabs in the utility area and I will start to gradually move my dalek compost bins over each time I empty one.

These bins are where I put my peelings, etc.

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And now for this weeks allotment ‘low’…..my potatoes have succumbed to the dreaded ‘blight’!

I didn’t spot it at first and dug up my first potatoes of the year (which incidently were mouth wateringly delicious):

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These are my second early potatoes called ‘Marfona’.  As you can see they are still quite small, as these actually grow much bigger and can be used as baking potatoes.

…..But then I spotted the tell tale signs of blight!

First I spotted the marks on the leaves:

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And when I looked underneath I found a couple of stems where it had spread:

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There was no doubt about it….it was blight.

I always find potato growing such hard work and it is so disappointing when this happens!

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Blight is a wind blown fungus that can travel long distances.  It spreads when the temperature is above 10C and the humidity is above 75% for two consecutive days, known as a ‘Smith Period’.   In the UK outbreaks can occur from June onwards and apparently it is usually seen in the south west first.

The early stages of blight can be easily missed and not all plants are affected at the same time, however it will spread rapidly.

Symptoms usually seen are brown patches that appear on the leaves and stems and spread very rapidly.

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I noticed that the blight had only spread over half of my ‘picasso’ potatoes (early main crop) and half of my ‘marfona’ potato crop (2nd early), but I know it spreads really quickly.

If you catch blight early enough you can stop the fungus from going down into the potatoes by cutting off all the foliage, so none of it is above the soil and then leaving the potatoes underground for at least two weeks without digging them up (so hopefully they are protected).

So this is what I did.

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Unfortuanately, my potatoes won’t grow any bigger now, but I will be happy with the potatoes I have if this saves them.

Incidentally, you CAN put the blighted top growth in your compost as blight can not live on dead plant material….but it will survive in the seed (i.e.potato) which is another reason to use fresh seed potatoes each year and dig up any ‘volunteers’ that grow around your plot.

I noticed that my ‘desiree’ potatoes and tomatoes that are growing in a different patch have not yet been affected, so I will be monitoring them very, very closely.

One thing I am wondering, is when I used the ‘Nemaslug’ (nemotodes) for the first time last month as a trial, I had to keep the soil moist for two weeks (which I wasn’t happy about at the time as it was a lot of work).  I wonder if all my watering increased the chance of blight as the leaves were continually wetted for two weeks?….I suppose I will never know.

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At home this week….

I cleaned three old photo frames using bi-carb, water and an old toothbrush.  And they came up lovely.

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I also sowed up a hole in my old ‘comfy’ trousers, which will keep them going a bit longer.

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And I decided to make some pitta bread at the weekend to go with my homemade houmous.

So it has been a good frugal week.

I realised I haven’t shared my pitta bread recipe with you before.  I use my breadmaker to knead the dough, but you can just as easily knead it yourself.

I hope this easy recipe will help someone out there:

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Pitta Bread

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500 grams strong white flour

2 teaspoons of fast action dried yeast

25 grams margarine or butter

½ teaspoon salt

310 ml water

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Put all the above ingredients into your breadmaker on a ‘dough’ setting or ‘pizza dough’ setting.

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When the dough is ready, preheat your oven Gas 7 / 425F /220C.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each piece into a rough ball.

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On a floured board, use a rolling pin to make oval shapes approx. 4″ x 8″

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Put them on a greased baking sheet.

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Put in the oven for 5 mins and then turn them over and for a further 5 mins until they are cooked.

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Wrap them in a tea towel to keep them soft and warm if you aren’t quite ready to eat them.

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Enjoy with home made houmous (recipe here).

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday at my usual time.

What To Do In The Kitchen Garden In July

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 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.

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July

Traditionally July is often the warmest month of the year and days are long, but it can also be the wettest month of summer, with thunder storms probable in all areas.  As we know, weather patterns are changing and as gardeners we now need to adapt to ‘unexpected’ weather conditions.

There are lots of things to harvest at this time of the year and our hard work preparing the soil, sowing seeds, etc. will have started to pay off.

Please remember that this is a general guide.

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Vegetables and salads to harvest:

Broad beans, spinach beet and chard, peas, globe artichokes, kohl rabi, broccoli, calabrese, onions, shallots, garlic, beetroot, early potatoes, turnips, carrots and florence fennel.  Oriental mustards, spinach, peas, mangetout, beetroot, runner beans, french beans, courgettes, marrows and patty pans. Aubergines, chillies, peppers.  Lettuces, radishes, mixed salad leaves and spring onions, tomatoes, chicory, celery, cucumbers, rocket, watercress and spring onions.

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Fruit to harvest:

Rhubarb (finish picking at the beginning of July), gooseberries, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, red and white currants, early plums, apricots, raspberries, peaches, nectarines and undercover melons.  You may even be able to harvest early blackberries, logan berries and tayberries.

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Vegetables and salads to sow:

Sprouting broccoli and calabrese, beetroot, french beans, turnips, carrots, kale, kohl rabi, peas (at the beginning of the month), perpetual spinach, fennel and swiss chard, spring cabbages, oriental leaves, winter radish.

Lettuces and salad leaves (though they are harder to germinate in hot weather), rocket, spring onions, chicory, endive, radishes, watercress.

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Things to plant:

Brussel sprouts, autumn cauliflowers, winter cabbages, sprouting broccoli, kale, peas, french beans, fennel, endive and leeks.

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Jobs to do in July:

Keep weeding and mulch with compost or even grass cuttings if the ground is damp. Mulching will suppress the weeds and help to keep the soil moist.

Water if it is dry. It is better to give a ‘good’ watering once a week, rather than water a small amount daily, as this will help the plant roots to grow deeper to find water.

When your peas or beans have stopped producing, cut down the foliage leaving the roots in the ground, as these have lots of nitrogen in their modules, which will be good for your next crops.

Feed tomatoes after the first little tomato starts to form. Use a high potash feed, a comfrey feed is perfect for this. See how to make a comfrey feed here.

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Remove new raspberry suckers or shoots that are unwanted. If your canes become too thick and dense it stops the sunlight and air from getting to the inside canes, which can cause disease or under-developed fruit.

Continue pruning the side shoots on grape vines and thin out fruit so the remaining fruit will grow larger.  Remove some of the foliage if necessary to expose the grapes to the sun to help with ripening.

Keep tying in blackberry canes.

Keep pinching off the sideshoots on your tomatoes.

Prune summer raspberries as soon as they have finished fruiting, by cutting down all the canes that have had fruit on, to the ground.  Tie in all this year’s new growth, as these canes will have the fruit on next year.

Thin apples and pears if they are still overcroweded, so the remaining fruit will grow larger.

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Propagate strawberries by pegging down the runners, so they root into the ground.  Alternatively, you can peg them down into pots of compost.

Prune cherry and plum trees.

‘Pinch out’ the top of runner beans when they reach the top of their supports.  This will encourage bushier plants and stops them from becoming top heavy.

Weed regularly so your plants won’t need to compete with the weeds for water and nutrients.

Take up onions, garlic and shallots and lay them in the sun.  Alternatively, lift them and dry them in a greenhouse.  Ensure they are fully dry before storing them.

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Feed peppers after the first little pepper starts to form. Use a high potash feed, the comfrey feed is perfect for this (see above).

If it is dry, water cauliflowers, lettuces, rocket, spinach as these have a tendency to bolt in dry weather.

Earth up trench celery to stop the light getting to the stems.

Take cutting of herbs now.

Bend the leaves of cauliflowers over the curds to stop the sun from turning them yellow.

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July pests and diseases:

(Please don’t be alarmed by all the pests and diseases that you read below, you may never see some of them, but it’s good to be aware).

Slugs and snails are active at night, especially in damp weather.

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Remove any yellow leaves from brassicas to stop pests from hiding in them or diseases from spreading.  Check brassicas for caterpillars and pick them off or squash them.

Watch out for blackfly, they especially love globe artichokes, runner beans, french beans and beetroot.  Wipe the blackfly between your fingers and thumb to squash them.

Watch out for ‘blight’, it will affect your potatoes and tomatoes.  Blight is a fungal disease, spread by wind and rain and it can wipe out your whole crop in just a few days.  There is information regarding blight here.

Look out for leek moth caterpillars which feed on the leaves leaving holes in the foliage.  Pick them off asap.

Protect your brassicas, peas, strawberries and even lettuces from pigeons, by keeping them netted.

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Check for asparagus beetles and pick them off.

Check apple for canker, scab and powdery mildew.

Check pears for pear leaf blister mite, rust, canker and scab.

Check gooseberries and currants for saw flies, greenflies and currant blister aphids.

Check grapes for scale insects.

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Thank you for reading my blog today, I hope this post is useful to you.

I will be back as usual next Friday at 4pm.

Have a good week!