Archive | November 2014

A Cheese Spread Recipe, Hedgehogs & Bit Of A Change….

This is a hard post to write as I have decided to have a little bit of a break from my blog until after Christmas.  We have had a lot going on at home and I need to take time out for a few weeks to concentrate on my family, though I won’t go into detail about this.

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However I will still be posting each Friday with a few older posts that I particularly like and most people reading my blog now will not have seen them.  I will also be around to read and answer any comments that you leave on my blog.

So if you have read any of the posts before, I must apologise and ask you to bear with me.

In a few weeks time things in the ‘Thrift’ household will be changing and I will let you know the details in the New Year when they have been finalised.

Thank you for your continued support.

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(The following post was written and posted on the 19th November 2012):

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A Cheese Spread Recipe And A Beneficial Animal In Your Garden

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We all know that it is good to attract beneficial insects and animals to your garden, but we don’t always know why.  So today I thought I’d look at the Hedgehog, as during the summer I placed two Hedgehog boxes onto my plot.

I hope you find this interesting.

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Interesting facts about the Hedgehog:

  • The hedgehog is a well known UK animal which is sadly becoming a scarcer sight.  It is the only British mammal that is covered in spines, as many as 7000.  When it is in danger, it curls up into a ball to give it protection.
  • Hedgehogs are mostly nocturnal and travel long distances in their nightly forages for food.
  • The young are born between May and September, in litters of four or five.
  • They have been known to live for up to 14 years, but most will die after two years.
  • Hedgehogs hibernate between November and early April.  During this time, their body functions slow down, almost to a standstill and their body temperature drops from 35°C to 10°C. This helps them conserve energy.

  • Before hibernation, a hedgehog should weigh at least 0.5kg to survive the winter.
  • They have poor eyesight but have excellent smell and hearing skills. They can also swim and climb very well.
  • Foxes, dogs, badgers, stoats are all threats to the hedgehog.

Why are Hedgehogs good for the Vegetable Garden and how can we attract them?

Hedgehogs are beneficial animals to the vegetable garden because they love eating some of our allotment enemies e.g. caterpillars, beetles, slugs and snails, that destroy our lovely vegetables.

You can encourage hedgehogs into your garden or allotment, by leaving piles of leaves and twigs around for them to nest in, or by making a purpose built shelter like the one I have in the photograph below.

I actually have two of these boxes hidden in two different places at the back of my allotment plots in overgrown areas, in the hope they will attract a hedgehog or two.  However, you can just make a pile of leaves or grass cuttings in a sheltered area of the garden.  Hedgehogs also love unmown lawn edges as they can find insects in the grass to eat.

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Things that can harm Hedgehogs:

  • Slug pellets containing Metaldehyde can be fatal to hedgehogs, so organic slug pellets are a better option.
  • A hedgehog thinks an unlit bonfire is a really good place to hibernate, so please check for them before lighting.
  • Bread and milk will cause the hedgehog to have diarrhea so do not feed it to them.
  • Hedgehogs may nest in long grass, and are sometimes injured by strimmers and lawnmowers, so check long grass before you cut it.
  • Litter is dangerous to hedgehogs. They can become entangled in plastic rings that hold cans together, or become wedged in empty tins. Dispose of litter carefully and squash all your tin cans before recycling them.
  • Despite all these hazards, the biggest threat to hedgehogs is habitat loss. Over the last 30 years, agriculture has favoured large fields and the habitats of the hedgehog, particularly hedges, have been lost. Pesticide usage also puts pressure on hedgehog populations.

 

I hope you enjoyed reading about the Hedgehog today, I will be writing about other beneficial animals and insects soon.

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Another Recipe To Share

This is a recipe I’ve been meaning to post on my blog for a while.  It’s a recipe for Cheese Spread that my husband and daughter really like.

My recipe costs just £1.10 to make and it has none of the dreadful chemicals and preservatives that shop bought cheese spreads have.

You can add garlic and herbs to it if you want, to make it exactly as you like it.

It’s important you have read all the instructions and weighed out all your ingredients, before you make the spread, as each stage must be carried out immeadiately to make sure the recipe works.

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Cheese Spread

100 grams Margarine

2 teaspoons plain flour

1 teaspoon English Mustard

125ml milk

150g grated cheese (use more if required)

1 ½ teaspoons of Cydar vinegar

1 Egg lightly beaten (just enough to combine the white and yolk, don’t over beat) 

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Fill a bowl of water ready to cool your pan and have all your ingredients measured out as you don’t want your mixture to overcook in between each stage.

Melt the margarine over a low heat.

Take off the heat and mix in the flour and mustard.

Add the milk a little bit at a time and heat until the mixture is smooth and starts to bubble.

Lift off the heat and mix in the cheese and vinegar then return to the heat, stirring until the cheese melts.

Take the pan off the heat and quickly mix in the beaten egg.

Put the pan back on the heat, mixing all the time, until it becomes thicker, (this usually only takes 15-20 seconds, don’t heat for longer or the egg will scramble or the fat will separate). 

 Remove the pan from the heat straight away and stand the pan in the bowl of cold water, still mixing, until it cools.

Put the spread into a covered container and keep in the fridge for up to 1 week.

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I’ve found that different cheeses alter the texture and taste of the spread, so experiment to see which you like best.  I use ‘value’  mild white cheddar, as it’s cheapest, but it’s up to you.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

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‘Stir-up Sunday’ And A Christmas Pudding Recipe

I thought I would start today by reminding those that make their own Christmas puddings, that it is ‘Stir-up Sunday’ this weekend.

‘Stir-up Sunday’ is traditionally the day that Christmas puddings are made, approximately five weeks before Christmas.  It is the last Sunday before Advent begins.

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Early Christmas puddings actually contained meat, together with spices, dried fruit and wine, but it was Prince Albert who introduced the traditional Christmas pudding to the Victorians, which we know today.

 Christmas would not be the same without a Christmas pudding to ‘light’ and serve after a hearty Christmas dinner.  I have a lovely memory of my Grandad lighting a pudding one year when I was just a little girl and the memory has always stuck with me.  When our daughters were young we too lit our Christmas pudding and now it’s a family tradition for us.

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Christmas Pudding Traditions:

  • A Christmas pudding is tradionally made with thirteen ingredients, to represent Jesus and his twelve disciples.
  • A Christmas pudding is tradionally stirred from east to west in honour of the three wise men that visited baby Jesus.
  • Each member of the family traditionally stirs the pudding mixture and makes a wish secretly.
  • A silver coin was tradionally placed in the mixture and the person who finds it is supposed to find wealth.  A ring was sometimes also placed in the mixture to foretell a marriage and a thimble for a lucky life.

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The photo above shows the Christmas pudding I made a couple of years ago using my eldest sister’s recipe, which you can find here.  It really tastes lovely and it can be made anytime leading up to Christmas day, so it’s great if you aren’t organised enough to make one on ‘Stir-up-Sunday’ and you can even make it the day before Christmas if you wanted to.

However, last year I decided to have a change and make a pudding that needed time to mature as it contained alcohol and it really was special so I will be making it again on Sunday.  Here is the recipe:

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Xmas Pudding

475g dried mixed fruit with candied peel

1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped small

Grated zest and juice of ½ an orange

Grated zest and juice of ½ a lemon

4 tablespoons of brandy, plus a further tablespoon for soaking at the end

55g self-raising flour

1 level teaspoon ground mixed spice

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

110g shredded suet

110g soft dark brown sugar

110g white fresh bread crumbs

25g flaked almonds

2 eggs lightly beaten.

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Put the dried mixed fruit, apple, grated zest and juice of the orange and lemon, into a bowl.

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Add the brandy and mix well.

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Cover and leave to marinate overnight.

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In the morning, lightly grease a 2 ½ pint pudding bowl.

In a separate large bowl, sift the flour, mixed spice and cinnamon together.

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Add the suet, sugar, breadcrumbs and flaked almonds and stir together until they are well combined.

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Add the marinated mixed fruit and stir again.

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Stir the eggs into the mixture.

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Call all your family together and take turns to stir the pudding mixture from East to West, each making a secret wish as you stir.

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Spoon the mixture into your greased pudding bowl and press it down lightly with the back of a metal spoon.

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Cut out two large circles of greaseproof paper, the size of a large dinner plate.

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Cover the pudding with both pieces of the greaseproof paper and top these with foil.  Tie them onto the dish with string.

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Steam the pudding for 7 hours.

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Remove the pudding from the steamer and let it cool completely.

Remove the paper and prick the pudding with a skewer and add a further tablespoon of brandy.

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Cover with a new piece of greaseproof paper and tie it again with string.  Then wrap it in foil to keep it fresh.

Store in a cool place until Christmas day.

My pudding storing in my pantry

On Christmas day, steam again for 1 hour.

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Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.

 

Growing Flowers On Your Plot – A Waste Of Space?….

Last week I was very pleased to find that an article I had written had been published in the ‘Kitchen Garden’ magazine.  It can be found on the back page if anyone has a copy.

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I wrote about growing flowers on my allotment and that I was once accused of wasting space by growing too many flowers…. I agreed that if I didn’t grow so many flowers I would have more space for vegetable plants, but I strongly believe I would also have fewer vegetables to harvest as there would be less insects around to pollinate my crops.

I have said many times that you only need to stand and watch a wild flower patch to see the buzz of activity there, it is so fascinating to watch.

My wildflower patch has finally given up flowering, after it yet again looked beautiful over all of the summer months.  It cost me just the price of a few packets of seed and a small amount of time.

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I try very hard to squeeze flowers into my allotment whereever I can, as they not only make my allotment look pretty but they are also good to cut and take home to put in vases.  However more importantly they are good for attracting beneficial insects that pollinate our crops and also voraciously feed on the pests that eat our crops and spread diseases.

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In the magazine article I mentioned ‘five of the good bugs’ that are great for our vegetable plots and flowers will attract them:

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Five of the ‘good’ bugs:

Bees – Flowers encourage bees, which in turn pollinate your crops.  They are active from late winter until autumn, so I try really hard to have plants in flower during all these months.

Lacewings – These are voracious predators as the larvae and adults feed on caterpillars, thrips, mealy bugs and aphids.  They are especially attracted by Cosmos flowers, coreopsis and sweet alyssum.

Ground beetles – Ground beetles are nocturnal and they are great for keeping night time pests at bay.  They like to eat cut worms, slugs, snails, caterpillars, aphids etc.  They like to overwinter in perennial plants.

Soldier Beetles – Unfortunately these beetles do eat the good bugs as well as the bad, but they do help to control aphids and caterpillars.  They particularly like catnip and goldenrod.

Ladybirds (sometimes called Lady beetles or lady bugs) – Ladybirds love to eat aphids, scales, spider mites, mealy bugs, etc. which is why most people recognize these as a beneficial insect.  It’s their larvae that eat the most of the ‘bad’ insects and can get an infestation under control in no time.  Ladybirds are attracted to the parsley family i.e. parsley, dill, fennel, carrots etc.

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I grow flowers from as early in the year as possible right through to late flowering plants, to help beneficial insects to survive and in turn they pollinate my crops.  But flowers also help me in different ways too and below are a few other reasons I grow them around my plot:

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  • I grow Calendula as they look so pretty and self seed like mad so you only need to buy a packet of these seeds once….and the flowers are edible and the petals look fabulous scattered over a bowl of salad.

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  • I use nasturtiums around my dalek compost bins, as these help to surpress weeds nicely….they also provide great ground cover around longer growing vegetables like brussells, spring broccoli and kale.  They also attract blackfly so I plant them around my runnerbeans as sacrificial plants (so the blackfly stay away from my beans).   As a bonus, the nasturtium leaves taste ‘peppery’ and again they are nice in a salad.
  •  I use sweet peas near my runnerbeans to attract beneficial insects to pollinate them so I get more beans to pick.

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  • I line my paths with lavender and poached egg plants, again to attact beneficial insects that love the flowers.  The poached egg plants surpress weeds by covering the ground and self seed easily….any plants that I don’t want can also be dug into the soil and act as a green manure.

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  • I grow Sunflowers as the birds love to feed on the seed heads in autumn.

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  • I plant Tagetes near my tomatoes and also in my polytunnel as this helps to deter white flies.

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  • And finally I experimented this year with ‘Tagetes minuta’ which stated on the packet that it is an “extraordinary plant that isn’t a looker, but its roots kill perennial weeds such a ground elder and couch grass. Height: 180cm”

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I grew the seeds in modules and planted the plants out at the beginning of June.  I found that the plants didn’t kill the weeds as promised, but I would use them again as the weeds around them really didn’t grow half as fast as normal.

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‘Tagetes minuta’ planted in a weedy area at the back of my plot

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So I hope I have convinced a few people reading my blog today to try and ‘squeeze’ one or two flowers onto allotment plots and kitchen gardens next year…..If you haven’t grown flowers before I think you will be pleasently surprised.

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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 November…

When I first started to grow vegetables I really needed 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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November

November is usually one of the wettest months of the year in the UK, though we do sometimes have a few days of fine, sunny weather.  Shorter days, cooler temperatures and gales are expected this month, together with fog and mist.

Northerly winds can bring snow, though it isn’t likely to last before melting away.

When good days are forecast, it’s a good idea to take advantage of them and clear your plots and start winter digging, or spreading compost or manure on the surface of your soil if you prefer not to dig.

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Vegetables and salads to harvest:

Kale, celeriac, parsnips (parsnips taste sweeter after a good hard frost though), swede, carrots, red and white cabbages, Brussels tops, Jerusalem artichokes, winter spinach, kohl rabi’s, oriental salads (if they have been given protection), cauliflowers, turnips, Swiss chard, celery, leeks, radish, land cress, corn salad, rocket.

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Fruit to harvest:

Autumn raspberries may still be producing if there haven’t been any hard frosts. There may still be time to pick the last of your late season apples too and any cape gooseberries that have been kept undercover.

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Cape gooseberries grown in my polytunnel

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Vegetables and salads to sow:

Over wintering broad beans e.g. Aquadulce.

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Things to plant:

Garlic. Rhubarb, bare-rooted fruit trees and fruit bushes before the ground becomes too wet.

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Jobs to do:

Remove old plant debris and weeds and dig in compost, manure or leaf mould if your ground needs it.  If you operate a ‘no-dig’ system, just spread it over the top so the worms will do the work for you.

Cover late crops with cloches, i.e. oriental leaves.

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Add lime to your soil if it needs it, before the ground becomes too wet (to increase the PH of your soil).  Don’t add lime at the same time as your manure, as they will chemically react with each other.

Add all the old plant debris to your compost heap as long as it’s not diseased.

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Cover areas that have been cleared if you can, to stop the rain from leaching the nutrients out of your soil over the winter.

Mulch celeriac and globe artichokes with straw to stop any frost damage.

Bend a few leaves over on your cauliflowers to protect them from frost.

Weed around your fruit trees and bushes and remove fruit cages so the birds can pick off any insects or eggs on them.

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As the fruit trees and fruit bushes become dormant, it is time to start to prune them (except cherries and plums).  Remove any dead or diseased branches first.

Catch up with jobs that you didn’t get time to do in the summer e.g. painting your shed, making a new compost heap etc.

Collect leaves to make leaf mould.

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Continue to fill a trench with all your old peelings, where you will be planting runner beans next year.  This will help retain the moisture in those long hot summers  (the ones we dream of).

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Plant remaining daffodil bulbs and start to plant tulip bulbs.

Plan what you will be growing next year and enjoy reading through seed catalogues and ordering your seeds.

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November pests and diseases:

Remove yellow leaves from brassica’s as this can encourage grey mould.

Whitefly can still be a problem on brassica’s, so either squash them between your fingers or spray them.

Pigeons get hungry at this time of year, so make sure you net your brassica’s.

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Watch out for mice as they like to eat your newly planted broad bean seeds, garlic and over wintering onion sets.

Check your stored produce for rot, so it doesn’t spread.

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Remove rotten fruit that may still be hanging on your fruit trees.

Fit grease bands or paint on fruit tree grease, if you didn’t do it last month, to stop the winter moth climbing up and laying its eggs.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.  I hope this information has been helpful.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.