Archive | February 2015

A Bread Roll Recipe And Planting Cordons

For the last few weeks I have been trying to use up all the things that end up getting pushed to the back of my freezer and cupboards.  So this week I decided to do a great big food shop, as my pantry shelves were beginning to look empty.

So armed with a long list of items that I needed, I began shopping.  I don’t just use one shop, but several depending on the offers and cheapest prices for the products that I want.

There are loads of tips to save money on your food shopping here, if anyone is interested.

So my cupboards are full again.

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I then set about batch baking:

I started by making some spaghetti bolognase sauces using a 750 gram pack of minced beef.

I do worry about the amount of fat there is in minced beef, so a tip I was given many moons ago when I attended a Rosemary Conley class, was to put the ‘browned’ mince in a sieve to let the fat drip away and then wipe the pan with a piece of kitchen paper to remove any excess fat in it, before returning the minced beef back into the pan.

In my bolognese I also used onion, garlic and passata (I made the passata in the summer using the tomatoes I grew).  I also padded it out with a carrot, sliced courgettes, curly kale and even broad beans (that I cooked and pureed first before adding to the mix, so my daughters don’t know they are in there).  I added some tomato puree and a couple of beef stock cubes and finally some mixed herbs.

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I managed to get four portions out of the minced beef to freeze.  It makes a really easy meal for another day, as when the sauce is defrosted I just reheat it in the microwave and then add it to pasta…….or sometimes I use it to make a quick lasagne.

A tip I learned in an Italian youth hostel years and years ago, was always make sure that the sauce is added to ALL of the cooked pasta / spaghetti and give it a good mix.  This way the bolognese sauce goes further than when you serve a ‘dollop’ on top of each persons pasta.

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I also made a large pot of chilli with another 750 gram pack of mince beef and again I managed to get four portions out of it, three of which I froze for another day and one we had for tea with jacket potatoes and it was lovely:

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I also decided to make a lemon traybake for the week ahead.  I love traybakes as you get a lot of cake without messing about too much:

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 I will put the recipe on the blog another time for you.

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And finally I made my usual bread rolls.  Regina who regularly leaves lovely comments on my blog, has asked me for the recipe I use to make my bread rolls, so I have written it below.  I don’t use the ‘posh’ brands of yeast or strong white flour, I use the supermarket own brand that is the cheapest at the time I buy it and my rolls always turn out fine.

I use a bread maker to mix my dough (as it gives me more time to do other things), but I have made it using the same recipe without the breadmaker and it turned out well.

My Breadmaker

My Breadmaker

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Bread Rolls Using A Bread Maker:

1 ¼ teaspoons Easy Bake Yeast

550 grams Strong White Flour

2 teaspoons sugar

25 grams margarine (or butter)

½ teaspoon salt (add more if you like it salty)

360 ml water

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I put all the ingredients into my breadmaker in the same order as above and set my breadmaker onto a ‘dough’ setting.  In my breadmaker the dough will be ready in 2 hours and 20 minutes.

(If I am short of time I sometimes put my breadmaker on a ‘pizza’ setting which mixes the dough in 45 minutes, but the rolls do not rise quite so much this way).

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When the dough is ready, take it out of the breadmaker pan and place it on a floured surface and cut into ten equal pieces:

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Make each portion into a ‘roll’ shape.  I use my thumbs to gently ease the edges underneath each portion, turning and repeating until it’s the shape I want.

Put your rolls onto a greased baking sheet in a warm place until they have risen. I cover mine with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for approximately one hour.

After an hour

After an hour

Bake in a preheated oven Gas mark 5 / 190 C / 375F for 16 to 17 minutes and then leave to cool.

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If I am freezing the rolls for packed lunches etc. then I slice the rolls before I freeze them.  This way I don’t have to wait for them to defrost and I can put fillings straight into the frozen rolls and they defrost in sandwich boxes easily by lunchtime.

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My New Kitchen Garden:

This week I was very excited as my new fruit trees arrived.  I ordered three ‘Braeburn’ apple trees grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks (m26) and three ‘Conference’ pear trees grafted onto Quince A rootstocks.  I will be growing the trees as cordons along the fence at the bottom of the garden.

I haven’t got the luxury of space now I have given my allotments up and so by growing my fruit trees as cordons, I can plant the trees a lot closer together and the fruit will be easy to pick.

I have never grown cordons before and so I used a really good RHS guide to order and plant them.  You can find it here.

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The trees were delivered ‘bare rooted’ which just means that they don’t come in a pot and their roots are bare.  At this time of year the trees are dormant, so as long as you don’t allow the roots to dry out, young trees can be dug up and replanted easily.

I unpacked the trees and put them straight into a bucket of water for a couple of hours to ensure the roots were moist:

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I screwed in wire supports along my fence before I planted the trees, as per the RHS guide. I then dug the holes for the trees.

The soil was pretty awful in places, so I added lots of compost and thanked my lucky stars that I brought the rootstocks that I did (Quince A and M26) which should do well in my awful soil.

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Preparing the soil is the same for any type of bare root fruit tree.  I have a guide to planting bare root trees here if anyone is interested.

I planted the trees and gave them support by tying them to a cane, which was already tied to the wire supports.

I then cut back all the side shoots that were no longer than 10cm, to three buds, again as per the RHS guide.

And now I am keeping my fingers crossed that they grow:

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A bit of good news this week is I spotted my rhubarb growing.  These are two bits that I split from the my allotment rhubarb to bring home before I gave my plots up.  I just bunged the two pieces in the soil, without adding any organic matter as time was short, but I can top dress it with compost another time.

The place they are growing gets no sun what so ever in the winter and it is in partial shade in the summer…..so I will have to wait to find out if it crops well in this position.  I won’t be harvesting any this year to allow the roots to establish and next year I will only pick a small amount for the same reason…providing it grows ok in this position.

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Judy – (Our Problem Dog) – A Quick Update:

I know a lot of people reading my blog are interested in our rescue dog called Judy, so I thought I would give you a quick update (you can read about the problems we are having here if you are interested).

We have been giving Judy the tablets the vet prescribed (Selgian) to help with her excessive anxious behaviour for 2 ½ weeks now and I can honestly say there has been no change in her whatsoever.  However, I have read that it takes 4-6 weeks for the tablets to take effect so I will let you know how we get on.

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We have had another session with our behaviourist and she has suggested that we walk her just twice a week for a ten minute walk, as her stress level is so high at the moment – so this is what we are doing.

Last week I had yet another person shout at me over my dogs behaviour (barking and lunging) and that totals eight people since we brought her home in October, so walking her twice a week will give my nerves a break too.

I so wish people would realise that my dog barks and lunges because she is scared and it is the only way she knows how to show this emotion….I am really hoping that one day I will be able to teach her differently, as when she isn’t scared she is an adoreable, loving dog.

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I hope you all have a good weekend and I will be back next Friday as usual.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

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Soil Testing And A Kitchen Garden Plan

Last weekend I decided to take a look at the soil in my new kitchen garden.  I had a good idea that it was a heavy clay soil by how it sat in big hard ‘clumps’, but I wanted to confirm this before I started to grow any vegetables.

My soil before I have worked on it

My soil before I have worked on it

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I started by checking the soil texture:

  There is a really good RHS guide here that tells you exactly how to check your soil texture.

The three main categories of soil texture are…

  • Sand ( has the largest particle size, so it feels gritty )
  • Silt ( the particle sizes are moderate, so it has a smooth, more floury texture )
  • Clay ( has the smallest particle size and it feels sticky).

(A ‘loam’ is the ideal soil to have, which has equal parts of all of the three categories above).

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 Why do I need to know this?:

Clay soils have the smallest particles which helps to retain water as it drains away more slowly than other soils, however this can make the soil more prone to waterlogging in prolonged wet weather.  Clay soils also hold nutrients well, but they are slower to warm up in the Spring and they can be very hard to dig.

Sandy soils have much larger particles which allow water and nutrients to drain away easily which is not good in dry weather, but is better in prolonged wet weather. Sandy soils are much lighter to work with and have the added advantage of warming up quicker in the Spring.

Silt soils are fertile and light to work and have the advantage of being moisture retentive, however it is easily compacted.

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My soil:

My soil

My soil rolled into a ball very easily and then easily into a long sausage….so I was right that my soil was a clay soil.

My old allotments had a clay soil so I am well used to working with this:

My old allotment plots

My old allotment plots were clay soil.

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I also decided to check my Soil pH…..

The pH of soil is measured in a scale of one to fourteen.  Soils with a pH of less than seven are acid and soils above seven are alkaline.  Soils with a pH of seven are known as neutral.

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I decided to test five different areas of my new kitchen garden .  I first used an old soil tester that I have, which you just insert the prongs into the ground.  In all the areas it gave the same result of alkaline soil.

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As my pH tester was very old, I decided to also buy a soil pH testing kit, (just to make sure my old soil tester was working correctly) and I also tested five different samples:

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The kit was very easy to use and it actually confirmed that each sample of my soil is alkaline:

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So why do I need to know this?

Different plants need different conditions, for example blueberries need an acid soil to grow well.  Also acid soils are more prone to ‘clubroot’ (a fungus-like organism) which can affect brassicas, so if you know that you have an acid soil you can add lime to your soil to increase the pH.

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So I now know my soil is a clay, alkaline soil.

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This week I began planning my kitchen garden by drawing out a plan on graph paper.

I was then able to replant the raspberries and fruit bushes that I ‘heeled in’ three weeks ago, to their permanent position along the ‘sunny’ edges of my new kitchen garden and lay my ‘weed suppressant’ paths in front of them:

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I could then start the job of creating my beds and preparing the soil:

I am a big fan of ‘fixed beds’ as I don’t need to walk on the soil (as the beds are small enough to reach into) and this stops the soil from becoming compacted.  I also choose fixed beds rather than raised beds, as I don’t like the idea of having to import top soil to fill the raised beds.

I again decided to use my old weed suppressant paths from my old allotment to separate the beds and I worked out that I could have four beds either side of my central path, with each bed being 130cm’s wide.

So I began digging…..

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The soil was very heavy to work, with plenty of weed roots such as bindweed and couch grass and I also found lots of rubble in it too.  It was a lot different from my beautiful allotment soil that I had worked on for the last ten years.

I must admit that I never really did anything previously to this part of the garden (except plant a few shrubs when I first moved in), so I knew the soil would really need improving.

After just an hour of exhausting digging, I began to wonder if I had done the right thing to give my allotments up and start again here….but unfortunately circumstances that brought me here can’t be changed, so I gave myself a ‘good talking to’ and carried on!

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After I dug a bed I then ‘forked in’ a bag of soil conditioner, (I managed to get a few cheap bags from my local nursery), but I know that the soil will need a lot more than this.

I must say I have really regretted not bringing some of my lovely well rotted organic manure back from my old allotments before I gave them up, but I suppose time was against me.

However this week, I did managed to complete my first two kitchen garden beds:

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So now I just need to complete the other six beds and to plan what I am actually going to realistically grow in them.  I know this will be a challenge as I am so used to growing my vegetables without thinking of space, or even shade…. but I like a challenge!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday as usual.  I hope you have a good weekend,

 

My Problem Dog & My New Kitchen Garden….

Unfortunately things aren’t going too well with our lovely rescue dog, Judy.

For those that don’t know, we brought her home from the RSPCA in October and it was evident after a few weeks that she was a very anxious dog.  By December she was so frightened of other dogs sniffing around her that she actually bit a dog….I was mortified at the time.

We then contacted a behaviourist who has been working with me since December and after six weeks of training Judy, she was ‘tolerating’ other dogs a lot better…..until a couple of weeks ago two separate dogs within two days would not leave Judy alone and eventually she reacted badly to them (thank goodness she was wearing a muzzle).  On both occaisions their owners ‘ambled’ slowly across to me oblivious that their dogs were causing Judy a problem (even though I had shouted across to them to ask them to call their dogs away).

Judy on one of the rare occaisions she stands still in the garden

Judy on one of the rare occaisions she stands still in the garden

So we are now back to square one and Judy cannot tolerate any dogs again.  So I have been walking her at quiet times around the streets instead of the park to bring her stress levels down, however this has had a knock on effect….poor Judy has been getting more and more stressed with the buses, lorries, motorbikes, people with hats on, or people with walking sticks, prams, etc.

On Monday she even got upset at some new road works on a quiet side street and just would not walk past them and I nearly had to ring Mr Thrift to come out of work to pick us up in the car and take us home!

At home she is now continually pacing around our kitchen table during the day and running up and down the garden over and over again, without stopping.  In fact the only time she settles is when I hold her next to me, or in the evening when our curtains are tightly closed and everywhere is quiet.

So I emailed our behaviourist and she suggested we gave medication a try from the vets….so this is what we have done.

I feel that I have tried so hard to train her without success and I have used plug in diffusers, collars and things to calm her in her food and nothing is now working.  It really isn’t fair on her to live this way, so I feel this is now the only option.  I am hoping that the tablets are just for the short term and the vet hopes this too, but the vet also said that some dogs do need to take them long term….let’s hope not.

The medication can take upto two months to fully work, so I will let you know if things improve.

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In between my problems with Judy this week, I have been working hard to finish freezing the crops I brought home from my allotment before I gave the plots up.

I have now frozen my celeriac, brussells and some of my parsnips:

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I do still have quite a few parsnips left to freeze though, but I will do them in the next few days:

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My New Kitchen Garden

In my new kitchen garden I have been making a new path to follow my washing line.  I know some of you may think this is strange, but I do like to hang my washing out even in winter, as it saves money when I don’t use the tumble dryer and I think things seem so much fresher when they have dried in the wind.

I started by using a couple of the weed suppressant paths that I made for my allotment last year (you can read how I made them here).  I then used bundles of ‘hazel’ tied together with wire, to line the path.  This is hazel that I grew at my allotment and brought it home when I knew I was giving the allotment plots up.

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I then finished it with wood chip that I had also salvaged from my allotment, though I am yet to finish the end of the path nearest the fence, as I am not sure if I want to go all the way down to it yet as I haven’t finished planning the garden.

  I am pleased with how it looks so far:

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I have also been replanting the fruit bushes and autumn raspberries that I brought back from the allotment.  When I first brought them home I just ‘heeled’ them in as I hadn’t prepared the ground at that stage:

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I have now planted the fruit bushes and the raspberries, making sure I prepared the ground first by removing any weeds and adding a lot of compost to it.

I have lined our wire fence with the raspberries and our other ‘chicken wire’ fence with the two blackcurrant bushes, a white currant bush and a gooseberry plant.  These were fruit bushes that I only bought from a nursery in September, so I didn’t feel guilty about bringing them home from my allotment and I also have left plenty of autumn raspberries at my plot for whoever takes over.

I have also laid a couple more weed suppressant paths so I can get to pick the fruit (eventually) without treading on the soil:

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So my kitchen garden is beginning to take shape…..it looks a lot different from the ‘before’ photo on the left:

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I have also decided to put the big metal pots that I also brought back from the allotment, outside our back door.  I will fill them when I get around to it, though for the moment I have now stuffed them with some of the nets I also brought back.  I’m not sure what I will be planting in them yet….I must finish planning my new garden!

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Last weekend I managed to finally buy some seed potatoes.  It was very, very strange just buying a few instead of the big bag I usually buy each January for my allotment.

I chose a few ‘marfona’ seed potatoes (a 2nd early which I particularly like) and some ‘desiree’ potatoes (which are a reliable red skinned main crop variety).

They are all chitting nicely in our bedroom as this is the coolest room in the house, next to my remaining butternut squashes……how romantic we are!

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Yesterday I finally got around to sowing my leeks and broad beans.  I should really have done this last month, but I’m sure they will catch up.  The leeks are a variety called ‘Lyon 2’, which I haven’t tried before (I got the seeds cheap in the autumn) and the broad beans are an overwintering variety called ‘Aquadulce’ that should really be sown by the end of January.

I have sown plenty of seeds so I can take a few plants to my mother-in-law this year, for her garden.

The seed trays are sitting nicely in my cold greenhouse now:

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To finish off with, it was my eldest daughters seventeenth birthday yesterday (where does time go to).  She asked for a ‘chocolate indulgient cake’ i.e. a cake with her favourite chocolate sweets on.

I baked a three layer cake using my usual ‘throw it all in‘ recipe and covered it with a chocolate buttercream frosting and used kit kat sticks, maltesers and chocolate orange to decorate it.  I think a little imagination goes a long way….and she seemed to really like it:

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Anyway, that’s enough for this week.  Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back as normal next Friday.

Have a lovely weekend!

Time For Change – Giving Up My Allotment Plots

If you have been following my blog over the last few weeks, you will know that I have been having some family problems that now take up a lot of my time.   On top of this we have a very anxious rescue dog that we brought home in October called ‘Judy’.

Right from the start it was apparent that she was not an ‘allotment dog’ as she is scared of most things and quite often just stands and shakes with her tail between her legs when we are outside our front door.  However we have all become very attached to Judy as she is such a loving dog and we refuse to give up on her, especially as she is responding to training with me.

This week

So all of this forced myself and Mr Thrift into making a very hard decision…..

On Saturday we handed back the keys to my four beautiful allotments.  It was such a hard thing to do as not only have I spent the last ten years working them and producing most of our fruit and vegetables, but as I stood and looked at the plots for the last time I realised I also have so many fond memories ….  my daughters planting and picking crops, playing on their bikes or on their swing and I remember them collecting ladybirds and making mud pies.  We also had lots of lovely family picnics there too.

However as my youngest daughter pointed out to me, these memories will stay with me forever.

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So what about my blog?

I’m still going to carry on writing my blog as it’s one of the things I love to do and I will still be talking about cooking from scratch, cleaning the old fashioned way, etc. but instead of allotment gardening I will be talking about my ‘kitchen garden‘.

I’m sure that you already know how much I love growing organic fruit and vegetables and I certainly couldn’t give up growing them completely.  So my blog is going to be focusing now on how much I can possibly grow in my small garden.

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So over the last few weeks I have started to transform my garden.

The photographs below show my back garden in November, before we had made the decision to give the allotment plots up.

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After much consideration, I decided that the top half of the garden would be my new vegetable patch and the grassed area near my greenhouse would remain, for my dog to run around.

My main aim is to grow as many fruit and vegetables in the garden as possible, but this will be a challenge as it’s a very small area with shade in some parts.

I began by cutting shrubs back and digging out their roots….and I must say it took far more trips to our ‘green waste’ tip than I thought it would.  I cut back the large shrubs we had (the choisya, lavatera, elaeagnus and the rosa rugosas) and then started to dig out the roots, but no matter how I tried I just was not strong enough to dig out the three remaining roots of photinia, the elaeagnus and a self seeded root of a pussy willow (which incidentally I didn’t even know was there).

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After cutting everything back this is what it looked like:

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  I was actually amazed how much bigger the area was than I realised.

I found lots of rubble and large stones which I piled up around the left hand edge of the garden.  The garden slopes down to the left so these stones will help to hold the soil in:

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I also found two slabs buried under the soil too:

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Unfortunately everytime my dog ran around the new vegetable patch she would end up absolutely filthy, covered in mud.  I decided to use some of the chicken wire from my allotment to make a fence to keep her out and I also made a little gate for easy access.

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After I cleared all the shrubs from the garden I then hit another problem….the fence at the end of our garden that was previously covered in the shrubs, was completely rotten and part of it was holding onto the support post with a piece of wire.  At first I thought we could just use screening to cover it, but if I wanted to use the fence as a support for plants then it just wouldn’t be possible.  So after much discussion we decided to go ahead and replace the fence….it was an expense that we hadn’t bargained for, but it looked much better afterwards and they dug out the three remaining roots for me too:

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Over the last couple of weeks I started to bring home things from my allotment that I wanted to make use of and some of my remaining crops.  I have been busy freezing leeks, carrots, brussells and some parsnips (I still have my celeriac and remaining parsnips yet to freeze).

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Unfortunately as the rent for the plots was due I had to leave some of the crops still growing e.g. curly kale, spring broccolli, spring cauliflowers, etc., but hopefully someone will have a nice crop from them.

I also brought home some autumn raspberries,  the currant bushes and the gooseberry bush that I only bought and planted in early October at the allotment and some chives and a few strawberry plants.  I also brought home a couple of globe artichoke and some of the wall flowers that I grew from seed too, and a hand full of jeruselum artichokes, a comfrey plant and a few overwintering onions.

I ‘heeled’ the bushes into the ground and planted the wall flowers at the front of my new wire fence and planted the globe artichokes, but I’m not really not sure if any of these plants will grow, as it really is the wrong time of year to move them….but I will keep my fingers crossed.

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One last thing I bought home was a few snowdrops from my lovely woodland area, as these remind me of my friend who passed away two years ago this month.

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Though time was short I managed to bring home my tools, nets, some woodchip (that I still  had bagged up ready to use), some large pots and some willow canes (to edge my new path).  I also managed to bring home my two bug boxes, some glass and some of the weed suppressant paths that I stitched up last year on my sowing machine, so I could use them again.  And finally I bought home the raised bed that I made for sowing my carrots into each year, the bird bath that I brought on ebay for £5 last year and the chair my dad used to sit on when he came to my allotment:

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I have an area in front of my greenhouse at home where nothing really grew due to the roots of the bushes that line our fence.  I already had weed suppressant in this area to screen off my neighbours garden from ours (unfortuanely they also had a new dog a month ago so our behaviourist advised us to do this while we are having problems with Judy), so I put the raised bed on the weed suppressant and filled it up with all my remaining homemade compost from home and topped it up with some of my allotment compost too.  I then planted the strawberries that I brought home from my allotment plot (again I’ve got to keep my fingers crossed that they will survive, due to transplanting at the wrong time of year).  Again I fenced this area off with chicken wire so my dog doesn’t jump all over it and made a little gate:

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So that is how things are looking this week in my new kitchen garden.  I have come a long way in a just a few short weeks but there is still alot to do before I am ready for planting.

I know I will miss my allotment plots, but I can’t change the circumstances that brought me to the decision to give them up.  By growing vegetables at home I will have more time for my family and our anxious dog.

My old allotment plots

My old allotment plots

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.