Archive | March 2015

King Richard III & A Quick Microwave Syrup Sponge Recipe

Because I live in Leicester, I couldn’t start my blog today without mentioning King Richard III.

For those that haven’t seen the news over the last week, the bones of Richard III were found buried deep under a car park in Leicester some time ago, and on Sunday a cortege carried King Richard III’s mortal remains from Market Bosworth (where he died in the battle of Bosworth) across Leicestershire into Leicester city centre.

We were all very excited as the A47 at the bottom of our road was closed for an hour as the cortege was to pass by.  So we all walked down to see a part of history, as Richard III was the last King to actually die in battle.  There were hundreds of people lining the road waiting when we got there.

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Well I can only say it was very dissapointing for everyone, as the cortege sped by so fast that if you blinked you would have missed it.  I had my camera ready in my hand and I still only managed to take the back of it as it shot by.

It was such a shame for everyone, especially as some people has white roses to throw, but there wasn’t time.

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There had been so much news coverage over the week leading up to the day, which is why so many people turned up to see him being driven past and everyone was under the same impression it would drive past at least a little bit slower.

However, it did all look amazing in the city centre when they showed the coverage on the news…it’s a shame we weren’t in town to see it.

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This week at home I realised that my butternut squashes were beginning to go over and I didn’t want to waste them.  We love butternut squash in our house and I grew loads last year at the allotment.

My last butternut squashes from 2014

My last butternut squashes from 2014

 I really didn’t want to waste the squashes, so I chopped them up ready for roasting and then popped them into the freezer on a tray and then bagged them up when they were frozen.

When they were frozen I tried roasting a few of them straight from the freezer, by just increasing the roasting time and I’m very pleased to say they were as good as they normally are.

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So I now have butternut squash, celeriac, jeruselum artichokes and parsnips, that I just take out of my freezer and roast from frozen (it makes Sunday dinner much easier).

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This week I decided to buy some trellis for my back fence.  The fence was looking very bare, as my cordon fruit trees haven’t grown any leaves yet.

I have been looking for trellis for a while, but what I wanted was always over £10 and I needed four pieces which would make it expensive.  However, I managed to find an expandable trellis in Wilkinsons this week for just £2 each and it matches my fence colour quite well so I won’t even have to paint it:

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It easily screwed onto the fence and I am very pleased with it:

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I shall be planting sweet peas up three of them, but I’m not sure what I will grow up the fourth one yet as this one is in the shade….I will let you know when I decide.

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I had a quick wander around my local nursery last weekend and I found a pot of Tegete seedlings for 60p.  I had already decided to grow some of these plants for my new kitchen garden as they are great to attract beneficial insects to the plot, but as yet I hadn’t managed to find the seeds in the shops.  I’m sure a packet of seeds would have cost me more than 60p.

So I brought the seedlings home and pricked them out.  There were enough for me to grow on and give to my family too.

(You can read how to prick out seedlings here).

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I also bought a tomato plant that was also 60p, but it was a lot further forward that the ones I am growing.  I have potted it up, by planting it deep in the pot, as new roots will then form from the stem and make the plant stronger:

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It will be interesting to see how much sooner I will have tomatoes ready to eat.

My tomatoes sown on the 3rd March

My tomatoes sown on the 3rd March

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This week my broad beans were ready to plant out. They are a variety called ‘Aquadulce’ that I sowed on the 11th February, which was really a bit late as they are an overwintering variety.

I do have a few spare plants that I can pass on, as I am not yet used to sowing seeds in such small amounts.

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It felt very nice to finally be planting something in my new kitchen garden at last.

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I noticed that the ground must be beginning to warm up as weeds are starting to grow, so I hoed for the first time this year.  It was very nice as it only took just a few minutes to hoe the whole plot – this job would have took a whole morning at my old allotments due to the size of them.

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I also decided to tidy up my strawberry patch, that was already in a mess from fallen leaves.  This is the only raised bed I have because this area is full of roots from the Viburnum tinus and Photinia bushes behind it.  The raised bed has been placed over weed suppressant as it was impossible to plant directly into the soil.

I used my homemade compost from my allotment compost bins and the small amount of compost I had made at home to fill the raised bed, so I could plant the strawberries in January that I also brought home from my allotment.  It was the wrong time really to plant them, but they seem to have survived.

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I also removed any of the dead leaves on the plants and gave them a good watering as the ground was fairly dry – I suppose this is one of the drawbacks with raised beds, especially ones that are situated under bushes as well.

(Incidentally, the raised bed will have plenty of sunshire as it faces south, so the bushes are not a problem as far as light is concerned).

Another thing I did was to cut the bushes back a little bit, so it was easier to walk around the raised bed.  I need to give some thought on how to stop the leaves from falling onto the bed and also more importantly, how to stop the bird muck falling onto my strawberries from the birds that sit in the bushes above….I’ll let you know when I’ve thought of something.

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Around my new kitchen garden my daffodils are flowering nicely and I had a nice surprise when I saw an aquilegia was growing next to one of them too.  These are one of my favourite flowers and I can’t quite understand how I missed it when I was digging my plot over.  It obviously is determined to stay and it’s ok for it to grow in the spot it is in, so I’m going to leave it there.

I like nice surprises like this.

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The rhubarb is growing nicely now and the comfrey is just starting to poke it’s head up from under the ground.

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Some of my raspberries are showing growth, but some aren’t yet, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that they show soon and they have survived the move from my allotment.

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So the kitchen garden is coming along nicely.

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Finally I though I would share another pudding recipe that I cooked for my family on Sunday.  It is really quick to cook, taking just eight minutes in my 700W microwave and tastes absolutely lovely (no one ever knows it has been cooked in a microwave either):

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Syrup Sponge Pudding Recipe:

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100g margarine, plus some for greasing the bowl

100g granulated sugar

2 eggs beaten

100g self-raising flour

2-3 tablespoons of milk

2 tablespoons of golden syrup

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Beat the margarine and sugar together.

Mix in the beaten egg then fold in the flour.

Then add enough milk to achieve dropping consistency (so it falls off the spoon easily).

Grease a microwave bowl with margarine and then put the golden syrup in the bottom.

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Pour the sponge mixture on top of the syrup.

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Cover the bowl with a plate and microwave on high for 8 minutes (based on a 700w microwave).

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Leave it to stand for a couple of minutes before turning in onto a plate. 

Serve with custard, cream or ice cream – or on it’s own if you prefer.

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Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.  I will be back as usual next Friday.

Have a good week!

Using Up Stored Crops & A Bargain

I wanted to start this week by showing you a bargain that I managed to spot last week.

Our front room has been a bit of a mess since the builders finished our new kitchen in December 2013.  The builders moved our fireplace from the old sitting room to the front of our house and the builders also had to knock a hole through the wall, for our supporting ‘steel’ to rest on (as they knocked our chimney breast down to make more room in our new kitchen).

So we have been saving like mad to complete our front room, as we need the electrics sorting in there and the walls replastering too.  As you can see in the photograph below, we also need a new carpet (the carpet was already old when we moved into our house twelve years ago):

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Our settee and arm chair has also seen better days now and the removeable covers have torn in various places where the material had worn thin over the years too.  The settee also caused lots of daft arguements in our house, as three people are always squashed on the settee whilst the fourth person had the comfy arm chair, so we really needed a ‘three piece’ suite instead:

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So as you can imagine, our front room is going to be an expensive room to sort out.

My Bargain:

I nipped into town last week and had a quick look in a few charity shops as I was looking for a vase.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find a vase, but when I popped into the British Heart Foundation charity shop I found an absolutely lovely three piece suite for £165!  It was in really good condition and the price even included a matching pouffe.

Mr Thrift came back to the shop later that day (with me) to see the suite and we decided there and then to have it.  We paid £20 extra to have it delivered and it is now in our front room:

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The cream cushions are from our old settee, but it will save me having to buy any new ones for the moment.

We really don’t mind having a second hand suite when it is in such good condition and to be honest it was exactly what I would have chosen if I had brought a brand new suite.

So we are very pleased with our bargain, as this has saved us approximately £1500 and our local council has picked up our old settee and taken it away for free.

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Mothers day.

I had a lovely mothers day this year and my daughters gave me some lovely presents.  My youngest daughter made me laugh though, as she made me a book mark to replicate the one she made for me when she was eight years old.  I have always treasured this bookmark, like it is the crown jewels (which has always made my daughters laugh) and Mr Thrift even laminated it so it didn’t rip…..but now I have a new one (though I will still treasure the old one).

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This week I decided I wanted to make our kitchen a little bit more ‘homely’, so I ordered a ‘Home Sweet Home’ wall sticker from ebay for £11.49.

It was quite easy to put up, except I used masking tape to make sure it was straight before I stuck it onto the wall.  Unfortunately when I removed the masking tape a bit of the paint came off the wall too, so I also had to ‘touch up’ the paintwork afterwards.

I think the wall sticker looks really lovely and it does make the kitchen look a bit more homely too:

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My Seeds So Far:

This week I have been pricking out my seedlings and I have now moved them into my heated greenhouse, as there are too many for my kitchen.

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I now have the following things growing :

Greenhouse tomatoes, greenhouse cucumbers, lettuce, onion sets, white and red cabbages, corianda, mixed salad leaves and a tray of lobelia.

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I also have a couple of sweet peppers that have just poked their heads through the compost.

My garlic and broad beans are now ready to be hardened off, so I have moved them into my cold mini greenhouse:

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My onion sets have started to grow now too and I will also move these into my cold mini greenhouse in a few days:

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Cooking At Home This Week:

This week I have been busy trying to use up some of my stored fruit and vegetables.

I have made a blackberry cordial with frozen fruit from my freezer:

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 I have made tomato and basil soup with the tomatoes I put in my freezer last summer (incidentally, I froze the tomatoes whole without cooking them, as I knew I would be using them for soup):

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I visited my mum on Mothering Sunday and I thought it would be nice to take some strawberry muffins to share with my mum and sisters.  I used frozen strawberries from my freezer.

The muffins turned out very tasty, but I have just realised I haven’t put the recipe on my ‘recipe index’ , so for now I’ll just show you a photograph of them and I will post the recipe on my blog another time:

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I also made some parsnip crisps with one of my few remaining parsnips that I dug up recently from my allotment, before I gave my plots up:

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And I decided it was time to do something with the pumpkin that I had been storing in my bedroom over winter (very romantic I know).

I chopped it up and froze most of it on trays (so it doesn’t stick together when I bag it up):

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I did however keep some of the pumpkin back and I made a nice pumpkin and orange cake to share with two of my old friends who came to lunch today:

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So it’s been another busy week in the ‘Thrift’ household.

I will leave you with a photograph of my flowers.  I never did get a vase when I went charity shopping, so I used half of an old lemonade bottle instead to put my flowers into…..I don’t think it looks too bad after all.

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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.

The Bones Of My Plot Is Complete & I Nearly Forgot The Bees!

I thought I would start by showing you a beautiful sunrise that I saw from my kitchen window this week.  A beautiful red sky…..and yes this was a warning of rain to come as later in the day it was very wet.

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The sun is rising earlier in the mornings now and after a few sunny days this week, it has really felt like Spring is on its way.

In fact this week I saw the first bee in my garden….

(sorry about the blurred photo as I rushed to capture it before it flew away)

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This made me realise that I have no early flowers for the hungry bees emerging.  I had worked hard over the years at my allotment to have flowers for the bees at all times, but I have to be honest I never gave the lack of flowers in my new kitchen garden another thought until this week.  I had planned to have flowers, but I hadn’t quite got around to planning them yet.

(The photographs below were from my allotment last year).

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So this week I visited my local garden nursery and I managed to buy some cheap ‘Tete-a-Tete’ daffodils. They were priced at £1.50 for four pots, so I planted some between my new fruit trees:

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Also, I bought a pot of later flowering daffodils and three primroses which I used to make up a hanging basket for outside my front door.  Unfortunately the basket did look a bit bare so I stole three of the pansies from the pots outside our back door and this filled out the basket nicely.

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I then turned my attention to pruning.

My bay tree was looking rather overgrown so I gave that a good prune, together with the three ‘Spiraea’ bushes in my front garden.  A good prune always makes the garden look neat doesn’t it.

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I also noticed that weeds were beginning to grow between the slabs in my front garden, so I weeded  them out using my wonderful weeding tool which I brought back from my allotment to use.  It really does make weeding between slabs easy:

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As the front of the house was looking better, I decided that my old front door mat was rediculously dirty and totally unwelcoming and I needed a new one.  I then remembered that somewhere deep in the cupboard under our stairs was a new one that I bought over a year ago, ready for when the building work on our kitchen was complete…..and I had totally forgotten about it!

So I threw our old mat away and placed the new one at our front door and the house definately looks more welcoming now:

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My New Kitchen Garden:

Last weekend I finally finished digging over my new kitchen garden and laying the paths around my fixed beds.

Mr Thrift helped me to buy more soil conditioner from our local nursery and I forked it into the remaining beds.  Incidentally, the soil conditioner I have been using is just £2 per large bag that you fill yourself and it comes from our local ‘green waste’ recycling centre.  It doesn’t have many nutrients in it like compost does, but it does help to improve the soil structure….and my heavy clay soil really needs this.

I also bought some organic manure  to fork into the beds I will be growing potatoes and brassicas in, as these plants are heavy feeders.  I used six bags of manure and each bag cost me £3.25, which is cheap for a bag of manure….however I will be looking at different ways to improve my soil next year.

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It was quite strange (and expensive) buying manure in bags, as I have always has plenty of organic manure at my allotment over the years……the tractor load of manure that I used to have delivered (in the photograph below) would last me for two years at my four allotments and only cost me £25!

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It will take me time to get used to the best way to grow vegetables on a smaller scale.

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This week I also put a plastic sheet over the beds that I will soon be planting my onions into.  Again I brought the plastic sheet back from my allotment, as it is great for warming the soil up a bit earlier.

I also used some of the weed suppressant that I won last year over a couple of beds.  These two beds were where our small lawn was (though it was really a mud patch after all the time I had walked on it while clearing the area).  So I turned the remaining grass upside down as this will help to kill it, together with the weed suppressant placed on top.

Please note I wouldn’t have done this if the grass was couch grass, as this needs to be covered for much longer to kill it completely! 

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I also moved my blueberry plants into their final location.  I have four blueberry plants in pots as they need an acid soil to grow and my soil is alkaline.  I plant the whole pot into the ground, which helps to stop the pots needing so much water in the summer.

I moved them to the shadier side of my new plot, which doesn’t get quite as much sunshine during the day, but this should be fine for them:

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One final thing I did this week in my new kitchen garden was to split the chives that I also bought back from my allotment.  I had just ‘heeled’ them into the ground until I got around to moving them.

I decided to place one small clump next to the path in each bed and eventually I will split them again and again until the path is fully lined with them, as we love chives in our salads and when they flower the bees love them too.

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So after some hard work, the bones of my new kitchen garden is complete and it is now waiting for the soil to warm up so I can begin planting.

As I have ‘fixed’ beds with paths around, I won’t need to tread on the soil again.  I am hoping that this will be the first and last time I will have to dig these beds.

Below are my ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs…..It was harder work than I thought it would be, due to the stones and rubble that were hidden, the rotten fence and the stumps that I found impossible to dig out of the ground on my own, but I got there in the end.

I am very proud of my new kitchen garden and I can’t wait to grow as many different fruit and vegetables as possible in it.  It will be quite a challenge in such a small space!

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Before:

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After:

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday as usual.

 

The New Kitchen Garden Is Taking Shape & Seed Sowing Begins

At the beginning of each month I usually post ‘What to do in the kitchen garden’, but as this is now repeated each year I will just put a link to each month instead.  I will then have the time to write about other things that I have been doing.

‘What to do in the kitchen garden in March’ can be found here, if anyone is interested.

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There has been a couple of days this week where I have actually taken my coat off while working outside in my new kitchen garden as the sun was shining and it was just lovely to hear the birds singing.

I started off the week by planting two ‘Victoria plum trees’ that I ordered at the same time as the apple and pear trees that I planted last week.

I have read on various occasions that plum trees do not grow well as cordons, which is why I decided to plant them in pots, as I am short of space in my garden.

When the roots have filled these pots. I will replant them into bigger pots.

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I then turned my attention to the shady side of my kitchen garden. 

The top corner of my garden receives no sun whatsoever, so this seemed a good place to store my canes,etc. and have my two compost bins.

I laid the two broken old slabs that I found buried in the soil and put my old compost bins on top of them.  I put the bins on slabs so that mice and rats can’t enter them from underneath.  The bins have no drainage underneath, but they have made wonderful compost in my garden over the years, which is why I decided to keep them.  It will seem very strange making compost on such a small scale now, compared to the vast amount of compost bins and heaps I had at my allotment.

I also neatly stored the few things I salvaged from my old allotments:

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This area looked really ugly from my kitchen window so I decided I needed something to screen the area off.  I found the cheapest way to do this for now was to buy a pallet for £1 from my local garden centre and paint it with some old fence paint that I had lurking in my shed, so it blended into the garden….and it does look better from my kitchen window now:

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I then decided that the shady side of my plot would be a good place for my jeruselum artichokes.

I brought a big metal pot back from my allotment in January, which unfortunately had no bottom as it had rusted away.  I thought this would be good to contain my jerusalem artichokes as they are well known for spreading and I didn’t want this to happen.

I dug a great big hole to sink the pot into the soil and wiggled my fork deep into the bottom of the hole to help with the drainage on my heavy clay soil.

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I then filled the pot back up with a mix of soil and compost and planted five jerusalem artichokes into it.

(I bought the jerusalem artichokes from the allotment in January and they have been sitting happily in a pot of soil waiting to be planted).

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I have continued to dig the new kitchen garden to make ‘fixed beds’ and I have now finished one side of the plot and I have managed to dig my first two beds on the remaining side.  The soil is such heavy clay, the digging really is hard work, but I console myself with the fact that it will never be this bad again if I keep improving the soil each year.

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Along the right hand fence I replanted some comfrey that I brought back from my allotment and I also replanted the rhubarb that I had just ‘heeled’ into the ground, as I wasn’t one hundred percent sure where I wanted it to go.  This area receives only a few hours of sunlight each day in the summer, so I will need to see how well the comfrey and rhubarbs does….though I suspect it will be fine.

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So the kitchen garden is beginning to take shape:

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I also finally started some seed sowing this week.  It is very strange to only sow a few seeds at a time, as I have been used to growing for four allotments.

I have sown  cucumbers, peppers, lettuce and tomatoes (to grow in my greenhouse) and I have sown some red and white cabbage for outside and corianda and mixed lettuce leaves (for my window sill).  I have also sown some lobeilia as I love this in my hanging baskets and it is so expensive to buy.

  I decided to start my onion sets off in newspaper pots to give them an early start and I finally got around to planting my garlic in pots, though I am extremely late doing this so the bulbs may not split into cloves as they should….but I thought I would give it a try anyway.

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The onions and garlic are in my cold greenhouse and the rest are in propagators inside my house.  I do have a greenhouse heater, but it is expensive to use so I try not to use it until I have too many seeds to keep inside.

Just in case anyone reading wants to know how to make newspaper pots, you can read about it here.

Newspaper pots are great to make as they are extremely cheap and environmetally friendly to use, as the recycled materials decompose when you put them in the ground.  This also helps the plants that do not like root disturbance, e.g. swedes, that can be sown in the pots and then planted a few weeks later, still in the newspaper pots.  The plants find it easy to grow their roots through the damp pots when they are in the ground.

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Anyway, that’s enough for today.

  I hope you still enjoy reading my blog, even though I have given my allotments up – I still enjoy writing it.

I am looking forward to the challenge of growing as much fruit and vegetables as possible in my small

7.5 meter x 6.4 meter plot.

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I will be back next Friday at my usual time.