Archive | May 2015

A Blog ‘Wobble’……

This week I have had a little ‘blog wobble’ and I have been wondering if people still enjoy reading my blog now that I don’t have my four allotments.

My allotment

My allotment

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A long time ago when I first wrote my ‘about‘ page I said:

“I learnt my frugal, thrifty ways through necessity and the desire to make sure my family do not feel deprived in anyway”. 

But how did it all begin?…..

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I had a good career, a big house, a nice car, etc……but looking back now I can see that none of this made me happy.

I met ‘Mr Thrift’ and we started a family and I gave up work to look after our children.  Money was so tight and we were always in debt.  We realised that we had to make changes to the way we lived so I could continue to stay at home.

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Our lives graually changed completely and without realising it we began living a much simpler life than we did before.  Previously my friends would call me the ‘packet mix queen’, but gradually I learnt to make meals from scratch and bake cakes, biscuits and even bread…..and amazingly they were actually nicer than shop bought equivalents.

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I began shopping differently too.  Every single item that was put into my shopping trolley was needed for the meals I had planned and absolutely nothing was wasted.  If I did have the odd thing left over that none us wanted to eat, then it was used in a different way e.g. over ripe bananas were used in banana cake.  I even made ‘peanut butter’ biscuits once that were delicious and dissappeared in minutes, but the jar of peanut butter had stood for months in my pantry!

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I then began cleaning using ‘old fashioned’ cleaning methods using bicarb, white vinegar and lemon juice and getting the same results as shop bought alternatives which were so much more expensive and not so good for the environment.  I also began using homemade laundry liquid and I can honestly say that my skin has been better for it (I suffered for years with allergies from detergents).

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And then the biggest change of all came ten years ago when I took on my first allotment and we were amazed by how different the fruit and vegetables tasted compared with the supermarkets.  This led to a total of four allotments which I absolutely loved and by growing our own fruit and vegetables I found we saved so much money.

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What we didn’t realise in the beginning was that by simplifying our life over the years we have changed so much in ourselves….we began to stop wanting ‘material things’ just to keep up the ‘Jones’ and started to enjoy the more simple pleasures of life.

I now feel very priviledged to have lived this way and had the chance to connect with nature and the seasons on my allotment plots.

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So why did I write a blog?

Nearly eighteen years ago when my first daughter was born, everyone that I knew worked. I had no one to show me how to cook, grow vegetables, clean or save money in general and I spent hours and hours learning the hard way…..and this was the main reason I decided to write my blog.  I was hoping that I could convince people that these things are actually easy to do and yet so rewarding, not to mention better for the environment. 

From the beginning I decided I didn’t want to make any profit from advertising on my blog, as this is not the purpose of it and I still feel the same (though I do know that wordpress advertise sometimes, which is out of my control).  My blog is about ‘simple living’ and I hope it reflects this.

I am really hoping that I haven’t lost any readers now I have given up my four allotments and in the future I want to share the benefits of growing vegetables right outside the back door in a smaller space.  I won’t say I don’t miss my allotments, as I do….but circumstances dictated that change was necessary and I have embraced it.

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My garden before:

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My new kitchen garden today:

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“Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realise that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.”

Eckhart Tolle

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I am certainly beginning to see some benefits of my new kitchen garden at home, but I will write about it another time.

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So I really hope you continue to enjoy my blog.

I will be back next Friday at my usual time….have a good weekend!

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Greenhouse Shading And Banana Recipes

There has been some really miserable weather this week and it’s been hard to get into the garden to do any work.

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However, in between the showers I did manage to plant my mange tout, in front of my strawberries.  I am trying very hard to use every bit of space I have to grow vegetables.

This really is a trial year for my kitchen garden and I’m not sure yet if things will grow well or not.  I was hoping that I will have picked the strawberries before the peas grow taller and take away some of the sunlight….however due to the miserable, cool weather we have been having this may not work, as there are no sign of flowers on my strawberries yet.

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You can see in the second photo, I have put wire over the peas to stop the birds from eating them and my dog from destroying them (as she still goes mad when my neighbours dog is out).

I grew the monge tout in small lengths of guttering, which I ‘slide out’ into prepared soil when they have germinated.  I find this gives me a better germination rate.

You can read exactly how I grow peas in guttering here.

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I also planted out a few of my outdoor tomatoes that I sowed on the 5th April.  You can see in the photo above that I am leaving some glass over them because the temperature outside is still quite cool for this time of year.

The tomatoes are a variety called ‘Outdoor Girl’ and I have grown them now for many years outside.  One seed company describes them as follows:

“Tomato Outdoor Girl is a really tough outdoor tomato, very easy to grow and tolerant to low temperatures. Early to fruit producing medium sized fruits of good flavour and colour

I think they are spot on with this description, as they really do give a good supply of tomatoes early on, so I get a good harvest before blight hits.

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In between my tomatoes I have planted some Tegetes as they look lovely when they are in flower and they also confuse the white fly with their smell, so this will stop them from attacking my plants.

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In my greenhouse this week I took the bubble wrap down that provided a layer in insulation over winter, (before it actually fell down on its own).  I have left it in place over the last few years and it was now brittle and tore very easily.

I replaced it with shading netting that will help my plants on hot sunny days.  I bought my shade netting from Wilkinsons as I found it cheapest from there:

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Last week I planted my basil in bags in my greenhouse and this week I sowed a catch crop of radish in between them and amazingly the radish germinated in just five days.  I also sowed a row of radish outside on the same day and they are nowhere to be seen yet.

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This week I harvested my first radish from the garden.  These were sowed on the 10th April:

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 I also picked a few of my everlasting onions:

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And I had my third cut of mixed salad leaves that I sowed in a pot in March:

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(Next year I am hoping to be havesting more things at this time of year, now my kitchen garden is up and running).

The aim of my kitchen garden is to harvest as much as possible from a small space.

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At home this week:

I made a big batch of tomato and basil soup from tomatoes I grew at my allotment last year and froze (I just chop the fresh tomatoes in half and place in a freezer bag and then into the freezer).

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When the soup was ready I then froze it in portions, so I can defrost a bowl full for lunch when I want to:

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Top Tip:

This week my daughter brought some plastic cups from the ‘pound shop’ and she couldn’t get the sticky labels off:

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So I put a drop of olive oil on the sticky labels and then I used a scrubber to easily remove the sticky label and residue remaining:

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This also works for removing the sticky residue on jam jars when most of the label has been removed.

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And finally I made some banana lollies and some super quick and easy ‘breadmaker’ banana bread from the ‘whoopsied’ bananas that I bought at the end of last week and I have written bothe of these recipies below for anyone that is intersted:

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Super Quick And Easy Banana Bread In A Breadmaker:

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3 over ripe bananas mashed

200 grams granulated sugar

3 tablespoons sunflower oil

2 eggs

270g self raising flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

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Put all the above ingredients into your breadmaker pan and put it on a ‘pizza dough’ setting for 5 minutes.

Stop the breadmaker half way through and scrape down the sides of your pan with a spatula to ensure all the flour is mixed in well,

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When there is no trace of flour left, set your breadmaker on a ‘bake’ setting for 55 minutes:

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The result is lovely banana bread

(which incidentally can be sliced and frozen for another time):

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Banana Ice Lollies:

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2 Ripe banana’s

3 tablespoons natural yoghurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

60 grams chocolate

2 tablepoons of milk

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Use a hand blender to combine the banana, yoghurt and vanilla until they are smooth:

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Pour the resulting mixture into four lolly moulds, leaving a slight gap at the top for the chocolate:

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Put the chocolate and milk in a microwaveable jug and microwave on full power until the chocolate has melted (this only takes a couple of minutes so keep checking it).

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Let the chocolate mix cool down for a few minutes and then pour it over the banana mixture:

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Put the lollies in the freezer overnight:

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And then enjoy:

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

Have a good weekend!

‘Hardening Off’ & Homemade Yoghurt

I love May in the garden as all the new shoots growing are so fresh, green and vibrant.

In my garden at home the dicentra is flowering, the euphorbia looks stunning and my hardy geraniums are beginning to flower too.  The wall flowers I transplanted from my old allotment are still looking stunning as well, giving the bees some welcome ‘spring’ pollen.

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This year however, it has felt like we have been having ‘April showers’ and ‘March winds’ in between some beautiful sunny ‘May days’…..with global warming I expect we will see more strange weather patterns over the coming years.

Nevertheless I have been harding off my plants ready for the threat of any frost to pass (usually at the end of this month where I live).

My hanging baskets and pots sit out all day now and are growing well….

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…And some of my plants are harding off on my table in the day time and are brought inside in the evening….

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….And some are left in my cold frame all day and I close it at night:

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Hardening off plants:

“Hardening off” plants allows them to adapt to outside conditions before they are planted in their final positions.  There are two ways to do this:

1) Put your plants in a cold frame and gradually open the window of the cold frame more each day until it is fully opened or

2) Bring your plants outside for an hour or two for the first day and then gradually increase the time they spend outside each day.

The RHS suggest that hardening off plants properly takes approximately two to three weeks and Monty Don from Gardeners World says one week…..I usually aim for two weeks.

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Whatever stage of ‘hardening off’ you are at, it is important to keep checking the weather forecast in your area, as frost tender plants need to be brought in at night (or covered over) if a frost is forecast.

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In my greenhouse this week:

You will remember last week that one of the cucumbers that I grew from seed died due to ‘stem rot’  (cucumbers are suseptible to this when you over water them so I only have myself to blame).

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This week I went out and bought a replacement from my local nursery for 60p and planted it in a tub next to my remaining cucumber grown from seed:

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This week I also planted the basil that I sowed from seed on the 5th April, into it’s final growing place in my greenhouse next to the peppers that I also grew from seed on the 3rd March.

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  The bags they are growing in were bought from the supermarket as ‘garden tidy bags’, so it was a cheap way to grow crops in my greenhouse (which has a concrete floor).

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I have also planted my melons in larger pots, ready for them to grow.  When they are bigger I am hoping to train them along the top of my greenhouse, over my tomato plants.  Incidentally the melons were sown in newspaper pots so it was very easy to transplant them without any root disturbance, as I planted the newspaper pot straight into the compost:

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Another job was to transplant my butternut squash plants into larger pots.  I will leave them in the greenhouse for a few days and then I will also start to harden these off ready for planting out at the beginning of June:

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Finally in my greenhouse, I noticed the first tomato on one of my plants…..this means it is time to start the feeding once a week.  Previously at my allotment I would use a homemade ‘comfrey feed’ which is high in potash which is great for fruit and flowers….(you can read how to make a ‘comfrey feed’ here).  Unfortunately as I transplanted my comfrey only a couple of months ago, it isn’t ready to use yet, so I will be using a commercial organic tomato feed.

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Outside my greenhouse in my kitchen garden:

This week I have been planting my courgettes in the large pots I brought back from my allotment.  You may remember I planted some lettuce plants around the edges of the containers and they are doing well.  Hopefully the lettuces will be fully grown before the courgettes need the space:

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At the moment I am keeping them covered with the glass, just to give them an extra bit of heat to get them growing well.

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I have again thinned out the leeks that I sowed way back in March.  This is later than I normally sow my leeks and they are still small, so I am using the area where they will eventually be grown, to plant my lettuces.  I am growing them in succession so we have a good supply to eat over the summer months:

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As you can see in the photograph above, I covered the first lettuces that I planted to protect them from the pigeons (they used to eat the lettuces at my allotment if they weren’t covered).  This time I decided to not cover the newly planted lettuces to see what happens in my new kitchen garden – I will be watching the pigeons carefully!

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Finally in the garden this week I planted the cherry tomatoes that I sowed on the 5th April.  They are a variety call ‘Minibel’ which are supposed to be suitable for pots, containers and baskets….so I have taken their word and planted them in a hanging basket….I will let you how I get on over the weeks:

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At Home This Week:

This week I have had a big sort out of my three freezers.  I am not sure if I will still be using all three of them in the future, but at the moment they are still full of homemade goodies and homegrown fruit and vegetables.

I make sure I check what is in my freezers regularly as this helps when I plan my meals and it makes sure that everything is used and not forgotten about.  Just incase anyone is interested, I wrote and article about freezing crops here.

One of my three freezers

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I managed to get some ‘whoopsied’ brussells and banana’s this week from the supermarket, so I also froze the brussells for another day and I made a couple of banana cakes to slice and freeze too and I also made some banana and chocolate lollies.  I will share the recipes with you another time.

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I also make rolls to freeze for the week ahead.  I bake the rolls as usual and when they are cool I slice them in half and then pop the rolls in the freezer.  This way I can take a roll out of the freezer in the morning and pop the filling inside and it will defrost in my familys lunchboxes ready for them at dinner time.

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I also use my freezer for homemade ice cream too.  I made some nice and easy vanilla ice cream this week (the recipe is here).  You don’t need an ice cream maker to make ice cream, but it does take the hard work out of it….I bought mine from a charity shop for just £10 and it had never been used and was still in the box when I purchased it.

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This week we had family round for Sunday lunch.  I made a nice Rhubarb and Ginger cake for pudding, thanks to My friend Jeff who has brought me some rhubarb from his allotment and the wonderful person that left some Rhubarb on my doorstep when I was out last Saturday …I still haven’t managed to find out who it was, so if you are reading my blog this week – thank you.

Unfortunately my rhubarb in my new kitchen garden isn’t ready to eat, as it takes a year or two for it to establish properly before it can be picked.

The recipe for the Rhubarb and Ginger cake is here and it went lovely with a spoonful of the homemade vanilla ice cream:

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Finally this week I made some plain yoghurt.  I haven’t made yoghurt for a while and Mr Thrift likes to take it to work for his lunch, so I dusted my yoghurt maker down and finally made some.

A few years ago I was given an Easiyo Yoghurt maker.  You can see a similar one here.  The idea of an Easiyo Yoghurt maker is to use sachets of the Easiyo yoghurt mixes which you buy.  I don’t do this, as I think they are expensive and I like to make mine from scratch.

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This is an easy way to make yoghurt:

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You will need skimmed milk powder

UHT Milk

A yoghurt starter (see below)

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The first time you make yoghurt, you will need to buy a small amount of ‘live’ natural yoghurt, or ‘probiotic’ natural yoghurt.  This will give your yoghurt mix, the bacteria that it needs to make yoghurt.  Each time you make your own yoghurt, save 3 heaped tablespoons of yoghurt ready to start your next batch of homemade yoghurt.  Your starter can be frozen until needed.  I do this up to four or five times only, as the bacteria seems to weaken each time.

Put 3 heaped tablespoons of skimmed milk powder into your yoghurt maker canister.  Half fill the canister with UHT milk and give it a good shake.

Put 3 heaped tablespoons of ‘Yoghurt starter’ into the canister.

Top up the canister with UHT milk and give it another good shake.

Put boiling water into the Easiyo flask and then add the canister.

 Put the lid on and leave for approximately ten hours.

Take the canister out of the Easyio flask and then put it in the fridge to finish setting.

I then save 3 heaped tablespoons of the yoghurt and pop it in the freezer as a ‘yoghurt starter’ for the next time I make it.

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Enjoy the yoghurt plain, or with fruit mixed in.

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

Have a good weekend!

Hidden Leicester, Cabbage Root Flies And More…

This week I nipped into town for a few bits and bobs.  On the way to the shops I took a detour and walked past Leicester Cathedral, as there have been a lot of changes to this area due to Richard III.

I pleasently surprised at how lovely this area now looks:

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I also passed through an area behind the Mary De Castro church where I walked through the ‘Turret Gateway’ which dates back to approximately 1423.

Years ago I took the same walk but didn’t know anything about it, so I was pleasently surprised to see that there is now an interesting information board next to it.

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I then walked past Castle Gardens and it was lovely and neat and the flower beds looked beautiful:

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I do wonder how many other beautiful areas there are in Leicester that I have forgotten about or that have been renovated…..perhaps it’s time I started to pay more attention to the city I was born in.

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This week we have had lots of rain and I have been dodging the showers outside.  Amazingly the ‘makeshift’ water butt that I set up next to my greenhouse (which I will sort properly when I get around to it), is full already.  This area obviously collects more water than I realised and I may need to set up another waterbutt there as well, so I can collect as much water as possible for my garden.

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Between the showers I have been sorting my cabbages.  Two weeks ago I planted my red and whilte cabbages and put plastic bottles over them to act as a mini cloche to each of them.  This was to protect them from the cold nights and the slugs while they were small.  However, they have grown so well that they were beginning to become squashed in the bottles, so it was time I did something about it.

I first built a D-I-Y cage using bottles and canes:

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I then removed the bottles and made homemade (and free) cabbage collars out of old cardboard, which I then placed around the cabbages to protect the plants from the cabbage root fly.

“Cabbage collars can cost between £3 or £4 for 30, but you can make them easily by using a square piece of cardboard which you cut a cross in the middle and place around the stem.  The cross in the middle allows the stem to grow.

  By using cabbage collars, you can avoid the cabbage root fly from laying eggs at the base of your plants.  The Larvae are white, headless and legless maggots and they feed on the roots of brassicas.  This will cause your brassica’s to either grow weakly or just wilt and die.

The following year, cabbage root fly will emerge from the pupae which overwintered in the soil.  This is a good reason to rotate your crops each year”.

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 I then put a net over the top of my bottle and cane structure, to stop cabbage white butterflies from laying there eggs on the leaves of my plants.

“Cabbage white butterflies lay eggs on brassicas (usually underneath the leaves) between May and October and it is the resulting caterpillars that do the damage to your plants by eating the leaves.

  The easiest way to stop them is by covering your plants with a net, but make sure the net has small enough holes and the sides are firmly attached to the ground to stop the butterflies from entering.

If you do find the tell tale yellow eggs on your brassicas, then you can squash them between your fingers and the caterpillars can be picked off using your fingers and destroyed”.

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I will soon be planting kale next to my cabbages, so I have made sure my cage was tall enough and the net was long enough to cover the kale as well.

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By the way, you can use this D-I-Y cage on a much larger scale if you want to.  In fact at my old allotment I used the same bottle and cane structure to make a cheap fruit cage:

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And also, don’t forget you can store your bottle cloches ready to use again easily, by using a cane pushed into the ground and sliding the bottles over them:

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This week in my garden I thinned the khol rabi I sowed a few weeks ago.  I find it easier to use a pair of scissors to thin my seedlings out, as this stops any root disturbance to the remaining seedlings (a tip that Angus Scott gave on my blog – so thank you Angus).

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Also, the area where I sowed my wild flowers a few weeks ago had a visit from a squirrel.  Unfortuantely one of my neighbours feed the squirrels money nuts and they dig the garden to hide them.

So I covered the area with wire that I brought home from my allotment, hopefully this will deter the squirrel while my plants are young.

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I ‘earthed up’ the potatoes I put in my old dustbin, by putting a few inches of compost over the shoots.  I will continue doing this until the shoots have grown over the top of the bin as this will stop the potatoes from turning green from the light.

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I transplanted my greenhouse tomatoes this week into their final pots.  I use old Blood, fish and bone pots to grow them in, with holes drilled in the bottom.  The lids make great saucers to catch the water underneath the pots in the greenhouse too:

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I also gave my greenhouse a sort out this week and removed some staging that I haven’t use this year, as I’m growing so many seeds.  This staging had become a bit of a ‘dumping’ place which wasn’t good:

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Unfortunately one of the two cucumber plants I grew from seed died this week.  Unfortunately cucumbers are suseptable to ‘root rot’ when the soil is too wet….I do know this and I obviously wasn’t careful enough, so it serves me right for not paying enough attention.  Luckily the other cucumber plant is doing well:

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Over the past few weeks I have been wondering where to plant my outdoor tomato plants at the end of May and this week I decided on a place outside my greenhouse.

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I dug up the grass (and the forget-me-not that had self seeded) and realised that the soil was dreadful…. there was only about an inch of top soil, which was full of stones.  So I dug some of the subsoil out and replaced it with a mix of compost and manure, ready for my tomatoes.  I then edged it with some of the stones I found when I was first clearing my new kitchen garden area:

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It looks much neater now and the forget-me-not is now sitting in a pot until it dies:

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In The Home This Week….

Back in the home this week I have decided to get a bit more organised and I bought a ‘things to do’ book to help me.  I borrowed some ‘post it notes’ from my daughter to create sections in the book:

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I am hoping that I will actually remember to write in it, so I don’t forget the jobs that I need to do.  I always had a book at my allotment for this reason where I would walk around my plot on a Monday morning and look at what needed to be done….I can’t see any reason why this won’t work in the home too….I’ll let you know in a few weeks.

I wonder if anyone reading this blog keeps a ‘things to do book’ too.  If you do, let me know if it’s successful.

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‘Leftovers’

Finally this week, I found myself in a situation where I had three sausages and a small amount of cooked chicken leftover in my fridge…..so I cooked the sausages, chopped them up and put them in a ‘use it up’ curry together with the cooked chicken and left over vegetables that I had in my freezer (I always freeze left over cooked veg to use in pies and curries etc).

I have never thought of using sausages in a curry before and I actually wondered if they would taste horrible, but I’ve got to say, they were really nice!

The recipe for the ‘Use it up curry’ can be found here if anyone is interested.

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Well that’s it for today, but I will be back next Friday as usual.

I hope you have a good weekend and thank you for reading my blog.

My Role As A ‘Homemaker’

I wanted to start today by reminding anyone that is interested, that my usual monthly blog post of

‘What To Do In The Kitchen Garden In May’ can be found here.

There is loads of information in this post e.g. weather conditions expected, what to sow / plant / harvest in May, jobs to do and pests / diseases that you may encounter this month.

I hope it helps someone out there.

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This week I planted my climbing peas with a 'catch crop' lettuces inbetween inbetween

This week I planted my climbing peas with a ‘catch crop’ of lettuces inbetween them.

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Today I have decided to talk about something different…. my role as a ‘homemaker’.  Previously I spent most days at my allotment, but now I spend a lot more time at home for one reason or another.

Back in January when I handed my allotment keys back, I didn’t quite realise what a change this would be for me and I have got to say there have been times when I have been so desperate to be outside I opened our French doors wide, just to feel the cold winter air around me.

My role as a homemaker hasn’t changed though and I do the things at home that I always have, but at different times as I have other family issues that take up a lot of my time now.

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In the decades past, most women were housewives, it was the normal thing to do when you married. Nowadays it is rare for anyone to be a housewife/homemaker, especially after your children have started school. In fact I don’t actually know anyone that stays at home and doesn’t work.

I do find that nowadays if you stay at home the role of a ‘homemaker’ is often frowned upon…in fact over the years I have been asked on numerous occasions “what do I do to fill my time?” In the beginning I would try and justify the hours I spent at home and then after a while I felt pressurised into taking a part time job, but I was not happy in this role.

There are a lot of women out there who love working outside of the home, but there are also a lot that would secretly love to stay at home. ‘The Mail’ wrote about it here this week.

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So after I gave up my ‘little’ part time job (that turned in to lots of hours of overtime and stress), I then stopped trying to justify my time at home and when asked the question “How do I fill my time?” I would politely answer that I watch ‘Jeremy Kyle’ all day with a ‘fag’….which is really what people thought I did anyway.

Unfortunately it is easy to under value and dismiss the role of a ‘homemaker’, but I think it is probably one of the most important jobs a person can do.

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As a homemaker I try to organise and run the home as efficiently as possible, making sure bills are paid and savings are made wherever possible. I meal plan and cook healthy meals from scratch, after shopping in the cheapest places for food. I preserve and store the things I grow, I ‘make do and mend’ and recycle when possible, without wasting anything.

I try to make sure the house is clean and tidy using ‘old fashioned cleaning methods’ that are environmentally friendly and clothes are washed using a homemade laundry liquid, then ironed and put away.

I don’t run my four allotments anymore, but I have created a vegetable patch in my back garden and I will try to grow as much as possible there.

My parsnips ready to plant

My parsnips ready to plant

But I think the most important role I have as a homemaker, is to create a warm and comfortable place for my family to be in. A place where they know they will never be judged and their laughter and tears will always be shared with encouraging words and if needed, a shoulder to cry on with a ‘hug’.

I am certainly not saying that it is all a bed of roses, as money is always tight and I’ve got to say that being a ‘homemaker’ is the hardest job I have ever done…. but I do feel very privileged to be able to live this way. I know this isn’t everybody’s ‘cup of tea’, but it is how myself and Mr Thrift wanted it to be.

I would love to hear other people views on this, so please leave your comments below, thank you.

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I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today.  I will be back next Friday as usual.

Have a good week!