Archive | January 2016

A Greenhouse Clean Up

Usually January has the coldest temperatures of the year, however the month is nearly over and apart from last weeks cold snap, it has been a mild month.  Surprisingly my first daffodil is flowering in my garden:

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 The snow drops that I brought back from my allotment last January are beginning to also bloom in my garden:

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I am so glad they survived the move as they remind me of my good friend that passed away three years ago in February…..when there were snowdrops flowering everywhere.  Also on the day of her funeral as we walked out of the cemetery, all of a sudden snow fell from the sky and it looked beautiful.

Snowdrops will always remind me of my friend and I hope to plant more again this year in my garden, together with the ‘for-get-me-nots’, which seem a complementary match.

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  On the park when I walk Judy, I have noticed that as well as snowdrops flowering there are purple and yellow crocus too:

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Yesterday morning as I walked around the park it felt very spring-like, as the birds were singing beautifully and the sky was lovely and blue.

I have also noticed that daylight is lengthening slightly every day and on fine days it is getting dark a little bit later and lighter a little earlier, which always makes me feel better.

January is usually such a dark and gloomy month, but time seems to have past by very quickly this month and it is nearly February already……is this my age?….or have I just been busier than normal?

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Unfortunately I have been poorly this week with fluid on my ear and sinusitis and I haven’t felt my usual self.  The doctor gave me some antibiotics and I am on the mend now, though I am more tired than usual.

However, on the moments that I have felt ok I have managed to get into the garden.

Last weekend Mr Thrift helped me to clear my greenhouse and give it a good wash as the windows were filthy.  I used ‘Citrox’ which is disinfectant based on extracts of citrus fruit.  It says it is safe to use around children and pets, which is what attracted me to it.

  It washed well and didn’t smell like other disinfectants that I have used in the past:

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After removing the screening that I had left up since summer, we realised that we had a problem with the our neighbours lilac tree and ivy.  They were growing against the greenhouse glass and the ivy was pushing between the panes of glass, which we thought would eventually damage the greenhouse:

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So we spent a whole morning cutting back the lilac tree and removing the ivy, using my long handled pruners and loppers.  Myself and Mr Thrift were too ‘big’ to fit down the back of the greenhouse to remove the ivy, so my youngest daughter (who is very thin) did this for me….and she did a grand job!

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I am going to have to make this an annual job now, so it doesn’t get this bad again.

Afterwards I bought some new greenhouse bubble wrap, as I removed the old bubble wrap last Spring as it really had seen better days.

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The next day I put the bubble wrap up, but unfortunately I need to buy a tiny bit more for the door, as I ran out:

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I also checked my greenhouse heater still works ok, ready for when I need it.

I don’t heat my greenhouse until all my windowsills are full inside my house, as even though my heater is electric and is thermastatically controlled, it is still expensive to run.

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Unfortunately I think I did a bit too much too soon and after sorting my greenhouse out I went downhill and slept for nearly 24 hours!

However in the middle of the week when I started to feel a bit better I decided to dig up my kale (and was told off afterwards by Mr Thrift for doing too much again before I was better).

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The recent winds had blown my kale over, but there wasn’t much of it left anyway.

I picked the remaining kale and the two remaining red cabbages and cleared away the net.  The area looks much better and you can now see the daffodil in flower at the back too:

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Some of the outer leaves of the cabbages were a bit rotten, but once I removed these there was lots of cabbage inside that was fine:

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Both the kale and the cabbages tasted lovely and I even added some of them to the large pot of spaghetti bolognaise I made this week to pad it out:

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So this week has been rather quiet as I have been poorly.  However one final thing I did manage to do was to start some cress seed off.

I love cress as it reminds me of when I was a child as I used grow it then, as it was so easy and it grew quickly.

  “To grow cress, just shake a few seeds on a damp tissue and leave it in a dark place until it germinates and then move it to a windowsill to continue to grow, until it’s about an inch high.  Make sure the tissue is remains damp at all times”.

Cress is nice in sandwiches and in salads and it is something that people forget about.

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Hopefully I will be fighting fit again next week.

So thank you for reading my short blog today and I will be back next Friday as usual.

Have a good week!

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A Problem With My Leeks….

This week nature has produced some beautiful sites.  It started with the most beautiful red morning sky last weekend:

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And then a covering of snow that made everything look very pretty:

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 I’m very pleased to say that the snow disappeared as quickly as it came and this week and I managed to get into my garden to start my winter ‘clean up’ and start my preparation for the new growing season ahead.

I started by emptying the compost bags I had in my greenhouse as I want to clean my greenhouse in the coming week.  Nothing really grew very well in these bags, but I think this was due to my watering system overwatering the compost and the dreadful, dull weather we had last year.

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I spread the compost over two of my beds to help improve the condition of the soil:

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I started to put manure around my rhubarb too, but unfortunately I ran out of it so I need to but some more.  However I did manage to surround one of my rhubarb plants:

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I then cut down my old runnerbeans, leaving the roots in the ground as the nodules add nitrogen to the soil, which will be good for my brassica’s which will follow them:

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Next I cut the tops off my jerusalem artichokes which I grew in a large bottomless pot to contain the roots.  I will dig up them next week to see if I have managed to get a crop:

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So this area now looks better, though I do need to tidy my utility area behind:

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I also turned my attention to my leeks which have been very disappointing:

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As you can see from the photo above they have been targeted by the allium leaf miner and some of my leeks have started to rot.  I have written about the allium leaf miner here, it is a fairly new pest in this country and only appeared in Britain in 2002.

The allium leaf miner only ever affected my onions at the allotment which lulled me into a false sense of security, so I didn’t bother covering my leeks with environmesh…..but unfortunately they were were hit hard this year, so I will have to make sure I cover ALL of my alliums from now on.

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I took the photo above of the small brown pupae that I found in some of them to show you.  They are approximately 3-4 mm long, embedded into the stem.The pupae will overwinter in the plant or in the soil.  In the spring, the adults will emerge from the pupae and lay eggs and the first generation of larvae will then feed in April and May. The second generation is likely to feed in mid-September.

But I am pleased to say, some of my leeks were ok, so I did get a amall crop:

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This week I also tidied a bed that I had covered with environmesh in the Autumn, to give a bit of protection for my summer lettuces.  The summer lettuces had been picked a long time ago and I thought there was nothing underneath, but to my surprise I found a row of winter radishes that I had sowed in late summer and completely forgotten about:

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They have grown lovely and so I picked one straight away and later grated it into the salad we had for tea:

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I had a quick weed around them and then put a cloche over them to give a bit of protection:

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I also picked some winter purslane (sometimes know as miners lettuce) that I had been growing in a pot in my greenhouse and also added it to our salad:

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I love being able to pick winter crops to add to salads and I am very pleased that I have acheived this in my new kitchen garden, though I want to do a lot better for next winter.

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I also sowed my first seeds this year, which I always find exciting:

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I planted overwintering broadbean (Aquadulce), which over the years I have found they grow best in pots planted this month and then transplanted in the spring.  I also sowed leeks and the remaining garlic cloves that I had left over and these wil sit happlily in my cold greenhouse for the moment.  I also sowed my peppers, but these will be kept inside a propagator in the warmth of my house for the time being.

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This Week In The Home:

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I sat and finally sorted my seed tin as it was in a bit of a mess.  I listed down exactly what seeds I have and I worked out exactly what I want to grow this year in my garden.

I now have a plan of exactly when I need to sow my seeds and what I still need to buy.

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I am hoping to grow even more this year in my new improved small kitchen garden.

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I then caught up with a few things for the freezer…..each are small things that help me a lot to save time:

My daughter wanted some chocolate chip cookies, so I made them and then froze them so that I can take just a couple out of the freeze each day, so she doesn’t eat them all at once:

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I sliced some lemons up and froze them on a plate, ready to put in a freezer pot when frozen.  This way we have a ready supply of lemon slices to add to water when we need a drink.  As the lemons are frozen they also cool your water down without having to use icecubes:

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I then made a double batch of white sauce.  I froze one of the sauces in a freezer bag after it had cooled down.  Next time I need a white sauce I will just defrost it and reheat it in the microwave.  This way it is easy to use it as it is, or just add parsley for a parsley sauce or cheese for a cheese sauce.

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I made and froze leek and potato soup in portions.  Again I can just defrost a portion and then reheat it in the microwave for my lunch:

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I made the leek and potato soup using the leeks that I dug up this week:

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A Leek and Potato Soup Recipe:

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800g potatoes peeled and chopped small

800g Leeks chopped

1700 ml vegetable stock

800mls hot milk

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Add the potatoes, leeks and stock to a large pan:

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Bring to the boil and then simmer, covered for approximately 30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

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Heat your milk while you use a hand mixer to blend the vegetables to make them smooth and then add the hot milk to the pan.  Bring the soup back to the boil and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring all the time:

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 Serve and enjoy adding salt and pepper to taste!

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

Have a great week!

A Chicken and Parsnip Stew & A Fruit Loaf Recipe

I thought I would start today by letting you know that Judy, (our lovely rescue dog) has made a full recovery after her illness last week and she is back to her normal, cheeky ways.

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We all absolutely love Judy to bits and I am so glad we didn’t give up on her like the previous three owners did.  Though I have got to be honest, when our previous ‘dog behavourist’ told us she was untrainable last February, we were very close to giving up….she had so many problems e.g. barked all the time at home, barked and lunged at dogs, people, cars, bikes, lorries, washing machine, birds etc. etc.

Nearly a year later, she still has one or two things she doesn’t like, but she is getting so much better as time goes by, thanks to our wonderful dog trainer Steven Havers.

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Curtains for my daughter:

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I’m not sure if you remember a couple of months ago I decorated my youngest daughter’s bedroom.  I struggled to find any ready made curtains that she liked, to finish off the bedroom.  So in desparation I took her to a material shop and she found some fabric she liked, so I bought it promising to make her curtains after Christmas.

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The curtain material and new furniture in her bedroom was a present for her birthday and Christmas, but because of this I was a bit concerned that she wasn’t going to have many presents to actually open on Christmas day.  So during December, while she was at school I worked really hard to make the curtains so I could wrap them up for her to open on Christmas day.

She was very surprised when she unwrapped them and I must say I am very proud of them now they are up:

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I also had a bit of material left so I managed to make a couple of cushions for her too, which I also wrapped up for her to open on Christmas day:

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Over the Christmas holidays I decided it was time to catch up with one or two jobs that I had been putting off…..

  I started by clearing our loft and it was amazing how much rubbish we had up there.  I have since sold one or two bits on ebay and given away some other things…..but most of it was thrown away.  But the attic looks better now.

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I also went through my bills folder…..again there was a lot in there that I didn’t need to keep.  Myself and Mr Thrift looked at every bill we pay to see if we could possibly reduce it….unfortunately we are quite ‘bill savvy’ so we didn’t manage to make any savings, but it’s good to check every so often.

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Over the Christmas period myself and Mr Thrift surprisingly managed to buy lots of ‘whoopsies’ ….for some reason we seemed to be in the supermarket when they reduced their produce to ridicuously low prices.  So over Christmas I froze whatever I could and my freezers were bursting:

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The last photo shows the ready cooked beetroot that was reduced.  My dad sometimes buys this and pickles it, but as I already have pickled beetroot in my pantry I decided to cut it up and freeze it on a tray.  When it was frozen I put it in a bag and this way it is easy to take a few slices out at a time to defrost for sandwiches.

I also used the reduced parsnips and Chicken drumsticks in a chicken and parsnip stew which I cooked in my slow cooker.  By cooking it in the slow cooker you find that the chicken ‘falls off’ the bones easily and tastes so moist:

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Chicken and Parsnip Stew:

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6-8 chicken drumsticks or thighs

2 onions peeled and roughly chopped

4 -6 medium parsnips peeled and chopped into chunks

Hot Chicken stock to cover

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Put all the ingredients into a slow cooker making sure the hot stock covers the ingredients.

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Cook on ‘low’ for approximately 8 hours

Serve with vegetables of your choice:

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This week…

This week at home I decided to use up the mixed fruit that I had left over in my pantry.  I decided to make a fruit loaf (which I absolutely love).  It’s really easy to make in a bread maker and I used my bread slicer to cut it into nice thin slices.  This loaf freezes well so you can take a couple of slices out to defrost when required:

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A Fruit Loaf Recipe:

1 teaspoon of Fast Action Dried Yeast

400g Strong White Flour

2 teaspoon Granulated Sugar

75g margarine or butter

½ teaspoon Salt

1 teaspoon Cinnamon

1 teaspoon Mixed Spice

2 Eggs

110ml Water

110ml Milk

300g Mixed Dried Fruit

 

Add all the above ingredients into a breadmaker EXCEPT the mixed fruit.

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Set your breadmaker to a ‘Basic bake loaf’ with raisens and add the mixed fruit when the breadmaker tells you too (that is approx. 47 mins after the start in mine but you will need to refer to your own manual).

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Enjoy it!

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In the garden this week:

This week in the garden I dug up my parsnips.  This is the first time I have grown a crop in this area so I wasn’t sure what they would be like….but they weren’t too bad (though most of them were a lot smaller than the ones I used to grow at the allotment -probably due to the condition of my soil):

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Parsnips next to a 30 cm ruler

Unfortunately some of the parsnips suffered from parsnip canker:

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“Parsnip Canker is a fungus that causes orange, brown, purple or black coloured rot, which usually starts at the top of the root.

I have read that the fungus is caused by drought, over-rich soil or damage to the crown, BUT I have also read that it is worse in wet, pooly drained soils as well”

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As you can see in my photo above, if the canker isn’t too bad the parsnip under the skin is usually fine to cook and eat.

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To avoid canker:

  • Rotate your crops
  • Don’t manure your soil before growing parsnips
  • Improve your drainage
  • Grow resistant varieties such as ‘Albion’or Hollow Crown

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As I had too many parsnips to eat in one go, I peeled and chopped them and then froze them on a tray (without blanching them).  When they were frozen I took them off the tray and bagged them up.

When I next cook a Sunday lunch I will roast them from frozen.

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Finally this week I brought my seed potatoes.  I chose my usual ‘Marfona’ which is a second early and ‘Desiree’ which is a red main crop potato.  I also brought some ‘picasso’ to plant in my mother in laws garden, which are an early main crop.

All the potatoes are now ‘chitting’ in our bedroom…..very romantic!

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That’s it for this week.

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

Have a good week!

 

A 2015 Garden Review….

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas.  I can’t quite believe how quickly 2015 passed by!

The tree and decorations have been put away and I removed the bows and cones from my Christmas wreath and I have put it outside to decorate my table whist it is still alive.

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Mr Thrift is back at work and my daughters are at school again preparing for their A levels and GCSE’s in the coming few months, so the house is quiet again.

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Unfortunately this week Judy has been very poorly with some kind of bug that she picked up.  The vet told me that quite a few dogs in our local area have had it over the last week.

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I spent most of the early hours of Tuesday morning sitting with her, as she kept being sick.  Then during the day I kept getting her to lick a bit of water off my hand to stop her becoming dehydrated.  However, she is now recovering well.

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Today as it’s my first blog post of the year, I thought it would be fun to look back at my new kitchen garden which is now twelve months old.

For those that are new to my blog….unfortunately due to family problems and our very reactive rescue dog (who is a lot better now through training) I had to give up my beautiful four allotments last January.  I decided to embrace the situation and turn my garden at home into a ‘kitchen’ garden.

Below are the before and after photos:

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Unfortunately along the way there were many large roots that I had to remove….

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…and I found an awful lot of rocks which I laid around the edge of the garden to give beneficial insects places to hide:

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Unfortunately we also found that the fence behind all the shrubs, was rotten and we had to replace it (which was an expense we hadn’t expected):

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I brought a few things back from my allotment to plant (before I gave the keys back) i.e a gooseberry bush, three currant bushes, rhubarb, autumn raspberries, strawberries, a bit of comfrey, my blueberries and some jeruselm artichokes.  However I needed to buy some dwarf apple and pear trees which you can see in the photo above that I planted along the new fence as cordons.

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I planted my strawberries next to my greenhouse in the one raised bed I brought back from my allotment, but this was the one area that wasn’t successful over the year and I only harvested a handful of berries.  I can only think the bushes behind it were taking the water from the ground and it was just too dry, even though I was watering regularly:

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 The new kitchen garden filled up very quickly and so I started to plant in whatever space I could find around the rest of the garden:

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I quickly realised that I needed more space, so I brought the wire fence forward and used a bit of our lawn to grow sweetcorn and few a tomatoes in:

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I planted the sweetcorn and tomatoes through weed suppressant so the grass underneath would die back over the summer and this worked well.

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The garden produced an amazing amount over its first year and the photos below show just some of my harvest:

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I also managed to grow flowers here and there to attract beneficial insects to it:

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 So I was very pleased overall and I know when my fruit trees, bushes and rhubarb are properly established I will have more fruit, but I wanted to find a way to grow even more fruit and vegetables in 2016:

In September I decided to bring forward my lawn area so I could have more growing space, but still have a grassed area for our dog. I acheived this by lifting the slabs where we had a second table and chairs which was where the previous owner used to have their rotary washing line……

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…..however I didn’t expect their washing line post to be cemented into two feet of concrete which I found impossible to remove!….I sat for hours chipping the top four inches of concrete off so I could turf over it – I’m praying that this area will not dry out too much in the summer due to the remaining concrete under the top soil that I used to cover it:

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So after digging in lots of compost, I prepared the area and laid some turf:

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I had to leave this area protected from our dog for a few weeks while the grass rooted.

So in November I started the middle area of the kitchen garden:

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I used the old slabs I removed earlier to make a path around the greenhouse and along the boundary for my mini greenhouses (in the area which was really dry because of the bushes).  I also set up my waterbutt to collect the water from my greenhouse:

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I bought some wood and made five new fixed beds and bought in some woodchip to make the paths:

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Now Christmas is over my garden needs a good tidy and the lawn doesn’t look quite as neat after a couple of months of our dog running around on it (especially after all the rain we have had).  I also still need to work on the area next to the lawn too, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

My garden looks remarkably different compared to this time last year and I am now looking forward to a new year of growing my own fruit and vegetables.

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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 week!