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‘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!

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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.

 

Welcome Guests To My Plot….Bumblebees

On Friday I told you about the bees that have taken residence in my ‘darlek’ compost bin that I store leaf mould in. After some research, I have found out that the bees are bumblebees rather than honey bees.

I am very pleased with this as bumblebees usually vacate their nests at the end of November, so they won’t be a nuisance to me when I need my leaf mould in the winter.

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I have been reliably told they are a species called ‘Bombus hypnorum sometimes known as the ‘tree bumblebee’.

Bumblebees are important to our crops as they have very long seasons and therefore pollinate our early crops and winter crops.  They are also important to our pea and bean crops as they have very long tongues which help to pollinate these crops.

They are also particularly good for our self-pollinating crops e.g. tomatoes. as the bumblebee places its upper body close to the anthers of a flower and vibrates, this shakes the pollen down onto the flowers below.

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It has been proven that bumblebees can actually pollinate more flowers than honey bees as they are superfast pollinators.

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The Life cycle of a bumblebee:

  • A queen bumblebee will emerge in early spring and search for pollen and nectar in order to give her energy and replace body fats.

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  • The queen then finds a place to nest and she builds a small wax cup inside it, which she fills with nectar to sustain her whilst she incubates her eggs. She also builds a wax cell and puts a mound of pollen in it and then lays her eggs on top of it and incubates them by lying on the eggs and vibrating her flight muscles to generate heat. The queen continues to lay eggs.

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  • After four days the first eggs hatch and then after 14 days the larvae produce cocoons and they pupate. After another fourteen days they have transformed into bumblebees that bite their way out of the cocoons. The first bees are female worker bees which will help the queen to rear the rest of the brood. An average colony of bumble bees can have between 120-200 workers.

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  • At some point the queen stops producing worker bees and produces males and young queens. The males will leave the nest to mate and the queens will remain for a while longer to lay down fat reserves and then vacate the nest and fly off ready for winter hibernation.

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Bumblebees are in decline due to modern farming methods (that have resulted in less hedgerows and wildflower landscapes) and building and road developments and the loss of woodlands. So it is important we help them as much as possible by growing ‘bee friendly’ flowers and in return they will pollinate our crops for us.

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Bumblebees are no problem to have around as they will only sting you if they feel threatened and will vacate their nests at the end of the year, so they are best just left alone.

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I feel very privileged and proud that the queen has chosen to set up home on my plot, as this shows me that the flowers I grow have attracted this beneficial insect by providing a constant supply of pollen and nectar.

My wildflower patch

My wildflower patch

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.