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Catching Up & An Apple Cake Tray Bake Recipe

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

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

There is loads of information in this post e.g. weather conditions expected, what to sow / plant / harvest in November, 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 have started to get back to normal after decorating my daughter’s bedroom a couple of weeks ago.  It has felt nice making bread and cakes again:

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I also caught up with a few jobs I have been putting off.

  I started by flushing my plug holes with bi-carb and vinegar to ensue they don’t start to block up.  It’s great for removing food, hair and soap scum from your pipes.  It’s very simple to do:

I put one tablespoon of bi-carb in the plug hole and then I added three tablespoons of white distilled vinegar and left it for a few minutes to fizz away:

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I then flushed it all down with boiling hot water:

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I also finally brought in the tomatoes that were sitting in my greenhouse ripening.  I put them there at the beginning of October and they have ripened well:

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I left a few on my kitchen window sill to continue to ripen and I have left some out for sandwiches and salads,

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but I have also managed to make some more passatta to freeze:

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In my garden this week I started to use another batch of lettuces that I have been growing under environmesh….I pick the outside leaves of the lettuces so they continue to grow.  They should be fine growing outside under the environmesh for some time yet, before the harsh winter weather comes:

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One thing I noticed in my garden is I have somehow managed to grow a clematis.  I do remember that a clemastis used to scramble through the large photinia bush I used to have in the corner, but I assumed this was killed off when I cleared the area at the beginning of the year.

When I first saw it growing in the summer I twisted the growth around my trellis as I really wasn’t sure what it was (though I did suspect it looked like a clematis) and this week it has begun to flower….better late than never:

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I shall leave the plant where it is as it obviously wants to be there and I will prune it in February.

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I also finally bottled up the wine I made a few weeks ago.  I had a little taste and it is lovely already, but hopefully as it matures it will get even better.  These bottles will be great in my Christmas hampers:

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My lovely sister dropped in this week with some apples from the tree in her garden, as she has had a bumper crop:

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I sorted the apples and I wrapped up those without blemishes in newspaper and placed them in a cool, dark place to store them through the winter:

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I then decided to juice the remaining apples, so I started by washing the apples and then removing all the bad bits:

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Unfortunately there were rather a lot of bad bits and when I chopped the apples in half I found that loads of them were bad in the middle.  I’m not sure if they are bad due to ‘codling moth’ or wether it is the result of ‘mouldy core rot’:

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However, I did get enough good apples to do a little bit of juicing:

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It was a shame about the rotten apples but the juice we did get was absolutely delicious:

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My sister also gave me a few bramley apples, so I made an Apple Cake traybake:

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An Apple Cake Traybake Recipe:

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500g Bramley apples peeled, cored and thinly sliced (leave in water to stop them going brown)

350g self raising flour

280g caster sugar

225g soft margarine or butter

4 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp baking powder

2 – 3 tbsp demerara sugar to sprinkle over the top.

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Preheat your oven to 180C / gas 4 / 350F and line a baking tray with greased, greaseproof paper.

Put the margarine, caster sugar, eggs and vanilla into a bowl and then seive the flour and baking powder into the bowl. 

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Mix until all the ingredients are combined and then add a little bit of water to the mixture if it doesn’t drop off the spoon easily.

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Spread half of the mixture into the lined baking tray and then arrange half of the apples over the mixture.

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Put the rest of the cake mixture on top of the apples and then arrange the remaining apples again on top

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Sprinkle the apples with demerara sugar

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Bake for 45-50 minutes.  Ensure the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer….it is cooked when the skewer comes out clean.

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Leave to cool for ten minutes and then slice.

Serve hot or cold on it’s own or with cream or ice cream.

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Enjoy!

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

Have a good week!

 

A Bargain Cabinet & Another Good Harvest

We have had some miserable, wet and cloudy days this week, but there has also been some beautiful sunny days where I have managed to sit for a while and watch the world go by.  I’ve noticed on these warm days the birds have sung beautifully, as if they are making the most of the final days of summer.

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A couple of time this week in my garden I have spotted a frog.  I don’t know if it is the same frog but it is very welcome in my garden as they love to eat slugs and snails.  I wasn’t quick enough to take a photo of it but below is a good photo of a frog I spotted at my allotment, waiting to pounce on a snail:

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This week in my garden I have started to ‘thin out’ the winter salads that I sowed a couple of weeks ago.  I used a pair of scissors again to chop off the seedlings that I didn’t want as this helps to stop any root disturbance on the remaining seedlings:

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Also in my garden I took the tops off my main crop potatoes (as the foliage had died off)…

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….and I then dug some of them up:

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These are a late variety called ‘Desiree’ which I have grown for a number of years.  I have found over the years that these potatoes don’t suffer so much slug damage as other varieties and they have a particularly good drought resistance if we have a dry summer and they always give me a good harvest….so I think they are a good main crop to grow.

‘Desiree’ potatoes are also a good all rounder in the kitchen, as they are great for mashing, roasting, chipping, baking and boiling too.

Unfortunately though I noticed that a few of my potatoes are suffering from ‘Scab’:

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“Scab can be caused by dry conditions when the tubers are forming and it is worse in alkaline soil.  Therefore if you are going to be liming your soil to increase the Ph level to avoid club root, this is best done after you have grown potatoes in rotation with your other crops”.

I do know my soil is very alkaline, so this is probably the reason for the scab on my potatoes, however I will just peel them and they will be fine to eat so I am not worried.

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This week I also cleared away my french beans as they have finished producing:

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I didn’t keep any of the seeds as I wasn’t really impressed with this variety, however I forgot to write down the name of variety.  Next year I will go back to growing a variety called ‘Maxi’ as they produce lovely thin, stringless beans with the advantage that the beans are grown above the foliage so they are easy to pick.

'Maxi' frenchbeans grown at my allotment in the past

‘Maxi’ frenchbeans grown at my allotment in the past

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The weather has certainly been strange this year and plants have been getting confused.  I saw on Gardeners World last week that Monty Don has Foxgloves in flower, which usually flower in Spring.  I have found my Primroses are in flower too….I wonder what will happen to them in Spring?

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This year I have grown two different tomato varieties outside.  ‘Outdoor Girl’ has been producing tomatoes for weeks now, but this has always been an early variety which I grow to produce a good harvest before the dreaded ‘blight’ hits…. this is something I haven’t seen this year thankfully.

I have also grown a variety outdoors this year called ‘Moneymaker’.  They have produced lots of big tomatoes which are yet to ripen….I am keeping my fingers crossed they all do, but I am finally seeing the odd one begin to turn red:

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I must say that over all, my outdoor tomatoes have produced a far bigger harvest than my greenhouse tomatoes, which I think is due to the cold, dull weather we had in April, May, June and July.

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The patty pan plant that surprised me and began growing a month ago from a seed I had given up on, is now growing a couple of patty pans….if it doesn’t turn cold maybe I will have one or two to harvest?

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I am still waiting desparately for my sweetcorn to be ready.  You know it is ready to be picked when the tassells turn brown and a milky liquid comes out of the kernals when you press a nail into one……unfortunately the liquid is still clear in mine So we will have to wait a bit longer yet:

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This week’s harvest:

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I am still astounded with the amount I have grown this year in my small back garden, though I am convinced that I can fine tune this and grow more next year.  One advantage of growing things in every inch of ground is there is certainly less weeding to do, which is a big advantage to me!

This week I thought it may be easier to show photos of what I have harvested:

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So you can see why I am so pleased with my new kitchen garden.

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This week in the home:

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I made passata again using my home grown tomatoes and froze it ready to use in the winter:

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I also froze the parsley, again so I can use it during the winter months for garlic bread and parsley sauce.  I just cut the leaves off, wash them and put them in a freezer bag.  When they are frozen they crumble easily in the bag:

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I made some more of my ‘vinegar spray’ which I use in my kitchen as a multipurpose antibacterial cleaner.  I make it by adding a few drops of Tea Tree essential oil to white distilled vinegar and it is as good as any antibacterial kitchen cleaner that you can buy and it is an awful lot cheaper too:

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Mr Thrift has continued to find some really good ‘whoopsies’ this week and it has meant that I haven’t made any homemade bread.  Some of the bread he has found has been reduced to just 9p……so we couldn’t resist it!

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Finally, since I decorated our front room I have been looking in charity shops for things to make the room more homely.  One thing I have been trying very hard to find is a cupboard to match the darkwood TV cabinet we have….and this week I found one:

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It cost me just £40 and I was really pleased with my find….until I got it home and realised that we have a little gas pipe in the alcove where I wanted it to go, so it didn’t fit.

So I had to saw a bit off the side praying it wouldn’t look too bad.

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In my shed I still had a bit of dark woodstain that I used on my mirror years ago, so I used this to darken the wood that I had cut so it wasn’t so noticable…..and I am really pleased with the result (thank goodness):

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Now I just need to keep looking for a few pictures for the walls and we need to buy a new carpet (when we can afford it).

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Well that’s it for this week.  I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog.

 I will be back next Friday as usual.  Have a good week!

My Harvest & A Freezer Breakdown

I wanted to start my blog today by saying well done to my eldest daughter for her AS level results that she received yesterday.  She has had a very difficult year (which I won’t go into here) but dispite this she achieved a ‘B’ in English language/literacy,  a ‘B’ in psychology and a ‘distinction-star’ in hospitality……..we are extremely proud of her!

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This week I visited Haddon Hall and gardens with my lovely sisters and had a wonderful day out.  This was my eldest sisters Christmas present to us all….it was such a treat!

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The website says:

“Described by Simon Jenkins in “1000 Best Houses” as “the most perfect house to survive from the middle ages”. Set in the heart of the beautiful Peak District National Park, parts of the house date from the 12th Century, sitting like a jewel in its Elizabethan terraced gardens, and overlooking the River Wye.

Film-makers flock to Haddon Hall to use it as a location. The house and grounds have played host to no less than three versions of “Jane Eyre”. Screen credits also include “Elizabeth”, “Pride & Prejudice” and “The Other Boleyn Girl” and “The Princess Bride”, the cult classic movie in which Haddon Hall becomes Prince Humperdinck’s Castle and village”

I enjoyed looking around the house as it was so interesting and the gardens were lovely too:

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They had lavender lining their path in one area and the bees loved it.  It reminded me of the lavender path I used to have at my allotment as it smelt so wonderful as you brushed past it:

(The photo on the left is Haddon Hall and the photo on the right is my old allotment)

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In my kitchen garden this week:

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This week I noticed that my sweet peas are being attacked with greenfly, so I spent a happy half an hour squashing them between my fingers…..as an organic gardener I prefer not to use sprays.

  I think it has been a particularly bad year for aphids this year, so hopefully next year we will have a bumper year for ladybirds, as this usually happens.

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There is some fabulous information and advice on the RHS website regarding aphids here if anyone is interested.

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Everywhere around my kitchen garden seems to be doing well, though the ground has been really dry.  This has caused some of my spring onions to go over a bit quicker than normal, so I pulled them up.  I don’t want to waste them, though I don’t think they are good enough for our salads, so I have decided to pickle them like ‘silver skin pickles’.

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My outdoor cucumbers are growing well now and my leeks and spinach have put on a growth spurt:

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 I also had a surprise this week as I found that a patty pan that I had given up on, is growing.  I put three seeds in my big tub between my two courgettes after my previous sowing in pots didn’t germinate.  Two seeds germinated and the slugs destoyed them and I thought the third seed hadn’t germinated until I found it this week.

I removed a couple of leaves from the courgettes either side of it, to allow the light to get through to the little plant.  It maybe too late to get a harvest of patty pans now, but if we have a mild couple of months I may be lucky:

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This week I dug up the last of my ‘2nd early’ potatoes which were a variety called ‘marfona’ (I still have my ‘desiree’ main crop left in the ground).

At my allotment I would always start to dig up my 2nd early potatoes in July, as I used to plant so many potatoes (early and main crops).  This way I could spread the harvest over July and August as I always found digging up my potatoes such hard work.

Obviously it is really easy in my small kitchen garden, so I have just dug the potatoes when we needed them for a meal and I have got to say I am really surprised and pleased with the size some of them have grown, as they have been in the ground longer than I would normally leave them in:

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In place of the potatoes I decided to grow some green manure.  I gave the soil a good rake and sowed some phacelia.  My seed packet is quite old now so I’m not sure if the seeds will even germinate, but I thought it was worth a try….I will have to wait and see.

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“Phacelia tanacetifolia is good for sowing between March and September and it takes between one and three months to grow depending on growing conditions.  It is a green manure that tolerates most soils.

If you leave phacelia to flower, it is a beautiful lavender colour that the bees absolutely love, which is why I used to grow it in my wildflower area at my old allotment.  The one drawback is that if you leave it to flower it self seeds like mad.  I will chop it down and fork it in before it flowers, so it doesn’t grow and become a weed to me next year”

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I also sowed some seeds in the area where I pulled up my strawberries last week.  I sowed ‘Broccoli raab ’60 days’ which apparently are quick growing broccoli-like shoots that grow on dwarf plants.  I have never grown this before but the seeds were free with a magazine so I thought I would give them a go:

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I also gave my apple and pear trees a summer prune.  I am growing them as cordons so this first prune was to encourage the shape I want the trees to grow into:

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This week I have been harvesting runnerbeans, outdoor tomatoes, frenchbeans, spring onions, potatoes, courgettes, parsley, a few peas and my first red cabbage of the year (that I couldn’t resist picking):

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So overall I am very pleased with the produce my small kitchen garden is producing each week.  Next year I will be looking at ways to increase my harvest and hopefully my fruit bushes will produce more in their second year too.

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This week at home:

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I started the week by making some more laundry liquid.  

Just before our holiday last month I ran out of my homemade laundry liquid and I bought a box of supermarket brand washing powder to tied me over until we got back and this is what I have been using since then.  I must say, I don’t think it washed any better than the laundry liquid I make (and mine is much cheaper) and also, my eldest daughter started to complain that the new wash powder was making her skin itchy!

Next time I will make sure I am more organised and won’t run out of it just before a holiday!

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This week I also cooked and pickled the beetroot that I harvested last week and we are looking forward to eating it soon:

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Finally this week, our old chest freezer unfortunately stopped working.  Thankfully it was the freezer that I just kept my vegetables in and it was only a quarter full.  I have been trying to use up the contents of this freezer for a while so I could switch it off completely and just use the other two freezers that we have.

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I don’t know how long it hadn’t been working for, but everything was half defrosted and there was a puddle at the bottom of the freezer!

So myself and my daughter set about trying to save as much of the half frozen vegetables as possible.

We made a massive pot of tomato pasta / pizza sauce with vegetables to freeze in portions, I cooked lots of the vegetables in my steamer to freeze in portions and then reheat in curries and my daughter made a big pot of creamy, thick, vegetable soup to freeze in portions.  I also filled my slow cooker with vegetables in gravy to again freeze in portions so I could reheat it for a lunchtime meal.  I also cooked the sweetcorn I had left and froze it in portions so I could defrost it and add it to salads:

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Luckily I still had room in my other two freezers for the things we made:

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We managed to use nearly everything in the freezer, so really we were very lucky that hardly anything was wasted….and the soup was delicious!

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

Have a good week!

Good Friends & A ‘Blackfly Brew’ Trial

Last weekend we invited some very good friends over for the evening and we had a wonderful time catching up, over homemade pizza’s and puddings.

A Homemade Lemon Merangue Pie

A Homemade Lemon Merangue Pie

A long time ago we all met in a large office and became good friends very quickly as we shared the same sense of humour and fun outlook on life.  We went on lots of holidays together, days out and spent many evenings laughing until our bellys ached.

We all met our partners, but that didn’t stop us as the group just got bigger and even when we all left our work place we kept in touch…..but then children came along and sadly, as often happens, we did seem to drift apart – however, one person did keep in contact with each and everyone of us……my good friend Helen, who passed away two years ago.

We all met up again at her funeral and we have thankfully stayed in touch since…..it seems to me that this was a ‘parting gift’ to us all from our wonderful friend Helen.  So Helen if you are looking down on us, thank you for this.

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In My Kitchen Garden this week:

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I’m very proud to say that my kitchen garden is now producing crops.

Besides the lettuce, chives and radishes we have been picking for a while now, I have now started to pick mangetout daily:

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And my first peas are ready for picking….but unfortunately they didn’t make it to the table as it’s become a tradition in our house to eat the first peas straight out of the pod…..there really isn’t anything that tastes as lovely:

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I have also been picking broad beans, but unfortunately with my decorating last week some of them became a bit too large.  However, as I tend to cook them and puree them up for spag bogs, curries etc (as Mr Thrift doesn’t like them), it really won’t matter.

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I froze the broad beans by blanching them for two minutes before ‘open freezing’ on a tray:

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I also picked the first fruit from my small kitchen garden….a few blackcurrants and gooseberries which my daughter ate.  The plants are very young and I think it will be a while before they will give me a large crop, but I am pleased I got something this year:

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And yes, that time of year is finally upon us……courgette time!  As usual we all look forward to the first courgette and we always fry it up and use it in an omolette….(I know we will be fed up with them again soon like everyone else, but for the moment we will enjoy them).

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(By the way, there is a post I wrote here that talks about ways to use up hundreds of courgettes, if anyone is interested).

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A Blackfly Brew & Bird Damage:

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This week I have noticed a couple of pests in my small kitchen garden.  The first was ‘birds’.  I had covered my climbing peas in environmesh to stop the ‘pea moth’ and also the birds.  Birds were always a nuisence at my allotment eating most things.  As they particularly love the tops of pea shoots, I covered them without thinking.  However, I didn’t cover my dwarf peas and they seemed to be ok, so I became complacent, thinking that I wouldn’t have a problem in my back garden…

Yesterday I saw a bird fly off as I approached my kitchen garden and I then found bird damage on my lettuces, but luckily I had caught it early.  You can see the tears on the outside leaf in the photo below (which incidentally it looks different to slug damage):

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So I covered my lettuces so the birds can’t do any more damage:

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Another pest I found this week was blackfly on my courgettes:

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Now I’ve got to be honest, I don’t usually bother treating my courgettes for blackfly as they are usually big and strong enough to survive it without effecting the amount I harvest and also the ladybirds usually come to my rescue and have a feast…but I wanted to try something new out this year:

I had recently read about a home made ‘All Purpose Organic Pesticide’ that ‘Eco Snippets’ had published and I thought I would have a go.  You can find the orginal recipe here.

This is what the website says about it:

“It can be used on a variety of insects that live in the dirt or on the plants including worms, mites and other parasites.

This entire pesticide will eventually break down and be reduced to nothing, so it is OK to eat any herbs or vegetables that are growing. This is mainly intended for indoor use, but there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work outdoors as well”

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So this is how I made my ‘Black fly Brew:

(I halved the original recipe as it seemed to be a hugh amount to make in one go)

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Ingredients-

  • 2 ¼ litres of warm water
  • 1 onion
  • 2 small hot peppers (I couldn’t find jalapeno peppers)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of liquid soap (I used my ‘soap nut’ liquid as it’s natural)

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First I roughly chopped the onion, peppers and garlic and placed them in a bowl:

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I then used a stick blender to puree them into a thick paste:

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I added the puree to the warm water and left them to ‘stew’ for 20 minutes:

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I strained the brew through an old piece of material and I then gave the remaining paste a squeeze (with rubber gloves on) to remove all the juices:

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I then added the liquid soap and gave it a stir:

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I poured the liquid into a spray bottle and the remaining into a spare plastic bottle and labled them well:

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Apparently this liquid keeps for two weeks in the fridge.

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It says on their website to use the spray every 4-5 days and it takes about 3 or 4 treatments to work….so I went out and sprayed one of my two plants straight away.

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The ‘EcoSnippets’ website says:

“Try to get all over the plant including the stem and under the leaves. Spray the soil as well so that the top of it is wet.

What this liquid does is make every part of the plant that it touches unpalatable to the insect. The water evaporates and leaves behind the odor and flavor. It smells and tastes gross and they won’t eat it. When they won’t eat anymore, they eventually starve. The liquid will not kill the insects on contact, so do not get upset if you see increased activity after the application. They’re simply struggling to find something to eat”

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I will monitor both my courgette plants and report the results back to you in a couple of weeks.

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In My Home This Week:

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I have had a relatively quiet week in the house after all my decorating last week, but I did want to mention a couple of things.  After our friends visit at the weekend, we had half a tub of mascopone left over and my eldest daughter decided she would use it so it didn’t go to waste (she obviously takes after me).   So she made a pasta sauce using tomatoes and mascopone and fried some courgettes, mangetout, onion and garlic and added it to the sauce:

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She then served it with salad dressed with olive oil, lemon and salt and it was delicious!

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She also decided to make some biscuits for her teachers at school, to say thank you for helping her during her first year of ‘A’ levels.  She made shortbread biscuits and then covered a an old sweet tub to make it look pretty and this was the result:

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I think this present is far nicer than any shop bought present that you could give and as I always say:

“A homemade present is from the heart, not just from your bank account”

I was very proud of her and I think she now deserves her title of ‘Ms Thrift’.

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Also this week Judy (our rescue dog) has not had a good week and has gone backwards a little bit with her training, but I am working on this with Steven Havers, our trainer and I am hoping it is just a ‘blip’.  However, she is still doing well overall and fitting in our family nicely at home.

 

Judy asleep with her ball

Judy asleep with her ball

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That’s enough for now, I will be back again next Friday as usual.

Thank you for reading my blog.  I hope you have a good week!

‘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!

My Problem Dog & My New Kitchen Garden….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My New Kitchen Garden

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

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

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

  I am pleased with how it looks so far:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will be back as normal next Friday.

Have a lovely weekend!

Purple Bullace Jelly And Courgette Chutney

This week in my kitchen I have been busy using all the home grown produce that I have picked.  I always have a lovely sense of satisfaction when I use my organic fruit and vegetables, as I  know one hundred percent that no chemicals have been used to grow them and I think this also makes them taste better.

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This week my outdoor tomatoes have started to ripen and I have begun picking them daily.  They are a variety called ‘outdoor girl’ which are usually a little bit earlier than other outdoor varieties, however for some reason they are a little bit later than usual this year.

I am constantly checking for tomato blight as my tomatoes have only escaped once over the years.  You can see photos of tomato blight here, together with lots of information on what to do when you first notice it on your tomatoes, as some of your crop can be saved if you act quickly.

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With my first batch of tomatoes I made a big pot of tomato and basil soup, which we had for lunch with a loaf of warm, crusty homemade bread.  It was far nicer than any soup you can buy in a tin and it only cost me a few pennies to make as nearly all the ingredients were from my allotment.

You can find the recipe here.

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I am also still using all of the courgettes that my plants are producing.  This week I made my favourite courgette chutney….

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Courgette Chutney Recipe:

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2 onions chopped

500g tomatoes chopped

500g courgettes diced

300ml white wine vinegar

2 cooking apples peeled and diced

250g brown sugar

2 teaspoons mixed spice

1 tablespoon of mustard seeds

Thumb sized piece of root ginger grated

4 garlic cloves crushed

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Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil slowly, stirring continuously.

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Simmer for 2 hours uncovered, until it is dark and looks like chutney.

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Pour into hot sterilised jars.

( To sterilise jars, pop them in an oven for five minutes, gas 4 / 180C / 350F )

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Leave for 3 weeks before eating.

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This year at my allotment I had a bumber crop of strawberries.

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At this time of year I usually tidy the plants up a bit…. I remove the straw that I lay around the plants in the spring and put it into my compost heap.  I then cut the strawberries back to approximately 3 inches (8 cms) from the crowns.  It always looks harsh but they grow back really well.

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Cutting the strawberries back in this way helps the plant produce more fruit the following year, as the plant then puts all it’s energy into producing a strong root system.

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This is the second year my plants have fruited so I am not keeping any runners, so I cut them all off.

  If I wanted to increase my stock I would just peg down the runners with a large stone or wire, so that the new plantlets are in contact with the soil.  When they have good roots on them at the beginning of September, I cut each runner from their parent and replant it where I want it to grow.  This way they are settled before the winter and produce fruit the following year.

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Incidentally, I found this little fella under the old straw around my strawberries:

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I have been told he is a ‘death head hawk moth’ caterpillar.  He looks quite evil doesn’t he, but I left him alone as moths are hugely important for the food chain and some of them are great plant pollinators.

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This week I have been picking ‘Cucamelons’.  It’s the first time I have grown them and they seem to have taken ages to become established….and now they are taking over my polytunnel!

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When I was researching the cucamelon, I found some people loved them and some people hated them, so I thought I would try them for myself…..I’ve got to say I am somewhere in between.

I think they taste like a cucumber, but with a crunchy skin.  The plants have certainly given me a good crop, but after we all tried them, we decided we like normal cucumbers better….so this is one I won’t bother growing again (sorry James Wong).

However this year they will go to good use in salads, with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt:

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At this time of year I am thinking about storing my crops ready for the winter.  My potatoes have all been dried and they are now storing in sacks.

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  My french beans are doing well at my allotment this year and I have been busy blanching and freezing them, together with the runnerbeans that I am still picking:

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If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will remember that this time last year I gave the old tree in my woodland area a real good prune as I don’t think it had been pruned for years.  I had been told by a couple of people that I would be better off chopping the tree down as it never has fruit on it….but I decided to give it a chance.

I prunned away approximately a third of all the dead, diseased and crossing branches and I will continue doing this every August until it is back to how it should be.

….And after just one year of pruning it has rewarded me with a bumper crop…..

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The gentleman that rented the plot before me (my dear friend Eric) told me that the tree was not a damson tree, but he didn’t know what it was.  I think the tree is a ‘purple bullace tree’….I may be wrong, but it doesn’t really matter as the fruit makes a great fruit jelly…which I have been making this week, ready for my Christmas hampers:

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A Wild Plum, Damson or Bullace Jelly Recipe:

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First cut your plums in half just to make sure they haven’t been infected by the plum moth (discard any that have).  Don’t bother removing the stones. 

Put the plums into a maslin pan or a large jam making pan.

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Cover the plums half way up with water.

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Slowly bring the plums to the boil and then simmer until they are soft (approx. 15-30 mins).

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Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to the boil and place some muslin or a clean tea towel into it and boil for 3 minutes.  Take it out of the water and wring it out and then leave to cool.

Tip the fruit into the muslin and let it drip overnight or for approximately 8 hours.  I find it easier to put the muslin over a colander that is already over a bowl, as it’s easier to pour the fruit into it.

In the picture below, you can see how I suspend my muslin bag over a bowl.  I have read that an upside down stool can be helpful to do this, but I have never tried it.

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The next day put some side plates or saucers in the freezer to check the setting point of your jelly later on.

Measure the juice.  For every 1 pint of juice, measure 1lb of granulated sugar.   Put the juice and sugar back into a large pan and bring it to the boil slowly, over a low heat, until the sugar has dissolved.

Also, as I don’t use jam sugar I add two tablespoons of lemon juice for every one pint of juice.

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When you can see no sugar crystals on the back of your wooden spoon, turn the heat up and boil hard until the setting point has been reached.  This can take quite some time.

(I always continuously stir my jams and jellies to stop them from burning at the base of the pan, however I have never seen a recipe tell you to do this, so it’s up to you).

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To check the setting point, put a small amount of jelly on a saucer from the freezer and wait for a few moments, push the jelly with your finger and if it wrinkles then the setting point has been reached, if not just continue boiling for a further five minutes and then check again.

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When the setting point has been reached, take the pan off the heat and leave it for fifteen minutes. If there is scum on your jelly, you can skim it off, but I just stir in a small knob of butter which does the same job.

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Sterilise some jam jars (gas mark 4 for 5 minutes)

Pour the jelly into the jars and seal with lids.

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Enjoy it for months to come!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday at my usual time.