Archives

Homemade Cabbage Collars, Dandelions And Sad News About A Hedgehog

I thought I’d start by showing you one of the pots in my garden at home.  My pots are giving a good display of spring bulbs.  I planted the bulbs in layers last autumn and the daffodills flowered first and now it’s the turn of the Tulips and Muscari (better known as the Grape hyacinth).

SAM_6341

The bulbs were courtesy of ‘Spalding Bulbs’ as I joined their bloggers club.  So thank you ‘Spalding bulbs’, your bulbs have so far been beautiful.

.

I also thought I would show you my dahlia plants that I grew from seed.  It really is easy to grow dahlias from seed and you get flowers from the plants in their first year.  I find it easier to grow the plants from seed each year, as it’s cheaper than buying tubers and saves all the hassle of storing the tubers over winter (especially as all my room for storing things is taken up by vegetables).

I sowed my seeds on the 7th March and when they germinated I transplanted the seedlings into small newspaper pots.  This week, as they were out-growing their original pots, I potted them on into slightly bigger pots:

SAM_6327

These dahlia’s are ‘doubles’, which I wouldn’t normally buy as the bees can’t get to the pollen, but my dad kindly passed the seeds onto me, so I thought I would use them, I’m looking forward to seeing them flower.

SAM_6349

.

At the allotment this week, my apple tree is beautiful with all it’s blossom:

SAM_6342

.

This week at my allotment site, I have noticed that there are thousands and thousands of dandelions.

Dandelions are amazing plants.  Did you know that a flower can actually fertilize itself and seeds can often be carried for up to five miles and a flower head can produce up to 400 seeds, but the average is 180. A plant may have a total of 2,000 to 12,000 seeds.

It’s not all bad either, no less than 93 different kinds of insects use Dandelion pollen.

Also, young leaves can be blanched and used in salads or boiled and eaten as spinach and the flowers can be made into dandelion wine. In fact every part of the dandelion is useful for food, medicine or even it’s colour for dye.

You can read more about this wonderful weed here

A plot on my allotment site

A plot on my allotment site

.

Last week I planted out my first red and white cabbages of the year, at my allotment.  A couple of weeks before, I raked some blood, fish and bone into the soil ready for planting.

I covered my plants with my usual ‘DIY’ cage of bottles, canes and a net:

SAM_6290

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

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

Cabbage collars cost between £3 or £4 to buy a pack of 30.  To save money you can easily make your own by cutting a square of thick cardboard and then cutting a cross in the middle where the stem will go.  As the stem grows it can expand because of the cross in the middle.

 SAM_6270

Place each collar around the stem and eventually it will decompose into the spoil, after it has stopped the cabbage root fly from laying it’s eggs.

SAM_6289

.

A Hedgehogs Attempted Rescue:

I try really hard to attract wildlife to my allotment.  I grow flowers and wildflowers to attract beneficial insects to my plot over the year, I feed the birds and have bird boxes, I have two ponds to attract frogs to eat the slugs, I garden organically and I have bug boxes and two hedgehog boxes.

SAM_3153 SAM_2781 SAM_2313 SAM_2312 SAM_2310 SAM_2309

I love to watch the wildlife and if you were reading my blog last year, you will remember the hours I would spend watching the bees and other insects around my wildflowers (you can see my wildflowers from 2012 here).

SAM_2726

Yesterday I came across a poor hedgehog that had somehow managed to crawl into my wire netted cages, that were protecting my peas from the birds.  I am really not sure how he managed to get in there, as there is wire all the way around, he must have squeezed into the smallest hole.  You can see the cages below:

SAM_6344

When I found it, the poor little thing was breathing, but it wasn’t doing a lot else.  I called my friend Judy, (one of my allotment neighbours) and we decided to give it a drink in case it was dehydrated.  Judy picked it up and put it next to some water that I fetched, but the poor thing still didn’t move. It didn’t even try and curl up.

We checked it over and we thought that maybe one of its legs was hurt, so we put the hedgehog in a tub with newspaper.  Judy rang her husband who then rang their local vet, who agreed to check the hedgehog over.  Judy’s husband then very kindly came and took the hedgehog to the vet.

Unfortunately after checking the hedgehog over, the vet said that as his leg was badly hurt and it was extremly cold and dehydrated, he decided that the kindest thing to do was to put the animal to sleep.

I am really upset that the animal may have hurt it’s leg somehow on my wire cage, though I just don’t know how it could have done this.  Yesterday, I made sure there are absolutely no holes under, or in-between the cages, in the hope that this doesn’t happen again.

SAM_6343

Thank you for reading my blog, I am sorry it’s not a happy ending today.

I’ll be back again on Monday at approximately 4pm.

Advertisements

A Busy Easter Holiday, Mincing And Sowing Parsnips

Hi all, I hope you had a lovely, restful Easter.

My pots of bulbs, courtesy of 'Spalding Bulbs'

My pots of spring bulbs, courtesy of ‘Spalding Bulbs’

.

I had fun with my two new gadgets over Easter:

First was the meat mincer (with a sausage making attachment) that I told you about here.  I was disappointed to find that there were no instructions in the box, but I did manage to easily work out how to mince the beef that I had bought, thanks to the pictures on the box.  I am yet to make sausages.

SAM_5962

I wanted to work out if it was cheaper to mince my own beef, rather than buy the ready minced beef.  I spoke to the butcher at Morrisons (as we don’t have a local butcher) and I’ve got to say he was extremely helpful.  He told me that brisket is usually the cheapest cut of meat that can be used for mincing and it is fine to use, however he pointed out that ‘topside’ of beef was actually half price and worked out cheaper  per kg, than the brisket.  So I paid £10.69 for a lovely joint of beef.

The beef was beautiful.  It only had the smallest bit of fat on, which I cut off before I chopped it into chunks.  I then put it through the mincer.

SAM_6036

I must say though, my arm did ache by the end of it, but I managed to get eight bags of mince beef, all weighing 250 grams, which I froze.

I worked out that it would have been cheaper to buy the prepacked ‘value’ minced beef, but it was certainly cheaper than buying prepacked ‘lean minced beef’ and I had the benefit of knowing what is actually in the mince beef we are eating.

I was very pleased with the meat mincer I bought and I will definitely be mincing my own beef from now on.  I will now be looking out for bargain beef joints.

SAM_6039

.

My 2nd ‘gadget’ is something I have been wanting for a while….a bread slicer.  I have never been very good at slicing my nice homemade bread, which sometime spoils the overall look of it.

SAM_6028

Normally these slicers retail at nearly £90 (which I certainly could never justify), but we were killing time one day a couple of weeks ago and found Debenhams had a half price sale and had reduced it to £40.  They only had one left, which was in an extremely bashed box and my wonderful husband managed to haggle them down to just £35.

This was such a bargain and I am really pleased with it.  It cuts my bread beautifully and I have also sliced ham with it and it cuts it as perfectly as the ready cut ham, that you buy from the supermarket.

SAM_6031

.

Over Easter I had another jam making session.  This time I made rhubarb jam (my favourite), with rhubarb I still had in the freezer from last year.

I also made some crab apple jelly and crab apple ice cream syrup, from a bag of crab apples that I had frozen last year.  You can find the recipes here and here.

SAM_6041

.

I also finally opened my Wilkinsons ‘Starter Wine Kit’ that I had purchased in the New Year sales for £10.  Unfortunately some of the items were missing from the box and we didn’t have the receipt.  However, Wilkinson’s were fantastic and changed it anyway for a more expensive kit and gave us the remaining items from the old kit as a goodwill gesture, which we thought was fabulous customer service.

SAM_6026

I have never made wine before, so it is all new to me, which is why I chose a starter kit.  Hopefully when I have sussed it out, I can use some of the grapes from the vines I planted at my allotment last year, when they are established and fruiting well.

So it is now bubbling away nicely.

.

SAM_6075

I’ve also been ‘pricking’ out my seedlings and they are sitting nice and snugly in my heated greenhouse.  I try to stop the temperature falling below 10c, but unfortunately it has been dropping to approximately 8c on the cold nights we have been having.

My peas that I sowed on the 22nd March in guttering, are doing well now too, they will soon be ready to plant out:

SAM_6067

The peas have a bit of protection in my coldframe.

.

The lettuces I sowed on the 17th March are doing nicely and I will be planting these in my polytunnel this week:

SAM_6069

.

I also sowed my parsnips on Saturday:

SAM_6065

I have always had such a problem with my parsnips ‘forking’ when I sow them direct, or not germinating.  I have dug trenches and filled with compost, I have filled holes with compost and sown into them, but nothing seemed to work until I came up with the idea of sowing the seeds in kitchen roll tubes.

I fill the tube with compost and sow three seeds in each and keep the tubes on my windowsill.  As soon as the seeds germinate, I move them outside into my coldframe and then a few days later I plant the whole tube into the ground.

This way I get straight parsnips nearly every time.

I have been asked in the past if this works with toilet rolls, but it doesn’t.  The reason for this, is the tap root on a parsnip is very long and grows down a long way before the seedling shows above the compost.  Therefore the tap root hits the bottom of the toilet roll tube, which causes it to ‘fork’.  However, as the kitchen roll is longer, the tap root has a longer distance to grow before it hits the bottom.

My parsnips

My parsnips

.

Finally, over Easter, I decided to plant my onion sets into seed trays to start them off, as the weather showed no sign of changing.  This will give me a little bit of breathing space before I need to plant them in the allotment.  At least they will have developed some roots and this will help to stop the birds from pulling them up.

SAM_6035

.
So all in all, it has been a busy, but enjoyable Easter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back again on Friday, at approximately 4pm.

I hope you have a good week.

Seed Sorting, First Sowings and Seed Potatoes

It’s been snowing all day here.

Earlier, I walked down to my allotment to check it over and it looked beautiful:

SAM_5653

Unfortunately my nets have taken a battering!  I cleared the snow off them but I will have to sort them out properly another day:

SAM_5654

.

Over the last two weeks I have been sorting all of my seeds out.

SAM_5617

As I have four allotments, I do need a lot of seeds.  I have a spreadsheet with all the seed packets listed on it, this way I know every single packet of seed that I have and the date they need to be used by (though some seeds I keep an awful lot longer than the date on the packet e.g. brassicas, as I know they will be ok to use a long time after the ‘sow by’ date).

 I do have a weakness with seeds and I find it hard to resist a free packet or a bargain, so after sorting them out I found I had quite a few duplicates.  I have never sold seeds on EBay before, but as there were so many I decided to give it a try.  I’m not sure if they will sell or not, but I will let you know.

SAM_5586

During the next week I will be sitting down and working out exactly what vegetables and salads I want to grow on my allotment this year.  After this I will work out a month by month plan, showing exactly when to sow my seeds and whether the seeds need heat or not.  I will show you the end results after I have completed this.

.

Over the last two weeks I have sowed my first seeds for 2013.  Before I did this I made some more seed labels and in Mrs Thrift fashion, I made them for free.

All I use is an old plastic milk bottle that has been washed out.

SAM_5592

I cut it up into labels, with a point at one end and write the plant type on the label in permanent ink.

SAM_5594

The seeds I sowed were sweet peppers, coriander, basil, leeks and onions.  I have put these in a propagator on my window sill until they germinate, at which time the propagator lids will come off.  The leeks will then go into my unheated greenhouse,  while the others will be grown inside my house, where it is warmer.

SAM_5599

I also planted some more garlic.  Previously I planted some garlic at my allotment, but it has been so wet that hardly any have grown and I suspect they have actually rotted in the ground.  As a back up, I have planted some more in pots, which I will keep in my cold greenhouse for now.

SAM_5612

The broadbeans that I planted in December are just poking there heads through the compost, so I am really pleased with this.  These were planted into cardboard toilet roll tubes.

SAM_5613

Unfortunately, the broad beans I planted in pots at the end of October are really very leggy and probably won’t make very good plants now.  Unfortunately they are the result of mild weather and the fact that I haven’t been able to plant them into my allotment, due to the ridiculous amount of wet weather we have had for weeks on end.   I may just plant them in my polytunnel to see what happens.

SAM_5616

My two free strawberry plants from Spalding bulbs are still sitting nicely in my cold greenhouse.  I will plant them in the spring.

SAM_5615

Last week I brought my seed potatoes.  I usually buy them from a place called ‘Hawgrips’ which is in Enderby, Leicester.  I like to buy them early as I get a bigger choice of varieties to choose from and I make sure I get the ones I want.  I also like the fact that you buy them loose, rather than in bags, as I work out exactly how many I need and just count them into bags.

I have chosen my usual two favourites:

Marfona (A second early) and

Picasso (an early maincrop so this helps to miss the blight).

This year I have decided to also grow ‘Desiree’ potatoes, after much discussion with one of my fellow allotment friends.  I had such a big problem with slugs last year and my friends’ Desiree potatoes didn’t seem to have a problem, so I thought I’d try them.  I let you know how I get on.

SAM_5609

When I bought the potatoes home, I put them into trays to ‘chit’ them.  ‘Chitting’ just means that you are encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before you plant them outside.  All you need to do is stand the tubers with the eyes facing upwards, in trays or old egg boxes.

SAM_5611

Contrary to popular belief, chitting potatoes is not essential, except for early varieties, to produce an earlier maturing crop.  However, if you buy your main crop early like I do, then you may as well ‘chit’ them as well.

Place the potatoes in a cool, light place.  I leave mine in our bedroom, as it’s the coolest room in the house…so romantic!

I hope we have a better crop of potatoes to harvest this year, as they were full of slug holes in 2012.

Last years potato crop

Last years potato crop

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

Homemade Mincemeat, Raspberry Flavoured Strawberry Plants & Radio Leicester

At the weekend I was invited onto the Saturday morning show at Radio Leicester.  I took in a homemade mini Christmas cake and the truffles I made last week, for him to try.  I love going in and chatting as they always makes me feel so comfortable to talk.

You can listen again here (approx. 1 hour and 7 mins into the program).

santa3[1]

At the weekend I received two free strawberry plants from Spalding Bulbs.

Last month I agreed to join Spalding Bulbs Blogger Club and every so often I will receive one of their products in return for an honest review.

Spalding-Bulb-Blogger-Badge

The strawberry plants are called Fragaria framberry (Fragoria x ananassa) and this is what Spalding bulbs say about them:

An exceptional strawberry that tastes like both strawberry and raspberry! It can be eaten straight after picking or used in a dessert. Grow just like ordinary strawberries and amaze your friends with this new variety! If you’re looking for something special, this is it!

You can find the plants on their website here.

The strawberry plants were delivered in a strong cardboard box and they were surrounded with a sturdy plastic carton.

SAM_5239

The plants were moist and in good condition:

SAM_5240

I put the plants into my cold greenhouse and I will plant them out in the spring when the weather warms up.

The only thing I would say to Spalding Bulbs is that there were no instructions or details of how or when to plant them outside.  This may be intentional as I have grown strawberries before, but it is something that would certainly help inexperienced gardeners.

SAM_5243

I can’t wait to try these strawberries when they grow.

.

I also planted two more trays of broad beans this weekend.  You can see from the picture below that the broad beans that I planted a few weeks ago are doing well, but it is far too wet at my allotment to plant them out yet, so I will have to leave them where they are for now.

SAM_5244

.

Nearly everyone loves mince pies at Christmas. 

I adore mince pies when they are homemade but I really do not like the ready made shop bought mince pies as much, even the more expensive ones.  So I make mine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mincemeat is very easy to make and tastes so much nicer than the shop bought alternative.   The history of the mince pie we know today is very interesting:

Originally mincemeat contained meat and mince pies evolved from a medieval pastry called “chewette.”  which was made with chopped meat or liver, boiled eggs, ginger, dried fruit and other sweet ingredients. It was fried or baked. During the 17th century, the meat products were replaced with suet, a beef or mutton fat.

 By the 19th century in Great Britain and North America, mince pies no longer contained any meat. Today mince pies are traditionally filled with fruit mincemeat, containing dried fruit, spices, nuts, suet and alcohol. The pies are cooked and dusted with caster sugar or icing sugar.

christmas_bells[2].

I used Delia Smiths’ recipe, with the odd change, as I didn’t have all the ingredients she suggested.  The recipe below is exactly as I made it, but you can find Delia’s exact recipe here.

I managed to make just under six jars with the recipe below and according to Delia, it will last for approximately three years, though I have never put this to the test.

Delia has worked out that her ingredients cost just £3.65 to make.  That works out at approximately 66p per jar.  A standard jar of shop bought mincemeat costs approximately £1.00 to buy and I would like to bet that homemade mincemeat tastes nicer!

IDShot_225x225[1]

When you first buy the ingredients to make Christmas recipes, it does seem to be expensive, when they include fruit, Brandy and spices.

I look out for offers leading up to christmas, for example I bought most of my Christmas ingredients when Tesco had them on a ‘3 for the price of 2’ offer.  The Brandy that I buy for my recipes is the cheapest I can find and it lasts ages (provided you don’t drink it) and the spices last for ages too.

The Brandy and spices are also used in other Christmas recipes I make, so nothing gets wasted.

.

mrs-claus[1]

 

Homemade Christmas Mincemeat

450g Bramley Apples, cored and chopped small (don’t peel)

225g shredded suet

1225g dried mixed fruit (with mixed peel included if possible)

350g Soft Dark Brown Sugar

Grated zest and juice of 2 oranges

Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

20g ground almonds

4 level teaspoons mixed ground spice

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

6 tablespoons brandy.

.

Put all the ingredients, except the Brandy, into a large mixing bowl and mix together.

Cover the bowl with a plate or a clean cloth and leave the bowl in a cool place for 12 hours or overnight, so the flavours have time to mingle and develop.

SAM_5237

Preheat your oven Gas ¼ /225F / 110C

Transfer your mixture to an ovenproof dish and cover loosely with foil and place in your oven for 3 hours.

Take out the oven and leave to cool, stirring every so often.

SAM_4805

The mincemeat will look like it is swimming in fat , but this is how it should look.  By stirring it, the fat will coagulate instead of it being in tiny shreds and it will encase the other ingredients.

When the mincemeat is cold, stir again whilst adding the brandy.

Put the mincemeat in sterilised jars.

SAM_4825

(Sterilise your clean jars and lids by placing them in the oven at gas mark 4 for 5 minutes).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

Tomorrow I will be using the mincemeat to make mince pies.