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A Busy Week In The Garden

Well I can’t start today without mentioning the wonderful celebrations that went on in Leicester on Monday evening at ‘Leicester City’s Victory parade’.  I watched it all on the TV, but Mr Thrift was lucky enough to enjoy the parade at Victoria Park with my sisters and brother-in-laws, together with approximately 220,000 other people….this was absolutely amazing as Leicester City’s population is only 330,000!

Mr Thrift said the atmosphere was wonderful and it was an evening that he will always remember.  This event really did bring the city together.

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This Week In The Garden:

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The nights have been cold this week in the garden so I have made sure that my tender plants have been under cover at night.  I will continue to keep a close eye on the weather forecast for now.

However, as the end of May is near I decided to plant a few things making sure they have adequate protection just in case there are still cold nights to come.

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I started by planting out the runner beans I sowed three weeks ago in newspaper pots (they grow so quickly).  I put up some bean poles for them to climb up and then planted the beans.  I also planted some nasturtiums that I sowed two or three weeks ago from seed around the beans, as these attract the blackfly away from the beans – also if there are no blackfly around, I add the leaves to salads as they have a lovely mild peppery taste.

I then put some glass around the plants to give a bit of protection:

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I then planted out my outdoor cucumbers which are a variety called ‘Burpless tasty green’ which I have been growing for a number of years. Over the years I have had fantastic crops of outdoor cucumbers in warm summers, but I have also had one or two years where the plants just sat and sulked in the cold, wet conditions…..I’m keeping my fingers crossed the weather is good for this years crop!

I support the cucumbers by tying them to canes as they grow….but for now I have given them some protection from the cold and slugs by covering them with old pop bottles until they are established:

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I have also used pop bottles to cover the parsley I planted this week, as these plants are still small.  I again grew the parsley in newspaper pots, as this stops any root disturbance to the plant and the newspaper just decomposes in the soil.

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This week I also ‘squeezed’ in some beetroot into my plot (again sown in newspaper pots and covered in bottles for protection until they are established) ….

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I then planted my red cabbages which again I had grown from seed.  I made sure that I used my foot to firm around each plant as brassicas grow best in firm soil and then I put a home made cabbage collar around each plant to stop cabbage root fly from laying eggs at the base of the plants.

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I then planted my swedes in an area next to my cabbages so I could put a net over the whole lot to stop the birds, as they LOVE to eat brassica leaves!

Just before I put the net over the brassicas I sowed a ‘catch crop’ of radish between the cabbages to make use of every spare piece of ground:

“A ‘Catch Crop’ is a crop that reaches maturity in a relatively short time, which makes use of the ground in between crops until they are established”

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I also planted some spring onions that I grew from seed in a small area under my environmesh that was not being used, next to my garlic:

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And I planted some khol rabi under my net in a space next to my Spring cabbage:

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As my kitchen garden is small, I am determined to grow as much as possible in every spare bit of ground I can find….however I also want to make the area look attactive with flowers for me and for the beneficial insects.  These insects will in turn pollinate my crops and eat the pests that visit my garden.

So this week I planted some Calendula that I grew from seed:

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Calendula is a hardy annual that I grew for years at my allotment and I also grew some last year in my new kitchen garden too.

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‘Calendula Alley’ at my allotment

Hoverflies, bees and butterflies all love the Calendula flowers and as an extra bonus, the petals are edible and look really pretty scattered into salads….so I think it’s always good to try and squeeze some of them into a vegetable garden somewhere:

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This week my mangetout was ready to plant out.  I had sown it in guttering a couple of weeks ago and kept it in my mini-greenhouse until it had germinated, as I think I get a far better rate of seed germination this way:

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I decided to put the mangetout in my new planter as my polyanthus and cowslips had just about finished flowering.  I don’t know if you remember but I bought all fourteen plants from my local nursery in the middle of April for just 40p each…..and they have flowered continuously since then, so this was a real bargain:

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I moved each plant to a different place in the garden to flower again another year.  I then added a bit more compost and a handful of blood, fish and bone to the planter and then I planted the mangetout …. hopefully it will grow up the trellis at the back.

I will add more plants to the planter another day:

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Another job I did this week was to ‘thin’ my leeks once again as there seemed to be so many growing in the tray.  Hopefully they will grow stronger now there are less of them….I must remember not to sow them so thickly next year!

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 I also ‘thinned’ my carrot seedlings which I am keeping in my greenhouse.  Normally it is best to ‘thin out’ carrot seedlings in the evenings to help prevent carrot rootfly, however as I thinned them out in the greenhouse then they will hopefully be ok.

I sowed these seeds far too thickly as the seed packet was a few years old and I thought most of them wouldn’t germinate….I was very wrong!

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Back in March I sowed some ‘cut and come again’ lettuce in my greenhouse and we have had a good supply of salad leaves over the last month or so. However the supply of leaves was just about finished and so I decided it was time to pull them up together with the remaining radish that I had sown around the edge of the salad leaves.

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This made room for me to plant my remaining indoor tomatoes.  As you can see from roots in the photo below, the tomatoes were ready to be planted:

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I also planted a couple of french marigolds next to the tomatoes as they are said to repel aphids and they look pretty too.

My greenhouse seems to be growing well at the moment and this week I noticed I have my first little cucumber growing.  I am being very careful not to overwater the cucumber plants as they don’t like to sit in wet compost.

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I am still continually tying my cucumbers and tomatoes to their supports as they grow and I am removing side shoots from the tomatoes when I spot them.

I also had room to plant some lettuces in my greenhouse that I have been growing from seed….I am trying very hard this year to have a continuous supply of salads (as we eat such a lot):

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Around the garden this week I have been weeding as we had some nice dry days at the beginning of the week.  Unfortunately I have been finding a lot of bindweed growing in a particular bed so I have been digging out as much of it as possible.  Provided I keep removing the top of the bindweed after it emerges out of the soil, it will eventually exhaust itself and die – but this takes a long time.

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Improving our lawn area:

Finally this week I turned my attention to our lawn.  After using a ‘log roll’ a couple of weeks ago against our fence I found had a tiny bit of it spare, so I cut it in half with a saw and fitted it neatly around our bay tree:

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I was very pleased with the results.

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I then decided to take off an inch of our lawn at the end, to make it easier to mow and keep tidy:

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While I was doing this I found a ‘leather jacket’ so I took a photo to show you….

“Leatherjackets are the larvea of craneflies (daddy long-legs) that live in the soil.  They can be very damaging to lawns and can eat the roots and stem bases of small flower and vegetable plants.  There are usually more around after a wet autumn”

  For now I won’t do anything about the leatherjackets, but I will certainly be keeping an eye out for any damage in this area.

There is a lot of information about Leatherjacket damage on the RHS website here.

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We have now managed to stop yellow patches appearing on our lawn by pouring water on the grass every time Judy (our dog) goes to the toilet.

However at one end of our grass there are still some bare patches where Judy used to run around going mad at next doors dog when he came out.  Judy is a lot calmer now and so I decided to reseed these patches.

I covered the new seeded areas with whatever I could find to stop Judy from running over it…hopefully soon the seeds will germinated and then thicken up quickly:

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It has been lovely spending so much time in my garden this week, especially as Judy has been ‘calmly’ waiting for me, enjoying the sun……this is something that I never thought she would do, so I savour every peaceful moment of it:

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

Have a great week!

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A Problem With My Leeks….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This Week In The Home:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Leek and Potato Soup Recipe:

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800g potatoes peeled and chopped small

800g Leeks chopped

1700 ml vegetable stock

800mls hot milk

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

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

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

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 Serve and enjoy adding salt and pepper to taste!

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

Have a great week!

Overwintering Plants & A Welcome Friend

It has really felt like Autumn this week with the wind and rain that we have had and the trees in the park are now turning into beautiful colours.

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At home in my kitchen garden I have started to tidy some areas.  I gave my pyracantha a light prune as it seems to grow so quickly…..I made sure I left all the berries for the birds to eat.

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I also gave my comfrey its last cut of the year too:

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As my compost bins were full I spread the comfrey over an empty bed and I will dig it into the soil another day after it has died.

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I also decided it was time to strim my green manure (phacelia) that I sowed in August, as it was beginning to flower.  Phacelia has beautiful purple flowers which bees absolutely love, but unfortunately it self seeds like mad (which I don’t want in my small garden) so I cut the plants down before they flower.

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Soon I will dig the green manure into my soil to improve it, however until then I have covered it with weed suppressant as I have found through bitter experience that digging Phacelia into the soil doesn’t always kill it……but the weed suppressant will kill it if I leave it down for long enough:

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This week I also cleared the yellow, dying leaves from my rhubarb plants.  The plants have grown very well this year, though I will leave them another year before I harvest any to allow the roots to grow strong:

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In the middle of August I sowed some Broccoli raab ’60 days’

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This week I finally got around to thinning the plants to their final spacing:

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I was very pleased to see that a couple of plants actually have a broccoli spear growing in the center….I have never grown this variety before so I am looking forward to seeing the results, though I don’t think I will be harvesting at ’60 days’ as the packet suggests:

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This week I have also been sowing some seeds.  I started with perpetual spinach, which should really have been sown a month ago…so it will be interesting to see how it does.  I then sowed some ‘All year round’ cauliflower for next year and some overwintering peas which I have sown in modules which I think improves the germination rate.  Finally I sowed some coriander which is sitting on my kitchen windowsill:

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I also ‘pricked out’ the winter lettuce and corn salad that I sowed a few weeks ago:

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This week I removed my last two outdoor cucumbers (which felt quite sad) and I then pulled up the remaining plants and added a bucket full of compost and some blood, fish and bone to the soil:

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I bought garlic to plant this week in place of the cucumbers.  It is a softneck variety called ‘Cristo’ which I haven’t grown before…..hopefully it will turn out well.  I have planted some cloves directly in the ground and I have decided to put a cloche over them in a few weeks time to stop the cloves from rotting in my heavy, clay soil over winter.  I have also kept some cloves back to plant in pots in my greenhouse, ready to plant out in February.

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I also planted out my overwintering onions next to my garlic this week:

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Last weekend I picked my final ‘outdoor girl’ tomatoes.  They have given me such a good crop this year:

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I have finally started to pick some of my ‘Money maker’ tomatoes too, but as you can see from the photo below I still have lots left still to ripen:

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I knew we were in for some rainy weather during the week, so I made the decision to pick my remaining green tomatoes and place them in my greenhouse to continue to ripen…..this way I wont lose them to ‘blight’ .  I’m not sure if they will ripen this late in the season, but if not I will be making green tomato chutney!

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On Sunday Mr Thrift was very happy as my sweetcorn was finally ready to pick.  I picked four cobs that were cooked and eaten within fifteen minutes and they were delicious!

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Finally this week I noticed that I have a couple of new, very welcome visitors to my garden.  I don’t know if you remember, but when I first started my kitchen garden I placed some rocks around the edge of the garden to attract beneficial insects to my plot…..My plan seems to be working as I found a couple of frogs hiding in the rocks this week…..the frogs will eat the slugs so they are welcome to stay!

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This week in the home:

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This week it was Mr Thrifts birthday and my daughter made him a lovely cake.  I was especially impressed with the footballs she made out of icing…they must have taken her ages to do!  The cake tasted delicious.

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I made Mr Thrift some shortbread as it is his favourite biscuit:

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And I also made a chocolate traybake with chocolate frosting and grated chocolate on top, for Mr Thrift to take to work for his colleagues.  He said they enjoyed them:

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Finally this week my lovely friend gave me a bag of crab apples from her tree, so I spent a happy few hours topping and tailing them ready to make crab apple jelly.

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Well that’s it for this week.  I will be back next Friday as usual.

Have a great weekend!

A Very Cheap Fruit Cage & Sowing The ‘Big Boys’

**** Don’t forget I will be back on Monday 28th April ****

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My leeks are one of the first crops I sow in the new year and this year I sowed them on the 21st February.  They are a variety called ‘Musselburgh’.

Leeks are an easy crop to grow from seed.  I sow them in a seed tray and leave them inside my house until the moment they germinate and then I move them to my cold greenhouse to grow on.

No matter how I try, I always sow my leek seeds too thickly and at this time of year I end up having to carefully ‘thin’ them out.  ‘Thinning out’ is just a name for removing some of the plants, so that the remaining ones can grow to a decent size before you plant them out.

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I usually leave about one centimeter between plants.  You can see in the photographs below the tray before thinning and after thinning:

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Just one point to remember, it’s best to give your plants some water afterwards, to help settle their roots after any disturbance from the thinning:

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A lot of my time this week has been spent seed sowing.  I start most of my vegetable seeds off at home as I find I get a much better gemination rate as I can give them the exact conditions that the seeds like.

So this week I have sown my outdoor tomatoes, parsnips, beetroot, spring onions, spring broccoli, khol rabi, basil, coriander, swede, lettuce, turnips and perpetual spinach.

I have also started to sow what I call the ‘big boys’…my summer squashes.  I have sown butternut squash, pumpkins, patty pans, courgettes and my gherkins.  These are all sitting snug and warm in propagators behind our french doors at home.  Incidentally, I have had these propagators for years and they were so cheap to buy from places like Wilkinsons or the pound shop:

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I like to try out something new each year and this year I have decided to give the ‘cucamelon’ a go.  I have read various good and bad reviews about these, so I decided to bite the bullet and have a go myself.

Apparently, they look like grape sized watermelons that taste like cucumbers with a hint of lime and they are supposed to be really easy to grow….I will let you know.

You can read about cucamelons here.

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I also sowed my climbing peas this week, they are a variety called ‘peashooter’.  I absolutely love this variety as the peas are so fat and juicy and I have never had a bad crop.  I saved the seeds from last years crop, as the seeds are expensive to buy and easy to save.

Because these seeds are so precious to me, I start them off in toilet rolls in my greenhouse, so I give them the best chance to germinate without mice eating them:

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I also like to have some salad leaves handy at home, ready to use, so I started off some mixed salad leaves this week too.

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I used an old grocers box with an old compost bag to line it.  I fill it with compost, sow the seeds and then cover the seeds with a little more compost.  I then just place the box and in my greenhouse and give it a good water.

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Below are some mixed salad leaves that I sowed in exactly the same way on the 6th March.  So you can see they don’t take long to grow, as these are nearly ready:

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I use them as a ‘cut and come again’ crop, as once you cut them they grow again.

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The green house is filling up nicely now.

  You can see in the photograph below that I started to ‘pot on’ my greenhouse tomato plants (which just means to put them in a bigger pot) but unfortunately I ran out of compost, so I only managed to do two of them.  I will do the other ones over Easter:

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At my allotment this week I finally painted the wood around the new area that surrounds my blackberries.

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I also began a project to smarten up the area in front of my utility area. I put some wood down to surround my bed and finished it off with a lick of wood stain too.

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I also planted a clematis that my daughters bought me for Mother’s Day.

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I planted the clematis to climb up the old swing that I brought to the allotment a couple of weeks ago.  I made sure the clematis was planted deeply and I covered the roots with stones to guard against ‘clematis wilt’.

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The clematis I planted over the other swing last year, was an early flowering clematis called ‘montana’.  The new clematis will flower during summer, so hopefully it will look beautiful climbing over the swing.

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This week I also put up my D-I-Y, no nails or screws, fruit cage.

I can’t afford one of those lovely fruit cages you can buy that just slot together and myself and Mr Thrift are not very good at D-I-Y, so a few years ago I came up with the idea of using canes, bottles and netting and it had worked brilliantly over the years.

Fruit netting should really be taken down over the winter so the birds can eat the grubs that pupae under the fruit bushes, so my cage works great as it’s only needed for a few months in the year.

All I do is make holes in the bottles to hold up the canes and push the supporting canes into the ground:

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I find that the plastic bottles that cheap handwash comes in, are the best bottles to use as the plastic is soft and doesn’t go brittle and can be used time and time again:

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After the canes and bottles were up I just pegged down the netting and the result is a very cheap fruit cage:

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I also dug up some of my remaining leeks this week and made the most enormous pot of leek and potato soup, also using my last few homegrown potatoes from last year.

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I managed to get nine portions of soup to freeze and I also sent some of it down to my In-laws for lunch.  I always feel good when I have made meals out of homegrown vegetables.  I find it so satifying.

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Finally, I decided to change the signs that show my plot number, as the old ones were really scruffy.  I used some old wood and the posts from the old signs and gave them a lick of paint.  I then used my daughter acrylic paints for the colours.  I still have two more posts to paint yet.

Wilkinsons were selling some of their paints and varnishes off cheap and I managed to get a small tin of varnish for just 50p (which I was really quite proud of).

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So I have now given my new signs their first coat of varnish.  I’m not really an artist as you can see, but I’m quite pleased with them so far (even though they are a bit ‘girlie’)….

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Anyway, it’s time for me to go now.

I am going to take a couple of weeks off writing, to spend time during the Easter school holidays with my daughters.

So I will be back on Monday 28th April.

I will be around to read and answer your comments so please them coming, as it’s lovely to hear from you.

Thank you for reading my blog today and have a good easter.

How to Make Newspaper Plant Pots

It has been a showery week at my allotment.  On Tuesday it lashed down with rain for half an hour and even hailed.  I sat in my car and had lunch watching it, but soon afterwards the sun was shining again:

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Yesterday was officially the first day of spring and spring flowers are looking beautiful.  I noticed my Hyacinths at my allotment are flowering lovely in my flower patch.  I bought these bulbs for just 10p in a sale, approximately four or five years ago and they have given a good show each spring:

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This week I have been concentrating on tidying up last year’s brassica beds, where I will shortly be planting my shallots and onions.

I started by digging up my remaining brussells and freezing them. I am very pleased with my sprouts this year, they are an F1 variety called ‘Igor’.  For years I couldn’t grow sprouts without them ‘blowing’ (which means loose, open sprouts), even though I tried everything that the experts told me to do.  In the end, I tried growing an F1 variety and I now have success:

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I washed and prepared the brussells, blanched them and then ‘open froze’ them (if you are unsure how to freeze vegetables, you can read about it here).

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I also lifted my remaining swedes this week.  I have lots of people tell me that their swedes become ‘woody’ if they leave them in the ground too long.  I have never had this problem, but I have read that two reasons for ‘woody’ swedes are either a lack of water at some stage while they are growing or a lack of nutrients in the soil.  I must admit I only ever water mine if it’s really, really dry, but I do plant mine where I have manured the autumn before and I give the ground a feed of blood, fish and bone a couple of weeks before I plant my swedes out (I sow my swedes in mid-April in newspaper pots).

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I noticed the kale at my allotment is about to flower.  It usually lasts a bit longer before it flowers, but I can only assume it is because it has been mild for the last couple of weeks.  I chopped the flower buds off in the hope it will last a bit longer as it doesn’t freeze very well and I have so much of it left for us to eat.

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I also noticed that my spring broccoli is nearly ready to pick (my youngest daughter will be pleased as it is her favourite vegetable):

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I spent time this week making the edges of my paths neat, where my ‘poached egg plants’ grow.  I love the poached egg plants I have, as they have a pretty flower (that looks like a poached egg) and they attract hoverflies which eat aphids. They also attract lots of bees too:

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But on top of this, the plants are also useful, as excess plants can be dug into the soil like a green manure.  So I think it is a very useful plant to grow and self seeds easily every year.

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Finally this week at the allotment, I forked my old brassica beds over lightly, ready for this years crops:

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At home this week I sowed some spring onions.

We all have one crop that we can’t grow at our allotment and Spring onions is my crop.  I always found that hardly any seeds would germinate, even though Spring onions are supposed to be so easy to grow.  I eventually learnt a trick to get around this…I plant a small pinch of seed into modules full of compost, which I grow on until they are a couple of inches high.  I then plant them out in bunches and they grow just fine this way:

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 I also spent time ‘pricking out’ my seedlings that I sowed on the 6th March.  These are red cabbage, white cabbage and some brussel sprouts.

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I planted the seedlings in paper pots that I made:

Newspaper Pots

Newspaper pots are great to make as they are extremely cheap and environmetally friendly to use, as the recycled materials decompose when you put them in the ground.  This also helps the plants that do not like root disturbance, e.g. swedes, that can be sown in the pots and then planted a few weeks later, still in the newspaper pots.  The plants find it easy to grow their roots through the damp pots when they are in the ground.

I was once asked if I used a special tool to make my newspaper plant pots…the answer is “no”.  You can buy a ‘Newspaper Pot Maker’ for approximately £10, but I prefer to make my pots using either a baked bean tin, or a soya sauce bottle, depending on the size of pot that I require and some masking tape…(the masking tape decomposes along with the newspaper in the ground).

I thought it would be useful to write how I make the pots again, as I have a lot of new people reading my blog now.  So this is how I make easy newspaper pots:

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How To Make Newspaper Pots:

 

You need a newspaper, some masking tape and a soya sauce bottle for small pots or a baked bean tin for larger pots

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Fold a sheet of newspaper into thirds

(if the newspaper is very large you may need to fold the sheet in half first)

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Roll the paper around the bottle, so the newspaper is over lapping the base of the bottle

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Ensure you don’t roll the newspaper too tightly, or it will be hard to remove the paper from the bottle.

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Use a small piece of masking tape to secure the paper at the top and then fold in the newspaper over the bottom of the bottle.

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Secure the bottom of the pot with a small piece of masking tape.

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You can use different sized tins and bottles depending on the size of pot required.  For example, I use a baked bean tin to make pots ready for when I ‘prick out’ my tomato plants.

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I find it’s best to make the pots and use them straight away, as sometimes the masking tape becomes ‘unstuck’ if you make them too far in advance.

Important:

When your plant is ready to go into the ground, make sure all of the newspaper is under the soil, or the paper will act like a wick and dry the compost out.

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I hope this has been useful.

Thank you for reading my blog today.  I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

Have a good weekend!

‘Romantic’ Seed Potatoes

I was very excited this week as I purchased my seed potatoes (little things make me happy).  I like to buy them early so I get the varieties that I particularly like to grow.  I have chosen:

‘Marfona’ which are second earlies,

‘Picasso’ which are an early main crop and

‘Desiree’ which are red potatoes.

I bought the potatoes from a nursery in Enderby, as I like to be able to pick the exact number of seed potatoes that I need for each row at my allotment.  It was fascinating to see the amount of different varieties of seed potatoes that they stock.  I must say they have an amazing choice.

However, the best price per kg for seed potatoes that I have found this year, is at Wilkinsons.  Unfortunately they don’t stock the varieties I wanted, but If I wasn’t fussy then I would definately buy them from there.  They are also selling some potatoes loose this year for the first time, so you can also just buy the exact number of potatoes you require, rather than buying a bag.

I have now put my seed potatoes in seed trays to ‘chit’ them.  You don’t really need to ‘chit’ main crop potatoes but there isn’t really anything else to do with them until April.

As per normal, I am the most romantic wife around and I have the potatoes ‘chitting’ in our bedroom, as it is the coolest room of the house.  It’s a good job Mr Thrift is a tolerant man:

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This week at the allotment I removed the environmesh over my overwintering onions and weeded.  A couple of years ago I lost most of my overwintering onions to the ‘allium leaf miner’ (you can read about it here).  When I harvested my onions last year, they were great after I covered them with the enviromesh, so I did the same thing again when I planted this crop.

After weeding I replaced the cover again.

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I also forked my green manure into a couple of beds.  I sowed ‘Phacelia’ in the beds in late summer and then chopped it down just before it flowered, but I find it never seems to die completely and keeps growing.  So now, I cover it with weed suppressant for a few months to make sure it dies back and then I fork it in.

I then covered the two beds with plastic to warm the soil ready for my onions in February or March:

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I also spread some manure around my rhubarb plants.  I have placed a bin over one of my plants to ‘force’ the rhubarb.  This way I will have lovely pink tender rhubarb a couple of weeks earlier than my other plants.

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  I inherited the rhubarb when I took on my plot number two, so unfortunately I don’t know what variety it is.  What I do know is it is a very early variety and it’s actually starting to grow already:

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Back at home I have started my seed sowing.  I used toilet rolls filled with compost to sow my broad beans in.  I sowed an overwintering variety called ‘Aquadulce’.  I will leave them in my greenhouse until they germinate.  You can plant these broad beans directly into the ground at the end of October but I find that mine always seem to get eaten by mice, so by planting them at home it ensures success.

I also sowed my leek seeds and I planted some garlic.  I am a bit late planting my garlic but it should still be ok:

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I am still harvesting things from my allotment and this week we have had some cabbages, carrots and a swede.

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One of the cabbages was huge and I have loads left in my fridge:

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One bit of bad news this week is we finished the last of my butternut squashes (which were also stored in my romantic bedroom with my pumpkins).  I made a butternut squash soup and it was lovely and thick.

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Finally, I picked my last red cabbage from my allotment and I decided to make some pickled red cabbage.  If you have never pickled red cabbage before, it is really easy to do:

All you do is wash the cabbage, shred it and then cover it with salt:

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Cover it and leave it overnight:

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Rince the salt off the cabbage and then put the cabbage into a sterilised jar and cover with pickling vinegar.

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Leave for a month before eating.

Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back again on Monday at my usual time.

Slabs And Planning For Next Year

My poor old allotment shed has been sitting on a bit of a slope for the last eight or nine years and unfortunately this has caused my shed to lean to one side, like a crooked house.  So this week I have been preparing a much better base for it to sit on, by laying slabs that I have recycled from a path I don’t use anymore.  Mr Thrift helped me to dig up the grass to prepare for the slabs and he helped me to lay four slabs, I managed to lay six more on my own the next day and on Wednesday my brother in law (who has the plot next to me) helped me to lay the final six and I was very grateful for their help.

Unfortunately, as I was laying the slabs on a slope, I needed to keep digging the soil from underneath each slab to ensure they were straight.   I must admit I did find it so hard at one stage that I started to wonder why I do things like laying slabs, instead of staying at home painting my nails and watching day time TV….but I suppose that just isn’t me.  I am now very proud of my square of slabs.

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Tomorrow I will attempt to move my shed over to the new slabs, again with help from Mr Thrift and my brother-in-law.  I pray it won’t collapse in the process.

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Between slabbing I have been preparing for next year by planting my overwintering onions and spring cabbage.

The overwintering onions that I planted in 2011 were not very good at all.  This was due to a fairly new pest called the Allium Leaf Miner (you can find details of it here).

In 2012 I planted seed sowed onions instead of sets, as I had read that they produce slightly stronger growth and after planting them I covered them with environmesh.  These onions were much better and I was very pleased with my crop:

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I’m not sure if the seed sown onions made a difference, but the environmesh definately stopped the Allium Leaf Miner, so this year I have planted them in exactly the same way:

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I also planted my spring cabbages this week:

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I prepared the beds for the spring cabbage and the overwintering onions by just raking in some blood, fish and bone a week or so before.

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I have also been clearing away the old plants in  ‘Calendula Alley’ next to my polytunnel.  The plants gave a beautiful display of flowers that all self seeded from the previous years plants.

I grow Calendula as they are great for attacting beneficial insects to my allotment, such as hoverflies, bees and butterflies and as an extra bonus, the petals are edible and look really pretty scattered into salads.

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It’s quite sad when the plants have finished flowering and it’s time to clear them all away for another year, but at least I can add them all to the compost heap.

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I covered the area with weed suppressant to prevent any weeds from growing:

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I am amazed to say that my outdoor tomatoes are still producing lovely, juicy fruit.  I am unable to freeze or preserve any more of them due to our building work, so I am giving bags of them away to anyone that wants them.  I have never managed to go this late in the season without them succumbing to the dreaded tomato blight, but this has been an exceptional year.  You can read about tomato blight here.

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The variety of tomato I grew was ‘Outdoor Girl’.  This week I have saved some of the seeds ready for next year.  There are different ways to save tomato seeds but I find this way easiest:

 All I do is chop the tomato in half and scrape out the seeds and spread them on a piece of kitchen towel.

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Allow the kitchen towel to completely dry out for a few days and then roll it up and pop it into an envelope ready to store it in a cool, dark and dry place.  Next year I just rip off a few seeds and plant them into compost with the kitchen towel still attached and it works a treat.

Please note:  Do NOT save seed from ‘F1’ varieties as they will not come ‘true to type’, which means you can’t guarantee what you will actually be growing.

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My allotment is still producing, but things are definately slowing down.

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One lovely thing I harvested this week was my first melon from my polytunnel.  I have never grown melons before and thought I would give it a try this year and I am very pleased with the results.  I have seven melons from two plants.  The melons are actually an outdoor variety called ‘Outdoor Wonder’, but I thought I may have better results planting them in my polytunnel.

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The melon was delicious and my daughters loved it, so I will definately grow melons again.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

A Good Website And My Seed Sowing Calender

Before I start today, I thought you may be interested in a website that my good friend ‘Jeff’ has set up with Catherine.  It is called “Crafts for a sustainable future” and it is fantastic.  This is what it says about it:

“Crafts for a sustainable future is a small business using willow weaving and green-woodworking, local and UK-farmed materials to promote a more sustainable future. We demonstrate and teach the crafts, make useful and decorative products and encourage bio-diversity and good habitat management. We work from two bases in Leicester and Cambridge”.

I love all the information on this website and the page about ‘foraging’ reminded me of when Jeff and Catherine took me around our local park.  I was absolutely astounded by the things that grow wild that we can eat, especially beacuse I had walked past them many times without realising that they were edible.  It was such an enjoyable evening that I won’t forget, so thank you Jeff and Catherine.

You can find their website here.

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It’s been another busy weekend.

I did my usual batch baking yesterday and made fruit scones for my daughter’s lunchbox:

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I buttered them and put them in the freezer on a tray, until they were frozen.  I then transferred them into a freezer bag, ready for the week ahead.  It’s easy to pop a frozen scone into my daughter’s lunch box each morning and it’s defrosted by lunchtime.

You can find the recipe here.

My first wallflowers this year in bloom

My first wallflowers this year in bloom

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This weekend I syphoned my first homemade wine into bottles.  I paid £10 in the Christmas sales for a starter kit and I then purchased six wine bottles and some re-usable corks, which came to £6.  I managed to get 5½ bottles of wine out of it, so this worked out at £2.90 per bottle, which I thought was pretty cheap.

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We thought we would try the half bottle of wine straight away and I’ve got to say it was really nice.  So I definately will be making some more.

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My daughter came to my allotment yesterday with me and she noticed there was some frog spawn in the pond.  It seems to be late this year, I assume it is due to the cold spring weather.

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I love frogs as they eat lots of snails.  I was lucky to catch the following photograph last year, which shows a frog eyeing up it’s dinner:

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Seeds I have already sown this year:

I thought it may be interesting for people to see what vegetables I have sown so far this year.  I try to pick crops that we like to eat and I like to grow.  I also like to try a different fruit or vegetable each year, this year I am trying to grow melons in my polytunnel.

I occaisionally buy special varieties that I think are particularly good to grow, but usually my choice is dictated by the seeds I manage to buy in the sales at the end of the year.

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I start most of my seeds in pots on my windowsill at home, or my heated greenhouse, or my plastic ‘mini’ greenhouse that has no heat.

I love to grow my crops from seed, as it gives me an enormous sense of acheivement and self satisfaction, especially when I serve my vegetables at meal times.

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So here is a list of what I have sown so far:

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Crop Variety Date sown
Broad beans Aquadulce 09-Jan
onions Bedfordshire champion 09-Jan
Basil Sweet genovese 09-Jan
Coriander For leaf 09-Jan
Leeks Musselburgh 09-Jan
Peppers California wonder 09-Jan
Celeriac Brilliant 25-Feb
Lettuce Webbs wonderful 25-Feb
shallots 06-Feb
Cauliflower All year round 25-Feb
Cabbage Robinson champion 25-Feb
Brussells Igor 07-Mar
Red Cabbage –  Summer Kalibos 07-Mar
Cucumber-greenhouse Euphya 07-Mar
Pea (Dwarf) Meteor 07-Mar
Coriander For leaf 07-Mar
Tomato-greenhouse Wladeks / Moneymaker 26-Feb
Basil Sweet genovese 07-Mar
Cape Gooseberry (variety not known) 07-Mar
Onion sets Turbo 27-Mar
Spring onions White lisbon 17-Mar
Indian spicy cress (variety not known) 17-Mar
Lettuce Webbs wonderful 17-Mar
Cauliflower All year round 17-Mar
Potatoes Marfona 09-Apr
Potatoes Picasso / Desiree 20-Apr
carrots (variety not known) 09-Apr
Tomato Outdoor girl 05-Apr
Parsnips Gladiator 05-Apr
Beetroot Boltardy 05-Apr
Spring onions Shimonita 17-Apr
Spring Brocoli 05-Apr
Khol Rabi Azure star 05-Apr
Pea (Climbing) Pea shooter 06-Apr
Pea (Dwarf) Mixed – saved seed 06-Apr
Mangetout 06-Apr
Basil Sweet genovese 05-Apr
Coriander For leaf 05-Apr
Radish Sparkler3 09-Apr
Swede Ruby 17-Apr
Butternut Squash Hunter 17-Apr
Turnips Purple top milan 18-Apr
lettuce Webbs wonderful 17-Apr
Pumpkin Hundred weight 17-Apr
Patty Pans Sunburst squash 17-Apr
Courgettes Black beauty 17-Apr
Pea (Dwarf) Onward 18-Apr
Mixed salad leaves 18-Apr
Melon Outdoor wonder 18-Apr
Cauliflower All year round 18-Apr
Perpetual spinach 17-Apr
Gherkins Diamant 18-Apr

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I will put this information on a ‘page’ at the top of my blog, in the next week,  so it doesn’t get ‘lost’ in the many blog posts I write.  I will also include a list of the seeds I have planned to sow over the next few months too.

Hopefully this will help anyone that is unsure of what they want to grow and when to grow it.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

Homemade ‘Wraps’, Laundry Liquid, The Allium Leaf Miner And Seed Sowing Continued.

The Allium Leaf Miner

If you read my blog on Friday, you will know that last week, I dug up my remaining leeks and froze then.

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While I was preparing them, I found something interesting that I thought I would share with you.

I found an Allium Leaf Miner, so I took a photograph to show you.

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Plants affected by the allium leaf miner tend to rot, from the damage it has caused on the plant. If you look closely on the picture above, you can see the small brown pupae, 3-4 mm long, embedded in the stem.

This is a pest that was only detected in Britain in 2002. It has been spreading rapidly since and spread to many places in the Midlands for the first time two years ago.

The allium leaf miner isn’t choosy which allium it attacks. Alliums include onions, leeks, garlic and shallots.

Last year I lost quite a few of my overwintering onions to the Allium Leaf Miner, so this year I covered them in environmesh, though it would cost too much to cover all the alliums I grow at my allotment, so I’ll have to hope for the best.

You can read all about the Allium Leaf Miner here.

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Seed Sowing:

The seeds I sowed on the 25th February have now all germinated and are growing well:

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From left to right, I have Celeriac, greenhouse tomatoes, lobelia, lettuce, cabbage and cauliflowers.

The celeriac, tomatoes and lobelia are sitting on my windowsill inside my house and the cabbages, cauliflowers and lettuce are sitting on a heated mat in my cold greenhouse.

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The seeds I grew on the 9th January are also doing well now too:

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From left to right I have peppers, basil, broadbeans and onions.

The broadbeans are in my cold greenhouse (as they are an overwintering variety), and the rest are sitting on my windowsill inside.

Finally, the shallots I planted in paper pots on the 6th February, have all rooted and some are beginning to sprout:

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So far, my seed sowing is going well.

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Laundry liquid:

I was running short of my homemade laundry liquid this week, so I made some more.

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I love this liquid as it saves us so much money and it is really easy to make.

You can read how to make it here.

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Homemade Wraps:

Today I thought I’d show you how I make homemade ‘Wraps’.

Homemade wraps are brilliant as they are so so easy to make and I have worked out that they cost just 15 pence to make…this is just under an incredible 2 pence per wrap!

The cheapest wraps I have managed to find are currently 12.6 pence per wrap, so it’s definitely cheaper to make them.

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 Homemade Wraps:

250g plain flour

1 tablespoon of olive oil

150ml warm water

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Sift the flour into a bowl.

In a separate jug, add the olive oil to the warm water, then add this mix to the sieved flour and stir well until it all comes together into a ball.

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Knead the ball for approximately 5 minutes.  Add a little bit extra flour if the ball is too sticky.

Divide your dough ball into 8 pieces.

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Heat a frying pan until it is very hot and then turn down to a medium heat.

While the pan is heating, sprinkle some flour onto your work surface and roll out a dough ball into a rough circle shape.

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Put into the frying pan (with no oil) and cook for approximately 1 minute, then turn and cook for a further minute on the other side.

(Be careful not to overcook or the wraps will break when you fold them).

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Leave to cool on a cooling tray.

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How to fold a wrap:

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Half fill the wrap with your desired filling

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(in the picture I used mayonnaise, cheese and salad, but you can put whatever you normally put in your sandwiches).

Fold the top, three quarters of the way over the bottom

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Fold the left side over the right side and turn the wrap over.

Then you have a perfect, homemade wrap…..Enjoy!

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I’ll be back on Friday.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

Seedlings, Snow and Painting

The snow has been beautiful to look at this week and it’s been so much fun for children, even though it has caused a lot of traffic disruption.

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Both my daughters’ schools were closed on Monday, so it was lovely to have them around.   I took my youngest daughter sledging and I’ve got to say we had a wonderful time.  My girls also built a snow man in the garden and they had a snowball fight with their dad, so they really took advantage of the heavy snow.

On Monday, I was worried about the heavy snow affecting my polytunnel at my allotment, so I went to check it.  There really was a lot of snow on it, so I knocked it all off with my brush.  Unfortunately, it had done a bit of damage, as the plastic was beginning to pull away from the door frame.  I will have to fix this on a dry day.

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My allotment visit was at 3.30pm, which was fine to get into the gate at the allotment site, but unfortunately by the time I left, the locks on both the allotment gates had frozen up as the temperature must have dropped.

I must admit I was beginning to panic a bit, having visions of being stuck all night in a cold dark allotment, but luckily someone came out of a house next to the gate so I was able to shout him.  He poured hot water over the lock and at last I was free!  I certainly won’t be going to my allotment in the snow at that time of day again!

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Remember the nineteen packets of unopened seeds I put on EBay…well I managed to sell them for £8.44, plus postage.  I know it isn’t loads of money but ‘every little helps’ as Tesco says in it’s well know advert.

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My seedlings are doing well on my window sill.  The coriander is looking a bit ‘leggy’, due to the low light level and the seedlings lean towards the light.  I take all of my seedlings off the window sill at night (so they don’t get too cold) and turn them around the next day, when I put them back on again.

To help with the light, I have covered some old cardboard in foil and put it at the back of all of my seedlings, this will allow the light to  reflect back onto them, to stop them leaning so much.

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My leeks are coming up nicely too.  I had wanted to move them quite quickly into my cold greenhouse, but the temperatures have been so low, even in the day time, that I haven’t been able to do this yet.  This means I will have to ‘harden them off’ first (which means gradually leaving them outside for a longer period each day, so it’s not such a shock for the plants).  I will wait until the weather warms up a little in the day time.

My onions are also doing well.  I used a pinch of seed in each individual module and they have germinated.  I then ‘thinned them out’ so there is now just one onion in each module.

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The onions will stay on my window sill for quite some time now.  I do have an electric greenhouse heater, but it does cost quite a lot to run, so I use my window sills until they are at bursting point.

Finally, my basil is also peeping through now, but my peppers are still in my propagator with no sign of germination.

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As it has been so cold and a thick layer of snow has covered everything outside, I haven’t been able to get to my allotment to actually do anything.  So I decided it was time I did the long overdue painting job on my hallway and landing.

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Over a year ago, my dad had some dated B&Q vouchers given to him (compensation from his housing association), which he knew he wouldn’t use, so he bought me some paint for my hallway.  I was really grateful to him as paint is expensive.

As my daughter had problems with her asthma for months last year, I daren’t start to paint just in case the smell from the paint upset her even more.  So that’s why it took so long to start.

I started by sanding down all the woodwork

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and then I painted the ceiling with a roller.

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I used a paint pad to put the paint onto the walls, which quickly coated it well.

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I only needed to use one coat of paint on the walls as it is a Dulux paint which is good quality and I’m actually painting it the same colour.  I think the colour looks ‘homely’ with the good quality carpet that we inherited ten years ago, when we moved in.

I am not the best painter around, so I used masking tape to cover the woodwork while I painted the walls.

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Afterwards I started on the woodwork.  In the past I have always used gloss, but it really does smell, so I’ve used a B&Q ‘Anywhere’ paint which is waterbased.  I used it in my both my daughters bedrooms and it has been fine, I so I thought I’d give it a try in the hall.

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I’ve still got to finish the woodwork, but I quite enjoy doing it when I’m listening to our local radio station.  I find painting very therapeutic and it will be so rewarding when it’s finished.

The ceiling after I painted it

The ceiling after I painted it

Painting your house yourself, is far cheaper than paying for a professional to paint it.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.