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A Strawberry Ice Cream Recipe & My Allotment This Week

Before I start, I don’t usually advertise anything on my blog, but I thought I would make an exception for this:

Transition Leicester are holding a ‘Leicester Green Open Homes And Living’ event….

Their website says “Would you like some ideas about making your home and/or life greener? Come and look around the homes of people who are changing their homes and lives to reduce their carbon footprints and talk to them about what it is like”.

For details on the houses, their availability and features, click here I can imagine it will be a real eye opener.

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What a busy week it has been at the allotment.  Due to all the rain we had last week I have had to work twice as hard to catch up with my planting.

First though, I had to dig up my old spring broccoli and curly kale before I could even start planting:

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I then planted my outdoor cucumbers (burpless tasty green), leaving them under glass to give some protection for a couple weeks as it has been really cold and wet and they do not like these conditions:

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My runner beans and tomatoes were planted out:

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And my sweetcorn, butternut squashes, patty pans and courgettes:

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And more spring onions and lettuces:

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And some more cauliflowers under environmesh and I planted cabbages under bottles as they were small and I wanted to give them a bit of protection from slugs and the cold

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I also planted my leeks that were sown way back in January.  If you haven’t planted leeks before, it is a bit unusual the way they are planted.  You can read how to plant them here.

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I also planted my celeriac, which like plenty of water and they certainly had plenty of rain on Wednesday this week…

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…and I finally got round to planting some flowers- sweetpeas, nasturtiums and tagettes.

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I also planted some nasturtiums around my runner beans as a sacrificial plants.  The blackflies prefer nasturtiums to the beans and so they leave my runner beans alone.

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I also invested in a very large net from ebay this year to stop the pigeons from eating my peas.  I hope to be able to use it for years to come as it wasn’t the cheap sort that you can buy.

A few years ago I didn’t need to net my peas as the birds never bothered with them, but they seem to eat everything these days, including my lettuces which I still find strange.

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Also, I finally got round to nipping the top couple of inches off my broad beans to stop the blackflies as they love the top growth.  The best time to do this is when the first beans start to develop on the plants, but as you can see in the photo below, I was a little bit late on one or two of them, but I’m sure they will be fine.

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Finally at my allotment, I have had loads of people ask me what is wrong with their onions this year and I have said the same thing over and over again….it’s the allium leaf miner, which is a fairly new pest.  You can find information about it here.

My onions have been hit too and I will be covering them with environmesh next year:

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During half term when it was raining nearly all week, it was lovely to have some time to catch up at home.  Especially as my daughters were off school, as I love spending time with them.

One of the things we did was toasting marshmellows over a candle.  I had forgotten how good they taste and they took me back to when I was a Guide (many years ago).

I absolutely love the melted marshmellow taste:

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During the week I also managed to catch up on some long overdue jam making sessions with leftover fruit in my freezer.

I made rhubarb jam and strawberry jam:

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I find jam making quite thereputic and it is so easy to do.

If you haven’t made jam before, you can find a strawberry jam recipe and some jam making tips here if you are interested.

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I also managed to give my drains a bit of a clean  by pouring 1 tablespoon of bi-carbinate of soda down the drain, followed by a cup of white vinegar.  It bubbles up like a volcano for a few minutes and then I flushed it all down by running the hot tap for a few moments….the result was clean smelling, unblocked drains!

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I was also able to take time to make some nice salads from my polytunnel and some nice meals for the family without rushing….it was such a pleasure:

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The last photo is homemade shortbread, which is one of the simplist recipes I have.  You can find it here.  I use pure margarine as my daughter is lactose intolerant, but you can use normal margarine or butter and they taste even nicer.

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The photo my daughter took as we picked them

The photo my daughter took as we picked my strawberries

This week I made some luxury strawberry ice cream as double cream was on offer at Tesco….and the taste is absolutely delicious!…and yet again so easy to make.

I used my strawberries from the allotment as they are ripening nicely.  These are a very early variety that I planted two years ago:

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Luxury Strawberry Icecream Recipe:

300 grams strawberries

300 ml double cream

140 grams of caster sugar

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Puree the strawberries in a bowl with a hand blender / liquidiser or a fork

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Add the caster sugar and the double cream to the bowl

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Give it all a mix with a spoon until it is all combined

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And add it to your icecream maker to do the hard work

(If you haven’t got an ice cream maker, just put the blended ingrediants into a container and freeze.  Remove from the freezer every 1-2 hours and mash vigourously with a fork to break up the ice crystals)

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As there are no chemicals in the ice cream, the ice cream will be quite hard when you take it out of the freezer to use, so it is better to take it out for fifteen minutes or so before you eat it.

Then enjoy it!

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I actually made double the amount of ice cream and it filled an old two litre plastic ice cream tub and I worked out it cost me just £1.85 to make.  I’ve checked on the Tesco website and the ‘posh’ ice cream is far more expensive than that!

Within an hour of making the ice cream, some of it had disappeared out of the tub….it must have been the ice cream fairies…so beware of the ice cream fairies if you make it too.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back again next Friday

My woodland garden this week

My woodland garden this week

Have a good week!

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A New Gadget & Blogging Once A Week

At the beginning of the week it was really warm and I decided to take a day off from the allotment.

Mr Thrift very kindly took me to Barnsdale Gardens in Exton, Oakham.  This is where Geoff Hamilton filmed Gardeners World from 1983 until he sadly passed away in 1996.

It was Geoff Hamilton’s series called ‘The Ornamental Kitchen Garden’ that inspired me to have a go at growing vegetables, which has obviously grown into a passion of mine as I now have four allotment plots.

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The gardens were beautiful and so peaceful.

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I particularly enjoyed seeing the gardens that I remember Geoff Hamilton constructing on Gardeners World and it was great to come away with some new ideas.  One such idea was to grow ‘Lady’s mantle’ (Alchemilla mollis) around the base of fruit trees, which will act as a weed suppressant and a mulch to retain moisture around the roots of young trees.  You can see this in the photo below:

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If you are ever passing, the gardens are really worth a visit.

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I had a lovely visit from my nephew at the allotment this week.  He is rather good at photography and he took a photo which I thought I would share with you.  There are quite a few empty beds at the moment waiting for the more tender plants which will be planted at the end of this month, after any risk of frost has passed:

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You can see in the photo above that the lavender hedge that lines one of my paths will soon flower and look beautiful.

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This week I purchased a new gadget to try…. A ‘Bentley patio, paving and decking weed brush’ for £12.99

I get fed up of spending hours on my hands and knees each week weeding in between my paths.  As you know I am an organic gardener and I won’t use weed killers (glyphosate) on my plot.  Therefore I decided to treat myself:

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I didn’t buy the cheapest weed brush I could find, as I wanted to make sure it was a good quality brush that didn’t break after a few uses.

This brush is like magic as the hard wire bristles simply ‘brush away’ the weeds in between your slabs, as you can see in the photographs below.

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Obviously perennial weeds will grow again as the roots are deep below the slabs, but if you brush regularly then even the hardiest perrenial weeds will ‘give up’ growing after a while.

I found this brush particularly good at ‘brushing’ away horsetail (Equisetum arvense) that grows between the slabs outside my polytunnel.

An hours job per week has now turned into a five minute job and I think this brush is worth every penny.

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I have noticed a few things at my plot this week:

The first thing is my oriental poppies have started to flower.  My friend gave me a cutting a few years ago and it seemed to take a long time to become establshed, but last year I had a few flowers and this year it seems to be even better.

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You can read about oriental poppies here on the Gardeners World website.

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Another thing I noticed was a lovely Iris that has popped up in one of my flower beds.  I can’t for the life of me remember planting it, but I shall leave it there as it is beautiful:

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The perennial cornflowers (Centaurea montana) are now flowering in my flower patch, together with the aquiligias.   I always think perennial cornflowers are like ‘marmite’….you either love them or hate them….I love them:

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When I looked, I noticed my strawberries will soon be ready ro ripen:

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And I also noticed that the fruit trees and bushes seem to be doing well.

The golden gages, pears and apples all developing nicely:

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I have also checked the pheromone traps and I can see that the plum moths and codling moths are active, as some have already been ‘lured’ into the traps:

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One sad thing I have noticed this week at my allotment is that I think a few of my onions are suffering from the ‘allium leaf miner’ again.  The tell tale signs are white dots on the foliage and the foliage seems to twist.

I wrote about the allium leaf miner here if anyone is interested.

There is nothing I can do about it now but I think I will have to reassess how I grow my onions next year if there is alot of damage to my crop from this pest.

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This week at my allotment I planted out my runner beans.  I don’t usually plant tender plants out until the end of May, but they were getting a bit big (due to all the hot weather we have had) and I have sheets of glass ready to cover them if we have a late frost.

I also planted nasturtiums in between the runner bean plants as a sacrificial plants.  Blackflies prefer the nasturtiums to the beans, so it keeps the beans clear of the flies.  Also as a bonus, if there are no blackflies around, you can eat the peppery nasturtium leaves and flowers in salads.

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I also prepared the area where I will be planting my tomatoes at the end of this month.  At the end of March I spread manure over this bed and then covered it with weed suppressant as I hadn’t got time to fork it in.  I have found if I don’t fork the manure into the soil then it just dried in clumps on the top of the soil.

By covering the manure I was hoping that the worms would do some of the job for me…and indeed they did:

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….but there were still the odd bits that needed forking in, so I set to work turning the soil with my fork:

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This is the area that had my wildflowers in for the last two years, so this is the third time I have dug it over and I was astonished to find this in my soil:

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How on earth did I miss it before?  You can see how big it was next to my fork.

Another one of those crazy allotment mysteries!

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My chives have been looking beautiful this week and when I have stood and watched I can see lots of insects buzzing around them:

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But unfortunately as beautiful as they are, they now aren’t providing me with any chives to pick for our salads.  So at this time of year I chop some of the stems back and this allows the chives to regrow and provide me with another lot of fresh pickings in a few weeks time.

I also leave some of the chives in flower, for the beneficial insects to still visit.

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I don’t know if you remember that back in March I started to re-vamp the area at the back of my allotment.  This is the area that I moved my shed from last year.  I planted a quince tree here and also dug a small area at the back where I transplanted some rosa rugosa from my garden at home (so I could use the rosehips when they are established) and I also transplanted some ‘vinca minor’ (periwinkle) from home to cover the bare soil around rosa rugosa.

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I’m not sure at the moment whether I will woodchip this area or grass it…I will decide later on in the year when I have more time.

Until the plants become established, the ground around the vinca and rosa regosa is quite bare.  So I decided to transplant some calendula, that self seeds freely around ‘Calendula alley’.  You can see the established flowers in this old photograph below:

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I also transplanted some calendula in the old tubs at the back of this area too

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I think this area will be a lovely area to sit down and have a picnic, when it is finally finished next year.

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When I started my blog nearly two years ago, I wrote a post every day to get my blog established.  In January 2013 I decided to write just twice a week, however I am finding this incredibly difficult with other commitments that I have.

  One of my new commitments is learning to play the piano and I really enjoy practising every day as I find it a good way to relax (especially after stressful days).  I also enjoy writing my blog though and I don’t want to give this up.  So after lots of soul searching, I have decided to write my blog just once a week now and publish it on a Friday only.

I think this is a good solution which will allow me time to still blog and do other things (and write about them for you).

I hope nobody minds this too much.

I will still answer all your comments, as this is my favourite part of blogging.  If you haven’t left a comment before I would really love to hear from you.

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One other thing I wanted to mention, is my followers on ‘Twitter’ are growing rapidly, which I am very pleased with.  Therefore I have started to use Twitter more by posting little ‘chestnuts’ of information or ‘top tips’ on there every few days when I think of them.

So if you have a Twitter account you can follow me by clicking on the ‘follow’ button on the right hand side of this page or visit my twitter account ‘@Mrs_Thrift’

I was a bit nervous about using Twitter in the beginning as it sometimes gets bad press, but there really is nothing to it.  You can ‘follow’ or ‘unfollow’ people whenever you like.

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Anyway,  thank you for reading my blog today.

Don’t forget I will be here every Friday from now on.

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.

Shallots, Onion Sets And Peas

I have seen one or two beautiful things this week and I thought I would share them with you.

The first thing is a sight I look forward to every Spring…the sight of the a Magnolia tree in flower.  This tree belongs to one of our neighbours and the photograph was taken from my daughters bedroom.  We have quite a small garden but we are very lucky not to be overlooked by other people’s houses.

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I also noticed this week that the Bergenia plant in my garden is flowering nicely too.  It seems to like the shade from our fence.

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And at my allotment the bees and butterflies are taking advantage of the sun when it is out:

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One thing I found this week shows how amazing plants can be…I found this self seeded Primrose growing next to our old shed door in a ‘crack’ in our wall and it is so pretty.  I couldn’t bring myself to disturb it, so I have left it there:

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Last weekend, Mr Thrift and I dismantled the old swing in our garden at home.  I must admit I did get a bit sentimental about it, as I have lots of lovely memories of my girls playing on it.  But time passes quickly and my 14 and 16 year olds just do not want it anymore and it’s also quite an embarressment for them when their friends come around.

You can see the swing at the bottom of our garden, in this old photograph below:

The swing wasn’t really good enough to pass on to someone else, so I decided to move it to my allotment.

Those who have been reading my blog for a while, may remember that I also used to have a swing for my girls at the allotment too.  Last year I also moved this over my path and I planted a Clematis to grow over it and I also grew some Sweet peas up the sides:

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  So I decided to do the same with the swing from my garden and I have put the swings together.  I am hoping that the plants will cover the top and create a sort of tunnel over the path to walk through:

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So this week I have given the swing a quick lick of brown paint and next week I will attach some chicken wire for plants to grow up….and then I need to decide what to grow over it to compliment the Clematis.

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Back in the middle of Febuary, I planted my shallots in modules to start them off early.  This week at my allotment I decided to plant them all out.

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I started by preparing the soil by raking in some Blood, Fish and Bone fertiliser over the area.  I then planted my shallots.

Please note, Blood, Fish and Bone is really best applied two weeks before you plant into it, but unfortunately I didn’t get around to it then.

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You can see from the photograph below that the roots on the the shallots are not too congested, but there is enough root structure to plant them:

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I then prepared the soil in another bed exactly the same and planted some onion sets.  Onion sets are planted so the ‘head and shoulders’ of the bulbs are poking out of the soil, but you must check them every few days as birds will sometimes pull them out of the ground thinking they are worms.  If this happens, you just need to pop them back in.

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We have had some lovely things to eat from the allotment this week.

I have been trying to use the kale up and I have really enjoyed eating this, as it’s one of my favourite vegetables:

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My youngest daughter was happy as we had our first purple sprouting broccoli of the year and this is her favourite vegetable:

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And we had a lovely little salad picked from the allotment this week, with red veined sorrel, mizuna, corn salad and the first chives of the year:

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At home I have been ‘pricking’ out the seedlings that I sowed last week (annual lavertera, dhalia’s, marigolds, cosmos etc):

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I am very glad I have a greenhouse:

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When I was in town a few weeks ago, I found some seed trays in the ‘pound shop’ that I thought I would give a try.  I must say they are really easy to fill with compost and to use but I’m not sure I would buy them again, because I don’t think I can reuse them as they look like they would be difficult to wash (though I will try).

  My friend gave me a stack of plastic trays a few years ago (the type that bedding plants come in) and I have washed them and re-used them time and time again.  In fact you can see some of them in the photos above as I find them great for putting my flower seedlings into.

The photographs below show the ‘Pound shop’ trays I bought:

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Finally, this week I have sown some dwarf peas.

I have tried different ways of sowing my peas, but over the years I have found it best to start them off in my greenhouse at home, in small lengths of guttering.  This way I get a better germination rate than I do when I sow them direct into the ground at my allotment.

I use small pieces of guttering (approximately 70cm in length) as I find the compost slides out easier from the smaller pieces than the long lengths of guttering.  I seal each end of the guttering with a piece of ‘Duct tape’, to stop the compost falling out:

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I fill the guttering with compost and sow my peas into it:

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My guttering will sit in my heated greenhouse until I just see them poking through the compost and then I will move them into my coldframe.

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Below is a picture of the peas when they germinated last year:

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When the peas are fully hardened off I plant them out, but I will show you how I do this another time.

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Well I think that’s enough for today, except I just wanted to show you one last thing.  The photo below shows the mixed salad leaves that I sowed on the 6th March.  I used an old grocers wooden box with an opened compost bag filled with compost and they are doing fine.  They sit in my greenhouse where the temperature falls no lower than 10C at night and they are growing well.  It just shows you can grow salad leaves in just about anything:

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

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!

How To Plant A Bare-Rooted Tree And The Humble Cress Seed

Parts of the country have been battered by storms this week and my heart goes out to the people that have had to be evacuated from their homes due to flooding.

I have also seen some pictures this week of allotments that have flooded around the country.  I really feel for the people this has happened to, as I know I would be devastated if this happened to mine.  I also can’t imagine how the farmers in Somerset must be feeling as some of their fields have been under water for weeks now.

Thankfully, it hasn’t been quite so bad here.  The ground is very wet but we don’t have any major flooding and our families, homes and gardens are safe.  In fact despite the wet, the garden is beginning to wake up and I have noticed it is a little bit lighter in the morning and it stays lighter in the late afternoon now too…so hopefully Spring will be on it’s way soon.

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The Snowdrops at my allotment are flowering beautifully now and I am really pleased with them.  Hopefully they will spread in a few years around my woodland area.

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And so too are my primroses

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The ground underneath my old plum tree, in my woodland area isn’t too soggy, so I have been transferring some ‘For-get-me-nots’ around the tree.  Again, this will remind me not to forget my good friend that died a year ago this month.  Hopefully they will self-seed this year and I will have more next year.

I keep transplanting as many plants as possible into this area, as the more ground cover I have, the less weeding I will have to do in the warmer months.

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The Poached egg plants (Limnanthes douglasii) that line my central path, self seed like mad.  You can see in the photgraph below how they spread.  So at this time of the year I always dig in the plants that I don’t want, as it acts like a green manure.  But before I do that I transplant some of the plants to other areas on my allotment.

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This year I have started to transplant some of them into my woodland area too.

I have so much of this plant growing at my allotment, as it is great for attracting Bees and other beneficial insects to my plot.  The bees will pollinate my crops and also insects like hoverflies and ladybirds that are attracted to the plants, will then eat the blackflies that are attracted to my crops too.

And not forgetting they also look pretty when they are in flower.

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At home my seeds are beginning to show.  The broad beans that I planted on the 28th January are already showing, but unfortunately the ones I planted on the 21st January aren’t for some reason.  Even though they are all a variety called ‘Aquadulce’, I used a different packet of seed for each tray so I’m wondering if I have a bad pack?…I’ll have to wait and see.

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The leeks I planted on the 21st January are also showing now:

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The garlic that I sowed in modules in my greenhouse on the 21st January is now also racing away.  I will plant these out as soon as the ground is workable at my allotment:

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The onions that I sowed on the 28th January are just showing through now too.  They have been kept in my house where it is warm:

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I received my order from Garden Organic as well this week.  I only ordered one pack of seeds from their ‘Heritage seed Library Catalogue, as this is all I needed.

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I planted these cauliflowers last year and they have overwintered well.  They will hopefully give me a good early crop of cauliflowers in April/May this year and if I sow my new seeds in Spring, then I will hopefully get a good crop again next year.

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Don’t forget the humble packet of ‘Cress’ seeds.

Last week I sowed some ‘Cress’ seeds.  I remember doing this as a child in an old margarine pot.  I did it exactly the same way now.  It’s easy to forget about this really easy seed to grow.

All I did was line the pot with a folded tissue and wet it (pouring away any excess water) and I sprinkled the cress seed thickly on top of the tissue.  I put the pot in a cupboard (so it’s dark) and waited for the seeds to germinate, being careful to not let them dry out.

As soon as they germinated, I put the pot on the window sill and I just watered them when they needed it.

In a couple of weeks I have lovely cress to add to my salads or egg sandwiches:

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I also picked up a bargain this week.  I wanted to buy an oregano plant as it’s a herb we eat a lot of it in our house and I was lucky enough to spot a bargain, healthy plant at Wilkinsons this week.  I only paid £3 for it which I was really pleased with.  I will leave the plant inside for a while yet though.

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I don’t know if you remember, but back in the autumn we moved my shed from one place at my allotment to better place.  I have been left with a bare bit of ground that is sheltered and very sunny and I have spent the winter wondering what to plant there.

I finally decided to buy and plant a bare-rooted Quince tree.  Bare-rooted trees are perfect to plant at this time of year (unless your ground is soggy of course).  The advantage of bare-rooted trees is that they are usually cheaper than pot grown trees, but they can only be planted while the tree is dormant.

A couple of years ago, Rob Carter (the head gardener at Eco House in Leicester), gave me some Quinces to try and I made Quince jelly and it was wonderful.  So this was my inspiration for buying the tree.

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I actually bought the tree on Ebay from ‘Beechwood Nurseries’ for £19.99.  I had recently been selling one or two things on ebay and I decided to treat myself with the proceeds.

The tree arrived and when I had finally unwrapped it (I have never seen so much wrapping in all my life), the tree appeared to have a good root system.

For those that have never planted a bare-rooted tree before, this is how to do it:

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Planting a bare-rooted tree

It’s important not to let the roots dry out, so as soon as I unwrapped the tree, I then soaked the roots for a few hours in water.

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I dug a hole large enough to spread the roots out and deep enough so the soil sits just below the ‘bulge’ where the top part of the tree (the scion) was grafed onto the rootstock.

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I then made holes with my fork, all over the area at the bottom of the holes to help with drainage.

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At this stage you can coat your tree roots with ‘mycorrhizal fungi’ which you can buy from most garden centres.  This helps the tree roots to establish better, but I’ve got to say I never bother with it.

I then put the tree in the hole and positioned the tree stake.  I find it better to put the stake in now, so I don’t damage the roots by hammering it in later.

I then fill the hole with a mixture of the soil I had taken out of the hole and lots of my homemade compost.

After half filling the hole, I tread all around the tree to make sure there are no air pockets

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Then I continue to fill the hole and repeat with my foot when it is full.

I then give the tree a good watering to allow the compost/soil to settle around the tree

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I then use a tree tie to secure the tree to the stake.

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And then I gave it a quick prune.

There is some really good advice about ‘formative pruning’ here on the RHS website.

Please remember, you can’t prune plum or cherries at this time of year.

And now I look forward to lots of Quinces in a few years.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back 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.