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Homemade Cleaners and Homemade Cabbage Collars

I don’t really know where to start today.  After I had a rest last weekend (as I felt under the weather) I have been working in ‘overdrive’ mode ever since and I have achieved such a lot.

  The rest obviously did me some good.

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At home I made some more dishwasher liquid, using the soap nuts that I bought a few years ago.  I use the liquid for two washes and then I use a ‘value’ dishwasher tablet for one wash and this seems to stop the grease from building up inside the dishwasher.

You can read about how I make the liquid here.

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I also made some more ‘multi-purpose vinegar spray’.  I use this to clean down my work surfaces in my kitchen, our table mats, my cooker hob, etc.  It is really cheap to make and it lasts ages, but more importantly I know what goes into it.

All I use is distilled white vinegar (which most supermarkets sell for approx. 45p a bottle), and a few drops of ‘Tea Tree Oil’ (which I buy from Wilkinsons).

Distilled white vinegar is great as it’s cheap to buy and cuts through grease and dirt and is antibacterial too, so it kills most germs.  It does smell when you first spray it, but the smell doesn’t linger and no one will know you have used it.

White vinegar is milder than malt vinegar and dries odourless.

I mix the vinegar with a few drops of Tea Tree Oil which has anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties too.

This makes a fantastic natural multi-purpose cleaner and it lasts for ages:

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I also decided it was time to add a couple more shelves in my pantry, in the hope that I can store more food in there (instead of our bedroom, which isn’t very romantic).

I bought a couple of cheap shelves from B & Q, put them up in a couple of hours and then painted them with some leftover white paint that we had in our shed.

I am very pleased with them and I will fill them when I do my next ‘big’ shop:

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At the allotment the poached egg plants (Limnanthes) are looking beautiful lining my centre path.  They are providing a much needed early source of pollen for the bees and it is wonderful watching them.  There are also loads of ladybirds around the flowers, which is brilliant as they are such a beneficial insect to have around the plot, eating any aphids that come my way.

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I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but at the beginning of the year I contacted Leicester City Council and asked them if I would be allowed to keep bees at my allotment.  As I have four plots, I have ample room and I had spoken to my allotment neighbour who thought it was a brilliant idea and he was quite happy for me to do this.

I wanted to make sure it was ok with the council (who I rent the plot from) before I spent money on a bee keeping course and equipment, as my garden at home is not big enough.

Unfortunately, Leicester City Council said I can’t keep bees at my allotment plot because bees are classed as ‘lifestock’ and the rules say that lifestock cannot be kept on their allotment plots, but more importantly to them – keeping bees would cause ‘health and safety’ problems.

I was dissapointed, but I felt there was nothing more I could do.

But to my surprise this week, I have found that some bees have now set up home in one of my leaf mould compost bins….I find this really amusing and I wonder what Leicester City Council would say to that?…..surely this causes a health and safety problem?

It’s nice to see that nature doesn’t bother with health and safety regulations….if it did then mankind would be in a mess!

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This week at my allotment I have been ‘earthing up’ my potatoes.  It is a job I hate as I find it really hard work….it’s the only time I wish I had the strength of a man!

‘Earthing up’ the potatoes helps to protect them from any late frosts and it also increases the length of underground stems that will bear potatoes. 

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I have also been planting things at my allotment this week.

I planted red and white cabbages first:

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I make my own cabbage collars to avoid the cabbage root fly from laying eggs at the base of my plants.  The Larvae are white, headless and legless maggots and they feed on the roots of brassicas.  This will cause your brassicas to either grow weakly or just wilt and die.

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

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

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I place each collar around the stem and it will stop the cabbage root fly from laying it’s eggs and eventually it will just decompose into the soil.

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At the allotment this week I also planted the last of my peas and mange tout that I sowed into guttering on the 21st April.

The birds love the tops of pea shoots at my allotment, so I make sure that they can’t get to them.

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I also planted out some more spring onions and some beetroot that I started in newspaper pots…

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…And a pumpkin plant that was getting a bit too big for it’s newspaper pot.  It is a bit early for planting out tender plants in this area, as it’s possible to get frosts here until the end of May.  However, I have planted it in my old compost area and surrounded it with glass for protection, so hopefully it will be ok:

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Another job I did was put a new sticky paper and ‘lure’ into my pheromone traps, in the hope that it will attract the male codling moths and plum moths.

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You can read about the codling moth here.

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I also started planting in my polytunnel.  I raked in some blood, fish and bone over the new compost I added a week or so ago and as the ground was so dry I dug holes for the plants and filled them with water and let it drain away before planting into them.

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I planted four melons which are a variety called ‘Outdoor Wonder’.  I planted them last year in my polytunnel and they were a great success, so I thought I would have another go this year.

‘Outdoor Wonder’ can actually be grown outdoors but I thought I would have better results growing them in my polytunnel.

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Below is a photograph of one of the melons I harvested last year and they tasted lovely:

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I also planted my gherkins, peppers and basil…

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…and some more lettuces:

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Every year I like to try something different, e.g. last year I grew the melon I wrote about above and a couple of years ago I tried growing shark fin melons:

You can read about my shark fin melon plant here and here.

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….And this year I have decided to have a go at cucamelons.

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.

I sowed the seeds on the 10th April and I planted two of them this week in my polytunnel:

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I will let you know how they do in my polytunnel and if the ‘Thrift’ household likes the taste of them.

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The polytunnel is fully planted for the moment, but I’m sure I’ll squeeze some more plants in somewhere as time goes by.

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I have been picking a few leaves from the salads in the above photograph and some radishes from my polytunnel and this week I picked our first spring cabbage.  I know it’s silly, but I still feel excited when I pick the first of each vegetable when it’s ready to eat.

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To finish off with, I noticed a couple of things at my allotment this week:

First my watercress that I sowed a couple of weeks ago has appeared.  You can read how I grow watercress in a pot here if you are interested.

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And secondly I have flowers on three out of four of the clematis I planted to climb up the old swings that are no longer in use.  They will be better in a couple of years when the plants are more established, but for now I am happy with a few flowers:

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

 

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Carrots, Carrots And More Carrots

I wanted to start by saying ‘thank you’ for your lovely comments after my post on Monday.  I love receiving your comments as they spur me on to continue writing.

I’m also sorry there was a bit of a delay before I answered your comments this week, but unfortunately my laptop broke and I had to borrow one, which was a bit inconvenient.  Luckily Mr Thrift works in ICT and he and his friend have managed to fix it.

The first daffodil to show at my allotment

The first daffodil to show at my allotment

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One of the comments I received this week was from ‘Mum’, who incidentally writes a beautiful blog called

‘Mum’s Simply Living Blog’.

Following on from my post on Monday about slowing down, ‘Mum’ wrote the words to a poem that I had long forgotten about.  This is a poem that we read at school, but unfortunately it meant nothing to a teenager…but now, I see how powerful these words are so I thought I would share the poem with you:

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Leisure

By William Henry Davies

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What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

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Thank you for sharing this ‘Mum’

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This week at my allotment I weeded around my ‘Woodland’ area.  I noticed that my bluebells are beginning to grow around my plum tree now, you can just see them in the photo below.

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Unfortunately, I bought the bulbs a couple of years ago, paying extra to make sure they were ‘English’ Bluebells and I was very dissapointed to find that they were actually ‘French Bluebells’, which I wasnt very happy about.  I did however contact the suppier and complained!

My primroses are flowering lovely too now and it’s lovely to have a bit of colour, together with the snowdrops:

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I also noticed my Christmas Rose (Hellebore) has a flower on too

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and the daffodils will soon be flowering

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I also noticed that I have the first little flower on my Aubretia.  I moved my pond to the far (sunny) corner of my Woodland area and transplanted the Aubretia around it in the Autumn…it’s nice to know it has survived the move:

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Finally, I also noticed that one of my favourite flowers is beginning to grow, the Aquilegia.

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So you can see that this week, as the poem said, I did make time tostand and stare’.

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This week I also moved my one raised bed that I use to grow carrots in.  I had no luck whatsoever trying to grow carrots until I used a raised bed.  So now, each year I move the wooden frame to another part of my plot and fill it again.

I started by removing the environmesh and pulling up the remaining carrots

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I then moved the wooden frame to another part of my allotment plot, to avoid the build up of pests and diseases e.g.carrot fly.

I refilled the wooden frame with a mix of my own homemade compost (made from all types of perennial and annual weeds) and leaf mould that had been sitting decomposing for the last year.

I then covered it up with black weed suppressant to let the worms do their work and mix it all thoroughly.

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In May I will mix in some sand to help to ‘lighten’ the soil, before sowing my carrots.

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I froze the carrots without blanching them.  I had two large trays altogether, which I open froze so they didn’t stick together in the bags.  After freezing all of my left over carrots, I had orange hands!

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I also pulled some carrots up that were growing in my polytunnel this week and froze them.  The carrots were smaller in my polytunnel as I had sowed them later than the ones outside:

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I gave my polytunnel a good weed ready to spread some of my homemade compost over the empty soil next week.  I also removed the old Cape Gooseberry plants and removed the last few berries to keep for seed.

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  All I did was cut the berries in half and spread the seed on a piece of paper towel to dry.  When it is dry I will put the seeds in an envelope to keep.  When I am ready to sow them, I will just plant the seed with the paper towel still attached (incidentally, this method also works exactly the same for tomato seeds).

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In my polytunnel I still have beetroot, perpetual spinach, mizuna, corn salad and winter hardy spring onions.  I also found another two rows of carrots that I had forgotten that I had planted, but I will leave these in the ground for the moment.  Unfortunately we have eaten all my winter lettuces now, so I will have to make sure I plant more next time.

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I found that the mizuna had started to flower, probably because it has been such a mild winter.  So I removed the flowers in the hope that I can keep it going a bit longer.

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One last thing I did this week was to plant the garlic that I sowed in January.  I’m hoping it is wasn’t too late to plant it as it needs a period of cold to enable the bulbs to split into cloves.

I planted the garlic into ridges to help with the drainage incase the wet weather we have been having so much of continues.  This area had been covered in a plastic sheet for the last few weeks, so the soil wasn’t as waterlogged as the rest of my plot.

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So that is enough for this week (I do seem to get carried away and write long posts).

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back at my usual time on Monday.

Have a good weekend.

Holidays And A Good Harvest

It’s lovely to be back blogging again and I have so much to tell you, but equally I have had a lovely break.

At the beginning of the school holidays we went to Scarborough and had a wonderful time.  We stopped in a Travelodge again for six nights and it cost us just £230 for two adults and two children with breakfast included…..what a bargain!

We were so lucky with the weather, as it was really hot the week we were there and we spent every day on the beach.  The sea was so calm and clear, we could even see little fishes swimming around in it.  With the heat, it felt like we were abroad.

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My friend at my allotment watered my polytunnel for me while I was away and he did a grand job, but I must say I was worried about my other crops as it was so hot and I had told him not to bother watering them, but they all seemed to be ok.  I was very pleased that I had planted my runner beans on top of a runner bean trench, that I had filled with old peelings, etc. during the winter, as this would certainly have helped to retain the moisture.

My Runnerbean Trench

My Runnerbean Trench

You can read how I made my runner bean trenches here.

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Since we came back from our holiday I have been frantically harvesting all my crops at the allotment.  What a difference a year makes!  This time last year it was really wet and crops were struggling to grow, but this year is a bumper year for most things, though I have found that some things are still behind due to the cold spring we had e.g. pumpkins, butternut squashes and my early apples.

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I’ve tried to remember to take photos of the things I harvested over the last couple of weeks, but I did keep forgetting.  So here are the few pictures that I did take:

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Remember the ‘cauliflower stomp’ I do before I plant my cauliflowers, to tread the ground down so it is firm (as this helps to stop cauliflowers from ‘blowing’)…. I thought I would show you proof that it works:

I'm very proud of my cauliflowers

I’m very proud of my cauliflowers

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My runner beans have been doing well too.  I thought I would show you a picture of some of the beans the plants have produced as I think they are amazing.  One of them measured nearly 15 inches, which I know isn’t a prize winner, but I think it’s great for every day runner beans.  This variety is called ‘Enorma’, which is supposed to be one of the most successful exhibition runner beans, which has been given the R.H.S. Award of Merit.  I can see why, as they not only grow to a good length but they also taste delicious :

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I don’t know if you remember, I planted Nasturtiums next to my runner bean plants, as blackflies prefer Nasturtiums to the beans.  My runner beans are showing no sign what so ever of blackflies, but the nasturtiums are covered.  This shows that companion planting really does work, as I really don’t need to spray my runner beans with any pesticides:

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My second early potatoes were ready when I got back from holiday, so I dug them up and brought them home.  Early potatoes won’t store as long as late varieties, so I make sure we eat them first.  As I couldn’t stay too long at my allotment, I brought them home and laid them on my table to dry out and then I put them in sacks ready to store until we use them:

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I noticed my early potatoes did have a lot of slug holes again, though they can still be used.  I wonder if there were so many slugs around in the soil after last year, that we are bound to see lots of holes?  I would love to hear how your potatoes are and if your earlies have also suffered from slug holes?

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My flowers have been beautiful this year too and have the added bonus of attracting beneficial insects onto my plot:

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It’s been a pleasure taking some cut flowers home too:

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The only job I have really done at the allotment over the last few weeks other than watering and picking, is to plant a few more lettuces in my polytunnel, to keep us from running out:

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I’m really amazed I managed to get them to fit in my polytunnel as it’s full to bursting point inside of it:

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I still have so much to share with you, but I think I better finish for today.

I really hope you have enjoyed reading my blog.  I will be back on Monday as usual.

Still Planting And A Walk Around My Allotment

I have usually planted most of my seedlings by now, but as this isn’t a normal year (due to the cold Spring we had), I still have some to plant.

This week I have been busy planting various things and I must say my allotment is getting pretty full.

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I started by planting some more cauliflowers.  As usual I prepared the ground by raking in some blood, fish and bone a couple of weeks ago and then just before I planted them I trod over the area and jumped and danced on it.  Brassica’s all need firm soil and you may remember that I also did this with my brussels a few weeks ago.  One of my readers (Paula) said I had invented the ‘Brussell Sprout Stomp’, which made me laugh.

One of the main reasons for cauliflowers ‘blowing’  (loose heads, where the curds don’t grow together) is the soil isn’t firm enough.  So I suppose you could now name the dance ‘ The Cauliflower Stomp’.

I covered my cauliflowers with environmesh:

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This week I planted my ‘outdoor’ cucumbers.  They are a variety called ‘Burpless Tasty Green’, which I have grown for a few years now with great success.  The skin is slightly prickly so I do peel them before eating.  They taste lovely, with no hint of bitterness, which some cucumbers have.

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I also planted some more spring onions, as we eat loads of these and I like to make sure we have some available for a long as possible over the summer…

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…and some beetroot and parsley:

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Finally, I planted some Nasturtiums next to my runner beans.  These are great companion plants as they attract blackfly.  The blackfly prefers the nasturtiums to the runner beans, so the nasturtiums act as sacrficial plants.

Nasturtiums next to my runner beans

Nasturtiums next to my runner beans

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The broad beans in my polytunnel are still producing some lovely pods for picking…

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…and I had a lovely surprise this week as I found my first two strawberries ready for picking.  I took them home and me and my daughters all savoured the lovely, juicy, sweet strawberries together.  There really isn’t anything that tastes as good as freshly picked strawberries.  If you have never eaten homegrown strawberries, you really do not know what you are missing as they taste nothing like supermarket strawberries, that are only bred for a long shelf-life.

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Now we have had some warm weather and some rain, things have begun to grow nicely.  I had a walk around my plot yesterday and I noticed a few things.  The dahlias that I grew from seed have begun to flower:

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The apples and plums are beginning to form nicely:

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My second early potatoes have begun to flower:

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My spring cabbages are finally ‘hearting up’:

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The first peas that I sowed this year are nearly ready:

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My polytunnel is growing well:

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And the lavender that edges both of my paths, is nearly in flower:

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The bees will love the lavender after my poached egg plants have stopped flowering.  When I stand amongst the poached egg plants there is still such a buzz of activity there:

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Finally I thought I would show you what I do with lettuces after I have picked them, if I don’t use them all at once.  After taking off the few leaves I need at the time, I pop the rest of the lettuce into an old pot full of water.  Just like flowers in a vase, the lettuce stays lovely and fresh for quite a few days.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

  I will be back on Monday at approximately4pm.

A Cheap Fruitcage, Potatoes And A Flower Patch

This week, I have noticed that it has been slightly warmer in the afternoons and the weather forecasters are promising that it is going to warm up over the weekend.  I really hope it does, as up to now it feels like ‘Spring’ has been on hold.

The only positive thing about the colder weather, is the weeds haven’t started to grow vigorously yet, so I’m not using my hoe every week, as I did this time last year.

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The daffodils are flowering beautifully now.  This inspired me to do a bit of work on my flower patch.  Up until a few weeks ago, there was a swing next to my flower patch.  As my daughters don’t use the swing anymore, I moved it.  This week, I dug the grass up where it stood, so my flowers patch is now an ‘L’ shape and will look much better when I have finished planting it up.  I will be looking out for some cheap plants to buy now.

My flower patch, winter 2012

My flower patch, winter 2012

My flower patch today.

My flower patch today.

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This week I put my two fruit cages up, over my fruit bushes.  I love my ‘cheap’ fruit cages, as this is the third year I have used them and they work a treat.  They are made out of canes and old hand wash bottles.  I find hand wash bottles are ideal to use, as they are made out of a softer plastic that doesn’t become brittle over time.  I bought the nets from ebay three years ago, for approximately £40 for both cages, but this is far cheaper than buying a ready made fruit cage and I can easily take my cages down when the plants have stopped fruiting.  You can see my fruit cage below:

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This week I have also planted my second early potatoes.  The variety I like is ‘Marfona’, which produce a high yield of large potatoes, suitable for boiling, mashing and baking.  I love the first potatoes of the year, boiled and dressed with lots of butter.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it now.

I struggle to dig trenches and line it with manure, before I plant my potatoes, as it’s such hard work.  I have tried different ways to plant my potatoes, but the best way for me is to fork manure into the ground over the autumn / winter and then plant the potatoes with a bulb planter, dropping them in the hole and then covering them up with soil again.  I then earth them up as normal when they are about 10cm high:

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Afterwards I used my bulb planter again to plant some galdioli’s that I had bought form Wilkinson’s:

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In my polytunnel, the weeds are starting to grow now and so I gave it a good hoe.  I then planted out some lettuce that I had grown from seed in March.  The variety is ‘Webbs wonderful’ which my family really like.  I also sowed two rows of carrots and a row of radish.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be warm enough at night, for the seeds to germinate.

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Another job I managed to do was dig over my wildflower patch ready to sow my wildflower seeds next month.  Just in case you haven’t seen the photo’s from my wildflower patch last year, you can see them here.

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Finally, I planted my shallots (over a month later than I normally plant them out due to the cold weather).  My shallots were growing in newspaper pots and they had all rooted well.  I planted the shallots together with the newspaper pots, making sure that none of the newspaper pots were showing above the ground.  If a newspaper pot is above the soil level, it acts like a wick and the plant dries out.

I am really pleased they are finally in the ground now.

My shallots finally planted

My shallots finally planted at my allotment

It has been another busy week at the allotment and I still have loads to do, but that’s what’s so wonderful about gardening, your work is never finished.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I’ll be back on Monday at 4pm.  Have a good weekend.

A Bit of A flood And Work In My Polytunnel

After a weekend of wind and more rain, I visited my allotment yesterday, wondering what I would find.

The wind had blown my empty compost bin quite a distance:

It had also blown my arch over and broken it, though it was on its last legs anyway, after I had grown the heavy shark fin melon over it.

There is an old ‘dike’ that runs through our allotment site.  It has been dry for years until we had the summer of heavy rain and floods approximately five years ago, but it dried up again really quickly.   After all the rain we have had, the dike has been flowing again and unfortunately it runs across the middle of my four plots.

As long as it dries up in the next day or two then it should be ok.

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Yesterday, I worked in my polytunnel as it was looking a little bit uncared for.

 As it has been so wet outside recently, I haven’t been able to open it to allow the moisture to escape.  Unfortunately this has led to some of my summer lettuces suffering from Grey Mould (Botrytis cinerea), due to the moist conditions inside the polytunnel:

I removed the lettuces that were affected, but most of the summer lettuces were still looking good,  which is amazing as it’s nearly December:

After this, I noticed my cape gooseberries were affected with grey mould too, so I removed these.  I filled a small bag with the cape gooseberries that weren’t affected, so I am looking forward to a Cape gooseberry crumble tonight

I also removed the four old sweetcorn plants I had in my polytunnel and I managed to get four beautiful corn on the cobs from them.

I pulled up the dying pepper plants and planted some more winter lettuce that I had grown.

I had a general weed around the remaining plants and a tidy up.  It looked much better afterwards.

So, left in my polytunnel are the remaining summer lettuces shown above and my winter lettuces (below), which seem to be doing well:

Corn salad:

Mizuna:

Three turnips:

Celeriac:

And winter hardy spring onions:

So things are going well in my polytunnel:

Thank you for reading my blog today.