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A Chicken and Parsnip Stew & A Fruit Loaf Recipe

I thought I would start today by letting you know that Judy, (our lovely rescue dog) has made a full recovery after her illness last week and she is back to her normal, cheeky ways.

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We all absolutely love Judy to bits and I am so glad we didn’t give up on her like the previous three owners did.  Though I have got to be honest, when our previous ‘dog behavourist’ told us she was untrainable last February, we were very close to giving up….she had so many problems e.g. barked all the time at home, barked and lunged at dogs, people, cars, bikes, lorries, washing machine, birds etc. etc.

Nearly a year later, she still has one or two things she doesn’t like, but she is getting so much better as time goes by, thanks to our wonderful dog trainer Steven Havers.

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Curtains for my daughter:

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I’m not sure if you remember a couple of months ago I decorated my youngest daughter’s bedroom.  I struggled to find any ready made curtains that she liked, to finish off the bedroom.  So in desparation I took her to a material shop and she found some fabric she liked, so I bought it promising to make her curtains after Christmas.

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The curtain material and new furniture in her bedroom was a present for her birthday and Christmas, but because of this I was a bit concerned that she wasn’t going to have many presents to actually open on Christmas day.  So during December, while she was at school I worked really hard to make the curtains so I could wrap them up for her to open on Christmas day.

She was very surprised when she unwrapped them and I must say I am very proud of them now they are up:

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I also had a bit of material left so I managed to make a couple of cushions for her too, which I also wrapped up for her to open on Christmas day:

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Over the Christmas holidays I decided it was time to catch up with one or two jobs that I had been putting off…..

  I started by clearing our loft and it was amazing how much rubbish we had up there.  I have since sold one or two bits on ebay and given away some other things…..but most of it was thrown away.  But the attic looks better now.

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I also went through my bills folder…..again there was a lot in there that I didn’t need to keep.  Myself and Mr Thrift looked at every bill we pay to see if we could possibly reduce it….unfortunately we are quite ‘bill savvy’ so we didn’t manage to make any savings, but it’s good to check every so often.

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Over the Christmas period myself and Mr Thrift surprisingly managed to buy lots of ‘whoopsies’ ….for some reason we seemed to be in the supermarket when they reduced their produce to ridicuously low prices.  So over Christmas I froze whatever I could and my freezers were bursting:

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The last photo shows the ready cooked beetroot that was reduced.  My dad sometimes buys this and pickles it, but as I already have pickled beetroot in my pantry I decided to cut it up and freeze it on a tray.  When it was frozen I put it in a bag and this way it is easy to take a few slices out at a time to defrost for sandwiches.

I also used the reduced parsnips and Chicken drumsticks in a chicken and parsnip stew which I cooked in my slow cooker.  By cooking it in the slow cooker you find that the chicken ‘falls off’ the bones easily and tastes so moist:

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Chicken and Parsnip Stew:

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6-8 chicken drumsticks or thighs

2 onions peeled and roughly chopped

4 -6 medium parsnips peeled and chopped into chunks

Hot Chicken stock to cover

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Put all the ingredients into a slow cooker making sure the hot stock covers the ingredients.

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Cook on ‘low’ for approximately 8 hours

Serve with vegetables of your choice:

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This week…

This week at home I decided to use up the mixed fruit that I had left over in my pantry.  I decided to make a fruit loaf (which I absolutely love).  It’s really easy to make in a bread maker and I used my bread slicer to cut it into nice thin slices.  This loaf freezes well so you can take a couple of slices out to defrost when required:

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A Fruit Loaf Recipe:

1 teaspoon of Fast Action Dried Yeast

400g Strong White Flour

2 teaspoon Granulated Sugar

75g margarine or butter

½ teaspoon Salt

1 teaspoon Cinnamon

1 teaspoon Mixed Spice

2 Eggs

110ml Water

110ml Milk

300g Mixed Dried Fruit

 

Add all the above ingredients into a breadmaker EXCEPT the mixed fruit.

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Set your breadmaker to a ‘Basic bake loaf’ with raisens and add the mixed fruit when the breadmaker tells you too (that is approx. 47 mins after the start in mine but you will need to refer to your own manual).

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Enjoy it!

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In the garden this week:

This week in the garden I dug up my parsnips.  This is the first time I have grown a crop in this area so I wasn’t sure what they would be like….but they weren’t too bad (though most of them were a lot smaller than the ones I used to grow at the allotment -probably due to the condition of my soil):

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Parsnips next to a 30 cm ruler

Unfortunately some of the parsnips suffered from parsnip canker:

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“Parsnip Canker is a fungus that causes orange, brown, purple or black coloured rot, which usually starts at the top of the root.

I have read that the fungus is caused by drought, over-rich soil or damage to the crown, BUT I have also read that it is worse in wet, pooly drained soils as well”

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As you can see in my photo above, if the canker isn’t too bad the parsnip under the skin is usually fine to cook and eat.

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To avoid canker:

  • Rotate your crops
  • Don’t manure your soil before growing parsnips
  • Improve your drainage
  • Grow resistant varieties such as ‘Albion’or Hollow Crown

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As I had too many parsnips to eat in one go, I peeled and chopped them and then froze them on a tray (without blanching them).  When they were frozen I took them off the tray and bagged them up.

When I next cook a Sunday lunch I will roast them from frozen.

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Finally this week I brought my seed potatoes.  I chose my usual ‘Marfona’ which is a second early and ‘Desiree’ which is a red main crop potato.  I also brought some ‘picasso’ to plant in my mother in laws garden, which are an early main crop.

All the potatoes are now ‘chitting’ in our bedroom…..very romantic!

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That’s it for this week.

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

Have a good week!

 

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A Bargain Cabinet & Another Good Harvest

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

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

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

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

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….and I then dug some of them up:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Maxi' frenchbeans grown at my allotment in the past

‘Maxi’ frenchbeans grown at my allotment in the past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This week’s harvest:

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

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

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

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This week in the home:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easy Ways To Grow, Use And Freeze Parsnips

This weekend I dug up my remaining parsnips at my allotment, as it is time to prepare the soil ready for my next crop.  The parsnips were a variety called ‘Gladiator’.

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I must say I have been really pleased with this parsnip crop, as hardly any of them ‘forked’ in the ground and some of them were really quite large.  One of them in the above photo was sixteen inches long!

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This coming week I will be sowing more parsnip seeds ready for next winter.  I will be sowing a variety called ‘Hollow crown’, which I have also grown before.  The reason for my choice of variety is….they were cheap.

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 I have tried various different methods of sowing parsnip seed, each with only limited success….

  • I tried filling trenches with compost and then sowing the seed.
  • I tried filling holes in the ground with compost and dropping seeds into them.
  • I have sown the parsnip seeds on wet tissue paper and the minute they germinated I used tweezers to carefully place the seeds where they were to grow outside.

The few parsnips that actually germinated would always ‘fork’….  until a few years ago I started to sow my seeds into kitchen roll tubes….

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The photograph above shows the kitchen roll tubes that I used last year to grow the parsnips that I have just dug up.

I filled the kitchen roll tubes with compost and sowed three seeds in each.   I then tied some string around the tubes (just to stop them from falling over) and then kept the tubes on my windowsill in the warm.  As soon as the seeds germinated, I moved them outside into my coldframe and then a week later I planted the whole tube into the ground before the parsnip root showed at the bottom of the tube.

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This way I now have straight parsnips nearly every time.

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I have been asked in the past if this works with toilet rolls but it doesn’t.  The parsnip root is quite long by the time you actually see the little seed leaves emerge above the compost and unfortunately if the bottom of parsnip root touches anything hard (e.g. the seed tray at the bottom of the cardboard tube), it will cause the root to ‘fork’, so you won’t have straight roots.   However, as the kitchen roll is longer, the tap root has a longer distance to grow before it hits the bottom.

Below is a photograph of a parsnip seedling that I took out of the compost in a kitchen roll, on the first day its seed leaves emerged:

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The root is 10cm long already and an average toilet roll is approximately 11cm, so if you use toilet rolls, very quickly the root will hit the bottom of the seed tray which will cause it to ‘fork’, so your parsnip will not be straight.

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Last year I planted my seedlings out, just under three weeks after sowing the seeds.  You can see from the photograph below, how long the roots were when I planted them out.  The shorter tube (which I didn’t plant as I wanted to use it as a comparison), shows where the root reaches down to in the cardboard tube and the longer tube is there to show the length of an average kitchen roll tube, so you can compare the two together.  So you can see there is still a small amount of room for the root to grow down.

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    I must admit it is hard work planting the tubes out as you need deep holes, but the compost in the tubes helps to stop the parsnip from ‘forking’ as the roots won’t hit any stones or lumps in the soil while they grow.

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When I plant them I make sure that none of the cardboard tube is above the surface, or this will act like a wick and dry the compost out.

I think the hard work is worth it when you harvest lovely straight parsnips.

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What will I do with so many parsnips?

  • Some of the parsnips I have already chopped up and frozen on trays (unblanched) and then I bagged them up ready for roasting straight from frozen  (I don’t bother to defrost them first).  By freezing them on trays first, the parsnips don’t stick together in the freezer bags and it’s easy to take out a few at a time and I love the covenience of having them ready to cook from my freezer.

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  • I will definately be using some of the parsnips to make parsnip crisps again, as my family loved them last time I made them.  You can find the recipe here.

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  • I will definately also be making another big batch of spicy parsnip soup to freeze in portions ready to reheat and take to my allotment for lunch, as it’s one of my favourite soups.  You can find the recipe here too.

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  •  And if I have any left I may treat myself to a parsnip cake.  You can find this recipe here .

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….That’s if I get time in between everything else I need to do this week!

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Just one last thing to make you laugh…this is the colour of my hand after I had been peeling and chopping all the parsnips to freeze yesterday and this was after I had washed it!  I wonder how long the parsnip stain will last?

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back at my usual time on Friday.

 

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.

The Carrot Root Fly & A Rock Cake Tray Bake

When I studied ‘horticulture’ at college, we looked at various pests and diseases and one thing I learnt was if you ‘know your enemy’, then it is easier to avoid it altogether or make sure it doesn’t do too much damage.

Last year I looked at the life cycle and ways to avoid the allium leaf miner, slugs and codling moths.  Once you know the life cycle of a pest, it is easier to understand how you can avoid it.

Today I thought it would be fun to look at a problem that we all encounter when we grow carrots, the dreaded Carrot Root Fly.

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The symptoms:

Unfortunately I haven’t got a photograph to show you, but there is a really good photograph here.

When you are growing carrots, the first symptom of carrot root fly that you may see, is the foliage on older plants turning a red colour and having a stunted growth– but not always.  The first sign, unfortunately, can be when you lift the carrot out of the ground and you see brown, rusty tunnels just below the skin.  If you cut into the carrots, you may find the creamy, yellow maggot inside that causes the damage.  It is approximately 9mm long.

Carrots that are left in the ground a long time are susceptible to more damage, as the maggot will continue feeding over winter and move from carrot to carrot.  The carrots can also start to rot where the damage has occurred.

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The Life Cycle Of A Carrot Root Fly:

Usually there are two generations of carrot fly each year, but in some areas there may be three.  In April and May the first generation of adult females will lay their eggs in cracks in the soil near to members of the  ‘Umbelliferae’ family, which includes carrot, celery, dill, fennel, parsley, parsnip and celeriac.

The eggs will hatch after approximately one week and the larvae will start to feed on the carrot roots.  It takes approximately three months for the larvae to develop into mature adults.

So in July or August, the adult will mate and then lay their eggs and the life cycle will begin again.  Some of the larvae will emerge as adults in autumn, but some will overwinter in the carrot roots.

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Parsley

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How to avoid the Carrot Root Fly:

The carrot fly, flies low to the ground.  I have read many times that if you erect a barrier surrounding your carrots, approximately 60cm high and no more than one meter wide, the female won’t be able to fly in.  Unfortunately, I have learnt the hard way and I had still had a problem with carrot fly when I did this.  I can only assume that the wind blows the female fly over the barrier.

Below are some easy ways to avoid the pest:

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  • The easiest way I have found to avoid carrot root fly is to completely cover your crop with environmesh to stop the female fly from laying her eggs.

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  • Before the female carrot fly lays its eggs, it feeds on pollen and nectar.  Her favourite plant to feed from is cow parsley.  So when cow parsley starts to flower, you can safely assume that the first generation of the carrot root fly is around.  With this in mind, make sure you cover your carrots before the cow parsley starts to flower.

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  • The Carrot root fly is attracted by the smell of bruised roots.  Sow your carrot seed very thinly, so  you will not need to thin them.

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  • Make sure you don’t grow carrots in the same ground as the year before, as the larvae may still be in the soil when you sow your new carrots.

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  • Companion planting can help to stop the female smelling the host plants.  Growing plants with strong smells around your carrots can help e.g. onions, garlic, basil and marigolds etc.   From experience, I have found this is only partially effective and needs to be used with other methods of controls.
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Calendula

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  • You can use ‘nematodes’ to help with the problem, but personally I find them expensive to use.

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  • When sowing, use cultivars that are less susceptible to carrot root fly e.g. Fly Away’, or ‘Resistafly etc.  These varieties aren’t completely resistant, but they can be used with other methods to avoid the pest.

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  • Finally, choose the best time to sow your carrots to avoid the main egg laying period (see the life cycle).  Late sown carrots (after mid-May) avoid the first generation of this pest, similarly carrots harvested before late August avoid the second generation, but again this is best used with other methods of controls, as weather conditions dictate when the flies will be active.
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Celeriac

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I hope you have found the information useful.  I will put it all together with other subjects I have written about, in the link at the top of the top of my blog titled ‘Pests , Diseases, Weeds & Interesting Information’ .

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A Rock Cake Tray Bake

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If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that I usually ‘batch bake’ at the weekend, ready for the week ahead.

Most weeks I bake bread and cakes and freeze them.  This way, they stay fresh for the week ahead, ready for packed lunches etc.

I made my daughters favourite this weekend, which is a chocolate brownie tray bake, which is easy to make and freezes really well.  You can find the recipe here.  I also made a tray bake that I haven’t made for a while, a ‘Rock Cake Tray bake’, which is also really nice:

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Rock Cake Tray Bake Recipe:

450g self-raising flour

200g soft margarine

100g granulated sugar

200g sultanas

2 eggs

2 tablespoons milk

50g Demerara sugar

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Preheat your oven Gas mark 6 / 400F / 200C

Rub the flour and margarine together until it resembles bread crumbs.

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Stir in the granulated sugar and sultanas.

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Stir in the eggs and milk until it is all combined.

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Press the mixture into a tin (approximately 23cm x 33cm) lined with greaseproof paper, using the back of a metal spoon.

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Sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top and lightly press it into the cake mixture.

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Bake for 30 minutes.

Cut into slices while it is still warm.

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Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will back on Friday at approximately 4pm.

Tomatoes, Carrots, Brussels And A Bit Of What You Fancy

Over the last week, I have finally got round to sorting my tomato bed, ready for the end of the month when I plant out my outdoor tomatoes.

A variety called 'Outdoor girl'

A variety called ‘Outdoor girl’

I have been growing a variety called ‘Outdoor Girl’, which I have used over the last few years.  These tomatoes fruit a bit earlier than most outdoor varieties and I find this helps to get a good crop before the dreaded ‘blight’ hits.  You can read about blighted tomatoes here.

Before I could dig the patch over, I had to clear the last of my winter cabbages.  They have given me a great crop, but now it’s time to start to harvest my spring cabbages that are coming along nicely.

My last winter cabbages

My last winter cabbages

After clearing the cabbages and a few weeds, I forked over the patch.  I had a small amount of manure left over from my old pile, so I also forked this in as it was well rotten and will help to improve the soil around my tomatoes.

Afterwards I sprinkled some blood, fish and bone, which is a slow release fertiliser and raked it into the soil.

I had some weed suppressant left over, so I laid it in-between the two rows, as this will help to keep the weeds down.   The cabbages were the first crop I had grown in this area, so there are lots of weed seeds in this soil.

So now I will wait until the end of May to plant my tomatoes.  I always wait until the end of the month to plant my tender crops and even then I check the weather forecast for the next week or so.  I remember one year we had a late frost in the first week of June that killed all of my tomato plants, so I have certainly learnt from this.

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Another job I did, was to plant my brussel sprouts.  Last year I tried using an ‘F1’ variety to help stop my Brussels from ‘blowing’, which is when the brussel leaves don’t stay tightly together.  This certainly helped, as I had a good crop.

My brussel sprouts

My brussel sprouts

On the 7th March this year, I sowed a variety called ‘Igor’ .

Brussel sprouts need firm, fertile soil, so I began the preparation of this bed back in the autumn.  I started by digging manure into the bed and allowing the soil to settle over the winter.

Two weeks ago, I sprinkled some blood, fish and bone over the area and raked it in.

Also, to stop the brussels from ‘blowing’, I tread down the soil by walking all over it, before I plant them.  In fact, I walk, dance and jump on it, just to make sure.  After planting the brussels, I also tread down lightly around the plant with my boot, just to definately make sure the soil is firm around them.  I do the same for cauliflowers as they grow best in firm soil too.

I put a  homemade cabbage collar around each plant (you can see how to make them here) and then covered the plants with a net, using my usual ‘bottles and canes’ method and I will keep a close eye on the plants for a while.

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This week I sowed my carrots outside.

I go to a lot of trouble to grow my carrots and I know some of you will think that it isn’t worth it (as carrots are so cheap to buy), but there is nothing like the taste of a home-grown carrot, they taste so sweet.

Some of last years carrots

Some of last years carrots

I never had any success growing carrots in my soil.  I’m not sure if it is because it is heavy clay, but nothing I did helped the seeds to germinate.  So now I grow them in a raised bed, which I have great success with, though it is hard work.

Over the winter, I filled my raised bed with homemade compost and I mixed in a lot of leaf mould.  Finally, I mixed in some horticultural sand to help with the drainage.  I left the raised bed for a few weeks, to let any weed seeds germinate and then I removed them.

I raked and raked until I finally had a fine tilth (which just means it looked like crumbs) and on Friday, I finally sowed my carrots and then covered them with environ mesh, to stop the carrot fly.

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I will keep my fingers crossed now that they germinate.

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Finally, I sowed some climbing annuals on the other side of my ‘swing’.  I planted clematis last week.  Hopefully they will look good in the summer:

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A Bit Of What You Fancy Does You Good.

I haven’t had a piece of Madeira cake for ages and suddenly out of the blue I fancied a piece.  So I indulged myself and made one.  It was lovely.  Here is the recipe:

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Madeira Cake

175g margarine (or butter)

175g caster sugar

3 eggs

250g self-rising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2-3 tablespoons of milk

The zest of 1 lemon

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Preheat your oven gas mark 4 / 180C / 350F

Grease a 7-8 inch cake tin and sprinkle flour over the fat, tap the excess flour off.

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Cream the margarine and sugar together

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Beat in the eggs, one at a time.  Add a tablespoon of the flour to the last egg to stop the mix from curdling.

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Sift the rest of the flour and the baking powder into the bowl and fold it in.

Mix in the milk a little bit at a time, until the mix falls slowly off your spoon.  Fold in the lemon zest.

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Put the mixture evenly into your cake tin and bake for 30-40 minutes.

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Leave to cool on a cooling tray.

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Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday.

Codling Moths And Growing Parsnips

    Last week, I refilled my pheromone trap with a new sticky paper and a ‘lure’, in the hope that it will attract the male codling moths to it.

My pheromone trap

My pheromone trap

After mating, female Codling moths will lay single eggs on fruit and leaves in June and July.  The eggs hatch 10-14 days later and the larvae burrow into the fruit to feed.  They stay there for approximately a month.  After this time they crawl down the trunk and cocoon under loose bark or even tree ties, etc.  The majority will emerge the following spring, however the earliest ones may emerge from their cocoon as adults in August or September and start the cycle again before winter.

Codling moths cause damage to the apple when the larvae tunnel into it and the apple often falls off the tree early.  There is a wonderful picture of a damaged apple on the RHS website here.

Natural pheromones lure male moths into a sticky trap, so they are unable to mate with the female moth.  The trap will only attract the codling moth, so it is not a danger to other wildlife, though small birds have been known to be attracted to the moths and become wedged inside the traps, so if you use one then please check it regularly.

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Pheromone traps are supposed to be used as an early sign of codling moth, to indicate how big a problem you have.  This is a photograph of the sticky card that I removed from last years’ pheromone trap on my apple tree:

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There does seem to be a lot of moths, but my apples didn’t seem to suffer too badly last year.  So I am happy that the traps are killing the moths that I need to, and I don’t think I will need to do anymore than hang another trap.  I will keep checking this year’s trap regularly.

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Other ways to help avoid the codling moth:

Pick up windfall apples and remove fallen leaves asap, just in case they contain the cocoons.

Try and attract birds to your plot as they are great at finding and eating the cocoons (Blue tits especially).

Replace tree ties in autumn in case they contain cocoons.

Don’t kill earwigs as they love to eat codling moth eggs.

In July, cut a 50cm strip of corrugated cardboard and wrap it around your tree trunk approximately 45cm from the ground so the corrugations are vertical.  In autumn when the codling moths are nicely cocooned in the cardboard, remove the cardboard and burn it.  This method is best used on smooth tree trunks.

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Hopefully we will all have a better crop of apples to harvest this year, than we did last year.

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Freshly pressed apple juice

Freshly pressed apple juice which I freeze, ready to pop in my daughters lunch boxes.

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Parsnips

I thought I would update you on how my parsnips are doing.  I have tried various different methods of growing parsnips over the years, but the one method that seems to work the best is to start the parsnips in kitchen rolls.  You can read how I do this here.

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I think that I get a better rate of germination this way and to prove this to you, you can see from the picture below that I have had a 100% germination rate this year.

On the 6th April, I sowed the parsnip seeds in kitchen rolls and put them on my windowsill.  As soon as the seeds germinated I moved them into my cold frame.

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I find that toilet rolls are not long enough for parsnip roots, as the root is quite long by the time you actually see the little seed leaves emerge.  If the bottom of root touches anything hard e.g. the seed tray at the bottom of the cardboard tubes, it will cause the root to ‘fork’, so you won’t have straight roots.

I thought I would show you an example of a parsnip seedling that I took out of the compost, the day its seed leaves emerged:

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The root is 10cm long already and an average toilet roll is approximately 11cm, so if you use toilet rolls, very soon the root will hit the bottom of the seed tray which will cause it to ‘fork’, which means your parsnip will not be straight.

A couple of weeks ago I planted my seedlings out, just under three weeks after sowing my seeds.  You can see from the photograph below, how long the root is.  The shorter tube (which I didn’t plant as I wanted to use it as a comparison), shows where the root reaches down to in the cardboard tube and the longer tube is there to show the length of an average kitchen roll tube, so you can compare the two together.  So you can see there is still a small arount of room for the root to grow down.

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    It is hard work planting the tubes out as you need deep holes, but the compost in the tubes helps to stop the parsnip from ‘forking’ as the root won’t hit any stones or lumps in the soil.

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I make sure that none of the cardboard tube is above the surface, or this will act like a wick and dry your compost out.

I think the hard work is worth it when you harvest lovely straight parsnips.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at approximately 4pm