Archives

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.

SAM_1904

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:

SAM_2782

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:

SAM_1884 SAM_1885

SAM_1886 SAM_1887

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

IMG_2645 IMG_2646

….and I then dug some of them up:

SAM_1938

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’:

SAM_1939

“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.

.

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

IMG_2645 IMG_2648

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

.

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?

SAM_1919

.

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:

SAM_1927

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.

.

.

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?

SAM_1941

.

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:

SAM_1901

.

This week’s harvest:

.

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:

SAM_1937 SAM_1936 SAM_1935 SAM_1933 SAM_1932 SAM_1922 SAM_1920 SAM_1917 SAM_1916 SAM_1908 SAM_1910 SAM_1897 SAM_1876

SAM_1874 SAM_1928

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

.

.

This week in the home:

.

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

SAM_1882 SAM_1883

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:

SAM_1898

.

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:

SAM_1881

.

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!

SAM_1875

.

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:

IMG_2650

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.

SAM_1888

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):

SAM_1892 SAM_1894

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).

.

 SAM_1942

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!

Advertisements

Courgette Sponge Cakes With Mascapone Cheese & Lemon Curd

Just wanted to say a big ‘thank you’ to ‘Argiolus‘ who identified the caterpillar I mentioned on my blog last Friday.  It is in fact an Elephant Hawk Moth and he has kindly given a link to some more interesting information about the moth here.

SAM_9804

I love receiving comments on my blog, so please keep them coming with your views, questions and answers, etc. which are great for everyone who reads them.

Thank you

.

At the weekend Rowley fields allotment society in Leicester had an open day, so we went along.  We saw a wonderful plot (or should I say garden), so I took a photo to show you:

SAM_9856

How beautiful it was!

.

This week at home I have once again been thinking about storing my crops, by putting my onions away.  They have been drying nicely for the last three or four weeks in one of my mini-greenhouses.

SAM_9692

I put them in a large netted bag in my storage boxes with my potatoes and they will store nicely over winter, provided I check them every so often for any that have begun to rot.

SAM_9889 SAM_9891

.

At my allotment, my cucumelons are taking over my tomato plants and my poor tomatoes are struggling to ripen!…but dispite this, my polytunnel is heaving with produce:

SAM_9873 SAM_9876

.

This week at my allotment I have been pruning my golden gage tree.  I don’t think it has been pruned for a long time and as a result I found there were a lot of dead, diseased and crossing branches to prune away.

SAM_9882 SAM_9886

.

Also, I have been pruning my lavender bushes that looked so beautiful at the beginning of summer and attracted lots of beneficial insects.

When I attended horticultural college I was told that the council parks department use strimmers to prune their Lavender and after planting my hedge a few years ago, I also use a strimmer to prune my lavender and it works a treat.  Provided I make sure that I leave approximately one inch of the current years growth on the plant, then it grows back lovely the next year:

SAM_9885 SAM_9887

.

I have also been picking lots of tomatoes from my allotment.  I am still expecting ‘blight’ as they succumb to it each and every year unfortunately… but as yet they are still blight free for the moment.  You can read about ‘tomato blight here.

SAM_9843

As well as making tomato and basil soup (the recipe is here), I have been making passata.

Passata doesn’t usually have any seeds in it, however I think life is too short to sieve the seeds out of the sauce, so I don’t.

All I do is wash and chop them in half and then cook them in a large pan with a cup of water.  When they are soft I use my stick blender to liquidise them until there are no lumps.

SAM_9842 SAM_9844

I then poor 500 grams worth of sauce into bags in plastic pots and when it is cool I freeze the portions.  When it is frozen I remove the bags from the pots and put the nice rectangular shaped sauces in my freezer ready to defrost and use when it is needed.

I use the sauce in recipes like pasta sauce, pizza sauce or spaghetti bolognaise.

SAM_9892 SAM_9893

.

 This week I have once again been busy making jams and chutneys.  I started with a beetroot chutney to use up the last of my beetroot.  My daughter and sister love this chutney, so I make it every year.

The recipe is here.

SAM_9824 SAM_9833

I continued to use up the plums I picked by making more plum jelly and I also made plum ice cream sauce.  I made the ice cream sauce in the exact way that I made crab apple ice cream sauce here, but I just substituted the crab apples with the plums.

It is delicious drizzled over ice cream (especially the home made vanilla ice cream here).

SAM_9832

.

Unfortunately, I then realised I had nearly ran out of jars and I still have loads of fruit in my freezer to make different jams, etc.  I know if you buy new jam jars they can cost quite a bit of money, so I buy the cheapest jars from the supermarket, use the contents and then re-used the jars.

(Incidentally, I don’t buy pickle jars as the smell is hard to remove).

In the past I found ‘value’ marmalade was the cheapest, but this week the cheapest jars I could find contained ‘lemon’curd’ at just 22p per jar.

SAM_9837

I gave the contents of a couple of jars to a friend and I have been madly using the rest of them myself.

I started by making mini lemon meringues:

SAM_9834 SAM_9836

My eldest daughter made a lovely victoria sandwich with lemon curd in the middle:

SAM_9862

And finally, we went to a friends house at the weekend and I took some little lemon curd cakes and I even managed to hide a courgette in the mixture too.  They did taste good, even though I do say so myself.

You can find the recipe below:

SAM_9871

.

Courgette Sponge cakes with Mascapone Cheese and Lemon Curd:

.

6 oz of Margarine

6 oz Caster sugar

6 oz Self raising flour

3 Eggs

A few drops of Vanilla Extract

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 medium courgette

½ Jar of lemon curd

250g tub of mascapone cheese

20g icing sugar, plus a small amount for dusting

The juice and zest from one lemon

.

Preheat the oven Gas Mark 5 / 375F / 190C

Peel the courgette, top and tail it and then grate it very finely.

Place the courgette in a sieve just to let any excess water drain away while you are making the cake mix.

SAM_9846 SAM_9848

Sieve the caster sugar, flour and baking powder in a bowl and then add the eggs, margarine and vanilla extract.  Mix until they are combined.

SAM_9849 SAM_9850

Add the courgette and mix until combined.

SAM_9851

If the mixture falls off the spoon easily (dropping consistancy), then half fill muffin cases with the mixture.

(If the mix doesn’t fall off the spoon easily then keep adding a tiny bit of water and mix until it does).

SAM_9853 SAM_9854

Bake for 20 minutes and then leave to cool.

SAM_9855

Remove the cake from the cake case and slice it in half and put a teaspoon of lemon curd in the middle

SAM_9863

Mix the icing sugar, mascopone cheese and lemon juice together and then spread it or pipe it onto each cake.

Top each cake with a small amount of lemon zest.

SAM_9861 SAM_9864

Sprinkle with a dusting of icing sugar to finish off the cakes

SAM_9869

 Enjoy!

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back at my usual time next Friday.

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.

SAM_9102

The gardens were beautiful and so peaceful.

SAM_9098 SAM_9095

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:

SAM_9077

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

.

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:

10341560_10152111681081860_6343242953242521381_n

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

.

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:

SAM_9140

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.

SAM_9144 SAM_9142 SAM_9143

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.

Picture1

.

.

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.

SAM_9112 SAM_9166

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

.

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:

SAM_9124

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:

SAM_9165

.

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

SAM_9139

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

The golden gages, pears and apples all developing nicely:

SAM_9169 SAM_9171 SAM_9170

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:

SAM_9168 SAM_9167

.

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.

SAM_9136

.

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.

SAM_9120 SAM_9125

.

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:

SAM_9115

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

SAM_9116 SAM_9122

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:

SAM_9118 SAM_9117

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!

.

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

SAM_9132

SAM_9135 SAM_9127

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.

SAM_9148

.

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.

SAM_9159

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:

SAM_7123

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

SAM_9158 SAM_9162

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

SAM_9160

.

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.

SAM_9131

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.

SAM_9110

.

Anyway,  thank you for reading my blog today.

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

Welcome Guests To My Plot….Bumblebees

On Friday I told you about the bees that have taken residence in my ‘darlek’ compost bin that I store leaf mould in. After some research, I have found out that the bees are bumblebees rather than honey bees.

I am very pleased with this as bumblebees usually vacate their nests at the end of November, so they won’t be a nuisance to me when I need my leaf mould in the winter.

SAM_9063

I have been reliably told they are a species called ‘Bombus hypnorum sometimes known as the ‘tree bumblebee’.

Bumblebees are important to our crops as they have very long seasons and therefore pollinate our early crops and winter crops.  They are also important to our pea and bean crops as they have very long tongues which help to pollinate these crops.

They are also particularly good for our self-pollinating crops e.g. tomatoes. as the bumblebee places its upper body close to the anthers of a flower and vibrates, this shakes the pollen down onto the flowers below.

SAM_2975

It has been proven that bumblebees can actually pollinate more flowers than honey bees as they are superfast pollinators.

SAM_6847

.

The Life cycle of a bumblebee:

  • A queen bumblebee will emerge in early spring and search for pollen and nectar in order to give her energy and replace body fats.

SAM_8946

  • The queen then finds a place to nest and she builds a small wax cup inside it, which she fills with nectar to sustain her whilst she incubates her eggs. She also builds a wax cell and puts a mound of pollen in it and then lays her eggs on top of it and incubates them by lying on the eggs and vibrating her flight muscles to generate heat. The queen continues to lay eggs.

SAM_3448

  • After four days the first eggs hatch and then after 14 days the larvae produce cocoons and they pupate. After another fourteen days they have transformed into bumblebees that bite their way out of the cocoons. The first bees are female worker bees which will help the queen to rear the rest of the brood. An average colony of bumble bees can have between 120-200 workers.

SAM_3170

  • At some point the queen stops producing worker bees and produces males and young queens. The males will leave the nest to mate and the queens will remain for a while longer to lay down fat reserves and then vacate the nest and fly off ready for winter hibernation.

SAM_3147

.

Bumblebees are in decline due to modern farming methods (that have resulted in less hedgerows and wildflower landscapes) and building and road developments and the loss of woodlands. So it is important we help them as much as possible by growing ‘bee friendly’ flowers and in return they will pollinate our crops for us.

SAM_9010 SAM_3554 SAM_3557

Bumblebees are no problem to have around as they will only sting you if they feel threatened and will vacate their nests at the end of the year, so they are best just left alone.

.

I feel very privileged and proud that the queen has chosen to set up home on my plot, as this shows me that the flowers I grow have attracted this beneficial insect by providing a constant supply of pollen and nectar.

My wildflower patch

My wildflower patch

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.

 

Growing Cauliflowers And Making Comfrey Tea

On Tuesday this week I dug up my cauliflowers, which were a heritage variety called ‘English Winter’, which I sowed in May last year. They stood all winter long and I was a bit concerned that I would just have leaves without the lovely white cauliflowers….but finally in April the cauliflower heads began to form and the result was beautiful large white caulis.

SAM_8833

The ground where they had stood for a year was as solid as a rock and it took me ages to fork the soil over. I then raked a dusting of Blood, fish and bone over the area and then planted the red onions that I sowed back in January this year.

SAM_8945 SAM_8980

This week I planted some more cauliflowers that I sowed on the 14th February. They are a variety called ‘All year round’. As usual I walked, danced and jumped all over the area, as cauliflowers especially like firm soil and this helps to stop them from ‘blowing’.   It also helps to add organic matter in the autumn, so it has time to settle.

SAM_8972

After planting the cauliflowers I tread around the plants with my foot and then I cover the cauliflowers with environmesh to stop any little flies getting into the curds when they form.

SAM_8974 SAM_8977

SAM_8978

.

I noticed my curly kale is now flowering beautifully. If I don’t need the area straight away, I leave the kale to flower as the bees love it:

SAM_8946

.

This week I picked our last purple sprouting broccoli, which is quite sad as my youngest daughter loves it….but I also picked our first asparagus of the year which is great.

SAM_8948

When I walked around my plots I noticed my first globe artichoke is forming which is also great….my in-laws love these so I make sure they have the first ones of the season:

SAM_8937

.

One of the jobs I completed this week was to cut down my comfrey before it flowers, so it doesn’t self-seed everywhere.

SAM_8955

I put some of the comfrey into my compost bins as it is a great compost activator and I used some of it to make an enormous pot of comfrey tea.

Comfrey tea is high in potash as the deep roots of the Comfrey plants absorb the potassium from the subsoil. Therefore it is great for using on most fruits and flowers which is why I have a whole bed dedicated to comfrey plants, which I cut down three or four times during the growing season.  If you are buying comfrey to grow, the experts tell you to use a variety called ‘bocking 14’ which doesn’t self-seed, however I just took a root cutting from my neighbours allotment to get me started and I didn’t have a clue which variety it was.  Self-seeding has never been a problem for me as I always cut it down before it flowers.

To make comfrey tea all you have to do is fill a bucket with the comfrey leaves and stems and weigh it down with a brick and pour over cold water.  I cover it (to stop flies getting in) and leave for approx. two weeks. Be warned, by this time the smell is revolting!  Strain the comfrey tea liquid into another container and put the remaining comfrey in your compost bin. I then put 2 cups of comfrey tea into a watering can and then fill with water.  I use this feed once a week after the first tomatoes begin to form. 

SAM_8949

As I use a lot of comfrey tea, I made mine in a water butt. I put the comfrey into an old curtain and then weighed it down with a brick and I will leave it for a couple of weeks with water covering it.  I always make sure I cover the liquid with an old piece of wood or a lid, as once I didn’t and I ended up with maggots in it!

After two weeks I will remove the comfrey and put it into my compost bin.  The result will be lots of smelly comfrey tea liquid, which is free to make and the plants love it.

SAM_8950

.

This week I also sowed my wildflower seeds. I had previously raked the area to remove any large clods of earth.

I mixed the seed with dry horticultural sand and then scattered the sand & seed mixture over the area and raked them in.

I then covered them with bird netting until they germinate.

SAM_8944

If they are half as good as the last two years wildflowers, then I will be pleased.

SAM_2726

.

I also noticed that one or two strawberries have started to form, so I surrounded the strawberries with straw.

SAM_8962 SAM_8963

The straw stops the mud splashing on the strawberries but it also acts as mulch, keeping the moisture in and stops annual weeds from germinating. I made sure it had rained before I spread the straw to ensure that the ground was moist.

The bale of straw only cost me £3.40 from my local plant nursery, so it was really worth it. I also had some left over to use elsewhere if I need it too.

SAM_8956

When I looked closely I noticed that a few of my strawberry flowers had turned black….these are the ones that the frost caught last Friday and sadly they won’t turn into strawberries now:

SAM_8959

But not to worry, there are plenty that beat the frost:

SAM_8958

.

Inside my polytunnel I removed the perpetual spinach that had turned into a triffid …it had gone to seed and was now huge!

SAM_8981

I dug it up and replaced it with a couple of barrows of compost from my homemade allotment compost, ready for my next crops.

SAM_8989

.

I noticed next to this area, the two rows of carrots had started to germinate with the radish in between that I sowed on the 11th April.

SAM_8985

The lettuces in my polytunnel will also soon be ready.

SAM_8986 SAM_8987

The only thing I am disappointed with so far is my tomato plants. I had four greenhouse tomato plants spare, so I put them into my polytunnel. Unfortunately, even in the polytunnel last week’s frost managed to damage some of the leaves which is a shame, but I can already see new growth in the centre so hopefully they will be ok.

SAM_8990

.

Finally, I planted some lavatera that I have grown from seed. These are the hardy annual type that do not become thugs and they will live and die in one season. They grow to about 60cm high and will hopefully look beautiful and again attract beneficial insects to my plot.

SAM_8971 SAM_8991

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back at my usual time on Monday.  I hope you have a good weekend.

I’m Sorry Monty Don, I Think You Are Wrong…

I’ve had another busy week at the allotment, though it has been a bit murky at times due to the cloud of pollution over the UK.  I thank my lucky stars that I don’t have asthma, as I know I wouldn’t have been able to work outside if I had.  Many asthma sufferers have been struggling this week with high level of pollution in the air, which is apparently due to “a mix of local and European emissions and dust from the Sahara”.

By Thursday this week, I had begun to miss the sunshine and was hoping that things will get back to normal very soon.

The flowers at my allotment haven’t been bothered by it all though and they are giving a lovely Spring display:

SAM_8702 SAM_8718

I am also really pleased with my woodland area this year too and I have already seen insects buzzing around the flowers:

SAM_8709 SAM_8707 SAM_8713SAM_8714 SAM_8708 SAM_8712 SAM_8710

The last photo shows my ‘Forget-me-nots’ which I planted in the hope that they will self seed all over my woodland area, as I dedicated this area to my good friend who passed away last year.  I don’t want to forget her, which is why I planted the ‘Forget-me-nots’.

When I first took over this plot, the area was full of couch grass.  The previous plot holder (my dear friend Eric), told me that vegetables do not grow well around the tree, as the tree roots take all the moisture.  This is the reason why I decided to make it into a sort of Spring garden / woodland area.

I took this plot on in January 2012 (plot number four) and it looked like this:

Image020

I quickly covered the area under the large old plum tree, with weed suppressant.  I left it like this until the Autumn:

IMG_20120516_190033

I then removed the weed suppressant, which had killed all the weeds and started planting Spring bulbs.  From then on I have been dividing and transplanting any plants I can find, to fill the area.  Last summer I also gave the plum tree it’s first big prune, though it will take a few years to get the tree back to how it should be.

This photograph below shows how the area looks now.  You can just see the Bluebells growing around the tree, which will hopefully flower soon:

SAM_8716

.

Before I start to talk about the jobs I have been doing at my allotment this week, I thought I would just show you something I noticed on my broadbeans:

SAM_8667

If you look at the edges of the leaves you will see little notches.  I have been asked on various occaisions what causes these notches.

This is the work of the ‘Pea and Bean weevil’.  The adults are beetles that are approximately 4-5mm long, but they are very hard to find as they drop to the ground when they are disturbed.  Their larvea eat the root nodules of the plant in the soil.

I have never yet lost any plants due to the Pea and bean weevil as most broad beans seem to tolerate the damage, but in theory a bad attack could kill your plants.  I make sure that my plants are healthy by feeding them in the Spring with a general purpose fertiliser (I use blood, fish and bone) and if the weather is dry then I water them.  This way I ensure my plants can cope with an attack, as I garden organically and don’t use chemical sprays.

.

At the allotment this week I have been spreading compost around my summer raspberries and my autumn raspberries and around my fairly young fruit trees.  By spreading compost, I am adding nutrients to the soil, conditioning my soil and it also helps to retain water when the weather is dry.

I think it also gives the area a ‘neater’ feel to it:

SAM_8677 SAM_8665 SAM_8678

Last Friday on Gardeners world, Monty Don talked about his compost heap and once again told us not to put perennial weeds in our compost bins, which is advice that is always given in books and on the TV.

  I think Monty Don is wonderful.  He is so gentle and his passion for gardening really shows through the program (and I adore his dog too).  However, on this occaision I have to disagree with you Monty, as I know for a fact that you can compost perennial weeds, as I do it all the time.

  It does take three or four years for perrenial weeds to turn into lovely compost, which is why I have a separate compost area for my perennial weeds, but it is worth the wait.  After filling my compost bin, I just cover the top with weed suppressant and wait.

If there are any weed seeds in my compost after I have used it, then I just hoe them off, once a week when I am routinely hoeing my plot.

This week I finally finished emptying one of my compost areas.  This compost area was nearly four years old and you can see in the photo below what lovely compost it made:

SAM_8679 SAM_8676

If you want proof about using compost made with perrennial weeds, then take a look at any of the photos on my blog…it really doesn’t spread weeds, provided you hoe every week in the growing season.

Incidentally, the weeds have started to grow here in the Midlands and so my weekly hoeing sessions have begun:

SAM_8675

This week, I also spread the above compost in my polytunnel.  Sadly the mizuna and corn salad were both flowering and it was time to prepare my soil for new crops:

SAM_8697 SAM_8696

You can see in the left hand photograph below, that the soil looked quite worn out with lots of old roots in it, so I gave it a really thick layer of compost:

SAM_8699 SAM_8701

.

Another job I completed at the allotment this week, was to finally dig up my remaining Jeruselum artichokes.  I normally complete this job in February or March, but I am a little bit behind this year.

SAM_8688

Jerusalem artichokes are one of the easiest vegetables that I know of to grow.  In February or March, I dig up any that remain in the soil and replant the biggest ones, approximately 30cm apart and 30cm deep.

SAM_8691

Every other year I dig manure or compost into the bed before I replant them and in November, I cut down the old stems so they don’t suffer from the wind dislodging them from the soil.

 You can dig them up all through the winter when you need them, as they store really well in the ground and they rarely suffer from any pests or diseases.

One thing to be noted though, is they are thugs and once you have them you will find it hard to get rid of them.  So make sure you plant them in an area away from the rest of your vegetables, or you will regret it.

My Jerusalem bed

My Jerusalem Artichoke bed

My family love Jerusalem artichokes roasted in olive oil and my daughters eat them like sweets….but be warned, they make you a bit ‘windy’ and I have never dared to make ‘Jerusalem artichoke soup’…I wonder if anyone reading this blog has made it?

.

I also finished putting the plastic coated chicken wire over my swing at the allotment this week, so it is now ready for a plant to grow up it.  I simply tied the chicken wire on and used three canes to hold the chicken wire up at the top.  I can’t wait to see my plants growing over it in a couple of years.

SAM_8682 SAM_8681

.

And finally this week I completed a job that Mr Thrift has helped me with over the last few weekends.

Remember recently I coppiced the Hazel to use, well it left the area kind of bare.  I decided to make this a smaller woodland area, so we collected a few bags of leaves that were going spare at our allotment site (the council bring them in the Autumn for people to use) and spread them deep around the trees.  This should help to stop the weeds.

I also used some old wood that I painted with wood stain, to make a barrier so the leaves don’t edge over onto our grass area (and this will make it easier for Mr Thrift to mow the grass in summer).

  I made a mental note to myself, to plant lots of Spring bulbs in the Autumn.  I do hope I remember.

SAM_8670 SAM_8686

.

Well that’s enough for today (I’m sorry I do pack a lot into my blog, but I do love writing it).

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

Seed sowing And How To Prick Out Seedlings

The weather has been beautiful over the weekend here in Leicester.  Yesterday I was actually working in a short sleeved T-shirt.

I noticed quite a few ladybirds moving about and one or two early bumblebees on my daffodils.  I also saw this lovely butterfly basking in the sun right at the back of my plot:

SAM_8512

.

The sunshine is a timely reminder that it will soon be time to sow or plant vegetables outside (though it is still too early yet as my soil is still too cold), so I have been finishing off digging manure or compost in beds that needed it.

I have also been feeding my fruit bushes, strawberries and trees with ‘potash’ which is great for fruiting plants.  It is also great for flowers too, so I have also used it to feed my flower beds.

SAM_8498

I sprinkle a handful around the trees and bushes and then hoe it in.  I will also mulch the plants with some homemade compost too when I get around to it.

.

Since my last blog post, I have been sowing the following seeds at home:

Brussels

Red Cabbage

Greenhouse Cucumbers

Coriander

Mixed Salad Leaves

Lettuce – Webbs Wonderful

I germinate the seeds in unheated propagators next to my window.  When the seeds have germinated, I take the lids off the propagator and move the seeds to my heated greenhouse.  I keep my greenhouse at a minimum temperature of 10C which is just right for most of my seeds, though this weekend in the sunshine the temperature has reached well over 30C with the door and window open.

SAM_8189

And I have also sown a couple of rows of Lollo Rosso lettuce and a row of radish in my polytunnel, just to test how warm the soil is in there.

SAM_8507

.

I have also been busy making plant lables using old plastic milk bottles.  They are free and easy to make.  All you do is wash the plastic milk bottle and cut them to the right shape.  I use a permanent marker to write on them, the same way I would normally write on a shop brought plant label:

SAM_8500 .SAM_8501

.

I sowed some greenhouse tomatoes (Moneymaker) and some cauliflowers on the 14th of February and they were both ready to transplant.

Any plants that need a bit of extra heat (like my peppers) I leave them next to the window with some silver foil wrapped around cardboard, behind them.  This helps reflect the light which helps to stop the seedlings leaning towards the window so much.

SAM_8513

.

Just in case you are new to growing your vegetables from seed, I have written below how to transplant seedlings:

.

How to transplant seedlings:

.

First use a ‘dibber’ or an old pencil to ease up your seedlings from out of your pot.  Try and ease the seedling up from the bottom by going underneath the roots with the dibber.  Hold the seedling only by its seed leaves.

SAM_8502

Fill a clean pot with compost and make a hole in the compost with your dibber.

SAM_8504

Ease the root into the hole using the dibber and ease the compost around it gently.

SAM_8505

Water and move to a warm place, out of the sun for a few days.

SAM_8506

Then watch your seedling grow!

.

Just to finish off, last week I dug lots of compost into my dad’s bed at the front of my fourth plot, ready for him to plant into soon.

SAM_8475

Unfortunately, he has been having more and more problems with his back and legs and after discussing this at length with him, he has decided to just use his garden at home to grow his vegetables in.  I must say this is a relief to me as I have been worrying about this area being too much for him, but I also feel sad as I will miss him at my allotment.

 April 2012

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.