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Easy Stew & A New Area in My Garden

It’s been another wet week here and I have been dodging the showers.  It has also been very mild for this time of the year too and at times I have been too warm in my coat which is strange for November.

My primroses are still flowering, obviously very confused by this years weather:

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However, the trees on the park are shedding their leaves thick and fast now and soon the only trees left with leaves will be the evergreens……..

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……..and this reminded that Christmas is on it’s way and I will soon need to make my Christmas cake and start to prepare my hampers.

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Unfortunately my step dad has been poorly for the last month or so and he ended up in hospital twice this week.  This has meant I haven’t had a lot of time to do the things at home that I normally would, as my sister and I have been visiting him and looking after my mum.

I have been very, very glad that I have had some meals prepared in the freezer as it has been an extremely tiring week.  One day as well, I used my slow cooker to make a stew……it has been ages since we have had stew and it was gorgeous!

I used stewing steak that I had lurking in the bottom of my freezer.  I am ashamed to say I brought it a year ago and it has remained there ever since:

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A Stew Recipe:

I make stew the way my mum taught me…….I put in the cubed stewing steak, a couple of chopped onions, peeled potatoes cut into quarters and whatever vegetables I have available

(I don’t even bother to brown the meat):

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I sprinkle with mixed herbs and then cover the whole lot with beef stock:

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I then leave it in my slow cooker all day on low

(if you haven’t got a slow cooker you can cook it in your oven in a casserole dish for

2 ½ – 3 hours  on gas 4 / 180C / 350F )

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In my garden this week:

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The curly kale is providing lots to harvest and so too is my perpetual spinach:

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The leeks I planted in early summer are now ready for me to harvest when we need them….I can almost taste the leek and potato soup I will be making when I get a chance.  They are not as big as I would normally like as I was late sowing them this year, but they are big enough to eat and that’s good enough for me:

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My lettuces under the environmesh are still producing lovely salad leaves….

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….And the lettuces I planted under a cloche are growing well now and hopefully I can soon start to use the odd outside leaf or two:

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I am still picking a few raspberries each week, which has surprised me as this is the first year of growth since I transplanted them from my old allotment:

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 Incidentally the tomatoes that I brought inside last week are continuing to ripen on my windowsill…..I am amazed that I am still eating homegrown tomatoes in November:

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And I also have plenty of stored potatoes left to use, which is something I didn’t think I would have after giving my allotments up in January this year.  It has made me really appriciate what I do have growing in my back garden:

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The one thing I managed to do in the garden this week was to start my new vegetable area.  I don’t know if you remember, back in September I began to rearrange my garden so I could use all the available space to grow fruit and vegetables, but also to have a space for my little dog to use.

I began by removing the slabs (which really served no purpose) and after preparing the ground I laid a new lawn in their place:

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I put chicken wire around the lawn to temporarily stop the dog from running on the lawn until it rooted into the ground below.

The grass has now rooted really well and this week Mr Thrift helped me to remove the chicken wire.  He also helped me to bring forward the fence and gate so it is level with the end of the new grass.

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Judy absolutely loved the new grass to run around on and ‘sniff’ and she didn’t stand still long enough for me to take a photograph, which is why the photo below is blurred!

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We also started to lay a new path around the greenhouse, using the slabs I removed in September….unfortunately we only managed to lay three slabs and we ran out of time:

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The next day I started to dig an area along the fence to create a small flower garden.  At the beginning of the year I grew flowers in front of the fence and my dog destroyed some of them, so this time I decided to put the new flower bed behind the fence:

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I removed the old worn out grass along the fence (which I will use later).  As the area has been walked on for years I used my fork  to aerate the soil, to ensure that the drainage is good.  I then planted some daffodil bulbs that I brought at the beginning of September:

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To be honest some of the bulbs didn’t look too brilliant, but I planted them anyway as I have nothing to lose.  It’s also a bit late for daffodil bulbs, but I have planted them in November before and they grew well.:

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I then added some compost to the soil and planted the wallflowers I grew from seed.  Hopefully my new area will give a good display in the spring:

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 I still need to do alot of work in this area, but first the slabbing must be completed around the greenhouse and unfortunately I need Mr Thrifts help for this, as I can’t lift the slabs on my own.

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

Have a great week!

Clematis still in flower in my garden

Clematis still in flower in my garden

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Half-Term Actvities and Weed Week, – The ‘Dandelion’

Today is the last day of my ‘ fun and cheap activities to do with children’.  I hope you have found my posts useful.

Firstly though, I will continue with ‘Weed week – know your enemy’. The more you know about a weed, the more likely you are to stop it from taking hold in your garden.

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Todays Weed Is The ‘Dandelion’ – (A Perennial Weed)

Gardeners tend to think there is only one type of dandelion, the one with the Latin name Taraxacum officinale.  However, the dandelions you see in your garden, could be one of the hundreds of other species of Taraxacum.

The name dandelion is taken from a French word “dent de lion”, which means ‘ lion’s tooth’.  This refers to the coarsely-toothed leaves.

The Dandelion is a common perennial herb and is part of the sunflower family. It prefers chalks and loamy soils above a pH of 7.0. It has been found in prehistoric deposits, and has been recorded up to 2,700 feet in Britain.

The flower opens in the morning and then closes in the evening.

The dandelion has a very strong tap root which penetrates deeply into the soil. The flower heads appear from March onwards and it has one of the longest flowering season of any plants.

The dandelion flowers from May to October but mostly in May and June. A period of low temperature seems to intensify flowering. Established plants that bloom in spring can flower again in autumn. The time from flowering to seed ripening is about 9-12 days.

Individual plants may survive for 10 to 13 years in undisturbed sites.

Dandelions haven’t always been troublesome weeds. In Victorian times they were cultivated with care and eaten by the wealthy in sandwiches and salads.

Today, blanched young leaves are used in salads or boiled and eaten as spinach and the flowers are made into dandelion wine. In fact every part of the dandelion is useful for food, medicine and even to use its colour for dye.

Dandelions are also an excellent food plant for many beneficial insects and it provides an important food source to bees. The pollen from this plant helps bees out in the spring because it flowers early and the flowers continue through to the fall providing constant food. In fact no less than 93 different kinds of insects use Dandelion pollen as food.   For this reason, some gardeners leave them to flourish in their wild areas.

The seeds can develop without cross-fertilization, so a flower can actually fertilize itself. Therefore, it can disperse its seeds as early as the day after the flower opens.

After flowering, the seed heads develop into a white mass of seeds which disperse in the wind.  Each seed has a tiny parachute, to help it spread far and wide.  Seeds can often be carried for up to five miles.

A flower head can produce up to 400 seeds, but the average is 180. A plant may have a total of 2,000 to 12,000 seeds.

Generations of children (including me and my children) have helped the dandelion become one of Britain’s most common weeds, by blowing the seed heads to ‘tell the time’.

Ripe seed is able to germinate at once and gives around 90% germination.

Viable seeds have been found in cattle and horse droppings and from various bird droppings.

The dandelion can reproduce from seed and vegetatively.  If you leave a small piece of root in the ground then it will regrow.

To stop dandelions from spreading, it is important to prevent flowering so the seeds do not blow away.  To remove the weed completely, it is important to dig out the long tap root without breaking it.

You can keep hoeing the dandelion and eventually it will weaken and die but it is a slow process.

If you use weed killers, then glyphosate will kill the dandelions.

There is a beautiful film on YouTube that demonstrates the dandelion beautifully and it is worth watching it.  You can see it here

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I really hope you have found my ‘Weed Week’ interesting.

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Today’s Half-Term Activity – ‘Cereal Cakes’

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I remember making these cakes with my two daughters when they were small, and they still sometimes make them even now.

These cakes are good as they are cheap, quick to make and they don’t need cooking in the oven.

Small children will need help melting the chocolate mix, but then they will have fun stirring the mixture and decorating the cakes.  (I’m sure they will eat a fair amount of the mixture too, so make sure you do this activity after they have eaten a meal).

Cereal Cakes

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200 grams of cooking chocolate (or really cheap milk chocolate)

114 grams of margarine

228 grams of plain cereal (e.g. Rice krispies, cornflakes, Weetabix)

2 tablespoons of golden syrup

2 tablespoons of cocoa powder

Sprinkles, silver balls, sweets etc.  to decorate if required

 

Put the chocolate, margarine, syrup and cocoa powder in a large pan and heat slowly until they have all melted.

Take the pan off the heat and pour in the cereal.

Mix until all the cereal is coated with the chocolate mixture.

Spoon the mixture into cake cases and have fun decorating with sprinkles, silver balls, sweets or whatever you have, or just simply leave plain.

Leave to set, or just eat straight away.  The kids will love them (and the adults too)

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

Half-Term Kids Activities and Weed Week – ‘Broad-leaved Dock’

As it’s half term for the children here in Leicestershire this week, I thought I’d do something a little bit different. Each day I will be looking at a different activity to do with children. The activity will be fun and obviously cheap.

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Firstly though, I will continue with ‘Weed week – know your enemy’. The more you know about a weed, the more likely you are to stop it from taking hold in your garden.

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Broad-leaved Dock – ( A Perennial Weed)

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Broad-leaved Dock are perennial plants that are sometimes known as butter dock, cushy-cows, kettle dock or smair dock.  Its Latin name is Rumex obtusifolius.  It is one of commonest British native plants.

Broad-leaved dock grows on a range of soils but not the most acid of soils.  They are said to favour soils that are high in nitrogen or low in potassium.

Broadleaf dock is a slightly poisonous weed.  Livestock have been known to get sick after feeding on it.

Established plants can withstand quite a lot of trampling and mowing.  They form a deep branched taproot that is difficult to remove and it will regrow from a small amount left in the ground.

Broad-leaved dock flowers from June to October. It can shed seed from late summer through to winter. A large mature broad-leaved dock can produce up to 60,000 ripe seeds per year.

The seeds germinate any time that conditions are favourable but they mainly germinate in March-April and July-October.

I think the seeds are fascinating as they contain a chemical that inhibits microbial decay and they are capable of surviving in undisturbed soil for over 50 years.

Seedlings of broad-leaved dock generally do not flower in the first year.

In the UK, broad-leaved dock is a host for the potato eelworm, so this is a good reason to remove the plants, eelworm can do a lot of damage to potato crops.

The main weakness of broad leaved dock is it’s not good with competition, i.e. crowding causes flowering to be delayed for up to three years.  Also, frequent tilling will disrupt the roots and kill the older plants and seedlings. The plant also thrives in moist environments and improved drainage can also help control its growth.

The best thing is to remove the dock as soon as it appears before the large tap root can develop. If the plant is established then use a fork to dig it out to avoid chopping the root up.

If you want to use a weed killer, then use a glyphosate based weed killer.  This will probably need several applications to actually kill an established plant.

If it’s an area you can leave unattended for over a year, you can apply thick, black polythene sheeting, anchored down round the edges, it will kill everything beneath it you leave it for no less than a year.  The polythene must be thick to exclude all light, air and water.

I hope you enjoyed reading about this weed.

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Today’s Half-Term Activity – Salt Dough

This is a lovely rainy day activity for all ages and you can make some lovely ornaments using salt dough.  In fact a couple of years ago, my girls made letters that spelt out ‘Happy Christmas’ and painted them.  They hung each one from a piece of tinsel and they lined our fire place beautifully over christmas.

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Salt Dough

300g plain flour

200ml water

300g salt

2 teaspoons cooking oil

 

Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix it all with your hands until it rolls into a ball.

Roll the mixture out and have fun making shapes.  Keep the shapes small and chunky so they don’t break easily.  (Make sure your shapes are a similar size so they cook evenly).

Place your shapes on a baking tray, and cook for 20 minutes – Gas mark 4 / 180C / 350F

When the shapes are cold, paint them with acrylic paint or poster paint.

Tips: 

  • Put a hole in each shape so you can thread string through to make necklaces or hang them to make a salt dough mobile.
  • Put a paper clip in the top of the shape before you cook the dough, so you can pin it up (see the panda below)
  • If you mix a little bit of PVA glue with the paint (1 part PVA to 2 parts paint) this will make the surface tough and shiny.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

Half-Term Kids Activities and Weed Week – ‘Groundsel’

As it’s half term for the children here in Leicestershire this week, I thought I’d do something a little bit different.  Each day I will be looking at a different activity to do with children.  The activity will be fun and obviously cheap.

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Firstly though, I will continue with ‘Weed week – know your enemy’The more you know about a weed, the more likely you are to stop it taking hold in your garden.

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 Today’s Weed Is ….Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) – An Ephemeral Weed

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Groundsel is a common garden weed, found on all types of soil, though it favours heavier, moist soils.

It has yellow daisy like flowers with fluffy seed heads.  It can grow all year round.

It is part of the asteracea plant family and it is also sometimes known as ‘Old-man-in-the-spring’.

Groundsel is an ephemeral weed (a plant which germinates, grows, flowers and sets seed several times in one growing season).  In fact it can complete its life cycle in just 5-6 weeks.

 The flowers are self-fertile and an individual plant produces approximately 1200 seeds.  Because of this and the fact that it is a fast growing plant, it can smother younger crops around it.

The seeds are dispersed by wind.  Seeds have been found in bird droppings and found in cow manure too.

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Groundsel acts as a host for Cinerara leaf rust and the fungus that causes black root rot in peas.

Groundsel is a good food source for the caterpillars, butterflies and moths and is one of only two plant species that provide food for the cinnabar moth caterpillars.

You can find details of the cinnabar moth here.

How To Control Groundsel:

I find it’s best to just hoe the seedlings while they are small, before they set seed, or just pull them out by hand.  If you do decide to use a chemical weed killer, you need to do it early in the plants life, otherwise the weed killer may not kill the plant.

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Today’s Half-Term Activity – Gingerbread Men

Today I thought I would write about an activity that I regularly did with my children when they were smaller…Ginger Bread Men.  They are really easy to make and kids love to get their fingers into the mixture and play with the dough.

They can be decorated with raisins, cherries or anything you have available.

While my daughters were eating them, I would tell them the  ‘Gingerbread Man’ story.

If you don’t know the story, you can all watch it together here.  My daughters would pretend that their gingerbread men were running, as I chanted the words from the story:

“Run run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m a gingerbread man”

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Ginger Bread Men

400 grams self raising flour

3 teaspoons ground ginger

100g caster sugar

50 grams margarine

3 tablespoons golden syrup

4 tablespoons of milk

currants, glace cherries to decorate

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Preheat your oven Gas mark 3 / 160C / 325F.

Put the flour and ginger into a bowl.

Melt the margarine, sugar and syrup in a pan over a low heat.

Add the margarine mix, to the flour and ginger.  Mix well.

Add the milk and mix to a firm consistency.  Knead lightly with your hands.

Roll the dough thinly, using more flour to stop it from sticking.

Use a cutter to make the gingerbread man shapes and place them on a greased baking sheet.

Cut the cherries for the mouths and use the raisins for eyes and buttons.

Cook for approximately 10 minutes.

Allow them to cool slightly before transferring them to a cooling wire rack.

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I managed to make seventeen gingerbread men with the mixture, but I suppose it depends on how big your cutter is and how thin you roll the dough.

The gingerbread men cost me just 63p to make, plus the cherries and currants to decorate, but you can use what you have handy in your cupboards to decorate them.

It’s another cheap and fun activity to do with your children.

I hope you find todays blog helpful.

 

 

 

Half-Term Kids Activities and Weed Week – ‘Horsetail’

As it’s half term for the children here in Leicestershire this week, I thought I’d do something a little bit different. Each day I will be looking at a different activity to do with children. The activity will be fun and obviously cheap.

 

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Firstly though, I will continue with ‘Weed week – know your enemy’. The more you know about a weed, the more likely you are to stop it from taking hold in your garden.

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Today’s weed is Equisetum arvense (Horsetail) – A perennial weed

The Latin name for Horsetail is ‘Equisetum arvense’. It is derived from the Latin words ‘equus’, meaning horse, and ‘seta’, meaning bristle.

Equisetum arvense (Horsetail) is often confused with ‘Mare’s-tail’ which is a similar shaped weed. ‘Mare’s-tail’ (Hippuris vulgaris) is actually an aquatic weed that is commonly found in ponds or slow flowing streams.

Equisetum arvense or Horsetail is a perrenial weed, (a plant that lives for more than two years)

The stems of Horsetails contain significant quantities of silica granules and silica based compounds that give the plant mildly abrasive qualities, which were utilised by early settlements for cleaning pots and polishing wood. Medical records dating back to ancient Roman, Greek and Chinese civilisations show that Horsetail has been used as a herbal medicine with multiple uses.

I think Horsetail is a fascinating weed as it has been around for approximately thirty million years. Its descendants, a group of ancient tree like plants, thrived 300 million years ago. Fossil evidence has been found that show some of these ancestors reached over thirty metres in height.

Horsetail is really hard to eradicate as the rhizomes go very deep into the soil, in fact several meters down. They like moist clay soil and thrive in these conditions, but it will grow in most soils.

Weed killers are not usually effective in killing this weed, as it has a hard waxy cuticle. You can use glyphosate to try and kill Horsetail, but you need to ‘bruise’ parts of each plant to allow the weed killer to penetrate it.

A better choice is to hoe it really frequently, as this will eventually ‘starve’ the plant as it won’t be able to photosynthesize effectively.

When you are next ‘cursing’ this weed, remember it has been around far longer than we have.

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Today’s Half-Term Activity – A Rain Catcher and Weather Chart

As it’s autumn here in the UK and the weather isn’t always good, I thought it would be good to include a Rain Catcher, so kids can record the amount of rain that actually falls and a Weather Chart.

You can tailor this activity to the age of the children.  Older children can do this in far more detail.

All you need is an old bottle and a wooden spoon, and a few drops of food colouring (if you have some).  The colouring just helps the kids see the water better but it isn’t necessary.

Cut the bottle into two pieces.

Put the top half of the bottle upside down, inside the other half of the bottle so it fits snugly.

Add a few drops of food colouring (if you have it) so you can see the rain water easily.

Mark a wooden spoon with lines, one centimetre apart from the bottom of the spoon.

Have fun decorating the wooden spoon, however you want to and then place it inside the bottle.

Put it outside to catch the rain.  I put rocks around mine to stop it blowing away.

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To carry on the weather theme, children may find it fun to fill in a weather chart each day as well. The picture below shows a chart that is more suitable to smaller children.  Older children could do a chart in far more detail and even take this one step further and look at cloud shapes and names or past and current temperatures.

It’s all educational but fun and if they take it into school after half-term, I’m sure it will impress their teachers:

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today

Half-Term Kids Activities and Weeds ‘Know Your Enemy’

As it’s half term for the children here in Leicestershire this week, I thought I’d do something a little bit different. Each day I will be looking at a different activity to do with children. The activity will be fun and obviously cheap.

Firstly though, I will start with my ‘Weed week – know your enemy’. The more you know about a weed, the more likely you are to stop it from taking hold in your garden.

So this week I will be looking at a different common weed each day.

Weeds are fascinating.  The more I read about them, the more interested in them I become.  After all, a weed is just a plant in the wrong place.

Times I hear people say that they wish their vegetables grew as quickly as the weeds.  The problem is that most weeds are native to this country and have been around for a very long time, whereas most vegetables haven’t been around quite such a long time and a lot of them have been brought in from different countries over the years.  So weeds really have an advantage.

However, some weeds can be useful too.  Parts of them can be used to eat, for herbal remedies, to make wine or drinks, to dye clothes and to feed and shelter beneficial insects. Also, some weeds can be dug into your ground and act like a green manure e.g. chickweed.

So they can be useful too, if you just look at them in a different way.

There are different types of weeds too:

Annual Weeds

Annuals complete their lifecycle in just one year:

Germinate – Grow – Flower – Set Seed – Die.

E.g. Groundsel, Cleavers

 

Ephemeral Weeds

A plant that completes many lifecycles in the same year:

Germinate – Grow – Flower – Set Seed – Die.

They are very short-lived plants and this cycle happens many times over the year.

E.g. Groundsel

Biennial Weeds

Biennials complete their lifecycle in two years:

Year 1 – They germinate and grow

Year 2 – They flower and set seed

E.g. Shepherds purse

 

Perennial Weeds

A perennial weed lives for more than two years and most will reproduce many times.  They reproduce either by seed and / or vegetatively.

E.g. couch grass, creeping buttercup.

If you know their lifecycle, you can eradicate the weed before it reproduces.  Remember the old saying:

“One year’s seeding means seven years weeding”

Over the next four days I will look at four common weeds and their lifecycles, in the hope we can fight the battle of ‘The Weeds’.

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Today’s Half-Term Activity – Play Dough

An easy thing to make is ‘Play dough’.  Over the years, my daughters have had hours of fun making shapes and cutting models out.  I kept my eyes open for cutters and things in charity shops and school fairs and I managed to get quite a collection.

Play dough can be made in any colour.  I used to make batches of three colours. It’s safe for the kids to play with as there are no chemicals and it won’t harm them if they put it in their mouths (though it will taste foul if they do).

 It lasts for a few days if you pop it in the fridge after the kids have finished with it.  Put it in a box or a bag, to stop it from drying out.

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Play dough Recipe:

1 Cup of water

1 Cup Plain flour

½ Cup of salt

1 Tablespoon cooking oil

Few drops of food colouring

 

Put the ingredients into a pan and heat, stirring all the time, until the mixture comes together in one large ball.

Don’t be alarmed at the state of your pan after cooking.  Soak the pan for a while and the play dough will  wash off easily.

Leave the play dough to cool on a plate for a few minutes.

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It’s as easy as that.

Play dough ‘hair’

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I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today