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Batch Baking, Fixed Beds And Celeriac

Before I start I thought I would show you a couple of photos that I took yesterday out of the car window, whilst my husband was driving.  I think the display of daffodils that Leicester City Council planted a few years ago, really look beautiful this year.  I think the daffodils are the variety called ‘Tete-a-Tete’ and they look stunning planted all along the central reservation.

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Yesterday morning I did my usual weekend ‘batch baking’.  I love baking all in one go, as it saves me time during the week and energy as I cook things together.

This weekend I made fruit scones and weetabix chocolate brownies for lunch boxes and a chocolate cake for tea. I butter the scones before freezing them as it makes it easier in the mornings, as I just take a couple of scones out and pop them a lunch box.

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I also made a large pot of vegetable soup to take to the allotment with me in my flask.  I love having homemade soup with a homemade roll, sitting in the sunshine at my allotment watching all the birds and insects buzzing around….and it’s full of vitamins and cheap too.

My homemade soup has whatever I fancy from the freezer when I make it.  Yesterday’s soup has my homegrown swede, turnip, courgettes, runnerbeans, broadbeans, pumpkin and leeks in it.

I just fried the leek in a tablespoon of olive oil until it was soft and threw everything else in and just covered it all with vegetable stock and left it to simmer for thirty minutes.

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I then used my hand blender to ‘blitz’ it until it was smooth and divided it into portions which I froze when it had cooled down.

It really is an easy meal to make.

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At my allotment this weekend I noticed lots of ladybirds appearing.  In this particular clump of overgrown grass there were loads of them together, though the photograph actually only shows three.

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I have ‘fixed beds’ at my allotment, which just means I have paths either side of my beds so I don’t need to walk on them.  This makes it far easier for me to manage the soil, as I can just lightly ‘fork’ over my beds if I need to.

I chose not to have raised beds as I couldn’t afford the wood for raised beds (as I have four plots) and I would also need to buy in the top soil to fill them.

My top soil is nice and deep and I don’t think raised beds would be an advantage for me.  The only exception is my one raised bed that I use to grow my carrots in, as I can not grow carrots in my very heavy soil.  This one and only raised bed is made up each year of my homemade compost, leafmould and a bag of sand and this is the only way I have managed to grow carrots.

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So this week I have been busy finishing the weed suppressant paths that I talked about here and I have been ‘forking’ over this area ready for my legumes.

I think this area looks much better without the bricks holding the weed suppressant down and it will be lovely not to have the weed suppressant ‘fraying’ all over the place as it gets caught up in my fork, which is very annoying as it makes the job harder to do.

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There was one area that I had been treading on all winter, as I had put the prunings that I took from my plum tree late last summer there.  This wasn’t a wise move as it was really hard work forking the soil over, as it had all compacted and the water was slow to drain from this area.

  I thought I would show you the difference between the soil that I had trod on lots over the winter and the soil that I hadn’t trod on.  Both photos were taken when I had turned the soil over with my fork.  You can see the soil structure where I hadn’t walked, in the right hand photo. This was far better than the soil on the left hand photo, where I had walked.  So this is really enough proof to me that my ‘fixed’ beds do actually work.

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This weekend I had been transplanting some of my plants at the allotment.  I have divided my chysanthemums and planted them through my weed suppressant next to the boxes that I made last week to edge my plot:

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I have also been transplanting some of them to the outside of my woodland area, together with foxgloves that have self seeded around my plot.  Hopefully they will look lovely when they flower.

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And finally, I transplanted some Michaelmas daisys that had outgrown their spot, to the back of my plot around the Hazel trees which I coppiced this winter…

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…I do already have Lavatera and Buddlia growing at the back of the Hazel, so hopefully with the  Michaelmas daisys,   this area won’t look so bare whilist the Hazel is growing back.

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One last thing, I picked the last of my celeriac this weekend.  I don’t usually leave it in the ground overwinter, but I somehow over looked it….but I have got away with it as it has been so mild.  The celeraic does have one or two slug holes in, but I am really pleased with it overall.

So my next job is to freeze it this week.

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I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.

Winter Vegetables And A Parsnip Cake

This weekend at my allotment I noticed that the snow drops I planted last year have begun to flower.  Where on earth is time going to?…I can’t believe it will be February on Saturday.

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I planted the snowdrops last year after my good friend passed away.  The day she died I noticed that snowdrops were in flower and they looked beautiful, so I decided to plant some in my ‘woodland area’ at my allotment.  This way I will remember her each time I see them in flower.  I will plant some more this year too, as eventually I want to see a mass of snowdrops in this area.

I still miss my old friend very much.

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I also noticed that I have some primroses in my woodland area that are in flower too.

There are also one or two early flowers on the poached egg plants and in the photograph below, you can just see a daffodil bulb poking through too:

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These are all reminders that Spring will soon be on it’s way, (though we do still have some cold winter weather to get through first).

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This weekend I brought some vegetables home from the allotment for dinner.  I have decided that I am very pleased with my winter vegetables this year:

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I put a twelve inch ruler next to the parsnips so you could see the size of them.  I tried various methods of growing parsnips with limited success, until I started to grow them in kitchen roll tubes.  This gives me an almost perfect germination rate and also nearly always gives me straight parsnips that don’t fork.

You can read how I grow my parsnips here.

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I have had a problem in the past with my brussell sprouts ‘blowing’.  I always thought that this was due to the soil not being firm enough around the plants, but I knew my soil was firm as I dug manure into it the autumn before and stomped around on it before I planted into it.

I then read that F1 varieties were less likely to ‘blow’ and I planted these last year….and I’m pleased to say I am very happy with the result.  The photo below shows a variety call ‘Igor‘, which I will definately be growing again this year:

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I am still picking carrots at my allotment.  I grow my carrots in a raised bed each year and then move the raised bed completely, to a different part of my allotment.  I fill the bed with homemade compost, leaf mould and a bag of sharp sand mixed together and this gives me good results.  After sowing I cover the bed with environmesh to keep the carrot fly out:

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You can read about carrot fly here.

I picked a monster carrot at the weekend, it weighed just over half a kilogram.  It was almost a meal on it’s own!

I put a teaspoon in the photograph to demonstrate the size of the carrot:

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The swedes are still good at my allotment too.  I love swede mashed with a little bit of butter and pepper, though I had never tried it until my husband introduced it to me a few years ago.  I think it is one of my favourite vegetables now.

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And I’m still using homegrown onions and potatoes from my storage boxes outside:

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All in all, I feel like we are living like kings on the winter vegetables that I have grown.  I’m sure they would have cost us a fortune in the shops to buy and it’s nice to know they are all grown organically, without any chemicals.

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I finished the above Sunday lunch with ‘Parsnip Cake’.  Parsnip cakes are very, very moist and taste very much like carrot cake.  This is how I made it:

Parsnip Cake

175g margarine

250g soft brown sugar

100ml honey

3 eggs (beaten)

250g self raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice

250g parsnips grated finely

1 apple grated

1 orange – use the juice and zest

130g cream cheese

100g icing sugar + extra to sprinkle on top

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Preheat your oven 180C / gas 4 / 350F

Grease and flour two 8 inch sandwich tins

Put the margarine, honey and sugar in a pan over a low heat and stir until the sugar has all dissolved.

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Allow to cool for a while.

Add the eggs to the pan and stir thoroughly.

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Sift the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into the sugar and egg mixture and stir.

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Then stir in the apple, parsnip, orange juice and zest.

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Divide the mixture between the cake tins and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the cakes.

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Leave the cakes to cool.

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Make the icing by mixing the cream cheese with the icing sugar and then spreading it over the bottom layer of the cake.  Put the top layer of the cake on top and dust with icing sugar.

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Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today, I will be back on Friday.

I hope you have a good week.

Homemade Compost From Perennial Weeds And Couch Grass

During the last week I have been catching up with some overdue jobs at my allotment.

With Mr Thrift’s help over the weekend, I have managed to spread some compost over the beds where my brassicas will be planted this year.

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I haven’t bothered to dig the beds as I don’t walk on the soil (as I always walk on my paths) and brassicas like firm soil anyway.  I will let the worms do the hard work for me.

When I first took on plot number three in March 2010, it was covered in couch grass and weeds.  You can see a photo of it below:

I put all the weeds (couch grass, perennial weeds etc) in a compost bin which I made out of pallets tied together.   I then covered it with weed suppressant.  Over the last four years everything has been rotting nicely and it has now produced the most beautiful, sweet smelling compost:

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Books and magazines are constantly telling you that you mustn’t add perennial weeds to your compost bins, but I do this all the time and produce lovely compost.  I think the main reason they tell you this is because it is sometimes hard to kill perennial weeds (but starving the weeds of light will eventually kill the hardiest of weeds) and because of the weed seeds.  I hoe each and every week at my allotment to remove any weed seedlings and so weed seeds have never really been a problem for me.

  I love making compost as it has so many nutrients in it, which makes it great to add to vegetable beds and it is also free to make.

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Over the past week I have been clearing some areas of my allotment.  I started by clearing my wildflower area.  I had to use an old plank to walk on as the ground is still so wet:

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I also cleared away the canes and straw where my tomatoes grew last summer:

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I am planning on growing my tall peas in this bed soon, which is why I have left the weed suppressant in the middle.

I have moved the old straw that was around my tomatoes to my globe artichokes.  If you surround the crowns it gives them added protection over the winter (though I am a bit late doing this, but we haven’t had a really hard frost yet luckily).  Last year I planted two new globe artichokes that I grew from seed and I have been told that they don’t always make it through their first winter,  so I have built a cold frame around them out of old glass windows:

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I have also cleared the old flower foliage from around my old swing and on the bed next to it.  Incidentally, the clematis that I planted last year should have some lovely flowers on this Spring time, as it grew well last year.

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Everything I have cleared has gone into my compost heap at the bottom of my plot:

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I know it looks like I have put far too much into it, but it will rot down and then I will cover it for three or four years before using it.  Below is a picture of a compost heap that is now just about ready to use that was actually higher than the one above when I first covered it and now you can see how much it has rotted down:

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Another job I did last week at my allotment was to build a more permanent runner bean support.  I dug down a couple of feet and put two old metal posts in the ground.  I then tied some canes to the supports.  You can see from the photo below that I have started to fill my trenches with old peelings etc.  As they rot down they will help to retain the moisture in the soil, if we have a hot summer.  When the trench is full I will cover it with the soil I have taken out and start to fill the trench on the other side.

Runner beans can stay where they are year after year as they require little nutrients, but they do need lots of water, which is why I use this trenching method.

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Over the last few months I have been trying to think of a way to change my fruit area, to make it more low maintenance.  It was a real pain to lift the nets of my two fruit cages every week when we needed to mow.  You can see my fruit area in the photo below (the cages aren’t in the photo as I take them down after I have removed all the fruit):

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I decided to have just one fruit cage this year and bring the blueberries in their pots into the middle and remove two gooseberry plants that really haven’t given me much fruit over the years.

I firstly covered the area with weed suppressant:

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I thought long and hard about how I was going to do this area and in the end I decided to make my edges out of old sticks and hazel that I have at my plot.  This way insects like ladybirds can use this area to hide in over winter.  I just bundled the sticks up and tied them with wire and then pegged the wire down into the ground.

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I used some small lengths of hazel pushed into the ground to ensure the bundles of sticks didn’t move and then I covered the whole area with woodchip (most councils sell woodchip cheaply).

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It looks much neater now and it will be easy to put my fruit cage over it in Spring (incidentally I make my cage out of old handwash bottles and canes).

I’m very pleased with the area now.

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I have also been busy in my kitchen this weekend too.  I decided to use up some of the fruit from my freezer.

I made a ‘Blackberry soaked cake’ which is delicious served with a drizzle of the left over blackberry syrup.  It is a River Cottage recipe which you can find here.

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I also made my daughter some strawberry flapjacks, by just adding a cup full of defrosted (and drained) strawberries to the recipe.  You can find the Flapjack recipe here.

…and they were delicious too.

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I froze the flapjacks on a tray and then put them into an old container when they were frozen.  This stops them from sticking together so you can take them out of the freezer one at a time.  I pop one into my daughter’s lunch box in the morning and it’s defrosted by lunchtime (or even break if she is hungry).

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That’s it for now.

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

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Christmas Decorations In The ‘Thrift’ Household

This week has been a lovely, creative week for me, but very busy.

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I started off by making my laundry liquid as I had ran out of the shop bought box that I had to buy when the builders were here.

Incidentally, I never use the amount it says to use on the box, I only ever use half the amount to make it last longer and it always washes well and this saves me money.

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I prefer to wash our laundry using my homemade laundry liquid as I know what goes into it and it is really really easy to make.  It only takes 10-15 minutes to make up a batch and it lasts for weeks.  It is great for every day washing and the last time I worked it out a few months ago, it cost me approximately £1.75 to make and I managed to get 71 washes out of it.  This works out at a staggering 2.5p per wash….the supermarkets can’t beat that!

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I’ve stored my laundry liquid in old ‘pop’ bottles as they fit nicely under my new sink.

You can find the recipe I use for my laundry liquid here.

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I nipped into the supermarket as well this week and found a lonely pack of bananas in the ‘whoopsie’ aisle for 10p.  They were all nice and yellow except a couple which had started to turn brown (which was probably why no one wanted them)… so I bought them.

After we ate the yellow ones, I made a lovely banana cake with the others.  You can find the recipe I used here.

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I’ve also finally got round to writing and sending my Christmas cards.  I bought my cards in the 2011 New Year sales, for a fraction of the price that they were before Christmas.  They don’t take up much space and it saves me a bit of money.

To save time, I have a Christmas card list that I print off from my computer every year.  The list tells me exactly who I need to send Christmas cards to and if I have any extra people to send cards to I just update the list ready for the next year.  It makes writing the cards so much easier.

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I also made some strawberry jam this week ready for my hampers.  I didn’t get chance to make it over the summer as I was packing things away ready for the building work, so all my fruit was washed and put straight into the freezer.  I am hoping to make some other things for my hampers during the next week as well.

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I started to put up the Christmas decorations this week too (except the tree, as we are still waiting for our fireplace to be installed).  Our old faithful cheap and cheerful door wreath was looking a bit sad as it had lost it cones, so I replaced them with some more and it looks much better now:

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I hung up our trusty old garland along our stairs too.  I bought this approximately fifiteen years ago from Wilkinsons and it still looks as good as new and makes the hall look lovely and Christmassy when you first come in the house:

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Also this week, I continued using my bargain charity shop material that I used to make my curtains and my kitchen Roman blind.  For those reading this that don’t know, it only cost me £16 for 10 meters (a piece four meters long and another piece that was six meters long) and it was brand new, never used…I still can’t get over what a bargain it was, I suppose one mans rubbish is another mans gold.

I have now re-covered our old (and stained) seat pads for the chairs around our table and I am really pleased with the result:

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And I have managed to make a table cloth and eight napkins out of the remainder of the material.  So I am very pleased as my kitchen looks very co-ordinated now and I don’t think anyone would know that the whole lot cost me just £26 to make (£16 for the material and heading tape and a further £10 for all the other bits,  for the Roman blind and for the cotton).

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With some of the little off-cuts I still had left, I made some bows for my Christmas table wreath.  They were really easy to make, I just followed  some instructions that I found on ‘You Tube’  here.  I think they turned out well:

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I love Christmas decorations that are made out of things that you can pick from your garden at this time of year, so I went out into mine to collect some holly, bay and conifer leaves.

While I was there I noticed there are some lovely sights in the garden at this time of the year:

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I even discovered that our Lavatera still has flowers on and my Vinca has a flush of flowers on too:

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I made a couple of ‘sprays’ with some of the bits I collected and tied them with a spare ‘off cut’ of material I had and hung them in my kitchen.  I was very pleased with the result (especially as it cost me nothing to make them):

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I then began to make my Christmas Table Wreath.

I openly admit that I’m not very good at flower arranging.  In fact, I was the only Brownie that just ‘scraped’ a flower arranging badge due to ‘Brown Owl’ stepping in and rearranging it all for me.  My arrangement was so bad.

Last year I made my first table wreath and I was very proud of it and couldn’t believe how easy it was to make. So this week I made this years wreath.

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How To Make An Easy Christmas Wreath:

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I bought an oasis ring from Wilkinson last month for approx. £4.50

I used bits of old ribbon last year and material bows as above this year

Pine cones from my local park

Shrubs from the garden

(I used conifer and bay this year and Viburnum tinus last year)

Large paper clips or florist’s wire)

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I started by soaking the oasis ring upside down in water for about 5 minutes, until the bubbles stopped coming out of it.  I have read that you should not press the oasis ring down, as this will cause air bubbles to enter the foam, creating dry spots.

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I cut the foliage in lengths of approximately 10cm and striped the leaves so there was about 4cm of stem to push into the oasis.

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I layered the shrubs into the oasis by pushing the stems in at a slight angle, starting at the bottom.

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I kept building the foliage up, so eventually the oasis couldn’t be seen.

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Use big paper clips stretched out or florists wire to secure the ribbons and the pine cones to the oasis.

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I have read that it is best to mist the wreath with water each day so it doesn’t dry out

(I’ve got to admit I didn’t do it last year and my wreath lasted ages).

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I’m very pleased with my table wreath again this year and as an extra bonus, the bows match my table cloth.

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Finally this week, I sliced some oranges to make ‘old fashioned’ Christmas decorations.  I put the slices on a piece of greaseproof paper and then put it on the top of my radiator.  I have read that they will dry this way without having to use your oven, so I thought I will give it a try.

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I’ll let you know how I get on with them and if it works.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

Fast Food At Home…A Microwaved Syrup Sponge Recipe

This week has been really busy.

I started by sorting my three freezers out.  When we were moving our freezers, I must admit I just rammed everything in anyhow, so they really did need sorting as I hadn’t a clue what we had in them…which is not good for meal planning.

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So I took everything out and put it all back in a reasonable order:

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I did this with all three freezers and wrote a list of what was in each freezer

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I need to start meal planning now at the weekend to make sure I don’t over spend on my food budget.

One thing I did find in my freezer contents was a bag of left over vegetables.  Everytime I have left over cooked vegetables after a meal, I freeze them.  When I have enough, I make a ‘use it up curry’.   So this is what we had for tea on Thursday:

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I’ve also been preparing for my youngest daughters birthday yesterday.  I can’t quite believe she is now fourteen…where did time go to?  It only seems like yesterday that I was holding her in my arms when she was just a few hours old…and now she is growing into a beautiful young lady before my eyes.

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So on Wednesday I made a dairyfree cake for her birthday (as she is dairy intolerant).  She asked for a chocolate cake with jam in the middle which is what she always asks for, but I wanted to make it extra special.  I decided to make it two tiers and cover it with dairyfree butter icing.  I used my faithful ‘throw it all in’ cake recipe, which you can find here.  She loved it, so I was really pleased:

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It didn’t look quite as good as I had hoped, but it looked great when it was sliced:

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My daughter invited a few of her close friends for tea yesterday.  When my girls were growing up I really hated ‘party bags’ with plastic rubbish in them, that got tossed away within a few minutes of opening the bags.  I felt it was such a waste of money.  So over the years I have made or bought things in the sales that I thought would actually get used, or I have sometimes made individual decorated cakes and bagged them up separately so they looked really special.

This year I thought my daughter would like something a little bit more grown up, so I bought little boxes of Cadburys Roses (they cost me £1 each in the sale) and I ‘poshed’ them up with cellophane and ribbon and a little note which ‘thanked’ her friends for celebrating her birthday with her:

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 My daughter had a lovely time with her friends.

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Before I go, I thought I would share a recipe with you that I cooked on Wednesday night.  It was a cold night and it was one of those nights where I just fancied something hot, sweet and filling to eat.  So, I cooked a Microwave Syrup Sponge.  It is so quick and easy to make and far cheaper than nipping out to your local shop to buy something on the spur of the moment:

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Microwaved Syrup Sponge Recipe:

100g margarine or butter, plus some for greasing the bowl

100g granulated sugar

2 eggs

100g self-raising flour

2-3 tablespoons of milk

2 tablespoons of golden syrup

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Beat the margarine and sugar together.

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Add the eggs and beat together.

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Fold in the flour and add enough milk to achieve dropping consistency

 (so it drops off the spoon easily).

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Grease a microwave bowl with margarine.

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Drop the syrup in the bottom of the bowl and put the mixture on top.

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Cover the bowl with a small plate or Microwave Clingfilm, leaving a small gap for the steam to escape.

Microwave on ‘high’ for 8 minutes (based on an 700W microwave).

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Leave to stand for a couple of minutes before turning it out.

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Serve with custard or ice-cream.

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Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

What Do You Do With Hundreds Of Courgettes?

I always look forward to the first courgette of the year as it means summer really is here.  I get excited watching it grow, waiting for the day I can pick it:

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When I do pick it, I nearly always use it in a lovely courgette, onion and cheese omelette and we always comment on how lovely it is to have the courgettes at last, as it seems such a long time since we last picked them the year before.

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The first couple of weeks are like a ‘courgette honeymoon’, as it’s so lovely to use them in our summer meals.

Every day I check for more courgettes on my plants and the plants keep producing them.  They just keep coming…

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…and coming…

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…and coming…

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…and coming!

In fact by mid-summer they seem to be laughing at me and ‘popping out’ overnight from where they have been hiding and every basket of goodies havested at the allotment has a least a couple of courgettes in:

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So what on earth can you do with all the courgettes that you pick?

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I have read quite a few articles in books and magazines on this subject, but half the recipes I’ve read are not really realistic for everyday meals, or are really time consuming recipes (and I haven’t got too much time to cook the courgettes as I’m too busy picking them).

So I thought I would talk about what I do with the millions of courgettes that I grow:-

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I use courgettes in everyday meals like pasta bolognaise, curries and chilli’s…

Pasta Bolognaise

Pasta Bolognaise

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I also use them in pies like my Chicken, Courgette and Broccoli Pie.  You can find the recipe here.

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Chicken, Courgette and Broccoli Pie

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Courgette Frittata’s are nice too.  The recipe is here.

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Courgette Frittata

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I also add them in the Pasta / Pizza Sauce recipe I make.  After it is cooked I whizz the sauce up with my stick blender and no one ever knows and then I use my sauce as normal.  You can find my pasta / pizza sauce recipe here.

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Courgette chutney is one of my favourite chutneys.  I use this recipe, but replace the scallopini’s (patty pans) with courgettes.  It keeps for ages and is lovely served with cold meats and on sandwiches.

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Courgette Chutney

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I also use courgettes to make savoury scones.  Cheese and courgette scones are absolutely delicious and can be frozen ready to pop into lunch boxes in the morning, before work and school.  The recipe for cheese and courgette scones is here.

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Cheese and Courgette Scones

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One of the favourite things I make with courgettes is a Chocolate Courgette Tray Bake Cake.  No one ever knows the cake has courgettes in and this way the kids get a few extra vitamins, without realising it.  The recipe is here.

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Chocolate Courgette Tray Bake Cake

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One other thing I do with my courgettes is to freeze them.  I have a bag of sliced courgettes and diced courgettes which I open freeze on trays before bagging up, so they don’t stick together.  I never blanch my courgettes first and they always seem to be ok for use over the winter.

I also bag up grated courgettes in the exact quantities ready to make the courgette cheese scones.  This way I can just take a bag out of the freezer the night before, to defrost ready to make the scones.

Courgettes sliced and diced ready for freezing

Courgettes sliced and diced ready for freezing

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Finally, I use the courgettes in different soups.  A particularly nice soup is a Courgette, Potato and Cheese soup.  The recipe is below:

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Courgette, Potato And Cheese Soup

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500g potatoes, peeled and chopped into small pieces

1 pint of vegetable stock

1 kg of courgettes, washed and chopped into small pieces

1 bunch of spring onions, washed and sliced small

100g grated cheese

Salt and pepper

Ground nutmeg to serve.

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Put the potatoes into a large pan, cover with the vegetable stock and bring it to the boil.  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the courgettes and simmer for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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Put a few spring onions aside to garnish the soup when you serve it.  Put the remaining spring onions in the pan and simmer for a further 5 minutes.

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Add the cheese, stirring it until it has melted.

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Take the pan off the heat and use a stick blender or liquidiser to smooth the soup.

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Return the pan to the heat and bring back to the boil, adding salt and pepper as required.

Serve the soup with a sprinkling of ground nutmeg and garnish with the remaining spring onions.

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I hope you enjoyed my blog today.  If you do anything different with your courgettes, it would be lovely to hear from you, so please leave a comment at the bottom of this post.

I’ll be back on Friday at 4pm.

Have a good week.

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.
Celeriac

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.

A Plant Sale, Comfrey Tea And An Easy Chocolate Traybake Recipe

I hope you all had a good weekend.

Today I thought I’d start by saying a big “welcome” to people that have recently followed my blog.  I noticed yesterday that I have over three hundred followers and I feel very privileged to have this many.  Thank you to all of you that read my blog, I hope I will continue to write things of interest for you.

I love receiving feedback and questions, so please feel free to leave comments on my blog.  If there is anything that I can help you with e.g. any questions about something I’ve written about or any non-related gardening questions etc, please do not be afraid to ask…after all, if you don’t know the answer then I will guarantee there will be lots of other people that don’t know the answer too.

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The appletree at my allotment

The apple tree at my allotment

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And now for some sad news….

groundwork

 Last week I received the very sad news that ‘Groundwork Leicester and Leicestershire’ had ceased trading and was set to go into voluntary liquidation.

Groundwork was based in offices at Western Park, in Hinckley Road, Leicester, next door to the city council’s Eco House, which it also manages and which is currently closed.

Groundwork Leicester and Leicestershire was an environmental charity which worked with schools and other organisations to promote a greener lifestyle.  It has closed with the loss of 26 jobs.  This is what the Leicester Mercury said about them:

“Since 1987, the Leicester charity – previously called Environ – has helped thousands of people, organisations and businesses improve their neighbourhoods, learn skills, improve their job prospects and create a greener county.

One of its key areas has been helping students and young people get into work. It also helped to manage the Bikes4All and Allotments4All initiatives.

It has worked with various organisations including councils, schools and universities as well as local and regional businesses.”

You can read the full article in the Leicester Mercury here.

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My friend Rob Carter was regrettably one of the 26 people.  Rob ran the ‘Organic Gardening Course’ that I talked about last year on my blog.  He is one of the most knowledgeable organic gardeners, that I have ever met and what he doesn’t know about gardening, really isn’t worth knowing.

Rob was planning a plant sale this month and volunteers have been helping him to grow plants in readiness.  Even though Rob has lost his job at Eco House, he is still going ahead with the plant sale, which I think is admirable.  Volunteers (including myself) will be there to sell the plants we have grown, all in peat free composts and will answer any questions you have about the plants.

So if you are in the area on Sunday, please consider visiting the sale for cheap, good quality flower and vegetable plants.  After all, unless a miracle happens, this will be the last sale.

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Better news now… this weekend I harvested my first ever asparagus.  I know there isn’t much here, but I’ve waited three years to get a crop and hopefully there will still be some more to come.

It tasted wonderful with a knob of butter melted over it.

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My comfrey is growing well now, so a few days ago I made some comfrey tea so it will be ready in a couple of weeks.

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Comfrey tea is a wonderful organic fertiliser which is high in potash and free to make.  The deep roots of the Comfrey plants absorb the potassium from the subsoil. Therefore it is great for using on most fruits and flowers.  I use it so much that I have a water butt that I use purely for comfrey tea.

All I did was collect a few leaves and stalks and wrapped them up in an old net with a rock to weigh it down.

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I tied it securely and lowered it into my water butt and covered it in water.

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I put the lid back on the water butt and I will leave it now for at least two weeks before I use it.

You can find more information about this wonderful plant and how to grow it here.

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Another job I managed to do at my allotment, was to put some chicken wire on my daughters’ old swing.  I moved the swing a couple of months ago, so you can walk under it, along my central path.

I then planted a Clematis Montana, so it can grow up and over it.  Hopefully, it will be covered in flowers next spring and look beautiful:

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Finally, it’s been a while since I posted a cheap and easy cake recipe on here.  So below is a very simple tray-bake (I try to make sure all my recipes are easy to make).

This cake is ideal if you have kids coming for tea, or to freeze ahead ready for packed lunches.  If you freeze them, slice the cake into squares and put them into the freezer on a tray.  Put them into a bag or container when they are frozen, so they don’t stick together.  This way it is easy to take one piece of cake out of the freezer in the morning and pop it into the kid’s lunch boxes still frozen, as they will defrost in no time:

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A Quick And Easy Chocolate Tray-Bake Recipe:

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6 oz. of Margarine

6 oz. Caster sugar

6 oz. Self raising flour

3 Eggs

1 Tablespoon Cocoa powder

1 Teaspoon of baking powder

Cooking chocolate and sprinkles to decorate.

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Preheat the oven Gas Mark 4 / 350F / 176C

Lay a piece of greaseproof paper over a tray, approximately 9 x 12 ½ inch in size.

Sieve the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder into a bowl.

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Add the caster sugar, eggs and margarine.

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Mix all the ingredients until they are combined. Add a little bit of water if needed, to achieve a good dropping consistency (i.e. it drops off the spoon easily).

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Smooth the mixture over the greaseproof paper in the tray and cook for approximately 25-30 minutes.

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When it is cooked, slide the greaseproof paper off the tray and onto a cooling tray and leave to cool.

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When cooled, melt some cooking chocolate in the microwave and spread over the cake and use sprinkles or whatever you want over the top to decorate.

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Slice when the chocolate has set.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at approximately 4pm.

Onion Sets, Peas And Watercress

There has been some lovely warm weather this week and I have been working at my allotment in short sleeves at last.

On Tuesday I noticed the temperature in my polytunnel rose to nearly 37C, even with both doors wide open.

It was lovely to see that bees, butterflies and other insects were coming into the polytunnel, attracted by the mizuna that I can’t bring myself to dig up yet, as it is so beautiful.

Mizuna in flower

Mizuna in flower

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I spent this week planting my onion sets.  I started my onion sets in modules this year, as the soil was in no fit state to plant them direct last month.  I was very pleased with the result as most of them had started to sprout:

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I am hoping this will be a one-off though, as it takes extra time to plant the sets in modules and obviously uses extra compost.  I planted 416 onions all in all, including 80 red onions and I’ve got to say my back did ache a bit afterwards.

This year is really an experimental year with my onions, as I had a problems last year with the allium leaf miner, especially on my overwintering onions.

In autumn, I planted seed sown onions instead of sets (in the hope they would be stronger plants) and covered them in environmesh.  I have also planted summer onions that I sowed in January (again, in the hope they will be stronger plants) and two different varieties of onion sets, in the hope that one may grow stronger than the other.

The two varieties of onions sets I planted this year are ‘Turbo’ and ‘Sturon’.

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The allium leaf miner is a pest that was only detected in Britain in 2002.  It has been spreading rapidly since and spread to many places in the Midlands for the first time last year and unfortunately found my allotment site too.

The allium leaf miner isn’t choosy which allium it attacks.  Alliums include onions, leeks, garlic and shallots.

You can find details of the allium leaf miner here.

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I have also been planting peas again this week.  I have planted some mangetout as my youngest daughter absolutely loves them (though she won’t eat peas, which is very strange), so I would be in trouble if I didn’t grow them. I grew them in guttering as I find I have a better germination rate this way.  You can read how I grow my peas in guttering here.

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I also grow a tall, climbing variety called ‘Pea shooter’, which are really sweet, large peas.  The peas were expensive to buy, so I saved some seeds last year and I am pleased to say that they germinated really well.  I made a frame out of canes tied together and draped pea and bean netting over it, so the peas will have something to climb up onto.

There is nothing like opening your first homegrown pea pod straight from the plant and eating the wonderful, sweet tasting peas inside.  It is something I look forward to every year.

My tall, climbing peas

My tall, climbing peas

As the weather is warming nicely, I decided to sow my watercress.  Eric (the gentleman who had the fourth plot before me) always grew a really good crop of watercress in a great big black pot, so last year I decided to give it a try and it worked really well.  I just sprinkled the seeds and covered them with a small amount of compost and I  just made sure I didn’t let the compost dry out.  This was the result:

My watercress in 2012

My watercress in 2012

When it began to flower, I left it to set seed and I was surprised to get a second growth of useable watercress.

This year I replaced the top inch of compost with new compost and sowed new seed.  I covered the moist compost with glass to help the seeds to germinate.

I am looking forward to the results.

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This week I have been working on this years wildflower patch, as last year I was really pleased with it.

I have been raking the area to produce a fine tilth (a fine crumbly soil) and yesterday, I mixed the wildflower seeds with horticultural silver sand and scattered it over the area, avoiding the foxgloves I had transplanted in the patch.  I raked the seeds in, covered them with net to protect them from the birds and hoped the forcasted rain would come.

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If the patch is only half as good as last years, then I will be very pleased:

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I noticed my comfrey patch is growing well now.

I use comfrey a lot at my allotment.  Comfrey is high in potash, as the deep roots of the Comfrey plants absorb the potassium from the subsoil. Therefore it’s great for using on most fruits and flowers, including tomato plants.

I add comfrey to my compost bins, as it is a great ‘free’ activator and I use it as a mulch around plants.  I also have a water butt which I use solely for ‘comfrey tea’, which I use to feed certain plants.  You can read how I make it on one of my very first posts, here.

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I thought I’d mention a few of things I have harvested this week too.

Over winter, we have been eating the cabbages I sowed last summer.  The variety is ‘Robinson’s Champion Giant Cabbage’.  They have stood through all the wet and snowy weather the winter threw at them and I am really pleased with the results:

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My purple sprouting broccolli is doing well and tastes delicious.  It takes approximately a year to grow from seed, but it is so worth the wait:

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And finally, remember I put a ‘bin’ on my rhubarb in February, to ‘force it’….

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I removed the bin and the rhubarb was beautiful and pink.  I could actually smell the sweetness as I removed the dustbin.  I will be making rhubarb crumble tonight, as it’s my favourite.

If you want to make something different with rhubarb, you could try a Rhubarb and Ginger Cake, which is just as nice.  This recipe is here.

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There is always some confusion about composting rhubarb leaves, as the leaves are high in Oxalic Acid, which is toxic to humans, but this is broken down and diluted in the compost heap as the leaves decompose.  So yes, it is safe to put rhubarb leaves into your compost bin.

Also, a long time ago when I pulled my very first rhubarb stalks from the ground, one of the ‘wise old allotment chaps’, saw me chopping the leaves off.  He told me to always leave part of the leaf on the stalk, so it looks like there are three claws left (like a chickens foot):

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When I asked why, he told me the reason for this is because the end always dries and you chop it off again when you are preparing it for cooking.  This way, you don’t waste any….and he was right!

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I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back again on Monday at approximately 4pm.

Enjoy your gardening weekend.