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Christmas Reminiscing

This is my last blog post before Christmas day.

I will be taking a couple of weeks off blogging during the festive period, but I will be back on the 8th January….. I hope you don’t mind.

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In the week before Christmas last year my blog post included my ‘Twelve Tips Of Christmas’ which you can find here.

This year I was wondering what I could write about and I decided to write something a little bit different from my normal blog posts…..

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Yesterday I started to think about my past Christmas’s and I can hand on heart say I have been very lucky as I have had some lovely times…..

……When I was small there was always such excitement in the house when my mother produced the advent calender each year….there were no chocolates in it, just doors to open with pictures underneath (except for number one and two as these had been ripped off previously, as we had the same calender every year).  Number fifteen was a large door with santa underneath saying “only ten days until Christmas’ and my sisters and I would argue over who would open it.

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I also remember taking part in a nativity play at infant school….There were no variations on the Christmas story in those days, it was exactly as the bible wrote and we sang beautiful carols throughout…. don’t get me wrong, I loved to see my daughters in their Christmas productions at Primary school, but it was rare to hear a carol proformed and I would have really liked to have seen them take part in a good ‘old fashioned’ nativity play.

Another memory at Infant school was making Christmas cards and posting them in our ‘schools own post box’ and it was such an honour to be picked to ‘deliver’ the cards to each teacher to give out to their class.

I also took a turn in the classroom to take a Christmas lolly from santa’s sack….such a small thing, but such a happy memory of mine.

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At home we had the same artificial tree every year and it always looked like it had seen better days, but I remember clearly the excitment I felt when decorating it.  It was wonderful to come downstairs on Christmas morning to find a room full of presents with the tree standing proud.  In reality there probably wasn’t many presents, but with four children in the house it always looked like there was.

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On Christmas day we had a turkey dinner with Christmas pudding to follow and it was always my favourite meal of the year…..and still is!

However when I left home, circumstances meant I didn’t really have anywhere to go on Christmas day and this is when I spent Christmas day with the friends who I met at work.  I remember my old friend Helen would invite a few of us to her house and she would cook an amazing Christmas dinner and we all had so much fun.  Sadly my friend passed away a couple of years ago and I still miss her so much, but since her funeral my old work friends have kept in touch and once again see each other regularly, which I really enjoy.

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And then 20 years ago I met my wonderful husband and very quickly we had two children and began to start our own traditions over the Christmas period, which I write about each year on my blog.

Family and friends are so important to have around and I think Christmas is a good excuse to get together and have fun….after all, the last couple of years have taught me that life is short and we need to appreciate what we have.

So this year I will be quietly raising a glass to the family and friends that won’t be with us this Christmas, and I will be remembering the laughter and love we shared.

I wonder if you will be doing the same?

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Thank you for reading my blog this year.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

Too Late To Change….

I thought I would write something different today:

In July the BBC reported that managers work an extra day per week in unpaid overtime.  You can read the report here.  In actual fact I think an awful lot of people do this, not just managers.

A long time ago when I worked full time, I also used to work extra ‘unpaid’ hours and frequently brought work home to do….how different my life is now.

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My life is now simple, as my job is a homemaker that also grows organic vegetables. I’m sure I work a lot more hours than the standard thirty seven hour week, but it is work that I enjoy and it brings a lot of satisfaction to my life.

I like my house to be a home. .. a place that my family love to come home to. I like to make sure my house is clean and comfortable and my family have clothes that are washed and ironed ready for them to wear and healthy meals cooked from scratch, with my home grown organic vegetables.

This may seem very old fashioned, but I love it and feel very privileged to live this way and this is how myself and Mr Thrift planned it.

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The Only Drawback….

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There is one drawback of living this way… I now appear very boring to the average person and I don’t really have anything in common with people around me anymore, as we are a family that lives on just one wage and money is always tight.

I don’t know what the latest ‘must have’ gadget is and we don’t own the latest fashionable flash car and I certainly don’t know the name of any clothes designers. We don’t travel on expensive holidays abroad, or go on luxury cruises either…..we just live simply.

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This is another reason why I write my blog, so I can connect with like-minded people who also enjoy growing vegetables, cooking from scratch and using old fashioned cleaning methods.

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Many times I have been told that I am very lucky as I don’t have any stress in my life….but this is simply not true. We do have our own ‘stresses’ but we try not to add to them by ‘keeping up with the Jones’.  I work very hard during the day and the advantages of living this way far outweighs the disadvantages.

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Over the last few years, I have listened to many people telling me how busy their lives are and how stressed they are at work.  I sometimes think people actually feel somehow more important when they tell you how late they stay at work or how they are running around at the weekends trying to catch up with everything.

I actually don’t think this shows that these people are important, I think this shows that they are either unorganised or just not in control of their lives and I always think to myself it is such a shame, as we only have one life and we need to live it in the best way possible.

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One thing I know for sure, these people won’t be standing at the ‘pearly gates’ wishing they had ‘worked more hours’ …but by that time it will be too late to change.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday at my usual time

Sad Sad News

Earlier this morning we had the sad news that my Father-in-law had passed away peacefully.  He had been poorly in hospital for quite some time  and this was expected, but it doesn’t lessen the pain felt by all of us at the moment.

He was a lovely, lovely man who was very proud of his family and loved his church and he was respected by his community.

Words can’t express how we all feel at the moment, so I hope you understand why I can’t write my normal weekly post today.

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The Sad Loss Of A Great Leicester Author & Friend

Dan Tunstall

'Forget-me-nots' from my allotment

‘Forget-me-nots’

Unfortunately, we had some very sad news on the 7th April, as we found out that one of our friends had passed away.  Today was his funeral, so as a mark of respect I thought it would be nice to dedicate this blog post to him.

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Dan was the most intelligent man I have ever, ever met.  He knew everything about everything and could reel off names, dates, times etc. in almost every topic you could think of.  He was wonderful to have on our team when we entered the quiz nights at the Primary School that our daughters all went to.

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Dan was a talented writer and in 2009 Dan had his first book published ‘Big And Clever’ which was actually shortlisted for the Bradford Boase Award for first young adult novels.  It only seems like yesterday that we were invited to his first book launch.

His second book was published in 2011,  called ‘Out Of Towners’.  I remember him and his wife Carey, spending such a long time making sure the cover photo for his book was just right.  They eventually picked the ‘Eastbourne Pier’, as Eastbourne was one of the places he loved the most.  In fact I remember we all spent a lovely day at Eastbourne with Dan and his family a couple of years ago.

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Dan used to go into schools to talk about his books and was popular with teenage boys, who identified with the characters that he wrote about.

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He also wrote a book called ‘Seconds Out’ and then unsurprisingly contributed to a four-author anthology with Alan Gibbons.

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Dan had the world at his fingers tips, but he just couldn’t see it and unfortunately his friends and family know the outcome of this.

One of the last things he wrote was:

“I was fleetingly brilliant at lots of things, but couldn’t sustain any of them”

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You will sadly be missed Dan.

A Holiday In Scarborough And ‘Slowing Down’

Last week I spent four nights away with my family and it was a really welcome break, as I had been feeling really tired lately.

We went to Scarborough in Yorkshire and stayed in a Travelodge.  We booked the holiday last July and managed to pay just £153.20 for bed and breakfast for all four of us in a family room.  We like the Travelodge as we know exactly what we are staying in, as they are all vitually the same…the rooms are basic, but they are clean, warm and have an ensuite bathroom.  The breakfast is nice and filling too.

Our family room was a bit on the small side, but the view from the window definately made up for it.  It was lovely sitting watching the sea from the window:

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We expected the weather to be wet and windy at best (especially after all the storms we have had recently), or extremely cold, but it was really amazing.  When we arrived on Sunday it was sunny and it stayed dry the whole time.  In fact, most days we walked along the seafront eating ice creams!  Even my youngest daughter could join in this luxury as we actually found a shop that sold ‘lactose free’ ice cream which made my daughters holiday, as this is so unusual.

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We also expected most places to be shut in February, but everything was open and it was busy too.

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I really enjoyed this holiday with my family, even though we didn’t do an awful lot, it was wonderful to just spend time together.

We walked, talked, played bingo on the seafront and lost a few 2p’s in the arcades togther.  We visited the shops and my eldest daughter spent some of her birthday money and in the eveings we played board games.  To me it was sheer bliss.

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We took pasta salads to eat the day we arrived and then we used our Tesco vouchers to have a couple of free meals at ‘Ask’ and we also had fish and chips whilst sitting on the seafront.  We took crisps and drinks to have whilst we were in our room and out and about, so it really was a cheap holiday.

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When the sea went out it revealed some fantastic rock pools, so we spent quite a bit of time walking around these.

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All in all it was a fantastic holiday.  I know it wouldn’t be everyones ‘cup of tea’, but we had a lovely, relaxing time.

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The last of my stored apples

The last of my stored apples

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While I was there, it gave me lots of time to think about ‘this’ and ‘that’.  Recently, I have felt like I haven’t been able to see the wood for the trees and I have once again found myself rushing everything and generally feeling run down and tired.  I have also felt like I’ve not been achieving as much as I usually do.  So I decided to go back to basics and think about the things that are important to me.  Obviously my family are important as they mean the world to me, but other things that are important to me are:

My allotment and living simply.

Reducing mine and my families carbon footprint.

My blog and sharing recipes and gardening tips, in the hope it will help one or two people out there.

My music – I play the violin and last month I started piano lessons.

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Just by writing this down, it made me feel a bit better and more focused about what I want to acheive.

  I then went on to work out what ‘living simply’ means to me and what I needed to do to acheive it and I actually realised I was doing quite well, except for ‘slowing down and enjoying the moment’…and that’s when the penny finally dropped…I have once again gone back to multi-tasking and rushing.  I have been trying to do too many things in a day and I have stopped enjoying what I have been doing, as it now feels like a ‘chore’ instead of a pleasure.

So I realised things have got to change.

The first daffodil to show at my allotment

The first daffodil to show at my allotment

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Since coming home on Thursday I have made a real effort to slow down and enjoy each and every job I do.  I have spent time checking my stock of food and making sure I know exactly what is in my cupboards and freezers.  I have meal planned and batch baked, made our meals from scratch and washed and ironed our holiday clothes.  I have also spent time at my allotment.

Homemade Rolls

Homemade Rolls

Each job has been completed slowly and on it’s own, without multi-tasking.  Strangely, I actually feel like I have achieved quite a lot, even though I have slowed down, but more importantly, I have enjoyed each and every task.  I’m not sure if it’s because I have slowed down or if it’s because I have finally had the time to focus on my goals and what is important to me…but it doesn’t really matter why.

I once again feel like I have a spring in my step, looking forward to each new day.

Viburnum tinus, spotted laurel and vinca flowers from my garden

Viburnum tinus, spotted laurel and vinca flowers from my garden

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back at my usual time on Friday.

Radio Leicester And A Happy New Year

Just a quick post to say I was on Radio Leicester yesterday if anyone fancies having a listen.

I also got to meet Rebecca Bryers who works behind the scenes, which was lovely as I have spoken to her many times but never met her.

I took in my Microwave Chocolate Sponge, which is so so quick and easy to make and it’s actually the most looked at recipe on my blog (you can find the recipe here).  It also costs only £1.05 to make, which is an added bonus.

Ed Stagg (another radio Leicester presenter) also joined them for a fun taste test.

You can hear the interview here  (it starts at approximately 2 hours and 7 minutes into the program).

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#### Don’t forget I will be back on Friday 10th January 2013 ####

At New Year I think about what I would like to do or change over the coming year.  I realise that Rome wasn’t built in a day and habits take at least 28 days to break (or so they say).

I often read comments on blogs where people say they would like to live a more simple life by cooking from scratch, gardening etc. etc. but just don’t know where to start.  If you are one of these people reading this today, then my suggestion to you is to start with a cup of coffee and read about some of the things that you think would add to a more simple life (everyone of us is different and there are no rights or wrongs).  Pick one or two things that appeal to you and have a go.  At first it will seem like a lot of effort, but soon it becomes second nature and you will enjoy it.

I now live a simple life, without the need to compare myself with the ‘Jones’ anymore and I can honestly say I love my life today and I feel so blessed to live the way I do.

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Thank you for your continued support over the last year.  I especially love to hear your views and comments, so please keep them coming.

I hope you all have a Happy and Content New Year!

The Things That Make Me Happy

Hi all, it’s nice to be back.

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The last eight weeks have been quite strange as we have had the builders here, converting our back room and kitchen into a kitchen diner.  It is nearly finished now, apart from a few little bits and I am hoping to show you some photographs on Monday.  I have just started the process of bringing all my pots, pans and baking equipment downstairs and putting them away in their new places, but I’ll tell you all about it on Monday.  Before then, I thought I would share something with you that happened to me at the end of last month:

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Just after I wrote my blog on the 18th October, I went to see my doctor as I had been suffering with stomach pains for a week, which in the end turned out to be IBS.  However, while I was there the doctor examined me and found a lump around my ovaries and she sent me for blood tests and a scan to establish what it was, especially as my grandmother (on my mother’s side) had ovarian cancer when she was younger than me.

Thankfully it turned out to be nothing serious and was thought to be due to damage caused by child birth, as I had a rough time when I gave birth to my eldest daughter.  My blood tests also came back fine and my stomach pains disappeared soon afterwards.  I have got to say though, while I was waiting for the scan date to come through, I felt like my world had been turned upside down and I went through a vast array of emotions.  They told me at my scan that it definitely wasn’t ovarian cancer and I can’t tell you how relieved I was to hear this.

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While I was waiting for my scan and feeling quite low and poorly with my stomach, I sat and wrote a list of the things I love to cheer myself up.  It wasn’t until after my scan that I went back to my list and read it again and found that none of the items on my list were material things.  I wondered if any of you out there reading my blog, could identify with some of the things I wrote on my list, so I thought I would share it with you:

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Things I love:

Holidays with my family – Cheap but wonderful

The dawn chorus

My girls laughing

The leaves falling off the trees in autumn

The smell of newly cut grass

A lawn when the edges have been cut

The seaside

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The wind blowing in my face

The excitement leading up to Christmas and Christmas day

The thrill of seeing a seed I’ve sown germinate

Flowers that look beautiful and attract insects too

Hanging washing on my washing line and watching it blow in the wind.

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A clean house

Getting into bed after a bath, with a clean nighty and clean sheets.

The feeling of satisfaction I get when I cook a meal from scratch using vegetables that I have grown.

The feeling of satisfaction I get when I pass on the skills that I have learnt by writing a blog post.

The nice warm feeling I get when my daughters friends come for tea.

The smell of a Christmas cake cooking.

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Things I am so grateful for in my lifetime:

To have been able to stay at home with my daughters and see them grow

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Meeting my husband.

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I would really like to hear about some of the things you love, that cost little or no money, but make you happy.  Please leave your comments below.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

Life Is Too Short – An Exciting Project

Over the next few weeks something very exciting is happening….we have builders coming into our house to carry out some well overdue work and I would like to share it with you.

We have been in our house nearly eleven years now and we haven’t really done anything to the inside of it, except to give it a quick lick of paint.   All this time we have been dreaming of knocking our kitchen wall down and having a kitchen diner, as our kitchen is really small and impractical for the amount of cooking I do.

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It doesn’t look too bad in the photograph above, but the kitchen is too small to have a worksurface on both sides of it, which makes it very difficult to store my cooking equipment and groceries.  As you can see in the photographs below, we have things stored in all sorts of places in different rooms and my fridge is in my pantry and my freezers are in my dining room which is totally inpractical:

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Life is too short

If you have been reading my blog since the beginning of the year, you may remember that my very good friend, who I had known for many years, passed away in February.  This devastated me and I still struggle with coming to terms with it now.

The death of my friend made me question every part of my life, (which I think must be a normal part of grieving) and it has made me realise what is and isn’t important to me.

It has made me realise who matters in my life and who never did and I have finally realised that life is too short to worry about what others think about me.  My home is the centre of my universe and I love the simple life I lead with my family, even though it isn’t the ‘normal’ way to live.

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I love growing fruit and vegetables at my allotment and using them to prepare food for my family and friends.  I enjoy preserving, freezing and storing my produce so we can eat like ‘kings’ on a small budget, but I do find this difficult in my tiny kitchen, so this is why we finally decided to make our dream a reality.

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So we have decided to spend some money to knock two rooms into one, to make a kitchen diner.  It will be lovely to have room for my freezers and places to store my groceries and preserves altogether, but most of all, it will be big enough to have my family helping me with my cooking and preserving, which at present is just not possible (which is a lot of work for one person especially during the summer months).  I am also looking forward to chatting to friends and family  whilst I cook, instead of being locked away in my little kitchen that no one else can fit into when I’m cooking.

It is something we have thought long and hard about, in fact we looked at moving house to start with, but every house we could afford seemed smaller than we have already or was too far away from my allotments.  We also came to the conclusion it would be more expensive to move house anyway.

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Starting the building work has been a big decision for us and it feels like the planning has been going on for months, but finally tomorrow it will begin.  I have spent the last couple of weeks batch baking microwave meals for us all, packing things into boxes and moving everything from our sitting room and kitchen into our front room and bedrooms for the duration of the building work.

We have ‘car booted’ excessive items and given things to charity shops and now we are left with the items we really wanted to keep.

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So for the next few weeks I will share with you the ups and downs of our new kitchen diner, together with my usual allotment posts.

The death of my friend has made me re-evaluate everything around me and make changes for the better.  She has made me realise that life is short and it’s important to do the things that make you happy.  So even though this work is expensive and people would say it is not really part of a simple life, it will make my life much simpler and make a much more comfortable household to live in.  It really is time to spend some money on our house so we can enjoy the rest of our lives here.

And finally, I would like to say ‘thank you’ once again to my old friend, for making me realise that dreams can come true.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at the usual time.

Happy Birthday ‘Not Just Green Fingers’ Blog

At the beginning of July 2012, I wrote and published my first ‘welcome’ post on my blog, advertising what I would be writing about in a couple of weeks time.

I had been considering writing a blog for a while, but it was Tony Wadsworth, from Radio Leicester, that gave me the ‘push’ I needed to actually start writing and he has supported me ever since.  So thank you Tony for your continued support.

I always loved reading blogs but I just couldn’t find a ‘simple living’ blog in the UK that included the things I was interested in.  I decided I would write about how we live in an ordinary street, in a 1930’s semi-detached house in Leicester, UK and how I grow organic fruit and vegetables on my four allotment plots.

Over the last year I have also written how I cook from scratch, make bread, jams, pickles, chutneys and apple juice, etc. and also how I clean the old fashioned way using vinegar, lemon juice and bi-carb.

I learnt my frugal, thrifty ways through necessity and the desire to make sure my family did not feel deprived in anyway and I really wanted to share this information with others, in the hope that in a small way it would help people in a similar situation.

My very first post was published on the 23rd July 2012 and was titled ‘Organic Tomatoes and Comfrey Tea’.  Since then I have written nearly two hundred posts and amazingly I have had over 69,000 ‘hits’ from all over the world.  I really never thought that people would be interested in what I write, so I am really pleased and humbled by this.

Slowly over the year, people have also begun to leave comments on my blog and I love this part of blogging the most.  I have noticed that some of my readers have even started to reply to each other via their own comments, which is absolutely wonderful.  I now regularly have new people reading and commenting on my blog for the first time and I am always so pleased to hear from them.  I also have my loyal supporters that have been commenting for a long time and I am so very grateful to you, for your continued support.

As it’s the start of my daughters school summer holidays, I have decided to take a couple of weeks off from blogging, so I can spend some quality time with my family, though I will be still be around to read and reply to your comments.

In the mean time I would like to say a big ‘thank you’ for reading my blog and your continued support and I am leaving you with a slideshow of my allotment at the moment. I hope you enjoy it.

I will be back in two weeks’ time, on Monday 5th August.

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Laundry Liquid, Planting Leeks And Training ‘Cordon’ Tomatoes

It’s Friday already and I’m not sure where the week has gone to.

I started the week by making some of my homemade laundry liquid.  I’ve been using homemade laundry liquid to wash my clothes for quite some time now and it washes well and is so much cheaper than shop bought wash powders and liquids.  Infact, a few months ago I worked out that it cost me approximately £1.75 to make and I managed to get 71 washes out of it, which worked out to be a staggering 2.5p per wash. I challenge any of the supermarkets to beat that!

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I really don’t know where I got the recipe for homemade laundry liquid from, it was somewhere on the net, so I can’t take any credit for it. As it’s been some time since I last wrote how to make it on my blog, I thought I would write the recipe again for anyone who didn’t see it the first time around.  It only takes about fifteen minutes to make, but I think it’s time well spent:

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Laundry Liquid

1 cup of soap flakes

½ cup Soda Crystals (also known as washing soda)

½ Cup Borax (in the UK it is a substitute of borax which works well)

1 ½ litres of water

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Put the above ingredients into a saucepan and heat, stirring until the soap flakes have dissolved.

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Pour the mixture into a very large bucket and then add a further 8 litres of cold water.

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Stir and then pour into containers, leaving space at the top so you can easily shake the container before you use it.

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You only need approximately a quarter of a cup of washing liquid for each wash.

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I use old plastic milk containers to store my liquid in. The recipe makes just over 10 litres of liquid which I found was enough for 71 washes.

One thing to remember is you won’t see lots of bubbles when it washes, but this doesn’t matter. Wash powders that you buy actually have bubbles added, not because they are needed, but because people think their clothes aren’t washing properly if they don’t see bubbles.

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Tomatoes

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This week I removed most of my staging from my greenhouse, so I could put my tomatoes and cucumbers neatly, as it was getting a bit cramped in there.  I have four tomatoes called ‘Moneymaker’ and four of a heritage variety called ‘Wladecks’.  The heritage variety is a beefsteak tomato.  I also have two cucumber plants.

As the above plants grow, I tie them to the canes that I have put in the pots, to help support them.

Just in case you haven’t grown tomatoes before, it is very easy.  There are two different types of tomato, a ‘bush’ tomato and a ‘cordon’.

I am growing a’ cordon’ and it is trained up a support, by tying it to the support as it grows,   Also, side shoots will grow between the leaf stem and the main stem (called the leaf axil) and all you need to do is ‘pinch out’ the side shoots as they begin to grow (which means removing it by pinching it off using your thumb and finger nails).  There is a photograph of a side shoot below:

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The only other thing to do is to feed your tomato plants regularly after you can see your first tiny tomato has formed and started to grow.  Also keep the plants well watered and you will have lovely tomatoes soon.

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Planting Leeks

One of the jobs I did at my the allotment this week was to clear the kale that I left to flower for the bees, as it had just about finished flowering.  I put it all in my compost heap, as the thick stems will eventually rot down, though it does take quite some time.

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I then dug the area over and raked in some blood, fish and bone, ready to plant my leeks.

I sowed the leeks back in January, so I was very careful not to drop them when I transported them to my plot (as I did with my sweetcorn last week).

My dad taught me how to transplant leeks and just in case you are reading this and you have never grown leeks before, I thought I would show you how I do it:

First I use a dibber to make a hole approximately 15cm deep.

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Then I cut the end of the roots off each leek.  This was done in the past as it was thought to stimulate the roots into growth, but I have read that it doen’t really make a difference.  I still do this, simply because I find it helps to make it easier to push the leek into the hole that you have made with your dibber.

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I push the leek into the hole I made with the dibber (sometimes it’s easier to twist the leek to get the roots to go down into the hole).

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Plant the leeks 15cm apart, in rows 30cm apart.

You don’t need to backfill the hole with soil, just water each leek and let the water settle the soil around the roots.

I don’t do anything more to my leeks, except weed around them.  They sit happily over winter too.

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Just to finish off with today, I thought I would show you my beautiful oriental poppies that have just begun to flower this year:

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at approximately 4pm.