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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.

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Child Poverty In The UK and Small Ways To Save Money

I thought I’d talk about something a little bit different and more serious today.

This week the BBC news reported on a survey that the ‘Save the Children’ charity had carried out.  The BBC said:

“Researchers for Save the Children surveyed more than 1,500 children aged eight to 16 and more than 5,000 parents, focusing on the lowest income groups.

The study draws on Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) figures which estimate that there are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK and predict a steep rise in the numbers in coming years”

You can read the whole report here.

Homemade bread is cheap to make

I think it is incredible that in 2012, child poverty is still happening in the UK.

It said in the report that an income of less than £17,000 was classed as living in poverty, but I wanted to find out what size family this was based on.  I found another report that you can read here, that was written in October 2011.  This report gives the following details of what is the poverty line:

WHAT IS THE POVERTY LINE?

Single adult, no children: £165 per week

Couple, no children: £248 per week

Lone parent, 1 child: £215 per week

Lone parent, 2 children: £264 per week

Lone parent, 3 children: £314 per week

Couple, 1 child: £297 per week

Couple, 2 children: £347 per week

Couple, 3 children: £396 per week

This came as quite a shock for me, as for a long time our income was less than this, with two children and a mortgage to pay.  We have never classed ourselves as living in poverty and our children have never gone without food or clothes. We chose for me to stay at home to look after our children but we never realised this put us under the so called ‘poverty line’.

Homemade Tomato Soup

We don’t smoke and hardly ever have a drink or takeaways, but we chose for me to be at home for the children and to us, this was a small sacrifice.

This report highlights that a lot of families are really struggling on low incomes now and I’m not sure what the answer actually is.  What I do know, is there are definitely ways that can help people to save money by living a more frugal, thrifty life.

I think as a country, people now take it for granted that they should have designer clothes, immaculate houses with luxury items and two cars, but this is really not the case.  These material things cost such a lot of money and if your income cannot sustain a lifestyle like this, then you will become more and more in debt.

It has also been proven time and time again that material things just don’t make you happy.  It is hard to stop thinking that they do.  It has taken me years to accept this, but still every so often I have a ‘down’ day, but I give myself a good talking to and think of all the lovely things I have in my life which money just cannot buy.

Valentine Biscuits I made for my husband

When you first start to reduce your spending it is hard, especially when you have to say “no” when you have been invited out to a social event or for a meal with family and friends.  People aren’t always so understanding and they sometimes look at you as though you have two heads as it’s not ‘normal’.  People do get used to it though after a while and your real friends will always be around for you. We also found it hard at first when people around us were buying the latest luxury items, but now I tend to think how ridiculous it is to spend that much on an item that will probably be hardly used anyway.

I know now that if we came into a large sum of money, we would probably buy some nice things, but we certainly wouldn’t waste the money.  In fact I think a lot of things would stay the same for us as I like my life.  This is because after years of craving the ‘material world’, I have finally learnt that my world now, gives me far more riches than money can buy.

I started this blog in the hope that it would help people to learn how to live more frugally, as unfortunately this information is just not passed on from generation to generation anymore.

Little changes all add up and they are things that can be easily done.  If you start small and perhaps change one thing at a time that you do, then after a while it will become second nature.

I’ve been trying to think of some of the things that we do in our family that we take for granted and do without thinking:

We don’t waste food anymore and always use up leftovers

I always, always hang my washing out when it’s not going to rain. Even in winter I hang it out so it at least dries a little bit.  If I see it is going to rain, I leave my washing until the next day.

I always use my washing machine, dishwasher, bread maker, mobile phone chargers and anything else we use on ‘economy 7’ (cheaper priced) electricity.  This means I get up early to switch them on, but you can use time switches.

I meal plan and always do a shopping list.  See how I do this here.

I cook from scratch whenever possible, as it’s much cheaper and it really does taste better.  The things I make are really not hard to do (or I wouldn’t do them) and I will continue writing cheap, tasty, recipes on my blog, in the hope it will help someone. I now have a reputation with my daughters friends, for being a good cook, but the recipes I make really are simple and easy to make.

We regularly look at bills and see if we can switch providers, to reduce them.  You’ll be amazed at how much you can save by shopping around.  We have found that we save so much by not just renewing insurance for house, contents, car, etc.  We have found that even when a renewal notice has been sent to you with a quote, if you ring them up they will nearly always give you a better quote over the phone. 

My little kitchen

I use old fashioned cleaners as they save you pounds and are far better for the environment.  You can find some details on my blog here.

We hardly ever have a takeaway now, but we do have treat nights.  My favourite is a nice homemade pizza with potato wedges and salad, all homemade and the salad and potatoes are usually home-grown.  So it is a really cheap meal that feels really special.

We plan and budget for Christmas.  We start in January.  I know exactly how much we have to spend on each present and I look for bargains through the year so I can get more for my money.  I also make homemade hampers for my family and they seem to love them.  Even something like an advent calendar can be made more cheaply.   For years we have used the same homemade advent calendar with pockets and every year I hide a tin of sweets, (bought cheaply beforehand) and put a ‘clue’ in each pocket.  My daughters have to find the tin using the clues (obviously as they get older the clues get harder).  We have a lovely time doing this and it’s far better than the ready made chocolate advent calendars you can buy at Christmas.

My Christmas Pumpkin

When my girls were smaller I bought quite a few of their toys and jigsaws from charity shops.  It’s amazing what you can find in them. Once I had given them a good clean, they were as good as new.  We have had many a night in, playing a board game that I’ve picked up for £1 or £2 from a charity shop.  You can also get some bargain clothes from there too.

I always use vouchers if I spot them but I only buy items if I will use them.  Remember it’s only a bargain if you wanted it in the first place.

Me and my daughters all love reading and books are expensive.  I really can’t see the point of buying a full price book if I can get it from the library or buy it second hand (eBay and amazon are good for this).

I always decide if I just ‘want’ or ‘need’ something before I buy it and I never impulse buy.

My daughters homemade birthday cake
(She asked for this colour)

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Thank you for reading my blog today