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A Chicken and Parsnip Stew & A Fruit Loaf Recipe

I thought I would start today by letting you know that Judy, (our lovely rescue dog) has made a full recovery after her illness last week and she is back to her normal, cheeky ways.

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We all absolutely love Judy to bits and I am so glad we didn’t give up on her like the previous three owners did.  Though I have got to be honest, when our previous ‘dog behavourist’ told us she was untrainable last February, we were very close to giving up….she had so many problems e.g. barked all the time at home, barked and lunged at dogs, people, cars, bikes, lorries, washing machine, birds etc. etc.

Nearly a year later, she still has one or two things she doesn’t like, but she is getting so much better as time goes by, thanks to our wonderful dog trainer Steven Havers.

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Curtains for my daughter:

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I’m not sure if you remember a couple of months ago I decorated my youngest daughter’s bedroom.  I struggled to find any ready made curtains that she liked, to finish off the bedroom.  So in desparation I took her to a material shop and she found some fabric she liked, so I bought it promising to make her curtains after Christmas.

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The curtain material and new furniture in her bedroom was a present for her birthday and Christmas, but because of this I was a bit concerned that she wasn’t going to have many presents to actually open on Christmas day.  So during December, while she was at school I worked really hard to make the curtains so I could wrap them up for her to open on Christmas day.

She was very surprised when she unwrapped them and I must say I am very proud of them now they are up:

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I also had a bit of material left so I managed to make a couple of cushions for her too, which I also wrapped up for her to open on Christmas day:

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Over the Christmas holidays I decided it was time to catch up with one or two jobs that I had been putting off…..

  I started by clearing our loft and it was amazing how much rubbish we had up there.  I have since sold one or two bits on ebay and given away some other things…..but most of it was thrown away.  But the attic looks better now.

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I also went through my bills folder…..again there was a lot in there that I didn’t need to keep.  Myself and Mr Thrift looked at every bill we pay to see if we could possibly reduce it….unfortunately we are quite ‘bill savvy’ so we didn’t manage to make any savings, but it’s good to check every so often.

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Over the Christmas period myself and Mr Thrift surprisingly managed to buy lots of ‘whoopsies’ ….for some reason we seemed to be in the supermarket when they reduced their produce to ridicuously low prices.  So over Christmas I froze whatever I could and my freezers were bursting:

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The last photo shows the ready cooked beetroot that was reduced.  My dad sometimes buys this and pickles it, but as I already have pickled beetroot in my pantry I decided to cut it up and freeze it on a tray.  When it was frozen I put it in a bag and this way it is easy to take a few slices out at a time to defrost for sandwiches.

I also used the reduced parsnips and Chicken drumsticks in a chicken and parsnip stew which I cooked in my slow cooker.  By cooking it in the slow cooker you find that the chicken ‘falls off’ the bones easily and tastes so moist:

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Chicken and Parsnip Stew:

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6-8 chicken drumsticks or thighs

2 onions peeled and roughly chopped

4 -6 medium parsnips peeled and chopped into chunks

Hot Chicken stock to cover

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Put all the ingredients into a slow cooker making sure the hot stock covers the ingredients.

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Cook on ‘low’ for approximately 8 hours

Serve with vegetables of your choice:

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This week…

This week at home I decided to use up the mixed fruit that I had left over in my pantry.  I decided to make a fruit loaf (which I absolutely love).  It’s really easy to make in a bread maker and I used my bread slicer to cut it into nice thin slices.  This loaf freezes well so you can take a couple of slices out to defrost when required:

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A Fruit Loaf Recipe:

1 teaspoon of Fast Action Dried Yeast

400g Strong White Flour

2 teaspoon Granulated Sugar

75g margarine or butter

½ teaspoon Salt

1 teaspoon Cinnamon

1 teaspoon Mixed Spice

2 Eggs

110ml Water

110ml Milk

300g Mixed Dried Fruit

 

Add all the above ingredients into a breadmaker EXCEPT the mixed fruit.

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Set your breadmaker to a ‘Basic bake loaf’ with raisens and add the mixed fruit when the breadmaker tells you too (that is approx. 47 mins after the start in mine but you will need to refer to your own manual).

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Enjoy it!

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In the garden this week:

This week in the garden I dug up my parsnips.  This is the first time I have grown a crop in this area so I wasn’t sure what they would be like….but they weren’t too bad (though most of them were a lot smaller than the ones I used to grow at the allotment -probably due to the condition of my soil):

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Parsnips next to a 30 cm ruler

Unfortunately some of the parsnips suffered from parsnip canker:

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“Parsnip Canker is a fungus that causes orange, brown, purple or black coloured rot, which usually starts at the top of the root.

I have read that the fungus is caused by drought, over-rich soil or damage to the crown, BUT I have also read that it is worse in wet, pooly drained soils as well”

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As you can see in my photo above, if the canker isn’t too bad the parsnip under the skin is usually fine to cook and eat.

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To avoid canker:

  • Rotate your crops
  • Don’t manure your soil before growing parsnips
  • Improve your drainage
  • Grow resistant varieties such as ‘Albion’or Hollow Crown

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As I had too many parsnips to eat in one go, I peeled and chopped them and then froze them on a tray (without blanching them).  When they were frozen I took them off the tray and bagged them up.

When I next cook a Sunday lunch I will roast them from frozen.

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Finally this week I brought my seed potatoes.  I chose my usual ‘Marfona’ which is a second early and ‘Desiree’ which is a red main crop potato.  I also brought some ‘picasso’ to plant in my mother in laws garden, which are an early main crop.

All the potatoes are now ‘chitting’ in our bedroom…..very romantic!

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That’s it for this week.

  Thank you for reading my blog today, I will be back next Friday as usual.

Have a good week!

 

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Seed sowing And How To Prick Out Seedlings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brussels

Red Cabbage

Greenhouse Cucumbers

Coriander

Mixed Salad Leaves

Lettuce – Webbs Wonderful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to transplant seedlings:

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

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

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

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

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Then watch your seedling grow!

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

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

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.

Tomato Blight And Planting Winter Salads

I thought I would start today by telling you about a couple of things we did at the weekend:

On Monday it was my dad’s 82nd birthday.  It has been a long time since my family all got together, so I decided to throw him a surprise birthday party.  He thought he was just coming to our house for tea and loved it when our whole family appeared.

It was a really lovely evening.

My eldest daughter decorated the cake

My eldest daughter decorated the cake

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Another thing that happened last weekend, was my husband and youngest daughter did a ‘Car Boot Sale’.  We had spent the whole of the last week having a massive clear out and decided we would try and make some money from all the things we didn’t want anymore.  It’s amazing how much ‘stuff’ you collect over the years isn’t it.  You can see it all in the photograph below:

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I am so very proud of them, as they made just over £90!  It just goes to show that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

We still had some things left at the end, so we took them down to our local charity shop the next day, in the hope that they would make some money out of it too.

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A butterfly on our window, captured by my youngest daughter.

A butterfly on our window, captured by my youngest daughter.

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This week I have been preparing for the long cold winter by sowing a few winter hardy salads to plant out in my polytunnel when I have some room.

I have sown a winter hardy lettuce called ‘Arctic king’ and  some winter hardy spring onions.  I also sowed some mizuna and corn salad as these were both so successful last year.  Lastly, I also sowed some perpetual spinach which will hopefuly be ready in early spring if I plant it under a cloche outside.

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Mizuna and corn salad last year in my polytunnel over winter

Mizuna and corn salad last year in my polytunnel over winter

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My allotment is still providing a feast of salads and vegetables everytime I visit it.

The runner beans are doing very well, even though they started to produce slightly later than normal.  This has had a knock on effect as I have noticed my french beans are nearly ready to pick now and I usually start to pick them when my runner beans have just about stopped producing.  So I will soon have double the amount of beans to harvest and freeze at the same time.

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My outdoor cucumbers are having a fantastic crop because the weather has been warm and I am picking them daily and giving them away as we just can’t eat the amount they are producing. The variety I am growing is ‘Burpless Tasty Green’ which I have found to be a reliable outdoor crop (though last year I only managed to get three or four cucumbers all in all,  due to the rotten weather we had).  The skins are a bit prickly so we peel them before we eat them and they taste lovely.

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I picked my first kohl rabi of the year this week.  Again, they are a little late this year, but it was worth the wait.  Kohl rabi can be grated in salads or used in stews, soups or casseroles.  I don’t get to cook mine, as they are eaten the minute I bring them home.  My family love them peeled, chopped and eaten raw, dipped in salad cream.

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You can see in the photo above that my outdoor tomatoes are finally starting to ripen.  They seem to have been ‘green’ for eternity this year.  When I get enough of them I will be making soup with them and lots of passatta to freeze and use over the winter.

So far my tomatoes are free from tomato ‘blight’, but I am checking them daily for signs.  Below I have written some information regarding tomato blight, which you may find interesting if you are growing your own tomatoes:

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Tomato blight

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Tomato blight

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Tomato blight is caused by the same fungus as potato blight.  It is called ‘Phytophthora infestans’, but it is more commonly known as ‘late blight’.  It is a windblown fungus that can travel long distances.  It spreads when the temperature is above 10C and the humidity is above 75% for two consecutive days, known as a ‘Smith Period’.   In the UK outbreaks can occur from June onwards and it is said to be usually seen in the south west first.

The disease is common on outdoor tomatoes, though tomatoes grown in a polytunnel or greenhouse have some protection from it, as the spores have to enter through doors and vents.

The early stages of blight can be easily missed and not all plants are affected at the same time, however it will spread rapidly.

Symptoms usually seen are brown patches that appear on the leaves and stems and spread very rapidly. The fruit will also turn brown. The underside of leaves can develop a downy white coating of spores in moist conditions.

The first signs of 'blight' on my tomato plants last year

The first signs of ‘blight’ on my tomato plants last year

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What can you do to prevent blight?

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You can grow varieties that are not so susceptible to blight e.g. ‘Ferline’ and ‘Legend’, but remember that some varieties can resist some strains of the fungus but not others.

I like to choose an earlier maturing variety that is ready to harvest before blight strikes, though the tomatoes are usually smaller.

Do not save seed from infected plants as it can survive in the seed and reproduce next spring. Instead, buy good quality seed from a reputable supplier.

Remove any potatoes that were left in the ground from the previous year as the pathogen over winters in rotten potatoes. 

Keep the plant foliage as dry as possible by watering in the morning and at the base of the plants.  Mulch will reduce the amount of watering needed.

Try to avoid brushing past tomato plants when they are wet as this can increase the likelihood of spreading the spores.

Space plants wide apart so the air can flow around the plants.

Keep monitoring your plants and act quickly if you see blight on them.

You can use a ‘bordeaux’ mix to control blight, but you need to spray before blight takes hold as it protects the foliage.  It also needs to be sprayed on your plants regularly so organic gardeners do not favour this method.

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 My tomato plants have blight, what can I do?

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 If you catch it early you can strip the tomatoes from the plant and ripen them on a windowsill.  Be careful to check them every day as some of them may already be affected.

If you haven’t caught it really early, you can use the green tomatoes to make chutney, as provided they haven’t turned brown, the tomatoes are safe to eat.

Take up your blighted tomatoes plants straight away and dispose of them, so you don’t help to spread the spores to your neighbour’s plots.

 According to ‘Garden Organic’ the stems and leaves of affected plants can be added to your compost heap, as the spores won’t survive on dead plant material, but do not compost any blighted fruit as the spores survive in the seeds.

Tomatoes ripening on my windowsill last year

Tomatoes ripening on my windowsill last year

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I hope this information has been of use to you.

I will be back on Monday at 4pm.

I hope you have a good weekend.

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.

Radio Leicester And A Rhubarb & Ginger Cake

I know I said I wouldn’t be posting this week, but I thought I’d share my visit to Radio Leicester with you.

I was invited into the Saturday morning show again today and I had great fun chatting to Radio Leicester, as usual.

You can listen again to it here, for the next seven days

(approximately 1 hour and 37 minutes into the programme).

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I took in some winter salads to show and discuss. I just wanted the listeners to know that salads can be grown all through the winter when they are given a bit of protection under a cloche, cold greenhouse or polytunnel.

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You can see in the picture above, I took red and green winter lettuces, corn salad, mizuna and baby perpetual spinach leaves, which were all sown on the 1st September 2012 and I have been picking a few leaves at a time from them all winter.

I also took in some chives which are now growing at my allotment and showed him a winter hardy spring onion that was also planted on the 1st September and they are just about ready now.

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I also talked about Rhubarb which is growing well at my allotment now spring is here.

I like to use rhubarb in different ways and Tony, Matt the producer and Ed Stagg (another Radio Leicester presenter) all tasted the rhubarb jam and rhubarb and ginger cake that I had taken in for them.  They seemed to enjoy them, thank goodness!

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Rhubarb And Ginger Cake Recipe

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Bottom layer: 

400g fresh rhubarb, washed & chopped into 2cm chunks

100g butter or margarine (I use marg)

75g granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

2 eggs

100g self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

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Top layer:

75g butter or margarine (I use marg)

100g plain flour (I used self-raising as I had run out of plain)

50g granulated sugar

Icing sugar to sprinkle on the top when cool

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Preheat oven Gas 4 / 180C / 350F

Prepare an 8 inch cake tin by greasing and flouring it.

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Cream the butter and sugar together.

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Add the eggs and beat well.

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Sieve the flour and ginger into the bowl.

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Fold the flour, baking powder and ginger into the butter/sugar mixture and put it into the prepared cake tin, smoothing it all around.

Arrange the rhubarb chucks over the sponge in a single layer and sprinkle with the extra sugar.

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In a separate bowl prepare the top layer by rubbing the butter into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs.

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Stir the sugar into the mixture with a round bladed knife.

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Sprinkle the topping over the rhubarb

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Pop in your oven for 45 minutes and then leave on a baking tray to cool.

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 When it is cool, sprinkle with the icing sugar and serve.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday with ‘What to do in the kitchen garden in April’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to my new blog

…which will be up and running in two weeks time.  I will be writing about how I live day-to-day and the things I make and do.  I will be cooking from scratch, cleaning the old fashion way and growing fruit, vegetables and flowers organically in my four UK allotments.  All in all you will see how my family live well on less.

The picture above shows raspberries and strawberries from my allotment, that I picked an hour ago.  They are ready to ‘open freeze’ (so they don’t stick together).  I will put them in freezer bags when they are frozen.   These will be used for various things e.g. Jams, cordials, puddings, purees etc. I will post all the recipes on here as I make them.    Behind the trays are sweet peas which I also picked from my allotment.  I grow them as they look pretty, smell wonderful and most importantly to me, they attract beneficial insects which help to pollinate my crops.

I will also share with you how I shop for food, toiletries, clothes, presents and even holidays.  I will show you how I store my vegetables, including pickling and  juicing and how I also use my vegetables and flowers in unusual ways e.g. lavender cakes, pea pod soup or my famous chocolate beetroot cake.  I will write about how we celebrate birthdays and christmas and how I make  hampers for  family presents.  I have to be organised to do all this and I will show you how I do it.

Everyone is different and my way is not necessarily the right way, but it may give you some ideas to take away and try yourself.

I really hope you will find this blog useful.

Thanks for reading it.

Freshly picked produce 8th July 2012