Tag Archive | Beneficial insects

Slabs And Planning For Next Year

My poor old allotment shed has been sitting on a bit of a slope for the last eight or nine years and unfortunately this has caused my shed to lean to one side, like a crooked house.  So this week I have been preparing a much better base for it to sit on, by laying slabs that I have recycled from a path I don’t use anymore.  Mr Thrift helped me to dig up the grass to prepare for the slabs and he helped me to lay four slabs, I managed to lay six more on my own the next day and on Wednesday my brother in law (who has the plot next to me) helped me to lay the final six and I was very grateful for their help.

Unfortunately, as I was laying the slabs on a slope, I needed to keep digging the soil from underneath each slab to ensure they were straight.   I must admit I did find it so hard at one stage that I started to wonder why I do things like laying slabs, instead of staying at home painting my nails and watching day time TV….but I suppose that just isn’t me.  I am now very proud of my square of slabs.

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Tomorrow I will attempt to move my shed over to the new slabs, again with help from Mr Thrift and my brother-in-law.  I pray it won’t collapse in the process.

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Between slabbing I have been preparing for next year by planting my overwintering onions and spring cabbage.

The overwintering onions that I planted in 2011 were not very good at all.  This was due to a fairly new pest called the Allium Leaf Miner (you can find details of it here).

In 2012 I planted seed sowed onions instead of sets, as I had read that they produce slightly stronger growth and after planting them I covered them with environmesh.  These onions were much better and I was very pleased with my crop:

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I’m not sure if the seed sown onions made a difference, but the environmesh definately stopped the Allium Leaf Miner, so this year I have planted them in exactly the same way:

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I also planted my spring cabbages this week:

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I prepared the beds for the spring cabbage and the overwintering onions by just raking in some blood, fish and bone a week or so before.

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I have also been clearing away the old plants in  ‘Calendula Alley’ next to my polytunnel.  The plants gave a beautiful display of flowers that all self seeded from the previous years plants.

I grow Calendula as they are great for attacting beneficial insects to my allotment, such as hoverflies, bees and butterflies and as an extra bonus, the petals are edible and look really pretty scattered into salads.

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It’s quite sad when the plants have finished flowering and it’s time to clear them all away for another year, but at least I can add them all to the compost heap.

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I covered the area with weed suppressant to prevent any weeds from growing:

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I am amazed to say that my outdoor tomatoes are still producing lovely, juicy fruit.  I am unable to freeze or preserve any more of them due to our building work, so I am giving bags of them away to anyone that wants them.  I have never managed to go this late in the season without them succumbing to the dreaded tomato blight, but this has been an exceptional year.  You can read about tomato blight here.

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The variety of tomato I grew was ‘Outdoor Girl’.  This week I have saved some of the seeds ready for next year.  There are different ways to save tomato seeds but I find this way easiest:

 All I do is chop the tomato in half and scrape out the seeds and spread them on a piece of kitchen towel.

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Allow the kitchen towel to completely dry out for a few days and then roll it up and pop it into an envelope ready to store it in a cool, dark and dry place.  Next year I just rip off a few seeds and plant them into compost with the kitchen towel still attached and it works a treat.

Please note:  Do NOT save seed from ‘F1’ varieties as they will not come ‘true to type’, which means you can’t guarantee what you will actually be growing.

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My allotment is still producing, but things are definately slowing down.

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One lovely thing I harvested this week was my first melon from my polytunnel.  I have never grown melons before and thought I would give it a try this year and I am very pleased with the results.  I have seven melons from two plants.  The melons are actually an outdoor variety called ‘Outdoor Wonder’, but I thought I may have better results planting them in my polytunnel.

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The melon was delicious and my daughters loved it, so I will definately grow melons again.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

Mouldy Banana’s And Beneficial Insects

To begin with, I thought I’d show you my first broad beans of the season.  These are an over-wintering variety that I sowed in pots at the beginning of November.  As the weather was dreadful, I didn’t plant them out until February and to be honest I nearly put them in the compost bin as they were so ‘leggy’ by then.  However, I had room in my polytunnel so I put them in there, tying each one to a cane to try and stand them up.  I didn’t think they would come to anything and I have been proved wrong, so I am very pleased.

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The above broad beans went straight down to my father-in-law, as he absolutely loves them.  He has been very poorly recently and has only just come out of hospital again, so this put a smile on his face.

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My strawberries are finally growing well, even though they are slightly later than usual, due to the cold spring we have had.  I always lay straw around my strawberries, as this stops the strawberries from rotting when they lay on wet ground and it also helps to stop annual weeds from germinating around them.

Another job I do is to put a net over them, or the greedy birds will eat all of them.

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A long time ago, I was told I wasted space at my allotment by growing too many flowers. Yes I agree, if I didn’t grow so many flowers I would have more space for vegetable plants. However, I strongly believe I would also have fewer vegetables to harvest, as there would be less insects around to pollinate my crops.

You only needed to stand and watch my wild flower patch last year, to see the buzz of activity there. It was absolutely amazing to watch and took my breath away every time I stopped and stared.

As an organic gardener, I try really hard to encourage beneficial insects into my plot , as they keep the ‘bad bugs’ at bay. As an example, if you watch blackflies, within a few days you will see the ladybirds having a feast on them. I don’t use pesticides as these will not only kill the ‘bad’ insects, but it will also kill the ‘good’ ones too.

I try to let nature do the work for me.

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I try really hard to attract bees onto my plot from early spring until late autumn, by planting a continuous range of flowers. As an example, I stood amongst my poached egg plants for less than ten seconds a couple of days ago and managed to easily take photos of four separate bees:

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 After the success of last years wildflower patch, I decided to have another go.  Last month I sowed the seeds and they have started to come up now, together with seeds that self sowed themself from last year.

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The plants that are growing from last years seeds are far more advanced than the seeds I sowed last month and I have even got a flower on one of them:

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 If this years display is half as good as last years, I will be happy.  Below are a few photo’s of last years patch:

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Two Mouldy Banana’s:

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that I hate waste.  However, there is always something that you find lurking at the back of the fridge or the bottom of the fruit bowl that you have to think hard about how you can use it.  So what on earth could you do with two mouldy, black bananas’ that only look fit for the compost bin?….

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…..I made a lovely banana cake:

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Banana cake

2 very ripe bananas’s mashed

170g caster sugar

170g self-rising flour

170g soft margarine

3 eggs

Half a teaspoon of vanilla essence

1 teaspoon of baking powder

Plus extra margarine and flour for lining the tin

A little icing sugar for dusting.

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Preheat your oven to gas 3 / 325F / 170C

Line a medium loaf tin by greasing the tin with margarine and dusting with flour

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Put all the ingredients into a bowl

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Mix until they are all combined and pour into your loaf tin.

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Bake for approximately 1 hour. 

(Test the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into the cake and if it comes out clean then it is cooked).

Dust with icing sugar when cool.

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Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at approximately 4pm.

 

A Cheese Spread Recipe And A Beneficial Animal To Your Plot

We all know that it is good to attract beneficial insects and animals to your garden, but we don’t always know why.  So today I thought I’d look at the Hedgehog, as during the summer I placed two Hedgehog boxes onto my plot.

I hope you find this interesting.

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Interesting facts about the Hedgehog:

  • The hedgehog is a well known UK animal which is sadly becoming a scarcer sight.  It is the only British mammal that is covered in spines, as many as 7000.  When it is in danger, it curls up into a ball to give it protection.
  • Hedgehogs are mostly nocturnal and travel long distances in their nightly forages for food.
  • The young are born between May and September, in litters of four or five.
  • They have been known to live for up to 14 years, but most will die after two years.
  • Hedgehogs hibernate between November and early April.  During this time, their body functions slow down, almost to a standstill and their body temperature drops from 35°C to 1 0°C. This helps them conserve energy.

  • Before hibernation, a hedgehog should weigh at least 0.5kg to survive the winter.
  • They have poor eyesight but have excellent smell and hearing skills. They can also swim and climb very well.
  • Foxes, dogs, badgers, stoats are all threats to the hedgehog.

 

Why are Hedgehogs good for the Vegetable Garden and how can we attract them?

Hedgehogs are beneficial animals to the vegetable garden because they love eating some of our allotment enemies e.g. caterpillars, beetles, slugs and snails, that destroy our lovely vegetables.

You can encourage hedgehogs into your garden or allotment, by leaving piles of leaves and twigs around for them to nest in, or by making a purpose built shelter like the one we have in the photo below.

My hedgehog box

I actually have two of these boxes hidden in two different places at the back of my allotments, in overgrown areas, in the hope they will attract a hedgehog or two, to my plot.  However, you can just make a pile of leaves or grass cuttings in a sheltered area of the garden.  Hedgehogs also love unmown lawn edges as they can find insects in the grass to eat.

Things that can harm Hedgehogs:

  • Slug pellets containing Metaldehyde can be fatal to hedgehogs, so organic slug pellets are a better option.
  • A hedgehog thinks an unlit bonfire is a really good place to hibernate, so please check for them before lighting.
  • Bread and milk will cause the hedgehog to have diarrhea so do not feed it to them.
  • Hedgehogs may nest in long grass, and are sometimes injured by strimmers and lawnmowers, so check long grass before you cut it.
  • Litter is dangerous to hedgehogs. They can become entangled in plastic rings that hold cans together, or become wedged in empty tins. Dispose of litter carefully and squash all your tin cans before recycling them.
  • Despite all these hazards, the biggest threat to hedgehogs is habitat loss. Over the last 30 years, agriculture has favoured large fields and the habitats of the hedgehog, particularly hedges, have been lost. Pesticide usage also puts pressure on hedgehog populations.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the Hedgehog.  I will write more about beneficial animals and insects again soon.

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Another Recipe To Share

This is a recipe I’ve been meaning to post on my blog for a while.  It’s a recipe for Cheese Spread that my husband and daughter really like.

My recipe costs just £1.10 to make and it has none of the dreadful chemicals and preservatives that shop bought cheese spreads have.

You can add garlic and herbs to it if you want, to make it exactly as you like it.

It’s important you have read all the instructions and weighed out all your ingredients, before you make the spread, as each stage must be carried out immeadiately to make sure the recipe works.

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Cheese Spread

100 grams Margarine

2 teaspoons plain flour

1 teaspoon English Mustard

125ml milk

150g grated cheese (use more if required)

1 ½ teaspoons of Cydar vinegar

1 Egg lightly beaten (just enough to combine the white and yolk, don’t over beat) 

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Fill a bowl of water ready to cool your pan and have all your ingredients measured out as you don’t want your mixture to overcook in between each stage.

Melt the margarine over a low heat.

Take off the heat and mix in the flour and mustard.

Add the milk a little bit at a time and heat until the mixture is smooth and starts to bubble.

Lift off the heat and mix in the cheese and vinegar then return to the heat, stirring until the cheese melts.

Take the pan off the heat and quickly mix in the beaten egg.

Put the pan back on the heat, mixing all the time, until it becomes thicker, (this usually only takes 15-20 seconds, don’t heat for longer or the egg will scramble or the fat will separate). 

 Remove the pan from the heat straight away and stand the pan in the bowl of cold water, still mixing, until it cools.

Put the spread into a covered container and keep in the fridge for up to 1 week.

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I’ve found that different cheeses alter the texture and taste of the spread, so experiment to see which you like best.  I use ‘value’  mild white cheddar, as it’s cheapest, but it’s up to you.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

My Wildflower Patch – Four Months Of Flowers

My wildflower patch has finally given up flowering.  For four months solid, it flowered beautifully, for the price of a few packets of seed.  I am so very proud of it, especially as it’s my first attempt at growing wildflowers.

As it’s cold and miserable outside, I thought it would be nice to show you a slide show of the four months of my wild flowers, so we can dream of summer again.  They flowered from the middle of June until the middle of October, which is four months!  I certainly got my money’s worth out of those seeds.  I find this incredible and the whole time they were full of beneficial insects.

I planted my wildflower patch after I was inspired by Sarah Raven’s television program called  ‘Bees, butterflies and Blooms’.

Sarah Raven explained how 98% of Britain’s wildflower meadows and grass lands have been lost and how the world’s bees and other pollinating insects are in crisis and without these pollinators our future food security is under threat.   Her mission was to encourage farmers and village communities to help recreate a network of habitats for struggling bees, butterflies and pollinating insects.

I was blown away by the beauty of the wildflowers that she showed on her program and I wasn’t the only one to feel this way either.  In fact, the designers of the 10 football fields-worth of wildflowers, at this years Olympics, were influenced by Sarah Raven’s TV program.  Also, wildflowers sales have apparently tripled this year.

You can read how I grew them from seed here and here.

After seeing my wildflower patch and learning how easy it is to maintain the flowers (I virtually did nothing to them after I had sowed the seeds), I can’t understand why councils don’t use wildflowers more.  Councils tend to plant row after row of expensive carpet bedding, in the middle of roundabouts and parks, but if they sowed wildflowers instead, surely this would reduce maintenence costs for them and they would still look stunning, if not better.  There is also the advantage of the wildlife they attract due to the flowers.  I can’t remember a day that my small patch wasn’t full of bees, butterflies and insects of all kinds….this just doesn’t happen with row after row of carpet bedding plants, that have been bred to have double flowers for beauty, but no pollen for insects.

Next year, if you see an area of carpet bedding, please stop and watch to see if there is any insect activity and I’m sure you will be surprised, as I was when it was first pointed out to me.

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I hope you enjoy the slideshow.

Click once on the top left picture and it will start a slide show for you.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

Saving Tomato Seeds and Tomato and Basil Soup

Today at the allotment I noticed that my poached egg flowers (Latin name Limnanthes douglasii) have self-seeded and given me a new crop of flowers.

Poached egg plant

Hoverflies love the poached egg plant and in return, they feed on aphids as well as pollinating crops.

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My greenhouse at home

In my greenhouse at home, I have grown six different varieties of tomatoes:

Money-maker (a well-known variety),

Wladeks (a heritage variety)

Four others that were given to me that are not named varieties.

The tomatoes that have grown the best, are two of the unnamed varieties, therefore I have decided to save the seed from both of them to grow again next year.

The pictures above and below are the tomatoes that I have decided to save their seed from.  One is a cherry tomato and the other is a larger variety.

It is really easy to save tomato seeds for the following year, providing that you are not saving seed from an F1 variety.  The reason for this, is that the seeds you save from an F1 variety will never grow the same as the plant they came from.

I scoop the tomato seeds out of the tomato and put them on a piece of paper towel on my window sill to dry.  In a few days, when the jelly surrounding the seeds has dried, I put the whole paper towel in an envelope and store it in a cool dark place.

Seed saved for next year

The following year, I plant the seeds with the paper towel still attached to it.

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Today I made some Tomato and Basil Soup with some of my tomatoes.  This is another easy recipe, though it does take a little bit longer than normal soup recipes, as you pass it all through a seive to remove the seeds, but it is worth it, as it is lovely.

Tomato and Basil Soup

1400g ripe tomatoes cut in half

2 medium onions chopped

2 medium potatoes chopped small

2 tablespoons of olive oil

550ml of vegetable stock

2 garlic cloves chopped

3 teaspoons of dried basil

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Gently heat the olive oil in a large pan, add the onion and potato and soften for approximately 15 minutes, without browning

Add the tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes

Add the stock, garlic and basil.  Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

Use a hand blender to blend the soup roughly and then pass the whole lot through a sieve to extract the seeds.

Re-heat the soup and serve with homemade bread.

 

I actually made extra today and froze the portions.  It freezes really well

Thank you for reading my blog today.

 

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms and an Unexpected Bonus

My wildflower patch is still flowering beautifully and I am so proud of it, as it’s my first attempt at growing wildflowers.

I planted my wildflower patch after I was inspired by Sarah Raven’s television program called  ‘Bees, butterflies and Blooms’.

You can read how I grew it from seed here (underneath todays post on August 15th)

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Every time I look at it, I see new flowers.

When I take the time to stand and stare, my breath is taken away by the incredible amount of activity that is going on.  There are so many different types of insects, bees and butterflies, enjoying the flowers.

I sense that this must be how mother nature intended our gardens to be.  It’s such a shame, as with all the chemicals that have been used since wartime, we have been reducing the population of these insects.

I feel very strongly that we must now help these insects to survive.

Early this morning, I felt the distinct feeling that summer is nearly over and autumn is approaching fast.

This always make me feel a little bit sad.

As a gardener, I think you sense the changes in the seasons before others do.

I found something on ‘You Tube’ today that I thought I’d share with you.

If you read my blog regularly, you will know I have an insatiable love of flowers and the beneficial insects they attract.  This video shows some wonderful flowers and insects, whilst reminding us that Summer is nearly over.

It’s called Summers Last Gasp:

The ghost in the garden feels the season march by.
Butterflies and bees poke blooms in the eye.
Shivering leaves change color and die.
Big dipper drips dew from a clear night sky.
Warm sun cools, summer could cry…
Goodbye.

The link to it is here

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I have a large black barrel at my allotment, that Eric (the previous allotment plot holder), used to grow watercress in.

You can see it in the picture below, next to where my wildflowers are now planted.

  Eric always said watercress grew well there, as the tub was big enough to keep the soil damp.

Eric taught me so much about growing vegetables.

In the spring, I stripped the top couple of inches of soil and replaced it with some compost and grew a good crop of watercress.  In the middle of July it had gone to seed, so I pulled it all up and never gave it another thought until this morning, when I found it had self-seeded and given me a second crop. So this really is a bonus I wasn’t expecting.

Thank you for reading my blog today.