Thursday 24 December 2009

Sprouts, Snow and a New Garden Helper

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all from Garden Mum, Garden Dad, Garden Girl and Garden Boy.
We are busy preparing our Christmas vegetables and the smell of turkey roasting in the oven is spreading the scent of Christmas all around our kitchen. The pastry for Father Christmas's mince pies is cooling in the fridge and the sprouts are defrosting. I am very pleased that two Brussel Sprouts plants survived and we will actually be able to eat homegrown sprouts tomorrow, something that back in spring I thought might never happen.

I am also pleased to report that Garden Boy braved another trip into the snow and this time he loved it, stamping his footprints all over the garden and even throwing a few snowballs. And when he got too cold he was content to stand in the greenhouse and play peekaboo round the door while Garden Girl and her friend built another snowman.

And finally, the best news of all. By next summer we will have another Little Garden Helper, due to arrive mid May. We had our twenty week scan this morning and everything was well so we can look forward to an exciting 2010!

Have a lovely Christmasday and all the best for the coming year to you all.

Ho Ho Ho.

Friday 18 December 2009

It Was Just sNOw Fun

Garden Girl and Garden Boy are defrosting from our brief adventure into the snow. It wasn't the fun and frolics I was hoping for. Garden Boy hated it.

All morning both Garden Boy and Garden Girl had their noses pressed up at the window in wonder at the white world that appeared over night. They brought me their boots while I was still eating breakfast and Garden Girl would have been outside before the sun was even up had she been allowed. 'It is too cold' I told her 'we have to wait for the sun'. This caused her concern that the snow would melt before she had a chance to build a snowman but I assured that there was far too much snow for that to happen and if she waited for the sun to warm up she would enjoy being outside for longer. By the time we were ready to head out doors, warm and snug in extra layers of clothes, hats and gloves they were both hugely excited and they couldn't get outside fast enough.

Garden Girl took giant steps through the snow making footprints all around the garden while Garden Boy just cried. The moment his wellies first sank into the snow the tears started to fall. I held his hand and tried to encourage him to take a step but that made it worse and in the end I took him inside and sat him on the sofa so he could watch us build a snowman. Garden Girl was disappointed that this meant she would have to build her snowman on the patio rather than the grass but eagerly started to mound the snow. Garden Boy eventually thought he might try again and brought his boots to the window for a second go. This time he managed to happily walk to the mound of snow and even lift up a handful of snow to help out but then he tottered on his feet and the crying started again. This time it didn't stop and eventually we all had to abandon the snowman to go back inside with Garden Boy.

We now have half a snowman in the garden with one eye and two stick arms. Garden Girl is convinced it will melt away quickly because it wasn't finished and is hoping the snow will still be around tomorrow when Garden Dad will be at home to help. Then at least I can stay indoors with Garden Boy to keep him entertained while Garden Girl gets to build a snowman with two eyes, a nose and mouth! In the meantime I think I'll have to cheer them both up with yet more baking. Maybe snowman biscuits will be more successful than the real thing!

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Toddler Gardening Gloves

The soil is too cold for little fingers so there is not much gardening happening at our house at the moment. Within moments of our Little Garden Helpers starting to dig, fingers begin to turn blue. Garden Boy has more stamina for the cold than Garden Girl who gives up quickly saying her fingers are too cold and she wants to go back inside. They do wear gloves and mittens, woollen ones, because these are the only ones available in their size. They are brilliant for days out in winter but not so good for hard work in the garden. As soon as they get wet they let the cold through. There are an array of children's gardening gloves available in the shops but none of them small enough for young toddler hands. Even Garden Girl at age three does not fit the smallest ones we have found.

With the possibility of snow being suggested in the news, I have been thinking back to earlier in the year when we went outside to build a snowman and just how quickly Garden Girl gave up because her fingers had turned numb. She watched from the window while I finished off, then came back outside to add the eyes, nose, smile, scarf and hat. I know that if her hands were warm enough she would have stayed to help and would be eager now to be digging in the garden. Why does no-one make tough gardening mittens that keep out the wet and cold, for very small hands? If anyone has discovered very small gardening gloves or mittens please let me know. In the meantime we are having to find other ways to get mucky, so there has been lots of painting and baking indoors. Great fun, but not quite like soil on our heads!

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Mouldy Herbs and Yummy Cabbage

I left all the herbs we planted a while back in the airing cupboard for a bit too long and some of them now have a white furry mould on them. I had forgotton that the airing cupboard would be a lot warmer at this time of year because the heating is on a lot more, so although the plants were in there for the same amount of time as in spring the extra heat had its effect.

The plants are now sitting on the sideboard in our bedroom, leaning towards the window for as much sunlight as they can get and I have been trying to spray the mould away but it is determined to stay put. Still, most of the plants seem to be growing, so I am hoping for the best at this stage.

Just like these herbs our cabbages didn't get the best start back in spring when they were somewhat munched, but with a bit of attention they grew back well and at the weekend we tucked heartily into our first homegrown cabbage. It had so much more flavour than the shop bought ones, I really hope we can find a bit more space to grow more next year. I am now really looking forward to our Brussels Sprouts on Christmas Day. If they taste as good as the cabbage they might even beat the roast potatoes!

Sunday 6 December 2009

Winter Sun

Our Christmas trees are up and they look fabulous. We also made our mince pies and ate them all. We even started to wrap some presents although there are more to wrap. The sun however is shining today, despite an early morning 'bucket it down', so after we have finished indulging in some festive chocolate we are heading outdoors to enjoy the winter sun. There are some vegetables to harvest for a winter stew tonight and there is some more newspaper to lay out over all the bare soil to keep the weeds at bay. It seems like such a long time since we were all outside enjoying the garden in the sunshine we will make the most of it. And if we are lucky we will spot our friend the Robin enjoying the sunshine too, to complete what has been a lovely festive start to Christmas.

Wednesday 2 December 2009


It has been very wet and very cold and as a consequence we have only really seen our garden from the window. We haven't been idle with our time though. We finally, after much procrastination, decided on our apple tree varieties. We will soon be the owners of a Red Falstaff apple tree and a Worcester Pairmain apple tree. The Red Falstaff is self pollinating but is also good for pollinating other apple trees, so will be the ideal companion to the Worcester Pairmain. Both trees also come in the M27 rootstock, which is very dwarfing and will therefore be OK grown in a pot. We chose an early and a late variety to try and provide an apple supply for as long as possible. Garden Boy will be delighted when they arrive. He calls every type of fruit apple and apart from 'aeroplane' and 'get down', 'apple' is his most commonly used word.

We have also been using our time indoors to get ready for Christmas. This weekend we will be putting up our Christmas tree so we have been sorting out toys, cleaning and tidying ready for our festive fun. Garden Girl is hugely excited. She met Father Christmas last weekend and has been talking about it ever since and we cannot pass a Christmas tree in a shop without a sudden exclamation of 'Wow. What a beautiful Christmas tree.' Each and every time it sounds like it is the first Christmas tree she has ever seen. There was some disappointment when I told her our tree would not be a real one. Not because she didn't want a fake tree, but because she thought I meant we would have a pretend one, with pretend baubles and pretend tinsel. But, having explained that ours would be a plastic tree rather than a tree grown outdoors, the excitement returned and she has been happily helping me clean all day in readiness for the arrival of the tree.

Her excitement is rubbing off. I can't wait. Christmas is arriving.

Saturday 28 November 2009

The Clever Cucumber

A friend of mine just forwarded me an e-mail full of interesting things to do with a cucumber. We had a very bountiful harvest of cucumber this year, although Garden Boy munched through them all before we had any time to wonder what to do with them. However, if you don't have a cucumber munching Garden Boy of your own and found yourself with a surplus this summer read on...

This information was in The New York Times several weeks ago as part of their "Spotlight on the Home" series that highlighted creative and fanciful ways to solve common problems.

1. Cucumbers contain most of the vitamins you need every day, just one cucumber contains Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, Folic Acid, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Zinc.

2. Feeling tired in the afternoon, put down the caffeinated soda and pick up a cucumber.  Cucumbers are a good source of B Vitamins and Carbohydrates that can provide that quick pick-me-up that can last for hours.

3. Tired of your bathroom mirror fogging up after a shower?  Try rubbing a cucumber slice along the mirror, it will eliminate the fog and provide a soothing, spa-like fragrance.
4. Are grubs and slugs ruining your planting beds?  Place a few slices in a small pie tin and your garden will be free of pests all season long.  The chemicals in the cucumber react with the aluminum to give off a scent undetectable to humans but drive garden pests crazy and make them flee the area.

5. Looking for a fast and easy way to remove cellulite before going out or to the pool?  Try rubbing a slice or two of cucumbers along your problem area for a few minutes, the phytochemicals in the cucumber cause the collagen in your skin to tighten, firming up the outer layer and reducing the visibility of cellulite.  Works great on wrinkles too!!!

6. Want to avoid a hangover or terrible headache?  Eat a few cucumber slices before going to bed and wake up refreshed and headache free.  Cucumbers contain enough sugar, B vitamins and electrolytes to replenish essential nutrients the body lost, keeping everything in equilibrium, avoiding both a hangover and headache!!

7. Looking to fight off that afternoon or evening snacking binge?  Cucumbers have been used for centuries and often used by European trappers, traders and explores for quick meals to thwart off starvation.

8. Have an important meeting or job interview and you realize that you don't have enough time to polish your shoes?  Rub a freshly cut cucumber over the shoe, its chemicals will provide a quick and durable shine that not only looks great but also repels water.

9. Out of WD 40 and need to fix a squeaky hinge?  Take a cucumber slice and rub it along the problematic hinge, and voila, the squeak is gone!
10. Stressed out and don't have time for massage, facial or visit to the spa?  Cut up an entire cucumber and place it in a boiling pot of water, the chemicals and nutrients from the cucumber with react with the boiling water and be released in the steam, creating a soothing, relaxing aroma that has been shown the reduce stress in new mothers and college students during final exams.

11. Just finish a business lunch and realize you don't have gum or mints?  Take a slice of cucumber and press it to the roof of your mouth with your tongue for 30 seconds to eliminate bad breath, the phytochemcials will kill the bacteria in your mouth responsible for causing bad breath.

12. Looking for a 'green' way to clean your faucets, sinks or stainless steel?  Take a slice of cucumber and rub it on the surface you want to clean, not only will it remove years of tarnish and bring back the shine, but is won't leave streaks and won't harm you fingers or fingernails while you clean. 

13. Using a pen and made a mistake?  Take the outside of the cucumber and slowly use it to erase the pen writing, also works great on crayons and markers that the kids have used to decorate the walls!!

I will be hiding a few cucumbers from Garden Boy next summer to deter the slugs, wake me up and clean away crayon... and Garden Boy if you feel hard done by, just remember you are the one stopping me sleeping at night and you are the one trying to add your own original art work to the walls!

Thursday 26 November 2009

Snow Soil

Six plant pots currently sit in our airing cupboard, warming up to allow the seeds to germinate. They are wrapped in plastic bags for additional warmth and will stay there for a day or so just to make sure the soil and seeds are fully warm before we move them into a sunny indoor position. Eventually, when they are growing well, we will move them all into the greenhouse and hope for the best, as when Christmas arrives in our house there will not be space for all the plant pots!

We planted basil, curly and flat leaf parsley, coriander, mustard cress and cress. Other than the cresses, I have not grown any of these at this time of year before so I have no idea if they will grow or not, but it would be nice to have some home-grown herbs for Christmas salads. The decision to put all the pots in the airing cupboard for a few days came when Garden Girl, quite rightly, suggested that the soil we were putting in the pots felt as cold as snow. It was so cold that not even Garden Boy could bring himself to pick up a handful to throw over his head. I'm hoping the extra warmth will just give the plants a better start.

And with the herbs all cosy in their pots it is time to start some sprouting again. We gave this a go earlier in the year with mixed results, but getting distracted with all the things growing outdoors we neglected to try again. Following protestations that 'snow soil' is too cold to use, sprouting seems like a good option for maintaining our Little Garden Helpers interest as well as adding something a bit different to our Christmas salads. I'll let you know how it goes this time.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Enthusiastic Optimism

On Monday it was wet, then sunny, then wet, then sunny but our Little Garden Helpers and friend wanted to go outside so when it looked dry we put on coats, wellies and hats, stepped outdoors and within moments it had started to rain. Ignoring the rain Garden Girl continued to show our friends the things growing in our garden. The Brussels Sprouts are looking particularly inpressive and if you look beyond the outer slug eaten leaves, the cabbages are also fairly impressive. The cauliflowers measuring in at one centimetre diameter are however, a little disappointing, as are the purple sprouting broccolli's which look like giant weeds.

Still, Garden Girl enthused about our produce enough that I started to believe we had done some good work and with the sun shining today we might just head outdoors and sow some herbs to germinate in the house then leave in the greenhouse over winter. How stausfying it will be to make some long overdue headway in the garden!

Sunday 22 November 2009

No... Not the Hoover.

Yesterday we took a family trip to the Imperial War Museum to look at aeroplanes, tanks and old toys, but we were hoping to be outdoors this afternoon planting more broad beans and finally tidying up the strawberry bed. Instead we are sitting indoors playing with play dough and watching the trees wave at us in the wind. Although it is currently dry everything is dripping from the downpour earlier. I may be forced into pulling out the hoover and doing some housework, something which gardening will usually excuse me from guilt free. I need to think of some things to have growing in my greenhouse at this time of year so I have an excuse to be pottering in there on wet Sunday afternoons. Any ideas?

Friday 20 November 2009

Out of Sorts

With half the children at Garden Girl's playgroup absent with a bad winter cold it was inevitable that Garden Girl would eventually wake up one morning feeling rough and that day was Wednesday. Grumpy and 'out of sorts' is a fairly accurate description of her early morning behaviour and by 10.30 this was replaced with 'upset, tired and ill.' Instead of going for our usual swim and then enjoying what was quite a nice autumn afternoon outdoors, Garden Girl spent the whole day on the sofa watching children's TV and movies with little interest and drifting in and out of unsettled sleep. I was not allowed to leave her side. Luckily when we sorted the loft a few nights ago Garden Dad had discovered some little cars he used to play with as a little lad and these kept Garden Boy amused for much of the day while I gave Garden Girl the attention she needed. And I did manage to get some online Christmas shopping done while I was chained to the sofa.

Thursday dawned and Garden Girl had a bit of bounce back but not enough for her to return to playgroup so we spent another day warm and cosy indoors. It was with relief therefore, that we left the house this morning, all healthy, to go painting at a local museum and then on to the supermarket to restock our kitchen cupboards. At least we can now enjoy the weekend free of nasty germs and the garden might get some attention.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Happy Smiles and Rosy Cheeks

It was lovely to be planting again. For so long we have been harvesting and pruning and weeding and watering. Garden Girl and Garden Boy were as enthusiastic as they were back in spring and eagerly helped to fork over the soil and take it turns to push the wheelbarrow around the garden. Garden Girl copied Garden Dad's 'finger dibbing' to create holes for sowing the garlic and delighted in dropping the bulbs into the holes and covering them up. Garden Boy meanwhile, was clearly reminiscing over spring and reindulged in his taste for soil, munching through a snack sized handful or two. They then got going on the broad beans while I made dinner. Forgetting completely about the cake they had made earlier in the day, they came back inside only when it started to turn dark, wearing happy smiles, rosy cheeks and a good coating of soil. What better way to spend a cold but sunny autumn afternoon?

Sunday 15 November 2009

Hard Working Helpers

It has been a hectic couple of weeks. We have been very, very busy in the garden, clearing away the old, to make way for the broad beans and garlic we will be planting this afternoon. Then Garden Dad and our Little Garden Helpers have been having fun digging. Although we have a raised bed system, which theoretically is a no-dig system, our soil is so bad we thought that, for this first year, it would benefit from some digging over and improvement. The soil is much, much better than it was this time last year, thanks to the work of all the vegetables we planted this year, but the extra digging will definitely help along next years crop. Everybody has been working so hard in the garden, so much so that last weekend Garden Boy fell asleep just climbing onto the sofa for a well deserved rest!

We have also been researching fruit trees. We want to have a couple in the garden, but in pots, so we can move them about a bit depending where our strawberry bed is each year. Wanting potted varieties means we have to be a bit more selective, so we have been visiting garden centres and reading about trees.

And then there has been the Princess costume. When it has been wet and/or dark I have been so busy sewing together Garden Girl's costume that the computer has become neglected. I am a novice seamstress. Garden Dad is better at sewing than me. But I am determined to learn how to use my sewing machine before Garden Girl starts school and requires school play costumes, halloween costumes, fancy dress birthday parties etc. And what better way to practice than for her friends Princess birthday party? I was pleased with the results. Garden Girl loved the dress and I enjoyed the sewing. I just hope that as I get better at it, I will get quicker at it!

For the moment though, its back to the garden and some autumn planting though, not wanting to exhaust Garden Boy so much again, we have been sensible and our Little Garden Helpers have been making a cake this morning, ready for our afternoon tea break!

Sunday 1 November 2009


Two happy looking pumpkins are grinning at me through the window. Garden Girl insisted that her pumpkin must be smiley and happy and not at all scary and why not? Pumpkins after all seem to be the most fun vegetable available. The seeds are large and easy for a toddler to plant carefully and when they start to grow they weave and wind themselves around the garden, their tendrils crawling and climbing. Their flowers are large and colourful and then they grow into lovely large orange balls which seem to get bigger every day... Well, if they grow successfully that is... ours stopped growing when it reached the size of a medium cabbage and failed to turn orange in time for halloween. But despite our own failure the pumpkin remains the best toddler vegetable.

Because our pumpkin was clearly not going to be ready for halloween, a couple of weekends ago we headed to Luton Hoo Walled Garden's Pumpkin and Apple Gala and had a brilliant day out. The pumpkins were the highlight of the day. There was a large area with pumpkins growing where Garden Boy ran around trying to pick up steadily bigger pumkins until he eventually settled for climbing on top of the biggest one and sitting there proudly with a huge grin on his face.

There was also a stall of pumpkins and a variety of wierd and wonderful squash. I asked our Little Garden Helpers to choose a pumpkin, but they were both determined to choose one they could carry, or stumble with, themselves so we ended up with two medium sized pumpkins.

But the fun of pumpkins does not end there. There was a wonderful display of decorated pumpkins from local primary schools which had us all smiling and then our Little Garden Helpers delighted in painting there own. When we got home and the paint had dried Garden Girl then added faces and two tiny pumpkins now sit on top of our TV smiling down at us. Garden Girl and Garden Boy also loved the 'scarecrow pumpkins' posing for photos with them. Choosing a face to carve into their own pumpkins provided hours of amusements, with endless drawings of round faces each with a different design, all carefully created by Garden Girl and shown to Garden Boy for approval. Then there was the delighted faces when they first saw the carved heads, glowing in the garden. They both stand at the window trying to blow out the candles through the glass, pull faces at the them and 'beep' their noses.

And then there is the pumpkin soup which Garden Girl loved and gobbled up in no time. Usually the last to finish her meal due to her delightful dinner time chatter, we ate our pumpkin soup in relative quiet while she wolfed it down.

How many other vegetables can you turn into scarecrows, decorate in a variety of brilliant and inspired ways, use to test your strength, sit on, dive over, roll about and carve into happy faces? The pumpkin might be associated with scary halloween but in our house they are all about grinning and fun.

Friday 30 October 2009

Where Food Comes From: Teach Your Toddler Tip Three

Although we are lucky enough to have grown our entire summer vegetable supply in our garden, not everyone has a garden. But being reliant on the supermarket to buy your vegetables does not mean that your toddler is unable to learn about where the food comes from. When you are shopping there are lots of things you can do to help your toddlers learn about the food you are buying.

Let your toddler pick out the fruit and vegetables for you. Garden Girl loves selecting apples of various types. Some days she will only choose red ones, other days shiny ones and sometimes she will choose the biggest. She also counts out my carrots and picks out the biggest broccolli. If I am not following a recipe I will let her choose the type of vegetables, telling her to pick out three different vegetables, or three green vegetables, or choose one vegetable that grows above ground and one that grows under the soil. Garden Boy will always join in and makes Garden Girl giggle when he gets it wrong or sends an apple rolling across the supermarket floor. I have to watch him though, as he is liable to take a big bite out the vegetables, testing them out before he buys. Still, most of the vegetables from our garden have munch marks in them, so why not those from the supermarket? It just makes them more authentic!

We usually buy frozen peas and tinned beans, but if you don't grow your own it is worth buying some fresh peas or broad beans in the pod every now and then. Our Little Garden Helpers love podding them for me while I chop the rest of the vegetables and they get to see what they looked like on the plant. Around Christmas time there are usually sprouts still attached to the plant stalks in the supermarkets and there are always tomatoes still on the vine on the shelves, so look out for them and occassionally buy them like this so you can explain why they look like this.

Supermarkets also sell herbs growing in their pots so try to buy these rather than the ready cut ones, or the dried ones, although many herbs are easy to grow from seed on a window sill, in small pots, so spend less and let your toddler plant their own.

I also frequently take our Little Garden Helpers to the garden centre for nothing more than an afternoon's entertainment. They love it, as there is lots to see (especially near Christmas when they have fabulous Christmas displays) and if you are trying to teach your toddler about food you can just seek out the vegetable section and show them what the plants look like in the early stages, before they hit the supermarket shelves.

And the best thing about getting your toddler to help with the shopping? They stay happy and engaged while you shop instead of feeling like they are being dragged round and when they don't want to eat their food later you can remind them that they chose it and it might just encourage them to tuck in.

Thursday 29 October 2009

Tomato and Green Tomato Chutney recipes

A large pan of Green Tomato Chutney is bubbling away, wafting a lovely aroma of spices around the kitchen, while Garden Dad is all set to carve out some fabulous faces on our Little Garden Helpers pumpkins. Garden Girl drew her pumpkin face for Garden Dad to copy, while Garden Boy chose a design from a halloween story book. I will take some ghoulish pictures of the pumpkins to show you on Saturday, but for today I thought I would share the two tomato chutney recipes we have used this year in case you wanted to give them a go.

The first recipe we made last year and it was so delicious we have done it again this year. We gave jars of this chutney as christmas presents to all our family and it was a hit with everyone, including our Little Garden Helpers, so comes well recommended. I found the recipe on the Channel 4 food website and we didn't change anything so give it a try. You will not be disappointed.

The Green Tomato Chutney which is currently making me very hungry as it slowly simmers is untried and untested, but smells lovely and was found in a recipe book from which I never cooked a bad recipe, so I have high hopes. The book is called 'Choosing and Using Spices' and was written by Sallie Morris and Lesley Mackley and this is the recipe;

1.75kg green tomatoes, roughly chopped
450g cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
450g onions, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1tbsp salt
3 tbsp pickling spice
600ml cider vinegar
450g granulated sugar

Put the tomatoes, apples, onions and garlic in a large saucepan and add salt. Tie the pickling spice mixture in a piece of muslin and add to the pan.

Add half the vinegar and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for one hour, or until the chutney is thick. You will need to stir frequently.

Dissolve the sugar in the remaining vinegar and add to the chutney. Simmer for one and a half hours or until the chutney is thick. Stir frequently.

Remove the muslin bag from the chutney then spoon the hot chutney into warm, sterilized jars. Seal so the jars are airtight and store for at least one month before using.

According to the book this will make about 2.5kg of chutney.

I will let you know our verdict on taste in about a months time but if you give it a try I hope you enjoy.

Monday 26 October 2009

Clearing the Dead Wood

Over the weekend we managed to achieve a lot in the garden. We threw away all the dead tomato plants, harvesting the remaining green tomatoes ready for making a big batch of green tomato chutney. We harvested all the things we had left to dry (intentially or unavoidably!) and we repotted the surviving rosemary cuttings we took earlier in the year. After drying out and turning brown soon after taking these cuttings they made a surprising recovery and there are 10 healthy plants in our greenhouse now.

We also dug up all our potatoes for storage. They won't last long. They didn't crop particularly well. It must be something we did wrong because the seed potatoes we gave to Grandad South were successful, with a bountiful harvest of big potatoes. Next year I think we should improve our earthing up skills.

There is still some tidying up to do in the garden but it was very satisfying to see the dead plants get cleared away and space appearing in the beds to plant broad beans. We have to start planning our autumn/winter tasks now. I once believed there wasn't much to do in a garden over winter. How wrong I was!

Friday 23 October 2009

Where Food Comes From; Teach Your Toddler Tip Two

It is Friday again already and time for another tip to get toddlers learning about food. In our house we have spent much of the week cooking vast quantities of vegetables we dug up at the weekend, so it only seems approriate that I talk a little bit about ways to get your toddler involved in food preparation.

The vast majority of the meals we prepare have vegetables chopped into small chunks and served in a sauce, whether its a pasta sauce, curry, casserole or stew. Most of these meals get wolfed down without a second thought but the trouble with this sort of meal is that toddlers have no idea what the ingredients actually are. When they help to make the meal they get to see the vegetables before they are chopped up and know what they are eating.

One of the things our Little Garden Helpers enjoy doing most in the kitchen is washing the vegetables. I usually put a washing up bowl on the floor with some tea towels underneath to soak up any spills, with a few spare tea towels on hand to catch any larger spills. This is great for their learning as they see the carrots with the leaves on the end and the potatoes covered in soil. They love splashing in the water and chasing runaway potatoes across the kitchen floor.

Garden Girl also loves helping to chop vegetables. She sees it as a very grown up job and treats it as a real responsibilty, which makes her feel like she is contributing properly to the meal making. With the softer things like mushrooms or avocado a blunt toddler knife is sufficient to cut through, but for harder vegetables like carrots I will boil or steam them whole first. Once they are cool Garden Girl will chop them up while I deal with the meat and then I'll add them to the dish a bit later than usual to get warmed through. Don't worry about losing nutrients by pre boiling the vegetables; just use the water for the stock or add it to the sauce and simmer for longer or add cornflour to thicken it.

Another great idea for the older toddler which I picked up from CBeebies 'I Can Cook' is using toddler scissors to chop some vegetables like spring onions or just ripping things like sweet peppers apart. (And if you haven't seen this show, I would recommend it for some fabulous ideas on meals your child can cook pretty much from start to finish).

If you mash potatoes or carrots and swedes, get your toddler to help. Garden Boy loves the opportunity to crush things and he gets to see how the consistency and texture of the vegetables have changed. Garden Boy will also quite happily put peelings and chopped leaves in the bin for me (or on some days he will scatter them over the kitchen floor to create a lovely carpet of greenery) but it keeps him occupied while Garden Girl chops as he isn't yet controlled enough to help her.

Garden Girl takes a lot of pride in her cooking and loves it when she can tell Daddy she made the dinner. She is also a lot more eager to try something new if she has helped to cook it. The kitchen can become a little messy but I have a lot more fun cooking when our Little Helpers are involved. There are so many more giggles than usual and making dinner becomes an enjoyable activity rather than an everyday chore. Only Garden Dad might bear a slight frown when I hand him a broom on his return from work, though our Little Helpers are surprisingly eager to help out with this too.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

The Not So Simple Life

Yesterday our Little Garden Helpers had a friend to visit and they wanted to go out into the garden so they all put on their wellies and headed outdoors. They played basketball for a little bit but then decided to pick tomatoes. I handed over a bowl and settled down with a cup of tea while they got to work. A short while later Garden Girl returned with a bowl containing one red tomato. Garden Friend had a handful of green tomatoes but Garen Girl kept throwing them back out of the bowl. 'Not the green ones' she told her friend with a small hint of exasperation. I have taught her well. Except that it is that time of year when the green ones will never turn red. 'It's OK to pick the green ones today,' I told her, which was met with a frown and look of confusion. 'Tomatoes need sun to turn red and now it is autumn there is not enough sun and it is not warm enough for them to turn red. You can pick every tomato in the garden and we will make Green Tomato Chutney with them. You can help.'

That is all it took to undo the frequently repeated mantra of summer; 'Pick the red ones only'. And I fear that next summer I will be told by Garden Girl that it is OK to pick the green ones for making Green Tomato Chutney. She has a surprisingly long memory. The world is complicated. Not even tomato picking can be reduced to one simple rule.

Monday 19 October 2009

Daddy, Daddy, Daddy. Carrots, Carrots, Carrots

Garden Boy has spent the morning shouting at the patio doors, 'Daddy, Daddy, Daddy'. I thought that he had eventually given up but no. He had just wandered to the hallway to get his wellies and coat. Back at the patio doors he tried again, 'Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.' No amount of 'He's at work' and 'He isn't in the garden' convinced him, so I took a break from chopping carrots and walked around the garden to search for Daddy. Finally convinced that Daddy was not in the garden we came back inside and Garden Boy stationed himself at the front door, 'Daddy, Daddy, Daddy'.

Garden Boy obviously enjoyed digging with Daddy in the garden all day yesterday and is not entirely happy to be stuck indoors today doing domestic chores like washing carrots and sweeping the floors. I have to admit I share his feelings. I chopped enough carrots yesterday, but I need to get going on more carrot soup while they are fresh out of the ground. Garden Boy has now fallen asleep, exhausted after his shouting for Daddy and I am waiting for Garden Girl to finish meticulously washing the carrots. With all the practice I got yesterday, I have been chopping faster than she has been washing.

Luckily our Little Garden Helpers have a friend coming to play later to keep them occupied and cheer up their Monday and I have promised they can make cakes. The best way to beat the Monday blues. And they definately won't be carrot cakes!    

Friday 16 October 2009

Where Food Comes From: Teach Your Toddler Tip One

Having read the results of the McCain survey which revealed that one in five children aged between 7 and 11 do not know that potatoes grow in the ground, I have decided to write a series of posts with ideas on how to teach your toddler the origins of food. We are very lucky that we have a garden large enough to contain raised beds where we grow our own vegetables. Our Little Garden Helpers are in the garden most days helping us plant, dig and harvest a variety of vegetables and as a result they are in no doubt as to where their food comes from. But not everyone has a garden. These Friday tips therefore are aimed at everyone, with or without a garden.

Tip One: Forage for Free Food

Put on your woolly hat, wellies and warm coat and head outside for a walk, keeping your eyes open for fruits, nuts and edible leaves. There are lots to find, all year round, if you really look for them. Even in the cities, just head for a large park and there will be food for picking. You have probably all been blackberry picking at some point and there might still be a few late ripening berries out there now, but the best thing at this time of year are the Sweet Chestnuts. Your toddler will love throwing sticks high into the trees to try and knock the prickly round cases onto the floor and then will have even more fun stamping on the prickly balls (with thick boots of course) to crack them open and reveal two or three sweet chesnuts hidden inside. Just make sure they wear thick gloves so they don't prick their fingers. Let them eat some raw there and then, a great reward for all their hard work but make sure they fill their backpacks with lots to take home for roasting.

If you are brave enough there are lots of fungi growing at this time of year and with the wierd and wonderful array of colours and shapes these are fascinating for toddlers. I must confess that I am not brave enough to pick wild mushrooms just in case I get the identification wrong and I poison my whole family, but we still look out for them when we are walking and both my Garden Helpers love looking at the strange formations. I always tell them that the mushrooms we buy at the supermarket once grew under a tree just like the ones we see when we are out, but that some varieties can make people feel sick so it best to let experts pick them. I am also always telling them both not to pick and eat enything unless they have checked with me first just to make sure they won't get a sore tummy.

The best thing about foraging for food is that its free; both the food and the day out. And while they are having fun your toddlers will be learning how things grow. Once you have started foraging you will always be on the look out and there is more out there than you might have thought. If you think you might want to give it a go there is a brilliant little pocket sized book called Food for Free by Richard Mabey (ISBN 9870007183036) which will help you identify edible plants, trees and fungi, as well as having a handy list of what to look out for each month. We take this with us whenever we go for a walk now.

Have fun foraging.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Prickles for Dinner?

Following our recent sighting of a hedgehog Garden Girl has become very interested in animals with spikes. She wanted to know what other animals there were with spikes and the best I could come up with was the porcupine so she sat patiently on my knee while I searched the internet for some information. And we discovered some amazing creatures from spinning sea urchins, churning up sand with poison tipped spikes, to the Porcupine Puffer fish which blows itself up into a huge spiky balloon so no predator can swallow it. Whilst I would be interested to see this marvellous spectacle you would never catch me trying to eat it, despite it being a delicacy in Japan where 100 deaths a year are apparantly caused in gourmet restaurants from people 'prickling their taste buds'.

I think my most adventurous trip into culinary strangeness is an ostrich burger so nothing too wild there. What is the strangest or most dangerous food you have eaten?

And if you want to learn more about the spiky inhabitants of planet earth check out the Zoo Friends website.

Monday 12 October 2009

Severed Carrots

It is harvest time and consequently we have been doing a lot of digging. Garden Boy loves the opportunity to throw soil everywhere, move it around the garden and stamp in it. Garden Girl is a little more careful, digging around the vegetables in an attempt to make them easier to dig up but we are struggling with our carrots.

The idea had been to make soup from all those carrots which had split or been slightly munched and as such were not suitable for storage and to store the rest to provide supplies over the coming months. The heavy, hard soil is thwarting our efforts of having any carrots left for storage however, as the bulk of the lovely, long, undamaged carrots are not making out in one piece. Even Garden Dad is finding it impossible to clear enough soil to pull these perfect carrots out in less than two pieces.

It is a good job we all like carrot soup a lot, as this week I will be cooking a massive panful for the freezer but if anyone has any tricks for digging carrots up in one piece they will be gratefully received.

Friday 9 October 2009

The Potato Story; Chips are not made from Potatoes...

... And potatoes do not grow in the ground. Oh no, chicken's in fact lay potatoes.

You might be forgiven for thinking that I have gone a little crazy but according to a recent survey carried out by McCain, 1 in 5 children aged between 7 and 11 do not know that potatoes grow in the ground, with 1 in 10 believing that they are instead, a product of chickens. I have to wonder where these children believe eggs originate. 1 in 5 children are also not aware that chips are in fact potatoes.

I find the results of this survey worrying. Our children need to understand where their food comes from in order to develop healthy eating habits. McCain share this opinion and have started their 'Its all good' campaign in order to educate and guide consumers and children towards healthy eating habits and active lives. As part of this campaign they have launched 'The Potato Story'. This interactive learning experience takes the form of a double decker bus, which is taken to schools across the country and introduces children to the story of how the humble potato is grown, harvested and cooked.

The bus, has already visited over 130 UK primary schools but McCain have decided to extend the programme and visit a further 30 schools throughout September - November 2009. They have also launched a website at  where there are games for children, as well as resources for parents and teachers.

Do take a look and if you have children of any age, think about how you present food to them. Tell them what is on their plate, what the ingredients are and where they come from. You might be surprised how interested they are and just by talking about food you will be educating them about healthy eating. And when you see the sparks of interest perhaps you will be inspired to grow something. You don't need to have a garden, or even a plant pot. Any old container will do; yoghurt pots, cardboard tubes from loo roll, empty margarine tubs. Growing herbs indoors is easy to do or if you want something less leafy try Red Robin tomatoes. They grow into very small but very productive tomato plants and look lovely and colourful on a kitchen window sill.  Just give it a go. Its fun and you might just prevent your child from believing that chickens lay potatoes.

And if the bus has visited a school near you do let me know. I am really interested to know how the campaign is going and in quiet support of educating our children about food, over the next few Fridays I will publish a series of posts with simple ideas to get your children involved in growing and preparing food.

Thursday 8 October 2009

One Hundred

This is my one hundredth blog post. When I realised I had written that many posts I was amazed, but when I look back over the archive I see that I have an excellent record of what has been happening in the garden and more importantly, some brilliant memories of time spent outdoors with my Little Garden Helpers. Reading through some of the older posts reveals how much I have learnt about vegetable growing in just one season, as well as just how much more there is to learn. I also smiled and laughed a lot when I looked back at some of Garden Girl and Garden Boy's antics. I wonder what they will make of it when they are older and read over my words. How much of it will they remember and will it amuse or embarrass them?

I hope that when they are older they will add their own contributions to the blog, with their own thoughts about the garden, which they in turn, will be able to revisit. Yes, I am hooked and in it for the long haul, (both the garden and the blog) and I am looking forward to creating many more happy memories to document and share.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Spiders... Everywhere

There are spiders all over my garden. Left undisturbed while I wasn't very well, they felt free to build massive webs amongst the tomato plants, between the garden furniture, across the slide and pretty much anywhere. I don't like them. I am scared of them in the house (somehow they seem scarier indoors where they don't really belong) but I can usually tolerate them outdoors. However, they are everywhere, taking over and are scarier than ever before. I am trying not to pass this fear onto my children but it is so hard. I walk into a web unwittingly and suddenly I'm jumping around batting my head, trying desperately to get rid of the spider that might not even be there. Then I see my Little Garden Helpers looking at me with worried eyes and I try to calm down. 'Sorry. It was just the shock. Spiders are lovely really. Mummy isn't scared. I was just surprised to walk into a web and the spider will be happier in the grass than in Mummy's hair.'

Today however, I am looking out of the window, the rain pouring down and the garden looks beautiful with lots of spider webs decorating it. The rain drops are settling on the webs turning them into large glittering patterns and they look stunning. I tried to take a photo for you but it just didn't work well. In one place there are three webs parallel to each other getting gradually smaller as they get further away, so if you look through the middle it looks like a glittering silver tunnel. And the best thing is the spiders have gone somewhere to hide from the rain. I only hope that their dry hiding place is not my house.

In the meantime I will take the opportunity of a wet day and a beautiful display of webs to inspire some craft and we'll create our own spiders and webs this afternoon to decorate the corners of our house. I wonder if that will be enough to convince our Little Garden Helpers that Mummy likes spiders?

Sunday 4 October 2009

Campaign Beetroot; Assault Wave Two

Yesterday our Little Garden Helpers took a short break from digging carrots up in the garden to do some baking. On the menu was Beetroot and Chocolate cake and it was a huge success. We found the recipe on the BBC Good Food website and it was delicious.

I asked the family if this cake was worth growing beetroot for and the answer was a resounding yes. Garden Girl said 'Yes, I think I like beetroot now' and then 'You can me a beetroot sandwich next'. I have to admit I nearly fell off my seat. Meanwhile, Garden Boy was stuffing pieces the size of an egg into his mouth, he just could not eat it quick enough.

So what is on the menu for today? Well, Beetroot sandwiches of course.

Friday 2 October 2009

Hedgehog Hunting

We have been gradually working to get the garden in order but there will be lots more to do at the weekend when Garden Dad will also be available to help. However the real excitement in the garden was the recent spotting of a hedgehog. It is just a shame that they are nocturnal as Garden Girl and Garden Boy did not get the opportunity to meet him. I was returning home in the dark when, pulling onto our driveway, I saw him ambling away from the headlights with little sense of urgency at the nearing car wheels. He hid behind our bins and curled up in a ball.

The following morning there was no sign of him, though I like to think he has found a cosy corner of our garden to curl up and sleep off his slug feast. There were certainly a lot of slugs about that night I spotted him and they were no longer there the next day. I told our Little Garden Helpers to keep a watchful eye for him in the garden so they do not get prickled by him. Garden Girl, as usual, is taking the warning very seriously and she peers into every nook and crevice and almost tiptoes around the garden for fear of standing on a hedgehog. Garden Boy meanwhile hasn't taken a blind bit of notice to my words and is gaily sqeezing himself into all corners of the garden without a care in the world. I fear Garden Boy will be the first to find the hedgehog's home but at least there are fewer slugs lying around for him to pick up and try to eat.

Wednesday 30 September 2009

Free Time

How lovely it is to have some free time. My friend's wedding went without a hitch, although the day before when I went to help with the flower arranging wasn't quite as much fun as the day itself. I spent a total of five hours sitting on the M25 that day, instead of calmly arranging the beautiful flowers the bride had chosen to decorate the church and wedding venue. Garden Girl helped me put green sticky tape around the little tubes providing water for the roses which adorned the end of the church pews, while Garden Boy played with some small church bells and did some colouring in. The other helpers however had done an amazing job, building an archway for the end of the aisle and some beautiful window and table decorations. No-one there that day had any experience in flower arranging and yet they did a wonderful job. All the flowers came from the Convent Garden Flower Market where my friend went with her mum in the early hours of the morning. It sounded absolutely amazing and I hope to have the opportunity to go myself one day.

On the day itself Garden Girl did an amazing job carrying the offertary to the front of the church. I must admit I was terrified the whole time that she would drop the glass jug, spilling wine everywhere but she took every step with such concentration and so carefully I shouldn't have worried.

Since the wedding Garden Girl has turned three. She was a little bit disappointed when she found she still needed her booster seat to reach the table at breakfast time. So many people had told her what a big girl she would be when she was three that she was expecting to be big when she woke up on her birthday. But the disappointment was alleviated when she banged her head on the fridge door which she has never done before, so happy that she was now at least a little bit taller, she enjoyed the rest of her birthday.

So while we have been preparing for and celebrating these events the garden has been saying goodbye to summer and autumn has definately arrived. The trees overlooking the garden at the back now have as many yellow and orange leaves as green ones. The tomatoes and cucumbers have been dying off and have stopped producing fruit but the pumpkin and some other squash have been getting bigger. There is an unsurprising air of neglect out there as well, following my recent lack of activity, so this week I am harvesting vegetables for storage, removing the dead plants and clearing the ground.

With the recent frenzy of activity over and me feeling a little bit closer to healthy I should be back into my usual rythmn of enjoying the garden and blogging. Garden Girl and Garden Boy are certainly enjoying the return to the garden and I am enjoying the luxury of free time.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

I am Still Here!

I have very little to report because I have spent very little time in the garden since my last post. However, I thought you might be wondering where I had gone so I decided to say a quick hello. The cold I brought back from Norfolk was a rotten one and then early last week I also caught a tummy virus so unfortunately I neither spent time in the garden nor was I able to eat any of the lovely vegetables we harvested last Monday.

By the end of the week when I had recovered from the tummy virus I was still full of a cold but was also very busy with relatives visiting to celebrate Garden Girl's third birthday, which is fast approaching. She is very excited about turning three and asks me every day if it is her birthday yet. I hope it lives up to her expectations.

The garden meanwhile is starting to look like a jungle and needs some serious work but I am helping a friend get things ready for her wedding this week so I doubt I will get much opportunity to sort things out this week. It is such a shame the longer summer evenings don't last until October! But, I am looking forward to getting outdoors again next week when my diary is relative free and the garden will be a priority. 

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Powdery Peas

We thought we would have a last weekend camping before autumn really kicked in so we headed to North Norfolk for a couple of nights and some seaside fun. We drew butterflies in the sand, built sandcastles, buried shells and went bird watching. It was a lovely end to the summer but unfortunately we have all come back full of a cold.

Feeling a little worse for wear we headed into the garden yesterday to harvest the weekends produce and also to tidy up a bit. We got our first harvest of sweetcorn which has grown really well. Garden Girl and Garden Boy loved helping me unwrap the corn which were like little parcels. We had an abundance of tomatoes, marrows and cucumbers and even a couple of strawberries for our Little Garden Helpers.

We also felt obliged to harvest all our peas which have been disappointing. It was our own fault as we left it too late in the season to sow them and the didn't put the supports up early enough. A lesson learned for next year. So what went wrong? Well, one of the varietes seemed to have suddenly dried up before they really fattened up and the other, on our return from Norfolk, was coated in a white powdery substance. We are not sure if these ones are safe to eat as we have no idea what the coating is. Has anyone seen this before?

Garden Dad also worked on after the rest of us had retrested indoors for a hot cuppa, and he dug over some ground so we can plant some broad beans which hopefully we will feel well enough to sow one day this week. Though I must admit we have been languishing indoors this morning, building towers and colouring in. Maybe tomorrow, after another nights sleep, we will feel fitter and more energetic. In the meantime at least we have some delicous veggies to help our recovery.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

A Cheeky Magpie

Garden Boy currently loves nothing more than moving things, the smaller the better, from one place to another. The game is even more fun if there is a container for him to put the things he his given, or which he quietly takes, into. This makes tidy up time in the house newly efficient. Garden Girl doesn't feel like she is being singled out to do the job and I have two helpers instead of one which is an unarguable improvement. In the kitchen Garden Boy can be handed a pile of potato peelings and will be entertained for a good ten to twenty minutes putting each individual peeling in the bin for me, while I get the dinner prepared uninterrupted. Garden Girl, never wanting to be left out, will usually join in and for a short period of time we all work harmoniously humming along happily to Fun Kids radio.

In the garden however, this game is causing havoc. Garden Boy has always been quick to pick the tomatoes and strawberries before anyone can stop him. He knows now to only eat the red ones, although he will still try his luck with the green ones if there are no red ones left. Recently however, he has taken to picking them and placing them in empty plant pots so that we will come across tomatoes, days or even weeks later, ripening on the vine, somewhere in the garden. He will also pull up the white plant labels and neatly gather them all together in a plant pot. Tidy, but not very helpful for someone who can't tell a Brussels Sprout plant from a cabbage plant or even a weed.

Little piles of stones litter the garden, leaving a telling trail of Garden Boy's movements and pots are filled with leaves pulled from unsuspecting plants. I also cannot put down the bowl I am filling with vegetables when I go outside each day to harvest the vegetables. If I turn away for just one moment it has all been deposited tidily in various plant pots or in piles around the garden and I have to go vegetable hunting. Every day there is a little surprise waiting for me in the oddest place; a carrot buried amongst the lavender or a pile of stones topped with a beetroot for maximum artistic effect.

Garden Boy carries out these activities with a determined, serious walk and a look of total concentration such that it is hard to interrupt him, but when I do challenge him, his face breaks out into a cheeky grin and he giggles knowingly. His laughing eyes tell me he is going to enjoy watching me try to find all the bits and pieces and he switches his energies to chasing me around the garden as I try my hardest to retrieve his hidden treasure. Garden Girl loves a good chase and will usually join the fray so that most days we end up in a heap giggling in the garden. One of many reasons why I love my garden.

Monday 7 September 2009

A Winter Less Bleak

Yesterday I suggested that our winter cropping vegetables might not be quite as successful as our summer ones have been. However there are a few exceptions to this.

Having determined early in the season that all the Brussels Sprout plants had died apart from one which then turned out to be a weed, you can imagine my surprise when not one, but two of my cabbages turned out to be Brussels Sprout plants. (I hear your giggles but in my defence they look very similar when they are young plants.) They appear to be doing well, so if nothing else we will have our Christmas Day sprouts straight from the garden, a target I had set myself at the beginning of the year.

The pumpkins we planted are also growing and flowering well so I am hopeful that they will fruit in time for Halloween. I would really like to be able to carve a home-grown pumpkin for our Little Garden Helpers. It will make it that extra bit special for all of us.

So with fingers crossed for some successes it isn't quite as gloomy in the garden as I painted yesterday.

Sunday 6 September 2009

A Bleak Winter

A weekend or so ago Garden Dad dug up the remaining early potatoes, somewhat late in the season. The crop was a bit disappointing. We expected to get quite a small crop from the ones we had planted in potato sacks but we had hoped for more from those we put in the raised beds. Garden Dad believes that the poor crop resulted from mediocre mounding up. As a result he has decided that next year he will continually add height to the raised bed in the area where we plant our potatoes and simply fill the bed with additional soil each time. In the meantime we have our main crop potatoes to eat through, though with similar looking harvests to the early variety, I doubt we will have any left over to store for the winter.

I also recently dug up our first turnip only to find a wormy like creature nibbling its way through the heart of the vegetable. Much of it was inedible, with brown holes evident everywhere. I decided not to show Garden Girl the little grub for fear that she might not want to eat turnips. Unfortunately a lot of the turnip leaves look like they have been feasted on so I am doubtful that this turnip was an isolated case.

Our cauliflowers and purple sprouting broccoli also look like they might have grown too tall and are showing no sign of fruiting. I fear they bolted in the hot sun. Our leeks look spindly and weak and are showing little signs of growing into strong vegetables to feed a hungry family through the winter. It looks like we might be facing a winter with a poor selection of home-grown vegetables though I hope I am wrong.

Friday 4 September 2009

An Obsession

Since starting to grow our own vegetables I find it increasingly difficult to walk past fields without discovering what is growing there. I compare the quality of the crop with our own and find it very frustrating when I cannot identify what is growing. Walking back to the car from Heartwood Forest last weekend I could glimpse the lands of a local nursery through the trees. I was straining to see the crops, stretching and twisting my neck to get an extra glimpse. But my obsession goes further than this. I am now drawn to any plant that looks like vegetables. While we were in Norfolk we visited Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden. This private Garden contains numerous rare and beautiful plants, but I found myself imagining I was walking through a Giant's vegetable patch, turning the Gunnera Manicata into Giant Rhubarb or Squash. Other giant leaves I cannot name resembled spinach and carrot leaves. Garden Girl loved the idea as we wandered paths, careful not to be trodden on by giant shoes and hiding under tree canopies to protect our heads.

I see vegetables growing everywhere and I notice things growing in the hedgerows and local parks far more. I am re-educating myself on the names of different trees and flowers that I must have known as a child but haveforgotton in adulthood. With two sets of eager ears to pass the information on to, I am having fun as I learn. When we started planting in April I would never have guessed at how much the garden would spread itself into other parts of our life. My good friend Zooarchaeologist warned me way back at the beginning of year that the garden would become an obsession and she was right. The garden is an obsession, not just for me, but for the whole family. Long may it continue.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Campaign Beetroot: Assault Wave One

Campaign Beetroot was launched last Thursday evening with my first assault on the family tastebuds. We had friends visiting for dinner so I opted for something simple and made a root vegetable stew, incorporating the beetroot. I used carrots, potatoes, turnip, spring onion, beetroot and fresh tomatoes with seasoning to taste, then I added a can of cannellini beans to make it stretch a bit further. I served the stew with wholemeal rice, roasted shallots and roasted tomatoes.

Only Garden Boy left some food in his bowl, but he ate a large amount without complaint, so I think it counts as a win. Our guests might well have just been being polite but the said they enjoyed the meal. Garden Dad ate it without any complaint and Garden Girl cleared her plate. She did need encouragement to stop talking long enough to chew a mouthful of food but this is nothing unusual and there wasn't a single suggestion that she didn't like it.

Battle conclusion; Win for Beetroot.
Strategy for Assault wave 2: Beetroot and Chocolate Cake

Monday 31 August 2009

Good Work Garden Dad

Garden Dad has been working very hard all day tidying the garage. At the beginning of the year the garage was filled to the rafters with junk, toys, tools, cardboard, bits of old carpet, furniture and half finished painting projects. Before we started planting back in April Garden Dad had a massive clear out, followed by numerours trips to the tip. For a short while we could find the garden tools and the garage was tidy.

Over the course of spring and summer however, as our energies have been channelled outside, the garage had steadily started to resemble its former state of mess. So, striking up the radio, Garden Dad spent the day tackling the tip until once again there is room to stand in the garage. This time however Garden Dad has put nails in the wall to hang garden tools on and he has attached things to the ceiling to keep them off the floor. He also pledged to complete the unfinished paint jobs in the coming weeks and there was a look of determination in his eyes that suggested this might actually happen.

A Bank Holiday well spent Garden Dad. Thanks for your hard work.

Sunday 30 August 2009

Heartwood Forest

Yesterday we spent a fabulous day at Heartwood Forest. The forest doesn't actually exist yet but planting of the 350,000 hectares of land bought by the Woodland Trust begins this autumn and the forest, when completed, will be England's largest new native wood. The Woodland Trust are recruiting volunteers to help plant the 600,000 trees which I am very much looking forward to becoming involved in. Imagine in 50 years time being able to tell my grandchildren that I had a direct part in creating England's largest native woodland.

This weekend however, was about raising awareness for the project and inspiring people to become a part of it. The Woodland Trust had put together a brilliant range of activities aimed at children, from willow crafts, to tree plaques, butterfly masks to baskets. We were able to watch a wood turner at work and sculptures and artwork being created from willow, grass and wood. Garden Girl decorated a beautiful butterfly mask while Garden Boy created a colourful picture with marker pens and glitter.

Garden Mum and Friend showed Garden Girl how to plait willow, curling it up at the end to make a snail that will find a home in our garden and Garden Girl carefully placed berries, stones and leaves on a tree plaque to make an image of Garden Dad. Both our Little Garden Helpers contributed to the large picture of a flower field by colouring in and drawing butterflies, bees and flowers of their own. Garden Girl left her wishes to the forest, written on paper leaves, that 'the forest will become home to lots of elves' and  that ' the shiny stars will shine down bright on the forest'.

We did as much craft in one day as we usually complete in one week, enjoyed the fresh air and nibbled on blackberries which we picked on the walk back to the car. A wonderful day out and a wonderful project.

Friday 28 August 2009

Jerusalem Artichoke Update

Despite having left our Jerusalem Artichokes to become pot bound for many months I am very pleased to be able to report that a month or so after planting them out they are flourishing in their new home. Having been treated so badly early in the season, the excellent growth they have shown proves they really are easy to grow and will do well in the shadiest part of the garden. If you are looking for something that requires little work and will fill a space in a shady spot I would recommend that you give these plants a go. 

Thursday 27 August 2009

Shallots of Little Onions

At the weekend we pulled up all our onions and shallots. The leaves had all drooped and started to turn yellow. Garden Girl and I heaved them out of the ground, with squeals of excitement from Garden Girl whenever one of them turned out to be red. Garden Boy meanwhile went backwards and forwards carrying them from the raised bed to the tray I had left on the lawn. We were a well oiled machine and the task was completed in no time.

I then plaited together the onion leaves so we could hang the onions up to dry. Garden Girl watched this with considerable interest having had a young girl from a nearby tent plait her hair while we were camping. She announced that the onions looked very pretty, just like her, and then joined me in separating the shallot bulbs.

Garden Boy, having enjoyed carrying things backwards and forwards, continued his task with businesslike determination only this time he was depositing shallots in secret hiding places all around the garden.Garden Girl and I adopted to play chase there and then, rather treasure hunt later and eventually, but with more exercise than I had anticipated, the onions and shallots were ready for drying.

I was really pleased with the shallot crop and I will definitely be growing more next year. I am not quite as convinced by the onions. A few grew to be about the size of a medium onion but most were quite small and as they started out from sets rather then seeds, this was a little bit disappointing. We also lost a few onions early in the season when the hot weather caused them to bolt. Maybe we could try another variety or else just use the extra space for more shallots.  Can anyone recommend an easy to grow onion variety?

Wednesday 26 August 2009

We're Eating Vegetables for Dinner

While I was preparing the salmon for tonight's dinner I left Garden Girl on the phone with Grandma North. After the initial greetings, Garden Girl decided that the best form of communication was via the medium of song. Every reply was delivered in the form of her own words, sung to the tune of  'Daddy's taking us to the zoo tomorrow' and these are two of the verses that drifted my way;

We're eating vegetables for dinner, vegetables for dinner, vegetables for dinner
We're eating vegetables for dinner and I'm going to eat them all up.

We're going to pick some marrows, pick some marrows, pick some marrows
We're going to pick up some marrows and eat them all up.

Proof, in my ears, that growing our own has truly benefited Garden Girl's appreciation of vegetables. She doesn't always eat them all up but she certainly has much more interest in vegetables and enjoys a much wider variety of vegetables. Success.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Beetroot Boredom

We have a surplus of beetroot in our garden. I am the only one in the house who will eat it. Garden Dad, Garden Girl and Garden Boy all refuse. I suppose I should be grateful that they have at least chosen a messy, staining vegetable to dislike. It will save me some washing. But it does leave me with the problem of what to do with the surplus beetroot.

I love beetroot which is why we went ahead and planted it regardless of Garden Dad's screwed up nose at the suggestion, but I must confess that I am tiring of having boiled beetroot on the side with every meal.

So far I have roasted it and boiled it but I lack further inspiration. Any ideas?

I am hoping that a delicious recipe incorporating beetroot will encourage the others to eat it as I would like to have a good argument for growing it again next year. The green leaves tinged with purple look lovely in the garden. So please join my campaign for growing beetroot and send your best beetroot recipes.

Monday 24 August 2009

Grow Organic

While I was enjoying the calm and relaxation of evenings at our Norfolk campsite I browsed 'Grow Organic', a book I was asked to review for the Dorling and Kindersley website, but which was good enough to warrant a mention here too.

The book, as its title suggests, is an informative and practical guide to growing organically. Often organic gardening is linked to vegetable growing and whilst there was an interesting section about vegetables, the book also looks in detail at organic growing methods for woody plants, herbaceous plants, herbs, fruit and growing to attract wildlife. But the real strength of this book are the practical chapters which detail how to dig, how to water and how to weed, as well as good tips on composting and wormery techniques. There is also a very useful useful section about how to control garden pests organically.

It is a focused book, easy to read, with really practical information and lovely photos. I would recommend it to new gardeners as well as more experienced gardeners looking to grow organically.

Details of the book can be found on the Dorling and Kindersley website. Do take a look.

Sunday 23 August 2009

We Are Back!

We are back from a lovely week in Norfolk. There will be more about that later in the week when I have dug myself out from underneath a huge pile of washing. With hot, sunny weather all week our Little Garden Helpers, along with Garden Mum and Dad, delighted in the outdoors life and the accompanying sand, water, mud and grass stains. Whilst Fairy non-bio is great for the stains it just hasn't got the technology yet to complete the numerous loads of washing in a quarter of the time or to hang it all out for me.

The pile is a little lower after todays mammoth washing session but there is more to go as I allowed myself a reprieve to enjoy some of the sunshine and take a look at the garden. Zooarchaeologist and Daddacool have done a great job keeping it watered and there was a surprise Green Hokkaido Squash waiting for us. I thought these had all failed to fruit, but there it was, bold as brass and looking quite healthy, having masqueraded as a marrow plant for the last few months.

One bed of peas is flourishing, with healthy looking pods, while the other bed seems to have shrivelled under the sun but the tomatoes are still going strong and there were carrots, beetroot and onions for dinner. After a week of sausages and smash it was pure pleasure to eat homegrown vegetables once more and I look forward to tomorrows harvest.

Friday 21 August 2009

What I Did With the Vegetables; Recipe for Stuffed Marrow

With Garden Mum and Dad away, we have been busy watering the garden. In the dark in hubby's case. However, being this helpful has come at huge personal cost to us. We have been forced to eat reasonably healthily this week. It's all Garden Mums fault, as I knew that she would tell me off if I let all that produce go to waste. Its been great actually, I've been more inventive with my cookery than I have been in a long while. Here I present an easy little dish which used up lots of random garden produce. Unfortunately, I cant present an image as the food was wolfed down the minute it touched the table!

Stuffed Marrow with Roasted Beetroot
Please read through and decide how you want to tackle the cooking times!

  • Peel the marrow and remove all the seeds from the middle. Chop it into 4 quarters and drop it into boiling water until it softens.
  • Peel the beetroot, chop it up and put it into boiling water. Cook till it softens.
  • Chop up and cook your runner beans
  • Cook up some wholegrain rice
  • Chop up and roast some peppers with some olive oil and garlic. This usually takes about 10 minutes
  • Once the rice is cooked mix this with some Parmesan, the peppers, some herbs and the runner beans
  • Place the rice mixture into the hollowed out marrow and sprinkle some grated cheddar on the top
  • Put all the stuffed marrows and the beetroot into a large roasting tin, Sprinkle with olive oil
  • Cook in the oven for about 10 minutes at 200 centigrade or until the cheddar has gone nice and crispy.
  • Arrange nicely on plate with your tomatoes and a few slices of cucumber.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Water water everywhere...

...and all the boards did shrink! (Ryme of the Ancient Mariner, bit of culture for you all!).

Hello, this is Daddacool guest blogging using Beingamummys login credentials. If you can follow that, well done!

I'm not the worlds most organised person (ha!), so when the invitation came from my brother to pop round to his place in Welwyn Garden City and watch Arsenal thrash Celtic on Tuesday night, I decided to take the opportunity without really thinking through the consequences. That was a bit of a mistake because the window of leaving work and having to leave to get to my brothers was fairly small and had a fair amount of things to be done in it. For starters there was the 2 mile walk home, the cooling down from the walk home, a bit of child wrangling, the eating of (a lovely wifey prepared) dinner, bathing of a child who decided smearing dinner all over her chops was as much fun as eating it, moving some potential death trap bricks from the swing area and putting the nippers to bed.

Additionally, wifey had decided to chop down our holly bush which was menacing the patio window, so I had to don the gardening gloves and pop all of this in the green bin, as this involves daring the garage of doom which isn't practical with a toddler in tow. What it meant was I didn't have the chance to water the plants before I rushed off to watch the footy.

With two youngsters who are up half the night playing merry havoc (mostly it must be said, with wifey's sleep), I'm not out after dark much in the summer so it was a bit of surprise when I got home and it was dark. And of course the plants needed watering.

Don't ask me why I didn't turn any lights on, everybody was sound asleep and it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I decided to water the courgettes, tomatoes, fruit trees, rhubarb and the rest in the pitch dark. I guess I'll never be sure whether the plants or my sandalled feet got the better watering but all I know for sure is next time, I'll miss the first ten minutes of the football and do it properly.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday 15 August 2009

Strawberries, Dinosaurs and a New Word

Earlier in the week, despite the drizzle, my Little Garden Helpers and I headed outdoors to plant up the strawberry bed we had started to dig at the weekend. After recovering from his 'home brew virus' Garden Dad had dug the other half of the bed and broken up the soil as best he could. Then he handed over the project and left the planting in the capable hands of Garden Girl and Garden Boy.
They dug with trowels and hands, they tested the quality of the soil by throwing it over themselves, they filled holes with compost and water and mixed it up well with their hands. They carefully placed the plants in the muddy mixture, making sure to eat any strawberries on the plants before they went in. Then feeling satisfied with a job well done they embarked on a dinosaur hunt amongst the raised beds.
Finally, feeling tired and hungry after all their great adventures with swooping pterodactyls and roaring Tyrannosaurus Rex's they helped themselves to some juicy red tomatoes and a few not so juicy green ones. Garden Boy received a quick lesson from Garden Girl - 'No Garden Boy. Not the green ones. If you eat those you will be ill. Eat the red ones. Like this one. No. That one is mine. Pick your own. No Garden Boy. The red ones. Yes thats right. Mummy, Garden Boy picked a red one. Isn't he clever?.'

I gave Garden Boy a deserved 'well done' and in response he pointed to a red tomato and said 'yum yum' then pointed to a green one and said 'green', then he picked and ate the red one. I was so proud of his new word and understanding of colours I jumped around until I was accused of acting like a kangaroo. But it goes to show just how much a toddler can learn in the garden.

Friday 14 August 2009

I wonder...

A little while ago I was reading 'The Summer Book' by Tove Jansson which tells of the relationship between 6 year old Sophia and her Grandmother. They spend their summer on a tiny island off the coast of Finland where the native plant life made up the garden vegetation. But one summer Sophia's father orders some seeds from Holland. He boats in some soil to replace the turf that covers the island and sets about planting a beautiful array of plants around the house.

Without the new soil the plants would have died, but more than that, the plants needed lots of water. Sophia's father developed an irrigation system with which to keep these non-native plants alive and in doing so he pulled vital resources away from the indigeonous plants. 'The island's own turf dried out and turned up its edges like slices of old sausage, several spruces died...'

Eventually, the rain came and the island turf was able to establish new growth but it had been a close call. The whole passage just got me thinking about our own gardening history. It has long been an accepted practice to import plants from other regions of the country and, of course, other countries. We 'artificially' assist the growth of plants by changing soil type, giving extra water, providing extra heat in greenhouses and feeding plants. No doubt many plants have been saved from extinction through these methods, but I wonder how many local plant species have been lost over the course of history due to the introduction of new species. And I wonder what I would be growing in my own garden if 'foreign' plants had never been introduced.

This sounds like a research project for later in the year when the vegetables in my garden require less care. I wonder what discoveries I will make.

Thursday 13 August 2009

Goblin Mischief

A few weeks ago the naughty goblins stole a rainbow and all the colour was drained from Noddy's Toy Town. I fear that those naughty goblins have been causing similar mischief in our garden. Here is a picture of the carrots I pulled up a couple days ago.

If the goblins are not to blame, does anyone know what can have happened to the carrot on the top?

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Digging, Catching Bees and Playing on the Slide

Garden Dad is now recovered and everyone else stayed illness free so we are assuming it must have been something he ate. The only thing I can think Garden Dad had that we didn't was some of his home brew. The suggestion that Garden Dad's home brew might have made him ill didn't go down too well but he made it a long time ago and I can only presume it doesn't keep as long as shop bought beer. I think it is time he made a new batch.

So on Saturday, while Garden Dad read books and slept, our Little Garden Helpers and myself harvested some vegetables and pulled up some huge weeds outside the greenhouse. Then we set to work clearing away the turf and weeds between the greenhouse and runner beans to make our strawberry bed. The potted strawberries have been sending off runners which have been rooting onto the grass but we do want to save them as we intend to have lots of strawberry plants. Before we risk losing them we need to get their bed ready for them.

It was slow going because Garden Boy was using the soil to make mud showers. Then, when he was 'clean' enough he decided to play a new game - Grab the bee. Standing in front of the lavender he would try to catch the many bees as they flew past him. I tried to distract him with the slide which eventually worked, at least until Garden Girl decided to join in. Garden Boy wasn't fast enough for Garden Girl and Garden Girl barged in front of Garden Boy a few too many times. So then I spent half an hour supervising slide turn taking.

By the end of the day half the bed was dug and the rhubarb which hadn't been doing too well on the sunny side of the garden was relocated to the shady side. The rest is still to dig because we were visiting friends on Sunday and I took our Little Helpers to the zoo yesterday. All the animals we saw were feasting on cabbages and carrots. I wonder what size vegetable plot would be needed to keep the zoo animals fed all year? Imagine the work!