Monday 29 November 2010

Things Done, More To Do

I can't believe how long it is since I last posted here. It isn't because work in the garden has slowed with the colder weather. On the contrary, Garden Dad and Garden Boy have been outside every spare moment, digging out pathways and creating large holes ready for wooden posts.

All the wood we need to build the retaining 'wall' for our lawn and a little fence to stop our Little Garden Helpers falling off the edge, has been delivered, along with the gravel and weed fabric which will soon be laid over the pathways. Garden Girl and Garden Boy stood in the cold and watched, transfixed, while the crane manoeuvred the huge bags of gravel from the truck onto the path between our driveway and house. It was a tight fit and a precision task, but the crane succeeded after many attempts, and to the applause of our Little Garden Helpers.

In the meantime, Garden Girl, Garden Lass and myself have focused our attention on getting the house ready for Christmas. I became, for a little while at least, an almost perfect housewife, as I cleaned, hoovered, dusted and sorted 'stuff' in anticipation of the festive season. And then we were ready for Christmas to begin and we kicked it off at the weekend by putting up the Christmas tree. Early, I know, but ordinarily we would have done this the first weekend in December. This year however, we are having Garden Lass Christened that weekend so we opted to go a week early.

We now have a month of fun festive activities planned as we make Christmas cards, presents, decorations and wrapping paper. We will be baking snowman biscuits, mince pies, cake and candy canes. And then there will be letters to Santa, a Christmas play, pantomimes, carol services, a Christmas fair, a wedding and of course Garden Lass's Christening. Our Little Garden Helpers are so excited and so am I. I just hope, really hope, that the snow will ease off enough to allow our friends and family to make the journey for Garden Lass' Christening.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Shopping and Digging

I dragged Garden Dad to our local retail park on Saturday morning to buy outfits for Garden Lass's Christening. He would have preferred to have been in the garden and honestly, so would I. I am not a big fan of shopping and I dislike it even more when I really have to find something. We eventually managed to find a very smart suit for Garden Boy and a pretty dress for Garden Girl in M&S, but I came away with nothing and Garden Dad with only half a suit.

By the time we returned, with a job half done, it was time to visit our friends for pizza and fireworks, so our hopes of having at least a couple of hours in the garden were dashed. The fireworks however were brilliant and a glass of wine and good company was definitely the right tonic for a day trawling through shops.

But then of course Sunday arrived and it was raining. This did not however deter Garden Boy and Garden Dad, both of whom stoically put on their boots and coats. Garden Boy never needs much persuasion to go outdoors in the the wet but Garden Dad is usually a bit more reticent. I can only think he was worried I would insist we try more shops if he didn't look busy! But, whatever the reason, they armed themselves with spades and continued the task of digging out the pathways around the raised beds. When they came back inside they had mud stuck to their boots, trousers and coats, but had rosy cheeks and smiles so they must have enjoyed their hard work.

There is still more mud to move but they managed to do enough to think about ordering all the bits we need to turn the muddy paths into proper gravel paths, so we spent last night doing the maths and putting together a plan. The materials are now on order and will be delivered in time for the coming weekend. It is very exciting.

And I bobbed into the town centre today with Garden Lass and managed to find a lovely dress in The White Stuff (which is fast becoming my favourite shop), for me to wear at the Christening, so all in all things are looking brighter than they did around lunch time on Saturday. Garden Dad still only has half a suit but hopefully a bit of online shopping will quickly solve that problem.

Thursday 11 November 2010

A Conversation with Garden Boy

Garden Boy: 'Mummy, Me want pick tomatoes today.'

Me: 'There are no tomato plants left now, sweetheart.'

Garden Boy: 'Me want to get more tomato plants. Can we go to the shop Mummy?'

Me: 'Tomatoes won't grow at this time of year. It's too cold.'

Garden Boy: 'Then me want to pull up carrots.'

Me: 'We pulled them all up a few weeks ago'

Garden Boy: 'Me want to pull up more.'

Me: There are no more, honey.'

Garden Boy: 'Then me want to dig up potatoes. With my spade.'

Me: 'Oh honey. The potatoes have all been dug up now as well and the things still growing in the garden need to stay there a bit longer. There are some weeds we can dig up?'

Garden Boy exclaims loudly and happily: 'Yeah. Me go get my welly boots.'

There is a pause in the conversation while Garden Boy goes to find his boots and I sit in shock that someone could be so excited at the thought of pulling up weeds.

Then Garden Boy returns: 'Weeds, Mummy?'

Me: 'Yes. There are a lot of those for us to pull up.'

Garden Boy puts his wellies down: 'Me want to play trains.'

Monday 8 November 2010

A Strawberry Surprise

Another weekend has passed us by and as usual on a Monday evening I regret that a multitude of things take over mid week and less time is spent outdoors. Not that we stayed indoors all day today. It rained. A lot. So of course we went out. There were puddles to splash in! But we didn't get out our garden trowels and pull up more weeds or get stuck into digging out the pathways. That would have made for very muddy toddlers which is not the most appropriate look for Garden Girl's ballet class!

The weekend however, was lovely and on Saturday we managed to clear away more of our spent crops, preparing the ground for the winter, as well as starting to tidy up the strawberry bed. This is something I had strangely forgotten about when we were planning our garden tasks for the next few weeks but runners are starting to take root and the bed is full to bursting so a bit of crowd management is necessary. And its a good job we did this because we discovered we have some autumn fruiting strawberries we knew nothing about. A delicious surprise, although unfortunately not one I have yet experienced for myself, for two simple reasons; Garden Girl and Garden boy!

With the wet weather set to stay around all week I fear that we won't be out in the garden too much before the weekend but at least the rain will be good for those strawberries. Lets just hope the cold doesn't get too extreme!

Saturday 6 November 2010

Rapeseed Oil

I was recently recommended rapeseed oil which I have never tried before. To be honest I am a creature of habit when I do my supermarket shopping and I always buy a sunflower oil and an olive oil. However, despite my habitual shopping, I do like to try new things, so I thought I would give it a go.

Rapeseed oil comes from those lovely yellow plants that carpet fields with eye catching brightness and which apparently belong to the Brassica family of plants. Also, according to the HGCA website, linseed oil and rapeseed oil are the only oils produced in the UK, a fact which I was totally unaware of and one which makes rapeseed oil a very appealing option to me. It is also apparently a very healthy option so I added a bottle to my supermarket order this week and I have been trying out some of the recipes on the HGCA website.

We have all enjoyed the Chicken and Tomato crumble and the Leek and Bread pudding and I even made a salad dressing with it for lunch today. I would usually only use olive oil for a salad dressing put I was pleased with the taste of the salad dressing so I will be happy to use rapeseed oil in the future. I like to support UK farmers and this seems to be a great way of doing this at no extra cost to myself so if you also like to buy local, then consider rapeseed oil as an option.

Friday 5 November 2010

Hedgerow Safari's with OMSCo

Earlier this week Garden Girl went on her very first school trip. It was just to the local park to look at the changing season, but that is far enough for a nursery class. I wasn't allowed to help out as they didn't want younger siblings to go along, so I have to admit that it took a lot of self restraint not to go for a walk in the park myself that morning and take up camp behind a large bush with my binoculars. But in the event she was in a small group of 3, with her best friends Mum, so I had nothing to worry about.

Back when I was a little girl, school trips consisted of an annual trip to a local museum, usually just before Christmas as a treat. Nowadays schools seem to be a lot more inventive and make good use of local resources. They even take the children on a trip to the local supermarket. I'll be sending Garden Girl into school with my shopping list that day! And for all the worry that a trip out causes I think school trips are a brilliant idea. Garden Girl came home from school that day absolutely full of her walk to the park. She held hands with her best friend and they collected leaves and sticks and conkers, which they have since used to make leaf people. They watched the squirrels and the ducks and peered into rabbit holes. They talked about the falling leaves and the different colours of autumn.
'We didn't even have time to play' Garden Girl said happily at the end of her excited tale.

So knowing just how much a nature day can motivate and enthuse a four year old I was really interested to hear about OMSCo's Hedgerow Safari's for school children. OMSCo is Britain's largest supplier of organic milk and to help educate children about organic farming and the environment they have been running Hedgerow Safari's on their farms throughout 2010 completely free of charge for school groups.

During the trip, school children are able to see close up some of the small mammals that inhabit the hedgerow such as a woodmouse, bank vole or common shrew. Then, using some Hedgerow Guides (produced jointly by OMSCo and the Field Studies Council) they can identify plant species, before using sweep nets, pooters and magnifying glasses to examine any insects they find. And of course fresh organic milk is provided for the children to drink with their pack lunches. I would find this hugely interesting myself, let alone the children!

But, knowing how much our Little Garden Helpers enjoy outdoor activities OMSCo very kindly sent us all the bits and pieces the children use on the hedgerow safaris to try our ourselves, along with a pair of wellies and raincoat each and we will be taking the pooters, magnifying glasses, clip boards and hedgerow guides out with us this weekend on our own mini hedgerow safari. I will let you know what we find, but if your children are in Key Stage 2 do mention these trips to your school. The trips are entirely free of charge so the only thing your school will ask you to pay for is transport costs and your children will have what sounds like a brilliant day outdoors. Win win all round.

Further information about the Hedgerow Safari's can be found on the OMSCo website.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Taking Cuttings: Rosemary, Lavender and Mint

You will have to forgive me for disappearing for a little while. I have been scouring the internet every evening in an attempt to get my Christmas Shopping wrapped up early. And now with much of it sitting in the hands of internet stores waiting to be dispatched I am free to return my focus to my garden and my blog. And I promised you a post about herb cuttings so here it is.

We took cuttings this year of Lavender, Rosemary and Mint. Here's how we did it.

Lavender and Rosemary

Find some healthy looking shoots, without flowers and cut just below a bud, a few inches down the stem. Try to make it a clean cut using sharp scissors or secateurs.

Remove all the lower leaves. If you leave the lower leaves on the cutting they will rot and prevent new roots from forming.  

Place the cuttings around the edge of a pot filled with moist compost and leave them to take root. I put 8 or 9 cuttings in 8in pots.

You will know when they have taken root because new growth will start to form. At this point you can re-pot them into individual pots.


Mint is propagated by taking root cuttings. I have never done this before so I have no idea if what I did will work but this is what I did.

Rummage around the edge of the pot for some new roots and cut a few inches away from the end.

Bury each cutting horizontally in a compost filled pot, a couple of inches deep.

In theory new growth will appear after a few weeks but it is currently too early for us to know if this has worked.

We had successful rosemary cuttings last year so I am hoping that this year the lavender and rosemary will be just as successful. Watch this space!

Sunday 31 October 2010

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!

The pumpkins you see here are not the ones we grew in our garden. We did grow three lovely pumpkins and were planning to carve them this evening but we visited the zoo today and they had a pumpkin carving activity. So we joined in the fun and carved these two great faces between visiting the zebras and the spiders. The pumpkins we grew in our garden will now be used for pumpkin soup unless I get the urge to carve some additional pumpkins tomorrow afternoon. It will depend on the weather. If its nice enough I would like to clear away the dead sweetcorn and runner bean plants.

Our trip to the zoo meant we didn't do anything in the garden today but yesterday we cut back the Jerusalem artichokes, finished the potato harvest and started to dig out the path ways. There is quite a lot to dig out but its good to have got started and it feels like things are progressing well.

Hope you are all also having a fun packed Halloween. 

Friday 29 October 2010

The Cold Virus, A Walk in the Park and Face Paints

I promised you a post about herb cuttings but I have yet to sort out the photos and its getting late, so it will have to wait till tomorrow. Instead you will have to make do with a post about nothing much at all.

I had really been looking forward to half term. I really miss having full days to undertake massive art projects, or having full days out somewhere, now that Garden girl is in nursery school every week day morning. So for half term, I had plans of museum trips, zoo visits and making new and wonderful things to hang on our patio doors.

And then the cold virus struck. It struck me first, clearing up just before half term, but leaving me tired. Then Garden Boy came down with it just in time for our planned trip to the zoo. Friends were phoned and the visit was cancelled. It gets so blustery and cold up there I didn't want to risk a chest infection. On the up side, I did get a couple of hours in the garden instead, with everyone wrapped up warm and free to go back indoors as soon as it got too cold. But, with the cold virus, came grumpiness and Garden Boy, feeling tired and ill, was less tolerant of his big sister bossing him about than usual. I started to feel a little frazzled.

Then the cold virus hit Garden Lass and the sleepless nights started and my usually chilled out baby suddenly needed my attention at all times. Fair enough, she was clearly feeling rotten, but there is very little to be achieved when a baby wants to be cuddled all day. So instead of long days out and messy paint, we had even longer days in, with nursery rhymes and pacing, silly arguments and a living room strewn with toys.

I was so excited today therefore when everyone was feeling much better. Garden Lass is still coughing but is on the mending side of ill. We went to a friend's house for lunch, then walked to the park. Garden Boy, with energy returning, had a huge smile as he scrunched in fallen leaves and brandished the sticks he found. Garden Girl was thrilled to walk hand in hand with her best girl friend, giggling and Garden Lass, for the most part, was contented to be snuggled in the pushchair, looking up at me with her gorgeous big eyes. I was thrilled to be back outside in the autumn world of colour and felt all the stress of the week dissolve.

We visited the playground, until it became too hard to keep track of all the children because there were so many people there. So hoping the children would happily walk all the way into the town centre, we set off to have their faces painted at White Stuff. Our local store were celebrating their first birthday so had activities going on for anyone who popped in store, including free face paints for the children. And while we waited we had a slice of birthday cake and cup of tea. How civilized! And I even managed not to buy anything, mainly because I had tea and Garden Lass in my hands and two excited toddlers to keep in check. Garden Dad would be proud, if it weren't for my thoughts of returning alone as soon as possible!

And whether or not it was the thrill of the face paints, or just the freedom of being outdoors, after being stuck indoors for the week, they managed to walk all the way home with smiles on their faces. Well, Garden Boy did flag a bit towards the end and hitched a lift on a friends pushchair, but all in all, it was a brilliant day which everyone enjoyed. And I am now starting the weekend with renewed motivation, a happier outlook and far less stressed than you would have found me two days ago.  And now, following last weekends harvest, I'm off to separate the bad potatoes from the good ones!

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Record Breaking Root Vegetables?

Up until yesterday when the rain came and then today when the cold virus pretty much pinned us down to the sofa for the day, we were ploughing forwards with huge success in the garden. In fact, earlier in the week I was feeling really proud and perhaps a little bit smug with our efforts.

Garden Dad finished clearing out the greenhouse. The very last cucumber was harvested and all the dead tomato and cucumber plants were cut down and throw into the green bin. Pots and grow bags were emptied and stacked neatly. The shelves were replaced on the greenhouse staging and re-levelled ready for planting in spring (yes we are that organised!). Garden Dad even swept the greenhouse floor while Garden Girl put all the outdoor toys neatly on shelves or in the corner of the greenhouse. Bamboo stakes were pulled out of the ground and tied together neatly for storage and empty raised beds were dug over leaving fluffy, weed free soil.

The remains of our potatoes were harvested (well, there are three remaining plants - the rain did not quite hold off long enough, but its almost there) and the best thing is that very few seem to be damaged. All three of our Little Garden Helpers assisted with this task. While the eldest two got stuck in with their spades, eagerly rummaging for potatoes to see who could find them first, Garden Lass, wrapped up in warm woollies and layers of blankets, bounced in her chair excitedly and with a huge grin to keep everyone else motivated.

Meanwhile I spent a more peaceful weekend taking cuttings from the herb bed. I took English and French lavender cuttings, rosemary cutting and root cuttings from two types of mint. (I will tell you how we did this in my next post.) Every now and then Garden Girl wandered over to check I was OK on my own and stayed to help out with snipping cuttings and removing lower leaves. She was also quite eager to help me cut back all the herbs. She was worried at first about the lavender but I explained that cutting it back would mean it would grow back bigger and healthier next year. 'Just like our hair? she asked. 'Yes, just like that.' 'Well then, I am going to pretend the lavender has a face just like us and it is smiling because it will have healthy hair.' And with that she eagerly cut away the faded lavender flowers.

Having cut back and tidied the entire herb bed I then set about the task of removing all the weeds from the bed, at which point Garden Girl decided it was time to return to Garden Dad with the offer of her help. Smart girl! There is one small corner left to weed, again thanks to the rain arriving 15 minutes too soon but I'm still pleased with our achievements.

And buoyed by our weekend success we headed outdoors for a couple of hours on Monday to continue the work. It was a lovely sunny day and I would have liked to have been out there longer but Garden Boy had already been coughing badly, with a runny nose and Garden Lass was starting to show signs of feeling ill so I decided to keep it short, while Garden Lass was asleep and with everyone wrapped up warm. We harvested all our carrots, leeks and beetroot and then headed indoors for a hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Although the children were thrilled with every vegetable they pulled out of the ground, making grand announcements with every one they produced, sadly there will be no carrot soup or hearty winter stews with our harvest. Nor will we be making the delicious beetroot cake we made last year. We would however be in with a chance of breaking the world record for the worlds smallest example of said vegetables. The photo here displays the largest carrot, beetroot and leek we found!

We have decided that we will no longer use this particular part of the garden to grow vegetables. We think the large trees behind the garden are stealing all the water so we are going to put our apple trees here instead and maybe get some pear or plum trees too. At least while I am indoors with cold ridden children I can flick through seed catalogues for fruit tree varieties!

Thursday 21 October 2010

Dawn Porter and Our Little Garden Helpers Talk Potatoes

I was recently asked to take a look at the website
and in particular at the video showing Dawn Porter making her favourite potato recipe. It didn't take much to peek my interest, as top of my list of garden tasks this month is to dig up our root crops, which for us will hopefully include an abundance of potato treasure lying beneath the earth.

So what is it all about? Well, Dawn Porter carried out a 28-day Potato Challenge on behalf of the Potato Council in order to get people eating more potatoes. The concept behind the challenge was to show people how versatile and easy to use potatoes are, so each day Dawn followed a healthy eating plan that incorporated potatoes in some form or another. And so that she could share all the delicious recipes she was cooking with everyone Dawn made a video blog of her challenge which can be viewed if you follow the link above.

Now we all love potatoes in our house, in all their forms and we use them regularly in our meals, however there are loads of new ideas on the website and some really tasty sounding recipes which we will definitely be trying out as we start to harvest our own potatoes. Take a look. Many of them are very quick and easy to try so you have nothing to lose. 

There are also some fun kids potato recipes on the website but, having watched Dawn Porter over at the Ultimate Potato Website we decided to make a mini video potato blog of our own. The short film starts in the garden and ends with a delicious and simple meal of salmon with potato and carrot cakes. The recipe was based around the vegetables we had in the garden and was designed to be fun for children to make themselves, so I hope you enjoy our own little video 'Potatoes' starring Garden Girl and Garden Boy.

We all emptied our plates in record time and our Little Garden Helpers are keen to cook up some more dishes with the potatoes that still need to be harvested. So do join us with a big thumbs up for the humble potato and go and take a look at the Love Potatoes website.

Saturday 16 October 2010

A Task List for Autumn

Garden Dad and I sat down on Thursday night and made a list of everything we want to get done in the garden over the next few weeks so here it is:

  1. Harvest all our root crops. For us this means pulling up carrots and leeks (if they have actually grown bigger than Garden Lass's toes), main crop potatoes, swede, turnip, beetroot and Jerusalem artichoke. This is a brilliant task for our Little Garden Helpers to get involved with and is something I can easily do with them during the week.
  2. Once things have been harvested they will need sorting to make sure any damaged crops are not stored with healthy ones. Garden Girl in particular loves this task, so I imagine I can put her in charge of this while I find some space to put all the vegetables we will be storing.
  3. Any damaged ones that can be salvaged by cutting out the bad bits will need to be cooked, but hopefully there won't be too many of these and I won't spend the following days in the kitchen!
  4. As bare soil is left behind we will need to give it a quick dig over and this year we have been thinking about spreading some green manure which we can then just dig into the soils in spring. Hopefully this will not only be good for the soil but it will also keep those weeds at bay. I can dream at least!
  5. Autumn is also the right time of year to take root cuttings of mint and hardwood cuttings of lavender and rosemary. We will be taking cuttings of all three of these this year and I will write a post on this when we have some cuttings sitting happily in their pots. These herbs should also be cut back in autumn.
  6. We were also thinking about taking cuttings from our gooseberry and currant bushes, although as they are in their first year we are happy to leave these if we run out of time, but we will definitely cut them back before the end of autumn.
  7. Garden Girl and Garden Boy will not be happy if we do not plant some things and with our successful harvest earlier in the year we will definitely be planting garlic bulbs again. We will also plant some broad beans and if we have time some spring cabbage. I would also like to try a pot of mixed herbs in the greenhouse to keep us going over the winter. They may have to come inside the house if the weather gets too cold but its worth a try I think.
  8. And then there is lots of general tidying up; cleaning up empty pots, raking up leaves and pulling up weeds.
  9. We also want to dig out the pathways between the raised beds while the soil is soft. Once the frosts arrive the ground will be too be hard so the earlier we can get going with this the better. Ideally by next spring we will have proper pathways laid so there won't be quite so much mud!
There is more to do a little later in the season but if I keep going I might panic so for the moment that feels like a manageable list. 

    Wednesday 13 October 2010

    The Way Forward

    We have had some lovely sunny days recently, so as a result we have been spending quite a bit of time outdoors and with the ground covered in dry autumn leaves, our favourite thing to do has been jumping up and down to the sound of crunchy, rustling leaves. But we have also been spending time in the garden, harvesting all the green tomatoes and clearing away the old growth. Garden Girl and Garden Boy were also very eager to plant something so they spent a happy afternoon teaching Garden Lass how to sow cress seeds.

    We have started to clear out the greenhouse ready to use it for storage over the winter. This is where all the large, empty plant pots will be stored along with some garden toys and bits and pieces that don't need the warmth of the garage. In doing this we hope to make space in the garage to get some DIY jobs done and as we don't really need the greenhouse over winter it seems a sensible solution.

    There is still quite a lot to achieve outdoors but hopefully the weather will hold and my current cold virus will go away before the weekend, when we will hopefully be able to get loads done in the garden. I have been asked to write a post about what needs doing in the garden at this time of year so I will be back in a couple of evenings with our plan of action for the garden over the coming months. We will be sitting down tomorrow evening to decide what we want to plant and think about how the bigger task of digging out the pathways between our raised beds will fit around all the general garden maintenance that takes place at this time of year.

    Autumn is really a time of change in the garden where things are cleared away and the foundations are laid for spring so it is the best time to take a moment to think ahead, sit back and plan. The seed catalogues are starting to arrive, filled with new seed varieties and ideas for the garden, and the anticipation is starting...

    Sunday 10 October 2010

    Aunt Bessie's Food Review and Competition: Win an IKEA Kitchen

    When I was offered the opportunity to spend £5 worth of vouchers on Aunt Bessie's food products with the added challenge of coming up with an interesting recipe using Aunt Bessie side dishes, I didn't need much persuasion. I like a culinary challenge and the Aunt Bessie food range is always quite enticing. We wandered to the shop and bought ourselves some dumplings, Yorkshire puddings and an apple crumble, then set about designing ourselves a recipe for today's lunch. We decided to freeze the dumplings for another day when we will make a hearty vegetable stew to accompany them and designed a recipe using the Yorkshire puddings.

    We have loads of vegetables from the garden at the moment and in particular loads of squash so I used this as my base for choosing our final recipe and with duck currently on special offer in the supermarkets we opted for Shredded Duck with toasted pine kernels and roasted squash, served inside Aunt Bessie Yorkshire puddings. To accompany the meal we added boiled potatoes from the garden and lots of gravy. And even though I made it myself I can quite honestly say it was delicious.

    We prepared and cooked the duck according to the package instructions. Once it was in the oven we were free to chop the squash into small pieces. We used gemstone squash and a variety of marrows but you could use any variety of squash at all. Pop them in the oven with which ever herbs take your fancy (we used some rosemary) and roast till they're ready. Toast the pine kernels in a frying pan and then when you have removed the duck from the oven and let it rest awhile put the Aunt Bessie's Yorkshire puddings in for four minutes. This is just enough time to make a gravy with the duck juices and shred the duck. Mix the ingredients together and season to taste, then dish up and enjoy.

    Everyone finished the entire meal and Garden Girl even asked for second helpings so it was definitely considered a tasty meal all round. I have to admit that we usually like to make our own Yorkshire puddings, but for this particular recipe the oven was full with the duck and roasted squash so we wouldn't have managed to get everything ready on time if we hadn't used Aunt Bessie's ready made ones and they really did taste great so I will certainly buy them again and I am looking forward to trying the dumplings in a few weeks.

    We rounded our Sunday lunch off today with an Aunt Bessie's apple crumble which Garden Dad was pleased to see included oats in the crumble. There was lots of apple and it tasted great but it only just served the four of us and with two portions being for children I'm not convinced it was big enough for a family of four with older children and certainly wouldn't stretch to feed a larger family.

    As part of their current promotions Aunt Bessie's are also running a fabulous competition to win an IKEA kitchen. To find out the full terms and conditions and to enter the competition (open to residents of Great Britain only) just follow the link below:;230446492;54993899;d

    Good luck!

    Thursday 7 October 2010

    Why I Love Autumn

    I love the changing seasons of England. As summer ends I'm ready for the cooler days of autumn and the cosy atmosphere at home that follows in winter. But by the end of winter I'm getting fed up of wearing big coats and getting soaked through. I look forward to spring with its new growth and longer days, then summer with the possibility of warm days. But if I was forced to choose just one season it would have to be autumn.

    The colours of autumn are just beautiful. Garden Dad and I were married in autumn and our wedding flowers were done in beautiful autumn colours. We were also lucky enough to get one of those gorgeous autumn days where the air is fresh and invigorating but the skies are blue and the sun is out. You just don't get days like that at any other time of year and they are the days I feel happiest. There is so much fun to be had outdoors in autumn, whether its foraging for blackberries or crunching in dry fallen leaves, wrapping up warm to drink a hot coffee under a beautiful blue sky or jumping in puddles in the rain.

    Autumn brings weird and wonderful displays of mushrooms and highlights beautiful spiders webs. Squirrels can be seen rushing here there and everywhere getting ready for the winter and spinning jenny's start to fall from the trees. Gardeners everywhere begin the satisfying job of clearing the ground, preparing for the winter and children playing in the fresh autumn sunshine wear rosy cheeks and exhilarated smiles. The kitchen smells of wholesome cooking as fruit is turned into delicious crumbles or pies and surplus tomatoes and vegetables are turned into soups and chutneys.

    In celebration of autumn therefore, here are a few photos I have taken over the last couple weeks:

    Sunday 3 October 2010

    Home-made Tomato Ketchup

    This week we have been working our way through our home-made tomato ketchup and it is just delicious. Our tomato plants were over flowing with tomatoes so last weekend our Little Garden Helpers took their baskets outside and picked them all for us. They then washed them themselves, having a great time but creating something akin to a flood in our kitchen. Garden Girl also spotted all the ones that had gone a bit too squishy to use while Garden Boy sent them rolling over the table and floor. Then we popped them in a pan with a small bit of oil and cooked them enough to preserve them for the following day when Garden Dad used Jamie Oliver's recipe for Tomato Ketchup (to be found in his book 'Jamie at Home' which is my favourite recipe book) to make the delicious treat.

    The recipe made about a litre of tomato ketchup but it won't last long.We are all enjoying it with our meals and Garden Boy just dips his finger in it, not bothering with the rest of the food on his plate until he has finished his blob of ketchup. We have been so impressed with this recipe we are not making chutney at all this year but will even be using our green tomatoes to make a second batch of this, which is sure to be an even bigger delight for Garden Boy given that his favourite colour is green.

    If you want to try the recipe for yourselves you can find it on Jamie's website here:

    Wednesday 29 September 2010

    10 Things I Love To Do With Our Little Garden Helpers in the Garden

    I have been invited by p3chandan at Go Right in... My Garden to list 10 things I love to do so I thought it would be a good opportunity to tell you 10 things (in no particular order) I love to do in the garden with our Little Garden Helpers;
    1. Sow seeds; our little garden helpers always approach this with such studied care and attention and they listen attentively when I tell them what they are planting, what they need to do to help the seed grow into a plant and what the plant will look like.
    2. Lying on our backs and finding pictures in the clouds. This is great for their imagination and also a fabulous way of getting them to calm down after energetic outdoor play. It also gives me a great insight into how their minds work.
    3. Pulling up weeds; If you are regular reader of my blog you will know that I dislike weeding, but having the company of our Little Garden Helpers really livens up a dreary task. We sing songs, hold each others waists and all tug together on really tough weeds, falling backwards in a heap of laughter (usually leaving behind all the roots but having fun regardless). We pick the pretty weeds and put them in water to decorate our kitchen table and stop to eat ice lollies when we just can't be bothered to carry on.
    4. Jumping in puddles. If he spots the rain, Garden Boy runs to get his wellies and we all head outside for the sole purpose of jumping in puddles. I need very little encouragement to join in.
    5. Creating archaeological excavations for our Little Garden Helpers, then visiting their Wendy House Museum. They love to do what Mummy used to do and take their displays very seriously!
    6. Harvesting vegetables and fruit. They are so eager to help pick, carrying their baskets or buckets and filling them up till they can't really carry them. They always sneak a taste of the strawberries and tomatoes (often devouring the strawberries before they make it indoors) and scrabble to have the biggest marrow in their bucket. They also enjoy the search to find things that are ready to harvest and they are so good at finding the ripe tomatoes now that I can leave them to harvest them themselves now, a responsibility that they absolutely love.
    7. Searching for Garden Bugs. They get so excited when they spot their favourites like butterflies, caterpillars, ladybirds and worms. Garden Boy is particularly good at spotting insects and will insist that everyone comes to have a look his ladybirds (he always refers to them as his!).
    8. Digging. Watching them dig is a little pleasure of mine. Garden Girl concentrates on one spot, digging it over carefully, over and over again creating the one perfect spot for growing, all be it big enough for one carrot. Garden Boy on the other hand digs everywhere he can and everywhere he shouldn't. Soil flies over his shoulders and leaves a film on his head and beware anyone digging close by!
    9. Cleaning things - the greenhouse, plant pots, potting benches. We get very, very wet but have a lot of giggles and I know cleaning stuff at the end of a season would be a very dull task without the extra bubbles, the water fights, or muddy puddles created by the tipped over buckets of water. 
    10. Sitting on the patio with a hot drink (coffee for me, hot chocolate for the children) and talking about our day.
    I should pass this on to 10 more people but instead I will invite you all to join in if you want to.

    Wednesday 22 September 2010

    A Sensory Tour of the Garden

    We probably should have been doing something useful in the garden this week, especially today with the wonderful autumn sunshine. However we got distracted. You see Garden Girl has been learning all about her senses at nursery school this week. So when we went out into the garden with all the very best intentions and got a lovely waft of the hundreds of tomatoes we really ought to pick I was inspired to take my Little Garden Helpers on a sensory tour of the garden.

    I blindfolded Garden Girl and guided her to various parts of the garden where she was under instructions to take a deep sniff and see if she could guess what she was standing in front of using her sense of smell. Garden Boy protested when I tried to blindfold him so instead he agreed to offer clues to Garden Girl if she was struggling to guess. The herb bed was our first port of call where she guessed Lavender and Rosemary with no problems. She eventually guessed oregano when I gave her the clue pizza. Garden Boy's clue of pointing at it and saying 'It that,' strangely didn't help.

    We also tasted many things without looking. Garden Boy was quite a bit more eager to close his eyes when the offer was food! We tasted tomatoes, loads of herbs, one of our tiny carrots and cucumber. And just for fun I threw in a spoonful of chocolate spread which was met with the response 'That's not from the garden silly' and 'more, please'. I will leave it to you to figure out which was Garden Girl and which was Garden Boy!

    Using the sense of touch in the garden was by far the most fun and by far the messiest. We felt dry soil and wet soil, water, leaves, flowers, stones, sticks, vegetables, garden tools, smooth wooden beds and rough wooden fences. We talked about the shapes we were feeling and whether things were soft, hard, rough or smooth. Garden Boy loved this and was really engaged by the activity but after touching the wet soil and thinking it was some sort of horrible slime Garden Girl was a bit more tentative.

    Using our eyes was also a great way for Garden Boy to explore the garden as he loves to show off his knowledge of colours and shapes and there is so much to see outdoors. I sent them off with little tasks, such as 'find three red things' or 'bring back something round'. They raced around trying to be the first one to find things which usually involved Garden Boy running around in circles on the spot, flapping his arms, for a few minutes before he finally ran off in a then surprisingly decisive direction.

    I left listening till last as it was a good one to calm them down after all the excitement. As we walked back to the patio we listened to the different sound our feet made on different surfaces then we sat quietly and listened to the leaves in the wind, the birds in the trees, people behind the house talking, a baby crying and cars brumming.

    Garden Lass looked all around her, watching from her perch in my arms my the whole time soaking up the sights, smells and sounds of the garden, learning with all her senses as babies do, until she fell asleep in time to sit quietly on the patio.

    A perfect afternoon.

    Saturday 18 September 2010

    Teach Your Toddler: Worms

    Now that our Little Garden Helpers are back at playgroup and nursery school the summer holidays seem an age away, but I still have one last week of garden bug activities to tell you about and this time it is worms; Long, thin, slimy ones, Short, fat, juicy ones and Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy wuzzy ones.

    Things to Tell Your Toddler
    • Worms help our plants to grow
    • By wiggling through the soil, worms create tunnels into which rainwater falls. These tunnels send water to plant roots.
    • Worms don't just move soil out of their way as they tunnel but they actually eat it as they move along.
    • Worms do not have teeth but small stones and fine grains of sand get lodged in a worms 'gizzard', the part of the body they use to chew. The stones and sand act like teeth, helping them to grind down the soil.
    • Worms digest leaf and plant bits, which when digested come out of the back end in small pellets which also help plants grow.
    • Worms also help plants grow by pushing dead leaves into the soil when they tunnel down from the surface. These leaves rot inside the soil and act as plant food. 
    • Worms also push seeds into the soil where they are more likely to grow into healthy plants.
    • Worms can tie themselves into knots.
    • Worms do not have legs. Instead they stretch forward as long as they can then pull in their tail ends to move along.
    • Worms have no eyes or ears. Instead it feels vibrations.
    • Like snails, worms dry out in the sunshine so they prefer the rain and hide in damp soil when the sun comes out. They also hide deep in the soil when the ground freezes.

    Activities We Did
    • We made our very own worm by stuffing a leg from a pair of tights with cotton wool then adding eyes, nose and hairy bits. In hindsight we should have also added coloured tissue paper to brighten up the worm but they loved stuffing the tights with cotton wool.
    • We made worm bookmarks using circles of shiny card. All our Little Garden Helpers had to do was glue them together and add faces. 
    • We created garden pictures with carrots and flowers growing in them and added holes for 'finger worms' to poke through. We had a lot of fun with these.   

    • We read 'William Worm' by Sheila Bird and Corinne Bittler, which all three of our Little Garden Helpers love, as well as Wiggling Worms at Work by Wendy Pfeffer and Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin which were great for teaching them about worms.
    • We looked in the garden for worms and watched them wriggle about. Garden Boy was even brave enough to touch one to feel for the rings on its body but Garden Girl was too squeamish to touch.
    • We restarted our wormery and made endless trips to rescue escaped worms.  
    • We wriggled around the room and sang worm poems. Why do they all involve eating worms? Garden Boy loves these poems and the idea of eating worms (although I think he enjoys the squirming, disgusted reaction he gets from Garden Girl when he pretends to eat them, as much as the thought itself!)
    • We indulged Garden Boys desire to eat worms and made 'worm rice crispie cakes' by adding sour worms to chocolate covered rice crispies, which we pretended was the soil. 

    • We ate spaghetti. 
    We have all had loads of fun learning about garden creatures this summer so despite the holidays being over I am sure we will continue to learn about more as we come across them in the garden. Given my inability to distinguish a frog from a toad I am thinking that they should be next on our list!

    Wednesday 15 September 2010

    Brown Frog/Toad

    Is it a frog? Or is it a toad? How can we tell the difference?

    The only thing I do know is that it should have been green. Garden Boy ran excitedly to see the frog when Uncle H called him to the garden, but hung his head sadly when it turned out not to be his favourite colour.

    Tuesday 14 September 2010


    Garden Dad picked Garden Girl up from nursery school today and walked back to his office through the park. On the way they collected their first conkers of the year and this brought back a few memories for me of playing conkers as a child and always being slightly scared of getting a broken finger. I was consequently never very good at it. Garden Dad on the other hand loves conkers. Every year he collects new conkers, plays conkers with his workmates and stores them for years to harden them up. In 2006 Garden Dad wrote his one and only blog post on his own blog and the subject was conkers. Here is an extract from that post;

    It is conker season here in the UK and I have been diligently collecting for the past month or so. However, I have only had the chance to play one game. And even then I don't know who won. The Apple Crumble Guy finished with a nine-er, so I guess he did. But I don't think that he necessarily won the most games, just the last one.

    I guess we were so eager to play we didn't think of who would end-up as the winner. Or more importantly, the loser.

    So I now have around 30 conkers in a cupboard at work, waiting for a game. It is starting to look like this might not happen this year. At least the longer I wait the harder the conkers get.

    Those conkers are still in his cupboard at work getting more and more lethal. Every year he threatens to get them out and play a tournament but I manage to persuade him to collect new ones. Its part of the fun after all and there is no chance in the world that I will play conkers against him while these maturing conkers still exist. I'll stick to playing with our Little Garden Helpers. 

    This post is just a reminder to Garden Dad to leave the 2006 conkers in their cupboard! 

    Friday 10 September 2010

    Talking trees

    When we were walking home from dropping Garden Girl off at nursery today Garden Boy insisted we stop at every single tree. And there are quite a few. The reason? Well apparently they were tallking to him. At the first tree he said 'Mummy, look. A talking tree.' What's the tree saying?' 'He wants a word with me' 'And what does he want a word about?' 'His leaves. They are falling off.' 'And did he tell you why?' At this poont Garden Boys eyes light up and he says 'Yes! For me for stamping in'. While Garden Boy stamped in circles on a scattering of leaves I asked him if the tree intended to drop more and he said 'Yes. Lots. Lots. Lots.' And so, with summer never really getting started, it would seem that autumn is already on its way. I have it on good authority from a wise old tree!

    Other trees waved at Garden Boy with their 'big green hands' and told him to look at the pretty flowers nearby. One tree told him a 'next door tree' didn' t have hands but feathers instead, leading to a conversation about the different shapes of leaves. Another tree said it had berries to feed the birds with and another had apples to feed Garden Boy with, although they were all bruised so we left them for the birds instead. Garden Boy very sternly told the tree to drop some nice ones next time!

    It was thrilling to see Garden Boy's imagination at work so vividly and also to discover what he knows about trees without any prompting. Wouldn't it be lovely if the trees really did send wise words our way as we walked by? Imagine the stories they could tell!
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    Thursday 9 September 2010

    New Growth

    At this time of year harvesting is the main task in the garden, along
    with clearing away old growth. It is nice therefore, to see some new growth in the garden. A couple of weekends ago I planted some salad leaves and some spring cabbage. The salad leaves are now starting to peep through the soil in nice neat rows because I planted them myself one afternoon when our Little Garden Helpers were out with Garden Dad. Neat rows that is, where Garden Boy didn't dig up the seeds to make sandcastles the following weekend. Thats what comes of working in the garden without my little helpers. They don' t know where they can dig and they don't have a sense of ownership over the new seeds. I'll make sure they help me next time.
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    Wednesday 8 September 2010

    Not In My Cuppa

    I was recently invited to go into London to see 100 'cows' escape onto the streets of London in protest over the proposed development of a 'mega dairy' and although I was unable to attend I believe that the issue they were raising is worthy of sharing. The WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) launched the campaign 'Not In My Cuppa' to raise awareness of what life would be like for the cows if Nocton Dairies are successful with their planning application for a 'mega dairy', as well as the implications for British Dairy farmers.

    A massive dairy such as this could potentially put over 100 smaller dairy farms out of operation and yet the UK is virtually self sufficient in milk so there is no real need for a new large dairy. Nocton Dairies will have a herd of 8100 cows which will be milked three times a day in comparison to the twice daily milking that is the norm for UK farms. The cows will be housed in small cubicles with time spent outdoors limited. The WSPA therefore have strong concerns for the welfare of these cows if the dairy gets the go ahead. In addition to this, there is the possibility that with reduced grazing times, the milk produced by these cows will contain fewer nutrients. Is this really the milk we want on our cereal or in our brew?

    To learn more about the 'not in my cuppa' campaign and to follow their progress visit the website at or sign up to follow them on twitter.
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    Tuesday 7 September 2010

    A Broken Laptop and a Big Day

    Our laptop keeps breaking down so when I came to post tonight I couldn't log on to the operating system. We are currently looking into getting a new hard drive but in the meantime I am relying on my new phone to post so I may only post briefly till it is fixed.

    Despite the computer breaking however we did have a good day today, although not in the garden. It was Garden Boy's first day at playgroup today and he loved it. Thats what comes of dropping his sister off there for so long. The only bit he didn't like was the songs at the end but that is nothing new. The only time I am allowed to sing to Garden Boy is at bedtime. At other times he just puts his hands over his ears and shouts 'STOP'!

    It was a big day for Garden Girl as well as her nursey school teachers came to meet her in preparation for her first day on Thursday. We will have to make the most of tomorrow because as of Thursday I lose one Little Garden Helper every morning and two some mornings. It will seem very quiet at home and I will have fewer excuses for not doing the weeding.
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    Monday 6 September 2010

    Odd Jobs and mushrooms

    This weekend Grandma and Grandad South came to visit so Garden Dad and Grandad South managed to get some odd jobs done. They fixed the garage roof which had sprung a leak, mowed the lawn, found a home for our roof box on the garage ceiling, finished mending Garden Dad's bike, fixed some broken toys and did some weeding.

    Our Little Garden Helpers and I also got our mushroom logs started. I received some mushroom plugs for Christmas but we never managed to find any freshly cut logs to put them in, so when we ordered our replacement worms we also ordered some ready plugged mushroom logs. I am too nervous about poisoning everyone to actually go foraging for mushrooms, so home-grown ones seemed a like a good option. We had to shock them to get them going, so we went to the shop to buy a couple of bags of ice which we had to put into standing water. Rather than waste water I decided to put them straight into the water butt.

    Then we needed to drop the logs from a couple of feet which I asked Garden Girl and Garden Boy to do for me.

    This shocks the mushrooms into starting to fruit, but to give them an even better start, they also need to be added to the ice cold water for 48 hours.

    Then all you need to do is remove them from the water and keep them in a cool, shady part of the garden. They grow best when kept moist so it is worth checking on them every now and them to make sure they haven't dried out. We should have mushrooms to harvest in 2-3 weeks.