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: