Sunday, 1 March 2015

Time To Grow Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a must for any garden food grower. They are so easy to do and the rewards well outweigh the effort.

I start mine off in little pots with compost. I use seeds from a supermarket tomato. I can highly recommend Marks and Spencers' Italian cherry variety.

Drop on the top of a pot and when they sprout pull out excess seedlings - keeping only the strongest in a single pot.

I keep the pots inside as they sprout and when the roots fill the pot, I pot up into bigger pots - again and again with them eventually getting large pots.

As the frosts fade away - normally in May - I slowly introduce them to the outdoors. A few hours at a time and then eventually all day and finally all night. Now I have a greenhouse, I may add an extra stage and transfer them to a greenhouse before they find their home outside against a sunny wall.

Water well and when they start producing flowers, feed with liquid tomato feed.

Pinch out side shoots and give them a good support - maybe tie up against a trellis and use bamboo canes.

Spend the rest of the summer eating them daily until they inevitably come down with a bit of blight. You can even keep this at bay by cutting off brown and yellow leaves and burning them.

Bliss - so what are you waiting for? Get spreading those seeds.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Kale and Broccoli soup

After a cold and frosty morning putting up the new greenhouse - there's nothing better than some hot, steaming curly Kale and broccoli soup.

Cavolo Nero (Kale) is a stable in our garden. It's cut and come again, perennial and lasts through the Winter. It's so easy to grow - no edible garden should be without it.

A bunch of kale chopped up with a head of broccoli, an onion, two garlic cloves and a couple of pints of good chicken stock.

A blitz with the blender and a run through the sieve and there's a quick warming Winter soup.

How To Recycle Last Year's Christmas Tree

I've had my eye on last year's Christmas tree for a while.

Ragged and sad down the side of the shed, the old tree was just waiting for a new life.

So I dragged it out, to the amusement of the neighbours, and spent an entire day, dusting off the cobwebs and handpicking off every pine needle until the tree was a skeleton of bare wood.

With a can of white spray paint and a week inside to dry off, we now have a beautiful and unique tree - with no lounge full of pine needles.

I've got to admit I love it a lot....The best bit, we didn't have to lug home a tree down the high street ......and even better, it was free.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Homemade And Homegrown Christmas Gift Ideas

Here's some lovely homemade Christmas ideas.

Painted blackboard 

Find an old picture frame, replace the back with a piece of MDF and paint with blackboard paint.
Instructions here

Patchwork quilt 

Something that could last a lifetime. I was inspired after I saw a friend make a beautiful one for her granddaughter recently. Gather some old fabric, some padding, a rotary cutter and measuring cutting board and an old sewing machine on Ebay.
Good instructions here

Handmade soap 

 It’s easy to make and you know what’s going into it. It also looks good in your bathroom. Instructions here

Fat balls for birds 

This is a great present for the older people in your life. I know my nan and granddad will get more pleasure out of seeing the birds in the garden than hankies and socks. The cheapest place I've found for bird feed is Pets At Home. You can buy a mammoth 25kg bag for £15.
Instructions here

Homemade and homegrown chutney 

 What can be better for all your Christmas cold cuts than a good pile of chutney. I love this recipe by Nigella for Christmas chutney but you could make chutney’s with any leftover veg.
Recipe here

Vanilla Lavender Relaxing Facial Scrub 

Scrub can cost a fortune in the department stores but why not make your own. Mix one cup of white sugar, 1/2 cup almond oil, 1/2 tsp Vitamin E oil, 1/2 tsp real vanilla extract and 15 drops lavender essential oil. It will last for up to two months. The Wellness Mama blog is very good for homemade face and body products. 

DIY Ipad case 

Some felt sown down the sides, some feature buttons and you have an attractive and practical gift. Instructions here

Homemade jam 

 If you have a fruit tree or two, what better to ensure your produce isn’t wasted than to make a delicious jam. Jam is so easy to make and can be kept in the cupboard for up to six months. 
Recipe here

Make Fudge or Tablet 

My nan loved Scottish Tablet and I remember spending hours stirring it up on the cooker when I was younger. Try not to eat it all before you hand it over. 
Recipe here


Not everyone likes this crunchy biscuit but it's a great gift for anyone who loves a coffee and all things Italian. It's so easy to make and you can add most things to vary the flavour. I love a Nigella recipe. 
Recipe here

Preserved lemons 

In rice, on top of white fish, in a Moroccan tagine. Preserved lemons add flavour to so many dishes and are a great way to use up excess lemons. Quarter the lemons leaving the e intact so that the lemon is still in one piece. Fill each cut with salt and seal. Repeat with several lemons. Put the lemons in a sterilised jam jar and fill the jar with the juice from further lemons so that the juice covers the lemons. Use a piece of baking paper between the jam jar lid and lemon juice to avoid rusting. Within a month the lemons will be soft and ready to eat.

Instagram coasters 

I loved these Instagram coasters. They are now being widely sold but they are easy to make yourself. 
Instructions here

Cement tea lights 

They look lie something from a designer home store and who doesn’t love a candle? 
Instructions here

Chalkboard mugs 

If you've already bought some blackboard paint why not use it up on old mugs so loved ones can leave a message on the money cup of tea or coffee. There's always mugs in the local charity shop. 
Instructions here

100 Best Books 

I did this once for my Grandad. I took the BBC Good Read list and attempted to source as many of these books as possible from charity shops. It's the gift that keeps on giving - he's now lent many of them to me. 
Here's the 100 best books list, voted by the British public

Why I Don't Want You To Buy Me A Christmas Present

This morning the news carried stories of people fighting in the streets as they compete for so-called bargains. 

People have been convinced that they should buy, buy, buy so that retailers can max their profits further. 

In the run up to Christmas many will max their credit cards to buy anything so they have a gift to give. 

 It all makes me feel a bit sick. Debt, stress, illness and all in the name of having a nice time with those you love. It’s a vicious cycle and one we all perpetuate year after year. 

 I don't want my mum to work longer hours. I don't want my brother to worry about how to pay off his credit card in January or for my friends to forgo days out with their children until March as they are all spent up. Plus I want my nieces, nephews and godchildren to grow up appreciating the little things in life - not to want material things all the time. I want them to cherish and appreciate what they have. 

So this year I’ve decided to approach Christmas with a more personal, handmade and sustainable feel.

I want my family and friends to receive gifts from me that won’t harm their skin, their health, put me into debt and end up at the back of the cupboard or in the bin.  

My brother and his wife have for a long time given lovely gifts of home-grown and home brewed ale, jams and cakes and I've always loved the gifts full of time, love and thoughtfullness. 

So please send me your ideas. What have your nicest gifts been? What would you really want at Christmas and how do we escpate this vicious cycle of debt, greed and excess? 

 My next blog will be a summary of the best handmade Christmas ideas I've found.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Hydrangeas For Cut Flowers

They're out of fashion but I don't care.

I have a garden full of hydrangeas.

Beautiful blooms all Summer - every garden needs a hydrangea .......or ten.
They take so easily from cuttings.

I love this white hydrangea - Endless Summer

And they are even good when the season ends. Cut them when they start drying up and they look lovely in the home.