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If you need a gentle reminder, tomorrow (9th February) is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day.

I do love Pancakes, whether they are sweet or savoury, they are delicious and a real treat? The only down side if that you can only make one or two (if you have two frying pans) at a time and you have to keep your eye on them as they cook, I am always looking for different recipes and thought this one was a great idea, it’s perfect if you have a large family as you can make a few trays at once, which they will all be ready in approx. 10 minutes.

This recipe and photograph is taken from the website of Booths who are a chain of family owned independent quality food and drink stores that are based in the North West.

 

Pancake Mini Muffins

Mini Pancake Bites

Ingredients

  • Vegetable Oil for greasing
  • 125g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 60ml milk
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 25g butter melted

Fillings:

  • Chocolate chips
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4.
  2. Grease a 12 hole mini muffin tin lightly with the vegetable oil.
  3. Place the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sugar in a bowl.
  4. Crack the egg into a jug and whisk with the milk, maple syrup and melted butter.
  5. Pour this egg mixture into the flour mixture and whisk in well until you have a smooth, thickened batter.
  6. Fill each muffin hole a third full with the mixture.
  7. Push your chosen fillings into the mixture.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes until golden and puffed up.
  9. Tip out and serve warm with a maple syrup dip, cream, ice cream, yoghurt, crème fraiche, custard, or a squeeze of lemon or orange juice, sprinkle with caster sugar or drizzle with syrup or honey.

This amount of mixture will make 12 mini pancakes.

I will definitely give this one a try; it’s an easy, fast way to make delicious treats, why not have a go at making them at School?

Happy Pancake Day

Gill

P1010328_jpg%203(1)

Snowdrops are one of the earliest bulbs to flower and a welcome sight in the garden from January-March, their Latin or scientific name is Galanthus Nivalis which comes from the Greek words “Gala”, which means milk, and “anthos” which means flower, “Nivalis” originates from Latin and means snow, they also have many common and rather curious names including Candlemas Bells (Candlemas Day is 2 February), Mary’s Taper, Snow Piercer, February Fairmaids and Dingle-dangle.

There are hundreds of cultivated varieties including giant, double and rare yellow ones, some of which are worth a lot of money; in 2011 a single bulb was sold on an internet auction site for £350 breaking the previous record of £265, collectors of Snowdrops are called Galanthophiles.

If you want to grow Snowdrops they are best planted whilst they are actively growing this is either in pots or by lifting and splitting clumps that have just flowered (this is called ‘in the green’) these are available in garden centres or online, you may know a friend or neighbour who is dividing their clumps, often when a clump gets too big and compacted it will produce less flowers to remedy this it needs to be split up and replanted into smaller groups, dried bulbs are available to buy and plant in Autumn but can be difficult to grow.

Snowdrops prefer a semi-shaded spot in well drained but moist soil enriched with leaf mould or garden compost, it is important that the soil does not dry out in Summer, Snowdrops look attractive planted at the foot of trees or shrubs especially in a woodland setting.

Snowdrop bulbs are similar in appearance to shallots, don’t make this mistake as they are poisonous, they do however have beneficial medicinal properties, they contain Galanthamine which can be used to improve sleep and also in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease as it improves the working of certain receptors in the brain.

Snowdrops are extremely hardy they withstand snow, frost, wind, hail and rain and will appear every year and make you smile!

Plant some in your garden – you won’t be disappointed.

Gill

In the Wildflower meadow

There are very few areas in Britain that still have traditional Wildflower meadows, many fields have been swallowed up for intensive food production, housing or industrial developments or treated to remove ‘weeds’ and maximize grass production for grazing. You often see wildflowers on the grass verges alongside our roads and motorways but unfortunately these are often cut by the local Council when they are in flower and before they have a chance to set seed, they are not in a safe place where you can enjoy, study and take photographs of them.

The Solution

Create your own Wildflower meadow in your garden, school garden, on your balcony or within your community, there may even be a small area in your housing estate, park, sports field or care home that could be used (ask the landowners permission first).

Where

Garden Soil is ideal for native Wildflowers, grow in an empty patch/border or for a natural feel you could rake an area of your lawn to remove the grass or cut out and remove the grass turfs completely to expose the soil, if you only have a balcony or back yard they can be grown in containers (with drainage holes) preferably in an open and sunny position. To protect Wild flowers growing in the countryside from cross-pollination with packet seeds, please make sure that you don’t sow seeds in or near open countryside or near nature reserves.

How

Choose a day when the ground is not too wet or dry, start by removing all of the weeds, from small ones to deep rooted perennial weeds, use a spade or fork to dig out any deep roots completely, weeds will compete with your wildflowers. Rake over the ground until its fine and crumbly, removing any large clumps or stones. Scatter your seeds finely a little at a time so that they are evenly spread over the ground. Break up into crumbs and sprinkle some of the surrounding soil over the seeds, they do not need to be totally covered some seeds will germinate better if they are not buried. Water very carefully with a fine spray so that you do not disturb the seeds. To protect the area from birds, animals or from being walked on you may want to place bright tape around and across it, push in twiggy sticks or even add a scarecrow. Check on your seeds regularly and water if the soil looks dry.

The Benefits

As well as a stunning colourful display to enjoy, wildflowers are beneficial to wildlife too:

Bees – Main pollinators of flowering plants and very important for wild flowers and growing food.

Butterflies – Their numbers are in decline, they feed on nectar using their long proboscises, in particular yellow and purple flowers.

Moths – Feed on nectar from flowers, most are nocturnal but not all are, you may see the Hummingbird Hawk Moth or the pink and green Elephant Hawk Moth on your wild flowers.

Wasps – Many are pollinators and will eat bugs such as aphids.

Hoverflies – Adult Hoverflies feed on nectar and pollen, their larvae eat aphids.

Ladybirds – Their grey larvae are voracious feeders of aphids.

Caterpillars – Butterflies and Moths lay their eggs on the food plant that their larvae will feed on, these include many species of wild flowers.

Birds – Feed on the seed heads as well as the insects on the plants

Bats – Feed on flying insects attracted to the wildflowers.

Hedgehogs – Feed on the bugs and insects within your wildflower patch.

HEDGEHOG

What you need to do

Grow Wild is giving away 100,000 free wildflower seed kits with the aim of transforming local spaces with wildflowers, each kit contains enough seed for 10sqm, if your area is smaller than this pass on and share your seeds to transform another space, the kits contain seeds native to your location; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Register online on behalf of your group or local groups, before the closing date of midnight on 14th February 2016, for more information and to register visit growwilduk.com

Don’t delay – register today!

Gill

Wildlife World Urban Bird Feeder

This year the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch takes place on the weekend of 30th/31st January, it began in 1979 and is now one of the world’s largest wildlife surveys, last year 585,000 people took part and counted 8,546,845 birds. Each year the results are collated and are used to compare trends, monitor species, understand how birds are doing and take steps to put things right.

Here are last year’s (2015) top 10 birds

  1. House Sparrow
  2. Starling
  3. Blackbird
  4. Blue Tit
  5. Woodpigeon
  6. Chaffinch
  7. Robin
  8. Great Tit
  9. Gold Finch
  10. Collared Dove

In 2014 the House Sparrow also came top, and the same bird species were in the top 10 although some in a different position. Each year there are mixed results here are some winners and losers from 2015’s survey.

The Winners

  1. The Blackbird was the most widely spotted bird in your gardens, they were spotted in more than 90 per cent of your gardens in 2015.
  2. Robins have climbed three places to the number seven spot, in 2014 they were number 10, but just over 85 per cent of you saw them in 2015.
  3. Twice as many people saw Wrens in their garden in 2015 than in 2014, they were spotted by 35 per cent of you, the highest number since 2006.

The Losers

  1. Song Thrush sightings have declined again, an all-time low, they are currently in 22nd place, and like many of our favourite garden birds they remain on the red list.
  2. Greenfinches dropped dramatically to 25th place, the drop is likely due to Trichomonosis disease. You can help to fight this disease by giving your feeders, bird tables and bird baths a regular clean.
  3. Starling numbers have plummeted by 80% since the first RSPB Birdwatch in 1979, another red-listed species, the RSPB is urgently researching the reasons for their decline.

There are many birds on the red list which are familiar to us; it is hard to believe that they are in decline and in trouble here are some of them:

  • Curlew
  • Black Grouse
  • Woodcock
  • Starling
  • Puffin
  • Hen Harrier
  • Herring Gull
  • Turtle Dove
  • Willow Tit
  • Marsh Tit
  • Skylark
  • Fieldfare
  • Song Thrush
  • Cuckoo
  • House Sparrow
  • Redwing
  • Mistle Thrush
  • Nightingale
  • Tree Sparrow
  • Greenfinch

There is one bird mentioned above that you might think is listed by mistake, its the House Sparrow although it was top of the RSPB Birdwatch list for the last two years its numbers are still in decline, between 1977 and 2008 the House Sparrow population dramatically dropped by 71%.

All the birds that you spot this year are very important, and just as important are the birds that you don’t spot.

Take part in this year’s RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch – it’s lots of fun, educational and a great family activity. Schools can get involved too and take part in the RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch any day/time this term until 12th February for more details and to sign up visit the RSPB’s website.

If you want more information on Feeding Garden Birds click here to have a look at our guide.

Have a fabulous Bird Watching Weekend.

Gill

Are you a Primary School who would like to get the children involved in growing potatoes?

If you have answered yes to this question, then have a look at the Grow Your Own Potatoes website and register before Friday, January 29th 2016, for a potato growing pack containing all you need to grow potatoes at your School including: seed potatoes, grow bags, instructions, stickers and a weather chart, Schools can register up to 4 classes to take part!

Grow Your Own Potatoes (GYOP) was launched in 2005 and is now one of the largest growing projects of its kind with over 2 million children taking part and learning where potatoes come from, how they grow and how healthy they actually are.

If you tend and care for your potatoes and they grow well you can win prizes for:

  1. The heaviest crop of Rocket Potatoes
  2. The heaviest crop of the regional potato variety
  3. The heaviest individual potato grown
  4. The largest number of tubers (potatoes) produced from three seed potatoes

If you are entering the competition you will need to use the seed potatoes and the grow bags supplied in your Potato Growing Pack.

Visit the Grow your own Potatoes website for more information and to register your school.

If you are not a Primary School, but would still like to have fun growing potatoes here is what you will need:

Potato Growing Bag 40 Litre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What you need to do

  1. Once you get your ‘seed’ potatoes put them into egg trays/boxes with the ‘rose’ end upwards, this is where you might see tiny shoots or the ‘belly button’ end facing downwards and place them in a frost-free light (not sunny) room, this is called chitting and helps the potato to produce strong shoots, which speeds up growing once they are planted, when the shoots are about 2-3cm they are ready to plant.
  2. Fill your bag with compost to a depth of 10cm
  3. Place 4/5 seed potatoes, with the shoots facing upwards, on top of your compost equally spaced out so that they don’t touch each other.
  4. Add another 10 cm layer of good quality potting compost and water well.
  5. Position the bag somewhere sunny and sheltered, on cold nights cover the bag with protective Fleece to prevent frost damage.
  6. As the leaves emerge cover with more Compost and repeat until you reach the top of the bag.
  7. Potatoes need to be kept well watered but not soggy.
  • First Early varieties – plant from end of February until end of May, harvest in approx. 10 weeks
  • Second Early varieties – plant from March until late May, harvest in approx. 13 weeks
  • Early Maincrop varieties – planted from March until late May, harvest in approx. 15 weeks
  • Maincrop varieties – plant from March until mid May, harvest in approx. 20 weeks

Children love growing potatoes there is something magical about planting a potato, watering and feeding it and then when it has grown digging it up and finding lots more delicious potatoes.

So get growing and have some fun

Gill

 

At Christmas you may have been treated to some delicious exotic fruit to eat such as Avocado, Kiwi, Mango or even Papaya, I think it is fun letting children try new fruits and educational too:

  • Why not find out more about each fruit.
  • Where does it come from?
  • How does it grow?
  • What does the plant/tree look like?
  • Does it have lots of seeds or a single stone?
  • What do they look like?
  • Can we plant and grow them?

If you have an Avocado why not have a go at growing your own Avocado plant from the stone in the middle of the fruit.

Avodado plant

Avocado Stone

What you need to do

  1. Remove the stone (or pit) from the fruit and wash well to remove the soft green flesh, leave the brown skin intact.
  2. Dry with a paper towel then work out which is the top (where the shoot will grow from) and the bottom (where the roots will grow) of the stone, the slightly pointier end is the top, and the flat end is the bottom.
  3. Take three or four toothpicks and insert them firmly (about 1cm deep) into the stone at a slight downward angle, evenly spaced around its circumference.
  4. Suspend the stone on a glass (or large jam jar) filled with water so that the bottom of the stone is covered to a depth of 1 cm, change the water once or twice a week and top up if needed.
  5. Place the glass on a warm sunny windowsill, be patient germination can take 2-8 weeks, a crack should appear around the stone from which roots will appear at the base and a shoot at the top.
  6. When the shoot is about 15 cm tall pinch out the top set of leaves, this will encourage new growth and a bushy plant, in a few weeks when new leaves and roots have grown it is time to plant it.
  7. Take a plant pot (20-25cm across) and half fill with rich potting compost, gently lower your stone into the pot and carefully fill with compost around the roots, taking care not to damage them, tap the pot to remove any air pockets and gently firm the compost. The upper half of the stone should be above the compost.
  8. Water carefully so that you do not disturb the compost, it needs to be thoroughly moist but not soggy.
  9. Return your Avocado plant to its warm sunny windowsill and give it frequent light waterings as the compost dries out, to make a bushy plant when the shoots have grown 15 cm pinch out the top set of leaves, this will encourage the plant to produce side shoots and more leaves.

Why not also try growing your own Orange Tree from a pip, click here for more details.

Have fun

Gill

 

January 1st is the beginning of a New Year and a time for a fresh start and new beginnings. The New Year is celebrated differently across the world with many traditions dating back hundreds of years, like Christmas it is a time for family and friends to get together, often with a meal, games and fireworks at midnight.

In the UK many people observe ‘first footing’ this is traditionally done by a young, dark haired, good looking male who leaves the house before midnight and is the first person through the front door after New Year begins carrying gifts such as a piece of coal, money, bread and salt, this is believed to bring good luck, many of us sing Robert Burns ‘Auld Lang Syne’ which represents remembrance of old friends and times spent together with them.

In Denmark traditions involve leaping from chairs at midnight and smashing plates on friends’ doorsteps, this symbolises good wishes for the New Year.

In Austria New Year’s Eve is called Sylvesterabend which means Eve of Saint Sylvester, suckling pig and peppermint ice cream are eaten and marzipan or chocolate good luck charms of chimney sweeps, coins or horseshoes are exchanged.

In Germany molten lead is poured into cold water to see what shapes develop, heart shapes symbolize marriage, round shapes good luck and a ship means a journey. At their New Year’s Eve celebrations a bit of every sort of food served is left on their plate until after midnight as a way of ensuring a well-stocked larder, Carp is traditionally eaten which is thought to bring wealth.

In Brazil lentils are eaten as part of their New Year’s Eve meal they are a symbol of wealth and prosperity, in a ceremony dedicated to the god of water Yemanja, a priestess of the macumba voodoo cult, dressed in blue and white, pushes a sacrificial boat filled with jewellery, candles and flowers from Ipenama Beach to bring health, wealth and happiness.

In Greece, 1st January is St Basil’s Day, he is remembered for his kindness and generosity to the poor. Vassilopitta or St Basil’s Cake is prepared and contains a silver or gold coin, bringing luck for coming year to whoever finds the coin.

However you celebrate the New Year have a wonderful time.

Gill

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