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Mud pie

When I was young we lived in a new build house, unlike todays new houses the back garden was still a building site when we moved in but it was great we had so much fun playing there covered in mud with our buckets, spades and watering cans, such happy memories.

As well as being lots of fun playing with mud has lots of health benefits too:

Mud makes you happy

Mud contains friendly soil bacteria which stimulate the body’s immune system and triggers the brain to release serotonin the endorphin which regulates our moods and makes us feel happy, regular mud play can reduce a child’s vulnerability to depression.

Mud reduces childhood illnesses

There is much research and evidence that living in a ‘clean’ environment is a contributor to increased levels of childhood illnesses, including immune disorders and allergies, early exposure to mud which contains bacteria and organisms boosts the immune system, reduces allergies and improves a child’s resistance to disease.

Mud aids creativity and development

There is no limit to the things you can make and do with mud, through play children develop fine and gross motor skills, sensory awareness, balance and coordination.

Mud connects you with nature

Mud play connects a child with nature and the environment which can lead to a lifelong passion and appreciation of the outdoors.

Here are some wonderful activities with mud:

Mud foot and hand prints

Fill a bucket with soil and water to a lovely squidgy consistency, first get your hands in and then your feet and make mud prints on the paving.

Mud painting

Put some water in a small pot/bucket and add some soil keep it thin and watery, dip in an old paintbrush and paint pictures, patterns or write words on the paving.

Mud Pies

Mix mud and water in a bucket so that it is really thick and can be scooped up, use to fill old foil pie tins or food containers, decorate with flowers or stones and then leave to ‘bake’ in the sun.

Mud creatures

Using a really thick mud mixture with very little water, grab a handful or a spade full and mould into a creature then add eyes/teeth or decorate with stones, twigs, flowers and leaves why not try a hedgehog, butterfly, beetle, snake or a fish.

Make a construction Site

More for boys and a perfect way to put their diggers and dumper trucks to good use.

Build a Mud castle

Apply the same construction techniques as with sand castles using a very thick mud mixture build it in the sun and allow it to dry/set and then see how long it will remain intact when it rains.

This week, before School starts, get in the garden and make some of your own happy mud memories.

Gill

Does every day seem the same?

Then why not have a ‘Green Day’, when you get up in the morning announce to your children that you are going ‘Green’, this is where your imagination plays a part and a bit of forward planning is advisable.

Here are some ideas for a ‘Green Day’:

  • Get dressed in green clothes.
  • Place a drop of food colouring in some milk so that you can have green milk with your cereal.
  • Go shopping for green and healthy food – Cucumber, Lettuce, Apples, Avocado, Kiwi Fruit, Peas in the Pod, Limes, Broccoli, Peppers, Courgettes, Cabbage, Celery.
  • Do some green ‘cooking’ – Make an Avocado Dip, a Green Jelly, an Apple Pie, Fairy Cakes with Green Icing and decorations and Green Cordial Ice Cubes.
  • Paint a picture using only green paint – You can make different shades of green by adding a bit of black or white paint.
  • Grow something green – Mustard and Cress Seeds are very fast to germinate, you can watch them growing day by day and can be eaten in about a week.
  • Go for a walk and collect green leaves, see how many different types you can find, take them home and make some leaf rubbing pictures with your green crayons.
  • At the end of the day have a lovely bath with some green bubble bath or add a few drops of green food colouring to the water.

Try the challenge again on another day with a different colour.

Why not use some of your fruit and vegetables to enter our free, fun face on a plate Summer Competition in the Gardening With Children Family Zone?

Vegetable face

Create a face on a plate using fruit and vegetables; it can be sad, happy or just silly it doesn’t have to be a person it can be an animal, bird, creature, an alien or a figment of your imagination, why not experiment you can send in as many entries as you like.

An Illuminated Minibeast Centre

The Illuminated Minibeast Centre - Solar Insect Theatre

Not only is it great for collecting and studying insects, it also features a solar light which glows in the dark and can attract moths.

The centre can be used in 3 ways

  1. For insect sample collection/ field trips
  2. General Insect Study
  3. Moth Study

Your minibeasts can be placed inside the study centre either via the opening top or through the opening side ports with the perspex windows, twigs and flower stems can also be put inside to provide a temporary habitat whilst you study your bugs and beasties. A rope handle makes the Minibeast Centre easy to carry so you’ll want to take it out and about to collect interesting creatures.
On the top of the Minibeast Centre is the solar lamp this is perfect for attracting night flying insects and bugs such moths and night flying beetles, make sure that the rechargeable battery gets a good charge by leaving the minibeast centre out in bright light during the day, in the evening open the side windows to allow the insects attracted by the light to enter the study chamber, release your creatures as soon as you have studied them.

The Minibeast Centre is made of slow-seasoned FSC timber so will be durable and not require any chemical treatments.

Take a photograph of your creation and send it to us with your details on the entry form (click here) to gill@gardeningwithchildren.co.uk or by post to Gardening with Children Family Competition, Gardening Works, Unit 1, Bee Mill, Ribchester, Preston PR3 3XJ by the closing date of Wednesday 31st August 2016.

Have fun

Gill

Black currants

This week on the allotment I have been picking the last of my Blackcurrants, once picked they then need sorting through to remove leaves, stems, squashed or bad berries and any unwanted creatures that have managed to find their way into the tub, I wash them in a colander and spread them out onto trays covered with kitchen roll to dry out before placing in containers and in to the freezer to use later on.

Blackcurrants are packed full of Vitamin C and potassium, hot blackcurrant juice is a long established remedy for sore throats as it contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. In Britain there are over 5,000 acres of Blackcurrant Bushes producing 30,000 tonnes of Blackcurrant although you won’t find many Blackcurrants for sale in shops the main reason being that 95% of the Blackcurrants grown in Britain are used to make a well-known Blackcurrant Cordial.

Blackcurrants are easy to grow in the garden and when established you can expect 4.5kg of fruit per bush, they can remain productive for 10-15 years. Blackcurrant bushes are widely available in garden centres, nurseries and online they are supplied either bare root or in containers, there are many different varieties available cropping from early July until late August giving you a long harvesting season.

Bare Root plants ideally should be planted November-March but not when the ground is waterlogged or frozen, container grown plants can be planted at any time of the year if the weather is suitable, leave 1.5m between each plant.

Choose a sunny, sheltered site which isn’t prone to waterlogging, if this is a problem grow in Raised Beds which have improved drainage, a few weeks before planting your fruit trees/bushes dig over the bed incorporating compost, well-rotted manure or garden compost, remove any weeds or large stones and sprinkle a general fertilizer on the surface. To protect your fruit crop from birds and animals consider planting your fruit bushes/canes inside a fruit cage, this will also protect any vegetable crops too.

To plant bare root plants dig a hole wide enough for the roots to spread out, the old soil mark on the stem needs to be at least 5cm deeper than it was originally, planting deeper encourages young vigorous shoots to grow from the base of the plant. Backfill the hole with the soil and some compost/well-rotted manure, firm in well and water.

Blackcurrants are produced on mature stems, each year between November and March prune out the oldest stems these are the ones that are very dark in colour and any that are weak, diseased, crossing and very low leaving an open bush, next year new stems will grow which will replace the old ones that you have removed. In Spring sprinkle a general fertilizer around the bush and then apply a thick mulch of garden compost or well rotted manure.

My Blackcurrants are destined to be used in delicious Crumbles or made into Blackcurrant Jelly, here is the recipe that I use for my Blackcurrant Jelly from the Certo website.

Ingredients

2 lb (900g) Blackcurrants
1 pint (600ml) Water
3 lb (1.4kg) Sugar
1⁄2 Bottle Certo

What you need to do

  1. Wash fruit and crush thoroughly.
  2. Put the fruit into a pan. Add the water bring to the boil then simmer covered for 10 minutes or until the skins are soft.
  3. Strain through a jelly bag and measure the juice into a pan. If necessary make up to 2 pints (1130ml) with water.
  4. Add the sugar and heat slowly stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved.
  5. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 1 minute.
  6. Add the Certo and continue boiling for 30 seconds.
  7. Remove from the heat, skim if necessary.
  8. Pot and cover in the usual way.

Makes 5lb of Jelly.

Delicious and a taste of Summer to enjoy throughout the year, a jar makes a lovely home-made gift.

Enjoy

Gill

Have you seen our new Gardening With Children Competition in the Family Zone?

Vegetable face

When we were young many of us will have been told not to play with our food, well now you can and you might even win a prize.

Create a face on a plate using fruit and vegetables; it can be sad, happy or just silly it doesn’t have to be a person it can be an animal, bird, creature, an alien or a figment of your imagination, why not experiment you can send in as many entries as you like.

An Illuminated Minibeast Centre

The Illuminated Minibeast Centre - Solar Insect Theatre

Not only is it great for collecting and studying insects, it also features a solar light which glows in the dark and can attract moths.

The centre can be used in 3 ways

  1. For insect sample collection/ field trips
  2. General Insect Study
  3. Moth Study

Your minibeasts can be placed inside the study centre either via the opening top or through the opening side ports with the perspex windows, twigs and flower stems can also be put inside to provide a temporary habitat whilst you study your bugs and beasties. A rope handle makes the Minibeast Centre easy to carry so you’ll want to take it out and about to collect interesting creatures.
On the top of the Minibeast Centre is the solar lamp this is perfect for attracting night flying insects and bugs such moths and night flying beetles, make sure that the rechargeable battery gets a good charge by leaving the minibeast centre out in bright light during the day, in the evening open the side windows to allow the insects attracted by the light to enter the study chamber, release your creatures as soon as you have studied them.

The Minibeast Centre is made of slow-seasoned FSC timber so will be durable and not require any chemical treatments.

Take a photograph of your creation and send it to us with your details on the entry form (click here) to gill@gardeningwithchildren.co.uk or by post to Gardening with Children Family Competition, Gardening Works, Unit 1, Bee Mill, Ribchester, Preston PR3 3XJ by the closing date of Wednesday 31st August 2016.

Have fun

Gill

Lavender Flowers

Summer is here, the weather is warm and the flowers are out in abundance, if you want to capture the essence of Summer to enjoy in Autumn and Winter why not have a go at making your own Potpourri?

What you will need

  • Fragrance/Essentisl Oils of choice – Lavender, Rose, Lemon
  • Flower petals – experiment with a wide variety
  • Whole Small flowers – Lavender, Buddleia, Verbena Bonariensis
  • Herbs – Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender
  • Whole Spices – Cinnamon Sticks, Cloves, Allspice
  • Glass beads, shells, pebbles/stones

What you need to do

  1. Pick your flowers/herbs in the morning once the dew has dried; handle them carefully to avoid bruising, choose those that are clean and pest and disease free and flowers that are newly opened, collect a generous amount as once dried the flowers and leaves will shrink in size.
  2. Arrange your flowers in a single layer, with space around each one, on trays covered with baking parchment or net/wire screens.
  3. To air dry place somewhere warm and dark that has good air circulation.
  4. Turn the flowers to help them to dry out, this usually takes 1-2 weeks, the petals are dried when they are crispy.
  5. Store your Potpourri in an airtight container or plastic bag, add 6 drops of your favourite fragrance oil, mix up and re-seal for a couple of hours for the scent to penetrate the mixture.
  6. Display your potpourri in small bowls and decorate with shells etc., top up with a few drops of the essential oil when required.

Keep fragrance/essential oils out of reach of children and pets and avoid contact with polished, painted and synthetic surfaces.

Lovely

Gill

Nettles

You may disagree with this statement but Nettles are valuable plants to have in the garden so read on…

Nettles are a good soil indicator

It may seem like nettles grow everywhere but they are quite fussy about the soil that they grow in and prefer a soil rich in phosphates and nitrogen, which indicates a fertile soil.

Use Nettles to feed your plants

To make a nitrogen rich liquid Nettle feed, cut nettle leaves/stalks into small pieces and place in a large container, weigh down with stones/bricks and cover with water, store the container somewhere out of the way as it will start to smell, leave for 3 to 4 weeks, to use dilute one part mixture with 10 parts water.

Nettles make compost quicker

Adding chopped up nettles (excluding the roots) to your Compost Bin will speed up the decomposition process, for best results mix them in thoroughly with different materials (wet, dry, soft and woody).

Peacock Butterfly Caterpillar on Nettles

Nettles are good for Butterflies and Moths

Many of our beautiful butterflies (Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell) and Moths (Burnished Brass, The Spectacle and Beautiful Golden Y) need Nettles; they lay their eggs on the underside of their leaves and are the food plant of their larvae (caterpillars).

Aphids love Nettles

This doesn’t sound beneficial but aphids are a valuable food source for many beneficial insects and birds, grow a clump to attract this nuisance pest away from your valuable plants/crops.

Nettles attract Ladybirds

Nettles are the first choice plant for Ladybirds to lay their eggs on, their Larvae will devour the aphids as well as Whitefly and Red Spider Mite, adult Ladybirds can eat 5,000 aphids in their year-long lifespan no wonder they are loved by gardeners.

Always wear gloves when handling Nettles, if you are unfortunate to get stung:

Can Dock leaves treat Nettle stings?

They do seem to grow near each other but does rubbing a nettle sting with a dock leaf actually work? Stinging nettles are covered by tiny hairs, when we brush against them the tips break off and pierce the skin releasing acids which cause inflammation and pain, it is said that the sap in a dock leaf is alkaline and by rubbing one on the affected area it will alleviate the symptoms, this does tend to work with me but if you google this there there are lots of articles for and against this method and as such very little medical evidence to back it up, it is recommended that you apply an antihistamine cream on the sting.

So when you are about to dig up that clump of Nettles pause and think if they could benefit your garden.

Love your environment

Gill

Sweetheart Strawberry

It’s Wimbledon fortnight and that usually means that Strawberries are ready for picking, the ones in my Strawberry Pot are ripe, delicious and big. This April I started afresh and planted it up with new one year plants which I bought online, it is recommended that you should replace Strawberry plants every three years as after this they will produce considerably less fruit and are more susceptible to disease, re-plant in new ground or if in containers in new compost.

Strawberries can be planted in the ground, raised beds or in containers (Strawberry tables, Strawberry bags/pots) which raise them off the ground and make them less accessible to pests such as slugs, snails and birds who always seem to find the ripe ones before you do, to further protect your delicious crops cover them with fleece or netting (make sure that it has a fine mesh and leave a big enough gap between the fruit and the net so that the birds cannot push their beaks through) or apply Copper slug and snail tape around the bottom of your container this will give out a small electrical charge which deters the slugs/snails from crossing.

Strawberry plants reproduce by sending out ‘runners’ in Summer, if your plants are young it is recommended that you remove these as they will weaken the plants but if your plants are ready for replacing you can propagate new plants by pinning down the runners where the leaves are growing into the soil or into pots, when they have rooted they can be cut from the parent plant and planted up in late Autumn or Spring.

Here is a delicious treat to enjoy whilst you are watching the tennis;

Strawberry Tarts

Ingredients

  • 55g (2oz) Caster Sugar
  • 225g (8oz) Strawberries washed, hulled and cut in half
  • A pack of ready-made Shortcrust Pastry
  • Lemon Curd
  • Icing Sugar to dust

What you need to do

  1. Roll out the pastry thinly, cut out 12 x 5cm discs and put into a lightly buttered and floured bun tray.
  2. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of each disc and some baking beans and bake for 12-15 minutes in a preheated oven 180C/350F/Gas 4, removing the beans and parchment paper for the last 4 minutes to lightly brown, remove and leave to cool.
  3. Heat the Caster Sugar in a pan until caramel has formed, add the berries and coat in the caramel.
  4. Put a teaspoon of Lemon Curd in the bottom of each pastry case then top with a Strawberry half.
  5. Dust with the Icing Sugar.

You may have enough pastry to make a double batch, 12 are not going to last long!

Enjoy

Gill

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