Archive for February, 2009

I was reading in the press recently that during this much talked about credit crunch, the popularity of take away food is soaring.  Apparently as a nation we have forgotten how to cook, and as less people can afford to eat out, we are resorting to fast food instead.

Over the next few weeks we thought we would try to offer up some alternatives in the form of good value, delicious family recipes. 

These will take no more than a few minutes to prepare and all  have been tried and tested on my own family. 

Our first offering is a cream of onion soup.   Dora and Jemima tried it at the weekend, described it as deeeeeeeeeelicious and both asked for more, so I thought that was a pretty good recommendation.   I have also cooked this as a starter at a dinner party, so it’s pretty versatile.  All the ingredients cost less than £3 and the quantities here serve around 4 people.


700g onions
1 medium potato
2 leeks
1 clove garlic
A little butter
900 ml vegetable stock
Some cream

What to do

  1. Peel and chop all the vegetables
  2. Fry them in a pan with a little butter until they begin to soften
  3. Add the stock and simmer for 25 minutes or until the potato mashes easily with a fork
  4. Blend the soup
  5. If it is a little thick just add a bit more stock or a dash of milk (if you want it really creamy)
  6. Stir in a little cream before serving

My girls suggest serving it with some cheese on toast, as this goes well with the flavour of the onions and is so much yummier than normal bread.

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Here in Ribchester we have quite a community of gardeners with a wide range of expertise, and some of them have very kindly offered to share their experiences with us.  This week we have an interesting insight into making your own compost, written by local gardener and allotment holder Julie Cunliffe.  If you feel inspired why not take a look at our excellent range of compost bins.


“In my experience children are usually fascinated by the mini beasts to be found in the garden, particularly the earth worms.  Throughtout the generations their beneficial effects in the soil have been acknowledged and for a year or two now, we have been learning about the value of composting in converting organic waste from the kitchen and garden into a rich, dark growing media and liquid feed.”

“Worms benefit from a wide and varied diet, which can include cooked food scraps, vegetable peelings, shredded and scrunched paper and cardboard, tea leaves and coffee grounds, vacuum cleaner dust and hair, bread, pasta and rice, wool and cotton and dried and crushed egg shells (these help the worms digestion!).  As our local school pursues its ECO awards they too have been learning all about composting worms.”

“The compost produced is very rich in nutrients and organic matter and can be used as an excellent medium for growing plants.  It is rich in soluble plant foods and its fine and crumbly texture will greatly improve soil structure.  It can be used in all situations where compost is normally used, for example when planting seeds and shrubs; or as a top dressing for fast growing plants.”


“The micro-organisms present in worm compost are also useful in maintaining soil structure.  Used as a mulch around the plants base, it will both feed the plant and retain moisture for the roots.  When planting out seedlings, sprinkle a little along the bottom of the trench to give them the best start in life.”

“House plants in pots eventually use up the supply of fertilisers in their compost.  A top dressing with worm compost is an ideal way to replenishg the nutrients.

And when making compost, not only are you helping yourself, you will of course also be helping the environment by reducing the volume of organic waste being added to the nations landfill sites.  Organic waste in such tips is simply left to rot away, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere as it does so.

Setting up a composting system does involve an initial outlay but ours has proved to be low maintenance and very productive.”

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Having been involved with the Country Trust for over 25 years in the role of a ‘host’, I thought I would put a post on the blog to promote their work and to bring them to the attention of teachers in urban schools who, along with their pupils have become disconnected from the natural world and unaware of where their food comes from or how it is produced.


As teaching outside ‘the classroom’ has declined,  it is important to increase the flow of schoolchildren into the countryside to learn about farming, food, environment, history, geography and science.

The Country Trust’s scheme is simple, cost-effective and unique. They arrange for schools selected by the Trust from the disadvantaged inner city areas to visit hosts chosen by the Trust for their ability to offer children a stimulating glimpse of life in the countryside. The hosts make no charge for these visits, the Trust organises the visits and helps the schools with the cost of transport and accommodation.


The children and their teachers get the chance to spend a day in the countryside, visiting either farms or other places on interest – which for example, might for example have interesting wildlife for them to see. It ends up as a day they remember for a very long time – the thank you letters we receive from the pupils make the time and effort all worthwhile.

For many of the children (and their teachers), these visits can be the first time they have ever been on to a working farm and are often real eye openers, such as seeing a cow been milked.

We want our children to ‘Love their Environment’, however if they don’t fully appreciate it, they never will and this is why The Country Trust plays a very important role.

If you are a teacher or have children at an inner city school or in a socially deprived area,  please visit the Trust’s Website where you can find out more about what the Trust does, how to contact them and more importantly read some of the comments made by teachers, pupils and hosts.

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The CD ‘Buzzing’ by  Anneliese Emmans Dean arrived in the office this week and it has really got Sylvia buzzing! With the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth,  we should not forget that it was diversity and adaptations of this planets most abundant group, that kindled his theory of evolution.



It is a CD of poetry dedicated to all the ‘creepy crawlies’ we find in the garden, accompanied by photos of the  ‘subjects’ taken by Annelsie herself.

The “Buzzing” CD comprises 63 original poems written and performed by Anneliese, with musical stings by John Rayson, and a 16-page colour booklet including over 80 of Anneliese’s acclaimed close-up photos of garden mini-beasts.

Here’s a taster!

A heartfelt lament

It’s difficult being a dung-fly
It would be easy but for my name
If I weren’t called a dung-fly
I’d be free of this sense of shame

Maybe I’m just oversensitive
Maybe the others don’t care
But being named after cow poo
Well, I think that’s awfully unfair

Look, this is me on a foxglove
And here, on a pieris twig
I’m really quite cosmopolitan
But the nomenclaturists don’t give a fig

My Latin name’s not much better
In fact, it’s even worse
Scathophaga stercoraria
Not much short of a curse

Yes OK, I like dung, I admit it
I like it a lot, it’s true
But there’s more to life than cow pats
There’s more to me than poo

Future parents take note, I implore you
Think hard before naming your child
Choose a name that will bring them happiness
Not one that will drive them wild!

‘Copyright Anneliese Emmans Dean’

The CD is available from our website or you can visit Annelise’s blog to catch up on when and where she will performing her poetry.

This CD is a ‘National Insect Week’ Recommended Resource and will be an extreemly useful teaching tool.

Here are some comments!

“Anneliese Emmans Dean has discovered the poetry in insects and knows a lot about them as well.  She has the Buzz!”   Quentin Blake

‘Your Buzzing! CD is wonderful. We put it on in the office when someone needs cheering up. ‘Dung fly’ is a particular favourite!’
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust

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As the snow quietly descended over our part of Lancashire on Sunday afternoon, Dora and Jemima, the two younger members of the GardeningWithChildren team got out the cook books for an afternoon of baking.

Choosing a Recipe

Choosing a Recipe

They chose to make some very scrummy oaty biscuits which are a bit of a family favourite and also go down very well in the office!  They are also so easy to make, so hope you enjoy.


125 g rolled oats

125g plain flour

110g brown sugar

150g margarine or butter

1 egg

1/2 teasp baking soda

1/2 teasp vanilla essence

handfull of chocolate chips, raisens, or anything else you fancy

What to do

Stirring the Mixture

Stirring the Mixture

  1. Put everything into a large bowl and mix well.
  2. Take a spoonful of mixture at a time, make into a biscuity shape and place on a greased baking tray.
  3. Put the biscuits in the oven for around 20 minutes at 170 C
  4. Allow to cool and enjoy!

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Its the beginning of the gardening year and so we have got our heads together to come up with some top tips for those of you who might be thinking of starting a school garden for the first time in the Spring.

  • First things first, don’t be put off! It might feel like a big step and lots of work to start a school garden but don’t let that stop you.  There are lots of ways of keeping the work manageable and sharing the load with others and the rewards can be enormous for both children and adult helpers alike.  Plus there are some great ways of linking all that you do into the national curriculum and we have some helpful ideas on that so please take a look.
  • Look at what you have. Do you have any green space that can be turned into a garden?  Or do you want to start off with some patio planters, such as our potato growing kit or maybe a wooden salad bed or raised bed? Also think about access to water which will become more important in the drier weather, and also security if you are leaving tools and equipment outside.
  • Find some helpers.  If you don’t have much time or expertise think about finding helpers.  The great thing about school gardening is it’s a team effort, and can really build a great community spirit.  And you’ll be amazed at the skills and knowledge hidden amongst parents, grandparents, local allotment groups, gardening clubs, guiders and scouts etc.  Also think about having a rota for keeping essential tasks such as watering, going over the holidays
  • Do some planning.  This is essential for the smooth running of any project.   Think about what you would like to do, how long it will take, the materials you will need, how much help you will need and which children will do which activities etc.  We have lots of exciting activities simply explained on our fact sheets so take a look at these for inspiration.  Also think about costs and how you will go about funding your project.  We have lots of information on finding funding so take a look.
  • If  you are just starting out keep it simple. Choose a fairly easy growing project with a good chance of success.  When the kids get to reap the rewards a few months down the line they will be buzzing with enthusiasm and keen to do more.  In our What To Do This Term section we have carefully selected a good range of things to sow that are not too difficult, so this might give you some ideas.
  • Most importantly have fun.  Enjoy your successes, laugh a little about your failings and learn along the way.

Love Your Environment – Love Gardening With Children

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Hi everyone! We thought you’d love reading this post we received this week from Anthea Guthrie who contacted us regarding donating some of our fabulous children’s gardening products for a talk she’s going to be giving in April at the Cardiff RHS Show regarding her work at Heronbridge Special School. Anthea is an amazing garden designer and her passion for the subject is never ending!
This picture is the ‘Slugger Off’ Garden and to read lots more about it, simply click on the picture and you’ll go straight to the site.
The 'Slugger Off' Garden which will be recycled and planted back at Heronbridge Special School after the show.

The 'Slugger Off' Garden which will be recycled and planted back at Heronbridge Special School after the show.

“Running a special needs school kitchen garden is never dull – every week the children amaze me.  No matter what their challenges every child can join in in some way – favourites are sweeping up fallen leaves, watering in the rain and for a teenager in a wheelchair, a chance to show off his good upper body strength by digging.  Some kids are phobic about soil and dirt but seem happy to join in if they wear gloves.  If all a child can do is  point to the right place for someone else to plant a tree or scatter birdseed, they can all take part.
Huge excitement this week as the we are taking possession of an Eglu and it is time to go hen shopping.  We are also about to put up a wireless CCTV nest box in time for the first brood of the season, and install our new wormery.
Can’t wait for the first eggs!”

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