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Archive for January, 2012

It is very important that we all feed the birds especially at the moment during this cold snap although the weather this winter has been relatively mild so far. Your supply of food can save the lives of many birds. A survey last month revealed that 59% of people rarely or never feed the birds in the winter months. Many birds including the Blue Tit which only weighs one third of an ounce needs to eat 40% of their bodyweight just to stay alive in cold weather and they rely on us putting out food. It is vital to provide food on a daily basis as much of the birds energy can be used up searching for food.

Take a look at our great range of Bird Food and Bird Feeders they are all ideal for your garden birds.

Hygiene is very important so before you fill up your bird feeders it is a good idea to check if any remaining food has gone bad, if so this should be thrown away and the feeders given a good wash, I checked mine this week and found that this was the case, I think that during the mild and wet Christmas period the birds were not eating as much and so the food had started to go black and mouldy. You will also need to clean bird tables regularly as bird droppings can transmit disease especially if they are mixed with food and also discard any mouldy food left on the bird table.

A birdtable makes a useful and attractive feature

It is equally important to provide clean water for the birds both for drinking and also bathing this is essential to keep feathers in good condition, bird droppings can also accumulate in Bird Baths too and so these will need to be washed out regularly. During cold weather check that they have not frozen up, the addition of a tennis ball will help to prevent this.

Hanging Water Dish

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Why not take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2012 on Saturday 28th or Sunday 29th January it is free and will only take up an hour of your time. It is an excellent way to get all the family involved in nature and is very rewarding too and you may well spot some unusual or new bird species. Your results are used to help the birds by identifying any species that are in trouble so that they can then be helped.

Schools can also take part by doing the RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch this is from 16th to 30th January 2012 where a class or even the whole school can get involved. It is an activity that all ages and abilities can take part in and again will only take an hour. It is a brilliant way of getting to know the wildlife visiting your school grounds and also in turn thinking about how to encourage more.

Get prepared now by putting out lots of different types of bird food to encourage as many birds as you can, the more choice you provide the more species you may attract.

Seed Mixes are prepared using top quality high calorie ingredients and have been developed to appeal to, and benefit a wide variety of bird species all year round and include Everyday Seed Mix, High Energy Bird Mix, Bird Feeder Seed, Table Seed Mix, Gourmet Robin Food as well as Nyjer Seed and Sunflower Heart Seeds.

Table Seed Mix

High Fat content Bird Foods are also high in calories and include Peanut Cakes, Fat Balls and Suet Pellets with Insects and are excellent winter food.

High calorie Peanut Cakes

Live Mealworms are a natural food and relished by Robins, Blue Tits and other insect eating birds and should be provided when fresh.

Live Mealworms are loved by Blue Tits

Do not stop putting out food after the Birdwatch, as this should be done throughout the year to really help the birds.

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Leeks are a valuable and versatile ingredient in the kitchen delivering a huge amount of flavour and are often overlooked. If you have a glut of Leeks in the garden or allotment or are simply craving their delicious mild onion flavour why not give this recipe a go, it is a firm favourite at home.

Leeks ready to be harvested and cooked

Leek and Bacon Quiche

  • 350g Shortcrust Pasty or a shop bought cooked pastry case
  • 25g Butter
  • 3 Leeks chopped
  • 175g  Streaky Bacon chopped
  • 200ml Double Cream
  • 4 Eggs
  • 125g Cheddar Cheese grated
  • 2 tbsp fresh chopped Parsley

If you are not using a shop bought pastry case grease a 25cm flan tin with some of the butter, line with the shortcrust pastry and bake blind.

Heat the remainder of the butter in a frying pan and fry the leeks over a medium heat until soft and just turning brown, remove the leeks and set aside, now fry the bacon until crisp.

Beat together the cream and eggs, then stir in the leeks, bacon, grated cheese and parsley. Pour carefully into the pastry case and bake at 190C/375F/Gas mark 5 for approx 25 minutes or until golden brown and set.

Serve it hot or cold, it also makes a good addition to a lunchbox or a picnic.

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Every month we will be featuring a vegetable or fruit which is in season. This month it’s the Leek. The Leek is a very hardy vegetable withstanding all that the british winter weather can throw at it, yet it is an easy vegetable to grow and quite low maintenance, and will sit quite happily waiting to be harvested.

Cultivation

Leeks on the allotment ready to be picked

Leeks need a sunny site and well drained fertile soil, a raised bed would be ideal, dig in organic matter/ farmyard manure into the soil in the autumn and then a general fertilizer such as chicken manure at least a week before planting.

Seeds can be planted individually in seed cells or small pots in seed compost, cover lightly with seed compost or vermiculite and water well. Seeds can be germinated in a propagator (55-60F) and once through should be placed in a bright position (windowsill, frost free greenhouse or polytunnel). Once the young plants have a stem the thickness of a pencil they need to be hardened off and can then be transferred to their final planting position.

Leeks can be planted in rows and should be spaced out 15cm between plants and 30cm between rows. Make a hole using a dibber about 15cm deep and drop the plant into the bottom so that a little of the leaf is visible, water each well to settle the roots but do not fill the hole with soil. If there is a dry spell you may need to give the plants some extra water. You can feed the plants occasionally throughout the summer with chicken manure until the beginning of September and keep them weed free.

Harvesting

Leeks can be picked at any stage even if they are the thickness of a pencil (ideal for-stir fries or salads) or can be left longer to reach full size although there is some loss of flavour as their size increases. Never try to wrench the plant out of the soil lift gently with a fork, any excess leaves or roots can go into the compost bin.

Once harvested put the unwashed leeks in a plastic bag into the fridge where they will keep for up to 5 days. To clean your leek before eating one of the best ways is to slit down the middle with a knife and open them up under running water. If you have a glut or need the space Leeks can be frozen, simply clean them discarding the leaves and roots and chop the trunk of the stem into 2.5cm pieces before placing in a labelled freezer bag where they will keep in the freezer for 3 months.

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Have you started growing your own mushrooms at home yet? If not, why not give it a try using one of our mushroom growing kits and then you will be able to make your own truly homemade Mushroom Soup.

Small Mushroom Growing Kit

Mushroom Soup

  • 500g mushrooms cleaned and chopped
  • 90g butter
  • 2 medium onions chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic crushed
  • 2 tablespoon plain flour
  • 1 litre hot chicken stock
  • 4 tablespoons cream
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Chopped chives or parsley to garnish

Heat the butter in a pan cooking the onions and garlic until soft then add the mushrooms and cook on a high heat for 3 minutes stiring constantly. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and mix to combine, pour in the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Leave the soup to cool for 10 minutes before blending with a hand blender or food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, reheat the soup if necessary and stir in the cream, garnish with chopped chives or parsley and serve with crusty bread. Serves 4.

This soup is suitable for freezing in a plastic container should you have any left!

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A Happy New Gardening year to you all, although the weather over the festive period has been very unfavourable for outdoor gardening there are still things that can be grown indoors. One of my favourite things that I grew as a child were indoor mushrooms using a mushroom growing kit, this is very easy to do and very rewarding. Mushroom kits are available with either white or brown mushrooms which are both equally delicious. Mushrooms are excellent for children to grow and there is great excitement at looking in the box in the morning to find perfect edible mushrooms. 

White Button Mushroom Growing Kit

The mushroom growing kits include all the equipment and instructions that you need to get started including quality spawned compost, a growing container and culturals. The process involved is quite straightforward:

First moisten the casing layer contained in the black bag.

After an hour empty the bag over the compost in the growing container and spread out evenly using your fingertips slightly mixing into the compost underneath and leaving the surface rough.

Moisten the surface of the compost using a bottle sprayer.

Place the black plastic bag that contained the casing layer over the top of the kit and place in a warm environment for about a week until a white fluffy mycelium appears.

Remove the lid and place in a cooler draught free position checking daily that the contents do not dry out and using the bottle sprayer to keep the surface damp.

Mushrooms should begin to appear after about a week, these can be harvested when they are small or as large as you like.

The first crop of mushrooms can be harvested for about four days after this repeat the process for a second crop.

Mushrooms are very useful ingredient in many recipes but I think that one of the best ways to use them, if you have a plentiful supply, is a hearty and warming mushroom soup which is very welcome on these cold winter days.

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