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Archive for September, 2012

Blackberries are plentiful this year and picking them is another of my favourite Autumn things to do, it is also the time when farmers begin to cut their hedges so to avoid disappointment a few years ago I planted a cultivated blackberry at the bottom of my garden and this year from late August I have been picking fruit every few days. Cultivated Blackberries are definitely worth growing, producing much larger berries than their wild cousins, and are often thornless making them child friendly.

Cultivated Blackberry ‘Black Satin’

Blackberries to me are the taste of Autumn, they can be made into lots of delicious deserts, I love their flavour but not really their seeds so when I have a good crop I make a batch of Blackberry Jelly which we all enjoy through the winter months. As I pick my Blackberries I freeze them in margarine cartons or ice cream tubs and when they have finished cropping I then make my Jelly.

Blackberry Jelly

Ingredients

  • 900g/2lb Blackberries (Fresh or frozen)
  • 150ml/1/4 pint Water
  • Granulated Sugar or Jam Sugar with added Pectin
  • Lemon Juice

Method

  1. Place the Blackberries in a pan with the water and simmer gently until very soft, press the fruit regularly.
  2. Strain through a jelly bag or muslin – I did this the first time but it took quite a while to drain through so now I press it through a sieve, although you do not get a clear liquid you do get more pulp and more taste.
  3. Measure the liquid and reheat in a clean pan.
  4. Add 450g/1lb sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice per 600ml/1pint of Blackberry liquid. If you are using frozen Blackberries you need to double the quantity of lemon juice. If you are using sugar containing pectin only add half the amount of lemon juice.
  5. Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. It is at this point that I taste some of the cooled liquid and if it is a little tart I add some extra sugar.
  6. Boil rapidly until a setting point is reached.
  7. Pour into hot jars and seal down.

To give you an idea of yield last year I used approx 5lb Blackberries which made approx 3 pints of liquid and filled 10 medium/small jars.

Blackberry jelly

Delicious on toast, crumpets, and in jam sandwiches, it is also nice warmed in the microwave and drizzled onto deserts, ice cream, yoghurt, porridge or rice pudding.

A jar makes a nice gift or add one to a homemade hamper of home grown produce for an unique Christmas present.

I still have a couple of jars left from last year which will tide me over until I make this year’s batch, making jam is a great way of preserving your precious fruit have a look at out website for more ways to preserve your crop and how to make harvesting and storing fruit easier and safer.

Gill

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Every year Lavender plants need pruning, which means cutting off this year’s flower stalks and about 2/3cm of this years green leafy stems, this encourages new growth and keeps the plants bushy and compact. Instead of putting the flowers into the compost bin make them into attractive Lavender Bags and fill your house with the fragrance of summer, they are very easy to do and perfect for children to make.

Lavender Flowers

What to do

  1. Trim your lavender on a dry day, tie in small bunches and leave to dry for a week or two in an airy place.
  2. Remove the flower heads from the lavender stems by rubbing them gently between your fingers into a dish.
  3. Cut some pretty cotton fabric, white muslin, organza or net into 15-20cm circles, use a dish as a template.
  4. Lay the circles out flat then place about 1 large tablespoon of lavender flower heads in the centre.
  5. Gently draw up the edges of the circle to make a bag and hold in place with a peg.
  6. Tie up the bag with ribbon, wool or string and make a pretty bow.
  7. If you want to hang the bags up tie on an extra length of ribbon/wool/string.
  8. To refresh your Lavender bags give then a good squeeze or to enhance their fragrance add a few drops of Lavendin Oil to the bags.

Lavender Bags

Pop one in your drawer or cupboard to deter insects.

They make lovely gifts or stocking fillers and are often used as wedding favours, why not make some to sell at a school fundraising event.

If you don’t have any Lavender plants in your garden dried Lavender Heads and Oils are available to buy.

Have a go, I made some for my wedding day and they were are great success.

Gill

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One of my favourite things about Autumn is going mushrooming, it is something that I have done since I was little and it’s something that I now do with Thomas. There’s a mix of excitement, anticipation and expectation as we put on our wellies and set off with our carrier bags but over the past few years there has also been disappointment too as they are now less common in our local fields.

Field Mushrooms are most commonly found after rain in fields and meadows that are grazed by horses, cattle or sheep or even in parks and lawns. The field mushroom has a beautiful white cap that grows from 3-10cm in diameter; it is umbrella shaped at first but flattens out as it grows. Underneath the cap are gills which are initially pink then change to red-brown and then dark brown as they mature. Field Mushrooms can be found from late Summer into Autumn and can be easily confused with other similar varieties which are poisonous, if you are in any doubt don’t pick or eat them.

Although I always love looking for mushrooms I have never really been keen on eating them afterwards.

My advice is to get out there, enjoy the hunt and the fresh air and make it into a fun family competition to see who can spot the first, the biggest, the smallest and the most mushrooms, take your camera with you.

Gill and Thomas, age 2, after a successful mushroom hunt

This photograph was taken in August 2006 and was the last time that we had a good mushroom season.

You can grow your own mushrooms at home with a Mushroom Kit and watch little white dots develop into white ‘buttons’ and then into white umbrellas, they grow like magic and are totally safe to eat. You will get that mix of excitement, anticipation and expectation as you take a peak at them first thing in the morning but of course you don’t need your wellies.

White Button Mushroom Kit

White Button Mushroom Kit

Have a go at growing your own; they are ideal for children and perfect for the winter months when getting out into the garden seems impossible.

Gill

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If you want an ‘early’ spring display and to fill the air with scent at Christmas now is the time to plant your indoor Hyacinth bulbs.

When choosing your bulbs buy the ‘prepared’ varieties, pick ones that are firm and show no signs of disease or damage, it is advisable to wear gloves when handling the bulbs as hyacinths can sometimes cause skin irritation. If you are planting a few bulbs in a bowl use all the same variety as different varieties can flower at different times.

The best compost to use is bulb compost, especially if your container does not have any drainage holes.

Wet the compost first and place some in the bottom of your bowl or pot.

Gently place your bulbs on the compost so that they are not touching each other or the sides of the pot.

Hyacinths can be grown in various containers

Place more compost around the bulbs to within 1cm of the top of the pot to allow for watering, the tops of the bulbs should be showing.

Place you bulbs somewhere dark and cool, about 9C, cover with a black plastic bag if there is any light, check your bulbs once a week and water lightly if the compost is drying out.

Once the shoots reach 4-5cm in height (approx. 10 weeks) bring the bulbs into the light, but not in direct sunlight and preferably away from a heat source, once the flowers have established you can move them to their final flowering positions, the flowers will last longer if they are kept in a cooler room.

Bulbs can be grown in clear plastic or glass vases or even on the top of a jam jar, this will allow you to watch their roots grow which is fascinating for children to see. Fill the vase/jam jar with water to just below the base of the bulb so that the bulb does not touch the water and follow the instructions as above, topping up with water if necessary but without it touching the base of the bulb.

Indoor Pink Hyacinth Basket

Indoor Pink Hyacinth Basket

Have a look at our new range of Indoor Bulb Growing Kits which contain all you need to grow a stunning display; they make a fabulous Christmas or Birthday Present or even a nice treat for yourself.

My bulbs are now nicely tucked away in the dark.

Gill

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If you are lucky enough to have a glut of tomatoes one of the best ways to use them is in some delicious Tomato Soup, I make some every year, if I have had a good crop, and freeze it to enjoy in the winter months, just one spoonful brings back that summer feeling, Thomas says it tastes better than the tinned alternative, a great compliment.

This recipe can be doubled or trebled depending on the availability of tomatoes and the size of your pan and freezer! I would recommend large fleshy tomatoes which have less seeds and juice, plum tomatoes give a good flavour too, I usually make my soup with the tomatoes that are ready often using a few different varieties. All quantities are approximate and can be adjusted to suit your own taste.

Thomas’s Favourite Tomato Soup

  • 3 lb ripe Tomatoes
  • 1 Large Onion
  • 1 Large Carrot
  • 2 tablespoons Tomato Puree
  • 1 tablespoon Garlic Puree
  • 2 pinches dried mixed herbs or fresh if available
  • 3/4 pint Vegetable Stock or Chicken Stock
  • Knob of Butter/Margarine
  1. Chop the onion and carrot and add to the pan with a knob of butter/margarine and cook until soft without browning.
  2. Wash and roughly chop your tomatoes and add to the pan with the remaining ingredients.
  3. Simmer for 30 – 45 minutes stirring regularly.
  4. Leave to cool slightly and then blend until smooth.
  5. Taste and add seasoning if required, if it tastes a bit tart you can add a little bit of sugar.
  6. It is at this stage that I sieve the soup which removes the skin and the seeds but if you don’t mind these your soup is ready to eat or leave to cool and then freeze.
  7. I freeze my soup in margarine tubs, a 500g tub holds about the same as a standard size tin of soup.
  8. It will keep in the freezer for 6 months.

This soup is delicious served with crusty bread or our favourite Home made Garlic Bread.

Enjoy

Gill

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Thank you to everyone that took part in our June/July 2012 Competitions on the theme of Butterflies, we were inundated with entries, which just goes to show how popular these stunning creatures are.

The Schools Competition was a Butterfly Wordsearch and was won by Blaengarw Primary School, Bridgend, South Wales whose correct entry was the first to be pulled out of the hat. Their prizes of a Solar Insect Theatre and a Butterfly and Moth Feeder are on their way, we hope that they will enjoy these great wildlife prizes.

Butterfly and Moth Feeder

Butterfly and Moth feeder

Solar Insect Theatre

Solar Insect Theatre

Butterfly/Bee Nectar Feeding Station

Butterfly/Bee Nectar Feeding Station

The Family Competition was to fill in the missing colours to complete the butterfly names and the winning entry was by Lily Boyd from Ipswich, well done Lily. We hope her prizes of a Solar Insect Theatre and a Butterfly/Bee Nectar Feeding Station attract lots of Insects and Butterflies to her garden.

 

Why not have a go at our new competitions:

In the School Zone you could win a Hedgehog Kit which includes a Hogitat Hedgehog House, a Hedgehog Guide, a Hedgehog Snack Feeding Bowl and some Hedgehog Food by completing the Hedgehog Wordsearch.

In the Family/Kids Zone you could win a Mini Bug Bug Box, a Mini Bug Ladybird Tower and a Minibeast Guide to help you to identify the bugs in your garden by completing our Who am I? Wildlife Quiz.

Good Luck

Gill

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Collecting seeds is a wonderful thing to do with children and they will learn where seeds come from. Not only will they be rewarded with free seeds but also lots of free plants too in spring and with the satisfaction that they have grown them themselves from ‘their’ seed.

Some of the most rewarding and valuable seeds to collect are from Wildflowers and Nectar Rich plants which provide food for our bees, butterflies and pollinating insects, by growing these you will be giving back to nature and enriching your environment.
 
Here are some of the many plants that are beneficial to insects: Buddleia, Ox Eye Daisy, Borage, Verbena Bonariensis, Evening Primrose, Calendula, French Marigold, Teasel, Thistles, Foxglove, Cornflower.

Ox Eye Daisy

Where to look for seeds
The best places to find wildflowers are in uncultivated areas such as on grass verges, under hedges, on the edges of parks/playing fields (where the grass cutters can’t reach), church yards and farmland that is grazed. Nectar rich flowers can usually be found in gardens. You may need to ask the landowners permission before entering their land to collect seed.
 
How to collect seed
You will need paper bags or envelopes, scissors and a pencil.
Some seed heads will shed their seeds very easily, simply empty their contents into your bag, or cut off the ripe seed head/pod and place in your bag then write the plant name on the bag and also where it was growing in sun/shade or in dry/wet soil this will help you when you grow your new plants next year. If some of the seed heads/pods are damp, lay them out on paper to dry before removing the seeds. If you are not sure of the name of the plant cut off the seed head/pods and a leaf or take a photograph so that you can identify it later.

Evening Primrose

Storing your seed
Some of the seeds will need to be cleaned by removing the husk and extracting the seeds from their pods/seed heads as these may contain small insects too. Place your dry seeds in a cold, dry and dark place until February/March. This can be in a container in the fridge so that they go through the natural cold winter conditions. It can be in a sealed tin (which will protect them from insects and animals) in the shed, but dry, cold and dark is important. If they get wet or warm they may start germinating and if it is too early for spring they will not survive.
Some seeds can be toxic, take care when collecting seed and always wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
 

Seed storage tins

 
Join The Recycleworks Wildflower Seed Project 2012/2013
Schools or Community Associations that support children can register FREE to The Recycleworks Wildflower Seed Project 2012/2013 and they will receive 5 FREE Seed Collecting Tins to store their valuable seed until the spring, when they will receive details of a ‘Wildflower Seed Propagating Kit’ containing everything needed to sow and grow their wildflower seeds as well as sowing and cultivation instructions. Click here for more information.
 
So make the most of this lovely weather and collect some wildflower seeds
 
Gill

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