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Archive for the ‘Seasonal Celebrations’ Category

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Last Saturday we went to our friend’s wedding, it was at a beautiful old hotel in the Forest of Bowland surrounded by glorious countryside, the weather couldn’t have been better it was calm, sunny and mild, the surrounding trees were looking at their best in stunning shades of gold, amber and red – it was perfect.

The groom is an Arboriculturalist, and trees played a part at their wedding, they were on the invitations, order of service and the menus, at the wedding breakfast each table had been named after a tree and at each place setting was a favour for each guest, it was a tree sapling beautifully presented in its own woven pouch. We were sat on the ‘Rowan’ table so received a Rowan tree, other tables included Beech, Sweet Chestnut, Hawthorn, Wild Cherry, Field Maple Oak, Crab Apple, Birch what a fantastic idea and a gift that will last a lifetime (ours, our children’s and grandchildren’s) it went down well with all the guests and everyone took their trees home.

Trees make a lovely and unusual gift they can be planted to mark a special occasion, the birth of a child, a wedding, birthday, retirement, mothers/fathers day, an anniversary, and also to remember someone by they are a powerful symbol representing eternity and life.

Growing your own trees

Now is the ideal time to grow your own trees, this year there is a bumper crop of tree seeds/fruits such as acorns, conkers, beech seeds and sycamore/maple/ash keys, most are now on the ground and ready to be collected. Choose seeds that are firm, undamaged and mould/disease free, place in a plastic back to retain their moisture before planting. Sow your seeds in trays, modules or pots depending on their size, in a mixture of 50% multi-purpose compost and 50% perlite or coarse grit, water the compost and allow to drain, sow your seeds to a depth of roughly the height of the seed, small seeds will only need covering lightly with compost, label with the variety and date.

To prevent the compost from drying out cover with an inflated plastic bags, cloche, plastic lid or sheet of clear Perspex, place on a cool windowsill, in a cold frame, greenhouse or polytunnel, keep the compost moist but not soggy. When your seedlings start to emerge remove the cover and when large enough (a good indicator is when you see roots growing through the bottom of the container) transplant into individual pots to grow on. In Spring harden them off and grow on outdoors, if they are large enough in Autumn plant out in their final growing position, this can be delayed a year or two to allow your trees to grow to a larger size, you will need to repot each year into a larger container to allow their roots to grow, container grown trees will need regular watering and feeding once a month with a liquid fertilizer.

If the weather is good this weekend get outdoors, collect and sow some tree seeds.

Gill

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red-tomato-chutney

This morning there is a faint smell of vinegar in our house, yesterday I made Red Tomato Chutney using the crops that I had grown, Tomatoes (Large fleshy beef variety that contain very little juice or seeds), Onions and Bramley Apples, I made a large batch which produced 13 jars of this wonderful chestnut brown preserve, it cannot be eaten straight away as most chutneys take time to mature and should be left for at least a month before opening, I like to leave mine a little longer and will be eating this at Christmas with the Turkey. There are so many variations of Chutneys I think it is a case of anything goes whether its fruit, vegetables or a combination of both, it’s a great way to use up the last of your crops or alternatively to make good use of a glut. The word ‘Chutney’ is derived from the Hindu word ‘chatni’ which means strongly spiced if you like lightly spiced chutney then this recipe is perfect for you.

Red Tomato Chutney

Ingredients

  • 900g/2lb Tomatoes (firm but ripe)
  • 450g/1lb Onions
  • 450g/1lb Cooking Apples (weight when peeled and cored)
  • 450ml/¾ pint Malt or Wine Vinegar (I used Malt)
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon Ground Mixed Spice
  • 350g/12oz Sugar
  • 300g/10oz Sultanas
  • Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

What you need to do

  1. Skin and chop the tomatoes, peel and finely chop the onions and the apples.
  2. Put all the ingredients into the preserving pan except for the sugar, sultanas and the seasoning, simmer gently until tender.
  3. Add the sugar and stir over a low heat until dissolved then put in the sultanas and seasoning.
  4. Simmer steadily, stirring regularly until it is the consistency of a thick jam.
  5. Spoon into hot sterilized jars, add a waxed circle and tighten the lid securely.
  6. Store in a dark, cool and dry place.

Notes:

  1. I made 2.5 times the above quantities in a large stainless steel pan 17cm high x 25cm diameter, this is the maximum volume that can be made in this size of pan.
  2. Once the sultanas have been added you need to stir the mixture regularly as they sink to the bottom and can burn.
  3. If the chutney is slow to reduce down to a jam consistency, spoon off some of the watery mixture from the top of the pan and sieve out the vinegar liquid returning any pulp to the pan.

Homemade chutneys, jams and preserves make a lovely personal gift, why not plan ahead and give friends/family a home produce hamper this Christmas.

Gill

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Autumn if traditionally Fungi or Mushroom time, yet we can buy White mushrooms all year round, they may just be another item on your shopping list but take a closer look they are quite intriguing.

Their scientific name is Agaricus bisporus they can be white or brown, when immature and white they may be known as ‘common mushroom’, ‘cultivated mushroom’, ‘button mushroom’ or ‘white mushroom’, when immature and brown they may be known as ‘chestnut mushroom’, ‘brown cap mushroom’, ‘Italian brown’ or ‘brown cap mushroom’, when they are mature and the cap flatter they are known as ‘Portobello mushrooms’, they are one of the most widely eaten types of mushroom in the world.

Mushrooms, often wrongly grouped with vegetables, are very healthy, they are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol free and very low in sodium yet they contain important nutrients such as Vitamin B (niacin, riboflavin), selenium, potassium and Vitamin D.

There are three main parts to the mushroom:

  1. The Cap or Pileus, which can grow to 5-10 centimetres in diameter, when it starts to grow it is like a small ball as it gets bigger it flattens out.
  2. Underneath the cap are the gills which are initially pink, they then turn red-brown and finally a dark brown this is where the spores are.
  3. The cylindrical stalk or stripe can grow up to 6cm tall and 1-2cm wide and has a ring around it.

Mushrooms grow from microscopic spores, each mushroom can have 16 million spores, although they are microscopic there is a way that you can see them with the naked eye by making a Mushroom Print.

What you will need

  • Some mature (flat) mushrooms
  • White paper
  • Cups/Glasses
  • Newspaper

What you need to do

  1. Place the white paper on top of the newspaper making sure that the newspaper is flat, (the brown colour of the mushrooms can go through the white paper and stain the surface underneath).
  2. Remove the stalk of the mushroom carefully and place the cap with the gills down on the white paper.
  3. Place a cup or glass over the cap to stop any air currents and leave for about 24 hours.
  4. Remove the cup/glass and carefully lift off the mushroom you should have a ‘print’ made from the spores, the print should look the same as the underside of the mushroom.

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Why not discover mushrooms today?

Have fun

Gill

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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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This Sunday (19th June) is Father’s Day, it is a special day when we show how much we love and appreciate our Dads and Grandads. My Dad is as passionate about gardening as I am which makes choosing a gift for him fairly easy, especially as I work at Gardening Works which has lots of great gardening products, here are my top ideas for Father’s Day gifts from Gardening Works.

 

UNDER £60

Standard Wooden Manger Planter (SM 60) £55.95

Stewart Premium Electric Thermostatic Electric Propagator £43.99

Stewart 52cm Premium Thermostatic Electric Propagator

EM Garden and Home Yoghurt Activator EM Fermenter £41.99

EM Garden & Home Yoghurt Activator Effective Microogamisms Fermentor

Garden Patio/BBQ Table £34.99

Garden Patio / BBQ Table

 

UNDER £30

Barnel Heavy Duty Precision Pruner £27.25

Barnel Heavy Duty Precision Pruner

Wildlife World Coniston Bird Bath £25.99

Wildlife World Coniston Bird Bath

Outside In Westminster Tower Wall Clock £24.95

Outside In Westminster Tower Wall Clock - 15" Black

Wildlife World Urban Bird Feeder £18.95

Wildlife World Urban Bird Feeder

 

UNDER £15

Rostaing Expert Premium Leather Gardening Gloves £14.99

Rostaing Expert Premium Leather Gardening Gloves

Burgon & Ball Potato Harvesting Scoop £12.95

Burgon & Ball Potato Harvesting Scoop

Large Nether Wallop Berry Picker £9.99

Nether Wallop Berry Picker

Stewarts Traditional 10 litre Watering Can £9.99

Stewarts Traditional Watering Can - 2L, 5L and 10L

Order early to avoid disappointment.

Have a lovely Father’s Day everyone.

Gill

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This year Moth Night takes place over 3 nights 9th-11th June, if you missed it last night you can still take part tonight or tomorrow night. Moth Night is organised by Atropos and Butterfly Conservation and is an annual celebration of moth recording throughout Britain and Ireland by enthusiasts with local events being held to raise awareness of moths.

Every year Moth Night has a theme, although recorders are always welcome and encouraged to do their own thing, this year’s theme is Hawk-moths.

Hawk-moths are spectacular, their name reflects their size and their powerful flight, in Britain there are 17 species of Hawk-moths, 9 are residents and 8 are migrants which fly from as far away as North Africa and the Canary Islands, not all of these moths fly at night the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk, the Broad-bordered Bee Hawk (which both resemble Bees) and the Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (which hovers to feed from nectar plants and looks and sounds like a humming-bird) fly during the day.

Hawk-moth caterpillars are just as spectacular as the moths, you might even call them slightly frightening, with spots, stripes and a spike like a tail at the back, they vary in size from 4.5cm (Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk) to an alarming 12cm (Death’s head Hawk-moth) they overwinter as pupae in the ground below their food plant.

This picture shows an Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar that we found in our garden in July 2014.

Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar July 14

This is what the caterpillar transformed into – a tropical looking Elephant Hawk-moth.

Elephant Hawk Moth

Last night we caught this Poplar Hawk-moth in our trap.

Poplar Hawk 10.6.16

This stunning Lime Hawk-moth was caught in the trap on Tuesday night it is a new species for us and we were very excited.

Lime Hawk 2 8.6.16 crop

If you want to read more on the Gardening With Children website about the moths that we have caught in our garden and how to make a simple moth trap click here.

You can take part in Moth Night in any way you choose, this might involve having a moth-trap in your garden or in the countryside, looking for moths at your kitchen window or at blossom, attending a public event, or travelling further afield to search for unusual species. You can still record a variety of species at light without a moth-trap by leaving outside and porch lights on after dark, check lighted windows and lit walls and fences for moths during the first two hours of darkness and again in the morning. Moth Night is a great opportunity to raise awareness about moths, so why not get family and friends involved in whatever you do?

Weather permitting let’s hope its a good weekend for Moths.

Gill

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The RSPB has launched the results of their 2016 Big Garden Birdwatch, during which a staggering 8,262,662 birds were counted, the top ten birds were:

  1. House Sparrow
  2. Starling
  3. Blue Tit
  4. Blackbird
  5. Woodpigeon
  6. Goldfinch
  7. Chaffinch
  8. Great Tit
  9. Robin
  10. Long-Tailed Tit

The House Sparrow remained at number one, around 4 House Sparrows were spotted in each garden, the Blackbird was the most widespread garden bird appearing in 88% of gardens, the Long-Tailed Tit was a new entry in tenth place, the RSPB commented that ‘January’s mild weather meant more smaller birds had survived the winter, and although natural food sources were plentiful, it’s clear these birds still rely on the food we put out in our gardens’.

We were fortunate to spend the Easter Weekend at Silverdale, whenever we go on holiday we always do our own Bird Species Count, the Silverdale area is ideal for birds with mixed habitats including, woodland, meadows, reedbeds, freshwater pools and on the coast saltwater lagoons and mud flats, we counted 67 different species in total which was amazing despite the mixed weather.

One of the highlights was seeing the first Sand Martin of the year, Sand Martins are just one of over 50 species of Summer migrants that come to our shores every year to breed, others include Swallows, House Martins, Swifts, Wheatear, Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers, Blackcap, Yellow Wagtail, Cuckoo and Spotted and Pied Flycatcher, they are lured back by the warm spring weather, longer days and our insects! Millions of birds visit each year usually arriving on the south coast first, then moving northwards, they have flown thousands of miles from as far away as Africa where they spent the Winter, and will return there in Autumn with their young.

During the Easter holidays if you want to help the birds in your garden why not:

Put out some bird feeders and a bird bath/water dish – different types of feeders and food will attract a wider range of species, birds need a source of fresh water to drink and to bathe in to keep their feathers in tip top condition.

Square Ground Bird Table

Square Ground Bird Table

Wildlife World Coniston Bird Bath

Coniston Bird Bath

Put up some nest boxes around your garden – nest boxes come in varying sizes and styles to suit different species of birds, put up a selection of boxes to encourage birds to nest in your garden.

CJ Wildlife Robin & Wren Nest Box

Robin & Wren Nest Box

CJ Wildlife House Martin Nest Box - Double Chamber

Double House Martin Nest Box

Finally, relax, watch and record the different species of birds that you see in your garden, on the park, during a walk, day out or on holiday – keep an eye out for our Summer migrants.

Have fun.

Gill

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Simnel Buns

Bake Simnel Cupcakes for Easter

Simnel Cake is an Easter time fruit cake that is made from white flour, sugar, butter, eggs, fragrant spices, dried fruits, zest and candied peel, Marzipan is used to decorate the top and often included in the middle of the cake.

The top is traditionally covered with a flat layer of Marzipan with eleven Marzipan balls placed in a circle to represent the true eleven disciples, Judas is omitted, a ball is sometimes added in the centre to represent Jesus or even Judas.

I often make Simnel Cake although I don’t include the Marzipan as not all of my family enjoys it; here is a recipe for Simnel Cupcakes without Marzipan which are perfect for Easter Parties or to take with you on a walk.

Ingredients

  • 150g Butter
  • 150g Caster Sugar
  • 4 Medium Eggs beaten
  • 200g Plain Flour
  • 1 tsp Mixed Spice
  • 1 tsp Baking powder
  • 200g Mixed dried fruit
  • 12 whole glace cherries
  • Zest and juice of a medium orange
  • 200g Icing Sugar
  • Silver Ball cake decorations

What you need to do

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/170F/Gas Mark 5 and line a Cupcake tray with 12 cases.
  2. Mix together the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy then gradually beat in the eggs.
  3. Sieve the flour, baking powder and the mixed spice, add gradually and gently stir into the butter mixture until fully combined then fold in the mixed fruit and the orange zest.
  4. Divide the mixture between the 12 muffin cases, then push a whole cherry into the middle of each one.
  5. Bake for approx. 25 minutes until risen, golden and firm to the touch, leave to cool.
  6. Mix together the icing sugar with just enough orange juice so that the icing is spreadable.
  7. Ice the top of your Simnel Cupcakes and then place 11 silver balls around the edge in a circle.
  8. Leave the icing to set and then enjoy.

Chicken 3

Make an Easter Chicken

What you will need

  • Paper plates
  • Black, Orange, Yellow/Red Felt tip Pens
  • Scissors
  • Sticky tape/Glue
  • Feathers

Chicken 1       Chicken 2

What you need to do

  1. Take a paper plate and fold in half.
  2. Cut another paper plate into 6 segments, on a segment draw the beak, comb (at the top of the head) and wattle (under the beak) and cut out.
  3. Cut a slit at one side on the crease of the folded paper plate, push the comb through it and stick down, then position and stick on the beak and the wattle, add another blob of glue where the head is and press together.
  4. Colour in its beak, comb and wattle, stick a feather on for its tail and draw on eyes and wings.
  5. You can of course paint or decorate your chicken further if you like, why not stick on the colourful foil wrapping from your Easter Eggs.

Egg faces

3 Amazing and Eggstraordinary facts about Eggs

1.   We all imagine that dinosaurs and their eggs were enormous, the largest dinosaur was the Argentinosaurus and was 37m long, yet its eggs were quite small in comparison they were only the size of a Rugby ball (30cm).

2.   Ostriches lay the largest birds’ eggs; they can be as big as a grapefruit and take 42 days to hatch.

3.   Hummingbirds lay the smallest bird’s eggs; they are the size of a pea and take 16-18 days to hatch.

Here are some silly egg yolks (jokes) to make you giggle

Q.   Why did the egg go to school?

       To get egg-u-cated!

Q.   Who tells the best egg jokes?

        Comedi-hens!

Q.   How did the egg climb the mountain?

        It scrambled up!

Q.   What do you call an egg that goes on safari?

        An eggs-plorer!

Q.   What day do eggs hate the most?

        Fry-day!

Q.    What happened to the egg when he was tickled too much?

        He cracked up!

Why not have a go at making up some more egg jokes

I hope that you all have a fun and enjoyable Easter

Gill

 

 

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This Sunday is Mother’s Day, it’s a day when we show our mums and grandmothers just how special they are and how much we love and appreciate them often by giving them a gift, bunch of flowers and a card.

I always think that home-made is much more special, here is a quick and easy idea for a bright and colourful card that you can make at home or at school with children of all ages.

Mothers Day Card 2016

What you will need

  • White or coloured card
  • Brown wrapping paper
  • Different coloured paints
  • Paper plates
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Felt Tip

What you need to do

  1. Place each colour of paint onto a separate paper plate.
  2. Fold your card in half.
  3. Dip your hand into the green paint so that your palm and fingers are evenly covered.
  4. Press your hand onto your folded card to leave a hand print this will be the stems of your flower, then wash your hands.
  5. Dip your thumb into your chosen colour of paint and make a round thumb print at the top of your green finger prints this is the centre of your flower.
  6. Dip the tips of your fingers in a different colour of paint and make finger prints around your thumb print to form petals then wash your hands and allow the paint to dry.
  7. Using coloured card or brown paper cut out a plant pot shape and fold over the top to form the rim of the pot, write on your message and stick your pot onto your card.

If your mum or grandma love gardening and wildlife, here are my favourite ideas for the perfect Mother’s Day gift:

 

Wooden Swing Seat Bird Feeder

A Wooden Swing Seat Bird Feeder

 

Marylebone Station Clock and Thermometer

 

Hard & Soft Cheese Making Kit - Extra

Cheese Making Kit

Stewart 52cm Premium Thermostatic Electric Propagator

Stewart Electric Propagator

 

Free Standing Wooden Plant or Vegetable Manger

Free Standing Wooden Plant or Vegetable Manger

 

I would like to wish all the Mums and Grandmas who are reading this a very happy Mother’s Day

Gill

 

 

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Here are 3 activities to get the kids outdoors and away from the television, games console or their phone:

DIY Build Your Own Bird Nest Box Kit

Build a nest box for your garden

This week is National Nest Box Week (14-21 February) and it’s the perfect time to put up nest boxes in your garden as many birds are now paired up and looking for a nest site. There are lots of different types of nest boxes available which are suitable for different species of birds, if you want to attract a good variety of birds why not put up a few different boxes, some species of birds like to build their nests near to each or in a colony these include House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows, House Martins and Swifts so put up 3 boxes together. If you want to get hands why not make your own Nest Box with a Build Your Own Nest Box Kit, it contains everything you need to make a nest box that is suitable for House Sparrows, Great Tits or Nuthatches, who will be first to make their home in your Nest Box?

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Make a Den

Go for a walk in the woods, there should be lots of dead twigs and branches on the ground that have been blown off in the recent windy weather, first collect the larger branches, place them upright with the tops together to form a wig warm shape this can be freestanding or around the trunk of a tree, if you have some rope tie these together, next find medium sized branches and place onto your structure to fill in the gaps, then collect smaller twigs and them leaves to camouflage it. Use your den as a hide to watch birds and wildlife. If the weather is cold and wet why not make an indoor den with clothes maidens, tables, sheets and pegs – behind the sofa is always a favourite spot.

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Skim Stones

Skimming stones can be tricky at first but with a bit of practice it can be easily achieved, for best results you need a calm sea, still river or pond/lake then you have to find the ‘right’ stone it should be smooth, round and flat, the flatter the stone the better, throw your stone hard, low and horizontally and it should bounce across the surface of the water, large bounces at first getting smaller until finally it disappears into the water. Have a competition with family or friends to see who can get the most bounces.

Lets hope that the weather is kind to all of us this week

Have a great holiday

Gill

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