Catching up!

Posted By admin on September 11, 2009

Well, despite all good intentions, it all got away from us. We have been so busy in the garden that time on the computer has become a hazy memory!

This year we decided to part company with a huge chunk of lawn and dug it up to plant spuds. We grew First Earlies, Pink Fir Apple (which became known here as Pink Fur Ball) and King Edward maincrop. We harvested over 100lbs of spuds from that! The other spare lawn was given over to a raised bed, constructed of breeze blocks and filled with home made compost from our ten compost bins. This became the outdoor tomato bed, as the greenhouse was full of pepper plants. The tomatoes we grew were Plum Roma, (good, but we still prefer Il Romano), Orange Banana, another plum tom, nice flavour but not outstanding, and Tamina, a salad tomato. Not very tomatoey, but pleasant enough. We’ll try different  ones again next year.

Red onions and garlic did spectacularly well, but we’ve decided not to grow them next year, and use the extra space for more garlic, as we use such a lot. It will save more money growing garlic. Beetroot was a good crop , as were (and still are, due to succession sowing) Little Gem lettuces and French Breakfast radishes.

Summer cabbage was good and the red cabbages are now sitting in jars of vinegar, waiting for Christmas. The brassicas are another story.

Caterpillar ravaged Brassicas

Caterpillar ravaged Brassicas

We were dilligent, we rubbed eggs off by the million, we squished caterpillars by the thousand, we washed them off with the hose. No good. The Cabbage White butterfly had a good time at our expense. next year we will net them.

We’ve had carrots all season, and it’s such a treat to eat a carrot that tastes like a carrot. A lot of the supermarket ones are a lovely bright orange, but have little flavour. We grew Early Nantes and Autumn King. Some of the latter are still in the garden. The leeks look healthy enough too. Plenty of Leek and Potato Soup this winter. I’ll put the recipe on the cooking thread later.

Leeks and Carrots

Leeks and Carrots

The runner beans were slow to start, but once they took off, they went like the clappers! We have over 30lbs of beans in the freezer. We grew Scarlet Emperor, Streamline (good for freezing), and tried Haricot beans too. They grew well, but we came to the conclusion that a decent crop would take too much ground, so it would probably be more economical to buy haricot beans and use the ground for something else.

Courgettes grew so fast that we had too many marrows. Fun to grow, but difficult to use up at their peak, so maybe no more of them next year.

The fruit harvest has been a bit like the Curate’s Egg…good in parts. We had a splendid harvest of mid season raspberries, plenty to eat, freeze and make into jam from just six  original canes, but the autumn ones are a poor show. Despite watering, we have had no real rain for about 6 weeks here now, it is the driest summer I can remember. The jostaberries were plentiful, as are the blackberries and apples. Greengages were disappointing, but the cherries were wonderful! We have a Stella cherry tree, about five years old and grafted onto a dwarf rootstock so it doesn’t outgrow our smallish garden. The fruit was delicious, ane we beat the birds to them!

Our biggest ‘investment’ this year has been the addition of our ladies, four hybrid hens! They arrived at the end of May as Point of Lay Pullets, and we are getting a steady 3/4 eggs a day. They are little trouble, fun to watch, eat the weeds and vegetable scraps, enrich our compost with their droppings, give us eggs…all this for a few pence a day!

Meet the girls, Kay, Chicken, Chips, and Stew

The Ladies

The Ladies

Back soon with more pics and news

Spring into the Garden

Posted By admin on February 26, 2009

Now it seems that spring is here, snowdrops, crocuses, dwarf irises, catkins, pussy willow, amorous birds..it’s all happeneing out there!

This year we aim to keep you up to date with our progress in the veg garden.With the ever increasing price of vegetables, we have decide that we can do without our big lawn. Most of it has been dug up, dug over, had plenty of homemeade compost dug in, and will be home to a crop of spuds. Two reasons for spuds. No, three.  They will help break up the ground, and as we are growing maincrop spuds in that bit, they will save us a fair bit on shop prices, thirdly, we get to experiment with different types of poato other than those chosen for us by the supermarkets.

As we always grow a few new spuds (you truly can’t beat the flavour of them straight from the ground), we like to try different varieties each year. Seed potatoes can be expensive, so see if you can interest a pal to go halves with you on the cost, share the seed potatoes, and you can try more varieties!

Our poataoes are currently sitting on trays in the summerhouse, doing a mysterious thing called chitting. Don’t be put off by the jargon, it just means they are sending out shoots, ready for planting.

We’ll keep you up to date, and let you know which varietes do the best, and most importantly, if we save any money by growing them.

Next week, if the fair weather continues, we’ll be sowing some veg seeds under glass, I’ll take some pic, and we can watch their progress.

MARCH

It’s been a beautiful week weatherwise, and we’ve done much preparation for the growing season. The flowerbeds have been tidied of the last bits of dead stuff that was deliberately left around as shelter for the winter creatures. It doesn’t look so tidy, but at least it gives shelter. Don’t forget to leave some of the smaller twigs and bits of dead grass for nestbuilding though.

The compost bins have been turned, and some spread on new planting areas. The blackbirds have enjoyed all the worms!

New strawberry plants have been ordered for this year, as the previous strawberry bed was five years old, and we wanted to move it.  We took the opportunity to buy new plants, something we rarely do if it can be avoided, but the old strawberries weren’t fruiting very well any more, so it was a good chance to try some of the newer varieties. We’ll let you know wch ones are best!

Seeds have been sown under glass, and some in the garden under cloches.

Finally, we have begun work to get the old pond area ready for our first venture into chicken keeping. We are in the process of filling in the pond and building a henhouse and run. It’s a shame to lose the pond, but we are looking forward to the eggs. And we won’t miss the mosquitos that the pond attracts, although we will miss the bats that the mosquito’s attract. There was no frog spawn despite  having a good frog population, or we would have waited.

All this fresh air and excercise made us hungry, and the thought of strawberries made our mouths water, so we defrosted some of last years raspberries, and will make a Raspberry Cream Slice later. It’s really easy!

Raspberry Cream Slice

Buy a pack of frozen puff pastry (I know, but it really is better than you can make at home unless you’ve got hours for all that rolling and folding.)

Defrost and roll it out into three equal sized rectangles. Bake ‘em in a hot oven for 10 -15 mins. Cool. Sandwich together with fruit and double ceam, whipped up with a bit of icing sugar and a couple of drop of vanilla extract. (REAL vanilla, not the chemical sort called ‘flavouring’ which tastes nasty)

Make some runny icing and pour it over the top…it will run down the sides. Yummy. Scatter chooped nuts on the top if you have any. Chill until icing is set and then…get there first! It disappears very fast.

Raspberry Slice

Raspberry Slice


Bread Mix Trials

Posted By admin on February 14, 2009

As promised, I’ve been testing different bread mixes. Shop loaves are expensive, and I got fed up with how fast they go off, so now prefer to bake my own.

The three most available mixes seem to be Wrights, Allinsons and Supermarket own brands. If you just want plain white or brown bread, then I have to say that the supermarket ones are the best value. Tesco White Bread Mix is around 65p, makes one huge loaf or two small ones, and in my opinion, is indistinguishable from the dearer mixes. If you want ‘fancy’ bread, then then I found the Wrights ones particularly good.

I do have a breadmaker, but it is very old, and not too reliable anymore, so I made these mixes up by hand. It’s easy. It’s also very therapeutic if you are feeling a bit frustrated or tense. By the time you’ve given the dough a good work out, you’ll feel much calmer!

Simply follow the directions on the packet, and you will turn out consistently good loaves. I’ve been doing this for about two months now, and not had a failure yet.

Her’s a pic of one of the white loaves, made from Tesco Bread Mix. The flavour is good, and the bread is much more filling than shop bought sliced bread.

Loaf made using Tesco White Bread Mix

Loaf made using Tesco White Bread Mix

Protect your PC for free

Posted By admin on February 3, 2009

We all know the Internet is a great place to find information you need, but alas, it also has viruses and spyware.   In this short guide, I’ll tell you where to get a free antivirus program that updates daily to keep you protected and a free anti-spyware program to remove the other threats. Both of these products are  from reputable companies.

Before we look at who and where, the question is why do some people give free antivirus software when others charge?  Well, simple really, the biggest income comes from selling software to businesses rather than consumers, so releasing free home user editions is a good marketing trick.

This guide assumes you use Windows XP or Windows Vista, any edition of either should work just fine.

Antivirus

My personal favourite in this arena is AVG Anti Virus Free Edition, this version is sneakily hidden away from the main version of their site at avg.com to tempt the general public into buying the paid for versions (which do have more features, but we don’t need them!) so head over to http://www.download.com/AVG-Anti-Virus-Free-Edition/3000-2239_4-10320142.html?part=dl-AVGAntiVir&subj=dl&tag=button and hit Download.  Once the file has been saved (the location will vary depending on your settings/browser) navigate to the file and run it, follow the onscreen prompts by clicking Next a few times, and at the end it should update itself to the latest version.  Every day when your PC is on, AVG will now update itself, perform a full system scan at 12:00 (unless you changed the time) and monitor every running program to keep your PC clean, all for no money!  Ok, read on!

Anti Spyware

As the antivirus we downloaded was a free edition, they did cut a few bits out, one of the most important being anti-spyware protection, but rather than shell out a painful £30, lets get a different bit of software to look after that, again, a free edition.  Head over to http://www.download.com/Ad-Aware-Anniversary-Edition/3000-8022_4-10045910.html?part=dl-ad-aware&subj=dl&tag=top5&cdlPid=10998841 to download Ad-Aware Free edition.  Again, once downloaded, run the file and do the usual Next, Next, Next malarky until it has finished installing.  Ad-aware should then try to update itself followed by a system scan.

The free edition of ad-aware doesn’t include a background scanner (also termed Real Time Protection) so we’re relying to AVG to catch most of the nasties here, but to be extra vigilant, run a full system scan using Ad-Aware every few days (at the least once a week) to ensure nothing has slipped past the net.  Between these two programs you should be able to keep your PC running smoothly.  Another often overlooked measure is to ensure your windows is up-to-date with the latest patches from Microsoft, so don’t forget to click the Windows Update entry in your Start Menu to make sure you’ve got everything.

On a final note, some of you who arrive here will do so because you already have a virus/spyware problem, whilst this information isn’t true for every threat out there, I’d always recommend contacting your bank and credit card companies to ask for new details if you’ve shopped online.  In the modern world its often not the hackers and virus writers who use your card details, they tend to get piled in with thousands of others and sold to various criminal gangs around the world and as a result, it can take several months for your card to be ripped off, so don’t assume because nothing has happened in the first week you’re in the clear.  I realise it may sound a bit paranoid, but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean nobody is out to get you :)

I hope something above was useful, if so please don’t forget to share this with others, the more PCs we can protect,  the less spam we all get in our inboxes.  Also please do contribute if you have other online safety tips, either using the comments below or the contact us form if you’d rather not sign up.

Eggative Nequity Souffle

Posted By admin on January 20, 2009

Eggative Nequity Souffle

Well, it’s not really a souffle, it’s much simpler, but this dish is so cheap and easy we felt it deserved a mention. It has been known in our family as Eggy Pudding for years, so we felt it deserved a name upgrade to reflect the current economic climate.

If you like Jacket spuds, wash some, slit the skins and start them off in the microwave before you start the making the pie. They can finish off in the oven when you  put the pie in.

First, well grease or butter an ovenproof pie dish, or souffle dish. Chop an onion, a pepper and tow or three mushrooms and sweat them gently in butter or oil until they are soft, but not coloured. Put them in the bottom of the dish, along with any leftover peas, broccoli, ham, cooked bacon etc that you may have. Don’t use leafy greens or root veg, it spoils it.

Take a one pint jug and break into it three eggs, add a little over half a pint of milk, season with a little bit of salt (not too much as cheese is quite salty) add some chopped herbs,a bit of mustard to bring out the cheese flavour, and as much grated cheese as you like. I always cram mine to the top of the jug. We like cheese.

Whip it up vigorously with a fork, pour into the prepared dish, and shove it in the middle of a pre-heated, moderate oven at gas Mark 4, 180C, or 350F.

You can put your jacket spuds in below it if you want.

It takes 30 -40 minutes to cook, depending on the size of the eggs. Check that it is cooked through in the middle, but don’t overcook it or you’ll have a giant rubber ‘omelette’ to contend with.  I wait until mine is a deep golden brown, then turn the oven off, and leave the pie in the oven with the door ajar whilst I get spuds dished up. The egg will continue to cook and firm up even though the oven is off.

Serve with the jacket spuds, dolloped with a bit of thick home made yoghurt flavoured with chopped chives, a side salad from the garden and a hunk of nice fresh crusty homemade bread.  Delicious..and very economical!

Grow Your Own. Is it for you?

Posted By admin on January 15, 2009

It seems that every day we are being told to Grow Our Own. There is always an expert around to tell us we too, can be fitter, healthier and wealthier, even if we’ve only got a window box.  Can this be true?

We are big fans of grow your own, for the following reasons:

We’d rather be outside

We enjoy gardening

We like the fact that we can enjoy the fruits of our labours

We don’t mind cold, wet, muddy, windy, dirt, insects, worms etc

We love wildlife and enjoy working our garden ‘with’ nature

Fresh veggies and fruit straight out the garden taste better and have more vitamin content than shop bought veg

We grow without the use of chemicals so we know our home grown stuff is as nature intended.

We feel very pleased with ourselves (smug, even!) when we sit down to a meal consisting mainly of home produced foodstuffs.

As to money saving? We are not sure. We spend as little as possible, making our own compost, saving our seeds from the previous year, recycling and re-using where we can. But, (there’s always a but)  If you factor in the time it all takes, and add your ‘hourly rate’ up, then in all honesty, you would probably be better off financially spending Saturday morning working overtime than digging your allotment. If however, you normally spend your spare time doing something less than productive, then, yes , you will probably  save money.

Having said all that, we’d still recommend that you have a go.  Start small, just dig over a small patch and start with something easy, like runner beans. Don’t be put of by the gloom-mongers who will dolefully tell you that whatever you plant will be attacked by pests, viruses and birds. Some of it will. Some of it wont. There are plenty of websites that you can Google for advice.

We will keep you up to date with a month by month account of our adventures in the garden this year. We’ll share our successes and our failures, let you know what works and what doesn’t. We’ll also put some hints, recipes and tips on how to store and use your bounty! We also intend to weigh our crops and post here exactly how much they would have cost at the ordinary (not organic) prices on that day. For this we will use one of the supermarket comparison sites.

We hope you join us in the veg patch this year!

JANUARY

Cold, frosty mornings and damp, dark afternoons, aside from bonfires (which the neighbours can take exception to), what is there to do?

So far this year we have been lucky, the sprouts (sproggets) are still doing very nicely.  The garlic and onions that we planted in October have sprouted and are a joy to look at through the frost. The winter lettuce is doing fine under cloches, and the spinach has helped to keep winter food bills down.

Last week we planted broad bean seeds, they should be ready late spring to early summer. Any time in January is fine for planting broad beans. The smaller, younger bean is sweeter and has a less rubbery texture than the ones your mother made you eat when you were a child! Like most beans they will help to bulk up soups and stews, and are nice as a simple vegetable. The plants can be dug in as a green manure.

It’s a good time to clean and repair your birdhouses and nesting boxes. If you have any that don’t get visited, try moving them. Somewhere away from squirrels, and with a clear flight path and with food not too far away is ideal.

That’s it really for early January, get out and enjoy what little sun we do get, brisk digs save on heating!

Ned

Yoghurt Maker Review

Posted By admin on January 11, 2009

Yoghurt Maker Test and Review

Well, I waited impatiently for the arrival of my new Yoghurt Maker. I was a bit miffed that it took 6 days to get to me, so I greeted it like a long lost child!

Within half an hour, it was unpacked, set up and making it’s first batch of yoghurt. It is a simple machine, consisting of the outer yoghurt maker, and an inner pot with a lid (and an ingenious built in spoon), in which you make the yoghurt.

Simply put in a couple of generous spoonfuls of natural yoghurt,   (I use Longley Farm yoghurt, one of the very few ‘honest’ yoghurts on the market today. I’ve only ever found it in health food shops or Morrisons. It’s delicious, muck free, and very reasonable at around 29p-32p per small pot.)

You only need to buy this once, as you can save a couple of spoons of your home made yoghurt to use as a starter for the next batch.

Add a pint and a half of milk, you can use any milk, but sterilised and UHT doesn’t have to be boiled first, add a couple of spoons of dried milk powder if you like a thicker yoghurt, mix well, pop in the machine, switch on and leave alone for 9 hours. Remove inner pot, leave to cool, open the lid, use the lid holder the other way up as a spoon..and dig in!

It was really easy, and I was pleased with the results for a first time go. My yoghurt was a bit runny, to be honest, but I used semi-skimmed milk, because that was what I has available. Next time, I will use whole milk, and possibly up the yoghurt starter and add a little more milk powder. I like a thicker yoghurt, but this thinner one would probably do very nicely mixed with some milk and fruit puree or honey as a drinking yoghurt.

Taste Test

It’s good! It’s not quite as sharp as the Longley Farm yoghurt, but that may be because it’s thinner. The family approve, even the yoghurt hater said it didn’t taste any worse than any other yoghurt, so I’ll take that as a positive.

I worked out that I will only have to use this about 20 times for it to have paid for itself. It uses very little electricity, as it only gets warm, not hot. Add to that the fact that you will no longer have to rinse out and  dispose of all those little pots, it’s got to be a big thumbs up for the Lakeland Yoghurt Maker, at a very reasonable £23.81 including delivery.

Freshly made yoghurt in the inner pot, with lid and cunning little spoon.

Freshly made yoghurt in the inner pot, with lid and cunning little spoon.

Well, as promised, I tried a second batch using whole milk and I stepped up the amount of milk powder. Result? Lovely yoghurt, much thicker than before. Emboldened by this, I tipped half of it into a sieve lined with a double thickness of butter muslin (cheap and cheerful from your local fabric shop..and so very useful in the credit crunch kitchen). I left it to drain overnight in the fridge….and wow! The thickest, creamiest, ‘greek style’ youghurt imaginable. It is lovely on it’s own, but so thick it will be wonderful on home made fajitas, jacket spuds, or mixed with some chives and used like sour cream. I also think it would work dolloped on to hot or cold desserts instead of cream or ice cream.  This treatment does reduce the yield, but at only around 72p for a whole litre, I didn’t think that draining half and treating ourselves would break the bank. The only problem I can forsee, is that it is so delicious that I could easily eat the lot!

Lakeland have given us permission to put the link here, to save you hunting around if you decide to try it for yourself. It is the Lakeland Electric Yoghurt Maker, Ref 3440.

http://www.lakeland.co.uk

Lakeland Yoghurt Maker

Lakeland Yoghurt Maker

Now it’s 2009……..

Posted By admin on January 6, 2009

Now that the decorations are down and the dusty bits wiped down with a damp cloth, it’s time to get down to saving time and money again. This year we will be trying to learn from last years mistakes and will update you on any progress …or mishaps!

Yoghurt

I have just invested in a Yoghurt maker, and will be testing it out and will let you know how it goes. We eat a lot of yoghurt in this house, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to buy ‘real’ yoghurt that hasn’t been mucked about with, unless you buy organic..and that’s expensive! In my quest to save more money and eat better, I thought I’d have a go. The results of a family taste test will be published!

Go to the Cooking section to read all about it!

Grow Your Own

Also, we hope to do a small piece on the pro’s and con’s of growng your own. We do, and there are moments of great joy, as well as failures and pitfalls. We are NOT jumping on the bandwagon and advising all and sundry to try to feed a family of four from a few pots on a balcony in a high rise flat. We’ll tell you truth, all of it, whether it’s what you want to hear or not!

Bread Making

Fed up with expensive bread that tastes of soggy carboard and goes green the next day, we have been experimenting  with various bread mixes, both hand made and using a breadmaker, and will post the results soon.

In the meantime, Google some interesting recipes for leftover Turkey, polish off the dregs of the sherry, and pop back soon!

The cred-cruncher Family

Christmas Trees on The Cheap!

Posted By admin on December 21, 2008

Bargain Christmas Tree!

Bargain Christmas Tree!

Sorry, but we are…cheap, I mean. Staggered by the horrific cost of fresh trees this year called for drastic action. Out into the garden with his spade went the man of the house, and returned some time later with a six foot Golden Leylandii, liberated (with roots) from the spot where it conveniently hid the compost bins.  Planted in a cheap green plastic container (a fiver from B& Q, and it will be most useful in numberswiki.com

the garden next year), and covered with worn out tacky tinsel….sorry….heirlooms…, it looks great!

The thinking behind this was, that although we will replant the tree, if it dies, it will only cost a couple of quid to buy a new young tree. If we buy two, then wait a couple of years (Leylandii grow fast), then each year we can dig one up , replace it if needed, and have a constant supply of our own cheap ‘christmas’ trees. There’s bound to be a flaw……but here it is, a christmas  tree for under a fiver!

Feed The Birds..Tuppence a bag..well, a little bit more than tuppence!

Posted By admin on December 20, 2008

fat-ball-holderIt’s important!! It’s cold out there, and the birds are hungry. As wild bird lovers, we had to decide whether or not we could justify spending some of our meagre income on feeding them. Wild bird seed can be expensive, and shop bought fat balls are dear. So…our cut price strategy is this!

Seeds

If you can source a sack (20kg) of sunflower seed or wild bird food locally, it’s much cheaper to buy in bulk. We paid £11.50 including delivery from our local pet shop. This will last all winter, with the added bonus that you will have lots of pretty sunflowers in your garden, all set by the birds..for free!You can then save the seeds form them for next winter. Just dry them and pick them off into an dry paper bag.

Fat Balls

These cost a lot bought ready made. Our homemade ones are greeted by flocks of squabbling birds and give us hours of entertainment (please note..this is not a Time Bandit..it’s enjoyment!).

This is all you do:

In a heavy saucepan melt a couple of blocks of lard. Allow to cool slightly, and stir in enough wild bird seed and leftovers* to make a porridgy sludge. Allow to cool some more, until the mixture starts to solidify, but not so much that it sets. Spoon into empty yoghurt pots and leave in a cold place (we use the shed) until set. Slide them out into hangers and pop on the trees.

Since I have ordered a yoghurt maker, and confidently expect not to have  shop bought yoghurt  pots to spare any longer, I have been experimenting with other containers. So far, an non-stick wok has worked best. Simply melt your lard, add your ingredients, give it a good stir and leave to set. Dip the wok in very hot water for a few seconds, upend it on a board, and slice into pieces.

birdcake

birdcake

You can also buy metal hangers, which are excellent. We have some left over from our more affluent days.  You can make little string bags for them too. I’ve posted a pic of mine above. They are not elegant, but they do work. They take about 10 minutes to make once you’ve got the hang of it. All you need is a crochet hook and some thin cotton tape or string.

*Leftovers

Any scraps of bacon, ham, cheese, pastry, cake, biscuits etc can go in to the mix. Go easy on the bread, not much nutritional value to tiny birds tummies, and NO whole peanuts. Birds can choke on them, so crush them first. Also, if you do buy peanuts, make sure they have been tested for Aflatoxins, as the presence of these can kill small birds.

Basically, they need high fat, high protein to keep them warm, and they will repay you by keeping you amused, planting some lovely surprises in your garden..and next year they will eat a lot of the troublesome bugs and insects in your summer garden!