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This year the Pumpkins at Thomas’s school have grown really well, with enough for a large one for each class plus a few smaller ones left over, so before the end of half term they had a Pumpkin decorating contest, all the parents were invited to vote for their ‘favourite’ Pumpkin just before they collected their child/children (so that there was no favouritism) here are their decorated pumpkins.

School pumpkin 1

School pumpkin 2

School pumpkin 3

School pumpkin 4

School pumpkin 5

I think that they are all great, none of them were carved out and hopefully they will be used in the School Kitchen after the half term holidays the ‘favourite’ pumpkin was the ‘Pumpkinpine’, well done to all of you, I am sure you had lots of fun.

For hints on how to carve your own Jack O’ Lantern pumpkin click here.

Happy Halloween

Gill

Doesn’t time fly its Halloween again, and I can’t wait, I have been trying out some Halloween treat ideas for next week, much to Thomas’s delight, they would be great for a party, you could use the ‘eyeballs’ as a spooky decoration.

 

Eyeball 2

Ghastly eyeballs on sticks

What you will need

  • Large white marshmallows
  • Red food colouring or red icing in a tube
  • Smarties
  • Round Black liquorice sweets or black icing in a tube
  • Cocktail sticks
  • Scissors

Eyeball 1

What you need to do

  1. Carefully trim the edges from your marshmallows to make them round
  2. Stick a cocktail stick into each one
  3. To make the veins dip the end of a cocktail into the food colouring and paint thin wiggly lines onto the marshmallow or pipe on red lines with your icing.
  4. Attach your Smartie (iris) to the front of marshmallow with icing or by slightly wetting the marshmallow to make it sticky.
  5. For the pupil cut the liquorice toffees into thin slices and stick one onto the smartie by slightly wetting it or add a blob of black icing.
  6. To serve simply stick them into a pumpkin

 

Swamp pot

Gooey swamp pots

What you will need

  • Packets of Lime Green Jelly (each pack will make approx. 3 servings depending on pot size)
  • Spooky sweets – snakes/body parts/bugs
  • Chocolate biscuits
  • Popping candy

What you need to do

  1. In a jug make up the jelly as per the instructions on the packs.
  2. Pour the jelly into your clear pots and put them into the fridge until they just begin to set.
  3. Remove from the fridge and carefully push your sweets into the green goo, arrange some so that they are sticking out and hanging over the pot.
  4. Return your pots to the fridge to set.
  5. Place your chocolate biscuits in a bag and bash into crumbs with a rolling pin.
  6. Just before serving sprinkle the chocolate crumbs on the  top with some of the popping candy for a crunchy exploding experience.

Both ideas went down well with Thomas, he enjoyed the Swamp Pots the most.

Whatever you do/make for Halloween have lots of fun.

For lots more spooky ideas/treats/games click here.

Gill

October 21st is Apple Day, it is an annual celebration of apples and orchards, there are lots of organized events being held around the country, at many of these events you can: taste locally grown apples, have a look at apple orchards, talk to the growers, bring with you one of your unknown varieties of apple for the experts to identify, watch cookery demonstrations using apples and taste the results, learn about growing, pruning and grafting apple trees, buy apple produce (jams, jellies, chutneys, cakes, pies etc.), cooking equipment, apple crushers, apple presses, harvesting equipment such as ladders, apple pickersapple wizardsfruit stores and storage boxes not to mention apple trees to start off your own ‘orchard’ and much, much more, they make a great day out for all the family.

Last week Sylvia arrived in the office with a large bag of her own freshly picked apples to share amongst the staff. Thomas is not a great fan of apples so I started thinking of ways to try and tempt him, this idea made me ‘smile’ and would be great for a children’s party – especially a Halloween Party.

Scary apple smile

Scary Apple Smiles

What you will need

  • Red skinned apples
  • Lemon Juice
  • Caramel/Toffee/Chocolate/Peanut Butter Spread
  • White mini Marshmallows

What you need to do

  1. Wash you apples and cut them into quarters.
  2. Trim off the core and seeds and cut out a wedge from the skin side of each quarter.
  3. Brush the flesh with lemon juice to stop it from turning brown.
  4. Fill the ‘gap’ with a spoonful of stiff Caramel/Toffee/Chocolate/Peanut Butter Spread.
  5. For the ‘teeth’ place your mini marshmallows in rows, one at the top and one along the bottom.

Scary apple smiles

Was Thomas tempted?  Yes, but I think the Toffee Spread had a lot to do with it!!

Why not give it a try?

This week we also celebrate Bramley Apple Pie Week 20th – 26th October for recipes and ideas on how to enjoy and store your apples click here.

Gill

If you have been reading my previous blogs you will know that I love Autumn especially getting out for a walk and collecting leaves, seeds, nuts and fruits I simply can’t resist it. The fruits such as Blackberries and Apples can be cooked to enjoy now in Pies and Crumbles or made into jams, chutneys and preserves to savour over the next few months, the seeds and nuts can be planted and will produce new flowers/wildflowers for your garden or a new generation of trees, all that remains are the stunning colourful leaves and the seed/nut cases.

You can have lots of fun with leaves and when you have finished they can be turned into valuable leaf mould for your garden, for lots of ideas for your wonderful leaves click here. This year the Beech has produced a bumper crop of seeds (which are often called Beechnuts or Beechmasts) and as I have quite a lot of the Beech seed cases I got thinking … they are very dry, hard and often spikey just like the prickles of a Hedgehog, so why not ….

Beech Seed Case Hedgehog

Make a Hedgehog from Beech Seed Cases

What you will need

  • Dry Beech Seed Cases
  • Potatoes
  • A Cocktail Stick
  • Sticky Tack or Glue
  • Conkers
  • Black felt tip pen

What you need to do

  1. Choose a potato preferably with a flat side (to stop it rolling around) this will be the bottom.
  2. Leave one end of the potato bare for the face then make holes with your cocktail stick in rows along the back and sides inserting beech seed cases by their stalks until you have covered your potato.
  3. Draw or stick on some eyes then add the conker nose securing it in place with Sticky Tack or Glue

If you have plenty of materials why not make a Hedgehog family and arrange them on a tray/lid with some of your leaves.

Hedgehogs are busy at the moment looking for a safe place to hibernate and eating plenty of food to build them up for the winter months, why not have a go at the new free Gardening with Children Family Competition or School Competition for a chance to win a Hogitat Hedgehog House, a Field guide to Hedgehogs and some Hedgehog Food for the Hedgehogs in your garden.

The Hogitat Hedgehog House

The Hogitat Hedgehog House – a perfect winter retreat for your prickly garden friends

Have fun

Gill

I love Autumn; the crisp, frosty mornings when spiders webs appear to have been decorated with crystals, the misty mornings when the fields are cloaked in white and the rich, damp, earthy smells as you walk through the woods. At this time of year most of the plants in the garden have started to die back, the stars of Autumn to my mind are the trees, many of which are dazzling in their ‘coats’ of many colours and heavily laden with masses of fruits and seeds of varying colours, shapes and sizes just waiting for the perfect time and opportunity to break free and become the next generation of trees.

There are many varieties of trees where I live, I just cannot resist the temptation to collect their seeds, my favourites are conkers from the Horse Chestnut Tree and the Spinning Jennies from the Maples, Sycamores and Ashes it is lovely to watch children picking them up and throwing them into the air so that they spin round and round on their way back down, this will only work with a single seed, throw a double one up and it just comes straight down.

SYCAMORE KEYS

A Spinning Jenny is actually a winged ‘fruit’, its wing is made from fibrous papery tissue and contains the with seed at one end, they often grow in pairs but when mature they are often released singly, the correct name for them is a ‘Samara’  their shape enables the wind to carry their seed farther away from the parent tree ideally in an area where trees are not already present and where they can germinate and grow, they have many names depending on where you live they are often referred to as keys as well as wingnuts, helicopters and whirlibirds, in the North of England they are referred to as Spinning Jennies.

I have got quite a collection already if you find them in bunches they make a lovely Autumn decoration or if you are a gardener like me you can plant them and watch them grow in the spring.

The environmental Charity The Tree Council, which was founded over 40 years ago, works in partnership with schools, communities, organisations and the government to make trees matter to everyone, on the 23rd September they launched the start of the new Tree Year with Seed Gathering Season which runs until 23rd October, its aim is to encourage and inspire school children, families and groups to take part in activities to collect, sow and grow trees together to ensure the future of their green landscape for more information and events in your area have a look at their website.

If you have collected conkers and have some spare to grow click here for a guide to growing your own Horse Chestnut Tree.

Green Horse Chestnut Leaves

So get out, have fun and enjoy all that Autumn has to offer.

Love your environment

Gill

As I sat at my computer on Tuesday I was greeted by a lovely illustration on the Google page of a group of trees, their leaves turned golden brown and dropped to the ground this was to mark the first day of Autumn (23 September), it is funny that after all the beautiful, warm, sunny and dry weather we have had the weather changed on Tuesday it was definitely Autumnal the temperatures had dropped and it rained needless to say the central heating went on that evening for the first time in many months.

Autumn Leaf Mix

Spectacular Autumn Leaves

What is the Autumn Equinox and who/what decides when it is going to happen?

The Equinox occurs twice a year The Spring Equinox around 20th March and the Autumn Equinox around 22nd September the exact dates and times change every year. The word Equinox comes from the Latin words ‘aequus’ meaning equal and ‘nox’ meaning night, as they occur on the days when the days/nights are approximately equal in length, for us in the Northern hemisphere the sun will continue to rise later and set earlier giving us the shorter days and longer nights of Autumn whilst in the Southern Hemisphere (e.g. Australia) Spring is on its way.

The Autumn and Spring Equinoxes are actually Astrological events, Autumn occurs when the sun passes the equator moving from the northern to the southern hemisphere and the North Pole begins to tilt away from the Sun, Spring occurs when the sun passes the equator moving from the southern to the northern hemisphere and the North Pole begins to lean towards the sun again, anyone that lives in the South Pole will now be seeing the sun for the first time in half a year, whilst those that live in the North Pole will be preparing for six months of darkness.

How does the Autumn Equinox affect people, animals and plants?

Harvest time and the Harvest Festival traditionally falls around the Autumn Equinox when we celebrate, gather and store our crops; the shortening days prompt our wildlife too to store food and to fatten up on Autumn’s abundant fruit, nuts and seeds to see them through the winter months. As the weather turns cooler we put the heating on, wear warmer clothing and extra layers, animals prepare for the cold by growing thick winter coats, many species of birds migrate to warmer climates, the ones that remain grow extra feathers during late Autumn to give them more protection during Winter. Much of our wildlife will be looking for a warm and safe place to shelter or hibernate, now is an ideal time to install some homes for the creatures in your garden, such as Bee, Butterfly and Insect houses, Bird boxes, Hedgehog houses, Bat boxes and Frog and Toad houses.

Hedgehog Igloo House

The cosy Hedgehog Igloo House

Click on the links below for more information on:

Putting up Bird Boxes in your garden or Looking after garden wildlife during the winter.

Trees and plants prepare for winter, leaves change colour and drop off, plant stems die back, then they become dormant, living off the food that they have stored during the summer until the longer and warmer days of Spring return.

So put on an extra layer and see if you can spot any signs of Autumn

Gill

This year the weather has been perfect for growing and ripening, not only have we bumper crops in the garden and on our allotments but also in the surrounding countryside which is brilliant news for all the wildlife that rely on this natural harvest during the winter months.

Our hedgerows are simply overflowing with fruit just waiting to be picked.

Wild Blackberries

What can you find in a Hedgerow?

  • Blackberries
  • Sloe Berries
  • Crab Apples
  • Greengages
  • Rose Hips
  • Elderberries
  • Hawthorn Berries
  • Damsons

Crab Apples - church

What do you need to know before you go?

  1. Forage food only on public rights of way, if you are not sure or if you want to go off the beaten track ask the landowners permission first.
  2. Only take what you need, leave some for the birds and animals during the Autumn/Winter months.
  3. Respect the environment that you are collecting from and leave it as undisturbed as possible.
  4. Make sure that you are 100% certain that you know what you are picking, if you are not sure don’t pick it, some fruits can be similar in appearance to ones that are poisonous. Just because one part of a plant is edible it doesn’t mean that all parts are, some plants need cooking to destroy toxins e.g. cooking elderberries destroys toxins present in the raw berries, but leaves, barks or roots of elder should never be eaten.
  5. Don’t allow children to pick or eat wild food unsupervised.
  6. Avoid foraging on busy roadsides where vehicle pollution can contaminate the fruit, on industrial ground or on farmland where agricultural sprays may have been used.

What do you need?

  1. Containers for your delicious fruit – buckets/bags are ideal for larger and tougher fruit such as Crab Apples, Rose Hips, Hawthorn Berries and Damsons but smaller and softer fruits are better placed in shallower plastic containers such as butty boxes that will stop them from being squashed (Blackberries especially).
  2. Insect Spray and Bite Cream – be prepared, many insects especially wasps are just as attracted to the fruit as you are (Bite cream can often be used on Nettle stings too).
  3. A long stick with a ‘hook’ at one end – very useful for grabbing and pulling down those hard to reach branches, an umbrella would also do the job.
  4. Suitable clothing – a strong pair of shoes, long pants and a long sleeved top, some of the bushes are very prickly and care must be taken when picking their fruit (Blackberries, Sloe Berries, Hawthorn Berries, Rose Hips) Nettles are usually found in hedgerows too.

What do you do with your hedgerow harvest once you have got home?

  1. One of the first jobs is to sort through the fruit removing any that are damaged/rotten as well as any insects, leaves and stems.
  2. Most of the fruit will need a good wash, this is best done just before you use it.
  3. Decide what you are going to make with your bounty, have a look through your recipe books or on the internet, Jams, Curds and Jellies are one of the best ways to preserve fruit and they will keep well into next Spring, here are a few suggestions (click on the heading for the recipe):

My first memories of foraging – picking Blackberries with my Aunt and Uncle then coming home with bags of dripping Blackberries and purple stained clothes and fingers, marvelous!

Have fun, enjoy and love your environment

Gill

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